Project Canterbury

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

By Frances Awdry

London: Bemrose & Sons, Limited, 1902.



THE absence of the two brothers nobody wondered at, as both had been behaving very badly, and were in disgrace.

Only a little while before the meeting of the Vaukolu, Mr. Plant had received a letter from Matthew Mode, one of the teachers living near Dikea, begging him to come to him at once. It seemed that Dikea and his friends had, on one of the dancing tours of which they are so fond, put up at the village of a man who was away from home, and during the night one of the party tried to break into a house where some Christian women were sleeping. There was great indignation, but Dikea professed to know and care nothing about the matter. However, when Mode got Mr. Plant to support him, the rule about fines was put into force, and a fine was demanded from Dikea and his party. It was felt to be wholesome that the chief should be fined for allowing such grave lawlessness, which he certainly had done nothing to prevent, even if he had not, as some suspected, instigated it. So Matthew Mode was sent to demand the fine, strengthened by prayer for his guidance and safety. But it was anxious work, and everyone was most thankful when Mode returned a few days later looking very happy, for Dikea had not only paid the fine, but admitted that one of his men was the offender.

Whilst Mode was gone to Dikea, Mr. Plant went to see Takua. He was not at home, but in a hut some way from the village. However, with such an old acquaintance they had no need to stand on ceremony, so followed him out there. They found the old.gentleman lying on his back calmly chewing betel nut, whilst in the middle of the hut two women were supporting a girl who was crying hysterically. When Mr. Plant asked what was the matter, an old woman jumped up in haste and said to the man with him, "Tell him it is a centipede." Florida centipedes grow to nearly a foot long, and their bite is most venomous, and painful for twenty-four hours, so it as a conceivable cause for tears; and although Mr. Plant thought it was a false excuse, he could not say so. When he got home again he heard what it really meant.

There chanced to be a party of refugees from the savage island of Malanta living on Takua's place, and under his protection, and on the wife of one of these men the wretched old chief had set his heart. He declared that he had asked for her before she was married to the Mala man, but about such a matter there was no believing [91/92] Takua. Anyhow he was an old man, with a good many wives already, and it was no wonder the poor girl resisted with all her might, although at last he got hold of her; and this was the centipede about which she was crying.

A Dancing Party at Pahua, Bugotu, Solomon Islands.

It was dreadful to have actually seen her misery and not to have been able to help her. But as the whole party were more or less strangers, and did not ask him to interfere, Mr. Plant could do nothing but pray for her. As he could not help her by staying, he went on as he had before planned to do, down the coast to Ravu to pay Ellison Gura a visit, and as they passed a low rock, only joined to the shore at low water, a small lean-to house was pointed out to him as the abode to which Takua had taken his unwilling bride.

Relationships are oddly mixed in the islands, and though a much younger man, and of a very different stamp, Ellison Gura, the teacher at Ravu, was half brother to Dikea and Takua, and took their evil deeds very much to heart, feeling they disgraced the whole district.

[93] At Ravu, who should meet Mr. Plant but Dikea himself, in such a civil frame of mind that he actually carried the clergyman's bag all the way to Gura's village. It was strange to remember that only a year before they had met on the same spot under very different circumstances--when Mr. Plant had come to demand the head of a Christian Dikea had killed.

On his return to Ravu he heard more of Takua's cruel romance. The poor girl had begged leave of absence to go and see her friends somewhat inland, and when the time was come when she ought to have gone back to her tyrant, she climbed into the topmost branches of one of the gigantic breadfruit trees, which abound there, and declaring she would never return to the chief, she jumped down, and, of course, was killed. Her friends revenged themselves by destroying Takua's garden house, and by threatening to kill him, so that he retired once more to his rock by the sea, this time in a great fright, and now Mr. Plant felt he might come forward as mediator. So he set out with a teacher named Silas Kema, and went to Takua's village. On the way they passed the chief, looking solitary and grim, but Mr. Plant took no notice of him, and desired Silas to ignore him also. It was a comfort to find Matthew Mode also there, so that Mr. Plant had his help in dealing with the angry Mala people. They had come down from their inland hill village at his request, but they had come armed with spears and axes, and evidently ripe for mischief.

Their anger must be appeased, and they insisted on Takua paying a heavy blood fine; but if the Christians would make him do this, they were told, they on their side must be quiet and abstain from threats. During the talk a happy idea was suggested by Silas Kema. "Why not tell them to leave Takua altogether and go and live in Mode's village? Mode will no doubt let them have gardens inland."

Mode had no objection, so emissaries were sent to inform Takua of the terms, Silas (the interpreter) being warned not to be afraid of the chief, but to scold him well. But Takua was fallen, and he knew it. The poor old wretch's answer was: "What can I do? If I try to withstand you I must leave the country." He paid the money, and the Mala people migrated in a body to Mode's village, where they sent their few children to school, and their chief was soon talking of becoming a Christian; so the poor girl had not suffered altogether in vain.

But there was something very pitiful in the thought of Takua. His old age was so unvenerable. There had once seemed to be so much good in him, and here was he, formerly so feared and followed, come to be despised by all, and with nobody left to care for him but the five poor women, his remaining wives.

This story has been so fully dwelt upon, not for its intrinsic importance, but as an instance of the way in which barbarism still existed side by side with dawning civilization and great promise of better things.

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