Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 5

Picturesque New Guinea - Chapter 5 banner.png


CHAPTER V.


EXCURSION UP THE AROA RIVER.


Site fixed for Government House and Buildings—Bootless Inlet—Latatoi Trading Vessels—Native Regatta—Quit Port Moresby for Red Scar Bay—Landing of the Party—The Mouth of the Aroa—Ascent of the Stream—Reception by the Natives—Reflections on Land Tenure—Visit to Ukaukana Village—Interviews with Head Chief of Kabade—Exchange of Presents—Adventures returning to Camp—Night Alarms—The Vari Vara Islands—Back to Port Moresby.

AMICABLE relations with the natives being thus established, Sir Peter proceeded at once, with the assistance of Mr. Musgrave, to select a site for Government House. They decided on a position originally chosen by the "Argus" Expedition for the official buildings, and one on the adjoining rise for the Governor's private residence, the great advantages of these sites being the vicinity of a good spring of water, and a splendid view all over Port Moresby and Fairfax Harbour. An expedition to Bootless Inlet occupied the day after my return, the Governor and his party being accompanied by Captain Pullen of H.M.S. "Lark," who made some observations. The report was not favourable to any settlement being established on this inlet, as it possesses no river nor agricultural land, and is a mere cul de sac. Before leaving Port Moresby we were fortunate enough to witness a native regatta, in which the trading vessels (Lakatois) already mentioned were competitors. The scene was animated beyond description, the crowd on shore being as excited during the contest as those on the

Plate XVIII.

NATIVE TEACHERS, KABADE DISTRICT.

Reference page 53.

Black and white photograph of, for once, a group of fully-clothed tribesmen and women. In the background flies a version of the Union Flag with a crowned "NG" badge in the centre.
banks of the Thames or the Isis. On the 4th September the trial trip was made, the Lakatois from the village at Fairfax, Planuabada, and Koitapu, at the foot of the mission station, rendezvousing at the western extremity of the harbour. I landed with my instruments, and succeeded in getting some excellent views of these picturesque vessels, which, when in full sail, resemble a bird flying with its wings blown over its head. The craft, with sails lowered, are poled against the wind to the starting point, where they lie awaiting the fresher breeze of the afternoon. About 3 p.m. we noticed sails being hoisted and a general bustle, upon which we hastened from the mission house to the beach, and found collected there some 400 men, women, and children, whose interest in the sport was intensified by most of them being part owners in one or other of the craft. On the signal being given, moorings were slipped, and away went the boats, well together at first, but eventually those furthest from shore getting the strongest wind, and forging ahead amidst frantic shouts of delight from their owners. When some distance out the boats luff, reverse sails, converting what was the bow into the stern, and make for the point where the spectators are posted, greeted by shouts of admiration and enthusiasm. This trial trip is regarded as a semi-religious ceremony, charms and mystic rites being practised to ensure fine weather and make the expedition a success. During the race a native ballet is performed by the young girls on board the craft, who swing their bodies to a chant composed of two notes only, and accompanied by the monotonous beat of drums. Notwithstanding the high winds, I was able to get several most successful unique instantaneous pictures of the scene, which convey a more vivid impression of the Lakatois than any written description could afford.

On the 8th September the "Governor Blackall" got under weigh shortly after 7 a.m., and left Port Moresby to visit Red Scar Bay. Leaving Mourilyan to the right, we took the inner passage, skirted Fisherman Island, steered for Lily Island, and passed Boera about 10 a.m., the islets of Vari Varu now showing on our port bow. From a distance they seem three disconnected rocks, the one nearest the Australian coast being covered with timber, leafless at this season, but which, as explained by the Rev. Mr. Chalmers, who had joined our party, would burst into leaf in another month's time. The Torres Straits pigeons, at certain seasons, settle here in thousands for rest, on their passage to and from the northern parts of Australia. Opposite the Vari Varu group, on the New Guinea coast, is Red Scar Head, easily discernible by three trees growing on its otherwise bare brow, and a characteristic red patch, visible a long way off, whence the locality takes its name. Galley Reach, the mouth of the Manu Manu river, is passed at 11 a.m., and we could discern the village and mission station at the entrance. Shortly afterwards we sighted three rocks ahead, under the lee of which is our proposed anchorage for the night. These huge boulders are named by the natives Ke Keni (the daughters), from a legend that their parentage is derived from the mountains inland, but Jack, less imaginative and geological, has christened them "Skittle Rocks." As eight bells struck we anchored in five fathoms of water, about two miles from shore, and nearly abreast the Aroa river, one of several streams taking their source among the foot-hills of the Owen Stanley Ranges, and contributing (especially during the N.W. Monsoon) a great volume of fresh water to Red Scar Bay, materially checking the growth of coral. Hence the reef loses its distinctive character here-abouts, and is merely indicated in the chart as the probable trend of the sunken barrier, at a considerable distance from the coast. The swell of the ocean, where not broken by the "Skittle Rocks," comes in here with great force and causes a heavy surf on the bar of the Aroa, especially at low tides. Two of our party, Mr. Romilly and Mr. Askwith, afforded us considerable anxiety by starting out after luncheon with Charles Kidd, a coast pilot, and one of the petty officers of the guard, in the ship's dingy for the purpose of fishing. Hoisting the ill-fitting sail in the tiny boat, away they scudded before the wind, towards the bar, anxiously watched by the skipper, who last saw them right in the midst of the heavy breakers. As night came on and they did not return much anxiety was felt about them, and, notwithstanding the coast pilot's well-known skill, we were not reassured as to their safety until the following day.



Plate XIX.

VILLAGE OF KOILAPU, PORT MORESBY.

Reference page 55.

Black and white photograph of people sitting on the ground next to a building, with palm trees in the background.
General Scratchley's principal object in visiting this locality was to open communication with the native chiefs and sound them as to the acquisition of land; more particularly with respect to certain real estate said to have been recently acquired by a trader named Cameron. At 7 a.m. on the 9th September, all preparations having been made the party started for shore, the steam launch laden with provisions and camp equipage, towing the whale boat containing the passengers in her wake. The little steamer was so overtaxed, that, on reaching the surf, Mr. Chalmers, who directed the navigation, judged it best to cast off the whale boat and pull ahead of the launch. The bar was crossed without accident, and we found ourselves in the Aroa River proper, at its embouchure some eighty yards across, but widening considerably higher up. Selecting a landing place on the left bank, we discharged all our cargo, and pitched our camp on a singularly picturesque little spot, trunks of driftwood in the foreground forming a natural stockade, while to the rear lay a little estuary with all its tropical surroundings. Leaving a few blue-jackets to pitch the camp and keep guard, the whale boat, again towed by the launch, proceeded up stream, which presented the usual characteristics of a tropical river, snags and other obstacles impeding our progress by water, and dense scrub on the banks rendering it impossible on shore. Mangrove and Nipa palms formed the leading features for two miles, when a creek called "Akibaka" was reached. Here the launch not finding sufficient depth of water, left us and returned to camp, while we proceeded up the branch stream with the rising tide. This tributary soon narrowed so considerably that at times the oars could hardly be used, and great difficulty was experienced in clearing the boat from the snags and masses of overhanging creepers. The Nipa trees in some places completely over-arched the stream, giving it the appearance of a lofty avenue. Notwithstanding the beauty of the scene at high water, considerations of alligators and miasma would deter any judicious person from remaining in this locality longer than absolutely necessary. The temperature was moderate, probably not exceeding 80°, and as we were unmolested by mosquitoes the trip was not without enjoyment. The banks, for some distance flush with the river, or nearly so, now became higher, and at intervals native landing-places began to show. Then we noticed groves of Areca nut palms, those bearing ripe fruit having one of their long fronds tied up in a peculiar manner as a sign of ownership and taboo. Some four miles up Akibaka Creek we came to the head of its navigation, where to our great satisfaction we found our dingy minus its rudder, proving that our friends had been lucky enough to cross the bar, and arrive thus far, at any rate, in safety. Near the Mission boat-house we saw a few natives engaged in extracting the sago from the trunk of the Rabia palm. The process, which is very primitive, consists in cutting into shreds the fibrous pith of the palm, cut into lengths of about six feet by means of a peculiar kind of adze, made of hard cane, attached to a handle at an angle of 45°, the light brown substance containing the farina being carried away by women to the edge of the creek, and there deposited in a primitive gutter made out of the butt end of an immense palm leaf. Water is then poured upon it which dissolves and, in a rude manner, extracts the farina from the pulp. News of our advent soon spread, and joined by a string of natives we passed through a straggling village situated in a grove of tall cocoa nut trees, till we came to a house of a better description, and were introduced to Timoteo, the teacher located in this village, which is called Yanuabada by the natives. Here we found Mr. Romilly and Mr. Askwith, who had been made as comfortable as circumstances would permit. After being refreshed with the delicious drink obtained from young cocoa-nuts, I sallied into the village and succeeded in getting several very successful views. The natives generally sleep in hammocks suspended underneath their huts, which are built on piles about eight feet from the ground. We counted as many as fifteen hammocks under one building, but the bulk of the adult male population was absent in the plantations. Our stay at Vanuabada was but short, as part of our programme was to cross overland and visit another village on the main stream, and also inspect the intervening territory. Our road lay through flats of blade-grass country, interspersed with groves of cocoa-nut palms and thickets of tropical scrub. Although the soil appeared friable and easy to cultivate, yet the shallow, dangerous navigation of the river is a vital obstacle to its possessing any commercial value for years to come, and the difficulty of shipping produce would involve great trouble and expense. I fear, therefore, that Cameron's

claim is of little value, especially as his title is by no means clear. The natives have no notion of fee simple, and are possessed with the idea that the original owners have the reversion of real property on the death of the person to whom they sold it. Until the question of land tenure is settled by Government, I would strongly advise no one to contemplate the acquisition of real property in New Guinea, and indeed not even then, for there are millions of acres in Australia, waiting for purchase or selection, infinitely preferable in every respect to anything in Papua. After an hour's walk along native paths, we reached another almost deserted village, and penetrating the dense belt of scrub which borders the Aroa, came in sight of the main branch of that river. On the way our party was joined by Naimé Néru, the sub-chief of the Kabade district, and after crossing the river, here a swift clear stream flowing between banks twenty feet high, we came to the village named Ukaukana, of which Urevado is the chief. Tired and hot, we were glad to take refuge in the house of Sameo, a Samoan by birth, and mission teacher in this village. Bananas and cocoa-nuts were served up on mats spread on the Rabia batten floor, and the General made a few presents to Naimé Néru, which that sable warrior received in true native style, i.e., without evincing any visible gratitude or emotion. After resting an hour or so we sauntered through the village to trade for native curiosities, but found little of interest or value, and the wind being too high for photographing, returned the way we came to the teacher's house at Vanuabada, where we enjoyed a set dinner, comprising boiled jungle fowl and Goura pigeons with taro and yams, boiled plantains flavoured with grated cocoa-nut forming a second course, the whole washed down with tea and the milk of young cocoa-nuts. After dinner, Urè Vadu, the head chief of Kabade was introduced, attired European fashion, in an old Crimean shirt with a string of beads round his neck. Naimé Néru sat beside him, and a palaver then commenced;

Mr. Chalmers translating for the High Commissioner's benefit the chief's opinion of Cameron's land transaction. This was to the effect that legal consent to the transfer had never been given, and that Mr. Cameron had bartered his articles to people who had no right or title to the land in question, and therefore no power to alienate it. Sir Peter took notes of the proceedings, and from all I saw I came to the conclusion that Mr. Cameron's time and money had been wasted. Presents were given to the chiefs, who in their turn gave us feather coronets and native netted bags. It being now time to think of returning, and the tide being yet too low to float the boat, the General, Mr. Chalmers, and the rest of the party started back on foot, I consenting to remain with my assistant and the three sailors, and bring back the boat so soon as the water served. Little did I know what that duty involved! had I foreseen all the labour those few six miles of inland navigation occasioned I should have thought better of it. However, the foot party started off at 4 p.m. pioneered by Mr. Chalmers, and half an hour later I and my assistant went down to the creek intending to make a start, but found our boat still docked in the mud, and our crew conversing with the natives like Lord Byron at Venice, only without the aid even of a dictionary. There was nothing for it but patience. The wind having lulled a bit, I utilized the shining hour by getting a few views, including a native house with groups, and the hammocks slung underneath as already described. My Winchester repeating rifle also came into requisition, the accuracy of aim possible with this weapon being much admired by our sable audience. At length I sat down on a log to make notes, and began to smoke. My meerschaum pipe, which happened to have a pig carved upon the bowl, attracted the attention of the natives, who at first timidly, but afterwards more confidently, had gathered round me. Permission to examine the pipe having been asked by signs and granted, it was returned to me with many admiring looks. My boots, socks, and other garments were then criticized and admired, and, in short, I became as great an object of interest as Gulliver to the Lilliputians. At length we got the boat off, punting with difficulty through the slimy mud, but the prospect of passing the night in the creek with

Plate XX.

"AT LOW WATER," NATIVE HOUSES AT KOILAPU.

Reference page 56.

Black and white photograph of 2 native houses raised on stilts, over a beach at low tide. A group of native children are sitting on the verandah.
miasma and alligators for company made every one do his best to reach camp before dark. The rising tide was against us, but served in floating our boat, and after incredible struggling with snags and rank vegetation, to our great joy we reached camp at half past seven, just in time for some fresh tea. After a merry evening, to which the novelty of the scene lent charms, we turned in for the night, Mr. Chalmers selecting the whale boat for his cubicle, the rest hitching their hammocks as high above ground as possible. Hardly had we slept an hour when a wild shriek roused the camp. All turned out, when the cause of the night alarm was discovered to be a few stray wild hogs, who were on the prowl, and doubtless attracted by the smell of our rations. On passing under the hammock of one of the younger members of our party, the runting awoke him, and his terror took the above form, which probably alarmed the intruders as much as it did us. He said he thought we were attacked by alligators, but we insisted that his alarm proceeded from the fear of something supernatural and of a still more malignant character. Yet one more night alarm. After two hours' rest the steam whistle sounded from the launch; up jumped the engineer, made for the shore and hailed, "Launch ahoy!" "Are you all right at the camp?" "All right? Yes, what the deuce do you mean? what did you sound the whistle for?" "We heard a boat come down the river, and thought the savages were attacking the camp." "Savages be ——! Go to sleep!" growled the engineer. It turned out that Timoteo the teacher, who had promised to visit us in the morning, taking advantage of the high tide, had put in an appearance sooner than was expected. The rest of the night passed quietly, and next morning, before camp was struck, I took a few views, after which everything was packed. We re-crossed the bar in safety about 9 o'clock, reached the ship an hour later, weighed anchor and started for Port Moresby. Taking the Vari Varu Islands, already mentioned, on our way, we anchored and spent the night under their lee. I went ashore early with the General, and sought in vain for some picturesque spot to photograph, although I traversed the greater part of the islands, which are mainly formed of decomposed coral and coral limestone, producing little or nothing but coarse grass and pigeons, of which the shooting party got eighteen. We found the group of apparently three islands to be but one at low water, being connected by reefs. At noon on the 12th September we were lying at our old anchorage in Port Moresby.
Picturesque New Guinea - Chapter 5 end fleuron.png

Plate XXI.

H. O. FORBES AND PARTY OF MALAYS; ALSO CAPTAIN MUSGRAVE AND MR. LAWES.

Reference page 56.

Black and white photograph of 4 Europeans, 3 in pith helmets, standing round a theodolite. The 20 or so Malays are wearing an assortment of sun-protective headgear.