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 XVI. The Solomon Islands, San Cristoval

ELEVEN clergy; two hundred and fifty-six teachers; eighty-six schools; five thousand eight hundred and sixty baptized; nine hundred and ninety-two communicants; one thousand two hundred and ninety-six hearers.

It is a well-known fact that travellers, looking back upon their experiences, remember most clearly the romance and not the discomforts. Memory sheds a golden haze over the past, adding a tender colouring to the whole landscape. I confess that it is so with myself, as I try to recall the Isles of Solomon. I suppose no white man would assert that they are desirable places for habitation, yet I find myself looking back fondly at the days I spent there, and wondering whether I shall ever have the happiness of seeing them again. From Santa Cruz the ship steers west to reach these abodes of wealth and bliss, as the Spaniards who discovered them in 1566 wished their people to believe. The tale of the coming of these first white discoverers has often been told. It will be sufficient to give the merest outline here. In 1566 Philip II. commissioned Mendana to sail from Callao for the purpose of annexing new lands to the Spanish crown. Mendana had for his pilot a gentleman named Gallego, who has left a full journal of the voyage, and a translation of it is to be found in Guppy's work on the Solomons. From this we discover that the expedition started on the day of St. Ysabel in 1566, and on the eightieth day afterwards, having only sighted land once in the interval, the Spaniards stepped ashore on an island which they named Ysabel. It is believed that the spot is a bay on the north-east side of the island, about the middle of it; and Mr. Woodford has tried to fix their wanderings in these regions in a paper read before the Geographical Society in England. The Spaniards also gave such names as Guadalcanar, Cristoval, Florida, and others. The journal of the pilot was not made public till this century; and the reason for its non-publication in the sixteenth century is alleged to be the fear that the name of Drake inspired. The Spaniards were apprehensive that if their new possessions were known to the famous Englishman, they would be playing into his hands. It is further stated that the name of the Isles of Solomon was given in order to induce the Spanish people to believe that the sources of King Solomon's wealth had at length been discovered, and lead to immigration into them. Gallego speaks of gold and silver among the natives; but it is impossible to guess what he could really have seen, for he appears to be a perfectly honest man, and yet the precious metals seem to be entirely absent from this region. Mcn-dana many years afterwards died of fever near the Santa Cruz Group.

A traveller coming to the Solomons from the east at once realizes that he is approaching New Guinea. He will notice the cuscus, or opossum; crimson lories, white cockatoos and large hornbills will attract his attention, and though he will be glad to note the presence of beautiful rivers, he will also remember that crocodiles abound. None of these birds or beasts are known south or east of Cristoval, but they all belong to the fauna of New Guinea. Here is also a change in the weapons of the natives. In the Santa Cruz and in the Banks Islands we notice bows and arrows; but in the Solomons the common weapon is the spear. In Santa Cruz cannibalism is apparently unknown, in the Solomons it has been almost universal in past times, and is still fearfully common where the Mission work has not effected a change. A theory has sometimes been advanced that cannibalism has arisen from the want of other animal food, for which there has been a craving. But this theory is not supported by facts. There is, for instance, practically no difference between the island products of Santa Cruz and the Solomons--that is, pigs are the only four-footed animals for food, and they are abundant in both groups. Yet human flesh is regularly eaten in one group and never in the other. It seems to be more probable that the distinction between the two customs rests upon some religious belief which we have not yet fully detected. Speaking broadly, there is a very easy explanation of cannibalism in many of these islands. The belief that almost everything possesses mana or power, is universal. In that case, if a man can eat his enemy, then his enemy's "mana" will be received into him. And in the Hebrides, a chief's portion of a man at a feast is the brain, the heart, and the feet. This view of cannibalism, in its origin at least, makes us view sympathetically, at all events, a custom which otherwise seems too horrible to be faced with anything but indiscriminating horror. Another striking feature in these islands is their size. At least six of them are close on a hundred miles in length, and some twenty or thirty in breadth. The mountains rise to heights of eight thousand feet, and in one case in Bougainville to ten thousand feet. Nothing, indeed, can be more beautiful than the aspect of Guadalcanar as the morning mists are floating away, with densely-wooded slopes leading up to the masses of Mount Lammas, with broad reaches of fertile land near the shore, watered by deep rivers. Nor is the charm lessened by the fact that the traveller is gazing upon lands as little known as any in the world. No white man has ever penetrated far into the interior of Guadalcanar. No white man has ever been twenty yards from the shore in Mala, anywhere except where our "three schools are situated. Even labour vessels do not let their boats land, though they venture upon some of the rivers. To this romantic region let us now turn our attention, and see what the Mission has done in it. Without doubt the day has come when the demand for men and means of support for them in the Solomons and in Santa Cruz must be generously met if we are to do our duty in this region, where the Church of England is left to herself to do her work by the other religious bodies.


One clergyman; twenty-six teachers; eight schools; one hundred and seventy-eight baptized; population unknown.

This, the first of this group that I visited, is a large island, some seventy miles long, and twenty in breadth. The first regular worker here was that devoted pioneer and afterwards martyr, the Rev. Joseph Atkin. The waves break on fringes of white coral sand, as elsewhere, yet there seemed to me to be a slight difference in the tropical foliage. The vegetation was more pleasing to the eye than, for instance, in the Banks Islands; and I came to see that the trees here stand out more distinctly, and possess more individuality because they are not so much shrouded with creepers, which further south give a somewhat sombre hue to many a tree-clad hillside. The mountains here rise to the height of some four thousand feet. I suppose that a few years ago all the inhabitants were addicted to cannibalism, and I should not like to guarantee that any village outside the Mission influence is free from it. The natives in the bush, and, indeed, by the seashore also, go often entirely unclothed; but the Mission, though it refuses to Anglicize its people, requires that degree of clothing which, from the Melanesian Mission point of view, is decent. Cannibalism, however, crops up in unexpected places. In 1892 one of the clergy had occasion to go ashore at Towatana late in the evening, and slept in the gamal, or men's quarters. This is the birthplace of Stephen Taroniara, who was one of the victims when Bishop Patteson was killed. There are no Christians now in this place; and I am not sure that there ever have been, with the exception of Stephen. Yet it was somewhat startling to the Rev. R. Comins to look up in the morning and see in the roof the remains of a human being. He called attention to the fact, and the natives began with shame to remove them. We cannot boast yet of the effect produced upon this island by the Mission. Five schools are all we have at present, and these are close together, all within sixteen miles on the north-west coast. I am not insensible to the degree of light which any heathen race may possess, but when wars and cannibalism and infanticide obtain everywhere, it is difficult not to use the strong language of the Psalmist, and think of abodes "full of darkness and cruel habitations." The school buildings I need not stay to describe. They are plain bamboo structures, with furniture of the simplest description--a plain table, a few books, a stand for a lamp of cocoanut oil, some benches--and you have the entire building and its contents. I asked the question once why all the school buildings were upon the shore, why none were inland. The answer gives an insight into native life. Directly it is safe to do so, the natives will always come and live on the beach. They much prefer to do this for every reason, and do not mind walking a long distance every day to their gardens. There is no doubt, I think, that a village where there is a school is more safe from raiders than those which are altogether heathen; therefore all are in favour of schools being erected by the sea, if they will have them at all. I have mentioned raiders. These disturbers of the public peace are very common in these quarters. Sometimes canoes come over from Mala and suddenly pounce upon villages who are unprepared, and "wipe them out." This last is a significant phrase, and describes well the ruthless nature of such warfare. But often it has been a chief living only a few miles off who has started in the dead of night and at early dawn surprises the sleeping population, murders every one, takes their skulls for his new canoe or house, and paddles back with as much human flesh as his people can dispose of. Close to Wango, one of our school centres, I was shown a village which had been wiped out only a few years ago. The forty skulls then taken are probably still in existence, but the people near a school do not care to talk of such exploits, nor to exhibit their spoils.

In quite early days the first Bishop Selwyn landed on Cristoval, and took some boys to New Zealand. Doubtless Stephen Taroniara may have been one of these. In 1866 Bishop Patteson was at Wango. This village is situated on a beautiful river, in which I had a refreshing bathe early one Sunday morning. Its banks were clothed with sago palms, nutmeg, scarlet hibiscus, areca palms, several varieties of the Pandanus, or screw pine, and the cement tree, as it is called, because from its seeds the natives obtain the substance which makes their canoes watertight. All these were pointed out to me b"y Mr. Comins. Crocodiles are sometimes seen here, but when they come they are hunted till they die or depart. Above all, Wango is the home of old Takki. Of him I shall have something to say presently. But to return to Bishop Patteson. He mentions that there were then one hundred houses, but not more than two hundred people. Since then the numbers have still further decreased. The bishop also notices the scarcity of children. Except in the few school villages, indeed, this is one of the sad facts that impresses itself strongly upon any one at the present day. Infanticide is terribly common, almqst universal, and it is the old women who are in fault. They are eager to kill babies as soon as they are born, that the young mothers may not be kept from work in the fields, which then would fall heavily upon the old and childless. I asked, of course, in what way the population of a village was kept up. I was told that in all coast villages it is the custom to buy boys and girls of six or eight from the bush people, who apparently do not practise infanticide. When I landed at Wango with a member of the Mission who had not visited it for many years, it was pleasant to hear him exclaim at once, "How delightful it is to sec the young children running about! it is a sight we never saw in old days." This result is, of course, the effect of the "new teaching." At the same time, till the present generation of old women passes away, the evil will lurk even in Christian villages. In two places where I landed I was told that in one case two-thirds, in the other one-half, of those I saw had been born in the bush, and had been bought. At the present day the children are not very shy of a white man; but Bishop Patteson says that in 1866 it took some days before the little one could be persuaded to come near any one who indulged in the strange and abnormal habit of covering his body with cloth.

The firstfruits of Cristoval may be said to have been Stephen Taroniara, who, with a lad named Sumarua, came away with Bishop Patteson, and was taught both in New Zealand and at Norfolk Island. Sumarua I met at Heuru, in this island. Stephen came from Tawatana, which has been already mentioned. He was baptized on July 19, 1868, confirmed on January 24, 1869, and received his first communion on March 28, 1869. During 1868 he was one of the sufferers in the epidemic of typhoid fever at Norfolk Island. He was very ill, and recovered slowly; and, as was natural, the time of his convalescence was fruitful for his spiritual life, surrounded as he was by the society at the centre of the Mission. It was shortly before he recovered that he said to the bishop, "Everything seems new. You say what you have said before, but it seems now to have new power. I don't think I could ever even wish to think the old thoughts and to lead the old life. What is it?" "I think you know what it is," said the bishop; "what power alone can change the thoughts and wishes of the heart?" "I think," he answered slowly, "it must be the work of the Holy Spirit. I feel sure it is, and I thank God for it." It was Stephen who formed one of the crew that rowed the bishop ashore at Nukapu on that fatal day, September 20, 1871. He was struck by many arrows, and when he returned to the ship he knew his end had come. He just said, as he was helped on board, "The bishop and I."

At the present time there are fourteen teachers at work in Cristoval, and three more are being trained at Norfolk Island. The teachers' wives are in some cases doing a quiet and a noble work by the moral influence they exert. At Wango, two women, wives of the two teachers, have been instrumental in saving many a baby's life at the time of his birth. Instructions have been given them to offer their services on such occasions, and to protect the little babe whom the mother desires to save, were she a free agent.

Of course here, as elsewhere, there is a great variety of scholars under instruction. Here are the young who, it is hoped, will learn to read and write; there are the middle-aged and also the greyheaded. One man was pointed out to me as a great warrior; a fine specimen of humanity he certainly was. He would never learn to read, but he had made such good progress in the best of all knowledge that he had been baptized. I asked a few questions when I was there. "Where is Jesus Christ?" "He is in heaven." "Where else is He?" "He is in our hearts." "What did He come on earth to do?" "He came to die, that we might live." "What was His last command?"

" He told us to tell all others about Himself." The answers were given without hesitation, and this was the result of the work of a native teacher. Those who can read at the present time number one hundred and fourteen. There are sixty who are baptized, and the total of all who are listeners is two hundred and thirty.

No account of Cristoval would be complete without some mention of old Takki, the chief. He is not yet a Christian: and it is likely he never will be, though he has become a different man. He is a firm friend of the Mission. Years ago, when he made his first appearance on the Southern Cross, his full dress consisted simply of a waistcoat! Of the old man's past history it is expedient not to say too much. He has been a great warrior, and is a man of decided character, one of the three chiefs I met in my tour who were a real power; and he has had, perhaps, more than his share in those raids of which I have spoken. On the Sunday evening when I said farewell to him he presented me with an old food-bowl, which I value; but it would be as well not to ask too particularly what sort of food it may have held in old days. In 1890 Takki bought a new canoe; I saw it in all its glory of inlaid pearl-shell, but, alas! the white ants had found their way to it. The canoe is fully thirty feet long, and capable of accommodating a great many people. When he had made it his own the chief was in distress. He had always sacrificed a life on these occasions. Could he forego the usual custom in his old age? His people took the matter into their own hands, and told him that they would, according to the usual practice, take the canoe from village to village, exhibiting it and receiving presents everywhere, but it must be on condition that no life was to be taken. Takki consented, though it was with gloomy forebodings that his venture would end disastrously. The party started, and were everywhere well received. Even the elements joined in a message of peace, for never were the winds so propitious as they were during this cruise. The presents also were as numerous as ever; but in one respect, however, there was a difference. The villagers in San Cristoval heard that the crew of Takki's state barge had a chaplain, and went to prayers night and morning to praise and worship the one God.

Slowly infanticide, cannibalism, and many evil customs are receding. But at present nineteen-twentieths of this island is untouched by the Mission. The people are as sheep that have no shepherd. The English staff of the Mission must be increased. Everything must be increased. Our prayers must be more fervent, our help more liberal: then the blessings will follow. The following account of Takki's son will be read with interest. Takki had an only son, who he was anxious should be trained at Norfolk Island. He had good abilities, and at length he was baptized Robert Jackson. He could read and write well, and played the harmonium, and was a good draughtsman. He was also engaged to Rosa, the only daughter of Stephen Taroniara, who was killed at Nukapu. Rosa had been trained at Norfolk Island also, and the couple were attached to each other; but Robert's Wango friends complained that in consequence of her Mission training Rosa did not know how to cook and work like ordinary Wango women, and declared she was no fit wife for their future chief. (I may add here that girls are taught to cook and wash, and mend and make clothes, and to be generally useful at Norfolk Island; but they are not taught to work in the fields. This is where the fault, in their eyes, probably lay.) According to native custom the wife had to be bought for him; but Takki refused to complete the purchase, and the marriage never took place. Rosa went to relations at Heuru, and married a heathen and died. Robert had to content himself with a heathen wife from the bush, with whom he did not agree. Heathen influences were very strong round him, and his father was most anxious that he should distinguish himself as a warrior. Various expeditions were prepared against neighbouring villages in which Robert had to take part, and the man deteriorated fast in character. He gave up prayers and school, and was fast becoming the savage his father wished him to be. When Mr. Comins came to the district, in 1880, he found Robert living this heathen life, yet ready at the same time to acknowledge how unhappy he was, and his desire to repent. His heathen wife died, or ran away at this time. Soon afterwards he married Suboara, a chiefs daughter. She was not baptized, but was in the first class in the school, and an excellent girl. From this time Robert began to amend. After an interval sufficient to test his repentance, he was admitted to school again, but was not allowed to teach. For more than a year he showed the signs of a converted man, and it is said of him that he used to look round the school, note the absentees, and go to them afterwards. In 1882 he was bitten by a shark, and died of the effects. Those who were with him say that he spoke touchingly of his trust in God and his Saviour in his last moments.

One more story of Wango life. It is the history of the life of the first school-teacher there. Michael Bauro was one of Bishop Patteson's boys at Norfolk Island, and the first teacher of the Wango school. He was not a man of high attainments, but a good and an earnest one. His health was bad, but though often laid aside, he struggled on, and kept the school open, in spite of the strong influences of evil in the village, where Takki lived, all powerful then for evil. On one occasion, when a great many people had assembled at Wango who were mutual enemies, it was Michael who rushed in and prevented the combatants from shedding blood. In 1883 the captain of a labour vessel complained to the bishop that the teacher had come aboard and accused them of immoral practices. It is not certain whether in this case the charge was well founded, but we cannot help rejoicing that a native teacher, left to himself, had the courage to face Englishmen, who too often bear a bad reputation, and are only too ready to resent interference with their pursuits. Michael had a child, to whom he was devoted. Like too many fond parents, he indulged the child till he was in danger of ruining his character; but when his error was pointed out to him, he set himself to rule his child wisely, but in a manner which met with no sympathy among his relatives. The result was, however, that the spoilt child grew up into a well-behaved and steady lad. The teacher's patient work in the school at last began to bear fruit. Many of his people were baptized, and this step is never taken without careful inquiry. The majority of the people, also, of Wango gave up their heathen practices, and came to school. But Michael's illness continued to increase, and it was evident that he was dying of consumption. He knew that his days were numbered. His great anxiety now was to assist Mr. Comins with translations of the Gospels, in order that his people might have the Word of God in their own dialect after he was gone. Often when he was almost too ill to think or speak, he struggled on with his work. On Christmas Day, 1889, he received the Holy Communion for the last time, and in the early days of the New Year he passed peacefully away, a faithful soldier of his Master. These simple stories of the results of Christian teaching in these islands speak for themselves. Let those who value the blessings and means of grace in their own country stretch out their hands to give to these islanders what they themselves have freely received.

I visited two schools in Cristoval besides Wango, one at Haani and another at Heuru. At the last place I met with some of the wildest people I had yet come across. As we walked for about a mile along the shore, I had on one side of me the Rev. R. Comins, and on the other a discontented-looking native, unmistakably a heathen, and swinging a long knife with a blade of about eighteen inches. Upon inquiring who this gentleman was, I was informed that he was the "rain-maker" of the place, and hated the school and all belonging to it. As I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, I bethought myself how much he would have liked to have dropped that knife neatly upon the head of a bishop, and thus try to end the school work. He behaved himself, however, extremely well; and the visit to his village was deeply interesting. The teacher I discovered to be, among other things, the best bowler the Mission had ever had. He had on one occasion disposed of an eleven from a man-of-war for less than twenty runs. The spears and all sorts of curiosities were particularly numerous here, and from one man I bought an orange cowrie for a few sticks of tobacco.

These rare shells are often procured at this corner of Cristoval. Last, not least, the Mission had driven a wedge into a degraded district. Some of the faces at Heuru exhibited signs of Christian feeling, but a larger number exhibited every sign of savagery in demeanour and extreme scantiness of clothing. Cristoval still waits to be conquered by the Church.

Work in Cristoval has slowly progressed. Probably it has doubled in nine years: and I note that on the eastern side there is now a school at Bore, and a large church at Heuru, a place that in 1892 had certainly a primitive appearance. The "tall in Cristoval is for teachers. Thirteen villages are asking for teachers and they are not yet forthcoming. It is delightful to note that Ugi is now occupied, and that on this "traderized" island there are seven teachers and three schools. It is not a large place.

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