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Funeral of the seven martyred Melanesian Brothers

Posted on: November 7, 2003 1:00 PM
Related Categories: Melanesia

[ACNS source: Melanesian Brotherhood] The Investigators from the combined Australian led intervention force (RAMSI), at present working to restore peace and justice in the Solomon Islands, managed - in September - to locate the graves of the seven Melanesian Brothers who had been murdered on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal in April of this year by the militants of Harold Keke.

The bodies were exhumed and brought back to Honiara for a post mortem examination by the Australian and New Zealand led investigation team.

Brother Nathaniel Sado the first brother to be killed was in a separate grave, his remains revealed signs of torture and that he had died from injuries sustained over several days.

Three of the brothers who went to look for him had been shot and killed upon arrival and were buried in a single grave. The other three who went with them revealed signs that they had also been beaten and tortured and shot on the following day and were also buried in one grave.

A full investigation has taken place and the investigating team now believe all those responsible, including Harold Keke and his henchman Ronnie Karr, have been arrested and face charges of the murder of these seven Melanesian Brothers.

The whole nation has mourned the loss of these peacemakers who belonged to the Anglican Religious Community of the Melanesian Brotherhood. Since the news of their deaths and the surrender of those responsible there have been no more acts of murder or hostility to date. The six brothers had been murdered on 24-25 of April when they had gone to the Weather Coast to try and find out what had happened Brother Nathaniel Sado who had been taken hostage and who had been reported murdered. The story of their deaths was reported on the Anglican Communion News Service in August of this year.

The Chaplain of the Melanesian Brotherhood describes the funerals, which have now finally been able to take place at the Motherhouse of the Melanesian Brotherhood at Tabalia, Solomon Islands:

"On Wednesday 5 November our Assistant Head Brother, Robin Lindsay from Papua New Guinea, was laid to rest beside the six Solomon Island Brothers with whom he had died and who had been buried on the 24 October. There was a great sense of peace in the community as on Wednesday night we lit candles and sang around the seven new graves. These brothers were put to death on 24 April and since news of their death we have longed for the time when we could show them and their families the love and respect they deserve. It is hard enough to cope with the funeral of one young brother but the thought of seven was daunting. The effect of these brutal deaths has rippled outwards and as each family arrived from their home islands carrying so much grief it was difficult to believe that we would ever be able to adequately respond to the enormity of the loss.

"I waited at the airport for Brother Francis Tofi's father and mother to arrive from Makira. I had not seen this tall strong Tikopian and former brother since his son's admission as a brother in 1999 when he had worn traditional tapa cloth (bark) dress and had such pride in his son who would take on a ministry he had left off twenty years before. Now arriving at the airport he looked so frail; and bent with grief. He put his arms round me and sobbed and his cry entered into me and I was crying too: for this wonderful son of his and the senseless, senseless brutality that had led to the death of someone so good. Francis' father had been fasting since he heard of his son's kidnapping in April. Around his neck he had hung Francis' faded black brother's shirt into which he cried continuously. This was just but one of seven family's grief. What I still find impossible to understand is the failure of imagination, or compassion, or heart with which people can
commit atrocities without perceiving the suffering caused. Perhaps they do perceive and that is the horror of human cruelty, where pain is mocked, torture is sport and the inhuman takes on a diabolic logic of its own.

"Yet the funeral somehow contained this pain and transcended it. It really did. The full community of brothers and novices in white stood at the bottom of the hill which leads to our Motherhouse at Tabalia. Behind them a huge crowd from the Governor General to village children waiting for the arrival home of their beloved brothers. As one by one the coffins were unloaded from three trucks, the wailing of the crowd grew louder and broke ranks and pushed towards the coffins. Yet the brothers, with such dignity and inner strength one by one took up the coffins from the RAMSI combined police force who handed them over and a long huge procession began up the hill to the chapel. In front of each coffin a banner: "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God" and the name of the brother who had given his life in the cause of peace. In the chapel the crying was silenced by the singing of the community. A deep silence, a love which transcends the words spoken and found expression in the harmony of voices. Brothers placed the Brotherhood medals and sashes on the coffins with such respect and then the families came forward with wreathes and flowers. As we moved towards the Brotherhood graveyard there was a huge surge of grief among the huge crowd and yet again this Brotherhood like bulwarks against this ocean of loss held the chaos of grief together, gave it a form and a structure and a dignity: the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters of chaos bringing into being a new creation. And I was struck as many of us where not by a morbid darkness but by faith and light and love.

"That night the late Francis Tofi's father called me to the house where he was staying. He told me he had buried his grief in the grave with his son and now he would eat again. He bent low over my hands and breathed on them. And I knew that the miracle of God's life was beginning again. It gave me such joy to eat fish with him. He is such a dignified beautiful old man. And it is the love for his son which so shines in him and I remind him this can never die for it is of God and eternal.

"Yet our community could still not fully rest even as we celebrated with such joy - two days later - the admission of 48 new Brothers who took their promises in the Square where 78 years ago the founder of the Melanesian Brotherhood took his promises. Our First Filipino Brother Alejandro led the cheers which followed the celebration of their admission and gave such an effervescent and bubbling speech about his gratitude at being a Brother. The community, quieter than usual but with a seeming greater depth and wisdom celebrated but continued to patiently wait for the final decision of the family of the late Robin Lindsay of whether he too could be buried alongside his Brothers at Tabalia. Robin's grave remained open and waiting and there could be no closure for any of us before he too was laid to rest. By Monday 3 November eight of Brother Robin's closest relatives had arrived from Papua New Guinea. They met at Tabalia and late in the evening called the leaders of the community to tell them that the final decision had already been made. Brothers Robin's bones would be "planted" at Tabalia. It had been a hard and costly decision for the family for we all felt Brother Robin belonged to us. Yet his sister Nancy knew the truth he was first and foremost a Brother and he belonged to God and so should rest with those he led at the heart of the community he served. The delay had seemed painful and yet it was again completely right too for it allowed for a funeral that gave special respect for Robin as our leader and his family from PNG to be fully involved.

"Although we had only 24 hours to arrange the seventh and final funeral everything came into place as though it was always meant to be. The Governor General, the Prime-Minister, Ministers, the PNG High Commission and hundreds of others were there as the Archbishop and Father of the Brotherhood officiated; but the whole of Brother Robin's life was reflected. His Auntie Prisca told the story of his life, his Uncle declared bravely that he forgave his nephew's murderers but called upon them to repent and lift the curse of violence from these Islands. The Prime Minister praised Brother and the Brotherhood for their work for peace and the Archbishop told Brother Robin's family that they had given the Church the very best, the most precious offering they had: their own beloved son and brother. But perhaps the most powerful sign of all was when all the brothers and novices gathered to kneel around the coffin to show their last respects; linked to the coffin and to one another by outstretched hands and the song they sang and their combined tears. And then together as one community they slowly lifted the coffin onto the shoulders of six of their brothers to be led to his final resting place where his relatives sang in his mother tongue. In the midst of sorrow there is life. WE have fought with death and love has won.

"Now may we live out that legacy of peace our brothers have left with us and continue the work they have begun. May we have witnessed something of what passion and death share even now in this life; something of the joy and hope of their resurrection."