Coming of the Light (The First Missionaries to the Torres Strait, 1871)

Christianity impacted profoundly upon traditional religious and political structures, although Islanders today see it as a fulfilment of the traditional belief system rather than a complete break with the past, as they were previously encouraged to do.
(Anna Shnukal, “Torres Strait Islanders”, Multicultural Queensland 2001)
You me Torres Strait Islander people, you me a light of the world.
(Torres Strait Islander Bishop, “Coming of the Light”, SBS)
Defying, perhaps, what we would expect to see:
A festival of colour and vibrancy and light,
Some vestiges, maybe, of colonial days
(A British Bishop’s mitre, for instance, and crook
Leading the charge through the palm trees and sun),
And yet all caught up in the brightness of day,
Songs are sung and meals are cooked, jokes are cracked,
A Bible waves proudly its pages in the wind
Singing loudly that light shineth in the darkness
And the darkness comprehended it not;
Though briefly stern in the looks on their faces,
They quickly return to radiate light:
Floating waves of music, the flowers that deck hair,
In the background the preacher declaring words of peace,
While seas of coconut wash clean through hands –
A day that onlookers can only guess at,
With wise commentators who theorise and pass
Swift waves of assumption across the islands;
And scholars declare what is true and what false,
Who colonised this and who oppressed that,
And the darkness looks with them confusedly on,
Failing to grasp what all gathered here grasp:
That light shone in darkness and darkness has gone,
And all joy and song have been liberated
In the coming and dancing and singing of light.

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