The boomerang in the New Hebrides

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Through the kindness of the Rev. F. G. Bowie, of the Presbyterian Mission in the New Hebrides, I was able last year to visit the northern part of the west coast of Espiritu Santo (always known locally as Santo). The natives of this district were found to be using boomerangs of the kind shown in the illustration. One of the two specimens (a), 41 cm in length, is ancient; the other (b), which is slightly longer, has been made recently. These instruments will be seen to differ from the Australian boomerang in having their ends almost square or showing a slight curve not continuous with the general curvature of the instrument. They are used entirely in sport. They do not return to the thrower, but show the deflections from a straight course which are characteristic of the flight of the Australian boomerang. In one method of throwing, the instrument is made to strike the ground a few yards in front of the thrower. One of the highest and longest throws seen by us was of this kind.

Specimen boomerangs

The distribution of the boomerang in the New Hebrides is, so far as we know, entirely limited to the northern end of the west coast of Santo, to the sea aspect of the longue of land which forms the western side of Big Bay (formerly known as the Bay of St. Philip and St. James). The instrument was first seen by Mr. Bowie near the village of Venua Lava (not to be confused with the island of Vanua Lava) at the extreme north of the peninsula. It is found down the coast as far as Nogugu (or Nokuku), but this is probably its southern limit. All to whom we showed the boomerang on our way southwards at once referred to Venua Lava as its special home.

The native name is tiokhi at Venua Lava and tioki at Nogugu, the final vowel being often almost mute. The instrument was said by all the old men to belong to their own culture and this was confirmed by its use in ceremonial and its mention in legend. It is thrown especially in connection with the ceremony called wós, in which kava is drunk at intervals of five days for a year or more, the young men throwing boomerangs while the old men drink kava. The throwing took place on more or less even pieces of ground called sara kin tiokhi at Venua Lava and sara kin tioki at Nogugu. At the latter place the sara is just to the south of the present mission house. The ceremony of wós is closely connected with the Supwe, an organisation of the same order as the Sukwe (Supkwe) of the Banks Islands.

One of the social groups of Nogugu, called the Taliu, believe that they are descended from the boomerang. According to tradition the Taliu are an offshoot of an another group, the Tapulu. The Tapulu were throwing boomerangs and were trying to send them into a valley separating a nearer from a more distant hill called Liu. At length one man succeeded in throwing his boomerang as far as Liu, but when the people went to see where it had fallen, they found no boomerang, but a woman. When they asked the woman if she had seen the boomerang she answered, “No, it is I.” This woman is the ancestor of the Taliu.

The discovery of the boomerang in the New Hebrides and the evidence that it is not recent addition to the culture of the people raise an important problem. The boomerang is generally held to be a very ancient element of Australian culture, and the fact that it is found in a part of Santo, where the dual organisation with matrilineal descent is present, might be held to point to its great antiquity in the New Hebrides.

Its close connection with the Supwe and its association with kava, on the other hand, point to its having been introduced by whose whom I have called the kava-people, and this view is strengthened by the belief that the dead of Nogugu go to Venua Lava, suggesting that this special home of the boomerang was the point of entrance of migrants, and probably of the kava-people. The evidence should, at least, be sufficient to put us on our guard concerning the supposed antiquity of the Australian boomerang, for in spite of their difference to them in form, there can be no reasonable doubt that the Australian and Melanesian instruments are but divergent manifestations of the handiwork of one people.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1922, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.