Project Canterbury

The Church in Melanesia

Edited by Stuart W. Artless

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

Chapter 5. The Native Brotherhood

By the Right Reverend Bishop J. M. Steward.

"A band of young men whose hearts the Lord hath touched."

(I Sam. 10; 26.)

The foundation of the Brotherhood was, humanly speaking, the result of a series of apparently unconnected, fortuitous incidents.

If the Bishop of Melanesia had not written a letter to his people in the Melanesian Chronicle, "Sala Ususur," suggesting as an ideal a life consecrated to the service of God; if a promising young Native Scholar had not decided that the life of an assistant teacher in a village school was too dull a one to face after many years of schooling at Norfolk Island and elsewhere; if he had not enlisted in the Native Constabulary; if, after two years' service, he had not fallen seriously ill and had to face the certainty that he could no longer hope to continue his service, where he had already won to the position of a Corporal; then, probably the Brotherhood would never have come into existence, or, at any rate, would have had to wait many years for its inspiration.

However, all these things did happen, and in 1925, INI KOPURIA wrote to his Bishop and told him that he wished to give himself and all his possessions to God and His service, for work among the heathen people of Guadalcanal, his native Island; and asked how best he could put his determination into effect.

During the long time he had been lying in the native hospital, Ini had found plenty of time to review his past life and look to the future and to ask himself what that future held for him.

He realised that he could no longer be a Policeman, and he began to realise more and more that he owed a debt to the Mission which he had made no attempt to defray; and as he thought more deeply, he realised that [53/54] his debt was not to the Mission, but to God; and he found himself God's debtor, with a burden heavier than he could bear.

Accordingly, to use his own words, he made this promise to God: "My God, Thou hast created me; my body is Thine, the life therein is Thine. Receive this vow of mine. If Thou wilt restore to me that life which is Thine; in my body (which is Thine) I will be through all my days the servant of Thy kingdom on earth."

Soon after he had written this letter, Ini was well enough to leave the hospital, and came in person to the Bishop, telling him that, though he was determined to put his promise into effect, he needed fellow-workers to help him, for the task was too hard for him to perform alone.

The Bishop, convinced of his sincerity, promised to do all he could to help him to find some companions for his work, and suggested that when next the "Southern Cross" arrived, Ini should go on board and try to find some other young men who would be willing to join him from the Islands which he would visit on the voyage.

In the meanwhile, Ini cleared and prepared the site of a community house at a place named Tabalia, in Guadalcanal, which was his own property. This property he made over to the Mission, that it might serve as a headquarters for the Brotherhood in the future. Here, in the presence of the Bishop, the Assistant-Bishop, and the Head of the Training College at Siota, Ini made his "Profession," promising to give himself, his land and all that was his to God; to accept no payment for the work that he should do, to go wherever he was sent and to remain unmarried till his death.

This promise was made on St. Simon and St. Jude's Day (October 28th), 1925, and this day has been taken to mark the foundation of the Brotherhood, and the date (as far as possible) when the annual "Chapter" of the Brotherhood meets, and a large Cross of native work now marks the spot where Brother Ini knelt to make his three-fold vow.

[55] Directly after his Profession, Ini left, on the "Southern Cross," to seek others of a like mind with himself, so that the work might be begun with as little delay as possible.

Brother Ini's original purpose was the Evangelisation of the people dwelling in the interior of Guadalcanal, mountainous and covered with thick vegetation, which the Mission had hitherto been unable to penetrate, though by this time the greater part of the coast line had come under Christian influence.

He found six young men ready and eager to make the attempt with him, whose names (as the original founder-brothers) are worth recording--Brothers Moffat, Dudley and Cecil of Saint Isabel, Maurice and Hugo of Cape Marsh, and Benjamin of Guadalcanal.

These six had to wait until the first voyage of the "Southern Cross" in 1926; when they came on the ship to Siota and there joined Ini; and on Whitsunday of that year, the seven first Brothers were enrolled by the Bishop after making their solemn promise to remain unmarried, to accept no payment, and to obey those duly set in authority over them.

The Brothers were to be divided into "Households" of about eight Brothers, with an "Elder-brother" in command, and all were to be under the direct control of the Bishop, who was the "Father" of them all.

The primary purpose of the Brotherhood was expressed in their first Rule: "The work of the Brothers is to declare the way of Jesus Christ among the heathen; not to minister amongst those who have already received the Law."

The Brothers were to go out, two by two, into places untouched by Christianity and there to seek to arouse interest in the "New Teaching." When they had gained sufficient hearers in one place to justify the sending out of a fully qualified Teacher, they were to move on to another village and there repeat their task of preparing the way for a more systematic teaching of the Gospel.

[56] The scarcity of fully qualified Teachers and other unexpected developments of the work have made it necessary to modify this rule in practice; and now the Brothers are in complete control in some districts, and in others working as Teachers or Evangelists, and some are occupied in teaching children sent from districts where they have won converts; but the principle remains the same; they are first of all Missionaries to the Heathen, not ministers to Christian congregations, except in certain places where they minister to their own Converts.

The primary purpose of the Brotherhood is to ascertain whether or no a Vocation to the Religious life is possible for Melanesians. Many people held, and perhaps some still hold, that it is impossible for a Melanesian to live a celibate life; but there seems to be no real reason why a Vocation to the Religious life should be limited to certain races only, and the Brotherhood is intended to offer an opportunity for our people to follow such a Vocation if and where it exists. It is interesting to note here that, as the result of the life and work of two of the Brothers on the Island of Sikaiana, four young girls from there have been accepted for the Noviciate of the Sisters of the Cross at Siota.

A more mundane, but still very useful purpose is served by the Brotherhood; though it is not the purpose for which it was instituted.

Ini Kopuria was by no means exceptional in regarding the life of an assistant teacher at a small village school as something of an anti-climax to several years' schooling with the Mission. The desire for adventure, and to see something of the world is natural to young people of all races. Again, among the Melanesians, the custom of early marriage is prevalent; but, none the less, not always popular among the young men, who wish for a little freedom before settling down.

Before the institution of the Brotherhood, the Mission provided very little scope for the fulfilment of these natural and quite harmless wishes, and, as a consequence, many of our most promising young men, as [56/57] soon as their schooling was finished, used to recruit for work on a coco-nut plantation or on one of the many trading vessels that plied amongst the islands.

Sometimes they were lost for life to Mission influence, and they seldom or never returned benefitted in any way by their experience of the "great world"!

For such young men, the Brotherhood to-day provides an outlet for their spirit of adventure and also an opportunity for a testing of the possibility of a Vocation to life-long Service.

For the majority, no doubt, it only means that after a year or two their thirst for adventure is satisfied and they settle down contentedly to the work of a village teacher, are married and live, if not always happily, at least peaceably and usefully for the rest of their lives.

The three-fold vow is renewed each year, and no stigma attaches to a Brother who does not wish to renew his promise, but prefers to return to his village life or to work elsewhere as a teacher for the Mission.

The first attempt to carry out their purpose of evangelising the heathen of Guadalcanal met with complete failure!

During the time between his Profession and the Profession of his six associates, Brother Tni had made many enquiries and laid his plans in accordance with favourable replies he had received from various Chiefs in the interior of the island; but by the time that the Brothers reached the villages to which they were despatched, Chiefs and people had found time to reconsider the matter; and at place after place they were greeted with those more or less polite evasions, which are the Melanesian way of expressing a very definite refusal.

Ini's experience as a policeman had brought him into touch with very many heathen Chiefs; but probably Ini, the Policeman, with the power of "Government" behind him, seemed to them a very different person from Brother Ini, the peaceful missionary, supported by no visible backing!

The Brothers were naturally greatly disappointed, but [57/58] their disappointment was lessened, or at least mollified, by the fact that at one village the people were so terrified of the "New Teaching" that they appealed to the District Officer for protection! The Officer, in accordance with that queer form of "neutrality" which is the tradition of our Empire, said they were not to be worried!

The idea of heathen gods having to appeal to a foreign and nominally Christian Government for protection against the One True God so amused the Brothers that some of the bitterness of their repeated disappointments was forgotten, and they went with a native Priest to a neighbouring Christian village where they received the most Comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of their Master.

The Brothers returned to headquarters in time for their first Chapter on October 28th, 1926; but owing to other engagements the Bishop was not able to meet them till All Saints' Day.

The first Chapter was duly held; the Brothers reported their failure and told of their adventures, and plans were laid for a second attempt in another part of Guadalcanal where Ini had heard they would be gladly received.

This time their hopes were fulfilled, and from that time the Brotherhood has gone on from strength to strength.

In 1927 they went further afield. Leaving a flourishing household in two districts in Guadalcanal, Ini and some four or five new recruits went to Santa Cruz, where for various reasons what had once been a stronghold of Christianity was now moribund or dead. The next year they had five small centres ready for the Episcopal Blessing. At one, the chief of these, the people were not willing to admit the Brothers until the local "devil" had been exorcised.

The Bishop had intended to drive out this devil with full ceremonial, and in full Pontifical state of Cope and Mitre.

When he arrived at the place he found that his robes had been left behind, two miles away. At first this [58/59] seemed a pity; but when he found that the "Form of Exorcism" was to consist in breaking down a stone wall, about four feet high, forcing his way through a thicket about fifteen yards wide, and then heard that the evil spirit wore the form of an enormous rat, which he was expected to dig out of its hole at the root of a considerable tree and then to slay, he was reconciled to the absence of elaborate Ceremonial and Habit!

None the less, it was a very impressive moment; the spot was "tabu," and no one had dared enter the enclosure except the priest of the place. The Bishop broke down the wall and made his way to the centre, followed by the Brothers and after them all the people of the village. After some prayers said in the very heart of the tabu spot, the Bishop made his way right through the thicket, broke down the wall at the far end and, again followed by the Brothers and the whole village, passed right through and the spot was thrown open to the world and the evil spirit defied and driven out. It was a very vivid parable of the victory of good over evil, and a presage of the final victory of Christ over Satan.

Soon after this the sphere of the Brothers' work was extended first to Mala and then into the Southern half of the Diocese.

A few months later two of the Brothers were sent, at the request of the Bishop of Polynesia, to work among the Melanesians who had settled in Fiji after the majority of them had returned to their own homes from the sugar plantations, and a further work was recently undertaken by the Brothers in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.

At the present time (1935) the Membership of the Brotherhood has risen in numbers to an extent hardly dreamed of ten years ago, and in consequence the work has developed on lines that could not have been foreseen then.

There are now one hundred and thirty Brothers, and a very large company of "Friends of the Brothers" has been created.

[60] These are bound to pray for the Brothers and their work and to help them in any other way that may be possible.

In addition to this, the Headquarters at Tabalia has grown in size and usefulness. Young lads, who hope to become Brothers themselves later on, are trained there in spiritual life and in general preparation for full membership of the Brotherhood.

From time to time younger boys from centres evangelised by the Brothers have been sent to various Central Schools of the Mission, but as their numbers have increased they are now being taught at Tabalia, under the supervision of Brother Charles Fox.

Two of the Brothers, Brother Ini and Brother Daniel Sade have been Ordained, and others no doubt will follow in their footsteps, and the Work has grown to such an extent that it is questionable whether the Bishop will, in the future, be able to do the greatly increased work of the Father, and, in consequence, it may shortly be necessary to appoint a Father to work under and with the Bishop, who will give his whole time to the actual supervision of the Brothers and guide the developments that must follow the increased popularity of the movement.

Very possibly a definite Novitiate will have to be instituted to test very thoroughly the Vocation of the very large number of young men who are being attracted by the romance and adventure of the idea, and only the selected few advanced to full Brotherhood; but these developments still belong to the future and can be confidently left to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom and experience of the Bishop and his Staff.

Although it is hoped that some Melanesians may find a life-vocation in the Brotherhood, the promises in most cases are renewed once a year, and any Brother who feels that he is not called to this work for his whole life is perfectly free to leave the Brotherhood at any time by giving notice of his wish to the head of his household, who forwards the request to the Father.

Every Brother is encouraged to write fully to the Father whenever he wishes, but each head of a household is expected to write a full report of the household and its work to the Father at least once a year.

To avoid dissension and jealousy in a household, at each Chapter every Brother is asked separately whether he has any complaint to make of the head or of any member of the household. The accused person makes his reply, and unless the matter is peaceably settled thus, the Father decides the matter and his decision is final.

Complaints or criticisms of one another, apart from this public discussion, are forbidden by the rule of the Brotherhood.

Each household is free to make its own "bye-laws," but they have to receive the general approval of the Father before they are binding on all the members.

As far as is possible, all internal management is entrusted to the Brothers themselves. The Father has, of course, a general oversight, but generally only intervenes to settle any dispute among the Brothers concerned. The sense of responsibility and the need of initiative are part of the qualification needed for the Brothers as a whole, and for each individual Brother.

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