Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/345

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331
NEW GUINEA AND ITS PEOPLE.

friend, to ask him where he is going, or to deliver a message to a superior standing. Among some of the inland tribes the custom prevails

of smoking, instead of drinking to one's health. When the bamboo pipe is filled with smoke and ready for inhaling, the man shouts out the name of the friend he wishes to honor, before taking a whiff; he then passes it on to the next, and he shouts out in the same way, and so on all round the circle. The habit of smoking seems to be original, not borrowed. The practice of chewing the betel-nut is still more prevalent.

The government is patriarchal, the chiefs ruling over villages which are independent of each other, holding their office by inheritance, but having to maintain themselves in it by their energy and force of character. The son of a chief who is weak-minded and a fool soon sinks to the common level; while a commoner, who is strong and brave, with greater mental power than his fellows, comes to the front and is soon recognized as a chief. The moral condition of the people is deplorably low. All are thieves, seeming to feel no sense of shame in stealing; and we were looked upon as great wonders by the natives because we did not steal, and our honesty was always mentioned, in any description of us, as one of our peculiarities. Human life is invested with no sanctity, but the distinction the men are most proud of is that of having shed human blood. No one has a right to be tattooed until he has killed some one, and the right is sought as a privilege.

The natives are not often on peaceful terms with their neighbors, though their warfare is not deadly. They are exceedingly suspicious and distrustful. They never sleep without their weapons within reach, and never go out without spear or club. They came to our house readily enough at first, but the slamming of a door or any unexpected noise was enough to bring them to their feet.

The family tie is strong and lasting. Men live virtuously with their wives and children. Polygamy is not common, although it is thought to be proper for chiefs. The burden of labor is fairly divided between the men and the women; and the women insist upon carrying wood, water, and burdens, as of their rights.

The people seem to have no religious ideas, no idols, no idea of a God as a supreme being or a good being. Their only religious ideas consist in a belief in evil spirits, toward whom they live in slavish fear, but without any idea of propitiating them by sacrifice or prayer. They believe also in the deathlessness of the soul, without having any definite ideas as to its abode or condition. Much difference, however, prevails among the different tribes as to the development of ideas of this character. Among some there seems to be a vague recognition of a Great Spirit who gives them plenty and other blessings; and to the west of Port Moresby, in the district of Elema, are idols and idol-temples, but the natives there belong to the darker-colored race.