Fiji and the Fijians 1835-1856
Chapter X — native agents
The missionaries were forced to rely on extraneous aids in order to attract the natives to their system. The consequence was that all their converts were for a time merely nominal Christians, and it may be asserted with some confidence that the majority of them, outside the little islands of Ono, never got beyond that. But it must not be supposed that the missionaries were unaware of this, or that they tried to conceal it. On the contrary there is no subject about which so much disappointment is expressed from the beginning to the end of the period. It is frequently and deeply deplored in all their journals and correspondence. They knew quite well that nominal conversions were little if anything better than stark failures, and they applied themselves with all the power that in them lay to lead the natives on to higher and higher stages of Christian experience. They realized very clearly that their work in Fiji would have no permanent value unless the natives under their care experienced a change of heart and mind. In order to effect this they applied themselves to the establishment of an elementary system of education, the training of native teachers and native assistant missionaries, the publication of a grammar and dictionary of the Fijian language, a translation of the New Testament in Fijian1 and sundry elementary books.
Let us turn first to a review of the work and training of the native teachers and native assistant missionaries.page 142
Native agents included school-teachers, class leaders, local preachers, religious teachers and native assistant missionaries. Comparatively little was or is known about them by the general public; yet after going through the records of the missionaries the student might well ask himself whether they or the native agents did more for the triumph of Christianity in Fiji, not only because of the numbers of native helpers, but also because of their evangelistic fervour and heroic endurance through suffering even in many instances unto death. The British and Australian public at the time heard something now and again about Joeli Bulu, Ratu Elijah Varani and a few others; but how much did they know of that army of natives working on lonely stations in far-off islands and districts of the archipelago, preparing the way for the coming of the white missionary? It may surprise the reader as it has surprised me to know that the original pioneers of Christianity in Fiji were natives of Tahiti, not Europeans; and that the white missionaries could have done comparatively little for the extension of their work in Fiji without the assistance of native teachers from Tonga in the early years, and later on from Fiji itself. David Cargill and William Cross were not the first heralds of Christianity to Fiji. That honour belongs to two (or were there three?)2 Tahitian native missionaries who were adherents not of the Methodist, but of the London Missionary Society. They arrived in Lakemba, and settled down near the village of Narothake; but they were treated page 143harshly, and retired to Oneata to await the arrival of a ship to take them away. But no ship or instructions from the London Missionary Society reached them, and they were still at Oneata making converts to Jehovah when the Methodist missionaries arrived in 1835. Sir Everard im Thurn in his valuable Introduction to the Journal of William Locker by has pointed out that the first missionaries to set foot on Fijian soil were some refugees from the Society Islands on board the Hibernia.3 But they have no real claim for consideration here: they were in Fiji by accident not design; they lived only for a short time on a little island to the north of Vanua Levu within the reef while the ship was undergoing repairs, and saw only a few natives who brought for sale some provisions. The first missionaries who were appointed to Fiji, settled there with the specific purpose of christianizing the Fijians and made converts were those two or three Tahitian teachers, belonging to the London Missionary Society, left at Tonga in 1830 by John Williams to be taken on to Fiji when opportunity offered.
These Tahitians should not be lost sight of. Cargill in his report for 1838 spoke somewhat disparagingly of them and their influence, saying that they spoke a dialect compounded of Tahitian, Tonguese and Fijian and could not make themselves understood. But in Cargill's time there was some trouble between the Tahitians and the Methodists who went to Oneata, and it was only after that had subsided and the Tahitians had practically agreed to identify themselves with the Methodist mission that we get more favourable accounts of them and their early work. Writing in 1840 Calvert says: "I was much pleased with the great cleanliness and good conduct of the Tahitian teachers … the people much respect them." It was in 1840 that page 144Lieutenant-Commander Ringgold of the United States Exploring Expedition visited Oneata and he, no doubt, supplied the information given by Captain Wilkes on page 170 of volume iii of his Narrative to the effect that "two Tahitian missionaries were found on Oneata and about one-half of the people were Christians." But the influence of the Tahitians was not confined to Oneata. It is stated in the records of the Methodist missionaries that two chiefs, one from Lomaloma in Vanua Mbalavu, and the other from Totoya, were first converted to Christianity on their visits to Oneata in the early days.
Even among those who have had the most intimate knowledge of mission work in the early days in Fiji, it has generally been assumed that when John Hunt and Richard Burdsall Lyth went to Somosomo in 1839 they were the first to introduce Christianity into that place of horrors. That is not so. In the Memoirs of Mrs Cargill4 we are told that "Lajiki a relative of the royal family of Tonga, and many of the Tonguese then residing in Fiji, hearing of the misfortunes of Tanoa5 repaired to Somosomo to help reinstate him. To these Tongans Joshua6 was sent. The head of the church greatly blessed his labours among the wanderers from their country and they were taught to read." There is no record of his success among the native Somosomoans; but that is true also of the white missionaries who followed. They too had to rely on Tongans and visitors for their congregations, and hardly any converts were made among the natives of Somosomo.
The white missionaries then were not the first heralds of Christianity in Somosomo, neither were they in any other of the mission centres. At Rewa, Mbua Bay and Nandy the way was prepared by native teachers; there were Christ-page 146ians in Vewa before William Cross settled there, and in Mbau long before Joseph Waterhouse went to the capital. But, besides these centres in which missionaries resided there were dozens of other islands and settlements, both in the Windward and Leeward groups, where teachers were stationed long before any white missionary could find time even to visit them. It is important to remember this not only in justice to the natives, but also because it shows how the expansion of mission work in Fiji was effected.
The Society in London decided in 1837 that seven missionaries should be sent to carry on the work in Fiji. It was obviously impossible for such a limited number to render regular service to 150,000 natives, spread over an archipelago 300 miles long and 300 broad; and, in point of fact, the number of missionaries in Fiji was frequently less than seven and sometimes only five owing to deaths and withdrawals. The missionaries on the spot were always petitioning, sometimes very pathetically, for more help. A few years after their arrival Cross and Cargill had marked out Naitasiri, Kandavu, Ono, Mathuata, Mba, Nandronga, Lomaloma and Rotumah as suitable centres for a mission station, and a glance at the chart will show that their claims were very reasonable. The District Meeting of 1841 reported that at least eighteen missionaries were needed; two each for Lakemba, Rewa, Mbau (meaning Vewa), Somosomo, Mbua, Mathuata, Ovalau, Naitasiri, one for Kandavu and one for a district separate from Lakemba in Lau. That again was the barest minimum.
But the London Society could not afford to support any more than the centres already established; and for reasons that were thoroughly sound, they did not wish to have less than two missionaries on any centre except those that might permit of easy and frequent intercourse with a neighbour. But there were really none such. It is very much to the page 147credit of the missionaries, and a striking testimony to their sincerity and devotion to their work that they broke through this rule on their own initiative, notwithstanding the mental effects of a lonely life among people of such extraordinary habits, and the obvious risks in the event of sickness which was all too common. James Calvert was left alone for some time in the very extensive circuit of Lakemba; William Cross ploughed a lonely furrow in Vewa; Thomas Jaggar in the most trying of all the centres, Rewa, after Cargill's departure in 1840; Thomas Williams at Mbua Bay from 1847 to 1852; and David Hazlewood for a time at Nandy. There never was a permanent centre at Ono; but John Wats-ford was there alone for one year and David Hazlewood followed him for the same time. All these men took grave risks; but they did not complain. They preferred the expansion of the mission to their own comfort and safety.
But when they had done all that was possible with their limited numbers, the vast majority of the islands and settlements had to be content with a teacher, or, failing that, a local preacher. But in the early days teachers were scarce; it took years to train the more promising of their Fijian students, and until they were ready the mission had to depend upon Tonga for a supply. Cross and Cargill had brought two or three native helpers with them and more were promised. King George, always deeply interested in the progress of Christianity in the neighbouring archipelagos, kept his word; and among the first he sent were some who deserve to be remembered in the history of Fiji—Joeli Bulu, John Havea, Julius Naulivou, Silas Faone, William Langi and Jeremiah Latu.
But Tonga could not supply half the men that were needed to help the missionaries in the principal centres, and occupy outposts at more or less distant places in the circuits. page 148Sporadic efforts had been made from the beginning to train promising Fijians at each of the centres; but the results were not satisfactory, and in 1841 the District Meeting applied itself to the question of the establishment and organization of a training institute which was to be situated at Lakemba, and placed under the direction of John Hunt. But practical difficulties arose. After the break-down of William Cross, John Hunt, to whom the missionaries were looking for leadership, went to Vewa to keep an eye on the capital at Mbau; it was difficult to arrange for the acquisition of sufficient land at one centre to enable the candidates to support themselves, and, more important still, each missionary found that all the promising recruits available were needed for their own districts: the number of promising candidates was far below early anticipations.
But every year the need for a central institute became more urgent: candidates for the service could not be properly trained without it; and it was a right and proper thing that Fiji should train its own teachers. The Society in London wrote very decisively on this subject. John Beecham pointed out that it was not only a mark of success to have native converts trained to evangelize their own people; but that it was absolutely essential from a financial point of view. The Committee in London could not, and never would be able to afford money enough to send missionaries to every desirable centre in Fiji; and if ever the time came when, in the progress of the work in other parts of the world, they might have to diminish the number of missionaries in Fiji, or even withdraw them altogether, they would have to rely upon trained native agents to keep the fires burning which the white missionaries had kindled.
Financial stress had forced Beecham to sound this warning. In 1844 the London Committee discovered to their amazement and alarm that they were spending at the rate page 149of £10,000 a year in excess of their income. They decided forthwith on rigorous retrenchment. One of two courses was open to them: either they must withdraw missionaries from some of their districts, as, indeed, they were already doing from Sweden; or the expenditure in all districts must be reduced to a minimum without delay. They could not say precisely what the future would bring; but one thing seemed certain—the number of missionaries agreed upon for Fiji could not and would not be increased. If therefore the work was expanding they would have to train natives to carry it on. Beecham's arguments were irresistible; they were grounded on necessity, and the principle underlying them was sound.
The missionaries rose to the occasion in a way that shows how deeply they had the cause at heart. They cut down their own expenditure, meagre as it was, to the bone; they instituted a new system of barter to make the best use of every article they had, and they convinced their native converts that it was their manifest duty to contribute something to the support of a movement by which, on their own confession in church societies and love-feasts, they had greatly benefited. In the centres where the natives had passed beyond the stage of a merely nominal conversion—mainly in the Lau group—the response was generous: native cloth, clubs, spears, bowls, sinnet, large quantities of food and some coconut oil were brought to the Christian solevus annually, stored till the mission boat called to collect them, and taken to some central place where those that were not required for consumption in the archipelago could be taken on board the mission ships Triton and John Wesley.
Much was done in these ways to help the finances of the mission; but the most effective economy of all was by means of the training of natives to such a state of efficiency that they could be entrusted with at least some of the respon-page 150sibilities and duties discharged by the white missionary. Even with the strictest economy a missionary and his family could not live on less than £100 a year. The salary of a native teacher, originally agreed upon at the instance of the first superintendent, the Rev. John Waterhouse, was £10 a year; but it was soon found that a sudden accession to so much affluence spoiled the native! The annual grant was reduced to £2 and later on "about £2." If natives could be trained for responsible work under the supervision of the missionaries what a chance for economy here in the expansion of the mission! But it must not be imagined that every native agent got £2 a year. The untrained agents—school-teachers, class leaders, local preachers and travelling lay helpers got nothing from the mission funds at all; they existed on their own or casual labour and gifts from the people to whom they ministered or whose children they taught.
Here then was the real solution of the problem, on grounds of principle and expediency: train all the native Fijians available, and to as high a degree of efficiency as possible. The demand for trained teachers (who must not be confounded with the untrained school-teachers) was urgent. As early as 1843 the missionaries had declared that they needed one hundred of them.
Dr Lyth went to Lakemba in 1844 and after his disappointing experiences at Somosomo, he felt the inspiration of a change decidedly for the better as far as prospects were concerned. Ever quick to realize the most effective means of promoting the best interests of the work, he applied himself to the building up of a good training institute on the island. He found in voyaging among the far-flung islands of his new circuit that the progress or decline of Christianity in the outposts depended very largely on the character and efficiency of the local teacher; and very few page 151of them satisfied him. What they needed was a better training mainly in the realities of religion; but also as far as possible in such studies as would strengthen their intellects and deepen their sense of responsibility. They were zealous, hard-working, courageous; but they could not impart any intellectual stimulus to their converts, and they were inefficient administrators: when invested with authority they were inclined to become autocratic and even tyrannical after the manner of the heathen chiefs and priests. That was natural: it was the only kind of management that they had been acquainted with; but it would not do; they must be trained to something better. Lyth found it impossible in his very busy life to devote sufficient attention to them. He had his own religious work to attend to, and the practice of medicine was becoming more and more exacting. Besides that he was called away to Vewa to help John Hunt in his translation of the New Testament, and when that was finished Hunt fell ill and Lyth tended him till the hour of his death.
When he returned to Lakemba it was with a determination to make the training institute more efficient than it had ever been before. Writing on 15 September 1851 he said: "I have been deeply impressed with the absolute necessity of giving attention to those who are employed to instruct others… this appears to me to be the special call of the era on which we have entered." He was then chairman of the District Meeting and, urged on by Mr Lawry the visiting superintendent, had placed before his colleagues a scheme which he believed would make supervision more effective, and give the best of the native teachers a chance of learning how to manage men. Selected teachers were to be placed in charge of small districts, or branch circuits, and given power to administer the Sacraments in all the chapels under their immediate care. To this end it was resolved at page 152the District Meeting in 1850 with the eager consent of Mr Lawry that Joeli Bulu, Paula Vea, Wesley Langi and Joshua Mataininiu should be appointed native assistant missionaries, and that Joel Ketetha, Moses Mamafainoa, Daniel Lefa, Mathew Taumonu, Philemon Laudria and Jeremiah Kienga should be accepted as probationers for that office. This list was sent to London for confirmation by the conference and all the recommendations were "joyfully received." It seemed to the London Society that the policy which they had advocated so strenuously was on the way to a most satisfactory fulfilment.
But they were doomed to disappointment. At the District Meeting in 1852 the missionaries came to the conclusion that they had acted too hastily, and that they had better spend the ensuing year in thinking out a second scheme which would correct the mistakes of the first, and enable them to proceed more cautiously with their plan of delegating responsibility to the native assistant missionaries. On 27 June 1853, immediately after the District Meeting, Dr Lyth, chairman, wrote a letter to the London Committee which must be quoted verbatim because it explains the whole system upon which the missionaries were agreed for the training of several classes of their native agents:
Dear Fathers and Brethren,
In my present communication I wish to bring before the Committee a subject of much importance, namely the Ordination or setting apart, of Native Assistant Missionaries, or that class of Native Agents, which shall have authority under the direction of the missionary to administer the Sacraments in places remote from the mission station. Of this class we have as yet but one in Fiji, viz Joeli Bulu who was regularly ordained by the sanction, and according to the instructions of the Rev. Walter Lawry, three years ago for the work of the ministry on the island of Ono. The other three whose names appear on the printed minutes, having not as yet been stationed in places needing an ordained Teacher, have not been thus set apart Wesley Langi one of the three has lately died; Joshua Matainaniu is nearly worn out, and Paul Vea the third is at present stationed on the island of Kandavu in the Vewa page 153Circuit7 where an ordained man may probably soon be needed. Some other names were indeed sent home from the District Meeting of 18508 on the suggestion of Mr Lawry, as candidates on trial for the office of Native Assistant Missionary. But since that time we have been led to consider more fully the subject, and Divine Providence has opened our way to see more clearly how this class of Native Agents may be raised up, and the spheres of labour for which they are specially needed. We have not, in consequence, respected our recommendation of the men referred to.
In order to make this important subject as plain as possible I wish to lay before the Committee the plan we have adopted in the Lakemba circuit, for the purpose of co-operating with the spirit of God, in the raising up of preachers of different classes, viz. Local Preachers, Native Helpers or Teachers and Native Assistant Missionaries or Subordinate Missionaries having authority to administer the Sacraments. And first Local Preachers. The mode of raising up these will be seen in the following instructions in the form of rules9 enforced on our Helpers at their late yearly meeting.
IThe Manner of admitting Class Leaders and Local Preachers.
- Firstly the manner of their admission on trial.
1. The Teacher having first satisfied himself of the decided piety and general fitness of the Candidate, is to nominate him at the March Quarterly meeting. 2. The Candidate's name being received favourably he shall be personally introduced to the meeting, and asked such questions as shall satisfy the meeting respecting him. 3. The Teachers shall give him 2 or 3 opportunities of exercising his talent in public, so as to enable him to report correctly to the Missionary at the ensuing yearly meeting. 4. The missionary being satisfied with the report given of the Candidate by the Teacher shall recommend the Candidate to the yearly meeting of the Teachers. If the Candidate be approved of, then his name shall be entered on record as received on trial, and the Teacher be required to see that the Candidate be duly prepared for his examination at the next Quarterly meeting.
- Secondly: the manner of their being fully received.
1. Each Candidate must first undergo the prescribed examination at his own March Quarterly meeting, and, if this is satisfactory, page 154 2. He shall then be heard again with special reference to satisfying the mind of the Teacher that he possesses the requisite abilities—and whether they are improved—for the efficient exercise of the office he is designed for. 3. The Teacher shall report the result of all to the Missionary, who being satisfied therewith, shall again recommend the Candidate to the Yearly Meeting for their acceptance. Being approved of, if the Candidate be a Class Leader, he shall be declared duly elected; but, if a Local Preacher, he shall first undergo the usual examination "before the Teacher and be dealt with accordingly."
Native Helpers.10 The Candidate for this office must be a Local Preacher; he must be duly recommended from the Quarterly meeting of the place where he resides to the missionary (who must first approve), and then by the missionary to the Yearly meeting of the Teachers or Helpers. Being accepted in the usual way he has presented to him the printed Instructions to Teachers11 which contains the twelve rules of a Helper, and other advice which he is required to follow His term of probation is four years, in the course of which he is to undergo the usual yearly examination, and is required to pursue a certain course of reading. At the end of four years he is to be admitted in the usual way at a yearly meeting of the Teachers.
For the office of Helper, in addition to his other qualifications, the Candidate must be able to write a legible hand
From among the class of duly accredited and fully received Helpers a selection is made of men intended for the full work of a Native Ministry which constitutes the third and highest class of Native Preachers.
Native Assistant Missionaries. Out of a number of Preachers of the preceding class some will be distinguished for superior piety, ability, diligence and faithfulness that will mark them out as being qualified and designed by the great Head of the Church for a higher and more responsible sphere of usefulness. As, in the progress of the work, a native missionary is wanted for a branch or small division of one of our regular circuits, then one such man is selected from among his brethren. Being duly recommended from his own yearly meeting, he is proposed and brought forward at a regular District Meeting, and being accepted is there recommended to the Conference as a Candidate for the office of Native Assistant Missionary.
With regard to both this and the preceding class, the Wesleyan plan of itinerary has been adopted as being deemed the best for a native ministry.
It is on the subject of the Ordination and formally setting apart of page 155Native Assistant Missionaries (should the plan we have adopted receive the sanction of the Committee) that we now desire the judgment of our respected Fathers and Brethren
In the case of Jeremiah Kienga (about the age of 40) a man fully qualified we believe, as regards both spiritual gifts and grace for the work of the ministry at Ono, it is proposed in order to meet the present emergency that, should he be approved at the next Annual District Meeting, he be at once ordained and set apart as a Native Assistant Missionary. But being desirous of submitting a business of such great importance to the wisdom of the Committee for their decision we now seek their judgment for our future guidance
The anxiety displayed in this letter by Dr Lyth and his colleagues to secure efficiency in their trained agents, and to safeguard the spiritual quality of their religion will be apparent. No candidate could qualify for a teacher until he had passed through four years training in addition to the tests that were applied before he became a class leader; and the rejection of their first scheme for the appointment of native assistant missionaries shows how scrupulously careful they were in the selection of men for the highest office to which a native could aspire. Mr Walter Lawry, the superintendent, knowing the mind of the London Committee on the subject, but not so well acquainted with the limitations of the native teachers, had pushed the missionaries further than they were prepared to go, and at the risk of exposing themselves to ridicule they determined to set aside the 1851 scheme, and proceed much more cautiously. The only native assistant missionary in Fiji when Dr Lyth wrote this letter in 1853 was Joeli Bulu, though they had others in mind for the office besides Jeremiah Kienga when the time was ripe for additional appointments.
I have already pointed out that the missionaries were obliged in the beginning to enrol nominal converts; but no sooner did they get them inside the church than they began to influence their minds by appeals more strictly religious. In two of the circuits, Rewa and Somosomo, they failed; but at Vewa there were some sincere Christians before 1850, page 156and in the Lakemba circuit the cause was in a flourishing condition. There were many reasons why the number of genuine conversions in Lakemba should so far exceed those in the western islands where the big populations were settled. Chief among them was the comparative freedom from wars. The gospel of peace had a much better chance in Lau than in Ra. But besides that Ono was in the Lau group, and the number of genuine conversions there, even in the early years, was quite exceptional. Teachers went from Ono to evangelize the people of other islands in the Lau group. Before the end of 1849 the new religion had taken such a grip of the Windward Islands that wily old Tuinayau found it quite safe to lotu. From that time the progress of Christianity in the Lakemba circuit was more rapid than ever before. The following table of General Returns before the District Meeting in 1852 will indicate progress in the Lakemba circuit as compared with those in the Leeward Islands. It will be noticed that Rewa and Somosomo have dropped out, and that Mbua and Nandy have taken their place.
|Paid Agents.||Unpaid Agents.||Both Sexes.||Totals.|
|Circuits.||Number of Chapels.||Other Preaching Places.||Number of Missionaries.||Catechists or Teachers.||School-teachers.||Local Preachers.||Class Leaders.||Church Members.||On Trial.||Day Schools.||Day Scholars.||Attending Church.|
This it is that explains the determination of the missionaries to reconsider the scheme of 1850 for the appointment of native assistant missionaries. They wanted to be sure that proper discipline would be enforced, and the quality of conversions improved. In the history of education and religion reform has sometimes come from below and worked upwards; but more frequently from above. The missionaries knew this, and wanted to be quite sure of their men before entrusting to them wider and deeper responsibilities. Experience had taught them that native teachers were liable to exercise power in an arbitrary way; not that they sought after more of this world's goods for themselves: their discipline had carried them beyond that; but they loved the prestige or mana that a position of power conferred upon them, and were somewhat in danger of losing their heads, and abusing their powers. This had caused trouble even at Ono.
But, in the opinion of the missionaries, there was an even greater danger to guard against. An ordained teacher would have the right to administer the Sacraments in his branch circuit. Could even the best of the teachers be trusted to perform that duty, and go on performing it, without disparagement to the mystic quality embodied in such a sacred ceremony? The native teacher under the influence of emotional excitement could rise to great heights of spiritual page 159exaltation—while the emotion lasted; but the regular administration of the Sacraments, if it were to be carried on with due regard to the dignity of religion, needed not only emotional fervour but also intellectual insight into the true symbolic meaning of the ceremony; and it was in intellectual attainment that the teachers were generally deficient. Joeli Bulu could be entrusted with this high responsibility (though even with respect to him some of the missionaries had their misgivings at a later time, including Dr Lyth himself); but what about the other names on the 1850 list? They would wait a little longer, and make sure. No undue risks must be taken in ordaining men with power to administer the Sacraments; and even after appointments had been made it would still be necessary for the white missionary to exercise careful supervision.
There was not a missionary in Fiji at the time who would not have insisted on the need of supervising even their most spiritual and reliable native teachers. "Take away the superintendence of the white missionary," said James Calvert after an experience of fifteen years in Fiji, "and the cause will be ruined."
Dr Lyth, who knew more about the training and utility of native agents than any other missionary in Fiji, and had worked incessantly for their improvement from 1844, expressed his opinion, more particularly of the native assistant missionaries, in a letter which he wrote to the London Committee on 3 March 1854, after an experience m Fiji extending over nearly fifteen years. The question of conferring the title "Reverend" on the native assistant missionaries had cropped up, and some of the members of the District Meeting had opposed it on the ground of incongruity. Lyth, it would appear, was in favour of settling the difficulty by abolishing the title for black and white missionaries alike. He says:
It is astonishing how the Lord qualifies these people to be helpers in His work He carries it on in a wonderful manner by native Teachers. We see this plainly and are therefore making an effort to train men page 160whom we think God has called to the work In many respects they do as well, perhaps, as we can or even better, but they need superintending…. No missionary had visited this island (Totoya) before myself, only the Native Teacher, but I found things in good order and the people in an excellent state of mind
Such tributes of respect and praise would seem to be fully justified by a study of the records of this period.
A native name looks odd beside an English one in the Stations, and the Rev So and So sounds strange to one's ears But these are the men, in my humble opinion, who, under missionary training and systematic superintendence, must do much of the work in Feejee or multitudes of people must perish Let "Reverend" go, but let the souls be visited, evangelized and saved for whom the Saviour shed his blood, and let my name stand side by side with the names of these my sable brethren, instrumentally raised up by missionary agency I ask no higher honour
It is, I think, undeniable that these native teachers who were sent to prepare the way for the white missionaries, and occupy scores of outposts rarely visited by their superintendents, had to encounter more perils and endure greater privation and hardship than their superior officers. It is true that they generally went to the scene of their labours on the invitation of a chief; but it did not follow, even if the invitation came from a king, that the teacher would not page 161be badly treated by other chiefs, and worse still by the native priests who had so much to lose by his success. There were, in fact, very few of the teachers who were not reviled, ridiculed, beaten, starved; and some of them were murdered. Under the strain of protracted suffering a few of them relapsed into Heathenism; but the great majority remained true, preferring exile or death to recantation.
Jaggar had already been informed of the teacher's perilous position, and had sent a canoe to rescue him.
Mr Jaggar, I, Isaac, I make known the thing that has happened at Kandavu; a report very great, a report very painful. Mr Jaggar they have returned five times to drive us away, and five times has been nearly thereby our death. Qaraniggio has ordered us to come to Nasali (the mission premises near Rewa), and if we come not we then die. How is your mind, the Servant of God, in this thing? Is it good our going hence or good our staying to die? Not weak are our minds in this thing. The chief and his wife and child have turned. I, Isaac, I tell correctly here my mind. Very many are these things. Is it good that I go hence to Rewa? You consider, the Servant of God, whether good or bad.
At that time Hunt was in close touch with Rewa whose Queen was living at Vewa where Hunt was treating her afflicted son.
A Tongan Local Preacher named Methuselah was preserved in a remarkable manner. He remained with our few people after Mr Jaggar page 162left Rewa, and was the means of keeping them together, and had to flee for his life under many disadvantages being lame himself and having a wife and small family They were all, however, mercifully preserved They could hear the clubs smashing the heads of the people all round them, but they suffered no harm!
The position of the teachers was all the more perilous because they could be killed with impunity. If a white missionary were murdered chiefs and people alike knew that an avenging ship of war would come sooner or later; and that knowledge was a powerful deterrent. But there was no such protection for the native Fijians: they were not British, American or French subjects, and it was not the policy of the Christian Fijians to cry out for revenge when one of their teachers was murdered. The missionary would protest vehemently to the king; but in the hope of preventing further massacre, not with the object of raising a punitive expedition. Revenge was not theirs.
It is possible that when people realize the suffering and danger to which these native pioneers were exposed they will be disposed to think that the white missionary should have undertaken the initial risks himself at least in the established centres, and they may even be conscious of a feeling akin to indignation. I believe that would be unjust. Taking all the circumstances into account I am of the opinion that the policy was right.
Then, again, the standards of living were altogether different for the native and the white man. What was deprivation for the missionary was merely the life that the Fijian and Tongan were accustomed to. The natives were page 164not insensible to bodily pain; but I am sure they were far less sensitive than the missionaries. The missionaries had known and lived a life in England very much more comfortable than that they were forced to live in Fiji; and for that reason, though the native pioneers encountered more dangers than the missionaries, the missionaries suffered more acutely. Conditions that were normal to the Fijian and Tongan were strange and, for the most part, painful to them, physically, mentally and morally. The teachers were reviled, ridiculed, thrashed, starved and the missionaries were not (though they had little enough to eat sometimes); but despite that it would be wrong, I believe, to suppose that the native teachers suffered as acutely as the missionaries.
But there is another aspect of the question which, however repugnant it may be to people who sentimentalize, as Exeter Hall was once accustomed to do, about their "black brothers" must be discussed in this connexion, and it is this—the economic value of a missionary's life was far greater than that of a native teacher. To replace a murdered missionary was more expensive than to replace twenty native teachers. The white man had to be trained to a much higher degree of efficiency than the native, and money had to be raised to send him and his family thousands of miles over the ocean to the mission field. After he arrived there it cost him and his family at the very least £100 a year to live. The allowance for a native teacher and his family was £2 a year. It may be that in the sight of God all men are equal (and compared with His omnipotence human gradations are hardly worth considering); but in the economy of this world equality is a delusion and a snare. The services of a capable and influential manager may be estimated at £10,000, while those of a muddle-headed indolent man may not be worth 10,000 pence to the industry which main-page 165tains him. And there was a business side even to missions. The white missionary could not take uncalled-for risks and be fair to the Society that sent him and to the subscribers in England and Australia who maintained him. He had risks enough as it was in all conscience without incurring those that were inseparable from pioneering enterprises.
But over and above all these considerations personal and economic there was the fundamental difference that in Fiji human life was valued at a whale's tooth, a hog or a musket, whereas in the country from which the missionaries came it was considered too precious to have any money or material equivalent at all. The Fijian estimate of the value of human life was utterly wrong. The missionaries protested against it most vehemently. They were appalled by it. But there it was and it took them and the other representatives of the white man's civilization in Fiji a long time to alter it. The sense of values plays no unimportant part in determining policy, and it had its effect on the organization of mission work in Fiji.
But whether the reader regards the exposure of the native teachers to the initial risks of pioneering work as sound policy or not, let him not be betrayed for a moment into the suspicion that the early missionaries acquiesced in it from any craven fears. To this day in Fiji the bravery of a missionary is conceded unhesitatingly even by those who entertain no friendly feelings for the class. In the forties of last century there was much to test the nerve of the most courageous men on land and sea. One of the missionaries did find that the strain on him and his wife was greater than they could bear. They retired after a residence of sixteen months on the ground that they were not suited for the work, and they were certainly very ill; but the rest of them held on, to the amazement of a commander of a squadron of men of war, in the midst of horrors—daring, suffering, page 166agonizing but keeping to their posts. It is all the more to their credit that some of them were nervous and even timorous men by nature; but by the hard necessities of their life, and still more by their ever-deepening conviction of the protection and guidance of divine Providence, they conquered their fears and attained to a courage that entitles them to a place among the bravest of British men and women. The reader of Thomas Williams's Journal may be left to judge of this for himself. My own opinion is that it would be easier to prove a charge of unnecessary exposure to suffering and peril against these early missionaries than of shirking danger where the good of their cause or the welfare of their comrades was at stake. The best of the teachers were daring, long-suffering, brave; so were the missionaries.
As to the relative values of their contributions to the triumph of Christianity in Fiji up to 1856, it is, perhaps, impossible to estimate that, if only because their respective services were often so different in quality. We might as well try to appraise the relative values of the services of half a dozen directors of education and of the army of teachers that work under them. The main work of the native agents was to evangelize Fiji. In addition to that the missionaries had to train teachers and native assistant missionaries and supervise their work; translate the scriptures; prepare a grammar and dictionary of the language, and print other elementary books in Fijian for the use of the natives. This was work in which the natives could and did help; but the greater part of it was quite beyond their capacity.
It would, however, be unfair to lose sight of the stupendous amount of work done by the native agents throughout this period. In 1856 there were 7 English and colonial missionaries in Fiji and 2 trained British teachers; page 167but there were 8 native assistant missionaries; 107 teachers, and 624 day-school teachers besides local preachers and class leaders. Nor would it be right to disparage the quality of their evangelistic work. In some of the islands and districts astonishing progress was made before any white missionary ever visited them. In the extract from his report of March 1850 already quoted, John Malvern says that "in many respects they (the teachers) do as well perhaps as we can or even better." On the whole I am inclined to believe that the evidence supports this statement so far as the pioneering evangelistic work is concerned. We shall see what happened at Ono before the missionaries had even visited that cluster; but though that was exceptional, more modest results both as to quantity and quality were being achieved by all the more efficient of the teachers in many other parts of the archipelago; and I do not find that, after the visits of the missionaries or their permanent settlement in a centre, progress was much accelerated by their direct personal influence over the Heathens. For the elementary evangelistic work the native teacher would appear to have been quite as well if not better suited. He spoke to the natives in a language they could better understand, and although he did not use his brains very much, his heart throbbed fervently, sometimes wildly, under the influence of religious enthusiasm. On the minds of able-bodied children that was not without good effect. We shall find overwhelming proof of this in the next chapter.
1 The translation of the Old Testament into Fijian was completed by David Hazlewood in 1855; but not published in London till some years after the end of our period.
2 Two is the number given in most of the letters and journals; but in a report of the Society at Lakemba station for 1838, signed by David Cargill, chairman, and Thomas Jaggar, secretary, it is stated that "three native teachers from the Society Islands were the first missionaries to Oneata" (near Lakemba), and in his Memoirs of Mrs Cargill, published in 1841, Cargill again says there were three. He says nothing of their having first landed at Lakemba; but Cross does. In a letter dated 20 October 1835 addressed to Hatton Gardens (then the headquarters of the Methodist Missionary Society in London) Cross says: "I beg to observe that there are only two of their (London Missionary Society's) Teachers in the Feejee isles. These were landed at Lakemba from Tahiti in 1830."
3 Their account of some of the customs of the Fijians, derived from conversation with others and not based upon first-hand knowledge, is included among the manuscripts published in Sir Everard's book. See p. 347.
4 A more appropriate title for this book would be—Memoirs of David Cargill with frequent references to Mrs Cargill.
5 The exiled King of Mbau who had retired first to Koro, and then, possibly with the connivance of Namisomalua who had been sent to capture him, to Somosomo.
6 This was, I think, Joshua Mataininiu, a Fijian by birth, but converted in Tonga. He belonged to the principal family in the island of Fulanga.
7 Kandavu had been in the Rewa circuit up to 1844 when owing to the war between Mbau and Rewa work was suspended there and the missionary T. Jaggar removed to Vewa.
8 The names appear in the local report for 1851.
9 Principally through the agency of Dr Lyth. Dr Lyth says here in a note at the foot of the page: "These rules are adapted to the peculiar circumstances of our work, so as to secure the raising up of Agents wherever a Society is formed, and, at the same time, of bringing them all under the eye of the Missionary and Teachers at the yearly meeting."
10 Dr Lyth here uses "Helpers" in its more restricted application to Teachers It was sometimes used for all natives who were engaged in school or church work.
11 These Instructions to Teachers were drawn up by Dr Lyth.
12 There are strong reasons for believing that Thomas Baker would not have been killed had it not been for an unfortunate slight which he in an unguarded moment put upon the chief of Nambutautau That chief had refused to accept the tambua offered for the murder of Baker and had even promised to help him on his way to Mba But after setting out on the morning of the fatal day Baker discovered that he had left his comb at the chief's house He returned and found that the chief had placed it in his hair Baker plucked it out somewhat unceremoniously That was risky the hair of a chief's head was tambua and the manner of taking back the comb was a serious disparagement of his dignity In his rage the chief sent a party to murder Baker and his native companions and Bakers body was cut up for a cannibal feast on the boulders in the bed of the Singatoka River about a mile north of Mbuyalevu This explanation of the cause of Thomas Baker's death will I am aware be rejected by some of the missionaries in Fiji to-day I give it on the authority of Mr Caldwell, formerly a District Commissioner of Tholo East, and also of the Mbuli of Nambutautau who gave me a statement of what he believed to be the facts when I was passing through the Tholo district in 1928 I believe his statement is true Several chiefs had declined the tambua for Bakers death and the chief of Nambutautau had not only declined, but promised to help him on his way Why did he alter his mind? light such as that put upon him however unintentional by Thomas Baker would be reason enough to the mind of a chief proud of his mana See what Thomas Williams has to say in Fiji and the Fijians on the susceptibility of the Fijian to slights and his manner of avenging them.