The second largest island and one of the least known countries of the world, lies immediately north of Australia
New Guinea, the second largest island and one of the least known countries of the world, lies immediately north of Australia, extending from the equator to about 12° S. lat. and from 130° 50′ to 154° 30′ E. long. It is 1490 miles in length, its maximum breadth is about 430 miles, and its total area some 310,000 sq. miles. Its population is placed at the purely conjectural figure of 875,000. An examination of the report of D’Abreu, who was long credited with the discovery of New Guinea (1511), shows that he only reached the eastern coast of Further India (Cambodia); whether José de Menzes (1526), Saavedra (1536), and Grijalva (1537) reached New Guinea is still uncertain. But there can be no doubt in the case of Jingo Ortiz de Retas (1545), who landed at the mouth of the St. Augustine (now the Kabenau) River, and took possession of the country in the name of the King of Spain. It was he who gave the island the name of Nueva Guinea. On Mercator’s map of 1569 New Guinea and numerous places and islands on its northern coast are indicated. Luis de Torres (1606), whose name is commemorated in the strait separating New Guinea from Australia, was the first to circumnavigate the greater portion of the island. The voyages of Tasman (1643-44), Vuik (1653), and Kayto (1674) added greatly to our knowledge of the southern and eastern coasts, and in the eighteenth century, thanks to the efforts of Dutch, English, and French explorers (Schouten, Lemaire, Captain Cook, De Bougainville, etc.), the picture of the island began in some measure to approach the actuality. However, Captain William Dampier’s map of the northwestern portion of the island, while exhibiting a great advance beyond the preceding, shows how erroneous still were the views concerning the exact contour of the island. The rapid growth of European interest in Australia in the nineteenth century invested New Guinea with enhanced importance: voyages of exploration multiplied, although, owing to the warlike and cannibal character of the natives, landings were still few. It was only during the last decades of the century that active exploration of the island began. Numerous successful expeditions (MacGregor, Monckton, Strong, Berton, Beccari, and d’Albertis) have furnished us with a comparatively accurate knowledge of the coasts and of the southeastern portion of the island. For the scanty knowledge we possess of the German territory we are indebted mainly to Dr. Schlechter (1907): the lofty mountain ranges, which hem in and render almost inaccessible the greater part of the German and especially of the Dutch section, the difficulty of travelling and trans-porting supplies, the character of the native tribes who regard the setting foot on their special territory as a hostile act, and the insalubrious climate, constitute for the explorer obstacles greater perhaps than any he has to encounter elsewhere in the world.
The northern coast of New Guinea is in general steep and regular, and possesses but few places of safe anchorage. The only great indentation here is the vast Geelvink Bay. The most important of the other inlets are Humboldt, Cornelis, and Astrolabe bays, Huan Gulf (all in German New Guinea), and Acland Bay (British). The coasts are lined with groups of islands which are mostly volcanic (some still actively) or otherwise flat and sandy. The chief groups on the north and east are the Schouten Islands (at the entrance to Geelvink Bay), the Admiralty Islands, and Bismarck Archipelago (of which New Pomerania is the largest island) off the German territory, and the D’Entrecasteaux Islands, the Bennett group, and the Louisiade Archipelago off British New Guinea. On the southern side of the island the sea—which on the northern is frequently too deep for safe anchorage—becomes shallow, and the precipitous rocks give place to wide plains. This is, as already stated, almost the sole easily accessible portion of New Guinea. To the west of Cape Bum in Dutch New Guinea high cliffs again skirt the coasts, and the groups of islands once more become numerous (Arru, Wessel, and Ké Islands, etc.). From the northwestern portion of the island two great peninsulas, Onin and Berau, are almost severed—the latter by McCluer’s Inlet, which very deeply indents the coast in an easterly direction.
Our knowledge of the great mountain ranges of New Guinea is still to a great extent hypothetical, and the calculation of their heights only approximate and subject to revision. Beginning with British New Guinea in the southeast, we find the country traversed by a continuous chain of which the successive members are the Stirling and Stanley ranges (Mount Albert, 14,400 feet), the Yule (Mt. Yule, 14,730 feet) and Albert Victor (13,120 feet) mountains, and the Sir Arthur Gordon (13,120 feet) and Victor Emmanuel (12,810 feet) ranges. This chain is continued in Dutch New Guinea by the Charles Louis range, which attains the height of about 16,000 feet (probably the greatest altitude in New Guinea). How the central chain continues in the western portion of the island is still unknown. The principal range in German New Guinea is the Bismarck Mountains (variously estimated between 14,000 and 16,000 feet in height). Between the central chain and the sea run numerous parallel ranges, mostly of a lower altitude. With few exceptions, the rivers flow through narrow and steep ravines until within a few miles from the coast, and assume, during the wet season, the character of violent torrents. As they form practically the sole means of access to immense areas of the island, the difficulties confronting the explorer will be readily understood. The most important rivers of the northern coasts are: the Amberno (still unexplored), which enters the sea by a vast delta at Point d’Urville; the Kaiserin Augusta (navigable by ocean steamers for 180 miles), which rises in the Charles Louis range and enters the Pacific at Cape della Torre; the Ottilien, which, after a course of great length, empties into the ocean near the last-mentioned; the Mambre. which discharges near the Anglo-German boundary. On the southern coast the principal rivers are the Purari or Queen’s Jubilee River (navigable by whale boat 120 miles) and the Fly (navigable by whale boat 600 miles), both of which discharge into the Gulf of Papua. No important river is known to exist in the western section of the island, which is of course still a terra incognita.
The climate of New Guinea is characterized in general by its great heat and humidity, and in the lowlying districts fever abounds. Although, generally speaking, the temperature seldom rises above 104° in the southern portion, it rarely falls below 86°. The climate is, however, tempered by the regular winds from the southeast and northeast, and at an altitude of 3000 feet above sea level is pleasantly cool. The annual rainfall varies from 30 to 130 inches along the coasts, rain falling more abundantly in the north and northeast than along the southern seaboard. The difficulties of the climate are aggravated by the mosquitoes and the leeches, which insinuate themselves through the most closely woven clothing and whose bite often occasions burning ulcers.
To the great uniformity seen in the geographical build of the island corresponds a general ethnical uniformity among its inhabitants (see, however, “Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain and Ireland“, XXIX, London, 1909, pp. 246 sqq., 314 sqq.). In the case of a country so vast and still so little explored, we must confine ourselves to indicating the general characteristics of the inhabitants, passing over the local differences which manifest themselves in the native customs and mode of life. The Papuans, as they are called (the name is unknown to themselves), belong to the Melanian family: they are larger than the Malay, are dark brown or black in color, have a smooth skin, narrow forehead, dark eyes, dolichocephalous skull, and prominent nose. Their black, naturally frizzled hair is usually artistically arranged. They wear a lavish number of bracelets (mostly of turtle-shell) on both upper and lower arms: these not only serve as a protection against arrows, but, according to their shape and color, are employed by certain tribes as an outward token of mourning. Necklaces are also generally worn: they are usually made of rings of vegetable fiber or, in the case of the wealthier natives, of wild boar’s teeth. The lower limbs are less usually adorned, except on festive occasions. Agriculture is as yet little developed; the natives depend for their sustenance mainly on their hunting (wild boar opossum, crocodile, wild fowl), fishing, and the wild sago, which grows in the greatest abundance in the valleys and marshy lands and which is, according to the missionaries, largely responsible for the unprogressive character of the natives.
A comparatively high sense of justice exists among the native tribes, each community possessing its strictly defined hunting and fishing grounds and sage fields. Many of the tribes are celebrated for their skill in boat-building. Commerce is carried on between the maritime and inland tribes. The trading is not confined to mere exchange: wild boar’s tusks, and in certain districts bracelets and stone hatchets are accepted in payment. Of the greatest value and universally recognized as a medium of exchange are the small glass pins and jewelry. These are generally believed to be the product of the old Indian glassworkers, and the natives instantly detect modern productions, which are little valued. While cannibalism still exists on the island, the members of the same tribe or community live together in the greatest peace. In general the strictest endogamy is practiced, and there are certain well-defined degrees of relationship within which marriage is forbidden. The wife, for whom payment is almost always made to her relatives, attends not only to the household work, but also to the the rude agriculture practiced: all observers testify to the kind manner in which wives are treated, and to the modesty and high moral character of the Papuan women in general. Though with no definite views concerning a deity, the Papuan believes in another self or soul, which desert the body temporarily during sleep and finally after death. Disease and death never result from nature causes: they are always the result of evil spirits, acting either directly or through a poisoner. Against these evil influences talismans (mostly pieces of carved wood, crocodile teeth, etc.) are carried. The native weapons are the bow and arrow, knives of bamboo, stone clubs, spears, and hardwood shields and clubs.
New Guinea is divided politically into the Dutch German, and English protectorates, the last two being known officially as Kaiserwilhelmsland and the Territory of Papua. In 1884 Great Britain proclaimed its protectorate over the southeastern portion of tin island, and in 1885, after Germany had annexed the northeastern section, the delimitation of the territories of the two countries was effected by the Anglo-German treaty of that year, Holland retaining the portion of the island west of 141° E. long. The boundary line between the German and British sections runs from 5° S. lat. at the 141st meridian E. to 8° on the coast. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of May, 1895 confirmed the western boundary. The area of the British territory is 90,540 sq. miles; its population about 500,000 natives and 1250 whites. Cocoa-nuts, rubber, sisal hemp, Mirva fibre, coffee, tea, and tobacco are cultivated. The forests contain valuable timbers (sandal-wood, etc.); gold is found in the Louisiade Archipelago, on the mainland, and on Woodlark Island. The four ports of entry are Port Moresby, Samarai, Daru, and Bonagai. The German territory has an area of about 70,000 sq. miles, and a population of 110,000 (?) natives and 391 foreigners (184 white). Its development is entrusted to the German New Guinea Company, but its administration is undertaken by the Imperial Government. The principal ports are Berlinhafen and Konstantinhafen. Areca and sago palms, bamboos, ebony, and other woods abound: coco-palms and caoutchouc are grown on the small area yet under cultivation. Gold has been recently discovered on the Bismarck Mountains. Dutch New Guinea has an area of 150,000 sq. miles; its population is estimated purely conjecturally at 262,000. Although it is considered by some authorities the richest part of the island, very little attempt has been made to develop it. Extensive coalfields exist near the northwestern coast. The principal settlement is Merauke. The fauna of New Guinea is very poor in mammals; only about seventy-five species are known, the most important being the wild boar, rat, mouse, bat, opossum, and crocodile. The avifauna is, on the other hand, both numerous and various, and includes among the five hundred known species many (such as the celebrated bird of paradise) which are peculiar to New Guinea and some other islands in this region.
Mission History—On July 1, 1885, the first Catholic priest, Father Verjus, set foot on Papuan soil. He devoted himself immediately to the care of the sick and the study of the native language, but was soon compelled to withdraw in consequence of the opposition of the Protestant missionaries and the pressure they brought to bear on the British authorities. A change of governors allowed the return of the Catholic missionaries, and on May 1, 1889, British New Guinea was erected into a vicariate Apostolic and Father Navarre appointed vicar Apostolic. He introduced the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Issoudun, who rendered valuable assistance by instructing the native girls, taking charge of the churches and chapels, and even founding stations in the interior. On September 12, 1889, Father Verjus was named Bishop of Limyra and coadjutor to Msgr. Navarre. The task of conversion is attended with great difficulty, as the adult native, though he shows no resentment to his religious customs being ridiculed, obstinately adheres to them, even when they cause him excessive physical exertion. The latest statistics assign to the mission: 26 missionaries, 21 brothers, 38 sisters (all of the Sacred Heart of Issoudun), 15 catechists, 1500 Catholics, 7 stations with church and school, 2 orphanages, 28 schools with 1400 pupils. The Prefecture Apostolic of Dutch New Guinea was separated from the Vicariate Apostolic of Batavia on December 22, 1902. Attended at first by the Jesuits, it was later entrusted to the Missionary Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Issoudun. The present prefect Apostolic is the Rev. Father Noyens (residence on the Island of Langur), appointed in January, 1903. The mission now contains 14 Fathers and 11 Brothers of the Sacred Heart; 7 Sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart; 16 native catechists; 2911 Catholics; 210 catechumens; 4 churches with resident priest; 12 churches without residence; 12 substations; 16 schools with 300 pupils. (For German New Guinea, see Apostolic Prefecture of Kaiserwilhelmsland.)