Early Voyages to Terra Australis/Extract translated from Burgomaster Witsen's "Noord En Oost Tartarye"

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fol., amst., 1705, p. 163.

"The north-west part of New Guinea, in 1½° south latitude, and beyond it to the south-east, was for the first time rightly explored in the year 1678, by order of the Dutch East India Company, and found almost everywhere to be enriched with very fine rivers, lakes, bays, etc., but, judging from its outward aspect, the country itself seems to be barren and uncultivated, being in few spots either planted or fenced in. In many parts of the interior there are extremely high mountains, which are seen by sailors at a great distance at sea as if towering above the clouds. The air is not very mild, but very often damp and foggy, so much so that most frequently in the afternoons the land is entirely hidden, which has caused the Dutch East India Company the loss of many ships.

"About the north-western parts, the natives are in general lean and of the middle size, jet black, not unlike the Malabars, but the hair of the head shorter and somewhat less curly than the Caffres. In the black pupil of their eyes gleams a certain tint of red, by which may in some measure be observed that bloodthirsty nature of theirs which has at different times caused us so much grief, from the loss of several of our young men, whom they have

surprised, murdered, carried into the woods, and then de voured.

"They go entirely naked without the least shame, except their rajahs or petty kings, and their wives, which are not native Papoos, but mostly Ceram-Mestizoes, and are richly dressed after the manner of Ceram. Their weapons are bows of bamboo, with arrows of the same, to whose ends are fastened sharp pointed fish bones with dangerous barbs, which, when shot into the body, cannot be extracted without great difficulty. They likewise use lances, made of certain very heavy wild Penang wood; these they throw at their mark with great accuracy at a distance of six or seven fathoms. Some of them, living near the shore, use a certain kind of swords, sold to them by the people of Ceram, the hilt of which is tied to their hand by a rattan.

"Of their manners and religion, nothing else can be said than that, in many respects, they are more like wild beasts than reasonable human beings. Their women are delivered in the fields, or roads, or wherever they may happen to be taken in labour. After the birth they instantly put the infant in a bag, in which they carry their provisions, made of beaten bark of a tree. The women of the better class rub their faces with bruised coals, by which they make themselves look more like devils incarnate than human creatures; though it cannot be denied that they seem to possess, by the law of nature, a knowledge of the existence of a God, which they show by pointing with folded hands towards the heavens. For when any one lands at any place frequented by these people of Ceram, they require of us to raise our hands as they do: and with a sharp bamboo they cut both their own arms and those of their visitors. The mutual sucking of the blood from these wounds constitutes their oath, and implies a promise to do each other no mischief. Amongst them are found some letters or characters, written with a sort of red chalk on a rock. On this rock, also, were still to be seen some skulls and the bust of a man, looking as if put up as an ornament, with a shield and other weapons near it, the meaning of all which may be guessed at, but not fixed with certainty.

Their food consists of roots, tree fruits, herbs, etc., but chiefly fish, caught by them at low water in holes in the bed of the river, as we, when lying at anchor thereabouts, could distinctly see by the motion of the thousands of little lights which they used. They know very little of cooking or drying their food, but generally eat it raw, except pork, which they eat when it has been a little smoked, and is less than half roasted.

"In about 8° or 9° south latitude, we found a tall, terrible, and disgusting race of people, whose chiefs have the inside of the upper lip slit from the nose downwards, the two parts being kept asunder by what they call a gabbe-gabbe. The two sides of the nose, also, are bored through with sasappen, or thin awls, which gives their voices a frightful and hollow sound, as if coming out of a deep cellar.

"It is believed that Nova Guinea is divided from Hollandia Nova, or the south land, at about the latitude of 10° south. Of the country further south we have up to the present day no certain information, except that supplied by Abel Tasman, who sailed round the whole land and the coasts of the Dutch East India Company's possessions, and who testifies to have found trees (beams) in which at intervals footsteps were cut to climb up by, about seven feet apart, and also with footsteps in the sand about fourteen or fifteen Dutch inches long, and every footstep six or six and a half feet from the other. I am informed by a mate who, about thirty or thirty-four years ago, lost his ship on the most westerly promontory of the south land, that he with some of the crew reached Batavia in the ship's boat, and was despatched from thence to the place where he was ship-wrecked with provisions, and in order to deliver their ship-mates they left these; but they found none of them, though they saw impressions of large footsteps.[1]

"The Ceramers are subjects, and likewise allies, of the Dutch Company, and for the most part expert sailors; and by them, and none else, is the coast of New Guinea visited. The inhabitants of New Guinea have for many years suffered from the treachery and murders of this people, who, not by force of arms but by cunning, have subdued the Papoos. Under the cloak of friendship they take their women (in which they are not very choice) for wives, and the children thus born, being very carefully instructed in the Mahomedan faith, are easily able to control these simple inhabitants of the woods. By this connection, also, the Ceramers, having gained the attachment of the women, always know how to escape the evil intentions which, for all that, the Papoos cannot restrain themselves from trying to put in practice against their visitors.

"The fruits of the country of New Guinea are very few, consisting chiefly in some few yams, cocoa nuts, betel nuts, and plantain trees, which are planted here and there, in the neighbourhood of their own places, by the Ceramers. The land does not seem to bring forth any wild plants; the inhabitants live on leaf zajor,[2] roots of trees and herbs, but the bread of the Moluccas, in general called sagou, is not produced here, as far as I could learn. Only one sort of it is brought here by the Ceramers for their own provision, and also for barter. Fish of all sorts is everywhere so plentiful along the shore that they may be caught with the greatest ease in uncommon abundance; but they want nets and other fishing tackle, though they supply this defect in a masterly manner by their art in making their fish baskets, in which, at each spring tide, numbers of fish are caught. It is not known that any large animals are found here, except hogs, which are plentiful; but vermin, and in particular snakes, scorpions, and millepedes, are here in great numbers.

"The woods are filled with a variety of birds, making all day such an uncommon noise that it is really astonishing. They are seldom, if ever, shot by the inhabitants, as is sufficiently shown by their uncommon tameness; for, one being shot, the other remains sitting next to it. But our sportsmen must be careful in not entering too far into the woods, for the Papoos imitate the birds very accurately, in order to trepan and murder them, which has happened several times.

"They covet hatchets, cloaths, and beads, which are bartered for slaves. When a slave is sold, they cut off a lock of his hair, believing that in doing this they shall have more slaves. Those slaves are either prisoners of war, or trepanned in the woods; many of them are sold in Ternate and thereabouts. At the first they are so greedy in their eating that they would nearly burst, if not checked in their gluttony.

"The heathens of Nova Guinea and Hollandia Nova believe there is some divinity in the serpent, for which reason they represent them upon their vessels.

"The following is an extract from a letter written to me from Amboina, as an account of New Guinea and Hollandia Nova, otherwise called the South Land.

"'The inhabitants of all New Guinea are a tall, ugly, and misshapen people, not so much by nature as choice; for they cut their nostrils asunder, that you may nearly see into their throats, from which it may be conceived what fine faces those must be, after having their promontories demolished in this manner. They go mostly naked, except those who live upon the islands, who, by their intercourse with the Ceram Lauers, are become a little more polished. Of them they get some little clothing, with which they cover themselves, though but scantily; but on the continent they are altogether a savage barbarous people, who can on no account be trusted. They are addicted to thieving and murder, so that the Ceram Lauers cannot trade with them except at a distance. They lay their goods down upon the beach, being put up in heaps, when the most venturesome among the strange traders comes forward and makes it understood by gestures and signs how much he wants for them. Their commerce consists in Tamboxe swords, axes to cut the trees down with, bad cloths, sagoe-bread, rice, and black sugar; but the rice and black sugar must be given beforehand, to induce them to trade. No traces of government, order, or religion are discernible amongst them. They live together like beasts: those upon the islands erect houses, and a kind of villages, placing their houses commonly upon posts, raised to a considerable height above the ground. On the continent they have slight huts, covered with leaves, like hog-styes; in them lie indiscriminately men, dogs, and hogs, upon the bare sand, otherwise they lie down in any place where they can but find white sand. They mourn more for the loss of a dog or hog than for their mothers. They bury their dead hogs and dogs, but not their deceased relations, whom they lay down upon high rocks to decay under the rain and sun, till nothing remains but the white bones, which at length they bury when they think proper. Their food consists chiefly of fishes, with which their seas abound, and of yams and plantains. They have no sagoe trees, neither do they know how to prepare the bread from it if they had any. Their arms are hasagays, clumsy and long arrows, and also a weapon formed from a sort of blue stone or slate, pointed at both ends, having a hole in the middle, in which a stick is put for a handle. With this they attack one another in such a manner, that with one stroke the skull is crushed to pieces: the farther you go to the south the more savage, tall, and ugly the people are, in particular from Lacca-iha to Oero-goba.

"'A certain shallop from Banda, being on the coast, which stretches nearly east from Arou, they found there such large people, that one of our sailors was taken by his sleeve by one of them and shaken like a little boy; but he was rescued by his shipmates. To the south of this place a great promontory stretches itself to the west, called in the map Cape Falso, and again, to the south of this, is laid down the shallow bight, where it is supposed that Nova Guinea is divided from the South Land by a strait terminating in the South Sea, though, by reason of the shallowness, our people could not pass it; and thus it remains uncertain whether this strait goes through or not, but in the old Portuguese maps New Guinea is laid down as an island under the name of Ceira.[3]

"'I must here remark a circumstance which is but little noticed in European writings, which is, that in some logbooks the sea between Banda and the South Land is called the Milk Sea; the reason for this is, that twice a-year the sea thereabouts turns white, and is called by our people the white water. The so-called little white water comes first, with a dark or new moon, in the latter end of June; the great or second white water also comes in with a similar dark moon in August, sooner or later according as the south-east wind sets in fresh. This wind at that time brings with it in those parts unsettled rainy weather. By daytime the sea looks natural, but in the night as white as milk or snow, and so bright that it is nearly impossible to distinguish the water from the sky. At that time it is dangerous to navigate here in small vessels, the sea making, even in calm weather a great swell, which, from the brightness of the water, cannot be discovered before they reach it. This white water comes first entirely from the south-east, about where lie the islands of Babba, Tenimmer, and Timor Laut, and, perhaps, wholly from that great bay made by the South Land and New Guinea. It continues thus till September, when it is gradually carried by the wind and currents towards the west, in large broad stripes, passing by Amboina and Boero till about Bouton, when it gradually loses itself; this water keeps itself always distinct from the sea water, as if it were divided by a band, a fact which often frightens inexperienced sailors at night, as they think they are running suddenly upon a great bank. No one has yet been able to explain this wonder of nature, nor give the cause of this quality of the water to glitter at night. It is thought most probable that it arises from sulphurous exhalations from the bottom of the sea, rising in this rough weather to the surface; for that it is impregnated with sulphur is shown to be likely by the number of sulphur mountains and volcanos found every where in the south-eastern islands, and which, perhaps, exist in greater number in the South Land. All this, however, is as yet uncertain; perhaps the chemists might be able to supply some explanation upon the subject, as they have the art of preparing waters which give light in the night time.

"'It may also here be asked, what countries are Lucach, Beach, and Maletur, names inscribed in some of our maps, on some parts of that country which we call South Land, or Hollandia Nova. I reply that these names are, perhaps, taken from the uncertain and ambiguous narratives of voyages by Marcus Paulus and Vertomannus, who, perhaps, being led astray by the relations of others, have taken the large island of Timor for the South Land; for in Timor the traces of the word Maletur remain in Maleto, situated near Keylako, on the north side of Timor.' Thus far the above- mentioned letter."

  1. In another place Witsen says this happened in 1658, and that eighty persons were so left behind, evidently from the crew of the Waeckende Boey, see ante, p. 81
  2. So in the Dutch. The editor has been unable to identify this plant.
  3. Clearly a mistake. The word means Ceram.