Project Canterbury

Dictionary and Grammar of the Language of Sa'a and Ulawa, Solomon Islands

By Walter G. Ivens

Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1918.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2006


Melanesia is the geographical name given to various groups of island in the Southwest Pacific. These are the nearest of the Pacific Islands to Australia and they lie in a semicircle off the northeast coast of that continent. New Caledonia, the southern end of the arc, is the nearest to Australia, and New Britain and New Ireland, lately acquired by the Australian Expeditionary Forces, form the northern end of the arc. The groups in the arc are five in number, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomons in the North, Santa Cruz in the center, the New Hebrides and New Caledonia in the South. The Admiralty Islands are included under the Bismarck Archipelago; the New Hebrides include the subgroups of Banks and Torres, and the Loyalties are associated with New Caledonia. The term Melanesia belongs properly to all of these groups of islands. Certain other groups lie outside the arc, but rank as Melanesian, to wit, Fiji and the islands which lie off the southeast coast of New Guinea, the Trobriands, D'Entrecasteaux, Woodlark, and the Louisiades.

Etymologically, Melanesia ought to mean "black islands," just as Polynesia means "many islands" and Micronesia "small islands," but considering the wonderful verdure and greenness of the Melanesian islands one can only infer that those who named them originally had in their minds the comparatively dark skins of the inhabitants and that this distinguishing feature of the people was used as a means of designating the islands where they dwelt. Doubtless to the eye of any one accustomed to the lighter-skinned peoples of Polynesia these islands of the Southwest Pacific would seem to be "islands of the blacks."

Several external characteristics of the Melanesian peoples serve to distinguish them from the Polynesians: (1) Shortness of stature, the average height of the males being possibly 5 feet 4 inches and of the females 4 feet 10_ inches; (2) a chocolate-colored skin; (3) bushy hair, frizzled and tangled and standing erect, owing probably to the incessant teasing of it by the native combs.

The languages spoken in Melanesia vary considerably among themselves, but on examination they are shown to possess common features and to have a very large underlying sameness. The external resemblances, however, between the Melanesian languages are much less than those between the languages of Polynesia; e. g., the external resemblances between Maori and Samoan are far greater than those between Mota and Florida. The witness of language would enable us to decide at once that Fiji belongs to Melanesia, though its proximity to Polynesia has largely affected the customs and habits and probably also the religion of its people. Similarly, the peoples of the [177/178] islands to the east of New Guinea can be shown to be Melanesian by reason of their languages, and if Melanesia can be taken as a starting-point for nomenclature, the Malagasy language of Madagascar might even be classed as Melanesian. The peoples of New Guinea have the same three distinguishing physical characteristics that we have noted above, and the languages of a very considerable portion of at least the coast peoples there can certainly be classed as Melanesian.

Dr. Codrington has shown in "Melanesian Anthropology" that there is a large general resemblance in the religious beliefs and practices, the customs and ways of life, which prevail in Melanesia proper, and further research on the lines indicated by him will probably reveal the presence of similar beliefs and conditions of life among the Melanesian peoples of New Guinea and the neighbouring islands.

A distinguishing social condition of Melanesia is the complete absence of tribes, if the word tribe is to be applied as it is to the Maori people of New Zealand, or as used in Fiji. Descent in nearly every part of Melanesia is counted through the mother and the people are everywhere divided into two classes which are exogamous. This division of the people is the foundation on which the fabric of native society is built up.


Previous to 1914 Germany held an important part of Melanesia, viz., the Bismarck Archipelago, which comprises the two large islands known prior to their annexation by Germany as New Britain and New Ireland, with many smaller islands in the group, notably Duke of York, and also with two large islands in the Solomons, Bougainville and Choiseul, and the small island Buka. France holds New Caledonia and the Loyalties, and a joint British and French protectorate, known as the Condominium, prevails in the case of the New Hebrides, Banks, and Torres groups, with the center of government at Vila, Sandwich Island. The Solomons and Santa Cruz are a British protectorate with a resident commissioner stationed at Tulagi, Florida, Solomon Islands, and under the orders of the governor of Fiji, who is high commissioner for the Pacific.


The nominal field of work of the Melanesian Mission is all the Melanesian islands from and including the Solomon Islands to the three northern New Hebrides, Raga, Omba, and Maewo, but excluding Fiji. All of the islands in this sphere as far north as Ysabel (with a few exceptions noted below) are more or less occupied by the Mission. The total number in its schools in 1914 was 15,000, of whom 9,000 are baptized. Many of the smaller islands are now completely Christian, but even on islands of moderate size, like Ulawa in the Solomons or [178/179] Santa Maria in the Banks, a certain number are still Heathen, while in the large islands practically 85 per cent are still outside the Mission's influence.

The total population of the islands in the sphere of the Mission numbers anything between 100,000 and 150,000, and the large islands, Malaita, San Cristoval, and Guadalcanar, contain on a moderate estimate 70,000 of the total. It is not surprising that on an island like Malaita, which is 100 miles long and contains a scattered population of 30,000 to 40,000 people, comparatively little progress has been made, but it is especially regrettable that there are still three Heathen villages on a small island like Ulawa, and that tiny places like Sikaiana, Rennell and Bellona, and Santa Anna are still unworked. However, it must be understood that the evangelizing of Melanesia is a peculiarly difficult task, as is shown by the fact that in Tanna in the New Hebrides, where the attack on Heathenism has been incessant and where the Presbyterian missionaries have been in actual residence from the very start of the work, a portion of the island is still Heathen. Nevertheless, better results might have been obtained in our own sphere.


The Melanesian Mission is not the only evangelizing body in its sphere of work. Roman Catholic missionaries settled in the Solomons about 1897 and made their headquarters at a little island called Rua Sura, off the east coast of Guadalcanal and fairly close to the trading station at Aola. A good deal of their work has been done on the west coast of Guadalcanal near Mole. One of their methods of progress has been to adopt children from the Heathen parts and to rear them in Christian surroundings. They made settlements also along the north end of the island, often in villages belonging to the Melanesian Mission, and have begun work on the southeast coast of San Cristoval and on the west coast of Big Malaita. They have stations also at the south end of Raga, New Hebrides.

The Kanaka labor trade was responsible for the advent of certain missionaries of Protestant bodies into the Solomons. Most of the Melanesian in Queensland who attended school and church were cared for by the Queensland Kanaka Mission, a Protestant body. At Malu, a place at the north end of Big Malaita, some returned Christians who had been converted by the agency of these schools of the Queensland Kanaka Mission and some devoted white missionaries came to the Solomons in a labor vessel and settled at Malu. But the malarial conditions of the place and lack of proper equipment brought about their removal and two of them eventually died of malaria. When the Kanakas were all deported the Queensland Kanaka Mission followed their old pupils and made regular stations on Malaita. Their [179/180] mission is now known as the South Sea Evangelical Mission. Its operations are confined mainly to Malaita.

In 1902 the veteran Dr. George Brown visited the western Solomons and made preparation for beginning a mission of the Methodist body in New Georgia. This mission is now well established and has extended its operations in New Georgia and Vella Lavella, and opened a school on Liuaniua (Ongtong Java, Lord Howe Island), an atoll north of Ysabel inhabited by Polynesians.

In the New Hebrides, on Raga and Omba in the spheres of the Melanesian Mission, mission work is being done by missionaries of the Church of Christ.

No delineation of territory in the case of the various missions has been attempted by the governments concerned, such as has been done in New Guinea, and undoubtedly the clashing of the various interests is not the best thing for the natives. The marking out of a sphere of operations, with possibly a time limit for the effective occupying of them, would be the fairest for all concerned.


All the islands in the sphere of the Mission have a certain similarity of appearance from the sea in that they are all covered with dense forest. Florida and the east coast of Guadalcanar have wide, open spaces covered with high, rank grass and with a few trees, but in all the other islands dense bush covers the face of the country from high-water mark to the tops of the hills miles away in the interior. In the islands in the south giant creepers twine over the trees and form a perfect network, almost blotting out the tops of the individual trees, and when seen from the sea, the huge banyans seem to tower like observations posts above the flattened tops of the forest. In most of the islands the land rises abruptly from the beach and access to the interior is by narrow forest tracks which the frequent heavy rainfalls have converted into deep ruts. Tree roots cover everything and walking is extremely difficult in consequence. The paths are never kept clear and open and the tress that fall across them are allowed to lie there, and a new track is made round or under or over the obstacle.

Dr. Guppy, in his book, "The Solomon Islands," has a graphic description of the experience of the white man when travelling ashore in Melanesia:

"Bush walking where there is no native track is a very tedious process. In districts of coral limestone such traverses are exceedingly trying to the soles of one's boots and to the measure of one's temper. After being provokingly entangled in a thicket for some minutes, the persevering traveller walks briskly along through a comparatively clear space, when a creeper suddenly trips up his feet and over he goes to the ground. Picking himself up, he no sooner starts again when he finds his face in the middle of a [180/181] strong web which some huge-bodied spider has been laboriously constructing. He proceeds on his way when he feels an uncomfortable sensation inside his helmet, in which he finds his friend the spider, with a body as big as a filbert, quite at his ease. Going down a steep slope, he clasps a stout-looking areca palm to prevent himself falling, when down comes the rotten palm, and the long-suffering traveller finds himself once more on the ground. To these inconveniences must be added the oppressive heat of a tropical forest and the continual perspiration in which the skin is bathed."

A Melanesian is always careful to turn his toes in as he walks, and the narrowness of the bush track causes him no inconvenience, but the white man is not so careful how he plants his feet and is constantly striking the numerous objects which lie by the side of the track or on its surface. Moreover, a native person keeps his hands by his side as he walks, whereas the white man does not know the necessity for care in the matter and he frequently hits the numerous obstacles with his hands, and some of the leaves on the edge of the track are studded with sharp thorns! Every Melanesian carries a "scrub" knife, and with it he cuts away the limbs that fall over the path, but he cuts them at his own height and in an immediate line with the path; this suits him well, but proves awkward for any person who is taller or less careful about his method of progression.

It can hardly be said that the Melanesian islands as a whole are beautiful, for the prevailing colors of the forest are too somber and dull; brilliant-colored shrubs grow round the houses, but none of the forest trees bear such flowers as one sees on the trees in North Queensland, and the ground is a tangled mass of undergrowth and creepers. Wide, open views, panoramic scenes, outlooks over mountain or glen or sea are impossible to obtain, since the bush closes in everything. But there is something peculiarly exhilarating, both to mind and body, when, after struggling along through the numerous obstructions of the paths and sweltering under the oppressive heat, one suddenly emerges from the trees on the weather coast of an island and feels the invigorating blast of the trade wind, and the eye rests with complete satisfaction on the wonderful blue of the sea and the red of the shore reef, and the creamy whiteness of the breakers as they beat against it.

Certain places in the Solomons, however, may quite easily rank as beauty spots. The Ututha Channel, which divides the two eastern islands in the Floridas; the channel in the Rubiana Lagoon; and the western end of the Mara Masiki Channel, which divides Malaita in two--all have delightful vistas and charm one with their tortuous and sharp windings opening out on here an island, there a cascade; the giant growths of the coral under the boat fascinates one's gaze; beautifully colored fishes of vivid greens and reds dart about in the shallows, while up in the trees, on the side of the steep hills, innumerable cockatoos rend the air with their harsh cries, or the big wood [181/182] pigeons boom out their melancholy note, reminding one of a cow lowing for its calf. Often, again, the course of a river (like that at Mwadoa, Ulawa), with its succession of cascades and its deep, clear pools, constrains our admiration.

The islands of the Florida more especially appeal to the eye. They have more open spaces, the coast line is more indented, and beautiful bays abound; there are more islands lying off the coast, the beaches are more numerous, and the landing on them is easy. The villages in Florida nestle under the shade of innumerable coconut tress just above high-water mark. The beaches are lined with the feathery casuarina and here and there are coral trees (Erythrina indica) with their brilliant red flowers, or the gorgeous red leaves of the salite (Catappa terminalis) light up the whole beach with the glow of their dying splendor. The huge masses of the vutu (Barringtonia speciosa) spring right out of the salt water and their biretta-shaped fruits may be seen floating on every tide. Going north from Norfolk Island, the sight of the floating fruit of the vutu was generally the first sign of our entrance into the tropics. Similarly the mighty limbs of the dalo (Fiji dilo, Calophyllum inophyllum) are washed by every wave and its small bell-like fruit is found lying on every beach. The smell of the sweet-scented white flowers of the dalo reminds one of nothing so much as an orange grove in flower.

But the real charm and attraction of Melanesia lie in the mystery of the people, their unwritten past, the strangeness of their languages, their views of life, their habits and customs, the strange flora of the country, the birds and butterflies, some of these latter measuring 8 or 9 inches across, the excitement of a landing among the Heathen, the yearnings of the soul, the longing to do them good, to lead them out of their darkness into light, to give them something more satisfying than the tobacco or calico or knife which they are clamoring for--these are the things that grip the heart of the missionary and constitute for him at least the charm of Melanesia. One stands on a beach of the great island of Malaita, and all the fibers of one's being are stirred by the sight of hill rising upon hill, cape stretching out beyond cape, and by the knowledge that scattered all up and down the land are souls awaiting the enlightenment of the spirit of God.


The Melanesians may be called an agricultural people and a great deal of their time is given up to cultivation. Their two main crops are yams and taro, of both of which there are numerous varieties. The best yams are grown in the southern part of Melanesia; the Solomon Islanders never have enough yams to carry them through the summer months till harvest time in April, all the yams having been used for planting. But in the larger islands there is extensive cultivation of [182/183] taro in the districts on the hills, and this food carries the people over the hunger times of the summer months. A yam garden is a sight worth seeing; the ground is kept perfectly clear of weeds (this is the women's share of the work), the yam vines are trained up long poles and then run along strings which are tied from pole to pole. The vines are of various shades of green, and when the leaves are dying they turn red in color and are very beautiful to look on.

Breadfruit grows readily, and the trees have two crops a year, one coming opportunely during the summer. The canarium (almond) bears during the winter months, July and August. The nuts are put into cane baskets and are smoked ready for storing. The coconut is in bearing all the year through. The tree is at is best at the coast and just above high waster mark. The large islands of the eastern Solomons--Malaita, Guadalcanar, San Cristoval, and Ysabel--have comparatively few coconuts, and the only extensive coconut plantation on Malaita is along the coast at Sa'a, at the southeast end of the island. The scarcity of coconuts is largely owing to the fact that the trees thrive best near the sea, but owing to fear of raids the majority of the people on these large islands live away from the coast and so can not grow the trees in any quantity.

Of so-called tropical fruits Melanesia has but few indigenous varieties. Of the common native fruits by far the most important is the coconut, and one is inclined to question whether any more wonderful fruit than the coconut grows on this earth! The fruit is obtainable all the year round; it is nutritious whether eaten in the green stage or when it has begun to sprout and is ready for planting. The ripe nut is generally scraped and strained, and the resultant white juice, the only real coconut milk, is boiled in the half shell and mixed as a paste with grated yams or taro. What is commonly known as coconut milk, the fluid in the dry nut so dear to the hearts of children in European countries, is never drunk by Melanesians, but if opportunity offers is poured into a basin and put by for the animals to drink.

The oil of the coconut is extracted by the old-time process of stone boiling. Needless to say, dried or smoked coconut (copra) is by far the greatest article of export from Melanesia to-day. Ceylon used to be reckoned the planters' paradise so far as growing coconuts was concerned, but coconut plantations in the islands of the Solomons come into bearing quicker than in any other part of the world; the nuts are as good as the big Samoan nuts (indeed seed nuts have been imported from Samoa), the rainfall is abundant, and hurricanes are almost unknown. The oil is extracted from the copra and goes to make some of our best soaps. The shell of the nut is used by the natives to make cups and bottles, and since it contains oil it burns fiercely in the fire. From the outer covering of the nut both ropes and mats are made--the coir of commerce (coir, like copra, is a Singhalese word); [183/184] and the natives themselves make sennit and string from it. The dry sheath, the covering of the new bunch of fruit, serves the natives both as tinder and as a torch. The leaves of the tree make the very strongest baskets, and in some islands are used to make the walls of the houses. In the equatorial Pacific toddy is distilled from the growing tree and the topmost shoots form a veritable king's banquet, but the cutting of them destroys the tree.

Other fruits are the vi-apple (Spondias dulcis, commonly known as uli or uri), the canarium nut (ngali), the nut of the salite tree, which is found oftenest growing at the mouths of the streams, the banana, and the breadfruit. Both the banana and breadfruit are always cooked. The indigenous banana needs cooking to make it eatable, but the common varieties, Musa cavendishii or gros michel, or the sugar banana of Queensland, have been introduced and flourish. Many other tropical and subtropical fruits have also been introduced--oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, granadilla, soursop, papaya, pineapples, mangoes, cocoa, coffee; most of these need careful cultivation, and with the exception of limes and papayas they all tend to die out if allowed to run wild.

Animal food is but rarely partaken of by Melanesians. Pigs they all have, but they keep them for great events, for death feasts or for wedding banquets. Opossums (cuscus) and the large fruit-eating bats and wood pigeons and the monitor lizard are often eaten as relishes with vegetable food. The coast people get large quantities of shellfish at the low spring tides, and on an island like Ulawa a great deal of fishing is done both from the rocks and also out of canoes. The people make all their own fishing-lines out of home-made string or out of strong creepers found in the forest, and in old days their hooks were cut out of tortoise shell or out of black pearl-shell. Even to-day the hooks for the bonito fishing are of native manufacture and the tiny hooks for whiffing sardines are exquisitely made.

Fishing with nets is followed extensively by the Lau-speaking peoples who live on the artificial islets off the northeast coast of Malaita. These peoples and the people of the Reef Islands at Santa Cruz live almost entirely on a fish diet. The flesh of the porpoise is much prized by the peoples of Malaita and regular drives of porpoises are much held, the animals being surrounded and forced ashore into muddy creeks, where they are captured. The main value of the porpoise lies in the teeth, which form one of the native currencies. On the lee side of the large islands of the Solomons there is a great deal of fishing with hand nets; men stand in the water at the mouth of the streams, holding a pole to which two bent sticks are attached with a net tied to the four ends of the sticks, and lowered to the bottom. The small fish (sardines and others) are chased inshore by large kingfish, and pass over the net, which is promptly pulled up by the fisherman. The fish are transferred by a deft movement to a bag hanging on the man's back and suspended from his head.

[185] Bonito and flying-fish are esteemed as the greatest delicacies. The former is coarse but the latter is indeed a dainty. The bonito is a very sacred fish to the mind of the southern Solomon Islander, and the catching of it was intimately connected with his religion. The bonito is caught from canoes, either by a hook trailed aft, no bait being used, or by a hook played up and down in a jerky fashion and attached to a strong rod and line. The flying-fish are caught on a gorge made of tortoise-shell or of the midrib of the rachis of the sago palm. The best bait is the claw of the robber crab (Birgus latro). The hook and line are made fast to a fishing float called u'o in Ulawa (Maori uto fish-float). Numbers of these are thrown out in places frequented by the flying-fish and the owner stands by in his canoe and watches them.

Sea bream are the most delicate fish in Melanesia. They are caught with hook and line, and live white ants are thrown out as burly. The bait is a worm found in the sand at high-water mark. The white ant used is not the destructive white ant, which is capable of giving a sharp bite, but is of a brownish color. The ignorant bushmen are popularly supposed to use the wrong ant, with the result that the bream will disappear.


The houses are mainly of one type, one-roomed buildings, to which annexes may easily be added. Some of these houses are large enough to accommodate a chief and his twenty wives, small chambers being built within the main building. The commoners have their own houses, one house to each family, and it rarely that two families live together. The roof is the first part of the house that is built. Three rows of posts are erected and ridge poles are set on them. The poles may rest in a groove or the tops of the posts may be forked. Bamboo rafters are tied from the center pole to the side, and thatch is laid on them longitudinally. The thatch is made of leaves, sago palm or nipa palm, or the leaves of sugar cane (this latter is only used in the south) sewn on to reeds or laths of bamboos and then tied in position. The people of Florida and of Ysabel put their thatch on in very close layers, and consequently the roof lasts very well, but in other islands the thatch needs a good deal of repair after the second year. The smoke of the wood fires used in cooking hardens the thatch and tends to preserve it; but schools and churches, buildings where fires are not lighted, need constant repairs to the thatch. The sides are built in with lattice-work of thin bamboo, and a small doorway is left in the front which can be covered by a shutter of leaves. Ornamental ridges are made on the ground and are hoisted up into position, and then made fast with creepers.

The Malaita and San Cristoval houses have a platform in front, where the people sit in the evenings. To get into the house one has [185/186] to mount this platform and then drip through the tiny doorway. The Florida house is generally built upon piles and the floor is covered with split bamboos. The bed place may be raised or, as in Malaita, the people may sleep on the earth with no better mattress than one of the huge coconut leaves plaited. For the women and small children a platform is built to serve as a bed. Pillows as such are not much in use except in Santa Cruz, and a log or billet of wood makes an acceptable pillow for the Melanesian.

The men and boys in the Solomons have club-houses, both in the villages and also down at the beach. In the club-house at the beach the canoes for bonito fishing are kept. Strangers are entertained in these club houses; the relics of the dead are kept in them and religious rites are performed in them. Women are excluded from the club houses.

The cooking is all done at a fireplace of earth set inside a ring of stones on the floor. On a stand over the fire are the household cooking utensils, wooden bowls, and stores of smoked almonds. Yams are kept on stages built in the rear part of the house and generally screened off. Each house has its inner chamber that serves as a bedroom if required. Life is lived very much in public, and privacy is a thing not understood or desired. To be allowed to go behind the partition in any house is significant and a mark of close acquaintanceship.


Bark cloth (tapa) is made in Melanesia, but it never figured as an article of clothing and its main use was to form a kind of shawl in which the baby was slung when carried from the shoulder. Before the coming of the white man clothing of any sort was very little worn by Melanesians. The people of Santa Cruz, both men and women, were indeed clad sufficiently to satisfy our European notions of decency, and in the southern New Hebrides and in Florida and Ysabel the women wore petticoats made of mats or of grass, but in very many of the islands the women's dress was of the scantiest, and the men wore nothing but a section of a leaf of a large pandanus. In the southeast Solomons the men commonly were quite naked and the women wore but a scanty fringe, while on Big Malaita not even the traditional fig leaf was worn. In Santa Cruz, where all women and girls are swathed in mats and are kept in strict seclusion, there is more immorality, and that of a gross and shocking sort, than in the Lau-speaking districts of Malaita, where the women wear no clothing of any sort whatever. Once the mind gets over the shock experienced at the idea of the unclothed body, it will be obvious to the unprejudiced person that the absence of clothing does not necessarily imply immodesty either of thought or action. A Heathen woman on Malaita knows no shame at the fact that her body is unclothed.

[187] Another point as to which incorrect ideas exist is the question of cannibalism. Doubtless cases of anthropophagy occurred in many of the Melanesian islands, but it was never characteristic of the people as a whole, and the man-eating propensities of the Fijian people could never be predicated of the whole people of any single group in the sphere of the Mission. So local and confined is the practice that, while portions of one island regularly follow it, other portions of the same island hold it in abhorrence, as in the case of Malaita. Joseph Wate, of Sa'a, a reliable witness, assured me that the Tolo peoples of Malaita were cannibals, but his own peoples were not, nor were the shore peoples of Big Malaita. The latter were fish-eaters, and those who lived on a fish diet did not practice as a regular thing the eating of human flesh. Cannibalism is the regular practice on San Cristoval, but is held in abhorrence on Ulawa. Yet the belief in cannibalism is so firmly fixed that one reads in the reports and books of the Mission that the two Reef Islanders who were held captive at Port Adam in Bishop Selwyn's time were being fattened up and kept for eating, whereas in all probability they were regarded as "live heads" (lalamoa mori) and kept for killing, should any necessity arise when a victim would be demanded, as, e. g., at the death of any important person in the place, or they might be sold to anyone looking for a person to kill. The bodies after death would be buried.


To bathe daily is the common practice of most Melanesians, but the bath is taken in the afternoon and usually after the day's work in the garden is over. The Melanesian never dreams of having a dip in the morning, as we whites do, and to the unthinking his failure to do so might seem to argue against want of proper cleanliness. But, as Dr. Guppy says, these people are far more susceptible to a rise or fall in the temperature than we are, and he quotes Darwin as noticing that the Patagonians when over a fire were streaming with perspiration, whereas the white men with thick clothes on were enjoying the pleasant warmth. So a Melanesian likes to bathe when the day is warm; on days when the south wind is blowing--a strong wind with cloudy days--bathing is not much indulged in.

Since these people wear no clothes and have no seat but the ground and take their rest on mats laid either on or just above the floor, and always with a fire going beside them, their bodies soon show the dirt, but it is a great mistake to imagine that they allow their bodies to go dirty or are slack about bathing. A man or woman with a fever will abstain from washing (even in cases of strong fever it never occurs to anyone to sponge the patient) and to bathe is a sign of convalescence. If a person stays about a house and is evidently unwashed, one may take it for granted that he or she is indisposed.


Great care is expended in bathing small children and shielding them from the rays of the sun. A young mother is excused from all work and she has the best time in all her life when her first baby is born. Her whole time is given up to the child, and it is seldom out of her arms. Owing to the lack of nourishing foods children are suckled till they are quite large. The Melanesian baby seems to have no natural liking for water and one often hears the shrill cries of small children being bathed in the streams or being washed in the houses. In the latter case water is poured from a bamboo into one of the wooden bowls and the child is then washed by hand.

The children at a very early stage of their existence are freed from the authority of their parents. They have no household duties to perform; there is no set time for meals; in the morning they may be given something cold left over from the night before, or the mother may roast a yam on the fire, but as a rule there is no cooking done till the late afternoon, when the women return from their gardens. During the day, if the children are hungry they can get a coconut or a breadfruit, or shell-fish, or they can roast a yam or a taro, and a fire can be made anywhere. The boys can get themselves an opossum or an iguana and in the hill districts they even find grasshoppers to eat. One and all they use large quantities of areca nut and pepper leaf and lime. These seem to be as necessary to the Melanesians of the northern islands as is a pipe to a confirmed smoker.

One would expect that children freed thus early from any dependence on their elders would run riot and learn licentious ways and habits, but such does not seem to be the case. There is but little individuality in Melanesians, and they are not "inventors of evil things." They are bound by traditional customs, by the laws of the elders, by those social restrictions that the people have evolved for themselves as a safeguard against the breaking up of their society, and free agents though the children may be, and lacking parental control from our point of view, yet there is no such thing among them as the organized following of doing evil, and the ruling moral ideas of the people are found as the guide also of their children.


Apart from the duty and privilege which every Christian feels of winning the peoples of the earth for Christ, apart also from the promptings of the Holy Spirit to bring the peoples of Melanesia to a knowledge of the power of Christ, there can be no conceivable reason for holding that Melanesians have no need of the Christian religion or could fail to grasp it when presented to them. In the first place, they certainly lose nothing by renouncing their old Heathen religion, which was the worship of their ancestors. The spirits of these ancestors [188/189] provoke fear rather than love, and are invoked from a desire that their influence should be used to stave of any possible evil that might happen rather than because they are conceived of as kindly dispositioned beings who love and want to do good to their worshippers. To a people with such a religion the knowledge of the Great Spirit God as a loving Father comes with the utmost force and power.

Melanesians on the one hand are more or less incapable of individual and separate action; each one is just a copy of his neighbor, and everything is done by concerted agreement among the whole people; on the other hand, they have no means of preserving the welfare of themselves as a whole. They have no tribes, no kingdoms, no laws beyond the unwritten social laws relating to marriage, etc.; life is insecure, accusations of witchcraft are easily made, and death follows as a matter of course; infanticide is a common practice, big families are almost unknown, polygamy is a recognized thing. So Christianity comes to them as a means of insuring both individual and social vigor and only in so far as they become Christian will they be saved from extinction. If only from a humanitarian point of view, it were a charity to enlighten the darkness of these benighted people and to give them something to strive for, to set before them some spiritual end, to give them a higher standard of existence then their present one.

There can, however, be no question of leaving them alone now, whatever may have been the case in past years; civilization, i. e., trade, is coming in fast and the inevitable consequence will be that the white man's view of life will alter the old style of things. Experience has taught us that wherever a people without a settled state and a kingdom and the external power of law is invaded by any of our western peoples, with their vigor and personality, the less-developed people lose all their pristine distinctiveness, all bonds are loosed, and inevitable decay sets in; in other words, the white man destroys the black. Benjamin Kidd shows this most conclusively in his book "Social Evolution." In the case of Melanesia the process may take time, but that the result is certain in the end is proved by the disappearance of the nomad Australian aboriginal, and with a people of a higher culture by the story of capable Maori people of New Zealand under modern conditions.

Drink and idleness are two of the main factors that have tended to the downfall of both the Maori and the Australian aboriginal; low-class whites have done much to ruin the latter, nor has the Maori been free from their influence. There is no fear of a large influx of whites into Melanesia, and the governments have it in their power to deport any undesirable person, but in the south of Melanesia, e. g., on Omba, unscrupulous traders have done incalculable harm. Under the Condominium of the New Hebrides, drink and firearms can still be obtained by the natives, but the Solomon Island government entirely prohibits the sale of both.

[190] In the more settled islands and districts provision can be made quite easily for the due employment of the people at regular and systematic work, so as to guard against the danger of idleness. There is ample land available everywhere for use either in growing the crops of food or for planting in coconuts. Hunger ought to be a thing of the past; the islands hardly know what a drought is; the foodstuffs, both indigenous and introduced, are many and varied, and it needs only sufficient land to be kept under cultivation to insure a plentiful and regular supply of food. This is clear in our experience, for in our own garden at Ulawa, which was under the care of Elwin Dume, a man of Meralava, there was always a supply of food, sweet potatoes, yams, pana, pumpkins, tapioca (cassava), and even taro (which people of the place said would not grow in Ulawa), bananas, and pineapples. It often was the case that when our garden was bearing well others were searching for food. Elwin used to return home through the village unconcernedly smoking his pipe and with the tip of a yam showing out of his bag. "Oh! look at those white men (mwa haka)," the people would exclaim as he passed, "they have yams while we have to go and search in the forest for food!"

The exercise of due control both by the Mission and by government ought to obviate the dangers both of idleness and hunger. As more and more traders come in, the danger will be that pressure is put on the government to acquire suitable land for planting, and great care will have to be taken that sufficient land is left in the neighborhood of centers of population for the use of the people. On an island like Ugi in the Solomons very large tracts have been alienated, the original owners are but a few, and possession is the more easily acquired. It is recalled that in the case of the sale of one large tract near the original trading station at Selwyn Bay the land was said to have been sold by a man who had only the very flimsiest right to it, since he was not an Ugi man at all but an adopted person.

The cure for the existing evils and the means of staving off the threatened extinction of the people do not lie in their employment on plantations, as some hold. The moral elevation of the people and their advance in civilization used to be held up as valid reasons for their being recruited to work in Queensland, but from internal evidence one would say that the main influence which the labor trade has had on Melanesia is that it has sadly depopulated the islands. There has been no social elevation through the trade; the want of cohesion among the natives, apart from all other considerations, would have been sufficient to prevent it. The thousands of men who, throughout the years the trade was in existence, returned from civilization and did nothing to better the conditions of life among their neighbors; they disseminated no knowledge, they started no spiritual movement for the uplifting of their people, they stirred up no divine discontent with [190/191] the old-time conditions. They brought back in a measure the outer trappings of civilization, but were ignorant of its power. While their axes lasted they made it easier for someone else to work; their purchases gave them for the time being a certain amount of importance; but once their stock was finished their influence was at an end.

One of the cures for the present state of things in Melanesia is undoubtedly work, but work on plantations for wages is not necessarily an agency that makes either for the setting up of the influences that have made nations great or insures the end which all desire who have the welfare of these child races at heart, viz, the ultimate survival of their peoples.

The comparative scantiness of the population is the real difficulty in the evangelization of Melanesia. There must be an assembling of the scattered units of population in the islands, and since one of the first results of the propagation of Christianity in Melanesia is the gathering together of the people in a community where hitherto they have been living as scattered units all over the face of the land, it seems obvious that the initiative in the program of work will lie with the missions. Once Christianity spreads, and, as a result of its spreading, peace is established, and old feuds die down and murder and bloodshed cease and villages are formed in these large islands with their scattered peoples, then the place of the government is to see that offences against life and moral law and order are punished in order that the people may be given a chance to grow up and become settled and organized. How else shall it come to pass that "that which is no nation" shall become a nation? There can be no offense felt by the missionaries at the government thus guarding what is won; already cases of witchcraft among the Heathen are cognizable by the government authorities, and they punish breaches of the moral law among Christians when such are brought under their notice. The missions can still exercise their own discipline and the secular authorities will not interfere with the spiritual side of the work. On the other hand, since the missions are the bringers of peace, the government can feel no offense in serving them and following them up and consolidating the results of their work. The missions have the first and best opportunity in the matter; they are thoroughly in touch with the natives and have, or ought to have, an abundance of first-class material ready to their hands for compelling men to come in from the highways and hedges and fill the House of God. Nevertheless the government itself is doing much for the ultimate salvation of the peoples; head hunting has been stopped completely, and wild places like the north end of Malaita are being brought into order by the establishment of government stations. So far as the Melanesian Mission is concerned it would seem obvious that the future demands a large increase of native clergy if the ground is to be won.


Bishop G. A. Selwyn evidently had a very high opinion of the value of the work likely to be done by natives in the propagation of the Gospel in Melanesia, when he referred to them as the "black net," the white priests at the same time forming the "corks" of the gospel net. The Bishop's idea has been followed faithfully enough, so far as the mere manning of the Mission with native teachers goes, and the work of these native teachers occupies a very large place in the Melanesian Mission to-day; nor can there be any doubt whatever of their ability, under proper circumstances, to do what the founder of the Mission planned that they should do. Still, it can not be questioned that up to the present time the native Christians, teachers and people alike, fall short in the performance of their part in the casting of the Gospel net. The truth of the matter would seem to be that the native church has not yet risen to a sense of its duty in the work of evangelization; Christianity has seemed to the converts to be more a thing brought from outside and to be accepted along with the rest of the white man's things than a matter vitally concerning themselves and depending on their cooperation.

If the white teachers were removed from Melanesia to-day the probability is that, though the daily services and daily school would still be held in most of the villages, yet there would be no advance and no enlargement of the work, no widening of the borders, and in such places as were manned by less able teachers it is doubtful whether the past gains of the Mission would be consolidated. The church life of the villages depends almost entirely on the teacher alone; the native church has not been trained in methods of self-government and no legislative machinery exits; there is no village council to advise or strengthen the hands of the teacher, and should he fail the whole work would probably come to an end. Nor is there anything in the way of self-support in the native church. The Mission supplies the teacher's pay and the people have no duties incumbent on them in connection with the upkeep of religion.

It was thought originally that the withdrawal of the white missionary for four or six months every year would tend to encourage habits of self-reliance among the native teachers and would strengthen their characters and would foster the idea that eventually the native church must stand alone. But it certainly seemed as if the time when one was away was more fruitful in cases of wrong-doing than when one was actually present among the people. The Mission priest on returning to his work in the islands is apt to be faced with a sad account of what has happened "behind his back." He may notice the absence here and there, from church and school, of certain persons, and inquiry may elicit the information that they were "outside the inclosure," the [192/193] victims of sin, mainly of impurity, and though not formally excommunicated yet self-judged, as their absence proved. Or he would hear of family quarrels, or of the petulancy of the chief and his arbitrary tabu of certain things and of a consequent staying away from church and school. Or a Christian girl or a catechumen may have been given in marriage to a Heathen and so lost to the church, or perchance a Christian man had taken a heathen woman to wife and was living with two women. Or it might be that some promising Christian lad had gone off to live with heathen relatives. Or he might hear of cases of exorcism, of approaches made to the spirits of the dead, or of trials by fire of adjudication of the spirits of the dead on the part of Christians. At times he would find a village preparing to go and avenge the cruel murder of some Christian or schoolman wantonly murdered by the heathen. In addition to the moral failures which occurred in his absence, he might find that the school and church required roofing, that the fences were down, and that the village pigs had made a shelter inside the buildings and that is own "prophet's chamber" was uninhabitable.

What would happen were the white missionaries removed is made plain by the history of what has occurred in places that have had to do without the services of a white man for any length of time. Left to themselves and without the help of a native deacon or priest, the people tend to become very slack in church attendance and in the performance of their Christian duties, and the recent struggle that Bishop Wilson had against the secret societies in the northern Banks Group shows that Christianity there failed to alter fundamentally the original native view of life.

The Banks Islands in particular have lacked for many years past the services of a white priest and with a few notable exceptions it may be said of this particular group that wherever the native teachers have been left to themselves the work has languished. Since Mr. Adams went to Vureas the Banks Islands have seen very little of the presence of a white missionary. Of the work at the Torres Group, once so promising, but little is heard now, and there can be do doubt that the continued absence of a white man or of a native priest has had a deleterious effect on the work there.

Where the people are strong in character and community life is more developed, as in the northern Banks Groups, a native teacher alone can not make much headway, but a man in orders exercises a great deal more power and will be listened to. When the white man is present matters that had been wrong right themselves very quickly and there seem to be far fewer cases of wrong-doing. This is doubtless due partly to respect for his presence. The ordinary native teacher does not inspire this respect, and unless he were a man of strong moral fiber [193/194] (as some of them are) and with his position well assured he could hardly venture to rebuke an act which he knew to be wrong. The teacher is in most cases a man of the place, and village and home associations and family relationships would prevent him uttering his protest against a mediated wrong.

There is very little that goes on in a native village that is not known to most of the people, and things are very well discussed before any action is taken, and generally the whole village knows the doings and the intentions of every inhabitant. If the teacher did know beforehand the chances are that he could not prevent the wrong. Individual action is rare among Melanesians. A man would hardly dream of interfering if he saw another doing a thing which was inconsistent with his Christian calling and no one thinks of the necessity of setting a standard. Correction or direction or friendly advice is scarcely ever administered by one Melanesian to another. Even parents whose children are disobedient will bring them to a teacher or a missionary for reproof or correction rather than administer the correction themselves. The last thing that a Melanesian thinks of doing is the preventing of harm or interfering in a matter to order to right it.

In the absence of the white missionary, if the knowledge of a mediated wrong came to the teacher's ears the existence of a village council or of a combined council of all the neighboring villages would avail in all probability to prevent the wrong being done. The nearest thing to such a council is the Vaukolu of Florida, a yearly gathering of all the chiefs and head teachers to discuss social, ecclesiastical, and educational matters. But these gatherings have been held very irregularly and their decisions have been of little force since there were no subsidiary councils in the villages to assist the teacher in carrying them out.

The isolation of the peoples in most of the Melanesian islands has in all probability been largely responsible for the lack of concerted action thitherto among the Christians. Social life as such was not known in Melanesia before the advent of Christianity. In their pre-Christian days these natives do not live in villages or hamlets, but in isolated groups with two or three houses or huts in a group. With the exception of certain places in Florida and also of the artificial islets off the northeast coast of Malaita, where hundreds of people live on tiny rookeries of stone just raised above the level of the tide, there was nothing that was worthy of the name of a village in the whole of the Mission's area in the Solomons. Consultative or joint action in a matter was practically unknown. Each subdistrict had its own petty chief with a following of half a dozen men in some cases. Every man knew who his own chief was and would support him when called upon. Each main district had also its head chief and to him tribute was paid whensoever he demanded it. Even these head chiefs had [194/195] no state or surroundings. Thus at Roasi, on Little Malaita, Horohanue was the alaha paine, the main chief, but he had no immediate retinue and lived alone with his two wives, the guardian of his ancestral spirits, 'akalo, and with the skulls of his dead in the house along with him.

Roasi was composed of two parts, Upper and Lower, Roasi i haho, Roasi i 'ano. A teacher, Johnson Telegsem, was accepted by the people of Lower Roasi, acting quite independently of Horohanue, as they had every right to do. After two moves they made a final settlement at Salenga just above the bay. Then two years later Horohanue himself also asked for a teacher and gathered his own particular people together and had a school-house built.

The two Christian villages of Roasi were only half a mile apart, with a ravine in between, and yet separate teachers had to be found for them, owing to their unwillingness to move to some one central spot where a permanent church and school could be built. The Mission went so far as to buy a site down on the beach large enough to accommodate both sections of the people, who numbered something over 200, but after Horohanue's death petty jealousies and squabbles completely prevented any concerted action.

At Sa'a, an important place at the southeast end of Malaita, the titular chief Sinehanue was the direct descendant, twelve generations removed, of the chiefs who had shared in the original migration from the hills of Little Malaita (Codrington, Mel. Anthrop., p. 49). He lived apart from the majority of the people with just his own immediate relatives and dependents around him. Four separate villages, huu i lume, collections of houses, formed what was known to the neighboring peoples as Sa'a, though no one village bore the name as such, and in each of these there was at least one person who was reckoned as alaha chief.

The greatest possible difficulty was experienced in inducing the peoples of these four villages to act in concert and assign one place as the site for the church and school. We had journeys all over the neighborhood looking for a neutral place and houses were begun tentatively in several directions in order to accelerate union.

With very few exceptions the people inhabiting any particular district are always a mere handful. At Sa'a the inhabitants of all the four villages numbered a little over 200, and the population of an average Christian village in any of the large islands of the Solomons when all of the available people had been gathered in would seldom be much over 60. These villages, moreover, are several miles apart, and there is nothing in the nature of roads joining them, so it is plain that there must necessarily be a great deal of unavoidable isolation between the villages, and concerted action and corporate life will not be acquired easily.


The native church in Melanesia has never really been asked as yet to undertake the support of its own clergy and teachers. Bishop Wood's charge in 1915 was the first official acknowledgement of the need for the Melanesians to look to themselves rather than to the Mission for funds to pay the teachers. In 1914 the amount contributed for the support of the Mission by the native church was £31. This amount certainly seems out of all proportion, since at the same time the island stations cost £1,300 and most of this was for teacher's pay. Nor is it that an excessive wage is paid to the teachers. No native priest receives more than £25 a year, and some of the junior teachers are rated at only £1 a year. In old days these salaries were always paid in kind, with now and then a demand for a little cash, but nowadays a good deal of payment is done in cash, since traders and stores are found in almost every place.

There has never been any attempt made to organize a system of local contributions. If a village wanted to buy timber or iron for the building of its church, copra was made and was sold for the purpose, the Mission ship occasionally carrying the copra to market, or curios were made and were sold abroad. At various times during Bishop Wilson's episcopate several villages gave contributions in curios and these were taken and sold for the benefit of the Mission. But this never became a regular thing. There seems to be no reason why the support of the native teachers in the well-established Christian villages should not be laid as a duty on the native church, with moreover the certainty of success. Until the time of Bishop Wilson no such thing was thought of, and one looks in vain for any hint of it in the lives of the first two bishops. In their time the making of copra was far from being established as an industry in Melanesia, and with the exception of food and curios there was practically nothing that could serve as a means of raising money. The native money (shell money or the teeth of porpoises or dogs) was valueless, since there was no means of changing it, as no traders would take it as a means of exchange.


In himself the Melanesian knows but little, if anything at all, of gratitude, and he sees nothing incongruous in allowing the Mission to pay his teachers. Bishop Wilson tried to inculcate the idea that it was the duty of the natives to convey their Mission priests about in boats, acting as crews for them, and receiving no pay. The missionaries are often at heavy expense in obtaining boats' crews (every man pays his own travelling expenses), and in the Banks Group Mr. Cullwick constantly had a crew of six men with him for three months at a stretch. [196/197] The various villages, even if they provide any food at all for the crews (and most of them will do a little to that end), soon tire of feeding strangers, and so the missionary has to buy food for his crew and carry it about with him in addition to paying them.

In Malaita and San Cristoval there never was never any difficulty in obtaining crews, nor was there any bargaining about price (but this was before the return of the Kanakas from Queensland and the consequent introduction of a very different set of ideas), whereas in Florida the missionary has had regularly to hire his crew and appoint a fixed rate of wages before leaving. In places other than Florida half a crown a week was reckoned very good pay. A man would gaily leave on a six weeks' tour with no luggage beyond his pipe, shoulder-bag, and one loin-cloth. On the morning of departure our yard would be thronged with men and a spokesman from among them would approach and ask: "Are many going with you?" "Why?" "Oh, I did not know whether you had enough." Our experience was that men had to be turned away at such times, and a double crew could always be got. But though they were content with their pay, no one of them would have been willing to go for nothing, while at the same time the home duties of them all were practically nil. They and their people were being benefited very materially by the presence of the missionary, but it was perhaps too much to expect them to give their services free in carrying him about; moreover, they viewed the work as a chance of earning a little, and such chances were rate.

The Melanesian attitude with regards to presents is peculiar. A number of women would come with yams in baskets for sale; one special basket would be reported as "not for sale," its contents (often inferior yams) were a gift--but it would have been the height of foolishness to accept such a gift without making a corresponding return. On being discharged from hospital a man would ask for a present in that he had been cured! Where there is no sense of debt there can be no showing of gratitude, gratitude being a spiritual and not a natural gift, a sense of the need to try to make a return for favors rendered. A Melanesian knows nothing of social duties; his life is lived apart from that of his fellows; he has no social sense, no dependence on his fellows, no common bonds of union such as spring up in community life; he asks nothing from his fellows nor they anything from him; he owes them nothing, and in consequence his circumstances have never been such as would be likely to encourage the growth of gratitude. He has never received anything; he has nothing to return.

The average Melanesian is a person of few worldy possessions; his house furniture consists of a few wooden bowls, a mortar for pounding yams or taro, a supply of vegetables smaller or larger according to his energy, an axe or a cane-knife; also a little stock of native money and perhaps a canoe. Of clothes he has practically none and the [197/198] missionary's simple wardrobe seems to him to be lavish in the extreme; he therefore has no compunction in asking of what he knows the white man to possess. If a person has practically never owned anything at all and if all his fellows are in the same condition too it is almost impossible to get him to understand that he should feel gratitude towards those who give him anything, since from his point of view they have so much in that they have anything at all.


The question of treachery follows on that of gratitude. It is a matter of common belief amongst Europeans that natives are treacherous. This idea of treachery is generally founded on ignorance of the point of view of the natives. It is generally supposed that one can not trust oneself to them; that their attitude is uncertain and that they are liable to turn and rend one without any provocation. While granting that the native is a person of moods, it is just as possible to foretell what action he is likely to take in a given case as it is with Europeans. In his actions he follows a line of reasoning quite as much as the white man does. Many attacks on and murders of white men have been ascribed to treachery on the part of the natives, but it is only fair to call to remembrance the awful indignities and atrocities perpetrated on them by whites and to put these in the scale over against the accusations of treachery. The native certainly at times acts wickedly either on impulse of the moment or for a wicked end, but it most cases of wrong done to whites in Melanesia there has been some antecedent cause, some evil associated with a white person somewhere. The occasion may have been remote and the connection faulty from our point of view, but in the mind of the native the provocation was there. With our notions of direct justice and of the necessity for the punishment of the actual wrong-doer himself we can not understand the point of view of the native, which is that justice is satisfied so long as some one of the same people who did the real or fancied wrong is made to suffer.

Project Canterbury