Contacts With Europeans - The German Era


German merchants and shipping firms began to move into the Pacific in the 1850s, intent upon building up a trade empire to equal or surpass Britain's. their first south Seas base was established at Apia, Samoa, in 1856. Within a few years they had extended their trading activities, including shore-based stores, to the Marshalls, the Gilberts (Kiribati), the Ellice (Tuvalu), Tonga and Fiji. About 1870 their agents became the first traders to brave the frontier hardships of New Britain, thereby becoming the forerunners of German sovereignty there. For a number of years after that the Germans' commercial operations were carried on without government backing' even the unification of Germany did not immediately change that, Bismarck having been initially opposed to colonials. In time, however, German merchants and patriots had their way, and the government adopted a policy in favour of empire and world-girdling naval powers, in deliberate competition with Britain.

The first product of this policy change in the south Sea was in the form of even stronger support for German firms in New guinea. In 1884 this led to annexation of northeast New gui8nea (Kaiser-Wilhemsland) and the Bismarck Archipelago - which, as noted earlier, prompted Britain's annexation of Papua. For a number of years thereafter the German government left it to the Newguinea-Kompagnie, the new colony's largest plantation and trading firm, to govern it. this arrangement worked more or less successfully (i.e., profitably) for a few years, mainly because of profits from tobacco-growing around New guinea's Astrolabe Bay. However, the company's losses elsewhere in the colony, plus the coast of trying to govern, forced it to turn administration over to the government in 1899, the year in which the colony's boundaries were extended to include Bougainville and Buka. After that, occasional visits were made to the latter by German officials but a permanent government station was not established there (at Kieta) until 1905. 

Official German policy valued the colony principally as a source of raw materials and as a strategic outpost in Germany's expanding commercial and political empire. Insofar as the area's indigenous peoples figured in these objectives, they were looked upon mainly as private producers of raw materials, as labourers in European enterprises, as consumers of European manufactures, and a accessories of this official policy it should be added that it was not indifferent to the indigenes' 'welfare'; it merely reflected the widespread European view of that era, that the best thing one could do for 'primitives' everywhere was to inculcate in them waitman's habits of work, thrift, civic orderliness, sexual morality, hygiene, religion, etc. Some whites in the colony dealt with the indigenes as if they were less than human and hence to be exploited like domesticated animals, but official policy was more positive and humane, especially under the aegis of Dr Albert Hahl, whose tenure of governorship lasted from 1896 to 1914.

From 1899 to 1914 the principal commercial activity on Bougainville and Buka was growing coconuts for export. by 1914 nearly 30,000 hectares of land on Bougainville-Buka had been alienated by whites, principally for coconut plantations. this represented only 3.3 per event of the islands' total land area, but some 10 per cent of all the areas suitable for growing coconuts, and a much larger proportion of such land favourably situated for commercially feasible production. The manual labour used on copra production was supplied mainly by the two islands' own indigenes. (Some efforts were made to employ Asians for such work, but this source proved in time to be too expensive and unreliable.) In addition, many of these islands' indigenes were employed to work on plantations elsewhere in the Pacific, especially in Samoa and, for r a while, in the British Solomon Islands. Some plantations were able to obtain some or all of their labour from nearby villages, either on a contract or non-contract basis, but all 'overseas' labour, that is all individuals having to be transported by boat from home area to place of individuals having to be transported under contract and was subject to Administration supervision.

The usual term of contract was three years and the legal minimum wage was five marks a month plus keep. (At that time a mark was roughly equal to a shilling.) Most employment were officially licensed to punish their labourers physically, usually by flogging, for breaches of discipline, and when runaways were caught they were forcibly returned to work, if necessary by armed police. On the other hand the Administration attempted to see to it that such labourers were fed, housed and doctored well enough to keep them active and reasonably healthy, and their employers were required to repatriate them at the end of their contracts. The Administration attempted to ensure that any individual entering into a labour contract did so voluntarily. However, the methods whereby unsophisticated indigens were usually recruited - by inducements that never materialized, or in terms that they did not comprehend - rendered this measure meaningless. for many indigenes the first inkling of what a contract meant occurred only when they found themselves forcibly detaianed at work in places without native women and far from home.

Contemporary apologists for this indenture system asserted that forced disciplined labour of this kind was a civilizing influence, the best way to transform barbarous and inherently lazy natives into useful and presumably happier members of the wider colonial society. It was even held that such work was essential to save them from the mental and physical stagnation that allegedly resulted when the stimulus of intertribal warfare was denied them. (As we shall see, the white stereotyped that 'natives' are 'lazy', like those concerning their sexual morals, and religious beliefs, is both ancient and durable.) As for other effects of working and living on a white-owned plantation, it is questionable how much civilization rubbed off onto men who were herded together in barracks and work gangs, and consigned to such ranks as bush clearing and coconut splitting.

The long-term absence of a labourer also affected his home community. Most indigenous communities of Bougainville-Buka were so small and closely knit that the absence of several of their productive male members left them economically and socially upset; households were left without male food producers, and families without husbands and fathers. In some instances the proportion of absent males was so large and birth rates fell so sharply that the authorities attempted to limit recruiting, through as much from concern for future labour supply as for the welfare of the communities themselves. Some plantations were able to draw much of their labour from neighbouring settlements, with or without contract. From the indigenes; point of view, this arrangement was far better, the labourers were able to earn some cash income without giving up their familiar satisfactions, and their communities were able to maintain a more normal way of life.

Although a large proportion of the colony's copra exports was produced by the indigenes in their own small groves, the German authorities were concerned mainly with the white-owned plantations. Very little was done to transform the indigenes into successful independent producers, or to stimulate other forms of indigenous economic enterprise. Instead the German authorities sought to civilize their charges by organizing them into an administrative hierarchy, and by requiring them to pay a head tax and to work without compensation on public projects. As soon as any indigenous community was brought under 'control', i.e., as soon as it was made reasonably safe for whites to visit it to trade or recruit labour, one of its residents was appointed to the office of luluai (the word for chief in one of th4 languages of New Britain). The German official in charge usually made an effort to appoint the community's established leader, or at least one of its more respected elders, but often the office was given to the most ingratiating man. (In many instances a community's real leader shoe not to occupy this office and put forward a nonentity instead.) The duties given to a luluai were varied: collection of the annul head tax, supervision and government recruiters, arbitration of minor local disputes, etc. Instead of a salary, such officials received 10 per cent of the tax money collected by them, and they were given badges of office in the form of a bat and a silver-beaded stick.

To assist the luluai there was also appointed an interpreter (tultul), and a medical orderly (doctorboy). The former was a man with some fluency in Pidgin, usually an ex-plantation labourer. The latter's job was to dispense bandages and simple medicines and to enforce elementary sanitation measures. Under German administration all physically fit indigenous males past childhood were required to contribute unpaid work on public projects for up to four weeks a year. such projects included road-building and a maintenance, and work on government plantations and stations. In addition, forced labour of this kind was used as a means of punishing fractious individuals and, more generally, as a device for inculcating indigenes with the civilized value of sustained physical work on behalf of 'public welfare'. The public welfare in question was, of course, chiefly that the colonial authorities and businesses.

The system of taxation introduced by the German authorities was regarded by them more as a civilizing device than a source of revenue. When an area was first brought under administrative control it became subject to taxation, but on a graduated scale. In highly colonized areas, like the area around Rabaul, where the indigenes had many opportunities to earn money, the tax rate was ten marks a year. Elsewhere it was seven, or five, marks a year, according to the area's state of commercial development. Where taxation applied, every physically fit male over about twelve years of age was assessed, except for a white for at least ten months during the current tax year. for those taxable individuals unable to pay, the alternative was work on a public project for about fourteen extra days a year. Whether or not this taxation helped to civilize the indigenes, it undoubtedly contributed to the economic progress of the colony, both by encouraging work on white-owned enterprises and in the production by indigenes of cash-earning crops. It is doubtful, however, that it served to educate those taxed in the virtuous necessity of taxation as a duty of responsible citizenship.

As for other measures of education, the German authorities left formal schooling, such as it was, almost entirely in mission hands. What effects did these colony-wide policies and practices have on Bougainville-Buka? By 1914, large numbers of Bougainvillians were employed on plantation s, both locally and in the Bismarck Archipelago. They were generally known as 'Buka boys', and easily identified as such by their darker skin colour'; they had become favourably known for their industrious ness and what seemed to be eagerness to learn new skills. but exactly how many were so engaged and that proportion of them worked away from home is not recorded. What is certain, however, is that these two islands were only partially under the Administration's control. Bika, being smaller, less mountainous, and nearer to Rabaul, was better explored and subjugated, as was the northern end of Bougainville and the coastal areas immediately north and south of Kieta. the rest of the larger island was uncontrolled, the Greater Buin Plain - where the usual state of intertribal warfare was further complicated by the illegal recruiting of labourers for plantations in the British Solomon Islands. At one point it was proposed to set up a government station on the Buin coast to assist 'in pacifying the tribes, who even at the present time have pitched battles, and render accessible to (legal) recruiting this virile stamp of men. Occasional (official) tours and punitive expeditions cannot cr4eate quietude in these regions. (From the official Report on New Guinea, quoted in Rowley 1958, p..5)

The first whites to establish permanent residence on Bougainville-Buka were Marist missionaries, who founded a station at Kieta in 1902. Three years previously the mission had set up headquarters on Shrotland Island, and prior to the move to Kieta had begun to win Bougainvillian converts in the person of the many young people who became workers and trainees at the Shortland station. (Then and previously, it will be recalled, there was frequent contact between Shortland Islanders and the Buin-speaking peoples of southeast Bougainville. Many of the latter lived on Shortland in a stage of benign semi-bondage or of concubinage.) The German authorities encouraged the Marists to extend their influence on Bougainville-Buka itself - including the acquisition of land - but more with a view to economic development than to evangelization.

By 1906 relations between whites and coast-dwelling Bougianvillians had reached a state of peaceable interaction. Here are some extracts from an account by Parkinson, who, it will be recalled, was the German planter based in Rabaul who made frequent visits to these islands trading and recruiting labourers for New Britain plantations. this account, which is translated freely, is in the form of a travelogue describing the coasts of the larger island. Only those parts dealing with the inhabited strips of the coasts are included here. It may be safely concluded that the remaining coastal areas contained no indigenous settlements of any size, except those along the southwest coast which Parkinson did not include in his circuit. Travelling north from Bougainville's southeast point, Cape Friendship, he first mentions indigenes in his description of the mouth of the Luluai River, where he records the presence of:

small canoes drawn up along the banks, which indicate the proximity of indigenes - a conclusion that is borne out by the sight of some native gardens along both banks of the river ...

At the mouth of the Luluai there are usually many indigenes to be seen, and although they are invariably armed with their bows and barbed arrows they are not as dangerous as they seem. they came to this spot to fish, their actual settlements being north of here in the Kaianu district. ...

North of the Lulua the steep and deeply fissured foothills of the Crown Prince Range reach almost to the coast, and in Kaianu they terminate abruptly at the coast itself. the palm-shaded houses of the villages in this area are built on the hillside slopes, and far inland the sight of forest clearings and rising columns of smoke indicates the presence of native gardens. ...

North of Kaianu is the district of Koromira whose coastal area is well populated. According to reports, inland Koromira is also well people, and by indigenes who are described by the coast dwellers as being so warlike that the latter must keep themselves continuously armed.  (This is the characteristic way that coast dwellers describe their inland neighbours in this part of the world.) ...

Proceeding north along the coast we came to the village of Toboroi whose inhabitants are a peaceful folk who came originally from Shortland Island. during the period when the great Shortland chief, Gorai, was extending his rule over much of south Bougainville, the Toboroi people constituted his northern-most outpost. ...

Next comes the Toboroi roman  Catholic Mission which was established in 1902 (the first permanent European settlement on the island), and after that Kieta, where a police station has recently been set up by the German administration.

Further along, in Arawa Bay, one is treated to a sight which is becoming increasingly rare in the South Seas. From time to time the mountaineers who live inland from Arawa come down to the coast, either to fish or to view with wonder the sight of a European vessel. they come in throngs, of both sexes and all ages, mainly for mutual protection but perhaps also because it would be unsafe to leave anyone behind if the men alone were to come (since no village is able to trust its neighbours). They arrive completely naked, their black bodies painted red or white, and carrying their bows and arrows and spears. these wild-looking bands rush at the visitors with loud cries, but they turn out to be quite harmless. Their shouts and gesticulations are simply their way of expressing excitement and astonishment at the unfamiliar sight of whites. Everything we possessed excited their amazement and wonder, whether it be a piece of coloured calico, a height-hued bead, a mirror, a knife, an axe, a fishhook, or whatever. They readily exchange their finely wrought weapons for cheap trinkets, behaving like children who have just en given a long-wanted toy. In due course even the females overcome their initial shyness and crowd around us to clamour for their share of the beautiful new things. Speaking of the women, while many of the young girls are favoured with strong slender bodies and pleasant faces and ivory white teeth, the older ones, with their wrinkled skin and deeply furrowed faces, look like nothing so much as Blocksberg witches.  .  .  .

In recent years it has been possible to recruit some of these mountaineer males to work on plantations in the Bismarck Archipelago. After they have served out their indentures and returned home they will probably, through their example, influence a large number of their fellows to engage in works away from home.  .  .  .

Continuing north along the coast some fourteen kilometres past Cape Mabiri, one comes to the village of Bagovegove which is located in what evidently is a very vulnerable position. When I first visited this village in 1886 it had just been rebuilt after having been destroyed by hostile mountain-dwellers. In 1889 it it was again wiped out by the latter, to be rebuilt in 1894, and again burnt to the ground by the same enemies in 1895. However, since its last reconstruction in 1898, it has survived unscathed, mainly because of its reinforcement by immigrants from north Bougainville and east Buka. On my visit to Bagovegove in 1902 I counted eighteen large war canoes and over fifty ordinary ones, which bore witness to a large population and was confirmed by the sight of swarms of men, women and children around the houses built along the beach. In 1889 I also spotted a small village, Sapiu, about one kilometre south of Bagovegove, but this was subsequently destroyed by the mountain people and evidently not rebuilt.  .  .  .

Inland from Bagovegove and Sapiu and south of the latter is an extensive area of swampy terrain, and the inlanders who live on the higher ground around it are described by the coastal peoples as being fierce and unrelenting cannibals, ever eager to capture victims either by open attack or ambush. Now whether it is the inlanders who are the real aggressors, or the coastal dwellers themselves, I am not able to prove. I am however inclined to the belief that it is the latter who are the original aggressors, in their eagerness for bloodletting and booty, and that the actions of the inlanders are nothing other than reprisals.  .  .  .

the inhabitants of the strip of coast, known as the Numanuma area, have on occasion been hostile to whites as well as to their inland neighbours. In the 1870s, for example, the small trading steamer Ripple was attacked here by the local people; its captain, a Mr Ferguson, was murdered, along with several of his crew. Although the handful of surviving crew members were badly wounded, they managed to pull up anchor and escape. 'Revenge was not long in coming. It happened that Captain Ferguson enjoyed the friendship of the Shortland chief, Gorai, and the latter sent a fleet of warriors who wiped out Numanuma and its inhabitants during a month long campaign. Since that time the indigenes hereabouts have remained more or less peaceful (toward Whites), but they continue to bear the reputation of being the most untrustworthy people in Bougainville.  .  .  .

Between Numanuma and Point Nehus (now the site of Inus plantation) are many small inlets and flat stretches of beach which are ideally suited to native settlement. Indeed, before 1888 there were numerous settlements just here, but now the only remains of them consist of their coconut palms.  .  .  .

Just north of Point Nehus the mountains rise abruptly behind the narrow coastal plain and form the site for many native settlements, their well-built houses, laid out in rows, being clearly visible from the coast. continuing north towards Cape l'Averdy, the coastal plain broadens and the foothills become less steep. In the waters off these shores one almost always sees canoes, engaged either in fishing or in trade expeditions to nearby settlements.  .  .  .

Off Bougainville's northeast cape lies the inhabited island of Teop, but on the mainland opposite Teop one has to go a considerable distance inland before reaching any settlements, on account of the continual state of warfare between Teop and the inlanders. the latt4er are industrious gardeners; on occasion they bring large quantities of produce, mainly taro, down to the beach to trade. In addition they are also very warlike and are rarely to be seen unarmed. On the various occasions when I have visited them in them in their mountain village, I have invariably found them to be friendly and hospitable, but such relation do not obtain between people of separate village. In every settlement I have visited unexpectedly he must not consider it to be a sign of hostility to him if he finds himself suddenly confronted with a crowd of men threatening him with their weapons; for, as soon as he is recognized, his hosts' hostility will immediately give way to joyous greetings. Future exploring expeditions to this region need fear no great difficulties from the local indigenes, provided that their leaders exercise tact and maintain calm. However, a high-handed attitude on the part of the visitors, or an unjust action or display of violence, will quickly have the effect of turning friendship into hostility, and will force the expedition to turn back.  .  .  .

The harbour of Cape l'Averdy could become an excellent base for opening up the nearby countryside, which contains large areas suitable for cultivation and which could be developed without damage to the interests of the indigenes. In fact, in my opinion there are many places on Bougainville where the local indigenes would welcome the establishment of plantations, in which their own labour would be involved. for not only would this kind of development contribute to more peaceful relations among the different tribes in the areas in question, but it would provide markets for the indigenes' own garden produce.  .  .  .

Some four kilometres west of the harbour at Cape l'Averby lies the small harbour and village of Tinputz. Then, for the next twelve kilometres or so up to Laua Harbvour, the coast itself is uninhabited, the nearest settlements being a long way inland. Within this uninhabited stretch of coastland are many thousands of hectares of excellent agricultural land, the best in all northern Bougainville. here also are several fine harbours, numerous year-round streams, good soil, regular rainfall - and no indigenous settlements to be disturbed by the establishment of plantations. Moreover, the area further inland and the nearby districts contain a sizeable population already accustomed to sending young men away to work .  .  .  . West of Bantu Bay the coastline becomes high and steep, but here and there are to be seen shallow little bays bordered by sandy beaches which provide sites for a number of indigenous settlements. Here along the coast one frequently meets fleets of twenty and thirty canoes, each one containing twenty to thirty people, there being a lively trade between here and Buka. In addition to the beach villages found along this stretch of coast there are a number of others located along the top of the seaside cliffs. In fact, for a number of years this area has been a major source of plantation labour; the local people are less timid of whites than their fellow islanders elsewhere, and it is possible to communicate with them in Pidgin English.  .  .  .

Continuing westward through Buka Passage and south of the island of Sohano we enter a very large bay, bordered on the east by the Sailo Peninsula and protected on the west by the Taiof and a number of other smaller islands. Here we are visited by indigenes whom we have met before, on the other side of the peninsula. this time, however, they are travelling not in their large war- or sea-going craft, but in small outrigger canoes, or even on roughly constructed rafts. the have crossed the narrow peninsula to fish in these relatively calm water, and evidently find the canoes and rafts better suited to this activity than their larger craft. the whole of the peninsula is given over to cultivation, mostly of taro and banana.  .  .  .

Southward along Bougainville's west coast one passes the foothills of the mighty Emperor Range, and in some of the coastal valleys of the foothills are to be seen small garden clearings. The mountains hereabouts are said gto be well populated, but the inhabitants are reputed to be hostile to all outsiders.  .  .  .

Further along one enters broad Empress Augusta Bay, which acquired an evil reputation during the era of uncontrolled labour recruiting for the plantations of Australia and Fiji. Time after time recruiting vessels were attacked by the local indigenes and all their people killed. Since that era, however, the situation here has greatly changed. the coastal villages, now largely depopulated through emigration, are threatened by the inland mountaineers. ?Scarcely a quarter of the inhabitants of this once thickly populated coastal area now remain, and some whole villages have entirely disappeared. 'And what used to be a dangerously unfriendly populace has become far less so; in my frequent visits to the surviving villages I invariably meet with a hospitable reception. These villages are regularly visited by traders from Shortland Island, and for the past few years no whites have been attacked.

Turning now to the island of Buka, it is quite densely populated, and for this reason alone does not provide much opportunity for the establishment of European plantations. the indigenes of Buka belong to the same race as those of Bougainville, and have for many years been offering their services as labourers.  .  .  .

Except fort the labour, however, neither Bougainville nor Buka has much to offer in the way of local produc4ts; and such produce as there is is usually acquired as a sideline by recruiting vessels. With respect to these island, but commerce in that area is largely in the hands of English traders based on Shortland Island, and is thus of little value to us Germans.  

By 1914 additional Marist mission stations had been established at Patapatuai (Buin), Koromira, Torokina, and Burunotui (Buka); and the headquarters of the bishop had been transferred from Shortland to Kieta. Up to that point the Marists, mostly of French and German nationality, were the only missionaries at work on Bougainville-Buka, but their exclusive hold on the field was soon threatened from the Solomon Islands where Methodists were reaching out towards the north.

Yet another kind of waitman presence on Bougainville-Buka during the German era which must be mentioned was the handful of journalists, scientists, traders and recruiters whose visits were brief but whose influence may have been considerable.

This was the situation in 1914, when World War I convulsed Europe, and its effects were felt even in distant colonies. shortly after the outbreak of war, Australian authorities rounded up a motley band of volunteer s and shipped them to Rabaul. their commander accepted the surrender of the handful of German residents, and announced to the bewildered crowds of onlooking indigenes: 'No more 'um Kaiser; God save 'um King'. this declaration revealed just how unprepared they and their political leaders were to govern this huge, alien, and seemingly intractable addition to empire. From then until May 1921 the colony was administered by Australia under a military regime, but throughout this period most of the rules and practices established by the German s were continued. All German civilians taking an oath of neutrality were permitted to return to their properties and regular pursuits. such arrangements were not only in accord with the principles of international law of the time; they were also necessitated by the Australians' small numbers, their lack of tropical colonial experience, and their views on colonialism, which seem to have been almost identical with those of their predecessors. After a while whites were deprived of the personal right to punish their indigenous employees corporally, but in most other respects the German-established laws and practices regarding relations between whites and indigenes were maintained. During this period of military occupation the colony came to be viewed as a protective bastion for Australia, but its natural resources and native peoples continued to be treated mainly as colonial economic assets.

The Australian force at Rabaul was so small that three months passed before it was able to extend the occupation to Bougainville-Buka. On 9 December 1914 two companies of infantry and a machine-gun section landed at Kieta without opposition and accepted the surrender of the German district officer there. the German officials were imprisoned and returned to Rabaul; other German residents - missionaries, planters and merchants - were permitted to return to their regular pursuits after taking the oath of neutrality.

A small military garrison was stationed at Kieta, but is main efforts throughout the occupation period were aimed at punishing fractious indigenes. Little was accomplished in the way of extending the areas under administrative control. Plantation and trading stores continued to operate as before, including even the German-owned ones, whose managers were allowed to remain. By war's end, of the 30,000 hectares which had been alienated on Bougainville-Buka, including 1650 owned by the Marist mission, only one-third had been brought under cultivation. The only other major change that occurred during this period was brought about by missionaries. In 1911 the Methodist mission reached out from its New Georgia headquarters and established a station on Treasury Island, just south of the Shortlands. It would be hard to decide whether the Marists then put more energy into converting islanders from heathenism or saving them from the threat of Protestantism. Some of the Marists were under the impression that the German authorities had granted their mission exclusive rights on Bougainville-Buka, this was not officially so, but until the Australian occupation the Marists had the fiekd to themselves. From their base on Treasury Island the Methodists had made a brief sortie into the Siwai area of southern Bougainville in 1916, and then settled down to stay in 1920. Their entry there had been facilitated by the traditional relationship that existed between the Treasury Islanders and the Siwai; a similar factor had earlier provided the Catholic mission based on Shortland Island with entry into Buin. 

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