Project Canterbury






(NO. 1).





by the






Printed at the Melanesian Mission Press,



Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2005




The question of the Suqe has agitated the Church in the Banks Islands for a good many years. It has had defenders and adversaries, and the criticisms on both sides have often been marked by a confession of ignorance of the subject criticised. A critic has often acknowledged that he really knows nothing, and is not competent to judge, but he still goes on criticising. The reason is not because the Suqe is difficult to understand, or because it is hard to get information about, but, probably, because it consists of a great number of small details which seem to have no particular meaning or connection with one another, and which are almost impossible to remember accurately without committing them to paper. That is why, when information about the Suqe is asked for, it is difficult to give it off hand. There is an idea that there are certain broad, fundamental and mysterious ceremonies governing the whole question of Suqe. This is not so, so far as I am aware.


I would first briefly trace the history of our dealings with the Suqe. It was not condemned by the earlier missionaries. Some say they did not know anything about it. I feel sure that they must have known as much about it, and certainly must have seen more of it than we. But they did not stay for any long [1/2] consecutive period in the islands, and did not perhaps realize what an enormous place native ceremonies and customs of every kind take in their lives. They perhaps thought of the people as mainly engaged in horticulture, with an occasional halt for a dance or a feast and some merry-making.

The first to become a hostile critic of the Suqe was Mr. Adams. He became an enemy of almost all native ceremonies, for he found how serious was the dislocation of ordinary life by the various tapus and periods of seclusion. He was a Freemason and professed to have discovered such close similarities between Freemasonry and the Suqe that he would never speak freely about it. Perhaps I am wrong, but I doubt whether he knew much more than we all know. It always surprised me that while he was so enthusiastic a Mason, he was so bitter to the kindred society of the Suqe. If it be so similar, why be an enemy? An attitude the very reverse of this was that of Bishop Wilson after he had left the Mission and had become a Mason. But it does not say much for Freemasonry if what Bishop Wilson has branded as Satanic, is so much like it. Mr. Adams found that when Suqe ceremonies were in full swing, school and church life were in abeyance; so he set his face like a flint against it, and preached a crusade of extermination.

Bishop Wilson followed hard after. I dare say you remember some years ago how, during one of his stays in the Banks, he made the Suqe the great object of attack. He preached a crusade against the Suqe up and down the district for months. But his objections, which I will allude to by and bye, became rather different from those which moved Mr. Adams. Back numbers of the 'Log' contain all the sentiments of both Bishop Wilson and Mr. Adams. Bishop Wilson condemned Suqe out and out. It was nalinan Satan,--a vile thing, from which the faithful were exhorted to withdraw completely.

Another Banks Islands missionary, Mr. John Palmer, became more and more opposed to the Suqe as time went on. It was the apathy shown in Church matters contrasted with the enthusiasm shown for the Suqe which influenced him.

Another Banks Islands missionary, Mr. Freeth, became an ardent disciple of Bishop Wilson in his dealings with the Suqe. While they were together once on Mota, they held a large [2/3] meeting at which all the young men, who probably owed money to the chiefs, were opposed to the Suqe; and all the old men, who were probably owed money, opposed its abolition. The voices of the young men prevailed so far as to secure its suppression for two years as a trial. The Bishop promised that, if this rule were faithfully kept, he would reconsider the matter when the time expired. Soon afterwards Bishop Wilson resigned, and Mr. Freeth found that his presence was more needed elsewhere, and the Banks Islanders, in this critical period of their Church's history, were left like sheep without a shepherd. The two years during which the Suqe was to remain dormant passed, and the people of Mota became restive. More than two years passed, and still no authoritative voice came from the Church as to what was to be done. We must give the Mota people and the other Banks Islanders (for all followed the Mota lead) all honour for loyally abiding by the Bishop's decision,--and more than abiding by it.

Bishop Wood then came. Miss Coombe was then at Mota, a thorough admirer of the people's loyalty to Bishop Wilson's decision, and a thorough believer in the Suqe as a necessary part of the native life. Early in his episcopate the Bishop took me to Mota for a conference on the Suqe question. It was an important meeting but held under disagreeable circumstances,--the house was being painted at the time. Miss Coombe, the Bishop and I met in one of the rooms. As we took our stand on the sheets of newspaper spread to catch the drops of paint, I said we must remember we were engaged in an cumenical council which was perhaps to decide finally on the fate of the Mota Church. We discussed the subject of Suqe. Miss Coombe was 'pro' and I was 'anti', and the Bishop knew nothing at all either way. So far as I understood, Miss Coombe's attitude was governed by her conviction of the importance of the Suqe, in contributing to the vitality and interest in the life of the community. It was the feeling that suppression of the Suqe meant the killing out of the very joy of life almost, that made her so eager to have it allowed,--also her admiration for the loyalty with which the people had stuck to their promise to Bishop Wilson. After the conference Bishop Wood wrote out his judgment in English. Miss Coombe translated it and the Bishop read it to the chiefs and [3/4] teachers. To prevent any misunderstanding on their part, the address was read over a second time by Mr. Drew. The judgment was an indefinite one. The Suqe was not condemned, but was allowed with reservations, qualifications and safeguards. The Suqe was to be governed by Christian principles. The speech contained, I think, too many qualifying sentences,--the full importance of which escaped the audience. The fact that the Bishop, who had been expected to curse the Suqe, had seemed to bless it altogether, was enough for them.

I should like to state here my own attitude to the matter. From my early days I found great interest in the purely native life and customs of the people, and I was in favour of the Suqe for the very reason that Miss Coombe was. Bishop Wilson often tried to shake my convictions. He used to say to me that if I knew and had seen as much of the evil effects of Suqe as he had, that I should be as keen an opponent of it as he was himself. But I never backed him up. I used to urge him not to be eager for too rapid an advance of Christianity, but to be contented with the slowest progress: that Suqe was accompanied by some evil had to be borne. We cannot christianize a whole community in a generation. We must take long views. One quoted of course the argument of the slow growth of Christianity among the people of Europe. However, my views had no effect, and the two years suppression of the Suqe was decided on. After it was suppressed, I threw in my lot with Bishop Wilson, for I felt that in a case of discipline of this kind, it was essential that the Church should be united. This was the reason I opposed Miss Coombe. I maintained, that as the people had been taught most consistently and impressively by Bishop Wilson, that Suqe was wrong, we should put ourselves in a false position if we reversed this opinion, and allowed it to be revived. That people would loose [sic] confidence in their chief pastors, if one deliberately cancelled the judgement of his predecessor.

You may say: What vile thing is the Suqe that it merits such a condemnation as Bishop Wilson, Mr. Adams, Mr. Palmer and Mr. Freeth passed on it; or what good thing is it that you and Miss Coombe feel it to be a vital force in the lives of the people? At this point it will be best to give an outline of some Suqe customs.


1. Kerepue. The Suqe consists of a series of ranks, of which the lowest is called Kerepue. A child can become, and often does become a member of this before he is weaned. The father, father's brother, or mother's brother, acts as the introducer. In this early state the ceremony is a family affair. Later on, when the boy advances to the higher ranks, it becomes a communal affair--the whole village, and even all the villages round, taking part in it. The mother's brothers will probably provide the money for the preliminary initiation. They will give about 10 fathoms of shell money each. This is a gift pure and simple--it is not lent out to gain interest. They will also give o qoe we war, a tusked pig, to the introducer. The pig is not for him, but for the child. The introducer kills it by stamping on it, saying, Iloke nagama o qoe, vananok, ape Kerepue, and cleans it, the hair scraped off being burnt in the fire in the gamal in the Kerepue division. He pays the cleaner a couple of fathoms of money with the remark, Iloke ape ko me susuli o qoe nagan natuk. This man covers over the door of the gamal with cycas leaves. The father with his infant son remain secluded in the gamal for 50 days, though some will extend the time to double that number. The mother goes to the gamal to feed her child. She herself lives a secluded life, and takes no part in the village festivities. Her food is cooked for her separately, preferably by her own sister if she has one. Of the flesh of the pig that was killed, a feast is made in the gamal. The father dips his palm into the blood and smears his chest with it. To vus qolue--to smear the chest with blood--is a coveted privilege to be purchased with money. This is said to represent the honour and power which will be his son's. The blood is the blood of the food of his son. While remaining in seclusion, he does not wash, and if he goes out at all, he carries an umbrella palm leaf with which to shelter his head from the sun. On the tenth day he makes a feast. A conch shell trumpet is blown twice, a drum is beaten and the musical instruments known as the meretan and the werewere, to the knowledge of which expensive initiation is required, are sounded in the gamal. Every tenth day a feast [5/6] is made,--the final one which is either on the fiftieth or one hundredth day being a bigger one. The father has a ceremonial bath. He makes a palako, a decorated pole, which he sets up on the beach where he went to bathe. This is a tapu mark, and may remain for as long as two years. He may not even yet mix freely with the people, or take part in any feast, but remains in his semi-prison for another 50 days or more. Then he gives 5 fathoms of money to a chief (probably a relation) to get his freedom. This request is not likely to be refused.

2. Mele. The next rank in the Suqe is called Mele. The boy will probably advance to this when he has become a grown youth. The whole community is interested in it as it involves a much greater expense than most individuals can afford. The mother's brother is the most likely person to act as the introducer. His first business is to collect a large sum of money--Ge lue o som, as it is called. He borrows from a number of wealthy men a sum amounting in all to from 200 to 400 fathoms of money, for the temporary use of which he gives them a commission of 5 fathoms. The borrower distributes it among the men who are members of the Mele rank. An early date is fixed for the Wol Tapug, which is the ceremony of buying the Suqe rank, and which is marked by a big feast. The evening before, which is known as o sireag qeta, is given up to preparing for the feast. Everybody contributes to this, but the mother of the candidate and her brothers give the largest amount. The food is cooked either in different ovens in the various houses of the village or in one large oven. The members of the Mele give presents of money to the youth who is about to join them. This money is a present and is not merely lent. It is part of the ceremony known as Matigae. We matigae is to give the Suqe candidate presents of money, some of them, perhaps most of them, in return for any present he has given them in days past, or in return for any deed of kindness or help he has done. Suppose he has given a fish to any one. The skeleton of the fish will have been kept, and now a piece of money is threaded through the head and handed to the boy. So it will be with everything he has given. Many of these gifts he has probably forgotten all about. When all the [6/7] presents have been given, the boy's father says to his sogoi, "there is a debt on us." They will agree and undertake to pay back the money borrowed by the mother's brother, who is acting as the introducer. The next day is the day of the Wol Tapug. The boy's father requests someone to catch some of his pigs. Five or more will be caught according to the amount of his wealth. The animals are tied near the door of the gamal where a cycas has just been planted. Near the cycas tree is erected a carved image, a wotomaragae, a grotesque image of an old man carved out of a tree-fern trunk. A very rich man who can hire many workmen, will put up as many as ten of these figures. The images are named after the names of spirits--Dundunbevae, Dundunberin, Tamategangaviga, Qoroqorlava, Wometeloa, etc. When the pigs are tied up, the ovens are opened for the feast. The boy's father goes into the house to his sister, to receive from her two fathoms of money with which to pay those who will beat the drum for the dancing. "Le ma o rova nirua: ko te qil o kore" he says. When the drumming begins he and his son dance in the tinesara. Then a decorated pole, called a palako, is carried in. It may be very heavy, consisting sometimes of the trunk of a coconut tree, so that many men are required to lift it. When it is laid down in the tinesara, the bearers on either side cross over and take up their stations on opposite sides: they are said to kole o palako. There now take place some dancing and speechifying, the father, the mother's brother and various important and wealthy men delivering oratories. The father says to his brother-in-law, "To-day our son will compensate you," a remark which refers to the money given to the drummers. He gives four fathoms to his son. While the boy is dancing in the tinesara, his father's sister comes out of the house, and bowing down before him, receives the strings of money which he lays over her neck. The drumming and dancing stop at this point, and the pigs are handed over by the father to his son's maternal uncle. If he can afford it he will give twenty or even thirty ordinary pigs, and one tusked pig, in payment for the palako. This distribution is called vilevilepulai. The present is not in payment for any particular item, but for the whole gift of the Suqe, for the whole privilege of membership now being accorded to his son. It will be remembered that it was the maternal uncle [7/8] who collected a temporary loan of several hundreds of fathoms of money in the earliest stages. He now repays them the exact amount he borrowed, a sum sufficient for doing this having been collected when the ceremony of the matigae was gone through. If the presents then given do not amount to enough, the sum must be made up. The actual handing over of the money is performed during the sounding of trumpets. The money is placed in baskets--one hundred fathoms in each. The boy's father hands him the baskets of money to pass on, and in delivering them to his son, he says of each, "Nom o tapera pulam o som alolona, gama o tapia lot, wa o qeta sunavul tol." During this paying off the loan the people stand watching. They see there is no debt being contracted; it is o Suqe we wia.

A short dance recommences, the maternal uncle being the performer. At its conclusion he shoots with bow and arrows two or three pigs. They are for the candidate's feast and are cooked next day. The boy has been fasting all this time. The members of the Mele rank contribute food for this feast, and in the evening they gather for a speech which is delivered in the gamal to the new member, by some man of position, in the following terms: "Exercise hospitality to visitors: hate no one who comes into this gamal: sweep the gamal well: prepare food and draw water for visitors who come here: do not pay much attention to your wife, lest you be reckoned a man of no account. Gan lue o sinag--i.e., play the part of food taster, whether it be pudding or fish. If you hear people chattering, do not go near: remain in the gamal lest any evil happen, and those who see you in the path, charge you with the wrong doing. My brother, to-day the sun will speak of us two. He will set, and the spirit Rovorugter dwelling in the place of the sunset will ask, 'What happened today?' "Oh nothing; someone ate the tapug Mele, and then I came down here.'"

3. Lano. The rank above Mele is Lano. For entrance to this the same preliminaries are gone through as for the Mele. At the ceremony known as Vilepulai the candidate will give about ten ordinary pigs and two tusked ones in addition. It is the object of the payer of all this wealth to keep it, if possible, in the family, so it is to his advantage if his own father or some near relation will act as his introducer. At the sight of so much wealth the envy of some will be stirred. "Why did not [8/9] I make the Suqe for your son, so that I might have got all those pigs?" says some envious neighbour to the candidate's father. "Why" replies the man addressed, "did you not speak to me and my son about it?" The same dancing and speech-making that took place for the Mele are repeated now for the Lano. But in this case a general tapu is announced during one of the speeches. "Let no canoe pass to and fro in the sea: let no one shout and let the drum be silent. Anyone shouting to be heard by us here, must pay a tusked pig or ten fathoms of money." This tapu is removed on the fifth day. The new member breaks his fast late in the night following the dancing and speeches, and he does so in a ceremonial manner. The members of the Lano sit in a circle each holding a little food in his hand. To the counting of one, two, three, four, they raise their hands to their mouths and eat. In Vanualava this solemn eating is known as Durevi. While it is proceeding trumpets are blown, and a chief makes a speech. When a man arrives at the rank of Lano he becomes a Tavusmele or chief, a word more commonly used than maranaga. Before the speech is given, the new member's father brings in the family Vui, the household Lares and Penates, in the form of a sacred stone called Tamaragai. The stone is laid in a dish. The bearer locking his fingers together, lays his hands palm downwards over the stone and clasps it against his body, while a Tavusmele addresses the new member thus:--"May your days be many in this world, may your pigs be numerous and your money abundant, may your food be plentiful and your children multiply: may you be famous so that people will recognise you as a Tavusmele. Do not go about from house to house: stay in your own home. You are a chief." Another Tavusmele then addresses him:--"Attend, my brother: you are a Tavusmele. Your food cannot fail, nor your money, nor your pigs, nor anything that is in your hands. You are powerful, not as a shooter of men, but powerful in possessions, in money, in wealth. You are an object of admiration, o wowut. Behave well till you reach old age. I have finished. Let the sun speak of us to Rovorugter that a man ate Lano to-day. It is fitting that you tell of his glory in the other world."

[10] 4. Qoroqorolava. The usual preliminaries of introduction are gone through for the rank of Qoroqorolava. For the use of the money borrowed by the introducer he gives a present of as many fathoms as he likes. The sum is unfixed, and the lenders may not demand a large gift or even anything at all for its use. The number of men borrowed from will not probably exceed five. The candidate is required to kole o palako at the same time, and directions are given to some of the young men of the village to prepare twenty of these poles and four cycas trees. Two of the latter are planted beforehand near the gamal, and are smeared with red pigment like the palako, and are decorated with plaited fringes of coconut leaves. The other two trees are reserved for the occasion of the dance. The preparation, o sirvag qeta, for the wol tapug, are similar to the ceremonies observed for other ranks. During his dancing next day the candidate proclaims his own high estate. "I am powerful," he shouts, "I am powerful. There is no debt on me because I am powerful with my possessions. No one is equal to me." The people are said to listen with wonder, we mamakei, at these expressions of disdain for lesser men.

Among the dancing ceremonies comes a procession of several men carrying the two cycas trees and a very large palako with branches. Behind them comes the candidate followed by an old Tavusmele, who carries in his hand a wand in the form of a long blunt arrow, o tiqa. The ceremony of crossing over the palako and dancing is gone through, together with a speech from the old chief. "Ah, my brother," says he, "you have celebrated a fine Suqe, for you have much wealth, many pigs and tusked pigs, money and food. Because of all these things you have Suqe'd. Do not be ill-natured to any one, nipea golgol gap. Be hospitable to any strangers that visit you. Bid them welcome to the gamal." "You have performed a good Suqe," says another speaker. "there is no debt on you. Upon some who Suqe a debt rests, and those who return to their villages blame them, saying, 'You have not performed a good Suqe.' But this of yours is good, because your possessions are many."

The introducer bids the candidate bring out his money and pay off the debt of the borrowed sum. It is placed in a few bags, each of which is touched and handed over to the sounding [10/11] of trumpets. The pigs, twenty of which have been tethered in two rows along one side of the dancing ground, are handed over next. Two of them are shot for the palako, and two more for the tapug, that is to say, the Suqe. "My brother," says a chief, "the people made fun of you and me because of the Suqe, saying that I could not shoot four pigs for your food. But now I have done so. I have shot these four for you. You have contributed much for me in the ways of pigs. This that I have shot is but a mere morsel of food for you. Do not cook it in the oven: just fry it, for it is but a trifle." These deprecatory remarks are made, so it is said, to avoid appearing ostentatious in the eyes of the people.

5. Wometeloa. Next above Qoroqorolava is the rank called Wometeloa. It is Wo matan o loa the Eyeball of the Sun: it is the Sun spirit. For this rank the business preliminaries are the same as for other ranks. But the candidate may probably ask the introducer to provide the whole sum needed. This may be done for other ranks too, but apparently is not.

The candidate for Wometeloa pays a preliminary gift of forty fathoms of money to each member of that rank, the men bringing to him their bags for the gift to be put into. This is a ceremonial payment and is carried on to the sounding of twenty conch shell trumpets. A variety of shells being used, some being small and some large, the sound has been described by a native who has heard a brass band, as being somewhat similar to that of an orchestra among ourselves. At the payment of the money the members of the Wometeloa congratulate the giver on his wealth and power. The evening of the day when this money is paid is the Sirvag qeta. For the decorations of the vanua about five large palako with many branches are prepared by men hired for the purpose. At the Wol tapug the candidate dances to the accompaniment of the drum, and carries in each hand the jaw-bone of a tusked pig. As he dances he holds these up and shouts to the onlookers to see the jaws of fine pigs that he has killed for former feasts. Their silence in the face of this challenge is the homage he receives from them. Later on he dances again after smearing himself with mea, a red pigment, the colour being symbolical of the sun. He also wears the dancing dress known as the malo saru. The introducer shoots four pigs, two for the palako and two for [11/12] the Suqe, and addresses the candidate thus: "My brother, people made fun of us that you would not be able to Suqe. But behold! you have succeeded. You are a Tavusmele, a man admired, o wowat: you have renown. Numerous will your children and your wives be."

The remaining palako are dedicated by a formal dance. Many small palako will have been put up round the dancing ground, and one, a very large one, will be carried in by bearers in the usual style. In a speech to the people before they disperse, the new member will, in a grand manner, give them leave to take anything they like of his on their way home. Pigs and fowls of his found near the path are taken, and if not taken can be destroyed, as also can his gardens and fruit trees. No doubt some old scores will be paid off in this way, under cover of the Suqe law. Indeed, the man who aims at high rank needs some courage to face all that it entails in the way of loss of wealth. But with the sagacity that might be expected of him, he will remove far off some of the best of his livestock, and penning them up in a distant garden, will leave some youthful relative to keep guard over them.

After the dancing and feasting ceremonies, the village is tapu for five days to all except the men of high rank. No voice or shout is heard there, and no canoe is seen upon the sea. The daily life of the village is at a temporary stand-still. After the five days the ordinary people return and a feast is made, we gana o qon, and they make their choicest puddings, o lot, till the hundredth day.

6. Welgan. The rank above Wometeloa is Welgan. Welgan is the name of a male spirit whose rock home is on the shore close to the Vureas school landing place.

The candidate's preliminary gift to the members of this rank consists of fifty fathoms of money to each one. At the dancing only the candidate and his introducer perform. Both are smeared with the red pigment, and wear on the left forearm six pig tusk bracelets, and a malo saru with four fringes.

All desire for personal decoration has to be subordinate to the Suqe and other ceremonies. Love of display and decoration is innate to the native, but it has to be restrained till it can be lawfully indulged in by the payment of large sums of money. [12/13] The wearing of bangles, for instance, is governed by the laws of Suqe. The member of the Kerepue may wear one; the member of the Mele, two; the member of Qoroqorolava, three; and the member of Wometeloa, four. For a man of humbler rank to put on what he is not entitled to, would cause as great a scandal, as for a Second-Lieutenant to wear the badges of a Colonel.

In addition to the decorations already mentioned, the two dancers wear a belt of plaited cord into which, at the back, are struck a sprig of the casuarina tree, red and white hibiscus blossoms and red dracæna leaves. Round the neck they wear necklets of very small shell money, called manmanosom. The candidate carries a club with a peculiar shaped head. As he dances he shouts, "Behold me! Behold me! No on is my equal." Four pigs are shot for the feast, and he eats the tapug in the evening. At that time the introducer addresses him in these terms:--"You are a fine man, you are a man admired, a man of renown. When the people are passing to and fro they think of you, saying, 'Presently we shall come to his place and will rest there.' Such is your fame. The people know you for you are a Tavusmele, and you entertain the stranger hospitably. Oh! my brother, you are a great man in this Suqe. When the sun went down it told of our fame, and Rovorugter rejoiced at it."

7. Wotaurumelik. The rank above Welgan is Wotaurumelik. The name is that of a male spirit. When an image of his is carved, he is represented as holding his hands as if to support something. His name signifies "to hold up the sky," which he is said to do on his hands and head.

The preliminary gift from the candidate to each member of this rank is one hundred fathoms of money. The payment is large, but there are not likely to be many members of it. For the dedication of the palako he will pay forty fathoms to each workman. As many as fifty of these poles will be set up for this rank. On account of his wealth he will provide pigs and food for the feast. As before, the people are given leave to take or destroy the property of his they find on their way home. A member of this rank is called either Tavusmele or Vusqoluk. The usual boastful speechifying is indulged in at [13/14] the time of dancing. "I shall not grant this privilege to any one haphazard," he says, "but should it be my brother or a relation of mine, that is a different matter, for we are one family. Should any one else want it, he must pay me a high price, twenty pigs and two tusked boars."

For his feast in the gamal the cooking is a small affair, as the partakers of it are so few.

8. Wetuka. The highest rank in the Suqe is known as Wetuka. The title Weskot is an alternative one. It is the name of a female spirit. Legend says it was found among the village offal in the form of a young eagle. The preliminary gift for entry to the rank is one hundred fathoms of money. At the dancing the candidate wears the malo saru with five fringes back and front. He is heavily decorated, smeared with red pigment, wears hibiscus blossoms, casuarina leaves, dracæna leaves, and carries a togo qatag, a kind of reed with a decorated stem. He girds around his loins a white cycas leaf. On his upper arm he wears a pan, an armlet. Around his legs he binds white anklets, vileiluir, and wears one white hibiscus in his hair. In his oration he says, "I have reached the sky. No one is my peer. I have distributed forty pigs and five hundred fathoms of money. No one equals this. My father did so, and I have followed him. If my brother wishes to, I can help him. It is not hard for me. You see it is difficult for you. But as for me it is not hard: it is the easiest possible matter. Ah, my brothers and friends, none of you can do this, but you will be able to if you go the proper way about it. He will be able whose possessions are many as mine are. To-day the sun setting will speak of my glory to Rovorugter, that a man made Suqe to-day. He will say that he is a fine man; that he is a Tavusmele of renown.

Some three generations ago there lived in the village of Sanlan a man of the name of Qasagale. This man had reached the highest rank in the Suqe. To enhance his greatness and the greatness of the Suqe customs, he determined to offer a human sacrifice as a substitute for the customary pigs. His choice of a victim settled on his nephew, a youth named Vonowe, the son of his sister. No opposition was offered by the people to this, for Vonowe being so close a relation was Qasagele's property to do what he liked with. The youth [14/15] seems to have submitted to his fate with the stoicism of the fatalist. At the gathering for the sacrifice he was laid on the ground, his extended hands being held by two men, while the terrible uncle stamped in his chest till life was extinct. His body was buried in the vanua, and his weeping mother planted a memorial, a cycas tree which till lately stood in the present school grounds. As an atonement for the murder of Vonowe, his uncle paid money to his relations.


Such are some Suqe customs. We notice at once that they are not as a whole at all evil. On the other hand they seem (at least some of them) to be distinctly good. Let us attempt to balance them.

It is obvious that the whole matter rests on money. Suqe is founded on and sustained by finance. In fact it is one of the chief means by which money is kept in circulation. As Archdeacon Cullwick used to phrase it, "Suqe is to make the money jump." It is this which gives it so vivid an interest to the people. There is nothing wrong in this. Suqe is the Melanesian Stock Exchange, but a Stock Exchange enlarged so as to be coterminous with the community. Anyone who has the smallest piece of money can invest it with the certainty of getting at least 100% profit in due course. When we see the keen interest that money has for most of our own countrymen, we can sympathise with the Banks Islanders. Is it not true that when the post arrives the first packet to be opened is the Pass Book? But the minds of the Melanesians embrace something more than a mere Pass Book. They reach out to what we might term an Investment Book, an elaborate record of money put out at interest here and there in scores of places, and all retained and conned in their wonderful memories. To see the little one become a thousand, to see his half fathom of shell money grow and grow under his hand as his investments succeed, till he sees himself on the way to wealth, honour and privilege, is indeed enough to fire a man with a love for the Suqe. And when all this exciting exchange of money is accompanied by feasting and picturesque dances, with decorated villages, with songs, laughter, banter and jesting, who can blame them for not wanting to see them all banished to the [15/16] missionary's limbo of forbidden things? To many a man who has no grasp of what the Christian religion really is, beyond the fact that it seems a kill-joy, the light of life almost dies out when Suqe and its kindred customs go.

Another note about the Suqe has been alluded to in the course of describing the ceremonies. The man wishing to rise goes through the ceremony known as Matigae, and receives then a recompense for all the kind deeds he has ever done. Any present of whatever kind he has ever given is then recognised by a gift of money of corresponding worth. Many of these gifts he may have himself forgotten, and it is said he will weep as his friends press upon him their money in payment for his kindness to them He did not always give a present with an eye on his investment book. This is a point to note. The Suqe may be said to cultivate generosity, for the more generous a man is the better will it be for him. The miserly man, gaining a temporary advantage, is the loser in the long run.

It is to be noted in the Suqe that while the desire for gaining wealth is stimulated, the spirit of the miser is discouraged. Rich men high up in the Suqe would be despised and disliked if they did not distribute their wealth. This they do by paying people to work for them. Also, when they give a feast they can do things on a handsome scale, so that a large amount of money is distributed and returns to the humbler folk, who in their turn gain the means to climb in the social scale.

Yet another note is the perseverance that a man must exercise in order to rise in the Suqe. It is no easy thing to reach the higher ranks, though it is much easier now than formerly. Young men in recent times can reach ranks which would take many more years and much more money to rise to in the days of their fathers. It is said that if a young man were to have tried to rise as often as he does now, he would have caused so much ill feeling and jealousy that he would have been put to death. Only old men ever reached high rank. Some of the customs of the Suqe seem a contest, as it were, between the community and the candidate. It is his effort to rise; it is their's to make it as difficult as possible for him to do so. Custom will even allow his property to be injured, but other [16/17] customs will enable him to recoup himself at the spoilers' expense. It is obvious that a man must have physical strength, good health, patience, tenacity and resource, and a cheerful power of recovery from the buffetings of fortune.

There are from some points of view great advantages in having a coterie of chiefs in a community. The people are in a primitive stage of development, so that a monarchy is more suited to their needs than a democratic government. A strong autocratic rule is not at all distasteful to them. The power of the chiefs being based on many heathen ideas and practices, the introduction of Christianity has a disintegrating effect, unless the Christian teacher is a man of strong personality. This is why pioneer work, when once the chiefs are interested, is so easy. The Church is backed up by all the heathen power of the chief men. A vigorous Suqe would in certain cases strengthen the outer Church life of the people. Whether this would be of any value is another question.

I have painted perhaps too bright a picture. We must not be blind to the reverse side. "What, in your opinion, is the root of the evil, the really vile things in the Suqe that the Church should condemn the whole thing?" is the sort of question one often asks intelligent teachers. The answers are very much alike, but the chief evil mentioned is not what to us would appear to be the greatest. Almost the first objection to it that they put forward is that it prevents people going to prayers. I think that they mean by this the daily Mattins and Evensong. What prevent church going are the occupations of the people in preparing for the Suqe ceremonies, the seclusion practised by candidates and the general excitement of everyone, which makes a sober church service and the discipline of school almost distasteful. In judging this it is well to look at home at the disregard for organized religious worship shown by our own countrymen. To walk down a city thoroughfare on a Sunday, when the bells are ringing to Evensong, would not suggest that we are the people to condemn others for abstaining from the prescribed prayers of the church.

Another reason advanced is that Suqe ceremonies lead to immorality. I am sure this is true, and is one of the biggest counts we can bring against it. Those big festivities of dancing, [17/18] feasting, interchanges of money, personal decoration and broad jesting, are the occasions when people let themselves go, and no one is inclined to be at all strict, or to judge others too strictly. People lose their heads for a time. They lose their balance, and though not really at heart wishing for a low standard of morals and for loose living as a permanent practice, see no great harm in people having a fling at those times. At such times a little money will square up any indiscretions. But granted all this, we should have to decide how much looser the moral standard is at big Suqe ceremonies than it is in normal times. Even in normal times it is not high.

Another count against the Suqe where it is carried out in its completeness, as in heathen places, is its anti-social character. It is antagonistic to the Christian idea that the family is the unit of society, and that family life is the best and highest kind of life. The Suqe takes no account of women otherwise than to secure their exclusion. A man and his wife do not share a common meal. This is anti-Christian.

Another point against the Suqe is that it does prevent people from concentrating on other things. It is the dominant subject. Mr. Adams, in speaking of the great influence of George Sarawia the Mota Priest, used to say he received far more honour for his high place in the Suqe, than for his office as priest. Again and again one will hear a critic of the Suqe condemning it on the ground of its absorbing interest. The people cannot properly balance the claims of Suqe and the claims of Christ. The missionary sees that where the Suqe is strong, the Church is weak, and where Suqe does not flourish, the people can and do give more attention to the Christian teaching. But it is a debatable point how far we are justified in condemning Suqe outright, because it distracts attention from the message of the Gospel.

The chief count against Suqe, to my mind, is one which dominated Bishop Wilson towards the end. It is the strange fact that there seems that in it which inevitably draws people back into the heathenish ways of thinking. Many, perhaps most, think in heathen ways to a very large extent always, but the power of heathen ideas gains the ascendancy when the Suqe is strong. I believe this is owing to the belief that to be rich [18/19] and prosperous you must have mana. To get rich is the inevitable trend of men's minds, so that the getting of mana is the dominant ambition. Now the mana is not that associated with God. It is the mana of their vuis, the spirits their fathers worshipped. So we find that Suqe will inevitably lead back to the recrudescence and the strengthening of all heathen ideas. To sacrifice for money was the recognised custom then. It is so still, but owing to the growth of Christian influence this belief is not carried out into practice, except by some of the older people who have never got a grasp of what Christianity really involves. But the power of heathen ideas is enormous, and were Suqe to become once more powerful, we should see a recrudescence of heathenism permeating all thought, and issuing at last in what I spoke of lately,--the actual sacrifice of a beloved human life as the final and fittest offering a man can give to the spirits to whom his soul bows down in worship.

I received recently a letter from a Banks Islands teacher, and in it he says, touching this subject:--

"Na te valui rorono muniko si we wia wun si te ge pea o line Suqe talo Banks. Tuan vanua wun o Suqe gate ge lepa o turiai, pa o Suqe talo Banks we ge lepa ran o turiai, tamaike:--

(1) mun o vavae, we te vargol wa te vava tatas.

(2) mun o pug, ape ni gate gagapalag mun naturpulana, pa mun napulansei we sea.

(3) mun o pal. I Tavusmele ti sagarag napulansei, o qoe si o som, ni qara ararike apena, ti sogo galegale o Suqe munia sin wosag qet napulana nania, ni qara toga masara kel.

(4) mun o togara. Ape alo tur qon tete vug tuwale taniniga, pa o nonomia te leralera ran alo qon ilone.

Nau me iloraka gap o tuaniu si na gaganag at, pa ko we gilala raka sage ape linai nan ta iake. Wa, nipea nonom si na we vava at mun o sotaliva. Tagai nan, pa o manigiu o varleasag apena, tuaniu we vet so o Suqe we wia wa tuaniu was we tatas, pa gate gilala o nonomia apena was we wia mun o sava wa we tatas mun o sava. Sowa, o Suqe talo Banks we mano tatas mun ilone nan."


If, as a Banks Islands missionary, I am asked to give my own opinion and judgement, I do so as follows:--

1. It is useless to give a qualified permission of, or a qualified condemnation of, the Suqe. The people will understand only a direct and definite statement. It must either be permitted or forbidden. The people interested will welcome a cautious permission, and would in the fervour of their hearts promise that no evil shall be allowed ever again to mar the innocence of the Suqe ceremonies. This they have done before, but the old habits of the people are too strong, and they transgress the rules that the best men among them would gladly see kept.

2. The Suqe has come under the ban of so many missionaries and has from time to time been anathematised so unsparingly for its accompanying evils, which the people themselves are candid in acknowledging, that it can never be whitewashed again. The most Christian among the people know in their secret souls, that Suqe must be counted among the things which do not hasten but rather retard the coming of the Kingdom of God.

3. The population of the Banks Islands has decreased so much that the glory and interest of the Suqe have dwindled to a large extent. Its educative power is now diminished. Mere youths eager for glory and position bid for ranks far higher than their fathers would have dared to aim at. There is not now required the patience and self-restraint that were once needed. The decrease of the population is owing largely to the recruiting by traders, so that the people have begun to find many of their interests altogether outside their homes. It cannot now be argued, as it might once have been, that by taking away the Suqe the Church deprives the people of their chief interest There is something almost incongruous in an old returned labourer taking up the Suqe again. With him it becomes just a money grubbing business. The dignity and picturesqueness of the proceedings have largely passed away. One feels that the Suqe is no longer an educational force. The people need now to have their attention turned elsewhere if they are to continue to exist. While they are pathetically occupied over the petty details of a Suqe "deal," the white [20/21] trader is at their doors clamouring for the possession of their land and their wealth. The need is for the people to bestir themselves in the face of the new order of things: to leave the past and grapple with the present and the future.

4. I would suggest that while the Church adopts as its attitude one of disapproval of the Suqe, the followers of the old time customs should be dealt with leniently. It is too severe a condemnation to say that Suqe is nalinan Satan. I have been forced to take that attitude before now, but I can testify that it is not the most effective. The natives know too much of the ways of white men to think that worldly customs put us altogether outside the pale of respectability. You can be a money grubbing trader and yet be entertained hospitably by the missionary. Let us show the same tolerance to the followers of the Suqe. This is quite a different thing from the Church extending its blessing to the worldly customs and methods the trader adopts. We dislike his ways but we need not dislike the man. But we should protest if we found he claimed unashamedly the highest privileges of Church membership. So we can be hostile to the Suqe, but not so to the members of it. I think this attitude of quiet persistent disapproval will have more effect than severe denunciation and excommunication, which only irritate some and raise up, as I have found, a spirit of rebellion and blasphemy in some of the more hardened. Defiance is met with defiance: contempt with contempt, and the whole atmosphere is charged with elements of anger and dislike. The delicate plant of Christian culture and love cannot grow up in it. It is impossible to put a permanent dividing line between those who Suqe and those who do not, so that those who Suqe become excommunicate. This plan may be carried out for a little while, but the effect is bad on the characters of both parties. We should let the two sides merge into one another. But I would suggest the rule that no one who remains in the Suqe and assists others to rise, be chosen as a sponsor in Baptism, or be admitted to the Holy Communion. To adapt a phrase of Holy Writ, "You cannot drink the Cup of the Lord and the cup of vuis." As no one would become a teacher without being a communicant, this puts it out of the power of teachers and religious leaders of the people to Suqe,--and this is the main point.


Printed at the Melanesian Mission Press, Norfolk Island. 1920.

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