100 Years Ago: December 1921
This is the 83rd entry in my collection of abridgements of one-hundred-year-old National Geographic magazines.
The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Islands of the Pacific” and was written by J. P. Thomson, C. B. E., LL. D., Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, Royal Geographical Society of Australia. The article contains fifteen black-and-white photographs, five of which are full-page in size. The internal heading has an asterisk linking it to a footnote referencing the “Map of the Islands of the Pacific” that is a supplement to this issue. More about the map in the last article.
The author began by waxing poetic about the place-names of the islands in the South Pacific (probably referring to those appearing on the map) had brought back memories of romance and adventure; of the early navigators who had inspired others; of the pen sketches by Robert Louis Stevenson; and of the exploits of the buccaneer, Captain Bully Hayes. The islands brought one face to face with primitive life in all its varied phases. From trader to beachcomber, from reef harvester to tribal councilor, from head-hunter to cannibal, from warrior to village maiden, and from the local native court to a provincial parliament, all manner and level of primitive existence. The islands were the result of, and subjected to, the stupendous forces of nature – earthquakes and volcanos. Add to that, the occasional hurricanes, it could be a harsh existence, at times. Dr. Thomson felt there was no place on earth more beautiful than Polynesia, the South Sea Islands. The coral reef phenomenon by which island were formed and connections established on a vast scale between widely separated areas, extending over thousands of miles of ocean. That coral was the product of one of those low forms of animal life, whose combined effect made the works of man look feeble. It was one of the greatest wonders of nature. Limited in range to tropical waters, it attained its greatest development in the Pacific Ocean. On the Queensland coast, it was strikingly represented by the Great Barrier Reef. It was an attraction for marine biologist from most of the scientific centers of the world. Besides coral reef building, the region was under an immense volcanic influence. A great seismic belt extended from Japan to the Peruvian coast, and included New Guinea and New Zealand. In some island groups, the volcanoes were still active, and several years ago, the Samoan Island of Savaii was the scene of one of the greatest eruptions ever witnessed. Most of the coralline islands of eastern Polynesia bore traces of former volcanic activity, with numerous extinct craters scattered over the landmasses, and covered with vegetation.
Few people realized that the Pacific Ocean covered more than a third of the globe, and contained over a half of the world’s water supply. Its immense liquid surface influences on the climate in both hemispheres were enormous. It was bisected by the equator and thus exposed to the full force of the tropical sun. It was for that reason, and the moisture it caused, that most of the islands had great fertility of soil and a luxuriant vegetation, so their natural resources afforded ample provision for its inhabitants. The early history of discovery in the “South Sea” went back to the Spanish. The Pacific was first seen on the 25th of September, 1513, by Balboa. Since then, there had been many developments in both the occupations of the various island groups, and in the life of the people. The Polynesian region was occupied by numerous groups of islands which were inhabited by a variety of peoples, generally known in Australia as Kanakas, or South Sea Islanders. The region extended across the Pacific from the eastern waters of Australia and New Guinea, for a hundred degrees of longitude, to Easter Island. It included the Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon Group, New Caledonia and Fiji, the New Hebrides, Samoa and Tonga, the Marshall and Caroline Islands, the Phoenix Group and Low Archipelago, the Hawaiian Islands, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the Society and Cook Islands, and numerous clusters of islands, reefs, and lagoons scattered over wide expanses of tropical ocean. Many of those Pacific groups possessed beautiful harbors large enough to shelter the largest ships. Most of them were guarded by coral reefs. They could be utilized as first-rate naval bases. Commercially, the Pacific Island trade was a matter that commanded world-wide attention in the affairs of nations after the World War. Profiting from her geographical position, Japan had made good use of her opportunities by occupying the Marshall Islands, and in the struggle for a commercial footing in the Western Pacific, she had shown herself a vigorous rival to British-Australian enterprise.
In physical structure, Polynesian islands were mostly composed of igneous or coralline rocks. The moist southeast trade winds prevailed over most of that region, the rainfall being generally high, especially in the eastern Solomons, 150 inches; Hawaii, 60 to 80 inches; New Caledonia, over 40 inches; and Suva, Fiji, 162 inches. On some low-lying atolls, the moisture laden clouds passed without any precipitation. Consequently, there were occasional narrow rainless zones, where accumulated deposits of guano occurred, such as on Ocean and Nauru Islands. The rainy season usually lasted from November to April. The climate was generally heathy and disease free, but malaria occurred in low-lying areas in the Solomon and some other large islands. There was an oceanic flora in the coralline groups, the prevailing forms being the coconut and a few other palms, the pandanus and bread-fruit tree. The edible roots were mostly represented by several varieties of the yam, the taro, and sweet potato. On the larger islands (Fiji, the Hawaiian Islands, the Solomons, and New Britain), there was a rich forest vegetation mostly common to Australia and New Guinea. A remarkable feature of many of the Polynesian groups was the luxuriant vegetation on the southeast, or windward, side of the islands, in marked contrast to the northwest, or leeward, side, where the forest was restricted to limited patches. On contrast to their luxuriant plant life, the Pacific Islands could not lay claim to a rich fauna, except in birds. Birds were fairly numerous in New Caledonia, Fiji, and Hawaii. The dog and the pig had a wide range, being found everywhere near native settlements. Both had been introduced in comparatively recent times and were not indigenous to Polynesia. There were several species of rodents, and some bats species, which appeared to be the only indigenous mammals known in the islands. Even insects and reptiles were by no means plentiful, being chiefly small lizards, centipedes, spiders, frogs, and harmless snakes. Crocodiles were found in the Solomons, both in fresh-water streams and in tidal estuaries, by there, it reached its easternmost limit, as it occurred nowhere else in the island groups beyond.
From the brief description of the physical and climatic conditions of the Pacific islands, it was clear to the author that no place could have been more ideal for the abode of man than that enchanting oceanic region. He found it seductive, the dream of romantic youth, the home of early buccaneering, and the scene of great human struggle in tribal warfare. Now the author turns to an examination of the aboriginal inhabitants of Oceania. Ethnologically, they belonged to two distinct classes, or divisions, of the human family. The first, the Polynesians, comprised the Maoris, Samoans, Fijians, and Tongans. In physical characteristics they were round-headed, narrow-nosed, of a light-brown color, and with lank, black hair. The second division was known as Melanesians, who were long-headed, broad-nosed, of a sooty black color, with black, frizzly hair, and were comparatively short in stature. In the authors opinion, they were of a lower order that the former class, some being cannibals and head-hunters. In the primitive state, Melanesians were savage and often treacherous, in contrast to the Polynesians, who were intelligent and capable of reaching a high standard of culture. By 1921, most Melanesians were more civilized except for those still living in remote areas. The author then discussed the origins of the Polynesians, especially his theory that they were descendants of the Phoenicians. His reasoning was that it must have been a superior race to build and move the great statues on Easter Island, and paved avenues, and wall ramparts of basaltic blocks over 30 feet in length. The craftmanship was similar to the builders in Peru and Mexico. The author felt it was reasonable to assume those ruins were from a long extinct race, and that the current residents came later, or else the current islanders were a decadent people. Even native tradition was silent as to the origins of the ruins. The possibility that the ruins were the remains of some Asian migration across the Pacific to America was rejected because of the islanders features. The Melanesians seemed to be closely related to the Papuans and the Australian aborigines, while the Polynesians were allied to the Maoris of New Zealand.
Unlike Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea, the Pacific islands had no rich mineral deposits; but the soils were extremely rich. It produced sugar, cotton, rubber, coconuts, bananas, coffee, cocoa, rice, pineapples, and many varieties of fruit and vegetables. Among the greatest of all the natural resources of those oceanic territories were the enormous deposits of high-grade phosphates on some islands. Nauru, or Pleasant Island was estimated to contain 497,700,000 tons. Ocean Island’s deposits were estimate at 12,500,000 tons. There were also rich deposits on Angaur, in the Pelew group, and on Makatea, on the western side of the Low Archipelago, which had 10,000,000 tons. Before the World War, Nauru and Angaur were in German hands. At the outbreak of the war, the Pacific islands were in possession of the United States, Great Britain, France [See: “A Vanishing People od the South Seas”, October 1919, National Geographic], and Germany. Japan at the time had but a small interest in the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands, a small group of about 38 square miles in extent. In area and population, the U. S. ranked first with the large territories of the Philippines, the Hawaiian Islands, the American Samoa, and Guam. The former possessions of Germany were Kaiser Wilhelm Land (70,135 sq. mi., pop. 110,000), the Bismarck Archipelago and part of the Solomon group (22,046 sq. mi., pop. 210,000), the Caroline Islands (598 sq. mi., pop. 30,900), the Mariana Islands excluding Guam (241 sq. mi., pop. 1,118), the Marshall Island (156 sq. mi., pop. 10,000), and German Samoa (993 sq. mi. pop. 37,000). Those widely scattered territories, aggregating 94,169 square miles, stretched diagonally across the Pacific from Samoa on the southeast to the Mariana Islands on the northwest, for a distance of over 3,300 miles. They paralleled the coast of northeastern Australia; thus, Germany held the key to the Western Pacific. If naval bases could have been established in each of those groups, Germany could have used submarines and destroyers to isolate Australia and New Zealand, and to blockade the Panama Canal. As an outcome of the defeat of the Central Powers, Australia obtained all of Germany’s possessions except, Samoa, the Marshall, Caroline, and Mariana Islands, and Nauru. Nauru was jointly shared by Great Britain and New Zealand, German Samoa was given to New Zealand, and Japan was granted the Marshall, Mariana (except Guam), and Caroline Islands. Japan lost no time getting a firm footing in those groups, as well as other groups in the Pacific, for the purpose of trade.
The second article in this month’s issue is entitled “Nauru, The Richest Island in the South Seas” and was written by Mrs. Rosamond Dobson Rhone. It contains twenty-four black-and-white photographs, of which six are full-page in size.
The mandates for the Pacific islands which formerly belonged to Germany were assigned to the powers who seized them in the first year of the war: to Japan, the German islands north of the equator; to New Zealand, German Samoa, to Australia, German New Guinea and the German Solomons; and to Great Britain, Nauru. Those mandates were proving more of a burden than an asset, but Nauru was probable the richest spot on the globe for its size. The story of Nauru under white control was the story of German possessions in the South Seas. Germany came late into the Pacific and all the good things had been taken. The Dutch, British, French, and Spanish had pretty well divided the islands. The German colonial policy was undertaken in 1883 by financing certain chartered companies which had been trading with the islands for about 25 years. By that means, Germany acquired a protectorate over a part of northern New Guinea. A protectorate was the first step towards colonization. New Guinea was shaped like a dragon, with a Dutch head and shoulders, British underparts and tail, and a German back and rump. In 1886, an agreement between Great Britain and Germany, defining the “Limit of spheres of influence in the Western Pacific”, was signed in Berlin. By that, all lands unappropriated by other powers were divided between the two contracting parties. The division line started on land, but at once put out to sea. It began at a point on the northeast coast of New Guinea on the boundary between British and German territory, thence east along a parallel latitude to a point in the Pacific Ocean, thence from point to point to a point 15 degrees north lat. And 173 degrees east long. That line of cleavage gave to Germany the Marshall group, A large number of islands north of New Guinea, rechristened the Bismarck Archipelago, some of the Solomon Islands, and a small coral island almost under the equator, which was Nauru. Three years later, Germany added to her Pacific holdings by buying from Spain the Caroline group and the Ladrones (Marianas) with the exception of Guam. About the same time, she acquired by agreement with Great Britain and the U. S. two islands in the Samoan group, one of which was the last home of Robert Louis Stevenson. In return, Germany ceded part of the Solomon group to Great Britain. In that way, Germany acquired her Pacific holdings, she held them for about thirty years.
When the Germans took possession of the islands, she made Jaluit the seat of government for the Marshalls, and assigned Nauru to that group, although having its own language and customs and lying 300 miles distant. It was an upheaved coral island, while the Marshalls were low-lying atolls. Nauru, or Pleasant Island, was almost the jumping-off place of the world. It was almost the furthest east, being only thirteen degrees west of the international date line, and it was only a half degree south of the Equator. It was one of the Line islands. Before it fell to Germany, it knew no white rulers. It had its own laws which were enforced by its own chiefs, but white influence had impinged upon it for many years. Whaling ships from New England had visited the island and traded firearms for coconuts and island pigs. It was a poor island at the time, before the great wealth was discovered. It had no sandalwood or tortoise shells; no pearls or beche-de-mer; not even copra, for copra was not made in the Pacific before 1872 and coconut oil was not an article of commerce. There were two monuments to contact with American whalers. One was a family, descendants of a runaway negro sailor, and the other a small canon, which stood before the house of the British administrator. Other white influences were traders who took native wives, and the traditional “beach-combers” – runaway sailors and escaped convicts. There were also more benign influences. French Catholic missions and English and American ones were established. The island became nominally Christian, but without abandoning the combats between tribes. The Nauruans had never been cannibals, but had a reputation of being savage warriors. A visitor to the island just before the German takeover noted that all the natives were armed. He saw rifles of English and American make, as well as several canons. When Germany took over, she gave the natives a certain number of days to give up their arms. There were two things to the Germans’ credit in the Pacific: They built roads, and they taught the natives to make copra. The natives made coconut oil by heating shredded coconut meat in the sun and then squeezing it out. That was work, and the South Seas islander did not take kindly to work. He made enough for himself, but could not be persuaded to make it commercially. Copra was easily made and stored. The meat of a ripe coconut was broken into pieces and dried in the sun; then it was bagged and ready for sale.
The Germans promulgated laws, the chiefs being responsible for enforcement. Taxes were imposed – head tax, dog tax, bicycle tax – and the men were required to work on the roads three days a week. The colonial government did not know what a treasure they had under their feet. They ran a little trade store which sold the natives tobacco, beer, Alaskan canned salmon, sugar, rice, and ship biscuits in exchange for copra. They also sold dresses for the women to wear to church. Then came a great change, owing to the discovery of phosphate. Ages ago, Nauru was thrust out of the sea; the coral polyps shriveled in the topic sun; slow-moving sea life perished; and the life of the coral died. Beneath the sea, life continued vigorously. A fringing reef slowly extended around the new, lifeless island. Then came the sea-birds, millions of them, feeding on the abundant sea-food, nesting on the coral, and depositing their waste. It filled every crevice and, over the years built to a level plateau across the island. [See: “Peru’s Wealth-Producing Birds”, June 1920, National Geographic.] On the margins, rains, winds, and breakers washed away the deposits, but the coral walls back from the shore held safe the treasure. Then one day the birds were gone; how or why was a mystery. Slowly the guano became phosphate. Vegetation appeared, limited in species but abundant in specimens; and finally, man arrived. The vegetation owed nothing to the phosphate since phosphate was not water soluble. East of Nauru, 160 miles, lied Ocean Island, or Banaba, another island with the same story. They were unlike the other islands in the area, which were low-lying atolls. A few years prior to this article, the Pacific Island Company had schooners cruising in the Pacific looking for products, especially guano. One of the captains brought from Ocean Island a piece of stratified rock. It was used as a doorstop. Finally, the manager of the company analyzed it and found that it was 80% phosphate of lime. Ocean Island had fallen upon the eastern side of the line of demarcation, and so became British territory. The Pacific Island Company was reorganized as the Pacific Phosphate Company. The British Colonial Government granted permission to buy native land, open quarries, and build a plant with crushers, loading bins, and tramways.
Before the war, the annual production was 100,000 tons worth $12.50 per ton. As soon as the phosphate works were established, the company extended its operation to Nauru. They applied to the German Government for concessions, which were granted on condition of German partnership. A plant was built like the one on Ocean Island. There was a British manager and a German manager, each with his own staff. A white settlement was built with German and British houses. A German governor was sent to the island. The flag with the two-headed eagle was hoisted on a tall pole on the beach. A wireless station was built on a hilltop. Then came the war! After capturing German New Guinea, the Australian navy sent a ship to Nauru. The German residents agreed to submit to British control. As soon as the ship left, they went back on their word. The Germans deported the British residents to Ocean Island. Ocean Island had no wireless station, so it was two months before the news of the German treachery was known to Australia. A ship was sent, with its first call being Ocean Island to take the deportees back to Nauru. The Germans were arrested and deported to Sydney, where they were interned during the war and then sent to Germany. Their native wives and half-caste children remained on Nauru. An Australian garrison was left on the island for the duration of the war. A British administrator replaced the German governor. An Australian wireless staff took over the station. The Germans had little impact in the Pacific. They left some wireless stations, some fine government buildings, some botanical gardens, and good roads. The left no colonies to speak of, and their language made no impression. Nauru had about 1,200 natives. Early in 1918, the chiefs petitioned the British administrator to keep the island and not return it to Germany. The administrator summoned all the natives and held a plebiscite to declare themselves British or German subjects. Without exception, they chose to be British subjects.
Phosphate was mined by Chinese coolies in open quarries, but unlike stone quarries, which removed everything, the phosphate was removed leaving the coral pinnacles in place. There was, perhaps, no hotter working place on earth. In the pits, the workmen were below the level of the trade wind, but exposed to the fierce tropical sun. A worked-out phosphate field was a dismal, ghastly tract of land, with thousands of white coral pinnacles from ten to thirty feet high, its cavernous depths littered with broken coral and discarded equipment. Yet in that waste, vegetation began, and young pandanus trees and coconuts palms grew. Besides phosphate, the island had little to offer in terms of minerals: coral rock and sand for concrete. It does, however provide fruit and an abundance of fish for food. Even fresh water was lacking and was provided by catchment areas for rainwater, the iron roofs of buildings fed it into iron tanks and concrete cisterns for storage. Waste water was used by the fire department. The Line islands were subject to severe droughts, so then fresh water was furnished by condensing seawater. All the material for building and furnishing, every piece of machinery, all articles of clothing, and food were brought 2,000 miles from Australia. Nauru had no harbor or anchorage but, possessing elevation, it had a leeward shore, where, for the greater part of the year ships could “lie off” beyond the reefs and unload and load cargo. By 1921, there were deep-sea moorings provided by the phosphate company. Surf-boats were used to transport phosphate to the ships, and cargo to the island. At times, the wind changed, and “westerly” made loading and unloading impossible. Ships would have to wait days, even months, to unload. There were two classes of laborers on Nauru. The first were the Chinese coolies, while the other were Kanakas (South Sea islanders) recruited from the other islands. Very few Nauru natives worked. Every two or three years, a ship delivered new recruits and picked up the Kanakas who had finished their terms. The laborers were assured food and shelter their wages were “velvet”, to be spent on luxuries: clothes, sugar, tobacco, accordions, etc. The Kanakas refused to labor in the mines, but enjoyed working on loading the surf-boats.
Nauru was about seven and a half miles long and half as wide, and was shaped like an oyster. It was bordered by a reef, which was bare at low tide, and inside of which was a beach of white coral sand. The beach above tide level was covered with coconut palms, interspersed with pandanus and other trees and shrubs. Behind the coconut plain rose a palisade of coral pinnacles whose summit was the phosphate plateau, which was covered by a forest of evergreen trees. In the center of one end of the island was a lagoon surrounded by a coconut grove. The broad plateau was uninhabited, the natives lived only under the coconut trees. The green nut furnished drink and a delicate meat. The ripe nut furnished the copra of commerce, food for man and beast. It provided oil for hair and skin. The dried and polished shells made water bottles and oil flasks. The fiber surrounding the nut was twisted into cord and rope. Its timber was used for huts, canoes, and other things. The sap dripping from the severed flower stalk was sweet toddy, which fermented became soma toddy, an intoxicant. The unopened leaves in the crown of the tree made a delicate white salad, the “sailors’ cabbage” of the old whaling days. The leaves were used for wrapping and making thatch. Wealth was measured by coconut trees. To own much coconut land was aristocracy; to own none was beggary. Some men had made a good thing by marrying brown brides rich in coconut land. The value of the trees in 1921 was from one pound sterling each for bearing trees to one shilling for properly planted young tree. The trees were not only reckoned by count, but the nuts were reckoned by count as well. In normal times the crop was continuous, with blossoms, green and ripe fruit on the tree at the same time. In time of drought, the natives were not permitted to make copra, as the nuts were needed for their own food and for seed. From 1914 to 1917 there was a great drought which killed thousands of trees. When the rains came and the trees blossomed, the native asked permission to make copra. The administrator ordered a count of ripe coconuts. He found that there were barely enough to feed the population until the next crop was due, so he forbade the making of copra.
The islanders had another tree, almost as valuable as the coconut, and constantly associated with it. The screw pine, pandanus, was an extraordinary tree, dependent upon crutches and stilts. It started life as a stemless plant, like a yucca. Then it sent out a spiked trunk, about ten to fifteen feet tall, topped with leaves resembling a mop. If the trunk bent, the tree dropped a cord with a bud; when it reached the ground, the bud rooted, and the cord stiffened into a crutch. A straight, horizontal branch, often shot out of the trunk, around three feet off the ground, sustained by roots set at angles on each side. Pandanus leaves were used for making mats and baskets, for thatching huts, for calking canoes, and other thing for which coconut leaves were too coarse. The tree bore an orange-colored, globular fruit, the size of a football, separable into sections, which were chewed for the flavor. It was also stewed, and the juice made into a palatable black paste. As important as coconuts were to the natives, they gave them little attention, for the tree grew without care and lived to a great age. When he wished to plant a tree, he picked a sprouted nut out of the heap and placed it in a hole along with a piece of iron. The proper planting of trees was done in a similar manner, except the holes were wide and deep, and placed at regular distances. Iron rust was beneficial to young trees. The nuts were not covered with earth for a year. In 1897, an expedition from Sydney landed on the island of Funafuti, in the Elise group, to put down a bore to ascertain the depth of coral. There had been a British expedition to Funafuti the previous year, which had been abandoned after drilling to 100 feet. The Sydney expedition was drilling to 500 or 600 feet, when their bevel-gear wheel broke, and drilling stopped. They had no wireless and it would be three months before the next ship called. A native came up and asked if the wheel was broken. When they told him that it was, he said he had one that they could use. They asked what he used it for, and he told them that he planted it with a coconut tree. He dug up the twin of the broken wheel, which had been left behind with other machinery from the previous expedition, and the drilling resumed.
The coconut tree appeared inadequate. Mark Twain labeled it a feather duster on a long pole; Stevenson called it a vegetable giraffe, “so graceful, so ungainly”. Most trees had a solid, vertical truck, diminished regularly by branches, balanced and clothed in leaves. The coconut palm was bare to the top, tapering slightly, and crowned by a tuft of leaves, each ten to fifteen feet long, and huge bunches of nuts, eighty to one hundred feet in the air. A coconut grove seen from its edge was without dignity and rather disappointing; but seen from within, the trucks became graceful pillars, and the feather dusters became a roof of green, a grateful shelter from the topic sun. The grove was not a solitude, but was the dwelling-place of the brown people of the island. There huts stood all through the wood, but their gray thatch and mat-hung walls melted into the boles of the palms unobtrusively. The people walked so lightly on their bare feet that they made no sound. The author mused about the many times he came across the natives and being startled, they were that quiet. The huts were furnished with nothing at all. Sometimes the floor was a raised platform, three or four feet high, made of crushed coral and covered in mats. There, the natives sat during the day and slept at night. There may be a Chinese camphor-wood chest, a clock, a lantern, and a bicycle. There were always bottles of coconut oil and coconut-shell water-bottles hanging under the eaves. The yard was walled by a line of coral a few inches high, and it was often paved with clean white coral shingles from the beach. Close to the hut were the graves of the household, sometimes enclosed by paling, but often merely outlined by coral or inverted beer bottles. The cooking was done on the ground outside the hut. Much of the food was eaten raw; raw fish, raw shellfish, and raw coconut. When food was cooked it was generally burned outside and half raw within.
The native dress for both sexes was, in the author’s opinion, tasteful, becoming, and suited to the climate. It was a full skirt of pandanus reaching the knees. A wreath of fresh flowers and a necklace of flowers or beads completed the costume. The men often wore a belt, in which was thrust a huge coconut knife. Although those people were almost nude, they did not appear naked; the brown pigment clothed them, and they were as unconscious and poised as the author was in his clothing. They have fine teeth and straight, black hair, which the men cut short, while the women grew long, either down the back or in braids. The author attributed the dying out of the Pacific races to their contact with the white races, and their diseases. He felt clothing, which the missionaries taught the natives to wear, was a large part of the reason. Before the missionaries came, the natives use coconut oil to cover their bodies. When they started wearing clothes, the oil stain it, so they stopped applying oil. The author believed the oil gave some protection from germs. The author speculated that the missionaries did more harm than good. The “Mother Hubbard” dress, the universal attire for women, was ugly, especially as worn in Nauru, reaching from throat to heel. Fortunately, the missionaries stopped before putting hats and shoes on their converts. A native woman did not feel herself modestly attired without the ridi; she often wore it under her dress. The missionaries devised a suitable dress for men, the lava-lava. It was two yards of cotton cloth wound around the loins, tucked in at the waist, and falling to or below the knees. It was worn with a “singlet”, a short-sleeved gauze undershirt. The ridi was worn beneath the lava-lava for modesty’s sake. A large portion of the Nauruans dressed in purely native costumes; others wore clothes to church or in the homes, where they were employed as servants, and changed when they got home.
The natives kept pigs, which ran at large. “Captain Cook’s pigs” they were called throughout the Pacific, as he was supposed to have introduced their progenitors. One of the governors ordered all pigs penned. The owners built pens and put the pigs inside, but neglected to give them food and water, as they had never given them any care. The pigs began to die, and the order was rescinded. The pork was delicious, as pigs were fed exclusively on coconuts. The natives kept peculiar-looking chickens. The roosters had small bodies and abnormally long legs, while the hens were very small and laid small brown eggs. The natives did not eat eggs, but occasionally sold them in the white settlement. Tame frigate-birds were kept on large roosts close to the beach. A favorite sport was to catch the wild birds, using the tamed ones as decoys. They were lassoed by a weight on the end of a fishing line. The birds that were not fully tamed were tied to the roost by a long line, and were fed daily. The native myths were not populous with gods, like those of richer lands. They said that the sky originally lay flat upon the earth, and men wriggled beneath it prone upon their faces; when it lifted a little, they went stooping; when it was finally hoisted to its place by the Spider, they stood upright. There appeared to have been no organized priesthood, but an altar formerly stood before the hut of each chief, upon which were laid offerings of food to gods, ghosts, or devils. As late as 1889, a man-of-war called at the island and the sailors desecrated one of the altars by seizing the food upon it. The ship steamed away to Apia, in Samoa. On St. Patrick’s Day, a great cyclone destroyed most of the shipping in the harbor, including six warships. The sacrilegious sailors were killed. The Nauruans looked upon that as punishment by the spirit. Some of those alters, which were coral pinnacles the height of a table, were still standing, but were no longer used. The last of the witch doctors was still living, but the court had put an end to her practice. She had cured a patient by killing them, and was convicted of murder and sentence to life imprisonment in the chief’s house.
Nauru lied in lonely seas. There were three steamship routes between America and Australia, but the nearest one crossed the equator 1,400 miles to the east, other Transpacific lanes passed the island about as far to the north, and the lane from Sydney to Hong Kong about as far to the southwest. Once every three months a streamer carrying passengers touched the island. A mission ship called once or twice a year. The Pacific Phosphate Company’s cargo ship came every three or four weeks, carrying mail, supplies, and a few passengers. There were about 80 white residents. The majority were composed of the “white staff” of the phosphate company. A garrison of a dozen men with an officer, a wireless staff, and employees of the steamship company and post office made up the remainder. The houses of the white settlement were built of boards and roofed with galvanized iron. The partitions stopped about six inches below ceiling, leaving space for ventilation. Wide verandas surround the houses. The cook-houses were detached. There were no wire screens. The almost constant trade winds kept the flies away, but cockroaches as large as hummingbirds flew in and out, and moths, lured by electric lights, darted against the ceiling. Lizards scrambled over the ceiling stalking flies. Rats made runways of the ventilation spaces. Sore-crabs ravaged gardens unless they were surrounded by crab-tight fences. Ants attacked cupboards and refrigerators unless they were protected by having their feet set in cup of water, which in turn must be covered with kerosene to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes. All food was sent to the topics in sealed tins. Every bed was fitted with a mosquito net. Wages were low; a native could be hired as a cook for one pound a month; a house boy for fifteen shillings; and a laundress, with two helpers and working two days a week, for a pound a month. The servants were fed where they worked, but slept in their own huts. The author likened them to the negro house servants before the Civil War, and stated that they needed continual oversight.
Nauru and Ocean Island were really isles deluxe, for they had electricity for lighting; a refrigeration plant full of beef and mutton supplied by live cattle and sheep brought from Australia by each boat. Other advantages included a bakery, steam laundry, and plumbing with salt and fresh water shower-baths. None of the other small islands had those luxuries. The climate was hot, but tempered by the trade winds. The temperature ranged between 78 and 86 degrees, and rarely exceeded 90 in any season. The mid-day sunshine was blinding, but in the shade, it was comfortable in spite of the humidity. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the heat became moderated and the evenings were delightful. The sun rose at 6 and set at 6 the year round. The only change of season was when the “westerlies” came in the rainy season. Those tropic rains descended with great violence. The winds resembled a blizzard, except they were warm. The storms were not hurricanes; the hurricane belts lied north and south of the equator. There was never any fog on those warm seas, and the moon and stars were brilliant. The pointers of the “Big Dipper” forever pointed to a pole star forever out of sight below the horizon. The brilliance of the sunsets was beyond words; sometimes the whole sky was laced with streamers of crimson. Nauru had its own language, which was not understood by other islanders. Like other Pacific languages, it abounded in vowels, each of which was pronounced. For commerce, a workable language evolved, which was known as pidgin, beche de mer. Kai kai, for instance, was the universal word for food. It was also the verb to eat. Belong was in common use, and bullamacow was the word for meat – either live cattle or canned meat. It was derived, mistakenly by the natives, from “bull and cow”.
While society was small, it was an interesting little group of people. Beer and skittles was a fact and not a mere saying. Skittles was played with nine pins in a bowling alley. Cricket was played, and tennis, and dinner parties were given. There, one enjoyed such food as the coconut-crab, or robber-crab, which climbed coconut palms for the fruit, lived in a hole in the ground, and resembled a lobster in appearance and flavor; crayfish, which were similar to those of the California coast; a great variety of fish; and many fruit, like the pawpaw, or mummy apple, and the sour sop, a variety of custard-apple. During the war, there were many small functions for the Red Cross, as well as a play in the theater, and several fairs. In one of those, there was a native market, managed by the chiefs, where pigs, chickens, and coconuts were sold. The charms of the South Seas were real. Those who knew them best, loved them the most, and they gladly returned from holiday at “Home” to take up island life with its limitations. The author asked the readers if they would like to “cut loose” and leave civilization, to travel great distances and leave all that was familiar behind, to come to a beautiful paradise with dazzling beaches and gentle brown savages. But he warns them to not flee there if they had committed a crime, for “the Pacific is a wide ocean, but a very narrow world. Communications was not frequent, but it was constant. Everybody knew everybody else, from Jaluit to Tonga, from Papeete to Port Moresby. Civil servants, missionaries, ship masters, and traders kept up a system of communication that put Marconi to shame. Just as in a small village, gossip was more rife and uncharitable than in large town, so it was in those small island communities.
At the bottom of the last page of the second article in this issue (Page 589) there is a notice regarding change of address. If a member wanted the magazine to be mailed somewhere else, the Society needed a month’s notice in advance, starting on the first of the month. If a member wanted the January issue redirected, the Society needed to know by December first.
The third article in this month’s issue is entitled “Yap and Other Pacific Islands under Japanese Mandate” and was written by Junius B. Wood. It contains Thirty-five black-and-white photographs taken by the author in the Spring of 1921. Of those photographs, twelve are full-page in size, with one of those being a frontispiece for the article.
Life was easy and time drifted slowly by on the little tufts of green in the warm blue Pacific which now were under Japanese mandate. The largest was less than 13 miles in diameter, while the smallest were mere specks. One careful estimate was 1,000 islands, with a total area of 970 square miles. Sown in the form of an inverted “T”, the islands stretched 2,462 miles east to west, just north of the Equator, from Lord North Island, the westernmost of the Carolines, to Mille Atoll, the easternmost of the Marshalls; and 1,170 miles north and south from Pajaros, the most northern of the Marianas, to Greenwich, in the Carolines. Small as they were, they staked out about 1,500,000 square miles in the North Pacific. [See: map supplement from this issue.] Men of many nations – Portuguese, Spanish, English, American, French, Russian, German, and now Japanese – had wandered through the islands in the centuries since Columbus. They came as explorers seeking El Dorados, soldiers to conquer new lands for their kings, pirates to recuperate in the balmy tropics, missionaries to teach and trade, “blackbirders” gathering laborers for the plantations of New Zealand and Australia, beachcombers drifting out their aimless existence, and all the strange medley of humanity that life’s eddies cast into strange corners of the world. Each had left a mark, a mere fleeting touch – the name of an island, a river, a mountain, or a family. But unconquerable nature was unchanged and the tropic jungle had covered the scars of their works, while the white skins darkened with each generation of children, and the family name was but a memory of an ancestor gone and forgotten. They were but ripples on the surface. The old life ran along, deep and unchanged; the new was there for a generation, fading and disappearing in the next. Movie companies donned strange costumes to portray spectacles of departed ages. Here, the past was masquerading as the present – whatever was pleasing to the rulers of the day – and the costumes were as weird.
The last time the author’s ship anchored in Ponape Harbor was on a Japanese national holiday. During the hour-long ride to shore, the naval commander informed the author’s party that a big celebration had been arranged. Any government was popular with the natives in proportion to its holidays. That afternoon, the flag of the Rising Sun flew over the big parade ground above the village and the naval band played the Japanese national air. The natives were there watching the athletic games, just as they, or their fathers and mother, had come on other national holidays when the Spanish or German colors flapped in the breeze over the same parade ground. Some remembered earlier years, when the Fourth of July was the big holiday. Between the finish of a coconut-husking contest for native men and the start of a half-mile race for Japanese residents, the governor started to investigate the origin of a squat building between the Spanish church and the German school. Of solid stone and mortar, with iron-barred windows and heavy doors, it had withstood time and revolutions. The governor said it was a bath-house. Several Japanese subjects corroborated his verdict. However, the Spaniards did not build block-houses of stone and iron for baths. The governor asked a woman, whose father was German, if she knew for what purpose the building was used. She said that the Germans used it as a chicken-house. No one knew why the Spanish built it, or what its original purpose was. A massive stone wall had cut off the tip of the island where the settlement was located. It was crumbling, and the Germans had cut roads through it, but it showed that the Spaniards’ ambitions and fears ran in a different direction. By that time, Governor Okuyama had his dander up. Something must be found out. He asked a policeman from New Guinea to find out. The Germans had used men from New Guinea as policemen because they were so black that the natives were afraid of them. When the policeman returned, he reported that it was originally built as a jail, and that several prisoners were buried under its cement floor.
The foot-race had finished and the governor distributed the prizes to the winners. The author walked away from the games through one of the gaps the Germans had made in the wall, past the church, and along a path rapidly growing narrower. He stopped to look across the jungle-closed valley to where the late sun was tinting the palms on the mountain top. The pit-a-pat of bare feet approached along the path. It was an old man, from Ngatik, with a coconut salvaged from the husking bee. As they walked together, the old man told the tale of a whaler which wrecked on Ngatik, 75 southwest of Ponape, in the 1860’s. The natives attacked but the survivors were well armed, and most of the attackers were killed. The new arrivals settled down to a life of laziness and a plethora of wives. The next whaler to sight the island took them home. The old man trotted off on a side path through an opening in the brush. Down at the foot of the path, where the narrow bay separated the main island from Chokach (one of 33 islets surrounding Ponape), half a dozen outriggers were tied to the mangroves. Other bare feet came along. It was an athletic young man who untied one of the canoes. His narrow paddle drove the canoe across the quiet water. The Ponape natives were good-natured and easy-going, but they had a temper which flamed into revolt. The first revolution against the Spaniards was precipitated when a road boss forced the natives to pick up rubbish with their hands. The governor and four others were killed, while the only survivor, a carpenter, escaped to the warship, Maria Molina. The next revolution, in 1891, started over the rivalry between an American mission church and a new one established by the Spanish on the east side of the island. Over 1,500 Spanish soldiers lost their lives. That ended the local holy war until 1898. Due to its trouble with the U. S., Spain was too busy to prevent a lively fight among the five tribes of the island. After that, Germany exercised a lien it held on the Carolines and Marianas since 1886 and bought them from Spain. On October 18, 1910, a German overseer of a gang of natives building a road on Chokach struck one of the men with a whip. A riot ensued and Governor Gustav Boeder, of Stassburg, was shot and all the Germans killed. A month or so later, a German warship arrived and found the natives acting peacefully and playing dumb as to what happened. An Englishman, who lived in the hills on the island, told the German what happened. The inhabitants of Chokach were rounded up. Six ringleaders were shot, others were imprisoned, and the remaining 200 natives were deported to the barren phosphate island of Angaur, in the West Carolines. The Germans repopulated Chokach with natives brought from Nagtik, Pingelap, Mokil, and Mortlock islands.
As the boatman lifted his canoe into a canoe house, he told the author that “Mrs. Anna” lived on the island. She was evidently a local personage of some importance. They started along the well-built path which encircled the island. Stretches of the path hugged the shore and the hillside. In other places, the water was hidden by dense foliage. Little housed were scattered on each side, none more than a hundred yards away. All were elevated on posts. When the weather was wet, it was very wet. The rockiest spots were selected for building sites. At a village, the author met a variety of natives of various ages, and in various states of dress. Mrs. Anna was a tall, straight old lady. She stopped at the sight of a stranger. She introduced herself as Mrs. Kubary. She was the widow of the famous scientist who added much to the scientific knowledge and romantic lore of the islands. He had arrived at Ponape at the age of 19 and won a name for himself which reached Europe. He wrested a wealth of coconut groves from the jungle. Once he died, the jungle began to reclaim its own. A bronze slab, sent by his scientific colleagues in Europe, served as a monument in the little cemetery where he was buried. The jungles had choked the botanical garden which he started, and closed paths across the mountains which were trod by warrior when the population was 60,000, instead of the 3,000 in 1921. Some said that the rifles captured from the Spanish were hidden in the jungle. A new path around the edge of the island, built under Japanese supervision, past the houses of its remaining fringe of population. Was the only route of communications by land. Lieutenant Yamanaka, the naval commander, treated the natives with gentleness and consideration. Mrs. Anna added, “My name is not Kubary now” as if following the thought. When the struggle against the jungle seemed hopeless, Kubary committed suicide. The widow, still a young woman, married a young native. He was one of the leaders who killed the German governor and was executed. She and her daughter were among the 200 deported to Angaur. She had returned to take another young native husband. She told her life story. Her father was Alec Yeliot, of Baltimore. He was buried on Ponape by an American missionary. Anne married Mr. Kubary at the age of 14. They traveled through all the islands while he made his studies. They traveled through Europe, but Mr. Kubary died only a year after they returned. She was teaching in a French convent. All the past was gone, but life went on just the same. Her daughter had returned to the land of her father, but Anna called the islands home.
Formerly, the natives were walking pictorial histories. After the missionaries came, tattooing was discouraged, and in recent years it had been prohibited. It was considered a sign of courage, without which a young man or young woman was not worthy to marry. Scientist were divided whether an epidemic of smallpox, brought by whalers, or frequent tribal wars were responsible for the diminished population. The natives still practiced scarification, little raised welts on their flesh. Most girls preferred the right shoulder, though some had them on their breasts. The boys adorned shoulders and chest. The welts, which were formed by making fairly deep cuts, were usually about an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide. Sometimes they were arranged in straight lines, or they made an asterisk or were scattered over the shoulder, breast, and back. The older people had the lobes of the ears stretched and bodies and limbs tattooed. That night, there were open-air movies and Japanese sword dancing by sailors and a couple of proficient native boys on the lawn of the official residence. Visitors and dignitaries had chairs, while the others stood or squatted on the lawn. Movies were a novelty to the natives, but few had the energy to walk the quarter mile from the settlement to the ground. Late that night, when the others were sipping tea on the veranda, Mr. Wood slipped away down the hill to the settlement. He had a little map in India ink and water colors, which Kubary had made in 1874, of the ruins of Nanmatal, the city of stone walls and canals off the east coast of Ponape. Storms had filled the canals with sand, but the walls, in some places 30 feet high, had withstood typhoons and earthquakes, proof of a civilization long forgotten when Quiros came, in 1595, and found the natives living in huts of thatch and sticks. Charles Darwin and others of greater or lesser fame had delved in the ruins near Metalanim harbor and evolved theories of their origin. The governor has a big white book in which visitors, either after exploring Nanmatal or discussing it in his residence, were requested to write their opinion of its origin.
The broad road from the headquarters to the village below was a silvery path between black walls of trees. Only the stars were in the sky that night, and nowhere were they as bright as in the tropics. The parade grounds were deserted and the Japanese schoolhouse looked ghostly in starlight. The local police turned in early. The governor said that he had arrested only twenty-two men, all for stealing. One took a bottle of sake from the Japanese store and the others for eloping with their friends’ wives. To discourage primitive methods of vengeance, home-wreckers were put in jail. The house where the author was going was dark. It was a long and low dwelling, like a field barracks, with a narrow porch along the side, which opened the rooms for different families. His host took a lantern and they went into the residential social hall, a room with a table and two chairs. The map, which Kubary had made nearly a half century prior, with each ruined building drawn to scale, was spread on the table under the lantern. Each site had been numbered, with a corresponding list of names in native dialect down the side. There were thirty-three which Kubary had identified, and nearly as many more about each one of which the host told some story. They were described as castles, temples, forts, sepulchers, and holy places. Nanmatal meant “in many openings”. The host said that his grandfather was an American, but his father was a native. He had an American name, and wanted to visit America. He translated the crude names of the building for the author. He pointed out the burial temple, where Governor Berg did his last excavating. The broad enclosed stretch of water, now filled with sand, had been the inner harbor used for anchorage when storms did not lash the sea-wall. The ruins were taboo, and the host would not accompany the author to the site. The native legend of the origin of the ruins had two brothers coming to Ponape to become chiefs. They were so powerful that, when they wished for a great city, it came down from the sky just where it was in 1921. The other city, at Ronkiti, was built the same way, and one brother lived in each city, ruling over the island. After them, for hundreds of years there was only one king in Ponape. Soutolour was the last. A warrior king from Kusaie (Kodou) Island came to attack the city. He landed only one canoe, and it carried 333 men. He put the canoe into the harbor at Ronkiti and sent some men ashore. They were instructed to find an old woman then go back and report. The men found an old woman, and the chief went ashore and met her. He discovered that there were few warriors on Ponape, so he had his men attack. Eventually, they captured the city. The chief, Ijokelekel, divided Ponape into five tribe, as they were in 1921. They did not live in the cities, for the gods who had built them were angry. Nobody had lived in them since, and nobody had disturbed them since the German governor died.
On another day, the natives gave a dance. It was a good show, but sadly abridged and expurgated. The League of Nations specified prohibition for all the natives in its mandated possessions, but some drinking on dance day would have put more “pep” into the performance. Ponape was about the center of the Japanese mandatory islands. Its life and customs were a standard for all the others. Each group of islands had a language of its own. The years were not long past when each was a petty kingdom. Back then a stranger cast up on the shores had his head adore the door post of the first native to meet him. The extent of American missionary activity could be gauged by the length of the women’s skirt. On Yap, where missionaries had hardly touched, the fluffy fiber upholstering clung precariously on the fat hips: in the Marianas and the middle Carolines, skirts started above the waistline; in the easternmost Carolines they reached the shoulders in one-piece wrappers; and in the Marshalls, where missionary work had flourished, the long-trained wrappers were further ornamented with high ruffle collars and wrist-length sleeves. The native of Yap’s chief worried was about getting enough to eat. War and the elements had completed the blight which had cursed the islands for decades. When the English cruiser sailed past and shelled the wireless station out of existence, and a few weeks later a Japanese transport arrived and deported the foreigners, the islander’s chief source of income was gone. The final blow came on December 7, 1920, when a typhoon leveled the vegetation on the island, destroying most of the coconut palms, breadfruit trees, and other food supplies. The last previous typhoon had been in 1895. About the time the new coconut trees were ready to bear, a strange plant disease spread over the island. The groves planted after the earlier storm were just coming to fruit when the second storm hit.
To everybody in the world, except for the islander himself, the location of Yap was of importance. It was about 250 miles east of Palao, the Japanese headquarters of the mandate, which was 500 miles east of the Philippines. Like the other so-called islands in the Carolines, Yap was not a single island, but a cluster of ten small islands. Four of the islands were fairly large and volcanic, all surrounded by a coral reef, 15 miles long, and 4½ across. Epp, the native name for Yap, was the largest of the four. North of Yap, separated by narrow straits, were Torei, Map, and Rumong. Tomil was the name of the harbor and settlement, with good anchorage, reached by a narrow passage and past dangerous rocks. In native civilization, the islanders of Yap were the leaders and teachers for all the others. Most of the legends and customs of the old days could be traced back to Yap. Stories were told of men from Yap coming in their canoes as far as the Marshalls, more than 2,000 miles away. They taught the others navigation. The story of the two brothers, the genesis of the legendary history of Ponape, was told with variations of names and incidents to suit the local dialects and events in the Marshalls and other islands. The two brothers were supposed to come from Yap. The Yap natives had built houses, towering structures for that part of the world. As one traveled eastward to the Marshalls, the structures became of decreasing simplicity. The natives of Yap knew how to make earthen bowls and cooking utensils, how to weave baskets and ornaments, and how to dye the fibers various colors. They had houses where only the chiefs met, clubhouses where the unmarried men lived, and canoe-houses for all to use. The same custom prevailed on the other islands. In Yap, the women cultivated the taro beds, and on other islands they did the fishing. All agreed that the women should do the work and the men the fighting and loafing. With the advent of ships and trading, the men now worked and the war canoes were leaking and decaying.
Yap had a currency of its own – big circles of limestone, which nobody could steal, and smaller pieces of pearl shell with squared edges. They were brought from Palao, which gave them an intrinsic value. The money was no longer used, except for ornaments or to sell to curio-collectors. The big money resembled a flat gristmill wheel with a hole in the center, so two men could carry it on a pole. Pieces four feet in diameter were numerous, and one wealthy and exclusive club had an 11-foot coin. About two feet was the usual size. A three-foot coin could purchase a young pig. The money leaning against the elevated platforms of the homes of the leading citizens was practical as well as ornamental. The number and size of the piece marked the building’s financial standing. The smaller shell money was now used as necklaces. Some of the clubhouses in Yap were more than 100 feet long and 30 or more feet wide, built on a platform of rough stone paving. The roofs were high and narrow, with the gable than the eaves, so that it projected several feet on each end. The posts and beams of the clubhouses were carved and painted, usually in red, black, and white, with scenes of the historical events of the island. In Palao, the clubhouses were even more elaborate, the favorite ornamentation being a rude figure of a tattooed woman straddling the door, as a warning to the village maidens to be circumspect. The natives had built good roads in Yap, in most places well paved with stone. The women did all the work around the homes, but the men were sturdy workers and more efficient than those on any other of the islands. Though they were anchored very low, the skirts of the Yap women were longer than those of other wearers of garment made from palm fiber. They reached to the ankles and were so full and fluffy that they looked like small haystacks. The fancier ones were dyed variegated colors. In Palao, the women wore a double short skirt. The men of Yap wore shirt of the inner bark of the hibiscus over their loin-cloth, while those in Palao dispensed with it. The women’s full skirt made a convenient seat for the youngsters being carried. Even the smallest girls wore skirts. An important part of a Yap woman’s apparel was a neck-string of thin native cord. That, she put on as soon as she was of marriageable age. Nothing else was worn above the waist, and it was considered immodest for a woman to appear without the cord around her neck. A long comb of wood, which the men wore in their hair, showed a similar distinction. Th length of the comb denoted status.
While Yap natives were known for their indigenous ways, the Marshall islanders were the more civilized. The missionaries said that the Marshall islanders were both civilized and Christian. The Marshalls were proud of their record of twenty years without a murder and very few cases of theft. That was better than any American city of equal population, and farther removed from the head-hunting of the past. The missionaries had taught the natives that they must not smoke, dance, play cards, cook on Sunday, drink liquor, or indulge in other relaxations, which were not considered a bar to godliness in other lands. Calisthenics were abolished in the mission schools because the movements suggested the dances of their forefathers. The natives willingly accepted those restrictions. On the other hand, the population has dropped 50% in as many years. The medical officers at the free hospital said that 90% of their patients had venereal disease, and that 60% suffered with a tropical disease known as “yaws”, which could have been avoided with better hygiene. The Marshall islanders were content. Most of them sat around their house all day, had a song service in the evening, and then went to sleep. They did not have the vigor of their forefathers, when the men worked themselves into a frenzy in the war dance, and then rushed to their canoes to battle the people on a neighboring island. Those were the days when the women danced the wild ru-ong, whose sinuous gyrations were the sensation of the South Seas. Four years of training, until her backbone was as flexible as a snake’s, were required before a girl was permitted to join in that dance. In those days, to avoid arguments, children traced their names and ancestry to their mother. The chiefs and the men educated in the mission schools had learned western business methods, and added it to their native shrewdness. Many of them spoke English, and with their innate love of politics, they would deluge visitors with questions of the world at large.
The years of missionary teaching in the islands had made the native a peaceful, friendly, and hospitable people. They had seen much of Americans – rough sailors with pirate instincts, fighting and robbing; others who married their daughters and settled in the islands, and finally the gentle missionaries, who built schools and churches. As clothes had become popular, tattooing had disappeared. Once, a chief was tattooed from ears to waist, but those days were gone. “Chief Moses” was the only survivor of that age, though he now wore a high collar. Dramatic stories were told of the early days, only half a century ago, before the Marshall islanders became pupils of the Western World. Then, those low-lying islands – more than 300, grouped into 32 circular atolls, with a total land area of only 156 square miles – were a world of their own, each atoll having its own chief and usually at war with all its neighbors. On more than one night, old men reminisced of their boyhood. Legends which their fathers handed down to them, love romances of island Cleopatras, and daring deeds of bold chiefs, stories of rough characters who had come in later days, and whispers of still buried treasure. Life in the Marshalls, in 1921, was denaturalized and commercialized. The transformation came quickly, once it started. Though they were discovered by de Saavedra in 1529 and explored by Captain Marshall in 1788, it was not until 1886 that Germany took possession of them as a colony. In a part of the world where men’s wealth was measured by coconut trees, the Marshalls were a valuable asset to any country. They produced more than half of the copra from the Japanese mandatory. Each island was a waving crown of palm. Periodically, a typhoon struck this atoll or that, levelling trees, but the total producing power of the group was hardly affected. In five or six years, new trees had grown, and the inhabitants who had temporarily migrated returned to their home island.
While the Marshalls were entirely low coral islands, the Carolines were both coral and volcanic, and the Marianas were entirely basaltic. Of the fifteen islands, when counting Guam, five of them had active volcanoes. There were 680 islands in the Carolines, divided into 48 clusters. Those latter were shown on maps as individual islands. Truk, meaning “mountain” in the native language, was where the Japanese naval headquarters administering the mandatory was located, was the largest clusters. It consisted of eleven volcanic islands, one of which was four miles across, and some 80 coral islands, all surrounded by a circular reef 35 miles in diameter. About half the little islands were on that reef, and the remainder were scattered in the big lagoon, which could be navigated by large ships. The Japanese, like men of other nations, had named the islands. Nearly every island in the Carolines had a Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, French, English, American, or German name in addition to its assortment of native titles. The three groups in prehistoric ages may have formed parts of two mountain ranges which the peaks were still above the waves in the Carolines and the Marianas, while only the encircling reefs remained in the Marshalls. The natives of the Marianas differed physically from the natives in the Carolines and Marshalls. Many showed traces of European blood and their language included expressions from there. Many of their homes in Saipan were large and comfortable, with pianos and other western furniture. The natives from the Carolines and Marshalls who lived in Saipan were called the Kanakas. They retained their native customs – absence of clothes, chiefs’ houses, dances to the full moon, and an entirely lower plane of existence. Tribal wars, with victories measured in the number of warriors’ heads and women captured, mixed the blood of the islands long before the white man came, and since that time, migration had been easy and safe, until racial characteristics were blended and indistinct.
The fourth article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Mystery of Easter Island” and was written by Mrs. Scoresby Routledge. It contains “15 Illustrations”, of which thirteen are black-and-white photographs taken by members of the author’s expedition. [A more detailed account of the Routledge Expedition can be found in “The Mystery of Easter Island”, by Mrs. Scoresby Routledge, sold by Sifton, Praed & Co., London.] Five of the photographs are full-page in size, with one of those serving as a frontispiece for the article. The other two illustrations include a sketch diagram of an Image Ahu, and a full-page sketch map of Easter Island on page 630.
Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere
All of the seashore was lined with numbers of stone idols with their backs turned to the sea. The earliest navigators to visit the island a century and a half before, wondered how those figures were built for they saw no tools of any kind for working them. It was incomprehensible that a few hundred natives should have been able to make, move, and erect numbers of great stone monuments, some over thirty feet in height. As the world’s traffic had increased, Easter Island had still stood outside its routes, quiet and remote, with its story undeciphered. The author had nothing but questions. What were those statues of which the current inhabitants knew nothing? Were they made by their ancestors or by an earlier race? Whence came the people who reached this remote spot? Did they arrive from South America, 2,000 miles eastward, or did they sail against the prevailing wind from the distant islands to the west? It had even been conjectured that Easter Island was all that was all that remained of a sunken continent. Fifty years prior, the problem was increased by the discovery of wooden tablets bearing an unknown script; they, too, had refused to yield their secrets. When, therefore, the author’s team decided to see the Pacific before they died, and asked the anthropological authorities what work was remaining to be done, the answer was, “Easter Island”. It was a much larger undertaking than had been contemplated; they had their doubts of their capacity for so important venture. Then followed the problem, how to reach the goal. The island belonged to Chile, and the only regular communication was a small sailing vessel sent out by the Chilean Company, which used the island as a ranch. That vessel went sometimes once a year, sometimes not so often, and only remained there for sufficient time to bring off the wool crop. They felt that the work on Easter ought to be accompanied with the possibility of following up clues elsewhere in the islands.
Chartering a vessel on the Pacific coast was impractical. Since the author’s husband was a keen yachtsman, they decided to procure a little ship in England and adapt it to their purpose. The search for a suitable vessel in England proved fruitless, and it became clear that to get what they wanted, they needed to build it. The plans were completed for a vessel of schooner rig and auxiliary motor power. The length was 90 feet and the water line 72 feet; her beam was 20 feet. The gross tonnage was 91 and the yacht tonnage was 126. While the plans were being completed, the search was made for a place to build it. It had been decided that she should be wood, for ease of repair, but the building of wooden walls had practically ceased. The west country was visited, and an expedition was made to Dundee and Aberdeen; but ships were now built with steel. Finally, they fixed on Whitstable. The keel was laid in the autumn, and in May, she took to the water. The ship was christened the Mana. The name, somewhat freely, translated as “good luck”. Mana was familiar throughout the South Seas, and was probably the simplest form of religious conception.
The author fast forwarded to the party’s arrival at Easter Island. It was in the misty dawn of a Sunday in March that they first saw their destination. They had been twenty days at sea since leaving Juan Fernandez (Robinson Crusoe’s Island), steering directly into the sunset. It was thirteen months since they left Southampton, including 147 days under sail, and here at last was their goal. They approached the southern coast, then swung round the western headland, and dropped anchor in Cooks Bay near the village of Hanga Roa. This was the only part of the island that was inhabited, the 250 natives, all that remained of the population, had been gathered together there, securing the rest of the island for the livestock. The yacht was soon surrounded by six or seven boatloads of natives. The manager, Mr. Edmunds, shortly appeared and welcomed them kindly. He was English, and along with a French carpenter who lived in the village with his native wife, were the only whites on the island. Mr. Edmunds’ house was at Mataveri, about two miles south of the village. It was surrounded by almost the only trees on the island. Immediately behind it rose the massive volcano, Rano Kao. They had their first meal there with Mr. Edmunds, in a large plain room with a table, a few chairs, and two bookcases. Their host told them stories about the house. It was built by Bornier fifty years prior; he was murdered by the natives. A later crew of ranchers had trouble with sheep-stealing. When they confronted the villagers, they were chased back to the building and were laid siege upon. His last visitors were a crew of ship-wrecked Americans from the storm-tossed El Dorado. It was a schooner trading between Oregon and a Chilean port. Easter was the closest land, 700 miles away, but they made it. On short rations, they sited the island after nine days, but the wind changed direction and it took them two more days to make landfall. They were near exhaustion, but their host fed and clothed them. Three months later, the captain and two of his men took their boat and headed to Mangareva, 1,600 miles away. He apparently made it, for the author had brought a letter answering the one her host had sent with the captain to post. He made it to Mangareva in 16 days, and after two days’ rest, he sailed on to Tahiti, another 900 miles in 11 days.
Easter Island was a volcanic land, triangular in shape and curiously symmetrical. The length of its base, the southeast coast, was about 13 miles long, and its greatest width was about 7 miles. The circumference was roughly 34 miles. The highest point was a volcano having an elevation of more than 1,700 feet. The land was geologically young, the mountains retained their rounded shapes and there were no ravines. Along the coast, erosion was at work, with the result of imposing cliffs along portions of the northeast and west coasts. In some instances, the crater of a mountain had become a lake, the only fresh water on the island. There was a good rainfall, but the ground was so porous that it sank beneath the surface. There were no running streams. Some underground channels flowed into the sea below the highwater mark. The lower portions of the island were composed of sheets of lava, across which walking was almost impossible. The surface of the mountains and hills was much smoother, being volcanic ash. The whole was covered in grass, and forest growth had probably never consisted of more than brushwood and shrubs, and, in 1921, ever those had disappeared. Easter Island lied in the subtropics, and, except for the wind, the climate was nearly perfect. There were occasions in winter where woolen clothes were needed, and sometimes in summer, indoors was preferable to the noonday sun, but it was warm year-round and one could utilize all the daylight hours. There were too many insects; cockroaches abounded, flies were numerous, and mosquitoes, which had been imported, varied in their attentions. There was no fever in the islands. Once, they had a plague of little white moths, and occasional visitations of a small flying beetle. Easter Island bore no resemblance to the ideal lotus-eating lands of the Pacific. It reminded the author of some of the Scilly Isles or the coast of Cornwall. It was not a beautiful country, but it had a fascination all its own. All portions of it were accessible, with marvelous views, infinite space and a great silence.
On Easter Island, the past was the present; it was impossible to escape from it. The inhabitants of 1921 were less real than the men who had gone; the shadows of the departed builders still possessed the land. The whole air vibrated with a vast purpose and energy which had been and was no more. The great works were now in ruins; of many, comparatively little remained; but the impression infinitely exceeded anything which had been anticipated. Every day brought with it a greater sense of wonder ad marvel. The present natives took little interest in the remains. The statues were to them facts of everyday life, in much the same way as stones or trees. The information given in reply to questions was wildly mythical, and any real knowledge cropped up only indirectly. The general form of the Easter Island image was unvarying. It represented a half-length figure, at the bottom of which the hands nearly met in front of the body. The most remarkable features were the ears, with extended rope-like lobes, in a few cases with the disk worn in it. The tallest statues were more than 30 feet, a few are only 6 feet, and even smaller specimens existed. Those on the burial-places were usually from 12 to 20 feet in height and were crowned with a form of hat. In Easter Island the dead were neither buried or cremated, but entombed in stone. The burial-places were known as “ahu”. They numbered some 260 and were primarily found near the coast, but some 30 existed inland. With the exception of the great eastern and western headlands, where they were scarce, it was safe to say that, while riding around the island, one couldn’t go more than a few hundred yards without coming across one of those abodes of the dead. They clustered in the little coves, and on their enclosing promontories, which were the principal centers of population. Some were two or three hundred yards away from the edge of the cliff, others stood on the verge, while in the lowlands, they were but a little above sea level.
It was those burial places upon which the images that so impressed the early voyagers stood. Their age had remained an unsolved problem. During the entire time the author was on the island her party worked on the ahu. Those close by to either of their camps were easy to access, but to reach the more distant ones, notably those on the northern shore, involved a long expedition. The burial-places were not all of one type, nor all constructed to carry statues. Some were known to be constructed comparatively recently. A typical image ahu was composed of a long wall running parallel with the sea. Larger ones were as much as 15 feet high and 300 feet in length. It was buttressed on the landside with a great slope of masonry. The wall was in three divisions. The main portion projected in the form of a terrace, on which the images stood, with their backs to the sea. It was broad enough to carry their oval bed-plates. The latter measured up to 10 feet long and 8 or 9 feet wide, and were flush with the top of the wall. On the great ahu of Tongariki there had been fifteen statues, but sometimes an ahu had carried one figure only. The only piece of a statue which still remained on its bed-plate was the fragment at Tongariki. In the best-preserved specimens, the figured lied on their faces like a row of huge nine-pins. Some were intact, but many were broken. No one now living remembered a statue standing on an ahu. Legend told of an old-man who came begging, when he was turned away, the statues tumble; it was his revenge. One theory was that they were toppled in tribal warfare by means of rope, or by the removal of stones beneath the bed-plate. Some students still held to the theory that the images were overthrown by earthquake. Deliberate vandalism during tribal warfare was supported by comparatively recent tradition concerning the destruction of the image which stood alone on Ahu Paro on the north coast. It was the tallest known to have been erected on a terrace, being 32 feet in height. The story of its destruction, like most in Easter Island was connected with cannibalism. The oldest man living when the author was on the island said that he was an infant at the time; and another, a few years younger, stated that his father, as a boy, helped his grandfather in the fight.
While the date of the erection of the image ahu was lost in antiquity, nor could they say when the building stopped, the team could give approximately the time of the overthrow of the images. They knew, from accounts of early voyagers, that the statues, or a great number of them, were still in place in the eighteenth century; by the middle of the nineteenth century, not one was standing. It was by no means easy to obtain complete view of a statue on the island. Most of the images which were formerly on the ahu lied on their faces, many were broken, and detail had largely been destroyed by weather. Fortunately, there were other statues, near their quarry, but even there, excavation was required to see the entire figure. Rano Raraku was a volcanic cone containing a crater lake. The mountain was composed of compressed volcanic ash suitable for quarrying. It had been worked on the southern exterior slope and also inside the crater, on the south and the southeast side. With perhaps a dozen exceptions, all the images on the island were made from that compressed ash. A steep climb of two hundred feet up Rano Raraku led to where the rock had been hewn away into a series of chambers and ledges. There, the images lied by the score, in all stages of evolution, just as they were left when, for some unknown reason, the workmen laid down their tools for the last time and the busy scene was still. The tools were found with which the work had been done. One type of implement was seen lying around in great abundance. They were of the same material as the lapilli in the statues and had been made by flaking. Some specimens were pointed at both ends; others had one end rounded. They were probably held in hand when in use. They were discarded when the point became damaged. There was another tool much more carefully made – an adze blade, with the lower end beveled off to form the cutting edge. They were rarely found, probably taken home by the workmen.
The whole process of quarrying an image was not necessarily very lengthy; calculating the number of men who could work on it at the same time, and what they could accomplish in a day, the result was that a statue could be roughed out in 15 days. The most notable part of the work was the skill which kept the figure so perfect in design and balanced. The author accounted for the vast number of images found at the quarry. A certain number had been abandoned due to flaws found in the rock, or that the original plans had been given up. Sometimes, part of the stone was used to make a smaller image. Some instances, the sculptors were unlucky and hit hard rock they couldn’t chisel. One theory suggested that some of the images were merely rock-carvings and were not intended to be moved. Some were little more than embossed carvings on the face of the rock. The size of some of the statues also indicated their intentional permanence: the largest was 66 feet, whereas 36 feet was the extreme found outside the quarry. Legendary lore threw no light on the reasons which led to the desertion of that labyrinth of work, but a story had been invented by the natives to satisfy their mind, and were repeated on every occasion. An old woman, the cook for the stone-workers, had supernatural powers (mana) and could move the statues with her mind. When she was away, the men ate a lobster and didn’t leave her any. She told all the images to fall, and brought the work to a standstill. While the scene on Raraku was awe inspiring, it was particularly beautiful at sunset. The most striking sight witnessed on the island was a fire on the hillside. In order to see their work more clearly, they set alight the long, dry grass, always a virtuous act on Easter Island, that the livestock may have fresh shoots. In a moment, the whole landscape was ablaze. The mountain was wreathed in a mass of driving smoke. In the quarry below the whirl of flame, the great statues stood out calmly, with quiet smiles, like stoic souls in Hades.
The fifth and final article in this month’s issue it entitled “Our Map of the Pacific” and has no byline. This two-page editorial is an introduction to the “SPECIAL MAP SUPPLEMENT – The Islands of the Pacific, Showing Sovereignty and Mandate Boundary Lines in Colors; 18 x 24 inches” documented on the cover. While the article contains no photographs, it does have one illustration not documented on the cover: a sketch map of the Truk Lagoon taking up most of page 648.
Sketch Map courtesy of Philip Riviere
The Map of the Pacific joined the list of post-World War map issued by the Society in 1921. This was the fourth of an invaluable series of maps which had been compiled by the National Geographic Society and issued as a supplement to its magazine during 1921, including a Map of New Europe in February, a New Map of Asia in May, and a New Map of South America in October. [A footnote advertising addition copies of those magazines lists then as $1.50 (cloth) and $1.00 (paper) each.] All of those maps had been printed in colors, on a generous scale, and represented the highest achievements in the art of cartography. The cost of compiling, engraving, and printing those maps was approximately $150,000. During 1922, the Society intended to continue its map program, issuing a New Map of the Countries of the Caribbean in February, to be followed by new maps of Africa and of the World later in the year.
Map courtesy of Philip Riviere
The ownership of the islands of the Pacific afforded one of the most striking examples known to history of the erratic course of sovereignty. Anxious for a discovery to appease Ferdinand of Spain Vasco Nunez de Balboa learned from his Indian friends of a vast sea lying to the west. He crossed the Isthmus of Panama and on September 25, 1513, was the first European to behold the ocean to which he gave the name, Great South Sea. It was Magellan, the Portuguese, who in 1520 first gave the sea the name “Pacific” (El Mar Pacifico), after sailing for many weeks over its calm waters from the Straits of Magellan to one of Tuamotu group. Spain and Portugal were, for many years, the only rivals in the Pacific. In 1921, Spain owned not a single palm tree nor coral rock in the great ocean, and Portugal’s interests were confined to the eastern portion of the island of Timor, in the Malay Archipelago. Few of the thousands of coral and volcanic islands had any ownership disputes, but Yap was discussed occasionally, due to its importance as a cable station. Christmas Island had been claimed by both the United States and Great Britain. In like manner, the status of Howland and Baker was in question. Palmyra was claimed by both the U. S. and Britain, but the U. S. had the trump card – possession.
Last paragraph of last article:
In the vast Pacific were scattered thousands of islands, ranging from the smallest continent (Australia) and the second largest island (New Guinea) to the tiniest pinnacle of coral and tip of volcanic peak. Some of its smallest islands were believed to be as yet undiscovered, especially in regions far removed from lanes of commerce, while in the coral lagoons, the islands within the atolls multiplied beyond all computation. So wide the sea and so small some of the islets that there was considerable doubt as to the existence of certain ones. Among those was Walker, its apocryphal existence being indicated on the chart with an interrogation point following the name. To assist the user, the map included native names, italicized and in parentheses, following the official name. In preparation of its map, the Society was indebted for valuable data and for constructive criticism to the Graphic Section of the Military Intelligence Division, War Department; to the Hydrographic Office, Navy Department; and to officials of the Far Eastern Division of the State Department.