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The Island Mission: Being a History of the Melanesian Mission from Its Commencement

Reprinted from "Mission Life."

London: William Macintosh, 1869.


"THIS evening, in taking my usual walk (to the top of the hill, from whence one gets a good view of the sea), I met three children carrying firewood. They stood aside, as all the people here do, to let me pass, the path through the wood being narrow; but instead of going on quietly, as they generally do, they began to talk to me like the little New Zealand children, with their white teeth and laughing eyes, instead of showing the gravity and thoughtfulness which seems to weigh the Nengonè children down; but perhaps it is only excessive respect after all. 'Lengenge re bua?' (Where are you going to, sir?) for they are all very ceremonious, and I am never addressed with the common expression of 'Huenge?' (Where are you going to?) 'I am going for a walk.' 'May I go with you to New Zealand?' 'What for?' 'To learn to read.' 'What is your name?' 'Keddine; you wrote it down in your book yesterday.' I shall keep an eye on Keddine, for he seemed an intelligent-looking little fellow.

"These people are certainly willing to support [56/57] their ministers. They bring presents of yams, taro, kumara, every day; and to-day our little friend Katiengo and our old reprobate scholar, Uriete, brought me a present of half a pig. I met a party of young men this evening; and as I was sitting down to rest, they made me a present of cocoa-nuts, each one contributing one.

"The native teachers have a very good standing here, and they seem to behave with so much good sense and circumspection, that I can quite safely take them as a guide in all intercourse with the natives.

"One day a canoe arrived form Lifu with some Tonga people from this place on board. One of the Tonga men, Samuela, said that 5700 people at Lifu had embraced the Gospel ('Elenia afi epta lau'). I hardly know how much of this is likely to be true till I can form some more correct idea of the number of people on this island. Samuela is a Tonga man, the son of old Sarai, who was one of a party of Tonga people, who drifted away from their own island some fifty years ago. He makes his arrangements about his work so as to accompany me on every journey. I always find him ready to go, and am glad of his company. He talks the Elzeri, Nengonè, New Caledonia, Samoan, and Lifu languages--none of which, as far as I know, have any affinity--equally well. He is a vigorous-minded, zealous man, was the first in this island to put away [57/58] his numerous wives, is always first in good. God grant he may never be foremost in evil, like many relapsed New Zealanders of his character whom I have known!

"Saturday, July 17.--This is a working day amongst the scholars here, as it is in New Zealand. Part of them are away, bringing food from the plantations, some are washing clothes, &c. This morning I occupied myself in putting up the little printing-press and two cases of type, which we brought from the college.

"Monday, July 19.--Set up the Lord's Prayer in Nengonè, and took off two or three proofs.

"Applications for admission to the school in New Zealand are crowding in every day.

"All my spare time I employ in learning the language. The translation of the Scriptures gets on very slowly at present. There are never less than three of us employed at a time; and as we have two different languages to consult before it is turned into Nengonè, each verse takes about a quarter of an hour.

"August 1.--This evening I went to see Kelesiano's father, who is ill. I find a fine, white-haired old man lying on the ground, with his head resting on his son's arms and knees. One hand of Kelesiano's was supporting the old man's head; with the other, he every now and then broke off a leaf from a branch which he had lying by him, and wiped the [58/59] old man's lips. I found that he was not an Isle of Maré man, but that he belonged to Lifu. They spoke to him in Lifu, and told him I wanted to know how he was. He pressed my hand, and said, "It is very good of you to come and see me." He used to live at some distance; but now he lives in this settlement, his sons representing to him that he was too old to take a long journey backwards and forwards to church every day. I found that his son Kelesiano, and a young Tonga man, born on this island, had been his instructors.

"Some twelve miles to the windward, a canoe laden with Monte Kurabi people has been upset. All the people were drowned but one woman, who swam ashore; but it was to an enemy's country (a tribe at war with the Monte Kurabi), and she was killed. The others preferred remaining in the canoe to attempting to gain the shore. Oh, may God in His mercy speedily enlighten the hearts of these people, and make every little coral reef and inlet what he seems to have intended them for--places where shipwrecked strangers may 'be minded if possible to thrust in the ship!' And I have no doubt that in a few years the whole island will have become what this place is now--a settlement of quiet, peaceable Christians, having had light vouchsafed to them, and endeavouring to impart it to others.

"August 18.--Went to Aaitcheue with Siapo, to see [59/60] a poor dying man. He was one of their best warriors, but was reduced to a mere skeleton when I saw him. Finding it difficult to make him hear me, I asked Siapo to speak to him; and he bent over him, and spoke in his ear such words of consolation as could be offered to a man who had never during his lifetime taken any interest in religion, but who, in his last moments, knew enough to be able to answer the question of 'who is alone able to save sinners?' by 'Jesu Mesia.'

"August 22.--The native missionary teachers, on their return from Liguresaba, said that a sick man had been buried alive there, that is to say, put in a deep coral hole, where if he lives, they will supply him with food, and pull him up again if he recovers. It was a very common practice here before the people became Christians, and I have heard some horrible stories about it.

"August 24.--Started on a visit to some of the heathen parts of the island; Narsilini and Bula, Samuela and others, accompanying us. We were very well received, and Narsilini and Bula were introduced by one or two others who happened to know them, for the chiefs rarely venture amongst hostile tribes, except to fight in war time. I never saw a greater contrast than the wild heathen tribe presented to our quiet-looking, dressed Liguama. The chief received us very well; listened to old [60/61] Narsilini's introduction of himself and Bula, and the two messengers, and said, much in the same was as an English gentleman would beg one to make his house one's home, 'My country is at your disposal, and if you are thirsty take the cocoa-nuts, if you are hungry take yams, and kill fowls--all is yours.' We then introduced the subject of our visit, and dear old Narsilini spoke out boldly, but with the greatest courtesy, contrasting the way in which they used to come, with spears and clubs, and hundreds of people at their feet, with our present peaceful visit; and again contrasting even the way in which we now come, not boldly, and assured of a friendly reception, but rather throwing ourselves on their good feeling and sense of hospitality, with what might be the case were the whole island Christianised.

"The chief listened to us all with the greatest courtesy, and said that all his people wished to hear the Gospel, and would willingly embrace it if it was taught to them. We then proposed to take two young men back with us to be instructed, and he promised to choose out two for us. We then said we were going on to Cherrethei next day, and if he would collect his people in the meantime, we would speak to them on our return.

"August 25.--Started early for Cherrethei, passing though several villages of the Sihmedda (or inhabitants of Himedda), in each of which one of [61/62] the chiefs stepped out, and handed Narsilini and Bula a spear or a long strip of native cloth, or a pipe, as token of amity. In the largest of these villages an old spokesman, called Tebuama, made an excellent speech, saying, he had heard of our arrival, and had ordered his young men to lay aside their spears and clubs, and to meet us as friends. 'I have seen some of you before in war,' he added, 'but now I have a good view of your faces; this is as it should be. Stay with us; tell us of the new doctrine you have embraced; let us all be friends; let the chiefs of both people act together in peace.' On hearing that we were going to Cherrethei, he asked us when we intended to return. We told him we thought the next day, but could not be sure. He interrupted us by saying, 'Never mind; why should you name a day? Go wherever you will; return when you like; be as free in our country as in your own.'

"In the evening all the heathen party assembled for a native dance, at least most of the young men; the elder ones stayed with Maka, Narsilini, Samuele, and myself, in friendly conversation. The principal difficulties in the way of embracing Christianity seemed to be, first, the fear of the neighbouring tribes if they gave up war; and second, a dislike to part with their supernumerary wives.

"The dance was suddenly broken up by the chief [62/63] giving a shrill whistle, and saying, in clear, calm tones, which made me wonder why he countenanced the whooping and screaming which had just been deafening us all, 'Let two men go to the villages of the Sigure-wotocha and Li and Si, and invite them all to come to-morrow to see the Liguama chiefs, and hear the words of the two messengers; and let each man bring some food for the strangers.' A voice from the crowd cried out, 'When are we to go?' 'Now.' In five minutes the whole circus was cleared; the fire scattered in all directions, each little party of men taking a stick to light them home. For a quarter of an hour one could hear a shrill whistle or cry from the numerous paths in the neighbourhood, and for the rest of the night all was still and orderly.

"August 26.--Towards the middle of the day a large number of people from the neighbourhood had assembled, and we had a good deal of talk with the old men, the chiefs not giving any answer themselves, but putting forward the old 'men of words.'

"I have not time to give an abstract of their speeches; but old Waga declared it was easy to give an opinion about the different sorts of food, or different trees, their good and bad qualities; but this was a thing that required thought and consideration, and he could not tell which course to pursue till he had learnt more about it. We then [63/64] tried to press the point of their sending men with us to learn our religion at Guama; and they all agreed that it was a good plan, but none of the youths would venture. The conference was very friendly; and if no other good had resulted from it than my obtaining the names of the people of three of the principal tribes, and making the acquaintance of their chiefs, I could not call it lost time.

"We started our return in the evening. At a place where a cross-road turns off to Guama we all set down, and a serious consultation was held whether Bula and a larger part of our company should no go straightway home, instead of accompanying us to a hostile tribe. We remained perfectly quiet while the pros and cons were discussed, till Narsilini and Samuela, and one or two others said, 'Bahu' (Let us go on). 'We carry the word of God. Why should we fear? Let us go with the rue natta.' This night we slept in the wood, just within the country of the Sihmeddu. The next morning we met old Tehuma and all his tribe, the chiefs, and the 'old men of words,' and nothing could be more friendly than our reception.

"I have just forgotten to say, that at our sleeping-place last night we hailed an unexpected addition to our party, a young lad from Cherrethei, who had followed in our track to go to Guama, and 'ienno ié tusi' (learn to read book). This step he had [64/65] taken with the usual independence of savage life, not staying to ask his friends to give their consent. I need not say he was joyfully received.

"Dear old Narsilini, I cannot express the respect I feel for him. He is not at all cut out for active exercise, but for the last three days he has toiled along in front of us, stopping in places where he has been half afraid for his life, and trying to persuade savage cannibals, very lately determined enemies, to open their eyes to the truth which has dawned on him. I do believe our little trip has been productive of good effects; if we have brought back no scholars, or only one, there must at least have arisen a great deal of good feeling between the chiefs of the respective tribes, which is one of the principal things wanted.

"Sunday, September 5.--Preached twice. Catechised Napai's and Cho's class of 133 boys, who assemble directly after morning and evening service to be questioned about the sermon. Their schoolroom is a cavern in the face of the limestone rock. The boys sit on the broad ledge of rock which forms the floor, and the teachers sit on the broad projecting ledges of the side. In the evening we had a large fire, lighting up the pillars and hanging stalactites of the cave, already blackened by the smoke of fires ages ago, when the assembly probably did not consist of innocent children, but of savage cannibals. I wish [65/66] you could see us. Cho and Siapo in their white frocks and trousers, and the 130 children repeating the Lord's Prayer, almost for the first time in their lives, congregational prayer never having been introduced by the teachers, and the Lord's Prayer not translated. Under the cocoa-nut trees, at a little distance, Mita's wife had assembled her class of young girls, and all around us, in front of every house, was a little company of thirty or forty people, with their teacher, all hidden from us by the thick cocoa-nut palms, but the whereabouts of each class was quite evident from the hymn that began and finished the school.

"September 13.--Started to Siwarcko, bearing in mind what the Bishop said one day, that if missionaries of the present day were to act more up to the spirit of the instructions which our Lord gave his disciples, to take neither bread, nor scrip, nor money, nor two coats a-piece, they would be able to go into places where now they dare not venture; we did not even take a blanket with us.

"September 14.--Started early to Titi, Buama's place, our little party of carefully selected 'eligibles' for a visit to a hostile tribe being increased by the addition of two men from Nungode, and two highly eligible companions from the Monte Rurube, fine tall fellows, in Adam's costume. To this place two men from Siguamba and Siwarcko stations go alternately [66/67] every week to meet a congregation of five, amongst at least one thousand; but they keep on steadily, drawing upon as slender a stock of information as a Christian teacher can well be supposed to possess.

"The 'Titi' is a high, steep crag, rising like a comb from the surface of the island. Buama is a perfect 'refuge for the destitute;' and small tribes and families have assembled round him from all quarters, besides single men who join him, as David's followers did.

"We had to wait a long time before he honoured us with his presence, but when he did, I was agreeably surprised with his appearance. He is a middle-sized, thoughtful, intelligent-looking man. He was very civil, and listened attentively to all we had to say. I could not help admiring the boldness and clearness with which Maka and the Nengone and Tonga Christians stated the reason of our visit.

"September 25.--This evening the joyful cry of 'Koi ni Bishop' sounded from one end of the village to the other; and at night I had the satisfaction of receiving a note from the Bishop, brought by one of our boys, who had pulled off to the vessel as soon as she came near. Thank God, they are all safe and well, and had suffered nothing but influenza, [67/68] which seems to have been felt far and near. We heard that they had been to Futuna, Tanna, and Anaiteum, and that there were two Mallicolo men on board.

"September 26.--The Bishop came on shore this morning, with a boatful of boys under the care of Nelson. The two Mallicolo men were the only new ones, as we had already seen the four little Erromango boys before we were left at Maré. In service this morning, sixteen adults and ten children were baptised.

"September 27.--This morning we chose out the five boys from this place who are to go to New Zealand, the Bishop having allowed us to take this number. The candidates were many; but with the usual good sense and proper feeling of the people of this place, they made no difficulty whatever about abiding by our choice. This time we have ventured upon taking two young ladies, one of whom is to be Mrs. Siapo.

"September 28.--Landed at Siwarcko; and having left all the boys and girls under the care of Mita and his wife, we set off for the Titi, to pay a long-promised visit to Buama, the Bishop having sent a message to him by three young men who came on board the last time we were here.

"Davida and one of our boys went on as messengers, and towards evening we found Buama at a place [68/69] about two miles short of his own village. The Bishop introduced the reason of his visit, that if he had found that the southern side of the island was the only one on which there were yams and cocoa-nuts, he would have gone off in the vessel to bring all sorts of food from Tanna and Anaiteum, to be planted here for the benefit of the Siguresaba; but that he had found there was plenty of all sorts of food, and only one tree wanting--the tree of the Gospel; which had been planted at Guama, and had spread and borne fruit among the Siguamba, but had not yet been planted among the Siguresaba. To plant this tree was the reason of his visit. Buama listened with great attention; and in the course of the evening gave his consent to two out of three points which the Bishop proposed to him. 1st. That Davida should be allowed to visit his tribe, and teach them as well as the Cherrethei people, with whom they are at war, 2d. That we should send two of his young men with us to New Zealand to be taught. 3d. That on our return, in six months, the chiefs would meet the chiefs of the other tribes, either on board our vessel, or at one of their own villages. To this we could get no decisive answer, as it was, perhaps, not very much to be expected we should.

"September 29.--One lad came with us; and it was with very great pleasure that I afterwards welcomed an old man who brought off his son, a boy [69/70] whom the Bishop chose last year, but who was kept back by his mother. The poor old man placed him in our hands, saying, "I have brought you Thamma, he is my only son; take care of him." As his canoe pulled off, he kept shouting out, "Thamma, good-by. Take care of Thamma."

"October 4.--This is the day of the Ladies' Stitchery at Auckland, and we have had an opposition one on board. Our twenty-three boys all want clothes; and to-day we commenced our tailoring in good earnest. I wish you could have seen the sempsters. First, the Bishop, with Tol and two other Lifu boys, basting, felling, sewing, stitching, &c. Each of us takes two boys to instruct and superintend; and with the very few raw materials, like the Mallicolo boys, who do nothing but gape and stare about for some months, one has to make the clothes. My two are a couple of little bright-eyed Doka boys, one of whom made very fair button-holes at the end of this our first day's sewing-school. Sydney had the two Lifu men, steady, slow-going old fellows, between twenty and thirty. Every sailor is also by profession a tailor; so that we had the four men and the two boys all at work, besides Champion. Our whole party at work amounted to nineteen.

"October 8.--Once more safe back again; all our friends, thank God, quite well, and glad to see us. There is nothing in this life like a warm welcome [70/71] home again, and nothing to which I look forward with greater pleasure than the kindly greetings that always await us on our return, when we march up with our new scholars, and some old ones too, to settle down again at the College.

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