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Title: The Savage South Seas

Author: E. Way Elkington

Illustrator: Norman H. Hardy

Release date: August 14, 2018 [eBook #57695]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Chris Whitehead, RichardW, and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive)


by Ernest Way Elkington



The Macmillan Company

64 & 66 Fifth Avenue, New York


The Macmillan Company of Canada, Ltd.

27 Richmond Street West, Toronto


Macmillan & Company, Ltd.

Macmillan Building, Bombay

309 Bow Bazaar Street, Calcutta


There are various ways of spelling some of the place-names of the South Sea Islands, e.g. Samari, Tupusuli, and Elevera are so spelt in this book, but the forms Samarai, Tupuselei, and Ela-Vara are commonly met with. Ambryn, however, is a misprint for Ambrym.



Chiefly historical—Concerning certain discoverers, their aims and ambitions—The story of New Guinea, the Solomons, and New Hebrides, and some things that might be altered.

In these days when distance hardly counts, when the cry is heard that new outlets are wanted for capital, when there are thousands of unemployed crowded in London, and people are anxious to find adventure, eager to see new things, to conquer new lands, exploit new industries and gain more knowledge, it is worth while turning our attention to the South Sea Islands.

It is strange that so little is known of them, and that so few people have bothered themselves to visit them. A few missionaries, explorers, and adventurers have written about and spent a few months on them, but what is this when there are miles and miles of the most beautiful country crying out for people; there is wealth, both mineral and vegetable, waiting for the industry and enterprise {4} of good men to reap, and, above all, there is a delightful climate and a race of savages who in themselves repay the inconveniences of the journey.

The chief island is New Guinea, which is the largest in the world and contains some 340,700 square miles, much of which has never been trodden by white men. There are no sandy, dried-up districts in New Guinea or the Solomon Islands, and no long droughts; but rather a full fall of rain which makes the ground bring forth its produce in abundance.

There is land out there which some day will surprise people, and when one considers the difficulty Australia had to persuade the British Government to annex it, one cannot help laughing at the ignorance and short-sightedness of the men of those times. It was not until 1884 that the Government sent Commodore Erskine to the south-eastern portion of New Guinea to proclaim a protectorate over it, and then only after receiving a guarantee from the Queensland Government that they would undertake to find £15,000 per annum towards the cost of its administration.

The Queensland Government had, a year before this, already annexed it. They knew its value, and had it not been for their prompt action these {5} valuable islands would now all have been in the possession of the Dutch and Germans.

Accounts of the islands date back to 1512, but many things go to suggest that both the Malays and Chinese knew of their existence and had visited them long before that date. The first Europeans we hear of who sighted them were the Spanish sailor, Alvaro de Sacedra, and a Portuguese whose name is not known.

Prior to the arrival of Captain Cook, in 1770, there were numerous adventurers who gave accounts of these islands. Luis Vaez de Torres, after whom the Torres Straits were named, passed them in 1660 and sent to the world a full account of his voyage, but little notice was taken of it. We next hear of De Bougainville, the French navigator who arrived there in 1768; then came Captain Cook, and after him many others sighted the shores of New Guinea.

It was, however, the Dutch who first made any movements to attempt to find out its geographic and scientific value. They began in a neat business-like way by annexing that section west of the 141st meridian of east longitude, and despatching the Dourga, commanded by Lieutenant Kolff, to examine and report on it. He was a zealous man and, like many other enthusiastic sailors who have visited {6} new lands, found many things there which no one else has been able to find, and which have since been proved never to have existed. But some excuse for him can be found, owing to the disadvantages he was under and the savageness of the natives. He probably thought that no one in his time, if they followed him, would live to tell the tale, so he wrote what he thought “might have been.” Then came the Postillion Expedition in 1853, followed by the Trinton Expedition and the Scientific Expedition of Van der Crab in 1871. Dr. Meyers followed in 1873, and many other Dutch enthusiasts came after him during the next few years.

During this time, however, England was not quite asleep. In 1842 H.M.S. Fly was sent on a survey expedition and remained there till 1846, attention being devoted to that part of the island now known as British New Guinea. The Expedition also discovered and named the rivers Fly and Aird, in districts where later on many brave and good men lost their lives at the hands of the natives.


Following this ship, in 1846, came H.M.S. Rattlesnake, and good work was the result of her stay. Captain Moresby visited the island in 1871, and thoroughly explored many parts of it which were {7} unknown before his time. He landed at the harbour now known as Port Moresby, and gave such glowing accounts of the island that it was visited by many eminent naturalists immediately afterwards; and then the work of the pioneer missionaries, who had been busy there for some time, began to be talked about, and considerable interest in these islands was aroused.

Queensland, acting under the advice of Mr. Chester, a prominent man well up in the value of New Guinea, sent out Sir Thomas M‘Ilwraith to take possession of it in the name of the Queen. But the British Government refused to acknowledge this act, and thereby aroused the indignation of the Australians. A conference was held in Sydney and the British Government communicated with, with the result stated, that they saw their mistake and Sir Peter Scratchley was sent to New Guinea to act as High Commissioner.

His term of office was short, as he contracted malaria in 1885 and died. The man who took his place was a Queenslander, the Hon. John Douglas, who understood the position, and did valuable service to his country by making a study of the natives and the possibilities of the country.

In 1888 Sir William MacGregor, M.D., {8} K.C.M.G., was finally appointed Governor, and during his ten years of office showed that he was the right man in the right place. He was succeeded by George Ruthven Le Hunte, Esq., C.M.G.

To-day the affairs of British New Guinea are on an excellent basis. An Administrator is appointed by the Crown, whose duty it is to consult with the Governor of Queensland and report to that Government on all matters of importance. The Administrator is supported by two State Councils, the Executive and the Legislative, the first being composed of the Administrator, the Chief Judicial Officer, the Government Secretary, and a Resident Magistrate. The second is composed of the Executive Council, together with any officers they may appoint.

Petty Sessions Courts are also established and presided over by a Resident Magistrate, who has the same powers as a Police Magistrate in the Colonies. Europeans and natives have equal rights in the courts, and an appeal is allowed under certain circumstances. Native police preserve order in the towns. An amusing thing about them is that they are chiefly ex-convicts, and are given the appointment as a reward for good behaviour whilst in gaol. {9}

The discovery of the Solomon Islands is credited to Don Alvaro Mendana de Meyer, who went out there in the hope of discovering from whence King Solomon’s wealth came—the supposition was that the islands of the Pacific supplied much of it. That supposition no longer exists.

On sighting the Solomon Islands, and believing them to be the islands he was seeking, he named them Islas de Salomon. This was in the year 1567. After this he thoroughly explored many of them and gave them the names they now bear—Guadalcanar, San Christoval, and Isabel. Whilst thus engaged he decided to found a colony, and with that end in view he returned home and gathered together a number of men anxious to make their fortunes. He returned with them, landed at a place he thought was part of the Solomon Islands, and called it Santa Cruz. The colony was not a success, as most of the immigrants, including the discoverer, died, and the survivors returned to South America.

One of these survivors was De Quiros, who subsequently discovered the New Hebrides.

Bougainville and others, many years afterwards, again came across these islands, and later they were identified as those Mendana de Meyer had {10} discovered and thought were part of the Solomon Islands.

In 1873 the Solomon Islands came into notice through the labour traffic. There was at this time a demand in Queensland for black labour, and traders who visited the islands found that they could kidnap strong, sturdy natives and sell them for good prices to the Queensland and Fiji planters, with the result that, unknown to the Powers, a big and scandalous trade was carried on.

The group consists of seven large islands and no end of small ones, which are dotted about over some 600 miles of sea at a distance of about 400 miles south-east of New Guinea.

Great Britain and Germany shared the islands nearly equally until England ceded Samoa to Germany in exchange for territory in the Solomons. Now Great Britain owns the whole group with the exception of Bougainville and Buka.

The story of the discovery of the New Hebrides is also interesting. It was first sighted by Spanish explorers, De Quiros and Luis Vaez de Torres, who set sail from Peru in two ships to seek the Great Southern Continent, which tradition told them was somewhere in the South Pacific. De Quiros, as before stated, came across the New Hebrides group, {11} striking first one of the largest islands in the northern part of it. This he named Tierra Australis del Espiritu Santo, thinking possibly it was an enormous tract of land instead of a small island. Fired with ambition and the example of his late confrère, Mendana de Meyer, he also attempted to found a colony there, but, like de Meyer, he had to return with his few survivors and write “failure” across his enterprise.

Luis de Torres left De Quiros at the New Hebrides, and it was then that he sailed through the Torres Straits, which he named and reported on in 1606.

For over a hundred years after the departure of De Quiros from Santo nothing more was heard of the New Hebrides.

De Bougainville then came across them, and opened the way for the ubiquitous Captain Cook, who sighted, made charts of, and named the principal islands and headlands. The Spaniards, though the first to settle there, never laid claim to them, and they are now conjointly owned by Great Britain and France.

Owing to their proximity to Australia they have received more attention than the other islands, and the Commonwealth of Australia has shown {12} considerable interest in them and inaugurated an emigration scheme to endeavour to wrest from them some of their enormous mineral and vegetable wealth. The results of the past few years show great promise of future prosperity. In fact, in these islands, in particular, there are resources which will repay the labour and capital of any enterprising men, and, according to those who are most fitted to judge and advise, the New Hebrides is a veritable Eldorado. But, until the natives are more civilised and certain taxes are altered, men prefer to give them a wide berth and seek their fortunes in lands less dangerous.

Another trouble that has lately arisen, is that France, seeing the great possibilities in this new colony, has inaugurated a preferential tariff for French subjects. Had the same been done in England and Australia no bother would have arisen, but it was not, and, in order to compete successfully with the French traders, the English and Americans applied for naturalisation papers which were granted, and though the Englishmen by birth far exceed the Frenchmen, by naturalisation the French, if not now, will soon be in greater force.

This is a matter of vital importance, and should have the earnest attention of those who are interested in the welfare of British subjects in our Colonies.


New Guinea natives—Port Moresby and its two native villages—Huts on poles and trees—Native superstition and its result on two tribes.

There no islands in the new world which have been the scene of greater adventures, more daring exploits, and more exciting times than those in the South Seas. From the earliest days New Guinea, New Britain, Solomon Islands, and the New Hebrides have been inhabited by a race of savages, on whom neither the efforts of missionaries nor the oaths of traders have been able to make much impression. For years the white man has tried in vain to break the spirit of these cannibals; with fire and sword whole villages have been swept away, but neither by fear nor by kindness have the natives been weaned from their worst customs, and it will take many years and much education, and perhaps the complete extinction of the old generation, before they cease to be savages. For over sixty years {14} the missionaries have been working amongst them and have taught many to read, and sent them out amongst their brethren armed with Bibles and tracts in their native languages, but all this has been of little avail; every day we hear of massacres and risings, and missionaries and traders are pounced on and murdered, and there is no accounting for these outrages which make the problem more difficult to solve. For months or even years men may live on the friendliest terms with a tribe, and then suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the natives will rise up and slay them. The whim of a chief, an angry word, a bad bargain, a superstitious fear, any of these trivialities may be the cause of a rising, and may mean the death of dozens of innocent people.

But with all their disadvantages these islands have a fascination for the traveller that no others have, and when once the taste of the free and adventurous life of the South Seas has been acquired, there is always a longing to return to them which nothing will suppress. Neither stiff joints nor old age make one iota of difference, the yearning will not be satisfied by anything short of a speedy return.


The deep blue of the sea, the clear bracing air, {15} the screech of the wild sea-birds, and the roar of the surf, as it breaks on the reefs, are sounds that echo in the memory. To awaken and hear all these things is the longing that clings to one. To feel a good ship gliding through the still waters on the way to the islands; to rise from one’s bunk and through the port-hole to catch a glimpse of the rugged shores and the dark, shining skins of the natives as they paddle out in swarms from the villages to the ship’s side; to hear them calling to one another and yelling their greetings to the crew, are things which, when once experienced, can never be forgotten, and will ever haunt the memory.

But come, let us see these islands where the sun pours down on bright yellow sands through the long, waving, rustling leaves of the palm trees, and glistens on the skins of the crocodiles basking in the rivers, and on the strong, brown arms and tanned faces of the traders, who have braved all dangers for a life of adventure. Let us look into the quaint lives of the natives—the last relics of barbarism; let us see their huts and join in their weird ceremonies and listen to their songs and learn their superstitions, for in a few years these things will be gone, and the cyclist and the tripper will be crowding these savage islands, whilst the sturdy {16} head-hunters will be dead, and their sons will be cadging pennies, whilst the dark, shy girls will be bold and talk with nasal accents.

Civilisation is coming, coming quickly. Even here, back in the dense bush on a still night when the insects are too lazy to fly and the silence almost speaks, if you listen you can hear the steady tramp of the ghostly army coming nearer and nearer, crushing through everything, sparing nothing—the army of civilisation.

The capital of New Guinea is Port Moresby, a quaintly picturesque village facing a large bay with a natural harbour. In the vicinity are densely wooded hills, which stretch up and disappear in the distance—a dark-green and black mass. But when the sun is on them they dance with colour, and the tints of marvellous brilliancy turn them into a lovely fairyland, full of romance and adventure. It is wonderful what strange tales flit across the mind when looking at these hills; what scenes have been enacted there in times gone by, and now, how calm they seem!

Granville, the small business part of Port Moresby, consists of a few corrugated iron-roofed houses, the head store of Messrs. Burns Philp, the great Australasian Trading Company, and the {17} homes of a few Government officials, and Government House, which lies back a little and looks solitary and out of place in this weird land of pile-built huts.

There is the Mission House also, a low, white wood house with a big verandah running round it and a garden of palms and beautiful flowers.

Hanuabada and Elevera are the names of the two native settlements near Port Moresby. At certain tides Elevera is an island, at other tides it is a peninsula, but at all tides and all times it teems with interest. Quaint huts built on long poles line the shore and look like nothing one has ever seen before. When the tide is high the water washes right under them, swishing merrily against the stout poles, and if you want to inspect one at these times a canoe is necessary, but even then it is a hazardous job unless you are used to it.

No one knows exactly why the natives went to such trouble in building their huts, unless it was with a view to protecting themselves against the attack of an enemy from the land. There were no wild animals for them to fear.

A regular street divides these rows of huts, all exactly alike, but the inhabitants seem to know where their friends live, though I am sure the most {18} experienced London postman would suffer from continual confusion if his services were required in these parts. In the distance these villages look very much like rows of haystacks built on stakes, but on closer inspection they are particularly interesting and have a very imposing appearance. On reaching the piles one clambers up a rude ladder and arrives on a platform made of ordinary poles with gaps of a foot or two between each. Here it is that the natives squat all day and do what work they have, or, more generally, idle the hours away. Above the platform is a kind of porch built on a slant and projecting from the roof, which acts as a protection against the sun or rain. Under this is an open doorway which leads into the house.

From a sanitary point of view, no habitation could be better than these pile dwellings, but for comfort give me a modern hotel.


No furniture or mats are to be seen in these dwellings to catch the dust, and you can squat on the floor and see through the planks the waves washing and swelling a few yards below. The floor consists of the same kind of piles, only flatter and broader than those used for supporting the house. The platforms are arranged like big steps, and many of the boards are beautifully carved. {19} Some of them are immense pieces of timber, which must have required a deal more energy to cut than the Papuan of to-day is capable of exerting—much less would he put them into position.

The wood used for the flooring is the hardest obtainable, and seems to be of a material which takes no heed of wear and tear; the planks are sometimes heirlooms, and have been handed down from father to son for many generations. One log tougher than the rest is placed in position by the door, and on this a fire will probably be burning and a woman squatting by it cooking her lord and master’s evening meal.

The rank yellow smoke which curls round her does not inconvenience her in the least. She takes no heed of it, but blows away at the embers, regardless of smarting eyes and choking throat, probably because she feels neither. She never fears that the fire will spread and burn down her home, but just goes on cooking. If you speak to her she may stop blowing for a second and glance up at you, but never a word passes her lips, and soon she will be blowing again as if it was quite an ordinary thing to have a white man staring at her. But though the smoke does not trouble her a bit, it blinds you, and you soon hurry on to the {20} next hut, and there confine your attention to its outside.

The roofs are thatched with palm leaves which, though scant, keep out the rain and sun. The sides and back are also composed of a kind of thatch on a framework of bamboo or thin wood.

Unlike the habitations of many other branches of this race, these huts show very little artistic work inside. They are quite bare. A few cooking-pots may be seen lying about, and these are the only things which lead one to suppose that the huts are inhabited. The resemblance of the interiors of all of them is only equal to the sameness of the exteriors, which makes it impossible to know which one you have been in and which you have not. This, added to the extreme difficulty a new chum experiences in getting from one house to another, does not add to the equability of his temper. It needs a steady head and good balancing powers to keep footing on these planks, many of which are quite loose and wobble when you are treading on them. After half an hour of such walking a giddiness seizes you, and a strong desire comes over you to kneel down and scramble along on hands and knees to the next hut. But with practice, and a certain amount of patience and indifference to the {21} nasty fall one would get by slipping, walking can eventually be accomplished with ease.


The natives themselves run along the poles as quickly as if they were on paved streets, whilst the little kiddies scramble, and slip, and tumble about as if they were on an ordinary floor. A fall through the piles is almost an unknown calamity to them.

Under the houses, when the tide is out, the natives can be seen cutting out their canoes, making their pottery, repairing their fishing gear and attending to other duties; but they much prefer to loll about on the verandahs of their huts, looking out at the sea, thinking of nothing.

The whole of Elevera only covers about ten acres, but in that space the huts are crowded together, and give cover to hundreds of healthy and prosperous-looking inhabitants. On the mainland the houses are built on small pile platforms, only three or four feet from the ground, whilst others in the back country are built in trees and look like gigantic birds’-nests. This last custom, however, has quite died out, for with the introduction of the axe the protection of a house in a tree would be of little use, for one blow would fetch the whole construction down. Also the introduction of the police and the work of the Government have so diminished the {22} chances of tribal wars that the native no longer goes to such trouble. In the old days the inmates of these nests kept a supply of stones and spears on their verandahs, and were able to use them with great effect on their troublesome neighbours below. Now such a position would only make them good marks for a rifle shot.

The bush men, or “men belong bush,” to speak in native parlance, are far more industrious than the “men belong sea,” they who live by the shore. For besides cultivating the land, growing yams, bananas, and taro, they make a fair living by hunting.

Two distinct tribes inhabit the villages in Port Moresby, the Koitapus and Motus. They live amicably enough together now, but seldom intermarry. The Koitapus were undoubtedly the original inhabitants, and in colour are somewhat darker than their friends, and have narrower heads, otherwise it is very hard to distinguish one from the other; but in their manners, customs, and language there is a marked difference. The Motu tribe consider themselves the superior of the two, though they live in great fear of the mysterious powers the Koitapus are said to possess, and were it not for this superstition the Motus would soon overrule and probably vanquish the other tribe.


So strong is their superstitious belief in the powers of the Koitapus, that directly one of them falls ill, presents are immediately despatched to a Koitapu man or woman with instructions to remove the evil influence that has brought the sickness or calamity. The weather also is supposed to be in the hands of the Koitapus, and be it wet or fine the Motus have to pay up, that is if they want it changed.

As a tribe the Motus undoubtedly are superior, especially in such things as cleanliness, cooking, and eating. The Koitapu natives will devour almost anything with a relish unknown in civilised countries, but the Motu is careful and particular both about the cooking of his food and the article cooked. Most of the Motus have their eatables boiled in earthenware jars, whilst the Koitapu cooks his in an earth oven.

The Motus gain their living chiefly by fishing and making pottery, and they exchange both fish and pots with the Koitapu for animal food, vegetables, and the results of their agricultural pursuits.

The position of the two tribes is summed up thus:—

“Yours is the sea, the canoes, the nets,” says the Koitapu man, “ours the land and the wallaby. {24} Give us fish for our flesh, and pottery for our yarns and bananas.”

It is on this understanding that the two tribes live amicably together in Hanuabada and Elevera.

Altogether Port Moresby is as quaint and picturesque a spot as ever was seen. A bright blue sky and a sea the colour of which is for ever changing, a stillness only broken by the roaring surf, the hum of insects, the occasional cries of the sea-birds, and the chatter of the natives, make up this delightful haven of rest. No roaring train or smoking chimney is there to distract the wayfarer; no newspaper boy yelling out his “disasters” to cause one a sleepless night. A spot in which to rest and dream, ay, and study the curious customs of one of the most interesting savage races in the world, if you like that sort of employment.



Natives who grow crops of hair—A word or two about the women—Duties of married women—How they carry their babes, and the philosophy of childhood.

The natives of New Guinea are fine specimens of human nature, but taken as a race they cannot be compared to the Maoris of New Zealand or even to the Fijians. The men are infinitely better-looking than the women, and their splendid stock of hair, which they wear bunched up all over their head, sets off their appearance in a remarkable manner. The young women are bright and cheerful-looking, and amongst them there are some striking creatures; but there are many sad-looking specimens, some of the old women are veritable hags, and many fine young girls are quite spoilt by the quaint habit they have of shaving their heads, whilst some of the best specimens of men are disfigured by their yellow, bloodshot eyes, so noticeable in contrast to their dark skins. {26}

As workers the New Guinea natives are probably in advance of many natives of the adjoining islands. They are, of course, better than the aboriginal of Australia, who would as lief die as do an honest day’s work, but that does not say much for them. There is no doubt about it, they do not love work, though they get through a certain amount.

In Port Moresby the natives of Hanuabada and Elevera live chiefly by fishing, canoe-building, and pottery-making. The men do the fishing and canoe-building, whilst the women and children loiter over the pottery-making. There is a complete absence of hurry; all the natives work as if they had a lifetime to complete their job; there is a calmness in them that is only rivalled by the sky over their heads and the air that blows over this island, and perhaps it is from nature they have learnt that calm and stolid indifference to just those things over which we believe it is necessary to hustle.


One extremely peculiar trait in the character of the natives of British New Guinea is their dislike to inquisitiveness. You can implore a native to tell you his name, and even offer him coin to pay him for that information, but it has no effect. He {27} will tell you some name, if you press him hard enough, but it won’t be his, as you will discover if you try to find him again. As an instance of this peculiarity, Mr. Norman Hardy was particularly struck by a canoe he saw lying on the sand in the main street of Elevera, and seeing a native standing by, he asked him if the canoe belonged to him, as he would like to buy it. The native smiled blandly and shook his head.

“Don’t you know whose it is?” asked Mr. Hardy.

“Don’t know; man over there, p’r’aps,” said the native.

“What’s his name?” Mr. Hardy pursued.

“No name.” The native shook his bushy head.

“Well, show me which is the hut he lives in.”

At this question the man began to fidget, and then, glancing carelessly at the row of huts, all as like each other as peas, he swept his hand past the whole lot and said:

“That one.”

And that was all the information concerning the name and possessor of the canoe that Mr. Hardy obtained. Subsequently he learned that the owner of it was the very man he had been questioning.

The same kind of reticence has been found by {28} all travellers who have been anxious to find out the ways, the customs, and secret rites of the natives; but, luckily, now and then a man who will talk has been found, and then, by using the knowledge gained from him and showing the others that you know a certain amount about the matter, it is possible to get a fund of information; though it is always necessary to corroborate everything you hear, as the art of lying has been brought to a perfect science in these islands—probably by the march of civilisation and the example the natives have been set by the traders—nearly all natives become liars when they are civilised.

Throughout the island the bulk of the work is done by the women-folk, the men being little less than pampered loafers. There is some sort of an excuse for this, which, it is only fair to state, is the result of altered circumstances. In the early days the men were ever on the watch for enemies, and lived in constant preparedness for a surprise attack. By day they carried their spears and clubs about with them, and by night they slept alongside them. There were very few organised fights compared with those of other islands, except when a big head-hunting expedition was on, but at these times the natives would get wind of it; what they had to {29} guard against were small surprise attacks, and of these they could not obtain information, as they were generally planned on the spur of the moment. Most of these stalking excursions were undertaken to supply a sacrifice for a feast, and a native would be singled out in some adjoining village to fill the want, or else some chief would require the wife of some other chief, and she would have to be stolen, or a child had to be kidnapped to spite its parents, and so the men in every village had to be constantly on the watch, which, of course, hindered them from working, and left the bulk of the labour to the women; but now that civilisation has altered the relationship of the tribes and lessened the chances of these attacks, the occupation of the men has practically ceased; under the new régime they have gradually become loafers, and the women still continue the duties they have performed for generations.

Organised labour is almost unknown, but certain yam patches are owned by certain natives, and the women work them as they do the banana and the cocoa-nut groves. In Port Moresby Messrs. Burns Philp employ a number of men and women for their stores, and for loading and unloading the trading vessels, but even the heavy work of carrying {30} the timber is sometimes done by the women, whilst the men loiter about doing as little as they possibly can. The police, who are clothed in blue with white facings, are perhaps the busiest natives in the township; what is more, they are extremely proud of their clothes and their work, and their exalted position as Government officials makes them scorn their less fortunate brethren. Their duties, beyond keeping law and order, are very slight, and amount to an occasional job of rowing Government men about and mounting guard over stray prisoners.

The native costume of British New Guinea is meagre. With the men, when they are not absolutely nude, a narrow girdle round their waist is considered sufficient, whilst a bunch of dogs’ teeth hung from their ears, a pointed, carved bone run through their noses, and armlets of vegetable fibre, would comprise a big outfit and make its owner as proud as a peacock. At festivals, dances, and funerals their clothing is more elaborate, and they are more highly decorated with masks, mats, and feathers. And when in mourning, they are so over-dressed that it is impossible to recognise that the bundle before you is really a human being. The state or ceremonial costumes of New Guinea vary considerably in the different parts of the {31} island, and each tribe has its own particular fancy as to what ought really to be worn, and what ought not; the only consistency concerning clothes throughout the island is found when the men are either loafing about or working, and then they wear as little as possible.


The women and young girls usually wear fibre aprons hanging from their waists to a distance of about eighteen inches, whilst for dancing and religious ceremonies more luxurious and more lengthy ones, dyed in different colours, are worn. When dancing the aprons of the unmarried women are left open at the right side, so that the tattooing on their hips and thighs can be seen. This bit of coyness is to show that they are ready to be married, and that they are still heart-whole, for directly a girl reaches the marriageable age, and wants all the men to know it, she is carefully tattooed. Another mark of distinction between the married and unmarried women is in the hair: the married ones wear it very closely cut, while the single ones pride themselves, like the men, on their enormous bushy crops. This custom, however, varies in different tribes, and the hair is arranged in numerous ways, according to the fashion of the part of the island in which the native is born. {32}

The Papuan dandy takes no end of care over his hair, which grows to a great length and is frizzled and bunched up all round his head, and some of them, farther up the gulf, arrange their hair in this fashion purely for sale, and when a full crop is ready they shave it off and sell it up country.

What “the man belong bush” uses it for I don’t know, though some kind of string is seen in different places which is probably made from it. As in Fiji and Samoa and Honolulu, it is common to see bleached hair. It is done for sanitary reasons primarily, and fashion has helped the custom. Tattooing, however, is not fashionable amongst the men.

The children, like those of other savage races, are completely nude. They are bright and happy little beggars, and as a rule are free from nervousness in the presence of strangers and whites. They will stand round you in groups, with wide-open mouths and eyes, but they have a tendency to catch hold of each other, and those who are shyest keep slightly behind the bolder ones. They are born swimmers and divers, and seem to spend half their days in the water, prancing, splashing about, and diving, utterly regardless of time or season, and I don’t think they ever catch cold.


Amongst the children’s games there are two at least that look familiar to Europeans—a kind of leap-frog and pig-a-back. The former is played in all the varying ways of the English schoolboy, single leaping and leaping whole rows; whilst pig-a-back riding is quite the same game that our children indulge in. Another game which is interesting to watch is that known as evanena: in this two rows of players stand facing each other at a distance of about a foot apart, and when they are thus arranged each boy catches hold of the arm of the one facing, and grips it below the elbow with one hand, and with the other he takes a firm hold of his own arm with his disengaged hand, thus forming a platform of human arms. A boy then gets up on to this platform and runs forward. Immediately he has passed over the first pair they let go of each other and run forward, and place themselves in front of the others at the end of the row, thus making a continuous passage, enabling a constant race to be kept up with the boy on the platform and those forming it. Roars of laughter greet the youth who is fast enough to reach the end of the platform before another lap is ready for him, and if he succeeds in doing this he is a proud winner, but if, on the {34} other hand, he stumbles and falls he is anything but a hero, and becomes one of the figures of the platform, taking the place of one of the end boys.

Many of the other games are rough, boyish imitations of the sacred ceremonies which their elders conduct with such decorum. Of course they are not true imitations, because many of these ceremonies are secret and none but authorised natives are allowed to take part in them.

The girls have a few games of their own, but very seldom join in with the boys. From their earliest days they are trained to work, and playing is considered frivolous and unwomanly. One sees many more young women paddling canoes than young men; the men prefer to play and watch their sisters work. Chivalry is not a forte of theirs.


As soon as the girls are old enough they are initiated into the art of pottery-making, cooking, and other domestic duties, but what they all take most pleasure in is dancing. Their sole ambition in life seems to be to excel in this art—and become wives; though the latter occupation has few benefits, and, to the outsider who has studied the life of the married women, marriage would seem a grievous calamity to be avoided at all {35} costs—at least a Papuan one. The work of the married women is most arduous, and their whole existence seems to be taken up in waiting hand and foot on their loafing lords, bearing children, and bringing them up. All the cares and worries of the precarious lives of these natives seem to be thrown on to the shoulders of wives, who bear it with a stolid philosophy that defies imitation.

One of the most remarkable things about the mother is her unique way of carrying her child, a method totally different from that of any other savage or civilised race. From its infancy the baby is put into a sort of miniature hammock made of vegetable fibre, with a very fine mesh, through which the little bundle of humanity can be seen kicking merrily. When carrying the child, the ends of this hammock, which are woven together and make a circle of the net, are placed over, and rest on the mother’s head. Thus the baby hangs suspended in this arrangement just below the woman’s breasts or over her back. It is a convenient arrangement, for the mother is perfectly free to walk about and, if necessary, work a little with her hands. As a rule, however, when she is working she hangs her child up on one of the cross-beams of her hut, and many can be seen thus suspended under the {36} verandah-like shades of the roofs, when they look very much like cocoons.

This form of carrying a weight, however, is not peculiar to the Papuan, as instances of it can be seen in Egypt. A native porter will often suspend a heavy portmanteau by straps from the top of his head and jog along serenely with it. Child-carrying in this way is, however, quite original and is, I believe, only seen in New Guinea. The Maori method of carrying them on their backs, wrapped in a shawl which the woman crosses over her chest, is infinitely better in some respects, as it enables her to do hard labour without any inconvenience.

One trait that is particularly noticeable among all the children of savage races is their silent philosophy. No matter what happens these babes remain serenely calm; they may be left for hours without food or drink, they may be hung upside down, dropped, trodden on,—in fact, any calamity may befall them,—but still they are silent. The only difference that is evident is when they have been uncomfortable for hours and are suddenly put right, when they resume their kicking, but very soon even this form of exuberance subsides, and silence, unmoved silence, is restored.



Concerning love and grief—How love is made in New Guinea, and some of the charms used to ensure love and constancy—The grief of a New Guinea widow.

To the marriageable young lady in civilised countries, leap year, and with it her chance of proposing, comes but a few times before she is “on the shelf,” but in some parts of New Guinea the proposal of marriage always comes from the girl.

Some may think that this sort of love-making and marriage lacks romance, but to the Papuan it is the event of his or her life. It is in the hope of receiving a proposal that a man will go through endless adventures; it is to win the admiration of some good buxom girl that he risks his life head-hunting, and it is with pride and glory that he glances at his string of skulls which hangs from the poles of his hut, because he knows how brave the women will think him. {38}

It is for this same object that he studies the art of dancing, that he cultivates his bushy hair (after he is married he often sells it) and the fine, healthy glow of his skin. His lithe limbs also come in for a deal of attention, and, as he struts proudly about, it is always with the hope that his superior charms and manhood may bring him the love and admiration of a young maiden.

When a Papuan boy comes of age an interesting ceremony takes place. At about twelve years old, if he is of good stature, healthy and generally fit, his parents think it is time to prepare him for marriage, or, in their own language, make him ibitoe. The initial stage of this ceremony is merely a form of introduction to youths of his own age who are also ibitoe. In England more or less the same thing happens when a girl “comes out.” She is then supposed to be on a footing with “grown-ups,” and this is practically what happens to the youth of British New Guinea. From the day of his “coming out” he occupies his hours in pleasure-seeking and has a good time generally; this goes on for a certain period and then he sallies forth alone into the bush to make his drum. This drum-making is the most serious part of his “coming out,” and is conducted with a deal of {39} formality and ceremony which is quaintly mixed with superstition.

Drums seem to be the most important possession a young Papuan has; in shape they are not unlike a golf bag on a somewhat larger scale. One end is covered with lizard skin drawn taut and bound round the end of the drum with fibre, leaving a frill below the binding; the other end is open, and at about the centre the instrument narrows off and a handle carved out of the wood protrudes. By this the drum is held when being beaten.

The making of this musical instrument is an arduous task; it is hewn out from a solid block of wood by means of the crudest instruments, the hollow centre is made by burning it out with cinders of red-hot wood.

In order to manufacture one of these the young native retires into the bush, cutting himself off from all intercourse with human beings. His food is brought to him by his friends and left in some secret places which are decided on before he takes his departure. This is done so that the young man can secure it without catching sight of those who bring it, for it is believed by the Papuan that if any human being sees him, or is seen by him, during this period of ibitoe that his drum will {40} be spoiled, or that when it is completed it will sound as if it were cracked. Many other curious superstitions relating to the eating of certain foods are attached to this operation; for instance, if a man who is ibitoe eats food cooked in the wrong way, he will grow fat and be a laughing-stock to the girls; whilst if he drinks fresh water it will quench the fire with which he is trying to hollow out his drum, and other things too numerous to mention will happen if equally trifling details are not adhered to; but provided he comes through this important time without any calamities, and completes his drum to his own satisfaction, he steps forth from his seclusion to conquer the heart of a maiden.

In the different tribes and parts of the country the customs relating to love and matrimony vary. In some the young men waylay the girls they admire, and endeavour, by force or persuasion, or the offering of presents, to obtain their consent. This method often leads to amusing incidents, as the girls have the privilege of scratching and fighting their would-be lovers to any extent, and the lover may not retaliate, or he would bring down upon his woolly head the anger of the girl’s parents. {41}

Sweet music of a sensuous nature is often resorted to by the lovesick swain, and, leaning against a tree, he will stand and play all day long, hoping to attract the attention of his inamorata and bring from her a proposal of marriage.

Tight-lacing and other forms of personal adornment are also indulged in by these amorous youths, and a more ridiculous sight could not be seen than a young native with his waist so strapped in as to form an enormous, ugly bulge above and below his belt, but it is greatly admired by the girls and shows he wants a wife badly.

In those parts of the western islands, already alluded to, where the women propose, directly a girl falls in love with a man she makes him a string armlet, which, according to Professor Haddon, she presents to his sister or to one of his confidential friends. The confidential friend bides her time, and when an opportunity arises she goes to the man and says:

“I’ve got something for you.”

“Show it to me,” replies the young man if he is anxious.

This the friend does.

After learning the girl’s name, and being satisfied that he is not throwing himself away, the youth {42} will accept the armlet and in return make a present of two leglets to his fiancée.

Another custom in vogue is for the girl to send food for the young man. At first on receiving it he is generally obstinate and refuses to eat it, as he has no desire to be caught—or pretends he has none—but really he is very proud that at last he has been noticed. The woman understands all this and does not despair, but steadily pursues her course, and day after day sends food to her lover, until her constancy makes the parents of the young man feel satisfied that he is not being led astray or fooled by a changeable woman. As soon as the parents feel sure of this, they go to their son and command him to eat the food.

This is the signal which the girl’s friend has been wanting, and she hurries to bear the news to the waiting girl, who immediately prepares more food which she sends him. Now the critical time is past, and she knows he will be allowed to see her.

All arrangements for the meeting are conducted by the go-between, and when the young man is presented to her, she hands him fresh food which he takes from her and eats. At this act of condescension great joy is shown on both sides, and {43} the two lovers retire to the seclusion of their hut, and without any further ceremony they become man and wife.

The divorce laws of New Guinea are similar to those of America, and a man or woman can get a divorce on the slightest provocation—the general cause is incompatibility of temper. Plurality of wives is allowed if a man be rich enough to support more than one. The first one, however, is chief amongst them all and her word is law; the last one acts as a go-between; she carries the messages of number one to the others and sees that they are properly attended to. If any of the wives refuse to obey her, she and her husband are laughed at, as it is generally considered that he has undertaken more than he can manage.

The following is an interesting sample of a missionary-taught, native girl’s love-letter, or form of proposal. It was shown to Professor Haddon when he was studying in those islands. The letter was written to one Peter by name, whose own translation of it reads thus:—

“Peta, what do you say? I try you. My heart he like very bad for you. You send me back a letter. Yes this talk belong me. Pita you Good-bye. Me Magena.” {44}

Peter’s affirmative reply was:

“Magena I make you know. Me just the same, I want very bad for you. My talk there. If you true like me, all right just the same; good for you, good for me. Yes all right. Finish. You, Magena. Good-bye. Me Pita.”

The natives of New Guinea, like all other savage races, still have their love charms, and when a man or maid fails to win the heart of the one they love by ordinary methods, they try the sorcerer and, then, if that love they are seeking for cannot be so obtained, their affection turns to hate and a desire for revenge fills them, and they seek the other’s death by resort to magic. There is a wonderful similarity in human beings all over the world, be they white or black, savage or civilised. But the extraordinary part of the magic in savage lands is that it always works, and if men or women are properly cursed and their death prophesied by the magician, they die, and in the way their death has been foretold. The same strange superstition is noticeable amongst the Maoris. I once was at the death-bed of an old chief, who was supposed to be dying of typhoid, but the real cause of his death was fear. In some way he had offended another chief, and that man had him cursed by a Tohunga {45} or priest. I was unable to ascertain exactly what he had done, but the result of it was that an image made of clay, which was supposed to represent him, was placed in a creek, and as the water washed away the figure, so the chief gradually sank; and, when the last particle was softened by the slowly trickling water and vanished down the stream, so that moment the soul of the old chief passed over the border.

So strong is the superstition regarding these things that a man who is cursed never dreams of attempting to overcome the disaster foretold him; he simply goes home and dies, and it is in this way that this particular superstition, and others like it, live. No one has the pluck or the common sense to try and oppose their influence. In New Zealand this kind of witchcraft is termed Tohunganism, and in spite of the civilised condition of the Maoris of to-day, there are still cases of death recorded and put down to it.

In the same certain way that death is brought about by a mental process—cursing—so miraculous cures are effected, and Urio Moquru is one of the most useful gods in New Guinea for this sort of thing. When a person of importance falls sick, food is placed before this grotesque image, and the friends {46} and relations beseech Urio to remove the evil spirit from their beloved one. But should the god fail and the sick one die, the natives do not lose faith in their god, but decide that the patient was either too good to live, or so bad he had to die.

When death does visit a village there is a terrible time of mourning, the women sit and cry round the death-bed all day, and in the streets they can be seen squatting in corners moaning. You can meet women all huddled up giving vent to the most despairing groans, and they look as if they were literally wrapped up in grief; yet they may have never cared a snap of the fingers for the dear departed. But it is the custom for the women to mourn; and a more awful sight and sound than this moaning cannot be heard. The men show very few signs of grief, and evidently trust to their women-folk to do a double share.

When a woman loses her husband she goes into mourning and will on no account be disturbed; for this rite her dress varies; certainly she looks a terrible fright, and I’m not surprised at her shrinking from public gaze. There is a special dress and general attire for this state of grief. They shave their heads completely, cover themselves all over with charcoal, and then put on long petticoats with {47} tassels of seeds. They also cover their necks with necklaces and their arms with trinkets. Having done all this they retire into a corner of their hut and remain there, away from the gaze of the public, until their sorrow is worn out or they are tired of being alone.

One thing noticeable is that, however loud their moaning is, however hard they are crying, they will always stop to answer any question you like to put to them about their “late lamented,” if you have courage enough to beard them and refuse to go away. Then, as soon as you have gained all the information you require, they will quickly resume their tears as if nothing had happened to interrupt them. But this is not unique to the savage of New Guinea. I have met with the same extraordinary species of grief amongst the women of Great Britain,—it is world-wide, this interruptable grief.


Some native dances and queer costumes—Novel blackmailing methods—Woman’s vanity and a censured dance.

For some reason, unknown to the ordinary layman, the Church has taken a dislike to nearly all forms of savage dancing, and many missionaries, brave and good fellows though they be, have seen evil in these performances where other less cultivated men have seen nothing that suggests immorality. But often what appears immoral to the Western mind is quite free from any such suggestion to the mind of the savage. I do not say that these natives are paragons of virtue and morality, but in deference to them it is only fair to say that they stick to their code of morals, though it is not ours and may seem rather lax to us.


Owing no doubt to the missionaries disliking certain dances, the natives are now very shy about permitting a white man to witness them; some, however, can still be seen, and these I will try {49} to describe. There are several different dances in New Guinea, all distinct in their movements, in the costumes worn at them, and the music accompanying them; there are the war dances, the marriage dances, the fishing, festival and agricultural dances, and for all these the costumes vary, some of them being unique, for there is no island in the world which can rival its assortment of ceremonial regalia. In some of the dances the women are most strangely attired, whilst in others the grotesque costumes of the men are startling.

When the fish dance, or any other semi-religious dance is to be held the men wear masks, for the making of which they are famous, and then the performance is indeed weird. In the Mekko district, south-east of Port Moresby, most elaborate masks of hideous design cover the heads of the dancers, whilst their bodies are concealed by capes which are nearly two feet thick and cover the wearer completely, leaving only the lower part of the legs visible, and these, in contrast to the bulk above, look strangely thin and out of place. The heat and weight of these costumes must be enormous, but the natives would undergo any discomfort rather than be without them.

The masks, which vary in shape and size, are {50} generally not shorter than three or four feet, and occasionally they run to six or seven. They are held in position on the man’s head by a cross-bar which he grips between his teeth, and they are constructed on canework frames, and shaped like an enormous hock bottle. A thin bark covering is stretched over the frame, which is then completely smeared with white lime, and a hideous face is generally worked or painted on the front of it, with the mouth and eyes enormously big and distorted. When one considers that these masks and their attendant costumes are also used for blackmailing dances their thorough ugliness is warranted.

Blackmailing is a favourite pastime, and when they are intent on it they don their ugliest masks and steal round to the hut of the man or woman from whom they wish to extort money, or frighten, and in the dim moonlight begin a weird and unearthly dance accompanied by horrible noises, which they continue until the desired effect has been obtained, and the man is frightened out of his wits and ready to agree to his assailant’s proposals. This dance is closely allied to the dook-dook dance of New Britain. In New Guinea when the mask and cape are worn the steps of the dance are slow, and the movements are supposed to be majestic and {51} awe-inspiring, making the performances more like stately processions than dances. One of the most interesting of these is the festival dance for a successful agricultural season. It is considered a kind of prayer to the gods of agriculture, and it generally takes place once a year and is conducted by different tribes on each anniversary.


When the yams and bananas are ripe, the natives hold a celebration, in which as a rule men dance in close formation with the girls on the flanks. Occasionally a girl edges her way in and takes the arm of a man, as is seen in the illustration, where the red head-dresses are those of women. The white plumes of the men denote that they have slain an enemy in single combat. The streamers down the back of the man on the left are those of his head fillet. Behind the dancers are the bananas suspended on a scaffold. The celebration takes place in the summer.

The dancing ground having been picked, the villagers squat by their huts, or form a large ring on the ground, and then when all is ready a troop of men strangely dressed, each carrying his drum, comes prancing on to the ground.

From the back of their heads long waving strings, made of leaves, are hung, flying out behind them and touching the ground. Their woolly hair is gaily festooned with bright-coloured feathers, white and red, pure white, pure red, and reddish brown and green; and above these there is often a brilliant red cockade which stands straight up.

Armlets adorn their arms, and a narrow belt with a scanty attachment suffices for the covering of the lower part of their bodies. Long streamers of palm leaves hang, in some cases, from both armlets and leglets. Their drums are also gaily decorated with strings and streamers.

On arrival on the ground they form up in rows {52} and begin a peculiar crouching movement by bending their knees and rising on toe and heel, to the accompaniment of a monotonous dull thumping on the drums. Every now and then a different beat is sounded, and instantly the men change their positions. Whilst this peculiar shuffling movement is going on a crowd of girls appears and begin to dance in and out among the men, and then vanish again almost as quickly as they appeared. Their costumes are equally quaint, the chief adornment being a mat hung round their waists and open on one side. The remaining portions of their bodies are nude, with the exception of necklaces and curious feather adornments on their heads.

Fine creatures some of them are, and as they prance about in striking attitudes, dodging in and out of the rows of men, swaying their skirts backwards and forwards, they present a fascinating picture and, as they warm to the dance, the continued shuffling movements of the men, the swirling of the women’s skirts, their swaying bodies, and glimpses of elaborately tattooed legs, and the measured beating of the drums, the only sound that breaks the silence, a giddiness steals over the spectators and a weird feeling of monotony takes hold of them.


Then suddenly the whole scene will change, the girls, who a few seconds before were swirling round the men, vanish, the drumming ceases, the long rows are broken up, and the men too disappear, leaving only the crowd of eager spectators who remain gazing at nothing.

A wonder comes into one’s mind if it is all a dream, for throughout the whole dance no sound has escaped the performers, and the silence and the half-darkness produce a scene of peculiar uncanniness. But soon all is movement again and other performances have to be gone through. New figures are introduced as in our round dances, but there seem to be no set places for the girls; they appear and dance independently in and out of the rows of men as if to show off their fine figures, their beautiful skins, and bewitching ways, some dancing and acting more or less demurely, whilst others throw themselves about with an abandonment and coyness that it would take a most practised Western flirt to excel.

Every attitude and every movement seem to be accompanied by an action of the apron or skirt, which is swerving with a perfect rhythm backwards and forwards, or from side to side. But this is not the women’s dance, they are merely adjuncts to the performance and use their admission to it more for {54} love-making than anything else. Their real dance comes later when they mount the Dubu, and this is the dance so strongly objected to by the missionaries, but, strange to say, the natives themselves seem to take very little interest in it; they call it “the dance belong women”; and were it such an immoral proceeding, surely the men would crowd to see it.

The ordinary Dubu is a rough platform about four feet high and built upon stout piles. More elaborate ones are to be seen in some districts, and these are decorated with weird designs and strange carvings, with flanges reaching out right and left and long beams carved like gigantic bullocks’ horns and decorated with gaudy tassels that add a quaintness to them; they stand some ten feet off the ground, whilst others have posts rising fifteen feet above the ground and ending in a half-moon design, but these bigger ones are not used for the girls to dance on, but are kept for ceremonial purposes.


A score of girls, dressed up to the nines in their twine skirts (reaching about as far down as a Parisian ballet girl’s dancing costume) and completely tattooed, suddenly begin prancing through the village, swinging in their hands a long string at the end of which is a ball. By practised movements {55} they make it curve in grotesque shapes around their bodies, and all the time this is going on they are swinging their skirts backwards and forwards by a peculiar movement of their bodies, from their waists. This extraordinary performance of pirouetting maidens goes on for some time to the accompaniment of drums. Then, at a given signal, they mount the Dubu and discard their skirts, and stand unadorned before the spectators who, as I said before, are nearly all women. Then married women anoint them, whilst others bring them baskets of areca nuts and yams. The yams they cut up in pieces, and whilst doing so go through graceful movements which display their figures to the best advantage. Then suddenly, at another given signal, they start pelting the onlookers with the nuts, which are scrambled for by the women amid laughter and screams of delight; they are like children at a fair, and almost as simple. When all the nuts are finished the girls slip on their skirts and jump down, and so ends this, the most terrible dance of the modest maids of Papua. There is another famous dance which takes place on the departure of the Lakatois for the annual trading expedition up the Gulf.

Professor Haddon, in his book the Head Hunters, relates an amusing thing he saw at Veifaa, {56} of which this dress incident reminds me. He says that though the natives in this place are never seen in any but native costume, the missionaries have insisted on the women wearing calico gowns whilst attending divine service, and it was an amusing sight, he continues, to see the girls and women arriving at the church, for—on entering the courtyard—they pulled these European costumes over their half-nude bodies; but it was still more comic to see the way they pulled themselves out of them directly the service was over. He adds, that in spite of their scant clothes and the above peculiarity, the women are extremely modest.

Tattooing cannot be said to be as general in New Guinea as in many other places, but in some districts the women are particularly well tattooed, the whole of the upper part of their bodies being completely covered with intricate designs. The methods of making the patterns vary, but as a rule, the woman lies on the ground whilst two others work them out with a stick dipped in burnt resin. When the whole is finished it is pricked in by means of a sharp thorn attached to a stick and bound tightly to it with fibre. Most of the women have extraordinary designs on their thighs, which they make a point of showing when they are dancing.



Outrigger canoes, their appearance and construction—The famous Lakatois—How the natives catch their fish; and a few words about fish that climb trees—A trip down the coast, and an unpleasant experience.

If you can imagine a cloudless sky of a deep blue colour, a sea so smooth that not a ripple is visible, and so clear that you can look down into it and see the dark rocks and the sandy bottom and strangely shaped fish swimming idly about amongst bushes of seaweed, which wave and curl with the ebb of the tide; and floating masses of jelly which occasionally double themselves into balls and then become floating masses again. If you can picture all this you will have an idea how clear the waters of the South Seas are when the sky is cloudless. The hot sun is overhead, and the still air is full of a sweet fragrance. Just above you you will see a frigate bird sailing lazily about, and by the sea shore just a faint ripple and a line of white show {58} you quaint and picturesque canoes—not the ordinary mere dug-out things which are so narrow in body that there is only room for a medium-sized man to sit, but long curiously shaped ones with poles stretching across and extended far out over the side; they are slightly arched, and at the end there is a log which rests in the water and lies parallel to the boat.

These outriggers are queer constructions, but no sea can upset a boat possessing them, and with the light shining full on the bright skins of their half-naked occupants, they look still more eccentric. To see a dozen of these queer craft being swiftly paddled through the water by men with bushy heads and fine massive bodies, and women more nude than dressed, but with their hair cropped close to their skulls, is not a sight to be seen everywhere, and well repays all the thousand little disadvantages that journeying to these parts entails.


There is a safety in an outrigger canoe that one cannot feel in ordinary native boats. There is not the same swift movement that one experiences when skimming through the water rowed by a half-dozen muscular Maoris in their light-built canoes, or flying down rapids in a Canadian canoe, but in {59} place of it there is the calm repose of absolute security, and at times this latter condition is not to be scorned, especially when every moment you can see the fin of a shark rise out of the water. Clumsy looking as these boats are, it is wonderful what complete control the natives have over them, how swiftly they swing them round or skim them between dangerous rocks, and dash over the surf through waves that would swamp and capsize an average lifeboat. These irresponsible creatures paddle on through the worst of waters, laughing at the spray as it breaks over them, and shouting with glee as they mount the great waves, which carry them high and dry on to the shore.

Then the stately Lakatois with their queer-shaped sails, looking as unlike sails as the body of a boat is unlike a canoe. They resemble an elongated kite with a semicircle cut out of the top, and if you saw one for the first time coming towards you on a dark night, it would give you a fright, so grotesque and weird is it. In daylight, however, its horrors disappear and the ingeniousness of its construction appeals to you; after watching it sailing placidly out to sea, steered as easily as any yacht, a feeling of admiration for the savage inventor of it comes over you. {60}

To explain its construction would be a task too difficult for me, but, roughly, it consists of two or three large canoes lashed together and boarded over. On these boards is a kind of barn cut down and spread out considerably. This is used both for shelter and for carrying the pots and articles of barter. From the centre of this raft-like barge the two enormous sails project straight into the air; the two horn-like points of the top are decorated with long streamers; whilst others ornament the sails, making it look like a carnival barge. How the wind is caught or how the boats are moved about is a mystery to any but those who work them; if you ask a native he will explain it all to you: “He good fellow belong salt water, go easy.” And that is as much information as I can give. So with this vivid, though somewhat technical description of how the boat travels, you too must be satisfied, and look rather at its beauty than its ways of working.


The method of building canoes in these parts is interesting. A log of soft wood is obtained from an up-country tribe in exchange for fish or some other produce, and its outside is shaped by means of an ordinary English axe, while the inside is hewn out with the native stone adzes. These {61} they still prefer for delicate work, though they often attach the head of them to an ordinary axe handle. When a sufficiently deep hollow is made, the native lights a fire in it and works it about until the rough edges are smoothed down and other faults are rectified.

Firing is also used to finish the outside, and if the fire goes out, or anything but a perfect result is finally obtained, they put the cause of it down to some accident, or wrong action which they have done in their youth. Nearly all their calamities are thus explained.

The small canoes when finished often have the outriggers completely boarded over, thus turning them into big rafts, and making them capable of carrying enormous quantities of barter; for it is by boat they carry their goods from village to village along the coast. The Lakatois are always used for long trips, and carry big crews, being often loaded to their full carrying capacity. When leaving Port Moresby for these periodical trips they carry pottery and exchange it for sago and other food.

The pottery industry flourishes at Port Moresby, and at most times it is possible to see the women at work. Men never assist them in this industry; generally very thin old hags seem {62} to superintend all the most difficult part of the work. The clay used for it is, I believe, a natural clay brought down from the interior and exchanged for some other article. Instead of using a pottery wheel, each pot is literally built up from the inside and rounded with a stick or by hand—the sphere getting larger and larger, whilst the inside, towards the top, gets smaller. When finished a fire is lit and stones built up over it, and directly the right heat is obtained, the newly made pot is placed on them and baked.

Nearly all the cooking is done in these contrivances, and they seem capable of standing any heat as well as a good deal of rough usage.

Sago, yams, bananas, sweet potatoes, cocoa-nuts, and fish are the staple foods which the New Guinea natives fatten on. The fish is often smoked and cooked in the earthenware pots or eaten raw. The method of smoking it varies, but generally it is roughly done in a hut.

Owing to the extensive coral reefs all round these islands, fishing by means of nets is a difficult task, and one that does not often pay, as they get torn to pieces on the reefs. Line fishing suffers from the same disadvantage, so that when a big haul of ground fish is wanted a method introduced by the {63} traders is adopted—fishing with dynamite. This sounds somewhat peculiar, but it is most effective.


Directly a shoal of fish is seen a charge of dynamite is exploded in the water, which has a most disastrous effect on the fish, as it stuns all within a tremendous distance of the discharge. Boats are then run out, and with the aid of the natives the unconscious fish are picked up and thrown into them.

The Papuans thoroughly enjoy the sport, and dive and swim after the floating things with great glee, laughing, and the shouting and splashing as they swim through the water with a fish in their mouth and one in each hand, is tremendous. On reaching the boat they throw them in and are away again as quick as lightning after more.

Spearing is another method the natives have, for which purpose they erect platforms in the water. The fisher will stand on this platform with a long spear in his hand attached to which is a long thin cord. Holding the spear in the air, ready to throw, he waits like a statue till his eyes catch sight of a big fish in the clear waters beneath. Then suddenly you see the spear fly from his hand, and the next minute he is yelling {64} with delight and hauling in a struggling fish at the end of his spear.

The young natives are also fond of shooting fish, and go off in parties armed with bows and arrows, seldom returning without a good bag.

One often hears extraordinary tales of fishermen, and perhaps there is none better than the one told by Jerome K. Jerome of the plaster cast that every one claimed to have caught, but even this has to take a back seat when you are first told that a man has seen fish climbing trees. But in spite of the apparent tallness of such a yarn it is nevertheless true. In New Guinea these piscatorical gymnasts can be seen, and Mr. Hardy, when visiting Tupusuli (one of the most unique marine villages in New Guinea, lying a few hours’ sail south of Port Moresby), had the pleasure of seeing these fish at their exercises.


The trip was an interesting one and worth relating. At the invitation of the Rev. Dr. Brown, whose missionary work in these parts is well known, Mr. Hardy accompanied him on a trip down the coast to Tupusuli. Among the doctor’s guests were Dr. Wyllie who was out there on scientific work, Prof. von Yost, a German journalist who at certain times claimed direct relationship to {65} Bismarck, and a few others who also can verify the following, as they too were among the party. It was a jolly expedition, and the yacht, which belonged to Dr. Chalmers the head of the missionaries in New Guinea, was captained by a Raratongan chief who was noted for his enormous strength. The scenery along the coast is wild and broken; here and there little villages backed by palm groves can be seen, and natives running about on the shore add to the beauty of the scene.

Tupusuli lies in a little bay, and is protected from intrusion by coral reefs and mud-banks, but the yacht safely manœuvred these, and then the village came in sight. At low tide it looks extremely weird, as some of the huts are built on very high piles a considerable distance from the shore, right out in the mud. The village proper is also completely surrounded by water at high tide; behind it is a row of splendid palms, and a broad street dividing some huts where the men are generally seen canoe-making. As the tide was out when the yacht anchored, the party had to be taken off in the gig and landed on the nearest mud-bank, from which they waded into the village.

On the way they passed a clump of mangroves, partly surrounded by water, and it was here these {66} quaint little fishes were seen climbing up the bark of the mangoes. In appearance they look like a very small mackerel, though the head is rounder and more nobby, and from the breast two little legs, like those of a caterpillar, protrude. The tail and fins are exactly the same as those of other small fish. They seemed very shy, and on the approach of the strangers they scuttled down the trunk and sprang back into a pool of water at the foot of the tree, and nothing would induce them to show up again. Here at Tupusuli are the ruins of an old Dubu house, which looks as if it had been an exceedingly large one.


After examining the canoes and many of the houses the party made their way back to the gig, and as the tide was now in they had not far to walk. On reaching the yacht, however, it was found that the anchor had got jammed, and as the wind was blowing pretty hard and the tide running in, the captain feared that they would go aground on a very nasty reef unless they got away quickly. All hands were brought to bear on the chain, but to their horror they found that their pulling was of no avail; all the time the yacht was swinging round and getting dangerously near the reef. Suddenly from the shore a dozen canoes were seen coming out {67} full pelt. The natives had guessed what was wrong and were rowing out to help. Soon the water was black with canoes, and the shouts of the natives were almost deafening. At last they were alongside, and one standing in the bow of his boat looked up at our captain. “Me fix him, captain, you get anchor all right,” he shouted, and the next instant he had dived head foremost under the yacht. No sooner was he out of sight than another followed, and so on till the water was in a regular foam with diving and swimming natives, there must have been dozens of them, whilst crowds of others hung round in their canoes anxiously watching for their comrades to come up and report progress. As each woolly pate shot out of the water the watchers called out questions, but without answering they dived again—they had only come up for breath—and neither the party nor the natives were able to find out what was wrong. After nearly ten minutes’ work they all came up, and their disappointed faces told the tale. It was no good, the anchor was completely jammed, and in spite of all their efforts these good fellows could do nothing.

To save the yacht from grounding the chain had to be cut, and shortly after that the yacht rode out {68} of the bay clear of the rocks, amid the cheers of the natives.

Jamming of anchors in these parts is not an uncommon experience, and to avoid losing them many skippers carry a charge of dynamite about with them, which they slide down the anchor chain at the end of a piece of slack rope. If the charge is timed properly and all goes well, the coral, between which the anchor is fixed, is blown to smithereens. Some skippers, however, have had any but pleasant results from this experiment, and have not only lost their anchor but considerably damaged their boats.



South Sea traders good and bad; their ups and downs—Nicolas the Greek—The Mambare river massacre—Some queer creatures with queerer ways—A fitting end to a wasted life.

There is a grim uncertainty about the life of a South Sea trader. To-day he is alive and the centre of a crowd of cringing natives who bow down before him, offering their goods in exchange for others, obeying his every word, for he is their lord and they are his slaves. But to-morrow may alter everything, and find that all that is left of the once boastful trader is a mangled corpse.

He may curse the Papuan, he may cheat him and rob him of his wives up to a certain point, then the worm turns, and one dark night, when the trader is lying unsuspectingly in his lonely hut, murder steals through the jungle in the shape of a naked savage whose eyes gleam with revenge. Yes, there are no half-measures with these savages, {72} no gentle stabbing, no single shot, but absolute mangling in a ghastly form.

Sooner or later death has come to nine-tenths of the traders; sometimes it has been unjust, but more often richly deserved. The remaining one in ten lives free from all trouble and in harmony with his men, and he prospers and enjoys his life.

The majority of the men who trade out there are rough, uncouth beggars, but they have a jovial, devil-may-care way with them, taking both life and death as they come; they rise in the morning, not knowing if they will ever see their beds again in this world, but they don’t mind that. Some of them are as plucky as they are coarse, and as jolly as they are muscular; but it is deplorable to think that they are the men who are civilising and forming the future of the natives, and with such guides it is not surprising that they steal and murder, and that in some parts no trader dare leave his store for a night lest it be sacked by daybreak. A trader’s existence is no life for a peaceful white man; it means, as Louis Beck so aptly puts it, “a pistol in one hand and your life in the other.” Yet there is room for the honest man and plenty of money to be made, for these islands abound in untouched wealth, as the success of Messrs. Burns Philp {73} shows. They have made money, and their advancement shows that with honesty and enterprise there is plenty of room for good men. A few more such firms and the place would soon change and become a prosperous colony, where decent folks could live with some certainty of dying a natural death.


There are tales galore, all filled with a grim humour, of the small traders in these islands; many of them are characters in their way, who have drifted over the whole world and finally settled, or become stranded, on these shores.

Perhaps one of the best known about New Guinea was Nicolas the Greek, whom Mr. Hardy met at Samarai and describes as a man of medium height and burly build, with a dark complexion and a clean-shaven, Yankee-cut face. He dealt chiefly in pearls, and had come on board the Titus (the boat on which Mr. Hardy was) to sell some. That day he wore a pair of canvas trousers, soiled and very much damaged, a soft hat that had at one time been black, and a dirty white jersey, which was tucked up in a roll at his waist. In this roll he kept his valuable pearls, and to get at them he would unroll a little of the jersey, and then having got hold of his pearl box he would work it up his chest and bring it out below his chin. His life {74} was not a rosy one, as he was wanted in all quarters by white and black men, and several attempts had been made to kill him, but he generally managed to get the first shot home, and so lived on. He was quite used to wrecks, for it almost seems that the sea required his life too, but that also went disappointed, for nothing seemed to be able to kill Nicolas. He was a dangerous man to chaff, even when he was well filled with wine, and most men kept clear of him, or when they did have dealings with him they were very civil and never gave him a chance of picking a quarrel.

Old Harry Hutten, who blew his arm off with a charge of dynamite whilst fishing, was a man with a history as long as your arm, but he fell foul of the natives, and was, I believe, found dead one morning. Johnnie Pratt, one of the most decent men out there, married a native bush girl, and by doing so offended the shore natives, who eventually killed him and carried her off, to show how hurt they were at his not choosing a wife from the “Women belong Sea.”


At the time when I did the original sketch from which this picture was made, Johnnie Pratt, a French trader, was in health and prosperity. He had his small house with the copra and boat sheds down on a narrow beach under the shelter of a tropical forest that spread upwards over the hills round a lovely little bay. He was a jolly chap, and when last I saw him was singing among his “boys” at work. He had married a native girl, daughter of a local chief, and at the birth of their child this chief gave him the fore-shore round the bay. He seemed to have had a happy time as times go in these parts, though his life had been attempted more than once on a neighbouring island. I do not remember now when it happened, but not far from his place he was murdered, and so came to the end many traders do in the wild Solomons.

The drawing shows Pratt taking tally of the weight of the sacks of ivory nuts which the “boys” are bringing from the sheds to be put into boats. The native in the foreground is wearing a sunshade.

But Dick Eade is one of the straightest traders there, and will tell you, if ever you meet him, more tales of the ups and downs of a trader’s life in half an hour than you will hear elsewhere in a lifetime. {75} A few years back he decided to take a trip home to the Old Country, as he had made enough money for a good holiday, so he left his partner in charge of his store and sailed away. But directly he reached Melbourne a letter was sent to him to say that his partner had been killed, and that his boat was high and dry on the rocks with a perforated bottom. So instead of going home he had to return and make a fresh start.

There is plenty of excitement in the South Seas, and a glorious uncertainty in the life, and none know it better than the traders and miners. The most surprising thing is that often no cause can be found to account for the natives rising. The Mambare river massacre was one of these strange risings, and when the survivors came to Port Moresby the story they told of that mining venture was grim indeed.

It appears that a party of miners, under the leadership of a man named George Clark, went up the river on a prospecting tour. They succeeded in making friends with all the natives they came across near the mouth of the river, and purchased several canoes from them.

For the first week or so all went well, and in every village they came to they were well received {76} by the natives, who even assisted them to get their canoes over the rapids which abound in the river. In spite of these friendly demonstrations the miners noticed that several canoes were following them and that each one contained armed natives, but as they showed no hostility and kept some distance behind, it was decided to take no notice of them.

They had travelled about forty miles up the river, when they reached a point where it was found necessary for all to disembark in order to get the boat up a particularly difficult rapid. Clark, however, remained in the boat to steer it, whilst the other miners, assisted by the natives, hauled the boat along with a tow-rope; the white men were at the far end of the line whilst the natives were close to the bow of the boat, there being in all about a dozen natives.

Suddenly, when the boat was nearly at the top of the rapid, the tow-line snapped, and after a moment’s confusion one of the miners sprang back and tried to seize the piece still attached to the boat, when to his horror he saw it had been cut. He yelled to his mates, but before they could come half-a-dozen natives had sprung into the boat and were being carried swiftly down the stream. {77}

All thought that they had done this to assist Clark in managing the boat, and no one suspected treachery. Even Clark appears to have been unalarmed, as he continued to guide the boat by means of the steer oar.

From the banks the miners watched the boat drifting until it reached the native canoes behind. Then the truth flashed upon them; in a moment a shower of spears were sent at Clark, and the natives in the boat rushed at him. From the banks the miners fired their revolvers, and two of them sprang into the river and swam to rescue Clark. In the meantime he fought like a Trojan, but several spears had struck him, and suddenly the miners saw him leap into the river, but directly he came to the surface one native struck him full on the head with a paddle, and just as he was sinking another drove a spear into him.

The whole ghastly episode happened before the swimmers could reach Clark, for the tide was strong and the men were carried helplessly along. As soon as Clark was disposed of, the natives threw all the firearms out of the boat; the provisions were taken to the other canoes and the boat abandoned, whilst the perpetrators of the crime beat a hasty retreat, but not before they had been {78} well peppered by the miners, who by now had all come to the scene of the tragedy.

Clark’s body was never found, and the miners, having lost all their provisions, tools, and practically all their arms, decided to return to the mouth of the river. On the way down they were greeted with spears and jeers, and had to clear their way every now and then with a shower of bullets from their revolvers, and yet when they had come by these same villages on their way up the river they had met with nothing but friendliness.

To this day the reason of the attack is not known, in spite of the fact that the Queensland Government sent an expedition to inquire into the matter, and to capture the natives responsible for Clark’s death.

Besides the grim stories of the Pacific there are plenty of amusing ones, and sometimes funny anecdotes are told of weird traders who have taken up their quarters along the coast. No one can go round far without meeting one, if not more, of these oddities.

Aoba, in the New Hebrides, however, stands unique in possessing the most original, if unorthodox, trader who has visited these islands for many a long year. Maybe the old chap is dead and {79} buried now, for I am writing of 1894 when “Tartan Jock” lived on Aoba. He was a wild Highlander with chest and shoulders like an ox. His face was as rugged as the mountains of his native country, and his accent was one you could cut with a knife. From his youth upwards he had led a life of adventure, and had come at last to the most God-forsaken island in the world to finish his days in peace and quietness, and to this end he had chosen the most dangerous and cut-throat part of the New Hebrides. Yet he seemed to have no particular desire that his death should be a sudden one. A year or so before going to Aoba he had paid a visit to his birthplace to see the old folks, but his stay there had been a short one, and the only result of it was that the brogue had gotten into his nostrils again, and judging by the sound of it would remain there till the sharp spear of one of his black neighbours let it out.

As tough a customer as ever trod these islands was Jock, but, strange to say, the natives rather liked him, as was proved by the fact that his tenancy of the tumble-down trader’s house on the beach had been longer than that of any of his predecessors.

Aoba has a reputation for being a trader’s burial {80} ground, but, as far as I know, Jock is still above ground; he was a man, too, who seemed to love it. If ever you managed to come across him unawares he was stretched out at full length on the bright warm sand, with his arms at right angles to his body, and his great legs spread out like young logs. Jock could sleep all day like this, when there was nothing else to do and no trading boats about where he could get a “wee drappie”—Jock’s wee drops were bottles. But when the wine was in, his wits were out, and then it was a case of “look out for yourself,” for at these times Jock was dangerous, but basking on the beach he was a picture, and a quaint one too, for he had an absolute horror of civilisation and clothes, and a tartan shawl and a Tam o’ Shanter hat, with more than one hole in it, constituted his complete attire.

Stretched out at full length he could often be seen on the beach, with his shawl wrapped round his shoulders and chest, a great pair of bare, brown, hoary legs sticking out, and his woollen hat pulled right over his face with the nob of it where his nose ought to have been. Like this he was a sight that would have scared the life out of his “puir mither.” But such was Jock, and when sober a more amusing man would be hard to find.


Nothing was to me more refreshing after or during a hot day in these islands than a long draught of milk from the green nut. On arrival at a trader’s or settler’s station, if you did not care for a “tot” of rum or “square face,” young cocoa-nuts were brought. If there were none about, a boy was sent up the nearest palm to fetch some down; when he brought them, one end was cut off with a large knife, and then you could drink long and deep. A large nut will hold more than one man can take at once. If you felt inclined you could eat the soft inside with a spoon.

In the South Seas no one thinks of eating the nut when the hard shell has come, it is then “Kaikai, belong pig,” and also made into copra.


His hut lay a hundred yards back from the sea, hidden away in the densest part of a clump of bush, and not a white man slept within miles of him, yet Jock was happier there than he had been for years, and when the boat called he always had plenty of copra and as good a show of ivory nuts as any of the traders.

Fifty miles from here there was one day a curious scene enacted: James Clark, a new trader, whom Messrs. Burns Philp were starting, had refused to go ashore at the island for which he was destined, owing to some ghastly reports he had heard whilst the steamer was lying outside it. The supercargo, a splendid fellow, was puzzled to know what to do, but at last suggested that he should try Aoba, where a trader was waiting to give up his store. Clark jumped at the idea, though he was warned it was, if anything, worse than the place at which he had refused to stop: he was sure, he said, no place could be.

A more depressed man than Clark during the remaining week of his voyage could not have been met, for bad accounts of murdered and boycotted traders were in the air just then. However, Aoba was reached at last, and after having supplied “Tartan Jock” with his goods and relieved him of {82} his copra, the steamer sailed on to Clark’s landing-place.

Here a most awful picture presented itself to the unhappy man.

The retiring trader rushed to the shore as he sighted the boat and waved frantically. He was an old worn-out man in a filthy pair of pyjama trousers and a coat torn and ragged. He looked as if he had neither washed nor slept for weeks, and he afterwards told the crew he hadn’t had a decent feed for a month. His account of the place was horrible in the extreme.

For some unknown reason the natives there had strong objections to traders in their territory: the one before him had been killed, and this man, I do not know his name, had been warned several times that, unless he went, he too would share the fate of the last. The natives had point blank refused to bring him copra, and to add to his discomforts had stolen nearly all his food. Day and night he had had to watch lest they killed him. His copra shed had been burnt down, and all his clothes, except those he stood in, had been seized and distributed.

This was the place on which poor Clark was landed, and his misery was too awful for words; {83} but there was no other station vacant, and so the only thing he could do was to stay.

Accompanied by the supercargo and a few of the crew he was taken to his hut, which lay a little way from the beach. It was almost in ruins, and contained nothing but a bed, a few empty boxes, and some soiled pages of illustrated magazines. After looking inside, he turned to one of the crew, who had shown sympathy for him, and said in the most plaintive tone:—

“This is a fitting end to a wasted life.”

Fifteen minutes later the steamer left the bay, and the last those on board saw of Clark was as he stood by his boxes on the shore waving a farewell to them.

Bad as the natives were to him they did not butcher him, and some months after a vacancy was found at Tanna Island which Clark took. His stay there was very short, for within a month a bullet sent him to a better land.

Such were the lives of the majority of the traders a few years ago, but things are better now, though there is still room for improvement, and still plenty of opportunities for good men.


Natives who have had no chance; their villages without streets, and their curious huts—The tambu and canoe houses—An unlucky trader.

Wild and ferocious as the natives of the Solomon group are they possess some fine characteristics. Many of them far surpass the rough European, in those parts, in generosity and disposition.

The more you travel, the more you find that both men and beasts treat you in much the same way as you would treat them under similar conditions. There is undoubtedly a silent telegraphy which tells a savage or a wild beast, more plainly than it would a civilised human being, the attitude you are holding towards him, and he instinctively holds that same attitude towards you.


The Solomon islanders have a name for being the most treacherous and bloodthirsty race in existence, but when one remembers the way they were treated by the first invaders of these islands, {85} the Spaniards and French, and afterwards by the whalers and the roughest traders that ever stepped aboard a schooner, it is really a wonder that they permit a white-faced man to pass within coo-ee of their islands.

From the earliest days they have learned to fear the white men, and, acknowledging their superior powers and weapons, they naturally resorted to treachery and cunning to outwit them. If they had known the white man only as a benefactor, their attitude towards him and their state of civilisation would have been very different from what it is now. The possibility is that they would have developed into as fine and intelligent a race as the Maoris.

Had the Maori war been at the beginning of the white man’s career in New Zealand, that country would not be the paradise it is to-day, nor would the coloured natives be the men of knowledge and wisdom some of them are. They would have been given such a bad start that they would not have got over it.

From the very beginning the Maoris were treated with respect, and their naturally fine disposition answered to the call, and thousands of them so trusted the Englishman that had the war {86} gone on for another thirty years their faith in him would not have been shaken.

The Solomon islanders have had no chance, they have been feared from the beginning and shot down on the slightest provocation. It is only now that they are beginning to discriminate between the bad and the good white man, and I am perfectly safe in saying that a straight man can go amongst them unarmed, and if he treats them well he will be as safe with them in the densest bush as he would be in crowded Piccadilly.

The native villages are very different from those in New Guinea. Very few of them are built on piles, but in some of the small interior villages pile dwellings can still be seen. They are, however, only some two to four feet off the ground, like many others found in the countries of all savage races. Streets, too, are not discovered as often in the Solomons as elsewhere, the houses being built with no particular design. A clump of bush will be dotted with houses, with only small paths leading from one to the other. The houses are of the typical hut shape, built of wood and thatched. A ridge pole resting on two uprights supports the roof which is triangular in shape, and the sides are formed in a similar fashion. Before thatching, both the roof {87} and sides are formed by poles lashed together on which the thatch is worked. The door, if it can be so called, is merely an aperture which opens from a raised platform, and to get into the hut it is necessary to step—one generally falls—down into the room.


There are no windows, and the door is the only place for letting in the light and letting out the smoke of the fire, which is generally burning in the centre of the hut on the floor. Most dwellings are divided into two parts; one is used for sleeping purposes, whilst the other is occupied in the day time. The Solomon islander is luxurious and likes a bed to lie on, which is made very much like an ordinary miner’s bed: two logs form the top and bottom on which rest a dozen or more long poles lashed together. The whole is covered with mats. A pillow made of a small round log is used by the particularly luxurious.

Beyond the actual necessities, such as these beds and a few cooking-pots, and weapons of war and field, there is nothing else in the huts, and the interiors are gloomy and depressing.

The platform outside is used by the owners to sit and lounge on. The roof of the house projects over the platform and protects those sitting on it from the sun and rain. {88}

Each house belongs to its individual owner, and not, as in many other places, to the village. There are strict laws governing property, and on the death of the owner it is handed down to his or her nearest relation. The same law applies to yam patches and land plots. Each man holds certain rights which are protected by the people, and though the laws are unwritten, they are closely adhered to—superstition playing a great and important part in preventing any violation of them.

The chief of the village generally inhabits a much larger house than his subjects, and in many cases he has other houses round him for the accommodation of his wives, relatives, and descendants.

Palavanua is the name by which the smaller houses are called, and Euro is the name given to the larger ones. Though the Euros are of similar construction, they are far more elaborately built and are generally used as a shelter for war canoes or for the spare habitation of a chief. Nearly all villages have an Euro in their centre, and they are sometimes used on state occasions for meetings and ceremonies. The chief’s private house is taboo, or sacred, and no one but he may enter it; an awful calamity would befall an intruder. {89}

Some chiefs have a separate compartment in their own home where their wives sleep, whilst others prefer to have them a little distance off.

Each house has one particular pole in front of it, holding the ridge pole which is “Hope,” or sacred. It is grotesquely carved with figures in threatening attitudes; and all manner of rubbish is laid at the foot of this household god, piled up loosely, and looking very much like an ordinary rubbish heap. Old axe-heads, tins, shells, worn-out hats, canes, old cooking-bowls, and pipes, are amongst the most popular articles given to this god.

There seem to be no particular laws regarding sleep, the married women only are partitioned off, whilst every one else is at liberty to sleep where he or she feels most inclined.

The canoe houses are very well built. Ingova’s at Rubiana was a particularly good one, having two large doors with slits above them running nearly to the roof to admit the long and high prows of his canoes. The sides of the house were partitioned off into shelves where his favoured guests were allowed, and expected, to sleep. On three sides it is surrounded by dense scrub, or was a few years ago, and the front looked out on to the lagoon. This place, Rubiana, is one of the most difficult {90} places in the world to enter, and it was probably chosen by the wily old chief for that very reason. One entrance from the sea, termed the “back passage,” is simply a maze of small islands, and it requires a man not only of extraordinary courage but of consummate skill to navigate a boat through them without damaging it. Having safely manipulated the passage all is well, and the wide expanse of clear calm water which fronts Rubiana well repays the anxiety spent in reaching it.

There is little wonder that in this stronghold Ingova was able to defy his enemies, and with his army of head-hunters carry terror into the villages of his neighbours, but of these exploits anon.

Tambu houses are also built and used as meeting-houses, and being freed from “taboo,” in the sense that any one may enter them, they are used by the young men of the village as a kind of rendezvous, and crowds of natives can always be seen lounging about in them or sitting in rows gossiping. They are also used for general meetings, councils, and certain ceremonies. It is customary, and etiquette, to go direct to the tambu house on arriving at a village, and there, before the crowd, state your business. In this way you are sure to win the good opinion of the natives. There are always {91} plenty of them waiting to hear anything of interest.


Fifteen years or more ago, old Ingova, the notorious head-hunting chief of Rubiana lagoon, was about at the height of his power, and his raids of slaughter to neighbouring islands were of dreadful frequency. It was to this canoe house that he returned after a successful expedition in his great TOMAKO (war canoes) laden with ghastly trophies, but ever since Rear-Admiral Davis, then of H.M.S. Royalist, sacked this place in 1891, all has been comparatively quiet, though I did hear, while I was there, that Ingova had led a head-hunting raid or two.

The old shed, for it looks very like one, stands near the margin of the lagoon, not far from the fringe of the thick bush and forest. All is fast falling into decay, and the whole place has a haunted feeling about it. Inside was an old war canoe and the remains of former splendour. Till you came to look carefully at the structure its size did not strike you, but I found it was about 72 feet long by 30 broad, and quite 30 odd feet to the top pitch of the roof; the high slots above the two doors were made to let out the tall fore-peaks of the canoes.

The erection of a tambu house is generally an excuse for a big festival, and at one time required a human head to be sacrificed and eaten, and was thus the cause of many a head-hunting expedition.

Bones of human beings can still be seen hanging in these houses. The body of the victim was always eaten at the feast, and, besides it, pigs, fish, and other animals were devoured in large quantities. Gorging is anything but a crime in the Solomon Islands; in fact, it is not an uncommon sight to see a native so puffed up with over-eating that his friends have to lay him out on the ground and then gently knead his back—this operation they find helps to digest the food, though personally I would not like to recommend it to a dyspeptic.

At Santa Catalina there is a very fine specimen of a tambu house, over sixty feet in length. All the principal posts are carefully carved with weird representations of fishing expeditions, fights, war canoes, head-hunting expeditions, and other pictures of the daily life and occupations of the Solomon islander. The ridge pole, which is bigger than the usual run of these poles, is carved all over with {92} pictures which no modern journal would care to reproduce. The roofs of most tambu houses are more or less alike in general construction. They are supported on four or five rows of posts, the central one being about fourteen or fifteen feet high, whilst the outside ones do not run to more than three or four feet high, owing to the slant of the roofs.

Throughout the group there is not one village standing out above all others, and there is no capital town, but on every island there are villages, and the chief in each considers his the capital.

The two largest islands of the Solomon group are Bougainville and Guadalcana; Bougainville, the larger of these two, belongs to Germany.

Guadalcana, from the sea, is an uncanny looking place—a great dark mountain gradually rising to a height of 8000 feet, covered with dense, dark foliage and culminating in a volcano. The Lion’s Head near by is a ragged cluster of grey rocks. Here and there patches of sage green relieve the monotony of colour and show where clumps of palms are growing. A thin line of bright yellow sand, and the white foam of the sea as it breaks over the reefs, add colour to the island and make of it a strange picture.


One of the most impressive sights to be seen on some of these islands was the real tropical forest. This picture shows just the commencement of one, through which a native track wound its way. Though it was a brilliantly fine day, yet I remember when we were fairly into the forest depths it was just like twilight; while here and there long streaks of sunlight were streaming through the tree-tops, reminding us of the lights coming through the windows of a cathedral. We all went Indian file, and in many places the bush was so thick that we lost sight of each other; now and then we came upon a small native village.

On the east side of Guadalcana is a little trading {93} station, where not long ago “French Jack” resided, until at an untimely moment the blacks swooped down on him, carried away his wife and cut him to pieces; the crew of the little trading-boat, when it called for his copra, found his remains and buried them. But this is an old story, one of the many that come from these islands. A call from the Governor and the arrest of a few of the culprits is the way in which these stories end, and the captives eke out the rest of their existence in durance vile at Fiji, or if proved guilty pay the proper penalty.

For his place of residence poor “French Jack” had chosen one of the brightest spots on the island and built his hut in the most approved style, with an uninterrupted view of the sea. Close by his hut was a long shed where his servants, or “boys” as they are called, slept after their work of drying the copra, husking ivory, and attending to the other light duties of a trader’s establishment. At the back of his house was his yam patch and banana grove; behind that the wild thick scrub and the bush.

A lonely spot for any one to live, but such are many of the settling places of a trader, and to those who live in the bush there is no feeling of loneliness: in the crowded streets of a big city these same men might be overpowered by their solitude.


Solomon Islands—Ingova’s head-hunters—How whole tribes were wiped out—Savage invasions and clever tactics.

The Solomon Islands, not being of such importance as New Guinea, have had much less attention paid to them.

No doubt the extreme danger which has always attached to a visit to these islands has made the white man give them as wide a berth as possible, only going there when compelled to either for trading or scientific purposes. It is here that cannibalism flourishes, and the head-hunters go forth on expeditions in all their savage grandeur to strike down the unsuspecting neighbour.

If there is uncertainty about life in New Guinea, there is precious little in the Solomon Islands, for the chances are ten to one against one’s living to tell the tale, unless he keep strictly to the trading parts of the islands.


This man was said to have “kaikaied-man plenty” (to have eaten plenty of men). He told me in island English that I was no good to eat. His teeth were stained red by chewing the betel-nut.

Travellers, scientists, and traders still visit the {95} interior, and some come out all right, but to every one that survives a dozen succumb, simply because cannibalism is to a certain extent a religious ceremony to these natives.

They do not kill and eat human beings for the sake of their taste, or because they are hungry, as some writers will insist on having us believe. The cause is farther back than this; in nearly every case when human beings are killed and eaten, it is on occasions when such a sacrifice is necessary, according to the natives’ religious beliefs.

Like the prophets and priests of old they believe in sacrifices; they honestly consider that they are doing the correct thing when they kill, cook, and eat a man or woman, and it will take many years and many missionaries to persuade them to the contrary. Of late, however, there are indications that in some of the islands head-hunting is losing favour, particularly with the younger generation, which sounds satisfactory, for if the rising generation decide against the practice it will soon die out. Other causes sometimes arise which may help to stop the custom. For instance, in one part of New Georgia the chief, some years ago, gave orders that no more human flesh was to be eaten, which to many might look as if his cannibalistic views were {96} changing, but the cause of it was not a moral, but a physical one: the last feast of man they had indulged in caused an epidemic of sickness to run through the tribe, and the chief did not wish such a thing to occur again. He felt that either the digestion of his tribe had altered, or that the particular tribe on which he had been feasting was no longer palatable, so he stopped it. Again, in other parts certain chiefs boast that they do not eat human flesh, and hope is again raised that these savages are reforming, but a little closer inquiry shows that the particular chief deals in human flesh, trading it to other natives, and, like the man who makes the sausage, he does not eat it.

Throughout these islands there are very few tribes who are still actually cannibals, in the sense of the word as it is generally accepted, but in spite of this grain of promise life is just as uncertain, because one can never tell when a head is needed for a religious ceremony. You may live on the most friendly terms with a tribe for months, and go away with the idea that cannibalism is dead, and laugh at those who have tried to make you believe otherwise, but had you remained one day longer, or the chief’s son died one day sooner, that laugh would never have come off, but instead your head would {97} have, and your comely carcase would have been frizzling in the kai-kai dish; and the very men who had made so much of you a little before, would with equal glee have made less of you then.


The skull houses are small erections supported, in this case, on pedestals; the length is about three feet, with an overhanging roof. The box is open at the back as well as in the front, and charms of Tredacua shell and leaves are suspended in front. The houses in the background are made of canes and grass; that in the foreground is of wood. The native is carrying a shield.

When standing before a chief, who is smiling at you and treating you to all the courtesies his nature can conjure up, and knowing that with him you have trusted yourself for many an hour’s smoke or solitary ramble in the bush, it is difficult to realise that the same chief a week before was on the warpath, concocting the most devilish schemes, and carrying out the most fiendish atrocities on men, women, and children in his pursuit of heads. But such is the case, and one can only account for the inconsistency of it by putting these acts down to a religious mania, and thus giving these otherwise amiable and interesting creatures a certain excuse for actions which to us would seem inexcusable.

Tribe after tribe has been completely wiped out by certain powerful chiefs through a continued series of head-hunting expeditions. The methods adopted by the aggressive party are simple and generally most effective. The Rubiana natives are perhaps the most bloodthirsty of all the Solomon group, and, being both rich and powerful, they can descend on a village and overpower it by sheer {98} force of numbers, even without the use of modern weapons, which are now owned by nearly all the important tribes. The most notorious head-hunter in later years was Ingova of Rubiana lagoon, New Georgia, to whom I have already alluded. He is old and wizened now, and his hand trembles as he lifts the glass of grog he begs from you, after telling a yarn of the good old days. Yes, Ingova’s strength and valour are gone now, and could the departed spirits of the hundreds he has killed in days gone by see him as he is to-day—his feeble limbs, his shaking hand, his bloodshot eyes, and seared face—they would indeed wonder what it was they feared in him. Where is the great spirit that once possessed him? they would ask. They would scorn him now, and the women would laugh at him—poor, feeble, tottering Ingova.

Years ago Ingova’s Euro was hung with skulls, hundreds of them were strung in the cross-beams, with staring, vacant eyeholes, which looked out of nothing and yet seemed to see everything. Their drooping lower jaws, showing sets of white teeth which glistened in the rays of the moon, made Ingova’s heart throb with pride as he stood and tried to count them. White naked skulls of brave men all hung in rows—they had all belonged to {99} men, for a woman’s head is not worthy of such an honour.


One day, soon after one of Ingova’s rash ventures amongst white men, Commander, now Rear-Admiral, Davis played havoc with his village, burning and sacking it. It was no ordinary attack but a clean sweep he made of Rubiana, and then the shore was littered with Ingova’s skulls: skulls that he and his fathers had collected for generations were scattered in all directions, and lay bleaching on the beach, some half burnt and others cracked and broken.

That was an awful day for Ingova, and for months after he was a broken-hearted man. But the savage spirit was still in him, and he was not long in recovering from the shock, and to rectify his loss he set out on a big head-hunting expedition.

His mode of attack was an ingenious one. He would start out with every war canoe he possessed (some twenty or thirty, manned with a force of five or six hundred men—swarthy, hard, muscular, dark-skinned men), and a British built whaling-boat. Having previously decided on the island he meant to surprise, he would send out two flanking parties and probably land a small force lower down the {100} coast. Then, accompanied by the whaling-boat, he would make straight for the front of the village like an innocent trader, and having enticed the natives to the shore he would commence his slaughter. The two arms of his force would close in and kill all those who failed to get away, the others he would drive back to the centre of the island where the land force would be waiting to drive them to the shore again, killing men all the time. Thus hustled and attacked on both sides they were trebly trapped, and would fall like sheep before the shots and tomahawks of Ingova’s five hundred.

But with all his efforts Ingova never regained the long rows of heads of which he used to be so proud, and now he is too old to go out and look for more, but not too old to forget Captain Davis’s little visit to Rubiana.

He wears no necklace round his neck now, for Admiral Davis has it, it having been given him by Ingova many years after that little visit as a kind of peace offering—they are quite friendly now.

Mai was another chief whose reputation for head-hunting and absolute brutality was a household word in the South Pacific. He was chief of Sapuna in Santa Anna, and periodically raided {101} the adjoining islands, killing and butchering every one who crossed his path.


The idea of this carved wooden head on the prow is to frighten off the evil spirits, or kesoko, of the waters and look out for dangerous reefs.

Dr. H. B. Guppy, in giving an account of his acquaintance with him, says, that on his (Dr. Guppy’s) arrival at Santa Anna he learned that Mai had just been out on one of his raids. He had led a war party across to Fanarita, on the opposite coast of St. Christoval, to avenge the death of a fugitive from a labour vessel, who, having escaped at Santa Anna, subsequently found his way to Fanarita, where he was killed.

The excuse, although somewhat circuitous, was quite sufficient for Mai, who really thought more of this chance of gaining new laurels than of the untimely end of a native whose death he pretended to be so eager to avenge. Having reached the part of the coast where this man was killed, the war party lay in ambush and slaughtered a chief and two women as they were returning from their yam patches, whilst they severely wounded another woman who escaped into the bush with a spear through her back.

Mai had a knack of keeping his followers up to the mark by working on their superstitions and never letting old feuds die out.

The islands of Isabel and Guadalcanar were the {102} hunting grounds for the New Georgia chiefs, whilst occasional visits to Florida Island helped them along. From ninety to a hundred heads were often brought in by some of these chiefs, the result of a long and successful raid, and many travellers who visited these islands between forty and fifty years ago state frankly that the lives of the natives in the less powerful islands were not worth a day. They never knew when a canoe might land with a force superior to theirs and wipe them all out; the wonder is that there are so many still alive. It is only owing to the falling off of these ghastly expeditions that they have had time to recover and repopulate their villages.

With such massacres going on and the practice of infanticide always in vogue, the present state of the natives is almost marvellous, and only shows the hardiness and regenerating powers of these islanders.

Nowadays head-hunting, as I have already stated, is only resorted to on certain occasions, and when a head is needed a sum of money will often be offered for one, and the chiefs of different villages are acquainted with the fact. A hunt round is immediately made, and any native who has made himself objectionable to his neighbours is sold for the purpose.


Neither the time of his death nor the fact that he is to die is told him, so that he is relieved from all worry. He is watched most carefully, and a certain hunter is told off to procure his head. It may not be for weeks after the sentence has been passed that it is carried out, but when once the decree has gone forth the man is as good as dead. The hunter may have been ingratiating himself in his victim’s good books, and thus waiting his opportunity for months; then one day, when the unsuspecting victim is quite off his guard, the flash of a spear or the dull thud of a tomahawk is all that he knows. The next day his head is carried to the chief and the shell money paid over for it. Then the feast or ceremony for which this ghastly object is required takes place amid much rejoicing. White men have often fallen victims to this custom, and many a trader has only received warning from a friendly native just in time to escape the same fate. Money has often been paid down for the head of a white man, and if he has not heard of it in time to escape, his death has followed.

The missionaries, however, have seldom suffered; they are tolerated, and seem to go on in a quiet and peaceful way, quite secure where every other white man’s life is in his hand.


Clothes and the men—Love of adornment—Natives who are not keen on eating—Methods of cooking their food—Betel-nut chewing.

The native dress of the Solomon islanders is even more scanty than that of their neighbours the New Guinea natives. Usually the sole clothing of the men consists of a “T”-shaped garment encircling their waists and passing between their legs. Unmarried women and children fail to see any necessity for clothing at all, except those in places where the missionaries have brought their influence to bear; then a loin cloth is worn similar to that used by the natives of Fiji, Samoa, and Honolulu, to cover their nakedness.

Though the Solomon islanders do not clothe their bodies with cloth, they endeavour to cover as much flesh as they can with ornaments and flowers, and a keen competition is kept up in the discovery {105} of new ornamental shells, and in trade articles with which to adorn themselves.


The men are always attempting to rival each other in this respect, and go through endless torture as a result. They wear tight armlets, heavy ear-rings, anklets, and nose-rings, the weight and discomfort of which would be more than most white men could stand.

Shell necklaces are among the most handsome of native ornaments, and they are made from various kinds of shells, cut and ground down, and in some cases beautifully polished. The Tredacua shells are most popular, and portions of them are converted into most artistic ornaments. Armlets are made of these shells, but it is a most tedious job and takes the maker ages to accomplish, as the circle is generally cut out with a rough piece of iron and then finished off by a course of rubbing with sand. Both men and women wear armlets, and, as most of them are placed on their arms when they are quite young, they become extremely tight as the wearer grows up, and look as if they would destroy the use of the limb. For some unexplained reason, these bracelets seem to have little or no effect on the circulation of the blood, which compels one to notice that custom is responsible for many quaint problems. {106}

The most extraordinary ornaments, however, are the grotesque ear-rings worn by the men. When quite young, a small hole is pierced in the lobe of the ear, generally with a stone, and the opening thus made is filled with a piece of banana leaf wound up and twisted so that it acts as a spring, continually enlarging the hole until it is big enough to be filled by a piece of wood, or circular looking-glass, or any other quaint thing the possessor of the hole can get to put in it.

Some of these holes are considerably bigger than the man’s ear. Lieutenant Boyle T. Somerville, who made a point of studying these particular natives, says that he measured one native’s lobe hole and found it was four inches in diameter, and Dr. Guppy states that he has seen natives carrying their pipes and matches in these gaps, and on one occasion he saw Taki, the Wano chief, with a heavy bunch of native shell money hanging from each ear. Taki said it was a sign of mourning for a recently deceased wife—it certainly needed some explanation.

Nose-rings and other nose ornaments form another disfigurement for which these natives have a weakness. Lately the women have taken to making very pretty ornaments of trade beads, which they {107} work into curious designs and arrange with peculiar mixtures of colour; some are also ornamented with wild flowers, and present an almost artistic appearance.


This portrait shows a native wearing large ear-rings; the lobe of the ear passes round the wooden ring. In travelling through dense forest they take the wooden rings out and tie the long ear-lobes under the chin. The gorget of pearl shell with a fretted-out MBELEMA (frigate-birds) suspended round the neck is supposed to invite the protection of the spirit called “PONDA.” The man’s hair is turned yellow by the use of lime. The armlets are of shell and hair or grass; the design on the ear-rings may be a frigate-bird motive; it is made of pearl shell let into the wood.

In Rubiana strange native methods of hair doing can be seen. Some men’s is cut in the most fantastic way and ornamented with bright plumes and flowers, and occasionally one possessing an extra fine crop of bushy hair will have it propped up with a piece of old hoop iron, and then if he can get hold of a comb, as he often can, he sticks it through the hair and the effect is weird.

Some also bleach their hair and make it the colour of straw, though this is not met with as often as in Samoa, where I have seldom seen a native without bleached hair, or without hair that shows signs of having been bleached at one time.

The same custom of shaving the head when in mourning is in vogue here as in New Guinea. Tattooing, however, is not nearly so popular, and very few natives in New Georgia show any signs of it. In place of it they paint their faces with lime, and look rather like clowns.

Raised cicatrices are very popular, and some quaint designs are worked on their bodies. Lots of natives have a porpoise and a frigate bird carved in {108} this fashion on their bodies. Most of the designs are extremely crude, owing, no doubt, to the custom of the boys who cut them on each other with rough shells.

Regarding their food and their ways of cooking it, and even the hours of having it, the natives are very happy-go-lucky, and there seems to be a free and easy sort of dropping in on each other when the smell of cooking is in the air, and of partaking of anything that is going. Mr. Hardy himself witnessed a peculiar incident of this kind at Simbo. A native had been out collecting eggs laid by some bird which hides them in the sand, and on returning the native went into an old chief’s house near the shore, where a small fire was burning on the floor just inside the door, and began stirring the inside of the eggs up in a piece of cocoa-nut shell. This he placed on the fire and continued stirring for a few minutes. Then apparently getting tired of the operation he got up and sauntered off. His place was immediately taken by another native, who also stirred for a while and then ate some of the mixture. Whether the eggs were not to his taste, or the mixture was too hot is not known, but he made a terrible face, put the shell back on the fire, and walked out of the hut.


Two other natives tried their hand at the concoction and left it as he had, and presently the original owner came back and finished the remnants. During the whole of this scene the old chief sat unconcerned, and amused himself playing with a club for which Hardy gave him a piece of tobacco. The chief’s heart having thus been won, he pulled down a magnificently carved club from the eaves of the house. It was carefully wrapped up in palm leaves, and the old man handled it with the greatest reverence and care, but beyond the fact that it was a ceremonial club he was unable to explain anything about it or for what special ceremony it was used, as his English was not over strong.

No amount of tobacco, however, would tempt him to part with it—the very idea of selling it seemed to hurt him.

After hiding it away he next produced an old musical box and requested Hardy and Dr. Willey to “make him sing.” The instrument was sadly out of order, but after a little manipulation they were able to get it to grind out fragments of Faust, with long stops between every few bars. This, however, did not bother the old man in the least, the delight on his face was grand, and he was so pleased that, after hearing the noise for about {110} ten minutes, he took the musicians all over the little village.

It was a curious place, huts were dotted here and there in an artistic disorder among the palms and banana trees. The chief led the way, and behind him, following like a well-trained dog, was his slave, a man belonging to some other tribe, and quite different in appearance and physique from the natives in Simbo. It is customary to keep slaves for various reasons besides that of service—if a human head is needed in a hurry, the slave’s is handy. Crowds of little children and pigs were running in and out amongst the scrub, and both seemed to take a great interest in the white visitors.

After endeavouring to explain many interesting things, the chief took his guests to his private house, which was a well-built roomy place, after the style of an ordinary farm-barn, with low walls and a deep slanting roof. The inside was perfectly destitute of furniture, and the only place on which to sit was the floor, or a low shelf, which the old man probably used for a bed when he wanted one. Close to the house, and sheltered from the burning sun, was a very fine kai-kai dish, which the chief showed them with much pride.


It was on a small platform raised some four feet {111} from the ground, and underneath it there were signs of a recent fire. In size the trough was considerably larger than an ordinary coffin and somewhat like one in shape, though at each end there was a piece of carved wood. This one, the chief explained, was not used for cooking human beings, but for mixing and cooking food on feast days.

When explaining this fact, Mr. Hardy says, though I can only take his word for it, as I was not there, that the chief looked at him with a hungry eye and murmured to Dr. Willey, “He go in nicee, make good kai-kai.”

But to return to native diet: sago, taro, sweet potato, sugar-cane, bananas, and a very poor kind of bread fruit, constitute their chief vegetable food; fish and occasionally a pig are their only other eatables. The cooking of these articles is generally done in rough bowls or in a European iron pot. When anything special is going to be eaten it is broiled in an earth oven. Betel-nut chewing, however, seems almost to satisfy these natives, for their meals are most erratic, and they often only take a small piece of fish with them when they are going out for a whole day’s tramp or work.

The method of chewing betel-nut is rather interesting. The nut is about the size of a walnut. {112} This they place in their mouth with a green leaf and chew it. When it is well under way they dip a small stick into their lime gourds and add a modicum of lime or ground coral to it. The effect of this mixture is, so some say, equal to a glass of good grog, but, though it acts as a strong stimulant, the natives do not seem to suffer any ill effects from it. Chewing is in no way restricted to the males, both women and young girls favour the practice, and relish the betel-nut as a great dainty.


Some clever ways of catching fish—How the bonito is landed—Native nets—Pig-hunting—The sly opossum and the crocodile.

Lazy as the Solomon islanders are they are excellent sportsmen, and be it man-hunting, pig-hunting, or fishing, it is all the same, they go in for it with a fine relish. Cunning and dexterity play an important part in their methods, and make up for their want of up-to-date appliances.

At fishing they surpass most native races, their ingenuity in this sport being remarkable. Where the white man will fail with all his latest improvements in fishing tackle, these uncultivated men will succeed with quickly improvised and crude materials.

For bonito-fishing they have a remarkable device, and entice these large fish from the deep sea and catch them as easily as an English boy will secure a stickleback. It is one of the most {114} exciting of their sports to watch. A man stands on a rock, for preference, and throws out a line some thirty or forty feet in length, attached to the end of which is a floating bait of some fatty matter; below him and bending double into the water is another native, who works a little piece of bamboo cut off at the joints and having a hollowed-out groove in it. With his thumb in the end of the hollow and his hand gripping the stick he works this backwards and forwards in the water, giving it a peculiar twist, which makes it send forth a weird and uncanny noise. This sound, so they say, is in imitation of the cry of female or male, I forget which, bonito, and so attracts to it a mate.

Whilst one man is steadily working in this manner, the other on the rock is watching every movement of the native with an alertness and excitement which is shown by his tense attitude. Long before the untrained eye has noticed anything peculiar, this fisher has gradually begun to draw in his bait, and soon the great head of the bonito is seen rising out of the water in an endeavour to catch the bait. But the fisher, who by now is in a perfect steam of excitement, adroitly snatches the bait away only just quickly enough to save it. The bonito dives, and the next instant he is up again {115} and after the tempting morsel at full swing. From that moment a most exciting chase begins, and the extraordinary way in which the native gradually entices the great fish to within a few yards of the shore without frightening it, or allowing it to seize the bait, is as fine a performance as one could wish to see.


All this time the other man is working away at his bonito call. Then suddenly the water is lashed into foam, and the man on the rock is straining every muscle. The fish is hooked, and three or four adroit tugs at the line bring him in to the foot of the rock, where he is pounced on by the two men, speared, and landed. Even then the game is not ended, for a bonito dies hard, and a struggle of no mean order is sometimes gone through before the natives have conquered.

To see two black figures struggling with a fish nearly as big as themselves is an extraordinary sight, and is perhaps the most exciting part of the sport. More than one native has been injured in the last act, but that only adds to their keenness to conquer, for they have unlimited courage, as every one who has lived amongst them knows—except, I may add, when superstition plays a part, then they are the most abject cowards. {116}

Kite-fishing, though less exciting, is another popular form of fishing and is conducted in the following manner. A large kite is sailed behind a canoe, and attached to the tail of the kite is a line with a bait which just touches the water. The gentle bobbing of the kite makes the bait jump on the surface, in the same way that an ordinary angler makes his fly play on the water. This is supposed to suggest the presence of a small fish, and the kite is there to represent a bird hovering over it. In this way large fish are attracted and caught.

Ordinary line and hook fishing is also used, and the hooks are beautifully made, sometimes of mother-of-pearl and sometimes of turtle shell.

On a moonlight night a party of natives will go out in their canoes to fish for the makasi, a large fish which feeds round the mouth of rivers and lagoons. This is a somewhat dangerous sport, owing to the captive fish occasionally being attacked by a shark just as it is being landed, which sometimes results in the canoe being upset, and its occupants, the fish, and the shark all getting mixed up. Such an excitement and noise is caused by the yelling fishermen that the shark is often frightened, and clears off without even tasting either the fish or the fishers.


The most ingenious devices in the way of nets are used in different parts of the island. Some are even made of a tough spider’s web; whilst others are almost the same in construction as the English net and, strange to say, are knotted in a similar manner. The hand-net varies in length to about eighteen inches and is made on different kinds of wood, often bamboo. The mesh is small, and the handle is, as a rule, most elaborately carved with representations of sharks, frigate birds, etc., and is made of wood. For ordinary purposes a two and a half inch mesh is used, but a six inch is used on the larger nets for big fish.

A party of natives will often be seen carrying peculiar flat hand-nets made of light bamboo, with an arched top, varying in length to some eighteen feet. Armed with these queer-shaped things they wade out into the shallow water, where they know a shoal of fish is at play, and by pushing their nets before them they form a circle round the shoal and thus have it at their mercy. They are wonderfully sharp in knowing when a school of fish is about, and they show a surprising amount of energy in capturing it.

Dynamite is now frequently used by the natives here as in New Guinea, as they have learned from {118} the traders that it is an easy method of obtaining big hauls, and anything that saves them labour they immediately adopt, as long as it does not interfere with their old customs.

There is another form of fishing which is pretty general all round the coasts of the different islands. Bèche-de-mer, or the Malayan trepang. It is a curious-looking thing like a piece of india-rubber, very tough and flexible, and is found on coral reefs. It has no eyes, nor does it seem to possess any means of getting about. In length it varies from six to twelve inches and is between two and three inches thick.

The natives gather them off the rocks or catch them in very low water; and immediately after they have got a basket full they clean and dry them, and then boil them for about a quarter of an hour. Some are cut open like a herring and smoked over an ordinary wood fire for about a day. The Bèche-de-mer industry is a big one, and Chinamen are very fond of it, as they can make good money by it without a large outlay. Great care has to be taken in storing the fish, as the slightest damp causes them to rot.

Spearing fish from a platform built on piles a little way out to sea is also popular here amongst {119} the boys, and their well-trained eyesight comes into play; having once spotted a fish they seldom miss him with their spear.


While sketching at Samari I remember seeing these men; they were busy poking under stones and coral with short sticks for octopi. These sticks very soon became soft and bent at the end; they then came to me to have them sharpened with my penknife. These small octopi form a part of the natives’ food. In the distance is the island of Sariba.

In mentioning the native eyesight, personally, I don’t think any of the savage races are better equipped in this respect than we are. What appears to be keenness of vision is only training, and I have noticed the same keen-sightedness amongst cattle-men in the Colonies. They will recognise a cow miles away in the scrub, which unaccustomed eyes cannot even see when the animal and place in which it is are pointed out. A little practice, however, soon overcomes this, and in a very short time the new chum is as quick as the old Colonial in spotting cattle. I mention this experience, as I have seen a good deal of nonsense written on the subject, and the extraordinary strength of the natives’ eyesight in these parts has been commented on. I know that, with a little practice, any one possessing average good sight can equal these so-called extraordinary creatures.

The same thing applies to the power shown by natives of throwing the voice. Necessity has made these men speak to each other from long distances, and so they have unconsciously dropped into the {120} right method of doing it. They cannot tell you how it is done—they just do it.

To return to island sports, there is nothing from an Englishman’s point of view to beat a good pig-hunt, and in the Solomons it can be enjoyed better than in most places. In all parts of the bush pigs can be found, in fact, the one thing the traveller has to look out for more particularly than anything else, is the sudden rush of an angry boar. There are no dangerous snakes or ferocious animals inhabiting the bush, and you can pass a night under a tree with perfect safety, and sleep as securely as in your own bunk, provided, of course, you are on friendly terms with the natives. Pigs are the only things that need watching. When a sow has a litter and you accidentally come too close to her haunt, then there is trouble, and the nearest tree is the safest spot to make for.

In hunting pigs the native dogs come in useful, but only for starting and rounding them up, for it is seldom they will actually attack and kill them. That part of the business, including the long chase over fallen trees and through masses of vines and the thousand and one other obstructions, is left to the hunters. The natives themselves are keen on {121} the game, and are very smart with their spears and tomahawks. The white men tackle them as a rule with gun or knife. One of the most exciting pig-hunts I was ever in was when our whole party was armed with sheath knives only. The pig was bailed up against a big tree and we closed in on him, knives in hand, and, whilst his attention was being attracted by one of the party, another rushed in and struck the fatal blow.

Those bush pigs are larger than the ordinary unfattened farm pig, and the boars have very fine curved tusks almost equal to the Indian pig. The young ones have a delicious taste, and when properly cooked in a native oven make very good eating; they are as tender as chickens.

The wily opossum leads its hunters a rare dance, but the natives, who are its chief hunters, enjoy the game thoroughly. It is a sport at which white men are no good as it necessitates remarkable agility in tree climbing. The boys run up the trunks of the trees and give chase to the little animal from tree to tree. They follow the opossum as quick as lightning, until the poor creature is driven to the ground. Then, of course, he is captured easily, as his clumsy movements prevent him from running at any great speed—all {122} his powers of swinging by his tail are lost when he gets on the ground.

Owing to the thickness of the undergrowth in the bush hunting is not over enjoyable, and it generally resolves itself into a track-making expedition, and the only way to ensure a safe return to the village is to mark the trees as one goes. There is such a similarity in shape of the trees and the lay of the country that it is impossible to remember the way one has come, and as the light only penetrates dimly into the thickest parts, one cannot get any knowledge as to the shape of the tops of trees, a method by which one is often able to travel with certainty in less thickly growing bush. This darkness also prevents one from getting one’s bearings by the sun, so that tree scarring is the only sure method of avoiding unnecessary delay in the bush.

Crocodiles are met with pretty frequently in the swampy districts and in the rivers. They are of the usual type, ranging from six to fourteen feet in length. They do not seem to mind salt water in the least, and are often observed quite a distance out from the shore, in fact, when they are chased they generally make for the sea. I do not know whether this is common with crocodiles in other {123} lands, but those in the South Sea islands appear to prosper and be contented in both fresh and salt water.


The natives seldom hunt them, and do not hold them in fear. They will even bathe in a river known to be frequented by them. Whereas in Queensland rivers no sensible man would dream of such a thing, his life would not be worth more than the first two strokes. The crocodiles there are of a far more ferocious disposition, and have been known to chase men a considerable distance on land, while such a thing has never been heard of in these islands.

Beyond these few forms of sport there is nothing to attract the tourist sportsman to the Solomons, as the country is devoid of all other animals worthy of the chase, and the fishing is such that any island far nearer and less dangerous will supply; but being in these quarters these few sports help to pass the time, and give one opportunities of seeing the bush at its best. Its grandeur cannot be appreciated unless one gets right into it, and feels its solitude and silence, then and then only does the bush speak and show itself.


A curious religion—Burying the dead, and some graveyards—Dancers and music—Native artists, and how fire is made.

To try and discover the actual religious beliefs of a savage race is even more difficult than attempting the same experiment on the religion of any particular European sect. It is almost impossible to find two people agreeing consistently on even the main principles. Exactly the same trouble exists in savage races; if you are lucky enough to discover a principle you will immediately get a dozen different interpretations of it, and only where a sect follows implicitly the ruling of one leader, and does not question or argue against his teachings, can you gain any knowledge worth the trouble and time you may expend on it; but in these cases I have found that neither reason nor understanding play any part in the belief, and it therefore lacks interest. But, strange to say, throughout the savage and civilised races there seems to be a belief in a {125} heaven and a hell. These two ideas, though varying in detail, are world wide, but notions of the way to get there, however, differ considerably.

The Solomon islanders nearly all believe that when a man or woman dies he goes to live with a good spirit (nito drekona) in a far off but pleasant land, where his companions will be as good as he is, or nearly so. The bad man, so judged by his companions, goes to a place of fire, the abode of the Evil One (nito paitena), where he has anything but a happy time. During his existence there he does his best to make things unpleasant for the friends he has left behind him, by becoming one of the many evil spirits who are supposed to do harm to the living.

To obtain any further information on this subject is extremely difficult, and, as in other races, each man and woman has a different idea of the future state, some of which are particularly quaint. The Solomon islander’s idea of a heavenly condition would be anything but heavenly to us, in fact some of our worst ideas of the other place would pale before their crude notions of heaven.

Another fancy they all seem to hold is that the spirits of the departed return to earth, some as fireflies, and some as birds, etc. They all {126} believe that the Supreme Spirit is the embodiment of good, and yet in the same breath they will tell you that He becomes angry and needs that His anger should be appeased either by incantations or the sacrifice of human beings.

On the death of a chief, a great personage, male or female, universal mourning is adopted, accompanied by feasting, which they believe helps the spirit on its journey to the better land—for all great people and chiefs go there direct, a fact about which they seem to deplore, as they will talk of the departed one as the “poor chief.” The names of the dead are held in great reverence, and in some islands they are never mentioned except under the breath, or in the greatest secrecy.

Funeral rites differ a good deal on the various islands, but the most common ones constitute a feast which is celebrated when a powerful personage dies. Directly the news of his death is announced the natives of his tribe set about procuring a supply of food, and calling together all the natives, and then they commence the feast, which is followed by a dance and the last rites peculiar to these islands.


Most of the ceremonies take place round the house of the departed one, who is laid out and covered with leaves; subsequently his head is cut off {127} and prepared in the approved style, which is either by placing it in the bush near an ant-hill until all the flesh is eaten off, or skinning it and afterwards scraping it. This last horrible act is enjoyed by the lucky native who is chosen to do it. After this the skull is bleached to a perfect whiteness and adorned with rings, which represent the chief’s worldly possessions, and are bound to the skull by a kind of flax. Thus prepared the head is placed in a head house.

At Simbo there is a regular graveyard of these houses just above the beach, a mile from the trader’s house. It looks horrible, but is rather interesting. It consists of about a dozen small huts built on poles, some three or four feet from the ground; in each of these are the heads of important men. Those in front are elaborately decorated with rings, whilst those at the back are bare. Most of the houses contain about a dozen heads, but one, rather larger than the others, contains more, and is partly built of stone, the front being barred like a rabbit hutch. This contains the heads of the chiefs only, and is looked upon with great reverence by the natives.

Luckily this weird cemetery is hidden by the dense bush which grows almost to the water’s edge, {128} or visitors, unaccustomed to such sights, might receive a ghastly shock, as a more uncanny spectacle to come across on a moonlight night than these hutches, with white skulls staring vacantly through the bars, cannot be realised. At the back of them is the heavy dark bush, and before them the rocks and the sea.

The women play the part of the chief mourners, and show their grief by plastering their faces with lime and chanting melancholy dirges. The men in many parts shave their heads, some completely, some only partially, but all cover their faces with lime.

The funeral dance which follows the feast in the Solomon Islands differs considerably from the dances in the other islands for the same occasion. A double circle of women is formed round four posts, between which other women sit holding in their arms the possessions of the departed one. Round these the dancers gather, and with slow, measured steps, timed to the tune of a beating drum, they keep up an unearthly row with their feet. Whilst these are marking time, the others and younger ones, bearing the possessions, dance round the inner circle and skip in and out of the posts, always keeping in time with the beating of {129} the drum. It is not an interesting dance, nor is it awe-inspiring like many others I have seen, whilst from an artistic point of view it falls very short.

There are many others in which both men and women take part, but none particularly interesting. The war dance is done in crouching movements, and should look impressive when carried out by a well-trained crowd, but as few travellers have witnessed it it can only be surmised that it is grand. It is danced by the natives bearing their shield and spears in hand, and the performers sing a peculiar droning song during the ceremony. The words of it, and two other native songs, were given in a paper before the Anthropological Institute by Lieutenant Boyle T. Somerville, R.N. They run thus:―

Peka peka turo, Peka peka turo,
Po lo lu u asa na
Enoria chacharveli Turu sangi.

Kele mai Kolo moruna Kawo Konji Kili mai
Keli mai Kawo Tsa lu M—m—m—m—m—

Koroso pe pa Koiro pipa

These Solomon Island natives appear to have fairly good ears for music, and have many popular tunes and songs besides those quoted above. The majority of them have only a few words and a simple air, but the singers make the most of them by repetition, so that what appears to be a long song or tune is often quite short, and contains only a few lines as in the above instance.

The Jew’s-harp has become very popular on these islands, and both men and boys become accomplished players on it. The native instrument of the same class is made from a piece of bamboo with a narrow groove cut out of the centre about six inches long. A string is passed over the groove, or tongue, and the end is placed against the mouth, and the sound is produced by jerking the string to make it vibrate.

The Pandean pipe, which is made on the same principle as the classic pipe of that name, is of native origin, and it is composed of short, hollow lengths of bamboo lashed together with vegetable fibre. Attached to the ends of each pipe are streamers of the same substance.

This instrument, when played by a native, has a very sweet tone.

The native flute (Ivivu) is composed of a thick piece of bamboo nearly three feet long, hollowed out but closed at each end. It contains four holes. {131} The first one is about five inches from the top and is made for the mouth of the player. At a distance of another five inches is another hole for the first finger of the right hand, and the remaining two holes are at the far end separated by a few inches. The tone obtained from this peculiar instrument is not at all unpleasant.

They possess still another instrument, known in England as the mouth fiddle, which is roughly made of a bent stick and has two strings. The player holds one end of it between his teeth and manipulates the strings with his fingers after the style of a big Jew’s-harp.

Besides their musical accomplishments the natives are very fair draughtsmen, and some of their drawings are surprisingly good. Shark fishing, head-hunting, and scenes of murder, are amongst their favourite pictures. The frigate birds and human heads figure in nearly all their designs—especially the former, which are fish-hawks as large as big seagulls, but somewhat darker in plumage. When soaring overhead in search of prey to swoop down on, the frigate bird shows the peculiar shape of its wings, which, roughly speaking, form the letter “M.” Like the shark it is more or less sacred, and therefore not eaten and seldom harmed. {132}

All the drawings are done on wood with a red-hot stick, in much the same way as poker-work is done in England. There is no particular shape or size or even design in the instruments used for drawing. Nowadays the natives beg a little iron or wire, which they make red hot and go to work with to burn out their designs.

Fire was produced in the old days, and still is in the bush, by rubbing two pieces of wood together. One is a flat piece in which a small groove has been made, and the other is a stick pointed at the end. The operator holds the stick in his two hands and rubs steadily up and down in the groove. This rubbing makes a small powder collect in the end of the groove, and after a few minutes it begins to smoulder, and, finally, with the aid of gentle blowing, it ignites sufficiently for other dry wood to be lighted by it.

Wax matches and magnifying glasses have quite superseded this method in the shore villages, and as traders get farther into the country, native fire producing will die out, as many other customs have done and are doing daily.

The making of war weapons is already on the wane, and old Winchesters and modern rifles are quickly taking their places. Even for hunting {133} purposes the natives prefer to purchase a weapon, rather than go to the trouble of making one. The only sort of war weapon to be seen to-day is a composition of the English axe-head, sold by the traders, mounted on a handle of native manufacture. These are crude but useful, and are as a rule well carved.

The bow and arrow are in pretty general use in the Solomon Islands, though they are not seen so often in New Georgia. In Bougainville and St. Christoval bows and arrows are used for all hunting purposes. Spears and clubs form their other weapons; the spears are not poisoned, only a few have barbs on them, and the majority are made with hard wood points. Bougainville supplies most of the specimens showing barbs. The clubs used in St. Christoval rather resemble in shape an Australian boomerang with a straight handle. Other clubs belonging to different islands are of the policeman’s truncheon order.

Shields are also carried, and are made generally on a bamboo frame lashed together with native string and thatched. They are between three and four feet long and one foot broad.


What “hope” is to the Solomon islander—The use of the evil eye.

Sacred places in the Solomons are called hope, the word being used in very much the same way as tapu (taboo) is by the Maoris of New Zealand, and other savage races, but, unlike the Maoris, the Solomon islanders use “hope” to keep a place free from trespassers; thus if a native has a cocoa-nut grove or a yam patch he erects a “hope,” and so prevents any other native from going to it.

It is a strange custom and difficult to fathom, but the belief in it is so strong that the most daring native would not dream of testing its powers. There are various kinds of “hopes,” some will result in the death of any one trespassing on them, whilst others will only bring sickness upon him. A death “hope” will have a skull on it, or a piece of shell, or part of an ant’s nest, and on seeing these signs the intruder knows what to expect—that he will die as the man {135} has died whose skull is there, or die as surely as the fish which once lived in the shell has died, or as the ants which inhabited the nest. A “hope” in which coral takes the place of the above objects announces sickness to the trespasser.

A chief’s house and the grounds adjoining it are nearly always “hope,” and only his wives are allowed to go into them, other intruders will either die or fall sick. Certain animals and places are also “hope,” and little altars are built on some of the small islands which make them sacred. In fact, “hope” is a most extraordinary thing and can be used in the most eccentric ways. I heard of one place which was once “hope,” and yet had the “hope” taken away from it for no particular reason. Then, again, crocodiles are in some parts “hope” and are not allowed to be killed; but in one of the rivers where crocodiles abound a youth was killed by them, and the chief took the “hope” off until the boy’s father had slain a sufficient number to satisfy his anger, and then back went the “hope.”

Another kind of “hope” was seen by Lieutenant B. T. Somerville, and was made by putting a festoon of a certain creeper across the entrance to a cocoa-nut grove, with pieces of the same material along it {136} at regular intervals, hanging perpendicularly downwards and secured to the ground. “I had two natives with me at the time,” he states, “and at first they did not like to land on the islet bearing this mark as it had been ‘hoped’ by their chief, Bera. They did land eventually, however, and one of them went under the hope barricade, picked the central tiny shoot of a large fern—in appearance like the English hart’s-tongue fern—from which he nibbled a little bit, and then handed it to the other man who did the same. They assured me that now the hope would have no effect as long as they did not steal any nuts.”

There seem to be various methods of overcoming “hope,” the chief being by a payment to the owner of it. He will extort what he considers a sufficiently large sum of money to take away the ill effects which would otherwise have followed if the “hope” had been scouted. “Hope” altars are also built in various parts of the bush as a means of warding off certain evil spirits. On these food and other things are placed, such as broken pots, shells, old pipes, and worn-out musical instruments, and the evil spirit dare not come near them.


At the launching of a new war canoe in New Georgia, two virgins are taken from the tribe; one is publicly sacrificed, and the other kept in seclusion from four to five years. During this time an old woman acts as guard over her. Should she break the tabu she is put to death. The skulls on the sticks are a sign to all that if they molest her their heads will be stuck up in the same way. The object in the background is a skull-box; the large necklace is of dogs’ teeth, and the small necklet of spiral shell ground down; the ear-rings of pieces of Tredacua.

In spite of the fact that the white men scorn these “hopes” and do not suffer any bad results, {137} it has in no way brought discredit on them; the belief is quite as strong now as it ever was, but the natives think that the white man is guarded by a special providence and so cling to their belief.

There are many peculiar legends relating to monsters living in certain parts of the bush country and on certain mountains and islands. One tells of an enormous clam-shell which lives on the summit of Vonggi, a mountain some sixteen hundred feet high covered to the top with thick bush. If any native ventured near it the clam-shell would kill and eat him.

Superstition and ancient custom make up the chief characteristics of these natives, and though civilisation has made some difference in their mode of living, they have not marched with the times as the natives of some of the adjoining islands have. The men still think it their duty to be ready for attacks and leave their wives to do the work, and though the chances of sudden attack have practically ceased and left them without employment, they have not taken up fresh work. Even the natives who have returned from the sugar plantations of Queensland, after their three years’ service, do not endeavour to instil new ideas into their fraternity by example. They simply throw off all signs of {138} civilisation and become as the others are, or if anything lazier, but to these men and their term of service in Australia I will devote a portion of the next chapter. It is no doubt owing to the old days of slave traffic, or black-birding as it was called, that the natives here are shy and backward.

Dr. Guppy mentions a peculiar incident relating to the superstitions of the Solomon islanders regarding the power of thinking evil of a person and so bringing disaster upon him. He says that when the natives cut off locks of their hair for him, which he desired for scientific purposes, they told him that if any sickness or calamity befell them they would put it down to him.

The fear of evil wishing is very strong amongst them, and when they are in mourning, and so have to shave their heads, they bury the hair in order to prevent enemies getting hold of it. Thought transference is no speculative theory with them, and they have the most unbounded faith in its power where evil is concerned, but very few seem to think it can be used for good. They also imagine that certain people possess an evil eye or can conjure it up on occasions. They often put down the death of a chief to an evil eye having been cast on him. This sometimes results in an {139} unfortunate creature being picked out and killed through suspicion having fallen on him or her. At other times, when the supposed culprit has not been found, a terrible panic has taken place and the whole village has been deserted and a new one built. The old village then becomes “hope,” and no amount of persuasion will induce the tribe to go back and settle in it, unless, as in one or two cases, the “hope” is removed by some great chief or medicine man.

Medicine men here, as in most other places, hold unique positions, and many a smart villain prospers owing to the belief that he has power over the unseen—to kill or cure at will. Their houses are taboo or “hope,” the same as a chief’s, and in many villages they are held in far greater awe than the chief himself.




Islands that are advancing rapidly—Native houses with modern improvements—A horrible method of getting rid of the old men, and other burial ceremonies.

There is a remarkable difference between the natives of the New Hebrides group and any of the inhabitants of the adjoining islands. In character, disposition, mode of living and religion, they are in many respects far ahead of their neighbours, and, strange to say, so are the islands. The soil is better and the climate is more to the liking of the European, and, owing to the proximity of the islands to Sydney, they are better served and more up-to-date. Port Vila in Sandwich Island, the chief centre, is only five days’ sail from that city.

Settlement in the New Hebrides has been going on for some time, and the white population has nearly doubled itself within the last few years. In 1901, the French residents and traders far out-numbered the English, but to-day another tale is {144} told, and British enterprise and power of colonisation have made a difference in this group; so much so that they are hardly recognisable, and they only need careful legislation to enable them to overcome the obstacles mentioned earlier in this book.

Where dense, uncleared bush grew a few years ago in tangled confusion, blocking out even the light by its thickness, acres of cultivated ground can now be seen, which bring to their owners results worthy of twice the toil that has been expended on them.

The Hebrides is a veritable paradise for the pioneer settler who loves the wild freedom of island life and is not afraid of work.

A good deal of the prosperity of these islands is undoubtedly owing to the strenuous efforts of the missionaries, the Australian Government, and that gigantic trading firm of Messrs. Burns Philp, who have established a monthly service of steamers, which call at all the important islands to deliver and take away produce. Throughout the South Seas they have trading stations, but in New Hebrides their success has met with better returns than elsewhere, owing to the greater number of settlers who have gone there and made their homes in these beautiful islands.


The chief industry is, as in the Solomon Islands, copra, but coffee, maize, tobacco, bananas, pineapples, and many other tropical products, are being cultivated successfully, and each year shows some new advance in agriculture; it is safe to say that before long these islands will not be far behind the West Indies.

Another feature that has assisted the prosperity of this group is the fact that those natives who have served their three years on the plantations in Queensland have not gone back to idleness, as the Solomon islanders have, but, in the majority of cases, have set to work on a patch of ground of their own, from which they have earned good money and so have assisted the prosperity of their country.

It is needless to say that with all these changes the ancient customs of the natives are fast dying out, which in some cases is rather sad; but, as may be supposed, in others it is a good thing, and the sooner their worst ceremony, that of burying the old men alive, is wiped out the better.

Even to-day, in Malekula, this custom, which has prevailed evidently since the beginning of the race, is only kept alive by the old men; the younger ones show an absolute distaste for it. {146} Directly a man or woman shows signs of decrepitude or helplessness, those who are nearest to that stage themselves tell him that his time has come, and that his burial will take place on such and such a date.

On the arrival of the day, the grave for the intended victim is dug, and, in front of a large crowd, the old man is led or carried to it—if he be too weak to get into it himself. He is then stretched out at full length, and, whilst incantations are sung, the earth is thrown over him, and willing hands soon have the ground level and solid above him, and the old man is left there to die. The spectators of this ghastly scene then adjourn to a feast, which is to many of them the most important part of the ceremony.


In some cases the buried man has had sufficient strength left in him to upheave the earth and rise out of his grave, and has even attempted to join the feast, but he has been still considered dead, and no one has given him food. If he be strong enough and can obtain food for himself, he is buried again and again, until at last he has to die from pure exhaustion, if nothing else. Should, however, a very tough customer be met with, and it is found that he refuses to die, and each time gets out of {147} his grave, he is strangled before being buried again; for once his death sentence has been passed it must be carried out—he is a dead man from that hour and nothing can save him. I may add that directly the man is buried his property is divided amongst the villagers, so that if he were allowed to come back he would be a homeless wanderer, and no one would have anything to do with him.

In deference to the other islands it is only fair to state that Malekula is the most savage one of the group. From a missionary point of view the island of Tanna is perhaps the worst, as it is stated that, after sixty years of labour on this island, the converts to Christianity can all be counted on the fingers of two hands.

Aoba and Sandwich Islands are both beautiful spots and more favoured than any of the other islands, when beautiful scenery is required. There are two fine volcanoes, which add considerably to the interest of the New Hebrides. One of them is at Ambryn, which almost rivals Etna, and is generally belching forth fire and fumes and now and then a heavy stream of lava, which makes it somewhat dangerous—as was proved not a dozen years ago by an eruption there which played havoc with the place, absolutely destroyed a whole {148} village, and discoloured the sea for miles round. The roar of the other one at Tanna can be heard quite distinctly at Port Resolution. One of the peculiarities is that an eruption occurs systematically every five minutes, though it is not a bad one. The walk to the volcano through the dense forest from Port Resolution is very beautiful, and if one keeps on the weather side of it, so as to avoid the fumes, a more enjoyable half-hour’s climb cannot be found. On reaching the top the full view of the enormous chasm is appalling, and the rugged, torn, and blistered sides, the curling smoke and fumes, and the great gulf, present a picture rivalling our worst ideas of the lower regions. The explosion which shakes the whole mountain puts a finishing touch to the scene.

In spite of their more civilised condition the New Hebrides natives are intensely interesting, owing to the fact that they can speak English, and like to boast about their acquaintance with Englishmen in Queensland, and therefore think it necessary to speak the English language to show they have been there. This enables a visitor to get information regarding their customs and ceremonies much more easily than in the other groups.


In the foreground are seated two men, the one on the left with a bow. The women behind them have their heads shaved in the usual way, with only a mane down the top of the head. On the ground are ordinary native pots. The long poles in the thatch are for the purpose of keeping it from being blown off, and the poles in front are a defence against pigs and dogs, one of which is seen coming round the corner.

The natives themselves, taking them as a whole, {149} are better built and of a more striking appearance than those of the Solomon Islands. They resemble more nearly the Fijian type than any of the inhabitants of the sister islands.

A peculiarity most noticeable in the villages is that there is greater cleanliness and order; the houses are mostly built in groups of four or five, and are low, broad, barn-like huts in which you have to climb up a few feet and down again in order to gain admittance to the living rooms. They are built on the ground and not on piles, and each group is surrounded by a coral wall on which are stuck long bamboo canes. These take root immediately, as the wall is built when the coral is soft, and present an interesting sight. The bamboo canes form a fine high fence, which, unfortunately, in time totally obscures the houses.

A gap in the wall is left for the residents of these queer compounds to pass backwards and forwards. Between the houses and the wall a large cleared space is left where the pigs, the dogs, and the babies play.

The interiors of the houses are not quite as pleasant or artistic. The whole place inside is blackened with smoke and soot, owing to the smoke from the fire having no proper outlet. The {150} fire is usually lit as near the door as possible, but as the doors are very low the smoke has first to fill the room before it finds its way out. The thatch being thicker than is usual there is very little room for escape in that quarter. Bamboo is used chiefly to build the frames on which to thatch the grass. Forked sticks of a stouter material bear the main weight of the roof, flimsy bamboo canes are bent right over the ridge pole about six inches apart, and secured to another stout pole near the ground, lathes are then run across the bamboo and lashed to them with fibre, and on this framework the outside of the house is made.

The floors are covered with mats on which the natives squat by day and sleep at night. Screen mats also divide the interiors of the huts and cut off the sleeping apartments. A few cooking utensils and worn-out, soot-begrimed weapons are generally to be seen lying about, but beyond these articles and the natives themselves, nothing else takes up any room in these dark abodes.

Each island has its own particular way of building a house, and those in Malekula are perhaps the best and most modern. Light is admitted to them through a window at the back, which is boarded up at night or in rough weather.


Round these houses are dry-built stone or coral walls. I saw more huts on this island encompassed in this way than on any other. The large shell hanging from the pole is a sign of a tapu.


The usual custom of natives to build near a fresh-water stream is not carried out in the New Hebrides; they seem to object to fresh water and seldom, if ever, drink it.

Occasionally they bathe in the sea; but here again they show a marked difference to the other islanders, for they seldom swim except when necessity compels them to do so, and so averse are they to water that they will actually walk an extra half-mile to avoid having to wade or swim through a creek.

The sanitary arrangements of the village are, of course, conspicuous by their absence, and were it not for the crowd of dogs, pigs, and fowls, no visitor could go near them. The work of the missionaries, however, has done much to improve the home life of the natives, and in many villages their influence shows itself in the better construction of the houses and the greater neatness of the villagers; and much as the searcher after “original conditions” might object to these improvements, he must declare that from an artistic point of view, if from no other, these villages surpass those where the missionaries have not been able to make headway.

The blending of savage ideas and European {152} methods makes a quaint and interesting picture. A thatched squat native house with a neat coral path is infinitely better than the muddy, sloppy places of the past, and a hut where one can see when inside it, and where one is not blinded by the smoking fire, is surely much better than one in its native condition, smoke-begrimed and smelling, however natural its former condition was.

The tambu houses are more carefully constructed here, and are thatched with banana leaves. They are of course much bigger than the living houses, and are to be seen close to the dancing grounds in each place. In them are kept all the accessories to the dances, for dancing plays a more important part in the life of the New Hebridean than it does elsewhere, and very elaborate grounds, houses, and regalias are used. But this side of the life we will leave for another chapter, as to understand it a further insight into their other ceremonies is necessary.


Ancestor worship the religion of the New Hebrides—Temples and strange figures, and some sacred dances.

Ancestor worship was undoubtedly the original religion of the New Hebrideans, and in many islands the present form of worship is based upon it. According to Mr. Macdonald, a resident in Exate, the followers of it believe that after death the soul passes through six stages before it finally dies. When its earthly life is over it goes to the gate of Hades, which is situated at Tukitaki, at the western extremity of the island. Here it meets Seritan the cannibal executioner, and his two assistants Vanas and Maxi. Certain questions are then put by them to the soul, and if it does not answer them satisfactorily it is passed on to Maseasi, who cuts out its tongue, splits its head open, and twists it back. If the questions asked by these officials at the gate are well answered, then the {154} soul is permitted to go on in peace through its various stages.

Seritan in olden days was a noted cannibal chief, hence his work now in Hades seems particularly suitable to his past experience. This idea of the hereafter has a faint resemblance to the Maori beliefs; they hold that there are certain stages to be gone through, and the same belief of questions being asked is adhered to—though their final end, if they be worthy men and true, is not annihilation, as far as I could gather from the older chiefs, but a life of pleasure.

The trouble is, however, that they have undoubtedly got their ideas mixed up—a fault one finds with nearly all the savage races of to-day.

In Efaté there are certain classes of people who are allowed to pass unquestioned into Hades—those belonging to the Namtaku tribe, and others who have certain figures carved on their bodies. Why they don’t all go through this operation and escape the chance of having their necks broken is a mystery, but they are not the only believers in certain religious rites who do not bother about testing them.


Modifications of the above belief are also held in other islands, and in Malekula it is supposed {155} that three stages only are gone through before the perfect spiritual condition is reached, and that the soul then fades away into nothingness.

The sacred men of these islands will tell you that they periodically visit the first stopping-place of the departed souls, and they say it is a long way under the ground. In this place all the important affairs of the world are discussed and arranged, and it is from here that the spirits work and punish those who do not follow the dictates of the sacred men. These priests or sacred men in this way have gained a tremendous control over their fellow-men, for superstition is strong and no native dare disobey a sacred man.

Sacrifices of pig and other foods have to be made to inhabitants of the under world, and feasts are laid out for them, which they are supposed to devour when no one is near—a spiritual feast, so spiritual, indeed, that none but those who believe in these things can see the slightest signs of any of the food having been touched. Such incredulity, however, has no effect on the natives, they look at you in a pitying way when you infer that the food has not been touched—such is belief.

In connection with their religion certain peculiarly shaped stones are denominated sacred and {156} are said to contain the spirits of departed relatives. In the case of a chief the stone is placed in a hut to preserve it from rough weather, and round it are arranged effigies of the chief, and perhaps of one or two of his nearest relations.

These images, or demits as they are called, are ghastly looking things, and when one comes suddenly up against them their full horror is apparent. After death the chief is decapitated and the skull is cleaned and bleached, and then, with a preparation of clay and fibre, a face representing his, as it was while he was alive, is modelled on the bare skull; his peculiarities in feature are emphasised to a degree bordering on caricature, but they are not meant as caricatures, but are intended only to bring back to the beholders the characteristic points of the chief’s face.


This figure represents a departed chief who has gone to the under world and become a “Demit.”

The figure is made on a framework of wood or bamboo, covered with clay and vegetable fibre. The head is the real skull of the chief covered in the same way as the body with real hair and beard; the arms, round which are pigs’ tusks, are made from a small plant, the root forming the hands. One of the reasons the natives have for making figures in this way is that the chief may still be able to look upon his friends. At the side of the figure is a bundle of sacred pigs’ jaws; in front is a priest.

The body of the effigy is built up on a framework of wood, and covered with the same preparation of clay and fibre and modelled in a like manner, but, as a rule, it is seriously out of proportion. When this imitation body is finished it is coloured in three shades, red, black, and white (sometimes blue is found on them, but as the natives are unable to obtain this colour naturally it is only used where the traders can supply it). Down the trunk of the body long stripes are made, running {157} vertically or horizontally, and round the legs bands of these alternate colours are painted. The shoulders and knees are decorated with grotesque faces, surmounted by tufts of fibre which often rise to a distance of three or four inches. A bamboo cane is stuck in each of these tufts, and on the top of it splendid specimens of boars’ tusks are sometimes to be seen.

The hands of these idols are made from the roots of a sapling, and add to the weirdness of the picture. Bracelets of boars’ tusks are also found on some of these effigies.

Other sheds and places of worship contain somewhat different things. The sacred stone is guarded by nude wooden figures of men and women, cut in the roughest style and free from ornament. The posts holding up the shed have also elaborate figures of strangely misshaped heads with shapeless bodies attached.

But to the more important part of their religion. In every village there is a “sing-sing” ground laid out—this is the slang term for it, but it is appropriate. These grounds are kept for dancing, not the frivolous dancing of the Europeans, but a sacred, awe-inspiring, religious ceremony. The very idea of frivolity seems wrong in such a place. {158} The cleared space is surrounded by a dense, dark bush, and on the edge of the clearing high wooden posts slanting in various directions are stuck into the ground. These drums, for such they are, are grotesque things, standing from four to six feet high, with a dark slit down the centre, and a fearsome face carved on the front; some are all face and look like terrible nightmares, and each has behind it a carved stone.

Picture yourself on one of these grounds on a warm moonlight night, when a dance is to take place. Dense clouds are rolling over the sky and now and then obscuring the moon or sending fitful shadows across the bare space; beyond is black bush so thick that it looks like a weird inferno. You wait and listen, and hear nothing but the roar of the distant volcano. Presently a crowd of stark naked natives make their appearance and take up their position each by the side of a drum, and begin a dull beating noise to call the dancers. In the centre of the ground is a circle of five or six white poles, some thirty feet long, bent and crooked and leaning all ways.


These drums are made of large tree-trunks, burnt out in the centre through the long slot down the middle; both the slot and the round openings are sound-holes. The meaning of the designs on the drums is unknown. A heavy round drum-stick of wood is used. Every one of the drum-groves I have seen appeared to be haunted by an old man or two. Round the drums the “M’AKI” ceremony takes place.

When deserted these “sing-sing” grounds are uncanny enough, but on a dance night they are worse, and when the drumming commences, which {159} sounds as if it came from the bowels of the earth, and makes the flesh of your back feel as if it wanted to come off, the climax is reached. You become chock-full of the supernatural, and would not be in the least surprised if the earth opened up and the dancers appeared amidst flames and smoke. Nothing quite as bad does happen, but, presently, lights are seen flashing in the bush, and dark objects holding torches come out and calmly take up their position in the circle, till nearly a hundred human beings, naked save for paint and streamers, are moving about.

Suddenly the drumming noise changes to a sort of tattoo, and then a file of men line up and begin to keep time to the drums with their feet; slowly at first, and then faster and faster till the very earth shakes, and the dull thudding echoes through the dark bush. Then a savage song is heard, a low chanting, and the men begin to whirl round and round the posts till the eye becomes glazed and the flickering light from the torches conjures up a thousand things that never happen, but the drumming, monotonous beating of those wooden images goes on and the tapping of the feet. The crowd of women over by the bush stand watching in an almost hypnotic state, their bodies swaying {160} unconsciously to the beating of the drums and the feet—black naked women with vermilion-coloured faces, and white, staring, rolling eyes watching every movement of the dance. Then a sudden dying away of the drums and the shuffling of the feet and silence. It is weird indeed.

The women step forward, it is their turn now, and a wild scene commences. More weird and more noisy than ever. Their shrill voices, mingling with the thumping of the drums and the gruff monotones of the men, make the bush resound. This is kept up for a long time, and then suddenly they all rush off and the place is left in darkness.

On the morrow a big feast is held and the chief kills the sacred pigs. The ceremony attached to this is worth seeing, as it is one of those customs that are so time-worn that both their significance and original meaning are lost and only the outward ceremony remains. For this the natives are highly decorated with flowers and paint, and their frills and plumes are extra well attended to. After a few preliminary canters round the dancing ring to drive away the evil spirits, the chief and sacred men appear, carrying spears. To the accompaniment of drums these worthies pirouette round the ground. When this exercise is finished a band of {161} natives face them and sing a wild song. Girls next appear before the chief, highly be-plumed and be-feathered and with faces stained bright red. They in their turn dance and sing. Next comes the procession composed of men only, who carry the pig, which, like Paddy’s, has a string tied to its leg in case it tries to get away. The procession goes round the whole circle while the drums are beaten in a quick tattoo—the squeals of the pig do not in the least affect these stolid drummers, who ever keep time and never smile. At last, when the circle is complete, the pig is cast at the feet of the chief, who spears it with much gusto and then flings the spear away. The pig is sometimes properly killed afterwards, but it is not considered necessary. It is then carried away to where the spear, thrown by the chief, has fallen. This is the way the pig is sacrificed to the sacred stone. Each stone has to have its pig, so the killing goes on until the right number has been slain. Then comes the cooking of all the dead and dying grunters, and the biggest feast of the season is commenced. So fat is the feast that at least half-a-dozen of those taking part in it have to be removed and rubbed down by their comrades, or the women-folk, to save them from death from over-gorging. {162}

There are many other ways of performing these dance and pig ceremonies, and each island, in fact each village, varies the performance, but they all begin with a dance and end with a feast, which is the usual programme for savage functions.



Concerning witchcraft—More about burials—The gentle art of making love—The rain-makers.

Superstition and witchcraft are strongly in evidence in the New Hebrideans, and the natives have more than their share of both. Besides those things to which I have already alluded, there is a peculiar idea held in some of the islands that certain sacred men have the power of killing by witchcraft. The method adopted by them is similar in many respects to the usual custom, that of making an image of the man or woman whose death is required, and then doing to it what it is wished shall happen to the original. In the island of Tanna the method differs slightly, for here, instead of an image being made, part of the person’s property is stolen and taken to the sacred man who works destruction to its late owner, but he must have this property in his possession, or his maledictions will fail. {164}

The sacred men who are supposed to possess these powers are called Narak-burners, and they hold their position through being the possessors of certain stones known as Narak stones, which they, or their fathers, have at some time found and buried in the vicinity of their house. Some of these stones are in the British Museum and show no signs of anything supernatural about them, but the natives hold them in great dread and reverence.

When a man desires the death of any one, he visits the Narak—he may only desire to give him a disease, but it is usually death he is after when calling on the Narak-burner—and brings with him some hair or food or some particle of clothing belonging to the man he wishes shall suffer. This he presents to the Narak, who doctors it up and then wraps it in leaves and burns it over a sacred fire, lit, it is presumed, over or near the place where the Narak stones are hidden. As the article begins to burn, so sickness falls upon the owner, who goes on getting worse until the article is completely turned to ashes; then death comes.


Such is the superstition, but of its power I cannot speak. A large payment of shell-money {165} or pigs has to be made to the Narak-burner before he starts his work, and if a man hears that his effigy is being thus dealt with, or fancies it is because he feels sick, he will hurry off to the “burner” and offer him a bigger price for his freedom than his enemy has paid for his death. The result of this may be guessed, and a keen bidding often results; if he be rich he is allowed to live, but a poor man has no chance.

It is through the fear of Narak burning and evil wishing that the natives bury their hair when they cut it off, and also take care never to leave any half-finished food about. They throw all their refuse into a stream of water, which it is believed removes the power of the Narak-burner.

There are so many quaint ceremonies connected with the lives of these natives that a whole volume might be devoted to them alone; and even then to deal with them all thoroughly the volume would have to be a big one. In this book I only intend touching on the outskirts of those which affect their lives most closely, and even then many of the details must be left out, partly because they can only be explained in a scientific work, and partly because they are so intricate. The whys and the wherefores would lead into endless paths. {166}

If a native is rich, the first way he shows it is by changing his name, and, as in England, money has to be spent for this privilege; in the New Hebrides it means a feast, and a big one at that. On announcing his desire for a new name to the chief, and proving that he has the means of paying for it, the native goes away by himself for a few weeks, during which time he is considered “duli” and is not allowed to see a woman, and only permitted to eat certain things, as in the case of the New Guinea natives when they become ibito.

After his seclusion he is known by his new name, and attends the big religious feast which he himself has provided.

Other ways are found for changing names, and certain natives are rewarded for their bravery and good deeds by being given a new one, in much the same way as a man is knighted in England.

The marriage laws are similar to those in the other islands; and pigs are often given to the parents in exchange for their daughter. The girl being chosen more often for her working capabilities than for her beauty.

The burial ceremony and disposal of the corpse vary considerably in the different islands, but since the introduction of Christianity they are changing {167} to the ordinary Christian burial. In Oceania the author says that in old days “In Efaté the body was carefully prepared for burial and then dressed. The burial was accompanied with much solemnity, and great wailing, and animals were slain in sacrifice to the dead at the grave. It was supposed that the spirits or essence of the animals slain would accompany the souls of the deceased to the spirit-world, the entrance to which was the westermost point of Efaté, at a place called Takituki.”

“In Malekula,” says Lieutenant Boyle T. Somerville, “a sort of mummy is made, of which specimens were brought to his ship by a white trader, who had procured them in exchange for a rifle at the conclusion of a ‘sing-sing.’ They are said to be the effigies of the chief, whose skull (the only portion retained of all his remains) formed the head. This is plastered with mud to represent a living face, a body of bamboo twigs and mud, highly coloured in black, white and red and purple stripes, forms the figure. On each shoulder a highly conventional face is moulded, looking to right and left respectively, and in each hand is a pig’s lower jaw.”

During Mr. Hardy’s travels in these islands, he came across a kind of graveyard where chiefs were {168} supposed to be buried underground, and a heap of stones and rocks marked the spots where they lay.

The skull-huts, already alluded to, show that this is still another form of burial—they are innumerable.

Rain-making is almost as universal as feeding, and every race has its rain-maker, who, for a consideration, will tap the cloudless sky and bring torrents of water down to quench the thirst of the dry earth. In the New Hebrides the rain-maker goes into the forest and there collects the branches of a certain tree, which he cuts into lengths and lays a dozen or so of them parallel to each other. He then takes another dozen and threads them through the parallel ones, forming a kind of flat basket-work hurdle. Over this contrivance he mutters prayers, and then buries it in a dried-up creek where the water should be running.

More incantations follow this proceeding, and then heavy stones and rocks are placed over the rain producer, and the inhabitants all wait for the rain, which, strange to say, generally comes.


There is no lack of faith in these natives, and when once they have applied to the rain-maker they set to work to make preparation for the rain, which reminds me of an amusing anecdote I heard in {169} America. In Belmont there had been a tremendous drought, and the farmers were in such a fright that they unanimously decided to appoint a certain day on which rain should be prayed for. On the Sunday chosen, the farmers, their wives, and families rose early and started off to church. Just as one party were leaving home a little child of five or six years old suddenly sprang down from the buggy and cried out for them to wait a minute, as she disappeared into the house. Every one wondered what was the matter, and presently, when the child appeared carrying a great big carriage umbrella, they all burst into roars of laughter. “Why,” said the father, “you silly child, there’s not a cloud in the sky.”

For a moment the child looked perplexed. “But, daddy,” she said in a tone of wonder, “aren’t we going to pray for rain?”

The natives of the New Hebrides are very much like this little girl, and perhaps their faith brings about the results they desire. Who knows? Sometimes, however, they get more than they desire.

One writer gives an amusing description of what happened in 1890, at Ambrym, an island adjoining Malekula, when rain was asked for.

“Make us rain,” said the natives to the {170} rain-maker, “or our yams will not grow and we shall starve.”

The wise man consented, and after the machine, described above, was duly placed in a dry water-hole, the rain came down in torrents and did not cease for forty-eight hours. It was so severe that the entire surface of the harbour was fresh to the depth of three or four inches; and the water-hole, where the machine had been placed, had ten feet of water in it; whilst the yams in the plantation were being literally washed out of the ground. So great was the consternation of the natives that they were beside themselves with fear, and rushing to the rain-maker implored him to stop the rain. This, however, was no easy task, as the old man explained, because his machine was buried under ten feet of rushing water. Being unable to dive he could not get it out, and until it was fished out the rain would continue. The scene can be better pictured than described. At last in desperation the aid of the shore natives, who are good divers and swimmers, was sought, and soon the machine was brought out of the creek, and the rain stopped immediately afterwards.

The most remarkable thing about these and like superstitions is that more often than not they come {171} off as the sages predict they will; and when once one does there is no longer any room for doubt, in the minds of those who wish to believe. That incident of rain-making in 1890 will be talked about for years, and the name of the rain-maker will be handed down to future generations.


Native clothing and ornaments—Their arts and industries, their canoes and weapons, and their way of fishing.

In Malekula, Efaté, and Tanna the natives wear as many adornments and cram as many ornaments on their bodies as they can, and since this weakness of theirs has been found out, both visitors and missionaries trade on it, when endeavouring to get on the right side of them. Everybody going to these places nowadays takes with him a good supply of trumpery adornments, and exchanges them for native things of ten times their value. Ivory rings and shell rings were the most precious ornaments the New Hebrideans originally wore, but the less wealthy covered themselves with armlets, fibre belts, flowers, and if they could get a comb to stick in their hair they fancied themselves immensely superior to those who had not such a mark of distinction. Trade beads are now added to their possessions, and they work them into most artistic {173} patterns and wear them round their necks. A small mirror will often be seen hanging from a native’s ear-ring, and many other strange combinations of savagedom mixed with civilisation are met with in these islands to-day. A native wearing a calico loin-cloth and a top-hat poised on his woolly head and kept in position by a string round his chin is not an uncommon sight. Another may be seen wearing a pair of knee-breeches, a tennis shirt, with the collar turned up, and a trader’s hat. Another, perhaps dispensing with the breeches, will wear only the hat and shirt. Altogether they seem to do their very best to imitate an English clown, though of course they are not aware of the fact.


To meet a burly native with elaborate ear-rings, an ivory spike through his nose, and his face well marked, with a collar and dickey hanging round his neck, seems absolutely ridiculous, but the proud possessor of such a costume will strut about as if he were the best-dressed man in the islands. As may be supposed they look particularly coy, some of them, and only require a banjo and a pair of trousers to make ideal Christy Minstrels. The humour of their costumes, needless to say, does not strike them, and their less-clothed neighbours look on them with envy, whilst the girls bill and coo at the {174} sight of them—such is fashion. A tappa loin-cloth, similar to the Fijian cloth, was originally the fashion amongst the women in parts of this group of islands, prior to the coming of the white man, and it was held round the waist by a belt of fibre and ornamented with coloured or stained grass. But, back in the bush, the married women were the only ones who wore anything that could be really called a costume, the younger women’s attire being only flimsy grass mats made of streamers, and tied round their waists—which from a point of decency would be equal to a piece of mosquito netting. The men were always clothed to a certain extent, owing to a peculiar belief they hold that they must not be seen naked.

Feathers play a prominent part in head dress on special occasions, such as at the dance I have already mentioned. The hair is never shaved off the men’s heads but left to grow wild, and some of them possess very fine beards and moustaches, but all cannot boast such growth. I have seen a good few with moustaches like boarding-house tooth-brushes.

Tattooing is not common, but cicatrices are, and most men bear curious marks on their bodies. These are made when they are quite young by cutting a pattern on the skin and then continually {175} removing the scab until a deep kind of scar is formed. It takes a long time to become perfect, but when it is they are exceedingly proud of it.


Paint is sometimes used for decorating their faces and bodies in place of tattooing, but it is very ugly and disfigures both the men and women. Red, black, and white are the chief colours used, and no particular design characterises the work; the painter generally puts what his fancy suggests, and no meaning is attached to it, as is generally the case with the native markings.

The women are the workers here as elsewhere, and at basket-making and mat-plaiting they are splendid hands. Clothes used to be made by them and bartered for food to villagers on the coast. The mats are made from fibre, which in its turn is made from the pandanus leaf by cutting it into long shreds with a piece of shell and then allowing it to dry. Most of the mats have some sort of a pattern on them, and are now greatly prized by collectors. In the New Hebrides they are put on the floor of the huts, and are also used as screens to cut off the sleeping apartments from the day room. Some more artistic than others are fringed with feathers or tassels of discoloured grass. These, however, are generally made to sell to the tourist. {176}

Baskets are also manufactured in some of the islands. Pottery, however, is a forgotten art here, and a legend accounting for the number of old and broken pieces which may still be found in the bush is worth relating.

The natives believe that their islands at one time in the world’s history were brought up out of the sea by a beautiful goddess, Li Maui Tukituki; they say that when the world was quite new she was carrying home some water in jars, but, owing to the rocky state of the land she spilled the water, which made her so angry that she threw the jars at the ground and in that way punished it and made it still. From that day to this it has not moved. So tradition says, and these broken pieces of pottery are known as the water jars of Li Maui Tukituki and are held in great reverence by the natives.


The tools used for hut-building and canoe-building are made of stone, shell, and iron, but there are very few of the real stone adzes to be found now, except in the museums, as the trade articles have taken their place and are in use all over the islands. Exactly the same kind of canoe is made here as in New Guinea, and the same methods of making it are adopted. The largest canoes are made in Malekula, from whence the natives go {177} long voyages to trade with other islands, and, I suppose, in the old days went hunting heads; some of the canoes are made out of the trunks of the bread-fruit trees. The poles supporting the outrigger are run through holes in the side of the canoe and lashed into position. There are no fine lines in the curves of these boats, they are roughly made and have very little decoration about them. The outrigger itself is just a heavy log of wood pointed at each end.

The sails of the larger boats are now made of trade canvas, though they were originally made of matting. The rowers or paddlers sit in the boat upon the cross beams of the outrigger poles which pass through the gunwale. The steersman sits right aft, and can swing the boat round with marvellous rapidity.

On Rano, a little island near Malekula, are three or four very fine specimens of large war canoes lying on the beach. I mention this, as it has been said by many writers, who have visited these parts, that the New Hebrides natives never possessed large canoes, whereas these are far larger than any in the Solomons, but, judging by their appearance, they have not been in use for ages and ages, nor can the natives there tell anything of their history. {178} There is, of course, a possibility that they may have been stranded there in a storm, but it is not likely, as the stern of one of them is protected by a shed, which looks as if it had always been its resting-place, also, the whole construction is of the Hebridean style. The larger of the two is considerably over thirty feet from stem to stern, and the bow rises up to a height of over ten feet, and is made of a solid dug-out log curved and tapering off to a point, where evidently a figure-head of some sort has been, but now only a rudimentary bird’s head remains, and suspended from the bird’s neck are a pair of boar’s jaws.

The boat prow is ornamented and boxed and laced with sinnet. The depth inside allows more room than is usually found in like structures, and to get this depth the sides have been built up by lacing planks to each other in a curious and ingenious way. The crew to man one of them must have consisted of thirty or forty men at the very least. The stem of the canoe is a high peaked one, curving gently outwards and elaborately carved.

The outrigger is an enormous log, and is attached in the ordinary way, though, of course, owing to its great size, nearly a dozen pegs help to keep the poles in position.


Though reliable information regarding these relics cannot be obtained, it is evident that they are highly prized, as periodically they are covered with freshly fallen leaves to keep the sun from warping them. They are evidently the last of their kind, and show signs of having been occasionally used as sailing canoes with a great mat sail, probably after the style of the smaller craft of similar construction often seen around Pentecost Island. Rano Island, where these boats are, is a pretty little place with a fine beach running up on one side to a densely wooded shore. The village lies back behind a line of scrub, and is completely hidden from the view of the sea. This method of building villages is common in the New Hebrides, and is done to enable the inhabitants to get the first sight of an attacking party.

The weapons of war used by these islanders differ in many respects from those in the other groups. Here the bow and arrow play a conspicuous part in warfare and in hunting. The bows are between six and eight feet long on some islands, whilst at Malekula they are seldom more than five feet; most of them are very roughly made, neither the manufacturers nor owners seemed to mind if the curve of the bow was exact or not. {180} But in Malekula, again, both the workmanship and artistic taste are more advanced.

The arrows are similar all over the group, and measure about three feet in length; they come to a sharp point at the end, which is charred to make it harder. They are each composed of a piece of hard wood pointed at the end, about a foot long, let into a cane shaft and bound at the junction with grass.

On Aoba Island the points of the arrows are very long and are composed of sharpened human bone. It was the custom in the old days to poison the arrows before use, but what method was adopted is not known, possibly they were dipped in rotten fish or human flesh, the favourite method of many savages.

The arrow used for fishing is a much longer one and has three prongs, others of different design are used for shooting birds.


Fish, birds, and a few small animals form the only wild diet for which hunting is necessary. Neither lines nor hooks are used in the New Hebrides for fishing, they scorn this method, in spite of the demonstrations by the whites, and the greater chance they would have of securing big catches. Sometimes, however, they use a small hand-net, but {181} only for small fish, and they are not keen on its use. They stick to their spears, and as a rule they choose a bright moonlight night when the tide is going out, and armed with spears, bows and arrows, they crowd down to the reefs with torches, and dart in and out of the pools where fish are sure to be; then, with a sharpness that is almost incredible, the spears are seen to dart into the water, and come out again an instant after with fine, struggling fish on them. It is great sport, and there is little wonder they enjoy it. Both sight and feeling are brought into play during this pastime. The large fish can be seen and are speared easily, but others which just skim past the fisher’s legs are not as quickly taken, and try the skill of the natives. Others occasionally need a deal of chasing, for once a native has felt his prey he will not rest until he has secured it. He seems to be untiring, and does not stop fishing until he has quite a good haul.

Turtle fishing is not gone in for much, as the natives are superstitious about the turtle, and civilisation has not yet been able to dispel their fears. One of the chief ones is that the eggs are sacred and may not be eaten. But one by one their superstitions are going, for they see how the {182} white man prospers in spite of scorning all their sacred ideas, and that now and then makes them courageous enough to break through the barrier, and when once a superstition has been found untrue, they are not slow in testing another, if by challenging it they can see any gain for themselves.



The cultivation of copra—The labour traffic; when slavery really existed, and the traffic in natives of to-day.

Copra is the staple industry of the New Hebrides, as they say in the geography books, but the output of it is about as reliable as the rainfall, for the supply depends not, as might be expected, on the demand, but on the whim of the natives; if they feel industrious, or are hard pressed for tobacco and provisions, they will go into the bush and bring in a sufficient quantity to meet their needs; but as a rule they will only collect it from their own particular trees near their village and will not go far afield, where they could get double the amount for half the labour.

Cocoa-nut palms grow in patches all over the islands, and particularly along the coast, and they make a charming picture viewed from the sea, with their swaying trunks, and the quaint cluster of leaves at the top: storm-tossed as they are, owing to {184} being top-heavy, they all lean in one direction, the way the wind blows strongest, and give the islands a wild appearance. The rustle of their leaves as one walks beneath them makes a strange noise, and the falling of the nuts on a windy day is a thing one has to be careful to avoid, as a good-sized nut would seriously injure, if not kill, the person on whom it fell.

I have seen a natural grove of these trees nearly a mile long; the dark stems and sage-green leaves against a blue sky, a bright yellow road underneath which scintillated in the sun, and at its far end was all blurred by the heat which rose as heat does from a stove making everything quiver, presenting a beautiful picture not easily forgotten.

All along the coast of Malekula and Tanna the cocoa-nuts grow in abundance. At Samari, New Guinea, there is one giant tree standing by two others and away from the rest, the height of which has been the means of many a sovereign changing hands. For the first thing a new chum, fresh trader, or captain is asked is to guess its height, and few ever guess it correctly, for a more deceptive-looking tree was never born. It grows just behind the village and towers over everything, and is a landmark that guides many a wanderer by land and sea.


The copra trade is of course carried on all over these and the adjoining islands, but one sees more of it going on in the New Hebrides than in the Solomons or New Guinea.

Copra is the white of the cocoa-nut and is not eaten by the natives at all; all they do with the nuts is to drink the milk and use the fibre. Nearly everything out there is made either of the leaves or fibre, and even the trunks of the tree come in very handy for manufacturing articles. When gathering copra the natives scale the trees to get at the nuts, and having collected a good supply they sit down, break them open, and lay them out to dry in the sun.

The oil of the cocoa-nut is chiefly made in England and America, and the only process the nut goes through in the islands is that of drying. When the nuts have been collected they are split in halves very carefully with an axe, and then the halves are laid out in the sun. Very soon the heat loosens the kernel, which comes away and is then broken up into pieces. It is again put in the sun on mats, where it remains until it is thoroughly dried; then it is collected in sacks and sold by weight. Some traders, however, go in for making cocoa-nut oil, but not many, and if they do, a different process {186} has to be gone through. The nut, instead of being split open, has the husk cracked on a sharp pointed stake, it is then torn off and the inside split in two. Next the kernel is scraped out on an iron scraper, which is attached to a stool on which the native squats during the operation, and the white part drops from the scraper into a vessel underneath, and is then put into a cask to rot, after which it is pounded and made into a pulp and placed at the end of a tilted trough—a hollowed-out log or old canoe—until all the oil runs out of it. This oil is then strained and put into casks.

The stench of a copra boat is proverbial, and this, without the copra bugs, is enough to make one keep clear of them as much as possible. Each trader has his copra shed and drying ground, and when Burns Philp’s trading boats call, the sacks of copra are taken out by the resident trader’s “boys” and again sold, this time to be shipped home for further handling. When the oil is extracted in England, nearly double the quantity is obtained from the same amount of nuts, and the refuse is made into cakes for cattle.


When the trading steamers come it is quite an event in the monotonous life of many of the small traders. Mails and provisions are sought with an {187} eagerness that is delightful, for when a man has talked nothing but native languages, and seen nothing but black men for weeks, these visits are naturally the important event, and a newspaper or two, if such luxuries can be found, no matter how old, are seized on by traders as if they were gold.

Copra is practically the only industry that flourishes without artificial aid. Even that is now being helped along, as the natives see there is money in it, and some of the thrifty chiefs are making their men plant the trees and look after them.

Traders and settlers now have plantations of coffee, bananas, and a few other profitable products, as I have already mentioned, and this industry is beginning to be successful. Taros and yams are cultivated by the natives, and require a good deal of attention, and so nearly all the work is left to the women. Yams vary from about the size of a small marrow to a much larger affair. The “Chief’s Yam” is pale pink in colour, and the ordinary ones are like a white mealy potato. In taste they resemble a cross between an artichoke and a potato. Nearly all the villages possess a yam-house, which is a sort of platform made of bamboo with a thatched roof over it; the yams are hung from the top or lie on the platform to dry. {188}

There is a kind of arrowroot which grows wild in the bush, besides a few other native vegetables, but the latter are not of much account unless they are cultivated.

The knowledge of agriculture learned by some of the natives who have returned from Queensland comes in useful. Sometimes evidences of it are to be seen here and there, but it is a lamentable fact that they do not make better use of their opportunities.

Whilst in Queensland they work well, especially the women, and nowadays there is no difficulty experienced in getting labour from these islands. When the labour boat calls, the recruiting agent is soon able to fill his vacancies, and the men he brings back laden with goods make an excellent bait for others.

When engaging the natives a small quantity of money in advance is, I believe, paid to them as an inducement to go, and then they sign on for two, three, or more years to work at the Queensland Sugar Refining Company’s places at Bundaberg, Mackay, and elsewhere on the Queensland coast.

When there, they live chiefly in compounds, and seem to enjoy the change of life. Their chief duties are to cut the sugar-cane, stack it, and put {189} it on the trolleys, which carry it to the refinery works.


The tremendous heat of these fields is beyond description, owing to the number of the canes.

Many of the natives who have gone for a term of three years become so fond of the life that they remain on for much longer periods. Many have been known to petition the Queensland Government to be allowed to remain in the country altogether. They mix up with natives from all the islands, and intermarry in quite a friendly way. If by chance a native of Malekula happened to be left, on his return, in the Solomon islands by mistake, he would probably be made into mincemeat: but abroad they get on very well together.

The labour trade in New Guinea was stopped some years ago, partly by Governor Macgregor, and partly through the natives’ objection to work. In this trait they resemble the Fijians, and consider work is a form of slavery and so beneath them.

There is very little real affection between the natives, they part from one another when going to Queensland with hardly any show of regret. Sometimes when a woman is going her companions cry, but such scenes are exceptional.

On their return, however, things are very {190} different, for they come laden with new and interesting goods and money.

The chief immediately appropriates all the best of these articles, and by so doing confers a great honour on the home-comer. The returned one’s relatives then swarm round him, and each takes what he or she fancies; and the welcoming party, consisting of fellow-tribesmen, receive their little lot for having welcomed the returned one home. The remainder of the goods are taken to their owner’s shed, where they probably remain a few days. Other claimants soon come forward, so that in less than a week the hut is empty of all save the worker and his three years’ experience.

In the old days the labour traffic, or “black birding” as it was called, was one of the most disgraceful trades ever carried on by British subjects. So bad did it finally get that the Government stepped in, and warships were kept on the lookout for these slave-traders, and eventually, after a lengthy period and, strange to say, much opposition, the labour traffic was made into an honest business.


The method adopted by the early kidnappers was to fit out a schooner in Australia in much the same way as a slave-boat, with a large hold arranged with tiers of platforms, on which the natives slept {191} at night. The owners would start out, having secured orders from the Queensland sugar-planters for so many natives at so much per head, and with these signed orders they would visit the islands. At first some of them, according to reports, did try persuasion, and even went so far as to barter with the chiefs for a certain number of natives, but if this failed, as it often did, they simply went ashore and carried off every man or woman they could lay hold of, rowed them out to the ship, and then literally pitched them into the hold. Others they would entice on board by offering to give them presents, and when once on board they never saw the shore again.

During the commission of inquiry into the ways of these slave-dealers some ghastly facts were brought to light, not only on the part of the dealers, but also of the planters, particularly in Fiji where many of the natives were sold. Here it came out that two Englishmen, who were in the habit of brutally ill-treating the natives, once overstepped the mark by tying a woman to a tree and thrashing her, and afterwards they rubbed the juice of the Chili pepper into the wounds. This was quite an ordinary form of punishment; but when they cut the same woman’s toes off, the natives banded {192} themselves together, burned down the whole plantation, and killed the planters’ children. The two planters, sad to relate, escaped.

But those days are passed now, and the planters are very different men, and live their lives in peace and tranquillity, and many of them treat the natives so well that they will do anything for them.



A short sketch of the missionary work in the South Seas—Concerning John Williams, James Chalmers, and others.

I can do no better than conclude this short sketch of the three most important groups of the South Sea islands by touching on the work and lives of those brave fellows the missionaries, who have left all the comforts of their English homes—their best friends and everything else that was dear to them—to teach the gospel of their Master and bring peace and happiness to these wild savages.

It is an easy thing to sneer at these “Gospel punchers” as they are so often called “out west.” But in spite of all the little things against them, one cannot help asking: Is it not through the work of the best of them that we are to-day able to go amongst these savages?

The most bigoted unbeliever if he thinks, and if he knows the sort of lives that many of these pioneers have led, must acknowledge their bravery, {194} even if he doubts their beneficial influence; but only the most ignorant could do that.

Mercenary reasons have always been assigned to account for the presence of the missionary in savage lands and all over the world, and particularly in New Zealand, one hears tales of the way the early missionaries piled up the gold. In Australia the same stories are told, but there was little in these savage South Sea islands to attract the seeker for gold at the time missionaries first began their work, for whatever they made would be at such a risk that it would not be worth their while.

In Australia and New Zealand, of course, there is a difference, in the latter place particularly, for there the Maoris were owners of large tracts of valuable land, and, undoubtedly, one or two of the lukewarm missionaries were tempted and fell.

One story I was told by an old Maori of a certain missionary is worth relating, as his acts rather upset the work of many honest men who were really trying to do good to these noble savages.

“Your clergyman be all right,” said the old man, when I mentioned missionary work. “He teach us about God, but He too greedy. He want all the Maori got.” {195}

“Nonsense,” I said; “who told you that yarn?”

A smile went round the little crowd as the old man glanced at his friends. “Mr. —— he told us to look to God and we looked, while we looked Mr. —— took our land. Then one day he come to us and he say, ‘God wants more land,’ and we gave him more land. Then some time soon he came again and he say, ‘God wants cattle to put on the land.’ And we give him cattle. Then he say, ‘God wants sheep.’ And we give him sheep. Then long time after he come again and he say, ‘God want money to keep the cattle and the sheep.’ But we had no money and so we had no more God.”

It is acts like these, committed by a few of the black sheep, that have made the bushmen, the cattlemen, and the traders sneer at the missionary, and in their ignorance they have condemned the whole for a part.

The trader and the kidnapper of the South Seas have for years fought tooth and nail against the missionaries, and it is they who have spread wild tales of the misconduct and strange practices of these noble men. They had an end in view, as they knew their worst foe was not the savage but the {196} missionary; it is the missionary who has been the means of stopping the ghastly trade in black men; it is the missionary again who has seen that the native was dealt with fairly; and these are the sins he has committed and can never be forgiven.

As early as 1796 the London Missionary Society, then the Missionary Society, undertook the work of sending men to these islands in the hope of winning their inhabitants to better lives. At that time the lives they were living were as bad, if not worse than those of savage beasts, and the publication of Captain Cook’s Voyages in these islands aroused men of Christian feeling, and was the means of the Society sending out men to Tahiti; most of whom eventually died of sickness or were butchered by the natives.

For years these men and others worked their hardest against fearful odds, and for ten years they made little or no progress. Reports show that in 1813 one Tahitian had become a Christian. But this was the beginning, and during the next few years progress was as rapid as it had been slow before. Eventually the king of the island acknowledged the Christian belief, and set to work to destroy the heathen gods.


The adjacent islands were next approached, and {197} the Tahitian Missionary Society was formed with the avowed object of devoting all its energies to the conversion of the natives of these islands. Amongst its teachers the Society had a large body of natives, and it was not only assisted in this way but financially also by the very men who a few years before would have nothing to do with it.

Then came one of the greatest of the great men to these islands; John Williams, who was not only a splendid worker but a magnificent organiser. He soon had a boat fitted out in which he was able to visit the adjoining islands; finally confining his labours to New Guinea and the New Hebrides.

In 1823 Williams discovered Raratonga, an island in the Hervey group, and he seems to have devoted more of his time to the natives of this island than any other. It was his island, “dear Raratonga,” as he always called it. The population of it when he landed he estimated as about 7000, and in less than a dozen years he wrote of them in the following way:—

“I cannot forbear drawing a contrast between the state of the inhabitants when I first visited them, and now in 1834. In 1823 I found them all heathens, in 1834 they were all professing Christians. At the former period I found them with idols and {198} Maraes; these in 1834 were destroyed, and in their stead there were three spacious and substantial places of Christian worship, in which congregations amounting to 6000 persons assembled every Sabbath day. I found them without a written language, and left them reading in their own tongue the wonderful works of God.”

And again he said—

“In reference to the island generally, it may be observed that the blessings conveyed to them by Christianity have not been simply of a spiritual character, but that civilisation and commerce have invariably followed in her train.”

Succeeding this noble man in the islands were men of fine characters, the Revs. William Gill, E. W. Krause, and Messrs. Pitman and Buzacott, and then in 1867 came the man whose sterling good qualities will never be forgotten—James Chalmers, or “Tamate,” the name by which he was always known by the natives.

“Tamate” was bred and born in Scotland, and it was there he grew muscular and learned to love open-air life. Quite as a youth he became enthusiastic to devote his life to missionary work in savage lands; but subsequent events, and probably his companions, who were young men keen on {199} mischief and adventure, helped to make him forget his early aspirations. In fact, in that splendid biography of his written by Cuthbert Lennox, it is stated that young Chalmers’ religious ideas went through a period of uncertainty, and it was not until 1859, when he was eighteen years of age, that he had occasion to remember his early vow.

It was during a great religious revival, which was bringing in thousands of converts in Scotland, that Chalmers was persuaded to attend one of the meetings. This meeting he himself said that he and his friends had previously determined to do all in their power to upset. The result of it was that the true James Chalmers was roused, and from that hour he never wavered in his determination to teach the gospel to savages.

For years he worked steadily away at his studies, and in 1861 he was appointed to a position in the Glasgow City Mission. His good work brought him recognition, and finally he applied to the London Missionary Society for a position as missionary. The application was accepted, and Chalmers then went into training and was ordained as a missionary in 1865. He sailed almost immediately afterwards in the missionary boat John Williams II. for Raratonga island. {200}

Prior to leaving England James Chalmers married, and to his wife he gives the credit of half the successes of his life. The passage out to the South Seas was a terrible one, as the following extract shows:—

Whilst still in the English Channel the vessel encountered a terrific storm, memorable as being that in which the London was lost. Three passengers were thrown out of their bunks, the pilot was knocked insensible, the compass binnacle was damaged, the whale-boat was carried away, and the seamen were constrained to ask the missionaries to pray for a change of wind. With difficulty the John Williams II. made the Portland Roads, and escaped the fate of some twenty-one vessels which foundered in the storm.

But this was only the beginning of the trials of that journey. Another storm met them in the Bay of Biscay, and a third one off the Cape of Good Hope, but they reached Adelaide eventually, and were there able to rest.

On the 21st of August the missionary ship which was to carry them to the islands left Sydney, and was in less than a fortnight high and dry on a reef, but she did not become a total wreck. She was taken back to Sydney for repair, leaving there again on the 15th of November, to become a total wreck on the 8th of January; her passengers were landed, minus all their belongings, on an almost unknown {201} and uninhabited island. The notorious Bully Hayes, however, rescued them from this spot and took them to Samoa. Eventually James Chalmers and his wife reached Raratonga safely after a voyage extending over seventeen months—the passage now takes about six weeks.

“Tamate’s” life in the South Seas was a life of sheer hard work, but he always felt, and properly so, that he was making headway. At the beginning of his career at Raratonga he set to work on the young men, as he thought in them lay the future hopes of the civilisation of the islands. When one knows the risks he ran in going back into the bush, where white men were so dreaded that they were often shot on sight, one cannot help feeling that a special providence was looking after him. He took no half measures and made few concessions, but went boldly to work at the start as he intended to go on to the end.

Many of the natives had been in the habit of fancying that the missionaries were weak men, but in “Tamate” they met one who was their equal in most things and could beat them at many.

As a sportsman and a man of pluck he immediately won their hearts, in fact every one who {202} came in contact with him speaks of him as a Man before all else.

One missionary said at the court in Sydney that, in his dealings with the natives, he remembered before all else that he was an Englishman, then a man, and lastly a missionary; but in “Tamate” every one recognised the Man.

From Raratonga Chalmers worked diligently amongst all the adjacent islands, and when later he had his yacht he was able to extend his operations and win many of the worst savages to better ways, and by joining in with the other missionaries some splendid work was accomplished. Throughout he saw the need of native teachers, and it was this branch of the work he set himself to push on, with the result that now there are native teachers and preachers in every island in the Pacific.

The chief trouble with which he and other missionaries had to contend was the climate; the unhealthy districts they had to visit often laid them up for weeks at a time. Finally Tamate’s wife, after a long and distracting illness, died and left him broken-hearted, for through all his difficulties she had been his mainstay. She died at sea on the 25th of October 1900. Her end was a very sad and disappointing one, as is shown by a letter Chalmers {203} wrote to one of his friends at the time. “We had dreamt of a little rest together in a cottage out of London somewhere, before we crossed the flood. We shall dream no more, she waits on the other side, as she said ‘I shall be waiting for you all.’”

It was not long she had to wait either, for on the 7th of April of the following year James Chalmers was massacred in the Aird River district, a part of the islands where he was not well known. The following account of the massacre was written by the Rev. A. E. Hunt, who accompanied His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony on a punitive expedition. “The Niue (Chalmers’ yacht) anchored off Risk Point on the 7th of April, and a crowd of natives came off. As it was near sunset Tamate gave them some presents, and made signs that they were to go away and the next day he would visit them ashore. At daylight the next morning a great crowd of natives came off and crowded the vessel in every part. They refused to leave, and in order to induce them to do so Tamate gave Bob, the Captain, orders to give them presents. Still they refused, and then Tamate said he would go ashore with them, and he told Tomkins (his right-hand man) to remain on board. The latter declined and went ashore with Tamate, followed by {204} a large number of canoes. When they got ashore the whole party were massacred and their heads cut off. The boat was smashed up, and the clothing, etc., distributed. All the bodies were distributed and eaten.”

Chalmers evidently felt that his end was coming, though it cannot be supposed he knew how it would come. A few weeks before his death he wrote to a friend: “Time shortens, and I have much to do. How grand it would be to sit down in the midst of work and hear the Master say, ‘Your part is finished, Come.’”

Some time before Chalmers’ death Williams and many other missionaries were massacred; in fact it is in this way most of them have died, but their work will always remain as a memento. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, when bunching the good and bad missionaries together:

“With all their gross blots, with all their deficiency of candour, honour, and of common sense, the missionaries are the best and most useful whites in the Pacific.”




Printed by R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, Edinburgh.


A DETAILED PROSPECTUS, containing a specimen plate, of any volume in this List will be sent on application to the Publishers.

Original spelling and grammar have been generally retained, with some exceptions noted below. Original printed page numbers are shown like this: {52}. The plates have been moved from within paragraphs to nearby locations between paragraphs. I produced the cover image and hereby assign it to the public domain. Two new entries were inserted into the Table of Contents: for the Sketch Map, and for the Index. Original page images are available from—search for “savagesouthseas00elki”.