Project Canterbury

Arosi, 1922-23.

By C.E. Fox

From Southern Cross Log, Vol. 30(2), London, February 1924, pp. 22-26.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2012

[22] AROSI, 1922-23.

During the last year San Cristoval districts, both Bauro and Arosi, have had to do largely without a priest. Rev. Joe Gilvelte went to Maravovo for five months last year to get his new Bauro Prayer Book (which he had translated from the Mota) printed. When he came back he had about three months [22/23] in his district and then had to go to Pawa for a year, to take Hodgson's place. I went to Maravovo in November, 1922, to get my new Arosi Prayer Book and 180 Arosi hymns printed. Getting back was a difficult matter. I got to Tulagi in a Chinese launch. Off Savo the night and a North-west gale came on together; we had no compass; the Chinese skipper, finding that he had no idea of direction, and that the waves were coming over the launch, retired to the cabin and locked himself in. It was a dark night, but the Buguotu boy at the wheel stuck to his job, and when later on the wind went down and the moon came up, we found ourselves down by the Sandfly. Coasting along we got to Tulagi late at night in calm weather and a bright moon, the Chinese skipper appearing as it got calm and clear. Then followed a journey through the Boli Pass in Graves' launch, and a few days' wait at Siota, and then I got a passage in a trading schooner, putting back returned labour on Mala. She had sixty boys on board returning to their homes, and we put them down a few at a time all round the eastern side of Mala, in very stormy weather (N.E.), but this time we had a staunch Scottish captain. It was interesting going into all the harbours and seeing another side of island life, but there was not much room on board. Finally we went through the Maramasiki, on a lovely calm morning, thirty miles like a broad river, the green foliage of many shades looking frosted in the early morning, the most lovely place I have seen in the Solomons. At one place there was a canoe high on trestles with a corpse in it, the kind of burial once so common now so rare. I was put down at Ugi, borrowed the Pawa boat, and rowed over to Heuru—a long roundabout way of getting home. Then after two months the ship arrived and I. went for my holiday to New Zealand, and had nine weeks there. Now on my return I have been sent to Pamua to take over the school, Joe Gil. is still at Pawa, and San Cristoval must go on as best it can. But this is how the districts suffer—long intervals, for one cause or another, without a priest.

Last year saw several churches begun in Arosi, one at Wano, one at Heuru (both these replacing old ones), one at Erihoso (a fine one in the bush, built by George Giladi) and one at Bia, while a fifth is just being begun at Ubuna. Several teachers have been at Siota, and there are eight boys from Arosi at Pamua and Pawa. But the chief event for the church was the printing of the Prayer Book. The last one, which was only a small, first Prayer Book, had long been exhausted. Now we have one fuller in some ways than the Mota, as it contains services for Reception of Penitents, Laying hands on the Sick, etc., authorised at the Siota Synod. And we have now a fine collection of 180 hymns, i.e., nearly 100 new ones from A and M or the English Hymnal. The people [23/24] will at last possess books of their own and be able to follow and join in the services far better.

Last year Mr. Barley, the District Magistrate, went for his furlough. At present Dr. Crichlow is acting both as Magistrate and District Medical Officer. The Government have begun a plan of training young Melanesians in the Tulagi hospital and then setting them down in their islands with a store of simple medicines for the people. Sam Aruhu, of Heuru, was the first from San :Cristoval to go through the course, and is now back at Heuru :in charge of a Government Medical Depôt. A new law was passed forbidding people to be out of their villages more than three months in the year without the Magistrate's consent. There are some people, gadabouts and gossips, who spend their whole time going from village to village and are a general nuisance. The law was meant to get rid of these people. Four priests, of whom only one was a district priest, wrote a letter to the Government strongly objecting to this law; but it is doubtful if they were voicing the general opinion of the Mission. All the same, this law bears hardly on the ordinary village native who may really need to be out of his village longer, and to do so may have to walk 120 miles (there and back) to get leave. It should be enough for the native district chief, or even village chief, to give permission and report it later; then those who go about too often could easily be checked. But who is to represent this to the Government? The natives cannot, and we are in a difficulty owing to the long absence of the Bishop. But we must be ready to voice the feeling of our people. After all, we know them and their conditions better than the Government, not one of whose officials, or, at any rate, not more than one or two, can speak a native language, or lives among them as we do. There are now two new laws proposed, one to apply at first only to Gela, but no doubt later to all the islands, the other to be general. The first is a dog tax, whites and natives five shillings per annum for each dog. Anyone who has seen the crowds of starved, mangy, miserable dogs in a native village, must agree that to lessen their numbers (and so feed the remainder better) is a long-needed reform, and nothing but a dog tax can do it. But the whole question of native taxation does need careful consideration. The poll tax itself is unjust because in the first place the native bears in proportion to his wealth far more in indirect taxation than the white man (for as the customs duties are raised the traders raise the prices, and so the native pays both his tax and theirs); in the second place because it is not a tax on luxuries, which he can do without if he is poor, but on a necessity—living in his island—and some are too poor to pay or can only do so with difficulty, and are forced to recruit (it is really forced [24/25] recruiting disguised); and in the third place because in some places it 'is altogether too heavy a tax. Its only justification—and even this would not really justify it for the reasons given above—would be to spend it wholly on, e.g., medical work for the natives alone, the Government has begun in a small way to do medical work as mentioned above. But if in addition to the poll tax other taxes are to follow, the natives will have a hard time. Also, if five shillings is enough for a white man, one shilling should be enough for a native, considering their relative incomes, and one shilling would be enough to keep down the number of dogs. Further it must be remembered that in civilized countries working dogs, such as sheep dogs, are not taxed or are lightly taxed, and some dogs are such in every native village—pig-hunting dogs, without which the natives' gardens would be all destroyed by the wild pigs. The second law is to forbid natives to wear more than a malo (loin-cloth). This may be felt a hard law by those accustomed to wear singlets or trousers (as some of our clergy and some other natives do, and as many church people do on Sundays) but the next generation will feel the good of it and will be the healthier for it, and it is far better to pass it now before clothing has become general, as in parts of the New Hebrides. But it might be brought in gently, with due notice, as, after all, they have been allowed to buy what they now have.

I have written at length about these laws, because it is these and similar Government regulations that are now exercising most the mind of the people in our districts. As the Bishop wrote (I think) we have to be mediators more or less. The Government really desires, I believe, to save and help the natives, but it is very possible, even easy, for it to make ill-advised regulations. We ought to voice the native point of view to them. On the other hand, the natives do not easily understand the object of many regulations. We have to voice the Government point of view to them. Rather a thankless task, both Government and natives thinking we are not warm enough for their view.

This is my last report of Arosi, I suppose. It is hard to realize how great changes have passed over it in how short number of years. Even in 1915, when I took charge, you could see human flesh for eating in the bush villages, and no native dared to walk along parts of the coast. Now no one anywhere carries a weapon. There were only five schools, where now there are about twenty. It was then largely heathen, now almost every village has a school, either one of ours, or one of Dr. Deck's undenominational Mission. But this rapid extension, coming at a time when the Norfolk Island school was small or gone altogether, and few teachers were being trained, has led clearly to a deterioration in the standard of our teachers. There is, too, a good deal of [25/26] coldness, loss of their earner enthusiasm, in the older villages. To increase our native clergy, educate and deepen our teachers, strengthen our schools, those are the things whoever has charge of Arosi will find most needful. Outside the church the coming of the Government has been the great event of these years. No doubt it has had a stimulating influence, helping to keep them from stagnation, but I am afraid there are signs, too, of the coming, with much loss of freedom, of a more servile spirit, or of a feeling of hopelessness. C. E. FOX.

Project Canterbury