Learn everything you need to know about the Coming of the Light celebration in the Torres Straits.
A country of diverse cultures, Australia hosts a celebration close to the hearts of the Torres Straits Islands – the Come of the Light Day every 1 July.
On this day, the celebration of living on the continent together with the sharing of a nation united takes place. The meaning behind “Coming of the Light” refers to leaving the darkness and coming out into the light. It acts as a symbol of emerging into enlightenment or awareness after spiritual darkness in the form of an arrival or birth. It symbolises an awakening that brings hope and light toward the future.
The history before the Coming of the Light
Long before the arrival of Christian colonisers, Torres Strait Islanders had previous contact with Muslim with the continued appeal of Islam to some Aboriginal people.
Traditional Indonesian boats were responsible for bringing Muslim fishermen to the area where they travelled from flourishing trade cities such as Makassar looking for the much desired sea cucumber.
Although it isn’t clear the precise time Makassan traders arrived, historians have revealed that it may be as early as the 1750s.
The Coming of the Light celebration marks the arrival of Christian missionaries. There are mixed opinions about the event with some believing that these missionaries were responsible for native Aboriginals to lose sight of their culture. Aboriginal people adopted Christianity after the arrival of missionaries with the continued practice of peaceful traditions and ways of life that worked in conjunction with the belief.
Celebrating Coming of the Light in the Torres Strait
It goes without saying that Torres Strait Islanders hold a deep connection with Mother Nature and the sea for thousands of years. With approximately 274 islands that cover 48,000 square kilometres, the lands that lie between Papua New Guinea and the Cape York Peninsula light up every 1 July.
For decades, fishermen, hunters and agriculturalists inhabited the islands, maintaining deep customs and traditions that passed on from generation to generation.
1 July 1871 marks the day the London Missionary Society led by Reverend Samuel McFarland arrived on Erub Island. Dabad, the Warrior Clan Elder of Erub witnessed the arrival and was presented the bible upon McFarland dropping to his knees. Dabad accepted the Bible, referring to it as “The Light”. And with the gesture, Christianity was introduced to the Torres Strait Islands and was adopted in belief, ceremony and ritual – forming part of Aboriginal culture.
The acceptance of missionaries at the Torres Straits led to an influx of trade and industry including a jump in foreign workers through increased business opportunities. Cultural diversity shifted, shaping the identity and traditions of the Torres Islander.
In celebration of this significant moment, the people of the Torres Straits celebrate the transition from darkness to light every year. The event encompasses storytelling of history, dancing and re-enactments of the encounter between the missionaries and the clan’s people.
The Coming of the Light celebration brings forth a unique opportunity to celebrate Islander culture, food and stories. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for Anglicans to express their faith.
The celebration is an official public holiday for the Torres Strait Islands, and community members organise events, helping to plan and manage local festivities to bring the wider community together.
Between 1 July and 4 July, there will be free activities across the island, with more than Torres Strait Island artists present and showcasing their art, including dance and performance. There are also plenty of free cultural workshops that include coconut husking, kulap making, storytelling and weaving.
A great place to be on Thursday Island
When looking to celebrate the Coming of the Light on Thursday Island, one of the best places to be is the Grand Hotel on Thursday Island.
An adored hub among the local community, the Grand Hotel has been standing since 1890 although the original structure was destroyed by the fire in 1990. It is believed that Somerset Maughan wrote a few short stories from the old veranda while enjoying a gin sling and embracing the waterfront views of the Torres Strait.
With unbeatable views that will surely mesmerise, a visit to the Grand Hotel is a must for those who know how to enjoy breathtaking views. Offering a premium location for your next stay on Thursday, the Grand Hotel Thursday Island is the place to be on the day of the Coming of the Light as a strong supporter of the event.
Delicious food, ice cold beverages, great local atmosphere, and weekly fun activities that will entertain, it’s hard to miss out on this waterfront location. Book your stay or dining at the Grand Hotel by calling the team on 07 4069 1557.