While the Catholic Church of Melsisi in Central Pentecost is currently going through substantial media publicity to raise Vt30 million, to rebuild the huge church which was destroyed by Category 5 Cyclone Harold this year, the church also experienced unreported human tragedy early this century in a clash between the heathen and the baptized, which claimed to have caused untold loss of life.
Now a couple; Margaret, 83, and Mikael Tapilip Virelala, 90, are the survivors of that fateful era.
While sitting next to his wife, Tapilip Virelala says he was aware of the presence of the tall young girl in the school they attended together but it was not as if he sensed that she was going to be the one.
Of course it was not until his father had spoken to her father and it was agreed that their children would be an “item” towards marriage.
“My father told me about her and I thought ‘why not?’”, he remembers.
In an exclusive interview, I ask him if he more than liked the girl who was almost as tall as him and he smiles and agrees, to a chorus of cheers and laughter from his grandchildren and great grandchildren. The couple are blessed with 26 grandchildren and 46 great grandchildren.
Mikael is from Tansip Village while his wife, Margaret, is from Lemalda Village.
Despite not going into detail of how they came to know each other, their children insist that their marriage was part of vital reconciliation ceremony between the “heathen” of Central Pentecost and the newly baptized Christians of Melsisi Catholic Faith.
One of their sons, Jean Paul Virelala says there was a fall out between the two groups and the “heathen” trespassed on the Catholic compound where they destroyed church property including the wooden bell used to call for worship. Villagers were killed.
“The Catholic priest supplied his flock with bullets to shoot at the heathen. To stop the killings, four young girls were given by the heathen and four from the church as a form of reconciliation ceremony towards peace and that was how our mother (from the heathen’s side) came to marry our father (who was already baptised)”, Virelala junior claims.
Today the couple live in a big house surrounded by their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren at Number Two Lagoon. It is a crowded, big and happy family!
The elderly couple have engraved their names among the few remaining couples anywhere in the country, who have enjoyed a long marriage life and are still living it.
Asked to give a reason for their long life so far, Jean Paul Virelala puts it to their Christian faith, hard work and diet.