Robert Salau and Oti Maekera.

Photo courtesy of Adventist Heritage Centre, Australia.

Salau, Robert (c. 1905–1973)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

Robert Salau was a pioneer missionary to New Guinea.

Early Years

Robert Salau’s home island was Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands.1 His father decorated their home with the skulls of his victims slain and eaten in head-hunting raids.2 His mother had been captured in a raid on another island and incorporated into the tribe, which was foreign to her. Robert never knew the exact year of his birth. Years later he said that when he was approximately 12 years old he remembered Griffiths Jones bringing the Advent Herald into the bay near his home.3 Jones was exploring for village people who would accept the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) mission. That memory would place Robert’s encounter with Jones sometime between 1915 and 1919,4 placing his birth around 1905. Robert added that he began to attend a mission school approximately the same time as his encounter with Jones, but he didn’t name the school.5 It could have been any one of Dovele, Ghatare, Modo, Telina, Sasaghana, or Batuna.

Called to Serve Overseas

At the first business meeting of the Solomon Islands Mission in May 1929 at Batuna, it was voted that two young men, Oti and Salau, should accompany Jones on the Melanesia to pioneer mission work in New Guinea.6 Oti and Salau were later likened to Paul and Barnabas setting out from Antioch on their first missionary journey.7

The Melanesia called in at Rabaul to take on some New Guinea men to assist in the enterprise. Salau and one man were placed on Emirau Island. Oti and three men disembarked at Mussau Island. The men had remarkable results. In 1931 it was reported that Salau was operating two Sabbath Schools, with a total attendance of 170 individuals.8 The following year a Fijian missionary came to replace Salau. In turn Salau transferred to Mussau in order to help Oti with a flourishing membership.9

By 1934 the entire population of Mussau was reported to be converted to the SDA Church.10 A young woman named Vogae had left her home in the Solomon Islands to marry Salau. She was on Mussau barely 12 months when chronic fever took her life on June 16, 1934.11 At the graveside Salau was moved to declare that her marked grave would be a constant reminder of the sacrifice she and her family had made for the people of Mussau.12

Mission leaders thought it would help Salau to cope with his grief if he transferred from Mussau. He was therefore chosen to be part of an advance party to enter the New Guinea highlands via the Ramu Valley. Nine young men from Mussau and Rabaul, and Salau, were flown in from Salamaua to Goroka with missionary Gilbert McLaren in July 1934. During their stay they constructed a home of native materials for the mission director.13 It was not an experience that the coastal islanders enjoyed. “It is a very cold place,” Salau wrote. “We get cold every times night and days. We put the clothes on every times. All boys got fever and coughs.”14

Salau returned briefly to Mussau, where he and Oti were assigned to yet another pioneering venture, this time into the Admiralty Islands, off the northern coast of New Guinea. In April 1935 Salau entered Tong Island, to the east of Manus Island. Oti went to Baluan Island in the same group.15 Widespread acceptance of their messages was experienced, similar to the earlier developments on Emirau and Mussau.16

For six years Salau suffered increasingly with an abdominal malady until, in 1939, it was thought advisable to admit him to the Sydney Sanitarium and Hospital for surgery. He recovered quickly from the operation. Prior to returning to the Pacific Islands, he spoke at Australian churches and camp meetings to promote mission offerings.17

Wartime

The war years brought mixed blessings for Salau. Expatriate missionaries were required to leave their stations in the hands of national leaders like him and return to Australia for safety reasons. Salau found another wife, the leading nurse at Amyes Memorial Hospital. Her name was Pizo.18 In time they would have six children, Vivona, Lama, Alvine, Norman, Kerry, and Jeanette.19 The invasion of Japanese troops into his area meant forced labor and the looting and burning of their homes and possessions. When the war turned in favor of the Allies, American troops restored order, and Salau made many friends among them.20

Postwar

The work that Oti and Salau had started in the Admiralty Islands before the war spread westward to Lou Island and the main island, Manus. In 1947 Salau was stationed at Malai Bay, southwest Manus Island. Church members celebrated the 1948 new year by gathering at Lou Island. On their journey home Salau and his family, together with others, were overtaken by a storm, and the waves overturned their canoe. Paddles and cargo were lost. Another canoe far ahead of them reached land and realized Salau’s canoe had experienced trouble, so a rescue was mounted with a flotilla of canoes. Men, women, and children were found clinging to the outrigger of the upturned canoe. Providentially, all were ferried to safety after floating for six hours in shark-infested waters.21 Although there is no record of his ordination, Salau was first referred to as an ordained pastor in 1948.22

World Trip

In 1949 Salau visited England and America with Andrew Stewart to tell their stories of mission expansion in Melanesia. On March 23 they left from Sydney on the “Georgic” and sailed via Fremantle and the Suez Canal.23 In England they spoke to SDA congregations in Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, Newcastle, and Manchester24 before boarding the Mauretania at Le Havre, France, for New York.25 American press editors were alerted to Salau’s arrival and were waiting at the wharf in large numbers. Numerous radio and television interviews followed, together with reports in many newspapers and the periodicals Time and Newsweek. In Yankie Stadium fifty thousand people were moved as they listened to Stewart and Salau sing a cappella a rendition of “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” in pidgin English. All were intrigued that in their midst stood a man who represented those Pacific Islanders who had assisted their troops during war. Salau was delighted to meet again some servicemen he had befriended and worked with, namely Chaplain McCorkel and an Army doctor, Gardiner.26 As he toured for three months he spoke to many SDA gatherings and saw many SDA institutions. It was an enriching experience for him.27

Return to New Guinea

Salau returned from overseas to take up work again at Manus Island,28 but the following year, 1951, he transferred to the newly formed North-West New Guinea Mission, centred at Wewak. This became the headquarters for the Sepik Mission, in which Salau worked until 1956.29 In 1957 he was appointed back to the Eastern Highlands Mission, where he had pioneered the work more than two decades earlier at Goroka, shivering in the bracing climate of the mountains. Three of the four years in this region were spent as assistant to the mission president.30 His final assignment brought him full circle to the area where he had started, ministering in the Mussau/Emirau/Kavieng territory.31

Salau retired to his home island of Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands, in January 1965 after 35 years of mission service in New Guinea.32 There among his people he died on February 24, 1973.33 Many of his years were invested in pioneering conditions. Even though he had very little formal education, he excelled in ministry. Secular news reporters in America commented about his “poise and sincerity,”34 a fitting testimony to one who gave his life to the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Sources

Atkins, A[rthur] S. “Letter from Mussau, New Guinea.” The Missionary Leader, January 1935.

Campbell, Belle. “Missionary McLaren’s Visit to Avondale.” Australasian Record, October 29, 1934.

Ferren, J[ay] R. “Encouraging Press Publicity for Pastor Salau.” ARH, July 7, 1949.

Jones, G[riffiths] F. “The Melanesian Mission.” Australasian Record, October 21, 1918.

McLaren, G[ilbert H.] “A Wonderful Venture in New Guinea.” Australasian Record, August 13, 1934.

———“Good News from the Territory of New Guinea.” Australasian Record, November 9, 1931.

“Pastor and Mrs. A. G. Stewart . . .” Australasian Record, June 6, 1949.

Robert Salau Sustentation Record. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Salau, Robert.” Document: “Robert Salau Sustentation Record.”

Salau, Robert. “Letter from a Solomon Island Worker in New Guinea.” Australasian Record, October 1, 1934.

———. “Letter of Farewell from Robert Salau.” The Missionary Leader, July 1939.

———.“Word from Native Workers.” Australasian Record, September 11, 1944.

Salau, [Robert], and A[ndrew] G. Stewart. “Farewells After a Joyous Visit.” ARH, November 3, 1949.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association. Years 1946–1965/1966.

Stewart, A[ndrew] G. “Mighty Transformation in St. Matthias Group, Territory of New Guinea.” ARH, December 8, 1932.

———. “Pastor Salau Visits England. ARH, May 26, 1949.

———. “Starting on Our Long Voyage.” Australasian Record, March 28, 1949.

———.“The Admiralty Group, New Guinea.” The Missionary Leader, October 1935.

———.“The General Meeting in the Solomon Islands.” Australasian Record, July 22, 1929.

“The Headhunter’s Son Finds Wonder in the Tower.” Australasian Record, May 23, 1949.

Tindall, R[ex]. “Pastor Salau Is Called to Rest.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, May 28, 1973.

Turner, W[illiam] G. “A New Group Entered in the Southern Seas.” ARH, September 26, 1935.

Tutty, R[obert] H. “Manus.” Australasian Record, February 23, 1948.

———. “Snapshots of Native Ministry in Solomons and New Guinea.” Australasian Record, June 14, 1943.

Wickman, Paul. “Pastors Stewart and Salau in the Spotlight.” ARH, July 21, 1949.

Notes

  1. R[ex] Tindall, “Pastor Salau Is Called to Rest,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, May 28, 1973, [1].

  2. “The Headhunter’s Son Finds Wonder in the Tower,” Australasian Record, May 23, 1949, 2.

  3. A[ndrew] G. Stewart, “Pastor Salau Visits England,” ARH, May 26, 1949, [1]-19.

  4. G[riffiths] F. Jones, “The Melanesian Mission,” Australasian Record, October 21, 1918, 53–56.

  5. “The Headhunter’s Son Finds Wonder in the Tower.”

  6. A[ndrew] G. Stewart, “The General Meeting in the Solomon Islands,” Australasian Record, July 22, 1929, 3.

  7. R[obert] H. Tutty, “Snapshots of Native Ministry in Solomons and New Guinea,” Australasian Record, June 14, 1943, 4, 5.

  8. G[ilbert H.] McLaren, “Good News from the Territory of New Guinea,” Australasian Record 35, no. 45 (November 9, 1931): 2, 3.

  9. A[ndrew] G. Stewart, “Mighty Transformation in St. Matthias Group, Territory of New Guinea,” ARH, December 8, 1932, 12–14.

  10. Belle Campbell, “Missionary McLaren’s Visit to Avondale,” Australasian Record, October 29, 1934, 3, 4.

  11. Robert Salau, “Letter from a Solomon Island Worker in New Guinea,” Australasian Record, October 1, 1934, 2, 3.

  12. A[rthur] S. Atkins, “Letter from Mussau, New Guinea,” The Missionary Leader, January 1935, 8.

  13. G[ilbert H.] McLaren, “A Wonderful Venture in New Guinea,” Australasian Record, August 13, 1934, 8.

  14. Salau, 2, 3.

  15. W[illiam] G. Turner, “A New Group Entered in the Southern Seas,” ARH, September 26, 1935, 11, 12.

  16. A[ndrew] G. Stewart, “The Admiralty Group, New Guinea,” The Missionary Leader, October 1935, 8.

  17. Robert Salau, “Letter of Farewell from Robert Salau,” The Missionary Leader, July 1939, 8.

  18. [Andrew G. Stewart], “Starting on Our Long Voyage,” Australasian Record, March 28, 1949, 5.

  19. Dr. Narka Tutua, interview by Milton Hook, Hornsby, NSW, February 13, 2019.

  20. Robert Salau, “Word from Native Workers,” Australasian Record, September 11, 1944, 5.

  21. R[obert] H. Tutty, “Manus,” Australasian Record, February 23, 1948, 4, 5.

  22. “Bismark Archipelago Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1948), 75.

  23. [Andrew G. Stewart], “Starting on Our Long Voyage,” Australasian Record, March 28, 1949, 5.

  24. Stewart, “Pastor Salau Visits England.”

  25. “Pastor and Mrs. A. G. Stewart . . . ,” Australasian Record, June 6, 1949, 8.

  26. Paul Wickman, “Pastors Stewart and Salau in the Spotlight,” ARH, July 21, 1949, 17, 18.

  27. [Robert] Salau and A[ndrew] G. Stewart, “Farewells After a Joyous Visit,” ARH, November 3, 1949, 16–18.

  28. “Bismark Archipelago Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1950), 78, 79.

  29. E.g., “Sepik Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1955), 72.

  30. E.g., “Eastern Highlands Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958), 75, 76.

  31. E.g., “New Ireland Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1965/1966), 87.

  32. Robert Salau Sustentation Record, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Salau, Robert”; Document: “Robert Salau Sustentation Record”).

  33. Tindall, 1.

  34. J[ay] R. Ferren, “Encouraging Press Publicity for Pastor Salau,” ARH, July 7, 1949, 17.

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Hook, Milton. "Salau, Robert (c. 1905–1973)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Accessed April 16, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=C83V.

Hook, Milton. "Salau, Robert (c. 1905–1973)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Date of access April 16, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=C83V.

Hook, Milton (2021, January 09). Salau, Robert (c. 1905–1973). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 16, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=C83V.