Project Canterbury














Southern Cross
No. 4a.

 Price 6d.


[London, ca. 1949]


Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006

"In our own tongue wherein we were born"


IN the island diocese of Melanesia there are as many different languages as there are inhabited islands. And it is even true to say that a large island, say, in the Solomons, eighty or a hundred miles long, may have ten or twelve different languages on it. These languages are all related to one another, but the grammar varies considerably; the idioms differ, and the consonantal sounds used may vary greatly; different words are used for common objects, e.g., water, sand, earth, sea, coconut, etc., and the intonation is never the same in any two districts even of a small island.

The differences between the languages of North and South Melanesia are most marked: in the south there is a tendency to omit vowels and to "close" syllables with a consonant; in the north there is a tendency to omit consonants, some languages dropping t, k, g, l, n, and w, with a pronounced "break" in the sound, while the northern languages prefer "open" to "closed" sounds. On any one of the larger islands the people of this or that part may be bi-lingual, knowing their own language and that of their more immediate neighbours, but unless there has been a certain amount of intercourse between the various peoples, due to trade or to matrimonial alliances, each set of people keeps to its own language even when talking to their neighbours who are of another speech.

In the providence of God, the first bishop of Melanesia, John Coleridge Patteson, was a heaven-born linguist. He had been well trained linguistically; he could "hear" [3/4] correctly the sounds made by the natives with whom he came into contact, and he wrote down the words he heard, using a phonetic script. There was no one prevailing Melanesian language which he could employ in his dealings with his scholars, and in those days Melanesians could not talk even "pidgin" English. It remained for Patteson to learn this or that Melanesian language, hearing it from the lips of those with whom he came into contact, and to begin his educational work through the medium of not merely one, but at least four native languages. In time, the choice fell upon the language of Mota, Banks Islands, as the single medium of imparting education and religion in the training schools of the Mission. And this choice was undoubtedly inspired of God; for Mota is perhaps the simplest and easiest of all the Melanesian languages.

Patteson himself began the work of translating into Melanesian languages: the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed, a Psalm, a shorter Catechism, all set up at his own Mission Press, and even, at times, by his own hands. When his translational work begin to be confined to the Mota language, he published an ever-increasing list of Services rendered from the Book of Common Prayer, as need required, with a steady growth in the number of Psalms, translated direct from the Hebrew, and at the same time a number of Hymns in the Mota language, didactic rather than emotional in tendency.

Nor was direct Scriptural translation into the Mota language neglected by him; for he made excerpts from Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, some of the minor Prophets, with the Gospel of John, and liturgical epistles and gospels as well; while two of his helpers, Pritt and Codrington, were working at other portions of the New Testament in Mota. Eventually the whole Bible was translated into Mota, Codrington finishing the New Testament, and doing more than half of the Old Testa-[4/5]ment. But he would have nothing to do with the translation of Leviticus!

Codrington helped the Rev. A. Penny and native teachers translate the four Gospels into the language of Florida (Gela), Solomon Islands, which was the second language in the Melanesian Mission to possess such a translation. (The whole New Testament was translated at a later date.) A translation of the Book of Common Prayer was made earlier into the Florida language. Then came the turn of Bugotu (Santa Ysabel), Solomon Islands, when the Rev. H. P. Welchman, with native assistants, provided the Christians of the place with a translation of the Gospels into their language, and also with a translation of the Book of Common Prayer. The New Testament and Book of Common Prayer were afterwards translated in full into the Bugotu language by Mr. E. Bourne.

The second and third and fourth complete translations of the New Testament in the Melanesian Mission were made in the language of Ulawa, Saa, and Lau, Solomon Islands. And along with the New Testament were translations of the Book of Common Prayer into the same three languages, with some sixty Psalms in each.

Other languages in the Solomon Islands also received attention from translators, the Four Gospels being published in the Arosi language of San Cristoval, and also in the language of Vaturanga, Guadalcanal. And the Book of Common Prayer, with certain Psalms, was translated into the Arosi and Vaturanga and Fiu languages, with the book of Genesis and a longer Catechism in Lau.

In the southern islands the Rev. L. P. Robin translated the Gospel of St. Luke into the language of Vava, Torres Islands, besides doing a small translation of the Book of Common Prayer into the same language, with certain liturgical epistles and gospels. Two small Prayer [5/6] books were also issued in languages of the Santa Cruz district. In the New Hebrides, translations have been made of portions of the Book of Common Prayer, together with excerpts from the Old Testament and the New Testament, into the languages of Oba and Maewo. And the Four Gospels have been translated into the language of Raga, together with the liturgical epistles, and the Book of Common Prayer, and a number of Psalms.

To-day in the Melanesian Mission the education of the native catechists and ordinands is proceeding more and more through the medium of English. Mota no longer occupies the high place it once held as the language used for educational purposes in the whole of the Mission. But in their own homes and villages and islands the religious services of the converts of the Melanesian Mission are conducted in a native tongue, and not in English. The particular language used may not be the exact language of the place, but it is usually a language spoken not very far off and akin to the language of the local people; and at the least its sound is familiar to their ears, being the sound of their own language, and not of a foreign tongue like English.

With the extension of the Mission work though the agency of the Native Brotherhood, new languages are being learned, and the Melanesian Mission Press is constantly being besieged to print Prayers, etc., in some fresh language.

Much translation work is now being done by the English-speaking Melanesians.

Grammatical Work in Melanesian Languages

Bishop Patteson was not merely content with being able to speak readily to his scholars in their own languages; and while on board ship with them on the way [6/7] to school, and also at the school itself, he made notes of their speech, collecting words according to a common list, and writing translations of given sentences in English, illustrating the grammatical use of words which he collected. These were published at the Mission Press, in fuller or shorter forms according to opportunity, and in some cases with narratives added.

His work herein was of course fragmentary, but it was the first beginning of scholarly work on the Melanesian languages, and it furnished a German scholar, Von der Gabelentz, with material for a book on Melanesian languages. Patteson's mantle as scholar fell on the shoulders of the Rev. Dr. Codrington, a Fellow of Wadham, who took over the education of the Mission teachers at the school on Norfolk Island after Patteson's death, and who while inheriting Patteson's linguistic material yet made his own studies of the Melanesian languages, using the lads at the school for the purpose. In 1885 the Oxford Press published the result of Codrington's grammatical, phonological, and philological studies in Melanesian languages in a book entitled The Melanesian Languages. In the Preface he said, "I have endeavoured in the following pages to carry on the work of Bishop Patteson. I can never forget that I owe any knowledge of these languages that I may possess to the impulse towards the study of them which I received from him in the first instance."

So far as Codrington's thirty-five grammars of Melanesian languages are concerned, further research and more intimate knowledge has resulted necessarily in considerable alterations to what he wrote, but his basis and framework have not been altered in the presentation of Melanesian grammars, and his general grammatical conclusions stand sure. The introductory portion of his book The Melanesian Languages, with its notes on vocabularies of words, its short comparative Grammar, [7/8] its chapters on Phonology and Numeration, is the work of one who has come to be recognized as a very great scholar.

With Codrington's grammatical framework of Melanesian languages ready at hand, other members of the Melanesian Mission have followed his lead, working either at new languages or presenting in greater fulness and with more accuracy, because of more intimate knowledge, grammars of languages which Codrington had been the first to investigate.

In particular, Codrington's work inspired Mr. S. H. Ray, of London, to study the make-up of Melanesian languages. At Codrington's suggestion Ray was chosen to be a member of the "Cambridge Anthropological Expedition" to Torres' Straits, and the result of his work was Vol. III, Linguistics, of the Report of the Expedition. In that volume Ray deals with certain Melanesian languages in the area studied, and his indebtedness to Codrington is freely acknowledged. Ray's work on Melanesian languages came to fruition in a later book entitled The Melanesian Island Languages, Cambridge Press, in the Preface to which he acknowledges his indebtedness to members of the Melanesian Mission who had supplied him with information.

Codrington, with the Rev. J. Palmer, compiled the first Dictionary of a language, Mota, in the area of the Melanesian Mission. Here again the work was excellently done, and furnished a model for others to follow. The second Dictionary compiled by a member of the Melanesian Mission, dealt with the kindred languages of Saa and Ulawa, Solomon Islands, while the third dealt with the Lau language, Solomon Islands. Vocabularies have also been published of several Solomon Island languages in the Melanesian Mission area, and Dr. Fox has in MS. a Dictionary of the Arosi language of San Cristoval.

Bishop Patteson, the First translator.


The printer--thirty-eighth year of service.

"In our own tongue wherein we were born"

The destroyed Press.

[9] The Making of a New Testament

In general, a translator does not sit down deliberately to translate the whole of the New Testament at once. He has probably made some preliminary essays before he sets about doing the New Testament as a whole--a single Gospel, it may be, or an Epistle; or, if he is an Anglican, the liturgical epistles and gospels for use at Holy Communion. This gives him experience, and enables him to eliminate mistakes and to improve the translation as he goes along.

Also it is advisable to make a vocabulary of the language before translating into it. If the vocabulary is limited, the translation cannot be really good. Then, again, renderings have to be found for scriptural terms, e.g., baptize, believe, church, cross, forgive, gentiles, glory, gospel, grace, kingdom, love, mediator, propitiation, repent, salvation, sin, tempt, worship, etc. And care must be taken in choosing the words to represent such terms, lest a wrong impression be conveyed, or even false doctrine taught. In a simple case, e.g., as "Jesus died for me," one has known the word "for" rendered by "instead of, in place of," whereas "on behalf of" is correct.

A translator ought to have acquired considerable knowledge of the language concerned, and must be certain of its grammatical uses, before ever he sets about translating into it. And it is not easy to acquire an accurate knowledge of a language which has not been reduced to writing before, and where there is nothing to go on, and everything to be discovered. Cases have been known where teachers and preachers, through their ignorance of grammatical rules, have said things that must have sounded strange to their hearers! A difficult grammatical point for a beginner in Melanesian languages is the use of the "inclusive" and "exclusive" pronouns in the first person plural. There are two ways of saying [9/10] "we", "us", "our"--the one including the person spoken to, the other excluding him, different pronouns being used; and this use extends to the dual and trial numbers as well. Failure to distinguish between the pronouns may easily cause confusion. Thus, e.g., the translator must have a clear idea of who is referred to when St. Paul speaks in the Epistles of "we" and "us", and whether he includes his readers or not. Luke 7.5 is a test case: "our nation", "built us", the first pronoun was intended to include our Lord, the second to exclude him.

A first translation is usually rather faulty, and a revision ought soon to be undertaken. Happy the man to whom it falls to be able to revise his own translations! In some cases it happens that owing to a lack of revision a poor translation goes unaltered, or a mistake gets crystallized, or a printer's error is uncorrected, and in time there are not wanting those who defend the mistake! And even your native will stoutly maintain the correctness of that which is palpably an error.

An oft-quoted error in a Melanesian language occurs in a translation of Psalm 104 in the language of Florida (Gela), Solomon Islands, in a Prayer Book published in 1877. In verse 11, second part, the translation reads na lei bolo gani tinoni tara inu pungisia na marohu, the man-eating pigs drink to stop the hiccoughs. The translator was a native, not a white man as has been stated, and the translation was made from a rendering in the Mota language, where "wild assess" [sic] is translated by qoe kurkur, i.e., man-eating pigs. The "pig" part is right enough, since the word for "pig" is used generically to include all animals, much as we would use "beast". But the Mota translator went wrong over "wild", and the Florida translator merely followed. But "hiccoughs" instead of "thirst" is a different matter. The Mota had [10/11] marou, a common Oceanic word for "thirst", and by some strange fate an "h" was inserted, making marohu, hiccoughs, though the common marou does not occur in Florida.

Another native translator, working form the Mota version, mistook the word for "sow" in 2 Peter 2.22 (owing to the failure of that version to distinguish between the letters m and mw, between mala, hawk, eagle, and mwala, sow, both being printed mala), and read the Mota word as meaning "eagle". And so the translation appears, "the eagle that has washed". Again, the Mota tauwe has two meanings, "hill" and "trumpet"; and it was unfortunate that a native translator working from the Mota version should have picked on "hill" rather than "trumpet" in Hebrews 13.19!

In the Mota translation of the Book of Common Prayer a printer's error in the prayer for the King in the Liturgy--anama, thy, for anana, his, made all Christian people, of whatever race, loyal subjects of our English king. In a Prayer Book in another Melanesian language the likeness in the MS. between the renderings of "rose again" and "ascended", in the Creed, was responsible for the statement that "The third day He ascended into heaven", the intervening words having been dropped, and their omission not being noticed in the proof reading.

An interesting example of the careful patience of the translators is that of a missionary who wanted to translate the hymn containing the words, "I see Thy strength and vigour all fading in the strife". He was unable to find a word to express the "fading". For years he waiting until sitting late at night with an old native by a fire the fire began to die down. As the glow, the light and the heat diminished "so and so" said the old man as he fetched more firewood. There was the word the translator needed and the hymn was finished.

[12] The Press

Bishop George Selwyn set up the first press at his own expense at Kohimarama near Auckland in 1845.

When it became possible to print for Melanesia he engaged two English printers to help him. Bishop Patteson joined the Mission and produced various portions of the Bible and Prayer Book; also vocabularies of certain island languages, reading sheets, etc.

When, in 1864, the Mission headquarters was moved to Norfolk Island the press was also moved. There, Mr. Palmer, who had received lessons in New Zealand, took charge; and, later on, Dr. Codrington. With native help they printed many parts of the Old Testament, including the Minor Prophets, in the Mota language. Other translations were also printed.

In 1880, H. Menzies, a printer who had settled on Norfolk Island, was engaged to take charge of the press. He remained for forty years. The press was enlarged in 1885 and again in 1900. F. R. Isom joined the staff in 1913. The Press was improved by additions to the plant from time to time, and literally hundreds of thousands of hymn books, prayer books, text books for school use, leaflets, pamphlets, and readers were produced at the Norfolk Island press.

In 1920 the Press went with the rest of headquarters to the Solomons. The Press was housed in the old hospital buildings at Maravovo, Guadalcanar, actually on a hill-top called Hautabu.

Here native assistants were trained and did valuable service. Some, in later years, became expert bookbinders. In 1931 the printer married and for seventeen years his wife, trained by himself, worked in the press. During this time partly by gifts and partly by purchase the plant was improved. It steadily increased in value and efficiency. Year after year a steady flow of books [12/13] issued from Hautabu in as many as thirty-four languages. A lot of work was also done for the British Solomon Island Government and for various commercial firms. The profits of such work were set off against the cost of running the Press.

Then came the Japanese invasion. Early in 1942 enemy planes appeared and it soon became apparent that the position would become intolerable. The native staff were paid off and sent home. Shortly after it was clear that printing could not continue and the printer was sent to Australia on the last steamer leaving the Solomons before the arrival of the invading force.

In October that year the press and buildings were completely destroyed by enemy action. The loss of the collection of books, reports and various data covering the period from 1880 was irreparable. The stock of printed books was, of course, also lost. The printer was able to get three very small and urgently needed books printed in Sydney, Australia, but as no printers would undertake work in the island languages the position soon became acute, as part of the Diocese still free from invasion was at work and the schools going on as usual.

In the end it was decided to rent or buy a small printery in Australia and in July 1944 the Mission bought a small plant for only £130 and the printer established himself there. The plant had been neglected for some time and most of the type was in a state of pie so it was some weeks before production could begin.

The plant was not entirely suitable, nor was there enough of it; a crown folio platen machine had to be used to do the bulk of the printing for several months. _200 worth of type had been purchased previously and had not been sent to the Solomons. This, with other type purchased with money given by friends in England, has formed the main body with which printing has been carried on since.

[14] Other plant was purchased--a Demy Wharfedale machine at Fairfield, a guillotine at Redfern, a proofing machine in Waterloo, and type cabinets in Sydney city. The merchants gave considerable help. A Sydney printer gave another proofing press, some type and a ripping press. Another friend gave a second ripping press. A carpenter gave a stabbing machine and a sewing frame. From England came a gift of a fine sewing frame and a book press with plough and knife.

In Australia, output has of necessity been limited, with only the two white printers, man and wife, at work. In the Solomons there was usually a native staff of four to help them.

The main object of the press has been to supply the more urgent needs of the Diocese. Small books have been printed in thirteen languages, books of about eighty pages. These have been mostly Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, Prayers and Thanksgivings, Holy Communion, and some hymn books. A large proportion of the output has been in the English language.

There is always an urgent waiting-list of books and in the existing conditions of "catching up" is almost insuperable.

This chapter cannot be closed without mentioning the great help given to the Mission by the S.P.C.K. and the B. & F.B.S. From 1875 to 1949 the S.P.C.K. has printed many translations, and also published writings of other kinds for us. The list is far too long to print here.

The work done by the B. & F.B.S. is quite naturally that of printing translations of the Bible or portions of it. The earliest work done for the Mission was in 1901.

Missionaries can never be grateful enough for the ready and efficient work of these societies.

[15] Questions

1. Why is the matter of language one of special difficulty for Melanesia?

2. How was the difficulty overcome?

3. Which language was the lingua franca of the Mission for many years?

4. What has taken its place?

5. Who did the first considerable translation work?

6. Can you name others who carried on such work?

7. What important work was published by Dr. Codrington?

8. Does the present prevalent use of English lessen the need for translations?

9. "Renderings have to be found for scriptural terms" what is the special difficulty here?

10. Do you see any connection between Acts 2, 4 and the work done, and still being done in Melanesia?

11. When was the first Mission Press established?

12. During the century in what four places has the Press been set up? Why?

13. What great agencies, other than the Mission Press, have printed translations for the Mission?

14. What is the first essential for a would-be translator?

15. What quality is especially needed?



and at


Printed in Great Britain at the Church Army Press, Cowley, Oxford 8660

Project Canterbury