James Chalmers of New Guinea
Placing Teachers


WHEN Tamate returned to Port Moresby he found, to his great disappointment, that a splendidly equipped exploring expedition, fitted out by the Melbourne Age, had returned to the coast, spoiled of all their goods, hungry, fever-stricken, and disheartened—the leader of the party, Mr. G. E. Morrison, being himself wounded. The expedition had started on 21st July 1883, and was back again upon 14th October. Great results had been expected from this exploration. Tamate had entertained hopes that his theory of plateaux and inland lakes would be confirmed, and that "Morrison would tell such a tale of New Guinea as had never before been told."

His chief concern, however, arose from the reports of hostility on the part of natives in a district in which he had established friendly relations with the people. Although he was sick, and many thought it was too late in the season for inland travel, as the rains had commenced and the rivers were swollen, he fitted out a strong party and set off on 4th December for the scene of the alleged outrages, anxious to know the cause of attack and to restore peace and amity.

In the course of a week, with a rest on the Sunday, Tamate and his party were back in Port Moresby, having in that time covered the hundred miles that had taken the Age expedition three months. They had found the Varagadi villages deserted, but were able to ascertain that native pilfering had led to reprisals and the use of firearms. Certain signs, recognised by most travellers, had been given by the villagers, but Morrison had not understood them, and had stumbled on to his fate.

"I asked an old friend if he thought it safe for white men to travel inland, as in a few months a large party might be coming. He replied, ‘It is perfectly safe no one will hurt a white man.’ I told him to tell all the tribes of our visit, and that we wished to bring them peace and friendship, and that they must be careful as to how they meet the white man in the future. He told us our inland .journey and its object would soon be well known."

A week or two later, Tamate was away west at the Annie River. This time he had an opportunity of seeing the Motu traders setting forth on their homeward voyage. The building of lakatois, consisting of twelve and even fourteen canoes lashed together; the filling up of cargoes of tons of sago, peppers, and areca-nuts; the adventurous crossing of the bar—all added to his personal familiarity with the customs of the people.

At the Annie River he was in touch again with the cannibals. "Two large canoes came in, with an average of fifteen men in each; they were in quest of cooking-pots. They say it is very annoying not to be able to cook their man and sago in pots, and, being without them, a lot of unnecessary waste occurs, and, the gravy escapes. They have drunk none for a length of time now. They visited us, and we visited them. They were from a large village farther west than I had been last trip, and were extremely anxious that I should accompany them to their home; but it was out of the question."

Incessant work in the unhealthy climate of New Guinea must have engendered frequent attacks of malarial fever, although Tamate seldom makes his moan in his journals. On his return from the Annie River, however, in January 1884, he had a severe illness, as we learn from Mr. Gill, as well as from his own pen. "I was away on my restive New Guinea steed again; hot, panting, excited, dreaming, moaning, groaning, burdened, sick, weak, tired of life and all its belongings—down with fever, in a word, and finally, nursed back by kind hands to convalescence."

By 6th February he was about again, and able to welcome his old friend, the Rev. W. Wyatt Gill, who had crossed from Rarotonga in the John Williams III., bringing with him a fresh draft of Polynesian teachers for the New Guinea Mission. Mr. Gill, it may be remembered, had been associated with the Rev. W. A. Murray in locating the original band of Polynesian teachers on the shores of New Guinea in 1872, and it was with particular interest that he now had an opportunity of seeing for himself what twelve years of devoted labour and the Christian gospel had done for the dark land. From him we get a snap-shot of the colleagues at Port Moresby.

"Never did I see brethren cooperating together more harmoniously. Both are able preachers in the Motu language; both in the prime of life—men worth looking at; and a fine physique is not without its value amongst savages. The calm, able translator and tutor is linked on to the impetuous, fearless pioneer, whose name is loved from Bald Head to East Cape, and far away into the interior." ‘When Mr. Gill left in 1872, the languages of New Guinea were not understood by the missionaries; now, he found the Motu dialect reduced towriting, and Matthew and Mark translated into that tongue.

The next seven weeks were spent in showing Mr. Gill a considerable number of the mission’s stations, where he renewed his acquaintance with some of the Polynesian teachers whom he had known before these had left the Hervey Islands. Teachers were gathered in from the nearer stations, a conference of missionaries and teachers was held at Port Moresby, and the new teachers were introduced— if so formal a term may be used—to their future colleagues.

When the conference was over, Tamate and Mr. Gill proceeded to various stations east and west, returning the teachers to their spheres of work, and leaving under their care the new additions to the staff, in order that these might become acclimatised while within the reach of men and women of their own kind, who could tend them and cheer them in their first separation from home and people. In these executive journeys Mr. Gill had the opportunity of visiting Maiva and the coast-line between that and Port Moresby, as well as the whole of the eastern coast stations, as far as East Cape.

Mr. Gill had also the fortune to be present when friendly communications were re-opened with Kalo, the scene of the massacre of teachers in 1881. The village was visited, promises were asked and given that the new teacher should be kindly treated, and a site for his house was selected. The son of Quaibo asked Tamate to stay whilst he cooked a pig for him. Cooked vegetables were presented; but Tamate whispered in Mr. Gill’s ear, "Taste nothing: they are expert poisoners." "The crowd of men, women, and children was great. In the excitement, the children rushed into the river, although the well-known resort of crocodiles, splashing about like South Sea Island boys and girls. Hundreds of adults stood on the banks, large numbers standing round the boats, up to their waists in water, selling food or curios.

The one cry was, kuku! (tobacco). The excitement increased terribly. At length Kulu said quietly to Tamate, ‘Go, quick! ‘" The boats were shoved off, and the Kalo people were left to speculate upon the possibility of their having a teacher located with them again. "When it became known among the new teachers," adds Mr. Gill, "that it was proposed to re-open the mission at Kalo, the Samoans volunteered for the forlorn hope. The Raiatians, too, earnestly begged to be permitted to go. The Rarotongans came privately to me to intercede with Messrs. Lawes and Chalmers that the post of honour and peril might not be given to others. Messrs. Lawes and Chalmers wisely said, ‘As Rarotongans were martyred, let Rarotongans have the preference. If they show the white feather, let others go.’

In May, the new teachers were considered to have passed the initiatory stage of acclimatisation, and Tamate made a long round in the work of placing them at stations at which he had previously ascertained that they would be acceptable and welcome. It is unnecessary, however, for the purposes of the present narrative, to give any detailed account of the places visited, or even of the by-excursions to Moveave, Oiabu, and Mekeo among others, which Tam-ate took the opportunity to make when his work of placing teachers brought him within a few days’ march.

The greatest importance was attached by Tamate to the settlement of a teacher at Motumotu. "Ever since Mr. Lawes joined the mission, the one cry of the Motu natives has been ‘Westward Ho.’ The largest population, and the freest, kindest, wildest natives are there. They, especially those in Freshwater Bay, care for no one, domineer the other tribes, and think their sweet will is law. I know them well, and my cry has also been, ‘To the West—to the West with our youngest, strongest, bravest, best teachers.’ Again and again have the natives of Motumotu asked for teachers, promising to treat them well, and to live peaceably with their neighbours." "They have them now," he adds, "and they feel our promise is sure, though often long delayed, through no fault of ours.

"Securing Motumotu means our filling up the whole Elema district in a few years, and then pressing inland. I think 20,000 is too low an estimate for the Elema population, and that, being once under tuition, Namau and Vaimuru will follow in no far-away future; and so an extensive coast-line will be open, or, rather, is even now open, to Christianity and to commerce."

Of his Motumotu teachers and their wives he wrote: "We bade our friends farewell, leaving these young men and women, who, for Christ’s sake and from sympathy with Him in His great work of redeeming the race, had left their comfortable homes, peace and plenty in Eastern Polynesia, willing to endure sickness, want, and trials, relying upon His care who alone can care for them. They are certainly the heroes and martyrs of the nineteenth century."

For his dusky comrades, Tamate entertained the sincerest affection and the deepest regard. Of them he said: "They are the true pioneers in New Guinea, and to them travellers of all kinds, scientists and explorers, as well as Christian missionaries, owe much." He looked on them as pioneers of civilisation, as well as missionary teachers. "Ten or eleven years ago," he said in 1887, "the natives of Hula, Hood Point, had no plantations, and bought all their vegetables with fish from inland pe9ple. A teacher of the London Missionary Society, a native of Eastern Polynesia, was placed amongst them; he started plantations of bananas, yams, and sweet potatoes, and the Hula natives, seeing the large returns, made plantations for themselves which produced much, and became a market for the Motu tribe and Kerepunu, so that now a large and lucrative trade is carried on. It will be the same with whatever we can introduce."

Of the spirit of devotion in which these men and women have carried on their work, many tales are told, many testimonies are given. When Mr. Murray first landed on Darnley Island, in 1872, an effort was made to intimidate the teachers from attempting to settle upon another island. "There are alligators there," it was said, " and snakes, and centipedes." "Hold," said the teacher, "are there men there? " "Oh, yes," was the reply, "there are men; but they are such dreadful savages that it is no use your thinking of living among them." "That will do," replied the teacher. "Wherever there are men, missionaries are bound to go."

Another traveller, Mr. Hume Nisbet, the artist, writes of "the noble devotion and self-sacrifice displayed by the coloured teachers whom I met at the different stations—great simple hearts, who live a life of purity and tenderness, reflecting, every hour of the day, the noble example and instructions, of their white leaders. I think, on the whole, I felt closer to God in the company of these South Sea Island exiles, with their little Papuan huts, watching them go about their daily duties in the midst of these savage sons of nature, than I have felt before or since; their faith was faith unvarnished and utter, their patience sublime to heroism. Great men, noble martyrs, they go to New Guinea to lay down their lives for the cause of their Master, as their instructors have taught them by precept and practice, and the result has been wonderful, considering the time."

Of one of the teachers, Dr. Gill has written: "Ebera had lost his wife and child through the terrible New Guinea fever; and yet in his loneliness and sorrow he wrote to me the other day and said, ‘It is a work of joy to me to be here in New Guinea, doing the work of Christ our Master.’ These noble men and women," Dr. Gill goes on, "are the flower of our churches; and their simple faith and wholehearted devotion to Christ are worthy of all praise. They have their faults, doubtless, but the same may be said of the ministry in other parts of the world."

It was one of these teachers who, believing himself sick unto death, said to his missionary, "No good heart belong you too heavy for this; by’n by God help you. S’pose I die, you send place belong me, tell my people I die, plenty more man stop along Samoa he want to come."

However lame may have been the attempts of the coloured teachers to master the English tongue, they proved themselves adepts at picking up the New Guinean languages—allied in some instances to their own—and several of them have rendered great aid to the missionaries in the translation of portions of the Scriptures into the dialect of the district in which they were settled.

In many cases the teachers were appreciated as friends long before any heed was paid to their message, or the slightest attempt was made to attend religious services. To these teachers Messrs. Lawes and Chalmers said, "Persuade, pray, be patient; but on no account bribe or pay them to come."

Tamate was careful in his choice of teachers, and fully appreciated the value of physique. When the Motumotuans inquired whether their teachers were to be "big men," and were answered in the affirmative, they were greatly delighted. "Not only do the savages look for physique in the teachers, but more civilised nations like appearance also. It is a grand mistake to send out men of small stature to the savages. Pick the giants, and they make their mark at once; the wild, kind, nobly built savage will respect them."

Tamate was under no illusion when he bargained for the admission of teachers to a village. "I sincerely hope no one will think that it is because they wish to be taught the gospel that they desire teachers, as they hope for tomahawks, knives, beads, tobacco, and clothing, and they see that those places where teachers live are at peace all round, and do not fear their neighbours."

This last remark was made in connection with the request of Kabadi for teachers. He todk a short trip to see his old friends on the subject, and was able, at the same time, to cement a peace between Kabadi and Lealea. To the Lealeans, Urevado of Kabadi said, "You have never been here before, because of our fathers. Enough, let that enmity now die; and here is Kabadi before you to buy yams, bananas, and sugar cane, whenever you like to come." And the Lealeans replied, "‘Tis because of these, God’s men, we are enabled thus to meet; and we shall certainly come here in future for food. Often have we seen the laden canoes of the Boerans and Motuans pass our doors from here, and wished we too could only secure some; but now we shall be as they are."

When we get as far as the point we have reached in the narrative of Tamate’s pioneering work, we begin to find him more careless in his records, and he, indeed, himself makes confession of a certain staleness. "How stale things become! Perhaps of all things travelling becomes stalest after long continuation. Visiting new districts in a very little known land, there is little to write about that has not already been written of regarding other districts; for what is written of one may be written of nearly all."

But his buoyant spirits never forsook him. He still could find "good fun" in wading across a large creek; he could enjoy the discomfiture of "the true cannibals of New Guinea "—the mosquitos. "I lay on the sand, inside my net, and heard the din of the attacking armies. When I fell into unconsciousness they were in full force; and when in the early morning I awoke to life, it was still to hear their songs and shouts of vexation at being baulked of their prey. I wonder what Burns would have written had he spent one night with these fierce, venomous ‘beasties.’ There would not be enough adjectives in the English language to suit him, and certainly his Italian would egregiously fail. I have had more to fear from these pests than from all the savages New Guinea can produce."


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