It is interesting to note the different ways by which various investigators have entered the field of Ethnology. Some have approached it from the literary or classical side, but very few indeed of these have ever had any experience in the field. The majority of field workers have had a previous training in science—zoology not unnaturally has sent more recruits than any other branch of science. A few students have been lawyers, but so far as I am aware Mr. Williamson is the first British lawyer who has gone into the field, and he has proved that legal training may be a very good preliminary discipline for ethnological investigation in the field, as it gives invaluable practice in the best methods of acquiring and sifting of evidence. A lawyer must also necessarily have a wide knowledge of human nature and an appreciation of varied ways of thought and action.
It was with such an equipment and fortified by extensive reading in Ethnology, that Mr. Williamson was prepared for his self-imposed task. Proof of his powers of observation will be found in the excellent descriptions of objects of material culture with which he has presented us.
I now turn to some of the scientific aspects of his book. Mr. Williamson especially set before himself the work of investigating some tribes in the mountainous hinterland of the Mekeo district. This was a most happy selection, though no one could have foreseen the especial interest of these people.
Thanks mainly to the systematic investigations of Dr. Seligmann and to the sporadic observations of missionaries, government officials and travellers, we have a good general knowledge of many of the peoples of the eastern coast of the south-eastern peninsula of New Guinea, and of some of the islands from the Trobriands to the Louisiades. The Ethnology of the fertile and populous Mekeo district has been mainly made known to us by the investigations of various members of the Sacred Heart Mission, and by Dr. Seligmann. What little we know of the Papuan Gulf district is due to missionaries among the coastal tribes, Mr. James Chalmers and Mr. W. Holmes. Dr. G. Landtman is at present investigating the natives of the delta of the Fly river and Daudai. The natives of the Torres Straits islands have also been studied as fully as is possible. But of the mountain region lying behind the Mekeo district very little indeed has been published; so Mr. Williamson’s book fills a gap in our knowledge of Papuan ethnology.
We have as yet a very imperfect knowledge of the ethnological history of New Guinea. Speaking very broadly, it is generally admitted that the bulk of the population belongs to the Papuan race, a dark-skinned, woolly-haired people who have also spread over western Oceania; but, to a greater or less extent, New Guinea has been subject to cultural and racial influences from all sides, except from Australia, where the movement has been the other way. Thus the East Indian archipelago has directly affected parts of Netherlands New Guinea, and its influence is to be traced to a variable degree in localities in the Bismarck archipelago, German New Guinea (Kaiser Wilhelm’s Land), Western Oceania, and British New Guinea or Papua, as it is termed officially.