Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 7
T daybreak on Monday, September 28th, all was astir on the "Governor Blackall." Sir Peter Scratchley, Mr. Fort, Mr. Chalmers, myself, the Doctor, and one or two others started in the dingy, towed by the launch, for shore, which, owing to the low tide, we reached by a circuitous route, and had to be carried through the shallows pick-a-back. Once landed, we commenced our work, which was nothing more or less than a pedestrian excursion under the guidance of Mr. Chalmers, to the village of Kalo, some miles inland, making Hula, where we landed, our base. A crowd of natives surrounded us on landing, anxious to earn a little tobacco by assisting to transport our baggage. A dozen were told off to carry the Governor's effects, and four more took my apparatus and wardrobe on their brawny shoulders. After getting clear of the village I counted over fifty brothers, sisters, cousins, and aunts of the bearers following our party on the chance of a stray bit of tobacco. The country through which we passed was richly cultivated, containing miles of native plantations devoted to bananas, sweet potatoes and yams. Some of the gardens were in splendid order, and cultivated with Chinese minuteness, the young shoots of the yams being sheltered from the sun by husks and leaves. We found numbers of women at work, and at every cocoa-nut grove we passed we were offered a refreshing drink. The cocoa-nut is very abundant here, and consequently very cheap. Forty young nuts or twenty full grown ones can be purchased for a fig of trade tobacco, a price at which the "three sticks a penny" fraternity might invest to a fabulous profit, could they but get their goods delivered at Epsom. After traversing three or four miles of fertile country, we arrived at the inland villages of Babaga and Kamali. The buildings here differ from the marine dwellings considerably. The piles on which they are built are mostly strong timber up to eighteen inches in diameter, and how with their primitive appliances they manage to move these huge logs is a mystery. I took views of some of these houses, which have two platforms, or rather a large platform and verandah in front, the latter corresponding to the upper story of the structure. The chiefs' houses are further decorated with a fanciful spire at the apex of the gable, sometimes with poles projecting from their sides ornamented with streamers or pennants of bark. The inland people suffer terribly from skin diseases, far more so than the coast tribes, who are by no means exempt, but here, where water is not abundant, two persons out of three are more or less affected. A great mortality must have prevailed lately, as we saw numbers of people in mourning and observed charnel houses and graves in the streets, under the dwellings, and in fact anywhere and everywhere, while the odour of decomposing heaps of vegetable matter rendered the atmosphere anything but savoury, and quickly drove us away. On the outskirts of Kamali we came upon a picturesque dwelling which I photographed, while Dr. Doyle Glanville employed his pencil in sketching a woman in mourning. Kamali being more attractive than the village we had just quitted I remained to get a few studies, while the rest of the party went on ahead. The arrangement was that Sir Peter was to meet a boat at the crossing of the Kemp Welch river and be ferried to the launch which would rejoin the "Governor Blackall" at her fresh anchorage at Kerepunu. I felt some misgivings as to getting sitters, being as I was unable to communicate with the people except by signs, but to my astonishment all the inhabitants turned out, evidently with the object of being photographed, and Mr. Chalmers subsequently informed me that such is their vanity that had they but money, a photographic artist in New Guinea would rapidly accumulate a fortune. After an hour's rest I started with my four bearers in pursuit of the rest of the party who had preceded me to Kalo. The road lay through yam plantations and luxuriant groves of cocoa-nut palms, left to grow as they pleased, the native merely collecting the crops. The rapidity with which a Papuan can ascend a palm tree is marvellous. On an indication that a drink would be appreciated, up he goes, and in an incredible short space of time throws down half-a-dozen young nuts just fit for tapping. His method of ascending is to take anything that will spin into a lanyard, such as a bit of rattan, the rib of a cocoa-nut leaf, or even a handful of long grass. This he ties over his feet near the instep, connecting the feet by a pliable link, then by alternate movements of hands and feet he ascends the straight stem of the palm. Arrived underneath the fronds he holds on with one hand, and with the other twists the nut round the stem till it drops. Boys eight or ten years old can do this as well as the men, and I have no doubt the girls are equally agile, though as yet I have not seen them mount a tree. I arrived at Kalo just in time for lunch in the house of Tau the Rarotongan teacher, changing my clothes immediately, a precaution against fever which should always be taken after a fatiguing journey. After a rest and a smoke the General and his party walked to the river bank, where the boat was in waiting to proceed to Kerepunu, while I and my assistant made ourselves comfortable at Tau's house, where we were to spend the night. The Kalo people were in a state of great delight at the presents their chiefs had received from the General, whose visit tended to efface the sanguinary reprisals made by the blue-jackets of H.M.S. "Wolverine" after the murder of ten teachers in the place. We were shown the marks of the bullets in the cocoa-nut trees, and altogether the people seemed to cherish a healthy recollection of the chastisement inflicted upon them, which was severe, the village being surrounded and several men shot before the rest were allowed to escape into the bush. The chief's house was razed to the ground. The teacher, Tau, informed us that the people are still somewhat predatory in their habits, his chest having on one occasion been broken open and eight pounds of tobacco stolen. On complaint being made to the chief, he compelled restitution of all the unconsumed tobacco and gave Tau a large pig to make up the difference. A large portion of the village was recently destroyed by fire, and is now in course of re-building. Among other curious sights we were shown the price or dowry of a wife heaped up on the platform of one of the houses. It consisted of a quantity of all kinds of New Guinea goods and chattels, pots, earthenware, and wooden weapons, bird of paradise plumes, baskets of yams, bunches of bananas and other produce. Among the articles were two pigs tied up underneath the house. The bride herself sat all smiles on the verandah above, over her earthly treasures, with as much pride as any white sister might feel on exhibiting her trousseau. I regretted that owing to the lateness of the evening I could not secure a picture of this curious scene, but managed to give the lady a prominent place in a group next morning. Skin disease is also rife here. We saw a young man walking about the village with his arm round his sweetheart's neck, both of them frightfully afflicted. He had a sore on his leg above the ankle, laying bare the bone, while she, not naturally ill-favoured, was covered with large patches which made her look positively mangy. Still, neither of them seemed to mind it in the least, and looked supremely happy. The head-dresses of marriageable girls are picturesque, their hair being frizzed and decorated with pink shells from Port Moresby, highly valued by them, strings of Venetian glass beads procured from the traders being woven in. All the women are tattooed from head to foot, and a peculiar necklace-like V-shaped mark, ending in a peak between the breasts, indicated those engaged or married. These cuticular devices, although obvious enough to the eye, do not show in a photograph unless picked out with black or some colour, a proceeding too tedious to perform even if they should be willing to submit to it. During our stay with Tau the house, doorways, and ladders on both sides were constantly crowded with natives attracted by motives of curiosity, and anxious to get a bit of tobacco or even the stump of a cigar. I commissioned Tau to buy me some bird of paradise plumes, leaving him a quantity of tobacco for the purpose, and making him a present of print and other articles for himself and wife. He told me that so long as the ship was in sight, the price of all curios was forced up to a fancy value, but that after her departure the beloved "Kuku" would purchase anything at reasonable rates. The commercial ways of savages are very like those of civilized beings to be sure! The tobacco I brought—the best American Raven twist—was too good for the market; anything will do, if black and strong. On the 29th, although it was still blowing hard, I managed to get some nice groups, and especially one of two women in mourning, keeping watch at a hut erected over the remains of some departed relative; I was obliged to go to leeward for the view, and as photography appeals to the eye and not the nose, I deemed the public had the best of it. Numbers of women sat outside the houses busy making ramis (petticoats) out of strips of fibrous leaves spread out in the sun to dry, and performing certain duties for each other often mentioned by previous travellers. After breakfast we started for Kerepunu, crossing the Kemp Welch river in a native canoe close to where the massacre of the teachers took place. The river is about a hundred yards wide and being shallow at its mouth can only be entered by boats of light draught. Once across the bar there is water enough to float a big ship. About a mile from its mouth the stream bifurcates, the smaller affluent being nearly dry at low water, while the larger is navigable for about fifteen miles, and is supposed to take its rise in the neighbourhood of the Laloki, but on the eastern side of the water shed, running along the back of the Astrolabe range, until it reaches the level land at the back of Hula, The vegetation here is extremely rich, and the luxuriant condition of the native gardens indicates the great fertility of the soil. Dismissing our ferry men with a small present of tobacco, we proceeded with our bearers along the sandy beach. The glare of the sun on the shore and water was oppressive and I was thankful that I had provided myself with a pair of Mr. Gaunt's smoked goggles before leaving Melbourne, as they saved my eyes, not only from the sun's rays but from the sand and grit blown up by the strong wind, to say nothing of the protection they afford against fles in the scrub. The teacher was rather uneasy about a little river named "Alerai" which had to be crossed before reaching Kerepunu. At dead low water it is only about knee deep, but on reaching it we found that the rising tide had extended its width about sixty yards. We shot a couple of brace out of a flock of curlews we found at its mouth. Having no mind to follow the example of Horace's peasant and sit down half-a-dozen hours in the broiling sun, "Expectantes dum defluit amnis," we stripped and prepared to wade across, braving the alligators, which the teacher informed us were plentiful and possessed good appetites. First went the boys carrying their burdens over their heads and fortunately keeping them dry, though the water reached up to their shoulders. The teacher and myself followed, and last of all came Mr. Bubb, my assistant. With my broad-brimmed straw hat, and goggles, and singlet, rolled up under my armpits, but otherwise in a state of nature, I must have presented a picturesque appearance, at any rate, I caused some amusement to our bearers, who sat waiting for us on the opposite side. The bottom was soft sand, sinking a foot with every step, but we got across without mishap and felt refreshed with our bath. Along the remaining two miles of hard beach I walked barefooted, but was compelled to resume my boots on crossing a neck of land covered with cocoa-nut trees and brushwood. Emerging from the thicket we found our ship snug at anchor in Hood Lagoon, with the village of Kerepunu as a background. The mouth of Hood Lagoon is about a mile wide and at high water sufficiently deep to allow vessels of fifteen feet draught to enter. Further inland it widens considerably and appears about eight miles long by six in diameter. The depth in some places is considerable, but the best anchorage is just within the narrow neck at the entrance. We got on board without loss of time and were glad of a bath and change of clothes. Tau, our guide, crossed over to Kerepunu to visit Manu, the teacher there, at whose house the teacher of Hula was also staying. Their wives had come with the ship to Kerepunu to assist in the ship's washing, fresh water being more abundant here than at Kalo or Hula.
AN EXPEDITION INLAND.
Walk from Hula to Kalo—Cocoanut Groves—Native Diseases—Mortality —Kamali—A Popular Photographer—Arrival at Kalo—History of the Reprisals for Murder—Price of Wife—Matrimonial Customs—The Author leaves Kalo—Crossing a River—Arrival at Hood Lagoon—Rejoin the Ship.
MANGROVE SCRUB NEAR KAELE.
Reference page 60.
GROUP OF NATIVES AT KAPA KAPA: CENTRAL FIGURES, MAN AND WOMAN IN MOURNING.
Reference page 61.