Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 4
FIRST EXCURSION IN NEW GUINEA.
Orders to March—Heavy Travelling—Tropical Creek—Sure-footed Mountain Steeds—Native Hunting Camp—Luncheon in the Forest—Smoking the Bau-bau—Good Country for Horse-breeding—Koiari Kangaroo hunting—The Hunters' Feast—The Koiari Tribe—Splendid Natural Panorama—Morrison's Explorations—Camp for the Night—Perilous Journeying—The Alligators' Haunt—Night in the Papuan Forest—Frightening the Devil—Fears of Danger from Natives dispelled—Morning in the Forest—A Purpose abandoned—Strike for a Koiari Village—Savage Gourmands—Steep Mountain Ascent—Magnificent Mountain Scenery—A Koiari Welcome—A Mountain Village—Dwellings on the Tree-tops—A Koiari Chief—"Photographer" in Koiari—Hospitable Offer—A Koiari Household—"Great White Chief"—Buying a Pig—A Koiari Interior—A Papuan Meal—Conference of Chiefs—Papuan Etiquette—A Tribal Feud—Uncomfortable Night—Superb Mountain Views—The Photographer in a Koiari Village—Return to the Port—A Ruined Village—Native Remains—Encounter Mr. Forbes—Missionary Hospitality.
THE VILLAGE PET AT SADĀRA MAKĀRA.
Reference page 41.
About eleven a.m. we reached a creek fringed on both sides with wild tropical verdure of a quite gorgeous description. Here we had an opportunity of testing the capabilities, and noting the behaviour of our steeds. At the crossing-place the banks were fearfully steep and slippery from the previous night's rain; so, dismounting and slinging the bridles to the stirrup-leathers, we let loose the horses to find their own way across, two of the boys preceding to catch them up. I have had much experience of crossing creeks in Australia, but all my previous trials in that way were but a pleasant diversion compared with the present one. Our sagacious animals, freed from their riders and left to themselves, addressed themselves to their difficult task with a serene cautiousness that would have been admirable in the most expert explorer. Down the almost perpendicular descent they went, step by step, carefully setting each hoof upon some slight projection that just afforded footing, and avoiding every stumbling block in the nature of gnarled roots and tortuous loops of creeping vegetation. Arrived at the bottom, they had a long, deep drink, and then commenced the ascent, scaling the precipitous bank with all the courage and sure-footedness of mountain goats. My own apprehensions of any casuality occurring from a stumble during the journey were very materially diminished by the time I had remounted.
Emerging into the open once more, we speedily found that our journey lay across a succession of similar rugged gullies, each successive one being still steeper and more dangerous-looking than the preceding. At noon we reached a practicable water-course, having made, according to our reckoning, about fifteen miles since starting. The spot was the site of a native hunting-camp, and here we called a halt for luncheon. Packs were dropped, the horses were haltered up in shady nooks, a dozen little fires were speedily burning, whereat the yams and taros of the boys were roasting. A small provision of tobacco was served out, and the bau-bau (bamboo pipe) was passed from mouth to mouth. The method of smoking in New Guinea is peculiar. The pipe used consists of a couple of joints of bamboo of moderate thickness and about thirty inches in length. The tobacco is first wrapped in the green leaf of a particular tree (invariably used for this purpose) and is then inserted in a small orifice bored near the closed end of the pipe. When lighted, the smoke is inhaled from the open end until it fills the tube; then the leaf containing the tobacco is withdrawn, a whiff is inhaled from the orifice that held the weed, and the bau-bau handed to the next smoker, who takes a whiff in turn and passes on the instrument. All the stored fragrance being exhausted, the tobacco is reinserted and the same process repeated until each one of the company has had his satisfying whiff. The New Guinea smoker is not at all particular about the quality of his tobacco; the real virtue of the narcotic indulgence lying rather in the leaf wrappage than in the nicotian weed itself. Most of the bau-baus are embellished with pretty designs resembling somewhat the native tattoo markings. These decorations are burnt into the bamboo with a glowing slice of the sheating leaf of the cocoanut kept at almost white heat by the native artist blowing upon it. The end of the glowing ember forms a fine point which, on being slowly moved along the desired lines, leaves indelible tracks.
A billy of tea and some tinned provisions, with an hour's rest, refreshed us sufficiently, and we resumed our journey. The route for about five miles was tolerably level, the country traversed being heavily grassed and admirably adapted for horse breeding. Hearing the cries of some natives in the distance, we learned from our boys that these denoted a body of Koiaris out on a kangaroo-hunting expedition. Crossing a watercourse, the sides of which were densely fringed with rabia (sago) palms, we came upon the hunting party, numbering about a hundred. They were all armed with light hunting spears, and their sole clothing was a bit of string girt round the waist. At several fires the captured game was roasting, and heaps of sugar-canes of various kinds and sizes—some of the canes being fifteen feet long—were lying about. We were introduced to several chiefs, who gave us a hearty welcome and a hospitable invitation to join their feast. Some sugarcane—which was of excellent quality, and much more refreshing than creek water, by the way—sufficed for our own moderate needs; but the boys had no objections to enjoying another spell and a feast of kangaroo roasted whole. After a friendly smoke and chat with the hunters, who urged upon our leader that we must not omit visiting their villages on our return journey, we and our dusky entertainers parted company on the best of terms.
The Koiaris are, as a general rule, people of small stature, but well built and muscular, and their condition indicates that they have an ample supply of nourishing food.
Our route now lay along the tops of ridges, and still ascending, we soon reached a razor-back range above 800 feet high. Although it was the season of the south-east wind, when the atmosphere is always more or less hazy, we enjoyed the wonderful panorama spread out at our feet. To the north-west we could trace the course of the Laloki River for miles, descry the junction of the Laloki and Goldie, about five miles distant, and a couple of miles beyond that again the crossing place on the old diggers "track." On the northern horizon loomed a high mountain, upon the summit of which (as our guide informed us) stands the village of the tribe that speared and robbed Mr. Morrison, the explorer. Its distance from where we stood was some seven or eight miles, and this fact indicates the extent of Morrison's party's exploration of the interior. Behind us, to the east and north-east, the serried ridges of the Astrolobe Range stretched away for miles and miles, their wooded slopes and rugged gullies being lost to view, at length, in clouds and mist. Southward in the far distance we could discern the faint outline of the coast range that hems in Port Moresby, whilst in the opposite quarter of the horizon, in the direction of the Rano Falls, the rocky and precipitous face of Mount Vedura towered full 2,000 feet above us. A magnificent scene, not to be forgotten by the spectators. Mentally comparing it with similar scenery viewed in bygone times in far-off lands, one might for an instant believe oneself transported thither, but a glance at our dusky companions at once brought us back to reality, and made us feel that we were actually in New Guinea.
The sun was sinking behind the mountains, and it was time to begin to think of pitching camp for the night. A conference between our leader and the chief of our carriers led to the selection of a spot on the banks of the Laloki, distant about two miles in a northerly direction. The march, although but a short one, was terribly trying, both to the horses and their riders. It was a descent along the whole course; the tall grass hid numberless loose boulders, making progress both difficult and dangerous, and compelling us to dismount and walk. Besides this, there were many rugged gullies with steep precipitous sides to cross, bearing testimony to the fury of the tropical rains from the north-west quarter. The light-footed and accustomed carriers found no difficulty in crossing these perilous mountain chasms, but it was needful for the rest of the party to make frequent detours with the horses. These sagacious animals plodded steadily on, although at times their only foothold was the almost perpendicular bank of the river, densely covered with the thick foliage of the wild vine and rattan, and amidst fallen trees and gnarled roots, forming what might fairly be termed an impenetrable jungle.At length, about five o'clock, we reached a dry creek, some twenty yards wide, with a smooth sandy bottom. The spot struck me as being just the place for a snug encampment, and so I remarked to my guide. Hunter smiled drily, and turning to the carriers, held a brief colloquy with them in their own language. In an instant all faces were turned upon me, and I could see by their looks and gestures that the party were pretty generally of opinion that I was, to put it mildly, a harmless lunatic at large. Then our leader calmly explained to me that the natives dreaded the spot, just on account of its inviting appearance and its gentle slope towards the river. This latter advantage made it, in fact, a favourite resort of alligators, which unpleasant reptiles would almost certainly, if we were to camp there, pay us a visit of inspection
TREE HOUSE, KOIARI VILLAGE.
Reference page 44.
The impulse to "turn in" instanter was checked by the strange novelty of the scene and circumstances. Accustomed as I was to wandering in the unsettled regions of new colonies, I could almost fancy myself in another planet. The hammocks of myself and my assistant were slung beneath the calico roof. Hunter spread his blanket on the bare ground, the lamp was lit, and our leader entertained us with many "yarns" of his previous expeditions. The adventures of Captain Armit and his party were narrated in detail; the pathetic circumstances attending poor Professor Denton's death were told with feeling; how the whole party, with the exception of Hunter himself, were struck down by sickness; how painfully difficult a task it was to get the sick men conveyed to the coast; how fiercely insolent the natives became when the white men were prostrate and helpless; all these and other incidents were vividly and powerfully described. Hour after hour passed by, and still we sat listening, held by the spell of the adventurous explorer, and losing all sense of weariness in the interest of his story. A heavy fall of rain, which had been threatening since sunset, at length broke up the party, and sent us to our hammocks. But just before turning in, the natives (who had crowded round our tent for shelter), through their leader made a request to Hunter. Laughingly turning to me, he remarked, "Do you know what these fellows are asking?" I pleaded ignorance. "They want me to fire off my gun to frighten the devil away." The shot was fired, and this incident set us off talking again, this time about the superstitions of the Papuan race, Hunter having no end of anecdotes to narrate upon this very interesting topic.
Sleep at last claimed its empire, and the camp was silent. The rain fell heavily all night, but I had taken the precaution to spread my waterproof over the mosquito curtain of the hammock, so was tolerably snug and comfortable. No night alarms disturbed our slumbers, and upon awaking in the morning, I found that all my apprehensions of danger from the natives were completely dissipated by twenty-four hours' residence in New Guinea. I smiled to myself at the solemn precautions I had received about keeping continual watch, never allowing a "nigger" to get behind me, and so forth. Confidence and kindness are effectual preservatives, even when amongst the most savage population, as every good missionary can testify.
At 6 a.m. the camp was astir. The rising sun had dispersed the rain clouds, and although the mountain tops were folded in mist, the skies gave promise of a fine day. Breakfast was dispatched at 7, and our leader went to gather in the horses, which had been hobbled on a grassy flat on the other side of the creek. This creek bears the name of Badeba, and is a common camping place for parties visiting the Rano Falls. 1 took some lovely little views in the country surrounding our camp, and also one of the camp itself, in commemoration of my first night spent in a Papuan forest.
A start being made at length, we rode on for several hours. But a little before noon the rain-clouds began to gather once more, and I felt it would be hopeless to get a good view of the Falls for my purpose that day. So I bethought me of the invitation of our Koiari friends to visit them when passing their village, and I asked Hunter to guide us thither. Retracing our route for a few miles, the party struck off for the slopes of the Astrolabe Range. There was no visible track, and the country traversed was extremely rough and toilsome. Yet our carriers trotted merrily along under their loads, every now and then dropping their packs to give chase to a kangaroo or wallaby, these animals being very plentiful hereabouts. It was astonishing to note the ease and celerity
MOTU GIRLS, PORT MORESBY; ALSO PARO-PARO APPLE-TREE.
Reference page 46.
Mounting our steeds, we set their faces against the steep path ascending towards the razor-backed hill right before us, leaving our carriers to finish their feast. Our progress was slow, and finally we were compelled to dismount and lead our horses. At length the level summit was reached, and from it we surveyed another magnificent panorama of plain and sea and mountain. The whole extent of Bootless Inlet lay spread out before us like a map. The setting sun threw fantastic shadows across the hillsides, and long shafts of golden light across the level plain stretching to the seashore. On the far horizon we could dimly discern the breakers foaming on the sharper edges of the barrier reef. A little nearer, some picturesque islets, each like a gem set in silver, lay tranquilly on the calm waters; on the left hand lay Tupuselei, and on the right Pyramid Head, the latter bearing almost due west. No fairer or more peaceful scene at that hour could the pen of a poet describe, or the pencil of a painter depict.
By this time the people in the village above us had discerned our approach, and were waiting to welcome us. A crowd of friendly savages, all in puris naturalibus, greeted us with shouts of gladness, and thronged around us with infinite chattering, to lead us to our temporary domicile. The name of this Koiari village is Sadara Makara. It looked as if newly built, and contained about twenty huts of the usual description, four of these being perched on the tree-tops, full forty feet above the ground. It chanced that the great chief of the tribe was just then in the village, and being a particular friend of Hunter, we were introduced to him, I myself being emphasized as an artist who had come to take pictures of the village to be sent to far off lands beyond the sea. This affable chief, who rejoices in the name of Lohio-bada, shook hands with me cordially in the English fashion, and the same ceremony was gone through by all the head men of the village. Lohio-bada even did me the honour of requesting that I should exchange names with him. Hunter suggested that my name (in Koiari) should be Misi Lolo, meaning "maker of pictures," and I, consenting, was so denominated by these friendly savages during my stay amongst them. One well-built and good-looking fellow, named Daiva, offered us his hut to put up at, asking in return for this hospitable proposal the modest honorarium of three or four sticks of tobacco. We agreed to this kindly offer, and forthwith took possession of our hotel, the landlord with his wife and little baby withdrawing to a lower storey of the dwelling. This consisted of a sort of shelf, about 4 feet below the main floor of the hut, which stood on the right side of the village street. The dimensions of the dwelling were about 20 feet by 16 feet on the main floor, and had a verandah of some 4 feet in width and no higher where it joined the roof fronting the street.
Some rain had fallen just as we entered the village, and the whole of our carriers, with about a dozen of their friends, who were curious to see the visitors, crowded into the apartment for shelter. A perfect Babel of confusion reigned, the whole crowd chattering, laughing, and exchanging news with one another. A strong odour of cocoa-nut oil pervaded the place, that being the unguent with which the Papuan savages anoint their person.The news of the arrival of our ship with the Great White Chief had reached the village, and, naturally enough, hundreds of questions were put to us, whether this was really the biggest of the big chiefs they had been hearing about since the proclamation of the British Protectorate. When Hunter assured them that General Scratchley was the true White
SIR PETER SCRATCHLEY'S CAMP, NEAR MOUTH OF AROA RIVER, REDSCAR BAY.
Reference page 49.
Whilst strolling round a native (through Hunter) proposed that I should buy from him a pig at the price of a tomahawk, the porker to be slaughtered next day, and made the pièce de resistance in a general feast. I agreed to the terms, but, not having a tomahawk with me, I was obliged to explain that the seller must give me credit, and must come himself to the Port to obtain payment. The bargain was sealed at once, this simple child of nature having no conception of anything like meditated deception in such a transaction. The staple of the live stock of this village was, visibly, swine. These animals swarmed everywhere, and followed us about like dogs of the household. The particular pig which I now was able to claim as my private property was pointed out to me; it seemed to be about half grown, and was in very good condition.
On re-entering our lodgings we found tea awaiting us; and our hurricane lamp, suspended from the rafter, threw a dim light upon a strangely unaccustomed interior. Piles of yams, taro, and other edible roots occupied three sides of the apartment; on the walls hung shields, clubs, and mouth ornaments; sheafs of spears were stacked horizontally between the rafters and the thatch. In the centre of the floor, which was made of battens of the sago palm, stood the fireplace (about four feet by five), with an inch or two of puddled clay for a foundation, on which lay a bed of ashes. Saplings of some four inches thick, scarfed into one another and bound together with cane, composed the fender, so that the precautions against a conflagration were fully sufficient. Our biscuits being of rather inferior quality I tried the experiment of substituting for these taro roots roasted in the ashes, which, with some apple jelly, was a novel food I confess I greatly enjoyed. This root, when carefully roasted, tastes somewhat like chestnuts, and is very palatable. For second course we had a pot of rabia (sago) prepared in the primitive native fashion, which is a little imperfect inasmuch as the washing given to the farina is not sufficient to remove from it the colouring and fibrous matters, so that it soon turns sour. Some of our own apple jelly added to the sago, with the sharp sauce of hunger to give the combination an additional relish, we managed to make a very hearty meal.
Tea over, I was about to take a quiet smoke when Hunter informed me that Lohio-bada and some other chiefs were coming to give us a full account of the onslaught made upon the tribe occupying this village by the neighbouring tribe, the same troublesome people that had robbed and speared Morrison. To refuse to hear their story would be counted a grave affront. Soon the dusky warriors made their appearance, creeping in Indian file through the low doorway on hands and knees. The dim light of the hurricane lamp played fantastically over their savage features and imposing forms. They were arrayed in all their savage panoply, evidently with the design of deeply impressing the white strangers. Cassowary plumes and coronets of feathers adorned their heads; their white nose ornaments contrasted grotesquely with their faces, painted in transverse streaks of red and black in sign of mourning and woe. For a time not a word was spoken. Presently there came in a steaming mess of rabia in a huge wooden bowl, a present from the chief Lohio-bada's wife. This was first handed to Hunter, who, as the representative man of our party, was obliged to go through the form of eating a portion of the guest-meal. Then the bowl was passed from hand to hand amongst the chiefs until it was entirely emptied. The empty bowl was again handed to Hunter, who dropped into it a stick of tobacco as a token of thanks for the hospitality shown us. The tobacco was for the use of the chief's wife.—Note, to have refused to join in the meal, or to have failed to drop a gift into the empty bowl, would have been deemed an unpardonable breach of Papuan etiquette.
The bau-bau (the calumet of peace) was next passed round, and Hunter and each of the chiefs took a whiff. Then the business of the session commenced. Old Lohio-bada, in a very calm tone and collected manner, narrated the story of the raid. He was listened to with deep attention, and, when he had finished, the other chief corroborated his story, or supplemented it with fresh details. Then Hunter addressed the chiefs, expressing the deep sympathy of the white strangers with the losses and bereavements suffered by the Koiari tribe, and pledged himself to lay the whole case before the Great White Chief, who, doubtless, would deal out rigorous justice to their aggressive foes. Next Hunter interpreted the substance of the conference to us, and we added our condolence to his, with a promise to back up his representations to the Commissioner. We noted that whilst we were speaking the chiefs intently scanned our features, evidently to test the sincerity of our words. Their gestures to one another showed they were thoroughly satisfied on that point. About nine o'clock the chiefs bade us good night and withdrew.
When all fear of further interruption had passed away, I took down the lamp from the rafter, and, swathing it in red cloth so as to exclude all actinic light, I changed the plates I had taken in the morning for fresh ones, and carefully stowed away the latent images in a light-tight box. I then settled down for a last smoke before turning in. Meanwhile our carriers, who had been paying visits to their friends in the village, returned to the hut in groups of twos and threes. Finding that they were excluded from its shelter, they cheerfully "camped out" underneath the hut, on the slope of the hill. The night was not a comfortable one. First the rain fell in torrents, but, happily, the roof was perfectly water-tight. I had spread my hammock and sleeping bag on the batten floor, using the cases containing my instruments as a pillow. I was roused from my first sweet sleep by Hunter's big kangaroo dog, which had crept through the open door, purposely left so for ventilation, and had nestled close to me. Awaking with a start, I gave the intruder a punch in the ribs which set him howling, to the arousing of all hands. Quiet being restored, the native baby below, which had reached the teething stage of its earthly career, set up a yelling which was continued at intervals through the whole night. Worst of all, the effluvium from the bodies of the sleeping carriers just beneath my bunk was intolerable. I sat up and tried the effect of smoking strong tobacco, but in vain. Luckily, in groping about the apartment for the large globular vessel containing water (as I had become very thirsty), I upset it, and its contents poured through the battens, soaking the unsavoury sleepers below, thoroughly rousing them and sending them off to a drier spot. Towards morning tired nature asserted its power, and in spite of rain, dogs, yelling infants, and malodorous savages, I gained a few hours sleep.
The morning broke fair, but chilly, as the village stands at a high altitude above the plain. Stepping forth into the fresh morning air, we stood gazing in admiration at the surpassingly beautiful scene stretched out before us. In the direction of the Astrolabe Range, in particular, the mountain scenery was superb, rivalling in wild grandeur any I had ever seen before in my travels.
Breakfast over, I sallied forth into the village to take some pictures. The native population, men, women, and children, gathered round Misi Lolo with a childlike curiosity to watch my proceedings, and readily obeyed all instructions. They stood in groups, took the proper attitudes, and even posed picturesquely, as conscious that they were being immortalized in picture. When Hunter, at my request, asked the men to mount to one of the tree houses, and to group themselves in warlike array on the platform, as if defending their garrison against the attack of a hostile tribe, they ran up the ladders with the ease and agility of monkeys, donned their war coronets and masks, and in full war-paint, armed with shields and spears, went through all the evolutions of Papuan defensive fighting. They certainly looked anything but despicable combatants. I succeeded in taking several fine photographs from savage real life, all thoroughly characteristic of the manners and habits of these mountaineers.Not caring to wait for the feast of roast pig to be held later in the day, and intimating to my creditor that I would pay for the pig all the same, I got Hunter to collect our baggage and carriers, and made a
NATIVE HOUSE OR VANNABADA, KABADE DISTRICT.
Reference page 50.
We also noted a suspicious looking bundle hanging in the fork of a tree, which we found upon inquiry contained the corpse of a woman. I was unable to take a picture of this interesting object, of which, by the way, the natives took not the least notice.
About ten miles from the coast we encountered Mr. H. O. Forbes and his party, en route for Sogeri, where he intends to form his first depôt. A young German, Karl Kowald, in the employ of Mr. Romilly, attended the party as interpreter, and the baggage carriers were of the Koiari tribe. Mr. Forbes looked well and strong, and, like an ancient Roman emperor, marched afoot at the head of his small army.
We reached the mission station tired and hungry, ready to do full justice to the ample luncheon which Mrs. Lawes had provided for us. I paid and dismissed my carriers, and had a long rest under the verandah. Towards nightfall I went on board, and early next morning developed the plates exposed during the journey. Most of the pictures turned out satisfactorily, so that I was well pleased with the results of my first excursion in New Guinea. All the more so upon finding that during my absence no misadventure had happened at headquarters.