Project Canterbury

Essays on the Depopulation of Melanesia

Edited by W. H. R. Rivers

Cambridge: At the University Press, 1922.

VIII. The Psychological Factor.

By W. H. R. Rivers.

THE papers by members of the Melanesian Mission and other workers in Melanesia published in this book show conclusively that this great archipelago is undergoing a process of depopulation. In some parts the decline is taking place so rapidly that at no distant date the islands will wholly lose their native inhabitants unless something is done to stay its progress. I propose to begin my contribution to this volume by recounting some facts concerning this dying out of the people noted by myself during visits to Melanesia in 1908 and 1914.

In the New Hebrides the loss of native population is especially great and is progressing rapidly. Not long ago Fate, or Sandwich Island, had a considerable population in which, as usual in Melanesia, it was possible to distinguish between the bush-people and those living near the coast. Now the bush-people have wholly disappeared and the few survivors of the coastal districts have left the main island and live on one or other of the small islands, such as Eretap and Erekor, which fringe its coasts. In the island of Epi further north, the numbers of the people are said to be rapidly declining. Still farther north the shores of the island of Aore are strewn with sherds of pottery which show the former presence of a population of considerable size; now just three inhabitants survive. In Espiritu Santo, usually known as Santo, the largest island of the New Hebrides, the inhabitants of several villages on the west coast have entirely [84/85] disappeared and their places have been taken by a few wretched people who have moved down from the interior. The little island of Tangoa was formerly the site of three villages, each of which must have been a community of considerable size, for the people are said to have had different dialects. Now all the people of the island live in one small village. At the southern end of Santo the people of Vulua twenty years ago numbered at least 200 according to the estimate of the Rev. F. G. Bowie, the missionary of the district. Now there is only a miserable handful of people, herded together in one village with hardly any children, and they will soon be altogether extinct.

In the Banks and Torres Islands to the north of the New Hebrides the decrease in numbers has been very great. According to a recent estimate of the Rev. R. Godfrey the population of these islands has been reduced by at least one half during the last twenty years. Another member of the Melanesian Mission, the Rev. R. E. Tempest, gives the following figures showing the decrease during the last two or three years:

   1917  1918  1920
 Mota  384    315
 Motalava (Motlav)  697    568
 Merelava (Merlav)    506  467
 Gaua (Santa Maria) 7 villages    229  215
 Ureparapara    169  150

The rapid decrease is ascribed by Mr Tempest to the inhabitants having been recruited to work in the plantations, chiefly of Espiritu Santo.

In the Santa Cruz group, large islands which are said to have been well peopled are now uninhabited, the decline here having been especially great during the last few years. In the Solomon Islands, the tale is less pitiful, but here also the population of many islands is diminishing so rapidly [85/86] that unless something is done to stay the decline, it will soon share the fate which has already overtaken so many parts of the New Hebrides.

The Rev. C. E. Fox of the Melanesian Mission has given a striking picture of the decrease of population in San Cristoval in the Solomons. The Spaniards in 1546 spoke of the large population of the island. [The Discovery of the Solomon Islands, London, Hakluyt Soc., 1911.] At Wango in 1887 H. B. Guppy estimated the population at about 500; now there are less than 100. [The Solomon Islands and their Natives, London, 1887, p. 57.] From one hill-top Mr Fox was shown the sites of forty-six once flourishing villages of which only three are now inhabited.

Since my visit to Melanesia in 1914 the archipelago has been visited by the severe epidemic of influenza which, here as elsewhere in the Pacific, has done much to hasten the process by which the people of Oceania are disappearing.

The rapidity of the decay at the present time has been brought home to myself by two instances which, though of no great value as evidence, may yet be cited in illustration. During a visit in 1908 I gained a large amount of valuable information from two men, fairly young and apparently full of life and vigour, one a Polynesian living in Melanesia, the other a native of the Banks Islands. I looked forward to their help in future visits to their islands, but before I had had time to record the knowledge they had shared with me, I heard that both were dead. In 1914 I was again in Melanesia and obtained from a still younger native a most important account of a district in the island of Ambrim, whose people had been almost entirely uprooted and destroyed by a volcanic catastrophe. Before I have been able to put this fragment of vanishing knowledge upon record, I hear that the witness is already dead, a victim to the scourge of dysentery.

[87] Various causes have been given in this volume to account for the dying out of the people, different factors having been stressed by different authors. I propose to attempt a more complete survey of the causes which lead to decrease of population.

Before beginning this survey it will be well to deal briefly with a supposed fact which has frequently been brought forward as a means of accounting for the decrease of the population of Melanesia. It has been supposed that the Melanesians were already a dying people before the European invasion, and that their decline was due to faults inherent in their own culture. In the first place there is no evidence of any value that the people were decreasing in number before the advent of Europeans. Mr Durrad has dealt with this topic in his contribution to this volume and has failed to find such evidence. It may be true that here and there the people already showed signs of diminution on the arrival of the missionaries. [In some cases this decrease in early times is almost certain. Thus, there is little doubt that the northern end of Ysabel in the Solomons was decimated by the activity of the head-hunters of Ruviana and Eddystone, but this decrease was purely local and had no appreciable influence on the general population of Melanesia.] It must be remembered, however, that the people had already been subject for many years to certain European influences, such as that of the sandal-wood hunters, which were far from being of a harmless kind.

When apologists for the effects of their own civilisation give reasons for the supposed original decadence, these often bear their own refutation on the face. Thus, one writer blames the heathen custom of polygamy, but in the same paragraph states that the practice is confined to the few. As if a custom confined to the few could ever be the cause of the dying out of a whole people. As a matter of fact, the polygamy of Melanesia is very different from that of Africa, [87/88] being so exceptional and the number of wives so small as to have no appreciable influence upon the people, whether for good or evil.

Another cause which has been put forward is the special kind of consanguineous union known as the cross-cousin marriage. This is a marriage between the children of a brother and sister which takes place habitually, while marriage between the children of two brothers or of two sisters is strictly forbidden. This marriage is orthodox in several parts of Melanesia and is especially frequent and important in Fiji. This subject was fully investigated by the Commission which more than twenty years ago inquired into the decrease of the native population of Fiji. In their Report, which forms a storehouse of most valuable facts concerning the topics of this book, it is shown conclusively that this factor had not contributed towards Fijian decadence, but rather that these consanguineous marriages were more fruitful than marriage between wholly unrelated persons. [Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the Decrease of the Native Population (Colony of Fiji), Suva, 1896.]

I shall deal presently with native customs in relation to our subject and hope to show that it is rather the indiscriminate and undiscriminating interference with them which stands forth prominently among the causes of decay.

I can now consider the conditions to which real efficacy in the process of destruction can be assigned. In studying this subject the first point to bear in mind is the double character of the factors upon which fluctuation of population depends, a double character which holds good of Melanesia as of more civilised parts of the world. Diminution of population may be due to increase of the death-rate or to decrease of the birth-rate, or to both combined. I can bring forward evidence to show that both factors have been active in [88/89] Melanesia. I will begin with the conditions which have affected the death-rate.

In a subject in which we can find little on which to pride ourselves, it is satisfactory to be able to exclude one cause of depopulation which has contributed in no small measure to the disappearance of native races in other parts of the world. There has been no deliberate attempt to exterminate the people such as has disgraced the history of our relations with regions more suited to European habitation than the sweltering and unhealthy islands of Melanesia. The injurious influences due to European rulers and settlers have been unwitting. Owing to the need for the labour of those accustomed to the tropics, it has always been in the interests of the settlers that the native population shall be alive and healthy. In so far as native decay is due to European influence we have to lay the blame on ignorance and lack of foresight, not on any deliberate wish to destroy.

In considering the death of a people as of an individual, it is natural to think first of disease. Disease is the name we give to a group of processes by which the size of a population is adjusted so as to enable it best to utilise the available means of subsistence. Before the arrival of Europeans, Melanesia had its own diseases, by means of which Nature helped to keep the population within bounds. Everything goes to show that the population of Melanesia was well within the limits which the country was capable of supporting, but it is not so certain that it was far within this capacity in relation to the very simple means the people possessed for exploiting its resources. So far as we can tell, there had been set up a state of equilibrium between the size of the population and the available resources of the country. Recent knowledge goes to show that the diseases due to infective parasites tend to set up a state of tolerance [89/90] and habituation which renders a people less prone to succumb to their ravages, and there is no reason to suppose that Melanesia was any exception in this respect. Thus the people are largely habituated to the malaria which certainly existed among them before the coming of European influence.

Into this community thus adapted to the infective agents of their own country, the invaders brought a number of new diseases: measles, dysentery, probably tubercle and influenza, and last but unfortunately far from least potent, venereal disease. These maladies had effects far more severe than those they bring upon ourselves, partly because they found a virgin soil, partly because the native therapeutic ideas were not adapted to the new diseases, so that remedies were often used which actually increased their harmfulness. Many of these introduced diseases are still drawing a large toll on the numbers and energies of the people, the two which seem to be exerting the most steady influence, so far as my observations show, being dysentery and tubercle.

A second group of introduced causes of destruction is composed of what may be called the social poisons, such as alcohol and opium. Though it is possible that the people use tobacco somewhat to excess, the only poison which needs to be considered in Melanesia is alcohol. In certain parts of Melanesia there is no question that it has exerted in the past and is still exerting a most deleterious influence, but it is satisfactory to be able to say that its noxious influence has been reduced to negligible importance in those parts of the archipelago wholly subject to British rule, where it is penal to sell or give alcohol to a native. Alcohol is still, however, potent as a cause of disease and death in the New Hebrides. In those islands there are regulations against the sale of alcohol to natives, but under the present Condominium Government they are not obeyed.

[91] A third direct cause of increase of death-rate is the introduction of fire-arms, by means of which the comparatively harmless warfare of the natives is given a far more deadly turn. This cause is still active to some extent in the New Hebrides owing to breaking of the regulations of the Condominium Government, but fire-arms have never had great importance as an instrument of destruction in Melanesia.

I come to a more serious cause when I consider European influence upon native customs. I begin with one which excites perennial interest whenever native welfare is discussed. Before the advent of Europeans the people of some islands went wholly nude or wore only garments, if they can be so called, which fulfilled neither of the two chief purposes for which the clothing of civilised people is designed. In other parts the native clothing consisted of petticoats, loin-cloths, or other simple garments thoroughly adapted to the necessities of the climate. One of the first results of European influence was the adoption of the clothing of the visitors, and clothes were adopted in such a manner as to accentuate the evils which they necessarily brought with them. The Melanesian is not uncleanly. He bathes frequently, and where he preserves his native mode of clothing, his ablutions are amply sufficient for cleanliness. When he wears European garments, he fails to adopt measures, such as the frequent change of clothing, which then become necessary. He continues to bathe in his clothes, and instead of changing his garments frequently, wears them continuously till they are ragged, and even when new clothing is obtained, it is put over the old.

It is a great mistake, often made, to blame the missionaries for this use of foreign clothing. It is true that its use was directly encouraged by the early missionaries, but this encouragement was unnecessary. To the native, trousers and [91/92] coats are the distinctive mark of the white man, and nothing short of prohibition could have prevented their use. Where we can now see the missionaries to have been at fault is that they did not recognise the evil of the innovation and set themselves steadily to minimise it. They should have insisted upon, attention to the elementary principles of the hygiene which the use of clothes involves.

At the present time the influence of missionaries is steadily directed to this end. Having been privileged to live "among missionaries of different schools of thought in Melanesia, I can testify that no subject is more frequently discussed and more thoroughly and anxiously considered than how to lessen the use and injurious influence of European clothing.

Another modification of native custom, which is less widely recognised, but in my experience quite as much in need of consideration at the present time, is housing. The native Melanesian house is usually rain-proof and of good proportions, while owing to its mode of construction it is well ventilated and thoroughly adapted to the climate. Instead of being content with houses of similar construction or with houses of the kind used by Europeans living in other tropical countries, settlers have built houses with thick walls and very imperfect means of ventilation. These have in some cases been copied by the natives, or even built by the missionaries for the use of their followers. Such buildings might have been specially devised for the propagation of tubercle, and if they are allowed to be built will certainly increase the already far too heavy ravages of this disease.

The modifications of housing and clothing which I have just considered touch especially the material side of life. I have now to consider a number of modifications and interferences with native custom which I believe to have been quite as important, if not more important, in the production [92/93] of native decadence. When Melanesia became subject to Europeans, magistrates and missionaries were sent to rule and direct the lives of the people. They found in existence a number of institutions and customs which were, or seemed to them to be, contrary to the principles of morality. Such customs were usually forbidden without any inquiry into their real nature, without knowledge of the part they took in native life, and without any attempt to discriminate between their good and bad elements. Thus, in the Solomon Islands the rulers stopped the special kind of warfare known as head-hunting, without at all appreciating the vast place it took in the religious and ceremonial lives of the people, without realising the gap it would leave in their daily interests, a blank far more extensive than that due to the mere cessation of a mode of warfare. Again, in Fiji, the custom according to which the men of the community slept apart from the women in a special house, a widespread custom in Melanesia, seemed to the missionaries contrary to the ideals of the Christian family, and the custom was stopped or discouraged without it being realised that the segregation of the sexes formed an effectual check on too free intercourse between them.

In the New Hebrides again, the missionaries put an end to, or where they did not destroy, treated with a barely veiled contempt, a highly complicated organisation arising out of beliefs connected with the cult of dead ancestors. In some cases it was apparent enough that the institution with all its elaborate ceremonial was heathen and prejudiced church attendance, while elsewhere stress was laid on occasional revels and dances which gave opportunity for licence. It was not recognised that in forbidding or discouraging without inquiry, they were destroying institutions which had the most far-reaching ramifications through the social and economical [93/94] life of the people. I have called attention to this subject elsewhere in an essay on "The Government of Subject Peoples," included in the Cambridge collection of essay's entitled Science and the Nation. [Cambridge Univ. Press, 1917, p. 302.] I have there pointed out that if these and similar institutions had been studied before they were destroyed or discouraged, it would have been found possible to discriminate between those features which were noxious and needed repression or amendment, and those which were beneficial to the welfare of the community. Even when their destruction was deemed necessary, something could have been done to replace the social sanctions of which the people were thus deprived. The point I wish to emphasise is that through this unintelligent and undiscriminating action towards native institutions, the people were deprived of nearly all that gave interest to their lives. I have now to suggest that this loss of interest forms one of the reasons, if indeed it be not the most potent of all the reasons, to which the native decadence is due.

It may at first sight seem far-fetched to suppose that such a factor as loss of interest in life could ever produce the dying out of a people, but my own observations have led me to the conclusion that its influence is so great that it can hardly be overrated. I venture therefore to consider it at some length.

When you inquire of those who have lived long in Melanesia concerning the illness and mortality of the natives, you are struck by the frequency of reference to the ease with which the native dies. Over and over again one is told of a native who seemed hale and well until, after a day or two of some apparently trivial illness, he gives up the ghost without any of the signs which among ourselves usually give ample warning of the impending fate. A native who is ill loses [94/95] heart at once. He has no desire to live, and perhaps announces that he is going to die when the onlooker can see no ground for his belief.

The matter becomes more easy to understand if we consider the ease with which the people are killed by magic or as the result of the infraction of a taboo. The evidence is overwhelming that such people as the Melanesians will sicken and die in a few hours or days as the result of the belief that an enemy has chosen them as the victim of his spells, or that they have, wittingly or unwittingly, offended against some religious taboo. If people who are interested in life and do not wish to die can be killed in a few days or even hours by a mere belief, how much more easy it is to understand that a people who have lost all interest in life should become the prey of any morbid agency acting through the body ag well as through the mind. It is this evidence of the enormous influence of the mind upon the body among the Melanesians and other lowly peoples that first led me to attach so much importance to loss of interest as the primary cause of their dying out. Once this belief has been formulated, there is seen to be much definite evidence in Melanesia to support it.

Certain islands and districts of Melanesia show a degree of vitality in striking contrast with the rest. These exceptional cases fall into two classes: one includes those islands or parts of islands where the people have so far been fierce and strong enough to withstand European influence. There are still certain parts in Melanesia which as yet the footprint of the white man has not reached, and others where, after successful encounters with punitive expeditions, the people still believe themselves to be a match for the invader. Here the old zest and interest in life persist and the people are still vigorous and abundant.

[96] The other group of peoples who show signs of vitality are those who have adopted Christianity, not merely because it is the religion of the powerful white man, but with a whole-hearted enthusiasm which has given them a re newed interest in life. Here the numbers are increasing after an initial drop. Christianity and the occupations connected with it have given the people a new interest to replace that of their indigenous culture, and with this interest has come the desire to live.

The special point I wish to make in my contribution to this book is that interest in life is the primary factor in the welfare of a people. The new diseases and poisons, the innovations in clothing, housing and feeding, are only the immediate causes of mortality. It is the loss of interest in life underlying these more obvious causes which gives them their potency for evil and allows them to work such ravages upon life and health.

I can pass to the second of the two groups of influences by which a people decline in number, having so far dealt only with those which increase the death-rate. I have now to consider those which produce decline by diminishing the birth-rate and will begin by stating briefly the evidence that this factor has played and is playing a part in the dying out of the Melanesians. This evidence has been gained by a mode of inquiry adopted originally for purely scientific purposes. When in Torres Straits with Dr Haddon twentyfour years ago, I discovered that the people preserved in their memories with great fidelity a full and accurate record of their descent and relationships. [See Journ. Anthrop. Inst. 1900, xxx. p. 74; and Sociological Review, 1910, III. p. I.] It was possible to collect pedigrees so ample in all collateral lines that they could serve as a source of statistical inquiry into such features as [96/97] the average size of a family, infant mortality, and other subjects which furnish the basis for conclusions concerning fluctuations of population. I have found this interest in genealogy wherever I have worked, and the collection of pedigrees has always formed the basis of my ethnographic inquiries. In Melanesia this instrument shows conclusively that the fall in numbers is due quite as much to decrease of the birth-rate as to increase of the death-rate.

I will begin with the evidence from the Solomon Islands. I have a large collection of pedigrees from two islands of the group, Eddystone Island and Vella Lavella. The result of the analysis of these pedigrees is given in the two following tables, which make it possible to compare, if only in a rough manner, the fertility of the present with that of preceding generations. The tables record in percentages the size of the family, the proportion of childless marriages, and other data for three successive generations. The chief difficulty arose in dealing with the third or present generation, for its marriages evidently include a number which, though childless or with only a small family at present, may be expected to result in offspring, or more offspring, in time. A certain number of marriages, viz. 91 per cent. of this generation were therefore set aside as doubtful, as shown in the eighth column of the table. It is possible that a certain number of the marriages included in the childless category of the fourth column may also become fruitful, and there may also be a slight increase in the figures recording the number of children per marriage. Thus, though the record of childless marriages only includes cases where it seemed safe to assume that the marriage would be permanently sterile, the figure is probably somewhat larger than it would be if the record could be taken ten years hence. Similarly, the figures giving the size of the family in this generation would also show some increase.

[98] The division into generations was necessarily rough, but was effected before any attempt was made to estimate fertility. The objections which I have considered do not apply

to the comparison of the two earlier generations, though there is the possibility that persons of the earlier generation may have been altogether omitted from the pedigrees because, owing to the absence of children, they were not of [98/99] social importance, so that their existence had been forgotten. It is possible that this factor may have come into action to some extent in the pedigrees from Vella Lavella, but it is improbable that it has had any influence on the Eddystone figures, for these were collected from several sources and verified in many ways. It is possible that persons who failed to marry may have been omitted, but improbable that persons who married would have escaped record.

The Eddystone figures are more satisfactory than those of Vella Lavella in many respects, for they are based on a fairly complete genealogical record of the whole population of the island, whereas the pedigrees of Vella Lavella are only samples collected here and there from a population very much larger than that of Eddystone.

The Eddystone figures show decisively how great has been the influence of some factor or factors leading to decrease in the size of the family. Childless marriages increased in frequency from 19.4 to 46.1 per cent. in passing from the first to the second generation. As I have already mentioned the increase to 52.7 per cent. in the present generation may possibly be illusory owing to certain families being still incomplete, but this factor cannot possibly explain the great increase in the number of childless marriages in the earlier generation. Equally striking are the figures showing the total number of children recorded for each generation in the pedigrees. Whereas two generations ago, 207 marriages produced 447 children, or well over two children per marriage, the figures for the following generation were 379 children from 295 marriages or an average of less than a child and a half per marriage. In the present generation the record is even worse, only 72 children having been born from no marriages, or less than one child per marriage. This figure may be expected, however, to become somewhat larger when [99/100] recent marriages have produced their full effect upon the population.

The figures recording the size of the family are equally depressing. They show a striking decrease in the number of families of more than five. The last two columns give the infant mortality of the two sexes. It is a question whether children who died young may not have been in many cases forgotten in the case of the earliest generation and therefore omitted when the pedigrees were collected, and in this case the increase in infant mortality would not be as great as represented in the table. It will be noted that the mortality is definitely greater in the case of male children, but here again there is the possibility that male children who died young would be remembered better and that some female children who died in infancy may have been forgotten and therefore omitted.

The record of the island of Vella Lavella in the Solomons is similar in its nature but shows an even more serious decrease of fertility. As I have already mentioned, however, the record is less trustworthy. The island is much larger than Eddystone and the figures given in the table are derived from random samples taken from various villages of the coast. The record differs from that of Eddystone in that the number of childless marriages has shown a progressive increase to the present day, but as I did not know the people and their circumstances as I knew them in Eddystone no great significance should be attached to the figure for the present generation. It is significant, however, that the proportion of childless marriages two generations ago, viz. I2I per cent., does not differ greatly from the Eddystone figure.

Especially noteworthy is the total disappearance of families of more than two children in the present generation of Vella Lavella. Equally striking is the great diminution in the [100/101] total number of children in this generation, the names of only fifteen children from marriages of this generation being recorded.

The two islands which show this striking fall in birth-rate are of especial interest in that in them, and especially in Eddystone, the chief factors to which the dying out of peoples is usually ascribed are absent. In Eddystone, about which a residence of several months enables me to speak with confidence, there is no record of any very severe epidemics. Tubercle and dysentery, the two most deadly diseases in Melanesia, do not appear to be, or to have been, especially active; and though both the chief forms of venereal disease exist in the island, they do not seem to have done any great amount of mischief. The island has never had a white missionary; the people still wear their native dress and live in houses of native build. Alcohol is little known and other poisons not at all, while any effect of fire-arms on mortality is negligible. Few of the people have left the island as labour or for any other reason. All the factors to which other writers in this book ascribe the decrease of the population of Melanesia are practically absent, and yet we have a striking diminution of population, due in the main to decrease of the birth-rate.

If now we pass from material to mental factors, the decrease in the birth-rate becomes easier to understand. No one could be long in Eddystone without recognising how great is the people's lack of interest in life and to what an extent the zest has gone out of their lives. This lack of interest is largely due to the abolition of head-hunting by the British Government. This practice formed the centre of a social and religious institution which took an all-pervading part in the lives of the people. The heads sought in the headhunting expeditions were needed in order to propitiate the [101/102] ancestral ghosts on such occasions as building a new house for a chief or making a new canoe, while they were also offered in sacrifice at the funeral of a chief. Moreover, headhunting was not only necessary for the due performance of the religious rites of the people, but it stood in the closest relation to pursuits of an economic kind. The actual headhunting expedition only lasted a few weeks, and the actual fighting often only a few hours, but this was only the culminating point of a process lasting over years. It was the rule that new canoes should be made for an expedition to obtain heads, and the manufacture of these meant work of an interesting kind lasting certainly for many months, probably for years. The process of canoe-building was accompanied throughout by rites and feasts which not only excited the liveliest interest but also acted as stimuli to various activities of horticulture and pig-breeding. As the date fixed for the expedition approached other rites and feasts were held, and these were still more frequent and on a larger scale after the return of a successful expedition. In stopping the practice of head-hunting the rulers from an alien culture were abolishing an institution which had its roots in the religion of the people and spread its branches throughout nearly every aspect of their culture, and by this action they deprived the people of the greater part of their interest in life, while at the same time they undermined the religion of the people without any attempt to put another in its place.

The other region of Melanesia where, through the application of the genealogical method, I am able to demonstrate the existence of a greatly lowered birth-rate is the New Hebrides. During my visit to that group in 1914 I did not stay in any one place long enough to collect a full genealogical record, as in Eddystone, but I obtained sample pedigrees in various islands which show clearly a state of affairs similar [102/103] to that of the Solomons. I have already mentioned the people of Vulua in Espiritu Santo as an example of a people who have almost disappeared, and a pedigree obtained from one of the survivors well illustrates the chief factor to which their disappearance is due. About eighty years ago, when Santo was hardly touched by outside influences, a man of Vulua named Rathati married. He had four children whose marriages gave Rathati fifteen grandchildren, of whom my informant, a man verging towards middle age, was the sole survivor. Of the fifteen grandchildren of Rathati ten grew to adult age and married, but only two of these unions produced offspring: in one case a boy who died in infancy, while in the other case there were three children. All three of these children, the only great-grandchildren of Rathati, reached adult age and married, but none had offspring, so that a family which was once rapidly growing in numbers is now closing its career with a monotonous record of sterile marriages.

Another pedigree shows a man of Tasariki in Santo to have had five children whose marriages produced nine grandchildren. Six of these grandchildren married, but only two have been fruitful and in each of these cases the family is limited to one. Childless marriages are of frequent occurrence in other pedigrees collected in the New Hebrides, showing that there, as in the Solomons, lowered birth-rate must rank with enhanced death-rate as an important factor in the disappearance of the people.

I need only consider here very briefly the agencies to which this fall in birth-rate is due. It is well known that certain forms of venereal disease will produce sterility, and it is noteworthy that the dying out of the people of Vulua is ascribed by their neighbours to the ravages of this disease brought by returning labourers from Queensland. There is little doubt, however, that if we take Melanesia as a [103/104] whole, causes of this kind are trivial or of slight importance as compared with voluntary restriction. Throughout Melanesia the people are acquainted with various means of producing abortion and also practise measures which they believe to prevent conception, and processes of this kind almost certainly form the main agencies in lowering the birth-rate. We have here only another effect of the loss of interest in life which I have held to be so potent in enhancing mortality. The people say themselves: "Why should we bring children into the world only to work for the white man?" Measures which, before the coming of the European, were used chiefly to prevent illegitimacy have become the instrument of racial suicide.

It is satisfactory that before I leave this subject I am able to point to a brighter side. I have already said that in certain parts of Melanesia the downward movement has been arrested and that the people now show signs of growth. I mentioned also that this was occurring especially in islands where the people have really taken to their hearts the lessons of their Christian teachers. I collected pedigrees from several Christian islands and they tell a tale vastly different from the miserable record of Vulua. A man of Makura named Masosopo, who married about seventy years ago, had three children and nine grandchildren, and there are already fourteen great-grandchildren, with a prospect of more to come, a striking contrast with the impending disappearance of the Vulua family. A couple who married about the same time in Nguna now have twenty-three descendants living and thriving, while in other islands I have records of families from eight to ten in number.

The teachings of the missionaries concerning the evils of racial suicide may possibly have contributed in some degree to this recovery, though I doubt whether in general they [104/105] have been aware of the part which voluntary restriction has taken. I believe that their influence has lain much more in the fact that the religion they have taught has given the people a renewed interest in life which has again made it worth while to bring children into the world.

Until now I have said nothing of a cause of depopulation which has been especially active in Melanesia. The causes I have so far considered have been treated under two headings, according as they have enhanced the death-rate or lowered the birth-rate. The labour-traffic which I have now to consider is more complex and involves both of these factors.

In dealing with this cause of depopulation it is well that it is possible to begin by distinguishing between the traffic as it was and as it is. It would be difficult to exaggerate the evil influence of the process by which the natives of Melanesia were taken to Australia and elsewhere to labour for the white man. It forms one of the blackest of civilisation's crimes. Not least among its evils was the manner of its ending, when large numbers of people who had learnt by many years' experience to adapt themselves to civilised ways were, in the process of so-called repatriation, thrust back into savagery without help of any kind. The misery thus caused and the resulting disaffection not only underlie most of the open troubles in the recent history of Melanesia, but by the production of a state of helplessness and hopelessness have contributed as much as any other factors to the decline of the population.

I must not, however, dwell on the crimes and mistakes of the past. Our object in this book is to call attention to existing evils in the hope that they may be remedied before it is too late. At the present time Melanesians are only recruited as labourers to work within the confines of Melanesia, [105/106] and both the recruitment and the conditions of labour are subject to Government control. Its grosser evils have been removed, at any rate in those parts of Melanesia which are wholly governed by Great Britain, though it would appear that there are still very grave defects in those parts of Melanesia under the control of the Condominium Government. But however closely and wisely the traffic is controlled, the removal from their own homes of the younger men, and still more of the younger women, of a declining population is not a factor which can tend to arrest the decline or convert it into a movement in the opposite direction. Even in its improved form, and limited to Melanesia though it be, the labour traffic continues to act as a cause of depopulation. It acts directly by taking men and women away from their homes when they should be marrying and producing children, while other evils are that, as at present conducted, the traffic tends to spread disease and to undermine an influence which I believe to be at the present time the most potent for good in Melanesia, the work of the missionaries. Moreover, the use of natives as labourers on plantations fails to give that interest in life which, as I have tried to show, forms the most essential factor in maintaining the health of a people.

Thus far in this contribution I have been dealing with the causes to which the dying out of the Melanesian people must be ascribed. To use medical language suitable to such a state of affairs as that recorded in this volume, I have been attempting to make a diagnosis. It is now time to turn to treatment and inquire what can be done to arrest the decline and make the Melanesians again a thriving and vigorous people. If I am right in my diagnosis that the chief cause of decline is lack of interest, it is not difficult to see the general lines upon which successful treatment must be based.

[107] I shall pass, therefore, with a mere mention those lines of treatment, dictated by the ordinary principles of hygiene, by means of which faults of clothing, housing and feeding may be remedied, and shall confine my attention to the factor which I believe to stand first and foremost among the causes of the dying out of the Melanesian--the loss of interest in life from which at present he is suffering.

The main problem of treatment is how far it is possible to restore the old interests, or maintain them where they have not yet been destroyed, and how far they must be replaced by others. As I have already mentioned, there are still certain parts of Melanesia where the old life still persists with but little change. It would be an interesting experiment to see how far it is possible in these cases to maintain the old interests and make them the foundation on which to build a culture which would not conflict with the ethical and social ideals of the people who have come to be their rulers.

To most of the writers in this volume, and probably to most of its readers, such an experiment would not appeal, for it is naturally to the total replacement of the old religious interests by new that they will look for the remedy. It may be instructive, however, to consider for a moment how far it would be possible to modify the old customs and institutions of the people; to preserve enough to maintain interest while removing all those features which conflict with the ideals of modern civilisation. For this purpose I will take an extreme case and consider whether it would have been possible to have modified such a practice as the headhunting of the Solomons. At first sight it might seem a hopeless task, and so it would be if one attended only to the outward practice obvious to the European observer and ignored the meaning which the institution of head-hunting [107/108] bears to those who practice it. If we turn to this inner meaning, the case becomes less difficult. The essential motive for the head-hunting of Melanesia is the belief that on various important occasions, and especially on occasions connected with the chiefs, a human head is necessary as an offering to the ancestral ghosts. There is little doubt that the custom is a relic of an earlier practice of human sacrifice, and the head-hunting of the Solomons was but little removed from this, for till recently it was the custom to bring home from expeditions captives who were killed when some important ceremony created the need for a head. In other parts of the world there is reason to believe that, where human beings were formerly sacrificed, the place of the human victim has been taken by an animal, and even that the place of a human head has been taken by that of an animal. I have no doubt that it would have been possible to effect such a substitution in the Solomons, that officials with the necessary knowledge of native custom and belief, and with some degree of sympathy with them, could have brought about such a substitution and thus avoided the loss of life and money which has accompanied the suppression of head-hunting in the Solomons. At the same time they would have kept up the interest of the people in their native institutions until such time as the march of events produced new interests, including new religious interests, connected with the culture which was being brought to bear upon their lives.

The substitution of the head of a pig for that of a human being would not, however, wholly solve the problem. I have already mentioned that the chief stimulus to the making of canoes in Eddystone Island came out of the practice of head-hunting. The substitution of a porcine for a human head, while satisfying many of the ceremonial needs, would leave no motive for the manufacture of new canoes and the [108/109] maintenance of this industry. Here it would be necessary to provide some new motive for the making of canoes. This might be found in the introduction of canoe races as elements in the ceremonial connected with the ancestral offerings, while to this might be added economic motives connected with fishing or trade. It is probable that in such a process of substitution the native canoe would be displaced by the boat of European build, but much as this would be regretted by the anthropologist or the artist, this form of craft would be probably fully as efficacious in maintaining interest and zest in life and would thus contribute to the purpose which the writers of this volume have before them. Only, it is essential that the change should grow naturally out of native institutions and should not be forced upon the people without their consent and without any attempt to rouse their interest.

In this brief sketch of the lines upon which native customs might be modified so as to bring them into harmony with European culture I have already mentioned incidentally the introduction of new economic interests. I must now consider this subject more explicitly. In former days the chief need of the people outside their own island or district was for certain weapons and for kinds of food which did not flourish at home. Here it is noteworthy that the need for food from without was often connected with religion. Thus, one of the chief reasons why the people of Eddystone went elsewhere for the taro which did not flourish in their own island was its inclusion among the foods which should be used in certain ceremonial feasts, an example which shows how motives due to trade and the interest arising therefrom are often closely connected with religion. If religious interest flags, other interests, which might at first sight seem wholly devoid of any connection with it, will flag also.

[110] At the present time the natives of Melanesia have acquired certain new needs through their contact with European influence, especially the need for tobacco and calico, while in many parts external influence has produced a liking for rice and other introduced foods which have had a most destructive influence on native horticulture. In order to obtain the articles thus needed the Melanesian has to do a certain amount of work, chiefly that involved in the collection and drying of coconuts to make copra. This takes little of his time and has in it little or nothing to arouse interest.

One of the chief needs of Melanesia is that the native shall be given a real interest in the economic development of his country. The Melanesian is a keen trader and there are cases in the New Hebrides in which he has shown much ability when he has entered as an ordinary trader into competition with the European. There is no question that if he were given a fair chance, he could take an important part in any organisation which had as its object the encouragement of native industry. Until recently the missionary societies of Melanesia have made no attempt at industrial development, either to encourage the old industries or to introduce new, and the Government has done even less in this direction. The only neighbouring region of Oceania where any progress in this direction has been made is in Torres Straits, where "The Papuan Industries Company" has endeavoured to give to the natives that share in the management of the industries of their country which is the best means of bringing back the old interest and zest in life. In other parts of the world, and pre-eminently in West Africa, such movements have had the most striking success and there is no reason why the success should not be as great in Melanesia.

It is doubtful, however, whether the modification of native custom and the replacement of old economic interests by [110/111] new will be sufficient to allow the Melanesian to enter once more upon an upward course of progress. The old life of the people was permeated through and through by interests of a religious kind, based on a profound belief in continued existence after death and in the influence of the dead upon the welfare of the living. Experience has amply shown that Christianity is capable of giving the people an interest in life which can take the place of that due to their indigenous religion. Even if it were thought desirable to maintain the native religion in a modified form, it is highly improbable that there will be found people of our own culture sufficiently self-sacrificing to guide the progress of the people in the way which comes so naturally to the missionaries of the Christian religion. But if this religion is to help in the restoration of the material welfare of the people it is essential that its leaders shall recognise the difficulties which beset their path and should have a definite policy in connection with these difficulties.

Few things have done more harm in the past than the absence of such a policy and the consequent doubt and uncertainty concerning the attitude towards native institutions, Where one missionary has seen nothing but the work of the devil in some native institution and has willed its complete destruction, another, perhaps even of the same Mission, has seen in it a means of preparing the ground for the truth and has, to some extent at least, encouraged its activities. Faced with this difference of attitude the native has in his doubt been led into dissimulation. He has tried to combine the old and the new without discrimination and without the guidance which should have come from those whose business it should be to understand the religious practices they were displacing. If a new gospel is to be taken with success to such a people as the Melanesian, it is essential [111/112] that the indigenous point of view shall be understood and that the misunderstanding to which the new views are inevitably subject shall be appreciated. Even if it were decided utterly to destroy the old religion there is no way in which these difficulties can be met so successfully as by a study of the old religion and of the mental attitude upon which the old religious practices rested, for this attitude must inevitably influence the reception of the new religion. If, on the other hand, it be decided to preserve such elements of the old religion as are not in conflict with the new, this study is even more essential. How can it be possible to decide whether a native practice shall be preserved unless the nature of the practice is thoroughly understood and its relations with other aspects of the native culture realised? [I have dealt with this subject in its relation to government in the paper already quoted, "The Government of Subject Peoples," published in Science and the Nation, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1917, p. 302.] Whatever the policy adopted towards the indigenous religion, it is of the utmost importance that this religion shall be understood and that, even if no concerted effort to study native religions is made, attempts in this direction made by individual missionaries shall be encouraged.

Another question of policy which must be faced concerns the attitude which the missionary is to take towards economic development. I have already pointed out the close relation between religion and economics in the indigenous society of Melanesia. Such institutions as the Sukwe of the Banks Islands or the ancestor-cult of the Solomons stand in the closest relation to economic needs and cannot be modified or abolished without producing far-reaching changes in the social and economic life of the people. [See History of Melanesian Society, Cambridge, 1914, I. p. 140.] These are only individual instances of a feature of early forms of human [112/113] culture according to which they show a far greater interdependence of different aspects of social life than exists among ourselves. Even in our own society a new law intended by legislators to act upon some one branch of social life often produces changes of a far-reaching kind on other aspects which were wholly unforeseen when the law was passed. Such interdependence is even greater in such simple societies as those of Melanesia, and it is very unlikely that this interdependence will cease with the introduction of new customs from without. The economic life of the people of Melanesia is being profoundly modified by external influence, but it is doubtful whether the close relation between economic and religious interests will disappear. It is essential that the missionary shall face this problem and make up his mind concerning the attitude he is going to adopt towards the economic life of the people. In the past many of the best missionaries of all denominations have set their faces against mixing economic problems with their religion. It has seemed to them that in so doing the spiritual side of religion must inevitably suffer, and no one who has had the opportunity of observing sporadic examples of the mixture can fail to sympathise with them. It must be recognised, however, that there is a problem and that it is in urgent need of settlement. If, as seems natural, economic development is made the business of the civil power, while the missionary occupies himself wholly with religion, there will be endless opportunities for conflict. The best course is one in which Government and missionary societies join in common council to decide how they can avert the disappearance of the Melanesian. The lesson of this article is that something must be done, and done quickly, to give him that renewed interest in life to which the health of peoples is mainly due.

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