Some German Islands Of The Pacific
( Originally Published 1904 )
AS we go on from island to island, we shall learn that almost every important group in the Pacific Ocean, with the exception of Japan, belongs either to the United States or one of the great nations of Europe. We have seen the vast possessions of the English in Australia and New Zealand and also in New Guinea, They have other islands in the Pacific just to the east of us, including the Fijis, the Tongas, and many others farther away. We learned something of what France owns during our stay in New Caledonia, and now we are about to see some of the German possessions.
Leaving Port Moresby by steamer, we make our way to the eastward, sailing in and out among islands about the tail of New Guinea, and then coasting northward until we come to Kaiser Wilhelms Land, or German New Guinea, and the Bismarck Archipelago. These possessions were acquired when Wilhelm I was the Kaiser, or German Emperor, and Prince Bismarck was his prime minister, and so were named in their honor.
The voyage is through coral seas all the way. There are many gulls flying over our ship, and now and then we see flying fish darting over the waves. Near the atolls sharks are swimming, and great tortoises float about in the water. We pass many low islands with cocoanut palms growing upon them. The coral reefs continue along the coast of Kaiser Wilhelms Land and also about New Pomerania and other islands of the Bismarck Archipelago.
Our first stop is at Stephansort, the government settlement of German New Guinea at the northern end of Astrolabe Bay. There is a steamer in the harbor loading pearl shells, coffee, and cotton for Hamburg. German officers come out to our ship, and on landing we find that almost all the white people are Germans. The town, how-ever, is small and chiefly inhabited by officials and men engaged in trading or in managing the coffee, cotton, and rubber plantations, and the cocoanut groves which are found near the coast. Some are interested in gold mines in the Bismarck Mountains, the peaks of which we see far back at the south.
The natives here are much like those we saw at Port Moresby, save that they are if anything more wild and less anxious to work. Planters tell us that they have to import laborers from the islands near by and elsewhere to work the coffee and cotton.
Many tribes along the north coast, where it is so hot, go almost naked, although they may paint or tattoo their bodies or give them a coat of grease. Some wear bright feathers in their heads, and bracelets and necklaces of shell. Many of the houses are built upon piles so high up that the people have to climb ladders to enter them. In other places there are houses in the trees for watchmen, and also for refuge in time of attack.
It is but a short trip from Kaiser Wilhelms Land to the Bismarck Archipelago. We first visit New Pomerania, and, making this our headquarters, coast about from one island to another. The Bismarck Archipelago, like New Guinea and other islands of this region, is largely volcanic. New Pomerania has active volcanoes, and every now and then the people hear the rumble of an earthquake, so that one can never be sure he is safe. In 1878 a volcano suddenly burst out of the water in one of the bays, and ten years later Volcano Island was almost swallowed up by the sea, an earthquake producing a tidal wave which killed two German explorers who were then on the west coast of New Pomerania. The natives of these islands are Papuans. They are the same kind of people we saw in New Guinea, and in some ways even more wild.
Leaving New Pomerania we visit the Solomon Islands lying southeast of the Bismarck Archipelago, some of which belong to the Germans and others to the English. Bougainville, the largest island of the group, is larger than Puerto Rico, and it has two active volcanoes and one mountain more than two miles in height. The islands are beautifully wooded, having tree ferns forty feet high, palms of `many kinds, banyan trees, as well as forests of sandalwood and ebony.
The natives here are not so tall, as a rule, as the people of New Guinea. They are Papuans of a deep brown color. Many of them go about naked, save that they have bracelets and girdles; some have sticks in their noses and great plugs or rings in their ears. All have queer ways of combing their hair, the men sometimes wearing it in cones on the top of the head; they also stain the hair red or light brown with lime or different kinds of earth.
Some tribes are hunters, and in the mountains there are men who go hunting for human heads. The people think that the man who commits the most murders in this quest is the bravest and noblest.
Some of the Solomon Islanders have farms and raise bananas, sweet potatoes, taro, and other vegetables. Taro is a food plant which we shall find throughout the South Sea Islands. Its chief value lies in its root, which makes us think of our sweet potatoes or yams ; it is eaten boiled, baked, or roasted ; it is also made into bread and puddings, and in the Hawaiian Islands is ground into a mush called poi.
These people are good fishermen and, like the natives of other islands of this part of the world, they dive for pearls and shells, and sell them to the owners of vessels which trade from island to island.
They also catch the huge turtles found in rocks along the coast. The turtle shells are often sold to traders who export them to Europe, where they are made into combs and other things.
The natives dive down into the sea after beche de mer, a gigantic sea worm or slug, so much prized as food by the Chinese that it is shipped in vast quantities to China every year. These slugs are sometimes called the cucumbers of the sea, because they look like cucumbers as they lie in the water. They are found upon the coral reefs, and are obtained by diving or are picked up at low tide. The slugs are gathered in sacks by fishermen, after which they are boiled and then dried in the sun. When well dried, they are bagged up and shipped off to China, where they are used to make a favorite soup. Gathering beche de mer, pearl shells, and turtles is common in almost all the islands of this part of the world, these articles all being of great commercial importance.
In addition to the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomons, Germany has a vast number of smaller islands, some volcanic, but mostly coral, scattered over the Pacific Ocean both north and south of the Equator. She is neighbor to our possessions in the Samoan Group, where she owns more territory than we do. The Admiralty Islands, just 'north of Kaiser Wilhelms Land, belong to Germany, and also the Marshall Islands, the Ladrones, and the Carolines north of the Equator. Some of the Carolines are not far from the Philippines, and our little island of Guam lies between them and the Ladrones which belong to Germany.
The Carolines comprise many atolls and five little volcanic islands. The natives are gentle and intelligent, more so, perhaps, than the inhabitants of the Ladrones farther north. The word " Ladrone " means thief, and Magellan gave it to these islands because of the thievish tendencies of the natives. It is said the people are better to-day.
Most of these German islands, however, are little more than patches of coral on the face of the sea. Some of them yield small amounts of pearl and tortoise shells, others grow cocoanuts ; but as a whole they are of no value to commerce. Their natives are of a low grade of civilization, and so few in number that it will hardly pay us to go out of our way to visit them.