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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods

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"The Polynesian [affirmed Stevenson] falls easily into despondency: bereavement, disappointment, the fear of novel visitations, the decay or proscription of ancient pleasures, easily incline him to be sad; and sadness detaches him from life. The melancholy of the Hawaiian and the emptiness of his new life alike are striking; and the remark is yet more apposite to the Marquesas. In Samoa, on the other hand, perpetual song and dance, perpetual games, journeys, and pleasures, make an animated and smiling picture of the island life. And the Samoans are to-day the gayest and the best entertained inhabitants of our planet. The importance of this can scarcely be exaggerated. In a climate and upon a soil where a livelihood can be had for the stooping, entertainment is a prime necessity. It is otherwise with us, where life presents us with a daily problem, and there is a serious interest, and some of the heat of conflict, in the mere continuing to be. So, in certain atolls, where there is no great gaiety, but man must bestir himself with some vigour for his daily bread, public health and the population are maintained; but in the Lotus islands, with the decay of pleasures, life itself decays."

That this measure of gaiety and pleasures was maintained for Samoa, no thanks is due to the London Mission.1 It was owing entirely to the good sense and obstinacy of the islanders themselves; and owing also to the providential fact that no chief or chiefs—as at Tahiti—possessed an absolute authority through which a foreign will might be inflicted on the people, regardless of their susceptibilities. For that has been the unhappy fate of many of the little races of the Pacific.

In accordance with the promise made, six white missionaries of the London Missionary Society, with—but one exception—their wives, were landed at the Navigators in June 1836. Two page 52were stationed on Tutuila, one at Apia, one at Manono, and two on Savaii. It would be well, I think, to concentrate on the history of the mission at Pango-Pango, in Tutuila.

Of the splendid harbour, now an American naval fuelling-station, on whose shores that mission lay, Stevenson gave this description toward the end of the last century:

"The island at its highest point is nearly severed in two by the long elbowed harbour, about half a mile in width, cased in abrupt mountain-sides. The tongue of water sleeps here in perfect quiet, and laps around its continent with the flapping wavelets of a lake. The wind passes overhead; day and night, the scroll of trade-wind clouds is unrolled across the sky…. Below, meanwhile, the harbour lies unshaken, and laps idly on its margin; its colour is green like a forest pool, bright in the shallows, dark in the midst with the reflected sides of woody mountains…. Long ago, say the natives, the houses were continuous around the harbour; they are now shrunk into some half a dozen hamlets; and at night it is only here and there around the shores that a light twinkles."

The following was one of the results, at that particular spot, in 1840, of less than four years of missionary exertion among a lighthearted and impressionable, but fortunately resilient, people:

"The Sabbath which followed, March the 1st, was distinguished beyond any that had preceded it. From the commencement of the morning service the deepest solemnity appeared. During the first prayer there was much feeling, and as the discourse, which was from 1 Cor. i. 18, proceeded, the tide continued to swell higher and higher, and while the ordinance of the Lord's Supper was being observed, many were completely overcome. Ten or twelve sank down exhausted, and had to be carried out of the chapel in a state of complete prostration. The afternoon service was of a similar character. Many were overcome with the depth of their feelings, and, after the public services of the day were over, and the people had dispersed to their homes, the whole neighbourhood seemed to be in commotion. Nothing could be heard on all sides but the sounds of weeping and supplication. Very solemn and affecting it was to listen to these sounds, amid the darkness and stillness of the night, as I was going to and returning page 53from a ship which was at anchor in the harbour at the time, and on board of which I preached in the evening of that remarkable day…. Through the whole night the state of things just described continued to a greater or less degree."

And again:

"Our first special service was held on Monday, June the 15th. One noticeable thing connected with it was the large number of men who were overcome by their feelings. They were sooner overcome, and in larger numbers, than the women; but the most remarkable thing of all was that Maunga, the proud, haughty Maunga, who had so recently acted such an outrageous part, was among the number of those who fell under the arrows of conviction. 'Saul was among the prophets.' He was carried out of the chapel in a state of complete prostration…. The good work continued to progress. In the Pango-Pango district external manifestations of feeling were becoming less violent, though at almost every service there were instances of persons being overcome, and all the time the work seemed to be deepening and extending. Over about two-thirds of the island there were marked indications of seriousness, if not of anxious concern, and these indications were not confined to the public services and the house of God, but were apparent at all times and under all circumstances. It seemed like one continued Sabbath, except that the people went about their accustomed employments. Everyone seemed instinctively to feel as if levity and trifling would be out of place, and that it became all to be in earnest, and do with their might what their hands found to do. Such was the state of things at the time referred to, that visitors from a neighbouring island told other intending visitors on their return home, that, if they went to Tutuila, they would hear about nothing but their souls from Tapu-Tapu to Tula—the Dan and Beersheba of the island."

The accounts quoted are from the pen of the Rev. A. W. Murray, who was in charge of the mission from 1836 onwards. And in addition a contemporary book entitled Missionary Life in Samoa, compiled from the writings of the Rev. G. A. Lundie, is filled from cover to cover with lengthened descriptions of the "shakings among the dry bones"—as the missionaries were pleasantly wont to term their workings upon the emotions of the Tutuilans.

page 54

There are chapters of flummery of which the following is a sample:

"Monday night, June 8th.—An interesting Sabbath…. The effect of the May meeting seemed still to continue. Friday had been a solemn day. On Saturday, at a church meeting, Teana, a teacher's wife, a wretched scoffer, had been suspended. On Sunday the Holy Spirit was poured out in a drenching shower upon the waiting multitude. Ere the end of the afternoon service, the ranks of women were thinned. Weeping and fainting. Teana herself, who used to mock the broken-hearted, after a long resistance, was overcome by her emotion, and carried out. Mr. Murray conversed with her afterwards, and believes that the Spirit has begun his work. Groans of woe and tears of penitence were all around….

"Friday, June 12th.—Glorious things are truly taking place before our eyes…. On Friday the feeling was considerable. On Saturday the church meeting was very solemn, at the suspension of Teana. That night there was much prayer and praise. On Sunday a most plentiful shower—eighty-three persons were on that day deeply convinced of sin for the first time. Owing to the extraordinary nature of the circumstances, there was another meeting held on Monday afternoon. Then also the chapel was filled; at least one thousand people. The service was carried on as the people could bear it, with address, prayer, and praise, every now and then. There seemed a general burst of feeling all along. Sometimes the whole place was in a move with the carrying and the carried—the voice often quite drowned in the groans and cries of awakened sinners, and, at the close, the chapel seemed half empty. The two following days the meetings were continued…. The nights were passed by very many in almost incessant prayer and strong crying to God. Poor Teana, the proud, the passionate, the scoffer, was carried out every night! She spent two nights with Matthew's wife, a true Christian, on whom she had looked before with jealousy and disgust. She bowed before Mr. Murray's knees, and sobbed while she confessed her wickedness; and thanked him with all her heart for having suspended her from church membership, as this had led her to fear that all was not right with her."

This particular passage perhaps indicates better what was continuously going on:

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"Women were carried out by dozens, convulsed and struggling, so as to drive five or six men about like trees in the wind, who were exerting all their strength to hold and convey them away. I had heard of beating breasts and tearing hair before, but I have now seen and shall not soon forget it."