PAPUA NEW GUINEA

PAPUA NEW GUINEA VISIT - PART 2

         

Two of the prisoners were there for making and drinking tuba, another had been sentenced for assault after he chastised his wife with a stick, and the fourth was a young man who had committed an act of immorality, to wit fornication. His case was interesting. In fact an anthropologist would have said it was socially significant. On Mer there was a high incidence of couples without children. A surprising number of marriages were childless. Kaikai's was only one: he and his wife wee strong and healthy, both wanted a family, but no children came. rightly or wrongly - and I should be surprised if it wasn't rightly - this childlessness was attributed to sterility on the male side (which is unusual in such a society: usually the women get the blame). One result of the situation was that no stigma attached to illegitimate children. There were always couples eager to adopt them.

Every young man was suspect, in the eyes of the parents of the girl he sought to marry. He might be the most eligible and admirable of young men, and the girl's true love but, to parents who thought of their daughter's future fulfilment as a mother, the crucial question was: Could he make baby? there was only one way for him to remove this reasonable doubt - by getting the girl pregnant. Our stock attitudes in the matter of the shotgun wedding would make it amusing to record that, on learning that his daughter was in the family way, the father wrung the young man's hand and slapped him on the back, and the mother kissed him and invited him in for tea. What happened, however, was not as simple as that. The Church, to whose Christian precepts everyone pad at least lip service, had to be taken into account. So the parents had to put a decent long face on the matter, however relieved and gratified they felt at the removal of the terrible doubt.

Inevitably, too, the Government came into the picture. Under the law of the State of Queensland, regulations gazetted for the Torres Strait Islands, the young man had committed an offence. he had to be arrested, charged in the Court before the Superintendent and Councillors, and he either paid a fine or worked out his sentence of a fortnight or so "on the roads". As families concerned were likely to need all the money they could lay hands on, for the wedding, he usually took the "labour" rather than pay the fine. A quiet wedding, with the couple slipping along to the Mission priest's house, to be married, was unthinkable. That would have been shame indeed. A wedding had to be "proper". There had to be a feast to which all relatives and friends were invited, and on an island of Mer's population, about five hundred, the number of related families is considerable. The bride must wear white, and a veil. The bridegroom must wear a suit - which he might never wear again, but convention decreed that he must be married in one. All this took money, and time to get the regalia out from Thursday Island. It usually took time enough for the bride-to-be's condition to become very apparent.

That condition imposed a problem for the Reverend Joseph Luie, but a formula had been worked out to meet it. Of course the church had to marry the couple. At the same time such sinful conduct could not be overlooked, nor could the Church itself be used to condone it. clearly, a protuberant bride could not be led to the holy altar. The couple would be married by the Church but not in the church. They would be married in the porch. Church-porch weddings had become an island institution. No one took exception to this procedure, and I don't think anyone would have wished it otherwise. When the gods had been Malu and bomai and Waier there had always been the greatest respect for holy places, a respect based on fear, true, but still a deep acceptance of what was sacrosanct, and this had been carried over into the new religion from the old zogo places. Zogo is their word for holy. The holy of holies was now the church. The coconut matting down the middle aisle from the door to the altar in some of the islands churches was woven with the word inset as part of the pattern. As you walked up the aisle the matting underfoot said Zogo ... Zogo ... Zogo.

New beliefs can supersede old ones without entirely supplanting them, and the paraphernalia of the old is often incorporated into the new. One church had over the door a block of wood carved into fearsomely sharp spikes. This was to scare evil spirits away, so they would not enter the church. I saw that at Dauan Island in the north of the Strait when I was there with the Reverend W.H. MacFarlane, the missionary, who picked me up at Mer and took me round the other islands with him on the mission lugger Herald. he was a fine man with a considerable knowledge of anthropology and a wide understanding of the natives, who had a deep affection for him, and I saw many tears shed at his going, for our voyage together was his farewell trip after seventeen years in Torres Strait. he had too much wisdom to say, at Dauan, "Take that down. God dos not need the things of paganism to protect His House." He saw the intention behind it, genuine concern for the safety of the church. 

Similarly, it was a perfectly natural extension of the old beliefs for an islander to set up a Bible at a new-born baby's head and another Bible at its feet, to keep away evil spirits that might harm the child. This was Christianity, the "new patent", expressing itself in "old patent" ways. To speak of Christianity on Mer as "new patent" is to speak comparatively. The first missionaries landed in 1871. They were not whites, they were two Christianized kanakas from the island of Lifu, their names were Mataika and Tom. The spot where Mataika and Tom landed on Mer had been marked with a cross hewn out of a piece of sandstone, whitewashed, and decorated with a picture of a lighthouse and the words We Bring Glad Tiding of Great Joy. The picture and the inscription were done in crayons, and each year the rains of the nor'-west monsoon washed them out and they had to be renewed.

The week after I got to Mer the Reverend Joseph Liue decided that the cross should be moved. I watched it dug up and carried on poles by a singing band of about forty men to a new position beside the church and re-erected there. Then there was a pageant re-enactment of the landing of Mataika and tom. The evangelists had not been resisted when they brought the "Glad Tiding" because they had previously landed on Erub (Darnley) Island and three Mer men who were visiting Erub were among the converts they made there. These men had come with Mataika and tom to Mer and persuaded the people to welcome them. For the pageant men dressed up, or, rather, undressed and I did gain some idea of what the islanders looked like in pre-singlet days except that, where they still wore the lava-lava, I had to imagine the curved white piece of bailer shell which a man used to wear hanging over his genitals. Necklaces of dogs' teeth wee produced and old head-dresses of cassowary feathers.

Bows and spears and the stone-headed clubs called gabba-gabba were brought out and brandished with a fine show of ferocity, which the dramatics of the occasion seemed to demand. Mataika, apparently, had not relied entirely on his three converts and the "Glad Tiding" to save him from the savages. His role was played by Reverend Joseph Liue, who carried an enamel dish from which he handed out tobacco - at least that was the representation but, tobacco being in very short supply, he handed out pieces of coconut. These were received as though they were the genuine article by kneeling savages, after Mataika had marched up the beach preceded by men hearing a pole with a yam tied to the top, a traditional symbol of peace.

Like the head-dresses of black cassowary feathers a few of the men had, the Torres Strait Islanders derive from New guinea. They are not related to the aborigines of Australia. In face they despise the mainlander as a dull and primitive fellow and their word for him, agay, is often used as a term of insult. Whether the islander has a higher I.Q. Than the Australian, who is brighter than he looks, is doubtful. They have much better proportional bodies than the spindle-legged mainlanders and facially they are much better looking. Many are handsome as well as of splendid physique - Kaikai's features were exceptionally coarse. They are taller than is average in New Guinea - one cannot say typical because there is no New Guinea type. New Guinea has hybrids of two or more of five ethnic stocks from southern Asia: the little Negritu, the hairy Anoid, the tall black thin-legged Veddoid from India, the lighter-skinned broader-bodied Polynesian. (also said to have come from India via Indonesia) and the flatter-faced Malay. Australia received Negrito-Anoid-Veddoid, but not the others. new guinea got the lot, and evolved the Papuan-Melanesian-Polynesian. 

And there may be a dash of European blood in their make-up, a dash of Spanish according to those who hold that Spanish galleons were wrecked on the reefs of the Great Barrier's had and that castaways from such wrecks left their mark. One favourite conjecture is that the ships under Lupe de Vega that parted from Mendana's expedition to the Solomon Islands at Santa Cruz in 1595, and were never heard again, were wrecked in Torres Strait. The Mer people of the village of Las on the eastern side of the island are markedly light-skinned. also, there are names that would be Spanish in derivation, such as Iose. And a former Protector of the islands, Percy Jensen, said to me, "How do you account for this? In the Miriam language of Mer, 'It happened today' is 'Ablay ocki den dieni', almost pure Latin!"

Spanish coins have been found on these islands. Jack McNulty who kept the Federal Hotel at Thursday Island had some I took rubbings of: the date on one was 1780 and on another 1818. A skeleton with a long rusted sword said to be Spanish was found in a cave on Murralug (Prince of Wales) Island. Rubies and a gold ring were dug on Ugar (Stephen) island by a trochus-sheller named Bruce. An old man of Ugar remembered, he said, that when he was a boy there was a wreck and people came ashore from it, including a white women, and they were killed at the spot where the rubies and ring were found. This could not have happened earlier than 1840. In about that year, according to an old native of Erub (Darnley) a party of castaways who were "not the same as Englishmen" landed from rafts on Douar. They too were killed, he said, and eaten. East from the Murrays lies Portlock Shoals, treacherous reefs between which there is a lagoon. A pearling lugger belonging to Frank Jardine, a pioneer of Somerset on Cape York Peninsula, was caught there at the end of 1890 in a hurricane. Great seas flung the lugger right over the reef and into the lagoon, where it rode out the blow. Then it could not sail out, until all its cargo of pearlshell had been jettisoned over the side in bags. Thus lightened, the lugger cleared the reef and sailed to Somerset. Another lugger, of lighter draught, came back to pick up the pearlshell. Its diver went down and located the bags of shell. They were resting on a pile of silver dollars.

Coral had grown round the treasure and cemented it together. It was raised in lumps, 921 pounds of it altogether. The Queensland government claimed it, Jardine fought the claim and would not yield it up to the authorities. Finally Jardine's right to it was acknowledged, he handed the dollars over, and his account at the Queensland National Bank was credited with an amount of about 3700 pounds. The dollars were Spanish, but they could not have come from a Spanish galleon, since they bore dates as late as 1833. They may easily have come from an other-than-Spanish ship, because Spanish dollars were used in many parts of the world as currency: they were used up in 1825 in the Australian settlement. An old ship's cannon, a culverin, was found with the dollars, but it does not appear to have established the nature of the ship that was wrecked. It is possible, even probably, that survivors from this wreck were the un-English ones who landed from rafts at Douar about 1840 and were killed by the natives. There was a custom called sarap which enjoined the killing of shipwrecked strangers, in case they wrought physical harm or harmful magic. Also, it appears that the flesh of white castaways was regarded as beneficial in the sacramental sense. Further, their skulls were specially acceptable to the islanders' gods.

One day I was walking about with Kaikai and we sat down with an old man named Gara. He told me that in his father's time two white boys had lived on Mer, and that they had been given the native names of Wak and Wasso. He said a ship had come and Wak and Wasso had been taken away. This was quite true. At that time I did not know the extraordinary story of the wreck of the Charles Eaton. The barque Charles Eaton, bound from Sydney for Canton, was wrecked on the Barrier Reef south of Cape York in august 1834. Five of the crew got away in the only boat that could be launched, leaving twenty-six others, in clubbing some passengers, who got off on rafts. After drifting a couple of days one raft met with a canoe of Torres Strait natives, who appeared friendly and led the way to Boydang Island. There these exhausted castaways slept, and in their sleep they were set on and clubbed and speared to death - all except two boys. One was John Ireland, steward's boy, aged about sixteen. Ireland saw the savages eat the cheeks and eyes of the killed-ritual cannibalism, with the purpose of absorbing strength from the flesh and keener vision from the eating of the eyes. Then he and the other boy, whose name was Sexton, were taken by canoe up into Torres Strait, to Aureed Island, which lies west of Mer. In the canoe were the heads of the massacred.

Already at Aureed when Ireland and the other lad got there wee two younger boys, the only survivors of the party on the second aft. They were the sons of an East India company's officer, Captain O'Oyley, and his wife, who had been passengers. One party of natives left Aureed, taking the elder O'Oyley boy and Sexton with them: they were never heard of again. Another canoe party went off with Ireland and the younger D'Oyley child, William - who was only two years old - to a neighbouring island. There a visiting man of Mer, whose name was Dappa, took a fancy to the white boys and bought them from their captors for two big bunches of bananas. He took them back to Mer and there they lived for two years, as the adopted sons of Dappa and his wife, who treated them with every kindness. Search was made for survivors from the Charles Eaton and after two years the Isabella found the two on Mer and got them from the natives in exchange for tomahawks. Ireland, who was called Wak, was glad to return to his own kind but the four-year old D'Oyley, who was Wasso, clung to his black foster-mother and howled when he was taken away.

The Isabella went to Aureed Island and Ireland led a boat party to a hut. Inside the hut was an au-gud, a god-image made of carved and joined plates of turtleshell: the name of this particular god was Kulka. round the face of Kulka w4re skulls. One, from the long hair adhering to it and the comb still in the hair, was the head of Mrs D'Oyley. forty-five skulls - they could not all have been European, but seventeen were identifiably so - were brought to Sydney. They are buried in a tomb at Bunnerong cemetery beside Botany Bay. Little D'Oyley was taken to London, to the care of a relative, a Mr Robert Williams who lived in Grosvenor Square, but the story there is one we do not know - the transition from being Wasso of Mer to becoming Master D'Oyley of Grosvenor Square.  

The top of the island, the cratered hill, is called Gelam. The legend of Gelam is that he was a young superman who lived on Moa Island, to the west, with his mother, who was detestably greedy and possessive. He left Moa in a canoe and came to Mer, where he changed into a dugong. The dugong became the long hill that bears Gelan's name. That, in essence, is the story in the Torres Strait Reader, a schoolbook in which the Queensland education authorities have made a laudible attempt to keep much of the islands folklore alive. A lot of the legends they have had to expurgate, for the sexual content runs high. There is the story of Sida, or Saida, who came from New Guinea and brought a large basket of trees, according to the schoolbook, at a time when there were no such things as coconuts on Mer. he met a beautiful girl named Pekari at the village of Ulag and, "Sida remained at Ulag till next morning, and during the night he planted many coconut trees on the beach." The story as the natives tell it is that the coconuts sprang up from Sida's semen.

Abob and Koa were supermen who built the stone fish-traps of Mer, the walls built of rocks that run out on the lee side of the island in an immense divided curve. The fish that come in over the reef at high tide are corralled when the tide goes out; then they are hunted and chased with net and spear. There is a white man story that the fish-traps must have been built by another race who brought the stones in great canoes from somewhere else, because they are not island rocks: but the boulders are lava. Still, for the forebears of the Mer people it must have been a task akin to the Pyramids to build those great stone paddocks in the sea. Few islands are richer in legends, and the myths of Mer still have a living quality. A long stone on the foreshore is not simply a stone, it is Abob's canoe. A rock pool is pointed out as the navel of Waier. A certain reef is the body of Kudar turned to rock. A cave in the side of the crater rim is Gelam's nostril. The island sorcery, puri-puri, is still a present fear. People who come to choir practice in the church at night are terrified if their hurricane lamp goes out on the way home: the darkness is still haunted. Barsis, the great black dog of death, is still about and his footfalls are heard in the night as he runs through the village, and the skin of the listener prickles and he murmurs, "Somebody going to die."

Old Walli, who was the oldest man on the island and must have been nearly ninety from the things he remembered, had a withered arm. This, he firmly believed, was the result of puri-puri being worked against him when he was a young man. It was a good thing Christianity came, Walli thought. There was "too much puri-puri man before". He tried to tell me something about a sorcery object that was "like a big light shoot up in the sky". Puri-puri also took a form familiar from stories of African witchcraft - making a man's image in wax and piercing it with needles of bamboo. Some puri-puri men had such power that they could make the motion of a canoe overturning, against a man who was not fishing, and his canoe would capsize and he would drown, Walli said. A lot of the old things, the turtleshell masks and images, had been burnt and broken and buried after the first missionaries came.

Some zogo stones remained. Most of them were carved as faces. No longer was there any anointing of them with coconut oil and turtle grease as in the old days, but a man would not move one from his garden. If he did the crop of yams might be affected or his banana palms not bear so well. Kaikai showed me one zogo place where, crawling in under a thicket of lantana, I came on a heap of pumice-like stones carved with eyes and noses and mouths. I beckoned Kaikai in to where I was. He hesitated, but he came, and he talked about the stones as being just "something bilong before", and he handled them. Ise, his cousin who was with us wouldn't come near them. Iose smiled as he said, "Might be me catchim bit sick" - the penalty for interfering with this zogo place was supposed to be dysentery - but Iose's fear was real.

"Don't get the idea that Kai isn't superstitious," George Agnew said when I told him about the zogo stones. "They all are."

there was the Big Snake, pronounced Beeg Sinaka. It lived in a hole in the crater rim at the southern end of the island. It was "bad sinake true, you see im you get sick, mightbe you die". Alo had seen the snake and nearly died. I got hold of Alo. "True," he said. How big was it? "More bigger" than his arm was thick and plenty long one. From Alo's description it was a good fourteen feet: I decided it was a rock python. George Agnew had never seen it but he said two visitors from Thursday Island who had gone up there had come back looking scared: "They saw a snake all right and it was bigger than they bargained for." Kaikai said a woman who had seen it had fallen over the cliff where it was, but she had grabbed a bush and hung on and been saved. i had a high-powered rifle with me. I asked if anyone would mind if I shot it. No, they wouldn't mind. so I asked Kaikai to show me where the snake was. He said, "Tomorrow."

The next day Kaikai didn't turn up. Word came that he had "sore leg". The next day he had a "bad pain to his head". finally I went alone. The cliff was a treacherous place. There was a narrow ledge about five foot from the top and when I jumped down to it I fell and rolled over and just clutched a bush in time to stop myself going over the drop. I walked along the ledge and found the hole. In its dusty floor was a slithery track and the feathers of a bird. There was a snake all right, and it was big, but I didn't meet it - and on that narrow ledge I had no wish to. The cliffs of black-brown rock fell almost sheer into a natural amphitheatre where other black rocks jutted up vividly from the green earth. A grey sky, glooming low with the threat of rain, had dulled the sea to a steely lilac and heightened the colours of the land. I had the feeling that these dark cliffs had looked on blood and that screams had echoed from them, and the impression grew with the finding of a cave that had, for some reason I could only guess at, been occupied: the ceiling was blackened with the smoke of fires. No one could ordinarily live in such a place, away from the fish, the coconuts, the gardens. It had been the custom of the puri-puri workers, the sorcerers, to go apart to work their magic. Or perhaps this cave had been the meeting place of men of the magico-religious cults. I looked for trees carved with faces, which Dr (now Sir) Raphael Glento, al fellow passenger on the steamer from Sydney, had spoken of as being on Gelam, but I could not find any. There was one tree my diary calls "a sort of twisted symbol of old fecundity". But, I thought, perhaps I was letting my imagination feed too much, and I climbed back up on top of the crater rim.

 

 

Looking straight out from that end of the island, the view is of Douar and Waier, only a mile across the water. Douar is a middle-backed island, another old crater with two sides blown right away, fairly well covered with vegetation, palm-groved, green. Water is much more remarkable. It is black, a wall of broken black rock rising straight out of the sea, so fissured and ragged-edged against the sky that the natives had to seek an explanation: as always there is one in the legends. Abob and Kos went to Douar at a time when an old woman named Gawar lived there and when Waier was an island with a straight edge of cliffs and inhabited by people called the Warip. The Warip caught many fish but, when old Gawar, who was hungry, waded across the narrow passage between the two islands at low tide, thy threw her only the bones. she appealed to Abob and Kos to kill the greedy Warip, and she cut them strong clubs from the bush. They went across to Waier and killed the Warip. Then, with their great clubs, they broke up the island, knocking great pieces out of the cliffs. so today Waier is the way it is, and nobody lives there.

Waier, too, was an old crater, keeled over with half its rim sank beneath the sea, so that a bay comes in over the sunken edge of the rim, on the other side. There was a fascination about the stark black island and I resolved them that I must go to Waier. And a few days later I did, from Douar.

 Papua New Guinea Visit - Part 3

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