The Martyrs of Melanesia

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The Martyrs of Melanesia
Image: Martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood Mural

Picture courtesy of

The Anglican Church in Melanesia, like most churches throughout Christian history, has a roll of those who are honoured as martyrs for the faith. The best known is John Coleridge Pat-teson, the first bishop (see 20 September), but there were many others.

In 1864 Patteson and those with him were attacked on the island of Santa Cruz. Among those injured in the attack were Fisher Young and Edwin Nobbs, two Norfolk Islanders, who contracted tetanus as a result of arrow wounds. Fisher Young in particular is remembered for his forgiving attitude to his murderers. In spite of intense pain, Fisher’s faith never wavered. He sent a message to his father: “Tell my father that I was in the path of duty, and he will be glad. Poor Santa Cruz people!”. Both he and Nobbs died as a result of their wounds.

When Patteson himself was murdered seven years later on one of the Reef Islands, north of Santa Cruz, two others, Joseph Atkin, a New Zealand priest, and Stephen Taroaniara, also died. It was Atkin who returned to shore on Nukapu, even though he was wounded, to recover the body of Patteson. Taroaniara, in spite of intense suffering, asked his friends not to think of revenge. The way in which he endured his pain made a great impression on those who had known him before his conversion.

The island of Malaita was a difficult and dangerous area for the Melanesian Mission. In the early 20th century, 3 Melanesians met their deaths. Arthur Ako was a leading mission teacher in the south of Malaita and began the first school at Fiu. He was killed in 1904. Two years later James Ivo, who was a teacher from Nggela, was shot and killed in northern Malaita. In 1910 James Sili was killed. Charles Godden, an Australian priest on the island of Aoba in the northern New Hebrides since 1902, was killed in 1906 by a Melanesian who had returned from Queensland and sought revenge on some European for his imprisonment there. Further to the east from the main Solomon Islands group are the Reef Islands. There the first Reef Islander ordained, Ben Teilo, was attacked and killed in 1926 after seven years of ministry.

More recently, during a period of civil unrest in the Solomon Islands, a group of guerrilla rebels tortured and killed Nathaniel Sado, a Melanesian Brother at Easter 2003. When the assistant head of the Melanesian Brotherhood, Robin Lindsay, went in April with five other Brothers, Francis Tofi, Alfred Hill, Ini Paratabatu, Patteson Gatu, and Tony Sirihi, to ask for Sado’s body, they also were killed, some when they arrived, others after being tortured. At first it was hoped that they were being held hostage, but their deaths were confirmed in August 2003 when the guerrilla leader, Harold Keke, was captured. The bodies of six of the Melanesian Brothers were buried at the Motherhouse of the Melanesian Brotherhood at Tabalia, Solomon Islands, on the 24 October. Robin Lindsay was buried there on 5 November.

Although these are the best known of those who died for their faith in Melanesia, there are many others who suffered for their faith, and others again who died of illness or in accidents in the proclamation of the gospel. They are all honoured by the church for their witness.

The Celebration of Sukkot continues and we have included several elements here for those Christians who are choosing to celebrate a Christian version of Sukkot - The Feast of Tabernacles.