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EXILES FOR CONSCIENCE' SAKE.

LATTER-DAY PERSECUTION.

SOME STARTLING TALES.

There are two very remarkable people in Melbourne just now—remarkable in many respects—and they have a history that is brimming over with interest. It is a history of nineteenth-century persecution of innocent men, women, and children, who, because their hearts were wrapped up in a church through whose instrumentality they had been brought out of heathenism and into Christianity, refused to give it up; and when torture and persecution could no farther go, the innocents were driven from their native land to find a home where they might live in peace. This happened in a Christian community presided over by an Englishman ! Two of the exiles are the remarkable people who are referred to, and they are the Rev. David Tonga and his wife, Rachel Tonga, Natives of the islands whose name they bear, and they have come into a land of freedom and plenty to tell of their wrongs and the sufferings they have endured for conscience’ sake. They speak not for themselves so much as for hundreds of their countrymen who yet suffer cruel persecutions, Most people know something about Tonga, It is a group of islands that has borne wonderful testimony to missionary enterprise, for scarcely anywhere have such rich harvests been gathered. But trouble came. Air Shirley Baker, an ex-mis-sionary, the right-hand man of King George, had succeeded in quarrelling with his governing body, the New South Wales Conference, and thereupon threw off his allegiance, and set about disestablishing Wesleyan influence and control in the Tongan group ; and now anybody in Tonga who happens to be a Wesleyan has a particularly bad time of it. No Wesleyan can be a Government officer or school-master, teacher, magistrate, or town ruler; eighty Wesleyan ministers and people have been exiled to Fiji, and a large number have been sent to the island of Tofua for long periods of banishment. The Government of Tonga has built places of worship against all the Wesleyan chapels, and services must never be held in the latter while they are going on in the former. A Wesleyan must never speak of a man of the new religion, or else he is punished for libel. Thus one man underwent a sentence of two years because he remarked that the Premier was once a Wesleyan. For all that has passed the king has been held up to blame; but Shirley Baker is Premier, Parliament, Cabinet, Executive, Treasurer, Minister of Education, and everything else. What sort of a man King George is now may be estimated from the following graphic description of him from the pen of the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’s’ special commissioner, who recently visited the group: —“ There on the verandah sits His Majesty George Tubou. I have seen his picture often; I knew him. Grey-bearded, greyheaded, one bare leg crossed upon the other, he sits in solitude. He has a jacket on, and a vala about his loins—that is all. The oldest monarch in the world—ninety-three, they say, at least; perhaps some years older; he is not quite sure himself. I take a long look at him ; not because I am Eartioularly fond of looking at royalty, but ecause this royal figure is out of the common ;heis an historic personage. He has been variously described a fond and foolish old man, a credulous tool, a stupid dotard, and of no account; but of all to whom 1 spoke on the subject there was not one but said that he was a sensible and intelligent and patriotic enough old fellow if left alone. Exactly. But a certain Louis had his Richelieu, a certain Henry had his Wolsey, and a certain Tongan king has his Boulanger, and ‘ there’s an end on’t.’ A good and kindly old man, said many a one, but spoiled. He is not the fool they make him out to be, said others. My own opinion, from what I can learn, is that George, of Tonga, has been filled with false notions of sovereignty. I made up my mind to be presented to the old monarch, but fate ordained that this should not be; for I was told by the British Consul and by others that he could not be seen before evening, as he went to sleep soon after his morning dinner, and would on no account be disturbed. So I was glad that I leaned against the fence unseen by the ancient monarch and studied him so long. He struck me, from the attitude of his head and hand, as a man of some meditation; from the erectness of the body while sitting, as possessing a good deal of virility; and from the repose of his countenance as being possessed of much natural dignity. For the rest, I bad to listen to what others said, and read bis history in the light of the influence that has been brought to bear upon him.” And now for some Tongan history. David Tonga and his wife, dusky in color though they may be, are for all that thoroughly cultivated people. David Tonga himself is a fine looking fellow of forty or thereabouts, with a strong, intellectual head and face full of power and expression, and a pleasant and quick way of expressing himself on all manner of subjects. The same description, only more so, will answer for Mrs Tonga, who, in addition, is a good mathematician and a really clever educated woman, They have spent all their lives on Tongan soil, and to English ways they are as yet a little new. This is a charm in them; for they are open, frank, and free, and their words are words used just to tell what they feel and know, and no more. With them as their guide is the Rev, George Brown, the Wesleyan Commissioner for Tonga, whose labors for Christianity and knowledge are of world-wide repute.

“I was born in heathen times,” commenced David Tonga in reply to a question. “That was a little time after the missionaries came : and while I was yet a little boy King George made war on all the heathens, and Drought the missionaries to teach them Christianity. Soon we had all joined the Whiteman’s church, and before very long 1 became a preacher to my own people, and for twenty-nine years past I have preached the Gospel amongst them. We were all happy, quiet, and peaceful until a few years a«o Ah, it has been hard since then. It came about in this way. _ One day Mr Baker came over to Haabai, the island ol which I had charge, and called all the people together, and ho said that the \v esleyans had been taking all the money away from Tonga, and if the Wesleyan Church still remained in Tonga, and the people kept firm to Mr Moulton, Tonga would be taken away from the people to become a colony of Great Britain. So he said that he would establish the Free Church, in order that w« should become independent of New South Wales, and as the people were frightened by his words they raised up their hands and said that they would join the Free Church. Then Mr Baker sent a letter to the king _to say what he had done, and when the king got it he called all the chiefs of Vavau together, and told them that Mr Baker had started a new religion, to be called the Free Church, and he asked them what their mind was. The chiefs said to the king that they had no wish for it. There was a great deal of talk, and after the meeting had ended the king sent in haste to M. Baker, at Haabai, telling him to be quick and come to Vavau. Mr Baker did as he was ordered, and he gave to the king his reasonfor starting the church, which lie said were that Mr Moulton was in collusion with the British Government, and wanted to take away Tonga and give it to England. Mr Baker said that he was anxious to get the Rev. Mr Watkin to join him, and wiien the king asked Mr Watkin he did so. Then t ie ting issued a command that all the men, women, and children in Vavau were to come to a great gathering, at which Mr Baker repeated the reasons for making the new religion. The king also spoke. He said: ‘I have joined this new church, and all my family, and any man who has any love or loyalty to me must join this church to which I now belong, and all of you who are of that mind lift up your hands.’ And they all lifted up their hands with the exception of three or four, and these were brought Into the presence of the king, and he spoke to them so that they were frightened, and they turned also. The difficulty that was with the people was that Mr Watkin had turned, for if Mr Watkin had remained true very few would have joined the Free Church. So this having been ended, Mr Baker went back to the Haabai Group, and called a great meeting, and though I wanted to speak to the people he would not let me do so. When a vote was taken, I think there were more for the Free Church, but we were pretty equally divided. The people were told that if they did not join the Free Church they would be rebelling against the king, and that scared them. Then Mr Baker gathered together the chiefs and the tjwn rulers, but many were not willing to do as he wanted, and one of them was immediately dismissed and deposed from his position, another being appointed in his place, and his lauds were also taken away from him. “One of the first persecutions that took place was that of a man named Esafe Katoa, who was accused of having said, when told that the king and his family would not give at the missionary meetings, and for that reason no one else should give, ‘ does not all land belong to Jehovah.’ This man had remained with the Wesleyan Church, and his words were said to be a slander on the king, so he was fined a large sum and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Another man who was accused of having slandered Wiokliffe, a Free Church minister, was also fined and imprisoned. These punishments, although nominally made by a Tongan Magistrate, were really ordered by the Premier, Mr Baker. After this, officers were sentto every man, woman, and child to question them as to whether they were Wesleyan or Free Church, and those who said Wesleyan had their names taken down, and told that they were rebelling against the king. MiBaker strongly urged on the chiefs to use all their efforts to get the people over, and the chief means used were to declare all Wesleyans as rebels. The chiefs commenced with very strong measures. One of them sent eight women to a desolate island called Tono Mea, where there was no food, and they would have starved to death if the Rev. Mr Crosbie had not taken them something. After this about eighty of the people of Lofanga were banished to an island called Kao, where there were no plantations but cocoanuts, and the only water was in a crater at the top of a very high mountain. They were in great straits for want of food, and there was one amongst them whose relatives had some wild goats on the island. This man said to his fellow exiles: ‘We are about to die for want of food ; let us chase some of these goats.’ But the others said: ‘ No, don’t letuscarryoutour Tongancustoms here.’ But the man said: ' Leave that to me; the goats are the goats of my relatives.’ So as they were starving they caught the goats and eat them, and for this the man who had suggested it was severely punished. The story of this got abroad amongst the people, who became angered ; and the Government feared a rising, so the exiles were released. But when they returned to their homes they found that all their plantations had been destroyed, and all their things had been taken away.” Mrs Tonga interrupted her husband at this stage, and told a story in which she took a most active part. She is even more Scriptural in her form of expression than her husband, and, like all the South Sea race, tells her taleln many words. “Just about this time,” she said, “there was an incident that I will tell you of. Between eleven and twelve o’clock one night we heard a gieat noise outside our house. David went and opened the door, and called unto them; «Who are you, and from where do you come ?’ And the persecutors answered him : •We have brought you Wesleyans. They have been sent to you by the Government, and you will have to keep them and to feed them and to look after them, because if it was not for you they would not stand firm. We bring them to you to feed.’ And there were 300 of them, men, women, and children. The women and children we brought into the house, but the men were forced to sleep outside, because inside there was no room for them. In the morning the children cried for food, and I asked: ‘Why do they cry ?’ and the mothers answered: ‘Because they want a breakfast.’ David had no food to give them, so he went to the traders and asked them to give him biscuits on trust, and we fed all these people for nearly four months on biscuits, the allowance being two biscuits a day for adults, and one for children. That was just enough to keep life in them. That was not all, for when the people went to get water from a well that was near the fence they were driven back by our persecutors, and often were not allowed to go to the sea to bathe, and even when they did go they were beaten and thrashed on the way. We were forbidden to preach, and a cordon was drawn around us, until at the end of four mouths the people were allowed to return to their homes.

“There was far worse than that. One Saturday morning two schooners arrived from Tonga, and that evening the people came and told us that wo were to settle what we were going to do before Monday, as we were only to be allowed two days to decide whether we would go to the Free Church. On Monday, when daylight came, we heard great cries that the Wesleyans were to be finished, and some men came to our house and took away my husband and other two Native ministers, as well as me. The two men were beaten and thrown into prison, but they did not beat David, because the king had given express orders that he was not to be so treated, but the other ministers were beaten until they were covered with blood. They next went to a woman, a class leader, and after taking all hsr goods, burnt down her house, and told fa ir not to leave the place where the house had been. But in the night the rain fell heavily, and she went to seek shelter in her sister’s home, but the persecutors came and found her oat, and forced her to go back and sit amongst the ruins of her home, and even took away a piece of board on which she sat,

They then stripped her of her clothing, and dragged her by the hair through the village. They then out off her hair, and in doing so cut away a lot of her scalp, and she was cast into prison amongst us. Another class-leader was beaten until she was insensible, and the persecutors kicked her as they would kick a ball, and after that they picked her up and threw her as far as they were able many times. This was done by the Government officers, yet the woman had done no wrong. There was, too, another woman who had been sent to an island some weeks before. The order was given that she should be brought back, and on the return the boat stayed at a small island, and two young men came off and beat her with the fruit-stalk of _ the cocoanut—punishment that is only given to the very worst criminals. After she recovered from the insensibility brought on by this, one of the men struck her with a piece of wood, and broke her thigh and one arm. Then they pulled her out of the boat, and dragged her body over the coral reef until her flesh was all torn off. After this they took her to Lefuka, and on the morning of which I am telling you she was thrown into prison as she was. She could only lie on her chest, all the rest of her body was so torn. Another man, the son of the Rev. Jone Faubula, was beaten so hard that he lay insensible in the prison with us for three days. The king’s daughter, his only one, who was also a prisoner with us, said to the persecutors: ‘ Why do you bring this dead man here ? Do you think wc can here ? Why don’t you take him outside ; you have killed him.’ There were thirty of us in this prison—men, women, and children. The roof was iron and windows were boarded over, and we "were so crowded that we could not all lie down. When I wanted to lie down my husband had to stand up, and so it was with us all. They brought us no food, and we should have starved to death but for the kindness of the English and German traders. So after a long imprisonment thus we were exiled to Fiji, and we are exiles still, though no crime has been laid to our charge.” “ All we want,” added David Tonga, is freedom of worship and liberty of conscience. We only want what the Tongan Constitution professes to grant, and what the Roman Catholics of Tonga really enjoy.” Thus they closed their story. It was told throughout in a delightfully simple and unassuming way, though now and again their voices grew loud as they thought of how much they had gone through. It is a story that will rouse the whole Christian world.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890521.2.3

Bibliographic details

EXILES FOR CONSCIENCE' SAKE., Issue 7912, 21 May 1889

Word Count
3,108

EXILES FOR CONSCIENCE' SAKE. Issue 7912, 21 May 1889

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