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I cannot solve the mystery of this Samoan reverence for certain ancient mats; but I well remember our astonishment, when the Samoan chiefs came to Fiji to consult Sir Arthur Gordon on the question of British protection, to see with what infinite solemnity these fine stately men presented him with a very dirty and exceedingly unfragrant and tattered old mat, which, I believe, was to be offered to her Majesty Queenie Vikatoria, but has, I think, found an asylum in the British Museum. What makes this so very strange is, that the mats worn by the Samoan chiefs and ladies are beautifully fine and glossy, of most delicate straw-colour, and edged with handsome grass-fringe.
Whatever may have been the origin of this form of antiquarian lunacy, its existence is an unmistakable reality. The Samoan chief treasures the dirty and ragged old mat of some revered ancestor as a British regiment does the tattered colours which find their honoured rest in some grey sanctuary. The old mat, which from generation to generation has been jealously guarded by his clan, is his patent of nobility, and the title-deed which proves his right to broad acres. Some of these strips of dirty old matting, which no rag-man would pick off a dustheap, are known throughout the group by special names. There is one, which is known to be upwards of 200 years old, during which period its
successive guardians have all been duly enrolled. It is called Moe-e-fui-fui—i.e., the mat which slept beneath the vines—in allusion to its having lain hidden for several years among the lilac ipomeas which twine in matted tangles all along the seabeach. No money would induce a Samoan to sell one of these unsavoury treasures: it is said that £100 might be offered in vain, though I certainly cannot imagine any sane person offering 100 pence.
However, it is simply a form of relic-worship,— and probably no whit more foolish than the adoration of dirty clothes and kindred objects, supposed to have been hallowed by the touch of Christian or Buddhist saints. Indeed I am far more inclined to sympathise with the heathen Tahitian, who wore as an amulet the toe-nail of the father whom he had loved, than I can do with the multitudinous Christians who sanctify their altars by the presence of some splinter of saintly bone.
Amongst the many touching incidents of these early days, was that of one large village in which, contrary to the general course, all the women became Christians before any of the men did so. Mr Williams had reached a town called Amoa, the people of which had all accepted the lotu, when a party of seventy women approached in single file, each bearing a gift. At their head walked a tall handsome woman, with a mat, dyed red, folded about her loins, and the upper part of her body freely anointed with sweet-oil, tinged with turmeric. On her neck and arms she wore a necklace and bracelets of large blue beads; but her hair, alas! was all cut off, except one little lock falling over the left cheek. Her companions were equally picturesque,—the unmarried women being distinguished by their wearing a white mat, and no oil and turmeric, and by their retaining a profusion of graceful curls on one side of their head, while the other was shaven and shorn. The poorest girls wore only fringes of large leaves and wreaths of flowers.
It appeared that the leader was a chiefess of high rank, who, some time previously, had come to Amoa, and there remained for a month, diligently attending to the instructions of the teachers. Then, returning to her own district, she had collected all the women, and told them all she had learnt, and so interested them in the subject, that a large number had agreed to renounce heathen worship. They built a leaf-hut for their church; and here the teacher from Amoa occasionally came to conduct service. At other times the chiefess herself did so, making frequent pilgrimages through the week to learn new lessons from the teacher, and returning to impart this wisdom to her companions.
Thus, within the short space of twenty moons, was Mr Williams allowed to see the beginning of
an abundant harvest, where he had but scattered the seed; and a true grief saddened his heart when compelled to refuse the entreaties of chiefs and people that he would fetch his family and come to live and die among them, to teach them how to love Jesus Christ. But when he reminded them that there were eight isles in the group, and that he must return to England to fetch other teachers, they bade him God-speed,—only praying that he would hasten back, because assuredly many of them would be dead ere his return.
This true apostle went on his way, carrying the light to many a region of darkness, till, in the year 1839, he reached the ill-fated shores of Eromanga, in the New Hebrides, which was the scene of his martyrdom With his loved friend, James Harris, he had succeeded in obtaining a friendly reception on the neighbouring isle of Tanna, and there left three Samoan teachers to begin work among its hideous savages. Twenty miles further lies Eromanga, whose people are the most hopeless cannibals of the Pacific. As the brave men landed on the inhospitable isle, a host of armed savages rushed out from the bushes in which they were concealed. In an instant both were clubbed, and the bodies of the grand apostle of the South Seas and his young disciple became food for the miserable cannibals whom they longed to reclaim. It was the usual tale of revenge. These Eromangans had, shortly before, been cruelly ill-treated by a party of sandalwood traders, who wantonly killed several natives on their attempting to defend their women, and to save their plantations from indiscriminate plunder. Naturally enough, these poor savages, seeing another foreign boat land at the same spot as their enemies had done, failed to discriminate friend from foe.
It is impossible to overstate the amount of hindrance to mission work and to all civilising influences which has been occasioned by the lawless proceedings of unprincipled white men, too many of whom have proved themselves truly white barbarians. In their greedy craving for gain, they have so thoroughly quenched every spark of justice and honour in their dealings with the dark-skinned races, that on some of the Papuan Isles, the name by which the natives describe a white man means literally " a sailing profligate."
The vessels employed in the labour trade—i. e., in "engaging" or securing men to work on plantations in Fiji or Australia—were by no means the only culprits, though the horrible cruelties practised by many of these in former years have been a disgrace to humanity. Nearly as much harm was done by men engaged in the sandal-wood trade, who gloried in defrauding the natives by every