Project Canterbury

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

By Frances Awdry

London: Bemrose & Sons, Limited, 1902.



ACROSS some twenty miles of stormy sea from Port Adam and Saa is the little island of Ulawa. It is a very picturesque and typical island of those seas, formed by a series of terraces rising one above another till the centre of the island is a peak 1,000 feet high, and the water round its coral-fringed shores is so deep that it is almost impossible to anchor there safely.

About twenty-five years ago a young lad called Waaro received the name of Walter in Norfolk Island, his college friend, the more mature Clement Marau, standing godfather for him. In the Mission the bond between godfather and godson is a very close one, for both know what it means from the first, which is not the case in infant baptism, and the talk between these two young friends was often on the duty of preaching the Gospel to the heathen.

As we know, Clement came from Merelava, an island which had no longer a heathen tone, and for which there was no difficulty in finding teachers, and though he was the son of the great chief there he had yet another brother, William Vaget, who could give himself to their own island, and who is now resident priest there.

Walter Waaro was less happily situated. His brothers were chiefs, but heathen ones, and the work calling him in Ulawa would have to be done under most difficult conditions. Mr. Still, who had begun work in the island, had been forced to leave that part of the field, and Waaro stood almost alone in a heathen land. So Clement volunteered to go with him, and they worked the island together, though not always in the same school, till Waaro's death. They supplemented each other, for they had not the same gifts. Waaro could set a good example and could face death in behalf of what he felt to be his duty, but he was not an able teacher like Clement. Moreover, it was very easy to bully a younger brother, and not nearly so easy to domineer over a stranger of strong character such as Clement Marau was, and they did manage to worry poor Waaro almost unbearably. For instance, when Waaro lost a little child he was afraid his brothers would insist on burying it native fashion in the sea, which swarms with sharks, and so himself buried it quietly on land without telling the brothers anything about it, which naturally offended the great men very much. Yet after all it was very natural that poor Walter should want to lay his little one [102/103] quietly in the grave without his brothers interfering or making any discussions about it.

Canoe made in Ulawa to raise money for roofing the Church.
(From a Photograph by Mrs. O'Farrall.)

Walter Waaro is no longer alive. He was an excellent man, though without the gift of teaching well, and once when the heathen chief of his village lay dying, deserted by his friends, he asked Waaro to take him to his place and nurse him till he died. Waaro did not hesitate, for he felt it was a clear duty, though he knew that the chief would certainly not recover, and that when he died the followers who had not taken any care of him would return and say the school had been the cause of his death, and make that an excuse for wrecking it and killing Waaro. Waaro had great comfort in teaching and praying with the dying man, but when the end came exactly what he had foreseen happened. At once the cry was raised--"The school has caused our chief's death," and they decided to kill Waaro, but did not wish to go to his own house to do it; so they sent word to ask him to come to them. But Waaro sent back word that he would not come. "Kill me," he said, "if you like in the schoolhouse; but this is my place, I will not leave it." His enemies debated till evening, but then, rather admiring his courage, they let him live and the school go on. They knew, of course, whatever they might profess, that he had simply taken [103/104] the chief in out of kindness, and when they came again it was only to ask for the body, that they might bury it, which was all right.

Rev. Clement Marau, Ulawa, Solomon Islands.
(From a Photograph by Bishop Montgomery.)

Clement tells us that when first he settled in Ulawa he only knew four words of the language--"Man," "come here," "bad" and "good"; certainly not a very full vocabulary to start teaching with. (He and Waaro had made friends in Mota, which is the language learnt by everyone at Norfolk Island, and used in the Chapel services.) "On that Sunday," says Clement, telling of his first start at Ulawa, "I was put ashore in the heavy rain, and I was all alone" (most likely he means I stood alone), [104/105] "and the crowd of people in the canoe house began to ask the boys from Norfolk Island what this young man had come with them for. I had already been earnestly desiring to speak to them in the canoe house, because their coming together into shelter from the rain gave a good opportunity. Walter Waaro was my interpreter, and I said, 'This is the reason why I am come here, it is that I may tell you of a new religion as I have heard it myself, and in this way I want to help you. For I myself have heard of one Spirit better than the spirits that we ignorantly believe in. He is God. He is Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker of everything, of men, whether white or black, whether natives of the place, or travellers or guests.'" Such was Clement Marau's first sermon, twenty-five years ago, delivered in the boat-house of the village to a crowd of heathen, who, though half mocking, listened to pass away the time on a rainy day.

It has been very uphill work, and the small island is still not entirely Christian, but there are six schools, and in 1901 a really remarkably fine church was opened, built under Clement's direction, of which the people are justifiably very proud.

Clement would have been ordained priest by now if he could have been spared to go away to Norfolk Island for the necessary study, but when his own church was finished the people of a neighbouring village implored him to stay a little longer and help them to build a similar one, and he consented.

There is a great wave of church building in the islands now, and the people care very much to have them beautiful, and will often build the churches of coral, or even of stone (although their own houses are woven of wicker-work), and they inlay the ends of the seats, lecterns, etc., with mother of pearl or shell, as they used to do their great war canoes. At St. Barnabas' the whole life groups itself round the chapel; a beautiful stone building built in memory of Bishop Patteson and others who have lived and died for Melanesia, and the glory of its fine proportions, marble floor, and apse with beautiful painted windows is by no means thrown away upon the islanders. It impresses them very much; they miss its beauty of holiness when they return to their homes, and try to build their own churches as nicely as they know how to do. It is touching to see how they will put as altar vases a pair of wide-mouthed, clear glass pickle bottles to hold flowers. We think they look common, but the natives are always anxious for just such bottles, clear and transparent, to drink out of, and in giving them up for the church they are most distinctly not offering of. what costs them nothing.

Where there are buildings set apart for worship only, reverence is made much easier, but of course in many places the school has to be used as the chapel as well, and here it is specially important to be very careful about the dress of the clergy when officiating. The Mission has not means, if it had the will, to use expensive vestments or elaborate ritual, but decency and order are important, and within the reach of all, and changes of dress, different coloured altar cloths, etc., emphasize [105/106] meanings, and speak through the eye to the childlike minds of the natives, so they have a real use when they can be had.

We are often reminded of the early Church in the present stage of Melanesia. There are the great dangers, the real persecution unto death, and there is also the intense happiness and eagerness of the true converts, the sense of having found a treasure themselves and of the duty of imparting the good news to others, and there is the all-surrounding atmosphere of indifference or of wickedness, and the grievous falls, bringing the punishment of "putting out of the synagogue." This punishment is felt very deeply, and there are many stories we can thank God for (though we do not talk about them) of how He has brought back His strayed ones to rise to higher things on the wings of penitence. And sad as the falls are, we must remember that the natives, even the. clergy and teachers, are all the children of savages, and in many cases the relations with whom they have to live are such still, and that, the poor in the slums of our large towns have after all more help within reach than many an isolated Melanesian who is trying to teach his village by precept and example that we are all "called to be saints," and what that involves.

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