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A Pioneer of Papua
Being the Life of the Rev. Copland King, M.A.
One of the First Two Missionaries of the New Guinea Mission

By the Right Reverend Gilbert White, D.D.

London: SPCK, 1929.
Sydney: The Australian Board of Missions, 1929.

Chapter III. 1898-1904

AFTER the Bishop's arrival Copland King remained for a while at the head station, teaching in the schools and giving his spare time to translation work until he was relieved by the arrival of Mr. Newton in August, 1899. In October the Bishop went south, primarily to obtain means to start a church school at Samarai. Copland King was left in charge as commissary, but hearing that the mission to the Mambare had been broken up by sickness he left for it by the schooner on February 6, 1900, and remained there until he went for furlough in February, 1901. The Rev. F. W. Ramsay, of Port Fairy, has kindly sent me his reminiscences of this time:

"I arrived at Dogura on Sunday, February 4, 1900, and got ashore in time to attend Evensong and hear King preach. He was Vicar-General at the time, the Bishop being away in Australia. Hines had been brought down from the Mamba very ill, and it was necessary for someone to go up north and take charge of the work which had been recently started. Newton was keen on [39/40] going to the Mamba, but King used the powers vested in him and decided to go himself. The staff seemed to think that King had sacrificed himself to what they regarded as almost certain death. Two days after my arrival King left in the Albert Maclaren for the Mamba. A layman had been left at the station, but as soon as King arrived he resigned and came back by the schooner. Thus King was alone. On the Bishop's return he was much concerned about King, and asked me if I would go and assist him. On June 22 the Bishop, David Tatoo, and I left and arrived at the Mamba on the 28th. King had been alone for four months, and was overjoyed to see us. He presented two coastal boys, who had volunteered to help, for Confirmation.

"Later the Governor, Sir George Le Hunte, visited the district and presided at a meeting of miners held at Tamata to decide about building a church. They eventually subscribed £35. It was built of native materials with an iron roof. It took the place of a room known as the 'dead house,' where the dead and the dead drunk were laid until their recovery. King was very much disgusted with the amount of drinking, and he determined to preach a temperance sermon. When the time came we rigged up a reading desk and pulpit of packing-cases. His sermon was robbed of a good deal of its force by the discovery that the [40/41] packing-cases facing the congregation bore advertisements of Bull-Dog Stout and Guinness's Ales. There was a side of King which seldom appeared, but when it did he was a veritable lion. The miners were boycotting our work and trying to smash us because of an article in the New Guinea Herald of an interview with Bishop Stone-Wigg, in which he was supposed to have charged the New Guinea miners with loose living. Things got so bad that King suggested that we should have a discussion with the men. They were duly notified, and we went armed with a letter from the Bishop in which he said he would meet any representatives of the men in debate Thirteen men faced King in the cook-house. King met all they had to say and overwhelmed them in argument. They lost their temper and threatened him with their fists. King took my breath away by calmly remarking: 'Well, I can't fight you, but my friend here will accommodate everyone who wishes.' Fortunately for me, they did not press the matter, for as I remarked to King later 'Provided I could have beaten the thirteen men in turn, what would I have looked like when they had finished with me?' It was not only the miners but some of the Government officials whose treatment of the native women gave us trouble.

"There were floods at various times, when the [41/42] village gardens were submerged. On one occasion the people came to inquire who was making the flood. They had been told that some of the police had tied a bundle of leaves to a stone and sunk them, and that this was the cause of the flood. King told all the men to come to church when the bell rang. They all arrived with large bundles of coconuts as an offering. King spoke to them and tried to get them to understand that the great Creator ruled even the rain. Prayers for fair weather were offered. Next day the rain ceased, and the river fell so that the people could return to their gardens. The service greatly impressed the people, and was a great help to our work. Just at this time King got news of his mother's death, and had to face his great sorrow in the wilds. We had frequent trouble with children running away from school, and on one occasion a man threatened King's life with a tomahawk; fortunately, I came up just in time. A little later King heard of a tribal battle on the Gira River, and made a dash thither with several of the Mission boys, but arrived top late, twenty-six men having been killed the previous day."

In 1901 King went south for six months' furlough, which was occupied in seeing through the press his history of the Mission, his Binandere Dictionary, and his Grammar of the Wedau [42/43] language, and in preaching and lecturing on behalf of the Mission. He then returned to the Mambare. The Lieutenant-Governor, speaking in Sydney about this time, said: The Government owed everything to missions. He knew what Sir William MacGregor said about them, and he fully agreed with it. The missions saved the contributing colonies thousands of pounds every year. He wished to make them fully realize what missions meant to the Administration. It would have to be doubled, perhaps quadrupled in strength if it were not for the little houses along the coast where the church workers resided. Every penny spent by the missionaries was a help to the Queen's Government. Every penny spent by the missionaries saved pounds to the Administration. The missionaries rendered it unnecessary for the whites to move about with armed forces. They enabled the officials to leave their rifles on the ships and go inland with their umbrellas. The Mission brought peace, law, and order; it helped the Government, and the [43/44] Government was proud to reciprocate the aid. If one could only see the difference between the natives brought under the influence of the missionaries and those who were not! The Bishop and he himself were working hand in hand in the island. The Mission on the Mambare was about forty miles up the river above Tamata, the [43/44] Government station, and Mr. King's work was helped by the establishment of a hospital with two mission nurses. The difficulties of the work were increased by the wild character of the country and the difficulties of travelling from place to place.

Thus, writing in 1908, Mr. King describes a visit to the Waria River: "We came to a place where we got our first sight of the Waria River. It ran about 600 feet below us. The mountains rose on each side of it and the valley was narrow, the river running under one side or the other, leaving fertile flats where there was room. We could not see any villages, but the plantations were in evidence on the flats and creeping up the sides of the mountains, the light green of the taro being topped by a brown space where the timber had been all cut but not cleared away. We saw natives on the river beach bathing, near what we found afterwards was the village of Gamundu. Here we found thirty-eight village constables appointed by the Government of German New Guinea. The Germans claimed the country to the north of the river, but the constables were very friendly. . . . We stayed at the store for two days. This is the beginning of the gold workings. It was below the store that the lumpy gold was first got, and there were still two or three men working within a day's journey [44/45] along the river. We visited two or three of them on the Wednesday, the trip to their camp and back taking us nearly all day. The rest of the diggers are farther up the river. To visit the nearest district where any of these were working would have meant the addition of at least a week to my trip. The others were farther up, some of them more than a week's walk out. In the mountains here the river rushes along at a terrible rate, hemmed in by diorite rocks, sometimes into a narrow gorge that you can bridge with a fallen tree. It is impossible to work here in the bed of the river: no one could stand it. Only a few days before one of the diggers had been lost. It is supposed that he slipped into the stream and was dashed to pieces. The other diggers and a party of police hunted in vain for any traces of him. Some of the latter made a raft and floated it down, clinging to it while it spun round and round and over and over. Even that would have been impossible anywhere near where the man was lost. The work is done by putting the ripple box near the water and carrying to it the earth from above water or flood level. Even a boy dipping water out of the river has been caught by the current and washed away without any chance of rescue. When I say flood level I mean that a long way up from the ordinary level of the water the rocks are washed clean, [45/46] though a patch of sand may have formed in an eddy among them.

"But where the moss and trees begin to hang on even there gold is deposited by the higher floods, and can be got as I have described. In pursuit of such little 'beaches' the diggers travel up and down, and cross the river from side to side on bridges made of lawyer cane. On the Aikora such bridges had at least a footpath and two handrails formed of several strands of cane. But here the people seem to be content with the footpath. The natives, of course, think nothing of them. They will cross holding on with one hand and holding a bundle of taro in the other. The diggers cross, but they have to carry their dogs.

"All the way up the river are native villages, generally on spurs 1,000 feet or more up the mountains. The natives supply the diggers and their boys with taro and sweet potatoes and pigs in large quantities and at cheap prices, otherwise the gold won would hardly pay the cost of the work; but another advantage is that the boys keep in much better health now that they have native food to live on."

Writing to children in Australia, Mr. King says with regard to the district: "It was two days easy walking to where we were to stop first. We had to wade through two rivers and climb ever [46/47] so many hills. Nearly every one of the diggers has a lot of native boys to work for him, signed on for a year. They carry his stores from Tamata, they dig the earth where the gold is and make ditches to carry the water to wash it, and one of them is appointed cook and helps in the house work. These boys come from different parts of New Guinea, principally the Fly River and the islands. Of course they have to learn English, and a very funny kind of English it is. The master will say to them: 'Work he finish now; you go catchee kaikai.' Which means 'Stop work now and go and have dinner.' One of the commonest things here is a tin-opener, and all the boys know what it is for; but when they talk of 'tin-opener belong bottle' you have to remember that they mean a corkscrew. There was an old digger there who had no boys but worked by himself. He was cutting a tree down, and it fell on his foot and mangled it. Another digger was going up twice a day to dress it for him, and he seemed likely to lose his toes. Afterwards, when we persuaded him to come in, he had to be carried by the boys. I went down on Sunday to visit him. He told me that his language was Low German, and that when he was a boy he used to read his Bible and say the hymns 'Nun Danket' and 'Ein Feste Burg.' Well, of course, we have these tunes in our hymn book, [47/48] so I began to sing. them to him, and he was greatly surprised, and said: 'Where did you learn that? Have you been to Germany?' Afterwards I asked him to say the Lord's Prayer. He said that he did not know it, but when I began he said: 'Oh, that is Unser Fader'; and once he started he said it in his own language. Now, whenever you wonder why you have to learn prayers and texts and hymns so much, remember, the time may come when you won't be able to learn them but be glad to know them."

All the time King was working hard at the language, in which he was gradually acquiring great proficiency.

The Rev. H. Newton, the present Bishop of New Guinea, writing of the Mission in 1914, said: "The language difficulty is one of the most serious obstacles to our work. Roughly speaking, there are two distinct languages on the north-east coast of New Guinea: a Melanesian language as far up as Wanigela in Collingwood Bay, and a Papuan language from there to the German boundary and farther on. Of both of these, but especially the Melanesian, there are many dialects. The structure of the language remains fairly fixed, but the vocabulary alters every few miles along the coast and pronunciation varies with it, so that he who knows one dialect will find that spoken a few miles from [48/49] home unintelligible, nor will he be understood. In one district the letter h is hardly ever sounded, in another it is as plentiful as in the mouth of a Cockney; here s's, there k's are sprinkled over the language as from a flour dredger. The staff had all to learn the language; they could not be of much use for their work till they had done so, to some extent at least. We went through a course of Wedauan, reaping the benefit of years of patient labour on the part of Copland King, a priest who came with the founder of the Mission, and of others who had been in the country years before us. In language lessons every day Mr. King gave us the full benefit of his past work, and few of us realized how different it is when one enters into the labours of others. What patience and perseverance had been extended in reducing the language to writing, in drawing up a grammar, in forming a vocabulary (which we find when we refer to it even yet contains words we fondly hoped were new discoveries of our own), in translating portions of the Scriptures and of the Prayer-Book, in adapting hymns! Those of us who had some aptitude for language, and could speak Wedauan passably in a few months, had little idea of the labour and of the difficulties of the real pioneers.

"The language has a very definite grammar with exact rules, and the natives are very careful [49/50] to speak grammatically. The little children rarely make a mistake in the villages, and they very soon learn to use the correct words for shades of meaning. The natives shiver when they hear a false concord, as painful to them as a discord to a musical ear, and they are fond of their language and proud of it. Their sense of humour would be touched as some word was used which gave a meaning different to that intended to be expressed, but often the pain swallowed up the humour. One could see how they suffered when in his ignorance a preacher trampled on their most tender feelings, and murdered the delicate touches of the language they loved; at times they could not be restrained by the solemn duties of a service or by the reverence they felt for the foreigner, and you would hear your mistake corrected in a low voice, more in sorrow than in anger.

"The language is very powerful in assimilating new words. An English word is taken notice of, the pronunciation adapted, a prefix and a suffix perhaps added, a vowel thrown in here and there to separate consonants, and lo and behold! it is at home at once; and when you hear the word and, thinking that it is a new one, inquire the exact meaning of it, the natives are astonished that you do not know your own language, and laugh uproariously when at last it dawns upon [50/51] you that you had better not display your new knowledge except to trap someone else with it. So 'Keep a look out' becomes 'virukautiei,' 'down below' in a vessel becomes 'daumbaro,' 'painted' becomes 'penitai.' A trader in a village found one little chap was always about his house, and kept on saying: 'Get out of the way, you little whipper-snapper.' The natives thought it a good name for the boy, and adopted it for him; but few, perhaps least of all he who was responsible, would recognize the name when it became current coin as 'Epatinapa.'

Bishop Newton further says:

"From 1900 to his death in 1918 the Rev. Copland King worked at Ave, forty miles up the Mamba River, and afterwards at Ambasi. During those nineteen years Mr. King gave all the time he could spare from other work, and there was a great deal of arduous work to be done--by boat up and down the river (in those days the whale-boat took at least three days to get up the river against the stream); on foot to visit the miners on the goldfields, and later the sea trip from Ambasi--to the study of the Binandere language.

"After some years Mr. King had a number of copies of a grammar and dictionary of the Binandere language typed. He did not think his work sufficiently advanced to have the book [51/52] printed. He kept on working at it, but he was not able to have it completed before his death. The MS., with suggested alterations and additions, was sent to Mr. Sidney H. Ray, F.R.A.I., who gave advice as to the rearrangement of the material. He says: 'The book of grammar and dictionary was printed in Sydney in 1927 by D. S. Ford. There is much work still to be done on the Binandere language, but it is hoped that the grammar and dictionary will be a good starting-point for future work. It is the result of nineteen years' work by one who was very careful and thorough in all that he did. Binandere is by far the most important language in the northern portion of Papua. It is spoken by about 10,000 people inhabiting the villages on the Mamba and Gira Rivers, and on the lower reaches of the Opi River, and in the Mamba and Kumusi divisions of the territory of Papua.'

"The language occupies a similar position in the western portion of the Church mission field in Papua to that of Wedau in the east and of Mukawa and Ubir in the centre. Binandere was first learned by the late Rev. Copland King in 1901.

"The language is extremely interesting from the linguistic standpoint. It has not the slightest resemblance to any of the Melanesian languages of New Guinea. Neither has it any likeness [52/53] whatever to the other non-Melanesian languages. In vocabulary, grammar, and syntax the language stands entirely apart from other languages of the territory. The publication of this grammar and vocabulary will form a fitting memorial to the author, who devoted his life to the evangelization of the tribes of north-east Papua."

In 1904 Copland King, accompanied by his sister, Miss Ethel King, visited England. The following is taken from an interview with Copland King, published in an English paper. "He said: 'I expect I shall not have so much to say perhaps as those who have been in the country a much shorter time than I have. One gets so accustomed to the country and the people that there does not seem to be such strangeness about them to me.' Asked about cannibalism, he said: 'A good deal prevails. The country is gradually being brought under Government influence, but the unsettled and unexplored parts are as bad as ever. A large portion of the island has not been touched by civilizing influences. It is only three years since Chalmers was killed and eaten. On several occasions when we have been opening up new districts the natives have been threatening.'

"Mr. King said that the greatest care was exercised in the baptism of natives. 'We have to make sure that the candidates are really converted and understand the full meaning of the [53/54] rite. We sometimes baptize infants when they are members of Christian households. We adopt many children who have been deserted by their parents or whose parents are dead. The Government gives the Mission a mandate to take care of such children till they are eighteen years of age. It is the rule of the natives to bury children with their dead parents, because there is no one to look after them. The Government, of course, forbids the practice, and we are always on the lookout for such cases. We have over 400 baptized members, but our adherents--i.e., those who attend our services or are under instruction--run into thousands.' Asked how he opened up new districts, he said: 'The usual course is to take with us our "boys," who make inquiries among their fellow-natives how they are likely to be disposed towards us. Then we talk to the people, and get them to know and have confidence in us, and be willing to receive our native teachers. The chief difficulty is their ignorance. It is so difficult to bring the idea of God and the obligations of religion home to them. They have practically no religion of their own, and are therefore willing to accept what we teach them. But it is very hard to make them see that the acceptance of the principles of Christianity entails any practical obligations on themselves. We have constantly to be impressing on them that [54/55] the acceptance of Christianity with their lips must be followed by an acceptance of it in their lives.

"'We train as native teachers those who are capable of training. Not all have the intelligence. One of the chief difficulties we have is their homesickness. It is difficult to get the natives to live and work permanently anywhere but in the village where their home and families are. When they have received instruction they want to go back to their village garden and farm and live on the land. In some of the villages they are fairly peaceful and law abiding, but in others very warlike and turbulent. Blood feuds are frequent and very terrible. If one man kills another the friends of the dead man in revenge kill some man of the family of the murderer. The feud does not stop there. It goes on for a long time until one side overawes or exterminates the other. Here is an illustration which occurred in a district near where I work. Some little time ago some men, strangers from the Gira River, were paying a visit to a village, and one of their axes was stolen. On their next visit, to pay themselves for the axe, they killed one of the village people. The village attacked them and killed seven of their number. The strangers withdrew, but returned some little time after, secretly, in the night time. They set fire to a house where all the men of the village were sleeping, and as the men rushed out dazed [55/56] with sleep and fear they were nearly all chopped down with axes. In all twenty-seven men, women, and children were killed in the raid. The vendetta then stopped; the village was completely cowed, as was the whole district. One difficulty in dealing with such murderers is the proximity of the German frontier. The natives know that if they can cross that frontier our police cannot follow them, and the German territory is not sufficiently organized for there to be much chance of capture when upon it.

"'Malarial fever is very prevalent. We suffer also from black-water fever. I had an attack last year, and had to be treated in one of our Mission hospitals. The medical officer at Samarai, seventy miles from our head station, is the nearest medical aid we can rely on. We are greatly in need of medical missionaries. The nurses work splendidly, and I was much saddened this morning to hear of the death of one of them after an attack of black-water fever.'

"Mr. King, who is visiting London for the first time, has brought some translations with him, and the British and Foreign Bible Society have undertaken to print a translation of St. Luke's Gospel in the Mukawa language, while the S.P.C.K. is printing versions of the Prayer-Book both in Mukawan and in Wedau. A good deal of printing in the latter of these dialects has [56/57] already been done in the Mission printing shop in New Guinea, and some of the native boys have become expert compositors. Mr. King will stay in England until October, when he will return to his mission work."

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