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 XVIII. Guadalcanar, Ulawa (Solomons)

TWO clergy; ten teachers; six schools; ten baptized; one hundred and seventy-three hearers.

It is as well that the Christian worker has sometimes to put his hand upon his mouth and confess failure. Perhaps if all missionary reports were always open in giving their experience the failures would be more frequently alluded to. Indeed, the wonder is that success is so quickly attained, considering the imperfect instruments engaged in the work (fallible men of like passions with ourselves), considering also the grudging support given by the Church at large. Above all, it is not wonderful if progress is delayed, for the task is nothing less than to change the very springs of action to introduce a new power into the life, and to change every thought and aspiration of the heart. To God be praise Who so quickly gives to our efforts in His name more than we ask or think. Guadalcanar is still perhaps the great failure of the Melanesian Mission so far as outward signs are any test, but it is for no lack of attempts. There is something mysterious about it, indeed, for it can hardly be called so difficult an island as Mala or even as Cristoval.

But the fact has to be stated plainly, and with sorrow, that there are few Christian stations or schools in Guadalcanal It is all the more distressing when we remember that there must be dozens of Guadalcanar men in the plantations in Queensland and Fiji, who, by the exertions of Christian people, have been truly converted. The question cannot fail to press for an answer, what becomes of them when they return home? Do they relapse into barbarism because they are as sheep scattered over the mountains, shepherdless? At gatherings for prayer, at missionary meetings, there can hardly be a more forcible argument for renewed exertion upon the part of all than the fact that good work done among the plantations is being, to all appearance, lost by the lack of success, at present, of the Mission in the island home itself. It would be indeed a turning of the tables upon us if the reproach came not from the Church to the labour traffic, but from the labour traffic to the Church in this instance. The fact remains, as I have stated, that wilder islands have been attacked with success. Lands beyond Guadalcanar have been almost entirely won; but this great tract, so fair to behold, so striking to the eye, with its lofty range of mountains culminating in the huge bulk of Mount Lammas eight thousand feet high, remains obstinately heathen. It is a good discipline, and it is certainly a call to duty. Guadalcanar is, of course, more or less an unknown territory--I suppose very little of its extent, one hundred miles in length by some thirty in breadth, is familiar to Europeans. Naturalists, like Mr. Woodford, have lived on its shores, but have found it impossible to proceed more than a few miles inland. The natives of one village dare not travel far; and languages quickly change. I doubt whether any one, native or English, has ever approached the highest peak, much less climbed it. Yet the Southern Cross sails past its shores twice a year at least. Dozens of times has the Mission tried to succeed, but without permanent success. People in the neighbouring islands tell stories of the wild men of Guadalcanar. "In Florida," says Dr. Codrington, "they believe that on the mountains of Landari--the part of Guadalcanar near their own island--there are wild men whom they call Mumoulu. They are men, and have a language, the hair of their heads is straight and reaching down their legs; their bodies are covered with long hair, and they have long nails; they are large and tall, but not above the size of men. One was killed not long ago, the coast people of Landari say, and so they know very well what they are like. They live in caves in the mountains, they plant nothing and eat snakes and lizards, and they eat any coast man they can catch. They carry on their backs bags filled with pieces of obsidian with which to pelt men whom they see, and they set nets round trees to catch men who have climbed them; they use spears also." Such an extract reveals to us how little is really known yet of these regions.

Let me now make it clear to my readers that the Mission has worked hard to get a footing in Guadalcanar. The first Bishop Selwyn landed in 1857 at Marau Sound at the south-eastern extremity. It is a capital anchorage, land-locked, and extending among numerous islands. It was not by any means the first visit, for on this occasion scholars, who had spent a season in New Zealand, were returned to their homes. At the next visit in the ensuing year, we are told that great friendliness was shown. Crowds wanted to go back with the bishop to his strange and wonderful home far away. So anxious were they about it that they began quarrelling among themselves for the privilege, until they were quietly informed by the bishop that the choice rested with him alone. It is obvious, indeed, that this was the only course, for it would be useless to bring away old men and confirmed heathens in place of members of the younger generation upon whose active influence for good the Mission might hereafter rely. We are also informed that at this time the natives were arrant thieves. In 1859 these people again crowded the ship's deck, and could hardly be persuaded to go ashore. "Twenty-six slept on board, thirteen in the bishop's cabin." I wonder whether my readers can realize the significance of the extract. Do they know the peculiar odour of black flesh? Do they appreciate the strong stomach of the first bishop as well as his brave heart, when in the tropics the little cabin of a twenty-three-ton schooner contained thirteen black men besides the white bishop? This is, however, a mere detail. In the morning, the account goes on to tell us, sixty canoes came alongside, and nine lads remained. But eight years afterwards it is related by Bishop Patteson that the Guadalcanar lads were most unsatisfactory. They wished to leave Norfolk Island as soon as ever the novelty had worn off. No effect was produced upon them by the atmosphere of peace and regular labour by the example of the high-minded bishop and his staff. While all other scholars felt these influences, they did not; and the trouble taken with them seemed practically to be wasted, at least in comparison with efforts made elsewhere. The bishop therefore decided that unless these natives were more in earnest he could not afford to take away any more.

The visits gradually ceased, and though Florida, close by, is virtually Christian, Guadalcanar throughout its great length and breadth contains no Christian station. One interesting detail I extract as to the novel way of feeding pigs here. A woman was watched as she took cocoanuts and threw them with all her force at one of the big hollowed-out trees which form the native drums. The noise made attracted the pigs, who fed at the same time upon the repast prepared by way of dessert in this manner.

In 1883 the Rev. W. Ruddock spent three months at the north-western end of Guadalcanar. He called first at a place where two young fellows who were with him were born, hoping to get an opening thus. Brft there were hostilities between the different villages at the time. So they proceeded to Vaturanga to a chief who had permitted two boys to go to Norfolk Island in 1881. He was friendly, and willing that a school should be started; but he and his thirty wives lived in a village by themselves, and he insisted that the school should be near his house and away from all other people. There is a humorous side to this picture certainly, as we imagine this potentate adding to his harem a school for the purpose of self-aggrandisement, evidently for no other purpose. Little indeed could be effected, and when a chief came over from Savo, a neighbouring island, this man, Kouna by name, persuaded his friend to have nothing more to do with the new teaching. No more boys were permitted to go to Norfolk Island, and the attempt failed. But it is interesting to trace the career of one of the two boys who accompanied Mr. Ruddock. Hugo Gorovaka is his name. I met him in 1892 at Bugotu, in Ysabel, where he was head teacher at Soga's village, and a man of character and decision. He returned with us to Norfolk Island, and has since been ordained. He has come back to his own people in Guadalcanar and attempts to give them the "new teaching." There was a lad at Norfolk Island from Guadalcanar in 1892 named Barnabas Vahea, of Ruavatu. But the feeling against the step he has taken is so strong among his own people that when he left Norfolk Island for a holiday he was unable to return to his home, but went to some relations in Florida. I have mentioned these cases of individual converts in order to show that Guadalcanar has its real converts in the Mission, but as yet no regular centre of work; and it may soon have its native clergyman.

I am proud to say that I had the honour of landing on Guadalcanar, and as it is the only instance which was presented to me of an unwelcome visit from the Mission I proceed to narrate it. As we sailed along between Guadalcanar and Mala we approached a spot named Aola on the former island. It is a traders' station, nor can there be any doubt that it has exerted a most pernicious influence upon the natives around. A village is situated some three miles from it, and here in April 1892, a teacher, who had relatives in the place, had been put down in the hope that he might exert an influence over the people. It was September in the same year when we landed, and, of course, nothing had been heard of him since he had been deposited there five months before. We effected a landing full of hope that at length some definite foothold might have been obtained. It must be confessed, however, that the aspect of affairs was not favourable. As we approached the shore we saw a solitary figure awaiting us; no one else was visible. This looked ominous; and so indeed it was. Alfred, the teacher, said that all his attempts had been entirely frustrated. When he came the chief had said to him, "We shall be glad to see you at any time, for you are one of us; but we do not want the new teaching; we shall have nothing to do with it." Alfred discovered that whenever he opened a book for any purpose (even to read to himself) immediately every one rose up and left the hut; even the children disappeared, and it was clear that strict injunctions had been given to boycott the Christian teaching in this manner. There was nothing for it, he said, but to be taken away. We therefore walked up to the village; no one met us, for every one seemed to be in hiding. The people had gone"' out of their houses and were watching our movements from among the trees. We passed through an enclosure which, by the way, was adorned with a row of skulls, and found ourselves before the house where Alfred had been living. One by one he brought his goods out, and after waiting to see whether any one would come and greet us, we turned back laden with his few cooking utensils and a box. When we reached the shore one or two people appeared, but they were very shy and distinctly cold. Nothing could have shown this more clearly than the way in which my own advances were received. Before stepping into the boat I offered sticks of tobacco to the few who were standing there. But instead of accepting it thankfully and eagerly, there was an evident unwillingness to touch the gift, and very reluctant hands were held out towards me. I remarked upon this to the others, and then Alfred told us that five months before, when Comins had been there and had offered an old man a stick of tobacco, the poor fellow had been afraid to smoke it, as he firmly believed it was administered as a charm by means of which he would become a Christian whether he would or no. The same belief was operating on them when I offered them my peace-offering. We were also told that the reason why the school was so much opposed by the chief consisted in the fact that this village drew a large income from aiding the traders' station not far off in the indulgence of profligacy, and they knew that all such doings would receive a deathblow if the Christian teachers once obtained a footing. A very dark side of the picture is thus unfolded. Savo, the little island mentioned above, is a traders' station. It was the Savo chief who checked Ruddock in his attempt. It was the traders' station at Aola which destroyed the hopes of the efforts at the village which I visited. Mission work has no greater enemy than the ungodly white man, for the foes within the household deal the most deadly blows. The work at Savo itself has indeed long ceased, because of the hostility of "traderized" natives. But though I speak so bitterly of this difficulty, it must be remembered that all traders are not bad or immoral. And how, then, is Guadalcanar to be won?

I asked this question in 1894. The answer has come since then, as will have been guessed by the statistics of work at the head of this account of Guadalcanar. The Commissioner of the Solomons now lives close to this island. Hugo Gorovaka has in the last few years done noble work, attacking both the east and the west side of the island, his permanent work being at Vaturanga. He has had to face bitter disappointments. Chiefs have been bitterly hostile and have tried to boycott schools; all sorts of malicious reports have been spread from Savo as to the motives of the Mission. But the workers have gallantly kept to their posts. Mara-vovo, on the west coast, is the chief centre. Indeed, Savo itself has at length been entered, and we hope permanently. The danger of work in Guadalcanar is almost as great as in Mala; and it is difficult to know what is exactly the right course to pursue with regard to firearms. Is it not right that converts living peaceably in a Christian village should be able to defend themselves against attack? The answer surely must be in the affirmative, and in one case rifles were supplied them by the clergy. Indeed, Mr. Woodford, the Commissioner, sent word to the Mission here that either he must send police to guard the station or else remove the whole Mission party from an island where a few years ago an Austrian scientific mission was attacked and the leader killed. But the future is brighter. There are two Guadalcanar girls at Norfolk Island, the first that ever came. Maravovo has a chapel, and a plantation is growing up round it. Even chiefs like Sulakavo, who has been our great enemy here, will be tamed as we have tamed others quite as bad in other groups. The Roman Catholics have started work on the west side of Guadalcanar. George Basilei too lived and died here; a devoted band of volunteers, under the Rev. R. T. Williams, established a firm footing on this side.


Two clergy; twenty teachers; three hundred and fifty-one baptized; forty communicants.

Ulawa, or Contrariété, is a small island perhaps ten miles by four, not far from the south-east end of Mala. Its coral formation is unmistakable, for the distant view of it reveals its terrace-like formation, each one receding from the next below it till the hill in the middle is reached standing about one thousand feet high. The water is very deep on the western or lee side; it was remarkable how close we had to steam before soundings were reached, and it was surprising to me to hear the mate near the bridge sing out thirty fathoms at the same moment that the anchor touched bottom in twenty-one fathoms, so steep was the bottom. In recounting this some months afterwards to a naval officer, he told me what happened there in his own case. They also had anchored here. At night, when his watch began, he went on deck and looked round, and sang up to the quarter-master to ask where the land was! That officer also peered into the darkness and looked confused when no coral shore was visible. The fact is that the ship had drifted away some distance in the darkness, the anchor having been literally hung on to the side of a wall. Of course it would have been impossible to have drifted the other way, and there was no danger drifting westward.

There is a record of a visit to Ulawa by the first bishop in 1857, in the days when it was a cannibal island. When they were returning to the ship they saw a canoe holding forty men paddling towards them. The Mission party thought that they had come out for a hostile purpose, but as they could not avoid the danger the next best course was boldly to steer straight for the strangers. Apparently the nervousness was mutual, for as soon as the whale-boat approached, the canoe and its occupants bore away as fast as paddles could hurry them. Ulawa is to be a bright spot in the Mission, chiefly owing to the devoted work of the Rev. Clement Marau, who is a true missionary. He is a native of Merelava, in the Banks Islands, and brother of the Rev. William Vaget, whom I ordained in 1892. It is delightful to read of the way in which Clement came to Ulawa. When at Norfolk Island he became godfather to an Ulawa boy called Waaro. This lad in due course went back to Ulawa as one of the first teachers, and Clement wished to do what he could to strengthen his godson's faith, and accordingly accompanied him to start him in his work. It ended in Clement marrying an Ulawa woman, and now he is one of the native priests of the Mission, and one also who has an unstained record for devotion and blameless character. There are now three schools. But Clement has had his great perils to encounter also, for undoubtedly the population was savage and dangerous. One day some natives from the other side of the island came to him and asked if they might pick a cocoanut. He gave them leave, suspecting nothing. In reality they had, according to Ulawan usage, asked him for a man's life, and I do not know how Clement managed to evade the result. Ulawans bury their dead in the sea; the consequence is that the sharks are well accustomed to human flesh, and it is a dangerous bathing-place. The sharks here are looked upon as sacred, and "if a sacred shark--one that had become well known--had attempted to seize a man and he had escaped, the people would be so much afraid of the shark's anger that they would throw the man back again into the sea to be drowned." The usual landing-place for the Mission is one near the principal school, where Clement lives. It is a lovely spot, among great coral boulders, covered with vegetation, and the landing is a sort of scramble up these rocks. A few years ago a poor girl named Amina was brought back from Norfolk Island in an advanced stage of consumption to die among her own people. When this difficult landing-place was reached, the natives set up a shout and said that no woman was permitted to use the spot; they pointed at the same time to a sort of coral cliff some fifteen feet high and more than perpendicular. Up this place the poor girl had to be dragged in spite of her exhausted condition. Amina died soon afterwards. By her side in her last days used to lie her New Testament, and in it were written the names of many for whom she used to pray daily; among them were the names of her four or five godchildren saved, as she herself had been, from heathenism. She never omitted to pray for them. Surely such a life sets us an example and speaks well for the prevailing influence of the Mission in these Southern Seas. It was a Sunday when we landed at Ulawa, and for this reason we took no photographs here according to our custom, though I partly regret it now, especially if a few such pictures might have helped to spread still further the interest in the Mission. I met on that day at the morning service a man named William Wese; he is a man with a naturally bad temper, and years ago, when Bishop Selwyn was distributing presents in one of their houses, William was not satisfied with what he had received. He took up the axe and dashed it with all his force into the ground at the bishop's feet, and no doubt it required strong nerves to be unmoved and show no signs of nervousness. William had been under instruction some time when I saw him, and I was told that not long before, on a certain day, he had felt his temper rising, and made at once for the seashore, where he paced up and down for some hours until he could command himself--another instance of the effect of Christian teaching.

Ulawa is famous for its bowls and model canoes and woodwork inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The ship does not buy anything on Sunday; but on Monday morning as soon as it was light the bargaining was very brisk, and bowls and tobacco changed hands to a very large extent. The following facts are worth relating, as giving an insight into the difficulties of Mission work. In 1891 Clement started a school at the north end of the island. Soon afterwards the chief died, and his death was attributed to the school. So strong was the hostility that the teacher had to be withdrawn, and a price was even put upon Clement's head; it is evident therefore, that even now Ulawa is a post of danger. A remarkable story is also told of Clement's godson, Waaro. There was a strong party who hated his school; but the chief, though he was a heathen, always liked Waaro. At length the chief was lying upon his deathbed, and was deserted by his people. Waaro came to him, and said, "Of course it is our duty to nurse you, and not to desert you as the others have done. But I suppose you would not let us look after you." "Yes," said the dying man. "Take me into your house and teach me; I have not much longer to live." Waaro took him in; but, at the same time, he knew what the result would be. The chief would die on Christian ground, and the school people would, of course, be accused of having caused his death. Now many a man would have been tempted to neglect his duty in this predicament. But Waaro did not hesitate. He took the chief home, and taught him and prayed with him till he died. Then at once the cry was raised, "The school has caused our chief's death." The heathen party held a consultation, and then came to Waaro and asked him to come out to them. They were, in fact, about to kill him, but hesitated to do so in his own house, and the teacher refused to come. "Kill me," he said, "if you like in the school-house; but this is my place. I will not leave it." The question was debated till the evening, and then the tide turned in his favour. They seemed to admire his courage, and they knew, of course, that he had simply taken their chief out of kindness to die in his house. They therefore came back once more, but this time it was simply to ask for the body for burial, and Waaro's life was spared. I trust these simple stories do not tire my readers; it is just in this way that we realize the true romance and pathos of life under difficulties.

No one who has been to Ulawa on a very hot day is likely to forget a little bathing-place in a sort of rocky cleft. The stream flows over the face of a rock about eight feet high, and the natives fix bamboos so that the water emerges from four or five of these pipes in so many spouts. It is not unusual when the Southern Cross is here to see three or four missionaries in the intervals of their labours sitting side by side under these selfsame spouts to their unmixed satisfaction. Even bishops have been detected in the same posture and have survived it. The clergyman in charge of this district was one day enjoying a quiet bathe here when a party of Mala men from Port Adam, headed by their chief, a noted cannibal, made their appearance. They proceeded to examine the cleric's clothes as they lay on the bank, and even, I believe, essayed to try some of them on. They then turned their attention to the white man himself, and in a most affectionate manner examined his skin and pinched his arms. Whether visions of feasts passed before their eyes I do not know, but the victim told me that he was much relieved when he was once more left to himself. Comins had given them a piece of soap, and told them how to use it, and then slipped away:

Cristoval, Ulawa, Mala, and, I suppose, Guadalcanar, are at present under the superintendence of one white clergyman. It is not difficult therefore to detect the immense and the immediate need of a larger staff.

Perhaps it will also be of interest if I here insert a simple sentence in seven at least of the dialects known to Mr. Comins.

"Where do you live, and where are you going?"

Wango--loe o rfa iei mao ari iei?

Fagani--Igo go oga ifei ma go rago ifei?

Saa--lo o oo idei na o ke lae idei?

Manoto--O to ifai na lei fai?

Tawaniehia--O io ihei na o lae ihei?

Ulawa--O ioio ihei na oa lae hei?

Ugi--O neneku ihei ma oa lae ihei?

As years have passed Clement has strengthened his position steadily. As consistent as George Sarawia, he has shown far more force of character, and has been a worthy leader always. There are, I believe, no heathen in his island now. His church is a noble coral structure, and he lives to be the most respected and the ablest native priest in the Mission.

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