Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/340

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none to lead their worship, save, perhaps, a newly converted priest of Oro, or a professional dancer, hitherto sunk in every form of vice,—we can the better understand the extreme anxiety of the people to possess the books which were the storehouses of excellent knowledge.

Have you ever realised the innumerable difficulties under which these early publishers had to contend? To begin with, they had themselves to reduce barbarous and hitherto unknown tongues to a written language,—no easy matter, considering that many of these dialects are so rich as to possess far more words to express shades of meaning than any European language.[1] So, beginning with the alphabet, they had to work out equivalents for words in which the slightest change of accent conveys totally different meanings; then they had to puzzle out very intricate grammatical structures, and, having mastered all this, had to commence the very difficult work of translating so large a book as the Bible—a book, moreover, treating of spiritual truths which it was hard indeed to render comprehensible to such very materialistic minds as these.

Yet in the short space of about thirty years, the Scriptures have been translated into about twenty different languages, all previously unknown; and there is not one group throughout Polynesia, the people of which do not now read the Scriptures in their own tongue. The same good work is now gradually extending throughout Melanesia also; and even New Guinea, which, ten years ago, was an unknown land, has already received portions of the New Testament in the language spoken by at least one of its tribes.

Considering the extremely volatile nature of these light-hearted people, the exceeding earnestness with which they seem to have entered into the requirements of a spiritual religion, is very remarkable. They had, however, been early trained to a belief in the necessity of whole-hearted attention, and reverence in the worship of their idols. It mattered not how large and costly might be the offerings, and how careful the ceremonial, should the priest omit, or even misplace, any word in the appointed prayers, or should his attention be diverted, the prayer was un-

  1. This is emphatically true of Fijian. See 'At Home in Fiji,' vol. i p. 136.