Electrifying Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas

Electrifying Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas

Electrifying Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas

Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore (Photo credit: needpix.com)

This story is on the highly historical Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas held at the Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore from 1 to 3 January 1971, and includes the author’s personal reminisces. This Conference was one of the nine Continental and Oceanic Conferences called for by the Universal House of Justice during the Nine-Year Plan period. Initially, the Supreme Body had wanted this Conference to be held in Jakarta, Indonesia. Then came a communication from that Supreme Institution saying that the event may be held in Kuala Lumpur. While an appropriate location was found, the government permit was not forthcoming, owing to the security problems stemming from racial riots that took place in Kuala Lumpur in May 1969. Therefore, the Conference was moved to the Victoria Memorial Hall in Singapore, the very venue where the Inter-Continental Conference of 1958 had taken place. The venue in Singapore: Victoria Theatre  at  left, and Victoria Memorial Hall at right (Photo credit: needpix.com)

Preparatory Works in Malaysia

When the news was first broken there was an air of excitement sweeping across communities in the region. The early believers, very few in numbers, were fortunate to have attended the Inter-continental conference in the same spot in 1958. For the vast majority of the first generation Bahá’ís, this was a major international conference to be convened at their doorstep. As the request to hold this international gathering was rather at a short notice, resources had to be mobilized quickly. Several committees, institution individuals played their remarkable roles. The National Coordinating Unit of Malaysia came out with a checklist of all the physical arrangements. As Singapore lacked human resources, Malaysia had to take the lead. Mr. Inbum Chinniah, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia was the Director of Operations. Inbum Chinniah sent a few individuals to Singapore to get the local logistics working.   The dynamic Mr. Yin Hong Shuen was the Director of Publicity for the Conference. In September, Yin Hong Shuen with his journalistic background organized a Proclamation Seminar at the National Bahá’í Centre in Kuala Lumpur. One of the main topics discussed was the proclamation strategy for the Oceanic Conference.

Days rolled by quite fast, and new strategies were worked out to ensure that the expected conference fever became widespread. A few months before the conference, all letters posted from the National Bahá’í Centre in Kuala Lumpur had the announcement of the conference stamped on the envelopes to serve as constant reminders. What a proclamation as well! Several Bahá’ís reported that many postmen had become curious enquirers when delivering the letters, wanting to know more about the Conference and the Bahá’í Faith. In mid-1970 Dr. Sydney I. Dean and his wife came to West Malaysia, and on the request of the national institution, they went around the country to encourage believers to participate in the conference, and finally went to Singapore to assist in the physical arrangements. Mr. Bhaskaran Sangaran Nair, member of the National Spiritual Assembly based in Alor Gajah town in Malacca state, had to make several trips to Singapore to keep track of the progress.

The excitement of the Conference was enhanced when the Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Muhájir sent a telegram on 12 September to the National Spiritual Assembly suggesting Malaysian Bahá’ís carry out extensive teaching and proclamation prior to the historic Oceanic Conference. Some days later he himself arrived and met the members of the national institution, national committees, and key believers and suggested a Herculean task of distributing close to half a million pamphlets in Malaysia and Singapore to serve a form of pre-conference proclamation. He further proposed one thousand Bahá’ís participating in the Oceanic Conference, of whom five hundred would be new believers. The national institution took the challenge and worked out the finances and other details to carry out this request.

In December, the National Coordinating Unit quickly went around the country organizing regional conferences to encourage the Bahá’ís to attend the Conference. On top of the National Coordinating Unit had to organize the distribution of the pamphlets in Malaysia and Singapore. The Asli teachers went into the Malayan jungles to encourage the aboriginal believers to attend the conference. The national institution provided a subsidy of Malaysian dollars 15 to needy individuals to attend the conference. Finally, news reached the community that Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga would be the official representative of the Supreme Body and, Mr. Collis Featherstone would also be attending. This glad tiding became a great motivating factor for many more to attend. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia immediately appointed Dr. M.M. Sreenivasan from Butterworth in the north to be Officer in Attendance for Mr. Olinga. Wishing to make this event etched in the memories of the participants, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia, for the first-time printed diaries based on Bahá’í Calendar and the Gregorian calendar.

As December was drawing to a close, the immigration departments across the country were crowded with Bahá’ís rushing to apply for travel documents. The conference became an occasion for many to step out from their homes to enter a foreign country- Singapore.  The Asli (aboriginal) friends were gathered in the State of Perak and brought down to be accommodated in the National Bahá’í Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The following day they were taken to the immigration department in Kuala Lumpur to apply for restricted travel documents to enter Singapore. That was a rare sight for the immigration officers. The Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur too was equally packed with Bahá’ís who needed visas to enter Singapore.

The Singapore Scene

The Singapore Bahá’í Centre at Frankel Estate became a hive of activities, with volunteers and helpers working round the clock to ensure no stone was left unturned. Details of the logistics were meticulously handled, not without any pain. From Malaysia, many travel teachers and helpers had arrived in Singapore some nineteen days before the Conference and were accommodated at the Bahá’í Centre. The helpers had to perform numerous tasks – answering phone calls, receiving believers from abroad, accommodating them, and providing meals. There was always a group of believers, including Bahá’í children folding and bundling the pamphlets to be taken away and distributed all over Singapore, under the supervision of the National Coordination Unit. As days of the Conference approached, they worked even harder. Many were exhausted and some fell ill. Yankee Leong, the first believer of Malaya was there to serve tea and keep their spirit high. The hard work was rewarded with the postmen bringing to the Bahá’í Centre several reply cards. Cooking in the kitchen went round the clock, with Miss Lean Beng Liew as one of the helpers. Accommodations were also arranged in the immediate neighborhood.  A house behind the Bahá’í Centre was arranged as a temporary office, which kept Inbum Chinniah on his toes.

Folding Pamphlets. L-R: Kenneth Mak, Auxiliary Board member Betty, Gina Leong, Koh Ai Leen, and Khoo Swee Thay.

Some helpers and volunteers at the Singapore Bahá’í Centre. L-R: Dennis Chee, Muthiah, Maheswaran (at the back) Stella Ong, Evelyn Ng, and Moy Chin.

Local Publicity

Close to the conference, more than 1,000 commemorative books called “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Stanwood Cobb were printed and distributed in person to the people of Malaysia and Singapore. Copies of the same were mailed to the high-ranking dignitaries. Thousands of pamphlets were distributed inviting the locals to a public talk entitled “A Ray of Hope” by Mr. Enoch Olinga, and an exhibition by Dr. Chellie Sundram. The advertisement for the talk by Mr. Enoch Olinga was placed on public buses in Singapore. For close to one-week Singapore was awash in a sea of publicity.

Media and VIP contacts

Yin Hong Shuen oversaw media publicity worked very hard to get the widest publicity. An early report in The Straits Times, dated 9 December 1970, flashed the news that 1,000 friends are expected to participate in this Conference and mentioned about the exhibition and that Mr. Olinga would be giving a public talk. Mr. Olinga was expected to arrive on 27 December, but there was no news of his arrival. The organizers of the conference were very concerned. But he had quietly arrived and settled in his hotel. Then on 29 December,  a call came from Mr. Olinga that he was already in Singapore. Inbum requested N.S.S. Silan, Chairman of the National Coordinating Unit of Malaysia to fetch him from the hotel. Silan drove in his Volkswagen car (WX 3434) and took him to the Proclamation Seminar that was organized by Yin Hong Shuen. Meanwhile, Yin Hong Shuen sent out invitations to every single newspaper and television station in advance for a press conference, followed by telephone calls. Two reporters turned up and a photograph of Mr. Olinga, Mr. Featherstone, and Mrs. George Lee was taken. Invitations were also sent to the Prime Minister and his Ministers to attend a VIP official reception arranged with the Hands of the Cause of God, but unfortunately, they could not come.

Pre-Conference Sessions

Pre-Conference sessions were also held two days before the Conference, mainly in the Cultural Centre of Singapore to adequately prepare for the conference sessions.  A special Proclamation Seminar was organized to enable participants from the various countries to give suggestions on how to make the conference a success. The Universal House of Justice gave directions for the conduct of workshops on Child Education, Holy Days, Teaching the Chinese, University Societies and the Bahá’í Funds. The second day of the seminar was also graced by the presence of the Hands of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga and Mr. Collis Featherstone who had arrived in Singapore a few days in advance. Also present were the Counsellors, Auxiliary Board members, and representatives of the various National Spiritual Assemblies.

Zeny Leon of the Philippines speaks at the Proclamation Seminar on 30 December.
Seated are Mrs. Shirin Fozdar and Mr. Yin Hong Shuen.

They finally arrived

Most of the friends had arrived by the evening of  Wednesday 30 December 1970. Mr. Chong Boo Haw chartered a bus from Alor Star at a fare of M$38 per head. This bus had a big banner reading, BAHÁ’Í OCEANIC CONF” that proclaimed the Faith all the way from Alor Star to Singapore and back. Mr. A. P. Arumugam chartered a bus for the state of Selangor while Mr. G. A. Naidu chartered one for the believers of the state of Negeri Sembilan. One bus from Laos that started on 26 December had some tribal believers who had never stepped out of their villages. They were joined by some believers in Bangkok. It had a proclamation banner giving publicity for the Conference as it passed through Thailand and West Malaysia all the way to Singapore. Not surprisingly it was the Bahá’í songs that were sung in all these buses all the way, interspersed by prayers that banished fatigue. Mr. G. Kuppusamy from Negeri Sembilan who had pioneered to Sarawak led nineteen Iban believers by a boat. Many pioneers in the region too arrived in Singapore. Some Bahá’ís hitchhiked to Singapore from various parts of Malaysia. I myself hitchhiked from the northernmost part of West Malaysia right up to Kuala Lumpur. On reaching Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Chong Boo Haw, offered me a free seat on the bus he had chartered, enabling to continue my journey to Singapore and back to the north. Some believers with limited means, rode on motorcycles all the way from the northernmost communities travelling through bumpy, narrow and winding roads, and sometimes travelling on dangerous stretches, while carrying knapsacks on their back- and with no safety helmets. Those Bahá’ís who did not have much financial means were accommodated at the Singapore Bahá’í Centre.

The busload of friends from Alor Star.  Standing at the extreme right in short pants is the author.

Unbridled Enthusiasm

It appeared that some volunteers and helpers just could not contain their enthusiasm to see Mr. Olinga at the conference proper. While having dinner at the eating stalls, an idea occurred to go to the hotel to meet up with Mr. Olinga. So did a group went to the front desk of the hotel where Mr. Olinga stayed and said they wanted to see him. The message was passed to the room of Mr. Olinga. A short while later, he came down, welcomed them with a warm smile and took them to a corner in the hotel lobby. He asked about the proclamation activities going on. They appraised him on the status. Mr. Olinga mentioned that those teaching experiences would prepare them for international services in the form of pioneering to other countries, perhaps hinting that they should become ready for international pioneering. He mentioned that countries such as India, Africa and in many other countries in Asia and South America people were thirsty and curious to hear and learn new ideas and they can, step by step, become attracted to the teachings of the Faith. After some inspiring conversation, the friends returned, and some boasted of this privilege they had. The natural reaction was, “You too Brutus? You left me out?” kind of remarks!

The friends who had checked into their places of accommodation were familiarizing themselves with the roads leading to the conference venue. I was with the group from the State of Kedah and were accommodated on at a modest hostel in Geylang area. We all went for lunch on Thursday 31 December 1970. As we were crossing a junction we spotted Hands of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga and Mr. Featherstone crossing the road ahead of us. No words could express our feelings. Chong Boo Haw asked me to rush to greet them. I ran fast and greeted “Allah-u-Abha” to both the Hands of the Cause of God. Mr. Olinga bent down, hugged me and kissed on my cheek, while Featherstone shook hands with me. They looked across the road and saw my group of Bahá’ís waving at them. The Hands of the Cause of God waved back with so much radiance. Just then the traffic signal turned green, and the Hands of the Cause of God had to cross the road, and off they went, waving back to us.  When I walked back to join the group, Chong Boo Haw told me, “You have got a spiritual kiss. Make sure you do not wash your face for a week.”  I almost took that seriously at that tender age of 15.

Unity Feast

At last, came the long-awaited moment. The friends gathered on the evening of Thursday, 31 December 1970 with a Unity Feast held in the hall of the Cultural Centre. Dr. Sreenviasan introduced himself to Mr. Olinga as Officer in Attendance for him, and was with him throughout the days of the Conference. Some five hundred attended. When the Hands of the Cause of God appeared on the stage they were greeted by thunderous applause. Following prayers that were read in various languages, Mr. Olinga addressed and inspired the Bahá’ís. As a representative of the Universal House of Justice, he conveyed the loving greetings of the Supreme Body. The session was short and yet generated much joy. When the talks were over, the Bahá’ís mingled in a magical atmosphere and were extremely thrilled to meet friends from various backgrounds, far and near. There was no word to describe the electrical atmosphere-a new spirit, as never felt before, permeated the hall. The Hands of the Cause of God Mr. Olinga and Mr. Featherstone met as many as possible in the crowd of Bahá’ís from over twenty-two countries that were present.

Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga, representing the Supreme Body, addresses at the Unity Feast.

On the request of the organizers, the Bahá’ís came dressed in their traditional costumes. The tribes from Laos and the aboriginal believers from Malaysian jungles, as well as Iban Bahá’ís of Sarawak – all came in their tribal dresses. Kanagaratnam, an Asli teacher who brought the Asli believers came in the Asli traditional dress. The Asli friends were visibly the most joyful when they felt part of the big Bahá’í family, especially when the urban believers and believers from overseas hugged them with so much Bahá’í love. Even one elderly believer from Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Steven Davidasan Manoharan came dressed in dhoti, like an Indian bridegroom.

Inbum Chinniah greets Mr. Olinga at the Unity Feast. To his left are Krishnan Sinniah and Leong Ho Chiew.

Some Asli (aboriginal) believers from the jungles of Malaysia with Munusamy at the extreme right, during the Unity Feast.

There could not have been a piece of more compelling evidence that we were truly “flowers of one garden”. In the innermost corner of my heart, I was more than convinced for the first time, that world unity was not an utopia. It was a great feeling to see the pioneers in different parts of the world turning up at the conference. Greetings of “Allah-u-Abha” filled the air. There were hugs and tears of joy trickling down the cheeks. There were radiant faces with broad smiles everywhere. This spirit was simply beyond description.  All man-made barriers fizzled off and vanished in thin air, and it would be no overstatement that all believers were indissolubly welded and joined in heart and soul. The excited press, ever hungry for news had gathered outside the hall, wanting to absorb on whatever they could. Mr. Jack Davis, a pioneer to the Philippines had to sacrifice his presence in the hall to attend to the reporters.

Conference Opens

By the eve of the conference, all teams, task forces and individuals assigned to ensure the smooth running of the Conference were on maximum alert.  The Information Officers trained by Yin Hong Shuen in Kuala Lumpur were told to take their positions in welcoming the guests and attend to the needs of the participants. Mr. S. Nagaratnam and Mr. S. Bhaskaran were ready as rapporteurs to record the proceedings of the conference. On the morning of Friday, 1 January 1971, the Conference took place in the fully carpeted and air-conditioned Victoria  Theatre Hall. The time had come for receiving Hand of the Cause of God and representative of the Bahá’í World Centre, Mr. Enoch Olinga. Mr. Inbum Chinniah was with his walkie talkie, connected to some workers behind the scene.  Mr. Leong Ho Chiew who was holding a high position in the Royal Malaysian Police Force was in charge of security matters. He and Mr. Ganasa Murthi Ramasamy were monitoring and reporting that everything went well to ensure a flawless opening of the Conference.  Through prior arrangements, the organizers had lined up, at the entrance, some representatives from various countries to officially welcome the Hand of the Cause of God. Dr. John Fozdar, Chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia, and himself a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh welcomed Mr. Olinga at the ground floor where he alighted from a car that was arranged for him. Everyone was seated, waiting for the official opening.

Dr. John Fozdar, a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh welcoming Mr. Enoch Olinga, “Father of Victories”.

Inbum Chinniah, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia greets the Hand of the Cause of God. Looking on is Nagendran Nagalingam.

Mrs. Shirin Fozdar from Thailand greets Mr. Olinga. Between them are Vicente Samaniego from the Philippines and Mr. Loi from Vietnam. At the right is Counselor Yankee Leong, first believer of Malaya.

Mr. Anthony Louis greets Mr. Olinga, with Inbum Chinniah between them. At the right is N. S. S. Silan, Chairman of National Coordinating Unit, Malaysia.

Mr. Firaydun from Laos greets Mr. Olinga, with Mrs. Grete Fozdar between them. At the right are Mrs. George Lee (Singapore) and Mr. Rusi Irani (pioneer from India to Brunei). At the extreme left is Mrs. Shirin Fozdar.

Sabapathy, Malaysian pioneer to India greets Mr. Olinga. To the left of Sabapathy is Narayanasamy from Sungei Petani town in Malaysia. Smiling at extreme left is Mr. Appu Raman, member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Malaysia.

As all were seated both on the stage and in the Theatre, there was for a moment a deafening silence. Taking to the stage in an atmosphere of charged excitement, Dr. John Fozdar welcomed the local participants and Bahá’ís from over twenty-two countries including Turkey, Alaska, Ethiopia, Arabia, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, India, Indonesia, and Laos. He then gave a concise account of the history of the early days of the Faith in the region, bringing to the fore names of some pioneers who had been immortalized in annals of the Cause through their indelible services. He underscored the pivotal role of the beloved Guardian who was a guiding force in shaping the destiny of the region and the entire world through his Ten-Year Plan. Dr. John spoke with such erudition, that there was pin-drop silence. Dr. John then introduced the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga as the “Father of Victories”, a title that was conferred upon him by the beloved Guardian. After thunderous applause from the audience, Mr. Olinga, with great humility read out the special message from the Universal House of Justice. The message highlighted the remaining goals of the Nine-Year Plan and concluded with the need to elect the National Spiritual Assembly for Singapore by Ridván 1972. This news was welcomed with thunderous applause. Until then Singapore was part of the Malaysian Bahá’í community.

 An emotionally charged official opening session.

After the official opening was over, a highly charged atmosphere permeated in the Hall.  The believers adjourned to the main hall of the Victoria Memorial Hall to proceed with the Conference. The Conference that had a well-prepared program had several touching moments.

Exhibition of Par Excellence

One of the highlights of the conference was the public exhibition held in the Victoria Memorial Hall on the theme “A Ray of Hope for Everyone” from 1 to 3 January 1971. All participants of the conference visited the exhibition during conference break sessions. That was the product of brilliant emanation from the mind of the multi-talented Counsellor Dr. Chellie Sundram of Penang, Malaysia. His wife, Mrs. Shantha Sundram informed the author of the details of how Dr. Sundram visualised and developed the exhibition. Dr. Sundram carried out intense research to visualise what would be the final product. The exhibition materials were designed, constructed, and prepared with assistance coming from a small band of devoted believers in Penang. Finally, each piece was transported to Singapore a few days earlier by the multi-talented Counsellor Dr. Chellie Sundram from Penang. They reached the destination despite police and customs red tapes. He had calculated every screw, nut, nail, panel, etc. When they arrived in Singapore, he found no necessity to get any additional part. Then they were assembled. Twenty-five large exhibits covered several aspects of the Faith. As one entered the hall, a beautiful presentation of the Unity prayer invited the visitors. At the other end of the hall was an impressive ten-foot-high mural of the Shrine of the Báb. The Central Figures; Selected Writings; Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh to the Kings and Rulers, accompanied by the photos of those Kings and Rulers; photographs of the six Intercontinental Conferences held in Africa, Australia, America, Panama, Europe, and India; the United Nations and the Bahá’í Faith; photographs of the Thirty One Hands of the Cause of God with a short history on each; copies of the Malaysian  Bahá’í News Magazines; and the global growth of the Faith were highlighted at the exhibition. There was also a special booth for prayers presented in special decorative inserts. Another section was on Bahá’í Children’s art, displaying colorful selections of paintings by children between the ages of three and ten. There was also the continuous screening of a series of different scenes on a back-projection screen displaying Bahá’u’lláh’s “Blessed is the Spot…” prayer. A continuous slide program was also going on, featuring thirty-six selected Bahá’í Writings. The film “New Wind” was screened daily at specific intervals.  The number of visitors from the Singapore public was not that encouraging. But the Bahá’í visitors to the exhibition found themselves entering a new world altogether, and they left completely impressed with awe and wonder! This exhibition is yet to be paralleled by another as it was manifestly an exhibition of par excellence. Mr. Olinga himself commented, “I have not seen anything in the world to compare with it. I am sure the designer had been guided by the Holy Spirit to produce such a magnificent, dignified and beautiful exhibition.”

Arriving at the Exhibition Hall. L-R: Dr. S.I. Dean, Mr. S. Nagaratnam, Mr. S. Bhaskaran, Mr. Enoch Olinga, Dr. Chellie Sundran, Mrs. Shantha Sundram (at the back), Yankee Leong, and Dr. John Fozdar.

The two happy Hands of the Cause of God at the Exhibition.

Tan Boon Tin, a new believer from Alor Star, Mr. Featherstone and Dr. Chellie Sundram at the Exhibition.

The two Hands of the Cause of God congratulating Dr. Chellie Sundram for a fine job done. L-R: Mrs. Madge Featherstone, Mr. Olinga, Dr. Sreenivasan, Dr. Chellie Sundram, Yankee Leong, Dr. Astani (Indonesia) and Mr. Featherstone.  

Dr. Sundram introducing to Mr. Olinga some who had helped him in preparing the exhibits.    L-R: Susheel Sundram, Nirmala, Jeannie Seow, and Bobby.

It was later learnt that Counselor Momtazi from Japan who saw this jaw-dropping exhibition was so taken up that he offered to buy every piece of the exhibits from Dr. Sundram to be taken back to Japan to be displayed there, but Dr. Sundram politely declined.  By any measure that was a jaw-dropping exhibition.

Second Day

On Saturday, 2 January 1971, we woke up to be greeted with news of the conference that was flashed in The Straits Times. Part of it read:

YOUTH HAVE LITTLE TIME FOR RELIGION: LEADER– Youth today have little time for religion, a religious leader, Mr. Enoch Olinga said today. “But I don’t blame them for turning away from their religions. They have my sympathies,” he said. “They want to see unity in the world, and therefore break away from constrictive religions which prevent them from mixing freely with others from other religious ethnic groups.”

All were gathered at the Conference Hall early in the morning, and on time. A cable was sent to the Supreme Body as follows:


One moving moment was the introduction of the five Continental Counsellors, eleven Auxiliary Board members and the thirty-five members of the fourteen National Spiritual Assemblies. They all came up the stage, and Mr. Olinga introduced each to the conference. The five Counsellors, only four years since holding the position, were already leaving indelible traces in their respective areas. As they walked up the stage, they were welcomed by the thunderous applause from the Conference.

Counselors with Hands of the Cause of God. L-R: K. Payman, Vicente Samaniego, Mr. Olinga, Mr. Featherstone, Yankee Leong, Momtazi, and Dr. Sundram.

Equally thrilling and moving was the session where Mr. Olinga called upon the pioneers to come on the stage. It was an unexpected and shocking pleasure to see the huge number of pioneers crowding the on the stage. Mr. Olinga called upon a few to talk about their pioneering experiences. Two handicapped believers – Mr. Bounmy from Laos came in crutches and  Mrs. Louis Calley from Japan came in a wheelchair. They appeared on the stage and spoke of their experiences. They drove home a powerful message that being handicapped was never an obstacle to pioneering.  In calling for pioneers Enoch Olinga said, “If you have the desire to pioneer that is sufficient. Do not worry about your problems. Bahá’u’lláh would guide you…We must be light as the air, not heavy, we must be detached from all things save God.” After he made the call, more than sixty believers came up the stage to volunteer for pioneering. Inbum Chinniah went up with his whole family to pioneer and was warmly greeted by Mr. Olinga. It was Mr. Luke Lee Sim Poi, the only blind believer of Malaysia who had hitchhiked for the Conference from Alor Star, on whom the crowd focused when he too arose to pioneer. A very moved Mr. Olinga embraced him with much love and asked him to address the Conference. As Mr. Luke spoke in his mild voice, several friends were moved to tears. Later several friends took a photo with him. Unable to believe what they saw, members of the local press interviewed Mr. Luke Lee. The next day, The Straits Times of Singapore carried an article about Luke with a photograph of him feeling the artwork at the Bahá’í exhibition with his hands. Some background details of him were also flashed in the paper. That was one of the sessions that is forever stamped on my memory.

Pioneers who came for the Conference in a group photograph with the two Hands of the Cause of God.

Mr. Enoch Olinga congratulates Nabil Chinniah and his siblings for arising to pioneer with his parents Mr. and Mrs. Inbum Chinniah.

A very moved Mr. Olinga requests Luke Lee to say a few words.

Trans-Continental Telephone Call

While the Oceanic Conference was in session at Singapore, a Continental Conference of the West and Central Africa was being held simultaneously in Monrovia, Liberia. On this second day, an international telephone call was arranged to speak to Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum in the Liberia Conference. However, at that material point in time, the Public Announcement system failed. Ravichandran went up the stage to fix the technical glitch, but there was not much to be done. The audience was unaware of what was going on in the stage. Inbum Chinniah quickly called upon Anthony Louis of Malacca to go up the stage and explain the situation, which he did well in his usual loud booming voice,  which enabled even the last row in the conference to hear him loud and clear. But Dr. John Fozdar managed to speak on the phone and convey the love of the participants from the Singapore Conference. Then Mr. Enoch Olinga spoke to Amatu’l-Bahá and Dr. Muhájir in Monrovia. Later Mr. Olinga conveyed the content of his conversation to the Conference participants in Singapore. Trans-continental Telephone call. L-R: Dr. John Fozdar, Inbum Chinniah. Mr. Featherstone, Mr. Olinga and Mr. S. Ravichandran.

Public Talk

Professor Bausani from Italy was the Chairman at the Public Talk by Enoch Olinga. The attendance was good, owing to the ample publicity given.

Soul-stirring Talks

The Hand of the Cause of God Collis Featherstone spoke on the “Individual in the New World Order”; Professor Bausani of Italy spoke on “Principles of Education from a Bahá’í Point of View”; and Philip Marangella from Japan spoke on “A New Race of Men”; and  Mrs. Shirin Fozdar spoke on the Bahá’í Fund. Contributions in cash and pledges amounted to S$38,000.

Other Interesting Moments

The Bahá’ís who came from different parts of the world brought along gifts to be shared with Bahá’ís present. Dr. Astani, a pioneer from Indonesia made hundreds of badges of the symbol of the Greatest Name and distributed to the friends. The Bahá’ís of Saigon brought Bahá’í Calendar bearing a colour photograph of the Shrine of the Báb in the background and distributed to the friends.  These calendars adorned many Bahá’í homes for years later.  Malaysian Bahá’í diaries printed in Malaysia and brought at the last moment were also distributed. I was a recipient of the badges, calendar, and the diary. The friends found such joy in mingling in the colourful crowd and taking photos. The two Hands of the Cause of God were their target. Everyone flocked to them to have photos taken. Different friends and groups lovingly “dragged” Mr. Olinga to meet them. He had a sing-along session with the Malaysian believers and special sessions with all the tribal friends from abroad. In all the gatherings he started with “Are you happy? Are you really happy?” Upon getting the response from the friends he would say, “The Master has said that if we are not happy at this season what season are we waiting for?”

Mr. Olinga at a sing-along session with friends, mostly Malaysians. L-R: R. Ganasa Murthy, Choo Yeok Boon, Jami Subramaniam, Sri Krishnan, Mr. Enoch Olinga, S. Satanam, Yin Hong Shuen. Laos and Thai friends. Standing third from the left is Mr. Pol Antipolo from the Philippines, with Meo and Yau tribes and native believers from Laos. Squatting second from the left is Mr. Dawood, Mr. Firaydun, Mr. Faiz Yagenagi, and his wife Meungma at his back with their baby.

Vietnam friends with Professor Avaregan in the middle. 

Truly “Flowers of One Garden”. Standing at the extreme left is Philip Marangella, with Betty next to him. Squatting at the extreme left is Khoo Swee Thay, and squatting at the extreme right is Counselor K. Payman. Standing at the extreme right is Shirin Fozdar. Standing 3rd from the right is Mr. Eshetu from Ethiopia.


In accordance with the instruction of the Supreme Body several workshops were held before the conference and during the conference on a range of interesting topics. The resolutions were read out on the last day.

Third Day

Sunday, 3 January 1971 was the half-day spent in wrapping up the Conference. We woke on the last day to read more news coverage. A half-page feature appeared in the Sunday Mail with the caption “BAHAI – a Rose by any Name.” Another short article on Luke Lee appeared in the Eastern Sun with the caption “Blindness does not dampen Luke’s Spirit.” Fanfare, a teenage magazine published a photo feature on Jack Davis entitled “A Killer in a Flower Garden.”  “Singapore This Week” and “Singapore Travel News” the two tourist pamphlets carrying the news on the Conference, Exhibition and Public talk with the photo of the Hand of the Cause were widely circulated in the hotels in Singapore.

Youth Session

One more highlight of the Conference was the Youth Session on the last day. Representatives of the youths from all the countries represented were invited to the stage to speak. Nine resolutions were written down on a banner and sent to the Universal House of Justice. A pledge of loyalty was handed over to the Hand of the Cause of God Enoch Olinga to be forwarded to the Supreme Body.  A prayer was also said for one of the most active Bahá’í youth, C. S. Maniam who contracted malaria while encouraging the tribal believers in the Malaysian jungles to attend the Conference. He passed away on 21 December 1970, just ten days before the Conference.

Youth Session. L-R: Carol Ang reading resolutions, A.P. Arumugam Chairman, and Govindasamy Secretary of the National Bahá’í Youth Council.

A. P. Arumugam with the Asli friends from the jungles of West Malaysia and Iban friends from Sarawak.

Mrs. Shirin Fozdar (center), and Yankee Leong (to her left) had every reason to be proud.

A cable dated January 3, 1971, from the conference to the Supreme Body read: “CONFERENCE PLEDGED FAR EXCEEDED GOALS PLANS. 60 PIONEERS AROSE INCLUDING 13 CHINESE. RESPONSE CALLS FUNDS OVERWHELMING. YOUTH RESPONDED MESSAGE HANDS PLEDGING DEVOTION SACRIFICE EXCEEDED GOALS PLANS.” The 641 Bahá’ís who attended left the conference had a take-home message from the Hand of the Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga. His message was this:

“Bahá’ís are important because the world needs the Bahá’í teachings. He who dedicates himself to the service of humanity is important. Those who are engaged in leading the people and nations to love and goodwill, they are important. This importance is not from us. It is bestowed on us by God, and we must strive daily to acquire the capacity to serve better. We must be humble before Him and if we surrender our will to His will, He will bless and guide us.”

As the conference was in progress, it was drizzling throughout, with intermittent showers. But on the afternoon of 3 January, when the believers started their return journey, they were shocked to see torrential downpour, causing heavy flooding. We witnessed the play of Divine Providence. It was only after all of us had reached our destinations that the flood escalated to the worst, with the government declaring the situation as a national disaster. Back home, the believers were rejuvenated with the newfound spirit and strength to serve the Cause with greater fervour.  For many days after their arrival in their respective homes, it was this electrifying Conference that was on their lips. They went around sharing the joys and happenings of the Conference.

The Exhilaration Continued


Thus, came to an end an electrifying Conference that evoked much spiritual ecstasy. For many, it was truly a once in a lifetime event. Close to half a century may have passed since this historic conference took place in Singapore. To this day this Conference and the spirit it evoked remains permanently etched within the souls of the participants. The mere reminiscing of the Conference evokes an indescribable feeling of immense joy.

For many, a once in a lifetime Conference, forever to be etched in their hearts.

(Story adapted from the author’s book JEWEL AMONG NATIONS, Splendour Publications, 2003)

A. Manisegaran
North Carolina

30 September 2019


29 thoughts on “Electrifying Oceanic Conference of the South China Seas

  1. Dear Manisegaran
    You have taken me back to the conference and reconstructed the happenings there almost frame by frame. The Conference was a huge success, full of excitement with its pre and post conference teaching and proclamation activities. The backing from Universal House of Justice, presence of two Hands of the Cause of God, Counselors, Auxiliary Boards members and their Assistants, Members of the National Spiritual Assemblies from the region, and pioneers and participants -all made a huge impact.

    The Conference was well organized and proceeded with joy, laughter and high spirit. When the call for pioneers and travel teachers was announced the stage was filled, with no place to sit. The whole assemblage was immersed in pure excitement. It was like the whole hall was shaking.

    The Concourse on High must have gathered as well at that Conference. Every hour was filled with joy and it seemed no one was weary of long day’s activities and late night sleep. Every night especially the youth filled up the tables of the nearby open air restaurants, chatted, ate, joked, laughed and teamed up to do more teaching and proclamation activities.

    Once Counselor Zany Ramirez for the Philippines related that when she attended the Oceanic Conference in Singapore she was just a youth but after attending the conference her life dramatically changed as she became motivated to do more service for the Cause. I knew her in the Philippines serving actively as an Board Member before she was appointed a Counselor and later on moved to Haifa to serve at the International Teaching Center. There are many more stories about how believers were motivated by the spirit of the Oceanic Conference. She is a living example of one that attended the Electrifying Oceanic Conference and soon after undertook meritorious services to our beloved Cause. We are good friends and still in touch.

    The late Miss Lean Beng Liew on whom you ran a great story in your blog was one of them that approached me in the Conference and asked about her possibility of pioneering to Laos. After the Conference was over we spent one day sight-seeing some parts of Singapore and doing some shopping and eating out. The entire day Lean Beng Liew conversed on nothing but pioneering again. She said she had gone to the Solomon Islands and tasted the joy of pioneering and the urge to pioneer once again was in her blood. It was not too long after the Oceanic Conference that she pioneered to Laos, and rendered invaluable services to the Cause of God. It was where we became true Bahai siblings.

    In all honesty, the Oceanic Conference was the second international conference that I was attending and to me it was more exciting than my first experience in the New Delhi International conference in 1967-although there were more Hands of the Cause present and more indigenous believers at the New Delhi Conference.

    I had my own share of contributing to the Pre-conference proclamation activities. And, I was among the youth who went to visit the Hand of the Cause Mr. Olinga in his hotel.

    Your description of the conference as ELECTRIFYING is most appropriate as it conveys the charged atmosphere. And of course I concur with you that it was certainly a once in a lifetime conference.

    Thank you Mani Jan. Please write more.
    Dr. Firaydun Mitghaq
    Chieng Mai

  2. Dear Mani,
    Always a pleasure to read your wonderful recollections/stories that evoke feeling of nostalgia and importance of service to humanity to this day in order to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.

    I read this story in one sitting. My wife Lena shared the Faith while in Kuala Terengganu, and later had fireside with Leong Ho Chiew and Mrs. Shantha Sundram while in Penang. I declared in 1988.

    When I met Dr. Sundram in about 1988, He was not well, but took me into a room where he kept some exhibits for me to look. He did not say anything about the background to the exhibits. In a few days I signed up.

    Now going through your story, I get to know the genesis. These were the exhibits of Dr. Sundram at the Oceanic conference. You have well described his brilliance, with the most appropriate words.

    I am seeing for the first time my current friends when they were in their young days- Ravichandran, Ganesan, Tan boon Tin and many others. Sadly some others in the photo are no more with us. And the rest are in their old age.

    The photos and the story, to me come as a clear signal that we have to rise up and serve continuously.

    Thank you Mani

    Leong Yow Peng
    Subang jaya

  3. Dear Manisegaran
    Your story on the Oceanic Conference brought back nostalgic memories. I was there for the Pre-conference preparations, staying in the Bahai Center and distributing pamphlets.

    Perhaps I must say that this was an opportunity for me to get to know Yankee Leong, Malaya’s first believer better for the first time. He was an embodiment of humility, who was born to serve the Faith and mankind. The word “complain about others” was never in his system. He used to serve us volunteers and helpers. He ate simple food- papaya and omlette. What amazed me was to see him avoid using soap to clean the plates- he ate the papaya fruit and used its skins to clean the plate- and it worked well. When Firaydun Mithaq from Laos arrived in Singapore, I vacated my room for him. He was such a wonderful pioneer- humble to the ground.

    The Oceanic Conference was another great event. I would say the Best Conference I had attended. I was simply moved by the speeches by Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga. His very being was spiritual radiation. How lucky the early Bahais were to have seen the Hands and heard them speak. I remember Dr. Chellie Sundram saying “spiritualism oozes from the pores of Mr. OIinga.”

    The Conference was held in the majestic Victoria Memorial Hall, which was very impressive. To meet hundreds of believers from several parts of the world, believers of plural backgrounds of colour, culture and traditions and language -and yet to consort as one family was a big miracle. The speeches were riveting. I was very impressed with the Exhibition by Dr. Chellie Sundram. It was such a brilliant show. While every participant of the conference saw the exhibition and wondered with appreciation, the members of the Singapore public should have come in larger numbers. True loss was for them. This Conference was one that consolidated me in the Cause. And always lovely to think of those days that are permanently etched in my heart.

    Thank you Manisegaran for taking me back to the setting of half a century ago


  4. Thank you for this story.
    I was staying in Singapore Bahai Center at Frankle Avenue Changi Road with other travel teachers from Malaysia. The main person.to look after Bahais and preparing meals was beloved Uncle Yankee Leong. He devoted most of the time encouraging us to run the daily Bahai activities. Our duty is to distribute pamphlets teaching the Faith.

    Reading the story and looking at the photos at the same time have taken me back to the Oceanic Conference. Those were the days when the spirit was unique and something I can never describe


  5. Thank you brother Mani. I read the whole recollections of the Oceanic Conference. It is very heart inspiring.

    I always heard about this great Conference from Dr. N. Perumal of Ipoh who attended this conference when he was pioneering in Thailand.

    I was not a believer in 1971. I became a believe in in 1974. Even at that time much were talked about this Oceanice Conference. I became a good friend and associate of Dr. Sundram and he handed over to me many of the exhibits. Later I displayed them at the Baha’i centre in Taiping town. The exhibits are of excellent quality. They are posters on : Equality of Man and Women (portrait of a bird ), Progressive Revelation, Wilmate Baha’i temple and many more to mention.

    I am also surprised to read that Mr. Luke Sam Poi was there. After reading your story, I got a full picture of what I have truly missed forever.

    Thank so much. Please continue writing.
    With love.

  6. Wonderful Presentation Mr Mani. Truly inspiring!
    This Oceanic Conference was truly the work of Abdul Baha Who was directing the Celestial Concourse from high to keep every lover of Baha’ u”llah on their toes through the month, inspiring them everyday with new visions.

    You have done a great service to our Cause with your inspired writings and heartfelt fervour.

    I have sent it around the world for others to benefit.

    Dr. I.S.Ludher
    Kuala Lumpur

  7. Dear brother Mani,
    Thank you so much for sharing story of a Conference that I have truly missed. I see that Malaysia was gifted with the Faith many many years ago. And the flowers and fragrance are everywhere with Malaysian believers pioneering to many parts of the world. That was a head start and we in another part of the world (Bhutan) are still trying to take baby steps..
    “Dear God ! When will our flower bloom” Please give us also the same strength for us to serve Your noble Cause!” This is my fervent prayer!

    We can see the memories of the early Baha’is through your stories that you share on your blog. Blessed are you.

    I was quite thrilled and happy to recognized my uncle Sabapathy in one of the photos and even my uncle Faiz and late aunty Meungma with the a baby who were attending the conference from Laos.. That was 50 years ago!

    Geeti Yaganegi

  8. These stories are truly awesome, fantastic and so inspirational.
    The power that emanates from such conferences is tremendous. The number of pioneers arising thereafter is tremendous. This is truly a spiritual revolution.


  9. Very inspiring story brother. I have heard many things about the Conference over the years and all of it is captured here beautifully.
    God bless your soul.

    Doraisamy Suppiah
    National Bahai Office
    Kuala Lumpur

  10. I just finished reading this story. Simply beautiful Mr. Mani.

    It is truly a great historical event for Malaysia and Singapore. It brought many things unknown to me. Surely it must have brought back the life to the many souls that participated in the renowned event. It certainly would have inspired all those who read this story. A good reading material for those teachers of our country. And how great were all those who worked to make this event a glorious and victorious one. The pictures posted – each would say more than a 1000 stories. I did not go for the conference. But while reading it, I was transported back into the Conference and that was because of your writing skills.

    Well done, and expecting more from your able pen!

    Arumugam Thanapah

  11. Mani
    Thank you so very much for this wonderful account. I started reading after midnight and could not stop. So many dear friends are mentioned in the story.. so many amazing memories .

    Paula Van Den Boogaart

  12. Dear Manisegaran,
    Thank you very much for this very inspiring story that I enjoyed reading.
    I was in the town of Bahau, in the state of Negeri Sembilan when this conference took place in Singapore. Teacher G. Appala Naidu was chartering a bus. I was a student and had not accepted the Faith at that time.

    It was after the conference that I accepted the Faith in the early 197s. Years had passed, but the participants from Bahau kept speaking on nothing but this conference and the spirit it generated, and the moving moments etc. I was so sad for not having gone for the conference. Not being able to attend the conference was a permanent scar in me.

    But your story came as a balm to me. You have given a full description of the conference and I felt that I was there in 1971. Now I find it difficult to believe I did not attend the conference. Something tells me that this story has been written specifically for me, if thats the way I want to put it.

    Thank you brother for taking me for the Oceanic Conference

    Santhira Karappan

  13. Dear Mani,
    That was more than a mere conference! Was it not a conclave of the army of God? Looks like heaven descended into the Victoria Memorial Hall.

    I had heard so much about the Oceanic Conference, that I had never attended. For those not able to be present, this spirited recollection embellished with so much details and photographs is truly a wonderful gift. You started off the story very well and maintained the flow all the way to the end, without losing the impact. There are macro and times micro details. They say the photos speak more than a thousand words. With combination of your write up and the photos some of which I am seeing for the first time, the entire story seem to be telling more than a million.

    The animated story allows one to imagine the galvanizing spirit sweeping the whole country, the convergence of the celestial forces at the Conference, the spiritual giants present that impacted others to arise and become stalwarts and heroes themselves. Now I understand the impulses that inspired the souls I met when I joined the community who sacrificed home and family to serve Baha’u’llah far and near.

    It was a gathering of giants of the Faith, many of whom are no more around. But the memory of them still live and is very much alive in history, as evidenced by your write up. There was certainly a kind of spirit, never to be paralleled.
    So thank you for sharing with us so that we may catch a sniff of the intoxicating fragrances from this historic spiritual gathering.

    Ronnie Koh

  14. Mani
    Great story, very well presented in your usual writing skills. God bless you Mani for bringing back those nostalgic moments.

    ! I still remember how excited I was when I was able to attend THE CONFERENCE with my husband Inbum and my two elder children Nabil and Saffura.

    I shall always remember this fantastic time. This is a happening once in a million!
    As Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly Inbum was not only busy from the time the conference was announced, but as the day approached he was very tensed up, at times tossin on bed, as everything had to be referred to him.Poor Inbum, he had no personal time. He hardly slept. No time even to eat a proper meal.

    Finally the conference came. What shall I say? Great? Unforgettable? Fantastic? Words fail to describe how great it was. Simply beyond description. Unlike Inbum, I wasn’t involved much in the organizing of the Conference. I was so lucky to be able to mix around and get to know so many old friends. Sad many of them have left us.

    You have given a vivid narration of what transpired at the conference. Equally important is the post-conference thoughts.
    I still remember the big flood which flood the whole of KL.
    How Inbum had to drive through the horrible flood all the way from SINGAPORE TO KL.
    Poor Inbum. He could hardly keep his eyes open as he was so tired after the Conference ended
    We had to make sure we arrived in the morning in time to go to school.
    Thank God, when we reached home we heard the good news that all the schools were closed because of the flood. But when we reached home we saw so many Bahais in the house as they were stranded in KL and unable to leave for their home town. So, what to do. We had to make do with so many people in the house. Their stay in our house ended up as the follow u kind of conference. We had a good time reminiscing what had happened at The Conference and what we had learned. There was so much spirit in the house. That was no the end. To this day, whenever I am free I recall those irreplaceable nostalgic moments.

    Lily Chinniah
    Kuala Lumpur

  15. Manisegaran
    Thank you for taking me down the memory lane. I knew I attended the Conference, but I forgot the details.

    You have brought back those details and the spirit of what transpired. The exhibition by Dr. Sundram was one single event that consolidated me in the Faith. I was a new Bahai then. May his soul rest in peace. The fellowship was beyond description! The jokes and fun we had. Reunion with old friends, making new friends and what not!

    Associated with the Conference was the very long bus journey I undertook with other believers. The bus started off in Laos and I got into it in Bangkok. Under normal circumstances one would be totally exhausted when traveliing in a bus with no air-condition and comfortable seats. Looking back, it was the company of angelic believers, prayers, discussions on the Faith and fellowship that kept exhaustion and fatigue out of our system.

    After the Conference, we braved through the flood waters and reached home in full safety- no accident, no breakdown, and no health issues. God was with us.

    Thank you.
    Dr. N. Perumal

  16. Dear Mani,
    Thanks for refreshing those wonderful memories. I am happy that I was able to play a small role in the Conference. I remembered Yin Hong Shuen issued press release for the Conference. Since I was attached to the Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur, I went to see my friends and the editor in chief of the Straits Times in Singapore Mr. Wee Kim Wee and presented to him the press release and spoke about the Conference. He was later appointed President of Singapore. On the last day of the Conference a half page feature appeared in the Sunday Mail with the caption “BAHAI- a Rose by any Name”

    During the Conference I was the chaperone for friends who went on chartered buses and I guided the driver to our hostel. I had worked in Singapore for close to 18 months earlier and so was quite familiar with the roads.

    There were times when I could not attend some sessions of the Conference as I had to attend to other background work as well. The one thing I remember most is the Unity Feast at the Cultural Center, international telephone call on the second day of the Conference, and Luke Lee who went up the stage to pioneer. That evening I took Luke Lee for a walk in the Queen Elizabeth Walk, a nearby park.

    I also remember on the way back from the Conference, we encountered the worst flooding in the country in recent memories.

    T.K. Lee
    Subang Jaya

  17. Mani,
    Read the full article. Your memory is better than the proverbial elephant ! You have covered minute details that I never remember. I remember is we chartered a bus, and Enoch Olinga always asked, “Are you happy ?” Of course the brilliant exhibition by Dr. Chellie Sundram.

    If you put in a bit more effort, you could come out with a book, just one the Oceanic Conference. It is worth the effort, looking at the trove of information you have with you.

    Thank you so very much for this fantastically awesome report Chong Boo Haw
    Alor Star

  18. Mani
    Excellent detailed write up which does justice to the many who worked hard to make the Conference a truly impactful one. I remember the teaching we did in the run up to the conference and the efforts we made to distribute the orange booklet prepared for the occasion.

    Dr. Chellie Sundram’s display was so professionally done it brought a great deal of pride in the Faith.


  19. Dear Mani
    I did not attend the conference, but certainly a mighty account that you have given. I just cannot imagine how you could recollect so much of an event that took place more than 48 years ago!

    I was just 17 years old and I guess you must be about 15-16 years old then. In hindsight I wish I had attended the event, but I wasn’t even a Baha’i then. Just only hearing about the Faith in Buttetworth then. After reading the story, I was taking to Thinathayallam about the event. He remembers the event very vividly.

    Thank you for the reminisce.
    Subang Jaya

  20. Dear Mani
    Thank you very much for your write up about the Oceanic Conference. That was really a very wonderful and most spiritual conference in Singapore. I was emotional to see so many photos. The special photo of the Laos friends with my late wife Meuangma Yaganegi and my elderly son Hooshmane who is now 50 years old brought tears to me.

    The conference reminds me after some 50 years ,of the most special and somewhat spiritual gathering for all of us. The conference has helped the spread of our Faith throughout the region. The special impact of this conference on the local Baha’is of Laos who attended was excellent and they all started mass teaching in their areas of North, Central and South of Laos, and by 1975 there was over 100 Local Spiritual Assemblies in Laos.

    Thank Bahaullah for making the conference happen during my life time and for enabling me to participate

    Faiz Yaganegi

  21. Dear Manisegaran
    You took me down a highly emotional past! You have covered so much details hitherto unknown to me, though I was part of the organizing committee.

    You have arranged the facts very well. The next and most important thing is the presentation of the subject matter which you have excelled. As I read, I felt I was back to the Oceanic Conference which is certainly the best and once in my lifetime conference. In all honesty I was moved to the core of my heart as I see most of our dear friends who participated in the conference are no more with us. You have given so much details. And the photographs! They are so relevant to the story, only substantiating your story. You seem to release new photographs as and when you write new stories.

    I invited my uncle one Mr. S. Ratnam from Singapore for the Public Talk by Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga. After listening to the talk, my uncle said, “Who can deny what the speaker mentioned. There is so much truth in what he said. And I see him as a different kind of human being. From today onward I am definitely a Bahai.” Such was the influence of Mr. Olinga on the listeners.

    I also see your style of writing corresponds with the theme you chose. I must admit you have proven time and again to be a great writer and an accurate historian. You must have been guided than Baha’u’llah to write.

    On a personal note, I am happy to have seen you grow in the Faith from the time you were wearing short pants! May Baha’u’llah grant you good health and sharp mind to continue serving the Cause.

    N. Nagendran
    Kuala Lumpur

  22. Dear Mr. Manisegaran
    Superbly awesome! What a dynamic Oceanic Conference that was. I was not there at that time, as I was not a Bahai.
    But going through from beginning to the end of this Oceanic Conference story line by line, made excited me.

    I can see how the conference had evolved from just a few months earlier to the happening of the conference. I can visualize the enthusiasm, joy, and happiness expressed by the participants. They had the special blessings and bounties of attaining the presence of the Hands of the Cause. A rare conference indeed!

    Gurubalan JFK Balan

  23. Thank you, Mani for the incredible details and recording the indelible experiences of the participants and stories behind the scenes for generations to revel. I’ve only heard of the oceanic conference (even the word Oceanic was so epic in mind’s eye) in passing but had no understanding of the people who scrambled to put the inspiring programme and complicated logistics together.

    It’s also always heartwarming to read more on Hand of the. Cause of God Mr. Enoch Olinga, a giant among giants. I am also so grateful to hear from a generation of Malaysian Baha’is who are in their 80s whose voice we seldom get to hear.

    Saffura Chinniah
    Kuala Lumpur

  24. Dear Brother Manisegaran
    Thank you for this write up. I was a new Bahai then and this conference was a game changer that changed my entire Bahai life. That was the first international conference that I attended. I am happy you brought back so much details that I seem to have forgotten. As you said that was once in a life time conference.

    There is nothing more for me to add, except I want to say how God protects us under most difficult and dangerous situations.

    Mr. G. A. Naidu chartered a bus for the believers from Negeri Sembilan and I was one of the passengers. After the conference we started off the return journey through heavy rains and rising flood water. At midnight the bus was going uphill towards Kuala Pilah town, when rain was pouring cats and dogs. The bus driver, for reasons not known to him, suddenly stopped the bus, and reversed to bring it to a complete stop. It was just then that a huge tree fell across the road right in front of the bus, sending shock waves across the hearts of the passengers. The bus driver had no explanation for what he had just done. We passengers felt it was one miracle and were convinced that Baha’u’llah is always with us under all situations. The 30 male passengers got down in the middle of the night to remove the tree from the road, all with bare hands. The ladies were told to remain in their seats. We men had no choppers or saws in our hands. We combined our forces and tore off the branches. When the tree fell, the power cables snapped and the live wires were spread across the road. We had to pawn our lives to remove the branches. It was just then that the workers of the National Electricity Board arrived and fixed the live wires. Finally when all was done we all returned to our seats completely drenched. When the bus proceeded, we were again caught up near Bahau town, with the roads and houses submerged under water. We waited for the whole night, shivering in the absence of blankets, and only in the morning we were able to reach our final destination of Bahau town.

    Two things come to my mind- one is the great blessing in attending the conference, and the other is the total confidence that we are all under the protection of the Almighty when undertaking any effort for the Cause.

    Subba Rao

  25. Dear Mani
    That Oceanic Conference which took place some 49 years ago has left me with very fond memories as I was in my youth of 18 years and it was my first International Baha’i conference.

    You have provided sufficient details on the Conference. Allow me to mention the pre conference days at national Baha’i Center in Kuala Lumpur. Those days were fully occupied with activities with all National committees and a handful of Center staff gearing up in full speed preparing towards Oceanic Conference. I was among the privileged youth giving a helping hand around the Center doing mostly cyclostyling printing materials, and. rushing to meet the deadline. Everyone was working late into the night. When native Asli friends arrived they were accommodated at the National Center. We were helping to apply for their Malaysian Passports.I was among the Asli teachers who accompanied Asli believers on the Chartered bus trip to Singapore and back. When the call for pioneering was made I without much hesitation I volunteered to go pioneering to Sarawak the same year. I arrived in Sarawak and am not in Sabah.

    One more noteworthy information should be shared. Mr Kanagaratnam, Govindasamy and I went to Butterwoworth town in the north for a regional conference to encourage believers to come for the Oceanic Conference. There I met for the first time a 15 year old active youth- the distinguished author Manisegaran. He was intending to attend the Oceanic Conference.

    Next close to the Oceanic Conference I was returning from Kuala Lumpur city to the Bahai Center in Setapak area. As I was boarding the bus to Hot Spring district (number 165) by climbing the steps, I felt someone pulling me down by my back pocket. Thinking it must be a pickpocket, I quickly turned around and saw it was Manisegaran with his backpack. I got down and greeted him. He told me he had just arrived hitch hiking from Sungei Petani in Kedah state in the north. We missed the bus and came to the center by the next bus. The rest is what he had written.
    Today I see him as an author of history

    Thanks Mani
    Ravi Upendra

  26. My dear brother Mr. Manisegaran,

    What a wonderful historical story! You have written this historical story in a systematic way with detailed description along with beautiful and relevant photographs.

    Reading your descriptive narration was like participating in the conference. You took the readers step by step from the inception right up to the actual happening of the conference.

    May Baha’u’llah bestow you additional strength to write more stories..

    Jaya Raju Thota
    Greater Visakhapatnam
    Andhra Pradesh

  27. Thanks Mani,
    It is a timely recollection after 48 years. It brought back some memories so vividly. While the Conference itself was electrifying as many friends have expressed, many of us in the Asli Committee and Asli teachers during that time were equally excited in preparing the Asli friends to attend the Conference. On the instruction of the National Assembly, we had to identify representatives from the many villages through their Penghulus (village heads). To raise funds for their expenses, each village went hunting for wild boars to be sold off in the closest towns. Each time they needed some cash they would hunt wild boars and sell them in the towns. We then took them down to Bidor and Slim River towns to purchase new clothes. The people of the towns of Tapah, Bidor, Sungkai, Trolak and Slim River were also genuinely happy to see these sincere Asli friends going on this trip. In Slim River town, a shopkeeper refused to charge for the shirts two Asli friends purchased. In Trolak town, a huge crowd gathered at the bus stand to wish them a safe journey.

    We then traveled to Kuala Lumpur and stayed in the National Center at 32 Jalan Angsana (which is now sold). From there we had to take them to the Immigration Department to get their Passports done to enter Singapore. At the Immigration Department again, the Officers were curious to see for the first time a large turn up of the aboriginal friends, but very happy to issue each one of the Asli friends with their passports. One Officer, who was going on his break offered to take them to a nearby stall for tea. We were surprised that so many people were very kind to our Asli friends.
    I am privileged to be part of this experience.


  28. Dear Mani
    Your recollection of the Oceanic Conference is very accurate, detailed and captures the spirit of the event. Kudos to you!

    You have mentioned the distribution of the pamphlets in Singapore. I was one among the many who distributed the pamphlets to so many housing estates. It was not easy at all, given the strict disciplined society in Singapore where one could not just walk into any home. It would be very tiring and highly taxing by the time we returned at night. But upon returning we had to continue our work- this time folding the pamphlets for distribution the following day. Everything being normal, it would not be easy to continue working after the day’s hard work. But it worked out well. Mrs. Elizabeth Gibson was there to cheer us up with so many jokes. Counselor Yankee Leong will be in his sarong making coffee for us until the wee hours of the morning. I used to wonder how a Counselor could humble himself, but soon realized that he was an embodiment of humility in his own natural way. The folding of the pamphlets during night brought us so much cheers, fun and a spirit of immense joy. There was some spirit that drove away all our weariness, which I cannot explain. Looking back, I wonder how we did it.

    Subang Jaya

  29. I remember the preparations for the Oceanic Conference started earlier. The Baha’is in Penang under the guidance and supervision of Counselor Dr. Chellie Sundram, were responsible for the exhibition. Dr. Sundram was the master planner from what to display – picture, photographs, paintings – to how to mount and dismount the exhibits, even finally to the details of shipment and transportation – without damaging them. Baha’u’llah’s Tablets to the Kings and Rulers, with individual pictures of all of them had to be reproduced, framed and ready for shipment.

    It was a massive operation and I remember as a new Baha’i being roped in to spend the weekends at 42 Peel Avenue, the Government home of Dr. Chellie and Mrs. Shantha Sundram. The excitement as the days of the Conference grew nearer was unbelievable and we all looked forward to going to Singapore.

    The Baha’is of Kedah chartered a bus and the Penang Baha’is were invited to join them. The bus arrived in Singapore two days before the Conference and I remember we stayed at YMCA at Palmer Road, which was close to the venue of the Conference. Being a new Baha’i I was awed by the occasion and inspired by the talks given by the Hands of the Cause Enoch Olinga and Collis Featherstone. Every morning and before the start of the conference Mr. Olinga the representative of the Universal House of Justice, will ask the friends in the hall “Are you happy?” in a very sincere and meaningful way. The participants all responded with a resounding “Yes, Beloved Hand!”
    The message from the Universal House of Justice called for the friends to arise and respond:
    “Simultaneously a number of Chinese-speaking believers must arise who, as pioneers and traveling teachers in all the countries of South East Asia, will attract large numbers of the talented Chinese race to embrace and serve the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.“

    Many believers arose and went up the stage to be embarrassed by Mr. Olinga. I was hesitant but a look of plea from Dr. Sundram and I found myself also on the stage. Came my turn and before I knew it, I was held in a bear hug and embarrassed by beloved Hand Mr. Olinga. I nearly choked! He was so strong and big, and yet I can feel the love enveloping my whole body. Silently I cried “Beloved Hand. I will do my best to teach the Chinese race.”

    To this day, over 40 years later the feeling has never left me and I thank Bahá’u’lláh for the privilege of meeting Beloved Enoch Olinga.
    Wong Meng Fook

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