III. Decadence and Preservation in the New Hebrides. By Dr. Felix Speiser.
THE fact that the natives of the New Hebrides are rapidly decreasing in number cannot be disputed. This is to be regretted both from a humanitarian and a commercial standpoint. The greatest efforts should be made to preserve the remnant of the people; and this more especially, as the advent of the white man has undoubtedly contributed to the decrease. Internal decadence may have set in before the settlement of the white man in the group, for the native customs and practices must always have tended towards this; but on the other hand, it is certain that an impetus was given to it by the arrival of the white, one or two generations ago. It is therefore necessary to look for a causal connection between the two facts--to consider the agencies of extermination, and discuss their relation to the settlement of the white.
The islands especially to be considered are the Northern New Hebrides and the Banks Islands; and in weighing the value of my observations it must be remembered that there are no trustworthy statistics. They must be accepted as the personal views and impressions of one who has the natives' welfare at heart, and who has spent two years enquiring into the conditions of life in the group. The writer trusts that most of his conclusions will be accepted by impartial observers, and may prove of use to those who have the right to legislate for the people.
 The subject may be discussed under the following heads: Decrease caused by:
2. Harmful development of native customs.
3. Indirect influence of the white.
4. Direct influence of the white.
5. Improved conditions necessary.
6. Definite propositions.
7. Objections anticipated.
Disease. This subject could only be adequately dealt with by a medical man, but as this has never been done, the views of a layman must be taken for what they are worth; and this is permissible as the diseases are treated in a very general way. Alcohol is included under this heading, as its action on the native is that of a disease.
Diseases of the respiratory organs may first be considered, as they are undoubtedly claiming the most victims, chiefly in the form of tuberculosis, influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia. They are carried by ships from anchorage to anchorage and from island to island, and a slight cough or cold, hardly noticed on the vessel, may and frequently does, develop into a very destructive epidemic in islands such as these which have little contact with civilisation. Certain isolated islands are periodically swept by dangerous epidemics of bronchitis and influenza, upon the arrival of ships; and the number of deaths is often very great. For this cause we may assume a decrease in the population before a white settlement has actually been made, and before the people have become acquainted with European remedies. In Santa Cruz, for instance, where only one white man is at present settled, the population is fast diminishing through colds brought by visiting ships. It is estimated that in Graciosa Bay the population is only half what it was some seven years ago. [26/27] It seems that after some years the natives become less liable to infection, or that an increased traffic makes the outbreaks more endemic; though from time to time they again assume an epidemic nature, and quickly spread from the coast inland, and from island to island. Whole villages are attacked so that hardly a native is unaffected. Many succumb and a tendency to pneumonic troubles and consumption remains.
These diseases have certainly been imported by the white, and are probably responsible for half the deaths in the islands. Obviously, the restriction of these diseases would be a great step in the preservation of the natives. As they act on the aboriginal almost as violently as dysentery and measles, quarantine regulations would be quite justifiable though scarcely practicable. The only hope is that the remaining natives may become immune to these diseases, and may learn to resist them as white men do. Pneumonia and bronchitis are largely caused by the carelessness of the natives--when overheated, for instance, or after a wetting. They drink from the same bamboo, exchange pipes and eating utensils, and thus promote the spread of coughs and colds.
Dysentery, small-pox and measles are now happily rare, as compared with earlier years, when they ravaged the group terribly, and depopulated whole districts and even islands. They were certainly introduced by the white, and that they spread so alarmingly may be due to the causes mentioned under pulmonary diseases, and to the facts that they were introduced to virgin soil, so that the natives were unable to offer a good resistance and thus check the spread of the sickness. More recently, due probably to harbour-control, there has been much less sickness of this nature in the islands; and there is no reason why it should again increase if ordinary precautions be taken; so that this class of disease may be [27/28] disregarded in considering the future welfare and preservation of the people.
Malaria is known on almost every island of the New Hebrides, though of course it is more prevalent in the lowlands of swampy districts. It does not appear that malaria does much harm directly, though doubtlessly it lowers the vitality of the natives and makes them less resistant to other infections, especially when the natives are transferred from one island to another.
It is very doubtful whether malaria was introduced by the white, and in any case it does incomparably more harm to them than to the natives, to whom it may be regarded as a small destructive agent. Black-water fever is not frequently met with, and is consequently of no importance to the race.
Leprosy and elephantiasis have been confined to certain districts, often villages, but are still very frequent and have sometimes caused many deaths. Still, these diseases are not very virulent; or, considering the innumerable means of transmission, they would have spread more alarmingly. As it is, they do not increase the death-rate in any perceptible degree.
Sterility is frequent, and has probably always been so, but tends to increase through various causes which have only recently become operative, which will be discussed later.
The death-rate of infants must always have been abnormally high, because of the injudicious feeding with yam and taro at an early age. But to this must now be added the considerable mortality through sickness, newly introduced, which is felt especially by the children.
Venereal diseases have without a doubt been introduced by the white man. It is difficult to estimate their prevalence in the group, as the natives are naturally reticent; but as [28/29] might be expected they are found more frequently in some districts than in others.
Personally I have met with very few cases of syphilis, and am inclined to think that it is not common; though when remembering the opportunities and the kind of white man who has had intercourse with the natives, and the facilities for spreading infection, it is surprising that so many healthy natives are to be found in the group. It is well known how unscrupulously recruited women are used by some whites, and how they become more or less common property on certain plantations. It is known too that many boys return from plantations to their homes thoroughly diseased. What then prevents the spreading of the disease, and how are we to account for the comparatively healthy state of the natives? It seems that acute syphilis leads to a speedy end, and as there can be no propagation it destroys itself automatically. But in spite of this we must credit this class of disease with a great part of the destruction of the natives. The population of Aneityum, for instance, is said to have been to a great extent destroyed by syphilis.
There is no need to dwell on the evil effects of alcohol on the natives. It kills directly through poisoning and indirectly through sickness and quarrelling. It cannot be denied that whole districts, as for instance Ambrim and Omba, have been depopulates, and its baneful influence has been almost as great as tuberculosis. It is a source of surprise and regret that legislation has failed to suppress the consumption of alcohol in the islands, and that its sale still continues more or less openly. Undoubtedly a determined effort on the part of the British and French Governments would put a stop to this once and for all. It is true that many settlers refrain from selling alcohol, but by no means all do what is in their power to suppress the traffic on the part of [29/30] their neighbours. The only men who have never tired of fighting the sale of alcohol are the missionaries, for which they deserve the thanks of every well thinking man.
Unhappily some of the missionaries go to the other extreme, and consider kava as harmful as alcohol. Kava is drunk very moderately in the New Hebrides, and to judge from the effects on the natives of the more westerly islands, it does very little harm, except when taken in excessive quantities. There are not a few kava drunkards in the islands, but these are usually old men, with few other joys in life; the rest of the people occasionally gather for kava-drinking bouts. Some of them may become drunk (though this does not mean that its effects are as injurious as those of alcohol), but they will afterwards keep sober for weeks. Also the local method of preparation does not permit a man to drink excessively, and in old times kava-drinking was restricted to natives of high rank and to periods of special festivity, and it is still forbidden to women.
It is therefore not right to attribute to kava a share in the diminution of the people; and it is a question whether its use in moderation might not be permitted in order to allay the craving for alcohol.
European food and clothes add indirectly to the death-roll as agents in the spread of disease. It may be observed that wherever the natives have given up the old vegetable diet, and are living mostly on rice and meat, their health is not good. A too-strong meat diet causes boils and other complaints, and the cessation from garden-work deprives the people of wholesome occupation and encourages idleness with its attendant evils. It would be good if the sale of European foods could be forbidden except in times of famine.
Without statistics it is impossible to prove that clothing is harmful, but according to our modern views of hygiene, [30/31] dirty clothing is an agent in the spread of disease. Very few natives realise the danger of spending the day in wet clothes, and rarely change them when wet. Women frequently wear several dresses, which are often soaked on rainy days. The people usually work and sleep in the same suit of clothes. This must be injurious to health, and yet some deny it. The danger is not very obvious because in the native environment there are so many agents for the transmission of disease. Where, however, the situation is so precarious, the smallest detail is of importance, and the wearing of clothes should be discouraged. Traders find a profit in the sale of clothing, and encourage its use; and missionaries (except to some extent those of the Anglican Church) do not disapprove; some even go so far as to make clothing a condition of baptism.
It cannot be too strongly urged upon the missionaries and traders that clothing is unnecessary for the natives in their natural environment. Everything should be done to keep the people natural and unaffected, and to prevent a false modesty and artificiality. It cannot be said that modesty is encouraged by the wearing of clothes; perhaps even the reverse is true. Those who encourage the use of clothing should bear in mind that so long as its absolute harmlessness has not been definitely proved, they may be under the awful responsibility of accelerating the death of these people, whose preservation should be their primary aim. The people do not possess an unlimited supply of clothes to take the place of wet, torn and dirty garments, and they have not the means of mending and cleaning foul clothes. One of the most pathetic contrasts in the islands is the lithe and glossy skin of the healthy native and the dirty, over-dressed Melanesian masquerading as a white man.
The following is probably the order in which the destructive [31/32] agents already considered should be placed, according to their injurious effects on the natives: disease of the respiratory organs; dysentery, small-pox, measles (in the past); alcohol; venereal disease; infant mortality; European clothing and food.
Harmful development of native customs. In addition to considering the diseases, and especially those introduced by the white man, we must study the native customs and determine what proportion of blame must be apportioned to them, i.e. how far the race would have destroyed itself if it had been left alone. There is a noticeable decadence in the culture of the people--a decadence which may date back long before the arrival of the white settler--and this suggests the possibility that the decay was not restricted to the social, but also had its effect on the physical domain.
The killing of widows has been an important agency. Only the widows of chiefs were killed in the northern part of the group, in Santo and the neighbouring islands. In the south the custom was practised in Aneityum, and spread to Tanna, Eromanga, etc. Much harm has resulted from the fact that latterly not only the chiefs' wives were killed, but all widows. It is evident that this custom, by embracing all ranks, jeopardised the race before the arrival of the first missionaries; as it led to a great scarcity of women. For example, on Aneityum the proportion was said to be six females to ten males. But it is equally evident that the custom cannot be old, or the population would never have increased. The custom occurs in Santo in an early stage, and it cannot have done much harm there. It is to be remembered that in earlier days chiefs were not as numerous as they now are; and that the women killed after a chief's death formed but a small percentage of the total female population.
The present appalling shortage of women is due largely to [32/33] other causes, though it cannot be denied that had the practice spread, as it did in Aneityum, the consequences would have been similarly disastrous; but fortunately in other island the widows of chiefs only, and not of commoners, were killed.
The natives have probably always known how to procure abortion, but its practice was always severely condemned, as it still is in uncivilised parts of the islands. During the last generation or two there has been a marked increase, which is certainly not a normal development of the old practice, but is connected in some way with the settling of the white in the group. This will be dealt with later.
In old days abortion was induced by women living in polygamic conditions, in order that they might escape the pain of labour and that the care of children might not be added to their many duties; occasionally as an act of revenge on a brutal husband. But the practice was not common, and there are certain proofs of a high birth-rate in earlier days.
Sterility was due partly to the long suckling of the children, partly to the hard manual work of the mothers; but the dense population of a few generations ago proves conclusively that abortion and sterility did no more than check the overcrowding of the islands. Infanticide was not common, and was the result of over-work, and of the contempt felt for twins, females and late-born children.
But these must all be considered as irregularities; nothing suggests the possibility that they would have become dangerously frequent customs, had not the social and domestic ties of the people been interfered with.
The low birth-rate is due in part to the scarcity of women, and in part to the fact that in each village a few old men may have all the women. It is due in part too, to the fact [33/34] that the girls become mothers at a very early age and are prematurely sterile; in part it is due to the polyandric conditions and general licence. Until a few generations ago, however, the people increased in numbers, and the islands carried a strong, healthy population; so that these agents cannot have had the ill-effects on the population which they obviously have at the present time.
In earlier days sexual intercourse was almost always very strictly regulated; much more so than is now the case. The man had a moral right to commit adultery if he was prepared to bear the consequences; but, generally speaking, the customs and laws of the village made illicit intercourse a matter of extreme difficulty. The men always lived together, and the absence of one of their number would immediately excite suspicion, as would his presence in the women's quarters. Many eyes would be interested in his movements, and if he was detected, he would almost certainly be killed by the husband. The morals of the people are now loose. But this was not the case in former times, when the natives lived naturally; the old customs were adhered to, and penalties were exacted for infringing the laws governing their domestic relationships. Though their system of morality was different from that of the whites, it was undoubtedly a check on licence. It is the attempt to force our views on them by precept and example, intentionally or unintentionally, which has broken down their old system; for where white influence has been most felt, and the old law of revenge has been abolished, the morals of the people are slackest. It is a fact that in some places sexual intercourse was forbidden, even between husband and wife, at certain stated intervals; though of course there were periods of the year when there was general freedom, and the wives of polygamists became the common property of the young men of the village.
 Prostitution was only practised openly in a few islands, and though the public harlot was not unknown, there has been an increase in this direction through contact with the whites. When money passed, this was always in secret. But more generally prostitution assumed rather the form of hospitality, and guests were openly and as a rule freely provided with women by their hosts who, being in a position to make feasts, usually had the majority of the women. So it has followed that the shortage of women among the ordinary men through polygamy and other causes, led to polyandric conditions--for polygamists lent their women as rewards for services rendered, and to retain the goodwill of the young men. It is a fact that the present laxity is the direct outcome of contact with the white man, and is the consequence, not the cause, of the decadence of the people. One of the evil results of the shortage of women, especially on some plantations, is the prevalence of unnatural offences--and this is a call to those in authority to require and provide conditions which shall, as far as possible, eliminate temptation from the lives of men and boys employed as labour on the plantation.
It has been confidently affirmed that the diminution of the people is due to too close inbreeding. As a matter of fact there is an exogamic system which prevents close intermarriage and connection between relatives within certain degrees of consanguinity. This system is rigorously followed. It is very rarely indeed that the bounds are crossed, and when they are, the irregularity is recognised and the offenders are treated as outcasts--in that they have excommunicated themselves from the social economy of the community. Throughout the group there is no confusion, as each individual knows his particular position in the system and his relation to all other natives. Visitors and settlers from other islands take the same status as in their own homes without [35/36] hesitation or question. This system is so nearly perfect, and has been in vogue for so many hundreds of years, that it may be omitted from this consideration of the agents of destruction of the people.
Some think that fighting is responsible for the decimation of the natives. This is true--but chiefly since the introduction of firearms. Fighting has continued for centuries, and yet on our arrival in the islands we found a dense population, where now whole tribes have disappeared, and large districts have become depopulated. In old days the wars were not very serious; the skill of the aggressor was usually equalled by the defender's skill in dodging his arrows and spears; and as a rule fighting ceased when each side had lost five men. Fighting in ambush (the usual native method) was as dangerous to the attacker as to the attacked, so long as native weapons were used--but with the rifle an advantage was given to one party and the terrible war of extermination began, which has reduced the people in some parts to a tithe of their former strength. Killing became a regular sport.
The same may be said of murder. There have always been quarrels, and these from time immemorial have ended in bloodshed. It cannot be said that new and more effective poisons and other means of committing murder have been introduced; but new subjects for quarrel have arisen, and the consequence is that since the white man's arrival, murders have become more common in some parts of the New Hebrides. This will be considered again later, but for the present it is sufficient to bear in mind the fact that internecine warfare and secret murder could not possibly have depopulated these islands if ordinary native weapons had continued to be used, as was the case, when the people flourished and the population was dense.
It seems that no one of these so-called destructive agents [36/37] can truly be said to have had a real part in the present sad condition of the people. If their marriage, social, and domestic systems had not been interfered with, they would have continued to increase and multiply as in former years. So it must be frankly owned that the native is not responsible for his own disappearance, and we must go on to consider the effect of extraneous circumstances, and especially the influence of the white immigrant on the people of these islands.
Indirect influence of the white. This influence manifests itself principally in the loosening of the social ties which formerly kept the people under restraint. There has never been a definite prohibition of many of the old customs and habits of the natives, but contact with the white man has led to a steady depreciation of the social organisations of the people, together with a pitiable attempt to ape the white man. A native race soon becomes aware of the weakness of its civilisation, and naturally becomes the more dissatisfied the longer the superior race refuses to incorporate the inferior into its own system. In the New Hebrides we have an extreme example of tardiness in incorporating the weaker race, and a consequent disturbance of former conditions with a lack of efficient substitutes to preserve order. We can imagine an ideal contact between a low and a high standing race, where the former would not receive injurious elements from the latter (as for example disease and fire-arms); but we cannot picture an intercourse where the lower people would not be forced to compare their own organisations with those of the superior people, with the consequent contempt for their own. This subtle influence of the whites on the social condition of the natives must be followed out carefully. The chiefs were both respected and feared by the people--respected because of their supposed supernatural [37/38] powers. The white man scarcely discriminated between the chief and his people, and certainly never respected him, or feared his knowledge of the unseen. He protected himself with his superior weapons, and had the moral support of his man-o'-war behind him. He proved himself the stronger, without having to resort to magic and witchcraft. The chief's power was undermined, and faith in the supernatural was broken down. In a civilisation built on belief in the unseen, and ordered by the power of the chief, the white man's advent was followed by the gravest consequences. Secret ceremonies of the utmost importance to the natives were laughed at by the white; old customs were treated with scant respect; and social institutions (e.g. the Suqe and Qat--native "clubs") were degraded by the rudeness and ignorance of the white, and by his discouragement of native etiquette among his own boys. Thus the white man usurped the place of the chief and disparaged the social economy of the natives.
Again, the white man could not be touched by the native charms; he entered with impunity the most holy places; he was present at the most awful ceremonies, and handled the most sacred objects, which hitherto only natives of the highest ranks had been allowed to see--and he always came out unscathed. He proved himself superior to the religious system of the people on every occasion. As a necessary consequence, faith in their ghosts and spirits was weakened, and sceptics began to ask if there really was anything in their system after all.
Later, natives returned home from centres of white civilisation, where they had been impressed by the superiority of the white man and the comparative magnitude of his works. They had adapted themselves to the white man's mode of life, and on return to their homes were sadly [38/39] impressed with the comparative emptiness of their own civilisation. They could not continue to respect the chief and fear his power. Imagining themselves somewhat superior to those who had stayed at home, they endeavoured to take the place of the chief, and succeeded in still further undermining his power--in a word they became anarchists. The valuable tusked pigs, the means by which higher rank could be obtained might now be procured by young men with the money they had earned on plantations in Queensland and Fiji; and positions, formerly filled by old men after a life of shrewdness and intrigue, might now be filled by young men, possessing none of the secrets of that strength which had made the earlier chiefs a real power, and worthy of respect.
Every third man became a sort of chief; and the old "caste" system which hitherto had resulted in men of strong personality and character filling the office of chief was swept away without a thought. Old sacred practices--cannibalism, vendetta, widow-killing, etc.--were forbidden by missionaries and others, much to the disgust and chagrin of the old chiefs. They found, on the other hand, that all the old restraints and checks on licence and immorality had gone, and that there was a dissolution of all that had kept the people together and prevented excess. On the other hand, they found their own power was undermined and that they were quite unable to cope with the changes in the old order. They may have put forth their best efforts to arrest the downfall of the native institutions, but opposition daily became stronger and they themselves less able to offer resistance. Patriotism and loyalty were now things of the past, and all the cords which had united the people into a community and a tribe under a recognised head were snapped; and it became easy for each man to follow his own [39/40] inclinations, without thought of the public good and the honour of the tribe.
It cannot be pretended that the chiefs were perfect. They were often tyrants of the first order; but they certainly preserved discipline and put down insubordination. They controlled the affairs of their districts, and in a modest way administered justice; as far as possible they eliminated disturbing elements which tended to diminish the fighting power of the tribe. With their downfall, young hot-headed youths came into power; and instead of aiming at the preservation of the tribe, each strove for the place of the ousted chief, with a natural increase in lawlessness, feuds and murder--which increase was unfortunately enhanced by the simultaneous introduction of fire-arms. Whilst formerly war was discussed by the assembly of the men, and the strength of the tribe was carefully estimated, now the individual did not hesitate to involve the whole village in his own affairs and make it responsible for his misdeeds. The villagers had perforce to take sides, family ties were broken, and the people began to split off into the small hamlets one sees to-day. These small bodies of natives are demoralised and dejected. They have none of the tribal traditions and old associations left. They are convinced that their days are numbered; that they have no future as a race; that they are neither wanted nor needed. What wonder is it that, discouraged and dispirited, the women refuse the cares of motherhood, and the men do nothing to preserve the old traditions and customs, to keep the sacred buildings in repair and provide for future generations? Is it fair to draw attention to the increase of lawlessness, where the people have no law--to the increase in immorality and infanticide, where there is nothing to deter them, and so little to encourage them to live for the future? Is it necessary to pursue the [40/41] question further, or is it granted that the white man has had some share in the deterioration of this people and the depopulation of the islands?
If this is granted, it must be owned that we must do something to counteract the prevailing anarchy. It remains as the first duty of those who have helped to bring about this most deplorable state of affairs--be they government officials, missionaries, or planters--to make every attempt to restore to the people the comparative liberty and security of earlier days by re-establishing the old authority of the chief; or if this is impossible (as it probably is) by giving them as a sufficient substitute the law of the white man in its entirety, based on a sensible appreciation of native requirements. Besides this, something must be given them to fill the vacancy in their lives we have caused by ridiculing the objects on which their faith was centred. Instruction on a religious basis seems the best way of providing them with an ideal to aspire to. With this and a restoration of law, the people will be given an object in life, and a reason for preserving their old traditions and customs for future generations.
Direct influence of the white. There are five classes of white men who directly influence the natives--recruiters, traders, planters, missionaries, and government officials, and it remains for us to consider the influence they respectively exert on the people.
It is unnecessary to recall how recruiting was carried on in early days; or to dwell on present-day recruiting; as to how far the laws which are supposed to regulate it are respected. It is proposed rather to examine the effects of recruiting on the people as it is carried out to-day under "Condominium control."
The native engages himself to work (generally for three [41/42] years) to a certain master for a certain wage; and the employer promises to provide food, lodging, medicines, and--it is understood--safety.
The motives for going to work on plantations given by the natives are: (I) curiosity to see the world and to enjoy the supposed freedom of plantation life; (2) desire for money; (3) to escape persecution and punishment for lawlessness. These motives are not bad in a wild country or in a new colony, where by engaging as labour the people can travel and see something of the world. But the system has very unsettling effects in a newly pacified group like the New Hebrides.
The opportunity to travel has long since lost its attraction, for the native can satisfy his globe-trotting instincts by sailing in safety from island to island in his own boat. It is very seldom indeed that a native is so simple as to be coaxed by a recruiter to share in the "jolly" life on a plantation.
The need of money is not felt except in a few districts where coconuts are scarce, and the people can make considerably more from the sale of copra than on the plantations, and the natural inclination is surely to get the most they can in the easiest way.
There remains then the third as the principal reason for recruiting, i.e. the evasion of persecution and punishment, or to put it in other words, the present system is based on entirely wrong principles, for it protects outlaws on the one hand, and encourages lawlessness on the other. Many boys are not happy in their own homes, because for some reason they do not fit into the village life. Others are not safe because they are continuously running foul of native laws and customs. Often a boy recruits with a woman, perhaps because of some quarrel of hers with her husband, perhaps because he has wronged her. For various causes large [42/43] numbers of natives desire to leave their homes for a time, and the recruiting vessels give them the opportunity they need to disappear till time has healed their differences.
On the one hand, we have the Government administering law and the missions striving to pacify the islands, and on the other, a body of men who benefit by every unlawful act and every trouble and disorder in the native life. It is no wonder that these two parties are opposed to each other, and that the progress of civilisation is so tardy. The missions are often accused of acting against the recruiters, but it is patent that if the islands are to be pacified, the natives must be kept at home. The quieter the islands, the less chance have recruiters to obtain labour, but it is scarcely fair to blame the missionaries for withholding their boys from the plantations. That disorder is the best friend of the recruiter is shown by the fact that the vessels collect where there is least civilisation and where there is discord and strife. If there is peace and order they must perforce create troublee.g. they must distribute alcohol and fire-arms, and be on the spot to collect the fugitives from native justice. As an outcome of this, there is bad feeling towards the whites as a whole; for the elder natives have a grievance in that the boys and girls have left without their permission.
Then again, the term of engagement is too long. Few natives realise what they do when they sign for three years, for the native does not think in years. They become estranged from their homes. Their relatives die, and perhaps their village may disappear. They forget their old mode of life and become attached to the "freer" life of the plantation. Their gardens become overgrown; their houses fall into decay; their possessions fall into other hands; they are forgotten. If they return at all, they find themselves with a certain sum of money and a miscellaneous collection of [43/44] gaudy articles, but homeless and friendless. Having no gardens they are dependent on the hospitality of others, and soon realise that they are a burden and not wanted. The consequence is that they again recruit on the first vessel that puts in an appearance. They may be extremely useful for the upkeep of the plantations where they are employed, but as far as the upkeep of the native race is concerned they are absolutely useless.
Another point is to be remembered. When escape from punishment is made so easy, is it not a strong encouragement to lawlessness in the islands? The recruiting vessel is a city of refuge for the offender, and this he knows before he commits a crime; and the question may be asked, does he not sometimes commit a crime because he knows it?
The question of the mortality of recruits should be treated under the head of plantations, but it must be stated that the proportion of natives who return to their homes at the expiration of their term of service is very small, although there are unfortunately no statistics to prove the statement. One French plantation is said to have a mortality of 40 per cent. per annum, and another to return only io per cent. of the number recruited. It is impossible to pretend that such a large proportion would have died in their own homes.
The natives who are recruited are lost for production of children, and generally they are the flower of the people. The islands cannot stand this continual drainage. Villages are known where all the youths have gone, and only the aged and the children are left to keep the village in good order. In S. Omba very many young women have gone to the plantations, and have only returned when too old for child-bearing. The lee sides of most islands are the more sparsely populated, because recruiting ships invariably anchor there; and places which were once the best recruiting [44/45] areas are now nearly depopulated. Only districts not regularly visited by recruiters still carry a good population.
It is frankly acknowledged that much of the sad picture thus drawn is the outcome of the old "black-birding" methods of recruiting, and that now, as a rule, recruiting is much better regulated, and the "labour" receives much more attention and kindness than in former days; but those who desire the preservation of the natives cannot hope that a system which has so many "possibilities" for unscrupulous men and is based on unsound principles can long be allowed to interfere with the natural development of the islands.
Trading frequently goes together with planting, but their effect may be treated separately.
Copra-trading is good in that it induces the natives to work, but it has its bad side in that the trader pays in kind; or--what amounts to the same thing--prefers to pay in kind; and creates as much as possible false needs, e.g. calico, kerosene, ironmongery, clothing and food. ["Copra" is a staple product, simply prepared from the coconut.] If the native could be forced to retain his old way of living, there would be a guarantee that he would be compelled to work in his own garden and grow his own food. Now he has only to make a little copra and change it at the trader's for rice and tinned meat.
Competition between the traders is so keen that the price given for copra has risen greatly; and this has had a bad effect on the people, in that they earn money much too easily, and consequently do not value it as they should. They spend it freely on any fancy which strikes them and have no idea of thrift and economy. They never accumulate sufficient to procure tools, implements, or stock. If money was not so easily earned, it would not be spent so thoughtlessly. On the one hand, it would become necessary for the [45/46] native to work hard to supply his needs; and on the other, it would make life much easier for the new settler, who is largely dependent on his copra trade until his coconuts come into bearing. In the interest of natives and traders alike it would be well if the Government would fix a maximum price for copra, and a maximum price for labour.
The planter exerts greater influence than the trader, as he brings his personality to bear on the lives of the boys and girls in his employ. A well-meaning man with ordinary commonsense can exert a good influence on his "labour." They are well-fed, clothed and housed, and live a regular life in clean and healthy surroundings. The natives return at the expiration of say three years, much improved by their stay on the plantation. Some learn to bake, build, tend horses, etc., and other trades; and, better still, the wholesome lesson that they have a place to fill in the world. But the evil influence of the unprincipled planter cannot be estimated. The labourers are badly treated. They are over-worked and under-fed, and crowded together in insanitary huts. There is never any discipline or control, and on leaving they are defrauded of their wages, and frequently kept long after the expiration of the time they have agreed to serve.
They learn all the rudeness of speech and behaviour of the baser kind of white planter; and by observing and imitating his vicious life, lose all respect for the white man, and all faith in religious influences.
But these are irregularities. They are abuses which might be stopped by efficient Government control, so that plantation life might well become a most useful experience in the life of the people.
It is not the fault of the planter that the native so soon forgets what good he had derived from his stay on the plantation. He comes into contact with his old conditions, [46/47] and as his civilisation has not gone deep, he soon reverts to his native mode of life. There must, however, be something of refinement left which might prove to be a foundation on which to build up a stronger, more intelligent race of people in years to come.
If anything is strongly criticised it is the work which is being done by the missionaries in these islands. A body which makes the material and spiritual welfare of the natives its chief aim and object, works on a basis which is strange to all economic interests, and must be prepared for adverse criticism. Missionaries work for the salvation of the natives, and in consequence must at times come into conflict with the white settler.
It is unnecessary to speak of all the missions and the many denominations at work in the group. It will suffice for the purpose of the argument of this paper to refer to the work and influence of the Presbyterian Mission, which is the strongest mission in the New Hebrides.
The success of the Mission on the spiritual lives of the natives has no place in the matter under consideration, but it will be convenient to mention some of the successes and failures of the Mission with regard to the material welfare of the race during the fifty or sixty years it has worked in the group.
The Mission alone perseveres in the attempt to put down the use of alcohol; and it is entirely due to missionary enterprise that, though not completely stopped, the sale has been prohibited by law. It is due to the Mission that the labour traffic has been regulated and is now under some control, and it is not the fault of the missionaries that the improvement came somewhat late, and is not entirely satisfactory. They and their native teachers have penetrated far inland where the threat of the man-o'-war has no restraining power; [47/48] and their determined effort to pacify the natives has made it possible for planters and settlers to live unharmed. They have built several hospitals where the Mission doctors and nurses work with great devotion and splendid success; and they have built many churches and school-houses, and taught many hundreds of natives to read and write. That the motives of the missionaries are good can never be doubted, and that their success has been great is an unquestioned fact; but it is true that the methods employed are not always wise, or based on a careful study of the requirements of the people. It must be admitted that the Mission has failed to preserve the people. On very few stations has a serious attempt been made, for generally the missionary has limited himself to purely spiritual assistance. Where the attempt has been made, it has become abortive through the subtle influence of the "world." Mission stations may be regarded as creations of the missionary, where their word is law; but on examination we must acknowledge that few of them are as clean and healthy as they might be, and that the mortality is scarcely less than in the bush, and the birth-rate is certainly no better than in the inland villages. [For evidence to the contrary, see p. 104. (ED.)] As has been shown, the tendency of the natives is to adopt the white man's mode of life, food and clothing, and this tendency has frequently been encouraged by the missionaries. The natives are urged to use clothes and European food, and the neglect of their own industries and gardens naturally follows. It would seem to be a plain duty for the missionary to right this tendency in order to preserve the native. The life of the native on the station should prepare him to be independent of the white, and he should be given regular occupation and fitted to help other natives to live a natural, simple life. He is not compelled to work on the [48/49] mission station, though presumably work is a component part of Christianity. The irritation of the planter in need of labour is excusable, when he sees lazy men idling away their time on the Mission reserves. It would certainly be an advantage to all parties if the Mission could so alter its methods as to include the interest of the white settler, even at the risk of introducing the natives to new temptations.
The ideal of many missionaries is to isolate their people from the influence of the world and keep them from contamination in Utopian conditions of perfection. But surely this is an impossible ideal; surely it is impossible to separate the people from the world and its temptations; and has a morality without temptation any reality and depth?
And the Mission school villages (i.e. as distinct from the head stations) can scarcely lay claim to any moral superiority. Intrigue and quarrels are not unknown, and their prevalence depends for the most part on the character of the native teachers in charge, who, frequently enough, keep their own interests in view and let the village affairs go as they will, or bully the people and lord it over them. The native needs a firm hand to keep him in check, but it must be a hand controlled by commonsense and justice. Formerly death was the punishment for heinous crimes, but now excommunication is substituted, and excommunication is not death. In this respect the influence of the Mission is similar to that of the recruiters, as it keeps an offender out of the reach of native law. It is regrettable that this should be so, and that the native teachers should have control of secular as well as spiritual matters, for it gives too much power for one native to have. But in this the Mission cannot be blamed, especially as in the northern portion of the group there are no real chiefs to assist in the government of the [49/50] villages. The power of the chief depends on his knowledge of witchcraft and magic, and this power falls with his conversion, so that the native teacher has complete control of the village, and may use or abuse his opportunities for bettering the condition of the people.
Undoubtedly, it is a mistake to concentrate on the seashore, for many family and home ties are thereby stopped, and the new village is simply a collection of individuals with little in common and with no tribal enthusiasm. The feeling of homelessness, of being guests, produces a restlessness and insecurity which become chronic, though the people do not ascribe them to the break with their old way of life.
It may be said in summing up, that despite its good work, the Mission has perhaps interfered too much with the integral life of the people, instead of confining its beneficence to the religious domain. This may have been essential in days gone by when there was no Government control, but now!the time has come to surrender secular affairs to the secular powers.
The Government has so far had practically no influence on the lives of the people. The roan-o'-war occasionally threatens offenders and so gives weight to the arguments of peace-makers, and also deters the natives from over-impudent murder of white settlers by removing those who are clumsy, enough to be caught. But the influence of the Government does not carry any further inland than the report of its guns. Only in the matter cf recruiting can it be said that the natives are protected, and this statement only applies to the British Government. The native is unknown to the Government except as a recruit or a malefactor. No interest is taken in the people as a people. No attempt is made to better the condition in which they live. No effort is made to break down the centres of lawlessness, [50/51] which are a continual danger to the coast tribes. For nine-tenths of the people government does not exist.
Summary and exceptions. We have now named all the factors which have operated on the once flourishing population of the New Hebrides during the past few generations, and have found that new diseases have been introduced; that certain customs have developed deleteriously through the introduction of new causes for quarrel and new means of adjusting it; that the white man has had an indirect influence in sapping the native life of its essentials, and a direct influence in making the life of the people more complex and difficult. It has also been pointed out that these observations apply chiefly to the islands in the north of the group. In the south the people are different in many respects, and have different customs, so that some of the remarks are not applicable to them, and they do not apply in toto to certain of the northern islands. For instance, there are certain islands, which seem to have survived the first contact with civilisation, where the population is now increasing, as for instance, Tanna, Malo, Paama, Merelava, and probably Tongoa. These are pleasant exceptions, and by tracing the course of improvement on one of them some hints may be gathered for use in arresting the decay of others.
Tanna was once an overcrowded island. It was almost depopulated by wars and recruiting (chiefly to Noumea) in a single generation. The Presbyterian missionaries succeeded in pacifying and Christianising the greater part of the island, and in checking the deportation of natives. The chiefs worked with the missionaries; and here their tenure of office is not dependent on knowledge of magic and the performance of religious rites. The chief's authority is based on hereditary principles, so that he does not lose his office on conversion. When a chief was converted he added his influence as chief [51/52] to that of the Mission, so that he retained his authority and power over the people but used it in the interest of the Mission. Anarchy did not follow, but corporate tribal action under the chief continued as of yore. The white settlers were well disposed to the Mission, and the missionaries were discreet and allowed the development of the people to proceed naturally. A hospital was established, roads were constructed and maintained by natives under discipline. Confidence was felt in the missionaries, their advice was followed, and changes in the native mode of life were made where necessary. Old, infected huts were replaced by dry and airy houses on suitable sites, and the natives were taught to live simply in the native way, and to wear the modest loin-cloth only, except on Sundays. The health of the people improved. They became interested in their villages and vied with each other in keeping their houses neat and clean. New hope was infused into them, the birth-rate increased, and now the people are sufficiently strong, both morally and physically, to live without a resident missionary. It is true that everything favoured the efforts of the missionaries, and that the chiefs were men of real power and the people of superior intelligence; but the fact remains that the island of Tanna has weathered its vicissitudes, and there should be found help for assisting other islanders to happier conditions.
This desirable improvement was brought about:
(a) by patiently convincing the people of the necessity for change, i.e. by making them assist in their own salvation;
(b) by providing medical treatment;
(c) by building new villages in the native style, i.e. as especially suited to the natives;
(d) by preserving the old manner of life, e.g. dress, food, work;
 (e) by recognising the chief's authority;
(f) by reviving self-respect, hopefulness for the race, and a reason for strenuous effort in Christianity.
The following notes and suggestions are based chiefly on the above hints derived from a study of the process of recovery in Tanna.
Measures suggested. Obviously the first aim should be to increase the population of the islands.
The birth-rate should by some means be increased. Abortion should be punished, and production encouraged--if necessary by a system of bonuses. The women should be equally divided among the men, not so much with the idea of stopping polygamy as to insure equal mating. Too early marriage should be prohibited. Weak and diseased natives should be prevented from marrying healthy women. People suffering from venereal disease should be isolated. Half-castes should always be treated as full-blooded natives.
The present system of recruiting is entirely unsatisfactory and should immediately be abolished and labour procured by other means.
It is not possible to return to the old mode of life entirely, but changes should tend to simplify life and make it more natural.
In the first place there would be a return to the old vegetable diet with its wholesome outdoor work. This should be made compulsory except in time of famine.
All products of civilisation, except those which have become absolutely necessary to the natives, should be strictly barred, and the natives thereby compelled to make for themselves mats and clothing, weapons and furniture. They should be encouraged, too, to raise stock and improve their gardens. Thus they would become attached to their homes [53/54] and live industrious lives; and faith in themselves and hope in the future of the race would soon revive.
Improvements in medical treatment should be undertaken by a doctor, and when necessary should be made efficient by law. The doctor should not try to force the natives; but, as on Tanna, appeal to their intelligence, act with patience, and let all sanitary improvements grow out of their own wishes. It would be worse than useless for the doctor to plant his ideas on the unchanged convictions of the people. Though he should have the support of the Government when necessary, as a rule his treatment would be that of a counsellor and patient adviser, rather than of a government official.
This would require an official of a legal turn of mind. It is most important that the natives should be under control. The best conditions were undoubtedly those under which they flourished until half a century ago, but it is impossible to restore the chief and give him back his power. It is difficult enough to find trustworthy teachers, and it would be still harder to find chiefs. But as contemplated changes must aim as nearly as possible at a return to the conditions of happier days, natives should be placed in charge of the different villages, not as chiefs of the people, but as deputies of the Government and responsible to appointed officials.
In considering the welfare of the natives, we must not be blind to the needs of the white settlers; something must be devised which will suit all parties interested.
The necessity of providing the people with medical treatment and encouraging the birth-rate affects only the natives themselves.
The recruiter would protest against the establishment of law and order, but as the present system of recruiting is essentially wrong, there should be no recruiters to protest.
 The trader would suffer from the return to the old way of living. He would lose much of his trade, and some compensation should be made to him.
The planter needs only sufficient boys to do his work. If these are guaranteed to him, he should have no grievance.
The missionary would not be handicapped in his work by means which touch only the secular life of the people, though it would become necessary for him to confine himself more to the spiritual side of his work. Certain sacrifices would have to be made, but no doubt these would be made willingly for the sake of preserving the natives.
The Government would be obliged to take an active interest in the natives, but this is more than is expected from a colonial administration. The conditions at Vila, the capital, should extend to all the islands of the group. This would mean a considerable increase in the staff of officials, and an increase in the cost of administration; and some means should be found to make the natives contribute towards the expenses incurred.
It is most emphatically stated at the outset that the following sketch of an administration makes no claim to originality or to be the last word on the subject. The writer does not presume to think he has solved the problem of the Pacific, but makes the suggestions based on a careful study of the facts already presented to the reader, to show how necessary improvements might find their way into practice. When a better scheme is submitted the writer will retire with alacrity, the more so as he is sincere in his efforts to help the natives, and his one wish is to contribute his quota towards making their lives happier, and restoring to them the peace which they have lost.
These propositions will strike many readers as being directly opposed to the old practices and traditions of British [55/56] colonisation. The war having done away with many an old prejudice and having proved that in special circumstances interference of the Government with private enterprise is imperative and not always harmful, these propositions may sound to-day less preposterous than would have been the case in 1912. The basis of the proposed system is a severe supervision of the natives by the white authorities, a compulsion of the natives to work, and an export duty to pay the expenses of the whole administration.
The islands should be divided into convenient districts, e.g. on a population basis----one large island, or several adjacent small islands to constitute a district. Each district should be controlled by a district commissioner with police and necessary means of transport and communication, and should have a resident doctor with a simple hospital. The district commissioner and the doctor should periodically visit the whole district and take measures to improve the order and health of the people.
The doctor should be assisted by the district commissioner and should make a census of the natives and whites in his district, and keep a running register of births, deaths, and able-bodied natives in his jurisdiction. He should be assisted by native deputies or police, two in each village or subdistrict, one being the recognised police agent, the other his assistant and to act as a control on him. Reports should be made to the district commissioner, but the police should have no executive power except in great emergency, e.g. bloodshed.
The police should receive a fixed salary, and should be responsible for the good order of their villages or subdistricts.
Marriages should be subject to the consent of the district commissioner with the doctor's approval, after the health and [56/57] ages of contracting parties have been considered. Polygamy should be discouraged where women are in the minority. Women should not be allowed to marry at a distance from their homes. Offences against natural reproduction should be dealt with by the district commissioner, acting with the doctor's advice. Gratuities should be made to parents of large families, and advice given by the doctor with regard to the care of children.
The district commissioner should act as a Justice of the Peace; all cases should be adjudicated at headquarters, where the interests of the natives should be protected by a white advocate free of charge. The natives should be led gently and with as little compulsion as possible to understand the advantages of the new system. As little violence as possible should be used in order to secure the goodwill and interest of the natives. They should be shown that they are the inferior race, but should always receive justice, protection and humane treatment, and the whites should receive prompt assistance from the Government when necessary.
Trading should be under Government control in so far as the sale of articles not absolutely necessary to the natives is concerned. The maximum price for copra and other exports should be fixed by law and should not be exceeded by the trader, e.g. that of copra may be £8 per ton.
No white man should engage labour himself and personally, excepting in his own district, and then not for longer than four weeks (or two weeks when under conscription), without the sanction of the district commissioner. He should not be allowed to engage labour at all outside his district.
Recruiting should be entirely prohibited. Government should supply labour on demand of the settler at a fixed rate per month, and should be responsible for the good [57/58] behaviour of the labourers and for their medical treatment. The employer should not be allowed to punish excepting in emergency, and should submit a report of the circumstance to the district commissioner.
Government should compel every able-bodied native over sixteen years of age to work during six months per annum, for a term depending on the demand for labour--say five years. Six months is suggested so that the native may- not become alienated from his home and friends, and may give his garden necessary attention, especially as the sale of European foods is prohibited. During these five years the native should be considered as under conscription, and will be actually working for two-and-a-half years. As far as possible labour should be returned to their first employers, so that plantation work shall not be disorganised more than necessary. Labour should serve as near their homes as convenient so as to facilitate their return, and to enable them to visit their villages on one Saturday per month, which should be a full holiday from work. In this way they will keep in touch with their people, and married natives will be able to visit their wives.
Boys under conscription should be allowed to marry and their wives to accompany them to the plantations, the employers providing suitable accommodation, but the man must support his wife or wife and family unless the wife is employed at a fixed wage on work which does not interfere with child-bearing.
Girls who so desire should be placed with white women and employed in house work or slight garden work until they are sixteen years of age, when they should marry.
Men with more than three children should be free from conscription.
Natives, at the expiration of their term of conscription, [58/59] should be allowed to enter into engagements for terms not exceeding one year, and their wages increased with the permission of the district commissioner.
After the age of thirty-five years, the Government should have no further control over the native with regard to work and wages.
Natives with special knowledge of trades, e.g. baking, carpentry, coaching and stockmen, overseers and gangers, might receive a special wage-rate per month, so as to encourage the learning of trades and skilled labour.
The native should pay no taxes directly for the increased cost of administration. Direct taxation, i.e. a poll tax, is manifestly unjust where influential men can readily derive means whereby others pay for them, especially where some islands have an abundance of coconuts while others are without. The native should therefore pay his taxes indirectly by labour and a low maximum price for copra. Any convenient means might be employed by Government to collect the tax. One simple way would be to impose an export duty on copra of native origin. The same of course applies to any other product which it might be thought well to tax. The natives would not be any worse off with less money and fewer useless European articles on which to spend it. The trader would make more money than he does at present, owing to the maximum price of copra being fixed, and the planter would have regular labour at low wages and be rid of the trouble and expense of collecting it.
The Government should take no part at present in the education of the people, though their education would prove of the greatest benefit to them and to the settlers. At present the crying need is to save the remnant of the people, and compulsory education must come later. In the meanwhile [59/60] the Missions would have an open field to continue their good work.
Legislators and statesmen will raise many real objections to the scheme outlined in this paper. Let its deficiencies be a challenge to them to compile something more practicable; it is the writer's sincere wish that it may be so. It will certainly be difficult at first to organise the system; but British colonisation has, I think, solved more difficult problems.
Objections of a more superficial nature will be urged against the scheme on the score of injustice. It will be asked whether it is just to give the natives so heavy a load, to compel them to work. Work is not degradation, and conscription is no more unjust than compulsory military service, e.g. in Australia and New Zealand. These islands have avowedly been acquired by the simple law of might. Theoretically we have no right to impose ourselves, our government and our moral code on the natives, who sold their land under a misapprehension, with no idea of forfeiting their autonomy and rights. If the fact of annexation is justifiable, it is equally just to administer these islands not only for our own benefit and advantage, but also for that of the native. The only truly just act possible is for us to withdraw from the group, and let the natives manage their own affairs. As this would involve the destruction of the people, the only alternative is for us to stay; to recognise that the people are our servants, and to treat them with humanity and kindness. The prosperity of tropical colonies demands that the native should do work which the white is unable to do for himself. If the settler did not need labour the problem would be simplified, but as he must have native workers it seems that compulsory labour is the fairest way to divide the burden amongst the people, and to make that burden [60/61] as light as possible by treating them with consideration and respect. Besides being the fairest way of solving the problem, it is undoubtedly the kindest; for regular work is the one thing that the natives need to keep them robust and happy. Having disturbed their normal conditions of life, we must now act the part of the kind physician, and, as everyone knows, effective medicine has not always a sweet taste.
It may be thought by some that a simpler way out of the difficulty would be to introduce foreign labour, as was done in Fiji. But it would be as unnatural as it is absurd to carry labour for thousands of miles, when a sufficient supply is at hand and rusting for want of use. Moreover, few foreign peoples could work in the New Hebrides without suffering from the climate.
So the objection raised on the score of injustice should carry no weight, and the more so as irresponsible children are now permitted to bind themselves for a term of three years to serve a man they scarcely know. There is too much injustice in the present system to permit cant at lesser injustices in a proposed system of reform.
And lastly, in addition to the practical objections of statesmen, and imaginary objections of idealists, others who are usually apathetic and callous may be tempted to raise their voices against the changes proposed. These, withholding as they do their interest and sympathy, and incapable as they are of entering with enthusiasm into a scheme for the preservation of a charming people, should at least withhold their criticism, and not bring their opinions to bear against a scheme which though imperfect, may still be a finger pointing the way to something better.