Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 12





Veata of Maiva.

LIKE all other savages, the Papuans are a prey to superstition. As an example of the beliefs they entertain, and the fears they cherish, I will narrate my adventures with a great sorcerer, a Maivan, dreaded by his countrymen on account of the power he is supposed by them to possess. Like other pretenders of the same class, he was himself the dupe of his own cabalistic juggleries, and as big a coward as the simple folk who hung upon the rites he practised. I had often heard of this man, but never met him personally till, when in Maiva, I was presented at an inland village with a broken crystal, and on inquiring if there were others of the same kind about, I was informed they all came from the vicinity of Mount Yule, but that one in particular, by common report surpassing all others, was in the possession of Veata, the mighty sorcerer, never to be seen by mortal eye except his own, for no other person could look on it and live. One of our teachers hearing of it, and thinking, I suppose, it was some precious stone, offered the sorcerer several tomahawks only to be allowed to see it. On returning to the coast I went to my friend Miria, and asked him to use his influence with Veata to show me his burning jewel. "Yes," he replied, "but I am afraid; I myself have never seen it, although he is my cousin, and should he show it to you will you not die?" "No, Miria, that cannot kill me;" and then I told him of the many charms, fetisches, &c., I had from other places. He was evidently distressed, for after thinking the matter over, he said, "Were there only two Tamates it would be right one to die and one to live; we have only one, and cannot get another." "Miria, do not be alarmed. I can look on all Veata's things and know I will live." "Well, I will ask him."

After some time, Veata and Miria came into the house, and, sitting down in front of me, I asked the former if the latter had spoken to him of what I was anxious to see. Veata looked steadily at me, and said, "My friend Tamate, I would, but I am afraid, very much afraid. No living soul but my sister and me has ever seen those things, and you know very frightened Maiva is." "Veata, friend, do not be afraid, your kohu goods cannot injure me, and I alone will see them." "To-night I will return, and you will see them, and no one but ourselves must be in the house." "Good, friend, now do not deceive me."

He is a man some forty years old, about 5 feet 8 inches in height, well made, with a peculiar anxious expression and dark restless eyes. He would have been killed long ago, but his party is large and influential, and all of them would rally round him, as, apart from relationship, he is the source of food and property to them.

Long droughts will bring large quantities of yams, bananas, sugar cane, betel nut, cocoa nuts, pigs, fish, tobacco, arm-shells, ear, neck, and forehead ornaments.

When one is sick friends will do the same. If death follows he is blamed. When my old friend Oa died, Veata had to leave for some time, until it was shown by his friends that he could not have caused Oa's death, and the blame was then laid on another.

This superstition is the source of constant trouble in the Gulf, and amongst the inland tribes on the Owen Stanley Range. Last year Motu-Motu, on their return from Port Moresby, where they had been trading with arrowroot, attacked Keveri, a district near Cape Possession, and killed three men, themselves losing two. Since then they have threatened to return, but were afraid of the teachers at Maiva, and my old savage father, Semese, said he would not consent, as he did not wish to break faith with his foreign son. Four weeks ago Lese invited Motu-Motu to a large feast. A large crowd assembled, and when the time for talk came on Keveri alone was the subject. Many were excited and determined on fighting. When the talk was at its highest a strange native stepped into their midst, and said, "I am a Keverian, I wish you to kill me, or if you save me I shall lead you to Keveri. A dear friend has been killed by a vatavata (spirit), and Keveri will not help me to revenge on the sorcerer. I do not wish for life, but if you spare me I shall be yours." Some said, kill him at once; Semese said, "No," and stepping over to him took his net bag from him, giving him his, exchanged head dresses and armlets, and then took him by the hand, saying, "You are mine, and live." He took him home to Motu-Motu, and the following week landed him on the beach near Keveri, telling him to make known to Keveri his great wish for peace, and that he and his son would be found in Maiva with the teachers. Soon a messenger came in begging Semese and his son Rahe to go out, which they did, and made friends and peace.

At sunset Veata returned, looking very serious, and sitting down near to me, he said, "Oh, Tamate, are you sure it will be right for you to look on these things—what if you die? Where shall I go? Every tribe on New Guinea would seek my destruction." "Nonsense, Veata, I am very anxious to see your kohu, and you will find I live." He left me in great doubt, but I was determined not to be done. I have had a good deal to do with these gentlemen, the most troublesome men on New Guinea, and the same in other lands; many known as Protestants, and hosts as Romanists. Bigoted priests, Protestants or Romanists, are not near so easily managed as my savage friend and priest Veata, and I thought I would yet see his articles of might, especially the burning jewel of death.

The sun had long set, and a very dark night had come. I sent for Miria and asked him why Veata did not return. "Oh, Tamate, we are all afraid; were there only two Tamates, one to die and one to live, it would be right, but to lose you now and through my friend." "Miria,

Plate XLI.



Reference page 81.

Black and white photograph of a log platform held up by two Y-shaped branches planted into the ground on a beach. To one side, a man and a boy stand on a rock.
Black and white photograph of a log platform held up by two Y-shaped branches planted into the ground on a beach. To one side, a man and a boy stand on a rock.
do not be afraid, die I shall not, but if I should there are others to take my place. Come, and we shall go to Veata." Consenting, we started, and walked for nearly a mile, when we came to Veata's village. At this season the Maivans turn night into day, because of the mosquitoes. They walk and sit about and smoke all night, and sleep during the day. In walking through the village during the day, groups on mats, dead asleep, may be seen everywhere. Except Rakaanya, of the Humphrey group, I know no place to beat Maiva for these annoying creatures. One of my boat's crew said, "Their noise is loud as Rouna (a large waterfall), and their bites I cannot describe." A teacher walking through the village one evening saw a man killing and eating these enemies. "What, are they nice that you eat them?" "No, but they take my blood, and I kill and eat them in revenge."

Veata, with his wife, was sitting on his platform in the dark, afraid to have a light near that would draw the mosquitos. "Friend, I have come to see your kohu, and especially the burning one." Having strongly impressed on Miria, going along, the necessity of his assisting me, I found now I was about attaining my object. "Tamate, you will see it, they are with my sister; whilst with me I lost father, mother, brothers, sisters, wife and children; and, being frightened, I gave them to my one sister to keep, and she hides them in the earth." After a chew of betel nut we start for the sister's, where he begs to remain awhile to follow us in a short time. On arriving at the Mission House Miria told the natives about to keep away as Veata was coming with his kohu. The teacher's wife had to leave the house, and I with the teacher long waited. The wife, tiring of the long delay, returned and informed us it would be long ere he came, as he was "going through his prayers," and there sure enough he was, on a platform near our house, busily engaged with his bags in front of him. After a long stay Miria entered and saw the house cleared, then Veata came, put down my curtain that makes my end of the house private, asked me to take the light inside, showed me where I was to sit and not lean over his things. Again he began, "Tamate, I think it is good and no harm will come to you; but do not show them to any Maivan or Motuan."

"Yes, it is good, and no harm will be mine." Muttering hurriedly to himself, he pulled carefully each finger, cracking all, till he came to the ninth, no crack, then more earnest muttering, and an appealing look to me, "Tamate is it good?" "Yes, Veata." A long, hard pull, and a crack, and then the tenth—all right. In some places the pulling the fingers signify friendship, and everywhere it is done by friends to any one taken suddenly sick. I remember once at Aroma, a chief not much accustomed to smoking had two or three long whiffs from a bamboo pipe; he was sitting close by me and thrust his hands towards me; not knowing what he wanted, he turned to the other side, and a friend caught his hands and pulled his fingers, not at all happy if one failed to crack. The man, I found, was smoke-sick, and this was the cure.

I was going to ask Veata what it all meant, but he insisted on my not speaking. The first thing produced was a small net bag containing two large seeds; on one was a very good, clear, and well shaped crystal, and underneath small shells to represent nose and eyes. That was the male, and the other, unadorned, was the female. They were never spoken to but for death, and were the cause of many deaths. He now asked me if I was afraid? "Oh, dear no, go on." He next produced a piece of bamboo ten inches long in which there was a black stone, basaltic, and another very small one. The one was father and the other child; these were for seasons, and gave plenty or scarcity. In taking the large stone out it fell, which much disconcerted him, and he had again to go over his prayers. Next came a cone, from the end of the pandanus growth, and made like a scent bottle. He took the lid off, and wapped in various kinds of weeds was another stone he handled very carefully, a co-partner with the last, only both together produced sickness and death; the latter was a female.

He then laid down a small parcel done up in native cloth very carefully, and whilst undoing it was very solemn in appearance, and muttering all the time. Another stone was produced wrapped in weeds, with two small stones enclosed in a network of string, and another substance wrapped up in leaves. These were of power to make children, and were appealed to for the barren, only the women must never see them.

Plate XLII.


Reference page 82.

Black and white photograph of a village in a forested area. In the foreground, several men and women sit on the ground.
Black and white photograph of a village in a forested area. In the foreground, several men and women sit on the ground.
He then said that was all. I said, "No, Veata, I want to see the bright burning stone; but never mind just now, will you sell these?" "No." "Then put them up and go and get the other." After a little deliberation and a good deal of muttering, he asked what I should give him if he would sell, and on mentioning a tomahawk, native beads, arm-shells and tobacco, he was satisfied, and I packed my curios away, lest repentance on his part should deprive me of them. I forgot to say that Miria was first consulted, and he was favourable to the sale. We then went out to Miria, and I told him what I wanted. Veata left, and in about an hour returned with a small parcel of crystals. We again retired, and the small crystals were produced. I bought them, and then in great secrecy he brought out a large piece of crystal quartz in a small net, and said that was what I had heard about, and no one must look on it but myself. It was the "death stone," and of which all Maiva was afraid. It was now getting into the small hours of morning, and I wished my friend would go, but he lingered long instructing me, and begging of me not to exhibit these things to Maiva and Motu.

The next morning there was trouble. It was noised all over Maiva I had got these things. My inland friends begged of me to have nothing to do with them, our boat would sink or we should all die, or I might live, but Motu would suffer. No one on board knew where I had them until after leaving Yule, when my stroke asked me, and I told him they were in a box under his seat. During the trip back he never once returned to that oar. In crossing Redscar Bay we had dirty weather and a very dark night. It arose from Veata's stuff—throw it overboard. No, it must not go overboard. I never had a quieter crew, and all were frightened. They begged for a reef to be taken in. I was anxious to get to Redscar Head by morning, and would not consent. They asked to throw some of our food overboard, and to that I also objected, as at Maiva and Delena, they persisted in filling the boat too full. I heard them saying amongst themselves, "What folly to keep these things on board; he is not afraid, but what of us?"


The Koitapu Tribe and their Witchcraft.

Koitapu Tribe and Sorcery.

As a tribe the Motuans have few traditions, and very little mythology, although a very superstitious people. One night, sitting with a number of old men, they told me that with the Koiari and Koitapu tribe they came from two ancestors, named Kaimaikuku and Kirimaikapa, who came from the earth with one female dog, which they took unto themselves. A son was born, then a daughter, and again a son followed by a daughter.

The first two grew up and married, and their children numbered fourteen. Two went far back and became the progenitors of the Koiari tribe, two went in from the coast by the banks of the Laroge, and from them descended the Koitapu tribe. The others all went to Eelema, where they increased. Long after a quarrel occurred in Eelema. An elder brother desired his younger one to procure him some sago, but the younger, intent on making a bow, turned a deaf ear to the request. Again and again was the request made, but with the same result. Other members of the family, knowing the eldest brother's request, went and procured sago, but would on no account let the younger brother have any, and threatened any who would give him even only a grain, with death. The difficulty increased, and the younger brother decided with a good following to leave, which accordingly they did, and arrived at Taurama (Pyramid Point), where they long remained, increasing in numbers and strength, and finally came to Hanuabada (Port Moresby), where they now live. They speak of themselves as "sea natives," and the Koitapuans are "the land natives."

When leaving Eelema the Spirit said, "Go, but never forget me. In feast and in dance I will be with you, and the sound of your drums will be heard by me when I shall indeed bless you."

Plate XLIII.


Reference page 84.

Black and white photograph of a sail boat moored on a beach with the sea in the background and islands on the horizon.
Black and white photograph of a sail boat moored on a beach with the sea in the background and islands on the horizon.
They found the Koitapu tribe a very powerful one indeed, with chiefs innumerable, who not by fighting merely killed their enemy, but also by "meamea" (prayer). They had not long to wait, until they found to their cost they too were under the spell of the Koitapu tribe. Long droughts, only these sorcerers could stop, and to get them to do so, meant pigs, stone adzes, spears, sago, toeas (armlets), and pear shell, and often these were given with no good results whatever. Something was wrong, and again presents would be gone over.

These Koitapuans held also the Spirits of life and death, and to keep friends with them was one constant aim with the Motu tribe. These spirits travelled in darkness, and would thrust a sharp-pointed instrument between flooring, touch a sleeper, and he or she would surely sicken and die, the latter certainly if the sorcerer was not called in and well paid. Many prefer sleeping in the open and on the ground, so frightened are they of these pests.

A fortnight ago a Motu youth killed a pig belonging to a Koitapu chief, a fight took place, in which over two hundred people took part, and when several got bad knocks. My friend Mabata, a great chief and sorcerer amongst the Koitapuans, seeing his people were likely to be worsted, ran into his house, and brought out a parcel done with native cloth, and with glaring eyes, distended nostrils, and terribly excited, ran in and out of the crowd, tearing the cloth, and scattering a kind of powder, and calling out "To your houses, it is death;" and many did go to their houses quicker than they have run for many a day, but the young men cared not, and meant to carry it on, until prevailed on by stronger friends. Mabata is even feared by the mountain tribes.

The one uncompromising enemy of the Koitapu tribe is Hula of Hood Point. When these natives are down this way and fishing, and when unsuccessful, they at once say "Koitapu at it, let us for them," and a few years ago it meant the death of several Koitapuans.

When new sago canoes come in from the West they collect splinters from each, and the following year, when all are in the Gulf, and the time is nearing for the return home, these sorcerers give it out that they must be considered. A morning is set apart, and a large quantity of food is collected, on the top of which may be seen tomahawks, beads, tobacco, toeas (armlets), spears, and pearl shell. The sorcerer holds in his hand a piece of an earthenware pot in which there is a parcel containing the splinters, and over which he is supposed to "Meamea." Lost canoes are always easily accounted for by these sorcerers. They have often tried to exorcise the white missionaries and teachers, but of no use, and they give up, saying, "God is strong." Many in the Motu tribe have thrown them over of late years, their revenue has been little. Very few of them come to church yet, we are friendly indeed. My real object in writing this chapter is for the following, which happened only a very short time ago, and four miles from here.

An old widow woman with her two sons, a few years ago, left the village of Kevana—forty miles from here (Port Moresby)—where a part of the Koitapu tribe live, and went to Padiri to live. She was always looked upon as a great sorceress, and her sons assisted her.

Unfortunately she boasted constantly of her great power, which was very displeasing to the chief Eheita and others. During the first months of last year we had no rain on the coast, and many of the plantations suffered in consequence. The old lady and her sons did not try to hide their having something to do with the drought, and for a long time were kept in food and other things; but no rain coming, it was too much for Eheita, and he determined to get rid of so obnoxious a personage and her sons. She was known to have a large bag containing pieces of all kinds of food, which she kept buried near her house. She told them she kept it to prevent rain, and to show them they had no power, that power of that kind rested with her. Eheita must have the bag. One morning very early he came with a pig to her, and begged her to give up the bag and all it contained. After some hesitation one of the sons was sent, and it was brought, Eheita taking it, and scattering the contents all round. The pig was killed and divided, the elder son went with his wife to a plantation to get food, the mother was under the house with a number of other women, and the younger son in the house. Eheita with two others followed to the plantation, and when he had done his work he would shout so that those in the village could do theirs. On reaching the plantation he asked the widow's son for a smoke, the man went aside to his bag for tobacco and a leaf, and whilst engaged in preparing the pipe, Eheita rose, lifted his spear, and sent it clean through him, the other two doing the same. He then gave the long signal shout, and those in the village began; the old woman was soon despatched, but the son in the house defended himself for some time, but was overcome, and done with. Friends (?) came and took up the bodies and buried them. An influential man from here, visiting the village the same day, was told of the murders by Eheita himself, who also said to him, "Tell the white friends not to be angry, but I could stand it no longer, and now it is done. I am glad, and so must be everybody else." I send him word that I thought he should be hanged.

There is a place in the bush near to Port Moresby sacred to the Koitapuans, where no one ever treads; to do so would be instant death. Such places there were in many of the South Sea Islands. The name of this Koitapu place is Varimana. Long ages ago mighty men went inland to Sogeri, and carried away a very large stone, on the way down many died, and when it arrived near the coast range the tribe, as a whole, begged it should be left at Varimana lest all should be exterminated.

Long after it was carried in to the Koiari, and they too died in large numbers. Again it was returned, and buried at Varimana close by a young tree; the tree has grown very large, and now the stone is quite covered by it, but no one ever goes near it. The stone before burial was carefully wrapped in native cloth, and bound round with well made twine.

For many generations, the old people of Rarotonga spoke of a stone, te nooanga a Tari—Tans seat—that was long, long ages before covered over by a large Tamanu tree, close to the Mission grounds. The grounds were sacred, and none carelessly trod there. To approach was the priest's place, and he only uncovered and crouching. When a limb of the tree fell, some one of the chief's family should die, and on several occasions such was the case. In the year 1867 the tree itself fell, and soon after the King Daniela died, leaving office to my friend Abela. When it was known the tree was down people from all parts came in to see for themselves the truth or falsehood of many generations, and there, sure enough, was the stone with the short bark seat. Many times I have seen it and sat on it. Abela gave me Tuarca (name of large tree) to do with as I liked, only he could not assist in cutting it up. Having at the time many students, fine young men, anxious for work, they in their odd hours cut it up into logs, and the school children sledged up to Mission ground. Only the root was left, which was afterwards used in burning lime. A few months passed, and I gave orders one morning after classes to roll out the best log, and get it over the sawpit. This was soon done, and I had just returned to the house, when a native came running to me, saying, Makea Abela was dead. The night before I spent an hour with him in front of his house, and he was then in excellent health. That same morning I heard of him threatening some of his people. I ran over and found him in the bush quite dead. He died of heart disease. Many natives said it was Tuarea. Ah, well, we shall make his coffin from it. I ordered the morning's log to be rolled back and dug out for a coffin. The stone and tree superstition is very common, in Eastern Polynesia.

Although the Motuans fear the whole Koitapu tribe, there are two men of that tribe living in Redscar Bay they fear more than all the rest. Maba, of Lokurukunu, holds great power over the north-west wind, rain and sun; and Taru, of the same place, holds the south-east entirely in his power. To these presents were constantly brought. When about to start for the west on a trading voyage Maba was given a large present that he might not send the north-west wind, and Taru as large that he might continue the south-east. When the returning season comes, end of December or beginning of January, Taru was appealed to to stay the south-east, and Maba to give the north-west.

When planting yams, the Koitapuans, holding a stone in the left hand over the seed, pour water on the stone with the right, and allow it to fall all over the yams to be planted, repeating very quickly the following:—

Asindvaridaudau, asindvaridaudau, asindvaridaudau,
Huevara daudau, huevara daudau, huevara daudau.

Plate XLIV.




Reference page 87.

Black and white photograph of a collection of native implements, including paddles and ornaments.
Black and white photograph of a collection of native implements, including paddles and ornaments.

Bedovari daiidau, bedovari daudau, bedovari daudaii,
Naevari daudau, naevari daudau, naevari daudau,
Eogovari daudau, eogovari daudau, eogovari daudau.

When the yams are just above ground the following is repeated in the plantation:—

Sinari kenikeni (repeat twice more),
Hueri kenikeni (repeat twice more),
Ruela kenikeni (repeat twice more),
Naera kenikeni (repeat twice more).

Mabata, the chief of one of the Koitapu division, a great man in the tribe, a kind-hearted fellow though a great sorcerer, has just come in whilst writing this, and he has given me the following prayer used by him when he hears there is going to be fighting. He says when he uses it the fighters' hands hang down with weakness, and their knees tremble.

Tuanugi i ae mai (three times),
Kornanugu i ae mai (three times),
Vangu i ae mai (three times),
Vanugu i ae mai (three times),
Kornbuie (twice),
Tuauru i ae a (twice),
Eorigori e ae a (twice),
Kuru e ae a (twice),
Eaubu i ae (twice),
Suuri i ae ma (three times),
En boriboro (four times),
Koieri gamia a (twice),
Eairaki beriboro (twice),
De umu ba ba (twice).

It is gone over and over again, truly "vain repetitions."