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

By Frances Awdry

London: Bemrose & Sons, Limited, 1902.

[144] Appendix II.


"LABOUR TRAFFIC" is the name given to the system of recruiting native labourers in the islands of the south-west Pacific for European colonies or plantations. This recruiting has been carried on under the British flag for Queensland and Fiji, under the French for New Caledonia, and under the German for Samoa and New Guinea. In the early days this traffic was practically a form of slave trade, and carried on by fraud or force, and with the greatest cruelty, as both missionary history and other South Sea literature testify. Terrible reprisals were made by the natives, and the eyes of the British public were opened to the evils of this traffic by the murder of Bishop Patteson and two of his companions in 1871 as an act of revenge. This led to a regulation of the traffic, and in Fiji especially it has been under very stringent rules of late years, only a limited number of labourers being allowed to be obtained by voluntary enlistment, and every care being taken to ensure the labourers proper treatment and the opportunity of obtaining good positions. The Queensland traffic has also been freed from the gross abuses of kidnapping and cruelty, but the labourer has been restricted to such work as no white man can be got to do, and notwithstanding the very praiseworthy efforts that have been made in some places to Christianize and educate him, his condition, both moral and physical, has left much to be desired. Experience of returned labourers shows that on the whole a wide difference exists between the respective influences of Queensland and Fiji. The Melanesian who has been to Fiji has generally acquired some sound Christian instruction, and has had his intelligence developed and his manners refined by contact with civilization. The labourer returned from Queensland, notwithstanding some admirable [144/145] exceptions, has too often little to show but the vulgarity and vices of the lowest sort of white men, with a distaste for work as a sort of slavery engrafted upon his original heathenism or half-forgotten Christianity.

The Fiji traffic practically ceased some years ago, and that of Queensland has now been stopped. The problem of the immediate future is, how the vast number of returning labourers are to be provided for in their native islands. The French traffic still continues in the New Hebrides, Banks and Torres Islands, and it is disfigured by many abuses from which the British has been recently free. The stoppage of the British traffic will probably give the French for the present a freer hand, which, in the interests of the natives, is unfortunate. The German recruiting has been carried on in the officially military fashion characteristic of that nation, but it had little to do with any islands visited by the Melanesian Mission, and since the whole of the Solomon Islands were brought under the British flag it has disappeared from the horizon. During the German Protectorate a German naval party landed in Ysabel to recruit for New Guinea, but the frightened natives fled to the bush and the recruiters had to return empty-handed.

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