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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.


A FEATURE of the Melanesian Mission, which has been hinted at before, but not fully described, now began to be more developed in its working. This was the establishment of the Mission School at Kohimarama, as not merely a place of moral and religious instruction, but also as a thoroughly efficient industrial institution, in which the scholars were taught not only the principles of Christianity, but the civilisation necessary for its practice.

Much of the work necessary to carry out this idea devolved upon Mr. Pritt, whose organising power set to work a system of discipline and subordination which proved to have the best results. A great part of the difficulty found in dealing with those who have been brought up heathens is caused by the absolute want of disciplined habits in which they grow up: the little things which are a training to those who live within the radius of civilisation are absolutely wanting to them; and when a boy is entirely independent of his parents at seven years old, and his only external need is protection against the superior
strength of others, it may easily be imagined how little self-control he learns to exercise.

[239] Those who have read that most interesting book, Mr. Maclear's History of Christian Missions in the Middle Ages, will see how the same difficulty was met in the conversion of the Teutonic tribes; though, happily for our forefathers, the necessities of race and climate, which made hard work needful to the struggle for existence, kept their minds alive to the need of discipline, and prevented any such utter absence of early control as is found in the tropics. Wilfrid and Boniface, Eligius and Columba, had their industrial institutions in their monasteries, to which they brought their converts for a temporary sojourn wherein to acquire some ideas of the practical working out of the principles of Christianity.

Every one who has tried to manage any number of children, small or great, knows how easy it is to keep them in good order when they are employed, and how hard when they are idle; and Dr. Watts' adage held good at Kohimarama, as elsewhere. Besides, it was hardly possible to judge of the character of the lads as long as they were only seen at school; it was when they were working in the garden, the kitchen, or the printing-room, that their true qualities came out, and it could be seen whether they were industrious and trustworthy, or whether the good answer given at school came only from the head, and had nothing to do with the heart.

"Under Mr. Pritt's management," wrote the [239/240] Bishop, "the school has in three or four years quite changed its character. At first we had to study popularity. We had no hold at all upon any set of islanders; and, if work was likely to be distasteful, we could not venture to insist upon it. But we always felt that a large share of industrial work was a necessary element in the school, and by degrees it has become a recognised accepted rule of the place. Now, not only is the household work done entirely among ourselves (we have not a single white person on the place, except the Mission staff, and we are all workers), but we are beginning to do something creditable in the way of farm-gardening. Mr. and Mrs. Pritt are invaluable. He seems to know everything about household or garden work, and can not only do it with his own hands, but give the reason for everything, and make others do it too.

"We live very simply, it is true: e.g., we don't care for any pudding with our dinner, and that important business is transacted in about fifteen minutes, instead of lasting hours; but what we have is cooked so as to satisfy any person, however fastidious. How it is that no breakages seem ever to occur among the crockery, I don't know: we have rats enough, I'm sure; but they never do, or very, very rarely. We are punctual to a minute; nothing ever seems to go wrong.

"We do differ from any institution I know of in [240/241] some matters, all growing out of the one fundamental rule. Each member of the Mission is treated according to the amount that he contributes to the general stock of usefulness. Even more; it must be a usefulness capable of being very soon appreciated by our scholars. Some few of the more intelligent might understand that a great savant, e.g., a great astronomer (suppose such an one here), was an eminently useful man, for upon his calculations were founded our navigation tables, &c.; but he would be a very useless man in the eye of most of them; and, while they were working hard, he would seem to be an idler, and so his example would be mischievous. It may seem odd to some people that we have no servants--that we all live entirely together at a common table, six or eight Melanesians having precisely the same food as myself and others at the high table--others, mixed up with three or four Englishmen, at the next table--the great body of the scholars at their tables again. It may seem unnecessary that I should do what, of course, I never did, nor needed to be taught, in England, where difference of work does not imply degradation of race--brush my shoes, sweep my room, and all the rest of it. But how are we to raise a race, naturally disposed to be dismayed and saddened by the sight of our superior knowledge of things material, if we let them suppose that their place is to fag?

[242] "What I see here to encourage me is mainly this,--that our lads and young men are habitually filling responsible positions with faithfulness, industry, punctuality, and honesty. They know that we treat them with confidence; they see that they are respected-as men and youths conscious of their duty, and expected to fulfil it. Many of them are like Sixth form fellows at Eton: the tone and ____ of the place is good: they would not suffer among themselves things that are wrong. Hence, in a school of seventy Melanesians, of whom thirty are newly brought from wild, savage life, we never hear of quarrelling; and when a pair of scissors was missing, it was regarded as a very great matter; while of course what are called perquisites by certain people in England don't exist here, and would be called by a very different name, if the practice was discovered on the smallest scale. I mention these small matters--I could mention any number--because I am convinced that the reading and writing is the least important part of the training of these races. How many of the early Christians could read and write? I am not contending that Melanesians will. become great philosophers and book-worms; but simply that they can become good Christians, and capable of teaching others also. Of course our scholars can read and write, and some of them are good teachers; not mere indolent hearers of lessons, [242/243] but bright intelligent questioners and instructors: Yet only a small average of mankind possesses much intellectual power, while all can acquire habits of obedience, industry, faithfulness in fulfilling responsibilities. And so, while we are in school, technically so called, about three hours a day for all, and four, hours and a-half to five hours for the more advanced scholars, yet all and every one (including myself) are responsible for the employment of their time except in hours which are alike play hours for all. Morning school is over at 9.30 (for we are early folks here); but, till 1 p.m., gardening, farming, printing, &c., is going on under the charge of English or Melanesian, so to say Sixth Form lads--an English boy under a Melanesian boy, just as likely as the converse. I am the only one who do little or no manual work: I did it once, but now I work at languages, or preparing lessons, &c., all day, when not with classes, which take about six hours a day, counting English and Melanesian. But there is an exception to every rule, they say, and, if I am the exception, it is understood that I am about Melanesian work.

"It is easy to stop short, content with the often indiscriminate, yet always warm affection of these islanders; it would be so easy to grow foolishly fond of them; but that would only result in making them amiable, useless fellows. I am quite sure that [243/244] nothing but a thorough love for them, a complete confidence in them, will be of any use. But I can see, too, that as they grow up into the knowledge of what our teaching means, they must be strengthened and hardened for hard work, by a treatment, not indeed less loving, but more suited for men. I think that the daily life of every one of our Sixth Form (so to say) involves some real self-denial; they have every day to do something that a lazy fellow would shirk, and that would prevent any but an earnest fellow from coming to us a second time. Not that we invent means of testing this, but they occur in the ordinary routine of every day: things that to lads utterly unaccustomed to any control, discipline, or regularity, must be irksome, meet them at every turn; and yet there is no system of espionage, and they see that all are treated alike. The bell rings, and we must all be in hall for breakfast. Well, if any one is late, he must go without his breakfast. It doesn't matter whether it is I or the smallest Melanesian boy, because the rule is for all alike. If the reasonableness, even the necessity of our mode of life be not apparent to one who has a fair trial of it, I think I should regard his want of perception as a sign that he would not do for this kind of work.

"It is because so much progress in all this kind of training has been made in the last year, that I have written at such length about it. I think that many [244/245] lads are being found 'faithful in a few things,' that they are accustomed to discharge certain duties with regularity, and to manage eight, ten, or twelve younger lads kindly and judiciously. They are already practising on a small scale what by-and-by they may have to do in their own homes on a much larger scale."

It might be objected to so minute a system of discipline as was carried on at Kohimarama, that those effects might be likely to follow which were found to ensue upon the system of the Jesuit Mission schools in Paraguay. The Paraguayan converts were found, when their teachers were removed, to be in a state of mental childishness, so accustomed to rely absolutely upon them that they could not stand alone, and fell back into barbarism when the system of minute regulations under which they had been used to live was swept away. Bishop Patteson took every precaution that this should not be the case: he aimed at making his scholars self-dependent, and able to act for themselves without him, and thus, whenever a lad proved fit to be trusted, he was put in authority over others--at first merely over three or four, then over more, as his experience increased. The Bishop always endeavoured to keep before their minds, in every conceivable manner, the fact that they, and not the wonderful white race, whom they were inclined to worship as barbarism always [245/246] worships civilisation, were the instruments chosen by God to bear the Gospel to their own people.

"When uncivilised races," said Bishop Patteson, "come in contact with civilised men, they must either be condemned to a hopeless position of inferiority, or they must be raised out of their state of ignorance and vice by appealing to those powers within them, which God intended them to use, and the use of which will place them, by His blessing, in possession of whatever good thing may be denoted by the words religion and civilisation.

"Either we may say to our Melanesian scholars--'you can't expect to be like us; you must not suppose that you can ever cease to be dependent upon us; you must be content always to do as you are told by us; to be like children, as in malice so in knowledge; you can never be Missionaries; you may become assistant teachers to English Missionaries, whom you must implicitly obey; you must do work, which it would not be our place to do; you must occupy all the lower and meaner offices of our society': or, if we do not say this (as, indeed, no man would be likely to say it), yet we may show by our treatment of our scholars that we think and mean it--or we may say what, e.g., was said yesterday to a class of nineteen scholars who had just been reading the 9th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: 'Did our Lord tell Saul all that he was to do?' [246/247] 'No.' 'What! not even when He appeared to him, in that wonderful way from heaven?' 'No.' 'What did the Lord say to him?' 'That he was to go into Damascus, and there it would be told him what he was to do:' 'What means did the Lord use to tell Saul what he was to do?' 'He sent a man to tell him? 'Who was he?' 'Ananias.' 'Do we know much about him?' 'No: only that he was sent with a message to Saul to tell him the Lord's will concerning him, and to baptize him.' 'What means did the Lord employ to make known His will to Saul?' 'He sent a disciple to tell him.' 'Did he tell him Himself immediately?' 'No; He sent a man to tell him.' 'Mention another instance of God's working in the same way, recorded in the Acts.' 'The case of Cornelius, who was told by the angel to send for Peter.' 'The angel, then, was not sent to tell Cornelius the way of salvation?' 'No; God sent Peter to do that.' 'Jesus Christ began to do the same thing when He was on earth, did He not, even while He was Himself teaching and working miracles? ' 'Yes; He sent the twelve Apostles and the seventy disciples.' 'But what is the greatest instance of all, the greatest proof to us that God chooses to declare His will to man through man?' 'God sent His own Son to become Man.' Could he not have converted the whole world in a moment to the obedience of faith by some other [247/248] way?' 'Yes' 'But what did He in His wisdom choose to do?' 'He sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, to become man, and to walk on this earth as a real man, and to teach men, and to die for men.' 'What does Jesus Christ call us men?' 'His brethren.' 'Who is our Mediator?' 'The Man Christ Jesus.' 'What means does God employ to make known His will to us?' 'He uses men to teach men.' 'Can they do this by themselves?--'No; but God makes them able.' 'How have you heard the Gospel?' 'Because God sent you to us.' 'And now listen! how are all your people still in ignorance to hear it? What have I often told you, about that?' Whereupon the scholars looked shy, and some said softly, 'We must teach them.' 'Yes, indeed, you must;'" and so the lesson ended with questioning them as to the great duty and privilege of prayer for God's Holy Spirit to give them both the will and the power to do the work to which God was calling them.

"So we constantly tell them--'God has already been very merciful to you, in that He has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. He has enabled you to receive the knowledge of His will and to understand your relations to Him; He has taught you to believe in Him, to pray to Him, to hope for salvation through the merits of His Son's death and resurrection. He has made you feel [248/249] something of the power of His love, and has taught you the duty of loving Him and loving your brother. He calls upon you now to rouse yourself to a sense of your true position, to use the gifts which He has given you to His glory and the good of your brethren. Don't suppose that you are unable to do this; you are unable to do it as you were unable to believe and love Him by yourselves; but He gives you strength for this very purpose that you may be able to do it. You can do it through Christ who strengtheneth you. Our fathers were not more able to teach their people once than you to teach your people now. God requires you to show your love to Him. It is no good merely talking about it; it is no good for you to be able to read the Gospel in your own tongue, unless you act upon it; and Christ nowhere said that only white people and only people who live as we live and know the things that we know were to be enabled to carry His message of love throughout the world. Moreover, if you don't do it, who is to do it? We are few in number, and your languages are innumerable, and your customs strange, and your islands very unhealthy for us to live in, and we may die any day; is, then, this blessed work to stop because you will not believe it is the work which God has assigned to you, and which He will indeed give you strength to fulfil, if you earnestly pray for it through His dear Son?'

[250] "This, then, is the method we adopt and endeavour to work out in our daily life. Thus, e.g., we make no distinction whatever between English and Melanesian members of the Mission as such. No Melanesian is excluded now from any office of trust, nor would he be deterred from occupying the position of most authority in the Mission if he were found fit to hold it. We aim at making the Mission wholly independent of foreign assistance some day, when Melanesian bishops, following Bishop Crowther in West Africa, may preside over native churches throughout the islands of the sea. It follows that as there is no distinction made with regard to those who have to do the work, so there is no distinction made with regard to the work itself. Every kind of work is simply regarded as necessary for the well-being of the school, and no classification is made of higher or lower kinds of work, of work befitting a white man, and work befitting a black man. Each one does that part of common work which he can do best, and so bring the largest amount of usefulness into the common stock. English and Melanesian scholars or teachers work together in the school, printing-office, dairy, kitchen, farm. The senior clergyman of the Mission labours most of all with his own hands at the work which is sometimes described as menial work; and it is contrary to the fundamental principle of the. Mission [250/251] that any one should connect with the idea of a white man the right to fag a black boy, or that any one should refuse to do any thing which may be for the general good. How can a Melanesian be raised out of his natural acquiescence in his own inferiority if he sees that he is always treated as an inferior? Treat him as an inferior, and before long he will resent it by an ill-mannered, vulgar assertion of his independence; he will be insolent, because we have not taught him to be manly, and vain and headstrong, because we have not taught him self-respect; he will succeed only in imitating the worst points of our character; he will become selfish, conceited, obstinate, a drunkard, and a profligate. But treat him as an equal, take your full share of work with him, let him practically feel that he is not divided from you; and there is hope instead of discouragement, a brightness and activity instead of indolence and depression, and a consciousness of increasing powers of usefulness, and a sense of freedom and manliness and self-respect--qualities which belong to him by right of creation as well as to us, but which are easily repressed by unkindly and ungenerous treatment, and can scarcely struggle into existence unless they are enticed forth by kindness and love.

"Young men and lads now come to us and say, 'Let me do that; I can't write the languages, or do many things that you and Mr. Pritt and Mr. Palmer [251/252] do; so let me scrub your floor, or brush your shoes, or fetch some water.' And of course we let them do so, for the doing it is accompanied by no feeling of degradation in their minds; they have seen us always doing these things and not requiring them to do them, as if it were the natural work for them because they are black, and not proper work for us because we are white. The work has no injurious effect upon them; it does not now lead them to think of themselves as just equal to that sort of employment, and unfitted for any other more important duties. It would have been foreign to our principle to let them do so at first: they would have accepted that kind of work as denoting the measure of their capacity for work, and drawn at once into their minds the fatal distinction of an inherent superiority and inferiority in the nature of white and black people as such.

"In all the complicated relations of civilised society various works and trades are carried on by different classes of men without instilling ideas of natural superiority or degradation. But the case is notoriously different when the civilised and uncivilised man are thrown together. The rude, ignorant man is oppressed and overwhelmed by the new sights and circumstances of civilised life; everything around him forces upon him the consideration of his inferiority to the wonderful people among [252/253] whom he is for the first time placed. Yet all these things are not essential to us as men in a state of probation moving onward to death and judgment; they are merely separable accidents from our peculiar position. And the Melanesian native must be taught to know this, lest he despair and give up as hopeless the idea of becoming what we are as Christians because he cannot become what we are as Englishmen. But what does it matter whether he can or cannot become a scholar, a statesman, a philosopher; or whether he can or cannot exhibit the marks of nineteenth century civilisation? The real point is, whether he can or cannot become a Christian; and God who created him and redeemed him has left us no doubt as to how to answer that question."

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