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Essays on the Depopulation of Melanesia

Edited by W. H. R. Rivers

Cambridge: At the University Press, 1922.

Any authors' profits from the sale of this book will be for the benefit of the Melanesian Mission.


THE event which led to the production of this volume was the receipt by the English representatives of the Melanesian Mission of the first two articles in this book. One of these came from the Rev. W. J. Durrad who had served for many years in the Mission, chiefly in the Torres and Banks Islands. The other was a report written by Dr Felix Speiser of Basle, which had been translated by the Rev. A. I. Hopkins, a member of the Melanesian Mission. Dr Speiser had spent two years in Melanesia, chiefly in the New Hebrides, and had published many of his observations in a book which appeared in 1913 under the title Two Years with the Natives in the Western Pacific. In the paper which comes next to that of Mr Durrad he has put on record his impressions concerning the depopulation of Melanesia and the measures by which he believes that it may be arrested.

Towards the end of the war it was suggested that these two papers should be published and it was felt that their value would be enhanced if other members of the Melanesian Mission would also place on record their views concerning the problems raised by Mr Durrad and Dr Speiser. Reports are here published from the Rev. A. I. Hopkins who is working in the Solomons, and from the Rev. W. C. O'Ferrall who is especially acquainted with the Santa Cruz Islands. Mr C. M. Woodford, who was for many years Resident Commissioner in the British Solomon Islands, has also been good enough to record his views and a letter written in response [1/2] to an inquiry, by Sir William Macgregor, not long before his death, has also been included in the volume. Lastly, a paper dealing especially with the psychological causes of the dying out of the Melanesian people has been written by the editor, this paper embodying experience gained during visits to the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides in 1908 and 1914.

Dr Speiser's paper was written as long ago as 1912 and other papers are already several years old, so that they may not portray the present state of Melanesia exactly. There is little doubt, however, that any change has not been in the direction of improvement. Each paper expresses only the opinion of its writer. Neither the editor nor the Melanesian Mission must be taken to accept the remedies and solutions suggested in individual essays.

The part of the world of which the volume treats is one of peculiar charm and interest. The islands which make up the Melanesian archipelago, and lie along the western borders of the Pacific Ocean, are little known and until fifty years ago were but little touched by outside influence. They do not lie on any important trade-route, such as those which have led to the great development of the Hawaiian Islands or Fiji, while the jungle-covered islands and the fierce hostility of many of the inhabitants placed obstacles in the way of commercial development. But though this development has begun late, there are few parts of the world where it has had so destructive an effect upon the native culture and upon the welfare of the people. The chief purpose of this volume is to call attention to the approaching extinction of a picturesque people and to put forward suggestions for measures by which they may not only be preserved, but be enabled to take their part in making the fertility of their islands of use to their fellow-men.

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