Project Canterbury

"The Apostle of the Indians of Guiana"
A Memoir of the Life and Labours of the Rev. W.H. Brett, B.D.
For Forty Years a Missionary in British Guiana

By the Rev. F.P.L. Josa
Rector of Holy Trinity, Essequibo

London: Wells, Gardner, Darton and Co., 1887.

Chapter V.

Resignation of Bishop Coleridge--Archdeacon Austin made Bishop of Guiana--Ordination of Brett--Cabacaburi--The Waraus--Another Field of Labour--Mr. M' Clintock--Mr. J.H. Nowers.

IN 1842 Bishop Coleridge resigned, after eighteen years' hard work as a pioneer bishop in the West Indies, and then Guiana was made into a separate diocese, and with Archdeacon Austin as its first bishop, consecrated on the Feast of St. Bartholomew in 1842 at Westminster Abbey, by Bishops Blomfield of London, Sumner of Winchester, Murray of Rochester, Gilbert of Chichester, and Coleridge, late of Barbadoes. Shortly after his consecration the Bishop of Guiana returned to the newly constituted diocese. The Bishop at his first ordination, which was held on the Feast of St. James, 1843, sent for Mr. Brett from his distant mission for examination, which proved satisfactory, and he was ordained a deacon. On the same day the following year he was admitted into the ranks of the priesthood. Thus fully equipped for the battle against the powers of darkness, he went back, not to the Arapiaco, but to a hill on the river Pomeroon called Cabacaburi, a site which had been purchased by the Bishop for mission purposes. The writer has visited this hill, as well as every mission in this district, travelling in which has now, of course, been greatly improved. Cabacaburi is reached via the sugar-plantation Anna Regina (the property of Sir Thomas Edwards-Moss, of Otterspool, Liverpool, a munificent Churchman), through its main or "navigation" canal. Two hours pulling takes us to Lake Tapacooma, at the other end of which a portage" is reached, where the "corials" are unloaded and hauled over, and the "Tapacooma" creek is reached. After this comes the Arapiaco and the spot where the mission was first established--now covered by an exuberant growth of bush and trees interlaced by creepers and "bush ropes "--is still pointed out. After this the fine river Pomeroon is reached. The hill on which the mission is situated has at its top a magnificent silk cotton tree--a king of the forest--by the side of which the tall palms look mere pigmies, its height being about 180 feet.

The Arapiaco station was not left without a pang. Mr. Brett thus writes:--

"It was not without a feeling of regret that the old settlement could be quitted; for though unhealthy, it has been endeared by many associations. But for health and com fort the new place of residence was much superior. It soon became a pleasant and picturesque spot. A large village here sprang up, the Caribs erecting one half; and the Arawaks the other. Among the houses were large clumps of tall and feather-like bamboos; while the cocoa-nut and paripi palms, the bread-nut, mango, orange, lime, guava, and other trees, 'pleasant to the sight or good for food,' added to the beauty of the settlement by their varied shapes and foliage.

"The Caribs of the vicinity had joined us, but those who dwelt near the head of the Pomeroon still held aloof. The majority of them knew very little English, and were influenced by one of their number who could speak it very well, but acted in opposition to us. I visited this person, and found him an intelligent man, though living in the barbarous fashion of his heathen countrymen. He was very civil in his language, but took no pains to conceal his aversion to Christianity. Rising from his stool, he cut short our interview by asking me to go with him and see a fine 'king of the vultures' which he had captured.

"It was a splendid bird, and of large size. Its head, destitute of feathers, but shaded with delicate tints of pink and orange, and set off with brilliant pearl-coloured eyes, seemed, with the ruff round its neck and other plumage, to call forth the admiration of my Carib host. But we were both obliged to keep to windward, on account of the odour of a number of putrifying fish given it for food, over which, though they were not yet in a sufficiently advanced stage of decomposition, the feathered epicure was beginning to spread and flap his wings, anticipating the future banquet.

"The object of my visits to this district was totally defeated for the time by the influence of this man and others of the Carib leaders.

"The state of the Waraus in the remoter districts then became a subject of reflection and solicitude. They had always ranked lowest among the coast tribes of Guiana, and not one hopeful sign had as yet appeared among them.

"In person the Waraus are short, stoutly built, and capable of great exertion, but they are generally very careless of their personal appearance, and their filthiness is proverbial. They care so little for clothing, that even their females frequently content themselves with a small piece of the bark of a tree, or the net-like covering of the young leaf of the cocoa-nut or cabbage-palm; and their appearance is squalid and disagreeable.

"Many of the young persons of this tribe possess very good features, which I have once or twice seen disfigured by a thin piece of silver, suspended from the cartilage of the nostrils, and covering the upper lip.

As they so seldom cover their bodies, their skins are darker than those of the other tribes. It has been said that it is difficult at times to distinguish the Warau from the negro but this is incorrect: from continual exposure and want of cleanliness their skins are somewhat darker than those of other Indians, but that is all.

"We arrived at the settlement in Haimara-Cabura, and the intelligence soon spread through the neighbourhood. The Waraus began to assemble. I was not sorry, for there were but two men at the place,--an old and a young one; the former very savage and crabbed in his manner. Endeavours to soothe him by praising the beauty of the skin of an ocelot, which he had made into a cap, and wore with the tail appended behind, were all in vain; he turned a deal ear to everything spoken, whether pleasant or serious. The young fellow was also very annoying, and ridiculously insolent; for placing himself immediately in front, he continued to dance (at me, as it seemed) the ungraceful, staggering dance of his nation at intervals during the whole day.

"When their chief named Damon, arrived, he told me that the old man was a great sorcerer, which explained his moroseness. When I began to speak to the people, he seemed much excited; and when he saw them arrange themselves for evening worship, probably thinking it a proof that the spirits who favoured the Christian religion were more powerful than his own familiars, he paid them the compliment of putting on a clean white shirt and joining us.

"The last party who came were heard about this time a long distance off shouting with all their might. I met them as they landed from their canoes, and told them that we were about to speak to the great God, our Maker and Lord, whom they must approach with reverence. This had the desired effect, and those poor ignorant beings behaved with great reverence during the singing and prayers. I after wards addressed them in broken English, of which many of them knew a little. They now appeared very anxious to be taught, and I was astonished at the change, and hoped that it might be the commencement of their ingathering to the Church of God.

"When night came on, the people whose habitations were near departed; the others tied up their hammocks wherever they could find a place. There was much laughter over their fires, and more talking; but all agreed to follow me on my return to Caledonia, and to continue to attend there until a teacher could be placed among them. They fulfilled their promise, and on the Lord's day the place of worship was crowded with Indians, Arawaks, Waraus, and Caribs, while people from every neighbouring creek, some even from Moruca, came without having been invited.

"This sudden change in the disposition of the Waraus drew the attention of the Postholder, Mr. M'Clintock, who had always used his influence in inducing the Indians to receive Christian instruction. They were now become too numerous to be accommodated at Caledonia, where the mosquitoes were also painfully annoying, depriving them of sleep. The sea, which they had to cross, had sometimes swamped the Caribi canoes, which were very small, and only adapted for smooth water and the heads of the rivers. On those occasions both men and women jumped into the sea, and hung by the canoe with one hand till the water could be baled out. Notwithstanding, they complained that they had sometimes lost their hammocks, and got their bread spoiled by the sea-water. A new station thus became necessary. Mr. M'Clintock informed me of the existence of a fine hill or elevated sand-reef on the banks of the Moruca, near the mouth of Haimara-Cabura; and he took advantage of the disposition of the Waraus to assemble a great number of them, who began to cut down the forest to form a mission-station among themselves.

"While he was thus engaged, I went to Georgetown, and brought the matter before the Demerara and Essequibo branch of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The application was immediately received, and a sum of money voted to commence with; but there was no missionary whose services were available. When this was made apparent, and the question, 'Whom shall we send?' proposed by Archdeacon Lugar, Mr. J. H. Nowers, who was present, rose up, offered himself for the work, and was immediately appointed to the mission.

"On my return, I found some hundreds of Indians assembled at the site of the proposed mission-station. They had already cleared a large tract of sand-reef under the superintendence of the Postholder, who had erected a shed for his accommodation, over which a large flag was waving in the breeze.

"Some of the Waraus present had come from very remote quarters. They were headed by an old chief named Clementia, who drew them up in order, forming three sides of a square, to hear what I had to say. The old chief bore his silver-headed staff in his hand, and had on a once fashionable black coat, with long swallow tails and very high collar, but no other garment, except his scanty Indian cloth. His people were even wilder and more grotesque than himself. The message with which I was charged was explained to the Waraus by Stoll, Mr. M'Clintock's interpreter, and great was their joy to hear that a resident missionary was about to be placed among them.

"The work then proceeded with great rapidity. In every direction were heard the crash of falling trees and the shouts of the Waraus. The posts and timber for the erection of the chapel and mission-house were soon cut, and a settler employed to erect the latter.

"None of the Indians received wages. They provided their own cassava bread, and a few casks of salt fish furnished them with rations. A puncheon of molasses was also sent for their use by Mr. Hughes, manager of plantation Anna Regina, who had heard of their exertions. Sixty men went to that estate, after the clearing was over, to work for clothing.

"How different were the prospects in March 1845, as regarded the spread of the Gospel of Christ among them, to those presented six months before! Those events were surprising at the time to those who witnessed them. To myself especially, who during many fruitless expeditions had seen so many proofs of their unwillingness, the present change seemed the work of God. Nor was this feeling lessened at beholding the manner in which the altered disposition of the Waraus was met by the exertions of the Postholder, and the appointment of a missionary, between whom and myself there existed the bond of former friend ship, and a recent family tie.

"Of the promising appearance of all the Indian Missions in the colony, the Hon. H. C. F. Young, then Government Secretary, publicly stated that it might (at that time) have been said, 'almost without a figure of speech:'--'The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.'"

Project Canterbury