Picturesque New Guinea/Chapter 8



Scenery at the Hood Lagoon—Kerepunu—Hula—Fracas between Ship's Company and Natives—Beneficial Results—Start for Aroma—A Native Chief as Passenger—Parimata—Moapa—The Aroma District—Departure for Stacey Island—The Scenery described.

KEREPUNU lies on the eastern headland of Hood Lagoon, and contains about 1,500 inhabitants, rising to the importance of a town rather than a village or hamlet. The Mission House is built of lath and plaster, its foundations being blocks of coral. The glebe, about an acre in extent, attached to the Mission is, from its exposed position, unsuited for culture, and only useful for purposes of recreation. A few hundred yards to the east lies the fishing village of old Hula, tenanted by the remnants of a tribe which was numerous and flourishing only a few years back, but the bulk of them abandoned their village owing to tribal wars, and settled about twelve miles further west, the new settlement receiving the same name already mentioned in the previous chapter. The present inhabitants remain on sufferance, being allowed by the Kerepunu men to stay only so long as they supply the large village with fish. Old Plula is built partly on the sea, and partly in a ravine close to the shore. Facing the village are extensive coral reefs, and béche-de-mer is collected in considerable quantities, and bought up by a trader named Dan Rowan, who ekes out a precarious subsistance by drying, smoking, and selling it. During our stay there occurred a collision with the natives,
Plate XXVII.


Reference page 61.
Black and white photograph of a creek - a shallow stream in a wooded area - with a small group of people squatting on the right-hand bank.
Black and white photograph of a creek - a shallow stream in a wooded area - with a small group of people squatting on the right-hand bank.
which might have entailed serious consequences, but which, as things turned out, ended happily. That the imprudence of some members of the ship's company did not involve us in a serious embroglio was a most fortunate circumstance. After tea one evening one of the bodyguard and two stewards went on shore, the latter without leave. They stayed rather late, and while walking round the village and romping with the natives, had a few sticks of tobacco stolen from them. This they somewhat noisily demanded back, using intimidating gestures, and the result was a panic, the natives assuming that their village would be burnt if the missing tobacco were not restored. Howling and shrieking, the women snatched up their children and fled into the bush, making so great a hubbub, that those on board the "Blackall" became seriously alarmed on the circumstance of three members of the company being on shore becoming known. Captain Lake and Mr. Chalmers at once went on shore in the dingy to ascertain the cause of the disturbance, and rescue the men if possible. By the time they reached the shore the commotion had greatly abated, and they discerned some white men putting off in a native canoe, which they pursued, and identified the occupants. The General was naturally much annoyed at the circumstance, and the matter was thoroughly investigated next day, a High Commissioner's Court being convened, which the culprits were summoned to attend. The Court was held at the teacher's house, the evidence of the native witnesses being translated by Mr. Chalmers and the teacher, and taken down by me. The decision was reserved, but the proceedings were conducted with dignity and decorum, and evidently made a strong impression on the native mind. The congregation assembled afforded an excellent opportunity for an ethnologist. The admixture of races here becomes very noticeable, and further eastward the lighter coloured Polynesian type becomes more and more pronounced. The next district to be visited is Aroma. Koapena, the great chief of that part of the country, hearing of the General's intention of going there, came down to Kerepunu, and was His Excellency's guest on the trip to Aroma. We left Kerepunu on the morning of the 2nd October, but got stuck on a sand-bank shortly after starting, and had to wait four hours till the rising tide floated us off. This delay necessitated the postponement of our journey for a day, as the captain was unwilling to navigate those dangerous waters in the dusk. We dropped anchor opposite a village called Parimata, distant as the crow flies only twelve miles from Kerepunu, but on account of the coral reef involving a détour of some twenty-seven. This village presented a peculiar appearance from long lines of high fences, looking in the distance like stockades. We found these to be designed to break the force of the wind, which beats on the low sandy shore to the detriment of both houses and plantations. They are made of a framework of tough sticks and saplings fastened together with rattan, and interlaced with cocoa-nut leaves, butt end upwards. They are fully twelve feet high, and seem to answer the purpose for which they were designed perfectly. The Mission House is close to the beach, and the premises are larger than those at Kerepunu. The teacher Tenaori is a determined looking man of powerful physique, and seems well fitted for his post. Not long ago he was the means of saving the lives of over fifty Motu people, for which service he was presented by the General with a nice silver watch, bearing a suitable inscription. The history of the exploit is as follows:—Some little time ago a trading canoe belonging to Port Moresby got caught in a gale of wind on its return from Motu Motu, and driven past its own port, was wrecked on the reef of Keppel Point, not a great distance from Parimata. There were in all fifty-six persons on board; a traditional feud existing between the Aroma people and the Motu's, the young Aroma warriors, anxious to take advantage of so large a number of their foes being placed in their power, launched their canoes with the intention of massacring them all. Tenaori, seeing their preparations, and learning their object, at once put off in the Mission Boat to interpose and save life. He was after some parley allowed to land unaccompanied, the Motu people knowing their danger, and being greatly apprehensive of a hostile visit. Their anticipations were indeed realized, for soon the Aroma war canoes came in sight. On their approaching within hailing distance, Tenaori harangued the warriors in true native style, and by

Reference page 63.

Black and white photograph of a collection of several implements. Includes, feathered headdress, an axe-like weapon and circular objects.
Black and white photograph of a collection of several implements. Includes, feathered headdress, an axe-like weapon and circular objects.
alternate coaxing, bullying, cajolling, and threatening, induced them to forego their project. He then took the Motus off the reef to the Mission House, a boatload at a time, fed them, and finally crowned his diplomatic work by sending them to Kerepunu in the canoes of the very persons who had meditated their destruction. Thence they were shipped to Hula, where they chartered a lakatoi, and returned to Port Moresby. Sir Peter Scratchley hearing, when in Queensland, of this truly heroic action, determined to mark his sense of it by conferring a mark of distinction on the hero of the affair. Our guest Koapena, the chief of the Aroma District, although past the prime of life, is a fine stalwart man over six feet high, and decidedly the finest specimen of savage humanity we have seen in New Guinea. He stoops slightly with age, but his bearing is full of grace and dignity, and altogether he looks like a person to select rather for a friend than a foe. He is in full native dress, i.e., waist string, plaited armlets, and head-scratcher, or five-toothed comb. His luggage consists of a little netted shoulder-bag or knapsack, containing a lime gourd, a stick of betel pepper and a few areca nuts, the combination of which articles constitutes his favourite chew. The steward served him dinner in the saloon as soon as ours, which we now almost invariably take on the quarter-deck, was over. Amongst other things he was given some tinned asparagus, a vegetable which he certainly had never seen before. His appetite was wonderful, and he ate enough baked yams and pork to satisfy three ordinary people. The result of this late and heavy meal was that he could not sleep, notwithstanding the soft cushions provided for him in the aft part of the saloon, and I was witness to a midnight conversation equally quaint and ludicrous between this gigantic naked savage and Mr. Fort, the General's secretary, who often prefers to do his work in the cool of the night. The former plying his little chunan stick from his lime calabash to his mouth, and now and then taking a chip of betel, by way of variety, watched with curiosity the busy pen of the Secretary seated opposite, writing by the light of three candles, in addition to the saloon lamp. Scarcely a word was spoken, and certainly none were exchanged, the chief contenting himself with smiling and nodding in reply to the Secretary's whispers and dumb show. This nocturnal interview between an Oxford B.A. and a native prince is surely without precedent. I greatly regretted that the time and place afforded insuperable obstacles to my taking a picture of it. The warrior chief, in addition to his other embellishments, had more than thirty crosses tattooed on his breast and back, each of which indicates a life violently taken. We landed at Parimata shortly after ten o'clock next morning, not without difficulty, as the water is shallow, and the surf rough. Sir Peter had arranged to visit Koapenas Village, Moapa, without loss of time, as we were to start for Suau and Dinner Islands on the morrow. Our walk to Moapa, after leaving the beautiful hard beach, lay through plantations of cocoa-nut trees, the road being fringed on either side with nuts put out to sprout, forming a border two feet high. When the roots begin to penetrate the soil, they are transplanted, and fresh ones put in their places. The milk, which we quaffed abundantly at every halt, is most refreshing. Each nut contains fully a pint, and the quantity we put away I should not like to estimate. Every now and then we met troops of people engaged at the plantations, the young men bedecked with wreaths of flowers and twigs of bright crotons stuck through their armlets. My dark goggles produced a sort of terrified amazement among the women and girls, and when I took them off curiosity overcame fear, and they expressed their wonder and surprise without stint. I put them on one of our carrier boys to show that they were transferable, and he indicated by signs that he understood perfectly well that they served to guard the eyes from the glare of the sun. After a pleasant walk of about three miles, we neared the beach, the soil becoming sandy and barren, and, passing the Mission House, we came upon Moapa, a considerable village situated in a sandy flat, protected from the sea breezes by a belt of hills covered with Pandanus trees, and timber somewhat similar to the honeysuckle. The population of Moapa is about 600, and the houses, built facing each other so as to form regular streets, show an order and regularity which would not disgrace a European town. All the houses are two-storey structures, and some of them have a kind of third floor close to the ridge. The usual platform is in front of every tenement, but many of them have this peculiarity, that access is gained by a sort of manhole in the floor, eight or nine feet from the ground, and reached by a ladder, which can be drawn up into the building at pleasure. Our host showed us with pride three different houses belonging to him, each presided over by a separate individual in the shape of a wife. He was, however, bound to confess that this "unicorn" team was as much as he could drive, and that he was obliged to breakfast in one hut, lunch in another, and dine in a third, distributing his other attentions impartially, or an outburst of jealousy was the result. In the centre of the village we found an open space or square with a sanctuary in the middle. It consisted of a framework of logs, about three feet high, filled with earth inside, and surmounted by a kind of scaffold, from which half a dozen skulls, ornamented with strings of cowrie shells and streamers of Pandanus were suspended. On the mound beneath more skulls and other human bones were scattered. These were supposed to be the remains of a party of bêche-de-mer fishers, murdered some years ago by the Aroma people. Dilapidated and repulsive looking as the spot looked, overgrown with weeds, and ghastly with human debris, it was interesting enough to record photographically, but the conditions rendered this impossible, the high wind swaying about the suspended skulls in a manner which would blur any sun picture. I offered almost any price (in tobacco) to induce the natives to go up and steady the skulls while the picture was being taken, but nothing would induce them to undertake the task, and most reluctantly I was compelled to trust to the pen, unaided by the camera, for a description of this curious and interesting spot. The protection from the wind afforded by the buildings enabled me to get some street scenes which I valued as indicative of the methodical and orderly habits of the natives. On our way back to the ship we met hundreds of natives who had flocked to see the big ship and its inmates, with an ulterior view of tobacco. We halted for a brief space at Tenaori's place, and I succeeded in picking up a few curiosities. The native teachers and their wives, on the General's invitation, came off to the ship, and were regaled with nuts, biscuits, and other delicacies, which they tasted probably for the first time in their lives. Before they took their leave, presents of print, mosquito netting, stationery, and other useful articles were distributed.

On the 4th October we quitted the Aroma District for Stacey Island, alternatively named South Cape. We gave the reef a wide berth, and came into a stiff south-easter, which gave us a lively time of it for twenty hours, this being the first night under steam since we made Papua. Early on Monday, the 5th, we passed Tree Point on the port quarter, and steering E. by N., left Wedge Rock to starboard, and Rugged Head to port, when we entered the narrow straits called Mairy Pass, formed by the mainland on the north, and Stacey Island on the south. The scenery here is surpassingly beautiful, the most beautiful we have yet visited. The narrowest part of the strait is not more than a mile in width, stretching away to the far east, and is bounded by Leocadi Island, which is crowned with a tree looking from the distance singularly like a lighthouse. The varied tints of green on the steep rises of Stacey Island, the deep azure of the straits, and the woody shores of Bertha Lagoon, dotted with native villages, combined to form a picture delightful to an artist's eye. Nothing seemed to be wanting to complete the charm of this terrestrial paradise. The eye roamed from spot to spot, everywhere resting on fresh and varied beauties. The lights developing the salient points of the glorious panorama of mountain, wood, and water, constantly changing from the shadows cast by flitting clouds. The mountains in the background rise to 3,000 feet above the level of Bertha Lagoon, and are covered from base to summit with luxuriant vegetation. The spot will always rest in my memory as the most beautiful I ever saw. The lagoon at its mouth is about 1,500 yards across, but widens considerably within. At 9 a.m. we anchored 300 yards from shore opposite the Mission Station of Suau, the native name for Stacey Island. The South Cape Missionary having died some time previous, his duties devolved upon his widow, who discharged them most efficiently, and to the entire satisfaction of the mission authorities. Anxious to preserve some

Plate XXIX.


Reference page 65.

Black and white photograph of large building of logs with thatched roof. A large group of people sit in the foreground.
Black and white photograph of large building of logs with thatched roof. A large group of people sit in the foreground.
solar pictures of the exquisite scenery around, I took the dingy immediately after breakfast, and paddled ashore to the westerly point of the lagoon, in company with Mr. Rossiter, our second officer, who was deputed to superintend the cutting of a load of grass for our sheep on board.