Project Canterbury

The Isles That Wait

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

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1911.


LYING to the north-west of San Cristoval is Mala, one of the largest and perhaps the most difficult of the Solomon Group, and sorely needing a larger staff of white men.

In old days the people were very shy of white faces, and Bishop Selwyn could hardly induce them to come on board. The first teacher to come among them was Joe Wate, one of their own countrymen, who in 1873 was set down at his native village of Saa, along with three boys, to form the nucleus of a school: and from this tiny centre the light of the Christian religion has gradually spread on all sides.

Joe had been taken up to Norfolk Island seven years previously, and, falling overboard on his way thither, narrowly escaped ending his career then and there. He was Mr. Atkin's godson, and his very special charge; and Joe was with Mr. Atkin in the boat that secured Bishop Patteson's body at Nukapu. As Mr. Atkin lay dying he said to Joe, "Stephen and I are going to follow the Bishop, and they are of your country--who will speak to them?" "I do not know," answered the boy, caring for little at the moment beyond the fact that his master and friend was passing away from him. Yet the words remained in his heart, and by his life he made noble answer to that dying question. Grandly he worked in the face of great opposition, the greatest obstacles thrown in his path coming from his own brother, the chief.

Not that Joe's life was one of uninterrupted progress, without a slip. Grievous wrong was done him once, which possibly made his own footing less secure, [47/48] and soon after he too fell into sin. In consequence the school at Saa came temporarily to an end, and Joe's spiritual life received a grave check--checked, but not destroyed, and the parable which has brought back so many to their Father's feet came as a God-sent message to the man, weighed down by a sense of his sin. He was staying with Clement Marau at Ulawa, and the lesson in school was on the opening sentences of the Prayer-book, and the words, "I will arise and go to my Father." When school was over, Joe came to Clement and said, "I compared him to myself," and burst into tears.

Anxious to take up his work again, Joe Wate returned to Saa, and the school was reopened, only to be closed again two years later, for the chief Dorawewe cursed it, and none dared attend. So Joe went up to Norfolk Island, and then to Ulawa, where he remained till 1890, when Dorawewe died, and when dying ordered that Joe should return to Saa. Once more Joe took up his old position, only to be molested again by the heathen, who menaced the school people, and for weeks the village was in danger and Joe kept watch every night. In 1896 he was ordained deacon at Norfolk Island, but fresh trouble came to him that same year in the death of his two youngest children, who were taken from him in one week, while another and a worse trouble befell him later. Yet in the later years of his life he had great happiness in seeing the results of his work, eight hundred natives being brought into the Church of Christ.

In quickness and intelligence Joe Wate was far above the average. Mr. Ivens says of him, "Joe's brain was quick, and his faculty of comparison at once enabled him in all cases to render phrase for phrase and idea for idea. When translating with his help into Saa, if I desired to find some term more exact than the ordinary superficial one, I had only to explain the idea at the root of the word, and I seldom failed to get the equivalent in Saa from him. He never made [48/49] 'dog' translations, and he never wrote anything but what was good 'Saa.' The Saa Prayer-book is in the main his compilation, and the Gospel of St. Matthew, as it is now being printed, is also his. In the other three Gospels and the Acts the form and moulding of the sentences and phrases follows the turn of Joe's own ways of thought." In 1902 Joe went up to Norfolk Island to see if any treatment could stay the disease which had attacked his jaw, but nothing could be done, and he returned home to die two years later.

His name will always be remembered as that of the first convert from South Mala and its first deacon, spending his life in the almost uninterrupted effort to bring the gospel message home to the hearts of his fellow countrymen.

A little to the south of Saa lies Port Adam, and here came Johnson Telegsem, a Motalava boy. He too had received the legacy of missionary work from dying lips, those of a Mala boy with whom he had formed a close friendship on Norfolk Island. The boy fell ill, and in his delirium spoke continually of his country and its needs. Kneeling in bitter grief at the bedside of his friend, Johnson offered his life to the work, and when his education was finished, volunteered to teach on Mala. He was sent to Port Adam, and here the daughter of the chief fell in love with the stranger, and for love of him went up to Norfolk Island to receive the teaching which would make her more fit for the position of a teacher's wife. In due time she was baptized by the name of Lizzie. Unlike the rest of the girls, who consider it incorrect to betray any interest in their future husbands, Lizzie talked openly of hers, and was much teased because she had said one day that "Johnson was good and handsome, and she liked him." The wedding, however, very nearly did not take place, for Lizzie's people were indignant at Johnson's intention to start a school at Roas, and refused to give Lizzie to him. [49/50] Johnson wished to go down alone, but Lizzie refused to be left behind. "I know my people better than he; they will surely kill him if I do not go too. Oh, let us two go down, and if it be God's will let us die together." However, no such tragic fate awaited the lovers, and the marriage took place in 1895. Johnson worked steadily and well, but alas! Lizzie's temper marred the harmony of their married life very considerably. For fifteen years Johnson taught, making occasional visits to Motalava for rest. In 1910 the ship called at Motalava, expecting to pick up the family party after one of these holidays; but found Lizzie a widow, Johnson having died after a few days of illness and unconsciousness. Lizzie's high spirits and loud tongue were temporarily lowered in very genuine grief for the kind and patient husband, who, as she said, "knew not how to be sullen or angry." The deficiency, one fears, was amply made up for by poor Lizzie herself. She, with her children, returned to Mala under the care of her brother, Joe Leo, who, with his family, were returning from Norfolk Island, and whom Lizzie intended to help in the heathen village to which he was bound.

Many are the tales that Lizzie tells of the heathen customs among the women, and of the infanticide which takes place to such a frightful extent. Many and many a time have Johnson and she interfered and rescued an infant from its living grave, attracted by its cries. Johnson would say, "This is a school village, and I will not have such things done."

Women in Mala are chosen as wives simply for their strength, and young girls, in their ambition to appear to advantage in the eyes of the men, will often do themselves serious harm by overstraining their muscles. Considering the drudgery of their married life one is tempted to wonder at their anxiety to be wed; but a single woman would be no less of a drudge, while missing the protection and the certain position which matrimony affords.

[51] At Port Adam, where Johnson first worked, there is now a native deacon, Luke Masuraa.

In North Mala Mr. Hopkins has been having an uphill fight alone for some years, but now has a helper in Mr. C. Sage. Human life is of small account here, and in revenge for a murder or more trivial offence a perfectly innocent person may be shot. Thus James Ivo, a teacher from Gela, met his death while sitting quietly in his own house at Norefou. Hearing the report of a gun, Mr. Hopkins rushed out to find James lying on the ground at the point of death, shot by a man who had not the slightest ill-will towards him, but who needed a life to wipe out the shame of having been cursed by his wife that morning. A life must be had; James was handy and a stranger, why not kill him? No sooner thought of than done. The fact that James had a young wife just gone home to Gela for the birth of her first child would not have troubled the murderer in the least.

Mr. Hopkins writes of three similar murders within two months. One day at Fiu a heathen visitor there received a call one day from an apparently friendly person, but was suddenly killed with an axe by his visitor, in revenge for a murder committed years ago. On another occasion an old man was shot dead from behind a tree in revenge for an offence committed, not by himself, but by his brother long years before. The third case was that of a woman who had lately begun to attend school, and who was followed and killed in the bush by two men to avenge a quarrel in which she had no concern whatever. Mr. Hopkins tells also of a man named John Daomai, who came into the village, entered a house, and seeing a bushman sitting there, let fly his gun at him. The ball happily missed, but very narrowly. On John being questioned later as to his motive, he explained that he only meant to frighten off bushmen for the future. When asked what business it was of his to say who might come and who, might not come to the village, he replied, [51/52] "Oh, you white people can't understand us; our hearts are quite different to yours; I must do it." He was in an ill humour about something at the time, and the shot relieved his feelings. From all which it will be gathered that Mala is not a desirable residence for a nervous person.

The return of the Kanakas from Queensland made things for a time even more difficult than before. The majority of the labourers had been recruited from Mala, and their return caused great excitement and stirred up old quarrels. The men came back supplied with firearms and bereft of all respect for the white man, nor had the native chiefs any control over them. The Kanaka would arrive quite the master, clad in full dress, inclusive of collar and boots, bringing not unfrequently his bicycle with his other belongings. The next day would see him returned to his native and airy garb, plus a gun, and busily engaged over some old feud: an upsetting influence everywhere. Yet a certain number who had attended school in Queensland or Fiji have been an element of good, and Fiu on the western coast of Mala owes much to Charlie Turu, who on his return from Fiji and after a residence at Norfolk Island, was put down as teacher at Fiu. It is anything but a post of ease: his predecessor was murdered by the bush people, who are constantly harrying the village, stealing down and killing the school people if they can catch them going singly or in pairs to their gardens. During every service a sentinel is stationed outside the church to keep watch against these enemies from the bush. They have threatened often to kill Charlie, and to put an end to the school; but, says Charlie, " I tell them, 'You can kill me if you like, but the Bishop will send some one else in my place, and the school will still go on; I am not afraid.'"

There was hope that a school village of returned Kanakas might be established under Mr. Sage, who had had knowledge of them in Queensland, but the [52/53] difficulties and disappointments were great, and plan after plan fell through. But in spite of every obstacle the work is progressing, and Mr. Sage was able to write hopefully, in 1908, of the progress made in many villages.

A fine church was being built at Qarea, where not long ago the people were living in forts, which are still to be seen, though disused in the new and peaceful state of things; and fifty candidates were preparing for baptism, among whom was the chief. In the following year the Bishop visited the village, and the baptism took place at the mouth of the river, a short distance from the village. Among the candidates was an old woman who had scarcely left her house, much less the village, for a long time, and it seemed at one time as if she would collapse on the way or at best only arrive when the service was over. Sheer determination, however, carried her to the spot at last, just after the service had begun, and, though almost prostrate with fatigue, she was able to take her place among the candidates, supported kindly by the woman next to her. There were about thirty baptized, and the first to step into the water was the chief Ronai, who with his wife was enrolled in the army of Christ that day. One of the most interested of the spectators was their little son Maegwaria, just brought back for his holiday from Norfolk Island. It was a lovely day, late in the afternoon, and the sun was just setting as the last hymn was being sung. In front lay the rapidly darkening land; behind on the beach stood groups of armed heathen watching the strange ceremony with curiosity, perhaps not untinged with awe, and over the sunset waters came the boat to take the Bishop and his party back to the ship, leaving the new-made Christians to wend their way back along the beach to their homes.

At Norefou the school, started by Mr. Hopkins some years ago, is doing well. Behind it stands a stout stockade, which tells its own tale. To gauge the work [53/54] done there it is well to pay a visit first to one of the artificial islands off the coast. Here, herded together on an islet whose natural coral foundation has been built on and fenced round by coral blocks, live perhaps a hundred human beings; safe, because their bush enemies have no canoes, but who surely have bought their safety by a descent to the very lowest level. They procure vegetables by bartering their fish for the garden produce of the bush people. This being a mutual convenience, a truce is held for the time, and the women barter their wares while their menkind stand armed watching each other till the market is concluded, and the parties return to their respective homes.

Save for the selling of the fish, women are strictly forbidden to have anything to do with the fishing: the large net spread out over the rocks is the sign of the men's landing-place, and for any woman to land there is a crime punished by a speedy death. Entering at the women's side, friendly hands, stretched out in welcome, guide you down the narrow dirty alley between the low hovels on either side, which curiosity impels you to enter, and horror at the darkness and stifling atmosphere drives you out again with equal rapidity. Could womanhood find a much lower level? The majority without a rag of clothing, the few with the merest apology; yet women with the God-given soul looking out of their beautiful eyes, the one feature that the eye could rest on with any pleasure, so dirty, so degraded their figures; yet so human still in their craving for affection, in their curiosity and their vague admiration, nay, almost adoration, for what in their eyes seems beautiful and rare. I fancy no one who has seen one of these islands but will remember it with a wave of shame and sadness that such things should be possible yet on God's earth, for what one can write conveys but little of their state. Then visit Norefou, if possible on a Sunday, and see the people assembling in church. Look at the women, [54/55] clad in decent garments, not far advanced, perhaps, but with that dawning expression of light in their faces, and their feet already set on the ladder which leads up to the perfect day. What a contrast! Yet these people have been brought from that very island, the memory of which will haunt you to your dying day, verily brought out from the stronghold of Satan into the Kingdom of God. Experiences like these must make the missionary yearn to pick up one of the scoffers of mission work and drop him into one of these islands to spend a chastened year there.

A government commissioner is now residing on Mala, and a road is to be made across the island, which, it is hoped, will promote order and quietness.

It was to the shores of Mala that two Santa Cruzians were carried, quite against their will, as happens not infrequently to a canoe if caught by a strong wind or current. They were cast ashore at Port Adam in 1877, and were received with open arms as a welcome addition to the larder when duly fattened up. Fortunately the fattening proved a slow process, and Bishop John Selwyn arrived before they had reached the stage when they might be considered fit for cooking. With immense difficulty the Bishop induced their captors to sell him the thinner of the pair, one, moreover, whose sores rendered him the less appetizing. But hardly had the natives parted with him than they appeared to repent of their bargain, and Captain Bongard's watchful eye saw signs of canoes making for the mouth of the harbour, which made him clear out at once; and the ship proceeded northward, rejoiced at having saved the life of one man, but sorrowing over the fate of the other. On the ship's return the Bishop hazarded another visit, to find the captive still
alive but carefully concealed. The sight of the rescued man, grown fat and whole, awakened a hungry longing in the breast of the chief, and, like the spider of our
nursery rhyme, he besought the man to come into his parlour to visit the other fly. The invitation, as may [55/56] be supposed, was not accepted, and the ship left in safety once more. There seemed no hope for the poor remaining captive, yet he also managed to escape. On the very night preceding the feast at which he was to form the principal dish, a deep sleep, surely God-sent, fell on his gaolers, and he made his way out and down to the shore; there he could find no paddles, and had to return to the house and take a paddle from the roof, while still they slept on. Making once more for the beach the fugitive stole a canoe and paddled for some miles down the coast, when he then took to the bush. A week later he reached Saa, but to his consternation saw his old enemy of Port Adam standing there, evidently making inquiries of the people as to his whereabouts. So he fled and hid for another week till, in desperation, he threw himself on the mercy of the Saa people. Fortunately the chief took a fancy to him, but not this time as an article of food, and here at Saa he was found by the ship in the following year.

The story is dramatic in itself, but it has a special interest for the mission, as, through the rescue of .these men, a door was opened once more in Santa Cruz, which up to this time had remained steadily closed. At their invitation Bishop Selwyn was able to put down Wadrokal the Nengone deacon to start work there, and schools were begun, and soon boys were forthcoming for Norfolk Island.

Of Santa Cruz there was little to tell in the past but of murder and bloodshed. Five of our own countrymen had lost their lives at their hands, and the seed, sown in the martyr's blood, has not yet sprung up in any profusion. In 1885 three girls were taken to Norfolk Island, which was a wonderful concession, as the Santa Cruzians were much opposed to having their women taught. One of the girls who went to Norfolk Island was a daughter of Natei the chief of Nelua, afterwards baptized Monica. Monica herself married a teacher who turned out badly, but she taught and was a great influence for good until [56/57] her death. The contrast between the countenance of the heathen chief and that of his Christian daughter forcibly struck those who visited Nelua. To Santa Cruz, Mano Wadrokal begged to go in 1878, claiming it as his right, seeing that he was one of Bishop Patteson's oldest pupils. Of white men, Mr. Lister Kaye, Mr. Forrest, Mr. O'Ferrall, Dr. J. Williams and Mr. Nind have successively worked there, but it needs more men than, up to the present, the mission has been able to spare. Another difficulty arises from the delicate constitution of the natives, so that few can stand even the temperate climate of Norfolk Island. Therefore, while every year the ship takes down teachers to other islands, only one or two are returned to Santa Cruz. The language, too, is exceedingly difficult. So at present we have made but little way, although at no place is the Southern Cross more surrounded by canoes than at Santa Cruz. In the shortest conceivable time the ship swarms with fine-looking men, who stalk the decks on the look-out for purchasers of their beautiful mats, baskets and mother-of-pearl ornaments, while others are seen paddling as hard as they can from the shore. Wonderful is their appearance; rings adorn their ears and noses and arms, white shell breastplates are suspended from their necks, strings of turquoise-coloured beads add a most becoming touch of colour, and lime powders their hair. Of clothing the display is scant.

The women you will not see unless you go ashore. They occupy a very low position, although their lives are already somewhat raised by the new teaching, and most of them are beginning to go to school. Their lives are lived very much apart. If a woman meets a man on the path, she turns off into the bush to avoid an actual meeting, and even then it may be the cause of a quarrel with the woman's husband. A low level of womanhood, yet if you are ever fortunate enough to visit their villages you will find them most attractive; they will lead you by the hand into their houses, which [57/58] are very clean, the floor covered with beautiful mats; a new mat will be produced for your seat, and, sitting round in a circle, the women will do their best to entertain you, bringing delicious nuts and dried bread fruit, and other delicacies for your acceptance.

In 1899 Mr. O'Ferrall writes: "The prospect at Santa Cruz is still very gloomy. Nelua is practically closed, and Të-Motu shows no disposition to communicate its privileges to neighbouring villages. All my advances to the heathen near these two places were met with coldness. At the Reefs, on the contrary, almost everywhere the cry is, ' Come over and help us.' Here, indeed, one can thank God and take courage, while as for Santa Cruz, there seems nothing to be done save to work on and wait in patience until the day break." Eleven years after these words were written, it seemed as if that daybreak might be at hand, for the Bishop was able to put down a band of three in May 1910, a little Santa Cruz brotherhood, consisting of Mr. Drummond, Mr. Blencowe and Mr. Turner. With them were two San Cristoval boys and a Reef Islander, with Martin Sarawia, grandson of George Sarawia. In 1911 Rev. G. F. Bury joined Mr. Blencowe, and with great zeal threw himself into the work of this district, but the opposition of the heathen was great, and sickness soon laid Mr. Bury low, and in August of that year he died.

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