Chapter 13: First Contact with the Whiteman

The Wautogigem had a well-settled nation state with a well-recognised government and clearly established boundaries at the dawn of the first contact. They behaved and conducted their public affairs as an autonomous people, though they were a part of a wider state alliance called the Cemaun or ‘shark’ alliance.

The Wautogigem had their headquarters at Piəgɨriə. The seat of power was a rock known as Cokuromen, occupied by the paramount chief or giɲau of the Abahinem clan. The rest of the people settled according to their clans along the ridge, between the headquarters and a settlement called Bai.

Some clans settled on their own land in Yebik, Tuhurubun, Agɨrenin, Polondiəsoŋgo (or in Tok Pisin ‘hap ples pik ipekpek long em’), Abəgɨrip and Yohʷitehɨr. But their Parliament house known as nubahʷ was established in a central location where the giɲau was at Piəgɨriə.1 It was from this house that decisions on war and feasts were made.2

The first outsider to make contact with the Wautogigem was a bird of paradise trader. It is believed he was a white man. He had a musket and owned a dog. His name was Masta Munglis. His dog was called Purupu. His assistants were Asiatic and they had long handle axes they called caranati. Not much is known about these people. They shot many birds of paradise (Tok Pisin kumul) in the area and carried them away in exchange for some long handle axes, beads, salt, and mirrors.

The information is that there was only one expedition which lasted several months. After they left, there was no further contact until the Germans arrived. The Germans established headquarters in Aitape under an officer called Bornaface. It was at this time that modern western government officials called luluai and tultul (or retpus and wetpus) were created in the village.3

The Germans appointed the paramount chief Ɲakakawa as the first luluai (more on luluais and tultuls later). The first tultul was Korekwasi. Autocratic rule was imposed. Some able-bodied young men from Wautogig were recruited away to work on plantations.

TThe German administration required the people to maintain good patrol roads, set up their houses in rows, and assign an aidpost orderly in every village (tultul). They decreed that every person must grow ten coconut palms. Taxes in the form of cash payment of one mark had to be paid to assist in the administration of the territory.4 Once each year or two, everyone was expected to turn up at a central place for a roll call and medical inspections. It was the luluai’s job to line the people up by families and villages.5 Those found to be sick or “dirty” would be punished and medically treated. The luluai had to answer for any absences.

No dialogue was entertained. It was a matter of “Yesa masta” or “Nogat masta”, no discussion.6 The Germans had Melanesian policemen to assist them enforce the law. They were tough and ruthless. Corporal punishment and summary executions were a common practice. The first contact with the Germans was cruel.

The first able-bodied young men from the village who went off to work on plantations were Bablis, Gabuogi, Numbojuor, and Anton Narokobi.7 8 9 10 They worked on plantations established by Germans on Manus, in Madang, in Vitu and the Bali Island regions of what was then New Britain (now West New Britain), and, closer to home, at Karawop plantation along the Boikin coast.11

After laboring for three years they returned telling stories of black people in other lands. They returned with red wooden boxes, red laplaps, steel axes and knives, Chinese taro they called taro Kongkong or Singapore taro, rice, and mosquito nets. They came back with spades, salt, and dogs’ teeth wealth made from marble or cement. These items were used by Germans as currency to buy and sell things, including land.12

This was the first time the Wautogigem ever saw modern goods. One steel axe was particularly strong and noticeable. It was baptized in Sausa as Hwariko tuo, meaning ‘any how eating man’, or ‘man who eats (cuts, chews) anything’. Compared with their stone axe, the steel axe was a new miracle, the modern chainsaw compared to a steel axe.13

With these steel tools, the Wautogigem were able to conquer the vast, thick, wooded lands of the uditigəs nɨbarigəs or the udit and its surrounding gardens. They planted yams, native and Chinese taro, and made feasts. They claimed the lands as theirs. These lands stretch from Urumih to Huraimbo and down to Meibək creek on the northern shores.14


1 Narokobi described Piəgɨriə as sited in Worewabɨr, but Jacob and Tony say that is Baimrɨbɨs's land, so it is not quite correct to call the seat of power for Wautogik.

2 Jacob talks about the location of some of these places. Listen.

3 The terms retpus and wetpus or waitpus, apparently from German, refer to the color of the cloth bands the individuals holding these roles were given to wear around their hats.

4 Jacob explains how the mark was acquired by selling the coconuts to the manager of the plantation. Listen.

5 Jacob describes how they would do roll call. Listen.

6 Jacob and Tony comment on what it was like in these times. Listen. The only acceptable answer was "yessa masta", or else you would be caned. Listen.

7 Anton Narokobi worked on Karawop with Mr. Cobb. Listen.

8 Numbojuwor went to work in Bogia in Madang. Listen.

9 Gabuogi went to Manus. Listen.

10 Tony Nindim's grandfather Monusa, father of Nindim, also planted coconuts at Karowop. Listen.

11 Why did Wautogigem go work on plantations? They were pushed to do so and exploited by the whitemen. Listen.

12 Jacob describes how plantation laborers were paid at the end of their contract. Listen.

13 It is the line of Nombote and Ulaɲen who brought the famed tamiok. Listen. Jacob takes the perspective of those who were encountering the steel axe for the first time. Listen. Included in the work laborers did was killing grasshoppers that ate the leaves on young coconut palms so they wouldn't ruin the plantation. They did whatever the white masta told them. Listen. Jacob and Tony discuss the meaning of Hwariko Tuo: 'man bilong katim kainkain samting'. Jacob explains that it was brought from Walis Island. Listen.

14 Jacob explains that "taming the big bush" here was making a claim on lands that were held by Bogumatai. They could not clear it without access to the steel axe, which the Bogumatais did not have because they did not go do plantation work. Listen.

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