1930s: Blackbirded Solomon islanders return from Queensland to Levuka

Levuka Days of a Parson in Polynesia, By C. W. Whonsbon-Aston London: Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1937 reported on blackbirded or indentured Solomon islanders at home in Levuka in the 1930s – “most of them by way of Queensland sugar fields, to the cotton and sugar fields of Fiji. “AH bin ‘Stralia. Bin Bund’burg, Cairns, Bisbun,” says Joe Quai of the rolling gait and the hat on three hairs, our short stumpy bellringer and organ-blower. Nothing ever hurries him, but, if you worry him, do it away from your garden, or in sheer nervousness he will root up all the daisies with his very expressive feet.

By way of Queensland sugar fields:
The Solomon Islanders are worth consideration. They are hard workers when they have work to do and are as honest as can be. They came, most of them by way of Queensland sugar fields, to the cotton and sugar fields of Fiji. When the policy of indenturing Indian labour came into operation, some of them remained in Fiji. But few Solomon Island women were left in Fiji, and many of the men have since married Fijian women. The resultant offspring often combine the charm of the Fijian with the industry of the Solomon.

Anglican Vicars the protectors of Solomon Islanders: “They are good friends, but can be very sullen and even dangerous enemies. The Vicar is invariably their traditional “protector” at any of the bigger centres in Fiji. They are just grown-up children to whom praise is as necessary as the censure that they must sometimes get. They speak that abomination of the South Seas, “pidgin-English,” and their own particular brand of Fijian, for it is to be remembered that they hail from different parts of the Solomon Islands, where practically each village has its own separate language. From such a Babel “pidgin-Fijian” has evolved for them.

Arrival at Church in Levuka: “Early on Sunday mornings, sometimes hours before the appointed time for service, the communicants arrive. In the eye of memory I can see them now–Joe the first arrival with bare feet and someone’s discarded dinner suit. To the ten o’clock service later come all the available men, women and podgy children, some dressed in the usual waistcoat (sulu) and the women in Dorothy Perkins dresses of gorgeous hues. (Please don’t blame our mission for this. It is rather ridiculous to see native women dressed up like mid-Victorian bathers even to go net fishing up to their necks in salt water.) Before the bell rings there is a procession to the Vicarage kitchen, to quench their thirst and incidentally to see if there are any spare bananas, or other refreshment about.

Pipes ranked in the Ivy: When the last bell rings the men carefully knock the ashes from their well-seasoned pipes and to service they go; not, however, until each has deposited his pipe in its own particular niche in the ivy on the wall. They will never take them into church.

Subtle harmonies: “They sing right lustily with all the harmonies introduced and blending wonderfully. One Christmas they sang “Hark! the herald angels sing” in Fijian to a Tongan tune. I think the tune owed much of its inspiration to “There is a tavern in the town,” but it was so effective that we decided that they should sing one hymn each Sunday night at the European service. The experiment justified itself, though the main soprano had a voice of such strength and volume that I had to warn any visitors as to where they should sit to avoid its vibration. At times they produced a fifth harmony, very like the sounds of an Eastern bazaar; a remnant, maybe, of their own barbaric chantings”.

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