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Torres Strait Islands Embrace Coming of the Light: A Celebration of Faith, Culture, and Resilience

By Steve Webster, Mission Facilitator – Transforming Communities, talking with Aunty Annai Ghee

In the Torres Strait Islands, a diverse community prepares to honour their rich heritage through the annual Coming of the Light celebration. This deeply significant event, commemorated on July 1st, embraces the fusion of faith, culture, and resilience within the island communities.

The Coming of the Light holds a profound place in the hearts of Torres Strait Islanders, symbolising the positive transformation brought forth by the gospel. The arrival of Reverend Samuel Macfarlane on Erub (Darnley) Island in 1871 kindled the introduction of Christianity in the region. This event not only reshaped religious practices but also influenced the cultural traditions of the Torres Strait Islanders.

Among those reflecting on the celebration’s importance is Aunty Annai Ghee, a devout Christian woman with deep roots in Torres Strait culture. Her father, Pinau, was born on Murray Island, while her mother, Jacynthia, hails from a South Sea Islander background. Annai recalls the impact her Preacher Grandfather Sterling had on her. She recalls great memories in his church meetings and experiencing God’s love in her young years.

For Aunty Annai, the Coming of the Light represents the countless lives positively impacted by the gospel. While acknowledging the presence of lingering racism within the church due to past mission experiences, she embraces the celebration as an opportunity for reconciliation and reflection.

Reenactments of Reverend Macfarlane’s arrival during the festivities serve as a powerful reminder of the enduring legacy of Christianity in the Torres Strait. Yet, beneath the surface, there remains a sense of fear surrounding traditional gods and spiritual practices. The islands retain their spiritual essence, seamlessly blending faith and indigenous beliefs.

Aunty Annai’s cherished moment during the Coming of the Light is the soul-stirring rendition of her favourite hymn, “I Surrender All.” This shared musical experience transcends cultural and religious boundaries, unifying the islanders in joyful harmony.

However, the embrace of Christianity has not been without tension among Torres Strait Islanders. Concerns persist about the impact on cultural heritage and the perception of others. Aunty Annai passionately believes that her faith in God has strengthened her cultural identity, emphasizing that Christianity and Torres Strait culture can coexist, fostering unity and resilience.

As the much-anticipated Coming of the Light celebration approaches, the Torres Strait Islands eagerly prepare for a time of reflection, cultural expression, and spiritual reconnection. This event serves as a reminder of the enduring strength and resilience of the Torres Strait Islander people.

The harmonious blend of faith and culture epitomises the spirit of the celebration. The Coming of the Light acknowledges the transformative power of Christianity, the preservation of cultural traditions, and the spirit of the Torres Strait Islanders. It is a testament to their unwavering commitment to embracing the past, celebrating the present, and nurturing a vibrant future.

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