In temperament and ambitions the spirits of the dead remained as they were upon earth, but of more monstrous growth in all respects, resembling giants greater and more vicious than man. War and cannibalism still prevailed in heaven, and the character of the inhabitants seems to have been fiendish or contemptible as on earth; for the spirits of women who were not tattooed were unceasingly pursued by their more fortunate sisters, who tore their bodies with sharp shells, often making mince-meat of them for the gods to eat. Also the shade of any one whose ears had not been pierced was condemned to carry a masi log over his shoulder and submit to the eternal ridicule of his fellow spirits.
Altogether, this religion seems to have been as sordid, brutal and vicious as was the ancestral negroid stock of the Fijians. Connected with it there was, however, a rude mythology, clumsy but romantic, too much of which has been lost; for the natives of to-day have largely forgotten its stories or are ashamed to repeat it to the whites. In recent times the natives have tended to make their folk-lore conform to Biblical stories, or to adapt them to conditions of the present day. The interesting subject of the lingering influence of old beliefs upon the life of the natives of to-day has engaged the attention of Basil Thomson in "The Fijians, a Study of the Decay of Custom."
As in every British colony, the people are taught to respect the law. Sentences of imprisonment are meted out to natives for personal offences which if committed by white men would be punished by small fines, but the reason for this is that in the old native days such acts were avenged by murder, and it is to prevent crime that a prison term has been ordained. The natives take their imprisonment precisely as boys in boarding school regard a flogging, the victim commonly becoming quite a hero and losing no caste among his fellows. Indeed it is a common sight to see bands of from four to eight stalwart "convicts" a mile or more from the prison marching unguarded through the woods as they sing merrily on their way "home" to the jail. Once I recall seeing two hundred prisoners, all armed with long knives, engaged in cutting weeds along the roadside, chanting happily as they slashed, while a solitary native dressed only in a waist-cloth and armed only with a club stood guard at one end of the line, and this not near the prison, but in a lonely wood fully a mile from the nearest house.
In 1874, the British undertook the unique task of civilizing without exploiting a barbarous and degraded race which was drifting hopelessly into ruin. They began the solution of this complex problem by arresting the entire race and immuring them within the protecting walls of a system which recognized as its cardinal principle that the natives were unfit to think or act for themselves. For a generation the Fijians have been in a prison wherein they have become the happiest and best behaved captives upon earth. During this time they have become reconciled to a life of peace, and have forgotten the taste of human flesh; and while they cherish no love for the white man, they feel the might of his law and know that his decrees are as finalities of fate. All are serving life sentences to the white man's will, and the fire of their old ambition has cooled into the dull embers of resignation and then died into the apathy of contentment with things that are. Worse still, they have grown fond of their prison world, and the most pessimistic feature in the Fijian situation of to-day is the evident fact that there is almost no discontent among the natives. Old things have withered and decayed, but new ambition has not been born.
It is in no spirit of criticism of British policy that I have written the above paragraph for it was absolutely necessary that the race should "calm down" for a generation at least before it could be trusted to arise. Now, however, there are no more old chiefs whose memories hark back to days of savagery, and now for the first and only time has come the critical period in the unique governmental experiment the British have undertaken to perform, for now is the time when the child must learn to walk alone and the support of guardian arms must in kindness be withdrawn, else there must be nurtured but a cripple, not a man.
Among the generation of to-day the light of a new ambition must appear in Fiji or the race shall dwindle to its death. No real progress has been made by the Fijians; they have received much from their teachers, but have given nothing in return. They are in the position of a youth whose schooling has just been finished, life and action lie before him; will he awaken to his responsibility, develop his latent talent, character and power, and recompense his teachers by achievement, or will he sink into the apathy of a vile content?
The situation in Fiji is one of peculiar delicacy for the desire for better things must arise among the Fijians themselves, and should it once appear, the paternalism of the present government must be wisely withdrawn to permit of more and more freedom in proportion as the natives may become competent to think and act rightly for themselves. A cardinal difficulty is the unfortunate fact that the natives DESIRE no change, and even if individually discontented and ambitious, they know of no profession, arts or trades to which they might turn with hope of fortune. The establishment of manual training schools wherein money-making trades should be taught, if possible BY NATIVE teachers, is sorely needed in Fiji.
At present there is too little freedom of thought in Fiji; fear of the chief and of Samuyalo's club has been replaced by fear of the European and his hell. Free, fearless thought is the father of high action, and while their minds remain steeped in an apathy of dread there can be no soil in which the seed of independence can germinate.
Yet it is still possible that the Fijians may attain civilization. Of all the archipelagoes of Polynesia, Fiji alone may still be called the "Isles of Hope." As one who has known and grown to love these honest, hospitable, simple people, I can only hope that the day is not far distant when a leader may arise among them who will turn their faces toward the light of a brighter sky, and their hands to a worthier task than has ever yet been performed in Polynesia.
Yet why civilize them? Often does one ask oneself this question, but the answer comes as the voice of fate, "they must attain civilization or they must die." Should the population continue to decline at its present rate, the time is imminent when the dark-skinned men of Fiji will be not the natives, but the swarming progeny of the coolies of Calcutta.
Nowhere over all the wide Pacific have the natives been more wisely or unselfishly ruled than in Fiji, yet even here native life seems to be growing less and less purposeful year by year. In time it is hoped a reaction may set in and that with the decline of communism new ambitions may replace the old, but then will come the problem of the rich and the poor--a thing unknown in Fijian life to-day.
Hardly the first lessons in civilization have been taught in Polynesia, yet who can predict the noon day, should even the faintest glow appear in native hope. In former ages the Japanese were a barbarous insular people, and as in our own civilization the traditions and habits of rude Aryan ancestors still color our fundamental thoughts so in Japan we find evidences of a culture essentially similar to that of the Pacific Islands of to-day. The ancient ancestor worship of Japan is strangely like that of the tropical Pacific with its gods, the ghosts of long departed chiefs, and its high chief a living god to-day. Moreover in the Pacific Islands the house consists of but a single room, and such to-day is essentially the case in Japan, save only that delicate paper screens divide its originally unitary floor-space into temporary compartments. As in the South Seas, matting still covers the floor of the Japanese house, its roof is thatched, and is constructed before the sides are made, there is no chimney, the fire-place is an earthen space upon the floor or is sustained within an artistically molded bronze brazier, the refined descendant of the cruder hearth. In Polynesia as in Japan one seats oneself anywhere in tailor-fashion upon the floor, and upon this floor the meals are served, and here one sleeps at night, nor will the women partake of food in the presence of the men. In essential fundamental things of life the Japanese show their kinship in custom and tradition to the insular peoples of Asiatic origin now occupying the Pacific, and if Japan has attained to so great a height in culture and civilization, why may we not hope for better days for the South Sea Islanders?