Jewel of the Pacific

By Debbie Singh

The Maria Daulato kei Jisu Na Gone Sau mai Nasareci (Immaculate Maria and Jesus the Child King of Nazareth) is a masterpiece in mosaic depicting Mother Mary and the child Jesus. The magnificent mural is the first of its kind in Fiji and the Pacific, and was created by Fijian artist George Evans.

Commissioned by the Grace Ministry, a group of widows of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart parish in Suva, Fiji, the mosaic has been created as a gift to be presented to the Catholic community in the Holy Land.

The 2.4 x 1.2 metre mosaic was to have been presented by parishioners on a pilgrimage to Israel last year, which was to have been led by His Grace, Archbishop Peter Loy Chong. However, the pilgrimage had to be cancelled due to the COVID19 global pandemic and the closure of international borders.

Now this breathtaking work of art now holds pride of place on the main altar of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Suva, waiting for the appropriate time to make its journey to the Holy Land.

Maria Daulato is depicted as a woman of Fiji, with her distinctive bui ni ga (afro) hairstyle. The face of the blessed child Jesus remains bare as it reflects those who look directly upon it and see themselves in “His image and likeness.”

Bernadette Rounds Ganilau explained how the Pacific mural came to be: “Our bible study colleagues from around the world paid a visit to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the place where it was purported that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would carry the child of God. It was here that our study group saw 110 magnificent murals from around the world in the courtyard, but there were none from the Pacific.” 

“I was ill in my hospital bed at the time that I read about this and I decided then and there that I was going to organise the creation of a mural for the Pacific. We discussed it with the Archbishop and after getting his consent, we went from there.

“We fundraised to meet the costs and we received contributions from many people of many ethnicities – mainly Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and part-Europeans. All of their signatures appear at the back of the mural,” she said.  

“When we first saw the prototype of the mural, it depicted a girl with long hair and a flower in her ear and I said that it had to be a Fijian “marama” (woman) because it was coming from Fiji, from the Archdiocese of Suva. 

“Once it was complete, it was just so stunning. I cried when I first saw it.”

The base of the mosaic is made of marine ply board and the artwork itself is crafted using black South Sea pearls, freshwater pearls, hand blown glass and pearl shells, inlaid amongst hand-cut signature mirror and ceramic pieces from the artist himself, all held together by grout and glue.

“So, the mural means different things to different people,” said Bernadette. “The 14 shells that are around it depict the 14 provinces of Fiji, and if you look closer, you’ll see that it has the masi design of the 14 provinces as well. I also wanted the mural to depict the multi-ethnic nature of the Archdiocese of Suva and I wanted to include things like the diya (oil lamp) to represent the Indian community and a dragon to represent the Chinese community, but it would have made the mural look too busy. 

“If you study the colours, you’ll notice that they are pre-contact Fiji. The earthy colours of brown, black, beige and dusky gold, together with the blue hues representing the sky and the sea are reminiscent of pre-contact Fiji, before the arrival of the missionaries. There are no vibrant yellows, oranges and reds,” she said.

The shells representing the 14 provinces of Fiji have been carved with the word “love” by another artist, Andreas Frey. The word has also been translated into the languages of the multi-ethnic Archdiocese of Suva – Fijian, Tongan, Rotuman, Samoan, Kiribati, Chinese, Hindustani, Filipino, Korean and Tok Pidgin, and appear on each of the 14 shells. 

Raw materials were donated. Artist Alice Hill donated hand blown glass pieces, Bernadette Rounds Ganilau gifted the black pearls and J. Hunter pearls donated the pearl shells. All of it was put together by the artist with a lot of love between January to November 2020.

Suva cathedral mosaic

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