Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 6

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CHAPTER VI.


A COASTING EXPEDITION.


Arrival of H.M.S. "Raven"—Trade Winds—Site for Governmeut Store—Inland Party Organized—Arrival off Tupuselei—Coast Scenery—A Papuan Venice—Sir Peter Scratchley's Visit to Padiri—Sickness among the Party—A Native Feud—Attack apprehended—Kapa Kapa—A Group of Mourners—Mangoes—Birds of Paradise—A Palaver—Continuation of the Voyage.

ON the morning of the 16th we were agreeably surprised by the arrival of H.M.S. "Raven" which we had last seen at Cooktown, where she had been stationed for six months. She brought us a mail, and remaining two days only, returned to Cooktown. Before she left, and while we were still engaged devouring the contents of the welcome budget of letters and newspapers, the "Herbert," for which we were waiting, made her appearance after a somewhat long passage, which was explained by the fact of her having bumped on a coral reef and narrowly escaped wreckage at Hood Bay, nearly forty miles to the east, where she had no business. Her getting off, after dragging her anchor cast in ninety fathoms, was a piece of good fortune for which her captain has reason to be thankful.

Attempting to profit by the detention of the "Blackall" at Port Moresby, I constructed a temporary studio of framework covered with calico for the purpose of making photographic studies of native heads, but I reckoned without my host, or rather without the south-east trades, which blew very heavily nearly all the time we lay in port. My studio was blown to pieces, and some conception of the force of the wind may be formed from the fact of my being bodily carried away some twelve feet with a screen which I had seized with the intention of saving it. The floor of the verandah being six feet from the ground it was a marvel that a fourteen stone Icarus like myself escaped without broken bones and nothing worse than a few contusions, but as work was out of the question under these conditions I was forced to put my mortification in my pipe and smoke it, while Sir Peter and his secretary, having got through their despatches, confer with Captain Musgrove, the Assistant Deputy Commissioner, as to the selection of a site for a store-house to contain the articles now being landed with infinite trouble from the "Herbert." As there is no jetty these have to be lightered in more or less primitive fashion, or towed ashore. The construction of a jetty must evidently be one of the first works undertaken, and as mangrove piles can be procured close at hand, and the natives are accustomed to this kind of work, the cost would not be very great. The superintendence of erection of the store and dwelling-houses will occupy Captain Musgrave for weeks to come. It is a matter of no small difficulty to acquire land, after making a selection, for the native holdings are so subdivided and cut up into sections of so many shapes and sizes, with rights of way, water privileges, easements and other obstacles attached to the transfer of real property which would do credit to the ingenuity of a civilized conveyancer. On a comparatively barren hill the Commissioner has had to pay at the rate of twenty shillings an acre, and be glad to secure even at that price.

On Monday, the 21st, Mr. H. O. Forbes and party were ready to start on their inland expedition, and I took a couple of photographs of them before they left. Their first depot will be formed at Sogeri, a Koiari village, about forty miles inland. There they will pass the rainy season, and start for their object point, summit of Mount Owen Stanley, early next year. As the Koiaris are friendly and intelligent, and the climate is comparatively salubrious, their prospects of a successful expedition seem very promising. Soon after 9 a.m. on the same morning we got up steam, and having bid farewell to our kind and hospitable

Plate XXII.

TUPUSELEI, MARINE VILLAGE (FROM THE SHORE).

Reference page 57.

Black and white photograph of a group of about 70 native houses on stilts, entirely surrounded by water.
friends, Mr. and Mrs. Lawes, weighed anchor, Mr. Chalmers forming one of the party.

In two hours we reached Tupuselei, a Papuan Venice, built in the sea, on piles, and entirely isolated from the land, communication with which is carried on by canoes. The inhabitants own productive plantations on the slopes of the mainland, raising yams, bananas and other native food in abundance; they are also expert fishermen, and being well to do, and on friendly terms with the hill tribes, live happy lives after their fashion. On the 22nd, at 6 a.m., a party started for shore in two boats; the General, Mr. Fort, Mr. Chalmers, and the Doctor in the whaler belonging to the Mission, which Mr. Chalmers had sent for the day before as being lighter and handier than the ship's long boat, and the Captain, myself and assistant, and Charlie Kidd in the dingy. The pilot (Charlie) speaks Motu, and was to act as our interpreter.

Leaving my instruments at the teacher's house, our party went roaming over the hills, which are more picturesque than those at Port Moresby, shooting birds and collecting seeds, while Sir Peter walked inland to see a village which Mr. Chalmers was desirous to show him. Towards breakfast time the sun dispersed the mist, which up to that time had shrouded the hills, and taking advantage of the opportunity I got a series of nice pictures, including groups, as Charlie made my wishes known, and the natives for a few sticks of tobacco were pleased to pose. Some curiously carved temples, or rather feasting stages, attracted our notice, while hard by was a Christian church in course of erection, a proof of missionary labour. We then called again at the Mission House, and Tua, the teacher's wife, did the honours, offering us bananas and plenty of fresh young cocoa-nuts. These teachers here come from the Hervey Group, and appear to get on remarkably well with the Motu people. A few presents were made to Tua in the shape of several yards of mosquito netting, which I supplemented with a few handkerchiefs and a bit of looking-glass, a toilet requisite agreeable to the feminine mind all over the world. We rested awhile in the house, which is built on the usual native lines, but remarkable for its cleanness and neatness. The calico counterpanes of the beds, spread on the floor, showed a rude aptitude for design in their ornamentation with a patchwork pattern formed by folding squares of Turkey red twill, and slashing out pieces with the scissors, just as designs are often made in Europe out of tissue paper. In a barbaric country such as this, even a slight approach to civilized taste attracts as much attention as does a collection of savage arms or designs in London or Paris.

Our visit to the Mission House terminated, we started in the dingy, Tua the teacher's wife accompanying us, to visit the marine village, whose picturesqueness may be better understood by the views which it was my good fortune to get, than by any detailed description. To behold a community like this living in a village consisting of ricketty huts six feet above the water, and half a mile from shore, excites wonder and astonishment, not the least difficult problem to solve being how the builders managed with the slender means at their disposal to drive the piles supporting the houses into the sea. Many of the huts had a list to leeward, and Mr. Chalmers informed us that unless they are particularly well-built, or supported by their neighbours, the prevailing wind can always be determined in this way. Poultry, pigs, and dogs are plentiful in the village, and to see one of these latter paying a visit to a canine friend over the way is a sight never to be forgotten. None but a Tupuselei dog bred and born could ever hope to ascend the slippery ladders, with rungs two or three feet apart, leading to the platforms of the huts from the level of the waterway. At first when we noticed one of these animals swimming across we thought he would be assisted on landing; but no, he was left to his own devices, and after several futile attempts, most ludicrous to behold, he succeeded in accomplishing his object, and obtained a footing. The interiors of the dwellings were certainly not inviting, appearing dark and dirty; still there are said to be authenticated cases of white men of respectable families choosing native wives and settling down happily. Well, "de gustibus non est disputandura," or, as the French put it, "Les extrèmes se touchent."

We were now joined by the General, Mr. Chalmers and party, much pleased with their visit to Padiri. They reported the country between that village and the coast to be fertile. Some of the Koiari chiefs accompanied them to Tupuselei and received the usual presents.

The Doctor, who previously to leaving Port Moresby had been down with fever, was much better, and invigorated by his walk. Several of the men, however, showed indications of sickness, one of the petty officers in particular, having a bad attack, the symptoms being feverishness and a foul tongue. For my own part I never felt better in my life, and certainly shall not worry myself with apprehensions, but meet the evil when it comes.

Remaining at our anchorage all night, on the morning of the 23rd we steamed down the coast to visit Kaele, a village some ten miles beyond Tupuselei, and, like it, a marine settlement. Our diplomacy will here be called into requisition to settle a feud existing for some time between the people of this village and the Garians, a numerous inland tribe. The merits of the case, so far as we can ascertain them, are that the Garians were the aggressors, killing three of the Kaele people, who retaliated in kind, and so the vendetta went on, amongst other victims being a Kaele woman. Matters, it is stated, have come to such a pass that the Garians have formed alliances with their neighbours, and threaten to come down and exterminate the unfortunate Kaeleans. At the intercession of Mr. Hunter the General gladly consented to come down and use his influence in the cause of peace, and messages were despatched to all the principal chiefs to meet him at Kapa Kapa, the village next in importance to Kaele, and situated about ten miles to the eastward, the "Blackall" calling at Kaele on her way to investigate matters. We reached the village about noon, and found both teachers and the people generally in a great state of agitation, being cut off from their supplies on the mainland, and reduced to cook their food in sea water. Some women who had ventured to the creek for water that morning reported that the Garian warriors had been seen on the slopes, and that an attack was imminent. The General, without attaching too much importance to this scare, ordered the whale boat to be manned, and an armed party, with whom were Dr. Chalmers and Mr. Fort, landed about 5 p.m., and proceeded to search the mangrove scrub of the salt-flats for the supposed enemy. We watched them with glasses from the ship, displaying much more interest in their proceedings than did the villagers, who were singularly apathetic in the matter. About sundown the party returned without having seen any traces of a foe.

Kaele is a miserable place, and its church, situated about 200 yards from the shore, and adjoining the house of Mr. Hunter, whose knowledge of the Motu language was of great service, had a strong list to the north-west. Early next morning, the 24th, the Captain, myself, and assistant, accompanied by Charley Kidd, went ashore to take a stroll round. The place looked even more desolate by daylight than in the shades of evening, and finding nothing picturesque near the beach but ruins of a tree house, which had a look of having been built to the order of the artist who sketched it to illustrate the proceedings of the Geographical Society of Australia, we penetrated the fringe of mangrove, and crossed a belt of low country covered with salt water grass till we arrived at another strip of mangrove, interspersed with tall forest trees. There were as usual a quantity of birds, and a few wallaby crossed our path, but not within shot. After taking a couple of pictures illustrative of mangrove country, we returned to the ship quite ready for breakfast, but not at all impressed with the quality of the land. At noon we got under weigh again, and at two dropped anchor at Kapa Kapa, about two miles off the beach. The charred ruins of old Kapa Kapa were still discernible away to the east of the ship. This village had been destroyed about two years ago by the Hula natives, who, sparing women and children, massacred three of the men. The others taking flight, sought shelter within the houses of their next neighbours, with the inevitable effect of overcrowding to such an extent as to cause the outbreak of an epidemic which led to the evacuation of the village altogether. The present village is built half over the water, and the other half over dry land, and the number of inhabitants is estimated at about 500.

On the morning of the 25th I sallied out to pick up character sketches, and was so fortunate as to get a splendid group of natives, with a man and woman in deep mourning forming the central objects. This couple,

Plate XXIII.

THE CHIEF'S HOUSE, MARINE VILLAGE OF TUPUSELEI.

Reference page 58.

Black and white photograph of a single stilt-house surrounded by water. Seven children are sitting on the front platform.
we were told, had lost three of their children within a recent period, and their grief was deeply pronounced. They wore the usual native mourning of suits of charcoal, with which their bodies were blackened entirely. Strings of grey or lavender coloured beads were carried across their foreheads, and hung pendulous from their ears. The man wore an immense Cassowary plume, also blackened, and the woman had her breast covered with netting. Their appearance was so picturesque, that I was most anxious to include them in the group, but it required a good deal of persuasion from our interpreter to induce them to sit, and they accepted the tobacco presented them with apparent indifference. We then took a stroll of a few miles inland, and found it to be one of the most fertile tracts of country yet visited, containing miles of flat grassy plains interspersed with belts of tropical scrub, which would delight the botanist, stretching away to the rises inland, whose rich vegetation indicated soil of good quality. The country is admirably adapted for sugar, and the clearing of the scrub would cost comparatively little. I secured a couple of good views near a crossing, and in the bed of a creek called by the natives Ka Kalo. Walking across the bed of this creek, almost dry at the present season, and covered with sand and shingle, we were struck by the great depth of black fertile soil on the almost perpendicular banks. The vegetation was not unlike that to be seen in scrubs of the Clarence or Richmond rivers in New South Wales, but of a richer and more tropical type. Lovely parrots, parroquets, scrub pheasants, and white cockatoos, filled the air with their harsh cries, and a great variety of pigeons from the large Goura to the tiny bronze wing dove appeared in numbers. We saw a great variety of indigenous fruit trees, and heartily enjoyed a feed of mangoes which one or our black companions good-naturedly procured for us by climbing a large tree of that species, and shaking the ripe fruit in a perfect shower to the ground. Although the fruit, which is about the size of a goose-egg, is rather stringy in the flesh, its flavour is very delicate. On our way back to the ship we passed again through the village, and bought some spears and other weapons. They value their stone adzes and clubs very highly, and will rarely part with them except in exchange for a good tomahawk. The fishing spears are made of about a dozen prongs of hard wood, lashed to a handle six feet long, the prongs being kept apart by interlacing with string eight inches from point. A few seed pods are sometimes suspended from the shaft by way of ornament. The plumes of the red birds of Paradise commanded ridiculous prices all along the coast. At Goldie's Store in Port Moresby fifteen shillings is asked for a plume, and twenty-five shillings for an entire bird. We obtained a few birds from the native teachers at lower prices, but still above what they could be bought for in London. The same remark applies to nearly all the curios we saw, their enhanced value being attributable to the demand created by the number of men-of-war which have visited the coast during the last twelve months.

The afternoon of this day was memorable for the visit of the Garia and Saroa chiefs, who, seventeen in number, came off in the teacher's whaleboat, which they filled from stem to stern. They looked fierce savages indeed. One warrior sported an old suit of Pyjamas, the others being naked with the exception of their waist- strings. One was in deep mourning, got up in the manner stated. His Cassowary head-dress covered his face down to his neck, and altogether he looked the wildest specimen of the human race I ever saw. Another had short curly hair all over his body, and a frightfully ugly mouth, the expression of which was not improved by the betel nut he was constantly chewing. They were ushered to the poop, asked to sit near the wheel, while Mr. Fort and Mr. Chalmers arranged the presents which they were to receive in case they faithfully promised to leave off molesting Kaele, and keep the peace. I took a picture of this assemblage, perhaps the most curious human group ever assembled on the deck of a steamer, the chiefs making no objection, although none of them had ever seen a camera before, and they probably supposed the proceeding to be some mystical rite preliminary to the negotiations. The General then took his seat, and, through Mr. Chalmers, inquired into the cause of the war. They pleaded annoyance and aggression on the part of the Kaele people, and were told that Sir Peter had come to establish "maino" (peace) all





Plate XXIV.


WOMEN OF TUPUSELEI, GOING FOR WATER.


Reference page 58.

Black and white photograph of 4 native women and 2 children in an outrigger canoe with a number of empty spherical water-pots.
over the island. They were asked to desist from hostilities, and promised in case of compliance that presents were to be distributed to show that sympathy was felt with their grievances. During the harangue I noticed their faces lighten up at the prospect of peace and tomahawks, and when the speech was over, all but the chief in mourning declared willingness to terminate the war. At last even he, seeing that he stood alone, gave in his adhesion, and each accepted a tomahawk, six sticks of tobacco, a handkerchief, and a gorgeous Brummagem ring. These latter were given to each chief separately, as a special token of faithful adherence to his promise. Sir Peter then dismissed them, saying that he would return in two months to see if their promises were kept. The whole affair gave little trouble, for these warriors, although ferocious in aspect, are easily led by a strong consistent man who treats them fairly. Before leaving the vessel they were shown over her. Many of them had never been on a European ship before, and the large mirror in the cabin, which was in a state of semi-darkness, astonished them greatly. The evening terminated with a lunar eclipse, almost total at the rising of the moon, and continuing till 9 o'clock.

Next morning at daybreak Sir Peter and some of his staff, under the guidance of Mr. Chalmers, visited some of the inland villages and were very well received everywhere, being presented with bird of Paradise plumes and stone clubs. In one village a fair exchange of produce was in progress, and all the people seemed greatly pleased at the re-establishment of peace. This (Friday) was a quiet day, all being tired with their tramp the day previous. Captain Lake and I had a few hours shooting with good success, but I find taxidermy added to photography too great a demand upon my time and patience. The same remark applies to the formation of a botanical collection, which to approach completeness requires a man's whole time to form, collate, and catalogue.

On Saturday the 26th we weighed anchor, and after a couple of hours steaming through coral reefs, let go the anchor opposite Hula, to rest and prepare for an inland expedition on the Monday following.