Biographical entry: Sapibuana, Charles (1850s - 1884)



Charles Sapibuana (or Sapi) was born in the mid-1850s at Gaeta, at the southeast end of Nggela, and taken from Mboli on Nggela to Norfolk Island by Bishop Patteson (q.v.) in 1866 to be educated. About twelve when he left Nggela, Sapi on the ship met Joseph Wate (q.v.) from Malaita, who was also leaving his home for the first time, and they became life-long friends. They travelled to Kohimarama in Auckland, but the next year the school shifted to Norfolk Island. Sapi was baptised on 25 January 1869 and returned to Nggela later that year. He adapted well to the school conditions and was confirmed into the Anglican Church on Easter of 1871. At Norfolk he and Dudley Laukona were largely responsible for the first translation of the Melanesian Prayer Book into the Nggela language, which was published in 1871. As was the custom at the Mission, he returned home every two years and at home he ran afoul of bigman Takua (q.v.) from Mboli, who insisted on extracting tribute from all who went or returned to Norfolk Island. Charles and another Norfolk scholar had all of their possessions confiscated. He left again on the Southern Cross (q.v.) and was onboard when Bishop Patteson (q.v.) was killed at Nukapu in 1871, and helped to rescue the body. Sapi returned to Norfolk Island more circumspect, and later in 1872 went back to Nggela to select a wife, Georgina Menengelea, whom he married in 1875. Trading and labour vessels had caused problems around Nggela, and this led to the massacre of the crew of the trading schooner Lavinia (q.v.) while Sapi was on Nggela. His brother Musua was one of the leaders of the attack. Sapi was again on Nggela in 1874.

In 1877, he settled at Gaeta with his wife and new child and began permanent work as a teacher, carrying on the temporary school he had started whenever he returned for holidays. Gaeta was about seventeen kilometres from the Siota mission base. His first converts were his brother Philip Musua and Philip's wife, both of whom were baptised in 1878. Sapi created a Christian village with thirty-four converts ready for baptism. Bishop John Selywn (q.v.) encouraged him to return to Norfolk for more training, which he did in 1880, returning home in 1881-1882 to help Selwyn negotiate an end to the Sandfly massacre (q.v.) retribution and prepared for ordination. He was made a deacon two years later on Whit Tuesday of 1882. He remained at Geata, and was responsible for the final shift of many Nggela people from their traditional belief systems to Christianity. Many tidalo (sacred objects) were destroyed and Kalekona, an important Gaeta bigman, was converted not long before he died in 1884. Bishop Selywn suggested his ordination as a priest, which led Sapibuana to return to Norfolk Island in 1885. Already in poor health, he developed pleuro-pneumonia and died on 25 October 1885. (Montgomery 1904 [1896], ch. 19; Fox 1958, 182-183; SCL 15 Aug. 1898, 1-6, 15 Sept. 1898, 1-4)

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Published resources


  • Fox, Charles E., Lord of the Southern Isles: Being the Story of the Anglican Mission in Melanesia, 1849-1949, Mowbray, London, 1958. Details
  • Montgomery, Henry H., The Light of Melanesia: A Record of Thirty-Five Years Mission Work in the South Seas, Written after a Personal Visitation made by Request of the Right Rev. John Selwyn, D.D., late Bishop of Melanesia, Originally published: 1896, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1904. Details


  • Southern Cross Log (SCL). Details