Naiseralagi Village, Ra
Church of the Black Christ
Church of the Black Christ
The church is known locally as the Church of the Black Christ due to the depiction of a Fijian-looking Christ figure in the mural by French artist Jean Charlot above the altar. It’s official name is the Church of St Francis Xavier, Ra Province.
This is an exquisite work, blending Fijian motifs with the teachings of Christ. Charlot painted the mural in 1962 at the invitation of Monsignor Franz Wasner, the then-caretaker of the mission. (Prior to coming to Fiji Monsignor Wasner was at one time the singing teacher of the Von Trapp family of Sound of Music fame.) The mural was painstakingly completed by the dim lamplight of the church – apparently Charlot had a great deal of trouble applying the fresh mortar to the wall.
The central image of the mural is the figure of a black Christ on the cross, wearing masi (tapa) cloth around his waist. He is being paid homage to by a number of Fijian figures. In the immediate background are breadfruit leaves and fruit which express his close relationship with nature and, according to Charlot’s wife, are a vital symbol in the fresco. The Fijian word for breadfruit, uto, is also used for ‘heart’.
At Christ’s feet is a tanoa (yaqona bowl), symbolising the Eucharist. To his right are a child in a mission school uniform, St Peter Chanel (a martyred Saint in the Pacific), Father Mataca (the first Fijian Catholic priest), a Fijian woman bringing Christ an offering of woven mats, and a Fijian man offering Christ a tabua (whale’s tooth) – the highest form of respect a Fijian can confer. To Christ’s left an Indian woman is portrayed offering a garland of flowers and an Indian farmer is pictured with a pair of oxen. Also shown are St Francis Xavier (whom the church is named after) and an acolyte. (Photo courtesy of Steve Leavitt, Union College).
According to accounts, when the mural was complete the entire parish of Naiserelagi held a feast in Charlot’s honor. Cows were slaughtered and the traditional yaqona ceremony was observed. As in the mural, women presented the artist with mats. After visiting what has to be the finest non-Fijian work of art in Fiji, you should not forget to drop some money into the donation box at the door. Proceeds are used to maintain the church.
Kings Highway, Rakiraki Junction
Tomb of Udre Udre
Fijian chief Udre Udre is believed to have eaten more people than any other cannibal throughout history.
While natives of the Cannibal Isles were known for their voracious appetite for human flesh, the legend of one particularly insatiable Fijian chief continues intrigue and/or nauseate.
Ratu Udre Udre, a chief from Rakiraki in the northern area of Fiji’s largest island Viti Levu, used stones to keep a running tally of how many bodies he ate. In 1849, some time after the chief’s death (c.1840), missionary Richard Lyth recorded a gruesome discovery at the chief’s tomb: a long row of 872 stones, with many gaps where some stones had already been removed. After a conversation with Ravatu, one of Udre Udre’s sons, Lyth wrote, “Ravatu assured me that his father ate all this number of human beings. He added a stone to the row for each one he received. They were victims killed in war. He ate them all himself, he gave to none.”
When the chiefs of Rakiraki would go to battle alongside Udre Udre, they would give him the bodies of their victims. Ravatu also told Lyth that his father ate nothing but human flesh. What he couldn’t eat in one sitting he would keep preserved in a box so he always had a steady supply at hand. It is believed Udre Udre ate somewhere between 872 and 999 people in his lifetime, earning him the honor of being named Guinness World Record’s Most Prolific Cannibal.
Stone walls, a lovo (oven) pit used for cooking people, and the remnants of house mounds mark the location where Udre Udre’s village once stood. The people of a nearby village believe the spirit of the renowned cannibal still resides there, and warn outsiders to stay away.
The tomb of the chief can be found a few kilometers from the village along King’s Road surrounded by many of his original rocks.