IN PERILS BY THE HEATHEN
This pen-portrait of a native Christian from the islands of the New Hebrides is largely extracted from the book “John G. Paton” republished by the Banner of Truth in 1965, a book first published in 1889.
Namakei was a cannibal and lived on the island of Aniwa. It was on this island that J. G. Paton saw a Christian church established under his teaching and Namakei, he records, was his first convert on that dark island of sin. He was an influential chief on the island of whom Mr. Paton records:Â—
‘Slowly, but very steadily, the light of the Gospel broke in upon his soul, and he was ever very eager to communicate to his people all that he learned. In heathen days he was a cannibal and a great warrior; but from the first he took a warm interest in us and our work,Â—a little selfish, no doubt, at the beginning, but soon becoming purified, as his eyes and heart were opened to the Gospel of Jesus.’
One incident of that time was very memorable, and God turned it to good account for higher ends. I often tell it as “the miracle of the speaking bit of wood”; and it has happened to other missionaries exactly as to myself. While working at the house, I required some nails and tools. Lifting a piece of planed wood, I pencilled a few words on it, and requested our old Chief to carry it to Mrs. Paton, and she would send what I wanted. In blank wonder, he innocently stared at me, and said, “But what do you want?”
I replied, “The wood will tell her.” He looked rather angry, thinking that I befooled him, and retorted, “Who ever heard of wood speaking?”
By hard pleading I succeeded in persuading him to go. He was amazed to see her looking at the wood and then fetching the needed articles. He brought back the bit of wood, and eagerly made signs for an explanation. Chiefly in broken Tannese I read to him the words, and informed him that in the same way God spoke to us through His Book. The will of God was written there, and by-and-by, when he learned to read, he would hear God speaking to him from His page, as Mrs. Paton heard me from the bit of wood.
A great desire was thus awakened in the poor man’s soul to see the very Word of God printed in his own language. He helped me to learn words and master ideas with growing enthusiasm. And when my work of translating portions of Holy Scripture began, his delight was unbounded and his help invaluable. The miracle of a speaking page was not less wonderful than that of speaking wood!’
He soon began to assist “Missi” by explaining the words of the missionary to the people in their mother tongue and by protecting their mission house from attack.
‘Our Mission House was once again threatened with fire, and we ourselves with musket, before its completion. The threats to set fire to our premises stirred up Namakei, however, to befriend us;
and we learned that he and his people had us under a guard by night and by day. But a savage Erromangan lurked about for ten days, watching for us with tomahawk and musket, and we knew that our peril was extreme. Looking up to God for protection, I went on with my daily toils, having a small American tomahawk beside me, and showing no fear. The main thing was to take every precaution against surprise, for these murderers are all cowards, and will attempt nothing when observed. I sent for the old Chief, whose guest the Erromangan was, and warned him that God would hold him guilty too if our blood was shed.
“Missi,” he warmly replied, “I knew not, I knew not. But by the first favourable wind he shall go, and you will see him no more.”
He kept his word, and we were rescued from the enemy and the avenger.’
Missi tells how, years after their settlement on Aniwa, he heard of an incident closely bearing upon that event.
‘At first we had no idea why they so determinedly refused us one site, and fixed us to another of their own choice. But after the old Chief, Namakei, became a Christian, he one day addressed the Aniwan people in our hearing to this effect:
“When Missi came we saw his boxes. We knew he had blankets and calico, axes and knives, fish-hooks and all such things. We said, ‘Don’t drive him off, else we will lose all these things. We will let him land. But we will force him to live on the Sacred Plot. Our gods will kill him, and we will divide all that he has amongst the men of Aniwa.’ But Missi built his house on our most sacred spot. He and his people lived there, and the gods did not strike. He planted bananas there, and we said, ‘Now when they eat of these they will all drop down dead, as our fathers assured us, if any one ate fruit from that ground, except only our Sacred Men themselves.’ These bananas ripened. They did eat them. We kept watching for days and days, but no one died! Therefore what we say, and what our fathers have said, is not true. Our gods cannot kill them. Their Jehovah God is stronger than the gods of Aniwa.”
The first Aniwan that ever came to the knowledge and love of Jesus was the old Chief Namakei. We came to live on his land, as it was near our diminutive harbour; and upon the whole, he and his people were the most friendly; though his only brother, the Sacred Man of the tribe, on two occasions tried to shoot me. Namakei came a good deal about us at the Mission House, and helped us to acquire the language. He discovered that we took tea evening and morning. When we gave him a cup and a piece of
bread, he liked it well, and gave a sip to all around him. At first he came for the tea, perhaps, and disappeared suspiciously soon thereafter; but his interest manifestly grew, till he showed great delight in helping us in every possible way. Along with him, and as his associates, came also the Chief Naswai and his wife Katua. These three grew into the knowledge of the Saviour together. From being savage cannibals they rose before our eyes, under the influence of the Gospel, into noble and beloved characters; and they and we loved each other exceedingly.
Namakei brought his little daughter, his only child, the Queen of her race, called Litsi Sore (=Litsi the Great), and said, “I want to leave my Litsi with you. I want you to train her for Jesus.”
She was a very intelligent child, learned things like any white girl, and soon became quite a help to Mrs. Paton. On seeing his neice dressed and so smart-looking, the old Chief’s only brother, the Sacred Man that had attempted to shoot me, also brought his child, Litsi Sisi (=the Little) to be trained like her cousin. The mothers of both were dead. The children reported all they saw, and all we taught them, and so their fathers became more deeply interested in our work, and the news of the Gospel spread far and wide. Soon we had all the orphans committed to us, whose guardians were willing to part with them, and our Home became literally “the School of Christ”,Â—the boys growing up to help all my plans, and the girls to help my wife and to be civilized and trained by her, and many of them developed into devoted teachers and Evangelists.’
As there was no source of pure water on the island of Aniwa the time came when Missi began to sink a well, after much prayer for direction as to a suitable place and amidst complete incredulity amongst the natives who knew nothing of digging wells for water. However, after many trials we read :Â—
“The well was now finished. The place was neatly fenced in. And the old Chief said, “Missi, now that this is the water for all, we must take care and keep it pure.”
I was so thankful that all were to use it. Had we alone drawn water therefrom, they could so easily have poisoned it, as they do the fish-pools, in caverns among the rocks by the shore, with their nuts and runners, and killed us all. But there was no fear, if they themselves were to use it daily. The Chief continued, “Missi, I think I could help you next Sabbath. Will you let me preach a sermon on the well?”
“Yes,” I at once replied, “if you will try to bring all the people to hear you.”
“Missi, I will try,” he eagerly promised. The news spread like wildfire that the Chief Namakei was to be the missionary on the next day for the worship, and the people, under great expectancy, urged each other to come and hear what he had to say.
Sabbath came round. Aniwa assembled in what was for that island a great crowd. Namakei appeared dressed in shirt and
kilt. He was so excited and flourished his tomahawk about at such a rate, that it was rather lively work to be near him. I conducted short opening devotions, and then called upon Namakei. He rose at once, with eye flashing wildly, and his limbs twitching with emotion. He spoke to the following effect, swinging his tomahawk to enforce every eloquent gesticulation:
“Friends of Namakei, men and women and children of Aniwa, listen to my words! Since Missi came here he has talked many strange things we could not understandÂ—things all too wonderful; and we said regarding many of them that they must be lies. White people might believe such nonsense, but we said that the black fellow knew better than to receive it. But of all his wonderful stories, we thought the strangest was about sinking down through the earth to get rain! Then we said to each other. The man’s head is turned; he’s gone mad. But the Missi prayed on and wrought on, telling us that Jehovah God heard and saw, and that his God would give him rain. Was he mad? Has he not got the rain deep down in the earth? We mocked at him; but the water was there all the same. We have laughed at other things which the Missi told us, because we could not see them. But from this day I believe that all he tells us about his Jehovah God is true. Some day our eyes will see it. For to-day we have seen the rain from the earth.”
Then rising to a climax, first the one foot and then the other making the broken coral on the floor fly behind like a warhorse pawing the ground, he cried with great eloquence:
“My people, the people of Aniwa, the world is turned upside down since the word of Jehovah came to this land! Who ever expected to see rain coming up through the earth? It has always come from the clouds! Wonderful is the work of this Jehovah God. No god of Aniwa ever answered prayers as the Missi’s God has done. Friends of Namakei, all the powers of the world could not have forced us to believe that rain could be given from the depths of the earth, if we had not seen it with our eyes, felt it and tasted it as we here do. Now, by the help of Jehovah God, the Missi brought that invisible rain to view, which we never before heard of or saw, and,”Â—(beating his hand on his breast, he exclaimed),Â—
“Something here in my heart tells me that the Jehovah God does exist, the Invisible One, whom we never heard of nor saw till the Missi brought Him to our knowledge. The coral has been removed, the land has been cleared away, and lo! the water rises. Invisible till this day, yet all the same it was there, though our eyes were too weak. So I, your Chief, do now firmly believe that when I die, when the bits of coral and the heaps of dust are removed which now blind my old eyes, I shall then see the Invisible Jehovah God with my soul, as Missi tells me, not less surely than I have seen the rain from the earth below. From this day, my people, I must worship the God who has opened for us the well, and who fills us with rain from below. The gods of Aniwa cannot hear, cannot help us, like the God of Missi. Henceforth I am a follower
of Jehovah God. Let every man that thinks with me go now and fetch the idols of Aniwa, the gods which our fathers feared, and cast them down at Missi’s feet. Let us burn and bury and destroy these things of wood and stone, and let us be taught by the Missi how to serve the God who can hear, the Jehovah who gave us the well, and who will give us every other blessing, for He sent His Son Jesus to die for us and bring us to heaven. This is what the Missi has been telling us every day since he landed on Aniwa. We laughed at him, but now we believe him. The Jehovah God has sent us rain from the earth. Why should He not also send us His Son from heaven? Namakei stands up for Jehovah!”
This address, and the sinking of the well, broke, as I already said, the back of heathenism on Aniwa. That very afternoon, the old Chief and several of his people brought their idols and cast them down at my feet beside the door of our house. Oh, the intense excitement of the weeks that followed! Company after company came to the spot, loaded with their gods of wood and stone, and piled them up in heaps, amid the tears and sobs of some, and the shoutings of others, in which was heard the oft-repeated word, “Jehovah! Jehovah!” What could be burned, we cast into the flames; others we buried in pits twelve or fifteen feet deep; and some few, more likely than the rest to feed or awaken superstition, we sank far out into the deep sea. Let no heathen eyes ever gaze on them again!
We do not mean to indicate that, in all cases, their motives were either high or enlightened. There were not wanting some who wished to make this new movement pay, and were much disgusted when we refused to “buy” their gods! On being told that Jehovah would not be pleased unless they gave them up of their own free will, and destroyed them without pay or reward, some took them home again and held on to them for a season, and others threw them away in contempt. Meetings were held and speeches were delivered, for these New Hebrideans are irrepressible orators, florid, and amazingly graphic; much talk followed, and the destruction of idols went on apace. By-and-by two Sacred Men and some other selected persons constituted themselves a sort of detective Committee, to search out and expose those who pretended to give them all up, but were hiding certain idols in secret, and to encourage waverers to come to a thorough decision for Jehovah. In these intensely exciting days, we “stood still” and saw the salvation of the Lord.
The death of Namakei had in it many streaks of Christian romance. He had heard about the missionaries annually meeting on one or other of the Islands, and consulting about the work of Jehovah. What ideas he had formed of a Mission Synod one cannot easily imagine; but in his old age, and when very frail, he formed an impassioned desire to attend our next meeting on Aneityum, and see and hear all the missionaries of Jesus gathered together from the New Hebrides. Terrified that he would die away from
home, and that that might bring great reverses to the good work on Aniwa, where he was truly beloved, I opposed his going with all my might. But he and his relations and his people were all set upon it, and I had at length to give way. His few booklets were then gathered together, his meagre wardrobe was made up, and a small Native basket carried all his belongings. He assembled his people and took an affectionate farewell, pleading with them to be “strong for Jesus,” whether they ever saw him again or not, and to be loyal and kind to Missi. The people wailed aloud, and many wept bitterly. Those on board the “Day spring” were amazed to see how his people loved him. The old Chief stood the voyage well. He went in and out to our meeting of Synod, and was vastly pleased with the respect paid to him on Aneityum. When he heard of the prosperity of the Lord’s work, and how Island after Island was learning to sing the praises of Jesus, his heart glowed, and he said, “Missi, I am lifting up my head like a tree. I am growing tall with joy!”
On the fourth or fifth day, however, he sent for me out of the Synod, and when I came to him, he said, eagerly, “Missi, I am near to die! I have asked you to come and say farewell. Tell my daughter, my brother, and my people to go on pleasing Jesus, and I will meet them again in the fair world.”
I tried to encourage him, saying that God might raise him up again and restore him to his people; but he faintly whispered, “O Missi, death is already touching me! I feel my feet going away from under me. Help me to lie down under the shade of that banyan tree.”
So saying, he seized my arm, we staggered near to the tree, and he lay down under its cool shade. He whispered again, “I am going! O Missi, let me hear your words rising up in prayer, and then my soul will be strong to go.”
Amidst many choking sobs, I tried to pray. At last he took my hand, pressed it to his heart, and said in a stronger and clearer tone, “O my Missi, my dear Missi, I go before you, but I will meet you again in the home of Jesus. Farewell!”
That was the last effort of dissolving strength; he immediately became unconscious, and fell asleep. My heart felt like to break over him. He was my first Aniwan convertÂ—the first who ever on that island of love and tears had his heart opened to Jesus; and as he lay there on the leaves and grass, my soul soared upward after his, and all the harps of God seemed to thrill with song as Jesus presented to the Father this trophy of redeeming love. He had been our true and devoted friend and fellow-helper in the Gospel; and next morning all the members of our Synod followed his remains to the grave. There we stood, the white missionaries of the Cross from far distant lands, mingling our tears with Christian natives of Aneityum, and letting them fall over one who only a few years before was a blood-stained cannibal, and whom now we mourned as a brother, a saint, an Apostle amongst his people.
Ye ask an explanation? The Christ entered into his heart, and Namakei became a new creature. “Behold, I make all things new.
We were in positive distress about returning to Aniwa without the Chief, and we greatly feared the consequences. To show our perfect sympathy with them, we prepared a special and considerable present for Litsi, his daughter, for his brother, and for other near friendsÂ—a sort of object lesson, that we had in every way been kind to old Namakei, as we now wished to be to them. When our boat approached the landing, nearly the whole population had assembled to meet us; and Litsi and the old Chief’s brother were far out on the reef to salute us. Litsi’s keen eyes had missed old Namakei’s form; and far as words could carry I heard her voice crying, “Missi, where is my father?”
I made as if I did not hear; the boat was drawing slowly near, and again she cried aloud, “Missi, where is my father? Is Namakei dead!”
I replied, “Yes. He died on Aneityum. He is now with Jesus in glory.”
Then arose a wild, wailing cry, led by Litsi and taken up by all around. It rose and fell like a chant or dirge, as one after another wailed out praise and sorrow over the name of Namakei. We moved slowly into the boat harbour; Litsi, the daughter, and Kalangi, his brother, shook hands, weeping sadly, and welcomed us back, assuring us that we had nothing to fear. Amidst many sobs and wailings, Litsi told us that they all dreaded he would never return, and explained to this effect:
“We knew that he was dying, but we durst not tell you. When you agreed to let him go, he went round and took farewell of all his friends, and told them he was going to sleep at last on Aneityum, and that at the Great Day he would rise to meet Jesus with the glorious company of the Aneityumese Christians. He urged us all to obey you and be true to Jesus. Truly, Missi, we will remember my dear father’s parting word, and follow in his steps and help you in the work of the Lord!”
The other Chief, Naswai, now accompanied us to the Mission House, and all the people followed, wailing loudly for Namakei. On the following Sabbath, I told the story of his conversion, life for Jesus, and death on Aneityum; and God overruled this event, contrary to our fears, by greatly increasing the interest of many in the Church and in the claims of Jesus upon themselves.’