A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War/Chapter 8
Thursday Night, 27th September.
I was roused at early dawn by a French sailor appearing at my open door. (All rooms in these countries open on to the verandah.) He brought despatches, which he begged I would immediately translate for the vice-consul. A most senseless row has taken place, and all the inhabitants are in as great a turmoil as wasps whose nest has been disturbed.
It appears that the American consul, though personally mixed up in many questionable transactions here, has contrived effectually to bewilder the mind of the too sympathetic and kind captain of the Seignelay, with the story of his woes, and of the ill-treatment and insults to which he has been subjected. So last night he went on board to solicit armed assistance to enable him to capture several refractory American subjects, who refused to acknowledge his authority.
Without a thought of possible consequences, and acting on the kind impulse of giving the required help to an unfortunate official. Captain Aube agreed to lend Mr Griffin the necessary force. A considerable body of armed men were accordingly landed at 10 p.m., and were led by the U.S. consul to Stewart's store, whence Captain Wright had just departed. Stewart's agents wrote a protest against such proceedings, then walked out of the house, locking it, and pocketing the key, leaving only a sick man inside. They affirmed that Wright was not in the house, but added that if a warrant were obtained from the British consulate, the U.S. consul might search to his heart's content. Ignoring all remonstrance, the search-party broke open the house, and sought in vain for the bird who had flown.
Meanwhile another boat-load had gone in the opposite direction to search for more delinquents, none of whom were captured. And a third party came to demand the surrender of the house next to this one, which the bishop claims as Church property, though Stewart's agent has thought fit there also to hoist the British flag. This demonstration also proved futile, as the said agent, Mr Hunt, presented a firm front, and refused to quit the premises. The whole thing has been a sort of Don Quixote and the windmills business, resulting in nothing but stirring up much bad blood. Of course immense excitement prevails in consequence of this insult offered to a house flying the Union-jack. (Poor Union-jack! it is made to sanction some very shady doings in these far corners of the earth.) The Franco-Griffin party allege that the house is American property, and that the unjustifiable proceeding was that of breaking open the U.S. consular seals and hauling down the Stars and Stripes!
At the best, it is a low, contemptible row; and I am dreadfully sorry (as are all the French officers) that their kind captain's Quixotic kindness should have drawn him into it. But it is more difficult to arrive at the truth here than in any other place I know of. It seems as if every one's chief occupation in life was to rake up stories, old and new, against his neighbour; and these are swallowed and made much of, without any allowance for the fact that they are retailed by vicious foes. Some of the poison-mongers in this poor settlement were well-known characters in Fiji, and only left it when, after annexation, it became too warm for their fort. I have vainly tried to impress some of my friends with a due estimate of these men's antecedents, but to no purpose; and I hear their words quoted as gospel.
So great was the hubbub and perturbation from one end of "the beach" to the other, that our proposed picnic was very near being given up. However, wiser counsels prevailed, and angry feelings were smoothed over the more readily, as none of the principals were present. The party consisted of about a dozen ladies, and half as many French officers. Three of the sisters (Sœur Marie, Sœur St Hilaire, and Sœur Sept Martyrs) brought their little family of about sixty Samoan girls, who executed dances for our amusement as we sat on the pleasant turf at the spot selected for luncheon—a grassy lawn embowered in golden alamanders and scarlet hybiscus, and other bright blossoms, which soon adorned the tawny heads of the scholars. The dances were monotonous and ungraceful, as usual here, degenerating into hideous grimaces. They have none of the attraction of the beautiful Fijian dances. Nor have these damsels such pretty manners as the maidens in the Fijian schools. The little Doctor was considerably astonished (though he bore the shock philosophically) when a forward young woman danced up to him, and snatching off his hat, transferred it to her own well cocoa-nut-oiled head, while another patted his face with both hands, amid applausive laughter from her companions. But these were, happily, exceptional; and many of the girls appeared gentle and modest, and several were very pretty, with lithe figures and splendid eyes. But they all have beautiful dark-brown eyes.
A great feed, Fa-Samoa, was next spread on the grass, on layers of fresh green banana-leaves. There were roast sucking-pigs, and pigeons stewed in taro leaves, or else baked on hot stones in earth ovens; cray-fish, and prawns, and divers kinds of fish; pine-apples, bananas, and oranges; salad of cocoa-palm, like most delicious celery; bread-fruit prepared in various ways—boiled, baked, and roast in wood-ashes; wonderful native puddings, made of ripe plantains, taro, bread-fruit, and other materials, each beat up fine, and baked separately, then all worked together with the creamy juice extracted from ripe cocoa-nut, which, when heated, turns to oil, and is so exceedingly rich that few people can eat much of it. However, it is really very good—at least some preparations are. The puddings are so very oily that each portion is tied up separately in a strip of silky young banana-leaf, heated over the fire to make it oil-proof.
In addition to these Samoan dainties, every lady had sent a contribution of pastry, salad, or other good things; and the excellent chef of the Seignelay had done his part admirably, as usual. Nor had that hospitable vessel neglected to send ample remembrance from the vineyards of France, though the correct drink in the South Seas is the inevitable cocoa-nut water,—and an excellent one it is, cool and refreshing, provided the nut has just been gathered. No matter how burning the sun in which it hangs, it is always cool when newly severed from beneath the crown of shady leaves; but after a while it becomes slightly warm and mawkish in taste, so a true connoisseur requires his nuts to be plucked at the last moment. Then some ingenious native splits the thick outer husk by striking it on a sharp upright stick, and tears it all off, except a small green stand like an inverted bowl, which supports the nut, so that you need not empty it till you feel inclined. Then he cuts off the top of the nut, which is lined with the thinnest coating of white jelly. This is the pulp just beginning to form, and in this ivory-lined cup you find about two pints of clear sweetish water. When a row of nuts thus prepared are placed for every guest at such a banquet as this, they suggest a row of brownish-yellow ostrich-eggs, mounted in pale-green enamel!
An excellent dish, which I would introduce at home were it possible, consists of young taro leaves, stewed in the rich oily cream of cocoa-nut kernel, mixed with salt water, which is the only substitute for salt. Hence cocoa-nut shells containing sea-water are placed beside each guest, that he may therein dip his food to give it a relish. To have done quite the correct thing, our roast sucking-pigs should have been carved with a piece of split bamboo; but I fear that in this matter we were guilty of innovation, though we quite decided that bits of green banana-leaf were the nicest possible plates. We were happily not expected to partake of the national cakes, made of putrid bread-fruit. I told you how, in Fiji, vast stores of bananas are buried in pits, and there left for months to ferment, after which the pits are opened, and the pestilential odour that nearly poisons the unaccustomed nose, announces a great feast of mandrai—i.e., bread. In Samoa, bananas abound all the year round, so there is no need to store them. But bread-fruit is only in season for about six months, so the surplus crop is stored in pits lined with banana-leaves; of course it soon ferments, but in that condition is preserved, perhaps, for years, as the older it is, the more highly it is prized. You can perhaps imagine how fearful is the smell of this dainty. But it is all a matter of taste—the ripe Stilton cheese, dear to the fine old English gentleman, is, to a Samoan, infinitely more revolting than his unfragrant cakes are to us.
Our surroundings were beautiful. Far below us lay the blue Pacific with its white breakers and many tinted coral-reefs, and on every side the spurs and ravines of great green hills, all densely clothed with richest tropical vegetation,—huge eevie trees, with roots like coils of twisted snakes, and branches all bearded with long grey lichen, falling in streamers and entangled by the twining vines; while all manner of parasitic plants, orchids, and bird's-nest ferns, nestle in every crevice. We had come by a lovely path through groves of bread-fruit and bananas, oranges, and other flowering trees, with here and there patches of cultivation—tall sugar-canes and maize—then tree-ferns, matted with purple convolvulus, and with an undergrowth of soft green grass. The gleaming sunlight found its way through that leafy canopy, and its dancing rays checkered the cool dark shadows with flecks of golden green. It was all soft, and lovely, and peaceful.
Ere the fragments of the feast, and the coffee-pots, and the crockery, were repacked, the brief tropical day was done, and the setting sun changed the broad blue waters into molten gold. Then we retraced our way through the forest, no longer sunlit, but sombre and very still, save for the sound of our own voices. But due provision had been made for the darkness; and many friends and relations of the Samoan girls had come out to meet us, carrying long torches of cocoa-palm leaves, which blazed with a clear bright light, throwing a ruddy glow on all around, on semi-nude dusky figures, glossy foliage, tall white palm-stems, and the great buttressed roots of the chestnuts, and on the brown-thatched cottages, whence groups of pleasant olive-coloured people looked out and cried Alofa! to which kind greeting we responded, Ola alofa!
And so the Fa-Samoa picnic has gone off very pleasantly, and we returned here to find all quiet, and to exchange the usual kindly courtesies with the refugees, who now have settled down for the night, as I must also do, that I may be ready to start at daybreak to get a sketch of the town and bay.
H.B.M. Consulate, Saturday Night.
We returned this morning from a most interesting expedition to Malua, the great college of the London Mission, of which Dr Turner, senior, is the head. It is about twelve miles from here, and Dr G. A. Turner, of the Medical Mission, most kindly volunteered to take M. Pinart and myself in his boat. So he called for us yesterday morning, after an early breakfast. We had a very beautiful row along the coast, and received the most cordial of welcomes from the Doctor, who is a fine old Scot, with a pretty, pleasant, Highland wife. You home people can perhaps scarcely realise what a very great pleasure it is, in a far land like this, to find one's self suddenly dropped into the very heart of a real Scotch nest of the best type, and at once to be treated like a friend. I have found such a welcome from many of my countrymen in many lands, but nowhere more pleasantly than in the peaceful home at Malua.
The present Mrs Turner was the widow of Mr M'Nair, one of the missionaries of Erromango, whose little daughter Ella, a pretty child eight years of age, is the pet of the family.
You must not infer from my speaking of a college, that Malua bears the slightest resemblance to any collegiate institution in Europe. It is essentially South Sea, which means that it is suitable to the climate and the people, and it consists of a large village of about sixty neat thatched cottages, laid out in a square, at one side of which stands the large class-room. Each cottage is the home of a student with his wife and family, preference in the filling up of vacancies being given to married men, both as a means of educating the women and children, and also because the people, in applying for teachers, generally ask for one whose wife can teach their wives and daughters.
Each cottage home is embowered in pleasant greenery and bright flowers, for each student is required to cultivate a garden sufficient for the requirements of his family, and to raise a surplus supply, which he may sell to provide them with clothing.
Dr Turner himself founded this college in the year 1844, when the mission began to realise the extreme difficulty of keeping up a supply of trained teachers, not only for two districts in the group itself, but for the numerous other isles to which Samoan teachers had gone forth as pioneers.
Besides, those early days had passed when the foreigners had been received as heaven-sent messengers, and hailed as the Papalangi—i.e., those who have rent the heavens (the name still applied to all foreigners throughout Polynesia). At first it was enough that a teacher had learnt the leading doctrines of Christianity as opposed to idolatry; but now these were generally accepted by all the people, many of whom took careful notes of every sermon they heard, and were as keen as any old wife in Scotland, in detecting any error in the teaching of their minister.
Small mercy would these Samoan critics have shown to such a preacher as that young curate who, in his anxiety to improve the story of the Prodigal Son, expatiated at such length on the peculiar sacrifice made in the selection of the fatted calf, which was no common calf, but one which had evidently been a household pet for Years, and Years, and YEARS!
The Samoans are natural orators, and love to illustrate their subject with facts and comparisons from every source within their ken. So the preacher who would rivet the attention of his hearers needed to have studied his subject well. But at that time he had no books to help him, no commentaries to refer to, only a translation of three Gospels and a few Scripture lessons; and many a teacher felt, what one expressed,—namely, that he was like a man attempting to cut down a forest with a blunt axe; or like a foolish man, always hammering, but never hitting the nail on the head.
The necessity of an educational institution was therefore apparent, and the chiefs were so favourably disposed to the scheme, that they offered to clear out of a whole village and make it over to the mission. It was, however, considered preferable to buy a piece of land on the coast, in a place quite apart from all other settlements; so Malua was selected, and fifty acres of land purchased in due form. This land was reclaimed from the bush by the students themselves, who raise yams, taro, and bananas in abundance, and have also planted several thousand bread-fruit trees, cocoa-palms, and other fruit-bearing trees; so that this noble institution is almost, if not altogether, self-supporting.
From its commencement to the present day, fully two thousand teachers and native ministers have been here trained, including a considerable number of men from far-distant Papuan Isles—from the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, the Tokelau, and Savage Isles—all speaking different tongues, but here meeting together to learn what they can, and then carry the truth to their own distant isles. Oh how these perplexed teachers must long for a new Pentecostal gift, to enable them to address these men, each in his own language!
It would be difficult to imagine a healthier, happier life, than that of these students. At the first glimmer of the lovely tropical dawn, the college bell rings to mark the hour for household prayer. (There is probably not a house in Samoa where the family do not assemble daily for morning and evening prayer.) Then all the students go out, either to work in the gardens, or to fish in the calm lagoon. At eight the bell rings again to warn them that it is time to bathe and breakfast, to be ready for their class at nine. Classes and lectures continue till four, when they are again free to go fishing, gardening, carpentering, or whatever they prefer. At sunset each family meets for evening prayer; then the men study by themselves till half-past nine, when the curfew bell (true couvre-feu) warns them to put out their lights.
On Saturday evening there is a prayer-meeting in the institution chapel, when the students take it in turn to deliver a short address.
Sunday is of course observed very strictly. The day begins with a prayer-meeting at six. At morning and afternoon service all the neighbouring villagers assemble, and the intervening and later hours are filled up with Sunday-school for children and Bible-classes for adults. A simple service, with a good deal of singing, ends the day. The Holy Communion is celebrated on the first Sunday of each month.
The institution rules are few and simple; but for any infringement of them the penalty is a fine, which goes towards the expense of lights.
The course of instruction includes arithmetic, geography, natural philosophy, writing, composition. Scripture history, and systematic and practical theology. For lack of books, Dr Turner and his fellow-tutor found it necessary, day by day, to write out copious notes of their lectures, and give them to all the young men to copy. Consequently each, on leaving the college, at the end of a four years' course, carried with him a large store of papers for reference.
Thanks to the diligent labours of Dr Turner and his colleagues (who during many years devoted about five hours daily to preparing translations for publication), the libraries of Samoa now contain Scripture narratives and commentaries on the Old Testament,—commentaries on the Epistles and Gospels, Elements of Astronomy, Elements of Natural Philosophy, and various other works.
We were told various examples of the acute and pithy remarks of the native teachers, and of the excellent illustrations they sometimes make use of. Thus a hollow professor is likened to the cast-off shell of a lobster, so perfect in every claw and feeler, even to the transparent covering of the eyes, that the fisher, peering into the clear pools on the reef, mistakes it for a true and excellent prize, and only learns his error as he grasps the worthless shell.
A strange illustration of "cutting off a right hand or a right foot, or plucking out a right eye, that offend," was given by a teacher at Tutuila, who told how often he had watched the mali'o, or land-crab, which by day burrows deep in the soil, but by night hurries down to the sea to feed and drink. It is a wondrous cleanly creature; and the Samoans declare that if on its seaward way, as it presses through the tall grass, it should chance to come in contact with any filth, which adheres to its legs, it will deliberately wrench them off, and thus, self-mutilated, hobbles back to its hole, there to hide till its legs grow again. It is positively affirmed that this most extraordinary crab has been known deliberately to wrench off its eight legs in succession, and then drag itself home with the greatest difficulty by means of its nippers. I must confess I think this crab would have shown more common-sense had he gone to the sea or the nearest stream and washed his dirty legs. But you must allow that the illustration was an apt one.
Those who on hearing good words hearken, and for a season dwell on them in their hearts, but after a while return to their careless ways, are compared to the sensitive plant, which when touched closes its leaves and droops to the very earth, but anon rises up again as brave as ever. A backslider is compared to a certain fish which comes from the ocean to feed on the reef, and which for a day or two continues silvery white, but after a while becomes dark and unwholesome.
A little sin is as a hole in a fisherman's basket, through which, one by one, fall the fish for which he has toiled so eagerly. First he loses all his little fish, and gradually, as the hole enlarges, the large fish also escape, and at last he reaches his journey's end with an empty basket.
The taint of old sins, clinging to one who would fain put away evil things, is compared to a strongly scented oil, with which a bottle-gourd has once been filled. Many and many a time must that gourd be washed ere it will lose the scent, and be fit to hold water for drinking.
Still more striking is the illustration of a stately bread-fruit tree, fair to look upon, with large glossy leaves and abundant fruit,—a tree which in the natural course of healthy life will, when full grown, send up from its roots strong shoots, which yield their first crop in the second or third year, so that ere long the patriarchal tree is the centre of a leafy fruit-bearing grove. But there is an insignificant-looking parasitic fungus—merely a black spot like the smut that comes on wheat—which is fatal to this fair tree. Once it can establish itself, it spreads like a canker. The rich green leaves turn yellow, and the disease is soon carried from tree to tree, till the whole grove is sickly and blighted. It brings no fruit to perfection, and ere long the trees are dead. Only one antidote is known. It is said that there grows in the depths of the forest a glorious lily, and that if some of its bulbs are brought and planted among the roots of the sickly trees, they will recover. And so, when the deadly rust of sin has cankered the heart of man, one only remedy can avail,—the life-giving influence of Him who is called the true Lily.
Again, another teacher illustrates the necessity of rooting out all bad habits, no matter how trifling they may seem, by the example of the wild taro, which sends rootlets creeping in every direction, so that though the main root may be dug up, suckers innumerable remain, which need only time to bring them to sturdy life.
Another parable is furnished by the sugar-cane, which grows tall and beautiful to the eye, but unless due care is taken to clear away the decayed leaves from around its roots, worms gather there, and pierce the cane, and rapidly multiplying within, fatten and flourish, so that when the husbandman gathers his cane, he finds its precious juice all gone, and in its place a multitude of loathsome worms. Even such, said the preacher, is the growth of little sins.
The soul that seeks to soar heavenward is likened to the piraki—a small hird, which, like the skylark, seems to lose itself in the light. On the other hand, the snow-white tern, which, beneath its lovely white plumage, has a dull black skin, is a meet symbol of the hypocrite, whose fair feathers shall one day be plucked off, to reveal the false professor.
Some of the questions propounded by the students are equally noteworthy, and few indeed suggest that confused wool-gathering of which every school examiner in Britain can quote such strange examples. The question asked by one young man was, "What is meant by Satan falling from heaven?" And I could not help thinking of the rash Sunday-school teacher who asked her class why, in Jacob's dream, the angels were seen descending by a ladder. To which replied a sharp child, "Please, 'twas because the angels were puking, and they couldna flee!" She had charge of her mother's poultry, which just then were moulting, so the comparison was forcible.
Hitherto the students do not appear to have been troubled with any speculative difficulties regarding the Mosaic account of Creation, which, in Samoa, has reversed the European order, and has superseded the "Darwinian" theory. According to the legend of the isles, "In the beginning" the great god Tangaloa sent his daughter, in the form of a bird, to visit the great waters, which then covered the face of the earth. She found a rock rising above the surface, and there rested a while ere returning to the heavens. From time to time she revisited the rock, and carried thither some earth—and then a creeping plant. After a while she returned, and her plant had covered the earth, which gradually enlarged, as the waters dried up. Then the plant withered and decayed, and as it turned into slimy nastiness, a multitude of worms appeared, and they grew fat and flourished, and in due course of time men and women were evolved. So, you see, the Samoans had traced the human race back to its slimy origin, long before Dr Darwin electrified the civilised world with his discoveries; but they have now discarded that ignoble ancestry in favour of the Divine theory.
A Samoan teacher often illustrates his meaning by some ingenious allusion to the old legends and mythology of the isles. In his expositions of the Old Testament he is greatly assisted by the number of Samoan customs, strangely analogous to those of Syria and Palestine. Dr Turner has collected a multitude of such identities—and also of the striking metaphors and hyperboles dear to the Samoans. Thus, "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God," had strange significance to those who believed that in Pulotu, the Samoan Paradise, the temple of their great god was supported by human pillars, who in this world had been great chiefs, whose highest aim had been the attainment of this honoured office. "They took branches of palm—leaves and went forth to meet Him, crying Hosanna," suggests the green leaves and branches often carried by the followers of a chief, and their songs in his praise.
In rejoicing, David "dancing and leaping before the ark," exactly describes the leaping and dancing and strange capers which even a high-caste chief will perform as he goes before a person or thing whom he wishes to honour.
Riddles, such as those propounded by Samson, are among the commonest amusements of Samoa, and are combined with forfeits.
With reference to King David's prayer, when "he went in and sat before the Lord," it is remarked that in Samoa, as in all the Polynesian groups, it is a mark of disrespect to stand in the presence of a superior. To sit on the ground with the head bent down is the correct attitude of reverence and devotion.
In the account of David's covenant with Jonathan, the latter "stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David,"—an action which is the commonest expression of friendship in the South Seas.
"He kissed him, and smelled the smell of his raiment," is an excellent description of the South Sea custom of greeting all friends with a prolonged and impressive sniff. They touch noses and sniff, and then smell the hand and the garment of the superior.
"Children by adoption" is strangely expressive in isles where every family has adopted children. The term "brothers" includes nephews and cousins in Samoa as in Judea. "Endless genealogies," and reverence for ancestry, are equally marked features in both races.
"Take up thy bed and walk" is easily understood, where a pile of soft mats is the bed of the highest chief.
"They cast off their clothes, and threw dust in the air" is a Samoan expression of great anger. The expressions descriptive of mourning for the dead in Syria might have been written in the South Seas. "They rent their clothes and cut themselves." "They disfigure their faces." Even so, those strange islanders deliberately cut their faces with sharks' teeth and other sharp instruments, and bruised their heads with stones in token of grief. "Cut off thine hair and take up a lamentation;" "Make great wailing for the dead;" "They mourned for him thirty days;" "They ate the offerings of the dead;" They fast "till the sun be down,"—all exactly describe Samoan custom. Further, "They made a very great burning for him." (Here they made great bonfires in honour of the dead and also burned their own flesh with firebrands.)
The custom alluded to by the man of Mount Ephraim, who spoke to his mother of "the shekels of silver that were taken from thee, about which thou cursedst," had its counterpart in heathen Samoa, where a man would sit down and deliberately invoke curses on an unknown thief, praying that rats might eat his fine mats and cloth; that fire might blast his eyes and those of his god; that the shark might devour him, or the thunder slay him; or that at least he might be afflicted with sores and ulcers. Even to this day you may sometimes observe a tiny square of matting, with strips of white tappa, hanging from a fruit-tree, or a few reeds stuck into the ground and tied together at the top (clam-shells being buried beneath them), or some similar mark which appeals to the superstitious fear of the possible thief, warning him of the curses that will attach to whoever breaks the taboo. I have seen this identical custom in many lands, from Ceylon eastward.
A suspected thief was put upon oath in presence of the chiefs. Some venerated object was brought from the temple—a sacred stone, a trumpet-shell, or a cocoa-nut shell, which ranked as a divining-cup—and the accused, laying his hand on this object, had to pray that the gods would slay him if he spoke falsely. If he swore by a holy stone, a handful of grass was laid upon it, to signify that the doom of the false swearer would include his house-hold, and that all his kindred would perish, and the grass grow on the site of their dwelling.
With reference to war customs. "The Philistine cursed David by his gods." "Curse ye Meroz, . . . because they came not to the help of the Lord." So would a company of Samoan chiefs sit in conclave, and pray that the gods would curse those who refused to help in war. "Let his house be made a dunghill." "They shall bring out the bones out of their graves." "Fell every good tree, and stop all wells of water." All these were literal features in Samoan warfare. "Lay ye the heads in two heaps at the entering in of the gate," was also quite a natural direction. The description of the songs of the Jewish women in honour of the victor, when "the women answered one another as they played, and said,
Saul hath slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands,"
might have been written of Samoan women describing the deeds of their warriors, and thereby often stirring up bitter anger and jealousies.
With regard to weapons, the "sling and stone," the "smooth stone of the brook," the "arrows, . . . the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit," exactly describe those of the Pacific; while the description of Saul encamped under a tree, "having his spear in his hand," is a true picture of any fine old South Sea chief. Further, it is said, "The trumpeters stood by the king;" and though the trumpets of the Pacific are only perforated shells, the blast blown through them in honour of a chief, or to rally warriors in time of war, is sufficiently piercing to rouse the dead.
The crown and the bracelet worn by King Saul in battle seem most natural adornments to these chiefs, whose bracelets and crowns of nautilus shell attracted our admiration at their council of war. As our Lord spoke of unclean spirits walking through dry places, seeking rest, so these islanders believe that unquiet spirits roam at large in the forest, and they propitiate them by offerings of food.
In the New Hebrides, Dr Turner met with a curious illustration of that strange history of Elisha giving his staff to Gehazi, and bidding him lay it on the face of the sick child. The staff of the New Hebrides was a polished stick of black iron-wood, which was the representative of a god, whose ministering priest was one of the disease-makers. When summoned to attend a case of sickness, this sacred staff was carried to the sick man's room, and the priest, leaning upon it, pronounced certain charmed words, after which recovery was considered certain.
In Samoa and other groups, all disease was supposed to be the work of malignant wizards, therefore to them the friends of the sick applied for healing, or at least for counsel, even as Ahaziah sent his messengers to the priests of the god of Ekron to learn whether he would recover of his sickness.
For the healing of the sick, as well as conferring honour and personal comfort, "anointing with oil" was as familiar in Judea as in Samoa. "Thou anointest my head with oil," might be said by any honoured guest in these isles; while "oil to make him of a cheerful countenance" was equally requisite. St James's directions for the healing of the sick by the prayers of the Church elders, and anointing with oil, literally describe the course pursued in various parts of the Pacific—as, for instance, in the Tokelau isles, where the friends of a sick man send for the priest of the disease-making god, who comes, and dipping his hand in oil, passes it gently over the sufferer, offering prayers for his recovery. An important part of the ceremony, however, not prescribed by St James, is the offering of fine mats to the priest.
These are but a few of the multitude of illustrations collected by Dr Turner. There are many more, such as the occasional custom of embalming the dead, the compulsory observance of the rite of circumcision, contempt for nations who neglect it, marriage customs, the punishment of death for adultery, the law of divorce; the singularly patriarchal law which obliged each bride to be accompanied by one or more handmaids, taken from among her near relations, and who filled the place of secondary wives—so that a chief who owned three or four wives, possessed such a large and troublesome harem, that the majority were generally allowed to return to their parents; and lastly, the custom that a widow must become the wife of her deceased husband's brother, or, failing him, of his nearest male relative.
The plurality of wives appears, singularly enough, to have been little more than a business transaction, in which the principal had very small interest. The marriages of a high chief were simply so many speculations in fine mats, which the bride brought as her dower, and which the bridegroom was expected to hand over to his principal supporters, or head-men, who had arranged the match, and provided the feast. These men were the bankers of the tribe in whose hands its property accumulated; and of course they lost no means of adding to it, as well as of strengthening clan connections by multiplying marriages. Hence this question formed one of the chief difficulties of the early missionaries.
This very practical reason for polygamy also accounted in a great measure for the curious custom of adopting the children of living parents, which prevailed to so extraordinary an extent. It appears that the child was really little more than an excuse for a constant exchange of property, its true parents constantly sending gifts of tonga—that is, native property—to the adoptive parents; while these as often sent back goodwill-offerings of oloa—i.e., foreign goods.
When the students are considered sufficiently advanced, they are occasionally sent to help the teacher of one of the neighbouring villages, and practise the art of preaching, ere being appointed to the sole charge of a congregation. Of course only the well-tried men are promoted to the rank of native minister.
The scale of ecclesiastical pay is certainly not such as to induce men to enter the service of the Church for filthy lucre's sake. A house, a certain amount of food, and a small annual contribution in kind, the value of which in no case exceeds £10, and is generally much less, is certainly not an undue share of loaves and fishes, especially as no agent of the mission is allowed to engage in any manner of trade, or other secular occupation, beyond the cultivation of his own garden. The annual contribution of his parishioners consists probably of half-a-dozen mats, value from 2s. to 6s.; 30 to 40 yards of calico, value 6d. a yard; some pieces of native cloth, worth 1s. each; a larger piece of tappa, for a curtain; a shirt, a fowl, a duck, two pigs, and a few nondescript coins of various nations and small value.
I have heard so many unfair and untrue insinuations made by white traders, and quoted without further inquiry by many travellers, to the effect that many missionaries are in reality grasping and avaricious traders, that it may be as well to mention that such false accusations are invariably made by men who find their unjust gains somewhat lessened by the presence of men whose standard of barter is more honourable. If a native comes to work for a missionary, or brings him vegetables or fish for sale, and receives in payment a larger piece of cloth, or a knife—both of better quality than he would receive from the trader—he naturally learns something of the fair value of his work, or his goods.
Moreover, one of the first proofs of vitality given by these island churches (as in every healthy branch of the Christian Church) has always been a readiness to contribute, not only to the general expenses of the mission in their own country, but also to sending forth teachers to the isles which are still steeped in heathenism. As it has been most convenient to make these payments in kind, each district has collected its own offerings, chiefly in the form of measures of cocoa-nut oil; and these contributions have been annually conveyed to the home market by the mission ship on her return cruise. Hence the nickname of "Palm-oil Ship," so derisively bestowed by men whose very limited notions of their own religious duties certainly do not include any obligation to support foreign missions.
Another source of equally uncalled-for fault-finding has been the receiving of payment for copies of the Bible and other books, as if the mission, having gone to enormous expense in printing successive editions, each of several thousand copies (and the publication of works in an unknown tongue is at all times a troublesome matter), were to blame in offering these for sale, at prices varying from 1s. to 2s. a volume—that is to say, little, if at all, in excess of cost price. A copy of every book published in the Samoan language is given gratis to each student, and to every agent of the mission. How eagerly the precious books have been bought up by other natives, is shown by the fact of their having voluntarily paid several thousand pounds to acquire copies for themselves.
At the present moment the students at the college number eighty—all fine young men; of these forty-two are married, and occupy the pretty cosy cottages which form this South Sea college. There are also about twenty big boys, and a number of small ones, all receiving a most careful education. These are gathered from every island in the group, and represent many of the principal families, who support the different parties now striving for supremacy. But this is neutral ground, respected by all parties, so politics are excluded as far as is possible.
After luncheon, all these assembled to meet us in the large native church—a fine building, of white coral lime, rounded at the ends like a Tongan house, and with a deep thatch roof. I never saw a finer lot of men and women, with keen intelligent faces. I fear their verdict on the foreign lady must have been very different; for, what with my early sketching expedition on foot, and then the long twelve miles in the boat, in glaring light from sun and sea, I literally could scarcely keep my eyes open; and having foolishly striven to do so, after luncheon (when I might have obtained the blessed "forty winks" in private), I paid the penalty when we reached the cool dark church, and had the humiliating consciousness that the struggle was becoming vainer and more vain, till at length the angel of sleep triumphed, and held me captive, while M. Pinart put the students through a slight examination, simply as a matter of form.
Afterwards we wandered about the settlement, which is in every respect a model one, and then we enjoyed a pleasant evening at the calm peaceful mission-house, which stands on a grassy headland, palm-fringed, the sea washing three sides of the lawn. It is quite an idyllic home,—a true earthly paradise, where the useful and loving life glides on day by day, undisturbed by the wars and rumours of war on every side. But the peace and the home have alike been purchased by many a year of hard ungrudging toil in the heat and burden of the day.
For Dr Turner began his mission career in stormy times. Soon after the Rev. John Williams had been treacherously murdered at Eromanga in the New Hebrides, in November 1839, the London Mission Society determined to make a renewed effort for the conversion of its fierce inveterate cannibals. Mr and Mrs Turner were accordingly sent on this most dangerous mission. They were joined in Samoa by Mr and Mrs Nisbet, and together proceeded to the New Hebrides.
The day before Mr Williams's death, he had succeeded in landing three Samoan teachers as pioneers, on the isle of Tanna, twenty miles from Eromanga. To this isle the missionaries now sailed—not without grave doubts whether they should find the teachers alive. (It was now June 1842.) They found them safe, but their work had made small progress. The people were continually at war, and most unconscionable thieves. They had, however, two good points—infanticide was not common, and they were careful of their own sick, so far as they knew how. But wilder and more savage surroundings could scarcely be conceived than those in which the Turners and Nisbets found themselves left, when the little vessel which had brought them from Samoa had sailed away.
They soon discovered one serious difference between the New Hebrides and the isles of the Eastern Pacific. In the latter, one language is understood throughout a whole group, with only such variations as occur between Yorkshire and Somerset. But in the New Hebrides, each island speaks a totally different dialect, and though within sight one of another (as Fortuna, Aneiteum, Tanna, and Eromanga) they cannot understand one another; and the books printed for one would be totally useless for the next. Even on the same island the different tribes are so isolated by war and jealousies that their language remains as totally distinct as that of the Celts and Saxons in Scotland or Wales.
This circumstance, added to the intense jealousies of the tribes, made it a matter of extreme difficulty, as well as danger, to attempt visiting different villages, in which endeavour Mr Turner and Mr Nisbet nevertheless persevered, always at the risk of their lives, being inspired with an intense belief in the reality of their Lord's command (to go into all the world and preach to all His human creatures), and also in His protecting care.
So when a vessel touched the isle, and offered to carry them all away, the mission band refused to desert their post, and for seven months contrived to maintain their ground. But it was a constant struggle and never-ceasing danger. During five months out of the seven the tribes were at war, and at last the whole powerful body of sacred medicine-men—the rain-makers and thunder-makers, and especially the disease-makers—were filled with such jealousy of the foreigners who gave away medicines, and so diminished their gains, that they stirred up the islanders generally to believe that the dysentery, coughs, and influenza which had recently, for the first time, appeared in the group, were all produced by the white men; and, strangely enough, their assertion seemed confirmed by the fact that the tribe among whom the missionaries were living, actually escaped these illnesses.
So about two thousand wild savages united for a more determined onslaught on this friendly tribe; and at last, seeing matters were desperate, the little band of Christians, nineteen in all, were compelled to fly for their lives. They accordingly embarked at dead of night in an open boat and a canoe, hoping to reach the Isle Aneiteum, preferring to face the certain hardships of such a voyage to the worse certainty of being consigned to cannibal ovens. The sea was, however, wild and tempestuous; and after vainly struggling for several hours to make head against it, they were compelled to return to land, and happily re-entered their own house before any of the natives had discovered their flight. Matters now seemed desperate; but, as the old proverb says, "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." When the villages were blazing on every side of them, and their last hours seemed at hand, a sail hove in sight. It proved to be The Highlander (name of good omen), a whaler, whose captain, knowing that the Turners and Nisbets had gone to Tanna, thought he would just run in and see if they were still alive. The presence of the foreign ship stayed the fighting for the moment, and enabled the mission party very quietly to make their preparations for embarking. This was on Saturday. On Sunday, they as usual abstained from any manner of work, and held public worship. Soon after midnight they silently stole forth, and though their chapel and outhouses, and even the boat-shed, were crowded with people from the neighbouring villages, whose homes had been burnt by the enemy, not one awoke till almost all the party were safely on board with their baggage. So this was accomplished without the dreaded opposition. At last some men awoke, and then messengers flew through the district to summon the chiefs. Mr Turner asked them all to come on board to bid him farewell. Eleven did so, and expressed their grief at all that had occurred; one fine old chief wept like a child, but none ventured to bid the white men stay. In truth, they said that they expected themselves to be exterminated as soon as the vessel had departed.
Seeing no possibility of establishing a mission on any of the neighbouring isles, Mr Turner induced Captain Lucas to convey the whole party to Samoa—a journey which was not without danger, owing to baffling winds and the lack of any reliable chart. They narrowly escaped coming to grief as they passed through the Fiji group, where the vessel was becalmed and quickly surrounded by large war-canoes, each manned by from fifty to a hundred most formidable, armed savages. Providentially a light breeze sprang up and carried them away from that danger; and so in due time they reached Apia, where they found welcome and much-needed rest and comfort.
Soon after, Mr Turner was appointed to the charge of a district in Samoa, which gave him the care of sixteen villages; but ere long the pressing need of teachers led to the commencement of the training college, where, with the exception of occasional voyages to the New Hebrides and other groups, he and his successive colleagues have ever since found abundant work, in training native evangelists, translating valuable books, and, so far as lay in their power (not having received a regular medical training), in ministering to the temporal needs of the people, administering such medicines as they could procure, and even, under pressure of necessity, attending to surgical cases. Their chief care, however, was to vaccinate every man, woman, and child within reach, a precaution to which may be attributed the happy circumstance that there has never been a case of smallpox in Samoa, though it is visited by so many foreign ships. In many other groups, where some chance vessel has touched, the deadly infection has been left, and in some cases about a third of the population has died.
Dr Turner observed that the people of Tanna are in mortal dread of a form of witchcraft precisely similar to that so commonly practised in Fiji in its heathen days (and perhaps, sub rosa, even now; for we noticed the extreme care with which some of our followers occasionally collected and buried every scrap of food which they, or we, had touched).
The Fijians believed that if they could get a fragment of the hair or food of an enemy, or a small bit of any garment he had worn, the heathen priest could therewith work a spell which should cause death within four days. The priest kindled a fire and performed incantations over these relics, approaching the spot only on his hands and knees.
The wizard of Tana is a professional disease-maker. He prowls about, continually seeking for refuse of any sort which he can turn to account. An old banana-skin, a bit of a cocoa-nut, the parings of a yam, will answer his purpose. He wraps it in a leaf, that no one may know exactly what he has found. He ties the parcel round his neck, and stalks about ostentatiously through the villages. In the evening he scrapes some bark off a certain tree, mixes it with the rubbish he has found, rolls it all together in a leaf, like a very long cigar, and lays it close to the fire, so that one end may gradually smoulder. As it burns, the true owner becomes ill; and as the pain increases, he calls to his friends, who immediately recognise the work of the disease-maker, and blow loud blasts on the trumpet-shell, which can be heard at a distance of two or three miles. This is a pledge that if he will stop burning the rubbish, they will bring him offerings of their best mats, pigs, &c.
The wizard, hearing the blast, draws away the green cigar, and waits impatiently to see what gift his dupes will bring in the morning. They firmly believe that if the cigar is allowed to burn to the end, the victim must die. Should the pain return, the friends suppose the wizard is dissatisfied with his gifts, and they blow louder than before, making night hideous with their dismal noise, and load the disease-maker with presents, all of which he of course readily accepts. Should the man die, the friends merely suppose they failed to propitiate the wretch. These wizards were the worst foes of the mission party, and were for ever trying to work spells for their destruction, though happily without effect. You can readily understand how a people deeply imbued with the faith in this possibility of working mischief, were always ready to attribute to the missionaries those epidemics of illness, formerly unknown, which so strangely seem to have broken out in almost every group soon after the arrival of white men—generally influenza, measles, smallpox, or dysentery, each of which has invariably proved a deadly pestilence when first attacking these races.
I have just told you how this belief resulted in the mission being driven from Tanna. About the same time, dysentery appeared in the neighbouring isle of Fotuna, and led to the massacre of the Samoan teachers who had been left there by Mr Williams. It also ravaged Eromanga, carrying off one-third of the population, who believed that the scourge had been introduced by some hatchets which they had received as barter from a sandal-wood ship, and accordingly they threw them all away. On several other islands the teachers were either murdered or compelled to flee for their lives, solely on this account.
What makes this more remarkable is, that these illnesses often followed the visit of a ship which itself had a perfectly clean bill of health; and in many cases the missionaries and other good authorities recorded that they had no reason to believe that any white man had been to blame for the introduction of new diseases.
Therefore the poor islanders naturally concluded that these scourges were introduced by malicious foreign gods; so when a Samoan family assembled for their evening meal, the head of the house, ere tasting his bowl of kava, poured a little on the ground as a drink-offering to the gods; and every voice was hushed while he prayed that the gods of Samoa would give increase and prosperity to the household and all pertaining to it; that the war-gods would give strength to the people; but to such foreign gods as might have arrived in Tongan canoes or great ships, he said—" Here is kava for you, O sailing gods; do not come ashore at this place, but be pleased to remain on the ocean, and go to some other land!"
Sometimes the worshippers preferred to leave this matter in the care of their own protecting gods. In that case they kindled a blazing fire just before the evening meal, and offered its light to the king of gods, and all his fellow-deities, beseeching them to keep away from Samoa all sailing gods, lest they should come and cause disease and death.
Dr Turner takes high rank among the apostles of the Pacific. Few men living know better, from their own experience, how marvellous has been the change wrought in the last forty years, by which barbarous cannibals have been transformed into peaceful Christians.
For instance, when he first visited the Isle of Niuē, or Savage Island (which lies as the centre of a triangle formed by Tonga, Samoa, and the Hervey Isles), its people were in much the same condition as Captain Cook found them, when they rushed on his men "like savage boars," which was their invariable reception of all outsiders—not of white men only (though these were invariably repulsed), but also of men whose canoes chanced to drift from Tonga or Samoa, or even of their own countrymen who had left the island and returned. All such were invariably killed, chiefly from a dread lest they should introduce foreign diseases. So great was this fear, that even when they did venture to begin trading, they would not use anything obtained from ships till it had been hung in quarantine in the bush for weeks.
For sixty years after Captain Cook's visit, these 4000 very exclusive savages adhered to their determination that no stranger should ever live on their isle. At the end of that time they agreed to allow Samoan teachers to settle among them; and so successful has been the work of these men, that the island is now peopled with model Christians. No more wars, no fightings, no thefts, but a peaceful and happy community (sufficiently) "clothed and in their right mind;" living in good houses of the Samoan type, instead of filthy huts; assembling for school and worship in large suitable buildings, and with abundant leisure to cultivate the soil and prepare the arrowroot and other produce, with which to purchase not only calico, hatchets, knives, &c., but also copies of the Scriptures, hymns, and commentaries, translated into the Savage Island dialect by the Samoan teachers, and printed at Apia.
Like the Tongans, these very sensible savages have discovered a means of making criminals really useful to the community. For theft and all other offences, the chief sentences the offender to make so many fathoms of road of neatly laid blocks of coral, filled in with small stones, and covered with a level layer of earth. Thus a good road, shaded by a double row of cocoa-palms, now encircles the isle—a circuit of perhaps fifty miles.
Do you think that Captain Cook would now recognise his "wild boars"?
In like manner, when Dr Turner first visited the Loyalty Isles, of which New Caledonia is the principal isle, he found hideous cannibals, without a rag of clothing, but whitewashed from head to foot to improve their beauty. This was the height of fashion on Maré. On his return in 1859, he found that perhaps one side of an island had adopted Christianity, and that clean, decently clad congregations of men and women assembled on the shore to meet him, eager that he should hear them read the Scriptures from books printed in their own dialect,—a strange contrast to the other side of the same isle, still plunged in heathen degradation, engaged in ceaseless war, feasting on the bodies of the slain, and occasionally capturing a Christian teacher, whose zeal led him to adventure within their reach.
Much the same state of things prevailed on some of the New Hebrides, where the isle of Aneiteum was the most hopeful centre of operations, its population of upwards of 3000 persons having all professedly become Christians, and 300 being actually church members. Fifty-six different villages had built schools for their own use, and eleven had chapels. Sixty of the more advanced natives ranked as teachers, and several had gone to work on the hostile isles around. On these, also, two white missionaries had established themselves, though still enduring a hard struggle, and making very little way apparently.
More recent incidents have proved how slow and difficult has been their work.
On the voyage I speak of, the converts presented Dr Turner with upwards of a hundred of their discarded idols—storm-gods and rain-gods, gods of war and of sickness, gods of the land and of the sea, of the fruits of the earth and of all living things,—a strange motley collection of poor dishonoured images, each of which had been an object of awe through many a dark year, now all huddled together in the hold of the foreign ship.
Amongst the simpler idols of Samoa were a number of smooth water-worn stones, more or less egg-shaped—precisely similar to those still reverenced in Indian temples, and which were so long held in honour in the British Isles. One of those was the Samoan rain-god, who was instructed in his duties by a priest, and in times of drought was carried to the stream and therein bathed. But should rain fall in excess, the poor god was popped into the fire, to make him personally aware that the land needed a drying.
On the same principle the rain-making priests in New Caledonia do or did dig up a dead hody, and, having carried the bones to a cave, there fastened them together to form a complete skeleton, which they hung up, and poured water over it, supposing that the spirit of the dead would take the hint and cause the clouds to pour rain on the thirsty land. These priests were so far true to their pretensions that they remained in the cave fasting till rain did fall, and some actually died at their post. When fine weather was required, they kindled a fire beneath the skeleton and let it burn.
Similar as were these rain-making customs, there does not appear to have been any link between the Samoans and these Loyalty Islanders, the latter being about as debased a race of cannibals as could well be imagined,—men who, not content with eating the bodies of foes slain in battle, tied up their captives to trees, and prepared the ovens for their reception before their very eyes. The women followed their lords to battle, to be in readiness to seize the falling foe and carry his body to, the rear and prepare it for the feast. They themselves were liable to be eaten if captured; and the youngest children of the tribe shared the horrid meal. On ordinary occasions the Loyalty Islanders had only one meal a-day. The luxury of kava was unknown to them, but they indulged in copious draughts of sea-water. They wore no apology for clothes. A chief might marry thirty wives, no matter how closely related to him by ties of blood. The Samoans, on the contrary, rigorously prohibited the marriage of any persons nearly related, declaring that such unions called down the wrath of the gods. The gods of the New Caledonians were the ancestral spirits, and their treasured relics were the finger and toe nails of their friends. In burying the dead the head was left above ground; and on the tenth day it was twisted off by the mourning relatives, who preserved the skull, extracting the teeth as separate treasures. The teeth of old women, scattered over a yam plantation, were supposed to secure a good crop; and for the same reason the skulls of all the old village crones were stuck on poles near the gardens.
I wonder if all these distinctions between the manners and customs of the various groups, convey to your untravelled mind one-thousandth part of the interest they possess to us, who have actually lived among so many different races. I fear it is impossible that they should. But you can well understand the thankfulness of such men as Dr Turner and his colleagues, in watching the gradual change from year to year, as the Gospel of mercy takes root in such unpromising soil; and they themselves find loving welcome from the very men who in past years thirsted for their blood, and shed that of so many fellow-workers.
Fain would we have lingered at peaceful Malua, and listened to stories of the South Seas from the lips of those who have themselves been actors in so many thrilling scenes, extending from the far west to this centre. But it was necessary to return to Apia this morning, so we regretfully bade farewell to these kind new friends, who loaded us with gifts of strange things, brought from many isles, and sped us on our way.
Here we found all quiet. The Seignelay has had a long day of entertaining. First the Sisters went on board, with their sixty children, who were duly impressed with the wonders of the great ship; afterwards all the young men from the Catholic College had their turn.
M. de Gironde has just been here, to tell me the vessel sails for Tahiti on Monday. He brings the kindest letters and messages from the captain and all the party, expressive of their true wish that I should proceed with them on the "Tour de la Mission." Indeed the state of affairs here is not such as to invite a prolonged stay. And there might be a detention of months among these discordant elements, ere I found an opportunity to return to Fiji.
- Great love to you.
- Apparently women are held in higher estimation by the Samoans than by some folk in the British Isles. I have just heard of a Highlander driving a very fierce bull along a highroad. To him, quoth a friend, "That is a dangerous-looking brute!" "Ou na!" replies the owner; "he is just as ceevil as a sheep. He wadna hurt onybody, unless, maybe, weemen and bairns and suchlike!"
- The Rev. W. Wyatt Gill has recorded a multitude of most interesting examples of such parables from nature. Moreover, happily for all lovers of such lore, he has, during his mission career in the Hervey Isles, found time to preserve many delightful "Myths and Songs from the South Pacific." It is much to be wished that the same could be done for other groups.
- Crinum asiaticum.
- Nineteen Years in Polynesia. By the Rev. George Turner, London Missionary Society.
- For a few examples, to which many more might be added, see From the Hebrides to the Himalayas,' vol. i. pp. 16, 74, 130-134.