James Chalmers of New Guinea
Pioneering: Ten weeks in the Interior

PORT MORESBY, or Hanua bada, a village of about 1000 inhabitants, now became Tamate’s headquarters. There Mr. and Mrs. Lawes were in charge of the station which, as we have seen, the Rev. A. W. Murray, "the Father of the New Guinea Mission," established in 1873. Besides taking charge of the native church of the district, and supervising the work of the Polynesian teachers at different out-stations, Mr. Lawes—" an able, plodding, cautious, conscientious, kind, and gentlemanly man "—did useful work in study of the various languages spoken by natives of the surrounding country; reducing these to writing, and translating portions of the Bible—the New Testament and the Psalms— and other books of a useful kind: founding the literature of New Guinea, so to speak. At a later date than that at which Tamate joined him, Mr. Lawes also organised a training institute for the instruction of Christian New Guineans, with the object of preparing a native ministry.

Tamate devoted himself almost exclusively to pioneering work. With a view to the creation of a friendly entente between the missionaries and the people of hundreds of village communities, and the spread of the gospel through his preaching and that of native pastors,— settled wherever he could obtain a peaceable reception for them,—he traversed the country in all directions. After a very short space of time, his record overtopped that of any other traveller who had explored in New Guinea, and his researches proved of untold value to the natives, in opening up for them the possibility of friendly intercourse with the civilised world.

Tamate’s first prolonged trip from Port Moresby occupied a period of ten weeks. Between the start on 15th July and the finish on 26th September he "visited many native villages, and explored the mountainous country along the course of, and between, the Goldie and Laroki rivers." In this excursion he was accompanied by Ruatoka, the Rarotongan teacher who had been stationed at Port Moresby for some years, had acquired some knowledge of the current language of the Motu tribes, and had made the personal acquaintance of numbers of natives from the interior who had visited the coast at one time or another.

It would little serve our purpose were we to reproduce here an exact itinerary of this expedition, or indeed of any other of the great number which Tamate was able to accomplish; but we may note, in as concise a manner as is possible, the data which added to his ever-growing intimacy with his "friends" the savages of New Guinea. We shall attempt to record, as well, such facts as will serve to demonstrate the slow but sure growth of a better understanding between Papuans and white men, resulting in large measure from the frankness, cordiality, fearlessness, bravery, and Christian teaching of Tamate himself.

In the equipment of an explorer’s expedition, carriers are almost a prime requisite: in the absence of a money currency barter goods must be carried, and these are usually of considerable weight and bulk; medicine and certain articles of European diet, as well as cooking utensils and other camping necessaries, must be carried; a store of useful and useless articles, which, as presents to chiefs and others, are the "open sesame" of most uncivilised lands, must be carried. But Tamate found that portage was one of the most difficult matters to negotiate. Although he set out with eighteen carriers, he had not gone many miles before these laid down their burdens and returned to the coast. Fresh assistance was procured, and another short stage accomplished, when his second gang declined to go a mile farther, and went back to their village. Here and there carriers were not to be had at all, and the exploring party had to store the bulk of their goods with, a friendly chief, and carry the remainder of the "swag" themselves.

With inconvenient emphasis, this experience demonstrated the fact that the people of New Guinea had not even reached the tribal stage of development, where a powerful chief exercises autocratic sway over a wide extent of country, and may be propitiated by the passing traveller. The village community is the greatest social aggregate in New Guinea. Chalmers found that no native felt any security in crossing the narrow boundaries of the land in the immediate neighbourhood of his home; as soon as he came within the sphere of the next village the Papuan was in imminent risk of losing his life. For the same reason the quarrellings and bickerings between the different villages were innumerable. If a person from a neighbouring community had been wounded or killed, the natives of the guilty village lived in hourly fear of reprisals.

Tamate had not gone a day’s march from Port Moresby before he found houses where "on the door hangs a bunch of nutshells, so that when the door is shut or opened they make a noise. Should the occupants of the house be asleep, and their foes come, they would, on the door being opened, be wakened up. Spears and clubs are all handy." "The state of fear of one another in which the savage lives is truly pitiful; to him every stranger seeks his life, and so does every other savage. The falling of a dry leaf at night, the tread of a pig, or the passage of a bird, all arouse him, and he trembles with fear." Elsewhere Chalmers has written: "It is often said, Why not leave the savages alone in their virgin glory? only then are they truly happy. How little those who so speak and write know what savage life is! A savage seldom sleeps well at night. He fears ghosts and hobgoblins; these midnight wanderers cause him much alarm, as they are heard in falling leaves, chirping lizards, or disturbed birds singing; but, besides these, there are embodied spirits that he has good cause to fear, and especially at that uncanny hour between the morning star and glimmering light of the approaching lord of day, the hour of yawning and arm stretching, when the awakening pipe is lighted and the first smoke of the day is enjoyed. . . . Savage life is not the joyous hilarity that many writers would lead us to understand. It is not all the happy laugh, the feast, and the dance. There are often seasons when communities are scattered, biding in large trees, in caves under rocks, in other villages, and far away from their own."

Although we may be anticipating, to some extent, it may be recorded here that one of the earliest benefits derived by the Papuans from the pioneer work of Tamate and other missionaries was the dissipation of that element of dread in the social life of the people. To quote from a traveller, who visited New Guinea in the 'eighties for other purposes than those of the missionaries: "Every native of New Guinea goes to bed with his war implements handy, and sleeps warily. These missionaries have taught him that if he ‘shows mercy to his enemy he will make his enemy do likewise; so, eventually, he flings down his arms, and sleeps soundly, without dread, and commonsense brings him over in no time."

Chalmers himself has recorded that, a very short time after the trip of which we are’ at present giving some account, Lohia of Taburi, an inland native "who had never been to port before, came with a large party and remained some days, greatly delighted that the way was open for them to come and go as they liked. When the Sogerians heard that Lohia had been to the coast, they, too, soon followed. . . . One of our New Year meetings brought large crowds from inland. . . . There were addresses, one of which was delivered by Lohia. He was excited and astonished. He said it was difficult to believe that now, when he was grown old, the way was open from the sea to the far-back mountains, and he hoped it would continue so."

Tamate entered every strange village with shouts of "Peace, peace, peace." In a short time it became known that he tried everywhere to make peace, and many a feud was terminated through his mediation. In this connection we may quote the testimony of Dr. Doyle Glanville, who visited New Guinea in 1885 as a member of a Special Commission appointed by the British Government. "Whatever might be its origin, ‘Tamate’ meant a great deal. If I went to the natives and said, ‘Who is the king?’ ‘Tamate,’ was the reply. If I said to them, ‘Who is like a father unto you?’ they would say ‘Tamate.’ If I said ‘What is "maino"?’ —‘maino’ meaning peace, remember—they would say, ‘Tamate,’ because Tamate settled their little quarrels, soothed their strife. Was it not Tamate who turned their quarrels into peace? Had not Tamate been known, when two opposing tribes were approaching, to go and take the two hostile chiefs, like two turbulent children, and insist upon their being friends, and not fighting?"

One immediate consequence of the scarcity of carriers was that "light swags" became absolutely necessary, and for supplies of food reliance had to be placed upon the varied faring of the native larder. "Feeling sure we should get carriers here, we took no supplies with us, so are now eating the best we can get, doing Banting to perfection." There are no sheep or cattle on New Guinea, and the pig is the staple source of flesh food. Pig was not always forthcoming, however, and we read of "a good supper of taro and cockatoo, the latter rather tough," of a meal. of "sugar-cane, taro, and okan-nut" ("a large kind of almond"), and of a present of cooked food and "smoked wallaby" (kangaroo). Sometimes the native diet did not tempt. "The natives who accompanied us, having caught a large rat and frog, turned them on the fire and ate them." "The natives have been having a feast. They began with boiled bananas, and finished with a large snake cooked in pots. It was cut up and divided out amongst all—sixteen eggs were found in her, a little larger than a good-sized fowl’s egg. They seemed to relish it much, and the gravy was much thought of. They say pig is nothing to compare with snake. Ah, well, tastes differ." "A woman came in with several bamboos of grubs, which were cooked in the bamboos, then spread on leaves ; some salt was dissolved in the mouth and squirted over all." When Tamate adds—" It was amusing to see the gusto with which men, women, and children partook," we get a glimpse of the large and kindly tolerance with which he could appreciate the human side of savage native life, without being repelled by practices and customs in which, to say the least, he could not share.

Not only is the pig the most valued quadruped in New Guinea, for the sake of its carcase, but it occupies the position of the domestic pet. " Under the first house in the village sat a man with a large pig standing by him, which he was clapping and scratching as if to keep it quiet "—a precaution which was not unnecessary, for at another village "the family pig . . . danced, grunted, advanced, retired, and finally made at me." Besides domesticated pigs, there were wild pigs—" A wild boar from the bush took possession of the village. Often when the natives are in the bush they have to seek refuge in climbing trees from the savage tuskers, especially if they have been speared and are determined to fight."

Native cooking was found to be of a primitive and incomplete character. "A pig is put on the fire until the hair is well singed off; then division is made, then re-divided, and eaten. They take a piece between the teeth, hold with one hand, and with a bamboo-knife cut close to the mouth. A bird is turned on the fire a few times, then cut up and eaten."

The principal articles of barter were tobacco and salt. "How they relish salt! The smallest grain is picked carefully up. Fortunately we have a good deal of this commodity. Never have I seen salt-eating like this; only children eating sugar corresponds to it." "The demand for salt is very great; grains are picked up, and friends are supplied with a few grains from what they have got for taro." "Maka was buying taro with salt, and, having finished, some natives noticed damp salt adhering to his hand they seized the hand, and in turn licked it until quite clean." Sugar, curiously enough, did not appeal to the native palate. "A man sitting by us when having morning tea, asked for some of the salt we were using. We told him it was not salt, but sugar. He insisted it was salt, and we gave him some on his taro. He began eating, and the look of disgust on his face was worth seeing; he rose up, went out, spat out what he had in his mouth, and threw the remainder away."

Of this trip of ten weeks, Mr. Lawes wrote: "Travelling northeast, past Moumili on the west bank of the Goldie River, he (Tamate) came to Munikahila on the high land, and formed a permanent camp at Kenenumu, on one of the ridges. From this starting point he made an excursion east - north - east across the Munikahila Creek, which flows west, and falls into the Goldie. . . . In the hope of reaching the opposite coast of New Guinea, Mr. Chalmers went along Mount Bellamy until he found it ended abruptly, and was distinct from the Owen Stanley Range. He was unable to cross the main range owing to the height and inaccessibility of the mountains, the thick bush and huge boulders. . . . Starting again from Kenenumu, Mr. Chalmers visited Sogeri, a large district lying between the spurs, and a mountain which he called Mount Nisbet, and running round the latter, east and west. . . . He visited two districts at the back of Mount Astrolabe, and from the summit obtained a splendid view of a country which, he says, he has not seen equalled in New Guinea."

The rough travelling to. which Mr. Lawes refers may be illustrated from Tamate’s own account. "Of my travelling in this land, to-day beats all; it was along mere goat tracks on the edge of frightful precipices, down precipitous mountain-sides and up steep ridges, on hands and knees at times, hanging on to roots and vines, and glad when a tree offered a little rest and support. I gave it up at last, hungry and weary." "We lost our way, and after some hours’ travelling found ourselves in a thick bush and surrounded by precipices. It has been up hill and down dale wjth a vengeance, trying hard to get to the south-west. At last, wet through and thoroughly tired, we camped to have breakfast, dinner, and supper in one. We were ten hours on the tramp, and carrying our bags, so felt ready for a night’s rest. We see where we are; but how to get out is the problem to be solved." Again—"At the Laroki we had to strip, and just above small rapids, holding on by a long line fastened to poles on each side, we crossed over."

But, with Tamate, the missionary was never merged in the explorer. The tramp had been undertaken with the definite object of discovering suitable stations for native teachers, and this was kept steadily in view. Nor did the traveller fail to avail himself of every opportunity to proclaim the evangel. "We have just had a service, and through Kena we have told the natives the object of our coming and staying, that they might know of the true God, and of Jesus Christ the Saviour. It was interesting to mark the different expressions on the faces as they heard for the first time of God— the God of love, and that as His servants we were here. When told of the resurrection they looked at one another; some laughed, others seemed serious. They were very particular in their inquiries as to the name of the Great Spirit, and of His Son—forgetting, and returning to hear it again." At another village "a large number of natives attended our service, and were truly orderly—not a whisper, and during prayer every head bent. On the Astrolabe, the other day, Lohiamalaka said he felt anxious for us in entering Janara. Rua, through Kena, told him not to fear anything on our account, as the Great Spirit was with us, and no harm could come near us. Last evening he was telling the people here of his fears, and what Rua said, ‘and how true it was the Great Spirit or something is with them.’ At all the villages Lohiamalaka repeated all be could remember of what he had been told, and of our singing and praying. Every evening he would sit at the tent door and get us to sing for the benefit of a crowd of natives outside, who, having heard from himself of our musical powers, refused to go to their homes at sunset, and insisted on remaining until after noko (singing)."

On his return to Port Moresby on 26th September, Tamate’s first thoughts were of the progress of the work. "Good news from all the stations. The services have gone on here in Rua’s absence with great success. On two Sundays the chief Poi conducted the services, addressing those present and telling them he thought that now it was time for them all to receive the gospel which had been so faithfully taught them during these years; in prayer he remembered us who were inland, and asked our Father in heaven to watch over us, and bring us back safely, and to enlighten all of those at the seaside."

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