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The Light of Melanesia
A Record of Fifty Years' Mission Work in the South Seas

By H. H. Montgomery, D.D.

New York: E.S. Gorham, 1904.

Chapter XI. The Torres Group--Toga, Lo, Tëgua, Hiw

FIVE islands, one uninhabited; five schools; fifteen teachers; three hundred and sixty-three baptized; one hundred and twenty-three communicants; total population not accurately known Some fifty miles north of Ureparapara, which is the northern outpost of the Banks Islands, we come to a little group of islands, one of which is uninhabited. "They lie pretty well in a straight line, almost north and south. The southernmost is Toga, next to which is Lo. Then we come to Tëgua; next to this lies Metome, which is uninhabited, but used by the Tëguans for gardens. Lastly, and northernmost, is Hiw."

In 1880 Bishop Selwyn visited nearly all of these, and the Rev. E. Wogale, a native deacon, was placed in charge. Before this, Wogale had been in Fiji instructing the Melanesians who had been taken there in labour vessels. All accounts of these islands speak of the scarcity of water. There appear to be no running streams, and the people are dependent for their supplies upon holes in the rock and upon a few springs, which, being below high-water mark, are brackish. Whether it is the absence of fresh water or from some other cause, it is certain that the natives here are more given than any others--though all are subject to them--to a species of sore, generally on the legs. They assume enormous proportions, and are terrible-looking objects. The native name for them is "maniga"; and I have been informed by Dr. Welchman that they differ from such sores as Europeans are accustomed to have. When the bishop landed in 1880, the cry was, "Look out the manigas!" And the first duty was to become a doctor. Unfortunately the natives are most careless about dressing their wounds. They will go into salt water with them thoughtlessly, and no action could be more foolish. They will not take the trouble to fetch water daily to wash the wound. The disease very often seizes children, but they have greater recuperative power, and are more easily cured. If an adult is afflicted with the complaint and is not careful, death has been known to ensue in a few days, I suppose from mortification. The Torres Islanders have always been reckoned as some of the fiercest and most savage. Bishop Selwyn's account of the moral condition of the natives in 1880 is that of the twenty-five villages in Tëgua all were jealous of each other as well as of any one who ventured to call at any other village besides their own. These villages consisted, on an average, of about twenty-four persons. But the bishop went to his task in the spirit of Christian hope. He adds," Popular opinion says that savage nature will hold its own till it is swept away. Christ speaks to us of a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness."

In 1883 the Rev. E. Wogale died at Vipaka, on the island of Lo, where the first school had been opened. In the next year Robert Pantutun began work here. He is a Mota man, though his wife is a native of Lo. The bishop also took some boys with him, in 1880, to Norfolk Island. Two of these were brothers, and are now teachers, William Wulenew and Ernest Tughur. Robert Pantutun is a deacon. He was one of Bishop Patteson's earliest scholars, and has been a steady worker for years. His son John is in this year (1892) the organist of the chapel at Norfolk Island, and most striking it is to watch a Melanesian in that beautiful little church, a boy with frizzly head and bare feet, making full use of the pedals, and playing with taste and feeling the music of most of the great composers of sacred music. It can easily be realized what a deprivation it is to these native organists when they return to their homes as teachers, and are debarred from the use of musical instruments, for no harmonium has yet been invented which will stand the damp and the insect pests of these tropical islands.

The Torres Islands show their coralline formation long ere their shores are reached. When they are only blue masses on the horizon their outlines reveal successive flat terraces rising as a series of steps till at the highest point they are merged into a rocky bluff, round which, I suppose, the coral was originally formed. Successive upheavals in distant ages will, I imagine, account for these raised beaches, which are now covered with vegetation, and have been for ages untouched by the ocean swell. Those who know this group best tell us that a great many of the adult population have been taken by labour vessels, leaving, only too often, the old and the very young on the islands, and checking the due cultivation of the gardens. A story is told how a class which was being prepared for baptism by the Rev. Robert Pantutun went down on one occasion to the shore to look at a labour vessel, but with no intention of going away in her; but suddenly one of their number jumped into the recruiters' boat, and he was followed by the whole class. Who can help sympathizing with the feelings of the teacher, whether white or black? What would any clergyman of a settled English parish say were the whole of his confirmation candidates to be suddenly lured away from him to be taken to a land where perhaps there was no church and no clergyman, where possibly no one knew their language, and where they would associate with some white men who did not even care to call themselves Christians, and whose lives would not bear inspection? The change to such a locality which might be their lot would be a great contrast to their old life, where the only white man they knew was a missionary. Of course, the dark picture I have drawn of a plantation is only a possible reflection of the truth. That it is not universally true the members of the Melanesian Mission will be the first to acknowledge. They know of schools for the islanders in the Brisbane diocese. They have among their best teachers returned labourers, as at Merig. They see these men take their places in large numbers in the schools on their return, having seen much evil, but having, by the providence of God, been kept from it. Whilst, then, we can all sympathize with the teachers when they lose their most advanced scholars--is there not also another aspect of the case? Can life be all-satisfying in an island which is almost waterless, where sores of a most virulent type are so common that an individual can hardly hope to escape them? Or, again, if the Christian teacher opens the eyes of natives to wonders of which he has not heard before, speaks of strange animals, mighty navies, machinery, cathedrals for the worship of God, exhibits pictures of these, and thus opens their understandings, is it not likely that some of those who have most deeply imbibed his instruction will be just those who may be most quickly drawn to wish to see the world for themselves? Theirs is a case analogous to the young man whom fond parents desire to keep at home, safe, as they think, from the temptations of an evil world, and they are grieved beyond measure because one day he runs away or speaks his mind and wishes to depart. It is a not unnatural course, and as wise parents make up their minds to the inevitable, and set to work to prepare their sons to meet evil and to conquer it, so I believe it should be in the islands of the South Seas. It is wiser to be prepared to see the natives departing to see the world, to prepare them for that world, and to use all our influence to get the regulations of the labour traffic conscientiously carried out. An attitude of passive antagonism is not calculated to succeed in the end. The views I here enunciate have been arrived at by me after much consultation. They are also the views, I think, of some of the members of the Melanesian Mission. They are not blind opponents of the system of recruiting for Queensland and Fiji. I may say, also, that I began my voyage in the Southern Cross somewhat prejudiced against the labour traffic, and, therefore, my present opinions may fairly be claimed as the result of actual experience in the centres from which the labour for Queensland is obtained. And I refuse to believe that the people of Queensland will in future forget their responsibilities to these children of the world--for such they are--whom they have with open eyes invited to live in their midst. To be careless of their best welfare would be a crime analogous to that of a man who deliberately invites to his house a young and an inexperienced boy, and who then, either thoughtlessly or wilfully, corrupts that lad's nature or ill-treats him. There is no one possessed of even the smallest share of our common humanity whose blood does not boil at the prospect of such a sin. May God keep the English nation, or any portion of it, from ever being convicted of it in the future. That we have been guilty of it, perhaps from carelessness or inattention, there can be no doubt whatever. But I believe that period is past, so far as our English possessions are concerned, and we are looking for the dawn of a brighter day. Planters are often impatient with the dulness of their black labourers, or are angry because they do not work with the vigour and capacity of English navvies. It would be wiser if they remembered, first, that the medium of communication is not the native languages, but that vilest of compounds that ever polluted the purity of speech, named "pigeon English," a dialect which may well take some time to master. But, secondly, and chiefly, Englishmen would do well to remember that their wonderful supremacy throughout the world is due, in great measure, to the existence of races inferior to their own. Were these black races as superior as they would like them to be in the sugar-fields, it is certain that we should not be holding an immense tract of Africa, nor even the South Seas, nor North America, nor, though it is a very different race, should we be in India at all. Such reflections may well teach us to be patient with qualities which in some degree are characteristic of those whose lands we have seized, and whose services we have laid under contribution at the expense to ourselves of very low wages. My belief in a properly regulated labour traffic in the future, one which may tend to the advantage of both the black and the white, rests upon the fact that now at last the fearful evils of the past have been laid bare. It is after this stage, and not before, that English rule among dark-coloured races becomes beneficent. It is after the public voice of the press and of the pulpit, and the exertions of Christian people are directed to one common end, that I believe in the justice and humanity of British rule. Before this stage has been reached the English race is capable of great brutality. I mean that single specimens of our race left to themselves, outside the reach of public opinion and not responsible to any Government, have been guilty of a brutality which can only be explained by a belief in a callousness to pain and to good feelings, which, to some among us, may seem incredible. Speaking as an Englishman, I believe my own race is capable of a vulgarity, a coarseness, and an obtuseness to a sense of beauty, which astonish nimbler and quicker peoples. Who that has watched the British tourist on classic soil in foreign lands can doubt what I say? And this coarseness becomes savagery in many an isolated trader or settler far from religious influences and family ties. It has led to the awful history of wrong in the past to the Australian aboriginal, to the South Sea Islander, and the North American Indian. But I also believe that the British nature, so dense and coarse as it can be, is also capable of the highest polish, close-grained as it is, and with the best of possibilities in its heart of hearts. I would trust an English statesman before any other. I believe in the justice of a right-minded English settler before the representative of any other nation. When once we are roused to the sense of our shortcomings, I believe we Englishmen will make fuller reparation and embody it in a purer legislation than any other nationality. For these reasons, whilst I have not hesitated to bring a heavy indictment against my own people, I believe that we can, and we certainly shall, consult in the future the best interests of the South Sea Islanders, and that the labour traffic can be a great means of civilization and a help to the Mission, in spite of that awful past which makes us positively shudder. Whether any who have had personal experience of the brutal days in the South Seas can ever be brought to believe in the dawn of a better era is another question. I doubt if they can.

"In the Torres Islands they have a method of honouring the dead, which is striking. They rear close to their houses little erections like altars, on which may be seen a few skulls. These are the remains of relatives. A few yams or a cocoanut are placed alongside them, but not as a sacrifice. They are memorials of affection, used as we are in the habit of using flowers on graves. They keep green the memory of any person of importance for a great length of time, sometimes holding a great feast so long afterwards as the thousandth or even the two thousandth day of his death. When a man dies certain days are at once fixed and called 'Death Days,' such as the fifth, tenth, twentieth, fiftieth, and so on. The people meet and eat and drink kava till morning. As soon as possible after death the body is placed on a platform not far from the gamal, and is hidden from view by a screen of bamboos and sugar-cane. The people blacken their foreheads, and for ten days do not leave the village. From the fourth to the sixth day the atmosphere is usually unbearable, and they then place a sprig of a very strong-smelling herb through their nose-rings, which are pieces of bamboo placed in the cartilage, sometimes distending it to the diameter of an inch. On the tenth day the screen is taken down and burnt, and every one in the village takes the ashes and rubs them on his chest and forehead. This may not be washed off till a day then fixed, usually about the tenth day afterwards again. Then four of the men of the highest rank in the village take the head from the body, and, singing a doleful chant, march with it down to the sea, followed at a distance of about a quarter of a mile by all the people who have assembled for the occasion. They wash the head thoroughly, and return with the skull, which is then placed in the highest division in the gamal. It is the duty of the relatives to clear the path to the sea, and one finds in these islands what is apparently unknown in any other part of Melanesia, namely, a great broad road, cleared of all bush, and leading from the villages to the sea. After this ceremony the other remains are placed in a small walled enclosure, and are left there. When wanted, the leg and arm-bones are taken to make arrow-tips. The natives of the Torres Group are not cannibals, and have no tradition of any such custom."

It can easily be imagined how hard it often is to get words suitable for expressing spiritual teaching. This difficulty occurred in these islands about the word for prayer. They have a term which they use for "invoking" any ghost. This word had been incorporated into the Prayer-book for these people. At first they were puzzled, for they knew that we believe in one God only. After a long talk, lasting all night, in their gamal, they came in the morning to say that they had determined in future never to use that word except in reference to the true and one only God. This was a step gained, indeed.

On the island of Tëgua, a returned labourer, who had been instructed in the plantations in a Sunday-school, was most anxious to begin school among his own people. He was informed that he must first go to Lo and be instructed there in the baptismal class till the Southern Cross returned, when he could be baptized. It happened to be at the busiest time of the year, when every one was clearing the ground for the crops. This was pointed out to him. Still he persisted. "Take me and teach me; I must help here." "What about your gardens?" "My wife will look after those; she is a good worker." "And who will look after your wife?" He paused and said, "Yes, I do not like leaving her; but------" after another pause, and with a bright look, he said, "I think God will look after her: do you think He will?" "Yes," was the answer. And so this man made his venture of faith; and I doubt not that, having begun well, his labours will be abundantly blessed. There are now two schools in this group; one hundred and twenty-four persons have been baptized. There are eighty-nine young scholars in the school. The total number of listeners is four hundred and eighty. But I had no means of discovering what proportion this bears to the total population.

One hot and brilliant morning I landed at Vava, and made the acquaintance of the Rev. Robert Pantutun. But my first introduction to the place was the arrival of the captain in the saloon, loaded with bows, arrows, and clubs. "Here, Bishop," he said, "you are to have the first chance this time." Most gladly did I pay their price in tobacco, for both the clubs and the arrows of the Torres Islanders are remarkable. The clubs are made of wood like ebony, and are rounded as though worked in a lathe; the arrows are pointed with long and very slender pieces of human bone. Vava is one of the places where the Southern Cross takes in wood, and a great pile was awaiting us on the reef. The road up to the village was broad and open, according to the custom of the people, for the sake of their burial rites. The church in this village is beautifully built, and is perhaps better appointed than any in these parts. Mr. Robin was away, and therefore there were no confirmations, but upon our return Robert Pantutun hoped to present a class of adults for baptism. In due time we anchored here again upon our return journey. The heat was great once more. Mr. Palmer baptized the catechumens, and I confess that I felt a malicious satisfaction in watching Palmer's uneasiness in using the Vava language. I may say here that one of my recurring anxieties was the language in which I had to confirm. At each spot I had to procure the Prayer-book and get up an entirely new dialect. Getting into a corner, I proceeded to read over and over again the strange words and to catch the pronunciation by constant reference to the clergyman in charge. There was not always much time, but it was extremely important that the service should be in a language intelligible to the congregation. All I could do was to mark certain words and put in many commas so as to be sure in what part of the sentence I was; perhaps my greatest apprehension was lest I should miss a line and proceed regardless of the fact. Naturally I gave my whole mind to my task, and I believe I may say that not only did I make no serious blunder, but I was also fairly intelligible; this alone is great praise. I was able to read every dialect where there was a confirmation except in Santa Cruz. He would be a bold man who would attempt the Cruzian tongue without months of practice. When Palmer, then, at Vava was in difficulties in the baptismal office--Palmer, too! the great Mota linguist--I could not refrain from a feeling of wicked satisfaction. Perhaps it was the indulgence of this evil habit which was the reason why I was visited by a plague equal to one of the plagues of Egypt. Suddenly, and during the course of the service, a cloud of blow-flies appeared and made a dead set at me. Whether it was my shining poll--so unusual a sight in the Torres Islands--or whether they wished to inspect a bishop, I know not, but for the space of several minutes it was all I could do to keep from rushing out of the building; the flies formed a cordon round my head and face, and I could not drive them away, wild gesticulations and flappings of a Prayer-book not being comme il faut.

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