Project Canterbury

The Wake of the Southern Cross
Work and Adventures in the South Seas

By Cecil Wilson, D.D.
Bishop of Bunbury; sometime Bishop of Melanesia.

London: John Murray, [1932]

Chapter IV. Banks and Torres Islands

1. Banks Islands

THIRTY miles to the north of the New Hebrides are the Banks Islands, named after the naturalist who voyaged with Captain Cook. There are eight of them altogether, the southernmost being Merelava, or Star Peak, an extinct volcano rising three thousand feet above the sea. Natives of other islands chaff its inhabitants, saying that to live in Merelava you must have one leg longer than the other, because the land everywhere is slanting at an acute angle to the sea. The people of this island are very tough and hardy, partly because the Anopheles mosquito has not contrived to reach them and so there is no malaria, partly because they have given up Sukwe and other heathen ways, and live a quiet, clean, and industrious life. When the ship called we were always able to buy a few boat-loads of yams from them. The houses, built on the slopes of this great cone, are of rough-hewn boards, pierced at the edges and sewn together with vegetable fibre. The volcanic soil is extremely fertile and yams grow in abundance.

Under the rocks at Merelava I became acquainted for the first time with the Queensland Kanaka trade. The two red boats of a "labour ship" lay off the shore whilst the recruiter and the Government agent [61/62] did their business with the people, the one trying to persuade men to go with them, the other seeing that they were not kidnapped. By law it had to be made quite plain that the ship was a labour ship, and that if anyone went on board he was going away for three years. To signify this, a black ball was carried at the ship's masthead and her boats were painted red. In the course of one voyage I could see how injurious this trade was to the natives. Husbands were taken from their wives, boys from their sweethearts, and scholars from their schools. It was terribly discouraging to have the greater part of a class of boys of a school leave their village and go off in a body to Queensland, to return some day in black clothes, hats, and boots, with pidgin-English and the vices and diseases that had contaminated them during their stay in the white man's country. Some few of them found a school to go to when away on the sugar plantation, notably Mrs. Robinson's school, Mr. Pritt's, and Miss Young's at Fairymead, Bundaberg, but the majority came back far worse than when they went away. Possibly there was no actual kidnapping, but certain chiefs received gramophones and other valuables in return for the boys they supplied to these ships, and it is hard to say how much veiled slavery there was in the trade, at any rate in the Solomons. Bullets were sold there at enormous prices to men who would use them in taking the lives of those upon whose heads a price had been set by their neighbours. It cannot be denied that the labour traffic so long as it lasted was [62/63] a decivilising and demoralising influence. Our natives called these ships the "steal-steal ships." No one disputes that Bishop Patteson was killed to avenge an act of "black-birding," as it was called, although I think the vessel which was responsible for the black-birding, and so for his death, came from Fiji and not from Queensland.

Seventeen miles to the north-west of Merelava is Merig, the supposed cap of Merelava. One may walk round this island in twenty minutes; in former days the four small villages on it were often at war with one another.

Forty miles to the north-west is Mota, or Hat Island, so called because it has a small mountain in the middle, and a low tableland covered with trees and gardens round it, quite symmetrical like the brim of a hat, the brim being twelve or fifteen miles round. As one followed a native at quick pace along one of the rooty narrow paths of this lovely little island, calling in at the villages on the way, one would see other tracks breaking off in all directions, leading to hundreds of small gardens. These would be full of yams with their vines carefully trained upon canes placed horizontally, and about two feet above the ground--in such a way that the owners and their families could crawl under them to do the weeding. Somewhere near a garden there would generally be a village with about twenty houses and a long gamal. The people, knowing we were coming, would stay away from their work to meet us and to be examined in their school.

[64] Ten miles further north is Motalava (Big Mota), where the most intelligent of all the Southern islanders live. More Christian teachers have gone out from here than from any other island in Melanesia. Vanua Lava (Big Island) lies beyond; and Rowa, a very small low-lying islet enclosed by a great reef, where the shell-money of the Banks is made. At no great distance is Santa Maria, which is called Gaua on one side and Lakona on the other; and rather further north, Ureparapara or Bligh Island, an old high volcano with one side of it blown out; through this a ship steams into the crater and finds snug anchorage.

These eight islands were all more or less Christian when I first saw them, and yet quite recently a man-of-war had lost a man and buried his body at sea, not knowing that there were churches, native clergy, and a quiet, friendly people all around them. The only form of government in those days, and for a few years after I came, was that of the captain of a warship, who administered it by carrying off wrongdoers.

The Banks Island people all know one another, and most of them talk Mota. With the exception of Merelava, they all belong to one or other of the two groups, or veve, into which society here is divided. The word veve means mother, and every child born belongs to the mother's veve and not to the father's. Were a man to marry any woman of his own veve it would be like marrying his sister. The two veves are compared to two sides of a house, [64/65] and one marries into "the other side of the house." In going from one island to another every boy knew quite well from which girls he might choose his wife. If he were to flirt with a girl of his own "side of the house" everyone knew that nothing was meant by it, because they were not marriageable. In this group all have the same customs. Brothers-in-law may not call one another by name. At one time I had five boys in my crew who were all connected by marriage, and because of that none, in speaking to another, could name him, but had to call him wulus.

These islands for the most part lie around a great basin, and wives who have married men from islands in the group other than their own have frequently swum back to their relations after a connubial quarrel. One morning, when in Mota, I noticed a girl with a sad face amongst the women, and I saw her again in the afternoon in a village when I was talking to the people on the other side of the island. She left us then, and soon afterwards a boy came and said, "Enlele has jumped." The people said that her husband, Reuben, had thrashed her that morning, and she had no doubt jumped into the sea to swim away from him. Her old home was at Motalava, about ten miles down-wind. It was blowing a strong south-easter, and in the rough water we could not see her from the top of the cliff. She told me later in her own island of Motalava that she had seen us, but could not wave her hand because her husband was out in his canoe searching for her. [65/66] She arrived safely, having taken, I think, about six hours on the journey.

Two women told me that they once swam away from their husbands, but, starting at night, they unfortunately lost their bearings, and instead of getting across to their old home, only swam round their husbands' island and arrived back at the place whence they started, and were thrashed again.

But swims like these were nothing to that of a man named Lei, who was one of a party of three men and six women who left Gaua to spend Christmas at Merelava. They travelled in a large canoe made of a hollowed-out tree with an outrigger lashed to it. The distance was twenty-seven miles. Half-way across the rough sea had so loosened the sinnet lashings that the outrigger fell off and the canoe rolled over. The nine swam till the women were tired. The three men were leaving them, but they came back and held a little conference. It was decided that Lei should swim on and tell the tale, and the other two men should die with the women. One gave his knife to Lei as a keepsake. "You will see my face in it," he said. So there, far away from land, they died, and Lei swam on until, after thirty-six hours, he came ashore at little Merig, his skin looking as if he had been scalded. He said a large shark had come up under him and played with him, sometimes leading and sometimes following him. He had, so he said, even rested on the shark!

In these Banks Islands the people do not concentrate their minds on pigs so much as in the [66/67] New Hebrides, but rather upon what they call Qarangis--that is, the cooking of yams. Village life focuses in a long, low building called the gamal. Outside this building sit old men, bald-headed, with big paunches, and faces and bodies grimy with smoke. Thus they rest after the labours of cooking. They are all masters of the art. If we had seen them two hours earlier they would have been skinning with knives a few yams--tubers a foot or more long, something like potatoes--then slicing them and grating them with a perforated tin or a piece of shark's skin on to some large green leaves; these they would have turned in upon the pudding and then laid it upon white-hot stones in the oven in the middle of the floor. More white-hot stones would be taken with bamboo tongs and laid over it and over all a covering of large green leaves. The cooks would now wait for the moment when it should be "done." Being most hospitable always, they invite us into the gamal to share their meal. The floor is bare earth, and we are asked to sit still by the wall and not to move our feet, because any dust would spoil the pudding. All therefore sit as far away from the oven as possible. We may talk and laugh, but must not move while two men remove the leaves and upper stones, and lift the pudding from its bed in the oven. They strip back the leaves and show a beautiful white mess, something like blancmange, but a foot or two wide and three inches thick. Then the flesh of coco-nut is scraped out into a heap upon leaves; water is brought in a bamboo [67/68] pole and carefully poured into the hands of the two cooks to cleanse them; the pile of grated coco-nut is sprinkled with water, and the cooks take it in handfuls and squeeze the cream from it into half-coco-nut shells. These, perhaps twenty of them, are put on the hot stones until the cream boils, when it is poured over the pudding; then with a sharp wooden knife the pudding is cut into squares of four or five inches each. One is not surprised after that at the paunches of the men who live upon it. But how about the bald heads?

As we sit round waiting, but not moving, one of the old men tells us old stories about the Great Spirit who made everything. His name was Qat. He took many shapes and often appeared as a little man. He had twelve brothers, and one night a giant named Qasavara invited him and his brothers to sleep in his house, intending to kill them. When the giant was asleep Qat tapped one of the side-posts and said, "Open, my side-post." It opened, and they all got into the crack and slept there. Qasavara in the night searched for them, but could not find them. "Where did you sleep?" he asked amiably in the morning. "In that post," said Qat. That night he opened another side-post, and the next night the ridge-pole, and so the giant could never find them. Qat knew he would try to kill them with his club, so one morning he sent his brothers outside before their meal, telling them to climb the big casuarina tree. When the giant saw that only one sat down to breakfast he knew he was being fooled and struck [68/69] a blow at Qat, who jumped aside. The giant chased him round the fire, striking out at him, but always missing. Then Qat ran out of the house and began himself to climb the tree, with his brothers above him and the giant climbing behind. As Qasavara came nearer, Qat called out, "Lengthen, my casuarina!" and it lengthened. This happened several times until the top of the tree with the weight of the brothers was bent over and touched the island of Vanua Lava, ten miles away. Then Qat and his brothers landed and let go. Qasavara was at the very top of the bend, and the tree sprang back and threw him up to the sky. As all the people watched the giant fall, the men spread their hands over their heads, and that is why so many old men are bald now. The women closed their fists upon their chests, and that is why the breasts of women protrude.

There is a great variety of food and no lack of it in these Banks Islands, and it is no wonder that the old men become gluttons and that cannibalism has never been practised here. One of these old fellows could name a hundred different kinds of yams. Some are great shapeless masses weighing perhaps half a hundredweight, others are six feet long and thin; the best of all, a yam about a foot long, called the Urai, with a smooth skin, is considered to be the food for chiefs only.

In addition to these they have tomago, queta (calladiums), sweet potato, sugar-cane, oranges, pineapples, bananas, and many kinds of very delicious [69/70] nuts. There are great fat pigeons in the trees, which can easily be shot, and fish abound all around them in the sea. The great land-crab which climbs the trees after the coco-nuts is a great delicacy. They call him "Until-the-sun-sets," because if he should grab a man's hand with his claw he will not let go until the sun goes down. He nips a coco-nut from the tree and then descends to the ground to eat it by inserting a long claw through one of the "eyes." But as he comes down backwards he is puzzled by the grass band that someone has tied round the stem of the tree; touching it, he thinks he has reached the ground and unclaws the tree, falls, and is pounced upon and captured.

One of their greatest luxuries is a sea-worm which they call the Un--its scientific name is Annelid palolo viridis! I happened to be in Mota one year in November, which is one of the two months in the year when the Un comes. At two o'clock in the morning "Tammes" awoke me, saying that it was nearly time for the Un to arrive. We walked down to the shore, where many dark forms were lying on the reef asleep under their mats. Here and there a lighted torch shone on the water as some watcher looked for the approach of the prey. There was still some time, so we too lay down and slept for an hour. Soon after three o'clock, when the moon had reached a certain position and the tide had begun to ebb, the Un was announced, and everyone went down to the water to meet it. Torches were held close down to the smooth sea, and millions [70/71] of little wriggling worms clustered to the light. With hands and with nets the people scooped them up as fast as they could. It was a weird scene--the women, with flashing torches, standing on the reef and singing "Garu, garu, ma!" (" Swim, swim here!") and scooping up the little greeny-red creatures with a regular rhythmic motion. I had Un for my breakfast, but I could not enjoy it.

October and November are the only months when the Un comes, and then only at a certain phase of the moon. "Tammes" told me that the previous day "the head" of this great family of worms had come, and in the evening "the body" of it; but now these were "the children," and I think it is only these that they eat.

The natives are extraordinarily wily in their methods of catching fish. The usual way is to stand in the shallow water and shoot them with a wire-headed or barbed arrow. In some islands men go out in canoes, with a kite having a long line tied to the tail of it, and a very tough cobweb for bait. They paddle up against the wind, and the kite rises, leaving the cobweb dancing on the water fifty yards behind the canoe. A particular kind of fish with curved-back teeth rushes the cobweb, its teeth are entangled in it, the kite falls, and the fish is pulled in as quickly as possible lest the sharks should rob them of it. I have seen boys at Merelava swimming for hours off the rocks holding very short fishing-rods over their heads with a long line. Whenever [71/72] they hooked a fish they bit its head and dropped it into a canoe which was attending them. Flying fish are caught at night by holding a torch in front of a net. I have also seen a fish used as a decoy, sunk beneath a canoe in which a man sits waiting, with his net at the end of a rod ready to catch the fish of the same kind which pursue it. Water is deep all round Merelava, and the people with their little outrigger canoes are extremely clever seamen. One of the best examples of canoe-craft I ever saw was shown here. There had been a north-westerly gale in November, a month before the season for gales from that quarter was due, and all the canoes but one had been washed away during the night. We arrived in the Southern Cross early in the morning, bringing a new native teacher to be put ashore, with his boxes, a table, a blackboard and, greatest prize of all, a large grindstone. There was no lee shore where a landing could be made safely, and the waves were running high up the rocks. It seemed impossible that we could land anything at all under such conditions. However, as we watched, we saw that something was going on ashore. Then, on the back of a receding wave, a canoe shot out with one man paddling furiously; he came alongside, and we found him to be William Vaget, the native deacon. He said he was quite certain he could get the teacher and all his belongings to the land, and he did. Time after time they ran up on a big wave to their friends on the rocks, rushed something into their hands and fell back again on [72/73] the same wave. Even the grindstone was successfully dumped ashore in that way.

The traders have a saying that "God takes care of fools and missionaries." The wind blows stronger and the seas are rougher in the Banks Islands than in any other part of Melanesia. We all sailed our own boats when we were living in any group of islands--whale-boats pointed at both ends, with a large steer-oar when the crew was rowing, to keep the boat head-on to the seas; and with a rudder and a tiller when we were sailing. Like everyone else, in my early days I knew next to nothing about sailing a boat. One year I had a crew of five boys from the Banks Islands during my stay in the New Hebrides, which lie to windward of the Banks. They happened to be a disagreeable lot, and became homesick and discontented. They disliked the people I was working amongst, and held them, and more still their rough, badly cooked food, in contempt. At last I tired of their sulks, and decided to take them back to their homes and get a better crew. We ran across the passage from Raga to Maewo and down the coast of that island to the south end, where we waited for a fine day before attempting to make the passage of thirty-three miles to Merelava. The crew became in that time unbearable, and so, early one morning, I gave the word for a start. I had with me boxes of stores for five months, and the whale-boat, if rather full, was at any rate well ballasted; there was just enough clear space to bale her out if we shipped water. When we got away from the south end of the island [73/74] the crew began to wish we had not started. The wind was blowing outside as strong as ever. We double-reefed the sail and still flew before it. Our mast bent under the strain, and Robert, the leading mutineer, stood up by it all the way across, hoping somehow to prevent it from snapping in two. There was not much conversation on board during those five hours. Hedley Adams, one of our staff, held a little compass in his hand and tried to keep it dry, because the spray stuck the needle to the glass, and until we were within ten miles of the island we could see no land ahead, although Merelava is 3,000 feet high. The waves broke behind and roared round us. If the rudder had split, as sometimes rudders of small boats do, or the mast had gone, of course we should have broached to, and one of the big following waves would have been all over us. A boy was baling hard for the whole five hours. We sailed outside the tide-rip at the corner of Merelava, and brought up at the landing on the lee side. It was my first trip of any length as skipper of a twenty-four foot rowing-boat, and afterwards--in the many gales encountered in later years--I had confidence enough for anything. No one had expected us in such weather, and my mutinous crew and I had to spend a week waiting for it to moderate.

When the wind had blown itself out, starting in a calm, we rowed towards Merig, seventeen miles away, but knowing that the landing would be very bad, we passed it by and made sail for Mota, forty miles to the north. Once there, I knew the [74/75] crew-boys would feel themselves at home, and be happy. We met with squalls of rain and were wet through before we arrived. One boy went down with fever, and I was so stiff myself that I could with difficulty get out of the boat. We carried our gear up to the village, and there I found the wind had blown the roof off my house. The floor was wet with rain and filthy, and to make it worse the fever-stricken boy began to spit blood upon it. He spent the night warmly in the gamal, and was soon all right again. There was no place for me to sleep in but the church, a large building with stone walls, cement floors, and a good iron roof. It had two good solid doors, and one of these we took off its hinges and laid on the top of the pews, and I slept on it. A native can sleep on anything, and the beds they usually prepared for us were quite as hard as these doors. Sometimes I dreamt of a soft bed, but when at last I had one I could never sleep.

2. "Sukwe "

The late Dr. Rivers bestowed some praise on our Mission because we had interfered so little with native customs. In his book, The History of Melanesian Society, he writes at great length on Sukwe and kindred customs from a scientific point of view. My views about the same things can be only those of a missionary.

It is more easy to describe cannibalism and headhunting, and it was far easier for us to deal with such obstacles as those, which the people themselves [75/76] could see to be horrible, than with Sukwe. The former, when once given up, were never returned to. There is no cannibalism in the Banks Islands; but Sukwe was the great trouble to us in this group, for it had an immense hold upon the people. It was a kind of native freemasonry, and some of our staff who were freemasons were almost afraid to discourage it, feeling that it had so much in it that was akin to masonic rites. It occupied both minds and bodies of the natives for many days and months of the year, providing feasts, dances, and the circulation of money and rank and power in the villages. On the other hand, it was entirely tied up to their old religion, animism and ghost worship, which we were trying to displace, and its strongest haunt, the little island of Mota, was a nominally Christian island with schools and teachers and one or two native clergymen. Mota had, indeed, been Christian for many years; Bishop Patteson had often stayed there, and had chosen its dialect as the one out of a thousand others which all his missionaries and teachers should learn, that into which Christian books should first be printed--the lingua franca of the Norfolk Island school. Yet every time I stayed there I felt the island was to all intents and purposes heathen and the Mission's work a ghastly failure, and I had no doubt whatever that the cause of the failure was the Sukwe.

The Mission custom in Bishop John Selwyn's time had been to withdraw all its workers to Norfolk Island during the hurricane season, from December [76/77] till April each year, and it was owing to this absence of all the white men for five months every year that the true character of Sukwe had not been discovered. Towards the end of my time in Melanesia we changed our methods; our white men and women lived all the year round in the islands, and then what had been so carefully hushed up came out. Sukwe was being vigorously practised, with all the old heathen prayers and rites and incantations, while the white man was away. This little island of Mota was, in fact, for one half of the year nominally Christian and for the other half heathen, and all because of this native freemasonry--truly described by some of our most trusted native teachers as "partly good and partly bad."

At one place in Mota, Cullwick, the Priest-in-charge, and I found a Sukwe function going on in a glade. A high wall of bushes, decorated with red flowers, had been erected around a gamal-house; passing through a very narrow entrance in it, we found about fifty men practising dance steps. [The dances themselves are tame affairs and harmless, being little more than a few shuffles of the feet to a dreary song. In Gaua in old heathen days a false step in the Sukwe feast was punished by a shower of poisoned arrows discharged by the onlookers into the delinquent's body. In Mota they were never quite so particular as that.] Inside the gamal-house was a boy going through a stage of his initiation into the Sukwe. The dance was to take place in about three weeks, when sufficient food would have been collected by the boy and his friends to feed all the Sukwe; meanwhile he, poor [77/78] boy, had to stay inside the gamal, unwashed, and as black all over as soot and ashes could make him. In old times this part of the initiation took a hundred days in some islands, and here in Mota it took a long time according to heathen rules, but by an agreement between the head-men and our teachers it was supposed now only to last three days. However, a white man was seldom here, and there was always a tendency to prolong the time of imprisonment. This boy had been in the gamal for ten days already, so we sat down and spent two hours in persuading the men to let him come out. At last all agreed, and he was fetched out. He was a filthy spectacle, and the glare of the sun after so many days in the dark rather dazed him. He took part, however, in the dance which signalised his release. Then the men set up a song, which carried a long way, the burden of which was that the boy had been released, and the sooner food was brought in for the feast the better for all parties.

Every male was expected to be a member of the Society, if not, he was counted as what a unionist today would call a "scab"; but the name they used for him was "flying fox." By his joining the Society the other members became a little richer, for he had an entrance fee to pay. Others had joined and paid it, and they took care that no one should escape paying this toll.

In every village in the Banks there is a gamal with some fifteen ovens in it; and no one may eat at an oven above the rank of his own. At the far end of [78/79] the gamal sit the men who have attained the highest rank, the Worshipful Masters, or, as they were called, "the men in the sky." These have spent vast sums of money to reach their position, and they are in debt to everyone in consequence, and are always hoping that steps in rank will be taken lower down, in order that they may be able to pay. They are dignified with the title "Tavus mele," and are very great men indeed. Their word is law amongst the young men, because no one can rise a step without their help. If they themselves are able to find money to take a yet higher step, so as to live a little bit higher up "in the sky," the gamal will be lengthened by adding one more room, in which they will be able to sit by themselves and talk with their friends across the log which divides them, but no one can eat with them; in proportion, therefore, as men rise in social rank the gamal becomes longer and longer, and the debts which encumber them greater and greater. There is always movement where there is Sukwe, and money, pigs, and sacrifices to enable men to buy new steps in the Society are of paramount importance, and, in fact, are almost the only things about which any man thinks day and night.

There are Societies besides Sukwe which are apparently not quite so essential to life and happiness. Such are the Tamate (Ghost) Societies. These are social clubs, each having its own salagoro, or clubhouse, somewhere near the village, where its members are initiated, and which is private to them. [79/80] Approach is tabu to all others who do not belong to that Society, a flower or some leaves fixed to a stick by the path signifying that trespassers will be prosecuted. We white men were always considered by the natives to be free of tabu and beyond the reach of magic of every kind. Nothing could harm us, however deadly it might be to brown people, and we might go anywhere.

These two Societies, Sukwe and Tamate, are not only extraordinarily interesting organisations, but they have in the past served a purpose in producing law-abiding Melanesian citizens according to their lights. Dr. Rivers has shown that they are indeed really important institutions of island life in that they circulate money and promote respect for authority and good order, giving rank as well as authority.

But, on the other hand, between the two, Sukwe and Tamate, every man in Mota was in debt. To join either he had to borrow shell-money and give about two yards of it to every member. Higher steps required payment of from thirty to a hundred fathoms of this shell-money to all members who had attained the rank to which he himself was now aspiring, and not only in a man's own village, but to his co-rankers in all other villages. Such immense sums could never be raised without borrowing, and could never be recovered unless new members were constantly paying in fees for their steps in the Society. In no other way could a man recover his money, and the available shell currency was insufficient to meet it. So everyone was in debt.

[81] To get money to buy steps and pay debts, sacrifices must be offered to the spirits and ghosts to whom their heathen forefathers had offered them. Money was therefore again being laid before the old ghost-stones, to attract more money and procure good crops. The ground about them must be swept, and the paths which led to them. With these stones men could "bind" the sun from shining, and make rain, and might convict one another of causing sickness and death. The schools and churches were closed, because everyone had become too busy preparing feasts for initiation and installations and other functions to think of going to prayers; men and women went wrong, and for a time lived more or less promiscuously. As Dr. Rivers has said, Sukwe and Tamate "suggest occasions for the general relaxation of the laws which are so often found among rude peoples," and "at certain festivals the most fundamental laws regulating the relation of the sexes are not merely broken, but an excessive degree of relaxation is allowed or enjoined."

The dying testimony of Robert Pantutun, one of our Mota clergy, upon these Societies was: "We black people saw all along that these things must make the teachers worthless. Our white fathers made a mistake in allowing them to continue."

Our Mission had tried hard to take everything objectionable out of all native customs and to adapt them to the new religion which we had brought, so that the people might have their fun and pay their debts like honest men without relapsing into [81/82] heathenism. Bishop Patteson, seeing the people practising Sukwe, had confessed that he did not understand it. He had allowed it to continue on the understanding that, if it were harmful, the people would give it up of their own accord when they became Christians. Bishop John Selwyn before me, and I during my years in the islands, did our very best to Christianise it because the people got so much pleasure out of it; there seemed no reason why it should not be put upon a Christian basis. Bishop Selwyn had tried to regulate it by restricting the performance of its rites to three days at a time. I tried my best to persuade the men to carry out Sukwe rites without the sacrificing, and to get it all done in the one day instead of spending perhaps a hundred in solemn preparations. We had large gatherings in different islands to consider this "one-day plan." If the young men could have had their way they would have carried it. One of them indeed, believing that the day was won, stripped himself of his Sukwe ornaments and gave them to Freeth, who was with me at the time. But I found that, however much the majority might like any kind of reform, the old Tavus mele men were the only people who had any real say in the matter. They objected to anything which would reduce their importance, and what they said was law to the young, for no one could rise in Sukwe without their consent. All this time the people remained quite friendly. They all saw that the thing was a curse, but they could see no way of paying their debts if it were stopped. We ended with a great palaver, to which [82/83] all the men in the island came. Under the trees we debated the question. One said that if Sukwe were given up they could only settle their affairs by fighting, and this others denied. One stood up and said he himself was resolved to give up Sukwe; others declared it to be impossible. That Sukwe was incompatible with Christianity was the conclusion to which, much against my will, I had come. I told them of Pantutun's dying testimony, and I said they must choose between Sukwe and Christianity.

It was untruly reported in the neighbouring islands that Mota had given up Sukwe, and there was great gladness. In Lakona a potful of stones which for years had been used for magic was brought to me that I might do what I would with them. I took them out to sea and dropped them in deep water. In Motalava the pigs which played so important a part in Sukwe were no longer allowed to roam the villages, but were put into their proper place--in sties. Sukwe did not actually die at that time, but it was greatly weakened.

3. Motalava.

Superstition is ingrained in Melanesians, and it is not quite dead, I suppose, amongst ourselves. It was stronger in Mota than elsewhere in the islands because of Sukwe, and of no less than seventy Tamate Societies, existing there.

In the neighbouring island of Motalava superstition had become comparatively weak, and therefore Christianity was strong. I used to think that these [83/84] native Christians of Motalava were perhaps the happiest people I had ever seen. Their new faith in God had greatly lessened their fear of ghosts and magic, though an undercurrent of superstition remained. They were in the second generation of Christianity and their first enthusiasm had gone, but yet they built good stone churches and filled them on Sundays. They attended their schools, and it was a pleasure to examine them. They read well, and could sing and do sums. They really did believe that God was stronger than all charms and stones, of whatever shape; that no man could make the rain fall or the sun shine; that no bamboo with a charmed leaf in it could shoot out magic and kill the person to whom it pointed. From all this, and much more, they had been delivered by the "teaching of Christ," as they called Christianity.

They are a very good-looking race. Many of the young boys and girls are beautiful; their skins light brown, their hair often tawny, their teeth white and perfect. They are full of jokes, and make merry over very small things.

It was pretty to watch them working in their gardens, fifty or sixty of them together, first in one man's garden and then in another's. Young men in pairs tore up the ground at intervals of a few feet with pointed poles. When the point was well in they set their feet on the pole for leverage and dragged it down, tearing up the earth. Women followed, scooping out the loose earth from the holes with their hands, and cutting away roots. The older men [84/85] would sit by and bore the meat out of the yam, leaving the rind to plant as seed. Women with babies looked on, or helped as they could. An idle man in such a community, where all work for each other in turn and everyone has seven or eight gardens of his own, is not known. No doubt because of this, in this happy island there were always hundreds of children. I saw one day a pretty ceremony outside the house of a woman who had lately given birth to her first child. Fifteen women and girls sat on mats on the ground, and small sums of shell-money were distributed to them in return for their having slept in the house and cared for her. She came out with her baby and walked around them three times, showing her child, and then put him into their hands, and they passed him from one to the other, each looking at him with interest and admiration.

It is not easy for people whose forebears have believed that two little sticks tied together with a string (which had been bound round a dead man's skull) formed a deadly trap on their path to get rid all at once of their dread of magic and ghosts. Once when I visited this island I was told that a native lately returned from Queensland had given out he was a man of importance in the Church, and that on my arrival I should ordain him a deacon. He spread it abroad that he had what he called "the holy garment" all ready, and papers to show me which would prove his worthiness. It was some time before he would show me the papers and garment, and when he did, the papers proved to be a Queensland [85/86] tax receipt--or something of the kind--and a note from an immigration agent telling him where his brother might be found. The "holy garment" upon which he had forbidden anyone to sit was a mackintosh. He being such a fraud, I declined his offer to serve as one of the boat's crew on my next voyage. Just as we were leaving he seems to have cursed us, and to have warned those who went with me that we should perish at sea far from the land, which I only heard when we were sailing back to Motalava a week later. We started back in fine weather, but halfway across a black squall came upon us and blew us down toward the Rowa reef. We had a bad half-hour. The boys then told me of the curse, and I said to them, "We will thank God when we arrive." The wind hauled round a little and we fetched within a couple of miles of Motalava, and then got out oars and rowed in. Being wet through, I went at once to my little house to change my clothes. Soon I became aware that my dripping boys were standing outside. I called out to them to go and change at once. Their answer was, "Aren't you coming to thank God, Father?"

I came upon a strange thing in this island which still is a mystery to me. The people believe there are spirits named Nopitu which in some strange way provide certain men and women--also called Nopitu--with the shell-money which is the currency of these islands. A married couple lived in Motalava named Simon and Lucy, and Lucy was a Nopitu. I was told that if Lucy scratched her head, unthreaded [86/87] shell-money fell out of it. If she drank the water of a coco-nut, money was afterwards found in the shell. If she ate a red yam, her teeth gritted against money. I had heard before of the belief in Nopitu from a teacher named Johnson Telegsem, who said his father Stephen had become rich through his wife being one. When asked why other men with Nopitu wives were not immensely rich, he replied that if the wife became annoyed with her husband the money disappeared.

Another man, Denmet, had a son, David, about seven years old, and money was sometimes found in his hands when he awoke in the morning. When I discussed the matter with the teachers I was told it was all very bad, because the cause of the coming of the money was a "spirit" which possessed them. I suggested that it might be jugglery or deceit, but no one was convinced. They had seen "conjuring" by Archdeacon Comins at Norfolk Island during the Christmas festivities, but this was different.

One afternoon, passing through a village with some of my boys, they told me that Lucy lived there. She had returned from her work in the garden, and hearing I wanted her she came. She was oldish, with a queer vacant look, more foolish than guileful. She seemed distracted, and scarcely aware of me. All she wore was a loin-cloth, and over one shoulder was a bag which she had brought from her garden. She stood in front of her house with a few small leaves in her hand. Then she began to sing and dance-After a few steps she rubbed her hands together, [87/88] and unthreaded shell-money fell from them to the ground. She did this twice, and I asked to see her hands and the leaves. A few pieces of money were sticking to them, for they were very hot. I thought I could see the trick. However, when Simon, the chief who was her husband, came up, he sang her special song, and she danced again to it and again rubbed her hands, and a long string of money gradually dropped to the ground--a fathom long, white and moderately old. She seemed as though in a trance, and asked for a biscuit. She told me that a woman-spirit with four children lived on the next point of the island, in a stone house. Being spirits, they were visible only to herself. When one of them came into her, then the money came. She had seen one of the children coming, she said, before she sent for Simon to sing the song, but not during the song, and it was this child who had asked for the biscuit, and not she. How it was done I do not know. Those who read may perhaps explain it by saying I was hypnotised. The woman had quite bare arms and did not touch her bag; her husband sat a few yards from her on the ground and beat a drum whilst he sang. There was no collusion of any sort between the two.

A short time after this I saw Lucy quite happily taking part in a service in a church, and she looked a quiet old soul and incapable of deceit.

Three years after, being again in Motalava, Simon and Lucy came to me to ask for Confirmation, and I confirmed them. The next day I was told that [88/89] Simon had recently performed the ceremony of Kolekole over his new house. This is a custom connected with Sukwe which a man performs in order to gain prestige. It had required a great deal of money for presents to the people all round, and Lucy had got it for him through her Nopitu. The people now told me that Lucy at times was possessed by certain spirits which had come from Maewo and were friendly to her. They all had names, and they spoke through Lucy's mouth, and had done so all along. In return for the food they liked (red yams), they gave her money. But after my visit three years before Simon had told them through Lucy he wished to have no more to do with them, though they asked "Why? We are kind to you and give you money for the church. And we want to be baptised." During these three years no money came. The day before the Kolekole feast the spirits said, through Lucy, that they were hungry, and when they persisted he gave them their favourite food. Next morning a pile of shell-money was found outside the back door of the house by Lucy. She danced at the Kole feast, it was said, as only a Nopitu can dance. I sent for Simon. He said he was greatly troubled about these visitations, and felt that he had fallen into great sin in having dealt with the "spirits" again. I spoke to him about the Holy Spirit Whom he and Lucy had just received, and told him they need have no fear of any other. Whether or not he and Lucy since then have kept themselves free of Nopitu, I am not able to say.

[90] It is scarcely a hundred and fifty years since witches were burnt in Europe, and in Britain too. Lucy's money-making would certainly have brought her to an uncomfortable end in those days. Here in the islands people are "kinder." I leave the performance open for some psychologist to explain.

No one who has lived amongst these primitive people will blame or despise them because of their superstitions. They see things happen which they cannot in any way explain. They know nothing of the power of mind over matter, and they see a man sicken and die after he is "bewitched." With Christianity the new idea comes to them that there is a great spirit, God, Who can protect them, and this new faith plants a new joy into their lives. The people of Motalava love their beautiful island. They enjoy its abundant food and its peace, and they love each other. They find partings very hard; yet there is scarcely an island in Melanesia to which they have not gone to teach the "way of Christ." Surely a tree is known by its fruit.

4. Santa Maria.

The Trade Wind, east to south-east, blows from April to December. Thus in the island of Santa Maria, Lakona, on the north side, is sheltered during this season, and Gaua, on the south, is rough and not easy to approach. This is one of the islands which accepts its best teachers, men and women, from Motalava.

The heathen people of Lakona--and there were [90/91] few at that time who were not heathen--were the most horrible in their customs of all our Melanesians. One could see how low they had sunk even by their faces; and their nature was so weak that we had to draw our teachers for them from elsewhere. Disgusting is the only word which will describe their heathen customs. For instance, a woman was expected to show her respect for her dead husband by staying in a room with his body until it was completely decomposed. Men and women changed wives and husbands whenever they pleased. If anyone objected, the men would fight. Two little boys showed me arrow wounds in their backs made when, as tiny children, they ran with their mothers from men who were "fighting" them. It struck me when I stayed with these people that the Motalava teachers, spending their lives amongst such degraded creatures, were the best results of our Mission work. Such bright lads those were to live with such a race as this in the bush of Lakona. These people are akin socially to the rest of the Banks Islanders, and yet so greatly inferior; it is difficult to say why, and it is the same on both sides of the island.

5. Rowa.

Rowa lies down-wind from Motalava about six miles. A great reef stands out to meet the force of the south-easterly gales and protects the very little, low-lying island from being overwhelmed by the sea. The down-wind side of the island is rather higher than the weather side, and it is there that the [91/92] real Rowa is. But when Patteson first came and made friends with the people, they liked him so well that they moved their village to the landing-place, to save him the trouble of walking across to them. One year a tidal wave swept across the part now occupied by the people, and they had to find safety in the trees.

This little island is of importance only because most of the shell-money in use in this Group is minted by the women there. Small discs of broken shell are ground down to about an eighth of an inch by rubbing on stones. Each bit is pierced with a native drill, a contrivance of two sticks and a string, and threaded on fibre. The women said they could make about two yards of it in a day. This would buy food equivalent to what we might buy for a shilling; it might be broken up into smaller pieces, or joined on to other strings for purposes of Sukwe.

William Qasvar, a deacon, was the old patriarch whose word was law here. There were not more than forty souls altogether, and they lived at peace with one another and the world, getting their living by minting money and fishing. Qasvar was, when young, one of Patteson's best crew-boys, and loved to talk about him. He was "very quiet," William said--not like Bishop John Selwyn, who was "quick." Patteson "understood the Rowa language, but did not speak it much. He understood all their languages, and knew what the people said in every place they visited. When they went to Erromango in the New Hebrides men crowded round their boat, [92/93] and chattered like birds. One of the Bishop's party asked, 'Who can speak to them?' He was sitting very quietly listening, but how he stood up and talked to the people in their own language." Old William showed me one day the ruins of the village on the higher ground which the Rowa people had left, and the two great round stones which the "giants" of old had caught as they fell from the sky and used as peg-tops, thrashing them with coco-nut leaves; there also was the enormous slab of stone which Urumal, the giant chief, brought in his canoe from Ureparapara and used as his bed. It weighed, I should think, about three tons.

William's church in the new Rowa was on the same scale as the "great men" of old. It measured 51 feet by 39, with north and south walls of white stone, and the east and west ends of some kind of reed interlacing. The floor, where not of cement, was of pumice-stone, and covered with mats. There were twelve long white stone seats set east and west, having nautilus and other shell decorations let into them. Half the church was chancel. Three steps led up to the altar, behind which was an ambulatory. There were thirty-five of us dotted about this large church. All the thatch for its roof had been carried by boat or canoe from Vanualava or Motalava. I used to feel that as much work had been put into it, in proportion to their numbers, as men gave to build our cathedrals in old days.

The sea-breeze blows constantly across the island during the south-east season. If one took shelter [93/94] from it, the mosquitoes at once made life a burden. William said they were not the plague that they used to be, but as he said so he fanned his face vigorously to drive them away. What mosquitoes were above ground the ants were upon it, and the barefooted natives continually brushed one foot against the other as they stood and talked. They were happier in the lagoon shooting fish with their bows and wire-pointed arrows than on land. Sharks of many kinds abounded, some hammer-headed, and sword-fish, but only the black shark was at all dangerous. This, the natives said, was always guided by its pilot fish, which, having bitten a man if he could, and drawn blood, would go back and tell his big friend lurking somewhere behind him. You catch the pilot, they said, and then the shark does not find you. When up only to their knees in the water they are not afraid to shoot an arrow into a shark; but if up to their middles they throw a fish, if they have one, beyond it, to encourage it to go, and then stand perfectly still, so as to be mistaken for a tree in the water.

Five of these Rowa boys were my boat's crew one year, and I could have wished for no better. They never grumbled, and could manage a boat as well as most white men. Sogotle was their leader, a big, strong, good-tempered fellow, whom I made my cook. To get a turtle for supper he one day dived from the boat, and caught one by the shoulders as it passed on its way to the open sea; disappearing for a time from view, he came up with the turtle, and, [94/95] turning it over on its back, fixed a line to one of its legs. So we had turtle chops and turtle eggs for supper.

6. Torres Islands.

Four inhabited islands fifty miles north of the Banks Group are called the Torres Group, and they are the loneliest place for a white man in all Melanesia. You can easily run down to them with the wind from the Banks, but there is no getting away from them once you are there if you have only a sailing ship, for Santa Cruz, which lies down-wind to the north, is a hundred and seventy miles distant. Ships therefore scarcely ever came there. A white man in the Torres Group was practically a prisoner until some steamship called.

When I first went there in 1894, the people had only recently given up the custom of exposing their dead on platforms in the middle of the village until they had completely rotted away, when the leg bones would be taken and turned into points for arrows. These arrows were beautifully made in three pieces: the shaft of a light reed, the point of a piece of bone about nine inches long, and between shaft and point, to give weight to it, a short length of heavy wood. An arrow thus made was a most deadly weapon, as the bone crumbled in the wound and almost invariably set up lockjaw. The men had the cartilage of their noses pierced, and carried in them short pieces of bamboo to prevent the closing of the hole. When a body was decaying in a village, sweet-smelling [95/96] herbs were put through their noses to deaden the stench. On two out of four of these islands the natives had recently decided to have schools and to accept Christianity; consequently fighting had ceased, and all the beautiful ironwood clubs and arrows were up for sale.

These islands held firmly to the Sukwe custom. No man might eat with a man of lower rank than himself, nor with any woman, because in Sukwe she had no rank at all. Thus there was no family life, and while they continued in Sukwe there could be none. For the same reason they could not, if they became Christian, become communicants. They were told by Mr. Robin, their white Priest, that in these circumstances it was useless to baptise them. In the gamal house with its many rooms and ovens there was much searching of heart. The men had "eaten up" to more or less high rank, from room to room, paying money and giving feasts at each step until now Abraham and Simon sat in the highest room, adorned each one with a pig's tail in his ear, the rest sitting in the rooms which belonged to their rank. After two or three days the two chiefs began to "eat down," each eating food in a lower room every night. All the others followed their example, until all had passed back through the steps which they had paid so much to climb, and together they passed out, free from Sukwe, and then held a feast of rejoicing all together outside.

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