Niue on Sunday

On Sunday in Niue THE thing to do is go to church. The island has lots of Sunday rules. The tourist brochure says: “Sundays are a day of worship and rest here in Niue. You can go swimming and sightseeing on a Sunday. However where swimming spots are close to the village churches it is asked that you respect the local custom. There is no fishing, diving or boating on a Sunday.”

Apparently Holland America had to negotiate operating tenders on Sunday. As part of that negotiation Niue opened the tourist information office at noon and allowed some shops, cafes and restaurants to open after church services. Church is at 10. The lecturer explained this all to us. It was also in the bulletin we get in the room the evening before we arrived.

So we decided to go to church. There are rules for that too. “Please wear suitable attire, covered top and knee length skirts for ladies and collared shirts and pants for males.” I couple from the cruise were turned away because she wore slacks and he had shorts. When the first sailors came to Polynesia they were charmed by the women, the free love, and lack of clothing. The missionaries turned that inside out.

We chose to attend the Ekalesia (Congregational) Church. The order of service was familiar to us and although the service was bi-lingual it mostly in the Niuean language. (About 32% of the islanders are bi-lingual, another 11% speak only English, the rest only Niuean or Niuean and another language.)

The congregation was mostly ladies, many with big hats with flowers that put the flowers on the altar to shame. Most had fans, which was a good idea. The male ushers, lay reader and pastor, wore unique suits, suit coats with white shirts and ties, but instead of trousers they wore sarongs of a cloth matching the jacket. The congregation was enlarged by people from the ship, although the church was in no way full. Most of the visitors sat in the back.
The singing was wonderful. A hymn would start with one of the women setting the pitch and lining out the first words. Everyone joined in. The music at first sounded harsh, but as the hymn went on I caught the harmonies and by the end I was entranced. During the keyboard music for the collection some of the congregation hummed or quietly sang along with the piece.

The sermon was bi-lingual. The pastor delivered it in a pleasing lilt, projecting without a microphone, his voice rising and falling. The topic was “being fruitful.” The thrust; being fruitful was not just having a good job and making a lot of money but doing that and spending it wisely, which to the pastor meant on family, the church and investing in the community. In a way I think he was speaking truth to tourists. He praised the grandfathers and grandmothers who were fruitful and left the community its legacy.

The announcements came at the end of the service. The final announcement was; “The total for today’s collection was One thousand, six hundred and fourteen dollars and fifty cents.” A great “Amen” rose from the congregation. This is an astounding amount, around $10 per person, including the visitors. Suzi and I, with our $5 in the collection plate did not hold up our part of the job.

During the final hymn the woman behind us ran forward with an iPad and took a picture of all the cruise ship visitors in the back of the church. After the service she approached us with a big welcome, asked where we were from and wished “May the sea be kind to you.”

After the service there was a gathering on the lawn, which is also the church cemetery. We were all greeted. One woman said she wanted to introduce us to her husband. She took us to a grave with a lei and fresh flowers and said “I dress him up for Church every Sunday, just like I did when he was alive.” It was one of the best “meet the people” experiences I’ve had on a very short visit.

At about noon the tourist office, cafes and shops were scheduled to open so we had some time to walk around on our own. Like on the Cook Islands many homes have their own burial plots in the front yard. We saw several lots where homes had been destroyed by Cyclone Heta back in 2004. The graves were still there with fresh flowers.
When the tourist office opened we learned that there are not only rules for Sundays but rules for visitors the whole week, as a poster told us (and it was repeated in the brochure with the map.) The “Golden Rules for your stay in Niue” included;

• Treat all people with respect and politeness.
• Respect cultural protocols and beliefs and act in a manner consistent with Niuean philosophy
• Appreciate that not everything in Niue is the same as in your country.
• Respect Niue, its environment and facilities.
• Contribute to Niue’s commitment to responsible tourism through appropriate waste management energy and water conservation.
• Avoid walking through populated areas or villages in your swimsuit.
• Dress modestly and appropriately and avoid nudity in public.

There was also a poster with rules for people working in the tourism industry, including showing proper respect for visitors with different customs and dress, taking care of the safety of visitors and operating in a sustainable manner.
Like the Cook Islands, Niue is an independent country in “free association” with New Zealand. It is a coral island, but it sits higher than most coral islands, with a plateau about 60 meters above sea level. It has a lot of limestone caves and is noted for its diving. It was the test bed for the “One Laptop per Child” project being developed for the third world and provided each kid with a basic laptop computer. Niue also has nationwide wireless internet for all island residents. It’s there but island residents admit it’s very slow.

Until recently, Niue was the third worst carbon polluter, per capita, on the planet. The country’s goal is to be 80% carbon neutral by 2025 and has invested heavily in solar. There are solar cells at public buildings and the power company has started setting up “solar farms.” Most houses we saw have solar water heaters although their alignment is confusing. Normally solar units face north in the southern hemisphere. Here they faced in several directions. I suppose being in the tropics the sun comes at you from different directions at different times of year. Many, however, seem to be facing west. I wonder if it’s because people want hot water in the evening.


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