Project Canterbury

The Church in Melanesia

Edited by Stuart W. Artless

Sydney, N.S.W.: Melanesian Mission, [1936]

Chapter 1. The Islands of Melanesia

By the Rev. Dr. W. Ivens

"The Isles shall wait for His Law." (Isaiah 42; 4.)

Geographical Notes.

The islands of the Southern Pacific Ocean are divided into three larger groupings, known respectively as Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. "Polynesia" is the name given to the eastern islands of the Pacific, from Tonga to the Sandwich Islands north of the equator, or to Easter Island in the south-east, Tahiti and Samoa being two of the best known of the groups "Micronesia" is the name given to the islands on or close to the equator; the Marquesas, Carolines, Gilberts, etc., while the name "Melanesia" is applied to all the islands from Fiji westward and northward in the southwest corner of the Pacific.

The Greek names, "Polynesia," "Micronesia" and "Melanesia" were applied to the islands of the Pacific Ocean by D'Urville, the French explorer. The name "Melanesia," one thinks, must mean "Black Islanders" rather than "Black Islands." The prevailing colour of the peoples of Melanesia is, however, a dark chocolate, and not black. But the peoples of Fiji, where D'Urville first encountered Melanesians, are darker than the peoples of the eastern Pacific, whence he had come on his visit to Fiji; and this fact doubtless influenced the naming.

The groups of islands which comprise Melanesia are under three separate Governments to-day. Fiji with the greater portion of the Solomon Islands and the Santa Cruz group, are British; Fiji being a Crown Colony, and the British Solomons being administered from Fiji as a Protectorate. The southern part of Melanesia, the New Hebrides, Banks', and Torres' Islands, are under the joint control of Great Britain and France, while New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands to the westward are [3/4] French. The large islands of New Britain and New Ireland in the north-west, with the smaller adjacent islands, and Bougainville and Buka Islands in the northern Solomons, are administered by Australia under a mandate. They were formerly German territory.

The Solomon Islands were discovered and named by Spaniards in 1567, and actually were the first islands discovered in the Pacific Ocean. Their discoverers set sail from Peru looking for the "Great Southern Continent," and they met with no land till they arrived at one of the Solomon Islands. In 1595 the same Spanish leader, MendaƱa, crossed the Pacific again, looking for the Solomon Islands. He missed them, but found an island to the east of them, which he named Santa Cruz. In 1606 another Spaniard, Quiros, discovered some of the islands in the New Hebrides; while yet another, Torres, discovered the islands named after him. Captain James Cook, at the end of the 18th century, discovered the islands of the Southern New Hebrides. The French explorer, Bougainville, discovered the northern Solomon Islands, and early Dutch navigators discovered New Britain and New Ireland. Fiji was discovered by the Dutch navigator Tasman in 1643.

The Melanesians.

As stated above, the people called Melanesians are darker in colour than the Polynesians of the eastern Pacific. They are also of shorter stature. Their hair, if left uncombed, would hang down in narrow ringlets. This is true of both sexes. Usually the hair is cut and combed, and then stands upright in a loose frizzled mass, the hairs tending to roll themselves into spirals. The average head of hair of a Melanesian is of a dark brown colour. In the Solomon Islands the men frequently lime their hair, causing it to become a light brown in colour. It is the practice in some of the Melanesian islands to remove facial hairs by means of a bivalve shell, pulling the hair out by the roots. In the New Hebrides beards are common. Old people frequently shave their heads. [4/5] Children's heads are shaved, a flake of flint being used, or, to-day, a piece of a glass bottle; but the older boys and girls, and the young married people, pay great attention to their hair, combing it till it stands erect in a thick "mop." The hair is frequently ornamented with flowers stuck in it.

The Melanesians are classed as Negroid, but their lips are not thick like those of Negroes, and their hair is not like the "woolly" hair of Africans. The nose is broad at the base, and pieces of nautilus shell as large as a sixpence are inserted above the nostril in some cases. A shell stick may be stuck through the nostrils, and a quill or a small shell pin may be inserted in the tip of the nostril. Body ornaments made of shell are worn generally. Bark cloth is made in most of the Islands, but is not generally worn as clothing. In some of the Solomon Islands the women wear grass skirts, and in the New Hebrides they wear mats round the waist. In other islands a waist fringe of fibre is worn by the women. With the exception of the Santa Cruz islanders, the men of Melanesia generally went naked. A hand loom is in use at Santa Cruz, and mats to serve as waist cloths for the men are made on it.

The daily life of the Melanesian man is concerned with gardening, hunting, house-building, canoe-building, and fishing, making of nets, and, in the southern islands, with the duties of the Social Club. Before the coming of white people, and the consequent introduction of steel axes and long knives for cutting the forest trees, the inevitable preparation of garden ground by the natives was no easy matter. The only tools available were of flint or stone. Large trees were ring-barked and left to die. There was necessarily much use of wild foods found in the forest. To-day conditions of work are much easier; but, nevertheless, the average Melanesian household is generally short of food during the summer time before the crop is ready to dig.

The weeding and general care of the gardens is done by the Melanesian women. Every day a visit must be [5/6] paid to the gardens to sec that everything is all right and to bring back what food is available. Where taro (the edible caladium) is grown, a supply must be pulled each day. Once the yams are dug they are stored in the houses. The women carry them home in great baskets suspended from their heads. As a rule Melanesians eat but one set meal a day, in the evening, the women doing the cooking. In the southern islands more food is available, and the people live better.

The younger girls act as nursemaids. Their elder sisters help in the work of the gardens. The younger boys as a rule do not care for regular work, and are content to roam about, fishing, or shooting with bows and arrows!

Kings and kingdoms never obtained in Melanesia as they did in Polynesia. In the Melanesian Islands the isolation of the villages was in itself a barrier to any chance of a single rule being established. There are chiefs in the Solomon Islands who hold their title by hereditary right, but their authority is very limited, and is confined to their immediate neighbourhood. In other places there are men who are the recognised heads of a particular marriage clan, and who might be called "chiefs," but they do not exercise any rule. In the southern islands of Melanesia there are so-called headmen, who are the chief persons in the village Social Club, and whose position depends on the possession of native money and pigs.

A chief or head-man could keep order, inflict fines, cause offenders to be killed, but he had no more property in or dominion over land than any other person. By the general consent of the people everywhere certain things were banned as being un-social and harmful, e.g., unprovoked murder, adultery, witchcraft, theft. This is not to say that such things did not occur; but offenders knew that they did these things at their own risk. What fighting there was in Melanesia, previous to the coming of white people, was usually caused by an offence against the moral law, or by the practice of witchcraft.

[7] Melanesians are a horticultural people, and they grow two vegetables, the yam, and the edible caladium (taro). On some of the tiny coral islands vegetables will not grow, and the people live on coconuts and fish. In the main the Melanesians are vegetarian in diet. The native pig is not an article of diet as such; its flesh is only eaten on special occasions at festivities, funerals, or when offered in sacrifice.

In the Solomon Islands' protectorate there are several islands peopled by immigrants from Micronesia. These islands have powerful chiefs who can and do impose their will on the people. The inhabitants of these islands are lighter coloured and taller than the Melanesians, and have straight dark hair. Their languages are not of the same stock as the Melanesian languages, and have more likeness to one another than have Melanesian languages. Evangelisation of these immigrant peoples is proceeding now through the agency of the Melanesian Mission.

The Foundation of the Melanesian Mission.

The Melanesian Mission was founded by George Augustus Selwyn, bishop of New Zealand. Selwyn, at his consecration, was bidden by Archbishop Howley to consider himself as commissioned to do missionary work in these islands of Melanesia, which were still Heathen.

When Selwyn first visited the islands in 1849, sailing from Auckland, New Zealand, the Methodists were already at work in Fiji, and there were Presbyterians in the southern New Hebrides. It was not his intention to interfere with existing missionary work anywhere. He therefore turned to New Caledonia, and those islands of the New Hebrides where there was no missionary work going on.

The first vessel he used in his voyages was his own little schooner of twenty-one tons, the "Undine," and in her he sailed twice to the islands of Melanesia. He had no clergy to put down in the places which he visited, and no native catechists to start the work, and the only funds available were what he himself could supply. He [7/8] could not stay away for long from his work in New Zealand; and the only method of evangelisation of the Islands possible for him was to open communications with the people on the beaches where he landed, and to try and get native boys to take back with him to be taught. There was not much room for passengers on the little "Undine," but the bishop succeeded in getting recruits, and took them back with him to Auckland.

Bishop Selwyn had founded St. John's College in Auckland for the training of both English and Maori candidates for Holy Orders, and also for the training of schoolmasters. To this College he brought his Melanesian scholars. The bishop could not talk to them in their own languages, but they soon picked up enough English to serve his purpose. The first baptisms of Melanesians recruited by Bishop Selwyn took place in the chapel of St. John's College; the first Christian marriages were celebrated there, and the first converts to die in the Faith were buried in the little cemetery round the chapel. This chapel with its historic associations is a very precious spot for those who love the Melanesian Mission.

Bishop Selwyn returned to England in 1852, and took back with him as his chaplain, John Coleridge Patteson, the son of his old friend, Sir John Patleson, and nephew of Lord Coleridge, Chief Justice of England. Coleridge Patteson was an Etonian, and a Fellow of Merton College. He had been ordained deacon and priest at Exeter Cathedral, and was serving as a curate at Ottery St. Mary, Devon. On the way out to New Zealand, Patteson learned sufficient of the native language (Maori) of New Zealand to be able to converse in it with the natives on arrival. Bishop Selwyn himself was a fluent speaker of the Maori language, and they had a native New Zcalander with them on board.

The story is told that when Patteson and an English Archdeacon were out walking, soon after Patteson's arrival in Auckland, they met a Maori chief, with whom Patteson began a conversation. The man was surprised at Patteson's knowledge of his language and said to the [8/9] Archdeacon, "Sir, why don't you talk our language like Te Patihana (Patteson)?" In later years Patteson was to put his linguistic gifts to good use in learning and reducing to writing many Melanesian languages.

Patteson travelled with Selwyn to the islands in the first "Southern Cross," the ship which Selwyn had procured in England for use in missionary work in Melanesia. They reached as far north as the Solomon Islands, and they were able to get lads from the islands where they touched, and to take them to St. John's College for training.

Later on the training school for Melanesians was moved from St. John's College to Kohimarama, a place on the beach in Auckland Harbour, and Patteson was put in sole charge of the training, the Bishop still visiting the school and helping it in every way.

In 1861 Bishop Selwyn consecrated Patteson in Auckland as the first Bishop of Melanesia, and committed to him the duty of evangelising the islands which the two of them had visited together so frequently.

Year by year in the winter time, Patteson sailed from Auckland to the Melanesian Islands, returning scholars to their homes, visiting new places and getting fresh lads for training in Auckland. The education of these natives was carried on daily during the voyages, for Patteson never failed to impart knowledge to his pupils, whatever the weather might be. It is said that at Kohimarama school, before the choice of the Mota language as the one medium of education, Patteson conducted school in four Melanesian languages!

In 1867 the training school of the Melanesian Mission was moved from Auckland to Norfolk Island, an island 400 miles north of New Zealand, and on the way to Melanesia. The move was due to the fact that Auckland was found to be too cold for the Melanesians, and Norfolk Island has a sub-tropical climate. The school remained at Norfolk Island till 1920, and every year visits were made by the Bishops of Melanesia, and the white staff of the Mission serving at Norfolk Island, to [9/10] the various islands where mission work was going on. The ships of the Mission, the "Southern Crosses," conveyed the natives and the whites to and fro, and then went on to their home base in Auckland.

In Bishop Patteson's and Bishop John Selwyn's time, the number of white workers in the Mission was very small, but a native ministry was being established for work in the Islands, and trained natives, men and women, were being placed in many of the islands as lay catechists and teachers.

Bishop Patteson was killed on September 20th, 1871, at the island of Nukapu, near Santa Cruz. His death was due to the kidnapping by white men of five natives of Nukapu to take to work in Fiji. When Patteson landed at Nukapu, he, an innocent person, was killed in revenge for the loss of these men. As a result of his martyrdom, the Day of Intercession for Missions was established in England the following year, and thus the saying has been proved true that "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."

In 1920 it was decided to remove the headquarters of the Melanesian Mission to Siota, Florida Island (Gela) in the British Solomon Islands. Central Schools for boys and girls were established in the Islands, and the number of scholars began to increase rapidly. The Native Ordinands were trained at two Centres in the Islands, Siota in the Solomon Islands, and Lolowai in the New Hebrides, and very soon the Native Clergy began to outnumber the English Clergy. To-day the Training Centre for Native Clergy is at Maka (St. Peter's College) on the island of Mala in the Solomons, with Refresher Schools for Native Catechists at Siota and Lolowai.

The Mandated Territory of New Guinea.

Bishop G. A. Selwyn had visualised the extension of the work of the Melanesian Mission as far north as New Britain, but it was not till 1926 that a missionary of the Melanesian Mission landed there. His duties were confined to chaplaincy work amongst the white people at [10/11] the Government Headquarters, Rabaul, with an occasional visit to the settlement of Australian gold-miners on the mainland of New Guinea. Later on, missionary work proper among natives was begun on the south and south-west coast of New Britain, in conjunction with the Church in Australia. The first baptisms and confirmations have already been held there, and with the help of the Melanesian Native Brotherhood, a more vigorous effort at evangelisation is now being made. But the area to be evangelised is large, the workers are few, and other missionary bodies are also in the field. In 1935 the Melanesian Mission, with the assistance of the Australian Board of Missions, undertook to enter a newly discovered area on the mainland of New Guinea amongst a numerous race of "new" people, an inland folk, to whom access is gained by aeroplane, the journey by land being too difficult. Here again the shortage of European agents is likely to prove a considerable difficulty.

The Support of the Melanesian Mission.

The funds for beginning the work of the Melanesian Mission were supplied by Bishop Selwyn himself and a few personal friends. The "Australian Board of Missions" was founded in 1851 at a meeting of the Australian bishops, which Bishop Selwyn attended. During this visit a sum of money was subscribed for the use of the bishop, and a vessel was purchased therewith for the work then beginning in Melanesia. The Bishop of Newcastle, N.S.W., accompanied Bishop Selwyn on the first voyage of this vessel to the islands, which resulted in the getting of thirteen scholars for the school at St. John's College, Auckland. One of the duties of the newly formed Australian Board of Missions was to help Bishop Selwyn in his task of evangelising the islands of Melanesia.

To-day the A.B.M. makes itself responsible, along with the Melanesian Mission, for the new mission work of the Anglican Church in New Britain, and on the mainland of New Guinea.

[12] When Bishop Selwyn returned to England in 1852, he founded the "Eton Association for helping the Melanesian Mission." This Association was eventually merged into a general English Committee for raising funds for the Mission. The headquarters of this Committee are at the Church House, Westminster, London. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the President of the Committee, the Bishop of Stepney the present Chairman, and the Rev. A. E. Corner the General Secretary.

In New Zealand, as is natural, the Melanesian Mission has always been able to command considerable support. For many years past there was a Finance Board in Auckland with a General Secretary, and this Board dealt with the various moneys raised for the support of the Mission, both in New Zealand and elsewhere.

New Zealand now has a Board of Missions, and this Board makes itself responsible for raising the various quotas required for its Mission work abroad, Melanesia receiving its share.

In 1934 the clearing office of the Melanesian Mission in Auckland was closed, owing to changes taking place which are referred to below. The Finance Board ceased to exist, and the office was moved to Sydney, N.S.W., the "Gateway" to the islands. All moneys contributed to the Mission are now dealt with in Sydney.

The Ships of the Melanesian Mission.

Melanesia is an island diocese ranging over many hundreds of miles of sea, and the communications with all parts of the diocese are by sea. The two words, "Melanesia" and the "ship," are almost interchangeable. As stated above, Bishop G. A. Selwyn began his visitation of the islands of Melanesia in a ship, and from his time onward the bishops of Melanesia have travelled about their diocese in a ship.

The first ship actually built for the use of the Mission, the first "Southern Cross," was the gift of the English authoress, Miss Charlotte Yonge, and represented the proceeds of her book, "The Heir of Redcliffe." Besides [12/13] this ship, there have been tour other ships of the Mission named "Southern Cross" which have made their home in Auckland, New Zealand, and travelled to Melanesia twice or thrice each year, returning to Auckland at the end of each voyage.

With the advent of "Southern Cross" VI, a change was decided on. This vessel was to make her home in the Solomon Islands, and was not to leave the diocese. The main reason for this change in procedure was that with the influx of white people, traders, Government officials, planters and others, into the islands, and the consequent increase of shipping from Australia, all the stores required for the vessel could be obtained in the Islands or in Sydney. The long and unnecessary journey southward to New Zealand could thus be avoided, with the increased advantage that the ship would be available for mission work for the greater part of the year, instead of only for a few months as before.

In addition, a second ship of much smaller size, the "Patteson," has been provided for work in the southern part of the diocese, the larger vessel being used for the work in the Solomon Islands and Santa Cruz, and also for taking the bishop to New Guinea and New Britain. When required, the "Southern Cross" takes the bishop to the southern part of the diocese. Later on a schooner, similar in size to the "Patteson," will be required for work along the New Britain coast.

It is obvious that the constant use of such ships in the Mission will entail a larger expenditure of money, but it is thoroughly worth while. The moving of headquarters from outside to inside the islands, and the greatly expanded nature of the work in consequence, have made it sine qua non that Auckland be given up by the Mission as a base for its shipping, and that the ships of the Mission should be available for work all the year round. A slip for docking small vessels has now been built at Rabaul, on New Britain, and the "Southern Cross" makes use of it. The "Patteson" can be repaired and cleaned in her own area.

[14] "Southern Cross" VI of the Melanesian Mission never reached her destination, being wrecked on the way out in the New Hebrides islands, just as she was entering Melanesia. With the insurance money a new ship, "Southern Cross" VII, was built in England in 1933. This ship is now at work in the islands of Melanesia.

One of the main duties of the "Southern Cross" and the "Patteson" is to take scholars, boys and girls, to and from the Central Schools in the Islands. In addition, missionaries also have to be conveyed to their destinations on arrival from Sydney; stores and mails have to be distributed; missionaries in the remote parts of the diocese have to be visited. Sick people are also brought in by the two ships for treatment at a central hospital or island dispensary.

The continual presence of the Mission ship in the diocese has made it possible for the Bishop of Melanesia to visit islands that lay out of the track of the old "Southern Crosses" on their way from and to New Zealand. Some islands also, that by reason of lack of time, had very infrequent visits, and very little supervision, are now receiving much more attention.

To the Christians in the Melanesian Mission, the "Southern Cross" is "Our Ship," and her coming is hailed with great joy. She is, in a way, the visible embodiment of all that the Mission stands for. She brings to them the message of peace and goodwill. She takes their children away to learn the Faith more thoroughly than they can learn it in their own villages. She brings news of the absent. The bishop comes on her to impart to his people the gift of the Holy Ghost in confirmation. Precious translations of Holy Scripture or of the Book of Common prayer are brought by the ship. To many of the islands that are without a resident priest, Native or English, the visit of the ship means that the people on shore can receive the Blessed Sacrament.

The gallant little "Undine" that began the work of the Melanesian Mission has a worthy successor in "Southern Cross" VII.

Project Canterbury