Chalmers of New Guinea
TAMATE and Mr. Savage spent October 1889 in visiting all the stations from Hall Sound westwards, and also instituted four new stations. They were gratified to find that the two Motuan teachers stationed at Kivori had been doing really good work. "They have more children who can read than our South Sea Islands teachers have."
In November, the Governor, Sir William MacGregor, called at Motumotu, and invited Tamate to accompany him in an exploring trip up the Fly River. But, having sickness among his people, he was compelled to decline this first opportunity to exploit the more remote parts of his new district. "I am sorry; but it would never have done to have left sick folk; and besides, I have begun training my own teachers for the Gulf. They are all Christians, who have been some years connected with the teachers, and have helped them much. We shall take none but church members."
In the beginning of 1890, however, he was able to join the Governor in a further expedition to Torres Straits. In this way he was able to render valuable assistance to the civil administration of the colony, and at the same time to carry out the wishes of his missionary colleagues.
The party sailed in the Governor’s yacht, the Merrie England, a vessel of four hundred tons, and the cruise extended from 22nd January until 27th March. During this protracted period Mrs. Chalmers remained in charge at Motumotu, and "kept the people working."
It will be remembered that the Fly River district had been the scene of the earliest efforts of Mr. M’Farlane and of the teachers located by him. When Tamate now visited the stations planted by his former colleague, he had to confess that the condition of affairs was disappointing. "In consequence of removals and changes in the missionary staff during the last four or five years, much of the work has come to a stand-still, and will have to be commenced afresh. Too much seems to have been looked for from the native teachers, and thorough reorganisation has become necessary."
At Kiwai Island he found that there had been many deaths, and that the Loyalty Island teachers had suffered much. "Some of them have been really good men, and had they only been free from fever and lived, a really good work might have been done. There is no school, and no attempt at one. The Sunday services consist of singing and prayer only. It may be the teachers know very little of the language, and are therefore unable to teach or exhort, The great trouble and drawback is the variety of the languages. Had it been possible to educate these two men in their own languages, they would have taken more interest in the work, and made better teachers."
At the same time Tamate found that the work and influence of the teachers had not gone for nought. The people had been familiarised with the strangers, and with their friendly purpose. "Certainly the living of teachers among them has had a good influence, and one that has extended to many other parts around (Fly River). Indeed, but for that influence, travellers would not be able to go about in the same peace and safety as they enjoy at present. In many places ‘missionari’ is equivalent to peace or friendship."
Of the condition of matters at Saibai Island, Tamate was able to report in more satisfactory terms. "Ten years since I last visited this island, and what a change! Then they were a wild, rough people, and only a few years before terrible skull-hunters, and the terror of the mainland natives. I fear the Saibaians, and not the Tuger alone, have driven the tribes away back into the bush. Now they are nice, quiet, kindly, intelligent folk; amongst them many church members, and all nominal Christians, attending services and holding services in their own houses morning and evening." The king was found to be "a squat, smart young fellow, who speaks English, and is of great assistance to the teachers. He is also a deacon of the Church and attends to his duties—if the following is included in a deacon’s duty: During service, should any poor unfortunates shut their eyes, nod, or fall asleep, he walks straight to them, lifts their head, and whispers loudly, ‘Awake: no sleeping!’"
Tamate found the teacher Jakoba, a native of Lifu, to be a man well fitted for his work, and he was constrained to wish that the mission had many more such men. "Altogether," he concludes, "I think Saibai has advanced as well as any mission station I know of."
The expedition was not concluded without an effort to enter into preliminary relations with people on the mainland who had never seen the white man or listened to the proclamation of the gospel of peace. A special attempt was made to get into touch with the warlike tribe known as the Tuger. In this sort of work Tamate was in his element, and we have a spirited account of the search for the Tuger and the encounter with them.
"At several places up the Wasi Kassa and Mai Kassa (Baxter River), we saw old camps said to belong to the Tuger. We camped at some of them. We were very anxious to meet with these greatly dreaded marauders, of whom such terrible stories are told, such as their being cannibals whose whole occupation is in seeking for human flesh; of all of which I did not, and do not now, believe a single iota; but that they are skull-hunters I do not doubt in the least.
"The country is very low, and although we saw fires burning not many miles inland, yet I believe the natives live well back, and come down to burn the long grass in the season for kangaroo hunting, and to fish in the sea and get salt water. We went west as far as the boundary; indeed, when Mr. Cameron took the stars, we were found to be a few miles beyond. This was a great disappointment to us, as we had met the Tuger that day, and did not like the idea of turning back without making further acquaintance with them, but, of course, the Governor could not leave his own territory. On coming round a point we saw in the bay a clump of cocoa-nut palms and a few houses. Soon we saw a couple of natives walking about on the beach.
"Having come about one hundred miles without seeing any signs of human life, we were now delighted, and His Excellency gave orders at once to anchor, and away he went with a good crew to the shore. He had great difficulty. in getting the few natives about to come near. A quarter of a mile further west was a creek, and it was evident that numbers were there, although at first they appeared one at a time. The tide falling fast, the Governor and party only returned, and, our steam-launch and boats high and dry, many natives cautiously came off to trade. They would place their articles down some distance from us, then retire and sign to us to place ours, take theirs and retire. This went on for some time, until, gaining more confidence, they came near the boats and launch and handed what they had, receiving, in return, plane irons, tomahawks, knives, red cloth, and the like.
"About one hundred of them were about us, a fine-looking lot of fellows, and better made men it would be difficult to find anywhere. A few of them had bad, evil-disposed faces, and it was well to keep a good lookout. At sundown they were ordered away. In the moonlight a few came off professedly to barter; but, we all believe, really to spy out the land. They were kept at a respectable distance.
"For some hours there was great excitement ashore, and eventually a number of canoes began to creep up under the shade of the mangroves, and a few came out towards us, the tide being well in. We felt sure they meant no good, so the Governor, with his two boats, well armed, pulled away to meet them and prevent their coming too near. They soon disappeared, as they could see the movements of the boats better than our party could see theirs. We soon had quiet, and, setting a watch, all went comfortably to sleep.
"There is no doubt this is the Tuger tribe, and physically they may well be a terror to those farther east. Being in Dutch territory, it is possible they were near home, and may be Dutchmen, so nothing could be said or done to them. We fancied they were on the move, and that by our returning slowly we should again meet them, and in British territory; but we did not. I wish we had a couple of good Samoan or Rarotongan teachers for them. (Were) they won to Christ, we should indeed have a splendid supply of teachers for the future."
The routine work of the mission occupied Tamate at Motumotu until the autumn, when he and Tamate Vaine made an extended tour amid the scenes of his early missionary life in the South Sea Islands. The Samoas and the Hervey Islands were visited, and everywhere the voyagers received an ovation. At Rarotonga, in particular, Tamate was glad to meet with all his old friends again after an absence of thirteen years. "It was an exciting meeting." Those who were present remarked with surprise how quickly Tamate recognised all his old friends, naming each one as they pressed round to greet him. On the Sunday he preached in the church at his old station of Avarua, using the Rarotongan tongue with absolute fluency. He had looked forward to the meeting with "young, loving Timothy," pastor of the church at Avarua, but he only arrived in time to perform the last rites of Christian burial for his beloved friend and former disciple.
This Polynesian trip had been undertaken with the object of stirring up missionary enthusiasm among the islanders, and securing additional volunteers for the work of the growing New Guinea field. The purpose was fully accomplished. The church at Aitutaki undertook to give him a boat for his pioneer work on the Fly River; and, as for volunteers, the missionary in charge of the Training Institution at Rarotonga had shortly to report—"All the Rarotongan students want to go to New Guinea; but Chalmers must wait: none are ripe."