Polynesia; A popular description of the physical features, inhabitants, natural history, and productions of the islands of the Pacific. With an account of their discovery, and the progress of civilisation and christianity amongst them.
Chapter VIII. — Papua or New Guinea; and the Louistade Archipelago
Papua or New Guinea; and the
Being situated so close to the equator, New Guinea is very hot, but the lofty mountainous chains of the interior, together with its extensive forests, attract the moisture from the clouds, which descends in copious showers, rendering the climate excessively moist and humid.
Mr. Jukes says, "Everything we saw ashore—the large sheltered houses raised on posts above the ground, with smoke oozing through the thatch, and the heaps of dry firewood stored in them—denote the climate to be a very wet one, and in all our excursions into New Guinea we found almost continual rain." The south-east monsoon appears to be the wet Season, and the north-west the comparatively dry one. Much bad weather, with violent squalls and heavy thunder-storms, is frequently experienced on the coast, especially during the change of the monsoons.
The chain of lofty and snow-capped mountains which extends along the middle of the south-eastern portion of New Guinea, has been named Owen Stanley's Range, after the late Captain Stanley, of page 170H.M.S. "Rattlesnake;" its peaks vary in altitude from 6000 feet upwards—Mount Yule being 10,046, Mount Suckling 11,226, and Mount Owen Stanley 13,205 feet in height.
It is supposed that New Guinea possesses large and navigable rivers, from the fact that the sea outside their mouths is in many places fresh for a long distance, as well as discoloured, during the wet season, by the mud they carry down. Should such be the case, a small steamer, sufficiently armed and protected, might penetrate into the very heart of this remarkable country; of which Mr. Jukes says, "I know of no part of the world, the exploration of which is so flattering to the imagination, so likely to be fruitful in interesting results, whether to the naturalist, the ethnologist, or the geographer, and altogether so well calculated to gratify the enlightened curiosity of an adventurous explorer, as New Guinea; so dim an atmosphere of obscurity rests at present on the wonders it probably conceals."
The first discovery of Papua was made so long ago as the year 1511, by the Portuguese.
In the year 1528, Alvaro de Saavedra, sailing eastward from the Moluccas, fell in with a part of the "land called Papua." The Spaniards, believing the country abounded with gold, gave it the name of Isla del Oro. The inhabitants seen were "black, with short* curly hair; they went naked, but had page 171swords and other arms made of iron." From the resemblance between the natives of this country and those of the coast of Guinea, this newly discovered land was afterwards styled "New Guinea" by Ruy Lopez de Villalobas, who, visiting it in 1545, believed it not before to have been known to Europeans.
The first navigator who saw the southern shores of New Guinea, appears to have been Luiz Vaez de Torres, in the Spanish frigate 'La Almiranta,' when coming from the eastward in 1606. He previously met with some of the islands of the Louisiade Archipelago, which he called the "beginning of New Guinea;" and, being unable to weather them to proceed northwards, he coasted in a westerly direction along its southern shores, passing through the straits that now bear his name.
In 1616 Schouten and Le Maire came to the coast of New Guinea, and sent their shallop on shore, when they were attacked by the natives with slings and stones. A similar occurrence took place when Dampier, at a later period, visited New Britain; from being thus assailed by the inhabitants, he called the spot Slinger's Bay.
Portions of the eastern coast of New Guinea were examined by Dampier in the year 1700. He describes that part of the country as being mountainous and woody, full of rich valleys and pleasant page 172fresh-water rivulets. The inhabitants he found everywhere treacherous, and on landing to obtain wood and water was obliged, on several occasions, to fire at them. Dampier describes an active volcano on an island close to the north-eastern shore, "which island all night vomited fire and smoke very amazingly; and at every belch we heard a dreadful noise like thunder, and saw a flame of fire after it, the most terrifying that I ever saw: and then might be seen a great stream of fire running down to the foot of the island, even to the sea-shore." This volcano lies in latitude 5° 33' S., 332 miles west of Cape St. George.
Seventy years after the explorations of Dampier, our great navigator, Captain Cook, when passing through Torres' Straits, landed on the coast of New Guinea, along with Sir Joseph Banks and Dr. Solander. No sooner had they waded ashore, than the natives came running out of the woods, shouting in the most violent manner. They threw lances at them, and "something out of their hands, which flew on one side of them, burning in the same manner as gunpowder." Captain Cook and his companions, having been compelled to discharge their muskets at them, they retreated, letting off their fires, a few at a time, in a kind of regular platoons; they appeared to be discharged by means of pieces of hollow cane, which, when swung sideways, produced fire and smoke like that occasioned by the letting off of small arms. At this spot, which was a little to the northwards of Cape Valschar, Captain Cook found groves of cocoa-nut trees, together with plan-page 173tains and bread-fruit. The breeze from the aromatic shrubs on shore is said to have been charged with a fragrance resembling that of gum benjamin.
In 1768 M. de Bougainville, the French circumnavigator, with two vessels, unexpectedly fell in with the mainland of New Guinea. He says, "Long before dawn, a delicious odour informed us of the vicinity of this land, which formed a great gulf open to the south-east. I have seldom seen a country which presented so beautiful a prospect; a low land, divided into plains and groves, extended along the sea-shore, and afterwards rose like an amphitheatre up to the mountains, whose summits were lost in the clouds. There were three ranges of mountains, and the highest chain was distant about seventy-five miles from the shore."
Captain Thomas Forrest of the "Tartar" galley, belonging to the East India Company, visited, in 1774, the harbour of Dorey, situated in the north-west extremity of New Guinea. He describes the men as, "wearing their hair brushed out so much round their heads, that its circumference was not less than three feet. In this they stuck a comb, with four or five long diverging teeth, with which they now and then combed their frizzy locks in a direction outwards, as with the design of making them look more bulky."
At Ootenata, on the south-west side of New Guinea, the Dutch, in the year 1828, established a fort, and 118 miles of territory were taken possession of by them in the name of the King of the Netherlands, but it was soon afterwards abandoned.page 174
The western and northern shores of New Guinea are visited for purposes of commerce by the Chinese and by various Malay races, who procure from thence tortoise-shell, bird-of-paradise skins, and massoy bark; besides trepang, edible birds' nests, and other articles. The Aru Islands, lying to the south-west of New Guinea, are a great depot for traffic with that country: they belong to the Dutch, and contain nearly 60,000 inhabitants.
Gold, and other metals, are known to exist in many parts of New Guinea; whilst its vegetable productions include the nutmeg, and most of the other valuable trees and plants indigenous to the Eastern Archipelago; owing, however, to the ferocity of its inhabitants, but very little is known of its resources, whilst the interior has never yet been penetrated by Europeans.
About twenty years ago, Captain Blackwood, during his surveying voyage in H.M.S. "Fly," landed on the coast of New Guinea, a little to the eastward of Torres' Straits. He found this part of the shore very muddy, with dense forests extending close to the water's edge, and intersected with numerous creeks and estuaries. A tall, straight, thin species of mangrove covered the flats which were level with high-water mark. They grew perfectly upright, with slender, pole-like stems, many of them full one hundred feet in height, and with their naked matted roots twining and sprawling over the mud. Here and there, amongst the mangroves, were clusters of palms of different kinds, and of many other tropical plants, one of which was something like an page 175agave or aloe, with broad, succulent, pointed leaves rising from the root, and armed with sharp thorns along their edges. The roots of the mangroves, and the denseness of the undergrowth, rendered these woods perfectly impenetrable, even to the sight, for more than a few yards. They were thick, dark jungles, based on mud, and dripping with moisture.
Mr. Jukes, who accompanied Captain Blackwood on this expedition, speaking of a night passed in one of the ship's boats, whilst anchored in a river in New Guinea, says, "Immediately after sunset, immense flights of parroquets passed over us, all flying to the west, at a great height above the tops of the trees. During the night we heard the howlings of wild dogs, and many strange noises in the jungle around us; a combination of croakings, quackings, and gruntings, proceeding, probably, from large birds and wild pigs."
On the south coast of New Guinea the vegetation is generally of the most luxuriant character, even for the tropics. One vast dark jungle spreads over its muddy shores, abounding in immense forest trees, whose trunks are hidden by groves of sago palms, and myriads of other heat and moistureloving plants.
Unlike the eastern and southern coasts of New Guinea, the north-western part is described as being generally covered with timber, but having no underwood or dense jungle, so that it is very easy travelling under the shade of the lofty trees. The country is said to abound with small fresh-water streams, and patches of good grass.page 176
New Guinea appears to be inhabited by two distinct races of people; the Haraforas, who somewhat resemble the aborigines of Australia, and dwell in the interior of the country; and the Papuans or "crisp-haired" Austral negroes, who occupy the sea-coast.
Of the Haraforas but very little is known at present: it is said that they are nearly black; that many of them have long, straight hair; that they make houses in trees, to which they ascend by cutting notches in the bark; and that they cultivate the lands in the interior. The Papuans are very much afraid of them, although they give them scraps of iron, axes, &c., in exchange for fruit and vegetables, which the former do not appear to possess. Further to the eastward, the Haraforas use stone adzes; and so great was the value of iron amongst the inhabitants about Dorey Harbour, at the time of Forrest's visit, that an axe once given to a Harafora man, makes his lands subject to a perpetual tax in favour of the Papuan donor.
The Haraforas have a horrible custom, which seems to be peculiar to themselves. A young man, before he can possess a bride, must present her with a human head, which must not be mutilated, but, on careful examination of it by her family, bear the true marks and ornaments of an enemy. For this purpose, several young men, desirous of obtaining wives, will start off in the direction of a hostile tribe; and be out, perhaps, a couple of months, skulking about, before they can succeed in surprising their victims, and possess themselves of the desired page 177heads; which, when obtained, are carefully enveloped in damp leaves and grass, and then rolled over and over with cord made of cocoa-nut-fibre sinnet, so that they look like large balls.
The Papuans are usually short in stature, of a dark copper colour, with large eyes, flat noses, and long, crisp hair. The men go naked, with the exception of a strip of fibre, or native cloth, about the loins.
The ordinary dress of the Papuan women consists of a sort of petticoat of pandanus leaves, occasionally dyed of various colours: sometimes it is composed of soft shreds, like twisted grass, and reaches from the waist to the knee.
Of the natives of the south-east part of New Guinea, Mr. Jukes says, "The men seemed each ornamented with a piece of round shell hanging on their breasts, and most of them had also a shieldshaped piece of shell over the groin. They were generally of a dark-brown or copper colour, but we observed one lad of a pale dirty yellow, the colour of a frog."
The fondness of the Papuans for flowers and sweet-smelling plants is worthy of notice; they wear them in their hair, round the neck, or thrust under their armlets and girdles; a species of amaranth with purple leaves, and a species of mint, are especial favourites with them for this purpose.
One of the greatest peculiarities of these people is their mode of dressing the hair; it is usually shaved off the temples, then combed out at length, and tied midway with a string, leaving the front page 178part straight, and the remainder frizzled out into a mop projecting horizontally backwards. Some of them wear also long pigtails hanging down behind, in many instances decorated at the end with a bunch of teeth.
According to the accounts of the officers of the "Rattlesnake," none of the Papuan women seen by them in the south-eastern part of New Guinea, possessed even a moderate share of beauty, although a few had a pleasing expression, and others a very graceful figure; but, on the other hand, many of the boys and young men were strikingly handsome. Mr. MacGillivray says, "These Papuans seem to be resolvable into several indistinct types, with intermediate gradations; thus, occasionally, we meet with strongly-marked negro characteristics, but still more frequently with the Jewish cast of features, while every now and then a face presents itself which is perfectly Malayan. The head is narrow in front, and wide and high behind, the face being broad, from the great projection and height of the cheek bones, and the depression at the temples; the chin narrow in front, slightly receding, with prominent angles to the jaw: the nose more or less flattened, with dilated nostrils, a broad, slightly arched and gradually rounded bridge, pulled down at the tip by the constant use of the nose-stick; and the mouth rather wide, with thickened lips, and incisors flattened on the top, as if ground down." Although the hair of the head is almost invariably crisp, and generally frizzed out into a mop, instances were met with in which it had no woolly page 179tendency, but was either in short curls, or long and soft to the touch. In colour it varied also, being of various shades from black to red; but this latter colour is probably artificially produced by means of lime water. These people, although agile and well made, are of an average stature of only about five feet four inches.
The people of New Guinea manufacture a sort of coarse pottery, as is done also in Figi; and they are expert at making a beautiful cordage from the fibres of a tree, as well as a finer sort from a species of flax.
Forrest tells us the native houses at Dorey Harbour were built on posts, fixed several yards beyond lowwater mark; so that the tenement is always surrounded by water. These houses each contain many families, and are approached by long stages from the land. A common hall or passage runs through the middle of the houses, which are of great length, the people living in cabins on either side. The married people, unmarried women, and children, reside in these large houses; whereas, beyond are built, in deeper water, and on stronger posts, dwellings where only bachelors take up their quarters. In many of the native habitations about Dorey Harbour, Captain Forrest observed iron tools, knives, glass-beads, plates, and basins, which had been purchased or bartered from the Chinese and Malay traders.
Mr. Jukes landed to examine several of the native huts at a spot on the south-east coast of New Guinea, where no signs of inhabitants or smokes of fires were seen. He says, "There were five or six huts, which were new and of small dimensions, but one was page 180much larger and older. This house was quadrangular, with a gable-shaped roof, its ground-plan being about twenty feet long by twelve feet wide. It was raised on stout posts full five feet from the ground, and the upper part was accessible by a notched post leaning against it at the back. The floor of this upper story consisted of stout poles laid crossways on the framework, and covered by the flattened rind apparently of some kind of palm, forming very fair planks, an inch thick, and the size of ordinary flooring planks. The back of the house, looking towards the woods, was quite open; the other three sides had walls composed of the leaves of the sago palm twisted through upright poles or rods. The roof was also thatched with palm leaves very ingeniously woven through a framework of sticks, and was quite waterproof. The ridge of the gable was about ten feet from the floor, and the side walls four feet high. The end looking on the river had at one side a small doorway, from which a rude little staircase led to the ground. There were one or two fireplaces made of clay resting on the floor, over each of which was a frame of slender sticks two feet high, as if to hang things over the fire. A partial clearing had been made round these huts, many large trees having been felled by repeated cuts that seemed almost too sharp and broad to be those of a stone axe. Several young cocoa-nuts and plantains were growing in this clearing, and it looked exactly like the commencement of a new settlement by some New Guinea squatters."page 181
Another house of much more considerable dimensions was seen by Mr. Jukes and his party from the river. He says, "When we arrived within about a third of a mile of it, we examined it with our glasses, and were greatly surprised at its size and structure. It looked just like an immense barn, one gable of which projected towards the river, but the roof stretched so far back as to leave the other end completely hidden in the woods. Under the projecting gable was a balcony, upon which several natives stood gazing at us. From this balcony one or two arched doorways led into the interior through a bamboo wall that was several feet back under the roof. The end of the house that was visible was far larger than any barn I ever saw. Whilst we were reconnoitering them with our glasses, one of the men said he saw the people puffing smoke at us from the balcony; that they waved their arms and a jet of smoke proceeded from them 'like the puff of a pipe.' This no doubt was the same action as that observed by Captain Cook when he landed on this coast further to the westward, and which has never yet been satisfactorily accounted for."
The banks of the creeks and rivers examined by Captain Blackwood's party, appeared to be numerously populated, considerable villages occurring every now and then, each containing four or five of the large houses besides the ordinary huts, around which were seen crowds of men, women, and children. One immensely long house was visited, which Mr. Jukes describes as being raised about six feet from the muddy ground, resting on a number of page 182irregular posts placed underneath it. It was about thirty feet in width and upwards of three hundred feet long. The floor was smooth and firm; and the roof, which was constructed of arched bamboos, appeared perfectly waterproof. At each end were three doorways having the form of a Gothic arch, the centre being the largest. The inside of the house resembled a great tunnel, along each side of which were ranged rows of square apartments; in these were found low frames covered with mats, apparently for sleeping on, and overhead were shelves and pegs, on which were bows and arrows, baskets, stone axes, drums, &c. Between each two cabins was a small side entrance, with a ladder leading to the ground on either side of the house. Near the middle of the central promenade was a pole, on which was a framework covered with human skulls curiously ornamented, the eye-sockets being filled with black gum, on which were stuck flat red seeds, and a carved wooden projection inserted for the nose.
Their canoes in these rivers and creeks are quite simple, having no outrigger on either side, but appear to be merely hollowed trees. Their paddles, which are about five feet long, have a diamondshaped blade, the men using them whilst standing.
Mr. MacGillivray describes a Papuan canoe, "which measured about forty feet in length, and was constructed of a hollowed-out tree raised at the sides with large planks, forming a long, coffin-like box, closed with high end-boards elegantly carved and painted. Two rows of carved fishes ran along the sides, and both ends were peaked, the bow rising page 183higher than the stern, and like it, profusely decorated with carvings painted red and white, streamers of pandanus leaf, egg-cowries, and plumes of cassowary feathers, mingled with those of the birds of paradise. The outrigger frame-work was completely covered over, forming a large platform, above the centre of which a small stage rested on a strong projecting beam, the outer end of which was carved into the figure of a bird, while the inner reached to the centre of the body of the canoe, and served to support the mast. The planks forming the sides were strongly supported by knees, where each of the ten or twelve outrigger poles passes through one side and rests against the other. The mast is supported above by two stays fore and aft, and below is 'stepped' into a massive bent timber crossing the centre of the canoe, and resting on its bottom. The sail is of great size, and made of fine matting stretched between two yards and rounded at the sides; when not in use it is rolled up and laid along the platform. The large steering paddles are eight or nine feet long, with an oval blade of half that length."
Catamarans, or rafts made of planks lashed together, are also used by the Papuans along the New Guinea coast. These are generally constructed of three thick planks or logs laid side by side, the central one being the longest, often rudely carved and painted at the ends; these are firmly secured together with strips of ratan, and the raft managed by means of paddles only.
The Louisiade is the name given to a number of page 184lofty and picturesque islands that extend to the eastward of the mainland of New Guinea; they are mostly surrounded by dangerous coral reefs and shoals, the navigation amongst which is of an intricate nature.
The following description of Rossel Island, the most easterly of the Louisiade archipelago, is from the pen of Mr. MacGillivray, the naturalist of the "Rattlesnake," who accompanied Captain Owen Stanley on his survey of south-east Papua: "Rossel Island is twenty-two miles long by ten wide; it is high and mountainous, and thickly wooded, with occasional large clear grassy patches. Towards the western end the hills become lower. The mountain ridges, rising between 2000 and 3000 feet, are frequently obscured by clouds, and form sharp narrow crests and occasional peaks, although even the steepest ridges are covered with vegetation. Some of the trees appeared to be of great dimensions; others were tall and straight, branching only near the top; and many were conspicuous for the whiteness of their trunks. Large groves of cocoa palms, scattered about from the water's edge to half-way up the hills, formed a pleasing break in the sombre green of the forest scenery. The shores are either bordered with mangroves, with an occasional sandy beach, or clothed with the usual jungle of the island.
"From what we could discern, Rossel Island appears to be well inhabited. The first natives seen were a party of five men, apparently naked, who came out upon the beach from a grove of cocoa-nut trees, and stood gazing at the unusual sight, to page 185them, of two vessels passing by. Opposite a pretty creek-like harbour, the windings of which we could trace back amongst the hills, several canoes of various sizes were seen, each with an outrigger on one side, and one of them furnished with a large mat sail of an oblong shape, rounded at the ends. The people, of whom there were usually about six or seven in each canoe, appeared to be engaged in fishing in the shoal water. We saw many huts close to the beach, usually three or four together, forming small villages. They appeared to be long and low, resting on the ground, with an opening at each end, and an arched roof thatched with palm leaves. The most picturesque situations were chosen for these hamlets in the shade of the cocoa-nut trees, and about them we could see numbers of children, but no women were made out, and most of the men were fishing on the reef. At one place we observed what appeared to be a portion of cultivated ground; a clear sloping bank above the shore exhibited a succession of small terraces, with a bush-like plant growing in regular rows"
The inhabitants of the Louisiade are all Papuans. They wear their hair frizzed out into a mop of prodigious size, as obtains amongst the Austral negroes generally. They perforate the septum of the nose, also, to admit of an ornament of polished shell, pointed and turned up at each end. The lobes of their ears are slit, the holes being either kept distended by a large plug of banana leaf, or hung with thin circular earrings made of shells, nearly two inches in diameter. Their only clothing page 186consists of a piece of cloth, or the dried leaf of the pandanus passed under the legs and secured in front and behind to a narrow waistband. They manufacture excellent fishing seines, some of which are 130 feet in length, and are buoyed with floats of light wood, having shells for sinkers, as is the case with those used by the Figians. The natives throughout the Louisiade are described as being treacherous and ferocious to a remarkable degree, as the horrible massacres of the crews of small trading vessels at Rossel Island, and the murder of the French missionaries, and the slaughter of the crew of the "Gazelle," at Woodlark Island, too fully prove. Their ornaments are occasionally such as would hardly suit the requirements of more civilized races. Mr. MacGillivray describes a bracelet, by no means uncommon amongst them, which is made of a human lower jaw with one or more collar bones closing the upper side, crossing from one angle to the other. As none of these jaws had the teeth discoloured by the practice of betel-chewing, it is quite probable they may have belonged to Europeans who had fallen into the hands of these savages.
* From this account, and also that of others who have visited the coasts of New Guinea, it would appear that the mode of dressing their long, crisp hair in mop fashion does not obtain universally all over the country, but is most prevalent to the eastward, from whence the same custom extends, throughout the Austral negro races to the New Hebrides and Figi.