1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Papuans

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PAPUANS (Malay papuwah or puwah-puwah, “frizzled,” “woolly-haired,” in reference to their characteristic hairdressing), the name given to the people of New Guinea and the other islands of Melanesia. The pure Papuan seems to be confined to the north-western part of New Guinea, and possibly the interior. But Papuans of mixed blood are found throughout the island (unless the Karons be of Negrito stock), and from Flores in the west to Fiji in the east. The ethnological affinities of the Papuans have not been satisfactorily settled. Physically they are negroid in type, and while tribes allied to the Papuans have been traced through Timor, Flores and the highlands of the Malay Peninsula to the Deccan of India, these “Oriental negroes,” as they have been called, have many curious resemblances with some East African tribes. Besides the appearance of the hair, the raised cicatrices, the belief in omens and sorcery, the practices for testing the courage of youths, &c., they are equally rude, merry and boisterous, but amenable to discipline, and with decided artistic tastes and faculty. Several of the above practices are common to the Australians, who, though generally inferior, have many points of resemblance (osteological and other) with Papuans, to whom the extinct Tasmanians were still more closely allied. It may be that from an indigenous Negrito stock of the Indian archipelago both negroes and Papuans sprang, and that the latter are an original cross between the Negrito and the immigrating Caucasian who passed eastward to found the great Polynesian race.[1]

The typical Papuan is distinctly tall, far exceeding the average Malay height, and is seldom shorter, often taUer, than the European. He is strongly built, somewhat “spur-heeled.” He varies in colour from a sooty-brown to a black, little less intense than that of the darkest negro. He has a small dolichocephalous head, prominent nose somewhat curved and high but depressed at the tip, high narrow forehead with projecting brows, oval face and dark eyes. The jaw projects and the lips are full. His hair is black and frizzly, worn generally in a mop, often of large dimensions, but sometimes worked into plaits with grease or mud. On some islands the men collect their hair into small bunches, and carefully bind each bunch round with fine vegetable fibre from the roots up to within about two inches from the end. Dr Turner[2] gives a good description of this process. He once counted the bunches on a young man’s head, and found nearly seven hundred. There is usually little hair on the face, but chest, legs and fore-arms are generally hirsute, the hair short and crisp.

The constitution of society is everywhere simple. The people live in village communities whose members appear to be more or less inter-related. There are no priests and no hereditary chiefs, though among the more advanced tribes rank is hereditary. Totemistic clans have been observed in Torres strait, and on the Finsch and west coasts. Chiefship is quite unrecognized, except on the Keriwina Islands. Possessions, such as gardens, houses, pigs, &c., belong to individuals and not to the community, and pass to the owner’s heirs, who differ in relationship in different districts. The land within certain boundaries belongs to the tribe, but a member may take possession of any unappropriated portion. There are certain degrees of relationship within which a man may not marry. In some districts he may not marry into his own village, or into his mother’s tribe; in others he may select a wife from certain tribes only. Payment, or a present, is always made for a wife to her father, brother or guardian (who is generally her maternal uncle). Presents are also often made to the bride. Polygamy is practised, but not frequently, and from the wife (or wives) there comes no opposition. The child belongs sometimes to the mother’s, sometimes to the father’s tribe. The Papuan woman, who is, as a rule, more modest than the Polynesian, is the household drudge, and does the greater part of the outdoor work, but the man assists in clearing new gardens and in digging and planting the soil.

In western New Guinea, according to the Dutch missionaries, there is a vague notion of a universal spirit, practically represented by several malevolent powers, as Manoin, the most powerful, who resides in the woods; Narwoje, in the clouds above the trees, a sort of Erl-König who carries Spirit-worship. off children; Faknik, in the rocks by the sea, who raises storms. As a protection against these the people construct—having first with much ceremony chosen a tree for the purpose—certain rude images called karwars, each representing a recently dead progenitor, whose spirit is then invoked to occupy the image and protect them against their enemies and give success to their undertakings. The karwar is about a foot high, with head disproportionately large; the male figures are sometimes represented with a spear and shield, the female holding a snake. They observe omens, have magicians and rain-makers, and sometimes resort to ordeal to discover a crime. Temples (so called) are found in the north and west, built like the houses, but larger, the piles being carved into figures, and the roof-beams and other prominent points decorated with representations of crocodiles or lizards, coarse human figures, and other grotesque ornamentation; but their use is not clear. Neither temples nor images (except small figures worn as amulets) occur among the people of the south-east; but they have a great dread of departed spirits, especially those of the hostile inland tribes, and of a being called Vata, who causes disease and death.

All Papuans believe that within them resides an invisible other self, or spirit, which may occasionally leave the body in the hours of sleep and after death hovers for some period at least round the scenes of its embodied life. This ghost acquires supernatural powers, which at any time it may return to exercise inimically to relations or acquaintances who offend it. In the dark, and in the depths of forests or mountains, malevolent—never embodied—spirits love to be abroad. These are the spirits which, taking up their abode in a village, cause disease and death; and to escape from such attacks the inhabitants may fly the village for good, and, by dwelling scattered in the recesses of the forest for a time before choosing a new site, they hope to throw their enemy off their trail. Spirits of evil, but not of good, therefore require to be propitiated. The powers of nature—thunder, lightning and storm, all supposed to be caused by evil and angry spirits — are held in the greatest dread. Under the category of religious observances may perhaps come those held previously to the departure of the great trading or lakatoi fleet: their taboo-proclaiming customs, their ceremonial and sacred initiation ceremonies for boys and girls on reaching puberty, when masks are worn and the “bull-roarer” swung, as also the harvest festivals, at which great trophies of the produce of field and forest are erected, preparatory to a big feast enlivened with music and dancing. In the north and north-east of New Guinea ancestor worship is widely practised. Amulets are worn to ensure success in buying, selling, hunting, fishing and in war, as well as for protection against evil. Circumcision is practised in some regions. Although some of the coast peoples are nominally Mahommedans, and some few converts to Christianity have been made, the vast majority of Papuans remain pagan.

The dead are disposed of in various ways. The spirit is supposed not to leave the body immediately, and a corpse is either buried for a time, and then disinterred and the bones cleaned and deposited in or near the deceased’s dwelling or in some distant cave; or the body is exposed on a platform or dried over a fire, and the mummy kept for a few years. Sometimes the head, oftener the jaw-bone and portions of the skeleton are preserved as relics. Little houses are frequently erected over the grave as a habitation for the spirit. Soon after death food is offered to the departed—with an infant a calabash of its mother’s milk—and that he may have no wants, his earthly possessions, after being broken, are laid near his resting place. A path through the jungle from the grave to the sea is often made so that the spirit may bathe. A widow must shave her head, smear her body with black and the exudation’s of the corpse, and wear mourning for a long time. The dead are referred to by some roundabout phrase, never by name, for this might have the dangerous result of bringing back the spirit. These dwell chiefly in the moon, and are particularly active at full moon. The houses which they haunt, and beneath or near which their bodies are buried, are deserted from time to time, especially by a newly-married couple or by women before child-birth.

Yams, taro and sweet potatoes constitute in some districts the main food of the people, while in others sago is the staple diet. Forest fruits and vegetables are also eaten. Maize and rice—which are not indigenous—are eagerly sought Food. after. The Papuan varies his vegetable diet with the flesh of the wild pig, wallabi and other small animals, which are hunted with dogs. Birds are snared or limed. Fish abound at many parts of the coast, and are taken by lines, or speared at night by torchlight, or netted, or a river is dammed and the fish stupefied with the root of a miletia. Turtle and dugong are caught. The kima, a great mussel weighing (without shell) 20 to 30 ℔, and other shellfish, are eaten, as are also dogs, flying foxes, lizards, beetles and all kinds of insects. Food is cooked in various ways. Cooking-pots, made at various parts of the coast, form one of the great exchanges for sago; but where such vessels do not reach, food is cooked by the women on the embers, done up in leaves, or in holes in the ground over heated stones. The sexes eat apart. In the interior salt is difficult to get, and sea-water, which is carried inland in hollow bamboos, is used in cooking in place of it. Salt, too, is obtained from the ashes of wood saturated by sea-water. In the Fly River region, kava, prepared from Piper methysticum, is drunk without any of the ceremonial importance associated with it in Polynesia. As a rule the Papuans have no intoxicating drink and do not know the art of fermenting palm-sap or cane-juice. Tobacco is indigenous in some parts, and is smoked everywhere, except on the north-east coast and on the islands, where its use is quite unknown. In some few districts a species of clay is eaten.

The male Papuan is usually naked save for a loin-cloth made of the bark of the Hibiscus, Broussonetia and other plants, or a girdle of leaves. In the more civilized parts cotton garments are used. Papuans have usually a great dislike to rain and carry a mat of pandanus leaves as a protection against it. Except in one or two localities (on the Clothing
north-east and west), the women are invariably decently clothed. The Papuan loves personal adornment and loses no chance of dressing himself up. His chief home-made ornaments are necklaces, armlets and ear-rings of shells, teeth or fibre, and cassowary, cockatoo, or bird of paradise feathers—the last two, or a flower, are worn through the septum of the nose. With his head encircled by a coronet of dogs’ teeth, and covered with a network cap or piece of bark-cloth, the septum of the nose transfixed by a pencil of bone or shell, and perhaps a shell or fibre armlet or two, the Papuan is in complete everyday attire. On festal occasions he decks his well forked-out and dyed hair with feathers and flowers, and sticks others in his ear-lobe holes and under his armlets; while a warrior will have ovula shells and various bones of his victims dangling from ringlets of his hair, or fixed to his armbands or girdle. The Papuan comb is characteristic. This is a long piece of bamboo split at one end into prongs, while the other projects beyond the forehead sometimes two feet or more, and into it are stuck the bright feathers of parrots and other birds. The fairer tribes at the east end tattoo, no definite meaning apparently being attached to the pattern, for they welcome suggestions from Manchester. For the women it is simply a decoration. Men are not tattooed till they have killed some one. Raised cicatrices usually take the place of tattooing with the darker races. Rosenberg says the scars on the breast and arms register the number of sea-voyages made.

The Papuans build excellent canoes and other boats, and in some districts there are professional boat-builders of great skill, the best craft coming from East Cape and the Louisiades. These boats are either plain dug-outs, with or without outriggers, or regularly built by planks tightly laced and Boat-building. well caulked to an excavated keel. The most remarkable of their vessels is the “lakatoi,” composed of several capacious dug-outs, each nearly 50 ft. long, which are strongly lashed together to a width of some 24 ft., decked and fitted with two masts, each carrying a huge mat sail picturesquely fashioned. On the deck high crates are built for the reception of some thousands of pieces of pottery for conveyance annually to the Fly River district to exchange for sago. Papuans are very fond of music, using Pan-pipes, a Jew’s harp of the Papuans’ own fabrication, and the flute; on occasions of ceremony the drum only is used—this instrument being Music. always open at one end and tapped by the fingers. To the accompaniment of the drum, dancing—as a rhythmic but stationary movement of the feet or an evolutionary march—almost invariably goes, but rarely singing. All sorts of jingling sounds also are music to the ear, especially the clattering in time of strings of beans in their dry shells, and so these and other rattles are found attached to the drum, leg-bands and many of the utensils, implements and weapons.

Nearly all Papuan houses arc built m Malay fashion on piles, and this not only on the coast but on the hillsides. In the north, the east and south-west of the island immense communal houses (morong) are met with. Some of these are between Houses. 500 and 700 ft. in length, with a rounded, boat-shaped roof thatched with palm-branches, and looking inside, when undivided, like dark tunnels. In some districts the natives live together in one of these giant structures, which are divided into compartments. Communal dweUings on a much smaller scale occur at Meroka, east of the Astrolabe mountains. As a rule elsewhere each family has its independent dwelling. On the north coast the houses are not built on piles; the walls, of bamboo or palm branches, are very low, and the projecting roof nearly reaches the ground; a barrier at the entrance keeps out pigs and dogs. A sort of table or bench stands outside, used by the men only, for meals and for the subsequent siesta. In east New Guinea sometimes the houses are two-storeyed, the lower part being used for stores. The ordinary house is 60 to 70 ft. long with a passage down the centre, and stands on a platform or veranda raised on piles, with the ridge-pole projecting considerably at the gables so that the roof may cover it at each end. Under this shade the inmates spend much of their time; here their meals, which are cooked on the ground beneath the house, are served. The furniture consists of earthen bowls, drinking-cups, wooden neck-rests, spoons, &c., artistically carved, mats, plaited baskets and boxes. The pottery is moulded and fire-baked. In a few districts villages are built at a short distance off the shore, as a protection against raids by the inland tribes. The interior villages are frequently situated on hill crests, or on top of steep faced rocks as difficult of access as possible, whence a clear view all round can be had. Where such natural defences are wanting the village is protected by high palisades and by fighting platforms on trees commanding its approaches. The dobbos, or tree houses, built in high trees, are more or less peculiar to British New Guinea. On the north-east coast many of the villages are tastefully kept, their whole area being clean swept, nicely sanded, and planted with ornamental shrubs, and have in their centre little square palaver places laid with flat stones, each with an erect stone pillar as a back-rest. Excellent suspension bridges span some of the larger rivers, made of interlaced rattan ropes secured to trees on opposite banks, so very similar to those seen in Sumatra as to suggest some Malay influence.

Papuan weapons are the bow and arrow (in the Fly River region, the north and north-east coasts); a beheading knife of a sharp segment of bamboo; a shafted stone club—rayed, disk-shaped or ball-headed (in use all over the island); spears Weapons. of various forms, pointed and barbed; the spear-thrower (on the Finsch coast); and hardwood clubs and shields, widely differing in pattern and ornamentation with the district of their manufacture. The Papuan bow is rather short, the arrows barbed and tipped with cassowary or human bone. The Papuans are mostly ignorant of iron, but work skilfully with axes of stone or tridacna shell and bone chisels, cutting down trees 20 in. in diameter. Two men working on a tree trunk, one making a cut with the adze lengthwise and the other chopping off the piece across, will soon hollow out a large canoe. Every man has a stone axe, each village generally owning a large one. Their knives are of bamboo hardened by fire. In digging they use the pointed stick. In British New Guinea alone is the man catcher (a rattan loop at the end of a handle with a pith spike projecting into it) met with. In the D’Entrecasteaux Islands the sling is in use. For war the natives smear themselves in grotesque fashion with lime or ochres, and in some parts hold in their teeth against the chin a face-like mask, supposed to strike terror into the foe, against whom they advance warily (if not timidly), yelling and blowing their war-trumpets. The war canoe (which is a long, narrow dug-out outrigger, capable of holding twenty-eight men) is only a transport, for they never fight in it. The conch-shell is the trumpet of alarm and call to arms. The vendetta—resulting, when successful, in the bringing back the head of the slain as a trophy to be set up as a house ornament—is widely practised. The eastern tribes salute by squeezing simultaneously the nose and stomach, and both there and on the north coast friendship is ratified by sacrificing a dog. In other places they wave green branches, and on the south coast, pour water over their heads, a custom noticed by Cook at Mallicolo (New Hebrides). Among other pets they keep little pigs, which the women suckle.

The Papuan numerals extend usually to 5 only. In Astrolabe Bay the lirnit is 6; with the more degraded tribes it is 3, or, as in Torres straits, they have names only for 1 and 2; 3 is 2+1.

Language.—The Papuan languages or dialects are very numerous, owing, doubtless, to the perpetual inter tribal hostility which has fostered isolation. In grammatical structure there is considerable resemblance between these dialects, but the verbal differences have become great. Several dialects are sometimes found on one island. The following are some broad characteristics of the Papuan languages. Consonants are freely used, some of the consonantal sounds being difficult to represent by Roman characters. Many of the syllables are closed. There does not appear to be any difference between the definite and the indefinite article, except in Fiji. Nouns are divided into two classes, one of which lakes a pronominal suffix, while the other never takes such a suffix. The principle of this division appears to be a near or remote connexion between the possessor and the thing possessed. Those things which belong to a person, as the parts of his body, &c., take the pronominal suffix; a thing possessed merely for use would not take it. Thus, in Fijian the word luve means either a son or a daughter—one’s own child, and it takes the possessive pronoun suffixed, as luvena; but the word ngone, a child, but not necessarily one’s own child, takes the possessive pronoun before it, as nana ngone, his child, i.e. his to look after or bring up. Gender is only sexual. Many words are used indiscriminately, as nouns, adjectives or verbs, without change; but sometimes a noun is indicated by its termination. In most of the languages there are no changes in nouns to form the plural, but an added numeral indicates number. Case is shown by particles, which precede the nouns. Adjectives follow their substantives. Pronouns are numerous, and the personal pronoun includes four numbers—singular, dual, trinal and general plural, also inclusive and exclusive. Almost any word may be made into a verb by using with it a verbal particle. The difference in the verbal particles in the different languages is very great. In the verbs there are causative, intensive or frequentative, and reciprocal forms.

See R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians (1891), Melanesian Languages (1885); B. Hagen, Unler den Papuas (Wiesbaden, 1899); G. von der Gabelentz and A. B. Meyer, Beitrdge zur Kennlniss der melanesischen, &c., Sprachen (Leipzig, 1882); A. B. Meyer and R. Parkinson, Album von Papua Typen (Dresden, 1894); F. S. A. de Clercq, Ethnographische Beschrifving van de West-en Noordkust van N. N. G. (Leiden, 1893); A. C. Haddon, Decorative Art of BritishNew Guinea (Dublin, 1894).

  1. Huxley believed that the Papuans were more closely allied to the negroes of Africa than any other race. Later scientists have endeavoured to identify the Papuans with the Negritos of the Philippines and the Semangs of the Malay Peninsula. Alfred Russel Wallace pronounced against this hypothesis in an appendix to his Malay Archipelago (1883 ed., p. 602), where he observes that “the black, woolly-haired races of the Philippines and the Malay Peninsula . . . have little affinity or resemblance to the Papuans.” Dr A. B. Meyer, who spent several years in the Malay Archipelago and New Guinea, developed a contrary conclusion in his Die Negritos der Philippinen (1878), holding that the Negritos and Papuans are identical, and that possibly, or even probably, the former are an offshoot of the latter, like some other Polynesian islanders. A. C. Haddon, discussing, in Nature (September 1899), a later paper by Dr Meyer in English on the same subject (The Distributiott of the Negritos, Dresden, 1899), practically adopted Meyer’s views, after an independent examination of numerous skulls. As to how the Papuans, who are the aborigines of New Guinea, may have peopled other and much more distant islands, information is lacking.
  2. Nineteen Years in Polynesia, pp. 77, 78.