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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 XVII. Mala (Solomons)

TWO clergymen; forty-one teachers; fourteen schools; seven hundred and ninety-seven baptized; fifty-two communicants; population unknown.

Two large islands, each about a hundred miles long, form a long reach of sea nowhere very broad. As the ship speeds before the sea-breeze going westward, it seems but some ten miles at most from land to land, often less. And what a prospect it is! So full of romance, and so beautiful to the eye. On the left, Guadalcanar reveals a noble range of hills, rising at length to a height of eight thousand feet. They are forest-clad, except at the very peaks. Valleys lead up to them, and shoreward there is an extensive plain, covered with cocoanuts and the usual brilliant foliage. Of this island we must speak in due time. Turn to the right hand, and Mala, unknown as yet, dark with records of savagery and cannibalism, stretches as far as the eye can see backwards and forwards. The hills are not so lofty, but as I leant over the bulwarks of the Southern Cross they fascinated me. I could discern columns of smoke rising here and there in the recesses of the valleys. I pictured the rivers running down from the "folded hills," and thought how cool the air must feel far up there above the heated plains by the shore. No white man had ever penetrated these recesses: that was the wonderful thought. Even the Mission ship could not send its occupants with safety into that bush. The natives are, for the most part, entirely unclothed. A fine race physically, and good workers, the Mala boys are great favourites on the Queensland plantations; but their homes are unvisited by the white men. Labour vessels will send their boats for a certain distance up the rivers, but they will never land their men; and the Church of Christ is certainly not in possession in Mala, though the next island (Florida), once as wild, is now almost entirely Christian.' As I have said before, it is the large islands which at present have presented the most stubborn resistance, but it is certainly not for want of prayerful effort. As early as 1857, the elder Selwyn landed on Mala, taking with him some Guadalcanar boys. The bishop said he was met by about a hundred men, who were quite friendly, a sure sign that they had not been tampered with by the kidnapper or drunken trader. On his next voyage the bishop touched at Oroha on the south coast, and the chief came away with him, in spite of the strong opposition of his people. I can only account for his action by the extraordinary fascination exercised by that wonderful man over natives of the most savage kind. There are some men whom dogs will never bite; apparently it is the same in regard to the wild Melanesian. I have seen some of them on Mala who seemed not only savage, but wild; and I can appreciate the cool courage of those frequent and solitary landings in old days as no one can who has not visited these shores. Ignorant of the language, understanding nothing of their special customs, perhaps unacquainted with their special "tapu mark," it required a mixture of coolness and watchfulness which, now that I understand it, elicits one's warmest admiration. But to return to the chief of Oroha. Unluckily, the poor fellow did not preserve his health. He became temporarily insane on board, and had to be tied down during part of the time. And this became a cause of serious trouble when he was brought back to his people, for it is a very grave offence to bind a chief. Visits from the Mission clergy were continued. In 1878 Selwyn the younger was welcomed by the name of Bishooka: an amusing compound of two words of dignity, Bishop and Fishhook, the former prized by the white man, the latter the dream of his black brother. It is by bribery conducted by fishhooks that many great things have, at least, been begun. A story is told, indeed, by the elder Selwyn, I think, that on one occasion, in Mallicolo in the Hebrides, the captain of some vessel landed, and found himself in danger. He kept on repeating "Fishhook!" "Fishhook!" They understood him to mean "Bishop, Bishop," and, concluding the white man belonged to one whom they could trust, they let him go uninjured. The Mission has but three schools as yet on this island of one hundred miles, and they are all close together at the southeast end. The oldest is Saa, and it was commenced by the Rev. Joseph Atkin, and he was followed by the Rev. John Still about 1878. Mr. Still rowed with Bishop Selwyn in the Cambridge eight, and in due time he followed his friend to these regions in the cause of duty. The natives were struck by his proportions, and on one occasion he was the recipient of a compliment truly Melanesian. One day a native advanced up to him courteously and silently, holding a straw in his hand. This he ventured delicately to place on Still's nose, then he carefully placed his ringer on the straw just at the place where the nose ended. Carefully removing the straw from its resting-place of a moment ago, he broke it off where his finger had been. And what did it all mean? Was it an incantation, a spell, a charm? Nothing of the kind; our friend had been immensely struck by the wonderful nose of this wonderful Englishman, and he simply wished to have a record of the exact length of that feature of his clergyman's face. He took a string and hung that bit of straw up in his house, and brought it out to show to his admiring friends when he wished to astonish them by the sights he had seen. This incident reminds me of a story I heard on board the ship--how that there is a fat man at Norfolk Island, very fat indeed. The Melanesians were permitted to measure the calf of this man's leg and also his waist. In due time the story grew in the islands. The string that measured the stomach was exhibited as that which recorded the size of the calf; and as to the stomach, they declared there was no string on the island that could girth it!

Talking one day with the Rev. C. Bice, he told me of an adventure he had not long ago in Mala. They knew of a boy who had once been to Norfolk Island, and that he lived up a river not far from Port Adam. The ship took them a certain distance, and then they embarked in their boat and pulled away until the ship was left a long way behind. At length they met a number of canoes full of men entirely unclothed and all armed. They kept on repeating the boy's name, but did not know a word of the language. But the more they repeated the name the more angry the men became. They had also left their boat, and were on shore, and so threatening did matters become that Bice turned to Mr. Forrest, who was with him, and said that he thought their time had come. At length, and not a moment too soon, the very man they were looking for appeared. He came to their rescue, and kept the men back, and informed them that these were friends of his. And he told the Englishmen that the natives supposed they had come to forcibly seize their chief. He urged them to get into their boat at once and row away without him. It would be death to the whole party were he to accompany them. But if the next morning they sent a boat ashore at a certain spot he would be there awaiting them. The next morning, true to his word, the man was where he said he should be. He had walked all night in peril of his life in order to rejoin his old friends.

One morning, at six o'clock, I landed with Mr. Palmer at Saa, and walked up to the village with the camera. It was early, and we had to wait a while for the usual morning service, in which we all joined. The teacher here is a well-known man. Joseph Wate was on board the Southern Cross when Patteson was killed at Nukapu, and has always borne a good character. His wife has a charming face, and looked a worthy helpmeet. I took a good photograph of the family, including a crippled boy, who was tenderly nursed by them. Certainly it was easy to see that we were in a wild region. Men entirely unclothed stalked about round us, and others held bundles of spears, which they were ready enough to part with for sticks of the precious tobacco. News came in 1893 that the surrounding natives have made an attack on Joseph Wate's school. They came armed with rifles bought from traders; they killed one of our people and wounded another. Scouts were sent out every morning by Mr. Comins, who was, fortunately, on the spot; but the entire armament of the school people consisted of but three old guns. What the future now may bring forth no man can say; but it is an illustration of the dangers constantly met with. If it is asked what reason there can be for such attacks, the answer probably is that the heathen community may have been informed by some "rain-maker" that the new teaching is a spell of evil omen, and that to wipe out the Christians is the only remedy. In 1892, when the Southern Cross arrived at Port Adam in April, the clergy found the school in this place surrounded in the same manner. The ship then took all the school people away, and landed them at Saa, which is about ten miles away. The attacking force thought the Mission ship was a man-of-war, and retired altogether, so it was afterwards discovered, and the school returned to its home in a fortnight. On this occasion it is Saa's turn to be in danger. Let us pass on now to Port Adam. It is a natural harbour formed by a reef and a sort of island; and here a noble fellow named Johnson is the teacher. He is a true missionary, a stranger to Mala, but one who has devoted himself to God's work, and is ready to go where he may be sent. In 1891 he was nursing a friend of his at Norfolk Island; the lad was ill, and before his death he became unconscious, but in his words he betrayed the spirit that had grown up within him. The words of the Prayer-book were upon his lips; and he repeated over and over again in his delirium the verses of the sixty-seventh Psalm, which he had so often sung at evening prayer in the chapel, especially the second verse, "That Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations." When his spirit passed away, Johnson knelt by the body and dedicated himself to the work for life in the spirit of the words which were ringing in his ears. This was the man I found at his post of danger. He had chosen a wife for himself from among the Port Adam people, and we carried the girl away to Norfolk Island, a true Mala girl, with a wonderful bone ornament stuck through the cartilage of the nose, and projecting on both sides of her face several inches. No one on board could talk her language except a companion, no older than herself, from the same place. We experienced one of the hottest days of our tour when we were at Port Adam, and even the taking of photographs was an effort; and in the school-house I witnessed a wedding conducted by a clergyman in shirt and trousers and with bare feet. We had brought no canonicals ashore, but doubtless the simple dress of the officiating minister was strictly in accord with their notions, and, judging from what I saw here, a man with shirt and trousers was an exceedingly overdressed person. I did my best to buy from one man his only article of clothing, which consisted of a mother-of-pearl ornament like a large crescent moon, worn round the neck. But neither here nor elsewhere could I tempt any one to part with an ornament of this particular shape. The Mala men, as a rule, are fine, powerful fellows, extremely well-developed. They are great cannibals also. And at Saa I noticed some who were of a much more pronounced Malay type than any I met elsewhere, with finely-cut features and a delicate nose. How this comes about I cannot say. But in these islands the traveller expects to see much that is mysterious connected with the mingling of races--Polynesians, Melanesians, the Malay type, dark men, fair men some definitely negritic, others betraying a higher type of countenance.

No account of Port Adam in Mala would be complete without the story of the fate of two Cruzians who were blown away from the Duff Group and landed at Port Adam, about one hundred and sixty miles from their home. In 1877 Bishop Selvvyn arrived at Port Adam, and discovered that these unfortunates had only reached land to fall into the hands of men who proposed to fatten them and then to eat them. The chief at Port Adam came on board, and from him they learnt the details of their scheme. Then Selwyn offered him "trade" of all kinds, and to an enormous extent, to induce the men to sell him their captives. For a long while it was of no avail, for they had determined to eat them. But, at length, the bribe proved too great a temptation, and one of the Cruzians was saved; he was the thinnest, and was covered with sores; but the bishop sailed away, glad to have saved one life, but feeling that the other captive would be sacrificed. The natives, indeed, seem to have repented of their transaction almost immediately, for that evening the Southern Cross was in danger. Canoes were to be seen stealing ahead to dispute the passage out of the harbour, and men were seen cutting down trees or bamboos in order to make rafts to facilitate their attempt to board the ship. Had they succeeded in their object, of course the whole Mission party and crew would have been wiped out. But Captain Bongard is the wariest of men, and no sooner did he notice signs of hostility than he took his ship 'safely out, and the bishop proceeded on his visitation of the Solomon Group. A few weeks later, though it was a dangerous thing to have done, the Southern Cross once more entered Port Adam to learn what had taken place. They found the remaining captive still alive, but carefully guarded somewhere in the bush. The chief once more came on board and beheld the man he had been induced to part with, now getting fat, and recovered from his sores. The sight, it is said, made his mouth water, and he gave the ransomed man an affectionate and pressing invitation to come ashore for a while and visit his friend. In vain, however, was the net spread on this occasion, and the man who had once been saved from these cannibals had no intention of setting foot on shore here again. This second visit from the chief at Port Adam must have been an anxious time for the captain of the Southern Cross, after the former experiences. Always on such occasions his post is at the gangway, watching the canoes as they come alongside, and taking care that no iron tomahawks come on board. All further negotiations for the release of the remaining captive failed, and the ship sailed away, compelled to leave the man to his fate. But the thrilling part of the story is yet to be related. The captive escaped, after all. On the night preceding the feast this man was sleeping in a house guarded by his captors, awaiting a certain death when the sun rose. But on that night a deep sleep fell upon the Mala men, and they--who, like all natives, sleep as lightly as wild beasts, as a general rule,--never awoke when their victim raised himself stealthily up and then proceeded to make his way to the door and then to the shore. Here he discovered a canoe, but there was no paddle in it. Accordingly, he retraced his steps, entered the hut once more, passed his guards, took a paddle from the thatch of the roof, and for the third time made his escape past them. Then, entering the canoe, he paddled away until he had put some miles between himself and Port Adam, when he broke up the canoe and the paddle, and hid the pieces and took to the bush. After a week he discovered Saa, and was just about to step into the open there when he suddenly observed the Port Adam chief and his men questioning the natives. He fled once more, but after another week he began to despair of his position, stranded in a hostile island far from his home, and he determined to surrender himself to the Saa people and meet his fate, whatever it might be. Fortunately for him the chief of Saa took a fancy to him, and adopted him, and here he was discovered by the bishop on his next trip, was ransomed, and returned to his home in Nufilole, OH Reef Island. This man used to declare that it was the bishop's God that sent his captors to sleep. One of these men went to Norfolk Island, but whether either of them ever were baptized I cannot say. The names of the men who had so wonderful an escape were Tefonu and Akua. But the immediate effect of their deliverance by the Mission ship was evident. These men knew Natei of Nelua, in Santa Cruz, about whom I have already written so much. Now, at length, what Patteson yearned to do, and failed to accomplish, was about to come to pass. A footing was to be obtained on this difficult island. The rescued men recommended the bishop and his people to Natei as good and kind men who meant them no harm, and the days of fruitless rowing along the shores of Santa Cruz were numbered. The door was opened, and the conquest of Santa Cruz was begun. There is something, indeed, dramatic in the whole incident, and God opened through a deed of kindness in another place a way for the Mission which could not by direct means be commenced at all. It is a parable, indeed, of much of our experience in this world in the prosecution of many undertakings. I have tried to depict these natives in their own homes, though it is not easy to give an adequate realization of a Mala man with his ornaments. Their clubs are hard to obtain now; most symmetrical objects they are, especially when covered with fine matting, red and yellow in colour. The same wicker-work is used for their combs and armlets; and at Alite, on their coast, there is a regular establishment for the grinding and preparation of native shell money. I believe it is a large industry, and supplies all the neighbouring islands. The spears, too, are handsome; but what can be said of their nose ornaments! The long bone ornament worn transversely across their faces has already been mentioned. In addition to this, some of them will pierce as many as eighteen holes in a circle round the nostrils, and plug them all neatly with pieces of mother-of-pearl, giving the appearance of a ring set with stones. If in addition to this they insert in a hole at the very tip of the nose a shell ornament ending in the head of a tropic bird, and projecting straight out from the face, you have some idea of the elegant appearance of a Mala beau, who may possibly consider any other articles of dress absolutely unnecessary.

Let us now shift the scene from Mala to Fiji. There are hundreds of Mala boys working on the Fiji sugar plantations; and though work among the Fijians themselves is left to the Wesleyans, still here among the Solomon Islanders the Church of England is only following up her own people. The Rev. Mr. Jones, of Suva, and the Rev. Mr. Floyd, of Levuka, are both deeply interested in the work. I spent only one afternoon at Levuka, where Mr. Floyd has been stationed for many years, but I heard of the fifty Solomon Islanders who attended his ministrations. But at Suva I had a better opportunity. On my first evening in Mr. Jones's house, as I was sitting in the drawing-room, some quiet, well-behaved Melanesians came in, knelt down before me, kissed my hand and sat down on the floor. Upon inquiring who they were I was informed that they were Mala boys; and in talking to them I discovered that they had become Christians through the good work done in Suva by Mr. Jones and his wife and other workers. A good many of them expressed their readiness to go back to their own country, wherever we might choose to send them, in order to teach their people what they had learnt themselves. I confess that the experiences of that evening opened up to me quite a new field of thought. I had visited Mala. I had realized that, except where our three schools exist, the whole island was still given over to savagery and cannibalism. No white man's life was safe on those shores. And here, in Fiji, what a change was visible! Men clothed and in their right mind--men who had been brought away by the reviled labour-traffic system. Yet out of the old and most evil practices there had emerged much that was very good where these opportunities had been utilized. The labour ships are now well managed, and kidnapping, at least in English ships, is a thing of the past. The plantations had effected for these people what the Mission upon the spot has at present failed to do, at least to any great extent. Of course, there are immense advantages for mission work to Fiji. Just as boys and girls brought to Norfolk can be trained best away from their homes, so on a plantation where godliness reigns there are unquestionably great advantages for Christian work. I was more and more interested as the hours passed at Suva, to learn about the hundred and fifty Melanesians attending their school night after night, of the earnest-minded ladies who assisted, and of the communicants among these Mala men. Before I left I confirmed eighty-three of them; many had been communicants for years waiting anxiously for a bishop's visit, delayed at this time for six years. And, in conversation with one of the lady workers, I heard that some of these men lived together in well-furnished little houses, and that one only a few days before had given four pounds ten shillings for a kerosene lamp to brighten his home. My visit, all too short to this lovely place, was terminating; and as I walked on to the quay I was met by some native gentlemen, who came politely forward to wish me farewell. I discovered that these were my Confirmation candidates of a few hours before. These were natives of an island where life can hardly be an ideal existence. It was then borne in upon me with force that the labour traffic could be made a mighty engine for the conversion of the South Seas, and that what was once a curse might prove a blessing in Christian hands. I am convinced that you cannot isolate the South Sea Islands. It is better to regulate intercommunication and to utilize the openings as they are being utilized in Fiji. But the work there is great, and we should have a clergyman engaged altogether in this work at Suva. Most thankful am I to know that my visit to Suva was followed by one from Dr. Codrington, the honoured veteran of the Melanesian Mission, and I have read with joy how much struck he was at the possibilities of the openings here. Mala, indeed, may yet be quickly won by the help of work in the plantations.

Nor is the direct effort of this Mission at a stand. We hope to hear every day that Dr. Welchman has established himself at the north end of Mala, going over from his own island to Ysabel.

In concluding this account of Mala, I must not omit to mention what the captain of a labour vessel told me he had seen in one of the harbours on the Mala coast. His vessel was anchored inside a reef in still and deep water. The natives came to him and asked him to keep his ship perfectly still, and to avoid all splashing. They then drove before them, with shouts and yells, a large shoal of porpoises--numbering, I think, one hundred and twenty--until they all stranded themselves on a shelving beach; they were then despatched with spears and clubs. It must have been a grand harvest for these men, since porpoise teeth are a recognized currency in these islands.

In the last nine years the work has grown well. It is wonderful to hear the Rev. W. Ivens speak of Port Adam as a thoroughly Christian centre, influencing the whole southern end of Mala. Joe Wate is ordained. On the east coast there are colonies of Christians through the action of returned labourers; one of the best-known of these missionaries is known by the name of Peter. Best of all is the news that the northern end of Mala has been made into a new district under a second white clergyman. Fifty miles along each coast southward from Cape Astrolabe have been assigned to him. A few facts about this new venture will help people to realize the wildness of the natives. They live in little houses built up of stones on the reefs, in perpetual fear of each other. And it was looked upon as a great sign of advance last year when thirty natives consented to put on loin cloths, having been perfectly naked before. All of a sudden the Commissioner ordered the missionaries away altogether, considering the place too dangerous for them, while he made reprisals for numerous outrages. The Rev. A. I. Hopkins has, however, come to this place, and is doing excellently among these people.

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