Project Canterbury

The Isles That Wait

By A Lady Member of the Melanesian Mission [Ellen Wilson]

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1911.


MERELAVA has already been mentioned as the island which sent out Joe Qealav to work on Santa Maria. It is a very striking-looking island with its steep sides rising precipitously out of the sea. It is remarkable also for the absence of fever, which, no doubt, accounts partly for the vigour of the people. A tongue of basalt rock projecting out into the sea makes a picturesque landing-place, especially when the people in their bright coloured dresses collect there to welcome the ship. To us, who only know the Meralava of to-day, it seems strange to read that in 1874 "it was found in a very hopeless condition, depopulated of all able-bodied inhabitants by the labour trade, the old and weak dying or dead, and the labourers returning with firearms, shooting and poisoning at their own will, with the corpses of those thus killed left unburied beside the paths." Seven years later a change took place owing to the work of a Mota teacher, a good school chapel was built, and the Bishop found fourteen candidates ready for baptism. The teaching thus begun has been carried on faithfully to the present day by William Vaget, first as deacon and then as priest. The real beginning, however, was made long ago before William was born, when his father Qoge, who was a great chief, allowed Bishop Patteson to take his twin sons, his eldest born, to Norfolk Island in 1866. They were there two years, and were lads of great promise, receiving at their baptism the names of Richard and Clement. But typhoid fever breaking out at Norfolk Island they both fell victims to it, and a tombstone with a double cross marks their resting-place in the little cemetery.

[36] Clement Marau, their younger brother, has written an account of the ship's arrival at Meralava the following year. He says, "the month of planting was near and, with my father, we were chopping away the trees, when in the middle of the day we heard shouts of Bisopé, and there we saw her right between us and Mota. Father and all of us ran at once. We forgot our work and ran straight down to the shore, looking eagerly to see those two twins, who had gone away with Bisopé. But when the boat came near, though we saw Bisopé and Robert Pantutun of Mota, we looked in vain for the faces we knew. Then father asked 'Where are the two twins?' and when Bisopé answered they were dead, such a weight came down upon all the crowd of people there on the rocks that in the silence it was as if there was no crowd there at all, because every one was so sorry for those two and we all of us thought so much of them and loved them. But presently the whole crowd broke out into wailing for those two. My brothers and I myself cried loudly for them. Before long I crept down by my father's side and stepped over into the boat (with Robert Pantutun's help) while the crowd was thinking only of its lamentations. Bisopé stretched out his arms and put them round my neck, and he untied the handkerchief from his own neck and tied it round me. It was only when some time had passed and the wailing was quieter that people observed that I was in the boat. Seeing it, my uncle was filled with rage and said, 'Ha! he has taken away these two and they are dead, and now he wants to finish by killing this one the last of all.' He clutched his bow and ran down with a handful of poisoned arrows in his hands and one already fixed in the bowstring, ready to kill Bisopé, ready to shoot. Robert Pantutun cried, 'Bishop, they are attacking us,' but Bisopé said, 'Wait a bit,' and held up his hand to command silence. And he said to my uncle, who was a great fighting man, 'What do you want? What shall I do for you?' He answered, 'I [36/37] am angry because of these two sons of mine and this is the third. You want to make me lose them every one.' So Bisopé took out an axe to comfort him and he was pacified. All this while my own father was sitting quiet, all his thoughts lost in weeping for his sons, whose faces he would never see again; as he wept he cried, 'Alas, my sons! Your eyes that were the good of my life are lost and gone from me. Alas! my sons.' Then Bisopé begged my father to let him have me, and he let me go with him, and so it was. And the sun was sinking towards the west as we rowed off to the ship: and the people went up the steep paths into the island, weeping as they went."

And so the boy stepped out of darkness into light, holding the Bishop's hand, and one marvels at the readiness with which the father, broken-hearted at the loss of two sons, sends his third boy from his side out into the unknown. The lad was in due course of time baptized under the name of Clement, and received a good education at Norfolk Island. When the time came for him to give out in turn of that which he had received, he elected to go down to Ulawa to help his friend and godson Walter Waaro, and there in that far-off land he chose his wife Susie. Ulawa was a wild island, given to cannibalism, and Clement and Walter had a strenuous time.

Walter Waaro was not a specially able teacher, but he was a good man with a keen sense of duty, and of this he gave a remarkable example. In the village where he was living the heathen chief fell ill and was deserted by all his friends. He asked Walter if he would take him into his own house and care for him till he died; this Walter readily consented to do, although he knew perfectly well that when the chief was dead his followers would return and, laying the blame on the school, would proceed to take his life in revenge. And so it proved, for no sooner was the old chief dead than the cry arose, "The school is to blame!" However, instead of going to Walter they [37/38] sent a message bidding him come to them. This Walter did not feel himself called upon to do, and he sent back a message declining the invitation, adding, they might come and kill him if they liked, but his place was in the school-house and he had no intention of leaving it. The people debated over the matter until the evening, while no doubt prayer went up from the little school-house for protection, and it was finally decided not to kill Walter. We can imagine the feelings with which Walter heard the enemy approaching, and how he would nerve himself to meet them fearlessly. But they only came to request the body of the chief for burial, which no doubt was given them with much alacrity.

Clement Marau describes his first Sunday in Ulawa, when possessing a vocabulary of four words, good, bad, man come here, "I was put ashore in the heavy rain, and I was all alone and the crowd of people in the canoe house began to ask the boys from Norfolk Island what this young man had come with them for. I had been already earnestly desiring to speak to them in the canoe house because their coming together into shelter from the rain gave a good opportunity. Walter Waaro was my interpreter, and I said, 'This is the reason why I am come here, it is that I may tell you of a new religion as I have heard it myself and in this way I want to help you. For I myself have heard of one Spirit better than the spirits that we ignorantly believe in. He is God; He is Creator of Heaven and earth, the Maker of everything, of men, whether white or black, whether natives of the place or travellers or guests."' That little address was given in 1880, and was the beginning of a long period of labour.

Mr. Comins was at that time making Ulawa his headquarters, so that the two teachers had a wise and experienced adviser and helper at hand. Walter Waaro's son was the first to be baptized, and a girl from Norfolk Island the first to receive Christian burial. She was not a native of Ulawa, but of Saa on Mala: [38/39] her sister, however, had married an Ulawa man, and when Amina, who had developed consumption, was sent down from Norfolk Island it was to Ulawa that she came. The story is told that when she arrived at the landing-place the natives refused to allow her to be put ashore there, and the only alternative was to drag the poor invalid up a perpendicular rock some fifteen feet high. After the first rally Amina's illness increased, and heathen custom forbade any particular attention being paid to a sick woman; while, were she to die, the house would have to be pulled down after such defilement. Seeing her neglected state Mr. Comins determined to remove Amina to the schoolhouse at the risk of stopping the attendance at school. There the sick girl lay in comparative comfort with her New Testament or her Prayer-book ever in her hands, praying daily for the godchildren whose names were written in her book, and singing to herself the hymns she had so often sung at Norfolk Island: so peacefully and trustfully she passed to her rest.

The invariable burial custom on Ulawa was to throw the dead body to the sharks, ever on the look-out for prey. But Mr. Comins had promised Amina a Christian burial, and, in spite of determined opposition, more especially from the women, he fulfilled that promise. Having managed to buy a piece of land, he left Clement Marau to defend his house from a possible attack, while he gathered the few Christians together and laid the body in the grave with service and hymns. A crowd collected, but the party was unmolested even while the grave was filled in and stones piled over it. But no one dared venture near the spot after dark, lest they should meet the ghost, unable to rest because the body had not been given to the sharks.

In 1885 Mr. Comins found the result of Clement's labours in nine adult candidates for baptism and also seven infants, the latter a hopeful sign that infanticide was lessening; the people also seemed greatly attached to him. In 1890 Bishop Selwyn ordained Clement [39/40] deacon at Norfolk Island. It was Clement's turn to drive the cows in on that particular morning, and he did it as usual, coming straight from his work just in time for the service, which made the Bishop recall how David was taken from the sheepfolds, not dreaming that in later years there would be another and a sadder resemblance. But in those years Clement worked earnestly, and Mr. Ivens, taking charge of Ulawa and South Mala in 1896, found the school in excellent condition, the fighting nearly over and the people giving land, timber and labour for the building of a new church, which is one of the finest in the mission, built of coral, and the altar table beautifully inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The Ulawa voices are very musical; so that the singing is a treat, which is more than can be said of every island.

Clement had four sons and a daughter Emily, whom Clement left very reluctantly behind him at Norfolk Island after coming up for priest's ordination in 1903. She was his only daughter and a great treasure, and he was only induced to leave her for the sake of education. Alas! she died of meningitis the following year, passing on to a higher education than we could give her, to the abiding grief of her parents.

Would that one might close the history here; but alas! a cloud has enveloped the man whom the whole mission honoured and respected, and Clement is no longer priest. We can thank God that repentance, though tardy in showing itself, came, and that he has returned in true penitence to the Cross of his Saviour whom at one time he so faithfully served and then failed.

Another Meralava boy is teaching on Ulawa, Clement Gon, a relation of Clement Marau. While at Norfolk Island he married an Ulawa girl named Emma, much to the annoyance of his Meralava relations, who wished him to marry a girl from his own island. But in marrying Emma, Clement acted very wisely for his own happiness, for she was a girl calculated to make any home happy. Good, industrious, kind, always cheerful, [40/41] and with a smile which, however depressed you might be feeling, made you feel better at once. They had one great sorrow in the loss of their first child, but a second boy was born and the clouds rolled away, only to gather again when Emma began to show signs of the illness of which she died, after great suffering. Mrs. Ivens tells how as long as she could crawl about she did all her duties faithfully, but at last even her brave spirit could not master her increasing weakness, and she was compelled to lie and suffer till death came as a blessed release. Hers really did seem a perfected character, and Clement mourned her greatly. "She was like no other woman," he said; "she was never 'mero'" (sulky). Clement Marau's eldest son Martin has inherited his father's abilities and is doing very well in an exceedingly difficult position.

Ulawa is not the only northern island to which the south has sent teachers; at this moment one of her sons is having a hard struggle at Manifuki on San Cristoval, holding up the lamp of truth in the midst of a people uncertain as yet whether it is a desirable thing to grasp or not. For San Cristoval, or Bauro, is one of the tardiest to receive the new teaching, though it was one of the first to be visited, and a boy was taken to New Zealand as far back as 1850. A few years later William Didimang, who had already been to Kohimarama, embarked on a labour vessel together with the son of the chief Iri, with a view to working their way to New Zealand for further teaching; but, instead, they were carried off to China, where the chief's son died. It was to break the news of his death that Bishop Selwyn with Mr. Patteson landed at San Cristoval in 1858. Iri's grief was too deep for words, and, while the men broke a plank out of the dead lad's canoe as a sign he would never more use it, and while the women wept and wailed, the stricken chief sat apart holding an ornament worn by his boy and silently regarding it. By and by he roused himself to listen to what Mr. Patteson was saying to the people, for the [41/42] latter had a special love for Bauro and is said to have known the language very thoroughly. At night, as the two were lying side by side, Iri suddenly asked Mr. Patteson, "Do you think I shall ever see my son again?" His loss had brought the thought of another life very forcibly before him, and we can imagine how Mr. Patteson would make the most of his opportunity. It was here on San Cristoval that Mr. Atkin did such grand pioneer work, and from this island came Stephen Taroaniaro, who was baptized along with George Sarawia, Henry Tagalad, and William Qasvar, that little band which was to do such good work in the future. But to Stephen was accorded the highest honour of the martyr's crown. He had accompanied Mr. Atkin on that last voyage in 1871, and was in the boat which took Bishop Patteson ashore at Nukapu and waited for him outside the lagoon while he went on shore alone. The yell that went up when the Bishop received his death-blow reached the canoes which were drifting about outside along with the boat, and they immediately began shooting, and before the boat could get out of range Mr. Atkin was shot in the shoulder and Stephen received six arrows in the shoulder and chest. In both cases tetanus set in. Mr. Atkin died first, and Stephen was released the following day, having borne the four days' agony with marvellous bravery and even cheerfulness. He left a wife and little girl behind him at Norfolk Island. At his own village Tawatana Basil Horohenua is doing excellent work.

Snake worship, no doubt, has been a stumbling-block to the people at the easterly end of San Cristoval, and has accounted for the reluctance of Santa Anna to receive a teacher. A temple is said to stand there with a cavern at the far end where the snake lives. Only certain old men enter this temple to sacrifice and to consult the oracle in time of illness, war or perplexity. Sacrifices are offered regularly at the ripening of nuts, yams and breadfruit. If displeased, the snake swells [42/43] to a large size, and this it did when consulted as to the advisability of allowing a school to be begun, the old men being no doubt not at all in favour of a new religion which would lessen their own importance. In other parts the shark was the object of reverence.

At Heuru there was a fine old chief named David Bo, a great warrior in the past, but his heart had been opened to receive the new teaching, and, once convinced of its truth, the missionary had no stauncher friend. It was owing to his influence and energy that the present fine church was built at Heuru, and built into the sanctuary steps is a slab of red sandstone on which David Bo told the Rev. R. P. Wilson he had many a time offered sacrifice upon the beach to the shark, accompanied by some such formula as this, "Oh, shark, protect me on my voyage and guide me safely home again." Not far from Heuru, at Wauo, there is still living an old chief named Taki whom Bishop Patteson used to visit. Taki was a brother of David Bo and a great warrior too in the past, a connoisseur in human flesh, though for many years he has given up all such sport. In 1890 Taki bought a new canoe, which under the old system entailed the sacrifice of a life. Taki felt that the old order had changed and that it would not do to follow what he probably felt was a good old custom; yet to do nothing to celebrate the purchase was more than he could bear. So his people came to him with the suggestion that they should follow the old custom of taking the canoe round to all the villages and receiving presents in each place, but leave out the detail of human sacrifices. Taki assented to this, and the results were most satisfactory: the winds were favourable, the presents numerous, and for the first time the crew of the royal canoe offered up morning and evening prayer to the true God.

Yet, as has been said, Christianity made slow progress, and Bishop Montgomery going round in 1892 found things in a very unsatisfactory condition. [43/44] However, in 1896 a white priest was able to be spared, to give San Cristoval his whole attention, and Mr. Wilson with the later help of a layman, Mr. Drew, worked there for some years. Progress has been made and new schools opened, and while Bishop Montgomery could only say of Heuru, "Some of the faces exhibited signs of Christian feeling, but a larger number exhibited every sign of savagery in demeanour and scantiness of clothing." Bishop Wilson in 1909 was able to write as follows--

"Nothing could be better than Heuru. A clean, happy and affectionate set of people, with a beautiful church in a village surrounded by gardens full of bananas and food, and no pigs. For the late chief, that faithful old David Bo, as his last act, persuaded the people to get rid of the abomination from the village. In the heathen villages the people had begged of me, chiefly tobacco, with utter shamelessness. Here in the Christian village I was looked upon as the supplier of something better, and I seemed able to help them on account of their faith. Instead, moreover, of begging of me, they came one by one and gave me presents of shell rings and curios from the grown men to the tiny tots. Here are people to baptize, confirm, marry and give Holy Communion to. I could have spent weeks instead of a few days in these Christian villages for God's grace was so evidently in the people's hearts." Heuru has a most excellent teacher in Samuel Gede, noted for his bowling in his school days at Norfolk Island, and ranking now among our very best teachers.

Of Wauo the Bishop writes, "What a service we had! They had built a beautiful church there, wonderful outside with its dog-tooth pattern in red, white and black, and two doors side by side at the west end with large crosses on them in relief, and locks without doubt taken off Norfolk Island boxes. The inside was still more wonderful; a decorated painted font; well-made seats placed college-chapel wise, and book-desks [44/45] resting on the tails of carved bonito fish; a bark floor, and cement altar steps.

"On Sunday morning, July 18, after Holy Communion in the new church, the people, who had come from Christian villages in all parts, gathered for the dedication ceremony. They had been well drilled, and about 160 of them marched two and two in procession round the church singing, and all taking part in the 122nd Psalm. Then John Still Taki, the old chief, led the men in at one door, and two women teachers led the women in by the other, and the church was filled, leaving little room for myself and the teachers to enter after them. It was a beautiful service, and between other thoughts came this one; what a difference between these San Cristoval Christians and the San Cristoval heathen! What must they think of this? A bountiful feast followed, in which some of the heathen joined in. It was a great day for old Taki, and he prowled round, leaning on his long stick, not unlike a good-natured gorilla to look at, seeing that all were well supplied and happy. I saw real life and real Christians in these villages. In one of them a sick man told me he had 'prayed day and night to the Father in Heaven, but asked why He let him be sick.' A boy who had fallen into sin came and asked me to write down a prayer that would help him. Another came and asked me to explain one of our Lord's sayings which had been puzzling him; and two men put themselves into my hands, for me to send them far away to teach in heathen villages. There were these, and other signs of life in one of the least esteemed of the Christian villages in San Cristoval."

At Rumatari where the people very reluctantly agreed to receive a teacher, Simon Qalges, after working for many years on Ureparapara, has been living for the last year or two and gaining the affections of the bushmen, about thirty of whom have come down to attend school. The Bishop made a stay of several days in this village and learnt a good deal about the customs of the people, [45/46] and cruel enough many of them are. Infanticide prevails, the women believing that they lose strength by undertaking the duties of motherhood. Every boy is tattooed, the instrument used being the sharpened bone of a bat's wing. The operation takes the whole day and the boy is tied down, the pain being frightful as the boy's cries testify; for three days the pain continues, while for weeks his face is swollen and a hideous sight.

When a chief dies a life is taken for him, and the skull is preserved and worshipped, and sacrifices of nuts, and puddings, or pig burnt underneath it.

At Naoneone James Faiato is making strenuous efforts to bring the gospel message home to the hearts of the people. He is having a very bad time, has been stripped of all his possessions, and been obliged to send his wife and children home to Fagani for safety. The chief had invited him to come as the last chance of a cure; he having been ill for some time, and, all known remedies having failed, he seems to have thought a school in his village might succeed in effecting his recovery. So James stays on in patient hope, and past experience only strengthens our faith in the power of God to dispel even this seemingly impenetrable darkness.

At Bore on the south side of the island a school was started a few years ago at the request of the chief Ariahurongo, who was baptized in 1909. A special interest is attached to him as he was all but buried alive, when an infant, by his mother, but was rescued and brought up by another woman possessed of more maternal instincts. Ariahurongo, in the face of much opposition, has held faithfully to the new way.

On the same side of the island Ben Tarauru is starting a school. It is a lonely position, for the ship may frequently not be able to reach him owing to heavy seas and thick weather.

Thus slowly but surely is the Light being diffused.

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