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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.


AS might have been expected, Mr. Patteson's residence at Mota induced him somewhat to modify the rose-coloured view which he had at first taken of its inhabitants. They remained, indeed, friendly towards himself; but he found that though cannibalism was unknown, quarrelling and fighting were by no means uncommon among them, and that there was not less need of his teaching here than elsewhere.

The people of Mota have for their chief god one Ikpat, whom they believe to have made earth and men, night and day, to have had many brothers, who were continually tricking him, among whom one seems to be the representative of evil. One day Ikpat sailed away in a ship built by a man named Marauva, taking with him the best of everything. The people of Mota believe in a future state: they hold that the spirits of the dead range the island in the night, striking with madness all who see them; while in the day-time they go to a region called Panui, whence a wind blows through a crevice in a [179/180] mountain peak. When Mr. Patteson landed, they doubted whether he was a spirit or a man; and some thought that he and his party were the brothers of Ikpat--they had never seen a white man before. Then they doubted whether he were not some dead man come back; and decided that Mr. Patteson must be one Porisris, who had died, because it was into his house that he had entered. At last the conviction seized one man that this was only an instance of a general rule; and lie cried, '"I see how it is; when I die I shall go to New Zealand, and come back again to Mota."

When a person dies, his spirit is supposed to retire within his body. On the fourth night it comes forth, and is driven away by trumpets sounded over the grave and in different parts of the village; and on the next day the yams, pigs, &c., of the deceased are eaten by his friends and relations in the village. Let us hope that in them they find some consolation for his loss.

When enraged or in pain the people of Mota think little of committing suicide, especially on one side of the island, where there is a steep cliff of 200 feet high from which to spring. On the other side the shore is flat, and they seek death by swimming out to sea; but the motion, and perhaps the coolness, of the water, moderates their fury, and when they have gone far enough they turn and swim back to land.

[181] Every piece of land cleared of bush belongs to some individual at Mota; and every person--man, woman, or boy--has his allotted portion of ground, where he can grow yams and his own cocoa-nut trees. Of course, as under the factory system in England, this is not advantageous to family rule: a child of seven or eight years old is as independent of his parents as a grown man.

It is a custom at Mota, and in the other Banks Islands, for people to have special friends, called pulsalas. They are bound to assist each other, and to supply each other, when need requires, with food and lodging (no great tax in a tropical climate). The Mota scholars chose boys from distant islands as their pulsalas, and treated them, in many cases, with most disinterested kindness, knowing that they could never expect to be repaid.

There is a curious sort of freemasonry in existence in these islands, binding men together in a solemn compact, the exact force of which has not been exactly discovered. Almost all the men are initiated into this at various times; and there are a number of various ranks, distinctly marked, in the association, the only qualification for entrance, or for rising to a higher rank, being payment. Little boys, with well-to-do parents, often enter early, and rise high while quite young.

Each rank has its own mess, and to cook or eat [181/182] above his own place would bring a man sudden and terrible punishment. There is a public eating-house, divided into compartments, each with its separate hearth, for the different ranks of members. If a man rises above the rank held by any other man in the village, a new compartment is built for him at the end of the house. When Mr. Patteson first went to Mota in the winter of 1860 (our summer), the initiation in this ceremony was going on, and the work of the Mission was considerably hindered by it. He could obtain no boys from any other village in the island: he could only collect a few from that village, and visit other parts of the island, and talk to the people, without seeing much result from his work.

Mr. Patteson's party consisted of Mr. Dudley and two or three Nengonè and Lifa men, among whom were Wadokal and Harper Malo, who now began to exercise their talents in teaching. When the school was started there, Mr. Patteson, leaving his friends, went off with some of his Mota acquaintances in his boat to the other islands. The plan which he adopted when visiting quite new islands was to take absolutely nothing with him except a book for writing names and words of the languages, which he kept in his hat as the only waterproof receptacle about him, so much of what he did being done by the assistance of wading and swimming. He returned at intervals to his friends at Mota; and thus, without much incident or visible result, the winter passed away.

[183] We will now go forward a little in our chronology, so as to show what the winter school in Mota eventually became.

In 1861, Mr. Patteson, with Mr. Pritt, Mr. Kerr, and Wadokal, who had just married, and had brought his young wife with him, again landed at Mota. Several of the boys whom he had had as scholars the previous year had spent the summer in New Zealand, and had made progress in their education. The winter opened hopefully, with beautiful weather; and the only drawback seemed to be that there was a severe epidemic of influenza in some of the neighbouring islands visited by Mr. Patteson, which, as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon, the people were inclined to attribute to the new teaching. At one place a man drew his bow at Mr. Patteson, but did not let fly his arrow. Then Mr. Patteson himself, was attacked by illness, Wadokal by ague, and a lad from Lifa by inflammation of the brain, from which he died. Here is an extract from a letter written by him at this time:--

"July 28th.--I have much anxiety just now. At this moment Wadokal is in an ague fit: five or six of my party are kept going by quinine and port wine, and one or other sickening almost daily.

"July 31st.--Henry died on Sunday, about 4 p.m. Wadokal is better; the boys are all better. I had much comfort in the midst of the sadness. Wadokal [183/184] took his ague attacks like a man. The boys were patient and good; and I verily believe that Henry died trusting in the mercy of God, through Jesus Christ, for pardon and peace. He was sensible the night before he died, at one time, and was most clear and explicit in his statement of belief in God, and had a clear perception of his own state. Just before he died I summoned Mr. Pritt and Mr. Kerr Wadokal crept in from his blanket, where he had been shivering in an ague fit; and I think his spirit passed away as I read the Commendatory Prayer in Nengonè. After an interval I went and talked to the Mota people, who were crowding round the little bit of an house, of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

"August lst.--The new month begins well, as I hope: While sitting with my Bauro boys, writing answers to my questions about the Lord's Prayer, a large party of men and women from the other side of the island made their appearance, headed by a man dressed, as to his shoulders, in a native scarf. They brought food with them, and they came to let me see that they really did eat with the women. Now this seems a small thing, and indeed it is a very different thing from accepting our teaching; but it means this, that one firmly-established custom has been given up, not merely a social usage, but a social usage supposed by them to be derived from, and certainly connected [184/185] with, their whole religious system. No Banks Islander ever dreamed of touching food cooked by a woman, or of eating in the same place with them. It is, in short, a giving up of caste in the matter of food."

Mr., or, as we should now say, Bishop Patteson--for he had been consecrated a few months before this--being still very unwell, was recommended to take the opportunity of a cruise in the war steamer Cordelia, commanded by Captain Hume, in the course of which he was enabled to return several of his scholars to their more northerly homes. He returned to Mota recovered in health, and in October a schooner, navigated by Mr. Dudley, arrived to fetch them away. Mr. Pritt and Mr. Kerr had suffered from fever, as well as the boys: notwithstanding these drawbacks, however, the report of the work was encouraging. Lads from many parts of the island had been allowed to remain with them, and they carried a goodly party back to New Zealand.

In 1862 Mr. Pritt and Mr. Dudley spent three months at Mota. During this time fifty scholars were fed, clothed, and taught at the Mission station; more than seventy persons attended the daily school; and a feeling of thorough goodwill towards the Mission party prevailed throughout the island. From many villages of Mota, and from six adjacent islands, boys were brought to this central school; [185/186] and men and women, coming freely from every quarter, saw and heard what was going on. All the cooking, washing, fetching wood and water for these scholars, was done by the lads who had been in New Zealand, and by the boys whom they had talked and worked with. It was entirely voluntary labour, though done in sight of their heathen countrymen idling about, and showed that the teaching they had received had had more effect than could at first have been imagined. They also employed themselves in teaching and working up the languages of the boys they had to instruct, and proved themselves possessed of more steadiness, perseverance, and energy than those who had not seen them could have imagined inherent in "black savages from the tropics."

"The change on this island of Mota," writes Bishop Patteson, "is so great, that we contemplate it with a feeling hard to be described. The verse is perpetually in our minds, 'Thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged.' Now men may walk where they please in Mota, and, unless there be some special quarrel between two villages, there is scarcely a bow or a club to be seen. There is no reluctance shown now in sending boys to Alomak, the name of our station, and no fear is entertained of their being ill-treated by the people of the place.

"Think what it is to land at Mota, with the certainty of being relieved from the trouble of many [186/187] things that we must otherwise attend to by our band of Mota scholars. When we landed there the other day, after an unusually long absence of nearly nine months, the good people carried all our things up the steep ascent to our house, and the cooks for the week set to work at once to cook yams and to make tea, without a word being said; and this was the first hour they were spending on their own island after nearly nine months' absence. Of course we would not dream of requiring a boy to do such a thing they like to do it, because they are really fellows of the right sort, and partly because they see that we are their servants just as much as, and I hope more than, they are ours."

When Bishop Patteson, after a short expedition among the other islands, returned in this year to Mota, an incident which had occurred showed what had been done there. The people of a neighbouring village had come out to fight with the people of the village where the Mission station was. None of the young men who had been attending the school went out to fight, and most of the older men also remained at home. Mr. Pritt went out and reasoned with the attacking party, and they retired peacefully.

This is a specimen of the actual effects of the Melanesian Mission, when carried out in its fulness, even in so short a time as three years. What may not Mota become in future days?

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