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By Edythe E. Pierce

An Evening with Fiji Islanders Who Have Forsaken the Freedom of Their Jungles for the White Man's Religion

A Young Stevedore.

"THE Fijians are giving an entertainment for the first lass cabin passengers on deck tonight."  This was the word that reached us on board the inter-island steamer which was making the monthly rounds of the Fiji, Tonga, or Friendly Isles, and Western Samoa.

"What, those black, bushy-haired men who worked the cargo, those 'Dusky Stevedores!'  Entertain us!"  We smiled, but concluded to find a seat on that part of the upper deck where the entertainment was to take place and, at least, satisfy our curiosity.  We were not obliged to remain if the performance became tiresome.

There was a certain fascination, however, in watching these men handle the squeaking winches and direct the swinging of the tall mast-like cranes that lifted the cargo from the hold of the vessel and over the side to the wharf below.  Often while stopping at the different ports during the voyage, we found ourselves leaning on the deck rail above, absorbed in the sight.  There were times when we held our breath as the great rope net rose in the air, full, almost to bursting, of all sorts of merchandise, and swung out past the men who were balancing themselves on the rail directing it.

On days when we traveled between ports, the Fijians were to be seen here and there on the lower deck, sitting on the hatch under the awning, eating their meals or washing their clothes or hair in that universal and indispensable utensil, the five-gallon gasoline can.  They were quiet, orderly and unobtrusive.  When in port, they worked hard all day and sometimes late into the night, for the contents of the ship's hold seemed to be inexhaustible.  They were certainly different from the picture we had entertained of them as cannibals, for there was a dignity and reserve which gave one the feeling that there was something fine and big behind 

The Steamer "Tofua" Docked at the Samoan Islands.


their natures which was worth while and we had a liking for them from the very first.

IN spite of the fact that we were sailing tropical waters, we found the deck quite breezy and our rugs comfortable when we settled ourselves in our steamer chairs on the evening of the entertainment. 

Our entertainers, about twenty-five in all, began to arrive by twos and threes and seated themselves cross-legged on the deck before us in a circular area.

It was plainly to be seen that they were as clean as soap and water could make them.  They wore short-sleeved shirts and a kind of a skirt called a sulu, made from a two-yard length of white drill, khaki, or large figured calico, usually red and white.  This was wrapped about the hips, reaching a little below the knees and tucked securely in at the waist.  Their black legs and feet were bare.

Just in front of the circle were four of the best looking young men with the most outstanding hair who sat in a row facing us.  These were the star performers.  They had no shirts, but their bodies to the waist were shining with coconut oil.  Their necks and shoulders were hung with garlands made of colored native grasses and thin strips of bark.  Bright colored native grass ribbons were tied around their wrists.  Their sulus were of white drill.

THE entertainment began with a sort of chant which was repeated over and over again.  It was not unmusical but weird, somewhat like the singing of the Hopi Indians.

After a while the four men seated in a row in front began to move their arms and hands in time to the chant and at the same time to work their chests, necks and back muscles in a most extraordinary manner.  Although sitting knee to knee, their arm gestures never interfered with the others. What the four men were supposed to be doing was puzzling until we were informed that they were executing a native dance.  The Fijians do many of their dances seated.

They kept exact time as they clapped their hands, something we could not do, for we tried it.  Every one of the twenty-five pair of hands came together simultaneously in one loud crack.

Many of the dances suggested the weird savagery of a primitive race and held us spellbound.  They stirred our imagination and we caught mental pictures of them as the savages they used to be.

What could have brought about such a change in these people who, not more than three generations ago, were living the degraded life of cannibals?  They carried on wars with other tribes on other islands and in their hideous celebrations of pagan rites committed many cruelties among themselves and their own families.  What could have caused them to accept the "civilized" way of living?  What turned their war chants into the singing of hymns, their lives into useful ones?

All their dances have meaning and often celebrate some important event;  one celebrated a victorious battle, another symbolized the planting of grain, the descending rains and the gathering of harvests, another, the waves breaking along the shore.

Between the dances, songs were sung;  many of them the old hymn tunes but sung in the native language, among them, "Onward, Christian Soldiers."  The transition from the savage chants and dances to the familiar airs gave us a very strange sensation.

PERHAPS the greatest emotion we experienced came when they sang some of the late war songs in English:  "Tipperary," and the "Long, Long Trail."  It was hard to believe that the World War had touched even these people on the far-away islands of the South Pacific Ocean and left its mark in one way or another.  But there is not a town of any size among all the islands we visited in the South Seas that has not a monument to its heroes of the World War.

Our Fijians' voices were very harmonious, rich and melodious and reminded us of the chords of a great organ.  They also suggested the singing of our own American "Negroes," but were unlike them in regard to the minor chords which are so much a part of the Spirituals.  The Fijians seem to have no minor strains in their music.

It was the next morning, Sunday, while wandering about the ship that we had our answer as to what had brought about the change in the lives of these people.  We heard singing which sounded as if coming from somewhere on the spar-deck.  We descended a ladder and found a part of the hatch cover shoved aside, letting a broad beam of sunshine into the hold.  Looking in, we saw an altar made of a packing box covered with a piece of tapa or native cloth.  On top of it lay a gilt-edged Bible.  Behind the altar was an elderly Fijian, wrinkled and grey, who was upon his knees offering prayer.  Grouped about him, sitting on the floor in a semi-circle, were our entertainers of the night before, their heads bowed in prayer.  Presently they sang again, one of the old familiar and dearly loved hymns:  "Shall We Gather at the River."  We crept softly away with lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes.

We realized then what had been going on in the last sixty years or so in these islands of which we had known so little.  The devoted and far-seeing work of the Christian Missionaries had carried the transforming message of peace and good-will, "Even unto the ends of the earth."


By Anne Arrington Tyson in "Magdalene"

Black sturdy hands that till and toil,
Black sinewy hands of furrowed soil,
Despise ye not, O men of clay,
Hands black of skin God made that way!

Bright yellow grain they grow and husk,
And gather, grind from dawn till dusk;
Diligent hands, beneath the sun,
Work hour by hour till day is done!

Strong hands that ditch, skilled hands that build,
In brick and stone, have dreams fulfilled
Like spirits of Aladdin's find,
Bear many burdens for mankind!

Black faithful hands that drudge, befriend,
Kind wrinkled hands that serve, attend;
Revere the hands of fruitful soil,
Hard, honest hands, black hands of toil!

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