Robert Wood Williamson.

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The Mafulu
Mountain People of British New Guinea

Robert W. Williamson

With an Introduction


A. C. Haddon, Sc.D., F.R.S.

With Illustrations and Map

Macmillan and Co., Limited
St. Martin's Street, London


This book is the outcome of an expedition to British New Guinea
in 1910, in which, after a short stay among the people of some of
the western Solomon Islands, including those of that old centre
of the head hunters, the Rubiana lagoon, and a preparatory and
instructive journey in New Guinea among the large villages of the
Mekeo district, I struck across country by a little known route,
via Lapeka, to Ido-Ido and on to Dilava, and thus passed by way of
further preparation through the Kuni country, and ultimately reached
the district of the Mafulu villages, of whose people very little was
known, and which was therefore the mecca of my pilgrimage.

I endeavoured to carry out the enquiries of which the book is a record
as carefully and accurately as possible; but it must be remembered
that the Mafulu people had seen very few white men, except some
of the Fathers of the Catholic Mission of the Sacred Heart, the
visits of Government officials and once or twice of a scientific
traveller having been but few and far between, and only short; that
the mission station in Mafulu (the remotest station of the mission)
had only been established five years previously; that the people
were utterly unaccustomed to the type of questioning which systematic
ethnological enquiry involves, and that necessarily there was often
the usual hesitation in giving the required information.

I cannot doubt, therefore, that future enquiries and investigations
made in the same district will bring to light errors and
misunderstandings, which even with the greatest care can hardly be
avoided in the case of a first attempt on new ground, where everything
has to be investigated and worked up from the beginning. I hope,
however, that the bulk of my notes will be found to have been correct
in substance so far as they go.

I regret that my ignorance of tropical flora and fauna has made it
impossible for me to give the names of many of the plants and animals
to which I refer.

There are many people, more than I can mention here, to whom I owe my
grateful thanks. Prior to my departure for the South Seas Dr. Haddon
took great trouble in helping and advising me, and, indeed, I doubt
whether I should have ventured upon my solitary expedition if I had
not had his stimulating encouragement.

In New Guinea I had the never-failing hospitality and kindness
of my good friend Monseigneur de Boismenu (the Bishop of the
Mission of the Sacred Heart) and the Fathers and Brothers of the
Mission. Among the latter I would specially mention Father Egedi
and Father Clauser. Father Egedi (whose name is already familiar
to students of New Guinea Ethnology) was my friend and travelling
companion during a portion of my journeyings through the Mekeo and
Kuni districts, and his Mekeo explanations proved invaluable to me
when I reached my Mafulu destination. And dear good Father Clauser
was a pillar of help in Mafulu. He placed at my disposal all his
existing knowledge concerning the people, and was my intermediary
and interpreter throughout all my enquiries. And finally, when having
at some risk prolonged my stay at Mafulu until those enquiries were
completed, I was at last compelled by the serious state of my health
to beat a retreat, and be carried down to the coast, he undertook
to do the whole of my photographing and physical measurements, and
the care and skill with which he did so are evidenced by the results
as disclosed in this book. [1] I must also add that the frontispiece
and plates 17, 67, 68, 69 and 70 are taken from previous photographs
which Father Clauser kindly placed at my disposal. My remembrance of
His Lordship the Bishop, and of the Reverend Fathers and the Brothers
of the Mission will ever be one of affectionate personal regard, and
of admiration of the spirit of heroic self-sacrifice which impels
them to submit cheerfully to the grave and constant hardships and
dangers to which their labour of love necessarily exposes them.

Since my return home Dr. Seligmann has given me immense help, advising
me upon my notes, placing material at my disposal, and afterwards
reading through a considerable portion of my manuscript. Mr. T.A. Joyce
and Mr. J. Edge Partington helped me in arranging and dealing with
the things which I had brought back to the British Museum. Dr. Keith
examined and reported upon some skulls which I had obtained,
and advised me upon my notes on physique. Dr. Stapf helped me in
matters of botanical identification; Mr. S.H. Ray has given me the
full benefit of his wide knowledge of South Pacific linguistics,
and has written the appendices to the book. And, finally, Dr. Haddon
has very kindly read through my proof sheets.

In conclusion, I would add that there is still an immense amount
of detailed work to be done among the Mafulu people, and that
the districts of the Ambo and Boboi and Oru Lopiku people, still
further back among the mountains, offer an almost virgin field for
investigation to anyone who will take the trouble to go there.


Introduction, by Dr. A.C. Haddon




Physique and Character


Dress and Ornament


Daily Life and Matters Connected with It


Community, Clan, and Village Systems and Chieftainship


Villages, Emone, Houses and Modes of Inter-Village Communication


Government, Property and Inheritance


The Big Feast


Some Other Ceremonies and Feasts


Matrimonial and Sexual


Killing, Cannibalism and Warfare


Hunting, Fishing and Agriculture


Bark Cloth Making, Netting and Art


Music and Singing, Dancing, and Toys and Games


Counting, Currency and Trade




Illness, Death and Burial


Religion and Superstitious Beliefs and Practices


Note on the Kuni People




A Grammar of the Fuyuge Language


Note on the Afoa Language


Note on the Kovio Language


A Comparative Vocabulary of the Fuyuge, Afoa, and Kovio Languages


Notes on the Papuan Languages Spoken about the Head Waters of the
St. Joseph River, Central Papua


Mafulu Women Decorated for a Dance. ... _Frontispiece_
1 Kuni Scenery.
2 Mafulu Scenery.
3 Skull A.
4 Skull C.
5 Husband, Wife and Child.
6 Man and Two Women.
7, 8 Man, Young Man and Boy.
9 Different Types of Men.
10 An Unusual Type.
11, 12 Two Unusual Types.
13 Fig. 1. Section of Man's Perineal Band. Fig. 2. Decoration
near end of Woman's Perineal Band. Fig. 3. Section of Woman's
Perineal Band. Fig. 4. Section of Man's or Woman's Dancing
14 Fig. 1. Belt No. 1. Fig. 2. Belt No. 3. Fig. 3. Belt No. 4.
15 Fig. 1. Belt No. 5 (one end only). Fig. 2. Belt No. 6
(one end only). Fig. 3. Belt No. 7.
16 A General Group.
17 A Young Chief's Sister decorated for a Dance.
18, 19 Women wearing Illness Recovery Capes.
20 Fig. 1. Ear-rings. Fig. 2. Jew's Harp. Fig. 3. Hair Fringe.
21 Man, Woman and Children.
22, 23 A Little Girl with Head Decorations.
24 Figs. 1, 2, 5, and 6. Women's Hair Plaits decorated
with European Beads, Shells, Shell Discs, Dog's Tooth,
and Betel Nut Fruit. Fig. 3. Man's Hair Plait with Cane
Pendant. Fig. 4. Man's Hair Plait with Betel Nut Pendant.
25 Fig. 1. Leg Band. Figs. 2 and 4. Women's Hair Plaits
decorated with Shells and Dogs' Teeth. Fig. 3. Bone Implement
used (as a Fork) for Eating.
26 Group of Women.
27 A Young Woman.
28 Two Women.
29 Two Women.
30 Fig. 1. Mourning String
Necklace. Fig. 2. Comb. Fig. 3. Pig's Tail Ornament for
Head. Fig. 4. Whip Lash Head Ornament. Fig. 5. Forehead
31 Necklaces.
32 A Necklace.
33 Necklaces.
34 Fig. 1. Armlet No. 5. Fig. 2. Armlet No. 4. Fig. 3. Armlet
No. 2. Fig. 4. Armlet No. 1.
35 Woman wearing Dancing Apron.
36, 37 Decoration of Dancing Aprons.
38, 39 Decoration of Dancing Aprons.
40, 41 Decoration of Dancing Aprons.
42, 43 Decoration of Dancing Aprons.
44 Head Feather Ornaments.
45 Head Feather Ornaments.
46 Fig. 1. Head Feather Ornament. Fig. 2. Back Feather
47 Plaited Head Feather Frames.
48 Mother and Baby.
49 At the Spring.
50 A Social Gathering.
51 Fig. 1. Small Smoking Pipe. Fig. 2. Pig-bone Scraping
Implement. Fig. 3. Stone Bark Cloth Beater. Fig. 4. Drilling
Implement. Fig. 5. Bamboo Knife. Figs. 6 and 7. Lime Gourds.
52 Fig. 1. Wooden Dish. Figs. 2 and 3. Water-Carrying Gourds.
53 Fig. 1. Bag No. 3. Fig. 2. Bag No. 4. Fig. 3. Bag. No. 6.
54 Village of Salube and Surrounding Country.
55 Village of Seluku, with Chiefs _Emone_ at End and Remains
of Broken-down Burial Platform in Middle.
56 Village of Amalala, with Chiefs _Emone_ at End..
57 Village of Amalala (looking in other direction), with
Secondary _Emone_ at End.
58 Village of Malala, with Secondary _Emone_ at End and
Ordinary Grave and Burial Platform of Chief's Child in Right
59 Village of Uvande, with Chief's _Emone_ at End.
60 Village of Biave, with Chief's _Emone_ at End and Burial
Platform of Chief's Child in Middle.
61 Chief's _Emone_ in Village of Amalala.
62 Chief's _Emone_ in Village of Malala.
63 House in Village of Malala.
64 House in Village of Levo, with Child's Excrement Receptacle
to Left.
65 Suspension Bridge over St. Joseph River.
66 Bridge over Aduala River.
67 Scene at Big Feast in Village of Amalala.
68 Row of Killed Pigs at Big Feast at Village of Amalala.
69 Scene at Village of Seluku during Preparations for Big
70 Scene at Big Feast at Village of Seluku.
71 Young Girl Ornamented for Perineal Band Ceremony.
72 Feast at Perineal Band Ceremony.
73 Figs, 1, 2, and 3. Points of War Spears. Fig. 4. Point of
War-Arrow. Fig. 5. Point of Bird-Shooting Arrow.
74 Fig. 1. Bow. Fig. 2. Shield (outside). Fig. 3. Shield
75 Fig. 1. Club (pineapple type of head). Fig. 2. Club (disc
type of head). Fig. 3. Drum. Fig. 4. Adze.
76 Fishing Weir.
77 Planting Yams in Garden.
78 Collecting Sweet Potatoes in Garden.
79 Hammering Bark Cloth.
80 The Ine Pandanus.
81 Mafulu Network.
82 Funeral Feast (not of Chief). Guests assembled to commence
Dance down Village Enclosure.
83 The same Funeral Feast. Guest Chief Dancing down Village
84 Platform Grave of Chief's Child at Back. Ordinary Grave
in Front.
85 Group of Platform Graves of Chiefs and their Relations.
86 Platform Grave of a Chief's Child.
87, 88 The _Gabe_ Fig Tree, in which Chiefs' Burial Boxes
are placed and which is Generally Believed to be Haunted
by Spirits.
89 The Remains of a Chiefs Burial Platform which has collapsed,
and beneath which his Skull and some of his Bones are interred
90 An _Emone_ to which are hung the Skulls and some of the
Bones from Chiefs' Burial Platforms which have Collapsed.
91 A House with Receptacle for Child's Excrement.



1. Leg band making (commencing stage)
2. Ancient Mortar
3. Illustrative Diagram of a Mafulu Community of Villages
4. Diagram of Front of _Emone_ (Front Hood of Roof and Front
Platform and Portions of Front Timbers omitted, so as to
show Interior)
5. Diagram of Transverse Section across Centre of Emone
6. Diagrammatic Sketch of Apse-like Projection of Roof of
_Emone_ and Platform Arrangements
7. Diagram Illustrating Positions of People during Performance
at Big Feast
8. Mafulu Net Making (1st Line of Network)
9. Mafulu Net Making (2nd, 3rd, and 4th Lines of Network)
10. Mafulu Net Making (5th Line of Network, to which Rest of
Net is similar in Stitch)


By Dr. A.C. Haddon

It is a great pleasure to me to introduce Mr. Williamson's book to
the notice of ethnologists and the general public, as I am convinced
that it will be read with interest and profit.

Perhaps I may be permitted in this place to make a few personal
remarks. Mr. Williamson was formerly a solicitor, and always had a
great longing to see something of savage life, but it was not till
about four years ago that he saw his way to attempting the realisation
of this desire by an expedition to Melanesia. He made my acquaintance
in the summer of 1908, and seeing that he was so keenly interested,
I lent him a number of books and all my MS. notes on Melanesia;
by the help of these and by the study of other books he gained a
good knowledge of the ethnology of that area. In November, 1908, he
started for Oceania for the first time and reached Fiji, from which
place he had intended to start on his expedition. Circumstances
over which he had no control, however, prevented the carrying out
of his original programme; so he went to Sydney, and there arranged
modified plans. He was on the point of executing these, when he was
again frustrated by a telegram from England which necessitated his
immediate return. It was a sad blow to him to have his long-cherished
schemes thus thwarted and rendered abortive, but, undaunted, he set
about to plan another expedition. Accordingly, in January, 1910, he
once more set sail for Australia as a starting place for the Solomon
Islands and British New Guinea, and this time achieved success; the
book which he now offers to the public is the result of this plucky
enterprise. In justice to the author it should be known that, owing
to climatic and other conditions, he was unwell during the whole of
his time in New Guinea, and had an injured foot and leg that hurt him
every step he took. The only wonder is that he was able to accomplish
so large and so thorough a piece of work as he has done.

It is interesting to note the different ways by which various
investigators have entered the field of Ethnology. Some have approached
it from the literary or classical side, but very few indeed of
these have ever had any experience in the field. The majority of
field workers have had a previous training in science - zoology not
unnaturally has sent more recruits than any other branch of science. A
few students have been lawyers, but so far as I am aware Mr. Williamson
is the first British lawyer who has gone into the field, and he has
proved that legal training may be a very good preliminary discipline
for ethnological investigation in the field, as it gives invaluable
practice in the best methods of acquiring and sifting of evidence. A
lawyer must also necessarily have a wide knowledge of human nature
and an appreciation of varied ways of thought and action.

It was with such an equipment and fortified by extensive reading in
Ethnology, that Mr. Williamson was prepared for his self-imposed
task. Proof of his powers of observation will be found in the
excellent descriptions of objects of material culture with which he
has presented us.

I now turn to some of the scientific aspects of his
book. Mr. Williamson especially set before himself the work of
investigating some tribes in the mountainous hinterland of the Mekeo
district. This was a most happy selection, though no one could have
foreseen the especial interest of these people.

Thanks mainly to the systematic investigations of Dr. Seligmann and to
the sporadic observations of missionaries, government officials and
travellers, we have a good general knowledge of many of the peoples
of the eastern coast of the south-eastern peninsula of New Guinea,
and of some of the islands from the Trobriands to the Louisiades. The
Ethnology of the fertile and populous Mekeo district has been mainly
made known to us by the investigations of various members of the
Sacred Heart Mission, and by Dr. Seligmann. What little we know of
the Papuan Gulf district is due to missionaries among the coastal
tribes, Mr. James Chalmers and Mr. W. Holmes. Dr. G. Landtman is at
present investigating the natives of the delta of the Fly river and
Daudai. The natives of the Torres Straits islands have also been
studied as fully as is possible. But of the mountain region lying
behind the Mekeo district very little indeed has been published; so
Mr. Williamson's book fills a gap in our knowledge of Papuan ethnology.

We have as yet a very imperfect knowledge of the ethnological history
of New Guinea. Speaking very broadly, it is generally admitted that
the bulk of the population belongs to the Papuan race, a dark-skinned,
woolly-haired people who have also spread over western Oceania; but,
to a greater or less extent, New Guinea has been subject to cultural
and racial influences from all sides, except from Australia, where the
movement has been the other way. Thus the East Indian archipelago has
directly affected parts of Netherlands New Guinea, and its influence
is to be traced to a variable degree in localities in the Bismarck
archipelago, German New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelm's Land), Western
Oceania, and British New Guinea or Papua, as it is termed officially.

The south-eastern peninsula of New Guinea - or at all events the
coastal regions - has been largely affected by immigrants, who were
themselves a mixed people, and who came later at various times. It is
to these immigrants that Mr. Ray and I applied the term Melanesian
(Ray, S. H., and Haddon, A. C., "A Study of the Languages of Torres
Straits," _Proc. Roy. Irish Acad._, 3rd ser., IV., 1897, p. 509). Early
in 1894, Mr. Ray read a paper before the Anthropological Institute
(_Journ. Anth. Inst._, XXIV., p. 15), in which he adhered to our former
discrimination of two linguistic stocks and added a third type of
language composed of a mixture of the other two, for which he proposed
the name Melano-Papuan. These languages, according to Mr. Ray, occur
in the Trobriands, Woodlarks and the Louisiades, and similar languages
are found in the northern Solomon Islands. For some years I had been
studying the decorative art of British New Guinea, and from physical
and artistic and other cultural reasons had come to the conclusion
that the Melanesians of British New Guinea should be broken up into
two elements: one consisting of the Motu and allied Melanesians,
and the other of the inhabitants of the Massim district - an area
extending slightly beyond that of Mr. Ray's Melano-Papuans ("The
Decorative Art of British New Guinea," _Cunningham Memoirs_, X.,
_Roy. Irish Acad._, 1894, pp. 253-269). I reinforced my position
six years later ("Studies in the Anthropo-geography of British New
Guinea," _Journ. Roy. Geog. Soc._, 1900, pp. 265, 414). Dr. Seligmann,
in his valuable paper "A Classification of the Natives of British
New Guinea" (_Journ. Roy. Anth. Inst._, XXXIX., 1909, pp. 246, 315)
corroborated these views and designated the two groups of "Melanesians"
as the Eastern and Western Papuo-Melanesians. The following year he
published the great book to which Mr. Williamson so frequently refers,
and in which this classification is maintained, and these two groups
together with the Papuans, are termed Papuasians.

The Motu stock of the Western Papuo-Melanesians have extended
their dispersal as far as the Mekeo district, where they came
into contact with other peoples. It has been shown that the true
Papuans are a narrow-headed people, but there are some puzzling
exceptions, the explanation of which is not yet ascertained. The
Papuo-Melanesians contain a somewhat broad-headed element, and
there is a slightly broad-headed population in the central range
of the south-east peninsula, the extent of which has not yet been
determined. The questions naturally arise: (1) Is the true Papuan a
variable stock including both long- broad-headed elements? or (2)
Does the broad-headed element belong to an immigrant people? or,
again (3) Is there an hitherto unidentified indigenous broad-headed
race? I doubt if the time is ripe for a definite answer to any of
these questions. Furthermore, we have yet to assign to their original
sources the differences in culture which characterise various groups
of people in New Guinea. Something has been done in this direction,
but much more has yet to be learnt.

So far I have not referred to a Negrito element in the Ethnology of
New Guinea. From time to time we have heard rumours of pygmy people,
and German travellers have recorded very short individuals in Kaiser
Wilhelm's Land; but it was not till the expedition to Netherlands New
Guinea of the British Ornithological Union of 1910-11 that a definite
pygmy race was demonstrated. I think this can be no longer denied,
and the observations made by German ethnologists show that the race in
a more or less modified state is widely spread. Now Mr. Williamson,
whose work in New Guinea was contemporaneous with that of the
Netherlands New Guinea expedition, adduces evidence that this is
also the case in British territory. It is worth recalling that de
Quatrefages and Hamy (_Crania Ethnica_, 1882, pp. 207-210, 253-256)
distinguish a "Negrito-Papuan" and a "Papuan" element in the Torres
Straits. This problem will be discussed in Vol. I. of the Reports of
the Cambridge Expedition to Torres Straits. I feel little doubt that
Mr. Williamson has shown strong evidence that the Mafulu and probably
other adjacent mountain tribes are essentially a pygmy - that is to say
a Negrito - people who have been modified to some extent by Papuan and
possibly Papuo-Melanesian influence, both physical and cultural. He
has marshalled his data with great skill, and has dissected out, as it
were, the physical and cultural elements of the Negrito substratum. It
only remains for other observers to study Negritos in other parts of
New Guinea to see how far these claims can be substantiated. It is
evident therefore that, apart from the valuable detailed information
which Mr. Williamson has given us concerning a hitherto unknown tribe,
he has opened up a problem of considerable interest and magnitude.

A.C. Haddon.




The map appended to this volume is (with the exception of the red
lines and red lettering upon it) a reproduction of a portion of the map
relating to the explorations and surveys of Dr. Strong, Mr. Monckton
and Captain Barton, which was published in the _Geographical Journal_
for September, 1908, and the use of which has been kindly permitted
me by the Royal Geographical Society. I have eliminated the red route
lines which appear in the original map, so as to avoid confusion with
the red lines which I have added. The unbroken red lines and the red
lettering upon my map are copied from a map, also kindly placed at
my disposal, which has been recently prepared by Father Fillodean
of the Mission of the Sacred Heart, and these lines mark roughly
what the Fathers of the Mission believe to be the boundaries of the
several linguistic areas within the district covered by their map. It
will be observed that some of these lines are not continued so as to
surround and complete the definition of the areas which they indicate;
but this defect is unavoidable, as the Fathers' map only covered a
relatively small area, and even in that map the lines were not all
carried to its margin. It will also be noticed that, though the Fathers
introduce the two names Oru Lopiku and Boboi as being linguistically
distinct, they have not indicated the boundary line between the two

Online LibraryRobert Wood WilliamsonThe Mafulu Mountain People of British New Guinea → online text (page 1 of 24)