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The Melanesian Mission

By the Rev. C. H. Brooke

From Mission Life, Vol. III (1872), pp. 371-373.




HAVING presented my adopted son, Charles Sapibuana, with his Diary for 1872, I felt curious to know what the first entry might be; and seeing the bright new figures of the new year glittering on the table before me, I perfidiously, in the absence of the owner, opened the book, and found the first entry at the Epiphany:--

"This is the great day of the wise men. Jesus was manifested to them, coming from the East up to Jerusalem, and seeking for the King of the Jews. And to these was Jesus first manifested; and after them to the Romans, and so on until now, when it has reached us.

"And why was Jesus manifested to the Gentiles? This is why: Only the people of Israel alone knew the way of life, which began with Abraham; and God told Abraham that His people should follow that way. But hitherto we did not know it.

"And for this cause Jesus came down, that He might save us all; and therefore He was manifested to the Gentiles.

"Jesus was manifested to the Gentiles of old--so is He now to us--in holy washing and the hold food.

"And these did not go of themselves alone; but God helped that they might believe.

"And in like manner we can do nothing of ourselves; but God helps us by manifesting Himself to us."

These are simply a few notes, which Charles takes regularly of his own accord, on Sunday evening, after the address on the Gospel for the day.



I READ in the Report of the late Meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh, that Mr. E. B. Tylor urged the importance of the study of old religions, and the collection of facts concerning savage nations, as they are so rapidly being affected by intercourse with civilized man. Heartily agreeing with him, and having the advantage of being the first and only civilized man who has ever lived on the Solomon Island of Florida, it appears to me that any one so circumstanced must be of an unusually dull turn of mind (a very mummy), if he cannot find some facts, legends, &c., worth recording. I therefore make the attempt, [371/372] and hope to send my fragments to be embalmed with the spices and aromatics abounding among the pictured papyri of Mission Life.

First, I would speak of the "house I live in," which, I am happy to say, however, is by no means a fragment, but a perfectly entire waterproof tenement, twenty by ten, and ten feet high under the ridge pole, sloping to a foot at the sides. It is called a Vale-Bela in the language of Florida, which means house table, or, as we should put it, table-house--a house on piles. The piles in this case are about seven feet high, so that in the wet weather I can sit under my house, where the piles cluster thickly as the pillars of an Egyptian temple. There is not a straight stick to be found among them, but their crookednesses are but means to the general perpendicular of the whole, and have no unpleasing effect, so nicely do they counterbalance one another. At the top of each pile is a resting-place, scooped out for the beams of the floor above. These also are crooked, but are so laid as to present a tolerably even surface. Upon these again are split palm-stems laid cross-wise, their inner surface downwards; and over all a coarse floor-cloth of split and flattened bamboos interwoven, the only objection to which flooring is that it is very difficult to sweep it clean because it offers so many lodging-places for dust. The sweeper, however, has a remedy; his hand precedes the broom, beating the bamboo flooring, and thus starting all the dust out of the nooks and crannies, to be removed by the broom. This one disadvantage is amply compensated for by the sweet, clean, bright, and cool appearance imported by it to the house, which, by the way, is for cooler than any plank-house could be. The end walls are of split palms, their round surfaces outwards, which are tightly tied with their strips of cane to a framework fixed within. The edges of these palm stems being uneven, light and air find free access, which is a good thing, because there is no window other than the door, which in wet weather has to be shut.

It is a happy adjustment of circumstances, that where the light and air enter rain does not find access, owing to the projecting gables, which (I now refer to the seaward one) with the piece of equally projecting floor, forms a very comfortable couch, when the sun is at the back of the house.

The doorway is three feet high, by a foot and a-half wide, just large enough to admit a small harmonium with considerable risk to the fingers employed. Like all the doors on the island, it is closed by means of a sliding shutter, but, unlike all the others, the shutter in this case is a black-board of European construction, which (being before my age) I had brought down with the intention of writing music upon (a simple, figure notation) for the gigantic singing-classes existing in my imagination, but which, owing to adverse circumstance, has become a power of darkness instead of a means of enlightenment.

[373] The building of this house brought out a good trait in the people's character. On my first two short stays on the island, life was rendered almost unbearable by the jealousies of the chiefs, each of whom wanted to get possession of me; for in order to abate these jealousies I never slept two successive nights in the same house, was always on exhibition, was never alone for one moment day or night, and without a foot of earth to call my own, or where to put down in safety the few things I brought on shore. This was bearable for a space of ten days, but the fatigue, bodily and nervous, in so hot a climate, would very soon have made an end of a tougher subject than myself, if continued for a longer period. So--I am amazed, as I now look back from the hill-top of experience I have since gained, at the audacity of my proceedings, and the immense number of corns upon which I ruthlessly trod--I choose a site and an architect, and having given him a few instructions, returned to Norfolk Island. After an absence of ten months I found myself again at Florida, and one of the first things I descried from the boat was a new house on the aforesaid site. The name of my architect is Subasi, and if he is ever baptized (and I think he would be one of the first adults), Noah must be his name, for upon his devoted head fell all the jealousies combined, and he was told that he laboured in vain, for that B. would never live in the house, much less pay for it. Only one man was satisfied, and that was Takua, upon whose land (I little knew it at the time) it stood.

This great potentate, a miniature Czar, has since tapued the site and the house, whereout he sucks no small advantage, and I both advantage and disadvantage. The advantage is this: only the créme de la créme, only the rich aristocracy, the personal friends of His Insatiable Rapacity, people who are well-known, whose while it would not be worth to abstract--stealing is, of course, unknown in the community, although a member has been known to suffer from a sharp attack of kleptomania--any loose article; these only venture to shake that most aguish ladder by which the august level of my abode is gained. And this is the disadvantage: that many honest, humble folk, whom I would see a great deal of and get to know, are kept at a distance, and the parents of my own flock are taxed by the imposition of entrance fees, heavy in proportion to the tide of wealth supposed to flow into the kit of any one with a connection in Norfolk Island.

A word about the aspect of the house.

The site, then, is on the weather side of the island, about thirty yards from the white sand of the beach. It looks towards the rising sun across the Indispensable Strait, but its view is bounded by the opposite mountains of Malanta, distant about twenty-five miles.

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