BEGIN with,-a lesson in pronunciation. The heading is not Manx, but Samoan, and the missionaries who first reduced that language to writing gave the letters their Italian, not their Manx, values. Hence, you may pronounce the headline ' SAHLYTOWLEY.'

I came across him in Samoa,-the 'Pearl of the Pacific,' as the German Secretary for the Colonies calls it.

It was the first of the German Colonies to be taken from the Kaiser, being occupied before the end of August by a force of 1,200 men from New Zealand. There are not many tourists in the South Seas at present, but it happened that business took me along there in January and caused me to spend some weeks in our new possession.

One day while there I was turning over the pages of a little Annual, Le Kalena Samoa,published by the London Missionary Society at their well-equipped printing estab1ishment near Apia. It contained a directory of residents, and my eye was caught by the line–

COWLEY, Charles, Seaman, Vaiusu, Apia.

'Hello,' said I to myself, ' That looks mighty like a stray Manxman. I must look him up.' Of course I know there are many Cowleys who are not Manx, but I imagined that a Cowley who was a seaman was most likely one of us. So I made inquiry as to the whereabouts of Vaiusu and learned that it was a village about two miles from Apia. One evening after dinner I set out for Vaiusu. After walking about two miles along a beautiful road, bordered all the way by the natives' plantations of cocoa~nuts, breadfruit, bananas and other tropical growths, it seemed as if my destination ought not to be far off. Close to the road, in a bit of a clearing, were the lights of what proved to be a Chinaman's store; making my way thither, I asked if he could tell me where Mr. Charles Cowley lived. 'Long way, two miles, this boy take you, you give him one mark.' He turned to ' this boy,' a brown youngster who was buying a tin of treacle, and said to him in the native tongue something in which the word 'Saletauli' occurred two or three times. The small boy made an evidently intelligent and satisfactory reply, in which the same word occurred, smiled graciously at me, took the mark, and we went off again into the night. We strolled along for halfan-hour or so, with attempts at conversation which were more interesting than resultful. All along our road were native houses, and the stranger had many glimpses of the domestic economy of our new fellow-subjects. The Samoan house is designed rather for airiness than for privacy; it is a roof supported on poles. There are curtains of the Venetian blind type which can be lowered if desired, but they are seldom let down, none of them were down that night; each house had a good lamp inside and many of the households were retiring to rest, but that is not a very elaborate process when the furniture consists only of mats, and the costume generally of nothing but a ' lava-lava' or loin-cloth of the size of those supplied in the Turkish bath.

At last my companion led me off the road, and for a few hundred yards we followed a narrow track through a plantation and came out in a clearing where there was a small cluster of houses. In one of these about half-a-dozen youths were just turning in for the night. My guide led me in among them, and spoke to one of them, a brown lad of sixteen or so, whom I should have taken to be a pure Samoan. This youth, after hearing my guide's remarks, asked 'You want me?' I said, 'No, I am looking for Mr Charles Cowley.' 'Oh, he is my father. Me Missy Wiily Cowley, Me take you to him.' I concluded by this time that Missy Willy's daa was not all Manx at all events, but I was the more curious to see him and have a yarn. So I said good-bye to the small boy with the treacle-tin and set off under Willy's guidance.

He gathered a handful of dry cocoa-nut leaves off the ground and twisted them into a torch, which he lit at the lamp, and then he led me offalong another narrow track A lamp revealed the interior of a room, furnished in Samoan fashion except for a deck-chair in which an elderly man was seated, a half-caste, as I expected. Willy presented me, and I explained that I had come thinking I should probably find some fellow-countryman of my own that I had already learned that that was not the case, but had proceeded with my visit because I wondered if he was the son of some Manxman who had settled in these southern Islands. Charley told me that he knew absolutely nothing about his father's parentage and upbringing.

According to Saletauli's reckoning-the data being the year of his father's death and his age at that time- the odder man was born about 1810, but I have reason to think that overstates his age by about ten years. As a youth he was sailing out of Liverpool; then he entered the Navy and, coming in H.M.S. Pearl (I think it was) to Sydney, he deserted there, and after a time came to Samoa, married a Samoan, and settled there for the rest of his life. Charley, in his turn, had married a Samoan That night, and on a subsequent call, I met her, their daughters, and the small children of the latter.

The founder of the family was exceedingly reticent about his early life and evidently did not want his relatives ever to trace him: he left no papers or anything to connect him with his place of origin.

'Did he ever speak another language than English ?' I asked.

'Oh yes, often,' was the reply. 'When father got a bit excited, he used often to talk in a language that nobody in Samoa understood. When I asked him what language it was, whether it was Spanish or what, he would say " Hush, boy, hush, don't talk about it."'

One cannot be positive, of course, but I feel little doubt that this pioneer settler in the Pacific, who sailed out of Liverpool and talked in unknown tongues and, having married into the native race, knew so well what the folks at home would think about it that he did not want them ever to hear of him, was one of the many Manxmen who, going foreign, have never been heard of again. He charged his sons that when he died they were to alter their name by changing the 'ey' into 's', so that nobody would ever know what had become of him. His people, he told them, were big people at home and would think him a disgrace to them.

I took a camera out to Vaiusu another afternoon, hoping to get a picture or two of the family,-Charley and his wife, their children, one-eighth Manx and threequarters Samoan, and their children, one-eighth Manx seven-eighths Samoan, but I had no luck. My own camera was stolen on the voyage, in Fiji I tried to get another, but the only one procurable was a second-hand one which a photographer there, (his name was Caine) was kind enough to let me have. But through want of familiarity with the instrument, I had more failures than successes, and the Vaiusu pictures were failures.

It will perhaps interest my church and chapelgoing readers to know that, in the Cowley clearing among the cocoa-nuts and breadfruit, there is one other building beside the home. It is the ruin of what was once a substantial church. This was the gift of Cowley the first to the London Missionary Society and there the people of Vaiusu worshipped for many a year until a larger and more modern one was built. ' He loved their nation and built them a synagogue.'

The juvenile reader will envy the Samoan schoolboy (or girl) when I tell him that their language contains only fourteen letters,-the five vowels and F,G,L,M,N,P, S,T,V. Hence the change of my friend's name. Unable to pronounce the CH sound, the natives use S instead, and for the C (K) sound they always put in a T.

T. E. CORKILL. Wellington, New Zealand.


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2000