FOURTEEN schools; fourteen hundred baptized; three hundred scholars; fifteen hundred listeners,
Ysabel is a large island not far short of a hundred miles in length. It has been already mentioned that here the Spaniards first landed in 1567, at a point about the middle of the north shore. And in this spot they built a brigantine, in which they cruised about the shores of this and of neighbouring islands. These early discoverers, though they came, in part, at least, for the purpose of converting the natives, seem to have been constantly in collision with them; and the present history of Ysabel is also a very sad one. Cannibalism has been referred to as existing throughout Cristoval and Mala, and many parts of Guadalcanar, but Ysabel has the unenviable distinction of being a hunting-ground for powerful tribes. In New Georgia there is a race inhabiting the Rubiana lagoons, which has infested the shores of Ysabel in order to get, by fair means or foul, as many lives as possible. They are, perhaps, the worst of all cannibals, and great is the dread in which they are held by all who live in these waters, whilst the effect of their raids has been, that of the hundred miles of Ysabel, eighty are practically uninhabited. The people have either been wiped out and eaten, or else they have migrated to safer quarters; and the only part which has an adequate population is the eastern corner. Here, for twenty miles or so, the villages are numerous. Some two thousand people inhabit them; and our Mission has taken a firm hold. Indeed, the day is not distant when they will all be Christians in the district of Bugotu. The only heathen are those who have come in from the bush for safety.
A distance of only twenty-five miles divides Ysabel from Florida, and to all appearance they are both full of harbours; and this some day will give them a great advantage over islands which cannot be approached without risk. As is usual in the Solomons, running streams are common. They empty themselves into bays, where the deposit they bring down creates mud-banks, and here the mangroves flourish, suggesting fever for the unwary. Mangrove swamps represent to those who have never seen them nothing but pestilential mud, full of crawling creatures among a hideous tangle of roots, covered usually with slime. Such a description is often true, especially at low tide, and when the traveller is actually threading one of the lanes which intersect these marshes. But it must also be remembered that there is in reality no more vivid and tender green than that of the mangrove. Seen, for instance, in the Scudamore Channel, in Florida, or in the harbour at Pahua, in Ysabel, these trees might be taken for masses 'of well-grown laurel or rhododendron planted round an ornamental sheet of water. In these harbours and along the coast there are a good many villages, many having moved down in order to be in Soga's country. But there are many gaps where natives used to live. Dr. Welchman, now in charge of the Mission, was asking one day, as he was sailing in his whaleboat, along these shores, how this and that village had been destroyed; and he discovered that in about three out of every five cases the people had been wiped out by this same chief, whose protection is now sought by so many. A chain of hills acts as a backbone, and runs all down the whole length of Ysabel. But in some places the island is very narrow. I am not likely to forget the walk I had one hot and cloudless day from Pahua.on the northern side, to Perihandi, on the southern shore. It was but a few miles, but a hill of a thousand feet had to be climbed. The heat was tremendous, necessitating, for comfort's sake, at least, repeated halts; and the boys who carried bamboos full of water were often called to our side. From the summit of the hill a glorious prospect met our eyes; the shores extending right and left for miles, the Southern Cross anchored in a still harbour at our feet, and St. George's Island beyond, a fertile place, but totally uninhabited, because the fear of the Rubiana head-hunters is still strong upon the people.
It was, I think, from the very hill upon which we stood that, some years ago, a native rushed down to Bishop John Selwyn, who was lying ill of fever a thousand feet below, and begged him to come up at once, because "piccaninny" was dying. "Come quick." The poor bishop got up, and, medicine-chest on back, toiled up this ascent, a fearful tramp for a man in fever. When he at length reached the hut, the man showed him in the corner a litter of puppies, one of which was indisposed!
None of us who were of our company that day are likely to-forget the bathe in a cool stream when our journey was at an end. There was not sufficient depth for a swim; but we lay content and cool, each in a pool to ourselves. It is in Ysabel that the natives used, a few years ago, the tree-houses which have often excited the interest of travellers. They were meant as shelters when the raiders were signalled as approaching; but the introduction of firearms and the increasing use of the broad steel axe-head destroyed at once these strange places of refuge. In 1866 Bishop Patteson climbed up to one of these houses. Usually a tree with a straight stem is chosen, generally a banian tree. In one case the tree grew on the edge of a cliff, and the house actually overhung the abyss below. A ladder led up to it, and one of these was ninety-four feet in length, swinging in the air, with cross-pieces of wood loosely tied, and at very unequal distances. The ascent was of such a nature that even so experienced a sailor as Captain Bongard, of the Southern Cross, was fatigued when he reached the summit, and confessed himself relieved when he found himself once more on terra firma. The house itself was eighteen feet in breadth and eight feet high, built among the branches. The natives themselves seem perfectly at ease in such places, and do not know what giddiness means. Nor is this extraordinary when one of their daily duties is the ascent of cocoanut palms in order to get the nuts. A woman was seen ascending one of these ladders once with a load on her head, and not even using her hands. Another was walking about upon the branches at the height of a hundred feet, spreading out clothes to dry, perfectly unconscious of the results of a slip upon her part. Stones were piled up aloft as missiles for the heads of any who dared the ascent for a hostile purpose. But, as I have said, the houses have now disappeared, and at the present day the villagers choose the summit of a crag, and build up any parts which require artificial protection. I spent an afternoon in such a fort, and sat on a little bamboo verandah outside Dr. Welchman's house. On two sides were valleys of great depth, with their sides shrouded in the densest vegetation; birds were calling to each other, and white cockatoos sailed from side to side. Below us peeped out here and there the roofs of the village, built near the place of refuge. Ysabel differs from some of the islands further east in the fact that the chief is vested with great and really autocratic power. Soga, upon being asked what limits were put to his power, simply answered, "I speak and they do." It will be easily understood, then, how important it must be to the Mission to win the chief to their side. The history of our work here is briefly this. A visit of Bishop Patteson is recorded in 1862. As soon as the ship anchored at Sepi, the chief, Bera, came on board with a white cockatoo on his wrist, which he presented to the bishop as a token of goodwill. Four years later, the bishop remarks that though the people of two neighbouring villages were at war, still the opponents were willing to meet amicably on the deck of the Southern Cross. Meanwhile, in 1863, some boys were taken to Kohimarama, and were afterwards transplanted to Norfolk Island, but in the epidemic of typhoid fever in 1867 several of them died. In 1871 the Rev. M. Wadrokal was placed here, and the first school was opened at Mahaga, close to the harbour of Perihandi. In 1884, Bera, the chief, who had hitherto been an obstacle to the work, died. On his deathbed he said, "Let no one be killed for me. Do no damage to the people's food or property when I am dead because of me. There has been enough of this. I did this when I succeeded to power; I have done so often. Soga and Soge must succeed me. I charge them to see these commands carried out." Accordingly, in place of killing victims at the dead chief's grave, Soga on this occasion took Bera's body and buried it secretly in the bush. But Soga was not yet a Christian. By his stronger personality he soon became the undisputed chief of Bugotu, and inherited the whole of Bera's power. His head-hunting continued, and he was the cause of numberless expeditions to wipe out neighbouring villages. But a change was soon to come over him and his people. In 1889 Soga was baptized; and ever since he has been the greatest possible assistance to the Mission. I have already stated that I have met three men who looked chiefs and filled their office well. Two of them are heathens: Natei of Santa Cruz, and Takki of Wango, in Cristoval. The third is Soga. He is not a great warrior in the same sense that the other two are, but he is a born ruler and a thoughtful man. And it is likely that his administration of justice will form an epoch in the annals of Bugotu. In 1890 he went to Gao, one of his villages. Upon his approach all the natives fled into the bush, remembering his old ways. But Soga called out, "Where are your chief men? Tell them to come to me. I have come in peace, and will do them no harm. Take my hand; there is no weapon in it. Of old I came here to fight, but now you need fear me no longer; that is all done with, for I am a Christian now." When the chief men at length appeared, he said to them, "You must sit down, and I will tell you what Christianity has done for Bugotu."
Let me now try and show by a few examples how Soga, at the present time, governs his people. It will be seen at the same time what delicate questions arise, and how hard it is to decide how far it is right to call in the power of the chief to enforce decisions. Let it be understood that Soga's people, numbering some two thousand, are all rapidly becoming Christians. Infanticide is not practised; indeed, the children are treated with the greatest care. A short time before I paid my visit a child died at Bugotu, and Soga fined the father because he considered that sufficient care had not been given to the child. Again, Dr. Welchman considered not long ago that the time had come to abolish the heathen custom connected with the marriage of widows. If a widow marries again in Bugotu there are customs which no Christian woman could submit to, and these could, up to the present, only be escaped by paying a fine; the consequence was that Christian widows did not marry again. Now, Soga could have abolished the old custom by his own authority. But was this the right method? Finally, the old law was declared to be done away with, and widows were declared eligible for re-marriage without penalties. Soga then gave his consent to the new ordinance. But the feeling was very strong among the Christians. A great many did not come to prayers for a month, but the day was won; and almost immediately afterwards four widows were sought in marriage.
Here is another example. The heathen custom with regard to mourning was that the mourner should wear no ornaments, indulge very sparingly in washing, and attend no prayers in the church for the space of twelve months. Soga said the custom required modification, and that he would alter it. But he was asked not to take the first step, or, rather, to use influence, not force. The duration of mourning was limited to a month, but there was to be no abstention from the daily public prayers.
Some time ago a man in Soga's territory quarrelled with a neighbour, and wounded him with a spear. Soga heard of it, and ordered the offender to live in the bush for a year, and not to come near the salt water. The gardens are all in the bush, so that it is not a question of starvation, but of banishment. The man, of course, obeyed. But the penalty inflicted is a striking testimony to the growth of the Spirit of Christ in one who, a few weeks before, was a noted head-hunter.
Again, not long ago a man was charged with embezzlement. He denied it, but it was proved to be true. Soga sent for the man to receive judgment. The accused, being a Christian by profession, supposed that he would not now be injured if he refused to present himself before the chief, therefore he did not come. Soga consulted Dr. Welchman on his course of action, and Welchman said it was a matter for the civil power, and the chief must punish for contempt of court "Well," said Soga, "I ought to burn his house down, but," he added, "I don't like doing it. It brings my old heathen days back to me." Again he was told this was an act of justice, not of cruelty. One morning, therefore, forty men sat down by the offender's house before daylight, seized the culprit, took out of the house all that belonged to his mother, and then they burnt the house and all the property in it. After this they adjourned to the man's garden and destroyed that as well. This was for contempt of court; the penalty for the crime still remained to be adjudged. In due time, without excitement, the culprit was ordered to make full restitution and was fined a moderate sum (100 porpoise teeth = £1"). There was no more contempt of court. When it is remembered that there is no law here, except the power of the chief, it will be seen how wise was Soga's adviser, and how careful a missionary's conduct must be.
Turning now to the general habits of the people, it was a surprise to me to note the cleanly ways of the people. For instance, there are regular bathing-places set apart for men and women, and these are systematically used every day. Nor is anything like improper behaviour ever noticed. Their weapons for fighting are spears and tomahawks, but now firearms are found among them. At one time it was no difficult matter to obtain them while Ysabel was under the German Protectorate. But now the Resident Commissioner of the British Protectorate strictly forbids all importation of such weapons. It is doubtful how far the Bugotu people have been cannibals; some villages have been given to this habit, but I believe Soga himself has never tasted human flesh. Let me now describe a Sunday I spent at Sepi, in Bugotu. At seven a.m. we had a celebration of Holy Communion. At ten a.m. Sunday school assembled; and as there were far too many for the church, the classes were scattered through the various houses. I inspected them all, first entering Soga's house, where I found the chief with some women in his room, to whom he was imparting instruction from the Gospels. And this was the man who five years ago was a head-hunting savage! In all I inspected eight classes, and counted about two hundred and twenty people, from grey-haired men to little children. The church was occupied by a class of nearly sixty adults, who were to be baptized in the afternoon. School was followed by morning prayer without an address. At all these church services I was made to sit in Soga's special seat; and here I will give an instance of the nice manners of the natives. No rule has ever been laid down that they are not to bring pipes into the church; but the natives have no pockets, and a man or woman carries a pipe in the ear or through one of the links of a necklace at the back of the neck. (I once saw in Ysabel a little girl of six with a black clay pipe stuck in her waist-cloth.) The natives came to the conclusion that it would not be good manners to have these pipes in the church thus exposed; so of their own accord they placed a kerosene-tin case at the door of the church, pierced with countless holes. By the time service began this tin bristled with clay pipes, placed there by the worshippers. It was another fact of interest to note that stones were neatly placed in rows near the entrance of the church to make ornamental borders; and among these were embedded many tindalos, or magic stones. The old superstitions now lie at the door of the Christian church, having lost their power.
By 2.30 on that eventful Sunday, September 18, 1892, a font had been erected in the open air under the shade of some young palm trees close to the beach; for, of course, the church was too small for the coming ceremony. Two large clam shells were firmly fixed on a structure, which was decorated with leaves and flowers, and in due time the service began, the whole population being assembled. Soga was there, and the catechumens stood in long rows near the font. I shall never forget the scene. A strong, warm sea breeze was blowing in our faces, bringing the waves up to the beach, but without violence, for a reef protects the shore. to make full restitution and was fined a moderate sum (100 porpoise teeth = £1). There was no more contempt of court. When it is remembered that there is no law here, except the power of the chief, it will be seen how wise was Soga's adviser, and how careful a missionary's conduct must be.
Turning now to the general habits of the people, it was a surprise to me to note the cleanly ways of the people. For instance, there are regular bathing-places set apart for men and women, and these are systematically used every day. Nor is anything like improper behaviour ever noticed. '1 heir weapons for fighting are spears and tomahawks, but now firearms are found among them. At one time it was no difficult matter to obtain them while Ysa"bel was under the German Protectorate. But now the Resident Commissioner of the British Protectorate strictly forbids all importation of such weapons. It is doubtful how far the Bugotu people have been cannibals; some villages have been given to this habit, but I believe Soga himself has never tasted human flesh. Let me now describe a Sunday I spent at Sepi, in Bugotu. At seven a.m. we had a celebration of Holy Communion. At ten a.m. Sunday school assembled; and as there were far too many for the church, the classes were scattered through the various houses. I inspected them all, first entering Soga's house, where I found the chief with some women in his room, to whom he was imparting instruction from the Gospels. And this was the man who five years ago was a head-hunting savage! In all I inspected eight classes, and counted about two hundred and twenty people, from grey-haired men to little children. The church was occupied by a class of nearly sixty adults, who were to be baptized in the afternoon. School was followed by morning prayer without an address. At all these church services I was made to sit in Soga's special seat; and here I will give an instance of the nice manners of the natives. No rule has ever been laid down that they are not to bring pipes into the church; but the natives have no pockets, and a man or woman carries a pipe in the ear or through one of the links of a necklace at the back of the neck. (I once saw in Ysabel a little girl of six with a black clay pipe stuck in her waist-cloth.) The natives came to the conclusion that it would not be good manners to have these pipes in the church thus exposed; so of their own accord they placed a kerosene-tin case at the door of the church, pierced with countless holes. By the time service began this tin bristled with clay pipes, placed there by the worshippers. It was another fact of interest to note that stones were neatly placed in rows near the entrance of the church to make ornamental borders; and among these were embedded many tindalos, or magic stones. The old superstitions now lie at the door of the Christian church, having lost their power.
By 2.30 on that eventful Sunday, September 18, 1892, a font had been erected in the open air under the shade of some young palm trees close to the beach; for, of course, the church was too small for the coming ceremony. Two large clam shells were firmly fixed on a structure, which was decorated with leaves and flowers, and in due time the service began, the whole population being assembled. Soga was there, and the catechumens stood in long rows near the font. I shall never forget the scene. A strong, warm sea breeze was blowing in our faces, bringing the waves up to the beach, but without violence, for a reef protects the shore. To our left, some two miles off, our floating home, the Southern Cross, was at anchor, the means whereby it has been possible to do so much for the Kingdom of Christ. Far away on the horizon were visible the blue masses of two islands, differing strangely at present in their spiritual history--Florida, on the left, where the gospel has taken root so deeply; Guadalcanar on the right, to which our hearts turn with anxious desire, for, large as it is, our efforts have failed at present to get any hold over it. By the font stood Dr. Welchman. He it was who had dealt with these people, and his place it was to admit them into the ark of Christ's Church by the duly appointed way. To each candidate each of the four questions was put separately. Than one by one each came forward, and three times the baptismal water was poured. The shells were large--I suppose each half weighed forty pounds--yet they had to be filled three times (each time with the use of the appointed prayer) before the fifty-seven adults and six infants were all baptized. Thus ended one of the most striking services I have ever been privileged to take part in. Later in the day I asked for and obtained the shells. That evening, after the service was ended, we sat long in the twilight on the verandah of the clergyman's house, talking with Soga and his people about his early days. The air was still, except for the sound of waves at our feet upon the white strand, and the fireflies were twinkling and dancing in and out among the palm stems. The information we received from Soga I have placed under a separate head below. Let me give a few more details illustrating the chief's character. Dr. Welchman had been most anxious to finish the translation of the Gospels into Bugotu, and he asked Soga, the most capable of all his scholars, for his aid. Now, it must be remembered that persistent and sustained labours are not, as a rule, indulged in or appreciated by Melanesians, more especially when they are intellectual efforts. These last, indeed, are entirely new to the race, for, of course, reading and writing were unknown in Melanesia till the advent of the missionaries. At first Soga was asked to come in the evenings. But his interest was so excited that he soon came of his own accord in the mornings as well, and often latterly he would suggest an afternoon sitting also, so anxious was he to complete the work before the Southern Cross should bear away the manuscript to Norfolk Island to the printing-press. Dr. Welch-man called in teachers as well, but these one after another showed signs of weariness--and nothing was more natural--but Soga was always at his post, and nothing could damp his enthusiasm. So it happened that three times as much was effected as had been thought possible at first. The translation of the Gospel according to St. Luke formed part of these labours--indeed, this is usually the first Gospel given to the Christians, for obvious reasons--and when the 15th chapter had been completed, it was read over as a whole to Soga. The chief laughed loud and long. "It is good," he cried; "it is very good." Laughter is a sign among them of great pleasure, just as lifting the eyebrows is of an affirmative, and as silence is of thanks upon receiving a present. But I must bring the history of this island to a conclusion, though I would fain linger over it. I was ashore here for a longer period than anywhere else, and the work struck me as being peculiarly solid. It is worth mentioning here that when I asked the head native teacher at Sepi about the conduct of returned labourers, he told me that out of fourteen who had lately returned, twelve were attending all Christian ministrations as before, and were only altered by the fact that they now understood a little English. But it must be observed that these men had only been at work with the neighbouring traders and for short periods. The only returned Queensland labourer then on the island committed a brutal double murder about two years later: and it became a serious matter to decide how to deal with him. For Soga, at his baptism, had vowed that he would never shed human blood again. Ysabel also was still in the German Protectorate. Finally Soga kept him in his own employ, thus shielding him from revenge, until the arrival of the bishop. Then, acting upon his advice, he banished the man for five years, sending him at once to a distant heathen island in which Soga had interest. He did it both to preserve the man's life and also to be able to keep in touch with him.
A few years after my own visit Soga again showed marked bravery and self-restraint. It was upon the occasion of a secret visit from Rubiana of a party of head-hunters, who came across to St. George's Island, killed a man, and then sailed into Perihandi harbour, putting on an innocent appearance. The presence of sixty armed savages was alarming, and Soga was summoned. He collected his forces and lay off the harbour outside the visitors, whilst another body of men showed themselves on land well armed. The marauder was intimidated, and he and his men emptied their magazine rifles into the air. Soga upbraided them, and sternly ordered them to depart, and said to the chief, "Now you know my mind, and I tell you that if it had been a few years ago not one of you would be living now to hear me speak; but I have learnt to know and serve God, and it will be well for you if you come to know Him too. Because I am a changed man I give you all your lives this time."
Thus Soga passed his life, steadily observant of his own duties and endeavouring to bring the heathen into the Church. He also gladly gave asylum to the bush people, making Bugotu a city of refuge. He also made journeys to other places, urging the establishment of schools, though he was rarely successful. There were many districts which would not receive the teaching. Soga was confirmed by Bishop Wilson, but never received Holy Communion. His end came in consequence of illness contracted whilst attempting to make peace between two distant tribes who were nothing to him had he not been a Christian. He died a few days after his return, and the following touching account is given of his last moments by Ellison, Soga's son, for the benefit of Dr. Welchman, but not at his request. "'My sons,' said Soga, 'I do not know whether there is life or death in this sickness; but I am very ill, and I think I am going to leave you'--then we all began to weep. 'But do not be grieved: I am quite content: keep peace in Bugotu. See that they do not neglect the prayers and the school, for we stand upon those.' Next morning he said, 'Why do not the teachers come and help me with my soul? If Hugo had been there he had not left me long. . . .' When it was quite dark outside he said, 'Put out the light, and all of you go to sleep, for I shall sleep too,' and they all lay down and slept. But we kept watch. ... In the middle of the night he startled us by saying, 'Who is this? There is a white man beside me, ruddy and beautiful. Who is it? I do not know him.' With that he got up, but we saw nothing. . . . We thought perhaps he had seen a spirit. . . . Then he began to talk again about the man. 'I do not know him; he is very beautiful.' Very soon he lay quiet. Presently he said, 'Children, do not grieve and do not be troubled. This is my day.' I got up and went to him. It was just about cockcrow, and I saw a change in him. I called out, 'Anika, my Father;' and with that they all came running in, and they lit the lamp, and we saw he was breathing his last. It was not like the death we know, it was just like as if he were falling asleep."
It is necessary to have seen a head-hunting Solomon Island chief to realize the change in the life of one like Soga. One can only declare that it is the miracle of Grace. Soga left the kingdom to his son and nephew jointly; and they asked Hugo Gorovaka, their father's old friend and instructor, to return for a time to Bugotu to help them. He had gone to Guadalcanar after his ordination as deacon, and now he left his brother George Basile in charge there while he resumed his work in Bugotu. His heart, however, was with his own kin over the water, and he rejoined George in a few months. Meanwhile, the young successors of the famous chief, feeling themselves to be poor substitutes for Soga, left the rule in the hands of their uncles, one of whom is now acting alone. The son, an intelligent and energetic man, is now taking charge of the school at Sepi.
Soga's successors will not have the same difficulties as he had. Head-hunting has ceased in Rubiana, and it may be that the perils of a quieter life in Ysabel and of a settled Christianity may be greater than those of days of storm and stress from without. Probably also the interest will now shift further north. Dr. Welchman, who has had so much to do with Soga, is shifting his abode to Choiseul, a great island only now to be touched by the Mission for the first time. It is an answer to many prayers for many years.
New Georgia has been known to the Mission chiefly as an island inhabited by bloodthirsty head-hunters and cannibals. The island of Ysabel has almost been depopulated by the people of Rubiana, which is part of New Georgia. But, in 1895, the efforts of some officers of H.M.S. Penguin have opened the way for the Mission. Lieutenant Somerville and some brother officers were camped on New Georgia, surveying the coast. They found the people in terrible dread of the white man, from experience of traders only. In a short time they learnt to look upon "man-o'-war men" as a different genus. This was a great step. The officers then discovered that some white men had filled the minds of the natives with horrible stories about "missionary men." The people said they had been told that "missionary men" would outrage their women, rob them of goods, etc. This is an instance of the difficulty of mission work where bad white men are first in the field. The reason for these calumnies is obvious. It does not suit dissolute men to spread Christian teaching. The officers nobly prepared the way for the Mission, and spared no pains to give the clergy all information. A chart of the anchorages has been supplied; the names of the villages and of the chiefs have been given; and, above all, a vocabulary of two thousand native names has been compiled for use, including several dialects. Such aid is a boon which cannot be too highly appreciated. Since then New Georgia has been circumnavigated by the Southern Cross.
In 1903 this little group is in the hands of the Wesleyan Mission, since nothing had ever been done in it. Bishop Cecil Wilson tells us that the Wesleyans made it clear to him that they meant to come to one or other unoccupied part of the Solomons, and he accepted their advent into New Georgia, hoping that in a few years' time they may restore it to him again, just as once Bishop George Selwyn gave certain islands to the Presbyterians in the New Hebrides. There is news to tell also of Choiseul, the next island northward after Ysabel. Dr. Welchman moves on to it from Ysabel this year, and is the first to plant the Cross there. Bougainville still remains to be evangelized, together with the small island of Bouka. Once there, the Melanesian Mission will stretch out its hands to the New Guinea Mission, separated by only some two hundred and fifty miles of sea.