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Samoa Under the Sailing Gods



Mr. Murray himself gives an interesting glimpse of a physical side of missionary activity. Samoa, he says, was famed among the other islands of Polynesia as being a nation of atheists, as they had neither temples nor idols, and this was generally true. But there were a few exceptions, and one of these was found at Sailele, a village that he visited in company with another missionary. There they found a heathen temple. It was a small house made of wood of the breadfruit-tree, and thatched; merely about ten feet in length, and six in breadth, and so low that a man of middle height could not stand upright in it. The priest only was accustomed to enter—the worshippers remaining outside. Within were deposited three sacred stones: one called the immovable stone; another the enduring kingdom; and the third the stone fixed in the kingdom. Close by was a small coconut-grove. There had been originally but one tree; but as it belonged to the presiding deity it was sacred, so its fruit had been allowed to fall around it and remain on the ground, and in consequence there was now a grove, all of which was sacred.

This obscure village, it is remarked, must have been a place of note in olden times, as worshippers used to flock to it from all parts of the island: which might account for the obstinacy with which its people clung to heathenism. Mr. Murray's companion now hammered some chips from the stones, with the view of "convincing the heathen that they were worthless in a religious point of view." When next the pair visited the village they found that the stones had been buried that they might not again be desecrated "by profane hands." The village remained wholly heathen for many years. There was something touching, said Mr. Murray, in their burying their poor objects of religious worship. It looked as though they had some kind of affection, or, at least, veneration for them!