On Patrol in New Hanover
To illustrate something of the life of missionaries in the late 1930s, here are extracts from a letter by Nellie to her mother describing a 'patrol'.
We started out late on Sunday afternoon 19 Feb and made our first point of call at our neighbours 12 miles along the coast. Tom had not seen these people (the Duttons) for nine months. We had a wonderful evening with them. They are enthusiastic stamp collectors and had books to show us. They have over 100 pen friends throughout the world. They never move from their plantation. The daughter of twelve years of age has been off the place once to Rabaul when her mother had to go for dental treatment. The father and mother both tutor the girl who is fast growing into a fine young woman. The mother's eldest maiden sister lives with them. They have never been as far as Ranmalek although we have sent repeated invitations. They are happy with their own selves and their pen friends.
It is not so easy to become members in the native church as it is elsewhere. When a teacher is fully convinced of a person's sincerity, and he can quote his catechisms off by heart, and has a good reputation, he is put on trial for two years. At the end of that period, the teacher is asked re the standing of the person in question - whether he has attended church and church meetings regularly and gives his help at all times. If the person can shape up to all these criticisms, he is received in full membership. If he should break any laws of the church, such as not observing the sabbath, adultery, or lack of attendance, he has his membership taken away and he has to struggle for many years before he can regain it. The rules are hard, too hard I think, for human beings, but when one considers that we have 700 members in full and 625 members on trial, 1369 preparing for members on trial and 4940 as total church adherents out of an island population of 7000, it shows what an influence the church does have on the character and well being of the people in general.
Tuesday afternoon found us on our way to the village of Patirode which is situated in the hills. The pinnace (the Kanai) left us at a certain point where carriers from the village were waiting to greet us. They had made a special path for us through the swamp which cut off a good walking distance. We then started to climb upwards. It was a steep climb but the weather was good and so was the path. On arriving at this village we felt a feeling of depression and found that a funeral was in progress. We would have liked to have seen it as we have not seen a native funeral. It was a young wife. This was the third death in seven days and our own teacher was lying sick on his bed. We could see that everyone was frightened. It is not so much the sickness with which people die but the fright that some punishment has befallen them and they are meant to die. If a native makes up his mind that he is meant to die and is dying, nothing on this Earth will save him. He just lies down and dies. On looking at the teacher we found that it was just fever that he had. The weather had been wet and cold and possibly a cold had brought on the fever but they have nothing to counteract this.. We soon had the kettle boiling - hot lemon drinks made with aspros. In the evening we gave him hot tea and more aspros and this brought out the fever in the form of perspiration. The next morning the boy was up and dressed at six o'clock drilling his school children. He also followed us to the next village in order to attend service as he was unable to do so in his own village. What a difference when you can see a person who knows that he is not going to die. We left instructions should anyone else fall ill but we have heard nothing since. We held service that night and Tom preached on the compassion and comfort of Christ. We left them in a very different frame of mind than that in which we found them. These being hills people and only having the school with them for less than twelve months, the children were not very far advanced but the teacher is enthusiastic and we were able to leave a few hints behind which we think will help him in the future.
Waugag is the home of the great luluai (chief). He has 22 wives that we know of and a few more I guess. He is an old notorious, but he greeted us with great cordiality ushered us to the Government Guest House, provided us with table and chairs, also brought along some eggs for which we were very thankful and made us very comfortable. He is not a church member - could not be without dispersing his harem - but although not even a church goer he interested himself in much of its doings. He is now very old and although he realises and admits that the church laws such as one wife etc are the best for the young people, he is too old to change and many of his wives are very old women who would only be cast adrift if he did not take care of them. However, we are very much against his habit of still buying young girls which means that the young men cannot get wives. The old luluai always has more money than the young men. This often leads the young men into trouble and they lose their church membership. Although old Equa can be a strong force for us, we know that the church will be much stronger in this part of the island when he is dead. He has great power over the natives and is recognised by the government as a chief. He can make and break native marriages at will and holds court over natives in trouble. He has a lot of land and plenty of coconuts and is very wealthy. The trouble is he makes the people work for him and they lose the power to work for themselves. The New Hanover natives could be very rich. It is the home of native foods and all plantations, governments and private concerns are crying out for native foods. The people are just too lazy to work unless it is tax time, church wartabar time, or they want to buy a wife. We have a great number of members in this village and the school is large. We found that many of the children had not been attending regularly so Tom spoke to the old chief about it and said that it must alter. We always threaten to take away their missionary if they don't come up to scratch. The luluai said that he would 'tan' all the children in future that played truant. I sincerely think that we will have no more worry in that direction.
One girl had an infected toe - down we went with bread poultices. Another had fever - her husband was given aspros and instructions. Three women had new sores and a piccanninie and we dressed the sores of ten boys. We then visited a neighbouring village where one of our teachers has been lying sick for two weeks. We saw him last night for the first time and he informed us that he was ready to die. We just told him off. I sent down quinine and porridge. He had a very large boil on his thigh and this has made his leg stiff and his back sore and he has certainly lost a lot of weight. We ordered him out into the fresh air immediately. I sent down some egg flips and told him that he was quite alright but he must get his strength again. The boys built some posts for him to hold onto to get his strength back for walking. This evening he came to see us with a happy smile. He says he is quite alright now. It seems hard but one has really to bully these boys. When they are taken ill, they believe that some witchcraft has been made on them and that nothing in the world will save them. They just sit down and prepare themselves for death. We just take their temperature and feel their pulse and tell them that they are perfectly OK. They are not always but it doesn't do to say so. Well this lad has been having egg flips during the day and the cookboy has gone up with a sago custard tonight so he will be alright. We are waiting for a little baby to come up. They are having some trouble with it so I told them to bring it up tonight. I suppose a good bath, a little castor oil and a little aspro will fix it. I hope they come soon as I am tired and would like to get to bed.
About 3 am we were awakened with the noise of wind and wasn't it blowing. Our first thought was the pinnace. This was anchored in a nice sheltered spot in the passage but the water was not very deep and many rocks were scattered about. We knew that the wind would bring up the sea if blowing in the right direction. Tom was dressed in a moment and outside with the torch. Before many moments one of the pinnace boys was up and said 'torch' which he took and was gone. We now had to find lights. The fire from cooking was nearly dead so with a little paper and wood we coaxed it into a flame and then had light to find the large benzine lamp and light. Minutes were going but Tom was soon down to the beach with all available light. The path to the beach was very steep and rocky so I would not venture without some sort of light. We could hear the boys on the pinnace and see the light from the pinnace and knew that many were busy. Tom could not get to the pinnace but had to watch from the shore. All the boys were in the water with ropes holding the boat from going onto the rocks. The engine was kept running and as a high wave pushed the boat back and strained the anchor so the engine boy put the engine in gear and reduced the strain. We could hear the shouting but could only guess from on top what was happening. Trees and coconuts were falling everywhere and it was pitch dark. We were happy to see the dawn as we could see the reefs and stones and the passage out. A boy went out in a canoe and was able to get a large saucepan of hot tea to the boys and collect a few groceries for us. The boys then called out farewell and we saw the pinnace sail out into the stormy billows. I should have hated to have been aboard although am now aware of the wonderful performance of the Kanai. It went out into the billows but after a short run was able to get into a sheltered harbour where it was marooned for two days.
© Margaret Henderson, 2003