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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Rev. John Williams' Visit, 1830

Rev. John Williams' Visit, 1830

The next known event in the history of Niuē was the visit of the well known missionary, John Williams (the martyr), who, when on a voyage in his home-made little vessel, the “Messenger of Peace,” called at the island with the intention of landing native teachers from Aitutaki. The account of his visit will be found in his “Missionary Enterprises,” published in 1846. The following was given to me by the Rev. F. E. Lawes, and is derived from the natives: In July, 1830, the mission vessel brought to off Falekula, near Tuapa, where the present king lives, and after a time, some of the teachers on board with Mr. Williams came ashore (Williams himself implies in his book that he did not land) where they were met on the reef by two Niuē young men named Tokolia (afterwards called Heremia) and Hikimata, who conducted them up the steep bank to near where the king's house now stands. They then got some taro and proceeded to cook it, and when ready Williams had prayers and divided out the food. By this time other natives had come up with no very friendly feelings towards the new comers, but seeing the food divided out they came to the page 84 conclusion that Williams had no evil intentions towards them. Before the meal was ready they heard a large party approaching with much noise, and with war cries, who turned out to be the inhabitants of Makefu. They came up with a rush, evidently with the intention of killing the party. The two young men commenced to dance about, flourishing their arms, as is their way, in defiance of the new comers. Williams, thinking matters looked serious, now returned slowly to the seaside where the boat was waiting. On his way he asked the name of plants, &c., wishing to show he had no evil intention. On the reef they were met by an old man (father of Mrs. Head) having a very savage appearance, and who made at Williams with a spear; but Williams laughed at him, and took hold of the spear and attempted to pass it off as a joke. Then the body of people followed down to the reef, which induced Williams to put off in the boat. At this time some of the people had been off to the vessel and had returned with some pearl shells which they had obtained on board, and which they considered very great treasures. Many others now went off to the ship, induced to go by the desire of obtaining more pearl shell. A large number went off, but there was no disturbance. Mr. Williams, at page 252, thus describes the appearance of one of these redoubtable Savage Islanders: “An old chieftain was however at length induced to venture into the boat, and with him they hastened to the ship. His appearance was truly terrific. He was about 60 years of age, his person tall, his cheekbones raised and prominent, and his conntenance forbidding; his whole body was smeared with charcoal; his hair and beard were long and grey, and the latter plaited and twisted together, hung down from his mouth like so many rat-tails. He wore no clothing except a narrow slip of cloth (i.e. hiapo) round his loins for the purpose of passing a spear through, or any other article he might wish to carry. On reaching the deck, the old man was most frantic in his gesticulations, leaping about from place to place and using the most vociferous exclamations at every thing he saw. All attempts at conversation with him were entirely useless, as we could not persuade him to stand still even for a single second. Our natives attempted to clothe him by fastening round his person a piece of native cloth; but tearing it off in a rage, he threw it upon the deck, stamped upon it, and exclaimed, “Am I a woman that I should be encumbered with this stuff?” He then proceeded to give us a specimen of a war dance, which he commenced by poising and quivering his spear, running to and fro, leaping and vociferating as though inspired by the spirit of wildness. Then he distorted his features most horribly by extending his mouth, guashing his teeth, and forcing his eyes almost out of their sockets. At length he concluded this exhibition by thrusting the whole of his long grey page 85 beard into his mouth, and gnawing it with the most savage vengeance. During the whole of this performance he kept up a long and continuous howl.”

To continue the native narrative: Mr. Williams secured two young men from the island named Uea and Niuma ga, and took them away with him. (His intention was to teach them and then return them to their own people). The vessel went to Tonga, then to Samoa. The lads were very much frightened directly the vessel began to draw off the land, and more so when they saw the crew taking lumps of flesh out of the harness cask to eat, for they thought it was human flesh, and that they would be served up in a similar manner. After a time, finding no harm was intended them, they quieted down. After Williams' visit to Samoa he tried to land the youths at their own island, but the winds being against them, he carried them on to Ra‘iatea, which the Niuē people call Rangiatea, as do Maoris and Rarotongans. Here the youths were taught many things, and something of Christian doctrines. After several months they were returned to their own island, but they do not appear to have been able to accomplish any good amongst their own people. They introduced to the island the loku or papaya. Unfortunately the ship that brought them back introduced some disease into the island, which caused many deaths, and this led to reprisals. Uea, one of those who went away with Williams was killed by Hopo-he-lagi, the father of Iki-lagi, one of the respected chiefs of Alofi at the present time. This induced more fighting, in which Hopo-he-lagi and some ten others were killed by the Liku people. The other young man, Niumanga, belonged to Alofi, and his life was spared. Subsequently this young man together with Niukai and Peniamina left Niuē in a timber ship for Samoa, where Peniamina fell into the hands of the missionaries, and became a servant of Dr. Turner, who taught him a good deal. He was a clever man, and could both read and write. About 1844-5 Peniamana returned as a missionary to his native island and began to teach the gospel, but he “fell from grace,” and eloped with another man's wife. He went off to a calling vessel, just like any other of the wild islanders, with long floating hair, &c., which was their custom. He was not altogether a success as an evangelist.

It was then decided by the mission in Samoa to send Paulo, a native Samoan, and evidently a man of superior character, who arrived in Niuē in October, 1849. He became very popular and won the hearts of the Niuē people; he taught them many things, amongst others to build churches and the substantial lath and plaster houses now so common. He lived at Mutalau, and gradually christianized these wild people. The Mutalau people at that time were in the ascendant, and through their means he got the people of the island page 86 together at a place between Liku and Lakepa, and there persuaded them to make peace, which has lasted to this day. Afterwards other Samoan teachers came: Samuela, who was teacher at Avatele; Sakaia, at Tuapa; Mose, at Alofi, &c.

The Avatele natives told Mr. Lawes and myself, that about the year 1840 a ship arrived off that place, and a number of white people landed from her, many of whom were dressed in red coats—no doubt marines—and they formed up on the beach at Oneonepata. The natives in the mean time lined the cliffs above, and then commenced throwing down stones at the strangers, who thought it best to return to their vessel. What ship this could be, I know not? This vessel landed and left a pig ashore.

Between the date of Captain Cook's visit in 1774 and Williams' in 1830, there must have been occasional visits from whalers, but there is no record of them, except in one case which Williams mentions (with his usual neglect of names and dates), when the natives had seized a boat belonging to a vessel which had touched there a few months before his visit, and murdered all the crew.

The Rev. William Gill (not Dr. Wyatt Gill) says in his “Gems from the Coral Islands,” that the next visitor after Williams in 1830, was made by “an assistant missionary of the Samoa Islands in 1840 in a small schooner not more than twenty tons burden, having many Samoa natives on board. On reaching off shore a numerous company of islanders came to the vessel, all of whom were armed with clubs and spears, and who might easily have taken possession of it and murdered the strangers … they had their confidence increased in the objects of our mission.”

In 1842 the island was visited by the Rev. A. Busacott in the missionary brig “Camden.” He had intercourse with the people, and in his attempt to land a teacher he well nigh lost his life, for it was ascertained that the natives laid a scheme to sink the boat, destroy the property, and murder the missionary.

Subsequent visits were made by the Rev. A. Murray and others. At this time many of the young men had engaged themselves on board whale and merchant ships that called at their island, and were brought to Tahiti, the Sandwich Islands, and Samoa. Among those who reached Samoa was Fakafiti-enua (sic? Fakafiti-fonua) and Peniamina.

Mr. Gill says, “On a missionary voyage in the ‘John Williams’ in 1846, we called at Samoa and found Fakafiti-enua and Peniamina not only willing, but by christian education prepared to return home and use their influence to secure the location of a teacher on the island. We arrived at the island in the month of October, 1846, with these two men on board…. Fakafiti-enua, who was a man of some influence on shore, arranged that Peniamina should remain and prepare the way for others. We have already seen what was the page 87 result, but he did some good apparently, for when the Rev. A. W. Murray visited the island in 1852 he found some progress had been made.

In 1861 the Rev. W. G. Lawes, brother of the Rev. F. E. Lawes, the present worthy missionary, arrived to take up his residence in the island, when he found six churches erected, and only eight heathen left !

Mr. Gill says, “In 1852 a ship of war called at the island in search of the crew of a vessel wrecked on a near reef, and intercourse was had with the people of the last formed christian station, most of whom were yet under the influence of heathenism. (Paulo had come from Samoa in 1849). Natives were admitted on board to barter, and all passed on without difficulty, until it was found that some of them had stolen articles belonging to the ship. Upon this discovery, the whole party was thrown into confusion; some of them who were on board were secured at once, and boats were lowered to follow those who were returning to the shore. Canoes were capsized and broken; the natives were pursued and fired upon, and beaten in every direction—one man died in the sea of shot wounds, and several others were detained on board the ship for two days; when, early in the morning two of the natives thus confined were released, while the ship was near the shore, and they landed in safety, but later in the day others were put overboard, three of whom landed half dead the next day; but nine of the party lost their lives. One of these nine was a chief who only a few months before had give his protection to the native christian teacher; his wife, through grief on account of his death, threw herself from a high precipice and was killed. The guilty man, who had been the thief on board, escaped to the shore; but his own people were so enraged at him, that they compelled him to go out in a small canoe and he perished at sea !”

I learned quite recently from Mr. Maxwell, that the visit of this man-of-war was to search for the crew of a Spanish or Portuguese vessel which foundered off the coast, and the crew of which reached Avatele on a raft, and it was from them that the natives procured their first dog (referred to in Part I hereof), and not from the timberladen ship. These shipwrecked people afterwards reached Samoa, but in the meantime the British man-of-war, alluded to in Mr. Gill's narrative, had heard of the disaster and came to Niuē looking for the crew. Owing to a misunderstanding, and believing that the crew were detained prisoners inland, many natives were detained, others killed, as Mr. Gill says.

In my account of the Kermadec Islands,* at page 15, I mentioned the fact, copied from Sterndale, of a large number of Tokelau natives page 88 (since known to be Niuē natives) having been taken to Sunday Island by a Callao slaver in 1861, where nearly all of them died. I got the Niuē account of this affair through the Rev. F. E. Lawes. It was not very long after the arrival of the Rev. W. G. Lawes at Niuē that a Peruvian slaver appeared off the coast at Alofi, under the command of an American. They succeeded in getting a large number of the people on board and induced them to go below, when they clapped the hatches on and secured them. There were about 200 of them. The people on shore, seeing the others did not return, began to understand that something was the matter. So Fata-a-iki, who was an enterprising and determined chief (but not then king), got a large number of people together and went off in their canoes, with the intention of overpowering the ship and releasing their fellow-islanders. But the crew prevented their getting on board, and fired on them to keep them off—one man being killed and others wounded. The crew manned and lowered an armed boat, and gave chase to the canoes, which made for the shore. A big fat man in Fata-a-iki's canoe wanted to cease paddling and offer up prayers for their safety; but Fata-a-iki said, “Leave your prayers till we get ashore,” and insisted on urging their canoe to its full speed. Some time after this an Irish sailor came ashore to the mission house to fetch some medicine, and Fata-a-iki wanted to make him prisoner as a hostage for their own people, but Mr. Lawes dissuaded them, thinking the captain would not wait for his sailor. Soon after the vessel sailed, and before very long dysentry broke out amongst the unfortunate prisoners, when many died, and were cast overboard. Things got worse, so the captain, being then near Sunday Island, landed most of the others in Denham Bay, and there left them to die, as all the unfortunates did. Some few were taken on to Peru, where they were made to work as slaves in the mines and other works. Some years after this an American whaler manned by Aitutaki natives arrived at Callao. Two of the younger Niuē people determined to escape by her if they could, and communicated their desire to the Aitutaki crew, who arranged with the captain to take the young men, if they came off dressed in their best, and hid somewhere near the shore. When the whaler's boat came ashore, the heart of one of the young men failed him, thinking they would be recaptured by the Peruvians, but the other went off in the boat. The coastguard suspecting something gave chase, but the boat reached the ship, and the captain being all ready put to sea at once. This young lad was landed at Oahu, from whence he managed to communicate with his relatives at Niuē; but he was afraid to come back on account of his father, who he knew would hold him responsible for his brother left in Peru. He married at Oahu, but in the end made his way back to Niuē

page 89

The notorious Bully Hayes also managed to kidnap a number of the Niuē people and carried them away to Tahiti, where he sold them. It will thus be seen that the Niuē experiences of civilized nations has not been altogether of a character to give them an exhalted idea of our people or our methods.

I must refer readers to Dr. Turner's “Nineteen Years in the Pacific,” for particulars of his two visits, from which will be gathered the progress of the islanders at various dates since 1840. The island has received visits from some eight men-of-war, including those which brought Commodore Goodenough, Sir Arthur Gordon (in 1879), Lord Ranfurly, &c.

In November, 1887, the natives applied to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, to be taken under her protection and have a Commissioner sent to reside. This request was repeated on February 12th, 1898, and also October 10th, 1899. Mr. Basil Thompson was dispatched from Fiji to hoist the British flag and bring the island under the British Protectorate, in H.M.S. “Porpoise,” and did so, 20th April, 1900. In October, 1900, His Excellency, the Earl of Ranfurly, Governor of New Zealand, visited Niuē and proclaimed the British sovereignty over the island, 19th October, 1900. On the 11th June, 1901, the island was annexed to New Zealand by a proclamation made at Auckland by H.R.H. the Duke of Cornwall and York. The first Government Resident (the writer hereof) arrived at Niuē from New Zealand 11th September, 1901.


* “The Kermadec Islands: their capabilities and extent,” by S. Percy Smith, Assistant Surveyor-General. Government Printer, Wellington, 1887.