Project Canterbury

Essays on the Depopulation of Melanesia

Edited by W. H. R. Rivers

Cambridge: At the University Press, 1922.

II. The Depopulation of Melanesia.

By the Rev. W. J. Durrad.

IT is a great satisfaction to learn that there are people in England who are troubled about the decrease of the population of Melanesia, and I gladly avail myself of the opportunity which has been given me to foster that feeling of concern, for if we could get a sufficient number of persons of influence to know and care about the rapid diminution of the Melanesians some steps might be taken to retard that decrease or even to turn the scale the other way. It is not impossible, and it is not yet too late to save them. But it soon will be. This is as certain as anything can be.

That the people are decreasing and decreasing fast is well known. Articles in the Southern Cross Log dealing with the work of men in their districts allude from time to time to the evidence of a large population that existed in former days. [The monthly journal of the Melanesian Mission.] And anyone who has spent a few years in Melanesia will have noticed, between the time of his arrival and that of his departure, a distinct difference in the number of people among whom he has lived. The longer his stay extends, the more marked becomes the fall in the population. Whether the people had begun to decline before the advent of the European is unknown. Personally I should say there was no decline, but rather a tendency the other way. I say a tendency only. That the islands were not overstocked was the result of heathen customs which kept the population down. I allude to fighting, infanticide, infant mortality, [3/4] malignant magic which had tremendous effect, neglect of useless and infirm people, and the extermination of those whose conduct put them outside the pale of morality. For we know quite well that heathen people have a very strict moral code of their own as to what is and what is not permissible. All these forces acting together kept the population more or less at the same level. Decrease in population began with the advent of the European. I do not say the missionary. Probably the old sandal-wood traders started the process.

Introduction of diseases. This is undoubted. Disease resulting from immoral life was probably unknown before the white man came. It exists now but not probably to a great extent. Whether the effect of this disease is seen in children who are subject to almost perpetual running sores I cannot say. A few boys at my school are badly developed and are scarred with the marks of old sores on legs, body, neck, and arms, which need only a knock to become large ulcers which take weeks to heal. This is surely unnatural and points to some constitutional defect. Well fed and cared for as they are, they should not naturally be liable to such outbreaks.

Dysentery was probably known in former times as there is a native word describing the phenomena connected with the disease. But whether it ever assumed the violent form which it has done in recent years it is impossible to say. It seems to occur in very dry seasons. But such times of drought are rare as the rainfall in these islands is very large. There is no proper dry season. A year or two ago there was a long spell of dry weather and there was an epidemic of dysentery throughout all the Solomons which carried off great numbers. The disease was probably carried by trading ships.

Measles is rarely seen, though a few years ago there was [4/5] an epidemic in Raga (Pentecost Island in the New Hebrides). This must have been brought by some vessel.

But the diseases which are decimating the people are pulmonary. On asking a trader in Santa Cruz as to the cause of the decrease in the number of people there, a decrease so evident in the smaller and smaller number of canoes which each year put out to meet the 'Southern Cross,' [The vessel of the Melanesian Mission.] he told me that great numbers died of chest complaints. I am not speaking of consumption, which was well known to the natives in their former state of isolation. For that complaint there is a native name and it carried off a certain number of young people. The chief present scourges are bad colds developing into bronchitis or pneumonia and these are brought from outside. Common colds are worse for Melanesians than for us and more likely to lead to bronchitis. It has to be confessed that the `Southern Cross' is one of the chief agents in the distribution of pneumonia germs. This was noticed long ago by the natives. The following extracts read in the light of long personal experience are charged with a terrible meaning. Writing in June 1861 of a boat journey Bishop Patteson says:

"By 4 or 5 p.m. I neared Aruas, in the bay on the west side of Vanua Lava.... Somehow I did not much like the manner of some of the people; they did not at night come into the men's common eating and sleeping house, as before, and I overheard some few remarks which I did not quite likesomething about the unusual sickness being connected with this new teaching."

Again in August 1863, in summing up a voyage he speaks of landing a party of his scholars on Mota where he "found them all pretty well." He went off for a trip to the south. He continues,

[6] "In another fortnight I was again at Mota. I found things lamentably changed. A great mortality was going on, dysentery and great prostration of strength from severe influenza. About twenty-five adults were dead already.... I spent two days and a half going about the island.... During these days twenty-seven adults died, fifty-two in all, and many, many more were dying, emaciated, coughing, fainting."

Who brought the influenza here spoken of? It is obvious that it was the Mission party from New Zealand, coming from that country in the winter when colds are rife, and the same thing happens now. Among the many occasions I can recall of severe illness following the ship's visit none stands out so prominently in my memory as an epidemic of pneumonia that raged on Ticopia when I was put down there on one occasion for a few weeks while the 'Southern Cross' cruised among the Solomons. What should have been one of the happiest of experiences was converted into one of the most tragic. The message of the Gospel was stultified by the terrible sufferings of the people. Forty persons, most of then in the prime of life and many of them fathers and mothers of large families of children, were struck down in death. Others, though very ill, survived, but were reduced to the condition of living skeletons.

Concerning the liability of natives to contract white men's complaints, Bishop Wilson told me he had consulted Sir Patrick Manson on the subject. The doctor pooh-poohed the seriousness of the fact and said that the thing happens all over the world and that the natives simply have to get inured to the new conditions. The tragedy is that in the process of becoming inured the Melanesians are becoming extinct. We are carrying on in the twentieth century what Dean Inge describes as a mark of the nineteenth. "The European races established their ascendency over the whole [6/7] planet, introducing the blessings of civilisation to the savage peoples whom they exterminated" (The Church and the Age).

Introduction of alien social customs. The use of alcohol is fortunately localised. But readers of the Annual Report of the Mission, especially the article on Omba (Lepers' Island) written a few years back by Mr Grunling, will be familiar with the horrible conditions which prevail there. The existence of the sale of alcohol is well known, but owing to the difficulties connected with the dual control of the group, apparently nothing can be done.

Of all the evil customs introduced by civilisation the wearing of clothes is probably the greatest. The Melanesians are ignorant of the real objects of clothing and seem to look on it more as a way of ornamenting the person than as anything else. Of the three objects of clothes--the covering of indecency, the retention of warmth and the exclusion of cold--they understand the first. But so do many heathen, for islands are not lacking where some sort of clothing which is entirely adequate is worn. Those islands are indeed fortunate where, as in Santa Cruz and the Reef Islands and Ticopia, the people make their own clothes, the men wearing a loin-cloth and the women a modest skirt. These people need nothing else. And where calico is required owing to the absence of the home-made article, the very scantiest supply is amply sufficient. European clothes are unnecessary and are a source of disease. Moreover they are worn without any system of consistency. A man will wear, perhaps, a flimsy loin-cloth and a hat. Another day, a warmer one, he may appear in a shirt in addition. On yet another occasion one sees him in a pair of trousers only. Or again in trousers and waistcoat. Or, if a full blooded indentured workman, he appears garbed in trousers, shirt, possibly also a vest, a dungaree jacket and a hat. Most of the children [7/8] in the Banks Islands seem to wear a singlet in various stages of preservation. The singlet is worn till it is a mere network of rags. The women wear several layers of skirts and often a sort of short bodice. As a skirt becomes ragged another is superimposed, while the rags beneath gradually rot off. Clothes are worn till they cease to exist as recognisable garments. In a climate such as that which prevails here on Vanua Lava the custom is disastrous. The rainfall is abnormally heavy, the average being half an inch a day all the year round. The gardens are situated in the bush miles from the villages and one constantly sees processions of men, women and children going by with saturated clothes clinging clammily to their limbs. This would not matter much if the wearers changed completely when they reached home. But they do not all do so. They will sit and dry themselves at a fire. For a person in the prime of life and in the pink of health this would not be so serious, but it is disastrous for those who fall victims to influenza colds and coughs, and yet have to go out to collect their daily food.

The Melanesian Mission has not been and still is not guiltless of fostering this evil custom. When we read Bishop Patteson's life we see how abhorrent to his mind were "European clothes for natives, but the circumstances of the work compelled him to introduce their use and we read how he himself rigged his scholars in shirts and trousers when on their way to Kohimarama. [The early school of the Melanesian Mission in New Zealand] The fact that the Mission worked there and at Norfolk Island in a subtropical climate necessitated the wearing of a good deal of clothing. The continuation of the Norfolk Island school helped to a certain degree to retain in the native mind the association of European clothes with Christianity. In the islands there is no need for such clothing, yet it is worn a good deal by all our [8/9] teachers, and clothes of some sort or other form an item in their stipends. Individual missionaries have been guilty of strengthening the desire for European clothes, and I have heard of a teacher being rebuked for wearing only a loincloth when coming to interview the missionary.

In our Mission native women, with the exception of girls trained at Norfolk Island, do not wear the full dresses such as are sold by store-keepers and provided for women on plantations. They wear a skirt and a separate bodice. The skirt alone is, to my thinking, quite enough and provides the maximum of decency and the minimum of risk. When travelling through our diocese a few years ago, a doctor expressed some strong criticisms on the over-dressed state of the native girls who had been trained at Norfolk Island. Most women who have attended sewing classes are apparently shy of being seen without jackets on. It is a false modesty. We have to rid ourselves of the idea that clothes make for a higher morality. It is by no means so. A Raga woman in an abbreviated mat skirt of native make is every bit as moral as a Banks Island woman with a bodice and a long skirt reaching to the ankles. Some of the most prudish women are not renowned for a very virtuous life.

In the encouragement of the wearing of clothes we are not the only offenders. The Presbyterian missionaries with far less excuse (for their own work has been from the beginning carried out altogether in the tropics) have taught their converts to dress in European clothes. But they are less in favour of this than formerly. Whilst staying at a Presbyterian Institution recently, I heard the Head express his pleasure at finding that some of the young men at the school were beginning to abandon their shirts during work-time in the gardens. He was not in favour of European clothing but he could not change the rule of the school. The [9/10] Committee who managed the affairs of the Mission decreed that every native man at the Institution should be provided with three suits of clothes a year. The Church of Christ, a recent development in the islands of the New Hebrides in which the Melanesian Mission works, i.e. Pentecost, Omba, and Maewo, are the worst offenders of all. They teach their adherents that no one can be a Christian who does not wear shirt and trousers, and I have heard of their converts actually expressing contempt for our people who were clad only in a scanty loin-cloth. Perhaps longer experience may be modifying their opinions and teaching.

In the matter of clothes, the Condominium Government has given a bad lead. One of the regulations is that an employer of labour must provide each of his workmen with two or three (I forget the exact number) suits of clothes a year. This leads to the prevailing idea among the natives that they must wear clothes if they are hired to work. So it comes about that if I hire a few young men from the neighbouring village, they will march up on a sweltering midsummer morning in January or February, clad in hats, trousers, shirts, possibly vests, and coats. The sweat and discomfort produced by this "get up" must be very exhausting, to say nothing of its unsanitariness.

Prohibition of heathen customs. As one finds that the decrease of the population is not confined to Christian islands, it proves that the prohibition of heathen customs by missionaries or governments does not produce it. I used to think that the introduction of Christianity had some effect in lowering the vitality of the people by making life less strenuous, but I am inclined to modify this view. For a less strenuous life, a life where the struggle for existence was not so fierce, would not result in an immediate and rapid decrease. It would be a long drawn out process and not [10/11] observable for some years. I do not say that the prohibition of heathen customs has not some effect. A great deal of satisfaction has been felt by government authorities in the Solomons at the abolition of head-hunting expeditions. True, it was time they came to an end, but the government when it took away at a stroke the chief occupation of the men, viz. war and preparation for war, put nothing in its place, and now I have heard from a traveller in the Western Solomons that the men simply loaf about and smoke in idleness. A government edict that extinguishes war is not going, ipso facto, to convert a savage warrior into a peaceful agriculturalist. In this case there is probably experienced a great loss of vitality and zest of life.

When one thinks of the prohibition of heathen customs, one naturally first thinks of fighting as being the most anti-Christian of acts. War is carried on among heathen in a treacherous way, though it behoves Europeans in these days to criticise very gently the so-called barbarism of savage fighting. The heathen man has certain ideas of honour and right. When his pigs are shot, or his women-folk interfered with, or the right to his land is disputed, he also, as well as his civilised brother, will up and smite the offender. The fact remains that constant fighting did nothing to extinguish the race. These Melanesians throve for hundreds of years in spite of the barbarities of warfare. It is, I believe, a recognised fact that during wars and pestilences, the birthrate goes up, Nature making good, as it were, for the wastage of life. In times of peace which now prevail we may expect to find a lower birth-rate.

In certain directions in the sphere of morals heathen society was more strict than present day custom. Restriction of excesses was then, of course, a matter of external order and not, as Christian teaching endeavours to make it, [11/12] a thing of inward righteous feeling. For a time at least, Christianity tends to loosen the bonds of restraint, for it removes the terror of the punishment that would have been meted out by the chiefs of former days. An incestuous person, for instance, who outraged the native moral code, would have been shot or otherwise despatched, but now he is still left to follow his evil ways and no punishment follows. Missionaries can wield only spiritual weapons and when these are unheeded nothing can be done. Governments refuse to interfere in internal social affairs. They neither know nor attempt to know anything of them. It is only when a white man is killed that a government official starts reprisals. Now-a-days there may perhaps be more loose living than formerly on the part of young men and women. In heathen times the old men, being polygamists, claimed most of the women for themselves and guarded them with jealous watchfulness. There was not the freedom for promiscuity which is possible now. Whether promiscuity has or has not an injurious effect on the birth-rate is a matter for doctors to decide.

There is no doubt that social life as a whole is a more drab affair now than it used to be. But where Christian influence and teaching are strong there is provided a compensating interest and stimulus which outweigh the loss of old customs. But it is, to my mind, a matter of debate how much of the old order should be prohibited where it is not possible to give Christianity in its fulness. To send a badly equipped teacher to a heathen place to exercise a merely negative and repressive influence is of doubtful value. When his scanty message is exhausted, there follows a condition of stagnation and lifelessness which is neither heathenism nor Christianity.

Recruiting. This has from the beginning been a great source of depopulation. The facts relating to the Queensland traffic of former times are so well known that they need not [12/13] be dwelt on here. But it is necessary to state the case as things now stand. The Queensland traffic is a thing of the past, but recruiting still goes on to supply the various French and English planters with native labour. I am speaking only of South Melanesia. The regulations drawn up by the French and British governments differ chiefly in this, that whereas British recruiters may not engage female labour to be ordinary plantation workers, the French are allowed to do so. Female labourers, according to British regulations, are allowed, I believe, to be engaged for domestic service under certain restrictions. However, the broad difference is that British planters may not recruit women, and French planters may. This causes great bitterness among the British. So much so that there is a very strong desire among them for the islands to be altogether under French jurisdiction. Also they seem to feel that they are allowed no voice in the government of the islands, whereas the protests and petitions of Frenchmen receive a sympathetic hearing. They also have a firm belief that the Presbyterian missionaries have, through the Scotch members of Parliament, a great power in exercising pressure upon the British Resident to restrict their freedom. Many of the British planters deliberately disregard the rule forbidding the employment of women workers on their estates. They do not recruit them in the ordinary sense of the term, that is, they do not make them "sign on" while the recruiting vessel lies off the island from which the women come. They accept them as "passengers" to their plantations. The women of course want to go. They are not forced. Frenchmen at times use violence and craft to get recruits but I have not heard of an Englishman doing so, at least not of late years. The British Government is stricter in enforcing discipline than the French, though the British of recent years have been slack enough. When I tackled the manager of [13/14] a trading company on Vanua Lava, on the subject of the rule with regard to female labour, he told me he did not consider he was doing a wrong thing in employing women on his plantation. On his plantation are a large number of Torres Islanders. In fact, the Torres Islands are his chief recruiting ground and he has had for several years almost a monopoly of the place. He is a very kind man, scrupulously just and upright, and is much liked by the natives. He has a number of young unmarried women on the plantation, girls from Loh and Toga. He told me that he allowed no interference with these women by the men and punished without mercy anyone found molesting them. He confessed he did not do this on religious grounds, of which he disclaimed all profession, but simply to avoid the "rows" which follow a mixture of men and women. But he seemed entirely blind to the fact that he was helping to exterminate the Tones people. He, like all planters, wants strong young people, so he takes as many as will come to him. Among these are a number of young women who have no business to be working on a plantation at all, and least of all as unmarried women. They ought to be at home bearing children. But traders do not look at the future. In the general scramble for dividends, the great questions of the years to come are disregarded. The Tones Group is particularly in need of every individual native that belongs to it, for the decrease of the population has of late years been more and more rapid. Mr Jacomb in his book England and France in the New Hebrides (a book which ought to be read by those interested in Melanesia) makes a special point of urging the temporary prohibition of all recruiting from that group for a term of years to give the people a chance of recovering from the losses they have sustained. In many ways the Vanua Lava plantation is the best the Torres people could go to. It is near and the [14/15] company's launch runs to and fro, so that they are in touch with home. They are given no alcohol and are repatriated immediately their term expires. How different it is with those who are enticed further afield to plantations in the Southern New Hebrides! Numbers of Torres people have gone never to return. Kept in debt by their French masters or tempted by alcohol, they are tied and bound for term after term of service and can rarely get free from the bonds which hold them. The `Southern Cross' has often brought back to the Torres men and women from Vila who have escaped their life of indentured labour, yet have looked in vain for a means of returning to their home. It is pitiful that such a condition of things can continue without any attempt at redress or reform from year's end to year's end.

Infant mortality. This is very great, and, judging by the conditions of native life, probably has been so always. In heathen times, in addition to the ordinary ills that infant flesh is heir to, we have to reckon with the practice of infanticide that prevailed. The custom accounted for many deaths. It is, so far as we know, not practised now, at least not openly. There is no open throwing of an unwelcome baby to the sharks as in old days. Abortion is and always was practised and unfortunately is not regarded as a great crime. It is not considered on a par with infanticide. It is not reckoned as anything approaching the crime of murder. Considering everything the birth-rate seems to be distinctly good. A large number of babies are born and most of them are splendid specimens and often continue to remain so for several months. The midwifery is sufficiently good and the people consider there is very little risk connected with childbirth except in the case of first-born children. Deaths in childbirth are very few. The method of feeding new-born children is crude and stupid. The mother's milk is supplemented [15/16] from the earliest moment with chewed taro or yam. This practice is followed in spite of all entreaties, suggestions, upbraidings and advice on the part of European missionaries. The village dames gather round the newly born and the old time-honoured custom is followed. "We were brought up like that," is their defence, and it is impossible to convince a tough old hag that her method of child-rearing is wrong. She considers herself a living witness to its excellence. There must be some injury to the digestive organs of the tiny infants, one would think. Some no doubt die of dyspepsia coupled with other ills. Only the very toughest can survive. So it has been always, only the strongest living, the weaklings perishing. It is really surprising that any survive at all. Infected with malaria as they are from their first entry into the world, living in smoky huts, irregularly washed, subject to curious eruptions and itching inflammations, there is yet found a certain proportion of children who attain maturity. With proper care many would no doubt survive that now succumb in the struggle to live. One is justified in believing that if all the babies born were to grow up, these islands, instead of becoming more and more a wilderness, would soon be thickly populated. Since August igo6 to the present date there have been about 145 infants baptised here at the school. They belong to villages within ordinary walking distance. This number does not represent the complete birthrate, as some children are not brought at all and others die in the first day or two after birth. I do not think that the clerical baptisms of infants have ever been entered in the register. Of these 145 children, 66 are now dead. The head teacher of the biggest village near here has had six children but only two are now living.

What has been said of the evils of clothing applies to a certain extent to the babies. They are always carried either [16/17] in the arms or astride on the hip or in a carrying scarf and come in contact with any clothing the parent happens to be wearing. The children have to be taken out in all weathers, for there is no nursemaid to relieve the parents and no crèche to consign the baby to while they go out to work. Food has to be got and the gardens, situated miles away, must be visited and the baby must go too. A leaf of the umbrella fern gives some, but imperfect, protection from the rain. I know no spectacle more wretched than to see a tiny child, covered with sores and whimpering with misery and discomfort, being carried on a soaking wet day on the back of a woman whose garments are a sodden mass.

The stamina of natives. We have been accustomed, for I do not know how long, to say that the Melanesians are not constitutionally strong. I use the phrase myself without knowing exactly what I mean. If it is meant that the vital energy of a Melanesian is deficient, then we are wrong in using the term, for what I have said about the ability of children to survive the horrors of babyhood proves surely that these people are possessed of strength and vitality beyond mere muscularity. The truth seems to be that the "make up" of a Melanesian differs in some subtle way from that of a European. It is hard to explain how. One realises the difference after ing in contact with them without being able to explain exactly what one feels. There is a fatalism in their outlook which reacts upon their physical organism. While some complaints, such as a bad ulcer, which would prostrate a European at once and possibly kill him, will be patiently, stoically, and even cheerfully borne and even not interfere very seriously with the activity of the patient, a man will succumb at once to what appears a trifling indisposition. No native will be cheerful in illness or make any attempt to look on the bright side of things. I have never [17/18] recognised any instance of what is known among us as the will to live when ordinary human judgment would pronounce death inevitable. An utter depression and abandonment of all idea of fighting an illness takes possession of a sick Melanesian. They may perhaps suffer in ways that medical science has not yet discovered. Dr Rivers, after staying in Simbo in the Western Solomons, told me that he found the natives often subject to mysterious swellings which he could not diagnose. Perhaps post-mortem examinations might tell us a good deal about the maladies they suffer from. As it is, many deaths that take place seem mysteriously sudden and inexplicable. No doubt many deaths occur owing to the total ignorance of scientific nursing. Again and again in seeing a sick person in a hut, one feels that, given proper care, he would certainly recover and live to enjoy many years of life.

Physically the natives are very strong and in spite of the rather exhausting nature of the climate are capable of tremendous exertion. It often surprises me to see a schoolboy here shoulder a great rough log and carry it a long distance apparently without any great strain. A European boy of the same age and size would probably not do it as easily. And when interested in work or stimulated and excited to exert themselves they can keep on at very heavy labour for a long time without feeling exhausted. It seems to be a habit of some people to describe Melanesians as lazy. Experience has led me to feel that a Melanesian's manner of working is the only possible one if one is to live for any length of time in these islands. The European comes vigorous from a childhood and youth spent in a cool climate to live a life of great energy and unceasing activity for a comparatively short time in the tropics. The natives with their slowness and habit of interspersing bouts of work with long spaces of rest irritate him. From what I have seen of some planters [18/19] who looked for full value for their money, I should say there was a risk of native labourers on their estates being worked too hard. To start at daybreak and work till nearly sunset with only a two hours' break at midday is too much if it is to be continued day after day. I have seen natives under some masters looking thin and exhausted from the prolonged strain. It is possibly this that has made it more rare now than formerly for a native to "sign on" to work for a term of three years as was formerly the case. Now-a-days natives prefer as a rule to look to a local planter for a job. They will engage to work for even so short a time as a month. Curiously enough, the short term man is paid nearly double the money earned by a long service man. Natives prefer piece-work rather than working by the clock, if, of course, the section marked out by the master is not unreasonably large. Working with excitement at high pressure they finish the task before the ordinary "knock off" time and enjoy the extra rest. Where natives work by the clock, a gang is superintended by what is known as a "boss boy." He receives larger wages but does no work, his duty simply being to sit by and keep watch against slacking. It was where this system was in vogue that I noticed the exhaustion of the workers. The system of working might very well be a subject of enquiry by the Government.

Melanesian women as well as the men are physically very strong. I have seen a girl of Hiw in the Torres Islands carry a very heavy box balanced on her head for a distance of two miles along rough uneven paths and rocky coast. Women even more than the men are the survival of the fittest, for no man will marry anyone incapable of working. A girl with a physical weakness will remain unwanted. One would find no chivalrous youth marrying a weak girl to whom he would devote his strength and help. Such romance is not to be found in Melanesia.

[20] It is probable that the stamina of the people is suffering already to a slight extent and will suffer more and more in the future with increasing rapidity in just such proportion as the population decreases. For with the decrease in numbers there will arise the inevitable tendency to close intermarriage. Natives do not care to go far afield for wives and it is even with dislike that they tolerate marriage with people of a neighbouring village.

Unsanitary modes of living. The modes of life remain the same as of old, while the conditions of life, so to speak, are changing. The manner of living needs change to suit the changing conditions. A hut buried in the bush, overshadowed by trees, and surrounded in wet weather by a quagmire was all very well in heathen times. The introduction of clothing is one of the chief reasons why such a condition of life is no longer sanitary. Also with each generation there steals over the community a subtle apathy. There is no need in these days for the intense alertness which was necessary in heathen times if life was to be preserved. One notices that when people become Christians they do not, as a general rule, get up so early in the morning. The softer modes of life need a better environment to counteract their enervating influence. There is need for large clearings round houses and villages so that the sunshine can come in and the air circulate. Some school villages are fairly good in this matter. I do not think the people need better houses. A well built house in the Banks or Torres Islands is really quite an excellent domicile, especially when built as some are, in generous proportions, high and strong. Where the ground slopes much, as in some Banks Island villages, platforms of earth and stones are built up with considerable labour and the houses on such places are as dry as the proverbial bone.

The food also is good and very well cooked. The Banks [20/21] Islanders are, as a whole, very big eaters. They would not be contented with what would satisfy a Raga or a Torres man. The people may be considered practically vegetarians as they eat pork only rarely and as a luxury. Perhaps a more generous diet of meat might help them to make a better stand against the various ills which are now brought into Melanesia. I do not think the tinned meat and so-called "salmon" do them much good. They indulge in these at times when they have money enough.

The people are exposed to infection by mosquitoes. It is a good regulation of the Government that compels traders to provide mosquito nets for their workmen. Natives look upon a net only as a means of getting peaceful sleep. What they are told by Europeans with regard to the Anopheles mosquito, its poisonous bite and its manner of breeding in stagnant pools, is regarded by them as mere tall talk. It is to lessen the chance of malaria that it is advisable to clear away as much bush as possible from around the villages.

Remedies for existing evils. The great need is for Government action, drastic, decisive and immediate. Nothing short of this will avail to save the Melanesians from extinction. Missionaries can do little or nothing to prevent it because they have no power to make or enforce laws dealing with purely secular matters. If the suggestions I make are regarded as Utopian and impossible, I venture all the same to make them because they seem to me the only ones that will effect what we want, viz. the salvation of the Melanesian race.

(a) In the first place we require a political settlement so that we may know where we stand. The Condominium Government is a compromise. But compromises and half measures are no longer possible. Fortunately the British [21/22] and French Governments have now been so drawn together that there should no longer be room for international jealousies. But if the islands are given to the French which, I suppose, is a possibility, I fear we can do nothing unless some strong appeal is made, by people in high position, to the French Government to reform their rules and exercise sterner measures against those who transgress them.

(b) We need a responsible official of some sort attached to and resident in each group of islands or at least to a district not too large to be kept under close observation.

(c) Recruiting should be properly regulated and at times prohibited, especially in the Torres Islands. There should be proper inspection of all plantations and enquiry into hours of work, repatriation of time expired labourers, etc.

(d) Sumptuary laws should be enacted. As has already been mentioned, sumptuary laws of a harmful kind have been made. These enforce the wearing of clothes. We need sumptuary laws which restrict the use of European clothes. Such goods as trousers, shirts and coats should be forbidden, or so heavily taxed as to make the price prohibitive to ordinary natives. The Fijian lavalava might be encouraged.

(e) The sale of all intoxicating liquors should be forbidden and offenders against this rule severely punished.

(f) Government hospitals should be erected and means afforded of getting to them.

(g) Government stores should be set up where tools, soap, and drugs such as quinine, can be bought by the people at reasonable prices.

(h) The natives should be stimulated to help themselves to develop waste land and not submit tamely to remain as servants to planters or give up their land to European speculators. Encouragement in this way would lead to the clearing [22/23] of land round villages. The people might come to see the value of co-operation and so the universal distrust which now prevails might break down. The, feeling that government officials are friends, and not merely policemen, would go far to giving a stimulus to enterprise.

(i) Some kind of bonus might be given to people of energy and to parents of large families.

I have no doubt that some of these recommendations will be thought absurd. But I contend that if we undertake to rule any people at all, we must act towards them, especially when they are helpless as these people are, in a tender and fatherly way. We have no right to assume the position of governors otherwise. We need more than the negative and repressive rule which now prevails here. The Resident Commissioners are more of the nature of glorified policemen than rulers. Their actions seem mainly confined to punitive measures and expeditions. Natives die by the thousand as the result of the white man's acts and nothing is done. One white man dies by the hands of some lawless natives and instantly the authorities are awake, the native police are marched out, men-o'-war steam up, and the misguided natives are hunted to death, their gardens trampled down, their pigs shot, their villages desolated. Of positive help towards a better life these people receive nothing.

As a Church we are apathetic, but we seem helpless in face of the difficulties. We need to arouse in the hearts of all humane people a conscience towards a child race such as this is. Our efforts to help them are at present wholly inadequate and we ought not to be content merely with trying to alleviate the miseries of their latter end. As Bishop Gore has recently said: "The Church has constantly been occupied in picking up the wounded in the battle of life--in providing medicines and staunching wounds--when it ought [23/24] to have been thundering at the gates of tyranny" (Religion of the Church).

Apart from all considerations of humanity, it is to the advantage of the Government to save the native race. These islands without a population are entirely useless. No indentured labour from outside is likely to be obtainable. Recent legislation with regard to Indian coolie labour in Fiji has put the extinguisher on any trader's dream of getting such labour here. If Japanese and Chinese come (and some have found their way already to these islands) they will not come simply to help the white man to get rich but will come as masters in their own right. If they will fulfil towards these children of Melanesia an elder brother's part which we are too supine and indifferent to undertake, then the sooner they come the better.

Project Canterbury