Fiji and the Fijians 1835-1856
Chapter XV — the break-down of pacifism
the break-down of pacifism
But because blunders have been made in the past there is no sufficient reason why they should go on for ever, and now that we are familiar with the principles underlying evolution there is little or no excuse for the application of the cataclysmic theory to the conduct of human affairs. Few men who have studied history minutely, and are acquainted with the suffering that individuals and nations undergo in times of revolution, as well as the risks they run of lapsing into a condition of barbarism, would deny that it is far better to proceed with caution step by step in a conciliatory spirit, than to allow passion or prejudice to drive contending parties to a crisis in which the dogs of war are let loose to destroy so many human lives, most of them innocent of the causes that precipitate the crisis.
The history of recent years since August 1914 has taught us that no sudden break in the continuity of history may be looked for; and the proceedings as well as the results of the Naval Conference in London in 1930 show that even the leaders who most ardently desire peace must still proceed with the utmost caution lest by making too great concessions to pacifism they expose the more conciliatory nations to the danger of an overwhelming attack from military aggressors; and by their very unpreparedness for war precipitate a crisis more dreadful in its effects on civilization than would be possible if the well disposed were as strongly armed as those that are bent upon self-aggrandizement. In the speech which the Prime Minister of Great Britain made on 21 January 1930 the main point of his argument, the pivot on which the whole of his discourse turned, was this:1 "That the military preparations of any one nation must be deter-page 244mined to a considerable degree by the military preparations of others, so that no nation is free to pursue a policy of disarmament beyond certain rigidly defined limits except by international agreement subject to review at reasonably frequent intervals." This from Mr Ramsay Macdonald, speaking to an assembly consisting of the representatives of the most civilized nations in the world at the beginning of the year 1930. It will be well to remember the proceedings and results of this Conference in our examination of the policy adopted by the Methodist missionaries in Fiji throughout this period 1835 to 1856. It is clear that the most civilized nations of the world are not yet ready for the application of pacifist doctrines, and that the statesmen most favourably inclined to peace realize that they must proceed very cautiously and slowly along the way of disarmament.
The population of Fiji in the middle of last century was broken up into a number of communities ruled over by chiefs, some of whom were independent; others more or less subject to a ruling chief or king, but enjoying some measure of independence; a few small and ill-protected communities lived in a condition differing little from serfdom. There was no sovereign authority in Fiji strong enough to impose his will on all the people. One result of this want of unity was war. In the Leeward Islands there was almost incessant warfare, rendered inevitable by the cupidity and pride of ambitious chiefs who lost no favourable opportunity of striking a blow for their own selfaggrandizement. This was particularly so in the large islands Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, and Taviuni. In these circumstances peace could only have been established in one of two ways: either by an agreement between all the ruling chiefs to lay down their arms and fight no more which nobody but the most deluded and visionary pacifist would page 245have expected them to do; or to place sovereign authority in the hands of a single chief, and give him power enough to force his will on all the others. That too was quite impracticable as events soon proved. It is true that Thakombau was styled Tui Viti2 (King of Fiji); but there was a large portion of Fiji over which he exercised no jurisdiction at all. The King of Rewa, quite close to him, was an independent ruler strong enough to carry on a war with him extending over eleven years. Thakombau did cherish ambitions of making his title a reality; but in 1858 he found that the task was too great for him, and commenced negotiations with the Consul Mr Pritchard for handing over the sovereignty of the archipelago to Great Britain. It was only after the establishment of British sovereignty in Fiji in 1874 that inter-tribal warfare could be suppressed. Throughout this period from 1835 to 1856 scarcely a year passed without several wars being waged in different parts of the archipelago, and one of them, the war between Mbau and Rewa, lasted from 1843 to 1855.
These were the circumstances that prevailed in the Leeward Islands when William Cross arrived at Rewa at the beginning of 1838. What conditions were like in Mbau on the day of his visit we have already seen. Tanoa who had been exiled for five years had just returned, and the dreadful work of revenge was still going on. It can easily be understood that in these circumstances, and in the condition of Fiji generally, the loyalty of the subject to his ruling chief was quite as important as it was in Europe in the Middle Ages when feudalism prevailed. Disloyalty would imperil the authority and life of the chief, and it was this charge of undermining the loyalty of their subjects that the chiefs frequently made in the Windward as well as the Leeward page 246Islands against the missionaries, notwithstanding all their care to observe outward forms of respect. The evidence proves beyond any reasonable doubt that in this complaint the chiefs were thoroughly justified.
After hearing of the charges and insinuations made by Monseigneur Blanc the reader will no doubt be surprised to learn that so far were the missionaries from countenancing any aggressive war for the propagation of the Gospel, that they hated all war, regarded it as inimical to the interests of their mission in every way, and even went to the length of encouraging disloyalty among the subjects of a chief by forbidding their converts to follow him in any of his campaigns whatever the reason for them might be. They were, in other words, pacifists of the most extreme type. Though they were strangers in a foreign country in which the responsibility for government was vested in the chiefs, the missionaries did not refrain from openly interposing their authority between the chief and his subjects on this vastly important and critical question of loyalty in time of war. This will no doubt astonish most people, and they will expect such a statement to be supported by convincing evidence. There is abundant evidence. I will quote as much of it as is necessary to satisfy the reader that the complaint made by the chiefs was well founded.
So far as I am aware John Hunt is the only one of the missionaries who shows any sympathy "as an individual" for the position in which the ruling chiefs were placed by the disloyalty of their Christian subjects. Every one of them encouraged that disloyalty not only by instructing their converts to decline to follow the king in his wars; but also by resisting the demands of the chiefs that their Christian as well as their Heathen subjects should attend the tankas or military reviews in order that they might be kept in training for war. It was on this question that Thomas Williams had one of his most bitter quarrels with Tuikilakila. He gives an account of the interview in his Journal under date 26 May 1847 and the substance of it was rewritten and sent to the London Committee in a letter which he wrote on 28 August 1847.
As an individual I am not surprised that the Bau chiefs are angry with the Vewa people. It is not a trifle to the Chief of Bau to lose the services of the best warriors at the time he needs them most. The destruction of Rewa was to him the most important of all events. If secured it would not only raise him higher in the scale of honour than any of his predecessors, make him the terror of the whole group, and gratify his private revenge, but also raise him in reality to the rank of King of Fiji. He is now called King of Fiji by his flatterers, and he is so in reality to a great extent.
The claims here advanced by Thomas Williams as a missionary would be made by every one of his colleagues. My own conviction is that on the broad general question as well as in the specific instance he was wrong and Tuikilakila was right; and this conviction is very much strengthened by the knowledge that both Thomas Williams and David Hazlewood who was with him at the time fully expected that Tuikilakila would protect them and their families as well as his own subjects against the attacks of enemies on all sides of them. On 7 October 1845 Williams says in a letter to London: "The king accompanied by eight canoes sailed for Koro-mai-ni-Yasatha hoping by an attack upon it to get a body or two for the new nominal king. Now the king (that is the real king Tuikilakila) has gone to the opposite land those left are on the look out lest a descent should be made upon them from Bouma." Precisely! but if Somosomo was in such a critical position, as indeed it was, why quarrel with Tuikilakila for insisting on keeping his men in military training? On 6 May 1846 David Hazlewood writes a letter in which he encloses several extracts from his Journal including one under date 9 July 1845. He there speaks of a report that some warriors from Mathuata were at a small island near by preparing to make an attack on Somosomo, and that "the king with all the men he could muster hurried off to meet them; but to our comfort the report proved to be a false one." Tuikilakila had adopted the best possible policy in the interests of Somosomo: instead of waiting for the enemy to come he had rushed off to meet them: an instance of the application of offensive defence which has been applied so often by Great Britain in her wars, and very frequently with conspicuous success. It was Tuikilakila's favourite policy, for he was at his best fighting on the sea. But to our question—what would have happened to Somosomo if Tuikilakila had had to rely on untrained page 249men in such emergencies; or if like the lotu people all his subjects had refused to fight? Hazlewood would have had very little to comfort him then!
But on the 27th of that same month, July 1845, Hazlewood tells us something more that throws a flood of light on the controversy between the missionaries and the king, and shows that Tuikilakila was not the only chief in Somosomo who felt that the policy of pacifism was utterly inapplicable to their condition. "Speaking with one of the principal chiefs he said that they had been talking among themselves about the lotu. Some said it would be very good: they should then have plenty of pigs etc. But then what if their enemies were to come upon them on a Sabbath? What would they do?" "This seems," says Hazlewood, "to have been an insuperable obstacle." Of course it was. But the chiefs might have gone further and asked what would have happened to them on any day of the week if the policy of the missionaries had been adopted: men forbidden to train for war, and all their warlike activities abandoned? The circumstances under which the people of Somosomo lived, surrounded on all sides by enemies as treacherous and covetous as they themselves were, made such a policy utterly inapplicable in that district. Tuikilakila knew quite well that in an unguarded hour his fretful neighbours would have swept down upon him and his people like so many pinch-bellied wolves to kill and devour them; so did the other chiefs of Somosomo; so did the people, and that was the principal reason why the lotu failed in that district, and the mission at Somosomo had to be abandoned in 1847.
If Tuikilakila had given way and done as the missionaries desired he would have been guilty of a dereliction of the most urgent and imperious of his kingly responsibilities.
On 28 September 1847, the day before Thomas Williams left Somosomo, he called upon Tuikilakila to say page 250good-bye: "We talked together a while and had a most friendly parting. He said 'you are right, go my son; but when my wars are ended return to me again.' " Those words came from Tuikilakila's brain as well as his heart; but though Williams was touched, he did not understand then how genuine they were. The time was not far distant, however, when he would be face to face himself with the grim realities and responsibilities of war and would learn more than he had ever known before about difficulties with which ruling chiefs in Fiji at that time were beset.
The missionaries must not be blamed unsympathetically. They hated war and their gospel was a gospel of peace. They no doubt believed that it was God's will that they should act as they did; and they were aware that the Committee in London and their supporters in England and Australia were exceedingly anxious that they should do everything possible to discourage inter-tribal warfare. Whether the London Committee supported them in their determination to encourage their converts to refrain from war even at the bidding of their chiefs no matter what the reason for the war might be I have not been able to discover; but their instructions to the missionaries against countenancing any war except in the clearest self-defence were most explicit and emphatic.
Let us see what the evidence has to say about this war between the Heathens and the Christians in the western portion of Vanua Levu.
Such facts as came under the notice of Thomas Williams will be found recorded in his Journal; but they are scattered and necessarily incomplete. In order to get a more comprehensive view, and to understand the full significance of the information supplied by Williams it is necessary to make use of the correspondence of other missionaries especially Lyth who was chairman of the District Meeting at the time, and James Calvert who visited the scene of operations and took part in the fighting. In his letter of 11 March 1851 relying on information sent to him by Williams and Calvert Dr Lyth explains the nature and extent of the war up to that date. "If" says he, "the Heathen prevail at Ndama and Mbua the next point of attack will be Nasavu (at Nandy Bay) long since threatened by the natives of Solevu only two or three miles away." There was an understanding between the heathen chiefs in all the district between Kumbulau Point and Mbua Bay. The war started at page 252Ndama, but the natives near Nandy Bay had gone to help the Heathen there "hoping for help in return to attack and destroy the Christians of Nasavu.… Indeed the cause is but one," says Lyth. "It is a grand struggle of Satan and his agents against the Lord, and against his anointed. Many chiefs feel interested in this movement, and are ready to co-operate in a determined effort to support their own heathen abominations and crush Christianity, and they rejoice at this opportunity. Humanly speaking we know not when, where or how it may end." Deeds now; the time for complainings has passed.
The controversy continued; but Thakombau repeated again and again: "I will not stop the fight. I rejoice that you lotu people are compelled to fight as well as we."
I will not protect them, and I rejoice that you have now a fight of your own. When I ask you lotu people to help me you say NO! it is not lawful for Christians to fight; and here we are breaking our backs steering our canoes,4 catching dysentery and sleeping abroad in the dews and the rains and being shot in great numbers, whilst the Christians sit quietly at home all the time. Now you have a fight of your own and I am glad of it.
"Well," said Calvert, "do you intend to stop the progress of the lotu? "No," replied Thakombau, "I cannot do that. I know that it is true, and the work of God, and that we shall all become Christians; but in the meantime I delight in you Christians being compelled to engage in war as well as we."
Some of these Fijian kings could be magnificent in their rage. Will anybody contend that Thakombau's retort to the entreaties of the missionary was unfair or unjust? He had been engaged in a desperate war with Rewa since 1843, and the Christians of Vewa, encouraged in their disloyalty by the missionaries, had refused to help him. Now with a war on their own hands, and in a desperate plight, mainly as the result of the teaching of the missionaries, Calvert goes to him and pleads with him to extricate them from their trying and dangerous situation! Let us state the position clearly even at the risk of some repetition.
The missionaries like most pacifists wanted it both ways: they wanted to exercise the right of preaching against war and denouncing the warrior chiefs; but they also wanted protection. Nay, more, they expected that when they had got themselves into serious trouble and danger through their own instruction that these same warrior chiefs whom they had denounced and injured by teaching their subjects to be disloyal, would come to their aid and restore them to a condition of security! It was not fair.
Thomas Williams now blames Varani, the great Christian chief, for going to the parley unarmed! He even goes so far as to attribute to his "overconfiding simplicity" a recrudescence of the murderous attacks of the enemy! There can be no doubt of this because Dr Lyth quotes the words5 used by Williams himself in a letter which he wrote to the chairman on 20 January 1851 about the disaster:
The pleasing scenes narrated in my last letter to you were shortly followed by scenes of trial and bloodshed … The Christian chief Ratu Elijah arrived and hoped to pacify Nawatha. He and Ratu George and his uncle Tui Mbua went practically unarmed to Nawatha, and they were fired upon from an ambuscade. George fell with three bullets in his body, a four pronged spear in his back and a deep gash from a battle axe in his head. Tui Mbua it is believed was accessory to this murderous plot. He hoped to destroy Ratu Elijah; but his own nephew was killed.… Whilst a heathen Varani had killed several of Tui Mbua's people. Tui Mbua had long sought to avenge their blood, and, finding Elijah so entirely in his power could not resist the temptation to take revenge.
"The overconfiding simplicity of Ratu Elijah"! Before they had a war on their own hands the missionaries would have called that—trusting in the guidance and protection page 255of Providence. They were learning—not to distrust Providence—but to exercise a little more common sense and foresight; learning, in fact, to trust in God and keep their powder dry. The extract plainly shows that Thomas Williams had so far modified the pacifism which had placed an impassable gulf between him and Tuikilakila of Somosomo, that he now insists that the Christians must be prepared for war, and go about armed in the Mbua district lest by their "overconfiding simplicity" they should encourage the murderous attacks of their enemies. That was precisely the reason why Tuikilakila of Somosomo and Thakombau of Mbau, and all the other ruling chiefs in Fiji had to keep their subjects in military training.
Mr Williams attributes the springing up of our troubles, in part at least, to the imprudence of Ratu Elijah in going on the occasion referred to unarmed. While the circumstance tends to illustrate his zeal and fearlessness in the cause of God and peace it is certainly not to be commended i.e., going unarmed into the midst of a hostile people so exceedingly treacherous as he knows his countrymen to be. Brother Williams observes "our troubles seemed to admit of a safe and most advantageous termination in the early part of December; but the overconfiding simplicity of Ratu Elijah opened up fresh mischief, and has plunged us into fresh troubles the end of which is far away."
But that is not the only modification of pacifism to which Thomas Williams was driven by force of circumstances in the war. By May 1852 he had come definitely to the conclusion that he could no longer venture to use his influence for peace because of the treachery of his enemies. "I would gladly use the little influence I have to procure a peace," he says, "but fear the Heathen would be too glad for me to do so, that under the guise of a returning friendly feeling they might murder those by treachery whom they cannot subdue by strength." Just so! Thomas Williams had now realized as never before that pacifism would kindle not quench the fires of war in Fiji. But the chiefs had known that all their lives, and it was another reason why they had to keep their warriors in training for emergencies. It is clear that the logic of hard fact had begun to penetrate the indurated walls in which the prepossessions of the missionaries were encased. They were beginning to realize that milky gentleness may very quickly turn to harmful mildness when practised in the midst of wars and rumours of wars, and in the conduct of great affairs. Was it to this end that Thakombau had so emphatically refused to comply with page 256Calvert's request? It may be. He was well disposed to Christianity, and had been ever since John Hunt went to Vewa. He respected most of the missionaries, and had an affection for John Hunt; but he was deeply wounded by their encouragement of disloyalty among his subjects, and believed, now that they had a war of their own, they would learn a few things they had never known before—especially about the difficulties in which the chiefs were placed by their pacifist teaching.
There is no record here of the Christians having been forbidden by their missionaries to go to the war, or of the Christians declining to do so. How could there be? They had been told that it was right to go and help the Christians of Mbua Bay in their war against the Heathen. Why should they not go at the bidding of the King to help him collect his tribute? In 1845, the year of his conversion, Varani had page 257told Thakombau that he could not again help him in his wars; now in 1852 he follows the king in his war against Mathuata. But he behaves like a Christian and not a Heathen warrior. The report makes no complaint of their going to the war; it simply regrets the conduct of some, and expresses satisfaction and pleasure with the conduct of others. That shows a different attitude of mind in the missionaries too. Thus far the war, brought about by their own teaching, had been their schoolmaster. Whether they had or had not learnt their lesson well enough to profit by it in the distant as well as the near future it is clear that, in the course of the Mbua war from 1849 to 1852 their pacifist policy had broken down. Both James Calvert and Dr Lyth, the former by the part he played in the war, and the latter by his letter of 11 March 1851, had practically confessed it. It is true that in his Journal Dr Lyth expresses regret for the criticism passed by Williams on Varani for his "overconfiding simplicity" and thinks it will do harm; and, indeed, any student who has noted the teaching of the missionaries up to 1850 will see in Varani's indiscretion and "overconfiding simplicity" nothing more nor less than his faithful adherence in form and spirit to what the missionaries had taught him. Lyth's interpolation that Varani's conduct "tends to illustrate his zeal and fearlessness in the service of God" is a revelation of his own bias; but for all that he supports Thomas Williams, and in his letter openly subscribes to the opinion that, in the conditions prevailing at Mbua Bay the Christians must not only trust in God, but go about armed and ready to fight. It is possible that Dr Lyth may still have held to the private opinion expressed in his Journal, and yet have decided in his letter as chairman to support the view of his much-harassed colleague. Be this as it may it is certain that the Committee in London did not relish the contents of that letter: all the passages I have quoted were scored page 258through with a pencil. On this question of the Christians taking any part in wars the Committee was exceedingly sensitive. I have no reason whatever to believe that they sympathized with the view insisted on by Williams, and acquiesced in by Lyth—in his letter, not in his Journal—that Varani should have gone to that parley armed.
The chiefs and people of Vewa have been required by the Bau chiefs to take an active part against Mathuata the chief of which place had refused to comply with a request from Bau through Rewa. On their return we had the pain of hearing accounts of the improper language and conduct of some; but we had the pleasing satisfaction to find that the young chief Elijah and many of our people had no delight in war; but had made efforts to save lives, restore peace and spread religion.
These were dark days for Thomas Williams. He was a strong-minded and fearless man, and generally enjoyed good health; but the strain upon him was severe. There was no weak sentimentality in his nature; but he was essentially a kindly man; and the knowledge and the sight of so much suffering in the ranks of his followers grieved him deeply. He had not parted easily with the conviction that God would take care of His own children. It was a wrench, and the reaction brought with it not only bodily affliction, but also a depression of mind that found expression in the most pitiful wail that is to be found in the whole of his correspondence. Hitherto his language, especially in writing to the London Committee, had been restrained: he had refrained from speaking of success where there was little but failure, and he would not allow himself to be deluded into high hopes where the prospect was not encouraging; but he had never been a pessimist. He had always faced the present and the future with confidence in himself, his work, and most of all in the guidance and protection of an overruling Providence. But now, in July and August 1852, though his head was still above water he was swimming with fins of lead: "I feel far from happy in my own mind," he wrote, "I often think I am doing no good in Viti." It is a feeling not unknown to the strongest of men when they have for years been exhausted with overwork, and driven by the logic of fact from a cherished conviction which they find no longer tenable.
It is unfortunate that four pages have been cut out of Thomas Williams's Journal just at the place where he is giving an account of the visit of the Calliope. It would have been interesting to know what he had to say about the negotiations and their successful issue. He had every reason to be deeply grateful. The war ended, his health improved. page 260But it was well that he left Fiji in the following July. The strain had been too great. He needed a change to a more settled life and a more temperate climate, to enable him to build up his enfeebled strength again.
We are greatly indebted to Sir Everard in going to Mbua Bay with H.M.S. Calliope and for his earnest endeavours to bring about and establish peace with the long hostile parties.… On our arrival at Mbua we found the opponents of the Christians had greatly increased, and that the Heathens adjoining the mission station had been actively hostile. The chiefs from the various towns assembled at Mbua, and all are agreed to bury their animosities and live in peace. On the third day of their negotiations most of the chiefs went on board Her Majesty's ship, and were appropriately and emphatically addressed by Sir Everard. Other Commanders of ships of war have done excellently in trying to prevent evil and promote good in Fiji; but Sir Everard has excelled them all.
So ended the Mbua war so far as Thomas Williams was concerned and we may take our leave of it with a final survey. The missionaries by their teaching had undermined the authority of the old heathen chiefs mainly by their disparagement of the old heathen gods. It appeared to the chiefs that the whole structure of their society was threatened, and they decided to take up arms in its defence. In the war between the old and the new religion the Christian natives were taken at a serious disadvantage because they had been trained under the pacifist ideas of the missionaries which discouraged all participation in military operations. They suffered severely and many of them were destroyed. Ultimately the survivors, the missionaries and their families were extricated from their perilous position by the prestige and kindly offices of a fighting chief, and the captain of a British man-of-war. The missionaries had expected that the Gospel supported by an educational system, trained teachers and the use of medicine would prevail without the use of armed force; but they were mistaken; and it was exceedingly fortunate for them, their followers and their cause that they had a powerful friend at court, and still more powerful friends in the British Navy. The trust which the missionaries displayed in their God was magnificent, and, as we shall see later, the inspiration of their highest and noblest achievements; but when they themselves were overtaken by a war which they could not avert they had to be rescued from peril and impending defeat by men who not only trusted in God, but also kept their powder dry.
1 See an article in the London Times on 22 January 1930
2 It was General Miller, American Consul-General for the Islands of the Pacific who addressed Thakombau as Tui Viti, and made the title current.
3 See p 111.
4 The steering of a canoe with a heavy paddle was back-breaking work.
5 See Lyth's letter to the Committee dated 11 March 1851 (M.M.S.M.).