Port Moresby, 15 June 1893

The end of the rainy season made itself felt in a disagreeable manner as a tropical rain was pouring down in the morning and the sea was moving heavily driven by the wind as the crashing waves on the barrier reef revealed. A fog was laying on the mountains and it was windy so that the work of loading coal on board was on the one hand made more difficult by the wet weather but on the other hand spared us the presence of coal dust entering into all rooms. The rain and the heavy sea prevented also our plan to fish with dynamite in the bay as recommended by the harbor steward. Thus we could but stay and look out for the governor’s yacht that was still not visible. As towards 10 o’clock in the morning it was still nowhere in sight, tired of waiting, I took a boat to the close village Hanuabada.

The homes in Hanuabada were, like most native settlements in New Guinea, huts resting on poles. This custom of building elevated rooms high above ground or where a village is standing in the water — either on the sea coast or in a lake or at the river shore in the interior of the land — high above the water level is derived from the purpose of offering protection against human and animal enemies for the occupants of such pile dwellings.

Here too as well as in the other villages near Moresby the poles are made out of mangrove wood and 3 to 4 m tall on which rest the mostly two storey huts The walls and the roof of the hut are made out of dried palm leaves or out of caned grass. The roof crags widely and offers shade on the frontside of the hut in a veranda like structure.

Those huts that have two storeys also have two verandas above each other that are connected with ladders while access into the interior of the huts is also made possible by very thin ladders. Here all equipment is stored, especially the fishing equipment and on palm fiber strings hang the skulls of slain enemies as trophies, tail fins of large fishes etc. These verandas serve as places to rest during the day for part of the population, namely older family members who sit there crouching in the real Papuan manner and watch almost without motion the life and activities taking place at their feet.

The interior of the huts is dirty and rather dark as daylight can only enter through the two door openings at both ends as well as the smoke vent in the roof, as windows are unknown.Innere In one corner of the interior room stands a hearth, a rudimentary fire place whose base is constructed out of a thick layer of clay resting on trellis work. In two-storey huts the room with the hearth is on the lower floor and the sleeping and living quarters on the upper.

The furniture in the living rooms is no less basic than those of the huts in the Solomon islands. Chairs and tables are unknown to the natives and as they prefer squatting also not necessary. Only some mats and thick bamboo pieces as a head rest serve as a bed. Earthware or bamboo vessels, woven bags and the indispensable hand weapons complete the poor equipment. The overall impression of this primitive housing is a bit more enjoyable for a cultured human as these houses are not at a higher level than the pre-historic houses of the European pile dwellers.

Just at the entrance to Hanuabada I witnessed a strange spectacle — a jig, a“harvest festival“. Dancing is here too, understandably, the means of communication to express all kinds of feelings and moods, and today there was joy about the more than ample banana harvest of the inhabitants of Hanuabadas which was the occasion for a feast on that day. While the old men and the married women squatted in sweet harmony with dogs and pigs on the verandas of their huts and smoked and served as the audience, the youth of both sexes danced around the long poles on which had been quite decoratively fixed bushels of bananas in the form of garlands.

Each of the dancers carried a wooden drum which he beat in step. Rhythmic chants accompanied the movements of the dancers who performed a sort of quadrille for which the pairs formed themselves into two columns and then executed a similar figure that is done at home after the command of „Traversez“. While the dancers move their upper bodies by the hips, the pairs danced one after another through the always reforming column until the column dissolved into a large circle.

The pairs, that consisted just like at home of a „gentleman“ and a „lady“ with the young man leading one of the pretty girls by the hand, devoted themselves to the dancing with rare endurance and passion, in full color and feather decorations, stepping and jumping lissome and with a natural grace.

Especially graceful appeared the young girls. As they were used to an unstrained posture unrestricted by any bothersome pieces of clothing, these beauties floated on light swinging feet swaying their hips graciously with the upper body kept a bit back, which made the grass skirts flitter gaily.

Colorful painting, necklaces and bangles were the decorations of the girls who with their curly heads and the impishly smiling black eyes looked very nice. Like the girls the young men were tattooed carefully too in blue-black and painted with red, black and white colors. The tattoos covered all parts of the body and namely the delicately shaped legs with the exception of the faces that showed little of this type of decoration. On the breast of the girls of marriageable age presented without any covering the girls of Port Moresby used to tattoo a heart which was to express that the wearer of this symbol may now be courted.

As ornaments they use, apparently in all of New Guinea, all kinds of flowers and leaves. Very popular for the same purpose are feathers in flashy colors which the natives combine with great skill to form crowns and headbands or stick them loose into the curly hair. I identified mostly feathers of the large hornbill, the southern cassowary, the white cockatoo, but especially all kinds of parrots and the birds of paradise used in this manner.

Necklaces are highly prized here and as they are usually heirlooms only sold or traded in the rarest cases. Shells and teeth, then corals, feathers etc are the material out of which the necklaces are made and sometimes formed into amulets. The arm bands and leg rings consist mostly of woven straw or pieced shells while glittering metal pieces and smaller shells serve as earrings.

The whole appearance of the dancing pairs, their strong, tall, well-formed posture, their graceful mobility, the agreeable even pretty faces, the vivid eyes — all this combined creates a vivid contrast to the native peoples and tribes which we had had opportunity to observe during the last months. How slight and softly seemed the Hindus to me, how dull and not beautiful were the slant-eyed Javanese!

The Papuas of the territory of Port Moresby belonging to the Motus tribe, however, are in physical and psychic aspects more closely related to the Polynesians than to the Melanesians. Also in favor of the Papuans of Moresby was their especially vivacity and direct expressiveness of their feelings, the smiling joyfulness and the apparent learning ability displayed by their curiosity, incessant asking questions and talent for imitation of these individuals I could observe here.

Further proofs of these qualities were offered to me after the end of the harvest feast in Hanuabada and I had said good-bye to the dancers, when during the tour of the village, I was surrounded by young and old as all but namely the children wanted to see the stranger and watch him. Everybody was assailing me with questions, smiling happily and waved their hands and crowded around me to observe from a really close distance. Some imitated my movements, others were shaking from laughter as they apparently found much about us very comical.

Finally the dear youths held out their hands begging in order to receive some kind of goods and the smaller ones, as soon as they got a coin, a cigarette or something else, climbed with a monkey-like skill up the ladders to their huts and delivered what they just received to their parents, only to return quickly and beg again for another present. We could not observe any fear of strangers among this crowd of children, whom I could barely resist, in contrast to the experiences made earlier on my voyage.

I tried to buy some ornaments but these people already were aware about the value of money as the usual trading objects had no effect and for every piece they demanded only „Money“ or „Shilling“. As soon as the people noticed that we were interested in a piece, the price increased much. The good savages goods they took each piece of money to the wise man of the village to confirm the genuity of the coin and even then some sellers refused to hand over the acquired goods or suddenly asked for double the previously agreed price.

A better affair I made in the apparently poor village in the bay, Elewara, where I bought a large number of ethnographic objects, among them delicate containers in which the natives keep the chewing betel mixed with coral lime. Also I took away the only piece of clothing of about twenty ladies, namely a red and yellow colored small skirt made out of woven grass that they willingly sold for a shilling a piece. In Elewara now developed a formal market in which the people carried everything imaginable and even very young children offered shells and coral pieces. The real business was done by the women and young men while the older men squatted on the verandas smoking calmly.

In New Guinea everybody smokes, men, women, even small children and in those areas where money is not known one can buy everything for tobacco. For it the native offers land, agricultural products, pigs, weapons, with one word even the last thing he possesses. To smoke long bamboo sticks are used that are beautifully decorated with burned marks and on whose end is a small opening in which the tobacco rolled-up in a palm leaf is inserted. After its ignition, the pipe is passed from mouth to mouth. If they do not have a pipe, the tobacco is rolled-up in a leaf and smoked like a cigarette.

After I had almost filled our boat with acquired objects I made a small journey to the surrounding heights despite the still pouring rain and passed the low buildings of the Anglican mission which however was not very successful as the savages it was said were only willing to attend services if given presents. Then we crossed multiple banana gardens that were just then being harvested and encountered a group of women carrying large bundles of bananas on their head to their homes.

Furthermore we climbed up to hill next to Government House but the force of the pouring rain drove us back on board.

Here too a vivid trade had developed. The natives had come with their wives and children in their slim canoes to offer arrows, bows, decorative objects and other things and found willing buyers among the officers and crew — everybody on board wanted to take home a souvenir from the land of cannibals. I dare say that „Elisabeth“  equipped itself on that day with hundreds of arrows, spears etc. as cargo. The crew of the coaling ship too acquired an important load of ethnographic objects, apparently with the intention to sell them at much higher prices after their return to Sydney.

The occupants of the canoes were not shy, various girls even came on board where they examined everything with curiosity and accepted small presents. A general applause was given when we gifted one of the beauties with a pink jacket and light-green silk pants and dressed her thus on the spot. The people could not contain their joy and proudly the presentee glided down over the side of the ship into her canoe.

As the governor was still nowhere in sight I drove in the afternoon again to Hanuabada with the intent to reach a small rocky island where pigeons were said to land there each evening.

Unfortunately I did not choose a good moment for my excursion as the low tide had set in and the boats were unable to land anywhere so that I had again to wade for a few hundred paces through water and deep mud to reach Hanuabada.

Countless naked boys were mingling with nets in the mud and collected various shells and sea animals that the low tide had thrown out. The collector is always voracious and thus I was bargaining again with the friends made today in the morning to buy a number of objects, especially amulets and household objects.

Meanwhile it was already 4 o’clock and I was ready to set off from Hanuabada to the islands of pigeons when a steam yacht came into sight at the entrance to the harbor and was steering towards Moresby. Thus finally returned the long expected governor! The pigeon hunt expedition was immediately canceled and I rushed back on board to await the arrival of the governor. The small yacht entered and moored at a buoy but nothing moved until I sent an officer to request the governor to pay me a visit.

The negotiations resulted in the principal agreement of a three-day expedition into the interior of the land to the Laroki river. Details were to be determined during the evening on board of the yacht.

Links

  • Location: Port Moresby, New Guinea
  • ANNO – on 15.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Faust“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.

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