Fresh fish and bread makes a fine feast
It doesn’t get much better than sharing a feast of fresh fish and home baked bread on Easter Sunday. Amanda Saxton reports.
Every Easter an Auckland church feeds the multitude with loaves and fishes - a` la Jesus - at a massive feast held on an indoor basketball court.
Men of Onehunga’s Cooperative Parish headed out fishing at dawn on Saturday, while women baked bread in their home kitchens.
Then on the eve of Easter Sunday more than 100 parishioners flock in floral finery - for this is a mainly Pacific Islander congregation - to share the simple two-food meal and each others’ company.
‘‘Getting all these Cook Islanders, Samoans, Niueans, Tongans working together is at the heart of the event,’’ said Reverend Fakaofa Kaio, initiator of the church’s ‘‘ministry of fishing’’.
At 3pm the fishermen rolled up to the church with their hauls; over 120 fat snapper, long silver kahawai, and flat trevally in barrels.
Gripping scaly tails, a team of men speaking island dialects and broken English began slicing thick chunks of fish flesh to fling on the grill.
The only condiments used were oil and salt.
‘‘We try to get the meal as close to what Jesus’ passover meal would have been - that’s when he performed the loaves and fishes miracle,’’ Kaio said.
‘‘Fish and bread is a very basic food but it’s a wonderful meal to have.’’
Leleimua Kamira, 60, was one of Saturday morning’s fishermen and, with his boat, was a bastion of parish fishing trips.
He had fished the Manukau Harbour, while another boatful of men tried their luck in the Waitemata Harbour.
Kamira’s childhood dream was to be ’’the man with the good big boat’’, as he had grown up paddling his fisherman father’s canoe around the Cook Islands.
‘‘I always looked at the men with the motors and told myself ‘one day that will be me, taking all my family out fishing’,’’ he said.
Kamira loved the on-board atmosphere of the Easter trips.
‘‘Once those fish start biting, it’s all about jokes and good competition.’’
The joking continued around the fish chopping stations and grill.
Listening to the multi-lingual banter was Reverend Kaio’s favourite part of the event.
‘‘See? They are usually separate communities, but today they are united by fishing and woe betide the man who catches the smallest fish,’’ he said.
A keen fisherman himself, Tokelau-born Kaio started the fishing ministry when he took over the roughly 300 member parish 12 years ago.
‘‘The concept is from Tokelau ... our word ‘ inati‘ means when folks go out fishing then distribute the catch amongst everyone,’’ he said.
The event had pulled a crowd of both feasters and helpers annually.
This year however, fearing the perils of Cyclone Cook, Kaio had suggested buying fish from the market.
‘‘But they said, ‘Rev, we’ve always had a fine weekend’ - and look how well it turned out.’’
Women started arriving after 4pm, adding the aroma of freshly baked bread to the grilled fish smell permeating the church.
Made from traditional island recipes, their fare ranged from dense, unleavened coconut bread to springy brown loaves.
A glorious clash of colours and patterns accompanied them - tropical shirts and lavalava were worn in force, and one lady matched a sparkly fake flower crown with her green floral dress and leopard skin handbag.
In contrast, one of the church’s organ players was a lady from Switzerland with long white hair, draped in a black cloak.
‘‘I am one of the few palagi here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,’’ she said in her SwissGerman accent, not wanting to be named.
‘‘They always say ‘you are one of us’ - but I say I’m not, because I can’t dance.
‘‘I just love to watch them dance.’’
She said she enjoyed the ‘‘flamboyance and glamour’’ of a Pasifika parish, and the fact they filled the church with families and song.
‘‘That’s not usual here in New Zealand these days,’’ she added.
The parish sat down to eat their loaves and fishes around a long line-up of tables at 6pm; a bright swathe through the vast pale blue painted gymnasium.
Kaio made a speech about the biblical origin of the event, and its history within his parish.
More tables and chairs were sourced, as more and more people filed in to pile plastic plates with food.
‘‘We never know how many will arrive as we’re not about RSVPing,’’ he said.
‘‘But we always have more than enough to feed the multitude - it’s sort of our Easter miracle.’’
Snapper heads get fried on the barbecue for the feast.
Reverend Fakaofa Kaio initiated Onehunga Co-operative Parish’s so-called ministry of fishing when he took over 12 years ago.