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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



On his reaching the station of Malietoa, after first touching at Manono, the teachers and people manifested extravagant joy at seeing John Williams, as the twelve months during which he had promised to return had elapsed, and they had entertained fears lest they should never behold him again.

After the first expressions of joy had subsided, Williams desired the teachers to inform him what had occurred during the important period of their residence among the people. He learned that Malietoa, his brother, the principal chiefs, and nearly all the inhabitants of their settlement, had embraced Christianity; that their chapel would accommodate six or seven hundred people; that it was always full; and that in the two large islands of Savaii and Upolu the Gospel had been introduced into more than thirty villages. In addition to this, it was page 38stated that the great body of the people were only awaiting Williams's arrival to renounce their heathen system.

As the king, Malietoa, was from home, catching woodpigeons, a sport of which the chiefs were extremely fond, a messenger was despatched to inform him of the arrival. Although he was absent, Williams determined to take up residence at Malietoa's house, knowing that it would afford him pleasure to find him there.

At about nine o'clock the following morning the white man went to the chapel, accompanied by the teachers. It was built in the Tahitian style, but thatched with the leaves of the sugarcane instead of the pandanus. There were but few seats in it and the floor was covered with plaited coco-nut leaves. The congregation consisted of about seven hundred persons. Notwithstanding their singularly uncultivated and grotesque appearance, it was impossible, said Williams, to view them without feelings of the liveliest interest, while, with outstretched necks and open mouths, they listened to the "important truths" by regarding which they would be delivered from the "appalling gloom" in which they had for ages been enveloped. Service was commenced by a hymn in the Tahitian language, which was sung by the teachers only. One of them then read a chapter of the Tahitian Testament, translated it into Samoan, and engaged in prayer with great ease and fluency. This concluded, Williams addressed to them a short discourse, and, as he spoke in Tahitian, one of the teachers acted as interpreter. His audience appeared to listen with profound attention, and conducted themselves with great propriety. The noble-looking chief Makea—King of Rarotonga, whom Williams had brought with him—excited much interest, for, in addition to his size and commanding aspect, he was dressed in European costume, with a red surtout which was presented to him by Mrs. Buzacott, a missionary's wife, just before their departure from the Cook Islands.

On returning home, Williams inquired of the teachers why they had not taught the people to sing, when they informed him that they began to do so, but, as the females sang the hymns at their dances, they thought it better to desist. On inquiry, he learned that the teachers' wives had also attempted to instruct the Samoa females in the manufacture of white Tahitian cloth, page 39of which they had made large quantities for the chiefs, but that the women were so idle that they could not be induced to learn the art, although the cloth was exceedingly admired. He also found that they had unsuccessfully endeavoured to persuade them to cover the upper part of their bodies, of which they were excessively vain. Indeed, they were continually entreating the teachers' wives to lay aside their European garments, and faasamoa—that is, adopt the Samoa fashions, which was to gird a shaggy mat around the loins, loop the corner of it on the right side, anoint themselves profusely with scented oil, tinge themselves with turmeric rouge, fasten a row of blue beads round the neck, and faariaria, strut about and show themselves, and they enforced their wishes by assuring them that, if they did so, all would admire them.

At about one o'clock Malietoa arrived. He was neatly dressed, said Williams, in a white shirt and waistcoat, and wore a beautifully wrought mat as a substitute for trousers. "He looked exceedingly well, and the contrast between his appearance then and at our former interview, when he came direct from scenes of war and bloodshed, was very striking." After the usual salutation, he expressed his sincere pleasure in again welcoming Williams to the shores of Savaii, where they had been most anxiously expecting him for several months.