TUVALU HISTORY: CHRISTIANITY AND EUROPEAN TRADERS

Tags

Christianity and European Traders

Christianity was introduced in 1861 when some adherents of the London Missionary Society from Manihiki in the Cook Islands accidently drift to Nukulaelae in a canoe. In May 1865 the Reverend A. W. Murray of the LMS visited Tuvalu from Samoa and installed Samoan pastors on the various islands. To this day the vast majority of Tuvaluans are devoted members of Ekalesia o Tuvalu, the modern resultant of the LMS.
The German Company of Godeffroy and Son of Hamburg were first island traders in Tuvalu. As the locals were not very enthusiastic about copra-making, they devised the system of establishing agents, many of whom were American and British beachcombers, at likely points in the islands to trade European goods supplied by Godeffroy to the natives for coconuts which they dried. This system was the basis of the life of a considerable number of traders who spread throughout the islands at this time.
In 1892 Captain Davis of the H.M.S. Royalist identified the following traders in the Ellice Group: Duffy (Nanumea); Buckland (Niutao); Nitz (Vaitupu); John (also known as Jack) O'Brien (Funafuti); Alfred Restieaux and Fenisot (Nukufetau); and Martin Kleis (Nui).
The names of these traders are still very evident throughout the islands of Tuvalu even to this day.
Alfred Restieaux (later abbreviated to Resture) was a soldier of fortune who travelled the world, including South Africa, Australia, South America and the United States before settling in Tuvalu. He was eventually employed by the John Caesar Godeffroy Company that was taken over in 1879 by the German Firm of Samoa, Der Deutschen Handels-und-Plantagen Gessellschaft der Sudsee-Islen zu Hamburg, commonly dubbed the "Long Handled" firm to trade for them in the Ellice (Tuvalu) Islands. In 1881, George Westbrook who traded for Henderson and Macfarlane joined Alfred at Funafuti Island. Westbrook, described by Julian Dana in Gods who Die as Samoa's Greatest Adventurer also hailed from Brixton, in London. He and Alfred became firm friends during their time as traders in Funafuti, being the only two white men on Funafuti. In spite of the limited amount of copra on the Island, there was never any enmity between the two traders. In 1888, Westbrook left Funafuti intending to return to London, and a few years later Alfred went to settle in Nukufetau. Restieaux died on Nukufetau in 1911.
Jack O'Brien was of Australian-Irish descent and came to Funafuti in the 1850's. Jack O'Brien was the first white man in Funafuti and the Ellice Group, preceding the other white traders by some thirty odd years. He married Salai, the daughter of the then King of Funafuti and became the matriarch of an extensive Tuvaluan family. The O'Brien name is synonymous with Funafuti with the extended family evident in many countries throughout the world.
A well known Australian author, George Lewis "Louis" Becke, spent time as a trader in Tuvalu. Before he took to writing, he travelled extensively in the South Pacific, finding employment in may areas. In early 1880, he took up a position with trader Tom de Wolf on Nanumanga, and eventually opened his own store on Nukufetau in February 1881. There he married native Nelea Tikena.
Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny visited Funafuti in 1890, travelling on the trader steamer Janet Nichol. They stayed for only two days, but Fanny Stevenson recorded the visit in great detail in her diary.