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Speech by Dr. Rivers, F.R.S., at the Annual Meeting in England

From Southern Cross Log (Australia/New Zealand edition), February 5, 1910, pages 140-144.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007

[140] Speech by Dr. Rivers, F.R.S., at the Annual Meeting in England.

I AM very glad to have the opportunity of speaking to-day on behalf of this Mission, with which I spent a very pleasant time last year. I have thought a good deal how I could best avail myself of this opportunity, and I do not think I can do better than make use of the two special lines of knowledge I happen to possess. I am a doctor and an anthropologist, and I shall speak, therefore, of the medical aspect of Mission work, and of the value of the science of anthropology to the Missionary. But first, I must refer to two matters concerning the present state of this Mission. I must say how very strongly was impressed upon me, and must be impressed on every visitor to the Mission, the very urgent need for more men. I am extremely glad to hear of the great accession of strength of which we have been told to-day, but as has been pointed out, many of these men only replace losses, not only those due to workers having to leave the Mission, but also those which must especially occupy your thoughts to-day. I should like to remind you that this undermanning means more than the lack of adequate supervision; it means that the Mission cannot extend to new districts actually included within its field of work, and still more it means a great strain on those who are in the Mission at the present time. I could not help observing last year that [140/141] there were members of the Mission who seemed to be taxing their strength heavily in the endeavour to keep up with the work. Probably, you will all have turned to the last Annual Report to read what Mr. Bollen had to say to you of his work in Guadalcanar, and you will probably have noticed that he speaks of that island alone requiring three men rather than one. I cannot help thinking that the great loss which the Mission has sustained by the death of Mr. Bollen may be put down to the fact that he was trying to do the work of those three men.

The other point I should like to mention before I come to my special subjects is the great change that has come over the Solomon Islands, especially during the last few years. The change there is enormous, the new European settlements and the return of Melanesians from Queensland having introduced quite new features in the situation. One could not but see that, as far as the work in the Solomons Islands was concerned, the Mission was at a very critical stage of its existence, and one felt there was need for more centralization. I am very glad, therefore, to learn of the new movement in the Solomon Islands which is signalised, if I may say so, by the presence of Mr. Uthwatt with us to-day. The proposed change makes it quite obvious that there must be the means of getting about in the Solomons quite apart from those afforded by the Southern Cross, and, therefore, I should like to add my voice in favour of the urgent appeal issued by the Bishop for a vessel to enable those at the central station to reach the different islands.

I can now pass on to consider the value to the Mission of such medical work as has been found so useful in many other Missions. When I came to-day I was unaware that the arrangements for a Hospital and for the work of a doctor in the Solomons had advanced so far, and I was prepared with a number of arguments in favour of medical work which perhaps I need not now go into so fully. I will only point out one or two things. Medical work, as connected with Mission, may be looked at from several points of view. There is the point you will think of first--the medical and surgical treatment of natives. That, of course, is very important, but it is difficult to get Melanesians to adopt European medical remedies. As an example of the difficulty I may mention that during my stay last year in Melanesia, I was called to see a man who was ill and found him suffering from acute pneumonia. I spent much time and troubled in looking after him only to discover later that I had been one of thirteen doctors! During the time I was attending him he was undergoing twelve other treatments, all directed to counteract the influence of certain spirits and agencies [141/142] to which the disease is believed to be due. To me as an anthropologist that was interesting, and it gave me the opportunity of inquiring into the various methods of treatment, but to a medical missionary, it would have been distinctly disappointing. One the surgical side, however, there is no doubt a medical man would have enormous power for good.

But we are now coming to realise that the treatment of disease is not the most important part of the work of the medical profession; that the prevention of disease--hygiene in general--is quite, if not more, important. And it is in conjunction with hygiene that I think medical men will be the most useful in the Mission. The great scourges of Melanesia--malaria, for instance, and dysentery--are preventable diseases. I hope that Mr. Marshall, who is to go to the Solomons, will, with the aid of the oil-ship for which we are asking, be able to go about and do very much towards improving the general hygiene of the people, as well as in the prevention of the two diseases I have mentioned. It will be difficult, of course, to get the natives to adopt the necessary measures, but even if the work is disappointing in its direct results, I believe it will have the greatest value as an educative influence. There is no doubt, whatever, that one great trouble the Melanesian is suffering from, whether he be Christian or still heathen, is loss of interest in life. His old occupations have gone, and he is suffering largely from lack of something, on the material side, at any rate, in which to take an interest, and I believe that if he could be interested in this important matter of hygiene, it would do much for him. Last year, in the Western Solomons, I used to point out to people the larvæ of mosquitoes and tell them that if they would get rid of them there would be no mosquitoes, and they would also rid themselves of fever. As I was there only a short time I was not able to effect much, but I found some tendency to respond to influence of that kind, and believe that much might be done in time. The educative effect of such work would be very great, for after all, hygiene is only a higher form of cleanliness.

The other matter about which I wish to speak to-day is the relation between anthropology and mission work. What we anthropologists are trying to do in studying the customs and institutions of races all over the world, is to get at the native modes of thought which are at the bottom of these customs and institutions: and it seems to me obvious that that knowledge must be of the greatest value to mission work. But before I go on to say what I think anthropology may do for missionary work, I should like to refer to what missionaries have done for anthropology. Of course no people have such opportunities of collecting [142/143] anthropological information as missionaries, and the debt of anthropology to them is one of which one can hardly speak in adequate terms. I do not know how many of you are aware that one of the greatest of living anthropologists is a member of this Mission. Wherever anthropologists are to be found, whether in this country, on the Continent, or in America, one of the most honoured names is that of Dr. Codrington. You all know, of course, that his linguistic work is the basis of the whole of the work of the Mission at the present day, but you may not know so well that his book on the Melanesians is one of the classic of anthropology.

To return to the value of anthropology to Missions; there are, of course, two kinds of Mission policy: there is the policy which would destroy all native customs and institutions and endeavour to start afresh; and there is the policy which endeavours to keep what is good and to build up the new faith on that foundation. I need not here go into a comparison between the two policies, for from the time of Bishop Patteson this mission has definitely adopted the second and in my opinion by far the better method. But it is obvious that this policy is a difficult one. You cannot take the good in native institutions and reject the evil without knowledge of the good to be chosen and of the evil to be rejected. Now one of the most definite accomplishments of anthropology at the present day is to show the existence of a very real morality, often behind customs that are repulsive.

In talking about this matter to-day, I have a definite practical aim. Cannot something be done to give some small amount of the knowledge and of the results of experience to those entering upon work for the first time in the mission field? If a few years ago I had been asked what could be done in this way I could have suggested little. But great changes have taken place in our Universities in this respect during recent years. We have now definite schemes for anthropological instruction, courses of lectures specially adapted to the needs of those who are going out to work amongst races of lower culture, whether as missionaries or officials or in other ways. There is now at Cambridge, and also at Oxford and here in London, definite machinery for giving instruction in anthropology to those who want it. It is known that the whole question of giving such instruction to those who are going out as officials to various parts of the empire is now under consideration and one Government, that of the Soudan, has already decided that those entering its service shall have a knowledge of anthropology. The practical measure I wish to suggest to-day is that the pioneer movement which among Governments has been made by the Soudan Government shall among Missions be made [143/144] by the Melanesian Mission. I need hardly say that if that suggestion is considered I shall be only too glad to do my best if I can be of any help in putting it into practice.

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