Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Vignettes of Life in Papua by Ellis Silas, 1922
A 3055 / vol. 4

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“Vignettes of Life in Papua"
Ellis Silas

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Hanna Bada (meaning big village) this unique place is two miles from Port Moresby and is a relic of the days when the natives waged war upon each other. The houses are built on piles, it being considered a more efficient means of fortification, if such it could be designated. Although there are three villages in this group, Hanna Bada being the largest. Unfortunately with the development of the Port, one or two buildings of European construction have crept in which strikes a discordant note in the ensemble , nevertheless it is a picturesque village with its background of tall waving palms. The piccaninnies gamble about as do children the world over. The women occupied with their domestic affairs, their grass skirts (Ramu) making a sound like the swishing of silk, as they walk.

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Village of Haunbada, Port Moresby.
This village is built over the water, a relic of the days when tribal wars were prevalent.

[Page shows sketch of village built over water]

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[Page shows sketch titled HANUABADA of village built over water.]

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[page shows sketch of town, presumably Port Moresby]

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[Page shows sketch of waterfront with boats and jetty. The sketch is titled Port Moresby, Papua, 1922. Seat of Govt]

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Village dance and songs. * There are three days dances of three slips and three notes only to their chant and drums - which they continue for hours on end.
When the natives have been trained by the mission they are quite good at glees, otherwise they have no ear for music or imagination in their dances.
These remarks refer on to Haunbada, as songs and dances differ throughout Papua.
This applies to Hanuabada only as the dances differ throughout New Guinea. The days work complete the natives of both sexs bedeck themselves with feathers in their hair, some of the girls wearing wreaths of frangipani, in their amulets, flowers and leaves, the ensemble looks quite effective. All join in the festivities including the piccaninnies which latter do not dance with their elders but make their own set. Meanwhile the beaux and the belles walk hand in hand, or make love under the palms.

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[page shows a sketch titled Hanua native Dance]

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Marine parade, wherein is situated all the business houses of Samarai, three stores, Post office, Customs and church in which a Papuan takes and evening service for the natives every evening.
White Population of this Island about 150 persons. Samarai is rather an important center, as it serves as a base for a fairly extensive territory. I busy occasion the harbour is full of trading schooners, unloading their copra for transhipment and taking in stores for the outback stations. On the parade there is nearly always a hoard of traders, miners and perchance a few missionaries waiting to return to their [indecipherable] in the outback station. Many an [indecipherable] where the glorious “binges" in the old days when trade was good and pearls worth their price. In those days champagne used to flow freely. Many were the wild orgies but today it is a sedate settlement, quiet unassuming.

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[Page shows a sketch of buildings titled Main Street Marine Parade Samarai Papua 1922]

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[page shows a sketch of a steamer berthed at a dock]

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[Page shows a sketch of buildings and distant ship titled Marine Parade, Samarai, Papua showing B>P. ship, 1922]

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Island Walk Samarai
This picturesque walk encircles the whole island which latter is so small that twenty minutes is ample time to make the tour. Seen on a bright day, the water a wonderous sapphire it is a spot where one fair would linger.

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[Page shows the top of a sketch which continues on the next page]

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[Page shows a sketch of the picturesque walk referred to in a previous page. Titled Island Walk Samarai, Papua 1922]

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Natives gathering shell fish a form of cockle, also mangrove oysters, not very palatable. [refers to the sketch on the page after next]

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[Page is blank]

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[Page shows sketch of natives on beach gathering shells]

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[Page shows sketch of coastline in profile]
The Mission boys having been taught cricket, are so fascinated with the game, that they are always playing to the detriment of their work. They have a team good enough almost put up against a first eleven.

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[Page shows a sketch of coastline titled Kwato, Mission Station, off Samarai]

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Samarai. View from top of the hill overlooking China Strait famous throughout the Maratime world for its tide rip.
[This refers to the sketch on the next page]

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[Page shows a sketch as described on the previous page]

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The fore part of the hall is minus seats. The natives forming parties settle down to thoroughly enjoy themselves. Whereas European women when attending an evening function reduce the amount of their raiment the natives reverse the process. Many of the women having a scarf thrown over the shoulder. Both sexs adorn their hair with a profusion of leaves and brilliant coloured flowers. The boys carry walking sticks, which they use with a certain amount of swagger. Both men and women smoking. They get very excited over the show, particularly if it is a humorous film. As the Papuan in these parts have a keen sense of humour. It is refreshing to watch their innocent enjoyment. Sitting round in their groups some of the women with picaninnies under their arms, as happy as its possible for a human to be. If they get too excited they are easily kept in hand. I have seen many a worse behaved audience in England and Australia. These simple natives would be a good object lesson to the rabble of children that are such constant patrons of the cinema, in England and Australia. This [indecipherable, possibly Bujane] entertainment was decidedly an interesting, unique and amusing evening, one that almost gives the lie to the Bard of Avon when he states that, the play’s the thing.

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[Page shows sketch of inside of hall used for picture shows. Title of sketch is Native Night at the Cinema, Samarai Papua]

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Prisoners are brought in from all parts of Papaua, and it is here that a large number of these put in their sentence. They appear quite contented with their lot, and seldom endevour try to escape. The task they most dislike is quarry work, they are not fond of constant work, preferring an occupation with a certain amount of variety. Crime to them is not a disgrace, and it is seldom that capital punishment is used except if a white man is murdered. There own murders generally being some tribal vendetta, and in any case the motive is here a question of gain, as most often happens with European Murders. Judge Murray in his book quotes an incident as an example of the courtsey of these people. A number of men were to be hanged, upon the day of embarkation they were missing, however, later they turned up full of profuse apologies for having kept the Governor waiting, not knowing the time boat was to sail, and this when they knew they were going to their death. This so impressed the authorities, that happily extenuation circumstances were proved, and they were reprieved

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[Page shows a sketch titled Native Prison, Samarai.]

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The Residency. Trobiand Islands.
This is the official Residence of the Assistant Resident Magistrate (at present a Mr E Whitehouse) this one man is responsible for the welfare and government of some nine thousand natives. His duties are that of Doctor, J.P., Tax Collector.

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[Page shows a sketch titled The Residency, Kiriwina, Trobiands, Papua.]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
This is typical of the type of village in this district, which differ only in size. Two villages may be built so close together that only the width of a wall separates them. They seem to be fairly well kept, and I encountered no unpleasant odours at the time of my visits which were frequent. There is a very good system of distributing the work in their island. Each section of natives follows a par keeps to the trade to which he is best adapted. The coast natives are fisherman, they exchange their produce with fish for the fruit and vegatables which the bush natives produce.
The boat builders are exclusively occupied constructing canoes, the carving on the prows and sides of these craft is sometimes quite elaborate, and is executed by craftsman who specialise in wood carving. Their sense of design is quite excellent, they have a fine sense of rythm in their designs, which consists mainly of conventional birds fish reptiles and the natural objects. In working they do not draw out, but work out the designs as they proceed, the symettry and proportion spacing being extraordinarily good. in p
There does not appear to be much variety of colour in there paints, everything being either green or brown, except a touch of red in the name’s of the women.
The villages appear to be built in semicircles, excepting the largest ones, which are built in a rough circle, and rows of huts down the center. The Brimas (food stores) taking the most prominent position.

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[Page shows a sketch titled Village of Gumilibaba, Trobriands, Papua.]

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The Trobiand peoples are a most vivacious race, and a fine type. The majority of the women are possessed of exsquisite figures which are shown off to considerable advantage by their short doba (grass skirts) which are most chic. They are of many patterns and quite the richest and most elaborate in Papua. Some take as long as three months in the making. The materials used are pandanus and banana leaves. Dyed with mangrove bark. Red is the colour most favored, though some are a deep maroon, vermilion and a few yellow. For workaday purpose they wear a simple doba, of banana leaf only. The grass skirts worn on the mainland of Papua, are much longer, and in the main not so effective as the Trobriand skirt, being mainly grey and black vertical stripes, though a few are dyed a rich brown and yellow.

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[Page shows a sketch titled Native Woman, Trobiand Islands Papua.]

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The marriage ceremony takes the form of the relatives of the man giving so much in goods to the eldest brother of the brides mother. The presents usually consist of food, yams, pau pau, beetle nuts, a pig etc. After the presentation, the whole village forms in a feast, for which the villagers provide the necessary food. The bridal house is decorated with flowers, this hut is built by the villagers for the bridal couple. Before marriage both sexes are permitted free intercourse with whom they please but once they marry, both husband and wife must remain faithful to each other, otherwise there is trouble. Should the wife prove unfaithful she is sent back to her relatives which latter must return the equivalent of such gifts as were made by the husbands relatives. Should the husband prove unfaithful the wife generally leaves him, that is, if she cannot bring him to reason. In the old days infaidelities met with chaotic punishment. But since the advent of the Govt, quite a number of cases are brought to court.

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[Page shows a sketch titled Off to a Wedding, Trobiands.]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
Native canoe (Wagga) The canoe in illustration is a masana (fighting canoe). Although these vessels appear very flimsy, they are quite strongly built and unsinkable, the natives go as far as 150 miles out to sea with a heavy cargo of coconuts. They handle their craft most dexterously and very seldom have accidents. When water is shallow engh enough they pole the canoes, this being a more rapid method than the paddles. The average number that a moderate sized canoe will hold is eight persons. The carving on the prow of some of these craft is sometimes most elaborate, and well carved.
The Figureheads are carved in all manner of shapes, but that of a conventional alligator’s head is the most favoured.
Some of the large canoes in other parts of the territory have been known to carry as many as forty natives. The Milne Bay canoes have no outrigger, and are in cross section not dissimilar to the lines of a modern ship, on a very minute scale.

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[Page shows a sketch titled Native canoe (wagga) Trobiand Islands Papua.]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
Wawela is situated upon the edge of a lagoon, the colour is a wonderous rich emerald, so intense, that there is no pigment on the palette that could match it for richness. There are but thirty six inhabitants, in another generation the village will cease to be. It is on a very exposed part of the coast, which receives the full blast of the SE wind, which perhaps might blow for six months without a break. This must have a most stupefying effect upon the inhabitants. I only spent a few weeks in this village but found the experience most trying there seemed no possibility of getting out of the wind. The view from the ridge situated in the rear of the village, is very beautiful, the tall trees framing the sea which through the interstices of the branches made dazzling splashes of sapphire and emerald.

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[Page shows a sketch titled Wawela, Trobiands, Papua.]

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Lime sticks (Kenu) are made in a variety of shapes. The designs of some being quite elaborate. Note the rythm of line of the stick illustrated, they do not draw out design but work direct on to the wood working out the motif as they proceed. So far I have not come across a single ill balanced design. It is very difficult to obtain good examples, the natives are fast loosing their craftsmanship, turning out very mediocre objects mainly with a view to “trading" them.
Gourds These like the lime sticks vary in size an design. The lid is generally woven, with a dog or pig’s tooth for a handle, all manner of shells beads and other gee gaws are hung around for ornamentation, certainly they serve the purpose well, as some of them have a most decorative appearance.
One of the most remarkable feats of there consummate craftsmen, is the extraordinary clever manner in which they carve their kaibomas (food bowls) cutting a true circle without a compass or taking any measurements. The design of the lime stick depicted is the head of a bird, note the comb on the crest of the head.

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[Page shows a sketch with titles Gourd for Lime, A Lime Stick (Kenu) and (Iaguma) Gourd with lime stick attached]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
The peculiar distention of the abdomen is due to eating green cocoanut and starchy foods.

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[Page shows a sketch titled A Piccanin. Kiriwina. Trobiands, Papua.]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
Type of Ketch general in these waters. The majority are fitted with auxilary motors. This is the only means the traders have of getting to and from the mainland, and trading between the islands. The average tonnage is about from 5 to ten tons, more frequently the latter. The “boys" can handle these boats with considerable skill, and knowing these waters, most of the navagation is left in their hands. Not infrequent, very heavy weather is experienced, the consequence of the many coral reefs which abound in these islands and it requires most efficient seamanship to negotiate the channels. The conditions of the engines of some of these packets, would make an engineer weep tears of blood. They are corroded with rust, and many of the parts held together with wire, bits of cotton waste and such other material as might be handy.

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[Page shows a sketch of a ketch]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
Canoe racing is a sport which pleases the natives mightly their craft appear to slip through the water at a great speed they mainly use a piece of sheeting for sail – this is supplanting the old time sails made of “moi" which is the leaf of a fern. Though they will stick up any old thing that will hold the wind.
Whenever a new canoe is floated there is generally a race when it is considered a point of etiquette to allow the new canoe to win. Not only do they race their large canoes but they also construct models, these latter are most skilfully constructed and nearly always are correct to scale, including the carved work. This refers to those models they construct for their own use. The majority of the models they make for Trade i.e. to sell to Tourists, have neither the finish or correctness of scale.
The red cross on the sail of the more distinct canoe is not a symbol, but just for decoration. Before the advent of the white man the sails were made of cocoanut fibre, sago leafs etc. even to-day coconut leaves are frequently used for sails

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[Page shows a sketch titled Canoe Race Trobiands Papua]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
At nightfall, the days work completed and all is quiet, the natives build a fire outside their huts, around which the family circle foregathers. The gossip of the village is discussed betimes they may chant a song whatime the old men talk in undertones the while they pass round the ubiquitous cigarette, for both sexes are proselytes at the shrine of nicotine. Perchance the storytellers will relate some tale of the tribal wars `of but a short while back, or some daring onslaught upon alligator or shark. About 9 pm the fires will melt into the shadows, as one by one the families retire from the night, the fire of the night watchman on gaurd guard for spirits, glowing like a single ruby in the dense blackness, and so, the village enveloped in the star spangled mantle of night, sleeps peacefully on to await the advent of dawn.

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 [Page shows a sketch titled Kaibola, Trobiands Papua]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
Sketch made at Kaibola, Trobiand Islands.
The man in the centre is smoking a Bobawoo or native pipe

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[Page shows a sketch of natives around a camp fire]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
Canoe on lagoon, Kariwina Island. The lagoons round this island are mainly fairly shallow, particularly the S.E. portion. Fish are plentiful, most of the fishing is done at night, the natives using lamps or flares to attract the fish.
They have many methods of catching fish. The most interesting is swimming fish. i.e. they dive down to the bottom and grope under the coral catching the fish with their hands, putting them into a nest which they carry slung upon the arm. Other methods are mostly with bow & arrow, spearing, and of course the net which are used in much the same manner as the Europeans. There is one form of net not unlike a lacrosse racquet, about thirty boys will wade into the lagoon, forming a circle they throw things to disturb the fish, which latter jumping out of the water they will catch in the net in much the same manner as catching a ball. Line fishing is but rarely used, excepting for catching sharks and the larger variety of fish.

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[Page shows a sketch of a canoe in a lagoon]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
As well as administrating duties, a Resident magistrate or A.R.M. is also responsible for the health of his district: often it may be necessary to administer physic to a whole village, such an occasion I witnessed in the village of KUDKWAILKLA. The children made no fuss at all, but the adults made appalling grimaces after they had swallowed their dooe dose, immensely amusing were the antics of some of them, nevertheless I should have been extremely sorry to be a participant in this obeisance to medicine. I am much struck with the extent to which E. Whitehouse A.R.M. carries his medical practice, he has performed some quite clever operations on some of the natives, with excellent results. I used to think a sailorman was a man of many parts, but the duties of an A.R.M. in Papua are multifarious, he must be a complete compendium and executant of the fundamental details of developing and administrating a country.

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[Page shows a sketch of an Assistant Resident Magistrate administering medicine to native children]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
Types of parrots on Karawina Island, these amongst other birds are used as Totem emblems by the natives. The totem system is strictly adhered to. A native may not mary marry into the same Totem or clan, but must marry with a different totem, should natives intermarry into the same totem, they are ostracised from that particular Totem and are generally “Taboo" by all other Totems. In the Trobriands there are five Totems or pigeons. Whether or not they will kill birds of their own Totem I did not ascertain, certainly the native has no compunction in killing birds of a riva rival totem.

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[Page shows a sketch of two parrots, one annotated with notes describing the colours of the parrot. Colours noted are pure light cobalt, green and green, rich emerald and opal tones]

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[This text on this page refers to the sketch on the next page]
Toqualu on Boima (Food Store) Kasiga, Trobiand Islands, Papua
This totem is fixed on the boimas to protect the food from evil spirits, it is also purported to bring good luck & a bountiful supply of food to the boima to which it is attached. It is a custom that is falling into decay, the more recently constructed boimas being minus the quaint effigy. Those I have seen are all portrayed with the grinning face, in order presumably to show a pleasing countenance to the God Baloma. This latter being a very hungry individual, presumably it is of more importance to pacify him, than frighten the evil ones. These Toqualu are mainly interesting in their resemblance to a gargoyle.

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[Page shows a sketch of a Boima (food store) and the position of the totem on the Boima as well as intricate detail of the design and construction of the totem]

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[Page shows a sketch of a tall tree]

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Ellis Silas
c/o E Whitehouse A.R.M.
via Samarai

[Transcribed by Colin Smith for the State Library of New South Wales]