Where the Missionaries Get a Footin’

A native lad had followed us, to whom we called and beckoned him to come to us. On Bill saying a few words to him, which I did not understand, the boy advanced to the edge of the pond and gave a low, peculiar whistle. Immediately the water became agitated, and an enormous eel thrust its head above the surface and allowed the youth to touch it. It was about twelve feet long, and as thick round the body as a man’s thigh.

“There!” said Bill, his lip curling with contempt; “what do you think of that for a god, Ralph? This is one o’ their gods, and it has been fed with dozens o’ livin’ babies already. How many more it’ll get afore it dies is hard to say.”

“Babies!” said I with an incredulous look.

“Ay, babies,” returned Bill. “Your soft-hearted folk at home would say, ‘Oh, horrible! Impossible!’ to that, and then go away as comfortable and unconcerned as if their sayin’ ‘Horrible! impossible!’ had made it a lie. But I tell you, Ralph, it’s a fact. I’ve seed it with my own eyes the last time I was here; an’ mayhap, if you stop awhile at this accursed place and keep a sharp lookout, you’ll see it too. They don’t feed it regularly with livin’ babies, but they give it one now and then as a treat.—Bah, you brute!” cried Bill in disgust, giving the reptile a kick on the snout with his heavy boot that sent it sweltering back in agony into its loathsome pool. I thought it lucky for Bill—indeed for all of us—that the native youth’s back happened to be turned at the time, for I am certain that if the poor savages had come to know that we had so rudely handled their god we should have had to fight our way back to the ship. As we retraced our steps I questioned my companion further on this subject.

“How comes it, Bill, that the mothers allow such a dreadful thing to be done?”

“Allow it? the mothers do it! It seems to me that there’s nothing too fiendish or diabolical for these people to do. Why, in some of the islands they have an institution called the Areoi, and the persons connected with that body are ready for any wickedness that mortal man can devise. In fact, they stick at nothing; and one o’ their customs is to murder their infants the moment they are born. The mothers agree to it, and the fathers do it. And the mildest ways they have of murdering them is by sticking them through the body with sharp splinters of bamboo, strangling them with their thumbs, or burying them alive and stamping them to death while under the sod.”

I felt sick at heart while my companion recited these horrors.

“But it’s a curious fact,” he continued after a pause, during which we walked in silence towards the spot where we had left our comrades—“it’s a curious fact that wherever the missionaries get a footin’ all these things come to an end at once, an’ the savages take to doin’ each other good and singin’ psalms, just like Methodists.”

“God bless the missionaries,” said I, while a feeling of enthusiasm filled my heart so that I could speak with difficulty. “God bless and prosper the missionaries till they get a footing in every island of the sea!”

“I would say Amen to that prayer, Ralph, if I could,” said Bill, in a deep, sad voice; “but it would be a mere mockery for a man to ask a blessing for others who dare not ask one for himself. But, Ralph,” he continued, “I’ve not told you half o’ the abominations I have seen durin’ my life in these seas. If we pull long together, lad, I’ll tell you more; and if times have not changed very much since I was here last, it’s like that you’ll have a chance o’ seeing a little for yourself before long.”

~R.M Ballantyne, The Coral Island, Chapter 24, online at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21721?msg=welcome_stranger