Schlagwort-Archiv: Solomon Islands

Ugi, 9 June 1893

In order to make good use of the second and final day of our stay on Ugi, that is amass more material for my collections and get to know the island better, multiple expeditions were to set out at dawn and only return on board in the evening. The disposition was as follows: I wanted to hunt with Prónay and Regner alongside the South coast, namely up to Cape Panna nihi where a few boats would be waiting for us with which we wanted to examine the interesting coral banks. Wurmbrand and Clam set themselves the task to make a tour around the island guided by a native which they hoped to accomplish in eight hours while Bourguignon, Sanchez and Preuschen decided to go to a village at the North coast to collect ethnographic objects for me. Mallinarich however was set to catch butterflies with two NCOs.

Thus we pushed off from „Elisabeth“ not before the commander, caring for his charges, warmly recommended to be under all circumstances back on board at sunset. On land the individual expeditions set off separately with a cordial hunter’s greeting. Each expedition included a party of sailors and carried the necessary provisions.

I first turned again towards the village of Ete-Ete, looking out for birds on the way but as a rain poured down shortly before dawn and rain was still alternating with sunshine there was not much hope to see representatives of the bird world that hid themselves in the dense leafy tops. I only managed to bag a large green parrot while Prónay killed a beautifully colored pigeon with yellow, pink and green feathers. The ground had become a mire due to the rain and at every step we sank up to the ankles into the soaked layer of topsoil that covered the ground here. In the forest I found a dying male house pig whose colossal tusks spiralling towards the rear were remarkable. For some time we stayed in the village and observed their daily life as they showed themselves much less timid and wary than the day before.

The inhabitants of the Solomon islands practised a „two-children“-system, so that apparently a large part of the newborns are killed. In fact we noticed the low number of children. Polygamy is the rule here but the number of women in a single household is seldom larger than two. The position of the women is a very sad one, they are totally subordinated to the husband, have to do all work at home and in the field and are treated extremely rough by the men. The latter one probably explains why the women were even more timid towards us than the men, even though today it seemed as if our appearance the day before had made the women more familiar.  A young woman who stood in paradise costume in front of a hut did even accept with a grin a cigarette I was offering her.

Continuing our walk we arrived after half an hour at a clearing where we found a number of idols and fetishes carved out of wood. The figures as well as the visible remains of huts seemed to indicate that in this clearing once stood a village as well as a holy hall and I decided immediately to land with the boats at the coast close to the clearing on the way home in order to take these apparently abandoned interesting fetishes. In order to find it again later I marked the clearing with a path to the coast by marking a row of trees leading to the sea shore and on the coast by marking two large palm trees.  This action may have been noticed by the savages and given them a hint of my intentions. When some gentlemen of the ship staff came to the clearing shortly after we had left it, they found armed natives guarding the marked trees as they told me later so that I had to sadly give up my plan to take possession of those fetishes.

Finally towards 10 o’clock I was close to Panna nihi but walked towards the coast as the sun was burning rather hotly and thus all the birds were hiding in the densest tree tops where two dinghies and the cleaning dinghy were waiting.

Fishing corals, the small fleet drove up and down the shore. At each location where such structures became visible we stopped, four sailors jumped into the water and collected all kinds of corals by diving. While we stayed close to the coast, the expedition Wurmbrand-Clam came into sight and soon met us following our tracks. The gentlemen failed to make their guide understand their plan and so they had wandered around for hours in the dense forest only to led back to their point of departure. As it was now noon they were forced to give up their original plan and decided to seek at least our expedition which they did without difficulties.

The cleaning dinghy was soon completely filled with corals. We then rested in the cool shade at noon eating a meal that in no way could be called a feast whose main part consisted of the tins brought along from Sydney.

During the pause the boatman surmised that we would find even more beautiful corals on the Western beach of the landing place, that is beyond where „Elisabeth“ was moored, than where we were now. Following this hint we rowed the four sea miles back to „Elisabeth“ as soon as the meal was completed and also the crew had finished theirs. We transferred the catches made up to now on board and then steered without a further stop to the mentioned place which would in fact prove to be a rich hunting ground.

At a distance of about 20 m from the coast lay the most gorgeous corals at a depth of 1 to 2 m below the water surface. Furthermore the bank was in fact dropping to important depths but even there through the blue water  the most beautiful forms are glittering. We all jumped out of the boat and hurried partly wading partly swimming around the bank and managed to get each especially beautiful coral out of the sea we could clearly see in the water transparent to the ground by diving. Larger pieces especially massive forms could not simply be extracted by hand but had to use a crowbar which was handled by a diver while others pushed and pulled until the desired piece fell off.

Here coral stood next to another one. We counted no less than fourteen different species and nowhere  on the reef the foot was touching anything else as coral forms again and again. Between them swam all kinds of red, blue and other sea creatures of whom we bagged a larger number.

The corals under water glitter in the most gorgeous colors whose tangle created even seen from above but especially while diving in closest proximity the impression that all possible shades on an infinite scale of the finest most delicately stepped nuances were artfully aligned.

Thus incited again and again we swam, dove and fished in the warm sea water for multiple hours with great eagerness as each tried to surpass the other by his findings and get the most beautiful specimens out of the depth. Finally two boats were filled to the brim with booty. We then took a closer look of the coast for a distance of about 500 m in order to find here too a large number of shells, snails and crabs. The whole beach is covered feet-high in white glittering shell and coral pieces so that it looks from afar as if it was covered in white sand.

This debris has been created by the destructive force of the surf and thrown at the coast by the tides. Now and then there are also intact shells or snails wedged in between the fragments. Everywhere there are crabs while on the trunks of the trees at the edge of the river hung land snails whose shell sometimes serves as a home to hermit crabs. After we had searched the beach and filled two buckets with catches, we started our trip home by the light of the setting sun. This did not fully go according to plan as our boats repeatedly were stuck on the far upwards reaching coral reefs and could only with effort get them out into the sea again. Furthermore there was a rainstorm which however was of little concern to the thoroughly wet coral fishermen.

On board of „Elisabeth“ the whole afterdeck was filled with today’s catches. Until late in the night everything was stored in order to salvage and stack the corals.

In the mean time the third expedition had returned home, those that had crossed the island. The gentlemen were very much delighted by their excursion. Accompanied by chief Rora and some of his underlings they had reached the Northern coast, walking always in the forest after a rather tiresome march of three hours. There they took a refreshing bath on a very inviting sand beach. Having reached the destination of their hike, the village on the North coast, they found the inhabitants at first even more timid than those of Ete-Ete, But they became soon more open when the gentlemen removed their weapons and shared their breakfast with the natives. The dignified Rora also contributed being fully aware about his own importance to calm the natives down so that the gentlemen even managed to acquire two fetishes and some decorative objects for me besides a large number of other objects.

When the expedition was on the way to move the goods bought back to „Elisabeth“ the three young natives were willing to carry the objects to the boats and could be convinced to come on board. The savages however were terribly spooked when during the pulling down of the flag the music band started to play and the flag salute shots were fired.

During the whole day a large number of canoes had been circling around the ship and the savages also engaged eagerly in trade as they had realized that we posed no danger. Basically it was small coins, Virginia cigars and cigarettes that proved attractive. Only the natives were unwilling to part from one of their canoes for any price. And just one of those was what I wanted as these vehicles with their light elegant build and their ornamentation — decorations made out of shells and sea grass — were said to be the most beautiful canoes of the South Sea. Only when our artillery officer produced two Werndl carbines and offered these in trade two canoes became into our possession.

The fourth expedition led by Mallinarich returned with rich spoils in butterflies and hymenoptera of all kinds.


  • Location: Ugi, Solomon islands
  • ANNO – on 09.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „College Crampton“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.

Owa raha to Ugi, 8 June 1893

When we were hoisting the anchor early in the morning to leave Owa raha, heavy rain was falling again. The departure, especially turning the ship in the very narrow harbor with its many coral reefs was just as difficult as during the entrance. Fortunately the weather improved when we drove in a North-western direction alongside the coast of San Cristoval so that we had a clear view on that densely overgrown island with its mountains rising up to1250 m. Rounding Cape Kibeck or Mahua we saw on starboard the group of islands called the Three Sisters, whose largest island is Malan paina and soon after, the island of Ugi, our destination today. Numerous dolphins and some sea birds enlivened the calm sea which was given the beautiful day of an intensively blue color.

Selwyn Bay on the Western coast of Ugi where we anchored is actually only one rather open mooring area in a beautiful scenic surrounding. We had to move really close to the surrounding coral banks at the shore which drops so suddenly that the bay adds depth quickly and the sounding amounts to 32 fathoms at the sea ladder when the anchor is resting at 20 fathoms.

On Ugi lives an Englishman with one assistant who are here protecting a small coal depot which was just been restocked by a sailing schooner. Furthermore there were on Ugi only a few native settlements snugly hidden between the trees. The natives were part of the same tribe as those on Owa raha.

Rushing on land quickly with a boat I sought the two Europeans. These coal guards who might justly be called lonely people led me into the interior of their hut made out of wooden planks in which only the number of weapons seemed remarkable. They are thus equipped to withstand any attacks of the natives.

Hodek photographed a group of savages who curiously stood around the station and then we entered into the interior of the island with a native man as a guide who the two Englishmen considered to be a fairly trustworthy companion.

The vegetation we saw was no less gorgeous than the one on Owa raha which had enchanted us so much. But we noticed in favor of Ugi’s scenic attractions a large number of small streams that rush flowing crystal-clear and splashing between the splendid trees to the coast. Along the shore of the streams stood marvellously beautiful places in the shadow of the giant trees filled with countless colorful butterflies.

The bird world too was represented in the most lovely manner even though one of the two station guards assured us when we asked him closely about the presence of game and especially birds on the island that on Ugi there was but one kind of large pigeons but no parrots etc.

I had barely taken 100 steps into the forest, when the first shot bagged me a splendid totally red parrot (Eos cardinalis) and I then just thereafter shot a beautifully colored pigeon (Ptilopus eugeniae) with a snow-white head, crimson breast, yellow belly and green and purple wings. Directly afterward a larger bird took off from a tall Dracaena which I bagged. It was a male specimen of an eclectus parrot (Eclectus pectoralis). It is green with blue-ending wings. Below the wings are light red feathers, the beak is orange-yellow. The size of the parrot is comparable to a strong domestic pigeon. The female is totally differently colored, namely scarlet but sky-blue in the neck, the belly and wings. During the hunt I shot also a scarlet myzomela (Mysomela pulcherrima), a totally coffee-brown pigeon having the shape of a  turtle dove and two large fruit doves (Carpophaga pistrinaria), as well as a pair of the splendid yellow-bibbed lory (Lorius chlorocercus) whose feathers consist of all colors of the rainbow and are certainly to be counted among the most beautiful parrots. The birds were difficult to see in the dense leaves of the giant jungle trees even though one could always hear them.

Thus I might have walked for about an hour admiring the tropical wonders of the forest and flowers and looking out from time to time for a colorful bird when I came to a clear stream in which I took an agreeable cool bath given the intensive heat and waded across and found myself unexpectedly in the middle of a village called Ete-Ete and met here a larger number of the gentlemen of my staff who were in the midst of intensive bartering with the natives. By and by also arrived my gentlemen each of which had made interesting catches, namely in parrots. The officers informed us that at their arrival all inhabitants had fled, especially the women and hid themselves in the forest and only after quite some time re-emerged to more brave who could not identify threatening behaviors and brought after long discussions spears and other objects for trading. The value of minted coins seemed to be known to the people. While the looked at tobacco products, textiles or pearls with indifference, they offered everything what they owned for a coin, namely for an American dollar that were considered especially valuable. Only the necklaces made out of shells or dog teeth, they would not trade for any amount. Thus we bought weapons and fishing equipment among them a strangely formed wooden harpoon with six prongs as well as combs etc.

As intermediaries for the exchange served, besides one of the station guards who had accompanied the gentlemen of the staff as interpreter, two strange fellows named Rora and Belingi, the chiefs of the village’s two tribes. Rora’s extremely off-putting exterior was in no way embellished by the emblem of his dignity, an old sky-blue felt hat of enormous size that was missing its top and formed at the same time his only piece of clothing. The cylindrical monster is said to have been once the property of a slain and then eaten missionary. The right hand of Rora was in a bag as he had been wounded while fishing. Belingi, the co-regent, seemed to be of a high age and to have participated in many hard fight as the chief’s body was covered with deep scars. We could clearly see a spot on his breast where a heavy spear must have entered and been thrust sideways through his body.

Even these two old fellows showed themselves fearful and wary as the large number of white men, the shooting and hunting close to the village had shocked them quite a bit. Finally we managed to get the two to part with two of those large wooden cooking vessels inlaid with mother of pearl which the islanders used in large feasts. They are made out of hollowed out trunks and are 1 m long vats that are more or less richly decorated on the exterior wall. Even with time the chiefs were willing to call the women and girls and have them photographed by Hodek, arranged in a picturesque group, but only under the condition that no white man with the exception of the photographer looked at the ladies. Therefore we had to step behind a hut while Hodek took the picture and could only later browse in the village. Here some of the ladies with large décolletés nevertheless presented themselves in front of our eyes. As soon as we had seen the beauties of Ete-Ete, we had wished they would have stayed hidden.

The huts of Ete-Ete resembled in form and ornamentation quite closely those on Owa raha, but the holy places on Ugi were more poorly equipped. Dolphin coffins were missing, the carvings were meager and the fetishes less ornamented. Instead we found war canoes in Ete-Ete but it was impossible to buy one of these or a fetish as neither money nor good words helped even though I finally offered multiple sovereigns for those interesting objects the islanders considered holy.

The inhabitants of Ete-Ete resembled also those of Owa raha, but suffered in part from a nasty rash of blisters that was unpleasant to notice on the individual bodies. As far as decorative objects were concerned we found only small differences: Thus the necklaces were richer but most bracelets made out of white stone that is of European origin.

Worth a mention is a burial place which holds the remains of nobles and consists of a small hut covered with palm leaves on whose dais skulls are spread out for bleaching. Close by, partially hidden, fragments of human bones were laying around which left no doubt that we were looking at the sad remains from disgusting feasts.

Continuing my way through the forest I bagged a few birds but had to walk to the coast after a short time as we all had to be back at sunset. The excursion ended with us walking slowly back along the beach and almost wading in the sea to Ete-Ete and boarded the waiting boats which took us back to the ship.


  • Location: Ugi, Solomon islands
  • ANNO – on 08.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Neue Freie Presse reports in many columns about Franz Ferdinand’s stay on Java back in April.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Der Meister von Palmyra“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.

Owa raha, 7 June 1893

The tropical rainy season into which we were now re-entering made itself felt more and more in a disagreeable way; very heavy winds alternated with short periods of good weather. Towards noon the heights of the islands of San Cristoval and its offshore islands Owa raha (Santa Anna) and Owa riki (Santa Catalina)at the South-east point appeared out of bank of clouds that had up to now obscured our view.

The group of the Solomon islands forms an arc in the direction of Northwest to South-east across 10 degrees of latitude. The northernmost point of the Solomons, Cape North on Buka island is situated at 5° South latitude and 154° 35′ East longitude. The Southernmost, the already mentioned island of Owa riki, lies at 10° 54′ South latitude and 162° 30′ East longitude. The total area of the Solomon islands is estimated at around 43.900 km2, the number of its inhabitants at around 180.000 persons.

The numerous islands of this archipelago have been discovered for the most part by a Spanish expedition under the command of Alvaro Mendana de Neyras and named the Solomon islands in honor of the Biblical king Solomon in the belief to have discovered a new Ophir as rich in gold. This expedition consisting of the two ships „Almirante“ and „Capitano“ was sent out by Lope Garcia de Castro, governor of Peru, in order to make discoveries in the Pacific Ocean. It had left the port of Callao in 1567, dedicated the year 1568 to the discovery of the Solomon islands and returned to Callao in 1569. In the year 1768, that is exactly two hundred years later, Bougainville rediscovered the Solomon islands on his voyage around the world and renamed the two large North-eastern islands Bougainville and Choiseul.

Even though they had been visited multiple times during our century the Solomon islands are even today still, namely as far as the many small satellite islands are concerned, a fertile because almost completely unknown territory for researchers an especially ethnographers.

The Solomon islands are arranged in two rows. Part of the North-eastern row are the four larger islands of Bougainville, Choiseul, Ysabel — these three are part of a German protectorate — and Malaita, the latter island besides the South-western row of three larger islands of New Georgia, Guadalcanar and San Cristoval being a British protectorate. Both rows are as noted accompanied by numerous small even tiny islands.

The destination of our voyage was at first the island of Ugi, North of San Cristoval. As we were still 70 sea miles away from the coast of Ugi at noon on the 7th and landing in darkness did not seem promising especially as the numerous rain storms were expected to cause difficulties during the landing, the commander decided to steer into a closer bay (Port Mary) on the South-western side of the island of Owa raha to the East of San Cristoval.

As the soundings and coast surveys in the whole area of the Solomon islands are still very unreliable the entrance into the small bay protected by rimmed reefs against the motion of the sea proved both difficult and interesting. Two dinghies were sent out ahead to sound the entrance which was two cables wide and serve as marker points to steer between the two.

The bay itself where we were anchoring has a diameter of only a few hundred meters and is surrounded on the seaside by coral reefs that are visible during low tide. On the landside are dense woods in which numerous palm trees were visible just up to the beach and we could also see huts of a native settlement among the trees. Beautiful peaceful nature was everywhere around us asleep only disturbed by the excitement of the savages of Owa raha about our appearance.

Already during our entrance into the bay we had seen a small canoe in which natives used their primitive paddles to get off the land and discovered, when it had come closer, that a white man sat in it who immediately came on board and was suspicious at first as he suspected „Elisabeth“ to be a French warship. As soon as we had explained the ship’s nationality to him, the white man became more talkative and reported that he had been staying on Owa raha for a few months trading with the natives who by the way had killed some of his predecessors due to differences in opinion but he had good relations with them.

We were much surprised to find a European here as according to all declarations only two or three white people were staying in the South-eastern part of the Solomon islands, namely in Ugi. About the nationality of the man who spoke English we could not precisely determine as he offered no information and did not say much  which made us assume that he might be a deserter or an escaped convict from the colonies.

The inhabitants of the Solomon islands are still savages and cannibals, extremely insidious, deceitful and dangerous especially for whites which may be shown by the fact that from June 1889 to the beginning of1890, that is in only a few months, no fewer than six white persons were murdered in various places by inhabitants of the Solomon islands.

For a landing on Owa raha an expedition was immediately organized that left in two parties: One of which under my leadership consisted of a few gentlemen plus the white man whose task it was to serve as an interpreter had the purpose of examining the settlement. The other consisting of Mallinarich and two sailors was tasked to fish and collect as many corals and other sea animals as possible.

Only a few strokes with the oars were required for our boat to come close to the settlement on land but we had hardly set foot on land when a truly tropical rainfall poured down that completely soaked us to the skin. As the wild inhabitants had the lovely custom to rob unattended boats of the whites landing without protecting their boats and then cutting off the retreat of those landed, we left behind a party under the command of a cadet to protect the boat while four sailors armed with Mannlicher rifles accompanied us on land.

First we visited the house of the white man, a quite nicely furnished and comfortable hut which had a veranda around it on whose rear wall hung cages with colorful parrots. The interior had multiple rooms that served partly for living partly for storage of the supplies. In the kitchen we were kindly greeted with a friendly handshake of a Melanesian woman of pitch-black color, apparently the wife of the settler to whim we gallantly offered a cigar which she accepted and immediately lighted and started to smoke. The clothing of the dark lady was scanty but appropriate to the climate and the local customs and consisted in the main of a tiny skirt. Thanks to this clothing we could examine her figure. She was of middle stature, slim and well-proportioned.  Her face however was not an attractive sight as it showed a flat protruding front  and a broad Semitic-formed nose and large thick-lipped mouth.  The already ugly face was further defaced by the Melanesian woman keen on trappings as all the Oceanic race generally seemed to be nose rings as well as hangers consisting of wooden pieces of considerable size on long nails in her pierced ears.

Our ethnographic studies about the female part of the population was limited to that woman which we considered the wife of the settler. She was the only female being which we could see as the black beauties hid themselves in the interior of their huts, closed off the doors with mats and stayed out of view when we arrived in the village.

Next to the hut of the white man rose another tall hut, a holy site called taboo in which the natives kept their war canoes and also buried their chiefs and nobles of their tribe. Of such places we identified four in the village which are original enough to merit a closer description: Each of these huts formed a kind of large barn whose front was open. The roof was covered with bark and the support columns and crossbeams and rafters, in sum the total frame of joints, was covered with carvings and colorfully painted with red, white and black colors dominating.  These ornaments represent grotesque images of idols in most horrible forms and in a most horrible style, mostly humans with very short feet, long straight bodies and hideous faces surrounded by the usual high headgear. One of these wooden images carved out of a single pillar caught my special attention as it was a caricature of an English missionary  clutching the bible in his hand and wearing a tropical helmet and veil. These fetishes are said to be inhabited by demons, Ataro, that had a special role in ancestor worship. As decorations used here were hundreds of lower jaws of pigs. On the floor in the barn and on racks lay the war canoes notable by their slim form, their lightness and rich decorations. Especially the aft of the vehicles but also the sides were covered with many carvings but also mother of pearl inlays of truly artistic taste whose motives were animal figures and flowers. The boats are constructed out of thin boards and glued together with resin and up to 7 m long and barely 1/2 m wide, but there are also some very small vehicles intended apparently for a single man.

In the middle of the „holy hall“ stands a rack or actually a catafalque on which sits a wooden box with the bones of the most recently deceased chief. Surrounding this catalfalque are truly strange coffins up to the ceiling which namely form large dolphins carved out of wood of surprisingly realistic nature that contain the skull and the bones of the tribe’s dignitaries in their hollow space. Each of these wooden dolphins is attached on a different level so that the distance from the hut’s ceiling marks the number of humans the deceased had killed in his lifetime. The higher that is closer to the ceiling a coffin is hanging, the larger is the number of slain enemies by the deceased. The lower the coffin is placed the lower the number of slain.

The natives of the Solomon islands are said to be ardent cannibals so that the capture of human bodies to cook and eat their meat accounts for the main purpose of the perennial fights and campaigns of the islanders. As the inhabitants of each of these islands and on these individual tribes again and even the inhabitants of neighboring villages are living together in constant feuds one may think how often the cannibals have the opportunity to satisfy their abhorrent cravings. Mendana, the discoverer of the Solomon islands, was already offered cooked human meat on 15 March 1568 on Santa Ysabel. 1872 and still even later English sailors found cooked bodies and remains of such on Santa Ysabel and San Cristoval, and even today this horrible barbarism mocking all higher sentiments is continuing in the same vein. Our friends on Owa raha drive as we were assured quite often to the neighboring San Cristoval to raid and kill their enemies and bring back their bodies in order to eat them with gusto!

The huts of the natives between the holy halls are small but relatively well built. Each has a widely protruding roof made out of bark, palm leaves or grass.On one of the walls made out of canes extends a porch on whose one-meter-high base the family of the house is crouching during leisure time and smoking tobacco which had been introduced to the Solomon islands by the Europeans. The rear wall of the porch or balcony is decorated with clubs, spears, bows, arrows and shields of the occupants and also the carved sticks that the natives tend to carry in their hands during their festive dances are stored here. Below the balcony is some kind of barn for the tame pigs which are missing in no hut and are considered like housemates. Such a balcony with its decorations, the camped smoking natives and the pigs in the lower part adding to the entertainment of their „masters“ by grunting delivered a strange genre painting.

The interior of the huts which are closed by a low door covered by bast mats consists as well as we were able to see from the outside of a large room on whose walls hang all kind of tools and an open fire in a round pit surrounded by stones where they cook. Some kind of folding screen made out of raw netting divides the room in some of these huts into smaller compartments into which the women seem to have fled at our arrival, while the men, during our visit, either came up to us without inhibitions or stood on the threshold of their home and looked astonished at the strange intruders.

As in New Caledonia, the inhabitants of Owa raha are conspicuous for their muscular, strong build but their facial features, especially in the case of old people, are consistently very ugly. The curly, incredibly thick hair is combed upwards and tied together in a tuft.  In general, however, the inhabitants of the Solomon islands tend to cut their hair or to wear it hanging down or in small braids. In some individuals I noticed the strange appearance of flaccid hairs pasted together into bushels so that the whole looked like the coat of a fuzzy poodle. Some of the natives have a somewhat lighter skin color and are different from their comrades whose color is dark coffee brown almost black. The clothing is limited to almost only decorative objects. Above all, the natives of Owa raha pin the most various things in their ears whose earlobes are pierced and artifically enlarged so that pieces of wood multiple centimeters in size can be wedged in. As another kind of ornament we see objects made out of glass pearls or dog teeth or rows upon rows of tiny shells on the neck and the front. Arm and foot rings are mostly made out of netting into which also are woven shells or snails. Nose rings are often made out of tortoiseshell. Very popular are European hats and it offers a very funny sight to see such a black guy wearing only an old top hat or straw hat coming out of his hut.

Nature here offers so much voluntarily that the natives do not have to toil much. Their sustenance is provided by the sea rich in fish and by the inexhaustible plant cover of the land. Pigs, poultry, fish, tortoises, mussels provide the meat in their food. Overall, though, they are vegetarians and eat mostly roots of all kind produced in fields and gardens such as yam and taro which are cultivated in places cleared by fire. Then there are fruits of the areca  and sago palm tree, Musa sapientium and Musa paradisiaca etc. As stimulants serve, as already reported by Mendana, betel and stimulating but also intoxicating beverage called kawa made out of the roots of Piper methysticum.

The great pleasure of the islanders is smoking and chewing betel. Never one sees a male native without tobacco which they procure through trade nor without a betel box, even most women were used to smoke short pipes. The present of a few cigars made the men who we met immediately more forthcoming. The original timidity left them and one of them showed his pleasure, thanks to a cigar offered, by beginning some sort of dance throwing his arms into the air which he accompanied with shouts and comical gesturing.

We now asked our European guide to lead us a bit into the interior of the island to which he agreed after a longer discussion and we were led by him first for some time along the coast and then on a small track path into the woods. In this moment everyone shouted in astonishment as the splendor of the plant world which we suddenly saw was almost overwhelming. The narrow gorge which took us in was formed on both sides by porous walls made out of tuft and these and the ground show themselves covered over and over with the most gorgeous palm trees, namely Phytelephas, Pandanus, fern trees to whose tops rose hundreds of growing plants entangling branches and trunks.

Every step made us stop with amazed gaze upon new forms and never before seen strange plants which no greenhouse holds nor no books know. I lamented vividly to know only our local flora and not the flora of tropical countries in order to determine  at least a part of orders, families and species of the plants I met here.

In phytological relations still less well known and incompletely researched Solomon islands seem as far as variety, wealth of forms and luxuriousness are concerned to be of a unique nature. It even pushes the gorgeous vegetation of Java into the background. Humidity, warmth and terrain unite here in the impenetrable jungle to produce tropical plants of all kinds in the greatest luxury from the plain to the highest mountain tops, so that a hike through this fairy tale plant world of Owa raha will amaze every friend of nature with true delight. Every spot we came too seemed to be derived from the richest greenhouses. What we consider the most valuable gifts of the greenhouse, glass box or flower table and admire in miniature grows here as mighty trees, as bushes, herbs, grass, flowers of a giant and luxurious form. The ground — geologically young eruptive stones form the mass of the Solomon islands — offers  the plants in fact in the humous decomposition products of the so nutritive plant substances in connection with the tropical heat and the not permanent but frequent rain in this areas an incomparable basis to grow and set roots.

Here stand ficus trees whose trunks reach probably more than 80 m in height and that cover with their giant branches an area of more than 100 m2. Next to it rise giant Dracaenae, Araliaceae, rubber trees, in between the most beautiful fan palms, and each of the trunks is straight as an arrow and covered with hundreds of parasite plants and orchids, entangled by all kinds of lianas. Everything grows, prospers, sprawls. Where a tree falls to the ground due to the burden of its age or broken by the wind, on its trunk rises within a short delay again trees thick as an arm and airborne roots become individual plants as soon as they touch mother earth. Each plant bears fruit, each semen grows, each seed sprouts buds and leaves. Everywhere there is new life and plants are reborn. Never has a human hand touched the trunks of this jungle. Almost without bound they rise towards the clouds. To determine the height of one of these forest giants approximatively we used the only tool we had. We fired namely with our best rifles some grain at birds that had flown up from a tree top without however the grain reaching there.

Time again the smooth roots and the broken tuft stones were impeding our steps in the virgin forest. But we soon advanced more quickly as in the hitherto visited tropical woods because the lianas do not populate the ground as densely. Even in the most swampy places that often crossed our path and were covered with the most beautiful leaf plants of all sizes and kinds could be crossed without difficulties. Thus we entered deeper admiring and observing constantly until we suddenly stood at the edge of an enchanting lake whose shore trees whose trunks and branches hung in the water and stood so densely that we could see the surface only through the gaps in the green leaf wall. In honor of „Elisabeth“, the first warship of our navy that had visited the Solomon islands I named the beautiful body of water „Lake Elisabeth“ which was not marked on any maps nor in the sailing handbooks. Its width is about 400 m; as we did not have enough time we could not determine its length.

Hunting catches were slim on this expedition. On the one hand, Owa raha did not seem to offer many specialities in its fauna and on the other hand, the birds ha almost all hid themselves in the tree tops due to the pouring rain. Only at the shore of Lake Elisabeth I managed to bag two pigeons (Ptilopus richardsi and Carpophaga pistrinaria).

With time evening approached so that we had to leave the newly baptised lake to return to the village of Owa raha where as the rain had diminished in intensity a vivid trade had developed. Tobacco products, especially Virginia cigars, were in high demand by the natives while toilet articles were not asked for. For two cigarettes I received a beautiful spear but only a woven bag for a colored handkerchief. Thus one of the delicate batiste handkerchiefs bought on Vienna’s Graben was transferred as a decoration and only piece of clothing on the neck of a dark female cannibal! Also many of the gentlemen of my staff could not resist the rich offering of wooden spears, harpoons and decorative objects and paid with all kinds of articles from home until we returned with fully filled boats back on board.

Less well than our expedition was what had happened to Mallinarich. He had separated himself with two sailors from us next to the village and had, while we marched East, walked towards the West to collect corals and shells according to my wishes.

Everybody had received the appropriate order to return on board at sunset but that time had already gone without somebody from Mallinarich’s expedition making an appearance. Hour upon hour went until a general commotion reigned on „Elisabeth“. The most adventurous guesses about the expedition’s failure to return were heard, some thought that they had been caught as prisoners others stated that Mallinarich was certainly being cooked as a tasty treat in a large cauldron. As most of us had been of the opinion that the expedition must have lost its way and would not return before dawn next morning. The commander had the whole coast illuminated by the large electric projectors and a boat with armed men was searching the beach but nothing was visible. Finally a large detachment with lanterns and rockets under the command of officers was sent out to search for them and was just on the way to the interior of the island when repeated signal shots were heard from the cape. Immediately a boat was sent there and after 10 o’clock in the evening Mallinarich and the two sailors were back on board, tired but healthy.

Searching on the beach they had drifted too far away in our urge to collect so that dusk surprised them and suddenly when it started to get dark, they noticed about fifteen natives who blocked their way to the beach. Quickly the three decided to turn into the direction they had come but also on that side were natives, five in number, who came out of the wood. Thus our three were almost surrounded by armed savages who took more and more threatening stances. Seeing a gap in the surrounding circle around him and the two sailors, Mallinarich fired a shot on the row of enemies, pushed the closest savage to the ground and escaped with the sailors from the enemy group. As they kept their position between the threatened group and the boats and thus cut off the retreat to the vehicles, our people were forced to undertake a journey around the whole island which meant that naturally the majority of objects collected on the beach had to be left behind as dangerous baggage.

Perhaps Mallinarich had acted a bit too energetically as perhaps the savages might have been cooled down by negotiating. On the other hand the situation he had been could have been quite awkward and also not suitable for a night march. In any case it was reasonable to congratulate those returning home and ourselves that everything went well.

The natives in the village certainly received the news of the incident quickly. Despite having promised during the evening of my arrival to come on board with new trading objects nobody showed up again.

I used the evening to try a new sport in the beautiful calm bay, fish sticking in light in which our brave boatswain Zamberlin was a true master. He equipped with complete skill which distinguishes the inhabitants of the coast in such matters the dinghy by fixing at the fore the necessary most primitive light apparatus. It only contained a pan-like grid in which thanks to tar and dry spruce wood an intense fire was burning so that the sea was clearly illuminated to a considerable depth.

Slowly we drove over the coral banks looking down to the various fantastic forms that appeared in a reddish tint in the shine of our light source. Here Lilliputian woods and flower beds were rising, there starred a small coral island made out of barbs, points and arms.Then the limy mass formed grottos and caves in which all kind of small light red, sky-blue, grass-green and silver-glittering fish shot up and down. In between lay lazy starfish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers or Holothuroidea, and everything shone, glittered, radiated in the brightest colors, the most delicate nuances as soon as light touched them in a manner only sea water with its strange refractive power is able to create.

Large fish we could see only at the beginning of the journey then they disappeared into the deep areas having been frightened by the sound of the rudder and by the lights. Still our boatswain managed like Neptune standing with a harpoon at the fore to catch some strange pieces, such as a fully white ray, some kind of ocean sunfish, multiple eel-like fishes with a heron-like beak and sharp teeth, a rare beautiful crayfish with black-yellow bands on the extremities and a green armored back. Where the sea was undulating, oil was used to markedly improve the certainty of sticking a fish.

The view of the night-time suddenly illuminated depths of the sea, of the coral structures and all these strange inhabitants of the sea, the fish sticking, the strange magic of the whole journey  — everything imprinted itself deeply into my memory.


  • Location: Owa raha, Solomon islands
  • ANNO – on 07.06.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Ein Wintermärchen“. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is closed from 1 June to 19 July.