Project Canterbury

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 XIII. The Santa Cruz Group

TWO clergy; eighteen teachers; one hundred and twenty-four baptized.

Interesting as the Banks Islands are, there is no doubt, in my opinion, that the natives of Santa Cruz and of the Solomons have attracted me to a still higher degree. But this is owing, in great measure, to the fact that these northern regions are inhabited by natives still wild and untaught. The Banks Islanders are nearly all Christians; their native weapons are almost entirely thrown aside, and cannibalism was perhaps never practised. But as the Southern Cross sails northward she comes into waters far less known; the people are not only savage but wild, and to the mere traveller the romance of the situation is greater. I feel, in writing the pages that are to come, something of the excitement returning to me which I experienced when I first sighted the shores of Santa Cruz. I was conscious I was approaching a world but little visited, and where death had claimed many a victim from among the Mission band. I knew also that I was to behold a different race of men. The Torres Islands are the limit from the south of the kava-drinking native. Henceforth I was to witness the betel-chewing people. The natural mouth was to be exchanged for the lips reddened with juices, and teeth blackened with their favourite condiment. It was deeply interesting to know also that, except for the visit of an occasional war vessel, no ship approaches these shores except the Southern Cross. Here traders never come; here also the labour vessels never touched till quite lately; for though the men display a splendid physique, finer than that of any other race that I met, still they seem unable to bear transplanting. Even at Norfolk Island the Cruzian boys cause the greatest anxiety. They sicken quickly, and die suddenly. They are also by far the most excitable of any of these races; and warships exercise a wise discretion in attempting few landings, except in the company of some member of the Mission.

It is remarkable, after what I have stated, that it was on Santa Cruz that the Spaniards attempted to plant their first colony. In 1597 Mendana actually commenced the erection of buildings at Graciosa Bay; his project failed, and it was near these shores that the chief of the expedition expired. It was in this group also that La Perouse was lost with all his ships--at Vanikoro. In these waters D'Entrecasteaux died. It was on Santa Cruz that Commodore Goodenough was killed; and all the deaths of white men by violence, without exception, which have occurred in the Mission have been occasioned by the natives of this group, from Bishop Patteson to Edwin Nobbs and Fisher Young--five or six in number. Conscious of these facts, it was with the keenest interest that one morning we sighted the distant islands of Vanikoro and Utupua, and hoped, ere evening came, to meet the natives on Santa Cruz. These islands lie nearly north of the Torres group. The most southerly is Vanikoro, at present untouched by the Mission, full of natives wild and dangerous in disposition. It lies so far away from the next island that it would, in my opinion, need a clergyman to itself. No boy has ever yet been obtained from it; and remembering the delicacy of their constitution when taken from their homes, the problem is a difficult one. Northward again lies Utupua, itself scarcely any better known than Vanikoro. It is forty miles distant from what is called the island of Santa Cruz, where our Mission is strongest. Mr. Forrest, in charge of Santa Cruz at present, has made one journey thither in his boat. But his native crew were nervous all the time that he was ashore, and would not leave him for an instant, fearful of the excitable and changeable nature of the people. Forty miles north of Utupua the island of Santa Cruz is reached. Its southern shore has never yet been visited by white men, so far as we know. There would appear to be some good anchorages for ships inside little islands and reefs; and one of these islands, named after Lord Howe, seems especially to act as a breakwater. Santa Cruz itself is some twenty miles by ten in width, with a range of hills in the centre, which acts as a watershed. Two facts regarding this southern shore are worthy of notice. The eye catches no glimpse of cocoanut palms. The people are so often at war with each other that it is of little use planting these trees, since they would be soon destroyed. The natives on this side also have no canoes. The Reef Islands, which form a semicircle in these seas, are all on the northern side, and men who wish to visit them walk across the islands and embark in canoes from this northern shore; they never paddle from the southern side. The middle of Santa Cruz is inhabited by a community which, though it may be of the same race, is distinguished by a great difference of occupation. These bush people, of course, build no canoes, but they make all the arrows, and sell them to the dwellers on the shores. They inhabit villages strongly defended, I am informed, and besides the manufacture of arrows they are also, I believe, the weavers of the only money current in Santa Cruz--the famous "feather money" made in coils, with a groundwork of some fibre, and clothed with a covering of red feathers taken from the breast of a little bird. Nowhere else is this money known; and, most strange fact of all, I am assured that this money has only come into existence during the last thirty years, within the memory, that is, of living persons. This is certainly an astonishing fact, when it is remembered that these native races appear to be strongly and immovably conservative in their habits. Santa Cruz is very thickly inhabited. Nowhere else did I see so many villages. They lie almost in consecutive rows along the shores in some places, and instead of being a mere collection of a few huts, the Cruzian villages are regular warrens; paths wind about a maze of dwellings until the visitor almost loses his bearings. From what I have already stated, it will be easily understood how great is the yearning in the Mission to get a strong hold over these people. Yet if the boys and girls cannot be taken to Norfolk Island in large numbers, it is difficult to see any solution of the problem. Is it possible that here, in this particular group, the plan of the Mission will have in the future to be modified? Will the school for the training of the future teachers and native Cruzian clergy have to be planted in the group itself? This means a large increase in the English staff, and a dislocation of previous methods. The language, to my untutored ear, seemed a dreadful one. It sounded much more like the jabbering of a monkey than that of any other spot. It seemed to be the correct thing to clip every word, and to pronounce the rest of it at the back of the throat with little, if any, use of the lips. This is partly owing, no doubt, to the free use of betel nut, which keeps the mouth full of saliva, and prevents here, at least, any very definite pronunciation. At the same time, this is but a poor and inadequate reason, for, in the Solomons, where every one is also a betel-chewer, we come to a most graceful and melodious language. Santa Cruz was the one spot where I felt that it would be useless for me to attempt to read the service of Confirmation in the native tongue. There is one sad fact in the life of the Cruzians. They treat their women as beasts of burden. Nowhere else in Melanesia did I notice the degradation of the women as in this spot. They were never seen with the men, but kept to themselves entirely; and if any of them passed a man they were compelled to turn their backs or throw a covering over their faces. Here also the women do all the hard work in the yam gardens and carry the loads, while the men do the weaving with the looms. The women looked broken down and degraded, whilst the men are noted for their magnificent bearing and fine physique. Nowhere else did I see such finely-developed specimens of humanity, such chests and shoulders and legs, as among the Cruzian men. A Santa Cruz man with his powerful bow and heavy arrows (four feet long) is a splendid sight; and they are fearless fighters. They never skulk behind the trees, but as soon as their excitable natures catch fire they rush into the open and fight grandly. Many a time Mr. Forrest has run out and stood between two parties of angry natives, determined to check the whistling arrows and to make peace; and as a fine has to be paid for every arrow that is fired before a truce can be made, it is of the utmost importance to intervene at the earliest possible moment. Sometimes this intrepid gentleman has walked backwards and forwards between the hostile parties till midnight, determined that peace should be made, and giving them no rest till all the details were satisfactorily settled. Meanwhile the women, before they go to their long day's work in the gardens, have to cook their husbands' food; and at night, ere they eat anything themselves, they have to cook the evening meal for these lords of creation. It is, indeed, most gratifying to knpw that in the vicinity of our schools a better way is coming into vogue. The men are learning to help their wives, and to apportion the common burden more equitably. Of course this is the case among the Christians themselves; but the effect of the convert's example is having its result upon those who live around. Thank God for this most practical effect of "the new teaching." I trust I have not wearied my readers by this somewhat lengthy introduction. Let me now introduce them in due form to the Santa Cruz natives, and describe the scene as it presented itself to me on the eventful day when I first sailed along these romantic shores. I have nothing special to say of the general appearance of the island. It was like any other South Sea coral-bound shore. But the people--how different they appeared!--so vivacious, so full of laughter and gesticulation. In some sense it was like the sensation experienced by a sober Englishman accustomed to the ponderous way of his race, when he is landed upon the shores of the Emerald Isle and finds himself face to face with laughing Paddy, with his quick motions and voluble tongue.

Let us imagine that the Southern Cross has been sailing along the northern shore of Santa Cruz to get to her anchorage at Nelua. Even if the vessel be a good distance from the land, she will already have been hailed by several canoes laden with food and curiosities. The canoes are beautifully made, with a stout outrigger, and a sort of platform upon it for the goods. The occupants are probably two stalwart natives with enormous nose-rings, a round white disK of shell, some eight inches in diameter, on their breasts, and a perfect collection of rings and beads as earrings in each ear. They will probably rise in their seats and shout vociferously as soon as they are near enough. When told that we shall anchor at Nelua, and if they have been paddling towards us, immediately the two men at the same moment reverse their positions and paddle the canoe in the opposite direction, determined, come what may, to be the first on board still. Hardly has the ship anchored before we are in the midst of a scene that cannot be matched for interest and excitement. The decks swarm at once with excited men so delighted to see the captain and clergy again, that they are all jabbering at once--there is no other word for it,--and what a strange and wonderful spectacle they present! The first man who stepped on board reminded me of one of the beaux of Charles II.'s time, making allowance for the scanty clothing! He had a closely-cropped head, powdered carefully with white lime, making his hair look like a well-kept wig. His frank and hearty bearing, full of confidence, and his face beaming with joy, made one en rapport with this untutored Melanesian at once. He had, of course, his disk of white shell on his chest, his multitudinous earrings and large nosering, and his hands held his bow and arrows--arrows that Romilly has called puny. But there could not be a greater mistake. They are heavier than the English arrow, considerably more than a yard long, and tipped with human bone, worked to a point so fine that a broken fragment left in the wound would remain, and cause tetanus. But there is still one more decoration to be noticed. The young children, as well as the men and women, carry a bag containing pepper leaf, areca nut, and lime in a dried gourd. The effect upon the mouth is hideous beyond words. It makes it a cavern full of black teeth, with the lips exuding a red juice. If my readers can imagine such a mouth vociferating, laughing, and talking as fast as it can, and then multiply such a figure by fifty or sixty, he will get some idea of the deck of the Southern Cross when she anchors at Santa Cruz. My "buck," whom I have described, began by walking up to the captain and poking him in the ribs and patting his back and pulling his beard in the greatest good-humour and in the highest of spirits. The day was when an embrace followed in order to rub noses, the effect being a closer acquaintance with that terrible mouth than was pleasant. Hand-shaking has now taken the place of the old salute, to the relief of the English. Then commences a period of bargaining. The crew, the captain, the clergy, all have to buy something in return for tobacco. Nor are there any shrewder men at a bargain than the Cruzians. As some one has said, "Whatever a Cruzian does not know about this form of traffic is not worth knowing." But let us suppose that the ship has only anchored for an hour or so. The time soon comes to clear the ship. The anchor is on board, the canoes alongside are full of shouting men, holding out articles yet unsold. On board the commotion and excitement wax greater and greater; some are calling for their canoes, some are making a last bargain. At length the majority push off, for the ship is at last in motion. Still a few remain on board. One of these lowers himself into the water, and as he takes the plunge he holds his possessions up above his head in his left hand, his body disappears, but rises again ere the water reaches that left wrist. The last who remain stand on the bulwarks, and with a wild shout leap overboard and swim off with peals of laughter to their friends in the canoes. I have tried to draw this picture of the arrival at Santa Cruz because it affords a good illustration of the characteristic qualities of this race.

The general history of the Mission in this centre is as follows: The earliest landings by Bishop Patteson seem to have been in 1862, but no boys were obtained. It was in these days that Wadrokal, a native deacon, began work in the group, but not till some years later. In 1864 the Bishop was in Graciosa Bay, when his boat was fired upon by the natives. The reason for it was a feeling of suspicion on the part of the people. They could not understand why the white men had come. The Bishop escaped unhurt, but two young men, Norfolk Islanders, bearing historic names, Edwin Nobbs and Fisher Young, who had joined the Mission, were wounded, and died of tetanus. This sad occurrence prevented any further landing for some years. But two years afterwards, in 1866, while Captain Tilly was taking soundings in the ship, canoes came off to ask whether the men who had been wounded were alive or dead. On September 20,1871, Bishop Patteson was murdered at Nukapu. In 1875 Commodore Goodenough died of wounds received at Carlisle Bay. In 1883 two hundred people were taken away by labour vessels, but the results were so tragic to the labourers that all recruiting in this group was stopped by the English Government. In 1884 the memorial cross standing at Nukapu was erected. In 1888 a similar cross was put up in Carlisle Bay to the memory of Commodore Goodenough. I shall refer again to many of these events in their proper places.

I believe the first real hold over the people by the Mission was gained, under God, by the restoration to their own island of two Reef Islanders by Bishop Selwyn, in'1877. These men had been blown away from their home in a strong sea-breeze, and had landed on Mala, in the Solomons. The thrilling story of their escape will be related in due time.

The year 1903 did not end without a welcome development in this group. The first voyage of the new steamer enabled the Bishop to visit Vanichoro at last. The reef presented great difficulties, but these were surmounted. The natives were friendly, and a Reef Islander named Ben Teilo is to leave Matema and settle in Vanichoro, together with several of his Christian friends. One more island is therefore to be occupied--or rather two more, for Tikopia, the land of Polynesian giants, has now the teaching of the Gospel.

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