The Melanesian Mission works in five different groups of islands, the nearest of which are the New Hebrides, eight hundred miles north of Norfolk Island. Beyond them lie the Banks, the Torres, the Santa Cruz and Reef Islands, and to the far north the Solomons.
On my first voyage the Southern Cross travelled under sail on an average one hundred and twenty miles a day. Running up to the New Hebrides, we first passed Walpole Island, small and with precipitous cliffs some five hundred feet high, uninhabited by man, but a home for sea birds. The wind dropped and the ship rolled, as before shooting the drawers in the saloon from their places and spilling out tins of meat which banged to and fro across the deck during the night.
A whaler had told one of our party that once he went ashore at Walpole Island and found six skeletons of men, lying together; probably they were convicts who had tried to escape from their prison on Norfolk Island, and had died of thirst four hundred miles from their starting-point.
We ran along the coast of Lifu Island, near New Caledonia, the French penal settlement, until we [31/32] sighted Aneityum, the southernmost of the New Hebrides, and within the sphere of work of the Presbyterian Mission. We passed by Erromanga, where John Williams, the L.M.S. missionary, was killed in 1839, and also Efate (Sandwich Island) and its port Vila. At that time Vila was a small place with some fifty Frenchmen living in it, and a Presbyterian Mission; it is now the seat of the joint British and French Government called the "Condominium."
As we ran along in the night, islands lay on both sides of us, the coasts quite unlighted, and we seemed to be feeling our way through them. Most of their inhabitants were reputed to be cannibals. Our boys sang songs and hymns down below in the hold, while the wind blew fiercely and there were awkward turns to take in the dark, and reefs to run on if any mistake were made. One terrific tropical squall struck us. The wind roared through the rigging and the rain came down in sheets. Through it the ship drove along in pitch darkness at seven knots, although the engine was going hard astern; and then the weather cleared, and the stars came out, and shone as they only can in the tropics, where often the planet Venus looks like a little moon.
No islands in the New Hebrides are large. Raga (Pentecost), Aoba (Lepers' Island), and Maewo (Aurora), the three to the north in which our work lay, are each about thirty miles long and half as wide. There are others larger than these in which the Presbyterians, and not we, are at work. The [32/33] skyline of these last is about 2,000 feet up from the sea, and a mass of trees covers the land from shore to hilltop. Here and there we could see the houses of traders and Scotch missionaries, or a fire made by natives as a signal that they wanted us to call in and trade, or to attract our attention to call in for recruits, in case we happened to be a Queensland Kanaka ship.
One of our greatest authorities on Melanesian languages, Dr. Codrington, told me there were probably one thousand different languages, or dialects, spoken in Melanesia. In the little island of Raga, which was only thirty miles long, we knew of nine different tongues, the language changing every six miles or so as we ran down the coast.
Outside the reef at the north end of Raga we dropped anchor, in water so calm and clear that we could see big fish fifty feet below. Two large turtles, with brown backs like inverted basins, put up their heads to take a look at us. We were on the 17th degree of latitude and well in the hurricane belt. The sun blazed down. Many natives came off to the ship with big heads of hair, brown skins, and practically no clothes. There had been a bad epidemic of dysentery in the island, and an important chief had died. There might have been much trouble, because to these people no one ever died without somebody's magic having caused the death. To find out who had practised his art against a man it still was usual to throw the ghost-stone, and wherever it pointed when it fell to the ground, [33/34] there the friends of the dead man would take their guns and kill the first man they met, or fire a volley into the nearest gamal (club-house). Retaliatory measures would follow, and fighting and murdering go on for two or three years. (A custom which, one might think, would soon have depopulated the island.) In this case it seemed that the influence of the new religion taught at the three schools then existing in the island had been just strong enough to make men talk about fighting, without doing it. Everyone was surprised. It was the first death of a chief without fighting afterwards which had taken place on the island.
Just before I landed, moreover, one man had shot another, and a cloud was over the people, everyone expecting that fighting would break out in retaliation. The reason for the murder had been that, his mother having died, the son suspected a man of having bewitched her, and therefore he shot him. Yet all the school villages held their hands and did nothing. The surrounding heathen could scarcely believe such a thing possible, and more good was done by that "forgiveness" than if I had stayed and preached there for a dozen years. The people in all the other villages asked me to give them schools that fighting might stop also with them.
Our work was, indeed, just beginning to show fruit among these people of the New Hebrides. They were slowly emerging out of cannibalism. They not only would eat their fellow-men, but they had no objection to rats and snakes. In other ways, [34/35] such as methods of cooking their food, their house-and canoe-building, they also ranked very low; in fact, I think among the lowest of the peoples of Melanesia. They were, however, perfectly friendly to us, and we could go ashore anywhere without risk. We carried no firearms, and it was no doubt partly due to this that we were so safe. If a savage thinks you are likely to shoot him, he will take care to shoot you first. When he sees you without weapons, he accepts you as more or less his friend. Although we were only seventeen degrees from the Equator, it was never too hot at any time in the day to walk, because one never left the shade of the trees. The paths were rough with coral rock jutting out on them, and the roots of trees ran along the surface, and, especially when the paths were slippery after rain, made it impossible to take one's eyes off the ground. At times the way would be strewn for twenty or thirty yards with the crimson petals and stamens of the rose-apple tree, making a gorgeous carpet. At other times it broadened to the width of a road as it passed under a great banyan tree--monarch of the tropical forest, which allows no undergrowth beneath it; again, it would tunnel right through the roots of such a tree, if it had grown across the path, and all who passed along it lopped off the adventitious, pendulous roots with their knives as they went. Immense trees these, covering in some cases at least half an acre of ground. The path in the end would bring one to little gardens in the bush where yams, bananas, and sugar-cane were [35/36] tended by the villagers; or to a dancing-ground, about the size of two or three tennis-courts, surrounded by cycas palms, to which only pigs were now tied when feasts were made, but formerly men as well as pigs. Now and then we would meet a man or woman returning from work, who would stand aside, and, if she were a woman, face away from us, and ask us where we slept last night--the equivalent of our "How do you do?"
Then we would approach a village, and our path would lie between the "peace stones"--large piles of stones, carefully built up to two or three feet above the ground; below them, half buried, lay axes and other weapons of war, for the peace-stones were the signal set by every path leading to the village that the people in it wished for peace, and that no weapons were to be brought in; this meant there had been much fighting in the past, and the gardens had gone to ruin, and now peace was a necessity.
Often as we walked we saw by the path-side the grave of a bygone chief--a raised hump of ground, in shape like a canoe, held up with a stone wall. In the side of the wall one or two stones had been left out that the dead man's ghost might pass from the grave whenever it desired. The body had been wrapped in all the mats that he had collected during his lifetime, an outer mat sixty feet long holding the whole bundle together, and thus a famous man would have been rolled through the village by his people to the grave. Heavy stones were then laid on him to prevent the skull being taken by an enemy. The [36/37] old chief having killed many in his time, it would be a sweet revenge to smash the head which they had failed to smash earlier.
At death the souls of the dead were supposed to go to either end of the island and jump into the sea. This is a common belief in many of the islands. The soul haunts the dead body of the man for four or five days and then departs of its own will; or it may have to be driven away by various means, such as beating the ground of the dead man's village with brooms.
At villages still heathen the people sometimes met me outside the compound, standing in a long line, first the children, then the women, and then the men, all with their hands extended at right angles to their bodies in readiness to shake hands. The babies on their mothers' backs also had their hands held out to give us greeting, and the same ritual occurred as we left. At one place, having been on view for some time, I asked the people to show me something they could do to amuse me. At once they began to play a sort of football with a large hard green orange. They were about fifty on each side. The old men were sent to the two ends to score any goals by breaking off fronds from a palm leaf. There would be about a hundred fronds to each leaf; and the rules were that anyone who got the orange should kick it, and whichever side kicked a hundred goals first won the match.
The dancing-grounds outside the villages were smooth, beautiful, shady, flat spaces between borders [37/38] of palms and gaudy brilliant crotons. Sometimes, as we passed, the people would be dancing and would stop for a while to shake hands with us. At one place, a man named "George," a splendid-looking creature, was taking a higher step in the Sukwe (the men's society common through Southern Melanesia), and we stopped awhile to watch. All the other members of the society were making him presents of pigs and pigs' heads with long tusks. Each donor, before making his present, ran about the ground, high stepping and pointing with his club at the pig which he intended to give. Then George ran about in the same way, but with arms stretched downwards rigidly, till he came to each pig and its giver. He ran twice round both, and then accepted the gift by laying his hands on the donor's back. He had a great number of these presents, the lowest in rank giving theirs first. The great men, the chiefs in the Sukwe, then approached with much blowing of conch-shells, and as they gave fine full-grown pigs instead of squeakers or pigs' heads, the tree-drums were beaten tremendously, and George had to run about the ground with increased vigour. After all had been given, the conches blew long and loud, and the drums described to all who understood drum language exactly how many pigs had been given, and how many, therefore, George must some day give in return; also concerning the size of the pigs, and whether their tusks were large or only rather large. It was a great business describing all this, but everyone seemed perfectly satisfied when [38/39] it was done. Then various female relations with faces painted blue and red, and noses a brilliant red, presented mats to George. These would come in handy later for his funeral. Food done up in green leaves was handed round whilst the pigs were being tied to the cycas-palm trees round the ground.
There then came dancing in a man painted black, red, and white, with white cock's feathers in his hair. He was a very great chief, and was going to give George a most valuable pig. The animal was held for him, as he walked up and down, and talked and fumed and gesticulated, describing the virtues of the pig--or of George--I was not sure which. At last, having said enough and become exhausted, he made over his pig by shooting it in the side with a blunt arrow. George then came zigzagging up, running with arms straight down, but spreading his hands out. He had a tremendous lot to say about the chief's rank--or his own--or the pig's. Having said it the chief gave the animal a parting kick, and it was George's.
It was now George's turn to put on paint, or rather to let his friends do it for him. He was clad in a wonderful garment with woven tails which floated in the air behind him as he ran. The women waved their arms, the drums beat, and George killed the famous pig, two of his friends holding it by the hind legs. It was then cut up and distributed, and in this way George took his new step in the Sukwe. Afterwards he came to me, and asked if there were any harm in what he had been doing. I said I [39/40] could see none (except for the pig)--I did not know much about it. Tom Ulgau, the old teacher, said to him: "You know if there is any harm in it, George; if there is, don't do it."
The ceremony ended by George taking a mat and running round the ground with it, challenging everyone to take it from him. Had anyone done so he would have parted with it quite willingly, for the man who took it would only have signified that he himself would do as George had done, take a Sukwe step and feast them all; but it was only the very great men who were rich enough to do so.
In many a glade flecked by sunshine, or by the light of torches by night, we saw these people thus enjoying themselves, the men stamping their feet, singing, and clapping their hands to the music of tree-drums, and the women,on the outskirts clapping and singing; happy children of Nature in their natural surroundings. Of course we did nothing to stop their enjoyment. Their pleasure was innocent of evil, and was very largely due to the new peace which our own coming had brought them.
Neither did we interfere with such other native customs, which, so far as we knew, had nothing wrong in them. We taught them that the only way to stop fighting was to love and to forgive instead of taking revenge. Wherever we went we saw the "peace-stones," the only known way before we came of making and keeping peace. In the past everybody had known that if any should break the peace, or disturb the quiet of the place, after these [40/41] stones had been set up, his end was certain; go where he might, he would be found, handed over to the chiefs and eaten. It was their form of capital punishment. The rule was that the body should be cooked in the men's club-house by the men, but that everyone in the village should take part in eating it. Ordinarily, men only ate food cooked by men, and women food cooked by women, but when a criminal had to be disposed of, each one in the village had to do his share in disposing of him. Probably every one of the adult school people with whom I was so happily living had done his duty at these executions.
I questioned Tom Ulgau, head teacher on Raga, who was from Mota, as to the Raga people's notions of right and wrong. The worst sin seemed to be not to avenge a friend's death by killing his murderer. The ghost of the murdered man would haunt his nearest relation until the crime was avenged. I asked: "Don't they think it wrong to take a life?" Tom said: "Yes, a little." John Pantutun, his friend, added: "Some are proud of it; others hide in the bush for two or three days afterwards"--perhaps showing a consciousness of wrong, or merely fearing reprisals. When I asked, "Do they think it wrong to steal?" they said, "Yes, but they all do it." So also with lying. Tom told me that all heathen had some slight idea that these things were not right; but they doubted and wondered, and Christianity appealed to them because it laid down a definite law about all these things. I asked again [41/42] if the people thought it wrong to eat a man. No one thought so, and someone asked me what the white man does to a murderer. I said, "We hang him." They replied, "We eat him"; and one way of dealing with the offender evidently seemed to them much the same as the other.
Once when I was by myself on Raga, I sailed down the coast and by nightfall had reached no school village or place where I was known, but I had to go ashore to spend the night. It was a quiet little bay with a very small village in it called Vare Werev. As I got out of the boat a pleasant-looking old gentleman, with a bald head and white gleaming teeth, met me in a most friendly fashion, and in his own language, which I did not understand, made me welcome. He called to me and the five boys of my crew to follow him to his house, which we did, and I found that except for the pig tethered in the doorway, it seemed quite a desirable place in which to spend the night; the mud floor was dry and clean, and in the middle of the house was a fire with iron bars across it capable of holding our kettle. In the end I decided to have our supper there, but to sleep in the bush by the shore to avoid the company of the pig. A tin of meat was opened, and I offered half of it to my smiling old host, who sat on the opposite side of the fire. To my surprise he declined it. We spent the night outside and left next morning. My five Motalava crew-boys were chattering in the boat and laughing, and the next day they still chattered and laughed. As they talked in their [42/43] own language, which I did not understand, I asked them what their joke was. They said they would rather not tell me. When pressed to tell, they said they were laughing about the man who would not eat my meat. I asked why he would not eat my meat, and again they would rather not tell me. Then one said, "The chief would not eat it because he was 'holy.'" I asked why he was "holy," and again they would rather not tell me; finally the answer was, "He was holy because he had just eaten a man." When I revisited that district I found this was true. Molsul of the bald head and gleaming teeth had given notice that peace was to be preserved, and a man in spite of it had killed another with an arrow. Word having been sent round to all the chiefs, it was decided to kill and eat the peace-breaker. Molsul was about to take a step in the Sukwe, and was collecting a hundred pigs to pay for the step, and to eat at the feast connected with it. They tied the man (equivalent to three or four pigs) like a pig to one of the cycas-palms surrounding the dancing-ground, and in his turn he was killed and cooked in the house in which we ate our supper. Having just eaten a man, therefore Molsul was "holy."
The days of cannibalism were numbered because Christian villages were springing up under the influence of our Mission. In one little village where I stayed (Aquelhuqe) there were three old chiefs, Abraham, Moses and Luke, learning the Apostles' Creed from a young teacher. They had been [43/44] cannibals from their youth up and until lately. Other classes were busy learning to read. In some villages which had had native teachers for some time, I baptised practically the whole community. On my arrival at the village I would find a feast being prepared, the inside of the church decorated with palm leaves and flowers, and a font made of the stem of the tree-fern and crowned with a large clamshell placed in a nest of coloured croton leaves. Around this, later, would stand perhaps a dozen men, their faces and bodies bearing the marks of old wounds, "renouncing the devil and all his works," the old life and all its horrors. These would be followed by the women and children. Then would come the feast, and afterwards the dance.
The old custom for a marriage ceremony consisted of the capture of the bride. The young bridegroom would go with his friends to the home of the bride, armed with long bamboos, and there pay to her father or her uncle from one to ten pigs and some pandanus mats. He would then seize his future wife by the wrist and make off with her. Her part was to scream, and that of her friends to rush to her rescue with their own long bamboos, and to beat the bridegroom's friends. In the free fight which ensued the bridegroom was allowed to go scathless, and in the mêlée to run off with his wife.
As in most of the Melanesian Islands, so on Raga, the old customs and the signs of the new enlightenment were to be seen side by side; the old often too strong to yield, yet gradually giving way--as when, [44/5] after we had visited a certain village, its chief chopped up his war club and sent bits of it to the other chiefs around as a token of peace. A common method of killing off an enemy by magic was also coming to an end; it had been easy to steal a bit of a man's food, his nail-paring, or something else intimately connected with him, and by the aid of a Gismana (witch doctor) bring about his death. For a price paid down the latter would hang the object over a slow fire, or put it above a blow-hole on the reef, with the proper incantations and sacrifices to ghosts; after which the man from whom it had been stolen would begin to waste away, and if he could not buy the object back at the Gismana's price, would die.
Fear of the unknown and the unseen was strong, but God, they had come to think, must be far stronger than the powers of evil, and could protect those who had faith in Him. So Molsu, a young chief with a black beard and a face that reminded me of a Babylonian king, asked for a school in his village, and Tom Ulgau selected a site for it on the top of a hill near-by. The people pointed out to the chief that there was a certain stone lying on that hill which had by its magic killed all the trees around it. The place was sacred, they said; to which Molsu replied: "The school shall be built there; if I die, I die." Later I visited this place, and with the people went under the dead trees and picked up the stone, a piece of white limestone wonderfully like a human skull. They stood around me [45/46] breathless, wondering if I should fall down dead. With my axe I cracked it into two pieces, and said that, as the stone was now dead, they need have no more fears. They laughed and said, "Yes, the stone is dead." But when I called Michael, a boat's crew-boy who was carrying my trade-bag, to take up the stone, meaning to keep half of it as a trophy and also to relieve them of their dread of it, he bolted, bag and all. The stone so long feared might be "dead," but he did not care to have half of it on his back! And so I disposed of it by throwing it over the cliff, and no more was heard of it.
A village on the very top of the hill, this being the dry season, had no water within a mile or more. Here I saw a man washing himself in the juice he could squeeze out of a banana stalk. A cup full of water had to suffice us for our own ablutions. When I asked a very dirty-faced little boy how often he washed he said, "When I'm dirty." The heathen villagers were generally very dirty, but not the school people, and the teachers had learnt at Norfolk Island to clean up their villages every Saturday.
In 1897 I stayed for some weeks in one of the Christian villages, halfway up a hill, and enjoyed there an inside view of native life. My house was very small, but dry, with a rough, hard bed put up for me by a native teacher. Every morning when I awoke I wondered where all the troubles of life had gone. I had no newspaper, but the drums of all the villages around were beating out what news there was. Each of them was telling by drumbeats [46/47] how many days remained before its feast and dance would take place, and how many pigs would be killed for it. A large bread-fruit tree spread its shade over my house, and once dropped a big green fruit through my roof on the bed. Happily I was out of it. There were coco-nut trees and other nut-bearing trees in plenty in and around the village. Gardens full of yams lay a mile or more away in the bush. The natives were clean, school-going folk, and came every morning to short prayers and lessons in the little school-house. Every day people from other villages came in to see what sort I was, and whether my disposition was good towards brown people, and how I ate my food, and how I did other things, because, now that they had accepted our ways and our teaching, they would like to do everything in the right and Christian way. My boys and I were therefore objects of great curiosity wherever we went. At one village, when I had my midday meal in a house, the men sat on the ground smoking their pipes and watching me handle my knife and fork and spoon, while their women with equal curiosity stood round the walls outside and peered through the cracks. When I at last suggested to those inside that they had seen enough of me, the men went out at once, but all the women then came in and sat down and watched.
About seventeen miles from Raga lies Aoba or Opa, on the charts marked "Lepers' Island." It is [47/48] long and narrow, with hills of about the same height as those in Raga; it is called by the natives "Tagaro's Canoe."
The great Spirit that created the sea, and the land, and men and all other things, was Tagaro, who had wished everything to be good, but his companion Sukwe had wished that everything should be bad. All food that Tagaro had tossed into the air and caught was good; all that he had tossed and missed was bad. The level places on the islands were flat because he had trodden them down; the mountains. were high and rugged because he had passed them by. He had lived for a time in Maewo, an island eight miles to the north-east, but someone had stolen one of his pigs, and therefore he retired to the sky where he now was, and consequently he no longer counted at all, for good or evil, in the lives of men.
The religion of the island peoples is animistic everywhere, the great Spirit who made everything being completely ignored. It was the souls of the dead who counted most, and these were their real gods, to whom they sacrificed and of whom they lived in mortal terror. In this island of Opa men believed that after death the soul goes to a cave in the hills, where he is asked by an immense Ghost-Pig what feasts he had made, and what pandanus trees for making mats he had planted in his lifetime. All the pigs he had killed in his life accompany him to this cave to bear witness to his past hospitality and liberality. If a man passes a good examination on these points, he is admitted, and lies upon mats in [48/49] comfort. Should he fail, he is torn to pieces, and that is the end of him. A woman can never pass into the cave, because women do not make feasts nor kill pigs. Her end, it seems, is to hang upon the creepers in the trees and to wave to and fro in the air, and have no rest.
Things were very disturbed at Opa when I first stayed there. A chief named Taribibi had just been shot and killed with an arrow. He had been a bad old cannibal, stealing children and slaying anyone he could get hold of for food, yet to avenge his death seven men already had been killed. Sese, another chief of the same type, had also lately despatched a brother chief, and with all this trouble in the air I found it very hard to persuade anyone to go about with me. Sese and Quatu, yet another big man, had been killing a liberal allowance of one another's men and women, but they had made friends themselves by giving pigs to each other. Now Sese had forced another quarrel on Quatu by killing sixty of his pigs. Godden, our young Australian missionary in this island, persuaded some of his boys to go with us on a visit to Sese, a few miles away in the hills. We found him quite an amiable and pleasant-looking man, bearded and white-haired; but when he heard we had come on behalf of Quatu, to ask him to pay for the damage he had done in order that there might be peace, he became very angry and stormed at us. He said he would do nothing of the sort. We, having no power of compulsion, left him. He and his men [49/50] followed us some way shouting that we had nothing to do with the killing of pigs. If he killed men we might speak, but not otherwise. He said he would do this for us--he would kill any man who killed our teachers. At the same time, he was so angry that I should not have been surprised if he had let off a few of his guns at us; but he did not, and I saw no more of the old man.
A trader named Nordje lived on the shore near a village in which at one time I stayed--a quiet man who had been there for years, and bought the copra of the natives. He was a Norwegian, and in the evenings we sometimes spent together he would tell me stories of his friends and companions on the "beach"--"beach-combers"--who had all been killed at various times. I noticed that he always referred to them quite simply, not as having been killed, but as having been eaten. I cannot say why he himself had escaped.
Another trader told me that, twenty years before, the captain of a steamer had put him ashore on a beach down the coast thronged with natives, who in a few minutes took everything that he had brought. He expected them to come for himself next, and they did. They took him into a gamal and gave him food. He was waiting to be killed, but thought he might as well die with a full stomach, and so ate what they offered him. They pointed to a place where he might sleep. Early next morning they gave him more of their food and he asked them to let him have some of his own. They escorted him outside, [50/51] and he thought then his last hour had come; but they took him to a place where was a new house standing, and inside he found all his goods and not a thing missing. It so pleased him that he gave them a box of tobacco straight away. He had never seen, he said, such people as these for school; they were always reading their books, and would come to him to know how to read the long words.
They were a wonderfully good-looking lot of people, these Opa folk, light-coloured and tall near the seashore, but short and sturdily built where they belonged to the hills.
During my years in Melanesia we lost many missionaries and Norfolker manual helpers in the islands through fever and other illnesses; but the only one actually killed by the natives was Charles Godden, our missionary in Opa. He was a farmer's son from Victoria whom I ordained at Norfolk Island. Endowed with a marvellous memory, he would quote whole pages of Browning, if started, and he was no small "poet" himself. He knew the language of the people and really loved them, and they loved him and would follow him anywhere. He sometimes passed his hand over the faces of his boys and put them to sleep. They would come to him and ask him to do it, and I remember being greatly afraid once that he might not be able to wake one of them up again, in which case we should have had an irate father to face, and some danger. However, the boys always did wake up when he called them by name. With him I visited villages in the [51/52] hills where many of the people had a sort of gnome-like appearance, with big heads and short legs, quite different from the long-shanked men on the seashore, who are accustomed to crouch all day long round a fire in a gamal.
Godden carried on his work in Opa for a few years by himself, and then married and brought his young wife from Sydney to his new home at Lolowai Bay. A few months later one evening he received a message asking him to row a few miles down the coast to visit a place in the bush called Lobaha for a baptism and to open a new school. He went, and a crowd of his'people went with him. At a turn in the path he stopped to take a stone out of his shoe, and then a man just returned from Queensland, skulking in the bush, shot him down with his gun and as, startled, his people fled, tomahawked him; this was to avenge an injury over which the man had brooded, dating from certain days in prison in the white man's country. As Godden's boys were carrying him down to the shore he died, and his body was taken in the boat to Lolowai. They laid him down and sent her native girls to tell his wife that her husband had come back and was on the beach. There she found him, covered over with a boat sail. Except for four traders and two or three French priests, she was the only white person on the island. A trader washed his body, and a priest offered it the protection of his house. A week later a trader came and picked up both her and her husband's murderer, and took them over to [52/53] Lamalanga, at the north end of Raga. Here we had put our first Women's Mission station, and here the ladies gave Mrs. Godden shelter until a steamer came out of its way to anchor off Lamalanga and take her away to Sydney.
Her husband's grave is in Opa, where he gave his life in Christ's service. In one of his reports he had told the tale of a woman crying by her husband's grave. "Suddenly," he wrote, "the chief pushed her into the grave, and clubbed a dog and threw that in too. Then he shovelled the earth over all." It was in the midst of a life spent in trying to stop this kind of thing that the young missionary died, and his young wife, after only six months of married life, went home alone.
Maewo, or Aurora, is the northernmost island of the New Hebrides, separated from Raga by a channel about four miles wide. It is thirty miles or so in length and rises about 2,000 feet above the sea, as do Raga and Opa, its hills being covered with dense, matted forest from top to bottom. But it is different in that it has an abundant supply of water and, towards its northern end, a magnificent waterfall with wonderful rock pools--nature's baths--of which we used to take full advantage on our voyages.
Four miles from the northern end is Tanrig, where Tagaro, the Great Spirit, once had lived until someone stole his precious tusked pig. I, too, lived in Tanrig for a time. It lies three miles back from the sea, [53/54] and was then a fairly large village. My house was a flimsy one with both walls and floor of bamboo. The mosquitoes were unpleasant owing to the abundant water all round. On my first night I was wakened by what seemed to be an earthquake. The house shook, and I gave myself up to enjoy the pleasant oscillations. When well-awake I made the discovery that it was not, after all, an earth-tremor which had shaken the house, but a large pig rubbing its back against one of the walls.
These pigs roamed at large in the village, some large and some small, but all inbred, razor-backed, and hideous to look upon. Many had long lower tusks, owing to the natives' custom of knocking out the grinders in the upper jaw; the lower tusks then lengthened and curved round until they re-entered the jaw, forcing their way right through it, frequently starving the pig, but resulting in two tusks which made good bracelets. Often, where pigs' tusks were only of moderate length and like hooks, two animals of a friendly disposition would nose one another, get their hooks caught and their noses fixed together, and only after terrific squeals manage to effect their mutual release.
Not enough people dwelt on Maewo to provide much fighting; there was little murder, and I believe no cannibalism. The only thing they had to talk about before they had a school was just pigs, which provided every excitement, and to the killing of which for his Sukwe feasts a chief, as elsewhere, owed his rank. One chief would rise above another [54/55] by adding a few more to his victims. When two were equal in rank, the question was, which to obey; then one would make a feast and go ahead of the other and dominate the village. Pigs in the bush provided hunting, which everyone enjoyed; even the killing of a pig was a diversion which never failed to attract a small crowd. Such was village life before the schools came. Then came new ideas, and all wanted to learn to read and write. The daily services in the little school-house brought peace to their souls. All the Christians and school-people, even from a distance, attended every morning and evening. The heathen folk might say the Christians wasted their time in too much praying, but these could answer that their gardens did not show it, having more in them than most.
They were remarkably honest, and I found that I could leave my house open, with all my stores of tobacco, biscuits, and meat, for days at a time, and no one would take anything. One morning I dropped a stick of tobacco from my trade-bag on a beach; in the evening I found it tied to a twig of a tree overhanging the spot where I had stood. There was no honesty, however, about the dogs. Every night, if one forgot to close the shutter over the upper part of the door-opening, they paid a visit, looking for meat or an open milk tin.
On Maewo, Harry Aregi, the teacher, and his father showed me with much pride their very peculiar "money." There is none like it, I think, in any other island. It was kept in a tiny house in [55/56] which a fire was always burning; no other light was in the house, and when they opened the little door I saw something hanging in folds from the beam, with shining stalactites of grime and tar attached, which, when brought out to the light, proved to be a mat about fifty yards long, caked solid with smoke, and greatly increased thereby in value. Ten of these were in the house, and each was somehow connected with steps in the Sukwe.
In every village in Maewo was a little house like this one, in which the fire was never allowed to go out and where the money was kept. Such clumsy money must induce honesty, for a thief could not easily escape with his spoil if he broke through and stole it. One block of the grimy stuff seemed to be very much like another, but probably, as they are so valuable, each one is severally known.
The Mission schools bring out the intelligence of the people, and, compared with the heathen or non-school folk, the Christians may really be said to be lolomaran, "enlightened"--literally "light inside." The heathen are loloqong--"night inside." Christianity makes so wonderful a difference in the faces of the people as well as in their lives that one can see at a glance to which category a man belongs.
A queer thing happened at Tasmauri on the northern end of Maewo, where was a blind man named Aruligo, reported to have been so from birth. He was known as "Blind Jack," and being of an inquisitive disposition, he used to come and sit with me and the villagers when we sat and talked together. [56/57] The teacher prepared him for baptism, and later, when he was baptised, he saw for the first time. If you had asked Jack to explain this, or had asked one of his friends, they would have said that it was natural that God should give light to the body too, when a man passed out of heathenism into the Church, because he was no longer loloqong, but lolomaran. In his simple way he believed that nothing was impossible with God, and that God must intend him to be enlightened in every way. When on my next arrival I asked for Blind Jack the people laughed and said: "He is not blind! When he was baptised he saw, and he has gone away to see the world in a French labour ship."
I suppose no place in the world is so badly governed in the interest of the natives as the New Hebrides. Just as trouble is caused amongst them through their not knowing who is chief and whom they should obey, so there is trouble on a far larger scale owing to these islands being under no single protectorate, but in the joint control of Britain and France.
Vila, in the island of Sandwich, is the centre of government, and both nations have for many years had a Commissioner in residence there, but there have always been different regulations for the British and French traders. In my time the French were allowed to sell spirits and firearms to the people, and to recruit women for the plantations; but the British [57/58] were not. Thus our traders were always at a disadvantage; it paid better to sail under the French flag than under the British, and with the greater prosperity of the French their numbers in the group naturally increased and came to outnumber the British.
The Scotch Presbyterian Mission in the southern islands, which were suffering most from the existing anarchy, petitioned the British Government for annexation to the Crown, chiefly with a view to putting down the sale of spirits, which was fast destroying the native population. French interests, however, defeated this. At that time the Australian Government had a scheme for buying the New Hebrides outright, but in 1902 the two Commissioners at Vila, Captain Rason and Monsieur Pichanon, asked instead for an Anglo-French Convention so drafted as to be satisfactory to both parties; with this the Australian Government would have nothing to do. In 1906 the Colonial Office arranged for the Convention, without informing Australia, and so the "Condominium" came into being. This mode of government left things as bad as they were before, in that there are still two chiefs and no one knows which to obey. It is extremely expensive and confusing, for there is a French Commissioner and a British; a French Judge and Court, in which only French is spoken, and a British Judge and Court. Each office all the way down is duplicated, and above all reigns a Spanish Arbitrator, who in my time certainly could not speak English, and his French [58/59] was doubtful. As an example of the futility of such government, I give one instance. A trader under the French flag, though of British origin, sold gin to some of our people in the Torres Group, and I found many of them drunk. I reported him, and was told that I must bring up my witnesses two hundred miles to Vila. But as he was under the French flag, I should have had to plead in the French Court, and there were sixty cases to be heard before mine, so, for lack of time to waste, and money, to follow it up was impossible. There were neither police stations nor police in any of the islands. The laws differed under the two authorities, and to try to protect the natives against their exploiters was almost useless. At one time there were together a Spanish president, a French and an English judge, a Spanish public prosecutor, a Dutch native advocate, native witnesses who spoke pidgin-English; and the accused were mostly French traders. In 1907, owing to the greater prosperity of the French, their numbers in Vila had increased to a hundred and twenty and the Britons were only thirty-five; in other islands numbers were about equal.
I was told by Dr. Bowie, the Scotch missionary at Ambrym, that a hundred and sixty cases of gin were landed in one day at a trader's store on that island, followed by two hundred more at the same place just afterwards; that the natives in that part were living on gin, and that stills had been landed on Opa. In his own hospital (of fifty beds) he had cases of delirium tremens and paralysis from alcohol [59/60] drinking, and of gun wounds caused by drunken men. I myself saw in a trader's store on Opa fourteen cases of absinthe.
When I read the charge so often made against missionaries, that to them is due the depopulation of the islands, I find it difficult to correlate the statement with the facts. At Aneityum, when I landed in 1903, there were four hundred people, instead of some thousands as there had been sixty years before. Close to the landing-place were the ruins of a stone church large enough to hold a thousand people, as well as many other buildings. The reason for it, as told by Dr. Gunn of the Presbyterian Mission, was this: An epidemic of measles, brought through a trader landing one of his sick boys there, carried off from four to five thousand of the people. Those who caught it sat in the sea to cool themselves, and died on the beach which, he said, was black with their dead bodies.
One has often heard it said that Christianity robs these native races of their simple pleasures, and, by stopping fighting, saps their virility, and to this is ascribed their decrease of numbers. My observation convinces me that exactly the opposite is the truth. Christianity gives peace, and so saves lives. In peace more food is grown, and so the people are better fed. A Christian Mission invariably provides hospitals or medicines, and it stamps out infanticide. Further, to some extent it shields the weaker races from the exploiters who trade in firearms and strong liquor, and introduce diseases.