Discovering Fiji | Remembering Kia Island’s first missionaries of 1809
6 August, 2023, 11:49 am
When early missionaries arrived outside Kia Island in Macuata on Vanua Levu on November 20, 1809, they remained onboard the vessel Hibernia, captained by a man known as Captain Campbell.
From the ship, the men of God silently gauged the situation on the island.
They had heard about cannibalism among Fijians and considered this greatly.
Six days later, on November 26, the missionaries, under the banner of the London Missionary Society led by Reverend John Davies, they finally gathered confidence and paddled ashore to meet with the villagers of Kia.
This maiden trip will be marked through a commemoration event on November 26 this year and there are plans to invite Government and church leaders to celebrate with villagers.
According to events coordinator and villager, Timoci Masiniqa, this event would unfold to reveal many untold stories and historical events.
It will also open up doors of income opportunities for villagers.
“This island solely depend on fish as our major source of income and we believe that after the November gathering, the site we have prepared will become a tourist attraction,” he said.
“Another reason tourists may come to visit the site is to see the area out at sea where the missionaries had sprinkled bread crumbs after having their last supper on the boat.
“From that day until today, we have never run out of fish and villagers can attest to this. We have issued fishing licenses to businesses, individuals and even villagers. They have all carried out fishing activities within the island’s qoliqoli, but we still have an abundance of fish.”
Mr Masiniqa said this would be a good tourist attraction.
The last supper was also held at the village of Daku where the missionaries arrived on November 26, 1809 and had a prayer session and church service with the villagers of Kia.
The Hibernia experienced problems at a reef outside Daku during its voyage to the Pacific Islands.
According to Methodist Church minister, Reverend Inia Mavai, who attended the annual church conference at Naduri Village in 2007, this celebration was an issue discussed during the meeting.
In a written account to the villagers of Kia, Rev Mavai said the discussion was focused on reasons behind this celebration, which falls on a November 26, the day missionaries arrived at Daku village.
“Around the turn of the 19th century, as people outside the South Pacific learned of Fiji’s existence, travelers collected word lists to compare with other Pacific islanders,” he said.
“The words they collected had various motives and one was connected with trade to help sandalwood traders communicate with the Fijians while another was scientific to prove or disprove that Fijian was indeed a member of the Malayo-Polynesian family.
“This was the intent of one philologically curious visitor, Rev John Davies, who was a member of the LMS and was fleeing Tahiti because of a revolt of the unconverted.”
Rev. Mavai added that members of the LMS, en route to New South Wales via Fiji, also had Rev Davies among them on board the Hibernia.
While doing God’s work, they were also trading for sandalwood.
However, the vessel experienced problems at a reef outside Daku village which forced its crew to disembark for a short stopover.
“The missionaries were moving between their vessel and Kia island for about one and a half months while repair works were being done on the boat,” he said.
“During this period, he made notes on the customs and language of the Fijians. Curiously, Rev Davies decided that the language spoken on Kia was not related to Tahitian, which he already knew and so he presented a small set of words to prove his hypothesis.
“He had done this, a more comprehensive study of the language so he could start his missionary work to convert those in the island.”
After spending one and a half months outside Kia, the LMS missionaries, in October of the same year set sail again for their destination but they experienced similar fault on the vessel towards the north of Vanua Levu.
The group was forced to stop and attend to the problem while their ship anchored outside a small island towards the Udu Point area.
Rev Mavai said during this second stop, Rev Davies continued to work on the Fijian language, learning the different dialect in the villages they visited and by December, he was able to write Fijian phrases.
“Although mission activities in the pacific began towards the end of the 18th century and came as close to Fiji as nearby Tonga, it did not reach Fiji itself for several decades until the 1830s.
“Therefore, after doing our own research, we believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the LMS first arrived in Fiji in 1809 on Kia and later the arrival of Reverend David Cargill and William Cross in 1835 in Lau.”
Rev Mavai said the journey to Lau by Rev Cargill and Rev Cross started from a meeting of missionaries in Tahiti in which the same LMS group revived interest to revisit Fiji.
“Fiji again caught the interest of the LMS that first sent two Tahitian teachers to Oneata Island in Lau and they arrived in 1830 and worked there until their deaths in 1846,”he said.
“In spite of their long stay, it was reported that they made little progress and had difficulty in speaking the language. They were not trained to develop an alphabet and write a grammar or a local dictionary that missionaries could use.
“So at the Tonga Mission’s District meeting in December 1834, it was pointed out that in spite of a small number of missionaries serving there, some should be appointed to Fiji and Samoa.”
At this meeting, Rev Mavai said one missionary volunteered for Samoa while Rev Cross consented to go to Fiji if someone would accompany him.
“Rev Cargill was not present at the meeting as he was attending to his wife who was ill and about to give birth so in his absence, the missionary offered his services.
“Rev Cargill could not help being wary of his mission and he said as extracted from one of the research books: ‘I feel considerate exercise of mind with regards to Fiji and I do not regret that I am appointed to labour among the people of those island but I fear lest they should not receive our message’.
“The two missionaries then travelled to Tonga and were stationed at Vavaú and spent eight months waiting for a passage to Fiji. While on Vavaú, they started working with Fijians who lived in Tonga through inter marriage with those from northern Lau.
“In that same year, the two missionaries arrived in Lakeba, Lau.”
For the upcoming celebration, villagers on Kia have built a memorial with plaque in the area where the missionaries arrived on land.
Mr Masiniqa said this would be a special occasion especially for the elders who had passed down the story of the LMS missionaries’ arrival.
“So this event will be held on a Sunday of November 26 this year to coincide with the first church service and prayer that happened at the same spot on November 26 in 1809.
“This is very special and we will invite Government leaders and all religious leaders to be present at the event.”
History being the subject it is, a group’s version of events may not be the same as that held by another group. When publishing one account, it is not our intention to cause division or to disrespect other oral traditions. Those with a different version can contact us so we can publish your account of history too.