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Ini Kopuria

[By Charles E. Fox]

From Southern Cross Log (New Zealand Edition), June 1, 1946, pages 21-24.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008

[21] Ini Kopuria

An impressive tribute. At his best INI did wonderful work and we should thank God for his life and work.

There died in his own village of Marovovo in Guadalcanal, on June 7th, Ini Kopuria, founder with Bishop Steward of the Melanesian Brotherhood. He was, I think, one of the three ablest Melanesians I have known,--the other two being Clement Marau and Hugo Hebala.

I first knew Ini as a very small boy at Pamua School. A Guadalcanal boy of those days whom Ini greatly admired was Ellison Kokou, a Norfolk Island lad of great promise who died not long afterwards. Ellison was head of the Brotherhood of St. Stephen [Aiden], consisting of about 20 young Melanesians who promised not to marry while in the Brotherhood, not to take any pay, and to go where sent. They visited the bush villages of San Cristoval for a month and then came down to rest to our headquarters at Raubero. After Pamua Ini went to Norfolk Island where he had the reputation of being a clever and unusual boy. Everyone knows the story of how he decided to keep Lent by not speaking to anyone for 40 days. Short and thickset, very dark, with a rather ugly but cheerful face, he played games with enthusiasm but without being much good at them. He always had a great personal influence with other boys. I did not see anything of him in his Norfolk Island days, for I was on San Cristoval.

He should have come back to Gaudalcanal as a teacher, as John Steward, the priest in charge of the island intended, but he joined the native police and worked for some years as a Police Sergeant under Capt. Hill, the District Officer, to whom he was always very loyal, loyalty being one of Ini's outstanding characteristics. Then he had a severe illness and, so he used to tell us, a clear vision of Christ who warned him he was not doing the work he was meant to do. After this Ini went for a time to Marovovo College with A. I. Hopkins, just the man Ini needed then. Hopkins told me they had long talks about monastic orders and brotherhoods in the early church. Without doubt it was those talks with Hopkins that brought Ini to the decisions as to what he should do, and he went to John Steward now Bishop, and always his spiritual father, and proposed the founding of a native brotherhood. And Bishop Steward was the right man to go to, not only because among all the Melanesians he loved, Ini was dearest to him, but because the Bishop was a deep believer in religious orders in the Church. Years before this (I think about 1907.) John [21/22] Steward had written to me asking me if I would join him in founding an order of a few priests who would build a monastery in central Malaita on the high hills among the (then) wild bush-people, whom this band of priests would influence, not by direct teaching, but by the example of their lives and their continual prayers for the Malaita people. I agreed, but no others were forthcoming, and gradually the idea was given up. But I think nothing gave Bishop Steward more joy than when Ini came to him with a somewhat similar plan. "I have visited all the villages [22/23] as a police sergeant," said Ini, "and they all know me: why not go to them now as a missionary?" Together they worked out the rules, Ini's more elaborate ideas being simplified and made workable by the Bishop. And then Ini went off to look for Brothers. He gathered some together. On St. Simon and St. Jude's Day, 1925, on his own land at Tabalia, which he gave to the Mission, he took his life vow before the two Bishops, Bishop Steward and Bishop Molyneux, and A. I. Hopkins. The Brotherhood began.

The first time I saw the Brothers was at Siota at Synod, where the Brothers had come together for a meeting with Bishop Steward. In their black lioncloths and rather scraggy beards (for they all wore beards in those first years) they looked a queer lot. We heard they were not having much success.

From 1925 when the Brotherhood began Ini ruled it for 15 years, and no Brother ever questioned his absolute authority, not because he was the Founder, but because of the force of his personality. What things stood out in his character? First, I think his spirituality: prayer was a very real thing with Ini: he was the most reverent Melanesian I have known, and that is saying a lot. God was in all his thoughts. Second, his joyousness, he was almost always in high spirits, full of fun, full of the joy of being alive, it was good to live with him. Third, his deep understanding of the thoughts of Melanesians. At Brothers' meetings when disputes were often hot, Ini always knew who was really in the wrong and generally got that Brother to say so. Fourth, his common sense, he always knew what was practicable and kept discussions to that reverent, joyful, sympathetic, wise, these the "Brothers" knew him to be. He was not popular with the White staff who thought him conceited. There was a little truth in this, for he felt his own gifts, though I don't think the conceit went deep; but also he was very sensitive to colour feeling. He thought it all wrong that every Melanesian, because of his colour, should be inferior to every white man because of his colour, yet he felt there was this feeling even within the Mission.

This is not the place to write of the Brotherhood, of Ini's founding of the order of Companions of the Brothers, and of his other ideas, the children of an impulsive but very original mind. He worked first in his own island of Guadalcanal, then in Santa Cruz, then in Sikaiana, which owes him its Christianity, then in Mala, and then for some time in SagSag at the western end of New Britain, opposite New Guinea, where he prepared a number of people for Baptism. One of my memories is of that baptism, when Ini and I stood waist deep in the very cold water of that mountain river for several hours, while streams of people came [23/24] to us from the heathen side, were baptised by us and passed over to the Christian side, where the Bishop sat in his chair on a high grassy bank with the few already Christians round him. There the newly baptised dressed in white loincloths, and finally a great procession, led by the Cross, set off for the church, a procession so long that they were singing different hymns in different parts without releasing it, or caring either, so joyful did they feel. That is just one of the many memories of Ini. What great days those were!

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