Project Canterbury

In the Isles of the Sea: The Story of Fifty Years in Melanesia

By Frances Awdry

London: Bemrose & Sons, Limited, 1902.



NEXT in order from Ysabel, as we proceed southwards, we come to Florida, or, as it is sometimes more accurately described, "the Floridas," for the name is given to what is not so much a group as one large island divided into several parts by narrow channels. These are often very beautiful, more like splendid rivers than arms of the sea. They wind round headlands, and are fringed with tropical trees and bright with luxuriant foliage and birds of many vivid colours. There is a much greater appearance of beauty and luxuriance in these more northerly Solomon Islands than in those further south. There is a greater variety of foliage, the very small conical islands being rather monotonous in their vegetation as well as in their shape, and the parrots and cockatoos that flash from tree to tree in the Solomons give a glow of colour that is refreshing to the eye amongst the sombre masses of the cocoanut and other trees with which the slopes are thickly wooded.

Altogether there is something very attractive about these northern islands themselves apart from their population, and perhaps this charm is very specially felt in the Floridas from the great beauty of the inland channels.

They were visited by Bishop Patteson in 1862, when he brought away the first boy from thence, and in 1870, Sapibuana, a native of Lango in Gaeta, on the south coast of Florida, returned to see what he could do towards teaching his own people; but as he was then almost a child, the more experienced Edward Wogale went with him to help him. Where it is possible the plan of sending Christians two and two is carried out. One man or boy alone in the midst of heathen surroundings is apt to lose heart, where two together can talk things over and keep up each other's spirits under the many difficulties they are sure to encounter.

Two years later Mr. Brooke paid it a long visit and gained great influence over the people, by whom he was much beloved. But it was subject to great disturbances; the chiefs were very powerful and prominent in Florida life, and there was much anxious work in managing them.

Perhaps those who stand out most clearly from the rest in the history of this island are Kalekona, the Gaeta chief, and the brothers, Takua of Boli, and Dikea of Ravu.

[74] These two were very typical native chiefs--both paid visits to Norfolk Island. Takua more than once went there (between the voyages, not to spend the summer), and they were friendly and protective to the schools on the whole; but they were savages and polygamists, and Takua in particular split on that rock, sorely disappointing the great hopes at one time centred on him. There was much that was fine and princely in his character in his younger days, but he not only could not give up his extra wives, he could not even keep within native ideas of decency; and when he took to wife one of his stepdaughters, his own followers were scandalized. It was a thing that a chief might possibly do; a common man dare not; yet even so public opinion was against the action. The missionaries remonstrated in vain. Takua felt his degradation, but could not govern his desires, and he drifted further and further away from Christian influences, much to the grief of his friends and the hindrance of the work in his island.

The Mission Ship Southern Cross Entering Sandfly Passage, Florida, Solomon Islands.
(From a Photograph by Bishop Montgomery.)

That the Floridas are now covered with schools, and if not entirely Christian, everywhere under the influence of Christianity, may largely be laid to the good influence of two college friends who were at Norfolk Island together, Charles Sapibuana, of Gaeta, and. the Rev. Alfred Lombu, at and from Halavo.

Sapibuana first came to St. Barnabas' in 1866, as a child of about twelve years old, so that when in the September of 1871 he rowed out with Mr. Atkin and Joe Watè to recover Bishop Patteson's body at Nukapu, he cannot have been more than seventeen.

At Easter, 1875. we find both friends at Norfolk Island, senior scholars, and with the wedding of Sapibuana and Georgina fixed for Easter Tuesday, on which day two other island couples were also to be married.

That Easter Sunday evening Mr. Selwyn (then Bishop Designate) writes to his mother in England:--

"Our Day of days is nearly over, yours is just beginning, and we shall presently join our Evensong to your Morning Service.

[75] "Monday.--Here I was interrupted and could write no more last night. Now our Easter holiday has begun, and great is the demand for lines and fish-hooks. The boys are over the hills and far away, and the girls are organizing an expedition, so we shall soon be left very quiet. To-morrow had been fixed for our triple wedding, but alas! I am not sure whether it will come off, as we have a most unpleasant state of things going on now. A small boy must needs write something very disagreeable about Sapi's future bride and place the slate on the table where the girls eat. Unluckily the said boy comes from a district unfriendly to Sapi's district, and there are two parties, and much exasperation in his party.

The Dining Hall, Norfolk Island.
(From a Photograph by Beattie, Hobart Town, Tasmania.)

"It won't come to any harm here, because the elder boys, especially Sapi, are very good about it; but it may be serious if they go and chatter of it at home, where they say such things cause war. It just shows what little volcanoes we live on. In an English school the boy would be flogged, or else thrashed by his fellows, and there would be an end of it; but here there are all sorts of ulterior consequences which must be thought of. Dr. Codrington spoke very strongly about such conduct at dinner.

"Tuesday.--Two marriages came off this morning. I acted paterfamilias and gave the brides away. It was really very pretty, they looked so bashful and nice in [75/76] their new dresses. Sapi's is postponed for a day or two, but the trouble has come to an end, as far, as we are concerned, in a way that does credit to our boys.

"On Sunday evening poor Sapi was in great tribulation, and the old spirit seemed for a time to have quite taken hold of him. Very early on Monday morning his side went out and cut down some bananas in a garden belonging to L-----, of the other party. But with evening a better spirit came back, and when his great friend Alfred, who belongs to L-----'s party by nature, came home, Sapi sent for him and told him he was very sorry for having thus given way to his temper, asked him to send for L-----, which was done, and the three had a meeting and talk.

Solomon Islanders (Florida and Ysabel) at Norfolk Island.
The Rev. C. W. Browning with his wife and family.
(From a Photograph by Rev. W. C. O'Farrall.)

"Next morning Sapi addressed, or rather he got Alfred to do it for him, the boys of his side, and told them how sorry he was to have led them thus astray when he ought to have known so much better, and that now all wrath was at an end 'If they saw him still holding aloof they must not fancy he was still angry, no! it was [76/77] because his heart was full of sorrow, and he was ashamed because of his wrong doing.' Now they are all friends again and sitting together as if nothing had happened.

"Last night I had a long talk with Sapi. I told him how glad I was he had conquered himself. The evidence of the power of God's grace was very great, not only in leading him to forgive, but also to confess that his unforgiving spirit had been wrong. It is a tremendous step, especially for a Solomon Islander, who ten years ago believed revenge to be a sacred duty.

"Whilst the unpleasantness was at its height I saw Alfred, who said, simply, 'I have prayed already three times about it.'"

Nothing more occurred to hinder the wedding, which took place in a few days, and when two years later Sapibuana and his wife returned to take up work amongst his own people at Lango, there came with them a "little Charles," who was their joy and pride until they laid him in deep grief but Christian hope beneath the cross in the new God's Acre at Lango.

Sapi was only about twenty-three when he returned to Gaeta, and it was not an easy post, for his chief, Kalekona, though powerful, stately, and agreeable, was not a Christian till many years later, and had a temper that could not be trusted under circumstances when bad temper is apt to mean sudden murder.

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