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Dr. Welchman of Bugotu

By Ellen Wilson

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1935.

Chapter VI. 1898

On the 15th of August a canoe arrived at Siota, telling of Soga's serious illness, and bringing a letter to Dr. Welchman asking him to go at once. He hurriedly packed up his things, and started next day, taking with him Hugo Goravaka and his wife and daughter, Anika and Isabella, but arrived at Sepi too late to see Soga alive.

The following gives an account of Dr. Welchman's arrival and of the passing and burial of the great chief.

"Reached Sepi at 11.30, but before we got ashore we saw the smoke signal telling us that Soga was no more, and as we drew nearer we saw a black flag flying from the fishing stage. Another furious rain fell as we landed and everything got wet that was not wet before. No one came to meet us but Devi; but there was a large crowd waiting for us to come.

"As soon as everything was housed and I had had some food (he was still far from well), I went to visit Anika. The house was full of people. Soga's body was wrapped up in many mats and suspended from the roof, the height of a man from the ground. One man stood at the head and another at the feet, and kept watch day and night.

"Anika was sitting huddled up against the wall at the head: she had been there ever since Soga died. They had been singing their 'Coronach,' but ceased on my arrival. There had been no shrieking by Soga's wish.

"The 'Coronach' was a plaintive wail reciting his virtues, his deeds and sayings, sung only by men: the very tone of the chant carried sorrow with it. The marked [35/36] absence of the tangi, with its hideous shrieking, was striking and pleasing too. It had been almost too much to expect that on the death of such a great man there would not be some who would consider it an offence to his memory to omit the time-honoured custom.

"His coffin was a new canoe, very prettily decorated with mother-of-pearl; this was lined with many wrappers of Bugotu cloth and English calico, and the whole was wrapped in many layers of each. A new quilt was laid over all as a pall.

"I sat down beside Anika: the hearts of both of us were too full for words, and we wept in silence, as indeed most of those in the house were doing. At last she spoke: 'He did want you to come, but said "It is so far for him to come." He felt he was dying, but he never spoke of it in those words. He always said, "My children, I am going to leave you, but we shall meet again." '

"I stayed with Anika some time and gave her what consolation I could: and could say with a sense of certainty that he was in peace and at rest.

"He was taken ill on the return journey from Kokodogi (where he had been to make peace between the men of that place and of Kia), and was only ill a week, dying on Monday the 15th of August, before his message reached Siota. His mind was clear to the last. All the principal teachers are here and all the chiefs.

"I called the teachers together in the evening and arranged for the proceedings to-morrow. Held a Communicants' Class in the evening and went down the last thing to hear the 'Coronach '; got to bed about ten o'clock, dead beat. My boys at Siota forgot to put my blankets in the boat: luckily I brought a railway rug, and Hugo lent me a quilt.


"18 August. Thursday.

"We had a Celebration in the early morning with 61 Communicants, offertory 43 radi (porpoise teeth) = 1 /-, having had Matins first for the non-communicants. Then we had breakfast as the preparations were not quite complete.

"As soon as they were ready, Hugo, myself and the teachers went down to the house; and I saw, at once, that the size of the coffin precluded any idea of taking the body into the Church; it could not have been brought through the doorway. We went straight to the grave, the teachers leading two by two; then Hugo and I, and a long orderly procession following the body. Only the mourners and the chiefs entered the enclosure, a large crowd stood round outside. Hugo read the lesson, I took the rest of the service. Before the Grace I spoke to the people giving them an eulogy on Soga's life and exhorting all to follow his ways. When the grave was nearly filled I left.

"An hour later I called the chiefs together in the large canoe house; a large number of people came as well. I spoke to them of the necessity of all standing together and following one lead. I said that the teachers had been asked to name a leader but that it was not our province; that they, the chiefs, must say whom they would follow, and all must obey him.

"A little silence followed; then they began to talk, and before long they had unanimously decided to accept Soga's disposition and make Lonsdale Bofi and Ellison Gito (Soga's sons) chiefs, with Frazer Soge and Eric Notere as counsellors.

"Then they all said that they needed a senior teacher to direct, and the voice of all, chiefs, teachers and people was for the return of Hugo Goravaka. I consented, and left it to him to talk it over with his wife, Isabella. In the evening [37/38] I had him to dine with me, and then we settled that he should stay here; but it was a grief to him to leave Vaturanga.

"I paid a visit to Anika in her house, but there were a great many people about, though they had begun to go directly after the meeting. Some remained to finish building the tomb over Soga's grave, which they had made with flat stones and clayey soil.

"In the evening the teachers all met in my house, and the two young chiefs and others. I told them officially what had been arranged, and all expressed themselves as satisfied."

The following details of Soga's last journey from Koko-dogi, and of his passing, were given by Ellison, his son:

"Then Soga said, 'I have come here and made friends with you, and I shall come again after Christmas; and if I die my sons are here, and you know them now, and they will come instead of me.' Then all the food was divided out and the Kia men took theirs and went away, and the Kokodogi men went home again; and next morning we left. On Saturday night we reached Dadala, and our father said,' I do not like this travelling on Sunday, and so we will stay here all to-morrow. On Monday morning we will go on again. You see the calm sea and the bright sun, and you think they will cease; but they are God's, and He will let them continue till we reach Sepi, if we obey His word.' So we stayed there all Sunday, and we were content because we knew it was true. On Monday we went on again; but when we reached Holeo our father began to feel ill. He had pains in his legs and shoulders, and he got no sleep at all that night. When we got to Kaipito the bush people had come down with a great deal of food to give us a feast, but Soga felt too ill to stay, and he said, 'I will go on to [38/39] Sepi, and you, my children, stop here and feast and dance.' So we went on, one large canoe by ourselves; and on Wednesday we reached home and he went and lay down.

"Next day we saw a ship and we told him. He asked if it was 'our ship' (the Southern Cross). We said, 'No.' 'I wish it was,' he said. 'What makes the Doctor so long in coming to Bugotu?' If we had only sent for you that day, you would have been in time to see your friend. We three were with him and his wife: the others had not come back yet: and he said, 'My sons, I do not know whether there is life or death in this sickness; but I am very ill, and I think I am going to leave you,' and then we all began to weep. 'But do not be grieved, I am quite content; and you three now know all the places. I have taken you all round, and I say to you, and do you take heed to it: Keep the peace in Bugotu. They all know you in the bush; see that you keep friends with them all. And do you look after the people, and see that they do not neglect the prayers and the school, for we stand upon those.'

"Next morning he said, 'Why do not the teachers come and help me with my soul? If Hugo had been here he had not left me so long.' But he forgot he had told them to stay behind; and they had only just come back, and had not heard yet how ill he was. But he wrote letters and they began to come very quickly; the people began to come as well. A great fear was upon them all. And when he knew they were there he called the chiefs and some of the leading people, and they stayed with us in the house. It was very full. He could talk to them from his bed. He talked to them about their behaviour, and he said, 'My children, I am going to leave you, and after I am gone there will be troubles among you; but you must hear my word now. I put Lonsdale and Ellison in my place; they will rule over [39/40] you; and you must obey them as you have obeyed me; and do not let jealousies arise among you. There are some among you who have not done well, and have given trouble. I ask you not to do it any more, but live so that you may not be ashamed when we meet again. I am not afraid to go, and you must not be afraid to meet me. Stick to the Church and the School and to what the Bishop and the Doctor say, for they are our friends and will tell you what is right.' He did not say all this at once but at different times.

"On Sunday morning Joseph Bengere came, and when he looked at him he said, 'Why haven't you sent for the Doctor?' and my father said, 'It is far for him to come; but he always said he would come if I sent for him, and I should like to see him again and Hugo. Send for them.' And Bengere went out, and very quickly a large canoe went off to Siota.

"We were all sitting in the house with him, fanning him, for he had fainted once already, and he said, 'Why have you not gone to Church?' And we said, 'They have not rung the bell yet.' We wanted to stay with him, really; but he said, 'It is time for Church, tell them to ring the bell and go, all of you. Moffat will stay with me and read prayers for me.' But Anika was stubborn and would not leave him. Two days before he had said to us, 'When it is Church time you leave me; I want you all to help me with your prayers.' So we all went. Then we went back to him and after a time he said, 'Have the people been to bathe?' and we said, 'No, they don't want to go, they are all sitting in the houses.' And he said, 'Go and tell them all to go and bathe as usual; I want everything to go on as it always does.' So we told them, and some of them went; and in the evening we went to Church again, and he had [40/41] prayers in the house, as he had done morning and evening since he was ill.

"When we came back he said, 'I think I am better; for all my pains are gone, and I feel stronger'; and he rubbed his shoulders and his body, and laughed and said, 'There is nothing wrong here now. To-morrow I shall bathe.' (The sign of recovery.) But we were doubtful, for he could not lie down, and his cough was very bad.

"When it was quite dark outside he said, 'Put out the light and all of you go to sleep, for I shall sleep, too.' And they all lay down and slept, but we three still kept watch. He did not sleep much, for his cough kept him awake; but he lay back, propped up behind, and was quite quiet.

"In the middle of the night he startled us by saying, 'Who is this? There is a white man beside me, ruddy and beautiful: Who is it? I do not know him.' With that he got up, and went to where Ben was lying, and found him asleep, and then he came to me, and I helped him to get back to the bed, for he was very weak. It was quite dark and we saw nothing and we did not answer him, for we did not know what to say. We thought perhaps he had seen a spirit. He sat up a little, and said,' Let me have the matches, I will smoke a little,' and we gave him his pipe. He did not smoke long but gave the pipe back to me, and he lay back. And then he began to talk again about this man. 'I do not know him; he is very beautiful,' and very soon he lay quiet. I was fanning him, and then I lay down a little. Kohuga took the fan.

"Presently he said, 'Children, do not grieve and do not be troubled, this is my day--' and I got up and went to him. It was just about cockcrow and I saw a change in him. I called out, 'Anika, my father!' and with that they all came running in, and they lit the lamp and we saw he was [41/42] breathing his last. It was not like the death we know: it was just as if he were falling asleep."

Thus passed away the last great Bugotu Headhunter and the first Bugotu Christian chief. If his first expedition spread bloodshed and panic, his last one brought friendship and peace to warring tribes.

On his grave there is a cross, and on the cross is written:

15TH AUG. 1898.
He was filled
with love.

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