Original state of the natives—War and cannibalism—How the mission work has been carried on—A Sunday at East Cape in 1882—Twenty-one converts baptized—A blight prospect.
In 1878, missionary work was begun at East Capes, and four years after the establishment of that mission, on a review of the past, what evidences of progress were to be seen! There were signs of light breaking in upon the long dark night of heathenism. Looking at the condition of this people when the missionaries and teachers first landed, what did they find? A people sunk in crime that to them has become a custom and religion—a people in whom murder is the finest art, and who from their earliest years study it. Disease, sickness, and death have all to be accounted for. They know nothing of malaria, filth, or contagion. Hence they hold that an enemy causes these things, and friends have to see that due punishment is made. The large night firefly helps to point in the direction of that enemy, or the spirits of departed ones are called in through spiritists’ influence to come and assist, and the medium pronouncing a neighbouring tribe guilty, the time is near when that tribe will be visited and cruel deeds done. They know nothing of a God of Love—only gods and spirits who are ever revengeful, and must be appeased; who fly about in the night and disturb the peace of homes. It is gross darkness and cruelty, brother’s hand raised against brother’s. Great is the chief who claims many skulls; and the youth, who may wear a jawbone as an armlet is to be admired.
When we first landed here, the natives lived only to fight, and the victory was celebrated by a cannibal feast. It is painfully significant to find that the only field in which New Guinea natives have shown much skill and ingenuity is in the manufacture of weapons. One of these is known as a Man-catcher, and was invented by the natives of Hood Bay, but all over the vast island this loop of rattan cane is the constant companion of head-hunters. The peculiarity of the weapon is the deadly spike inserted in the handle.
The modus operandi is as follows:—The loop is thrown over the unhappy wretch who is in retreat, and a vigorous pull from the brawny arm of the vengeful captor jerks the victim upon the spike, which (if the weapon be deftly handled) penetrates the body at the base of the brain, or, if lower down, in the spine, in either case inflicting a death-wound.