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The Island Voyage, 1897

From Southern Cross Log, Auckland, Vol. 5, No. 33, January, 1898, pages 4-10.

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

[5] The Island Voyage, 1897.

For, while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, thro' creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.


The New Hebrides.


My stay in the New Hebrides this year was a most interesting and enjoyable one. I went there with, if anything, rather a prejudice against the people, and believing them more backward as a race and less interesting as individuals than all our other Melanesians, and I came away with a feeling that if they were in some ways backward, they were quite as interesting as the others, and that they were brighter even, and gayer, and merrier than some, and just as loveable as all the rest.


I will just speak of Maewo, the northern of "our" three islands in the New Hebrides. I found here seven schools, all in villages at the north end of the island. There were plenty of teachers, and the Christians were living a quiet, simple, good life, but troubling themselves little or not at all about their fellow-islanders, the large majority of whom remained heathen. It is true the quiet, peaceful ways of the Christians had affected the whole island, and there was but little fighting; cannibalism probably was rare. In making my boat journeys I felt I could go ashore anywhere in perfect safety; the natives always appeared to know who I was, and to be ready for a friendly chat and an exchange of a few little presents. They appeared to me to be simply waiting for us to give them the teaching which we had given to their countrymen. In one case they had gone so far as to build a school-house, hoping that this would entice a teacher to their village.

"The Whitening Harvest."

Having seen this readiness to receive the Gospel, I returned to the Christian villages and told them of it. They caught fire at once, and [5/6] were filled with an enthusiasm to convert the heathen of their island, and even of Araga also, and Opa. Four teachers left one village, Tamouri, two going to the south end of Maewo and two to Araga; another left his quiet, happy work at Auta to return to his home in Opa, where his friends had lapsed in heathenism and were spending their time in wars. Another went to revive a lapsed school at the south end of Maewo.

Two young lads, fresh from Norfolk Island, sounded the people of Tanrowo, one of the strongholds of heathen superstitions, and found that the people would receive them in spite of the opposition of their leading men. There can be no doubt that a faith which led these people to make such sacrifices was a deep and living one; nor did it belong only to the teachers who were willing to go as missionaries, for the people who let them go deserved as much praise as they did. The chiefs of Auta came to me and said that they could not allow Arthur Huqe to go to Opa. He was too "weighty," they said, and they could not spare him. I drew a map of Opa on a slate, showing Walirigi, Arthur's village, and the district around it in which Bishop Patteson had sowed the seed long ago. I pointed out that the Faith was dead there, and that only a weighty man could revive it. As the map became better understood the assents to my words became more and more frequent, and one after another gave way, until all agreed that Arthur must go. I think there is a genuine desire now amongst the Maewo Christians to convert their countrymen. There are eleven village schools instead of seven, and the Church has footholds in three different parts of the island instead of only one.

At Opa

In Opa, two traders have fallen victims to the treachery of natives, and consequently the island has a bad name in the outside world. But the people of this island must not all be judged by the actions of the murderers these white men. I found a real abhorrence of these crimes amongst all whom I saw, and a great desire that the naval authorities should punish the perpetrators of them. Near Walirigi a great cannibal chief had been shot with a poisoned arrow, and his people were avenging his death, by fighting and killing their neighbours, and the country in the hills between our two Christian districts on the north and south side was disturbed. But this, again, was not approved of by the general sense of the people, who, in many villages, were raising what they call peace-stones, and wished to see all fighting stopped. The Christians are a fairly numerous body, and, in the Lonana district, on the south side of the island, very much in earnest. I stayed in the village, where later in the year Mr. England was killed by a man from the bush, and held a week's mission, at the same time holding classes for those who had been preparing for baptism.

[7] The Word Gladly Received.

Every day I preached five times, going to one village in the morning, another at mid-day, and another in the evening. The attention and interest shown was very great, and it all culminated on Trinity Sunday, when I baptised fifty persons--mostly men, and many of them chiefs. I read the service in Opa very slowly, and the act of baptism took a long time, but their attention never flagged. Every heart seemed filled with thankfulness. Old Putenarawe, a very big chief, had dreamt three times that he was eternally lost, and had never rested till he had learnt to pray; he was now amongst those whom I baptised. Others told me that their reason for seeking baptism was that they were afraid to die as they were.

Salvation, according to heathen teaching here, depends upon the number of pigs a man has killed in his lifetime, i.e., really, upon his hospitality to his friends. "But," said Mark Tarise, "when they are dying they forget about the pigs, and are only frightened about death. When Thomas died," he said, "he was ill and in pain all over, but he had no fear, and was happy; and when I asked him about it, he said his faith in Christ was strong, and so he was not afraid."

On the opposite side of the island there is not the same earnestness; and for want of it, and owing to the misdoings of the teachers, two of the four schools have lapsed. However, Arthur Huqe has set his heart upon reviving them, and has great hopes of bringing in all the fighting tribes in the neighbourhood of Walirigi. A very plucky effort is also being made in the disturbed district behind Tavalavola, where James Tariguli--on the invitation of the young chief--has just commenced teaching the people in the village gamal. His people are at war with a district hard by, and, according to custom, sallied forth one morning and poured a volley into their village. It was Sunday morning, September 19, and, fortunately, before the children and school people came together. The enemy paid a return visit, and poured fifty musket balls into the gamal, James' church; then the bell rang and the people said prayers.

Influence of the Church.

In Maewo and Opa, although we cannot show any great triumphs, yet the Church has a good foothold, and numbers some hundreds of members. Her influence is felt far beyond her own borders, and although, particularly in Opa, fierce customs and savage deeds are still common enough, yet, traders have told me, a white man may travel safely anywhere. Although in many parts of Opa there are never-ending feuds and wars, yet generally the natives are in favour of a change, and are seeking peace, and would welcome Christianity as a [7/8] means to that end. The Christians have now but to realise how great is their opportunity, and make the necessary sacrifices, and these two islands will yield to the dominion of Christ. That this is true is being shown at the present time by Raga (Pentecost).

In this island, for many years even less progress was made than in the other two. The people were blindly led by their superstition. Magic and the power of spirits were profoundly believed in. Deaths were always laid at the door of some one who had worked a charm against the deceased. Whilst I stayed at Agelhuge, in a heathen village, not a mile away, a chief clubbed a woman to death on the ground that she had charmed her husband, who had recently died; and the dead man's own brother, a chief, had to fly the village because suspicion rested also on him. At a chief's death the tribe will shoot or club ten or twenty men or women, meeting them in the paths, or attacking villages to kill them, until they consider the chief's death fully avenged. Cannibalism also is practised, not apparently from any desire to eat human flesh, but as a kind of capital punishment for offences committed against the chiefs, their wives, and their property. In this not very promising soil two Mota boys, Tom Ulgan and Maelea, began to sow the seed twenty years ago. In 1891 only three villages had accepted teachers; in 1894 the harvest had began to spring up, and there were seven schools, now there are over twenty. Village after village has set up its little school-house or church, and asked Tom, the survivor of the two Mota boys, to send some one to teach the people. On his own responsibility he evolved a plan for supplying their wants, which had not hitherto been tried by the Mission. As no Norfolk Island trained teachers could be got, he chose the most earnest, though not always the most educated, boys in his existing schools, and sent them out to be teachers.

A Living Sermon.

Now, I found on my arrival in Araga this year, villages in which all the people had placed themselves under a boy of sixteen or seventeen, who was reading prayers for them and teaching them to read, and they were happy that they were so well off as they were. Unless Tom or another teacher visited them, they had no sermons except their young teacher's life, which they watched and studied. They entered vigorously into their prayers, thundering out the responses and the Amens, and attracting many heathen from outside villages to their services by the heartiness of their devotions. These new school villages contain the fighting people of the hills, who, being just freed from their old hostility to one another, are all rejoicing in a newly-found friendship. Divided by their wars before, a people that was "no people" is well on its way to become "the people of God." Everywhere they listened to me with rapt attention as I preached to them of God, the Creator; sin, the breaking of His law; Christ, the Saviour and [8/9] Redeemer; the Church, His people. Some had been for two years preparing for baptism; these I baptised, but there were hundreds who pressed me to do the same for them, asking "Why may not we also be baptised ?"

"Thy Sons Shall Come from Far."

On July 7 I was at Lolvenua, in the hills. The classes were finished and the great day had arrived. People had come together from all around; the village was crowded with visitors, and the church filled to overflowing. There were only thirty-five candidates, but they were the most influential people in the country--chiefs nearly all of them, with their wives and children. Viranubu, the old fighting chief of Lolvenua, a man of very strong character and grand physique, but with a limp from spear wound in the thigh, led the way in making the answers to my questions. He and all the rest answered each one separately for himself, according to our custom. I shall never forget seeing that ring of men and women standing round the font in the little church, and one by one renouncing their old way of life and their old superstitions. And then the baptism itself, and the solemn reception, with the words "We receive this person into the congregation of Christ's flock, and do sign him with the sign of the Cross." It was glorious receiving such men as these into the Church of Christ! But no one rejoiced more than they did themselves. The chiefs had killed their fattest pigs in honour of the occasion; enormous ovens had been at work all night, and fowls and yams had been cooked in abundance. At the feast there sat down together men who, a short time ago, could only have met to fight; now they were rejoicing together over the entry of some into the Church of Christ, and over the peace and love which the Gospel had brought to them all.

"They shall Beat their Swords into Ploughshares. . . "

Shortly after this I went to a great feast, an uninvited and unexpected guest, but having no doubt that I should be made welcome. A very remarkable thing took place in the midst of the ceremonies: old Viradoro, the greatest chief in the northern district of Araga, and almost the only one who has not joined with us, came forward and made a long speech, and ended by handing to the man who made the feast his war-club, directing that it was to be chopped to pieces and distributed amongst all the chiefs in the district as a declaration of peace and goodwill to all.

Partly owing to the enthusiasm of these Christians at the north end of the island, and partly owing to the return of a few earnest men from Queensland, the Church has been planted in the middle of the island, twelve or more miles from the part of which I have been speaking. "George" and "Jimmy" returned three or four years ago, and began to teach their friends to pray in "pigeon" English, and to sing Sankey's [9/10] hymns. Help was asked for from the more instructed people in the north, and readily given. As a result, there are now five schools in a part of the country of which the captain of a cutter, seeing me come down to the shore, accompanied by a great crowd of natives, said with surprise, "I thought no one could go ashore there with safety." The Christianity is of a very elementary order as yet, but the Queensland teachers seem both quite ready to fall into line with us and to do their work with us. The chief difficulty is that the language is very different from that in the northern district, and it seems as if the Prayer Book and Testament of the one will not do for the other.

"The Music of the Gospel."

I saw in "George's" village, Venurag, about seventy of the wildest looking people I have ever seen, standing in a ring round their teachers, singing, with all their might, a simple hymn, with "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" as its refrain. I doubted if they understood its meaning, but "George" said they did. If they did not they certainly were in intention worshipping our Lord, and they have been doing this for four years, during which time their lives have become changed. "Jimmy" is a very good, earnest fellow, and much valued by many of his people. He itinerates a good deal upon his own account, and finds the people always glad to listen to his preaching. There is still one more Queensland school at Vanmalan, but I was not able to visit it; besides these three there are two more schools in this district, which have sprung up as off-shoots of this Christianity in the north. It is satisfactory to see that some good can come to Melanesia out of Queensland. It is most important that those who have taken up the work of teaching our people should, a the time and in their letters afterwards, impress upon the boys that they should not form sects of their own on their return, but place themselves at once under the Bishop, and become teachers on his staff. It will only be in this way that Queensland can really do us good.

Raga (Whitsuntide Island).

There are now more than twenty schools in Raga, with probably more than a thousand people attending them. Only a small proportion of these have been baptised or confirmed. Their hearts are touched, and they have become obedient to the Faith; admission to the Church will follow perhaps next year.

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