He was as shy as a newspaper is when referring to its own merits. --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
Captain Wawn is crystal-clear on one point: He does not approve of missionaries. They obstruct his business. They make "Recruiting," as he calls it ("Slave-Catching," as they call it in their frank way) a trouble when it ought to be just a picnic and a pleasure excursion. The missionaries have their opinion about the manner in which the Labor Traffic is conducted, and about the recruiter's evasions of the law of the Traffic, and about the traffic itself--and it is distinctly uncomplimentary to the Traffic and to everything connected with it, including the law for its regulation. Captain Wawn's book is of very recent date; I have by me a pamphlet of still later date--hot from the press, in fact--by Rev. Wm. Gray, a missionary; and the book and the pamphlet taken together make exceedingly interesting reading, to my mind.
Interesting, and easy to understand--except in one detail, which I will mention presently. It is easy to understand why the Queensland sugar planter should want the Kanaka recruit: he is cheap. Very cheap, in fact. These are the figures paid by the planter: L20 to the recruiter for getting the Kanaka or "catching" him, as the missionary phrase goes; L3 to the Queensland government for "superintending" the importation; L5 deposited with the Government for the Kanaka's passage home when his three years are up, in case he shall live that long; about L25 to the Kanaka himself for three years' wages and clothing; total payment for the use of a man three years, L53; or, including diet, L60. Altogether, a hundred dollars a year. One can understand why the recruiter is fond of the business; the recruit costs him a few cheap presents (given to the recruit's relatives, not himself), and the recruit is worth L20 to the recruiter when delivered in Queensland. All this is clear enough; but the thing that is not clear is, what there is about it all to persuade the recruit. He is young and brisk; life at home in his beautiful island is one lazy, long holiday to him; or if he wants to work he can turn out a couple of bags of copra per week and sell it for four or five shillings a bag. In Queensland he must get up at dawn and work from eight to twelve hours a day in the canefields--in a much hotter climate than he is used to--and get less than four shillings a week for it.
I cannot understand his willingness to go to Queensland. It is a deep puzzle to me. Here is the explanation, from the planter's point of view; at least I gather from the missionary's pamphlet that it is the planter's:
"When he comes from his home he is a savage, pure and simple. He feels no shame at his nakedness and want of adornment. When he returns home he does so well dressed, sporting a Waterbury watch, collars, cuffs, boots, and jewelry. He takes with him one or more boxes--["Box" is English for trunk.]--well filled with clothing, a musical instrument or two, and perfumery and other articles of luxury he has learned to appreciate."
For just one moment we have a seeming flash of comprehension of, the Kanaka's reason for exiling himself: he goes away to acquire civilization. Yes, he was naked and not ashamed, now he is clothed and knows how to be ashamed; he was unenlightened; now he has a Waterbury watch; he was unrefined, now he has jewelry, and something to make him smell good; he was a nobody, a provincial, now he has been to far countries and can show off.
It all looks plausible--for a moment. Then the missionary takes hold of this explanation and pulls it to pieces, and dances on it, and damages it beyond recognition.
"Admitting that the foregoing description is the average one, the average sequel is this: The cuffs and collars, if used at all, are carried off by youngsters, who fasten them round the leg, just below the knee, as ornaments. The Waterbury, broken and dirty, finds its way to the trader, who gives a trifle for it; or the inside is taken out, the wheels strung on a thread and hung round the neck.