Gospel days are public holidays held on each of the islands to celebrate the arrival of Christianity. This is the only published* account of Gospel Day on Palmerston, and it's written by one of the island's children. It gives an extraordinary insight into a day which combines religion and home-made entertainment. It was written thanks to journalist, Sandra Patterson from Rarotonga who spent five weeks on Palmerston in 2009 helping out at the local school.
*First published by Cook Islands News in 2009
On Sunday night, the stars shone bright. My cousin Alex brought around a public notice saying the power supply would be kept going right through the night. Normally it goes off at midnight. I lay on my bed, eyes closed, thinking about what was going to happen tomorrow.
I fell asleep at 11.30pm, only to be chased out of bed at 3am. I dressed quickly and went to light the fire. Everyone had something to do. Dad made the raw fish, my sister Taia got the branches to make the karashi poke - made from the husk of the sweet coconut - and Mum mixed the ingredients together to cook the poke.
Finally, the sun rose, peaking over the horizon, promising a beautiful day. Brilliant orange, red and yellow colours lit up the sky. When all the cooking was done, everyone made their way to put up their shanties - little decorated huts - on the main road. Soon the shanties were all up, and the tables and chairs appeared. Quarter to ten, and everyone was running around.
“Hurry up! Wash for church!” Dad was shouting
My whole family dressed in blue and white striped shirts. Church was so cool . I could hear everyone singing their hearts out. After the service, my family and I went to the umu - the underground oven - to get out the food. In the umu was chicken, takarari - made out of arrowroot and coconut meat - pawpaw and saltmeat. After doing so many things, I then sat down and waited for the other families to get ready.
Hooray! Finally at 12 noon Pastor Tere came onto the road and, after asking everyone if they were ready, said the prayer. There were five little shanties together on the main road with tables bursting with food. Food that was waiting for me. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait for people to come to my table. Everyone was shouting, “Come along!” - encouraging people to come to their table. I shouted, “Come a-short!” Ha!
I saw all kinds of delicious foods, and there were lots of traditional dishes, mostly made from coconut. Everyone sat on their chairs looking exhausted because they had been up so early and then they had eaten so much food. But we still had the afternoon programme: the uapou
The uapou was the most important thing to me because I was going to sing and have fun. There were two groups. My friends Hamish and William were with me. Mama Aka started the uapou by reading out the questions for everyone to answer. The first two questions were about the Gospel: what does the Gospel mean? And what can I do to demonstrate the Gospel? The second two questions were about unity: what does unity mean? And what can I do to support unity on Palmerston?
Mama Aka’s group started a hymn first, then we followed after. The glorious sounds of imene tuki - our traditional hymns - rung out across the island; and even the littlest children were singing. And between the songs, people stood up to answer the questions. Everyone was very touched; and many people got up to dance. The way they were dancing reminded me of a party. I got up and danced myself, and had a lot of fun
At two o’clock, Pastor Tere closed the uapou in prayer - and Mama Aka rang the church bell. It is the custom on Gospel Day that after the bell rings, the day is no longer holy. The little kids started organising games. I quickly got dressed in my togs, t-shirt and pants, and ran down with my sister Taia to play soccer at the blue house. The teams were split in half, not very fairly, but nobody minded, just as long as they got to play. The elderly people played cards under the trees. After asking permission, my cousin, Rimaati, and Rainnier, my neice, and I went swimming at the Duke’s Pool, which is also known as Vai Eli.
Website author's note: Duke's pool is a popular swimming spot which got its name after His Royal Highness The Duke Of Edinburgh - late husband of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - swam there during a visit to Palmerston in 1971
We all swam in our togs, but then we caught sight of the boys coming, so we hurried to put on our pants. Don’t laugh! When the boys arrived - William, Hamish and JJ - it was even more fun. We played jokes on each other and swam until the sun set in the west, throwing a soft orange light over the whole island. I went home, had a shower and went straight to bed. My eyes closed, and I thought about what a wonderful day it had been. I knew I would never forget Gospel Day on Palmerston Island, the home that I love