Multicultural Levuka in the 1930s: the view from Anglican parson, C. W. Whonsbon-Aston

Anglican parson C. W. Whonsbon-Aston, wrote in 1937 – “People are led to believe by the novelists of to-day that the Pacific islands are inhabited by beachcombers, dissolute sons of noble families who are remittance men, or silent men who have been disappointed in love and seek consolation in solitude and trade gin. Some free-lance journalists appear quite ready to malign the South Seas in their endeavour to tell a tale to make a living”. The reality of a multicultural community in Levuka was more steady and sober, he said. in Levuka Days of a Parson in Polynesia By C. W. Whonsbon-Aston, published London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1937 records what he sees as a harmonious, sober, multi-cultural community of;

• Europeans, officials, planters and traders;

• Solomon Islanders, left from blackbirding; and

• The Indian population, which gets a small mention.

Fijian wife the best choice: He describes his employees, and the local planters, and also advises a Fijian woman of good character made a better wife than an imported “ordinary white woman”.

Whonsbon-Aston’s paradiseparish: “My parish was the island, about twenty-four miles round, on which Levuka stands, a portion of Viti Levu behind it, the Lomaiviti Group, portions of Vanua Levu and, beyond the 180th meridian East longitude, the Exploring Isles (Lau Archipelago). My sphere: first of all to the isolated or scattered Europeans, officials, planters and traders; then to the Solomon Islanders, a remnant from the old recruited labour days.

Solomon island worker – Maika: One page of my diary mentions “Maika started work.” Maika was a Solomon, fifty if a day, always on work-days as dirty as could be, while on Sundays he was most certainly the Beau Brummell of his people, a real gay lad with the dusky belles, whom he greeted with a twinkle in his eye worthy of a much younger cavalier. He was lame in one hip, used a stick and had been badly spoiled by fourteen years’ service under too easy conditions. The statement “started work” is not quite the correct phrase. He was usually about to do so.

“Oh,” gasped a lady visitor: Slow? Well, in a level stretch the, odds would probably be a margin in the tortoise’s favour. “Oh,” gasped a lady visitor having tea on the Vicarage veranda, “that umbrella moved.” The umbrella certainly gave the impression that it was out on the lawn to dry, but soon it heaved up again and two sets of black toes were to be seen under it. Maika was busy pulling up seed grass in the hot sun. He had graduated “backwards” from cookboy to the garden. His English was wonderful at times. My attempt to describe a particular cat that was to be summarily expelled should it be seen stalking the chickens produced “I know, I know. The little green one.” He searched for scissors to cut the magpie’s “handle,” and presented his bulletin on the safety of the duck and ducklings: “He all right; his father sit on him.” I sacked the old reprobate at least twice, but couldn’t resist him.

Indian cook famous for curries: Our cook was a Madrassi–called “George” for short–whose Indian curries have so far been unsurpassed. He was a Hindu, and I attribute his long stay with us not to our personal charms, but rather to our unique pet–an Australian magpie–which did such uncanny things that no doubts existed in George’s mind that some understanding spirit had migrated to “Mac.” The bird was his pride and joy. I just couldn’t give him the usual chit when we parted–“As a cook he takes a lot of beating.” I only discharged him twice. The first time I was ever so glad–he had become so suddenly efficient, willing and well-nigh obsequious–when I found at the end of the month that he had left his umbrella hanging behind the kitchen door. His voice with my early morning tea was very welcome.

Government policies not kind to mixed races: Some of our people were of mixed blood. The problem of these good folk is a big one. Levuka is kinder to them than any place I know and some of them are among its best citizens. It is reasonable that they should be given opportunities to rise above their handicap. They are the country’s responsibility, but governments do not seem to legislate for them.

Advisories on wife-selection: A question that, no doubt, arose in the more troublous days of old Fiji was whether it were not better for a man to be joined in wedlock with a clean, happy Fijian woman of good morals–for the Fijian standards were very high–than to make an alliance with some of the damsels of uncertain character to whom the free and easy life gave opportunity, when it was unwise for ordinary white women to be brought over.

Local folks more stable than Imports: “You’ll have a terribly hard job here,” I was told. “There are so many people of mixed blood and they are so unstable.” I was constrained to retort that some of the Europeans were not particularly stable in their attention to things of the spirit. It didn’t appear so hard after all. A sense of humour, a desire to understand, an appreciation of the beautiful and a love of the romantic are essential in Fiji; they must be cultivated.

Fiji is a British Crown Colony, and its white inhabitants conform for the most part to decently high standards. The truth that England is becoming more temperate by disposition rather than by legislation of a drastic nature is exemplified here. Although I have [15/16] been a member of most men’s organisations in Fiji, I have seldom seen any cases of excessive drinking.

The Civil Service consists on the whole of a group of really genuine good fellows. It is no easy matter for a young man to arrive in a country so far from his home, into an atmosphere so different from what he has been accustomed to, and settle down to new conditions.

Planters and traders in isolated islands are models of hospitality and cheeriness. I cannot remember in my many travels among them any unpleasant interlude. To-day they constitute a brave lot, fighting with their backs to the wall against a cruel fate that allows huge European combines to make excessive profits while they, the primary producers, are getting further and further involved–the result of this age of economic incongruities. Down, down, down the copra market has fallen, and with it many beautiful tropic homes are going into dilapidation, and their one-time owners are becoming worried spectres of their old cheery selves.

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