The First 28,000 Years


The first humans to set foot on Bougainville-Buka, some 28,000 years ago, came from the northwest - either directly, from southeastern New Ireland or, more probably, by stages from there via the Feni and Nissan Islands. The present open-sea distances between New Ireland and Buka, via Feni and Nissan, are no wider than 72 kilometres. Their coasts may have been even closer during the Pleistocene period, when the sea level throughout this area had been low3ered appreciably as a result of the impounding of much of the earth's waters in vast continental ice sheets. But even 72-kilometre stretches of ocean were well within the seafaring range of these pioneers: their canoes were certainly seaworthy enough, and the inter-island distances sere within visibility range (Lewis 1972).

There is no mystery about how the ancestors of those pioneers came to be in New Ireland at that early date. Archaeological evidence from both New Guinea and Australia (which were periodically joined together during low-sea-level phases of the Pleistocene) shows that humans had begun to cross over from insular Indonesia as early as 50,000 years ago, and that some of them had spread eastward into New Britain and New Ireland by about 30,000 years ago. It is also quite likely that some of the early descendants of the first Bougainvillians pressed further southeastward, at least as far as the island of San Cristobal. There is no means of knowing why those pioneers made their ways to Bougainville, or beyond: escape from victorious enemies? deliberate search for richer food supplies? need for safe landings during stormy fishing expeditions? or perhaps, in a few cases, curiosity about unfamiliar shores?

More certain is how they subsisted. From archaeological evidence it can be inferred that their diet consisted of forest vegetables, fish and shellfish, birds, lizards, fruit bats, and rats. Included among the vegetables they gathered and ate were two species of taro, Colocasia and Alocasia, some of which may have been 'tended' (i.e., semi-domesticated) long before the indigenes began to cultivate them in gardens. For some 25,000 years after initial settlement, the Bougainvillians appear to have had little contact with their northwestern homelands, except, for example, for their import of the galip nut (Camarium indicus), which they proceeded to plant and use as a favoured food supplement. Even opossums (Phalanger orientalis), which were to become highly favoured hunting prey, did not reach Bougainville-Buka un til 3200 years ago. Thus, the first Bougainvillians were to remain almost entirely isolated from their northwestern homelands for nearly twenty-five millennia. although they were isolated, they were evidently not unified, and most certainly not homogenous, either physically or culturally. During those many millennia, the pioneers' descendants proliferated and dispersed, mostly in the larger island, where indigenous terrestrial food resources were richer and more diverse. In time those little bands of food gatherers and hunters (and in some places, fishermen), dispersed so widely and remained so scattered that they evolved into many, sharply different, societies, each with its own language. (A society as herein defined is a social unit composed of people who reside adjacently, speak the same language, or languages, and who share, in large measure and more or less distinctively, a common set of cultural principles, values, and practices. In some parts of Melanesia a single community constituted a whole society as well, but in most cases a society contained two or more communities.) Some of those earlier languages may in the course of time have died out, but in the year 1939 there were nine of them:

Northern stock

  Southern stock
Rotokas family   Nasioi family
1. Rotokas proper   5. Nasioi
2. Eivo   6. Simiku
3. Kunua   7. Nagovisi
4. Keriaka   Terei family
    8. Buin
    9. Siwai

This classification is based mainly on the degree of similarity between the languages' vocabularies. In addition there are some significant differences between the northern and southern stocks with respect to grammar. For example, the languages of the southern stock classify their numerals into forty or more categories, according to the nature of the objects they count; the northern languages lack such a classification but share a complicated kind of verbal system that differs markedly from the one found in those of the south. Linguists have not yet calculated how long the two stocks have been separated, but clearly it must be reckoned in thousands of years. During this time there developed several other marked differences between the cultures of the northern and southern societies (including cannibalism and male initiation rites in the north but not in the south). On the other hand, both northerners and southerners retained their common practice of affiliating individuals into matrilineal clans - supra-familial social units made up of persons related by maternal, rather than than paternal, kin ties. This is evidently a cultural heritage of their common ancestry from New Ireland and New Britain, where such matriliny also prevails.

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Another trait shared by the present-day descendants of both northerners and southerners is their skin colour, which is very black. Indeed, it is darker than that of any population of present-day Pacific islanders, including the present-day indigenes of New Ireland, the larger homeland of the first Bougainvillians. The presence of Bougainville as a 'black spot' in an island world of brownskins (later called redskins) raises a question that cannot now be answered. Were the genes producing that darker pigmentation carried by the first  Bougainvillain s when they arrived? Or did they evolve, by natural or by 'social' selection, during the millennia in which the descendants of those pioneers remained isolated, reproductively, from neighbouring islanders? Nothing now known about Bougainville;s physical environment can support an argument for the natural selection of its peoples' distinctively black pigmentation; therefore a case might be made for social selection, namely, an aesthetic (and hence reproductive) preference for black skin. This preference has, by the way, surfaced recently with added political meaning.

While alike in their distinctive skin colour (and in the Melanesia-wide frizziness of their hair), the descendants of Bougainville's pioneer settlers eventually became differentiated into two major types with respect to some other bodily traits: a taller and broader northern type, and a shorter, slenderer southern one. This distinction corresponds to the language differences noted earlier. Bougainvolle's long-lasting isolation was not ended until about three to four thousand years ago. Then, people having different physiques, speaking entirely different kinds of languages, and bearing many cultural innovations, surged from the west into the Pacific and on into or through New Britain, New Ireland, the Solomons and the New Hebrides. (From the Solomons some of the descendants of these newcomers moved on into the Gilbert Islands, and thence on to the Marshalls and Carolines. From the New Hebrides others moved into Fiji and Tonga and Samoa, where they evolved into the people now known as Polynesians.) Meanwhile, beginning about 3200 years ago, some bands of those newcomers settled on Buka and on Bougainville's northern and southwestern coasts. Much later, the descendants of some of those who had settled on the islands immediately south of Bougainville, resettled along Bougainville's eastern coast; the most recent of these movements founded the present-day community of Roruana, only about a century ago.    

The descendants of the newcomers who settled on Buka and on the fringes of northern Bougainville eventually superseded or mixed with whatever firstcomers still remained there, as revealed by the entirely different kinds of languages spoken there today. These newer languages are all interrelated and they are as different from the earlier ones as is, say, English from Arabic. They are divided into two groups (see Figure 3); one consisting of Tinputz, Teop, and Hahon; the other of Petats, Halia, Solos, and Saposa. All of these newcomer languages are members of a vast family of languages labelled Austronesian, which originated in south China and/or Formosa. Austronesian languages proliferated and spread throughout Southeast Asia (with one branch in far-off Madagascar) and all over the Pacific. They are found in the islands of Micronesia and Polynesia, and of Melanesia, except for most of New guinea and pockets of earlier, non-Austronesian languages elsewhere, including those of Bougainville. (In the connection, some linguists believe all or most of  Melanesia's non-Austronesian languages to be members of a single, 'genetically' interrelated group which they label Papuan, but expert opinion is not unanimous on this point.)     

As Figure 3 shows, Austronesian languages are spoken also on Bougainville's central coasts, both east and west. Banoni and closely related Nagarige-Amun, spoken on the west coast, are direct and fairly recent offshores of the island's northern Austronesian languages; on the east coast Torau (also called Roruana) and Papapana are spoken by people whose ancestors migrated there from the Shortland Islands only a few generations ago. When the author was on Bougainville in 1938-9 the present site of the town of Arawa was occupied by a small community speaking an Austronesian language also derived from the Shortlands at a time somewhat earlier than the arrival of the speakers of Torau. Now, fifty years later, that language, called Uruava (also Arawa), has become virtually extinct. Its former speakers have died out and their offspring have adopted the more prevalent language of their Nasioi-speaking neighbours, a transformation doubtless furthered by marriages between immigrants and earlier residents. Some of Bougainville's languages, both Austronesian and pre-Austronesian, are somewhat mixed, in that they contain certain words and even grammatical features borrowed from neighbouring languages.

Like the Uruava, several other bands of Austronesian-speaking immigrants may have lost both their language and their physical (i.e. genetic) distinctiveness after settling on Bougainville, but those who did not do so (including the Banoni, the Roruana, and the present-day residents of Buka and northernmost Bougainville) remain somewhat lighter in skin colour and generally taller in stature than their non-Austronesian neighbours.

Accompanying the new languages and genes that the Austronesian speakers brought to Buka and Bougainville were several other innovations; these included pottery, obsidian tools, domesticated pigs and chickens, and probably domesticated dogs. It is likely that they also introduced new crops and new techniques of gardening, although the idea of producing food plants - rather than merely collecting or tending wild ones - may have spread to these islands before then. Moreover, while the languages and the genes of the newcomers remained mostly on Buka and in the coastal areas of Bougainville, the cultural innovation brought in by them diffused throughout the larger island. Thus by the time Europeans 'discovered' Bougainville, all of its inhabitants were growing most of their vegetable food while continuing to collect a few wild-growing ones, such as the starchy pith of the sago palm. While they continued to fish, and to hunt such wild animals as opossums, flying foxes, birds and bats, they also raised pigs and chickens for their occasional feasts, and kept dogs as pets and for assistance in hunting the pigs that had escaped domestication and gone wild. doubtless there were always regional differences in food-getting; fishing figured larger in the lives of coast dwellers than of islanders, and gardening required more effort among mountaineers than among plains-dwellers. but rather than attempt to reconstruct the changes that had taken place in Bougainvillians' cultures from the early days of settlement, let us focus on what they had become just prior to European 'discovery' and colonization.

On evidence that will be given later on this Web site, the number of persons living on Bougainville-Buka just prior to their 'discovery' by Europeans was about 45,000. This number had been reached several centuries earlier and had remained, thereafter, a bout the same. Most of those 45,000 resided in small and widely dispersed hamlets; it was only in a few places (for example, on beaches adjacent to good fishing, on tiny offshore islands) that larger settlements, nucleared villages, were to be found. Except for the island's southeast ti - a heavily forested but otherwise habitable area - the uninhabited, blank, spots on Figure 4 correspond with terrain wholly unsuitable for gardening (e.g. very high mountains or extensive swamps).

Within both hamlets and villages, the basic social unit (for sleeping, for getting, processing, and consuming food; for raising children, etc.) was the family-household. This consisted in some cases of three generations of family members, or of a man and his two, or three, wives and their offspring; but in most cases it consisted of a monogamous couple and their own offspring. In addition, every Bougainvillian became at birth a member of his or her mother's clan, a kind of social unit which had many shapes and many functions (with regard to property rights, choice of spouse, religious practice, etc.). First of all, those tribes were in most cases very small, consisting of no more than a single village, or a few neighbouring hamlets; in other words, a tribe's 'citizenry' ringed in number from about twenty persons to seldom more than 300. Secondly, the normal relationship between neighbouring tribes was characterized by some degree of hostility, ranging from constant wariness to active warfare. And thirdly, 'chieftainship'- i.e. the kind of leadership characteristic of Bougainville tribes - varied from place to place, with respect to who the leaders were and what they did.

Such were the human condition s on Bougainville and Buka when whites first landed there: in doing so they precipitated, within a few decades, greater changes than had occurred during the previous 28,000 years.

Every adult visitor to Bougainville-Buka these days will know that they contain large quantities of valuable ores, but a first view of the visible landscape is likely to leave two impressions. One is that the topography is monotonously uniform, a jumble of hills and mountains and some flat coastal plains. The other superficial impression is that the soil is everywhere fertile, as indicated by the thick mantle of vegetation that covers all but the two active volcanic peaks. After a while the initial impression formed of the topography will be confirmed, but even the most unperceptive visitor will learn that the mantle of vegetation is extraordinarily varied, and that the underlying soils also vary greatly in the kinds and amounts of vegetation they can support. while the islands' rich ores last, and are profitably mined, their native residents will probably continue to share, directly or indirectly, in that source of wealth. But when the rich ones are all gone and the two islands' residents have to depend again on what they can grow in their soils, their standards of living will inevitably return to levels simpler than they were when mining began.

Bougainville and Buka Islands form a single land mass separated from one another by a shallow strait 800 metres wide. Together they are about 240 kilometres long, and about 64 kilometres across at their widest point. They are located along a northwest-southeast axis, and are, geologically, part of the Solomon Islands chain. Their total land area is approximately 9000square kilometres, minus some 13 square kilometeres of lakes and some other expanses of freshwater swamp. About half of the land area is hilly or mountainous, with peaks rising to 1500 to 2400 metres, including several active, dormant, or inactive volcanoes, along with remnants of a geologically ancient plateau of uplifted oral limestone. This coarse-grained classification of natural environment is detailed enough for some purposes, but it is inadequate for anyone seeking deeper understanding of the islands' geographic history and economic prospects.  For such purposes scientists have devised a much finer-grained classification composed of 'land units' and 'land systems'. According to this scheme a land unit is one characterised by 'a particular association of topography, soil, and vegetation' such as, for example, 'a beach with an average slope of about 10 degrees composed of white sand and supporting mixed herbaceous vegetation'; or 'a drainage depression of low gradient composed of submerged peats (up to three feet deep) and supporting tall forest trees chiefly of the Terminalia brassi species'.

Needless to say, land systems vary widely in the kinds of human activity they can support. For example, of the two just delineated, the Siwai system can and does support fairly intensive growth of indigenous food plants as well as certain kinds of cash cops; the coastal Jaba system appears to be suitable only for coconuts and plants with similar growing requirements. There are many other kinds of land systems on these islands that can support no food or cash-crop plants at all - and indeed no other conceivable form of human activity except perhaps swatting mosquitoes or admiring distant views. Some general conditions can be drawn from a map of the islands' forty distinctive land systems. first, the environmental diversity helps partly to explain the cultural diversity that obtains among the islands' several types of subsistence technologies; between coast-dwellers of the north and the east, etc. While no human society has its way of life determined in all details by its physical environment, none is wholly independent of environmental influences. And for societies with less-developed technologies, including those of the indigenes of Bougainville-Buka, such influences tend to be more decisive.

Second, and more relevant to present-day concerns, a land-systems map reveals, in a way that no amount of guesswork and wishful thinking can deny, how very limited are these islands' surface land resources in terms of economically feasible agriculture. This needs to be asserted here at the outset, as a caution against the widespread and erroneous impression that in the seemingly verdant soils of Bougainville and Buka, 'anything can be made to grow'. The land 'systems', as just defined, owe their similarities and diversities to several factors, including the islands' geology and climate, and the land-altering activities of its indigenous residents - which, it will be recalled, have been taking place for 28,000 years. The geological history of these islands has been marked by four land-forming processes; volcanism, coral-limestone growth, tectonic movements, and weathering. At least three p0eriods of major volcanism can be distinguished in the remote past - one prior to the Miocene epoch and two during the Pleistocene. As the fiery cone of Mount Bagana attests, volcanism continues to take place and to alter nearby landscapes. The growth of coral limestone is also a continuing process along the islands' shores; throughout two large areas - northern Bougainville and Buka, and the Keriaka Plateau - raised limestone constitutes the entire bedrock. Heavy rainfall and year-round tropical temperatures have served to mould all these formations, as well as to build alluvial plains, to cut deep stream beds and to create economically useless swamps. This brings us to the topic of climate. 

The climate of the two islands is of the wet-tropical or tropical-rainfall type, and it is remarkably equable the year round. The mean annual temperature at sea level is about 26.7 degrees Centigrade; the monthly sea-level mean temperatures vary only a degree or so above or below that mark, and the average diurnal range at sea level is only about 10.6 degrees. Temperatures are lower at higher elevations (according to records from comparable places, mean temperature undergoes a drop of 1.35 degrees with every 300 metres), but here also they change within quite narrow monthly and diurnal ranges, and nowhere reach conditions of frost. The alternating wind systems that affect these islands consist of a variable set from the northwest, which occurs between December and April, and a stronger, more continual set from the southeast, which prevails from Mayh to December. These changes in wind have little discernible effedct on (sea-level) temperatures but they exert some influence on patterns of rainfall, particularly in the north.

Average rainfall at sea level is higher in the south (about 3353 millimetres per annum) than in the north (about 2667 millimetres per annum), and regional topographic factors serve to extend these differences somewhat. (Rainfall also tends to increase with elevation, but there are too few records available to indicate how much.) the north-westerly winds (December-April) distribute about the same amount of rainfall over all parts of both islands. during the southeast season (May-December), however, the moisture-laden winds deposit more of their water on the southern slopes of Bougainville's mountains, thereby accounting for the higher average annual rainfall in the south. As a result of this circumstance, Buka and north Bougainville undergo a dry season during this part of the year. but it is only relatively dry - or rather, relatively less wet; the longest recorded period without rain anywhere in these islands is only sixteen days, and the mean duration of rainless days for both islands is three days or less for all months of the year. The equability of the climate is also indicated by figures for relative humidity. On the basis of observations at sea-level stations, the mean monthly recordings range between only 75 and 86 per cent, and diurnal variations for any one station are even smaller.

Certainly, climate should be considered as one of a number of factors that affect the landscapes of the islands. In addition, of course, climate exercises more direct influences on the lives of the human inhabitants. For example, the unremittingly high temperature and relative humidity undoubtedly affect the health and activities of expatriate visitors from temperate climes. It is reasonable to assume - although difficult to prove - that these climatic factors have some deleterious effects on the indigenes as well, not only in the encouragement they offer to some kinds of diseases but also in their influence upon levels of energy.

To the unsuspecting eye viewing these islands from the air or the sea or even from the ground, humans appear to have made very little impression upon the soils and the profuse vegetation, except for the areas directly affected by mining activities (including the new urban centres and sprawls), and the pockets of expatriate-developed plantations. Even some general awareness of the economic uselessness of many of the land systems cannot entirely erase the visual impression that the indigenous residents have barely begun to exploit the economic potential of their land. The most striking conclusion to be drawn from such a comparison is that in terms of existing types of cultivation and their present ratio of mix, the agricultural potential has already been pushed almost to its limit.

First Contacts with Europeans

The first Europeans known to have sighted either Bougainville or Buka were those aboard the British ship Swallow, commanded by Philip Carteret. The Swallow passed within sight of Buka Island on 25 August 1767, but did not approach its sores. Bougainville Island itself was first sighted on 4 July 1768 when the French ships La Boudeuse and L'Etoile sailed along the eastern coasts of both islands and anchored briefly off Buka. Here is the account of their encounter with the indigenes, written by the expedition's commander, Louis de Bougainville:

After leaving the passage (west of Choiseul), we discovered to the westward a long hilly coast, the tops of whose mountains were covered with clouds. ... The 3d in the morning we saw nothing but the new coast, which is of surprising height, and which lies N.W. by W. Its north part then appeared terminated by a point which insensibly grows lower, and forms a remarkable cape. I have it the name of Cape l'Averdi. On the 3d at noon it bore about twelve leagues W, 1/2 N, and as we observed the sun 's meridian altitude, we were enabled to determine the latitude of this cape with precision. The clouds, which lay on the heights of the land dispersed at sun-setting, and showed us mountain of a prodigious height. On the 4th, when the first rays of the sun appeared, we got sight of some lands to the westward of Cape l'Averdi. It was a new coast (Buka), less elevated than the former, lying N.N.W. Between the S.S.E. point of this land and Cape l'Averdi, there remains a great gap, forming either a passage or a considerable gulf (Buka Passage). At a great distance we saw some hillocks on it. Behind this new coast we perceived a much higher one, lying in the same direction. We stood as near as possible to come near the low lands. At noon we wee about five leagues distant from it, and set its N.N.W. point bearing S.W. by W. In the afternoon three periaguas (canoes), in each of which were five or six negroes, came from the shore to view our ships. They stopped within musket shot, and continued at that distance near an hour, when our repeated invitations at last determined them to come nearer. Some trifles which were thrown to them, fastened on pieces of planks, inspired them with some confidence. They came along-side of the ships, shewing cocoa-nuts, and crying houca, houca, onelle! They repeated these words incessantly, and we afterwards pronounced them as they did, which seemed to give them some pleasure. They did not long keep along-side of the vessel. They made signs that they were going to fetch us cocoa-nuts. We applauded their resolution; but they were hardly gone twenty yards (18 metres), when one of these perfidious fellows let fly an arrow, which happily hit nobody. After that, they fled as fast as they could row; our superior strength set us above punishing them.

These negroes are quite naked; they have curled short hair, and very long ears, which are bored through. Several had dyed their wool red, and had white spots on different parts of the body. It seems they chew betel as their teeth are red. ... This isle, which we named Buka, seems to be extremely well people, if we may judge to by the great number of huts upon it, and by the appearance of cultivation which it has. A fine plain, about the middle of the coast, all over planted with cocoanut trees, another trees, offered a most agreeable prospect, and made me very desirous of finding an anchorage on  it; but the contrary wind, and a rapid current, which carried to the N.W. visibly brought us further from it.

During the quarter-century after Bougainville's brief visit, other European vessels sailed within sight of these islands. The first recorded shore visit took place in 1792, when d'Entrecasteaux's vessels lay off the west coast of Buka for a few hours and carried on a lively trade with the indigenes who came to meet them in their canoes. According to one journal of this voyage, the islanders were more eager to obtain red cloth than iron. They are described as astute in bargaining, as well as cheerful and friendly:

M. de Saint-Aignan played them a fairly lively air on the violin, and the sound of this instrument, new to them, appeared to please them greatly; they laughed and jumped on the benches of their canoes. They offered in exchange for this violin not only the bow which we had already asked of them, but also some clubs they had not yet showed us. (Rossel, Voyage, vol. 1. p. 110, quoted in Dunmore 1965, p. 302).

During this period to her European vessels may have made contact with the indigenes of Buka. When Sarah, an English whaler, lay off northern Buka in 1812, the inhabitants traded with the visitors with some degree of familiarity and with apparent appreciation of the utility of the glass bottles and iron they received in exchange for their coconuts and weapons. Thereafter, until the end of the century, Bougainville and Buka were visited by whites for four different purposes: by whalers in search of provisions and fresh crews; by traders in search mainly of coconuts and copra; by labour recruiters; and by explorers, English and German.

Between 1820 and 1860 British, French and American vessels hunted sperm whales in the waters of the northern Solomon Islands, and through them Bougainvillians acquired quantities of weapons, metal tools, cloth and tobacco. During this period some Bougainvillians accompanied the vessels as crew members, sometimes as far as Australia. As a by-product of their contacts, foreign diseases and a liking for liquor were also introduced. Bougainvillians had been trading with other islanders long before Europeans appeared on the scene. Those in the north traded with Nissan and Kilinailau, and those in the south with Shortland, Mono and Fauro.

More is known about the southern trade, in which the Bougainvillean fish and lime (for betelnut chewing). When European traders appeared on the scene, the Bougainvillians began to trade smoke-dried copra in return for steel axe- and adze-blades, machetes and calico. Sometimes a venturesome European trader would cast anchor off the southern Bougainville coast and barter direct with local islanders, but in the beginning most of this trade was carried out through Bougainville Strait islanders acting as middlemen. Occasionally the latter also acquired live Bougainvillians, by kidnapping or trade, to serve as menials or concubines or for religious sacrifice - and probably for sale to Europeans as labourers. During the 1880s the Strait Islands were under the suzerainty of Gorai, a famous Shortland Island chief, who professed great respect and liking for Europeans. Gorai's influence, though not his actual rule, extended up Bougainville's eastern coast as far as Cape l'Averdy. On one occasion he sent a fleet of his war canoes to the village of Numa Numa, 160 kilometres north of Shortland, and killed a score of its people to avenge the killing of a white trader with whom he was friendly. 

A detailed description of a foreign trading visit is provided by the German  museum collector, Carl Ribbe, who accompanied a white trader, based on Shortland, on some of his voyages to Bougainville in 1894-5, I reproduce here my translation of an abridged account of one of these visits - this one to the Buin coast just east of Kangu - because of the picture it gave of the manner in which commercial relations between Europeans and indigenes were conducted during that era:

Mr Tindal and I left Faisi (the main port on Shortland Island) in a small two-masted cutter. ... Around four in the afternoon we drew near to the Bougainville coast ... From where we were the land looked flat in every direction except for two or three 100-metre-high hills directly on the coast (i.e. Kangu Hill). The whole southern Bougainville plain was canopied by tall tress ... and channelled by numerous full-flooded streams. Far to the north-east the horizon was dominated by several high and steep-sided mountains, comprising the Crown Prince Range. ... The narrow strip of hill country between mountains and plain are, like the latter, covered with a high stand of forest but the mountains themselves appeared to be only partly forested. ...

On first seeing these mountains I thought to myself what a rich field of research they must offer to the naturalist. Unfortunately, it would be virtually impossible to get to them, because the country approaching them is said to be densely populated by inhospitable and warlike tribes, whose opposition would prove even more difficult to overcome because of their ignorance of the power of firearms. Cases have been reported in which such islanders as these have ridiculed their fire-arm bearing opponents, asking what possible effect the latter's noise-making bamboo sticks could have against their own formidable spears and bows and arrows.

it has been my experience that when accompanying a small-sized expedition into the interior of islands in this part of the world, one has less to fear from the hostility of the natives who have already experienced some contact with whites than from those who have never before seen them. Typically, when a small party of explorers is opposed by indigenes with no prior experiences with firearms it is apt to be wiped out in the first assault. Since the thick undergrowth conceals the attackers struck down by bullets, their unwounded fellows remain unaware of the deadliness of firearms and so press their attack fearlessly and relentlessly ...

From where we lay at anchor off shore no houses or canoes were to be seen along the beach, the native villages being located some five to six kilometres inland. ... We remained aboard our cutter that night, then, shortly after sunrise, four of our Shortland Island servants took off for the villages of Suriei and Takerei to inform the villagers that we had come to trade for copra. Each of our messengers was of course armed with rifle and revolver, for we could not rule out the possibility that they might meet up with hostile mountaineers and be obliged to fight. ... Shortly after noon we were hailed from the shore, where we saw many indigenes alongside several piles of copra. The cutter's boat was rowed to the beach to bring back some villagers and their copra, and the trading then began - during which, I should add, we kept our firearms constantly at the ready. . . .

The bartering indigenes were permitted to board the cutter from one side only. While one of us whites occupied himself with the trading, the other kept a close watch to guard against attackhis kind of trading is no great pleasure - indeed, it is long drawn out and boring. However, it is essential not to give up or lose patience; otherwise the blacks would not bother to return to trade another time. The owners of the long strings of dried coconut chunks usually delegate negotiations to one or two of their number, who invariably, in the beginning, demand exorbitant prices. Then, before any transaction is concluded, each of the villagers o9resent is asked whether he agrees with the terms offered. They appear to have no conception of the monetary value of the various trade items offered to them. It often happens that they will first demand a ridiculously high trade price for their copra, and then in the end he satisfied with a very modest return. Thus, one can obtain 100 coconuts for 65 pfennigs worth of calico, or for 10 coconuts they will accept either a clay pipe worth 1.2/2 pfennigs or 2 sticks of tobacco worth 5. A short muchete costing 40 pfennigs will purchase 50 coconuts, while a long one coasting 1 mark will obtain 100. A box of matches worth 4 pfennigs will obtain 10 coconuts, a Jew's-harp worth 15, 30 coconuts, and an axe worth 1 mark will obtain 100. From these few examples one can see . . . that the indigenes have no idea of the relative values of the trade goods they obtain with their coconuts. The state of affairs, which often results in a disadvantage to the white traders (when indigenes demand too highly priced goods for their coconuts) is the fault of the traders themselves. (How much more often, one may inquire, did this 'state of affairs' result in disadvantage to the indigenes?)  

The trader has to exercise special care to protect his own interest when the indigenes demand calico for their copra, since the customary method for measuring cloth can work to the latter's advantage. the unit of measure used here is the 'fathom', the span between fingertips of a person's outstretched arms. The length of this span can of course be varied according to the extent that one stretches the arms and the way one holds the cloth. And it is not surprising that the indigenes insist upon having the measurement done by the man with the longest arms. (One can well understand what diplomacy the trader is called upon to exercise in winning agreement to use a shorter-armed man as a measure.) Distance from outstretched fingertip to nipple also serves as a unit of measure, as does the distance between the outstretched tips of thumb and index finger - these measurements being usd when the indigenes exchange their coconuts, etc. for strings of shell money (mauu'ai, perasali). 

thus, the whole commerce is a form of barter - which incidentally, is highly profitable to the white traders in this part of the Solomons. The copra, which the trader sells to the schooners that ply these waters, at seven and eight pounds sterling a ton (i.e. 5000 coconuts), he is able to buy from the indigenes at three pounds, thereby realizing a profit of four to five pounds per ton. Among Bougainvillians the trade goods in most demand are hatchers, axes (with metre or half-metre long handles), pocket knives, large blue and red heads for necklaces, small red, blue and white beads used for making ornaments, porcelain bracelets, tobacco and pipes, thin, patterned or red or white calico, plane blades for wood-working, mirrors and Jews' harps.

The indigenes also extend this form of trade among themselves. some goods obtained from the white traders end up in increasingly high prices, so that a distant inlander will pay 300 to 400 coconuts for a hatchet that was obtained at the beach for only 100.

Ribbe went on to say that it was the cop0ra trade that had made the southern Bougainville coast a safer place for outsiders to visit. After about 1870 Bougainvillians were recruited to large numbers for plantations in Queensland, Fiji, Samoa, and New Britain. those of Buka were in especially heavy demand because of their reputation for trustworthiness and industry. for example, the German trader-planner, Richard Parkinson, found his Buka labourers to be invaluable protection from his hostile indigenous neighbours in the Blanche Bay area of New Britain. 'I always licked them fearfully with my Bouka boys of which I have 150.' Some of the Bougainvillians (including Buka) went voluntarily with the European recruiters, evidently eager for the European goods to be earned, or to escape from dangerous situations at home. but others went under duress, as in th case of those kidnapped by the Melbourne vessel Carl for work on Fiji.

The Carl was owned by an Irish physician, Dr James Murray, who embarked upon his South Seas adventures in 1871 after a series of scandalous scrapes in Australia. After 'recruiting' - that is, kidnapping - nearly eighty indigenes from various islands in the New Hebrides and Solomon Islands and imprisoning them in the vessel's holds, he sailed his ship to northern Bougainville and Buka. Here is Edward Docker's recent reconstruction of what ensued:

Even King Ghorai of the Shortlands with his mighty war fleet never dared attack Buka, and with visiting ships the big, very black Bukamen paddled out in their twenty-man canoes prepared either to trade or fight as the mood suggested. They never had such a shock in their lives. large lumps of pigiron or cannon slung in ropes crashed down on the canoes, then immediately, as they struggled in the water, with many of them badly gashed and bruised, the boats were among them, hauling them in like tuna. The score was forty the first day, forty-five the next. the earlier captive were now stowed right forward and aft, with the eighty-five Bukamen under the main lurch. Not one was either handcuffed nor leg-ironed.

That evening there was much recrimination on deck among Murray's party about these methods of recruitment - with no attention being paid to what was happening below. Here the Bukamen had broken up their bunks and were using them as implements to force open the hatch. Before long the clamour from the hold drowned out all sounds of the dispute on deck and settled the argument among the white men, at least for the time being. The best-corroborated version of the events of that evening are supplied by a woman, Davescove. He later testified:

'I was awakened about ten by the boy Fallon coming to my bunk, an d asking me for God's sake to come on deck, as the ship was on fire, and they would be all dead men. I went on deck, and to the main hatch, where ai found the passengers and others assembled, called out to the natives to keep quiet. I saw no signs of fire, and went below to the cabin for a minute. While away I heard sounds of firing, and returned on deck, and saw William Scott, Dr Murray, Captain Armstrong, and others firing down into the hold. The natives were fighting amongst themselves, and trying to break open the hatchways, Mount and Morris were firing with revolvers.  

'After the natives had been fighting a bit they would stop for a few minutes, and then the firing would cease, and be resumed when the row began again. I went to the cabin after the first row was quieted. I saw Morris there loading a rifle, and Dr Murray loading a revolver. There was firing off and on during the night. I fired myself, once or twice, before I saw Morris and Murray in the cabin. At one o'clock in the morning the mate raised a cry that the natives had charge of the deck, and Dr Murray called out, "Shoot them, shoot them, shoot every one of them."

'When daylight broke, everything was quiet. The shooting continued, off and on, until about three o'clock, or half-past three, when we knocked off altogether. The firing was resumed at intervals of five, ten and fifteen minutes, and sometimes half an hour elapsed between the rows. At four o'clock everything was quiet, and I went into the galley and served out some coffee to the men and passengers. After a bit Dr Murray came aft. Lewis, the second mate, said, "What would people say to my killing twelve niggers before breakfast?" Dr Murray replied, "My word, that's the proper way to pop them off."

'Everything was then quiet, and breakfast was got ready. After breakfast the ladder was put down the hold by the passengers and crew, and the natives were told to come on deck. some of the wounded natives came up; they were wounded in the back, arms, and legs. Those who had a narrow wound were put on one side, and those more dangerously wounded on the other. All the wounded natives who could come up, came up. Two of the good natives were sent down by Dr Murray with ropes, which they fixed round those who were dangerously wounded, so that they could be hauled up. the wounded were separated as I have described by Dr Murray's directions. The passengers were looking on all the time, and Mount and Morris told the natives to do their work. 

'I heard them tell them to lay the wounded down, and make fast their hands.

'Dr Murray went forward to the starboard side of the ship, and said, "Well, boys, what do you think of doing with these men?" Mount asked, "What do you think of doing?" "Well," said Murray, "I think that the best we can do is to get the leeward of the island and land them there." A man said, "How far are we from land?" Dr Murray answered, "I don't know, but not very far." Mount said, "You have been gaffer all this time, what are you going to do?" Dr Murray then took four or five of the friendly natives an d went aft, and told them to pick up a man and throw him overboard. There was a boy with six fingers and six toes, who was wounded in the wrist, and he was the first thrown overboard. When Dr Murray told the friendly natives to pick up the boy, the other natives screamed "No, no, no!" He was lifted onto the rail, and Dr Murray pushed him overboard. He was the first who was thrown overboard. At this, all the Bougainville men who could do so, jumped overboard.'

In the end the total of natives killed outright or tossed badly wounded into the sea amounted to seventy. Another fifteen or so of the unwounded may have swam safely ashore, which now left on board the seventy-six so-called 'friendly' natives. One result of the abortive mutiny was that the Malaitamen had completely abandoned their former overhasty ideas of escape.

Some of the Europeans who took part in these outrages were eventually arrested and sentenced to death or terms in prison, but the agile and ingratiating Dr Murray tuned Queen's evidence and escaped punishment altogether.

The most detailed account of labour recruiting on Bougainville - Buka is that of Douglas Rannie, who accompanied a recruiting expedition on board an Australian vessel as government agent. The vessel stopped twice off Bougainville-Buka in search of recruits for the Queensland sugar fields; first at an unspecified point off Bougainville's northwest coast, and then off Buka. The different receptions accorded the vessel at these two points serve to show how different the inhabitants of the two islands had by then become in terms of their experience and sophistication in dealing with whites:

On the morning of the 25th of June we lowered our boats about eight o'clock and made towards the shore. This being the weather side, a very heavy surf was breaking on the beach; so heavy, indeed, that for some time we thought we should have to give up all idea of getting into communication with the natives, whom we saw in large numbers lined up on the sand.

There appeared to be two tribes assembled. They did not seem to be upon amicable terms, as they held aloof from one another. They were all heavily armed with very long bows and sheaves of arrows. Besides these weapons some carried spears, and each man had suspended from his shoulder a tomahawk, club, or heavy wooden sword. The tribes were distinguished by the colour of their head-dress. This was composed of a hat exactly resembling an egg-shaped lamp-globe and of similar size. These hats were made of basket-work, and beautifully covered and sewn with the skin of the pandanus leaf. They reminded me more than anything else of the baskets used in billiard-rooms for pool and pyramid balls. The opening was not much wider, although it might have admitted a cricket ball; into this the natives towed their long, woolly hair. The large amount of hair they managed to stuff in caused the hats to stick up jauntily on the side of the head. The hats worn by one tribe were all white, while those worn by the other were stained a bright red.

Pulling along the coast we came to a smooth part, and were able to approach nearer the islanders. After a lot of persuasion we induced them to approach nearer to each other as well as to us. Both tribes wished to enter into communication with us, and both had stuff for barter. As neither would entirely trust the other, they each left a strong armed p0arty immediately behind them in the scrub as guards. The mate, with his boat stern first, cautiously approached what seemed to be the most moderate break in the surf, and I directed his attention to the heavy break which occurred with every third or fourth wave outside the ordinary surf. As a man came out neck-deep in the water, holding a young sucking pig over this had, the mate ventured too much. A huge wave broke over the bows of his boat, filled her and swept here right up on the beach. The boat's crew leaped out before she grounded, having first secured their rifles. Many of the islanders ran for their weapons, but others professed to offer assistance. In the meantime we were outside the influence of the surf, and covered the other boat's crew with our rifles. The natives ashore seemed to be of two minds. Some, I thought, desired to assist our men, while others were inclined to go for loot. but the fact that our men still retained their arms ashore, and we were almost out of range of their arrows, and had them well covered, decided them to help us in our difficulty and trust to our generosity for remuneration. A number of them turned to with a will, and after the mate had given them all the print and calicoes, besides beads, pipes, and tobacco, which he had in the trade box (the axes, tomahawks, long knives, and butcher's knives were in the bottom of the boat), they re-launched the boat. but alas! before the boat's crew could get her under way with their oars, a great rolling sea caused her to broach-to and capsize, and surge in towards the beach, bottom up, with the crew underneath. One by one they struggled out. The mate was dragged out with a horrible gash on the back of his head and neck, from which the blood flowed freely. Hastily we unbent the painter and the sheet of our big-sail, and backing the boat in as far as we deemed safe through the surf, we threw the boat's crew the rope. They made it first to the mate, and we were able to draw him through the surf to us. Pulling out to a safe distance beyond the breakers, we rendered what first aid we could to the wounded man.

A terrible scene ensued ashore. The natives of both tribes rushed down to the boat, dragged her up on to the beach, and fought savagely for the axes, tomahawks, and knives that were lying in from two to three feet (60 to  90 centimetres) of water. Two natives would be struggling for an axe. One would manage to free his arm, with the axe aloft' and the next instant it would be brought crash, down through the skull of the other unfortunate one. Several could be seen fighting and slashing each other with the long knives and butcher knives, as they rolled over and over each other in the water. Those ashore along the fringe of scrub took up the fight, and a general battle ensued. The arrows were flying in the air like showers of hail. Presently a large body of men charged out from the scrub, on those nearest the boat (they had manoeuvred round through the back of the scrub from the tribe of the white hats), and making a wild dash among the bowmen of the red hats, mowed them down with tomahawks and hardwood swords before the red hats had time to unsling their weapons. The red hats then took to flight, but were followed by the white hats with showers of arrows until the bush gave them shelter. There must have been upwards of a thousand engaged in the fray, and the casualties were very numerous. Seeing that we could not do much more until our second boat was patched up, we made for the north end of Bougainville and came to anchor at Buka Island.

We were visited at Buka Island by large numbers of islanders in many canoes. The canoes carried from ten to sixty men in each. As many of them were as high in the sides as our own little vessel, we made a rule that canoes were to be allowed on one side only, and that the starboard. The port side was to be kept clear, as well as the main deck on the port side; so the ship was roped off fore and aft amidships. We had also to be constantly on the watch and always armed; for, on the slightest show of carelessness on our part, or of being off guard, we should all have been massacred for the sake of loot.

One of our boatmen told me that on a previous visit he had been shown on a clear day the hull and masts of a vessel lying on the horizon in deep water. She had been taken and looted by the natives and then sunk. We secured the services of an islander here as an interpreter. He was the only one able to speak English. He told us that his name was 'Maggy', and that he had worked for a Mr Farrell in Samoa. Maggy piloted us to quite a number of villages, but found no one anxious to emigrate to Queensland. The villages were kept as clean and ship-shape as any in the Shortlands, and the natives displayed as much taste in the manner in which their plots of flowers and flowering plants about their houses were attended to. As the Shortlands I noticed that the dead were buried in the ground and large cairns of stones were piled over the graves, these again were filled in with soil, and the interstices planted with bright and fragrant flowers. but here the dead were disposed of in quite a different manner. We had an opportunity while on a visit to one of the villages of seeing their strange funeral ceremony. The corpse was carried down to and over the ref by a few of the deceased's comrades, followed by a crowd of women wailing and performing strange antics. At the edge of the reef the remains were placed in a canoe, paddled out some hundred yards or so, and with a few heavy stones attached were sunk to the bottom. although five from any particular amount of general sickness, and physically as fine a race of people as we had so far met, 80 per cent of them seemed to be afflicted with a disagreeable skin disease they called 'buckwah' (?). This disease breaks out in patches on the body in the form of a number of small dry rings, resembling ringworm. They spread till the whole body becomes covered  with a mass of dry, scaly rings, which comes off a flakes and dust. I have cured many of the sufferers with a mixture of sulphur and kerosene, applied with a large paint brush. Clean -skinned natives seem to have a horror of contracting the disease. 

We found the islanders very skilful in the manufacture of spears and arrows, and many of their weapons were tastefully inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Pearl-shell appears to be fairly plentiful in those regions. From the many patches of reef s we sailed over. I believe large quantities of shell could be obtained. Three days were spent in visiting villages scattered here and there, but all our recruiter's eloquence could not induce any of the natives to engage in the Queensland sugar industry. So the skipper decided to make a move the following day. That evening two large canoes came along from some foraging expedition. Their crews, numbering about forty each, were quite jubilant over some foray, or success. They clicked their paddles on the side of their canoes, keeping time to a wild chant or war song.

The paddles of these canoes had each the design of a dancing demon stained on it in permanent black and red dyes. Crouched despondent in the bottom of one of the two canoes, we noticed, as they came alongside, a wild, powerful-looking man. After an animated conference with the savages in the canoes, our interpreter Maggy approached the skipper and me, and told us that the savages had a captive in one of their canoes whom they wished to dispose of by selling them to us. I said that the strict meaning of the Act would not allow any such mode of recruiting. Yet as the circumstances of the case seemed very peculiar, I determined that I would go into them very carefully.

Impressing upon Maggy that he must speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, I elicited through him from the canoe savages that the man whom they now wanted us to take was a captive they had made upon their present expedition. They were taking him home with them, there to be dealt with in a way that even Maggy hesitated to describe. I inferred that he was to be put to death, and eaten. I got Maggy to explain to the captive that if he chose to come of his own free will on board of us he could do so, and that if he chose to leave the ship at any place to the islands no one would prevent him. As he came on board under peculiar circumstances, the same circumstances would allow him to go ashore anywhere he liked where the ship should touch before leaving for Queensland. As we had an interpreter on board who could speak his own language, the whole of the nature of the work expected of South Sea Islanders on Queensland plantations would now be fully explained to him, together with the nature and terms of agreement. but that he would not be called upon to enter into that agreement until some time during the trip when others might be signed on.

All this I was confident Maggy faithfully explained to him, and he came very joyfully aboard. In return, the savages, at their captive's hands, received a bundle of fancy-coloured print, in which were rolled up some glass beads, paint, tobacco, a couple of butcher's knives, and a tomahawk. I made the parcel of trade come from the captive as a ransom paid by himself, and not as the price paid for a slave. Thus we got our first recruit, and he was entered on the Passenger List as No. 1, Cheeks and Buka, Bougainville. He was about twenty-five years of age, well built and muscular-looking, with a huge head of hair hanging in a mass of ringlets down to his shoulders. Each ringlet was plastered thick with lime and cocoa-nut. We soon set one of the crew to work with the scissors and his locks were consigned to the deep. Cheeks was quite pleased with the change, and was anxious to adopt European habits at once, so great was his delight at escaping from his enemies. And yet, he told me afterwards, he had never seen a white man in his life before.

The effects of these early encounters between Bougainvillians and white must have varied widely. some of the former, mainly coast-dwellers, and especially those of Buka and northern Bougainville, became well acquainted with the material goods and customs of whites, and with their characters, both good and bad. Many, however, experienced nothing of the new alien influences except the occasional steel tool that filtered to them through coastal intermediaries. One of the most detailed accounts of that period was written by H.B. guppy, the naval surgeon attached to a British exploring expedition to the Solomon Islands in 1882. This writer tarried for several months in the islands of the Bougainville Strait and made several visits to the south coast of Bougainville itself. guppy collected much useful information concerning the indigenes and the natural resources of southern and eastern Bougainville, including specimens of ore that led him to make the prophetic statements: 'A sample of stream tin from the southeast part of Bougainville was given to me by the Shortland chief. Copper will not improbably be found in association with the serpentine rocks of these islands.'

Until 1884 Bougainville-Buka continued to remain outside the administrative domain of any European power, although British subjects (including some Australians) were most in evidence there, as visiting traders and labour recruiters. This situation began to change in 1834 when Germany annexed northeast New guinea (Kaiser-Wilhelmsland) and the Bismarck Archipelago. This action moved Queensland, and eventually Britain, to annex Papua (i.e., southeast New Guinea). Bougainville and Buka were not officially added to the German colony until 1899, but by an exchange of notes with Britain, in 1886, these islands (along with Shortland, Choiseul, and Isabel) were declared to be within the German sphere of influence. In fact, German influence began to extend to Bougainville and Buka some years earlier in the persons of traders, explorers and recruiters of labourers for plantations on Samoa, the Bismarck Archipelago and elsewhere. The best-known of those early Germans was the Richard Parkinson referred to earlier. Parkinson had moved to New Britain from Samoa in 1882. (His wife was sister to the much-married Emma Forsyth - 'Queen Emma' - who had gone from Samoa to New Britain earlier and had established extensive trading and plantation enterprises in the Duke of York Islands and on Blanche Bay.) Froi his New Britain base Parkinson made many trips to Bougainville and Buka, trading, recruiting, and collecting natural history specimens; he recorded his observation in several scientific papers and in his lengthy book: Dressig Jahre in der Sudsee (Thirty Years in the south Seas.) In summarizing his findings, Parkinson reported that by the turn of the century the coastal inhabitants had become fairly familiar with Europeans, through trading with them or serving on their plantations on New Britain and elsewhere, but that the interior of the larger island remained 'virtually closed-off'. 

Ignorance about Bougainville's inland areas during that era can be attributed partly too its physical inaccessibility, partly to their inhabitants' ways of life, and partly to the behaviour of the white visitors themselves. During the nineteenth century, and probably for centuries and millennia before, the native people were separated into numerous minute tribes whose interrelations, if any, were typically hostile, with the exception of occasional instances of intertribal trade. Moreover, this normal state of hostility was more often than not intensified in specific cases where one tribe was made up of coast-dwellers and the other of islanders. This antagonism was for a time reinforced by the appearance on the scene of white traders and labour against their traditional enemies. for some islanders the only way to acquire the eagerly sought European trade goods was by raids against coastal settlements. Also it is likely that many of the inlanders who ended up in the hands of labour recruiters arrived there through kidnapping by coastal middlemen.

In addition, much of the initial hostility shown to whites was the direct result of the latters' bahaviour. for every Parkinson visiting these shores - for every white who viewed the indigenes with intellectual curiosity and treated them with some degree of fairness and humanity - there were many others who considered them to be subhuman and handled them fraudulently and brutally. before some measure of colonial authority was established, the only constraint exercised by most traders and recruiters was their wish again to trade and recruit there some day. Here is Parkinson's description of the labour recruiters' part in this contact:

The recruiters concentrated their efforts on the filling of their ships. From place to place they went, searching the coast up and down with their boats, and, whether or not, came into conflict with the natives who could not make themselves understood, and who knew from experience and hearsay the methods of recruiting labourers which they regarded as pure kidnapping.

No wonder, then, that the Bougainvillians of that era earned reputations for hostility against whites, all whites. As Parkinson recorded:

Murders of white men were recorded every year, murders that were brought about by the victims' own fault, or, as was unfortunately the case, done to avenge the misdeeds of other recruiters. Every white person was regarded as an enemy, recruiter, trader or missionary; the crime of another has often caused the death of a perfectly harmless and peaceful man.

In 1902 the Catholic Society of Mary extended its missionary endeavours in the Solomon Islands by setting up a station on Bougainville's eastern coast, near Kieta. Then, in 1905 the German colonial administration at Rabaul established a post at Kieta, and at about the same time a few European planters and traders began to settle along the eastern and northern coasts of Bougainville and along Buka's western and southern coasts. Between 1899 (when these islands were officially annexed) and 1905, German political control - such as it was - was administered by means of occasional visits of officials from Rabaul.


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