Anthropology Friday: Melanesia

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re visiting Melanesia., but first I’d like to direct your attention to a new study by Westaway et al, “An early modern human presence in Sumatra 73,000–63,000 years ago“:

Here we reinvestigate Lida Ajer [a fossil site] to identify the teeth confidently and establish a robust chronology using an integrated dating approach. Using enamel–dentine junction morphology, enamel thickness and comparative morphology, we show that the teeth are unequivocally AMH. Luminescence and uranium-series techniques applied to bone-bearing sediments and speleothems, and coupled uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating of mammalian teeth, place modern humans in Sumatra between 73 and 63 ka. This age is consistent with biostratigraphic estimations7, palaeoclimate and sea-level reconstructions, and genetic evidence for a pre-60 ka arrival of AMH into ISEA2. Lida Ajer represents, to our knowledge, the earliest evidence of rainforest occupation by AMH, and underscores the importance of reassessing the timing and environmental context of the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa.

Back to Melanesia:

Polynesians–who settled Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island, and Madagascar–are considerably more famous than their cousins over in Melanesia–chiefly Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji. (The Australian Aborigines are closely related to Melanesians.)

“Polynesia” means “many islands.” “Micronesia” means “tiny islands.” But “Melanesia” means dark islands, not because they are actually dark, but because the locals have dark, high-melanin skin.

Dr. Henry B. Guppy was a British surgeon and naturalist stationed in the Solomon Islands. Confusingly, there is a species of gecko named after Dr. Guppy–the Lepidodactylus guppyi, endemic to the Solomon Islands.

Dr. Guppy also wrote a book, the aptly titled “The Solomon Islands,”:

Amongst the Solomon Islands the student of nature may be compared to a man who, having found a mine of great wealth, is only allowed to carry away just so much of the precious ore as he can bear about his person. For there can be no region of the world where he experiences more tantalisation. Day after day he skirts the shores of islands of which science has no “ken.” Month after month, he may scan, as I have done, lofty mountain-masses never yet explored, whose peaks rise through the clouds to heights of from 7,000 to 10,000 feet above the sea. He may discern on the mountain-slopes the columns of blue smoke which mark the abodes of men who have never beheld the white man. But he cannot land except accompanied by a strong party; and he has therefore to be content usually with viewing such scenes from the deck of his vessel. …

A Melanesian is always careful to turn his toes in as he walks, and the narrowness of the bush track causes him no inconvenience, but the white man is not so careful how he plants his feet and is constantly striking the numerous objects which lie by the side of the track or on its surface. Moreover, a native person keeps his hands by his side as he walks, whereas the white man does not know the necessity for care in the matter and he frequently hits the numerous obstacles with his hands, and some of the leaves on the edge of the track are studded with sharp thorns! Every Melanesian carries a “scrub” knife, and with it he cuts away the limbs that fall over the path, but he cuts them at his own height and in an immediate line with the path; this suits him well, but proves awkward for any person who is taller or less careful about his method of progression.

Naural blond hair
Two Melanesian girls from Vanatu

There is a great deal of interest in Dr. Guppy’s account, but for now we are going to leave him and turn to the Dictionary and Grammar of the Language of Sa’a and Ulawa, Solomon Islands, by Walter G. Ivens, 1918:

Several external characteristics of the Melanesian peoples serve to distinguish them from the Polynesians: (1) Shortness of stature, the average height of the males being possibly 5 feet 4 inches and of the females 4 feet 10_ inches; (2) a chocolate-colored skin; (3) bushy hair, frizzled and tangled and standing erect, owing probably to the incessant teasing of it by the native combs.

The languages spoken in Melanesia vary considerably among themselves, but on examination they are shown to possess common features and to have a very large underlying sameness. The external resemblances, however, between the Melanesian languages are much less than those between the languages of Polynesia; e. g., the external resemblances between Maori and Samoan are far greater than those between Mota and Florida.

Two languages have been separated for a long time will have become more different from each other than two languages that have been separated for only a while. For example, all of the Romance languages are quite similar to each other, and have only been developing since the age of the Roman Empire–about 2,000 years or less. By contrast, English and Russian, while both Indo-European languages that therefore share many characteristics, have far fewer similarities than the Romance languages, because they have been separated for far less time.

If the Melanesian languages have more differences than the Polynesian, then they have likely been separated for longer–and indeed, this appears to be true. Melanesians appear to be descended from one of the first population waves to reach the area (along with their neighbors, the Australian Aborigines,) whereas Polynesians arrived in the area from Taiwan much more recently. (In fact, the Polynesian Maori people only arrived in New Zealand around 1250-1300 AD.)

Dr. Codrington has shown in “Melanesian Anthropology” that there is a large general resemblance in the religious beliefs and practices, the customs and ways of life, which prevail in Melanesia proper, and further research on the lines indicated by him will probably reveal the presence of similar beliefs and conditions of life among the Melanesian peoples of New Guinea and the neighbouring islands.

A distinguishing social condition of Melanesia is the complete absence of tribes, if the word tribe is to be applied as it is to the Maori people of New Zealand, or as used in Fiji. Descent in nearly every part of Melanesia is counted through the mother and the people are everywhere divided into two classes which are exogamous. This division of the people is the foundation on which the fabric of native society is built up. …

Animal food is but rarely partaken of by Melanesians. Pigs they all have, but they keep them for great events, for death feasts or for wedding banquets. Opossums (cuscus) and the large fruit-eating bats and wood pigeons and the monitor lizard are often eaten as relishes with vegetable food. The coast people get large quantities of shellfish at the low spring tides, and on an island like Ulawa a great deal of fishing is done both from the rocks and also out of canoes. The people make all their own fishing-lines out of home-made string or out of strong creepers found in the forest, and in old days their hooks were cut out of tortoise shell or out of black pearl-shell. Even to-day the hooks for the bonito fishing are of native manufacture and the tiny hooks for whiffing sardines are exquisitely made.

Fishing with nets is followed extensively by the Lau-speaking peoples who live on the artificial islets off the northeast coast of Malaita. These peoples and the people of the Reef Islands at Santa Cruz live almost entirely on a fish diet. The flesh of the porpoise is much prized by the peoples of Malaita and regular drives of porpoises are much held, the animals being surrounded and forced ashore into muddy creeks, where they are captured. The main value of the porpoise lies in the teeth, which form one of the native currencies. …

Tambu-House on the Island of Santa Anna, Solomon Islands

The men and boys in the Solomons have club-houses, both in the villages and also down at the beach. In the club-house at the beach the canoes for bonito fishing are kept. Strangers are entertained in these club houses; the relics of the dead are kept in them and religious rites are performed in them. Women are excluded from the club houses. …

Bark cloth (tapa) is made in Melanesia, but it never figured as an article of clothing and its main use was to form a kind of shawl in which the baby was slung when carried from the shoulder. Before the coming of the white man clothing of any sort was very little worn by Melanesians. The people of Santa Cruz, both men and women, were indeed clad sufficiently to satisfy our European notions of decency, and in the southern New Hebrides and in Florida and Ysabel the women wore petticoats made of mats or of grass, but in very many of the islands the women’s dress was of the scantiest, and the men wore nothing but a section of a leaf of a large pandanus. In the southeast Solomons the men commonly were quite naked and the women wore but a scanty fringe, while on Big Malaita not even the traditional fig leaf was worn.

In Santa Cruz, where all women and girls are swathed in mats and are kept in strict seclusion, there is more immorality, and that of a gross and shocking sort, than in the Lau-speaking districts of Malaita, where the women wear no clothing of any sort whatever. Once the mind gets over the shock experienced at the idea of the unclothed body, it will be obvious to the unprejudiced person that the absence of clothing does not necessarily imply immodesty either of thought or action. A Heathen woman on Malaita knows no shame at the fact that her body is unclothed.

Fijian mountain warrior

Another point as to which incorrect ideas exist is the question of cannibalism. Doubtless cases of anthropophagy occurred in many of the Melanesian islands, but it was never characteristic of the people as a whole, and the man-eating propensities of the Fijian people could never be predicated of the whole people of any single group in the sphere of the Mission. So local and confined is the practice that, while portions of one island regularly follow it, other portions of the same island hold it in abhorrence, as in the case of Malaita.

Joseph Wate, of Sa’a, a reliable witness, assured me that the Tolo peoples of Malaita were cannibals, but his own peoples were not, nor were the shore peoples of Big Malaita. The latter were fish-eaters, and those who lived on a fish diet did not practice as a regular thing the eating of human flesh. Cannibalism is the regular practice on San Cristoval, but is held in abhorrence on Ulawa. Yet the belief in cannibalism is so firmly fixed that one reads in the reports and books of the Mission that the two Reef Islanders who were held captive at Port Adam in Bishop Selwyn’s time were being fattened up and kept for eating, whereas in all probability they were regarded as “live heads” (lalamoa mori) and kept for killing, should any necessity arise when a victim would be demanded, as, e. g., at the death of any important person in the place, or they might be sold to anyone looking for a person to kill. The bodies after death would be buried. …

Great care is expended in bathing small children and shielding them from the rays of the sun. A young mother is excused from all work and she has the best time in all her life when her first baby is born. Her whole time is given up to the child, and it is seldom out of her arms. Owing to the lack of nourishing foods children are suckled till they are quite large. The Melanesian baby seems to have no natural liking for water and one often hears the shrill cries of small children being bathed in the streams or being washed in the houses. In the latter case water is poured from a bamboo into one of the wooden bowls and the child is then washed by hand.

The children at a very early stage of their existence are freed from the authority of their parents. They have no household duties to perform; there is no set time for meals; in the morning they may be given something cold left over from the night before, or the mother may roast a yam on the fire, but as a rule there is no cooking done till the late afternoon, when the women return from their gardens. During the day, if the children are hungry they can get a coconut or a breadfruit, or shell-fish, or they can roast a yam or a taro, and a fire can be made anywhere. The boys can get themselves an opossum or an iguana and in the hill districts they even find grasshoppers to eat. One and all they use large quantities of areca nut and pepper leaf and lime. These seem to be as necessary to the Melanesians of the northern islands as is a pipe to a confirmed smoker.

One would expect that children freed thus early from any dependence on their elders would run riot and learn licentious ways and habits, but such does not seem to be the case. There is but little individuality in Melanesians, and they are not “inventors of evil things.” They are bound by traditional customs, by the laws of the elders, by those social restrictions that the people have evolved for themselves as a safeguard against the breaking up of their society, and free agents though the children may be, and lacking parental control from our point of view, yet there is no such thing among them as the organized following of doing evil, and the ruling moral ideas of the people are found as the guide also of their children. …

they have no means of preserving the welfare of themselves as a whole. They have no tribes, no kingdoms, no laws beyond the unwritten social laws relating to marriage, etc.; life is insecure, accusations of witchcraft are easily made, and death follows as a matter of course; infanticide is a common practice, big families are almost unknown, polygamy is a recognized thing. So Christianity comes to them as a means of insuring both individual and social vigor and only in so far as they become Christian will they be saved from extinction. …

There can, however, be no question of leaving them alone now, whatever may have been the case in past years; civilization, i. e., trade, is coming in fast and the inevitable consequence will be that the white man’s view of life will alter the old style of things. Experience has taught us that wherever a people without a settled state and a kingdom and the external power of law is invaded by any of our western peoples, with their vigor and personality, the less-developed people lose all their pristine distinctiveness, all bonds are loosed, and inevitable decay sets in; in other words, the white man destroys the black….

There is very little that goes on in a native village that is not known to most of the people, and things are very well discussed before any action is taken, and generally the whole village knows the doings and the intentions of every inhabitant. If the teacher did know beforehand the chances are that he could not prevent the wrong. Individual action is rare among Melanesians. …

The isolation of the peoples in most of the Melanesian islands has in all probability been largely responsible for the lack of concerted action thitherto among the Christians. Social life as such was not known in Melanesia before the advent of Christianity. In their pre-Christian days these natives do not live in villages or hamlets, but in isolated groups with two or three houses or huts in a group. With the exception of certain places in Florida and also of the artificial islets off the northeast coast of Malaita, where hundreds of people live on tiny rookeries of stone just raised above the level of the tide, there was nothing that was worthy of the name of a village in the whole of the Mission’s area in the Solomons. …

Each subdistrict had its own petty chief with a following of half a dozen men in some cases. Every man knew who his own chief was and would support him when called upon. Each main district had also its head chief and to him tribute was paid whensoever he demanded it. Even these head chiefs had no state or surroundings. Thus at Roasi, on Little Malaita, Horohanue was the alaha paine, the main chief, but he had no immediate retinue and lived alone with his two wives, the guardian of his ancestral spirits, ‘akalo, and with the skulls of his dead in the house along with him. …

The Melanesian attitude with regards to presents is peculiar. A number of women would come with yams in baskets for sale; one special basket would be reported as “not for sale,” its contents (often inferior yams) were a gift–but it would have been the height of foolishness to accept such a gift without making a corresponding return. On being discharged from hospital a man would ask for a present in that he had been cured! Where there is no sense of debt there can be no showing of gratitude, gratitude being a spiritual and not a natural gift, a sense of the need to try to make a return for favors rendered. A Melanesian knows nothing of social duties; his life is lived apart from that of his fellows; he has no social sense, no dependence on his fellows, no common bonds of union such as spring up in community life; he asks nothing from his fellows nor they anything from him; he owes them nothing, and in consequence his circumstances have never been such as would be likely to encourage the growth of gratitude. …

The average Melanesian is a person of few worldy possessions; his house furniture consists of a few wooden bowls, a mortar for pounding yams or taro, a supply of vegetables smaller or larger according to his energy, an axe or a cane-knife; also a little stock of native money and perhaps a canoe. Of clothes he has practically none and the missionary’s simple wardrobe seems to him to be lavish in the extreme; he therefore has no compunction in asking of what he knows the white man to possess. If a person has practically never owned anything at all and if all his fellows are in the same condition too it is almost impossible to get him to understand that he should feel gratitude towards those who give him anything, since from his point of view they have so much in that they have anything at all.

EvX: That is one man’s view, of course. I am not in a position to judge the validity of Ivens’s observations, so I offer them with little comment.


Kabloona, religion, and the far reaches of the world

From the beginning of Kabloona:

In the spring of 1938 I stood one afternoon before the house of the Oblate Fathers in the Rue de l’Assomption in Paris. The day was fine, the street deserted and still, the house-front blank with that anonymity characteristic the world over of the city dwellings of priestly communities. I was about to embark upon a long trek into what was for me the unknown. If those within were willing to help me, my first step would be taken without stumbling. If not… well, I should go forward somehow. …

There I stood, then, with my finger on the bell at the door of the Oblate Fathers. It is the particular mission of the Oblate Fathers to evangelize the most distant and disinherited peoples of the earth. For generations, Christian priests have gone out of this house to the confines of the world–to central Africa, to the Brazilian jungles, to the Arctic. Here in this house you would not have guessed it. Not a footfall sounded, not a map hung on a wall. Someone, a shadow, had opened a door and vanished, shutting the door behind me. I stood alone in an old-fashioned reception room, waiting in the company of three green chairs and, on the wall, the enlarged photograph of a dead bishop.

A man came in: obviously a religious, and one look at his face and bearing told me that he was a chief. He signed to me to it down, and we sat in two of the three straight-backed chairs. Without a preliminary word, I blurted out the purpose of my visit, which was to go live with the Eskimos. Not those of Greenland, who, I gathered, were domesticated under governmental tutelage; nor those of Alaska, who carved souvenirs for tourists; but the Canadian Eskimos, those of the Central Arctic who, because they inhabited regions so emote and difficult to reach, still lived their primitive life of thousands of years ago, knowing of the white men only an occasional solitary missionary. I knew that their islands in the Glacial Ocean formed part of the immense diocese of that Oblate father who was celebrated in Canada as the “The Bishop of the Wind”; that the bishop toured his diocese in his own airplane’ and what I wanted was to be flown in by the bishop. Could the Oblate Fathers help me to realize my wish?

The man had not stirred. A proposal that had seemed to me, as I made it, monstrous, childish in its effrontery, seemed to him entirely normal. You have only to write the bishop,” he said in a curiously depersonalized voice, “He will reply.” As if the Arctic lay round the corner! This was my first lesson in humility, and I had been taught it even before leaving Paris. In a single word this religious, for whom neither time nor space existed, had reduced my vainglorious project to the dimensions of a Sunday picnic. But the bishop did not know me, I had ventured to say; the recommendation of the House would perhaps be necessary…. With a wave of the hand my objection was dismissed. “Not at all. It will be much better if you write direct. Here is the address. Good afternoon.” And silently this imperturbable servant of Christ had left me, shutting himself back into that eternity out of which he  had for an instant emerged.

It was in April that I wrote, addressing my letter to the bishop’s episcopal seat at Fort Smith, on the sixtieth parallel. At the end of May came the bishop’ reply. His Grace would be pleased to fly me in, provided there was space’ “for,” he wrote, “the plane is small and there will be another passenger. Meet me at McMurray, in northern Alberta, at the beginning of July.” …

I had left Paris on June 11, 1938.* It was on the 9th of July that I took off from Fort McMurray with Bishop Breynat, his chaplain, and Bisson, his pilot. … As the plane rose above the tree-tops Bisson made a sign with his hand; we fell back, and I, looking behind, saw the chaplain purple with tenseness and the bishop quietly absorbed in his breviary. …

In this wise I saw Goldfields born and die again, where the bishop left, by way of a gift, a haunch of beef. I saw Fond-du-Lac spring into existence and then vanish, where, on a little knoll, Brother Cadoret knelt, and the Indians with him, to kiss the bishop’s ring. It was there that an Indian had ventured to speak to the bishop.

“You go to see the Great Seated One,”–the Pope–he said. “Take him this, and when you have seen him, pray for Higine.” He had put three dollars into the bishop’s hand; and as we sat again in the plan and the earth darkened and the lakes below us shone like metal in the darkening earth, the bishop still held in his hand the three dollars, forgetting in his emotions to put them into his purse. …

We had flown fifteen hundred miles when I saw one night, shining in the Arctic sun, a pool bigger than any I had seen before. This was the sea, the Glacial Ocean. Again the pilot dived, again a little cluster of huts sprang up; and exactly at midnight on the 14th of July, I was set down in Coppermine. Father Delalande took us to his mission house, and without a word the old bishop climbed the wooden ladder into the attic and went to bed Next day he was off. He had done what he could for me in dropping me here at the last outpost of civilization.

*The Nazis occupied Paris on June 14th, 1940.

From Josephine and Frederick’s account of their attempt to drive from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa–a distance of about a thousand miles, or 1,500 km–in the DRC:

In the dark we were greeted by the priests in the mission. Before we could even say something they said “Il faut rien dire, on comprend!” – “No need to talk, we understand”. They were friendly and gave us a bucket of water to wash in. We could park the car in their garden. We closed our tent at midnight. The adrenaline was still rushing trough our veins. …

The mission is at the same time a (boarding) school. … The priests (Brothers actually) are nice guys. There are 4 of them, young and smart. All of them have studied in Lubumbashi or Kinshasa. After they finished the seminary they were sent to a mission. They cannot choose which one. We could hear the sadness in their voices when they told their stories.

They sampled the “world” when studying, they have a degree (one of them had a masters in engineering) and then they are sent to a mission. They know they will probably never have the chance again to live in a city. At the mission they take care of the kids, teach, etc.. A noble and rewarding job. But they carry all this knowledge that they cannot put in practice here. They have no computers, no tools, no electricity, no budget, …

The priest-engineer was setting up a project to generate clean energy from a river. He had a recycling project. A radio project. An irrigation project, … He had to run all these projects without any funds, without material. So many ideas, so little chances. …

Thus far the missions were havens of peace and quiet. Were things were functional (sometimes) and clean (sometimes). Not so at the home of Frère Louis. He lived like the Congolese lived… in a rundown building without any comfort. He had a bathroom that hadn’t seen a brush in ages,.. . It struck us as a bit odd, but later we would understand that Frère Louis is one of these rare people that does not care about himself, but only about the others. We would meet Frère Louis later on this trip and everything would become clear then.

He was well organized though. He was the only one in town with transportation … He uses this truck to get supplies from Lubumbashi to all of the project he is running in the area. The big wheels, the portle axles and the huge winch make it a capable bundybasher. …

While we were there several people came to visit. Among them was a friendly older lady. She had beautiful (homemade) clothes. She was responsible for the orphanage that was run by Frère Louis. …

“That night we talked for hours with Frère Louis. Our little adventures here dissapear in the nothing compared to everything he went trough. He had been in DRC for over 40 years, he stayed during all the wars. He had to abandon everything and run for his live three times as teams were sent out to kill him. But he always returned. Many books could be filled with his adventures.

He is also responsible for most of the bridges Katanga. He build hundreds of bridges himself. He has a small working budget from Franciscans, but he funds most of it all by himself. He has put every last penny in the Congolese people. That is why his house in Luena was so rundown.

There is much more, but I have quoted too much already. You can read it all on Frederick and Josephine’s thread.

According to the Orthodox Church in America website:

Several centuries later, two monks, Hourg and Barsanuphii, journeyed east to Kazan, capital of the Tartars, learned the Tartar language, and established a monastic community for the conversion of the Mongol peoples. St Stephen of Perm (1340-96), another monk, would in turn journey beyond Kazan, across the Ural Mountain, into the forests of Siberia to labor among the pagan Zyrians. There Stephen devised a Zyrian alphabet, translated the Gospel, and subsequently converted an entire people. This model of monastic evangelization became the pattern for other Russian Orthodox missionaries as they trekked ever eastward, eventually establishing a network of missions across Siberia and along the entire Pacific Rim: in China (1686), Alaska (1794), Japan (1861), and Korea (1898). The eight Orthodox monks who arrived in Alaska in 1794 were simply part of this centuries-old missionary heritage of the Russian Orthodox Church.

From the Wikipedia, on the history of the Orthodox Church in America:

Russian traders settled in Alaska during the 18th century. In 1740, a Divine Liturgy was celebrated on board a Russian ship off the Alaskan coast. In 1794, the Russian Orthodox Church sent missionaries—among them Saint Herman of Alaska – to establish a formal mission in Alaska. Their missionary endeavors contributed to the conversion of many Alaskan natives to the Orthodox faith. A diocese was established, whose first bishop was Saint Innocent of Alaska. The headquarters of this North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church was moved from Alaska to California around the mid-19th century.

Abbot Nazarius of Valaamo Monastery blesses missionaries leaving for America, at the direction of the Empress Catherine the Great.
Abbot Nazarius of Valaamo Monastery blesses missionaries leaving for America, at the direction of the Empress Catherine the Great. source

On Saint Herman:

Saint Herman of Alaska
Saint Herman of Alaska

The Shelikhov-Golikov Company appealed to the Most Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to provide a priest for the natives [of Alaska]. Catherine the Great decided instead to send an entire mission to America. She entrusted the task of recruiting missionaries to Metropolitan Gabriel of St. Petersburg, who sent ten monks from Valaam, including Herman.[14] The missionaries arrived on Kodiak on September 24, 1794.[15]

Herman and the other missionaries encountered a harsh reality at Kodiak that did not correspond to Shelikhov’s rosy descriptions. The native Kodiak population, called “Americans” by the Russian settlers, were subject to harsh treatment by the Russian-American Company, … The monks themselves were not given the supplies that Shelikhov promised them,[17] and had to till the ground with wooden implements.[18] Despite these difficulties, the monks managed to baptize over 7,000 natives in the Kodiak region, and set about building a church and monastery. Herman was assigned in the bakery and acted as the mission’s steward (ekonom).[19]

… After over a decade spent in Alaska, Herman became the head of the mission in 1807, although he was not ordained to the priesthood. The local population loved and respected him, and he even had good relations with Baranov.[22] Herman ran the mission school, where he taught church subjects such as singing and catechism alongside reading and writing. He also taught agriculture on Spruce Island.[23]

Herman moved to Spruce Island around 1811 to 1817.[25] The island is separated from Kodiak by a mile-wide strait, making it ideal for eremetic life. Herman named his hermitage “New Valaam.” He wore simple clothes and slept on a bench covered with a deerskin. When asked how he could bear to be alone in the forest, he replied, “I am not alone. God is here, as God is everywhere.”[26]

Despite his solitary life, he soon gained a following. He received many visitors—especially native Aleuts—on Sundays and church feasts. Soon his hermitage had next to it a chapel and guesthouse, and then a school for orphans.[7] Herman had a few disciples, including the Creole orphan Gerasim Ivanovich Zyrianov, a young Aleut woman named Sofia Vlasova, and others. Entire families moved in order to be closer to the Elder, who helped to sort out their disputes.[27] Herman had a deep love for the native Aleuts: he stood up for them against the excesses of the Russian-American Company, and once during an epidemic he was the only Russian to visit them, working tirelessly to care for the sick and console the dying.[7][28] Herman spent the rest of his life on Spruce Island, where he died on November 15, 1836.[29]

In 1812, Russian’s most southerly colony in the New World became Fort Ross, California:

The reconstructed Russian Orthodox chapel at Fort Ross, CA, photo by Introvert
The reconstructed Russian Orthodox chapel at Fort Ross, CA, photo by Introvert

From the Wikipedia Page on Russian colonization of the NW:

In 1920 a one-hundred pound bronze church bell was unearthed[by whom?] in an orange grove near Mission San Fernando Rey de España in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. It has an inscription in the Russian language (translated here): “In the Year 1796, in the month of January, this bell was cast on the Island of Kodiak by the blessing of Juvenaly of Alaska, during the sojourn of Alexander Andreyevich Baranov.” How this Russian OrthodoxKodiak church artifact from Kodiak Island in Alaska arrived at a Roman Catholic Mission Church in Southern California remains unknown.

Saint Peter the Aleut
Saint Peter the Aleut

Unfortunately, the Catholics and Orthodox didn’t always get along so well in California, as in the case of Saint Peter the Aleut, tortured and murdered by the Spaniards in 1815.

Even the Jews have their missions:

Non-Jews Help Jump-Start New Chabad Center in Alaska: A warm welcome in wintry Wasilla from the entire community

When Rabbi Mendy and Chaya Greenberg moved into their new home on a quiet dirt road in Wasilla, Alaska, one week before the High Holidays, they received a different kind of welcome.

A crew of local residents—almost all of them not Jewish—descended upon their house to unpack boxes, sweep, clean and arrange furniture. In fact, with just hours left before the onset of Shabbat, they even purchased and set up a brand-new dining-room table around which the couple would celebrate the holy day.

Who is this group of helpful denizens, and why have they raised thousands of dollars and volunteered countless hours for a Jewish group?

The answer lies with Ruthann Crosby-Cleeves, a local chaplain who leads “ChessedAlaska,” an organization dedicated to teaching the Seven Noahide Laws—the universal values of the Torah—to non-Jewish people.

And in Nepal:

On the sixth day since a massive earthquake crumbled buildings and shook mountains in the impoverished country of Nepal—before recent warnings of a new earthquake to come forced everyone back indoors—the focus of Chabad’s efforts have been concentrated on providing sustained humanitarian aid to thousands of people who have lost everything in the rubble. …

The delegation brought hygiene supplies, hot meals, fresh water and fruit.

“Tiny babies are thirsty for water, their eyes empty and dead, their small faces wizened like those of old people,” continues Lifshitz. “Wherever we went, people fell on our necks, begging for some food, for more water. We promised them that we would not forget them. We will be back tomorrow, and then again, the day after tomorrow. We will be there for the as long as they need us.”

Just before she left to return to the Chabad House, Lifshitz recalls that a woman with a pinched, wrinkled face approached her. “All she wanted was a hug,” she says. “We hugged for a very long time. Her tears remained on my shoulder long after we parted ways. How much strength did I get from that single hug…”

Rabbi Kotlarsky distributing food after the Nepal Earthquake, 2015 (photo courtesy Chabad.)
Rabbi Kotlarsky distributing food after the Nepal Earthquake, 2015 (photo courtesy Chabad.)