Forty Years On The Pacific/Fiji

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Forty Years On The Pacific by Frank Coffee

The Cannibal Isles—Missionaries—American Claim[edit]

ONE would never suspect that the happy and hospitable natives of Fiji were the immediate descendants of a race which until recently was dreaded throughout the Pacific, on account of its systematic practice of cannibalism and other horrible rites. The most noticeable characteristics of the Fijian of to-day is his merry, happy disposition. Yet, until the missionaries commenced their labors in 1832 and for some years afterward, the Fijians had the reputation, justly earned, of being the most atrocious, bloodthirsty cannibals on earth. Every sort of horrible crime—cannibalism, infanticide and human sacrifice—was practiced, partly out of pure ferocity, partly as a religious rite. In reading the early history of Fiji, one sickens at the prominence given to the atrocious acts of cannibalism—the fattening, the clubbing and the roasting of hecatombs of human beings.

It was in such a hell on earth that the first missionaries trusted their lives, and the change that has been effected through them is wonderful. Christianity was first made known to the Fijians of the eastern group by the reports of the Tongans from the Friendly Islands, where the Wesleyans already had a thriving mission. In 1854 the crowning work of the Wesleyans' mission was accomplished in gaining over King Cabobau (or Thakombau, as it is pronounced and frequently spelled), and the support of the leading chiefs having been obtained, the acceptance of Christianity became a political necessity to great numbers; none but the most powerful tribes

daring to refuse.

On this subject, Professor Gary, Princeton University, who joined our ship at Suva, states:

"King Cabobau was threatened with being killed and eaten by another chief, Rawa, and to save his own neck put himself under the protection of the missionaries from whom he received rifles and ammunition, as well as assistance in war. The followers of Cabobau were told by him that unless they embraced Christianity, they would be clubbed and kai kai'ed (eaten), so as they were accustomed to obey the orders of the great chief in other things, they of course obeyed in this case; and fifteen hundred of them were baptized in a single day, 'when the spirit of the Lord descended upon the place.'"

Nothing but unstinted praise can be given to the band of missionaries who carried the gospel to Fiji, and in doing so passed through the most deadly perils. Only one, however, met a violent death, and this was the Rev. Mr. Baker, who was killed and eaten by the wild tribes in the interior. At present the natives are all professed Christians and mission work is plain sailing. The Wesleyan and Catholic missionaries have done much to uplift the Fijians.

"The Catholic Church has good reason to be proud of the devoted work of the priests of the Marist order in Fiji. I have often heard the methods of missionaries criticised by traders and planters, but I have never heard the roughest trader say an ill word against the Marists." I may say here in passing that the traders are a much maligned class; for, though there are some rough customers among them, the great majority are as fair and square business men as can be found, in any community. The conditions under which early traders prosecuted their labors must be taken into consideration. Captain Allen, who owns plantations in the Samoan and Ellice groups, assures me that in the early days the trader while passing tobacco, tools, cloth and other articles over the side of his boat with the left hand, often had to hold a revolver in his right, to guard against the treachery of the natives.

Reverting to the Marists, they are supported by the French Society for the Propagation of the Faith, receiving a pittance of two hundred dollars a year, and remain at their posts, no matter how unhealthy or how uncongenial may be the locality for the term of their natural lives.

In according this praise to the Marist priests, I wish to refer also to the credit that is undoubtedly due to the Protestant missionaries. I have often had missionaries as traveling companions, and good company they are, as a rule. Bishop Vidal, one of the most energetic of all the Catholic missionaries, is much admired and esteemed by all who know him. Like the other Catholic missionaries in Fiji, he is a Frenchman, and came out to the South Seas as far back as 1873. His influence in Fiji has been very great, and a lasting monument to his energy is to be seen in the beautiful cathedral that has been built in Suva. Another prelate with whom I have traveled is Dr. Twitchell, the Anglican Bishop of Polynesia, whose headquarters are at Suva. He is a fine fellow, who can tell a good yarn in the smoking-room, and is popular with all classes.

Residents who have lived in the Fiji group for many years assure me that the labors of the missionaries among the natives have been attended with good results. When traveling by night, whether on land or water, far back from the villages, one can hear, wafted across the hills and streams, hymns being sung in the cabin home of these Fijian Islanders.

So much for the Fijians as they are, and for the changes that have been wrought by the missionaries. There are more than two hundred islands, great and small, in the Fiji group; but this number includes many that are mere rocks with little vegetation and no inhabitants. The largest island on which Suva, the capital, is situated is Viti Levu, with a surface of 4,112 square miles. Next in point of size is Vanua Levu, with an area of 2,432 square miles. Though more than two centuries have elapsed since the first discovery of Fiji by Tasman, comparatively little was known of the country until the visit of the United States exploring expedition of 1840, of which Commander Wilkes, of the American Navy, wrote an elaborate and highly interesting account. Captain Cook, on his second voyage, sighted some of the islands, and so did Bligh in his compulsory boat voyage after the mutiny of the Bounty, but a landing was not attempted. The earliest European settlers were escaped convicts from Botany Bay, who preferred taking their chance among cannibals to facing again the miseries of convict life in New South Wales.

Sometimes sailors from whalers, which now began to call in for provisions, remained ashore with the natives. Jack Tar found a life of luxurious ease among them, more to his liking than the hardships of interminable voyages in ships in which he was in those days very badly treated. These men were received like princes by the native chiefs and were provided with every luxury that the tropics afford, in return for a little instruction in the use of firearms and occasional assistance in native wars. One of the earliest white inhabitants, called Savage, abandoned his clothes, painted himself, and became a thorough Fijian, often leading a tribe to battle. Heading the column with his single flintlock musket, which was considered equivalent to an army, he changed the fate of dynasties by establishing the supremacy of the Nibau chiefs.

As far back as 1835 some traders gained a foothold on the beach at Levuka and a settlement was established. The community led a free and independent life, every man being a law unto himself and doing that which seemed good in his own eyes. Many gold-seekers on their way from California to Australia, in the days of the gold rush, called in at Fiji, and.a few of these, charmed with the freedom and lawlessness of the country, returned to it when it was no longer easy to make rapid fortunes in Australia.

The leading chiefs offered the islands to Great Britain In 1861. The Imperial authorities refused to take them over then, but did so later. The circumstances which led Cabobau and the other chiefs to offer the islands to Great Britain were as follows:

On July 4, 1849, while the late Mr. J. B. Williams, then United States Consul, was celebrating the national anniversary by the firing of cannon and letting off of squibs on the island of Nukulau, his house took fire and was burned to the ground. A crowd of natives collected, and in the confusion his property was pillaged. On the arrival of the next American man-ofwar, he claimed compensation for damages to the extent of $5,000. At this time there were about fifty whites residing at Levuka. The chief of this town was on friendly terms with Cabobau, and was frequently allied with him in war. In 1853 a boat belonging to some of the whites living at Levuka was captured and pillaged by natives at Malaki. The whites made a raid on Malaki and killed a number of the tribesmen. After this, the natives made an attack on Levuka and destroyed property. Complaint was made by the American citizens of the losses they had sustained and Cabobau was saddled with the whole responsibility.

After some preliminary investigations on the part of the United States Government, Commander Boutwell was sent to Fiji in 1855 to inquire into the justice of the American claims in a fair and impartial spirit. The result was that an award of $30,000 was made against Cabobau. The award was afterward increased to $45,000, $15,000 having been added, as Commander Boutwell said, "On account of the interference of the English missionaries." The Williams claim, originally $5,000, was finally set down at $18,331, and the award stood thus: To J. B. Williams, $18,331; Chamberlain & Co., $7,300; David Whippy, $6,000; owners of bark Elisabeth, $1,000; owners of the brig Tom Pickering, $2,800; Thomas Ryder, $1,500; Wilkinson Bros., $4,000; Shallack & McComber, $2,600.

Though Cabobau disclaimed personal responsibility, he signed an acknowledgment on board an American man-of-war. English writers say he was terrified into doing so, and, ao knowledging the justice of the claims, he promised to pay the amount within two years. Being quite unable to satisfy the claims, Cabobau, in 1858, offered to cede the islands to Great Britain, on condition that he should retain the rank and title of King of Fiji, and that in consideration of his conveying two hundred thousand acres of land, the American debt should be paid for him. Owing to the unsettled condition of things in Europe and more especially because of the difficulty Great Britain was then experiencing in New Zealand, the offer of Cabobau and the other chiefs was not accepted by Earl Russell, who was then at the head of affairs in England. The Government of New South Wales strongly supported the annexation, and Captain Towns, a patriotic citizen of Sydney, offered, in order to remove any obstacles in the way of the cession, a check for the amount claimed by the United States.

In 1867 the debt owing to the American Government was still unpaid, with the exception of a small amount, equal to £287 ($1,400) British currency. The United States authorities were in that year moved to dispatch another man-of-war to the group. The United States ship of war, the Tuscarora, upon its arrival in Fiji, obtained from Cabobau a mortgage over the large area of land, as security.

At this juncture there arrived representatives of a syndicate, the Polynesian Company, formed in Melbourne to acquire land in the group. In their application Cabobau saw a way out of the difficulty. He agreed to grant the fee simple of two hundred thousand acres of land conditionally upon the American debt being paid. An agreement was at once drawn up on board the steamship Alboon on May 23, 1868, and Cabobau's debt was liquidated. In 1871 the white settlers established a constitutional government for the kingdom of Fiji, under King Cabobau. This was not a success. It enslaved the native population, by levying a heavy poll tax and then forced the natives to work out their tax for the benefit of the planters, who paid it. It took two hundred and twentyfive days' work each year to pay the tax and in 1874 Great Britain accepted sovereignty of the group, Sir Arthur Gordon (afterward Lord Stanmore) being the first governor. The next governor was Sir George Des Voeux, with whom I made a very pleasant voyage across the Pacific in the Zealandia in 1878.

Suva—Old Customs—The Measles Epidemic—Cotton[edit]

The larger islands of the Fiji group are all mountainous, rising to heights of over 4,000 feet. Nearly all are clothed from base to summit in a mantle of green, while the valleys are covered with magnificent tropical flora, rich and abundant in variety. It is an exceedingly well-watered country. The Rewa River, which drains the eastern part of the Viti Levu, is navigable for vessels of light draught for more than fifty miles. There are half a dozen other large rivers, and besides these, almost every valley in the group has its brawling stream fed from an inexhaustible spring.

Suva, the capital, is a very picturesque place. It is not an imposing city, considered as a metropolis, but it is pretty in its own scattered way, and delightfully situated on a hill that slopes down to one of the most beautiful of bays. In the distant background rises an amphitheater of bold mountains, less soft in their outlines, and in a way less beautiful, than the Samoan ranges, but grander and more impressive. The gardens on the hills at the back of Suva are usually aflame with scarlet hibiscus. There is a plenteous rainfall—it is recorded that twenty-six inches once fell in Suva in a single day! so that there is no lack of verdure and luxuriant vegetation. The breadfruit tree, bananas, pineapples, yams, mummy apples and sago palms, are all to be seen growing either within the boundaries of the town or within a short drive. Along "the beach" at Suva, or, to adopt its more dignified name, the Victoria Parade, surges an ever-interesting flow of human life.

The most striking feature of all among the passers-by is the Fijian native, with his magnificent mop of hair and his white "sulu" or kilt. Few of the Fijians care for hard manual labor, but the dignified and not too onerous post of policeman suits them admirably, and there is no lack of candidates for the office. Natives from the Solomon and other islands are mostly engaged about the wharves and shipping, or as waiters in the hotels, but the bulk of the labor in Fiji is furnished by Indian coolies. On one trip by the Niagara, we took in a large cargo of sugar at Suva. The loading went on night and day. Natives perform the ordinary labor, for which they are paid two shillings (48 cents) a day and board, for which a sugar company pays one shilling a day. For special work like loading, natives would receive five dollars for twenty-four hours.

The Union Steamship Company has erected a palatial hotel at Suva. The Governor of Fiji receives a salary of $15,000 a year, and, in addkion, he is paid another $5,000 as commissioner of the Western Pacific. Besides these salaries, he is supplied with a beautiful home.

In conversation with a member of the Civil Service, he told me they got four and one-half months' holiday every two years. With a little persuasion, the authorities will extend the leave two months. If a civil servant wishes to visit England, he is allowed three hundred dollars expenses.

Land values are high in Suva. The Union Steamship Company paid one hundred and thirty dollars a foot for some front street property for new offices in 1915. Some syndicate recently paid one hundred and eighty dollars a foot for land in the vicinity of the new wharf.

We hired a taxi to take five of us to the Rewa River, twelve miles distant over a fairly good road. On the opposite side of the river is the Colonial Sugar Company's mill. The beautiful rich soil over the route is very noticeable, but crops are sadly neglected. Indian huts are dotted on both sides of the road, but there is very little cultivation. At many places one sees the Indian families grinding rice with an antiquated square log, which is operated by pumping it up and down.

Sugar-cane plantations abound along the river. We saw a dozen horses, some sheep and one pair of oxen. There were Indians everywhere, arms and ankles being covered with bracelets and their noses full of rings. As the native Fijians will not work except spasmodically, sugar growers are compelled to import East Indians under contract. These people save and scrape, spending nothing in the islands, except for food and trinkets.

In March, 1913, five hundred left for their homes in India, and took with them $54,000 in gold, $20,450 in drafts and $13,315 worth of jewelry. In June, 1914, three hundred and thirty-nine Indians, of whom two hundred and twenty-nine were men, returned to India, taking with them $33,290 in gold, $2,145 in bank drafts, and $4,750 in jewelry. It is stated that they object to taking drafts in India, because in cashing them, the banks there pay them in silver rupees, which are liable to fluctuate.

There are now about ninety thousand East Indians in the Fiji Islands, of whom about one-third are women. Life is held very cheaply among them, and murders are frequent, the cause usually being traceable to jealousy. A woman will pretend affection for a man until she gets his savings, which he carries in a bag attached to a string around his neck. Then she seeks fresh victims. In June, 1917, nine Indians were sentenced to death for capital offenses.

I cabled from Suva to Sydney on July 6th, which was July 5th in the United States and Canada. Owing to the difference in time I got a reply twenty-five minutes before I sent it! The cable happened to be clear between Suva and Sydney, as there were very few messages coming through from America, the people not having recovered from the Fourth-of-July effects.

Either at Suva or some other center of native life, the visitor should contrive to see the native dance of the Fijians, or "meke," as it is called. The "meke" is really the Fijians' one fine art. It stands for him as opera and drama, and the best artists are in considerable repute. When an important meke is coming off—to celebrate, for instance, the arrival of a great chief—the preparations and rehearsals go on for a considerable time. Most of the dances of the Fijians are dramatic in character, representing incidents in war or some striking fact in nature; such as the dashing of surf on the reef, or the flight of the flying fox. Closely associated with the dancing of the Fijians is their drinking of kava, which is made the occasion of much ceremony, and which I have described elsewhere.

In the old days, the Fijians were exceedingly cruel to the aged and infirm. Bald heads and gray hairs excited contempt instead of respect, and therefore when likely to become troublesome, the aged begged to be strangled. Burying alive was the means generally used for dispatching old people.

According to the religion of the Fijians, as a man was in this world at the time of his death, so would he be throughout his stay in the next, consequently it was in every way desirable that anyone should die in full possession of his powers, and for this reason, it was customary for a man when he had reached an age of about forty years to announce that he was dead, when he would be buried by his friends with all proper ceremonies. His wives, or at least the chief wives, would be strangled, so that they might accompany him to "Heaven," to minister to him as they had here. Various material things needed on the journey or in the next world were placed on or in the grave, while his remaining wives made the most unseeming remarks about him, to drive his ghost away. Nowadays, I am glad to say, the Fijians treat their old, feeble and toothless parents with affection and tenderness.

Another of the old customs was polygamy. Every man was allowed to have as many wives as he could maintain, but only the highest chiefs could afford to keep more than one wife. Very few middle-class men were married before reaching the age of twenty-five. To the women, the plurality of wives was a source of female degradation and domestic misery. The first wife was the mistress of the family, the others, whom she was supposed to treat like younger sisters, were called by a name corresponding to that of auxiliary wives; and a respectable female, in becoming a secondary wife, was entitled to a domestic establishment of her own. But in practice often enough Dame Nature, in her old-fashioned way, overrode these beneficent fashionings, and the nasty little ways of the ladies, stimulated by jealousy, placed bitten-off noses, rent ears and scratches among the smaller evils of polygamy.

Under the system, many men, of course, were left without wives. Some of these had to court the favor of a chief to secure the loan of a wife, in compensation for which the man so obliged became the willing instrument of villainous deeds at the instigation of his wife's master. Others willingly engaged in wars in the hope of terminating their forced celibacy by securing a female prize. Often, to encourage warriors to fight, two or three women were given to the army. For many years polygamy has been abandoned and the domestic life of the Fijian of to-day is now quite exemplary.

The Fijians are slowly decreasing in numbers. Among the reasons advanced for this are the comparatively weak maternal feeling of Fijian women (the infant mortality being very high), the introduction of new diseases, such as measles, whooping-cough, influenza, etc., with which the natives cannot cope, and the disappearance of many of their old social customs.

Fiji affords a striking example of the direful results to be apprehended from exposing a race to a new disease, even though such a malady is comparatively harmless in respect to those who have become in the course of ages accustomed to its effects.

Measles were first brought into the group by H. M. S. Dido, in 1875, and in a short time forty thousand of the natives were believed to have perished.

The circumstances are interesting enough to narrate at some length. King Cabobau and his sons and a befitting retinue of chiefs returned from Sydney on the Dido, having visited Sir Hercules Robinson, then Governor of New South Wales. An epidemic of measles prevailed in Sydney at the time, and shortly before leaving, the king's younger sons took the complaint in a mild form, as did also two of their attendants. On the voyage home the king became slightly unwell— so slightly that quarantining was considered unnecessary— and upon approaching Levuka, one of his sons jumped into the sea and swam ashore. Kindred and subjects crowded from all parts of the islands to welcome the king and, according to custom, sniffed his hands or his face, thereby inhaling the unsuspected poison. A few days later a great gathering of natives was held on the Rewa River, at which several chieftains from Levuka, who had already caught the measles without being as yet unwell, attended. Some authorities claim the disease was really bronchitis, not measles.

In the South Seas it appears the measles, which some consider a simple and infantile complaint, invariably assumes a character more like the plague, when first introduced into any of the groups. Consequently, the first epidemic of any sort that had visited Fiji spread all over the group with disastrous results. Whole villages were stricken down, young and old alike lay dead and dying. In the king's own town of Bau, all were ill at once. On one island alflne the population was reduced from twenty thousand to four thousand. The handful of whites did their utmost to help, and gave all the medicine they possessed. Isolation of the sufferers was impossible. They could not be prevented from rushing to the nearest water to cool their fever. The rash was then thrown in, and congestion of the lungs and dysentery of the most malignant type were brought on in thousands of cases. At last in many districts the living were unable to bury the dead and there was good cause to dread lest the worse pestilence in the form of typhus should be engendered by the putrefaction of the air.

Since those days, events have been dated from the "time of the measles." If you ask any one his age, he is almost certain to say: "I was so high, at the time of the measles."

The Government of Fiji, warned by that fearful epidemic, has introduced the strictest quarantine laws.

Fijians practiced massage before the advent of the white man. In cases of ailments they apply, with effective results, medicines obtained from herbs.

The American Civil War was responsible for a large addition to the white population of Fiji. The suspension of the cotton industry in the Southern States of America forced European countries to look for other fields for the growth of the material. Cotton was everywhere in demand and the prices were exceedingly high. The tropical climate and the volcanic soil of Fiji were deemed to be almost ideal for the production of cotton, and for a brief period its cultivation was extensively carried on and with a good deal of success. Destruction of plantations by hurricanes and the cessation of hostilities in the United States were followed by such a reaction in the cotton markets of the world that the industry in Fiji was crippled beyond all hope of recovery. The cotton planters proved themselves men of courage and resource, and some of them, turning their attention to other products, quite regained their lost fortunes, though it must be admitted that others suffered losses from which they never recovered. The days of cotton in Fiji were days of romance. It is a pity that so many golden dreams ended so sadly.

I have already referred to the ninety thousand East Indians in the Fiji Islands. The native Fijian population is about eighty thousand and in addition there are forty thousand whites and ten thousand, made up of Samoans, Solomon Islanders, Chinese and Japanese.

For their share in the World War, the islanders deserve great credit. Probably no part of the British Empire can show a better record of self-sacrificing patriotism.

The Cecile Case[edit]

A sensational case identified with the life of Fiji, extending across the seas to France, is that of Lieutenant Gustav Cecile, a Frenchman freed from New Caledonia penal settlement, wrongly convicted and deported for wrongdoing, who settled in Fiji upon his release. At Suva, Cecile met Father Rougier, a fellow-countryman, who took him to the mission station at Nailailili, twenty miles distant.

Learning that Cecile was entitled to a fortune left in France, the missionary took action on the lieutenant's behalf and won about $175,000, setting aside enough money to keep Cecile comfortably. The Bishop of the Fiji Islands, however, called upon the priest to explain why he had accepted the bulk of this fortune without investigating the condition of Cecile's relatives in France. Father Rougier fled Suva, returning some months later, to be deprived by Bishop Videl, of all office in. the Church.

Lieutenant Cecile's brother, a banker, arrived with his family from France, on a visit to Fiji. They stayed a year and took Kathrina, native wife of Cecile, the missionary, and his native servant Louis, to France. Later the three returned to Suva.

Evidence by a commission recently has been taken in Fiji for the French courts, arising out of the Cecile-Rougier case, in which an agent in France named Pavey, who had assisted in winning the inheritance, had demanded an enormous commission for his work. The relatives of Cecile, who had died, succeeded through this new action in getting a refund of 300,000 francs. Rougier next claimed some of this money for Kathrina, the relatives contesting the legality of the marriage to Cecile. Kathrina gave her evidence in fluent French. The validity of the marriage was proved, and Kathrina is now living a quiet life on the Rewa River, near Suva.

Some time after, Rougier left for America; and when war broke out, went to France, where the Legion of Honor was bestowed upon him for his labors and generosity in connection with Red Cross work. He has since purchased Christmas Island from Lever Brothers for $50,000, where he is cultivating a cocoanut plantation.