James Chalmers of New Guinea
Exploring in the Gulf of Papua

TAMATE’S second important excursion from Port Moresby extended over a period of nearly two months, the start being made on 22nd November 1879. This time he was accompanied by Mr. Beswick and Piri, the native teacher at Boera; and, as this was to be a coasting trip, two Port Moresby natives were shipped as pilots. Three natives from Silo, also, were afforded the privilege of returning to their homes in the white man’s canoe.

Every mile of the coast-line from Port Moresby to Bald Head was carefully examined, either on the westward trip or on the return journey, and Thursday Island was visited when the western limit of exploration was reached. It was known that the eastern shores of the Gulf of Papua had been touched, at points, by Mr. M’Farlane in 1875, and then in 1878 Mr. Ingham had come along the whole coast in his small steamer; but as neither of these gentlemen had left any record of his observations, and as neither was thorough in his quest of exact information, it may be taken that Tamate was again adding to the sum of our slender knowledge of that part of New Guinea, as well as acquiring a preliminary acquaintance with the peoples to whom, for some years to come, he was to devote a large part of his time.

Some idea of the geographical value of the cruise may be derived from the mere enumeration of physical features that were located and named for the first time. These were the Coombes River, Macey Lagoon, the Ingham Hills, the Annie River, Treachery Point, Orokolo Bay, the Sir Arthur Gordon Range, Mount Chester, Mount Gill, Mount Alexander, and Mount Charlton. Valuable observations as to reefs, rivers, and harbours were added, besides, to the scanty details of the navigation charts.

Visits were paid to the fertile district of Maiva; to that of Oiapu, where the missionary party were "the first foreigners to land "; to the pretty and clean village of Jokea, afterwards to become more closely associated with the work of the mission; to Motumotu, "a very fine, large village," at which Tamate took up his quarters some years later; to the friendly people of Silo; to the village of Pesi; to the Kerema district; to that of Orokolo; and to that around Bald Head, the farthest point known to the Port Moresby pilots who accompanied the expedition. As we have indicated, a number of the places mentioned were scenes of further missionary work by Tamate, and we therefore deem it right, thus shortly, to mark the date of his first intercourse with the natives at these points. We have by no means exhausted the list of his landings on that occasion, nor did he claim to have "visited" a people until he had landed unarmed, and remained some time amongst them.

Broadly classed, the natives were friendly or unfriendly. At Motumotu, for instance, Tamate and his party had a cordial reception. Most of these coast villages had trade relations with the natives of Motu, the Port Moresby district, the staple commerce being in sago, extracted by the Gulf natives from the sago palm, and bartered for uros—earthenware cooking and waterpots manufactured by the Motuans. It was found, therefore, that Piri, the native teacher, was known at Motumotu, and indeed all along the coast. The visitors were escorted by the entire population of the village, and accommodated upon the platform of a large temple sacred to Semese. Presents were exchanged, and with his characteristic tolerance of the superstitions of the unenlightened heathen, Tamate even left a present "for the temple."

At Silo the natives who had taken passage from Port Moresby on the mission steamer secured a royal welcome for the party. "We were received as real friends, and the natives we returned to their homes made us out to be great chiefs of peace, great, ‘like the sun in its meridian splendour, and the moon at the full when it travels in the zenith.’ We were led to the temple, then through the village, so that all might have a good look at the great personages who brought their friends home ‘in a ship that can go without wind, and straight ahead, though blowing a strong head breeze.’

On our return visit we received large presents of sago, and the people helped in wooding the vessel."

At Pier Point, the natives of Pesi came alongside "shouting for Piri," and there, as well as at other places west of Motumotu, the welcome was sometimes embarrassing, for, "as in Polynesia, they rub noses when meeting, and to us it was not at all pleasant when an affectionate chief met us, his face got up for the occasion, the paint still wet, or perhaps in mourning, and that only recently put on, and insisted on rubbing noses."

The reference to mourning may best be explained by quoting Tamate’s description of the toilettes affected by the natives beyond Maiva. "The married men and women have very little dress; the young men and girls have a little more than their parents. Shells are much used in making head-dresses. . . . They have shell necklaces, and wonderfully wrought earrings made from tortoiseshell. Their nose-jewels, also made from shell, are very large, some three-quarters of an inch in diameter. On their arms they wear large shell armlets, and round their waists broad fancy-cut bark belts; some of the younger swells wearing tight bands of native cloths, nicely coloured, made from the bark of the native mulberry, and if compared with the tight-lacing of civilisation, they would undoubtedly carry off the palm. They paint the face in stripes of black, white, red, and yellow. When in mourning they paint themselves all over black, and wear finely-wrought net collars. When in very deep mourning they envelop themselves with a very tight kind of wicker-work dress, extending from the neck to the knees in such a way that they are not able to walk well."

But Tamate’s journey was not, by any means, a triumphal progress. Over and over again the suspicious or hostile conduct of the natives prevented a landing, or made it so dangerous that prudence dictated a retreat until a more convenient opportunity. Of the district of Karama, he writes:

"Our natives gave the inhabitants a very bad name; and on our nearing the large canoes that came off to meet us, they went below and got into the sailors’ bunks, begging the mate to shut up the forward hatch. On our seeing all the canoes armed with clubs and bows and arrows, and all the bows ready for action, and natives standing up with guards on their arms, we thought it best to have little to do with them, and, after giving a few presents, we steamed along to Namai and Silo."

Of the district of Keuru, he wrote: "The inhabitants are said to be bad and treacherous, and we were strongly advised to have nothing whatever to do with them; but on our return voyage, being short of wood, we anchored off some distance for the night, intending to go ashore in the morning and get two boat-loads. About half-past two in the morning the shells were blowing, and lights were seen all along the coast, that we thought it better to heave up anchor, run on to our friends at Silo, and there get wood." Again, at Orokolo Bay: "On entering the bay, and getting close up to the villages, we were soon surrounded by a number of well-manned and well-armed large double canoes. Things not looking particularly pleasant, bows being handled, and men taking stations on the platforms that join the canoes, we thought it well to give a few presents and get away. ‘Full speed ahead,’ and away we went with two double canoes keeping well up for a considerable distance. On our return, we again visited the bay, and, a few small unarmed canoes coming alongside, we allowed the natives on board, and were fraternising all right with them until we observed two large double canoes; one working up to port, and the other to starboard, and our natives noticed signs being given that led them to tell us ‘to look out, get rid of these lying fellows.’ We told them to get over the side, as we were going to leave; but they lingered on until some time after we were under weigh."

Of the different peoples visited, some were found to be cannibals, while others were not. The most of the cannibals were found in the neighbourhood of Bald Head, on the delta of what is now known as the Jubilee River. Tamate records that the natives of the village of Maipua "are black, with woolly hair, and all cannibals, eating human flesh, cooked or uncooked, and pronounce it better food than anything known." "All cannibals" is also his description of the inhabitants of the districts of Kailu and Ukerave. Of Tam-ate’s "cannibal friends," it may be said at once that he did not find that they were in any sense the most ferocious or inaccessible of the Papuans. Indeed, he once said, "If the accounts we heard of Fiji cannibalism are correct, then nowhere in New Guinea are these cannibals to be compared with the Fijians. . . . I have lived among cannibals, and have found them not at all a bad lot."

Although it is not within the scope of the present sketch to undertake anything like a detailed account of Tamate’s discoveries, or of the work of the New Guinea Mission as a whole, perhaps we should give some idea of the religious prepossessions of the people among whom it was his chief endeavour and ultimate object to sow the good seed of the Christian gospel. Here we may quote his description of the three principal deities of the Gulf native. " Kaevakuku is represented by a large frame of wicker-work; her hat is large, and is something like a penguin in shape, and when she is consulted in difficult affairs she gives her answers by shaking her head or remaining still. A party wishing to fight would at once go to the temple with an offering, and inquire as to whether they should fight or not, and if she would assist them. Were she agreeable, her head would shake; if otherwise, she remained still. Semese and Tauparau are made from blocks of wood, and stand outside of some temples, and against all the posts running down the centre. At Port Moresby the natives say that the spirit as soon as it leaves the body proceeds to Elema, where it for ever dwells in the midst of food and betel-nuts, and spends the days and nights in endless enjoyment—eating, chewing betel-nuts, and dancing." Even this crude eschatology contemplates a retributive judgment upon those who have misspent their lives. "Most worthless fellows are sent back to Poava and Idia, small islands near Boera, there to remain until the goddess sees fit to send for them."

Of the Port Moresby district itself, Mr. Lawes has written: "No religious system has been found in this part of New Guinea. There are no idols, and the people are not idol-worshippers at all. They seem to have no idea of a god as a supreme being or a good spirit. The only religious ideas consist in a belief in evil spirits. They live a life of slavish fear to these, but seem to have no idea of propitiating them by sacrifice or prayer. They believe, too, in the deathlessness of the soul, but their ideas as to its abode or condition are only vague and indefinite."

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