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James Chalmers of New Guinea
At Saguane


ON his return to New Guinea, Tamate removed his headquarters from Motumotu to Saguane, a station upon the island of Kiwai. This island is little more than a mud-bank, formed by the alluvial deposit at the mouth of the great Fly River. About thirty-five miles long, and from four to five miles wide, it divides the main channel of the Fly into two branches. The island and the low-lying land forming the banks of the Fly at its mouth have been described as "about as dreary and uninviting a region as could be found. There is not a hill, or even a decent-sized stone, to be seen anywhere. Much of the land is only a few feet above high-water mark, and when the tide is low miles of the foreshore appear as slimy mud-flats." Kiwai is covered with vegetation to the beach, and Saguane is at its south-eastern extremity.

As may be easily imagined, Tamate chose this spot as the scene of his labours from 1896 until 1900 only because of its strategic position—commanding immediate access to the waters of the Fly, and yet keeping him within touch of the island stations in Torres Straits. It had also the advantage of a larger share of the sea breezes than had other positions of equal convenience in situation.

Hither came Mrs. Chalmers on her return from the Old Country in 1897. Some idea of the amenities of the station may be derived from her destription of an encounter with snakes. "We had a terrible fight in our bedroom not long ago, and killed two large and very deadly snakes. The natives all said, ‘Very bad fellow, suppose he bite man, man he die soon.’

Jiusi, our half-caste boy, is splendid for killing them, and so is Katie, our teacher’s wife. She is excited, and looks quite like a wild savage while she is about it; it was dreadful to watch her. She got on a table, and with a big knife, they fought, the creature trying to take her unawares, and darting at her all ways, and she trying to cut the head off."

Dr. A. C. Haddon, in his recent book, Head Hunters, Black, White, and Brown, gives an interesting account of Saguane and the work carried on by Chalmers there, his information being derived from personal observation on the occasion of his visit to New Guinea in 1898, as leader of an anthropological expedition. "Saguane was a central and convenient spot for the mission, but that is about all that could be said in its favour. The whole island is little above sea-level; it is malarial, and the water-supply is poor. . . . From many points of view it was a disheartening place, and it was a wonder Tamate bore up so cheerfully. He had great difficulties with teachers; South Sea men are often unsatisfactory, and the Torres Straits islanders are practically useless as native teachers; so Tamate was endeavouring to educate his own men as teachers, but it was a long and wearisome task.

"Like other mission stations the instruction of the young plays a prominent, one might fairly say the prominent, part in the work of the missionaries. Here it is especially needed, and these semi-migratory natives are ruder in culture than those we had met with in the east, and even the energy, enthusiasm, and sympathy of Mr. Chalmers can make relatively little impression on the adult population."

Dr. Haddon tells us that on his visit to Saguane on 11th September, Mrs. Chalmers was ill with fever, which had prostrated her for some time. "Tamate, as he likes to be called by his black and white friends, had also been quite ill from the effects of a nasty fall from a verandah in the dark, and he was scarcely well yet; indeed, it appeared to me that his health was much shaken; and no wonder, when one remembers all the hardships and privations he has undergone during his strenuous life of self-sacrifice."

Conversing with several chiefs at Jasa, Dr. Haddon was confidentially asked about the missionaries. "My friends had been describing to me certain ceremonies they employ for the purpose of making the crops grow, and they were really anxious about the wisdom of adopting the new religion, which they fully realised would require them to give up these practices; for, if they did not do as their fathers had done, how could the yams and sago grow? ‘It’s all very fine,’ they urged, ‘for Tamate, as everything he eats comes out of tins which he gets from the store at Thursday Island; but how about us?’"

Standing on the shores of dismal Saguane, Tamate cast wistful glances up the river, longing to see vigorous work carried on there; but he had no launch suitable for river work; and, besides, his hands were full of other duties—the care of the Torres Straits stations, and the oversight of the church and school at Saguane. He longed for men and he longed for means. He recognised that it was only the native New Guinean who could settle on the Fly River with any likelihood of keeping his health; he knew that it was only because the exchequer of his Directors was little better than empty that he did not receive all the help he needed. "If only I had money," he wrote, "that I might carry on this work on the Fly River without asking the London Missionary Society or anyone."

But Tamate was no grumbler, and for the better part of the four years indicated be devoted himself to what he once called "the humdrum life of a mission station—at first teaching the alphabet to men and women, young boys and girls." When a deputation from his Society’s Directors visited New Guinea in 1899, the Rev. R. Wardlaw Thomson was constrained to write: "It seemed incongruous and almost ludicrous that Mr. Chalmers, the fearless and successful pioneer, whose name is known, and who is trusted and influential among many wild tribes, should be cooped up as a schoolmaster, with a company of twenty-three children, teaching them the rudiments of English and Scripture. But he was putting as much heart and energy into this work as he could into the effort to conciliate a tribe of wild cannibals, and was succeeding. He uses the Gouin method in teaching English, and it seems to answer admirably." "The little girls," Mr. Thomson continued, "were all neatly dressed, and some of them looked very bright and intelligent. The church was a frail structure of bamboo and thatch, without any floor save of sand. It was erected on the verge of the beach, and, not very long after our visit, was completely washed away by a flood which carried off a considerable strip of shore."

Tamate was working for the spiritual enlightenment of his dark neighbours, and in this respect he had much encouragement, both at Saguane and at other stations in his district. Writing to a friend in 1897, he described the opening of a new church at Mabuiag, a ceremony which was the occasion of much rejoicing on the part of a concourse of over six hundred natives. "I ascended the steps and, opening the door, declared the house open for the public worship of God. . . . The house was soon packed, and an interesting service was conducted, I gave a short account of the work; that the cost of the church, £250, being all paid for, the only debt remaining was £6, 12s. for chairs. We had speeches, two minutes long, and the speakers were chiefs, missionaries, deacons, and evangelists from other islands, and several of our white friends, who became quite enthusiastic. The singing was abundant and good. The service lasted above two hours, and then we retired to attend to mean, earthly, and bodily things. It was a feasting, and it will be long, long a memory to those who were there. . . . The Sabbath was a grand day. .

Monday was another big day, when I baptized several Prince of Wales natives, who have been much on Mabuiag and Badu, and who affirmed they loved Jesus.

I also baptized many bairns of church members from various islands. . . . I forgot to say that the natives of Mabuiag twentyfive years ago were wild, naked, nomadic savages. God hath done great things whereof we are glad, and they are the assurance of still greater."

"Since last March," Tamate wrote again in December 1898, "a great wave of blessing has been ours in this district. At Mauata, Tureture, Daru, and several other places where there are no teachers, they have regular services, and many meetings for prayer, pleading that a missionary be sent them. . . . Here, at Saguane, . . . we have some young men who preach Christ, but who know not a letter. Our school average is fifty four. . . . In school now the greatest punishment is to forbid a child’s coming. All are getting on well."

A year later, the report was still one of progress. "The work grows apace; God grant it may grow strong. A fortnight ago I baptized eighty men and women at Mauata, one of our western stations, and sixteen at Yam Island, in Torres Straits. At this same island, they have got from friends and themselves £200 to build a church. In September we opened a church on Darnley Island, free of debt, and now they are going to put up a new mission house of three rooms. They are going to do the same at Mabuiag. Here and at Jasa we have opened new churches, free of cost."

A few months later it was announced that Tamate had "his hands and his heart full," as he had "witnessed a great spiritual awakening among the wild inhabitants of Kiwai and other islands under his care." Hundreds were being baptized, and gathered into the fellowship of the Church.

Notwithstanding his loyal devotion to the immediate duties of his station at Saguane, and of those in his large district, there still burned in Tamate the restless instincts of the pioneer, and in 1899 he would seem to have come to the conclusion that the next best thing to going himself would be to send one of his native teachers into the unexploited districts that bordered on the limited territory within the influence of the Kiwai stations.

Hiro was chosen for the task, and sailed to the east in the month of June. From an interesting letter addressed by Hiro to the men of Rarotonga, we get a glimpse of the satisfactory manner in which the disciple carried out his master’s commission. One quotation must suffice. Hiro had landed at a strange village, and got into touch with the scared natives. "I then told them why I had come,—to bring the words of peace, and that fighting should cease. ‘Now,’ said I, ‘bring the people back, and let them come here that I may speak to all.’ They then went out and called the people, who soon returned and assembled. I said, ‘Let us for ever be at peace.’ They answered, ‘Be it so.’ I then divided a piece of tobacco, which we smoked. I also took a cocoa-nut and planted it, and called it ‘Miro,’ i.e., peace. They answered, ‘May it be a true peace for ever, and may no one come here afterwards with guns and shoot us.’ They then brought us cooked sago and a bamboo pipe—a real sign on their part of true peace." We can almost imagine ourselves to be reading a paragraph from Tamate’s own journals.

Hiro’s next expedition up river, in November 1899, was hardly so successful. "He had the whaleboat, and the Niué accompanied. Off the Baramura Creek the Niué anchored, and the whale-boat was pulled up the creek. The captain of the Niué was anxious to see the large house, and he took a crew of two, and went up the creek in the dinghy. They left the boats, and all entered the house. They bought a few bananas, and were about to gather for a service, when one of them saw the most sacred of their idols on a small platform high up. All were looking at it, when several arrows were fired at them. They all rushed for the boats, showers of arrows following them. The teacher had his gun in the boat, and the night before had shot a pigeon, leaving one cartridge unexploded. He fired it off, and for a few seconds the savages seemed frightened, and the boats were getting away; but the arrows again were flying about them, one man being badly wounded. Getting the boats to the opposite side of the creek, they abandoned them, and rushed to the bush, making for the river bank. There was no time to be lost, so they plunged into the river and swam off to the Niué. When on board, they could hear the savages looking for them in the bush. They weighed and returned down the river." Tamate closes his narrative of the incident with the characteristic comment—" We must try to make friends again with them, and, if possible, give them a teacher."

In August 1900 Tamate again despatched Hiro up river, accompanied this time by six church members and their wives, with instructions" to preach Christ and hold services in every possible village." "The church members are to remain three months, and then return here for a spell. They have no education, but they know the story of the Cross, and they are in downright earnest. It would have done your heart good to have seen with what enthusiasm they went. I got wearied of waiting and praying, and it was heavily laid upon me to get, and do something for the heathen." Thus, Tamate.

This experiment was eminently successful. In December 1900 Tamate wrote to his life-long friend, Mr. Meikle: "Last August I sent six men and their wives from the church at Saguane up the Fly River, as evangelists, and to remain three months. During that time they were visited and helped. They remained four months, and returned because I sent for them; they were greatly blessed. They lived with the heathen, and preached Jesus. When leaving to return to Saguane, great was the weeping, and everywhere the earnest pleading to ‘return quick and teach us more.’ Next month we hope to send out eight for four months, and so have the gospel preached far and wide. Writing to another correspondent on the same subject, he concluded—"I cannot hold back. What is a man to do when he is bound to the Spirit’s wheels? We can’t give up prayer, and we dare not withhold making known the glad tidings."

By this time, however, Saguane had been left to the care of a native teacher, and the missionary had removed his headquarters to Daru, an island forty miles to the south, and the seat of the western magistracy.


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