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The Beginning of the Work in the Banks Islands.

By George Sarawia

From Southern Cross Log, Vol. XX, No. 237, Auckland, June 1, 1915, pp. 527-530.

[Also published in Southern Cross Log, Vol. 21(8), London, August, 1915, pp. 122-124.]

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2012




George Sarawia was the first convert, and afterwards the first Melanesian ordained a priest, working among his people at Mota for many years. It was in 1857 that he first saw the two Bishops, and in 1858 he went to the winter school at Lifu. He was baptized n 1863, and helped to translate the Acts in 1864. He and Mr. Bice were ordained deacons in 1869, and he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Auckland in 1873. He was present at Bishop Wilson's consecration at S. Paul's, Auckland, in 1894, and died, after years of work at Mota, in 1901, loved and respected by all, without a stain on his character.


Friends, this is the story of my first voyage in the beginning, about my going for the first time with white men. I went with Bishop Selwyn and Bishop Patteson when no one from our islands had yet been with white men; but all were afraid of them, thinking they were not men but ghosts, or perhaps spirits.

When I was a small boy I had not yet seen a white man, or the form of a great ship; but in the year the Bishop and those with him came for the first time to us at Vanualava, on that day I saw for the first time myself a white man, when they anchored at Nawono; it was the landing-place near which I lived, which the two Bishops had just discovered.

This was how it began when the Bishops took me. They anchored in the evening, and next morning I paddled out to the side of the great ship to see if I could buy anything for myself, and when I got to the ship there was Bishop Selwyn standing on my side of the deck; and I was afraid of him because he was wearing black clothes and had a very white face; and I let my canoe float away from the ship because I was afraid of him; and though he beckoned to me to climb up on the deck of the ship I was afraid, because on that day I was seeing a white man for the first time in my life, and I thought I would paddle home. And he went on beckoning to me, for he knew no word of Mota yet, and he begged me to come by beckoning to me with his hand; but I was still shy, [527/528] not able to decide whether or not to climb up, wondering what to do, while he still went on beckoning.

Then Bishop Patteson came up as well, and they both urged me to climb up on to the deck of the ship; but I was still afraid, and thought in my heart, Why do these two want me to go to them? for I did not understand them; I was still a heathen, and I thought they were like the men of our islands in character—they would entice a person to kill him—that is what I thought of them—they will entice me up on the ship so as to kill me. I did not know the Bishop, and was still afraid, my canoe floating close to the ship.

Then after all I decided it would be a good thing to go to them, and I paddled in a little to the ship, and Bishop Selwyn threw me a rope, to which I tied my canoe, and he stretched out his hand and pulled me up on to the ship; and I saw they received me kindly, and the three of us walked along towards the stern and sat down. Then they asked me the name of my island and the names of people, and I told them, and they wrote them down in a book, but I did not know what a book was. And when I saw the feet of the crew I thought it was their real feet I saw (but they were wearing shoes), and I thought these men are partly iron, and I trembled.

And the two Bishops wrote some words also, such as thou, he, you, we two, I, we, in Mota, and we admired them for hearing so clearly the Mota words, and for being able to pronounce them properly. And the ship seemed to me like an island; I did not think a man had made it—I thought a spirit had formed it. Another thing that puzzled me was that the ship did not float ashore, but kept on floating in one place, for I had not seen the chain at the bow holding the ship firmly by its anchor; but I thought the ship was like a man, if you sent it anywhere it would go, and if you forbade it it would remain, and I thought they had told it to stop at that particular place.

After that they let me go, for I was afraid all the time I was on board, and I did not buy anything, but paddled home to the shore, and I told the people that those two were very good men, who had received and treated me with kindness. And that was the beginning of it, that I understood these were men of goodwill, and I liked them very much. Then they went along the shore to get water, and I saw those two at the steer-oar carrying back the water; and then they went along the shore again, sounding as far as Vogorogoro, whither I had gone already. I followed them there, and Bishop Selwyn took me into the boat and we rowed along to Rav, where the people came out to meet us, and I saw these white [528/529] men were good men, for the Bishop gave the people axes for nothing. And I was preparing to go back to my father, but the Bishop stopped me, and we sailed back in the boat to the ship; and my father went home very uneasy about me, thinking the white men would eat me.

We were mistaken about white men. We thought they were our own people who had died, and now appeared again, sailing hither. There were six of us who slept on board that first night when a ship came to us at Nawono. The Bishop kept us, wishing us to sleep on board; but we did not understand, and when the sun set we said we would go home; but those two would not let us, and we were very much afraid, thinking we should be eaten. These are the names of those six who slept for the first time with white men when they first visited us:—Sarawia, Mantanamar, Linlinwar, Raveaka, Qalomana, Tavuntetug. That night the Bishop received us and was very friendly with us, and we with them, for we saw they were two good men, taking us into the boat and giving us food in the boat, and giving us beads for nothing, and hooks, and clothes, and biscuits. As for the food, it was unknown to us, and we ate what we saw them eat. When we got on board they gave us food and meat again, and we ate again, for they fed us well that night. That was how those two treated us, and we took note of it and again saw that they were good men, bountiful to all men, good men indeed.

Then they rang the bell for prayers on board, and we wondered what it was, having never heard before the sound of a bell; but the Bishop told us all to go below; we did not know why, but we went; and I followed close behind the Bishop. Then I sat down close to the place where the Bishop and hi people stood for prayers, and the six of us sat staring at them, thinking they were going to do something or other. Then they sang a hymn, and we looked at one another in a startled way, very much frightened, and wanting to run away if it had been possible, only we were in the inside of the ship. So we sat in fear; yes, indeed, I was very much frightened that day when I saw them praying and kneeling down, and Bishop Selwyn reading the prayers, I thought he was just talking; I did not know he was praying; I stared at him, not knowing prayer was a holy act one ought to reverence; but I sat as one would at anything else, and the Bishop read on I suppose to the end of the prayer, and then they all said, Amen. At that I jumped up in a fright to run, but the Bishop half turned as I stood up to run and motioned me down with his hand, and I sat down again, but trembling all over, Then he began to read again; and I tried again [529/530] to run away, but he motioned me down with his hand, I suppose three or four times; but it was no use his doing so, for I rushed out from them all, meaning to swim ashore.

See, my friends, this is what I thought: These are the two chief men on the ship, and they are telling the others to kill us, and they are agreeing by saying Amen, so I rushed out very much frightened. When prayers were over Bishop Patteson followed me and brought me back along the deck, and the two took us into their cabin at the stern. And here again I took note that they were good men, for they did not despise us, but set us on their beds, and we of Vanualava talked together, and I trusted them again.

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