Popular Science Monthly/Volume 30/December 1886/Life in the South-Sea Islands
|LIFE IN THE SOUTH-SEA ISLANDS.|
THE inhabitants of the New Hebrides are Melanesians, divided into a multitude of independent and usually hostile tribes. On several islands there are communities of Polynesians, some of whom—as shown by their complexions—have preserved, among their Melanesian neighbors, their purity of descent. One of the difficulties of communicating with the natives is due to the immense variety of languages, which renders it impossible to obtain the services of an interpreter likely to be of use in more than a single district. This difficulty has seriously impeded the work of the missionaries of the Presbyterian Church who labor in the islands from Ambrym southward, and of the Anglican Melanesian Mission, who have taken spiritual charge of the northern islands, the Banks group, and the Solomons. The necessity of confronting this difficulty has been advantageous to linguistic science, for the Rev.Dr.Codrington, of the Anglican Mission, has recently published a learned work on "The Languages of Melanesia." As a rule, white men and natives communicate with each other by means of a very singular jargon, like the "pigeon English" of China, known as "sandal-wood English," or the "bêche de mer lingo," designations which explain its origin. Bearing in mind who the devisers of this dialect were, it is not surprising that a prominent characteristic should be the frequent interpolation into a sentence of exceptionally vigorous profanity. This the native linguist utters without a suspicion of its being improper. A few phrases, without the ingredient just mentioned, will convey an idea of what the jargon is. "That fellow man he no good" = "That is a bad man." "That fellow woman Mary belong a me" = "That woman is my wife." "Big fellow yam he stop Tanna" = "Large yams grow in Tanna." This "pigeon" is the universal mode of communication between white men, except missionaries, and islanders throughout the southwestern Pacific, and is used by both Englishmen and foreigners. I have even heard the oath administered to Melanesian witnesses in a French court of justice at Noumea in the following terms: "Me talkee true, me no tell lie, me no gammon; me," raising the right hand to the sky, "swear." At many places even this imperfect method of conversing is unknown; but so intelligent and such adepts in gesture-language are the natives that they understand and make themselves understood by a stranger much more thoroughly than the inexperienced would expect.
At the time of my visit there were, including the wives and children of the missionaries, between eighty and a hundred white residents in the group. There are probably now fully a hundred in all. Aneiteum is completely Christian, and the natives are among the most devout of believers. A more attentive congregation than that attending the church at Port Inyang it would be impossible to meet with. The members carry with them to worship small libraries of devotional works, which require bags and baskets for their conveyance. On other islands progress has been made—progress with which the missionaries themselves are dissatisfied, but which appears very surprising to a stranger, who can discern the difficulties of the situation. As a rule, a missionary establishment consists of the clergyman and his wife, and perhaps children, and one or two teachers, or subordinate lay missionaries, who are generally natives of other and remote islands, A plain wooden house is brought from New Zealand and put up for the missionary and his family, usually with his own hands and those of his brethren, who assemble for the purpose. A church, built in the style of the native houses—of reeds and mats—occasionally at the older stations of coral masonry, and a similar edifice for a school, with the comfortable huts of the teachers and the catechumens, complete the buildings of the station.
The other white men in the group follow the occupations of planters and traders. Attempts, in one case on a large scale, were made some years ago to grow cotton, but without much success, on the Island of Sandwich or Vaté. The cultivation of maize and coffee has been tried with better results on the same island. The staple vegetable product is copra the dried pulp of the cocoanut.
The trader is usually the agent of a mercantile firm, which supplies him with a certain quantity of "trade" goods, and receives in return his copra. He has, as a rule, three or four laborers in his employment. Owing to a singular custom or prejudice, these are rarely natives of the island in which they work. He buys the nuts from his neighbors, and, with the assistance of his laborers, prepares the copra. On the more savage islands, arms and ammunition, as long as their introduction was allowed (and it is doubtful if it has yet been quite stopped), matches, pipes, and tobacco are the things commonly given for nuts. The price varies greatly, according to locality and year; but a pipe, a small fragment of tobacco, or a box of matches is frequently given for a dozen nuts. Every few months a small vessel visits the different stations, bringing goods and supplies of food for the traders and taking away the copra, which, on arrival in Europe, is converted into oil, the refuse being used in the manufacture of cake for cattle.
The New Hebrides natives differ greatly in physical qualities. On Mallicolo there are two distinct races, distinguished by the length and breadth of their skulls. Persons familiar with the group can readily point out an Espiritu-Santo man, a Sandwich man, a Pentecost man, or a Tanna man. The dress differs in nearly every island, and in some is very remarkable, more so on Tanna, on Erromango, on Api, and on Ambrym than would bear public description. The modes of dressing the hair are various. On Tanna it is dyed auburn or nearly gold color with lime, and is gathered into small thin locks which are wound round with a slender filament like thread. On Sandwich the women shave the skull completely. On Espiritu-Santo they shave it, but leave a broad ridge of frizzled hair in the middle from poll to forehead, like the well-known garniture of the head of a clown. I had the good fortune to witness some Santo ladies making their toilet, which was effected by mutual assistance. The person being dressed had her head shaved with a knife of bamboo, of course without soap or any facilitating lather.
In the New Hebrides the villages are always invisible from the water. Each village as a rule consists of a set of different hamlets or collections of huts. The houses in the various islands differ greatly in architecture, but I always found them beautifully neat and clean. The dead are usually buried at the door of the hut. On Ambrym and some other islands the young unmarried men in a village always sleep in a large house specially set apart for them.
In general it may be said that all the Melanesians who have not been converted to Christianity are cannibals. It is not, however, to be supposed that human flesh is their ordinary diet. It is probable that none partake of it often, and that large numbers have only rare opportunities of doing so. They are almost invariably ashamed of cannibalism, and will generally conceal their indulgence in it or discontinue it if a white man comes to live among them.
Wars are nearly perpetual, and the non-Christian natives invariably go armed. I have been among natives whose custom it was not to lay aside their weapons eyen to eat, but keeping them in their right hand to take their food in the left. The spear, the bow and arrow, the club, and the tomahawk are all in use in the New Hebrides, but there are many fire-arms in the hands of the natives. The Tanna men have a high reputation for boldness, and even in ordinary intercourse they have a more independent bearing than most of their neighbors. Native wars are not usually very sanguinary; at least, pitched battles are few. The savage art of war consists in murdering stragglers and making forays to kill women and children, burn down villages, and lay waste plantations.
Nothing struck me more than the great intelligence of the natives of Oceania in general and of the Melanesians in particular. Within the limited sphere of their acquirements whatever they do they do thoroughly.
The Melanesians of the Solomon Islands are less known than their neighbors of the New Hebrides. The climate of the group is less favorable to white men.
The Solomon-Islanders are in general an aquatic people. Their canoes, except as New Ireland and New Britain are approached, have no outriggers. They are of graceful shape, of large size, built up of pieces, and with seams "payed" with a sort of vegetable pitch. The villages are usually near the water's edge and unconcealed by trees. The use of fire-arms is still not very common. But on some islands, notably Guadalcanar, they are expert bowmen. The Savo men make clubs covered with straw plaiting of singularly fine texture and tasteful pattern. Some of the spears are of prodigious length, and are tipped at the end with a human bone cut into a multitude of sharp and brittle points, which break off in a wound and are said to certainly cause death. Having succeeded with some difficulty in purchasing one of these at Tesemboko, a friendly native cautioned me against allowing any one to touch a point even with the finger, saying that, if any person did, "My word! he die quick."
New Britain is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The contours of the lofty mountains are very graceful, and the variety of tints of the rich tropical verdure is as attractive as it is unusual. The dense foliage is interspersed with patches of grass of an emerald hue. At Matupi in Blanche Bay there is an active volcano, a curious volcanic island, and a region of hot springs. I traveled by land once from Nodup to Blanche Bay, and the heat and fatigue were more than compensated by the beauty and varied character of the scenery traversed. The New Britain people go entirely naked. They are not a fine race, and want the activity and vigor of the Solomon-Islanders. Foreigners have introduced a good many fire-arms among the inhabitants of Blanche Bay and Kambeirah, but as a rule the spear, usually adorned with brightly colored feathers, is their weapon. They build good houses and make excellent nets and ingenious fishing-baskets. They are the only cannibals I know who are not ashamed of their fondness for human flesh. A German settler told me that overtures were made to him to arrange the purchase of the body of a man who had been accidentally killed by a neighboring tribe with whom the would-be buyers were not friendly. The reason given was a desire to eat what otherwise might be wasted in a commonplace interment.
The curious and little understood ceremonies of the duk-duk are extensively performed in New Britain and the neighboring Duke of York group. One thing about them is certain, and that is, that those who are initiated into the mysteries obtain considerable influence over the rest of their tribesmen. There is another very remarkable custom, about which I was given information by the Rev.Mr.Rooney of the Wesleyan Mission, which labors in this part of Melanesia. It may be described as follows: If A injures B, B burns down C's hut, or makes a hole in his canoe, or sticks a spear in the pathway so that C is nearly sure to run against it. B lets C know that he has injured him, and the reason of it; when C is expected to settle the account with A, the first aggressor. On the whole, the New Britain people are the least attractive of all Melanesians whom I know. They are very dirty, and do not possess the skill in fashioning pottery, or carving wooden bowls, of their neighbors in the Solomons and the Admiralty Islands. Yet among them I had some very worthy friends. One of them I specially remarked from having been struck with the persistence with which he insisted on the observance of the curious Melanesian etiquette, that a person should never be asked his name. The savage has no objection to his name being known, but politeness requires that it should be asked of some one else. The New Britons have a curious money called dawarra, made of small shells perforated and strung on fibers of some plant. It is counted by measure of length, and has some of the properties of the money of civilization, as it owes its value to the rarity of its material, and it can be easily divided into small sums.
The Ellice, the Gilbert (or, as they are usually called by the seamen, the Kingsmill), and the Marshall groups, are all composed of low, flat islands formed of coral. Some of them are nearly perfect atolls, Maraki in the northern Gilberts being perhaps the most perfect in the world.
It seems absurd to speak of the fertility of soil apparently composed almost entirely of sand, nevertheless even among these coral archipelagoes there are differences. The Marshall Islands have the most profuse natural growth of ferns and grasses; on the Gilbert Islands there is not even a fern; while the Ellice Islands hold an intermediate place between the sterility of the latter and the comparative fertility of the former. It is customary to reproach the natives of Oceania with invincible indolence; and, if it be a fault, I fear they must be convicted of desultoriness and unsteadiness in their work. The amount done in a year would if spread over the whole period give, I believe, a very respectable daily average. The labor expended by the Ellice-Islanders in cultivating their lands and growing the huge taro, which is the staple of their diet, must have been enormous. The vegetable is planted in vast trenches which look as though they had belonged to some great fortress long ago fallen into ruin. Even with the best implements the excavations would be extremely laborious, but one is lost in astonishment when one finds that many of the taro-beds now in existence were excavated by generations in possession only of tools of shell or wood.
All the islanders are expert fishermen. Shark's fin being an article of export, the shark is eagerly sought for. He is often caught without a hook; a piece of bait is put on the end of a line passed through a noose in a larger line and towed from a canoe. As the shark is seen to follow the bait, it is gradually hauled up till his head and shoulders are past the noose. The latter is then quickly tightened. Another plan, of which I was told on good authority, is even more remarkable. The sharks are supposed to sleep in rather shoal water under projecting pieces of coral with their heads just protruding, When a Gilbert-Islander sees one in this position he dives down with a small stick in his hand and gives the fish a tap on the nose, repeating it until the shark, for comfort's sake, changes his position and leaves his tail where his head had been. This is the fisherman's chance, and a second dive with a noose at the end of a line soon makes him master of his game, I am bound to say that I never saw this mode of fishing.
The Ellice-Islanders are all Christians, having been converted by the missionaries of the London Mission Society, They are inoffensive folk and have no arms. The Nukulailai people declare that they never did have any; but the natives of other islands undoubtedly had some until comparatively recently. They are well educated, can all read, and are most persistent letter-writers. No present is more acceptable to them than a few sheets of paper and some pens.
Some of the islands of the group were nearly depopulated twenty years ago by Peruvian kidnappers, who carried off many natives to work in Peru. As a general rule the population of each island is very small—never, as far as I am aware, exceeding a few hundreds. All are governed by a constitutional sovereign and a kaupuli, or parliament. The form of government, in its present state, is to a great extent the work of the missionaries. At Vaitupu I noticed in the kaupuli house some curious couches, carved out of single pieces of wood, with four legs and a solid block like a pillow at one end. To my inquiries it was replied that as some members of the assembly are fond of long speeches, the debates are occasionally protracted, and wearied legislators get rather sleepy, so the couches are provided to enable them to slumber in comfort. All the natives wear European clothes of some sort. The men usually put on at least a shirt; the women's dress is peculiar. They wear a long garment of colored calico, tight round the neck, and reaching in ungirt looseness to the heels. On their heads they put a curious high-crowned hat, cross-laced with bright ribbons, exactly resembling the head-gear of a brigand in the opera of "Fra Diavolo." Ladies of a certain age in the Archipelago are inclined to embonpoint; and a crowd of portly dames streaming out of church in their flowing calicoes and brigand hats, always many sizes too small for them, is a sight not soon to be forgotten.
The Gilbert-Islanders are only partially Christianized. The southern portion of the group is under the London Mission; some of the other islands are under American missionaries, who, however, do not reside in them. Like the Ellice Islands, these also were once governed by kings; but in all the southern part regal government has been abolished, and a sort of federal republic has been established in several islands. The natives seem to have an innate capacity for parliamentary institutions. I have been present at several debates among them, some of which were so far of importance that on their issue depended whether we should be at peace or at war with the inhabitants. Nothing could exceed the regularity and decorum of the proceedings, and some of the speakers were assuredly fluent, and apparently eloquent. The islanders are capital sailors, fearlessly visiting distant islands in canoes of large size, not dug out of single trees but built up of pieces. One very remarkable feature of the islands is their dense population. This is especially striking, as the islands are extremely barren.
The weapons of the Gilbert-Islanders are curious wooden swords and halberts, studded with shark's teeth. They make also complete suits of armor out of cocoanut-fiber, stiff hauberks, cuisses of matting, and close-fitting helmets, like those of the Crusaders. Fire-arms have of late to a great extent replaced the old weapons, and the armor has been generally laid aside. It is odd that the custom of the duel should be common among the Gilbert natives. Duels are rarely to the death, but a wooden sword bristling with shark's teeth can, to judge from the tremendous scars on many of the men's bodies, inflict very severe wounds.
The Marshall Islands are less known than the Ellice or Gilbert groups. The Archipelago is divided into two chains; the Ralick, or western, and the Radack, or eastern. The Marshall Island men are tall, the women singularly short. Some of the latter sex, who are of high birth, are very good-looking, and extremely graceful. The men are tattooed on the body and right up to the temples. Those of chiefly family cover the whole body; commoners leave an unmarked patch from the armpit nearly to the waist. The lobe of the ear is perforated, and often greatly distended with an unclosed hoop of wood. When this ornament is not carried, the vacant loop of flesh is hung over the point of the ear. The women tattoo the back of the hand and the foreann nearly to the elbow in tasteful patterns, so that they appear to have on open-worked silk mitts. The male costume is decidedly picturesque. It consists of two enormous tassels of shreds of vau bark joined by a plaited strap and disposed round the body so as to form a kilt. It is kept in place by a cord covered with plaiting of pretty pattern, which cord, being often over a hundred feet long, is wound round the waist till it forms a large coil. Chiefs particularly affect great length of cord, which does not improve the wearer's appearance, as it makes the kilt too bunchy. With a coil of moderate size the kilt is very becoming, and recalls the Albanian fustanella. The women's dress is composed of two mats worked with devices of great taste. The so-called "Greek key" is common as an ornament at the edges. These mats are bound round with a cord, similar to that of the men, above the hips, leaving a few inches of mat above, while the rest reaches nearly to the ankle. The costume is thus very like a low-necked European gown without sleeves, and, though a little stiff for sitting down in, has an attractive appearance when the wearer stands.
The Marshall Island canoes are like those of the Gilbert Islands; but they are larger, and on the sloping platforms built out on each side there are frequently little houses in which three or four of the crew can sleep. The natives are great navigators. They actually make curious charts of thin strips of wood tied together with fibers. Some of these charts indicate the position of the different islands with a surprising approach to accuracy. Others give the directions of the prevailing winds and currents. These are used as instruments to determine the course to be steered, so as to take advantage of the wind and to allow for current-drift rather than as charts are used by us.
The low atolls of the three groups just spoken of are called by sailors the "Line Islands," from their position with respect to the equator. In spite of their general unproductiveness, the number of cocoanut-trees is so large that there is a considerable export of copra. One English and three German firms have nearly the whole business in their hands. There is one American firm also, but its transactions must be much less extensive than those of the English, and of at least two of the German houses. All are represented by resident traders. At Majuro Messrs.Henderson and MacFarlane have a very complete and extensive head-station. At Jaluit the German firms of Hernsheim and Company, and the South Sea Company, the latter at the time of my visit under the style of Capelle and Company, have large head-stations for this part of Oceania.
The contrast between Kusaie and Ponapi in the Carolines and the low atolls of the Marshall, Gilbert, and Ellice groups, is striking and agreeable. Both of the former are called by our sailors "high islands," a designation which is soon appreciated by any one who has cruised among the groups mentioned. Kusaie is densely wooded and picturesque. Its soil is very fertile. The people, who only amount to between three and four hundred, are all Christians, having been converted by the American missionaries, who have an important station on the island. The American missionaries are fond of giving to the petty chiefs of the tribes with whom they come in contact the absurd title of king. Tokusa, the chief of Kusaie, which name includes all the islets near as well as the main island of Ualan, is accordingly called king, though his subjects are so few. He speaks English well, and is very intelligent and well-mannered. The natives are straight-haired and rather light-colored. They paint their canoes a dull red, with a pigment made of an ochreous earth found in two caves on Ualan. Their houses are large, with high-pitched roofs and elevated gables. Most of them now wear some article of European dress, but the garb of the country is a broad sash woven of the fiber of an inedible banana, frequently dyed black except at the ends, where there are some bright colored bars, which make it resemble the silk scarfs of the Roman peasantry.
On the little Island of Lelé, on which the natives live, there are some interesting ruins, which appear to be those of a fortress with Cyclopean walls of large irregular blocks of basalt, twenty-five to thirty feet thick. There are also canals and artificial harbors. The natives can give no account of them, though King Tokusa told me that he believed they had been constructed by his ancestors. In the splendid Island of Ponapi, the inhabitants of which are more barbarous than those of Kusaie, there are even more remarkable ruins. Four-sided platforms stand out of the water, and are composed of layers of hexagonal basaltic prisms, like those of the Giant's Causeway, transversely superimposed one on another, the prisms of a layer being at right angles to those of the one above or below it. These platforms are arranged to form canal streets, and the walls of edifices erected on them are built of basaltic columns in like manner. The ruins are much overgrown with the rich vegetation of the tropics, but enough is visible to disclose the remains of a city, of a second Venice, of whose builders we are ignorant.
Yap, in the Western Carolines, is singularly interesting. The natives are good-looking and profusely tattooed. The hands and fore-arms of the women are tattooed with mitts as in the Marshall Islands. The houses are large and built of mats. They stand on an extensive platform of earth revetted with stones, against which is placed the curious stone money of the islanders. This is in the form of huge disks of arragonite, quarried in the Pelew Islands, more than two hundred miles away. The disks are like great grindstones, and frequently weigh three tons. People have said on hearing of this money that there was not much risk of its being stolen. Nevertheless, an American trader at Yap complained to me that some which had been placed in his charge had been carried off in the night.
I visited two other islands which may be included in the Caroline group. These were Nuguor and Greenwich Island, both low atolls. At Nuguor human sacrifices are still offered; one had occurred about two years before I was there. The inhabitants are of almost gigantic size. They are ruled by two queens, and have retained the tradition of their migration from Samoa and the name of the chief, Vavé, who led it. Greenwich Island is very little known. The Pelew-Islanders are a particularly interesting people. In each village there are large "club-houses," to which the younger men resort. A few women from neighboring villages also frequent them. It is not considered comme il faut for a woman to enter one in her own village. If she did she would become an outcast; going into one a mile or two off, however, in no way affects her position. The buildings are of wood, and the gable-ends are adorned with carvings and frescoes. There is also in the Pelew Islands a curious kind of money. It is really bits of antique glass vessels and jasper beads, which the people believe came down from the gods, but which in fact came out of the ships of early navigators.
In the Polynesian archipelagoes of Samoa and Tonga we find a superior race and, especially in the latter, a comparatively advanced civilization. The people of the two are akin. The Samoans are of a softer type than the Tongans, who live in a cooler climate. The beauty of the Samoan women has often been remarked, and it would be difficult to exaggerate it. The Tongans are of greater stature, and the women are rather handsome than pretty. The scenery of the Samoan Islands is only surpassed by that of New Britain and Eastern New Guinea. Except in the Vavau group, the Tongau scenery is at best rather poor, as the islands are, in general, low. Samoa is always hot, while the winter climate of Tonga-tàbu is delicious. Both archipelagoes are visited by hurricanes, but tbey are apparently less violent than those of the "West Indies and come rarely.
Tonga is trying a constitutional experiment on its own account, Mr.Baker, an ex-Wesleyan missionary, has drawn up a constitution to which the venerable King George, who was over ninety years old at the time of my visit, but was as vigorous as most men of sixty, has given his approval. There is a cabinet of which the ex-missionary is the head, a parliament, and a constitutional sovereign. There ia also a regular judicial establishment. Great Britain has entered into treaty relations with Tonga, and has even accorded a limited jurisdiction over British subjects to Tongan courts. Englishmen in the South Seas are fond of laughing at the Tongan polity. But it is to the credit of the new state that its public expenditure is small, that it has been for years perfectly orderly, and that there are in the group probably five times as many miles of carriage-road as there are in our colony of Feejee. There are many Tongans still living who saw the first horse brought to their own particular island, and thought that it was a large kind of pig. There are hundreds of horses in the archipelago now, and most Tongans are fearless horsemen. They are also capital cricketers, which they owe to the good sense of that very able man, the Rev.Mr.Moulton, who is, or was till lately, at the head of the Wesleyan Mission. Mr.Moulton has founded an admirable college. The scholars receive an education equal to that given in the colonies. I was present at one of the public examinations, and among other surprises heard the first canto of the "Paradise Lost" recited in the native tongue. Most of the Tongans are Wesleyans, but there is also a Roman Catholic mission in the country, and a moderate number of the natives belong to that church.
All Pacific-Islanders, even many of the Melanesian cannibals, are distinguished by a remarkable refinement of external manners. The Polynesians excel all others; and, probably, no people in the world surpass the Tongans and Samoans in grace and dignity of deportment. The latter races are highly ceremonious, and great observers of etiquette. In Tonga at a kava party, where an infusion of the root of the Piper methysticum is drunk, the order of precedence is as strictly observed as it would be at a European state banquet. In Samoa the kava root is chewed by young ladies before being placed in the bowl. In Tonga it is invariably pounded on a lap-stone. Connoisseurs assert that the beverage is never so good as when the root has been chewed. I never quite got over my repugnance to that method of preparing it, and only drank of it sparingly and to avoid giving offense when out of Tonga. Even in Tonga I felt little inclination to indulge in it freely, possibly because I retain my youthful dislike to rhubarb and magnesia, the flavor of which that of kava closely resembles.
To one who has cruised much among the small islands of the Pacific, and who has grown familiar with the monotonous landscapes of Australia, the scenery of New Guinea appears especially grand and imposing. It differs greatly in character.
Tbe natives of the coast evidently belong to two distinct races. From a point rather to the westward of Port Moresby right on to Aroma, the people are light-colored, of tall and graceful figure, grave in manner, taciturn, and abhorring cannibalism. The men's dress is simply a strip of bark twisted into a string. The wearers of this express great contempt for neighboring tribes who go perfectly naked. The other race is black, of shorter and sturdier figure, nimble, cheerful, loquacious, and cannibal. The men wear a curious and decent costume of leaf. The women of both races wear the titi petticoat of grass, which is very like a ballet-dancer's skirt. At Port Moresby the houses are built half in the water. At Tupu-selei, Kailè, and Kappa-kappa, they stand out in the sea at a distance of a couple of hundred yards from the beach. Throughout the parts of New Guinea with which I am acquainted, the inhabitants are ingenious and industrious agriculturists, and carefully fence in their plantations. Their houses are large and well built. They make very fine fishing-nets. The canoes of Port Moresby are of enormous size, and the trees out of which they are dug are procured by barter from tribes living a long way off. The Port Moresby pottery is made in large quantities for export; as is a finer kind at Toulon Island by the dark race. This shows that both races engage in manufacturing industry for the express purpose of trading with the products, a thing of happy augury for their future progress.
My second trip to New Guinea included visits to the Louisiades, to Woodlark Island, to Rook and Long Islands, and to the mainland near Cape King William. The Louisiade people are in physique and knowledge of the arts inferior to both races of Southeastern New Guinea. Many of them are quite unfamiliar with white men. But I found, even among them, some who had heard of Queen Victoria, a name which is so frequently known and so greatly respected throughout the Southwestern Pacific that the stranger is fairly astonished. A native of Joannet Island intimated that he was aware that Queen Victoria was the chief of Cooktown, the little port in Northern Queensland. On Rossel Island I noticed, in the case of some of the men, the curious dentition which the eminent Russian traveler, Dr.Miklukho Maclay, has called "macrodontism." A continuous tooth extends over the space usually occupied by two or three teeth. The Woodlark-Islanders are very fierce, and at one time I thought a collision with them inevitable. They make the same curious gesture of salutation as the Basilaki (or Moresby) islanders, pinching first the nose with one hand and then the navel with the other, finishing up with a low bow.
The natives of the northeast coast of New Guinea whom I met were black, and not superior in physique to the Louisiade people. While in the south of New Guinea the natives are in the stone age, these people have not got beyond the period of shell implements. They could hardly be made to understand the use of a tomahawk, and were frightened by striking a match.
The Rook-Islanders seemed never to have seen a white man. Smoke coming out of the mouth of an officer with a pipe greatly surprised them. A chief on being brought up to a looking-glass was struck dumb. The exhibition of a cat caused great excitement, which was immensely increased by showing them a sheep. They are a light-colored, tall, good-looking race, who express great repugnance to cannibalism. They build good houses and temples, have well laid-out villages, and possess large highly painted canoes ornamented with carvings. They practice circumcision, and an incised figure of an alligator adorns the entrance to their temples. Their reception of my companions and myself was courteous and friendly in the extreme. One of the officers of her Majesty's ship Dart was a good conjurer, and the delight with which the disappearance of a coin through the bottom of a tumbler was hailed by the natives was intense.
A few observations on the condition of the Southwestern Pacific may not be out of place. I believe that the members of even the most savage tribes desire to be on friendly terms with white men. There are some tribes who, in pursuance of the barbarous custom of taking heads, will make unprovoked attacks on white visitors. But they are comparatively rare exceptions. I fear that most of the so-called "outrages" are to the natives what the retaliatory action of ships of war is to us. We regard the latter as the proper punishment of an offending tribe; and the islanders look upon the killing of a white man—if any white man has done them an injury—as much the same thing. Events have proved that the old practice—for years given up by us, but still followed by some European nations—of the wholesale punishment of the people of an island charged with an "outrage" does nothing to improve relations with the islanders. The plan of punishing only the really guilty has been far more successful, and when that is imiversally adopted the friendliness of our relations is sure to increase.
The diminution of population is one of the mysteries of the Pacific. It has perhaps been arrested in Feejee. Time will show if the stoppage is permanent. On the small Wallis Island under the Catholic, and Niué, or Savage Island, under the Protestant missionaries, the people increase; elsewhere, whether Christian or savage, they diminish. It is common for natives to speak of the greater numbers of their tribes in former days, and there is evidence to support their assertion. Can it be that the islands of the Pacific have been the seats of a succession of races, all of which have at a certain period in their history declined and disappeared, and that our acquaintance with the present inhabitants only began when the declining stase had been reached? The suggestion is made with timidity, but I confess that I sometimes fancy that something like it may explain the existence of the curious ruins so widely scattered throughout Oceania.
The Pacific islands can not be mentioned without calling to mind the missionaries who labor among them. Their success has been very great; but, great as it is, I think its magnitude has been exaggerated. The Christianity of the Western Polynesians is not much to boast of; and their present state of civilization is much more owing to frequent intercourse with white men who are not missionaries than is generally admitted. Without missions they would not have advanced so far as they have done; nor with them would the advance have been what it is had no other white men ever gone among them. The same thing is true of Feejee. Some of the "pioneer" missionaries are men of whom every country might feel proud. The influence for good of such men as Mr. Moulton, of Tonga, or Mr. Robertson, of Erromanga, is enormous; but they are men of enlarged views and of even statesman-like capacity, who would be powerful over their fellows anywhere. The same may be said of Messrs, Lawes and Chalmers in New Guinea, and will explain to a great extent their astonishing success. Mr. Chalmers is a born leader of men, and his ascendency over those with whom he is brought in contact is due to a never-failing tact and a nobility of mind which have been rarely equaled.
It is hazardous to forecast the future, but it does not seem that the Pacific islands are likely, for generations yet to come, to be of use to mankind at large. Fertile as they may be, they can only be made productive with labor, of which no man can say where it is to be obtained.