James Chalmers of New Guinea
The Dawn

IN this chapter we open up the record of 1881 and following years. Up to this time Chalmers and his colleague had spent their best energies in breaking the ground over a wide area of country, and along a coast-line exceeding five hundred miles in length, delegating the greater part of the actual teaching and preaching to the wide-scattered staff of Polynesian teachers. Men of large minds and splendid imagination, they worked for big results, and were content to leave these to time and the assured vitality of that gospel of peace and love of which they were the heralds.

But this year began with much promise. On the 5th of January a new church was opened at Port Moresby, and the first three New Guinea converts were baptized. Two months later, on 6th March, there were baptized the first two women of New Guinea converted to Christianity. It may be mentioned here, perhaps, that the first two converts, a man and a woman, were still living steadfastly in the faith at the date of Chalmers’s death in 1901.

Besides this directly spiritual fruitage, the missionaries had for their cheer, in the beginning of 1881, an evidence of the powerful influence that Tamate had acquired over the native mind. News came that the natives of Motumotu and Lese, in the district of Elema, were making great preparations for a descent on Port Moresby, and boasting that they would kill Tamate and Ruatoka, and then harry the coast right and left. The tidings only made Tamate determine "to visit Motumotu and beard the lion in his den." "I did not believe they would touch me," he continues, "but I feared they meant mischief to Kabadi and the coast villages. No time could be lost, as we were in a bad month for rain and storms, and the coast-line is long and bad. The natives said it was too late, yet I resolved to try it."

Piri and his wife were ordered to make ready to accompany the expedition in the whale-boat, Tamate also manning an open boat, and a start was made on 10th January. The principal man of the boat’s crew ran off, but his place was promptly taken by one of the three converts who had been baptized on 5th January.

"Our boat’s crew were considered fools, rushing into the arms of death. Wives, children, and friends were gathered round weeping. The men said, ‘Cannot you see that if Tamate lives we shall live; and if he is murdered we shall be murdered; it is all right; we are going with him, and you will see us back all right with sago and betel-nuts.’" The convert who had volunteered for service told Tamate that all means imaginable, short of physical force, were used to prevent the crew from accompanying him, and added, "We know it is all right; the Spirit that has watched over you in the past" (naming the various journeys) "will do so now; and if we return safe, won’t the people be ashamed?"

At Manumanu the two boats’ crews would fain have turned back, terrified by the dismal pictures drawn by their friends at the village. They urged upon Tamate that the bad weather had set in, but to this he only replied, "Think, my children, of the disgrace. We started to go to Motumotu, and at the first breath of contrary wind we put back. It must not be. Let us try it a little longer, and if the wind increases we can put back and not feel so ashamed."

At Delena the voyagers had a right hearty welcome. The natives there had a good deal to fear from a predatory attack by the Motumotuans, but they expressed the confidence that Tamate would be well received. This somewhat heartened the boats’ crews, and these sent word, "When you wish to start, call out; you will see us gladly spring into the water." At Oiapu, and again at Jokea, the natives made friendly demonstrations, and invited the missionary to land. The proffered feasts were declined with thanks, and Lese was duly reached. Here presents were exchanged, and a feast of pig was spread for the travellers. When Tamate set out for Motumotu next morning, he had the promise of the people of Lese that they would not molest Kabadi again, and their affirmation that they "considered our visit as peace with all the coast villages."

Tamate was going to Motumotu with a certain degree of confidence. He had had friendly dealings with a good many men of this district, and, only a few weeks before, one of them had said to Mr. Lawes and himself—" Listen. You think we Motumotuans are not attending to your words; but you are mistaken. Before you came here, we were always fighting, and were a terror to all, east and west, but now it is different. We are at peace all around; we go about unarmed, and sleep well at night. Soon our fathers’ ancient customs will all be given up, and you will see us, old and young, coming to be taught the word of the great and good spirits."

Here is a bit of graphic description from Tamate’s journals. The boats had been anchored within two miles of Motumotu, and all were sleeping, when "I was aroused at two a.m. by shouting, and, looking over the gunwale, saw a large, double fighting-canoe alongside of Piri’s boat, in which all were sound asleep. On awaking, they were startled by the appearance. They were asked by those on the bridge—

"‘Who are you?’

"‘Tamate and Piri going to Motumotu.’

"Soon all were friends, chewing betel-nut and smoking tobacco. On each canoe with paddles were over thirty men, and on the bridge adjoining the canoes were armed men and a large supply of sago and betel-nuts. They were going to Lese to purchase uros. They came alongside of our boat, received and gave presents, and then an order was given by one from the bridge, and away they went at full speed. It was a pretty sight in the moonlight to see the canoe move swiftly on, when nearly eighty paddles, as one, touched the water. We rolled ourselves up again for another hour or two’s sleep."

Arrived at Motumotu, Tamate found "there was a great crowd on the beach; but it was all right, as boys and girls were to be seen there, as noisy as the grown-up folks. A chief rushed into the water, and called on us to come. ‘Come, with peace from afar; come, friends, and you will meet us as friends.’" A formal conference revealed the fact that the recent warlike spirit had been roused by false rumours, sedulously circulated by the Lealea natives, who had selfish objects in view. Peace with Kabadi, peace with the coast villages, peace with Motu; all this was secured from the powerful Motumotuans by Tamate, the peacemaker.

Peace concluded, the usual interchange of courtesies followed. Tamate was accommodated with quarters in the village temple, and next morning made opportunity for two services. "One service in the morning was very noisy— everybody anxious for quiet must needs tell his neighbour to be quiet. Our old Port Moresby chief prayed in the Motumotu dialect. . . . In the afternoon we held service in the main street. The singing attracted a very large and noisy crowd; but when our old friend began to pray, it was as if a bombshell had exploded—men, women, and children running as if for dear life to their home. Another hymn brought them back, armed and unarmed."

On the return journey, Tamate, in his open boat, had to weather a terrific gale, and a thunderstorm accompanied by a deluge of rain, but Port Moresby was safely reached on the 20th of January.

The earlier months of 1881 were occupied in work at headquarters, and in short expeditions to Doura and to Hula and Kerepunu. In the former of these expeditions Tamate succeeded in reaching the Dourans, by going inland from  Caution Bay; but he found the country in a very unsettled state in consequence of tribal wars. His services as peacemaker were again in request; but, in this instance, he failed to arrive at any satisfactory settlement with the aggressors, the Koitabuans, who were smarting under an outrage for which they had determined to make the Dourans suffer.

In May, however, Tamate made a westward voyage that would seem to have been the first step in a new forward movement. Landing at Delena, he chose and received the gift of a suitable site for a mission station, and at once commenced the erection of a wooden house, with the intention, evidently, of making Delena a base of operations. Gratified at finding a growing perception of the true object of the missionary, and a willingness to listen to his message, he was yet perfectly well aware of the slender foothold attained. "What nonsense one could write of the reception here—such as ‘Everybody at service this morning listened attentively; commented on address or conversation; children all come to school, so intelligent, and seemingly anxious to learn; and, altogether, prospects are bright.’ At home, they would say, ‘Why, they are being converted; see the speedy triumph!’ Alas! they are but savages, pure and simple, rejoicing in the prospect of an unlimited supply of tobacco, beads, and tomahawks."

During this stay at Delena there took place one of those warlike incursions by hostile tribes so common in New Guinea. Tamate’s presence and influence were successfully used in bringing about an early and satisfactory settlement of the dispute, but not before he had risked his life in the adventure. Upon this occasion, he seems to have been prepared to defend his encampment by means of firearms, if necessary. When his devoted servant, Bob Samoa, inquired, "Suppose Lolo natives come to us, what we do?" he replied, "Of course they will not come near to us unless they mean to attack, and then we must defend ourselves." "The guns are ready," his journal goes on. "It is not pleasant; but I fancy they will not molest us, so hope to sleep well, knowing we are well cared for by Him who is never far off. Through much trouble we get to be known, and the purpose for which we come is understood." When the fight began in earnest in the village, Tamate left his encampment, all unarmed, mingled with the combatants, and by dint of shouting "maino" secured "a hush in the terrible storm." Having walked through the village and disarmed one or two, he got hold of one of the leaders in the fray. "I take his weapon from him, link him on to me, and walk him up the hill. I speak kindly to him, show the flag, and tell him we are maino, and warn him that his people must on no account ascend the hill." But he had scarcely been seated before a messenger arrived in hot haste to say that his friend Kone was in danger of being killed. Down he went again, this time without his hat. "More canoes have arrived. What a crowd of painted fiends! I get surrounded, and have no way of escape. Sticks and spears rattle round. I get a knock on the head, and a piece of stick falls on my hand. My old Lavao friend gets hold of me and walks me to the outskirt."

The blow Tamate had received was the cause of considerable pain in his head, but he had his reward in the gratitude of the Delena natives, who said, "Well, Tamate, had you not been here many of us would have been killed, and the remainder gone to Naara, never to return."

From Delena, Tamate pushed on to Maiva, visiting several of the villages in that district in the hope of discovering healthy sites for mission stations. He gives us an example of the dry humour with which he admonished his New Guinean friends. He had discovered a large and well-kept village, located in the centre of a swamp, where fever walked unchallenged. "I asked them if they had no vatavata (spirits) knocking around in their district, and did they not much trouble about them. ‘Oh, trouble us much, very much.’ I told them I thought so, and the sooner they removed from that place the better—that they were right in the centre of sickness and death. They said—’ And what is to become of the place of our forefathers, and the cocoanuts they planted?’ ‘Better leave them, or in a short time there will be none left to remember their forefathers, or eat their cocoanuts.’"

In October 1881. Tamate again set out for the west. Returning to Delena for his whale-boat, he found his wooden house standing intact, and everything exactly as he had left it. But he was distressed to learn that Kone; to whom he was indebted for the friendly and faithful care of his belongings, had been killed; killed, too, in the act of saving another man from the spear of an enemy. Kone was known and liked all along the Gulf coast, as far as Bald Head.

Of his dead friend, Tamate wrote:

"My poor Kone! The kindliest savage I have ever met; how I shall miss you here! I had hoped that you would yet become a great help in introducing the gospel into, the Gulf, and now had called to take you with me. How anxious he was to be taught, and to know how to pray! I taught him to say ‘God of love, give me light; Lead me to Christ’ Who will deny that my wind- and rain-making friend has passed from this darkness into the light that he prayed for?

This trip was made to Elema at the season at which the natives of the Port Moresby district were in the west on one of their trading excursions. Thus, on the arrival of the mission ship off Vailala, on the Annie River, Motu friends were able to point the course to a safe anchorage. Visiting their lakaioi, or trading canoe, Tamate was cheered to find that, so far from home and surrounded by a pagan environment, these simple New Guineans were holding fast the elementary truths they had learned from the missionaries. "Arua tells me that they have had morning and evening services, and on Sabbaths an extra one. Paeau has a small bullock bell that he rings to call all together, when a large number of Gulf natives join them. They both visit the temples, where there are always numbers of men, and when sitting eating with them they tell all they can remember of the teachings of the past few years. Could I help giving God thanks? The friends at Port Moresby feel that the sorrows and tria]s, the heartaches and tears of the past, are far more than rewarded." In another passage he speaks of the wonderful influence of that Motu tribe. "They must have been a terrible lot in the past. I have heard much from themselves of piracy, murder, and robbery; all along here they tell terrible tales." By the time of which we write, Tamate had begun to look for a supply of pioneers from the ranks of the Motuans. For work among the Gulf natives he found that the Motnans were well equipped in a knowledge of the language, as it had been their habit from early childhood to visit the wild west for months at a time, in company with their parents.

Owing to the dangerous nature of the coast, much of the visitation had to be accomplished in an open sailing-boat, and in this rough and dangerous navigation Tamate must often have had cause to be thankful for his adventurous experiences on the shores of Loch Fyne in his boyhood. Here is his description of an exciting incident on the Elema coast.

"We had a very heavy southerly swell in the bay, and on our getting up to the Alele, where we hoped to enter, the sea was breaking frightfully across, and the further west we went the worse it got. Not caring to lose the boat, nor life, I decided to return.

"After several tacks, the wind increasing, and a nasty sea running, and we being on a lee-shore with no hope of getting up to Vailala before midnight, we decided that if we could see a place a little more suitable than those passed we would risk running in. We reached a suitable place, and took the chance of a grand turn over and loss of everything. It was better to try it in the light than in the dark. The mast was taken down, the four oars put out, the order given, ‘Give way, pull hard; look at nothing, only pull.’ The boat went at lightning speed, flying on the tops of the seas. She was nearly in, when a tremendous roller lifted the rudder out of the water and she swung on the sea.

"The boys became frightened, and sprang to their feet. We must surely go over. ‘Down, boys, down!’ and again. ‘Pull seaward, oars, pull hard !' She righted, and again we rushed madly on-. ward upon the shore, taking very little water in. White surf raged all round us, and we were seized by strong natives, and soon our boat was beyond high-water mark."

Tamate was satisfied with the results of his Elema trip. He had improved his acquaintance with old friends, he had visited numbers of villages for the first time, and he had seen beginnings of the evangelisation of New Guinea by the New Guinean. The dangers and hardships experienced, and the toil of travel, had secured promise of the results for which he was willing to give his life.

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