(Images sourced from australiangeographic.com.au)
The first of July marks an important day for the people of the Torres Strait Islands. On this day 149 years ago the London Missionary Society first arrived in the Torres Strait, introducing Christianity to the region. This day is now known as Coming of the Light.
In the late afternoon of July 1st 1871, the Reverends Samuel McFarlane and Archibald Murray of the London Missionary Society, along with several New Caledonian mission teachers, arrived in a boat aptly named Surprise off the coast of Erub island in the far eastern Torres Strait.
One Warrior Clan Elder named Dabad is remembered with particular fondness on this day, for having defied tribal law by welcoming the missionaries to the island, helping the people of Erub to embrace the new religion, and so playing a pivotal role in the story and history the Torres Strait Islands.
This day is often credited as being the ending point of conflict between various groups among the islands. The concept of Christianity was new to the peoples of the Torres Strait Islands, although the religion aligned in many ways with the already existing beliefs of the island people, and so was well embraced.
This year is different given the global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting festivals and communities all around the country. In normal times, every year on the first of July, Coming of the Light Festivals are held throughout the Torres Strait Islands and various locations around Australia.
The day’s celebrations usually include attending church services, feasting, singing Hymns and a re-enactment of the landing of the missionaries on Erub.