Beyond the Coral Sea: Travels in the Old Empires of the South-West Pacific
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East of Java, west of Tahiti and north of the Cape York peninsula of Australia lie the unknown paradise islands of the Coral, Solomon and Bismarck Seas. They were perhaps the last inhabited place on earth to be explored by Europeans, and even today many remain largely unspoilt, despite the former presence of German, British and even Australian colonial rulers.
Michael Moran, a veteran traveller, begins his journey on the island of Samarai, historic gateway to the old British Protectorate, as the guest of the benign grandson of a cannibal. He explores the former capitals of German New Guinea and headquarters of the disastrous New Guinea Compagnie, its administrators decimated by malaria and murder. He travels along the inaccessible Rai Coast through the Archipelago of Contented Men, following in the footsteps of the great Russian explorer ‘Baron’ Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay.
The historic anthropological work of Bronislaw Malinowski guides him through the seductive labyrinth of the Trobriand ‘Islands of Love’ and the erotic dances of the yam festival. Darkly humorous characters, both historical and contemporary, spring vividly to life as the author steers the reader through the richly fascinating cultures of Melanesia.
‘Beyond the Coral Sea’ is a captivating voyage of unusual brilliance and a memorable evocation of a region which has been little written about during the past century.
There I engaged in a little kula myself as an experiment. A rather pathetic, cracked armshell with minimal decoration, definitely not a true mwali, lay for sale on a mat. I had heard that it was customary to deride the object you desired so as to mislead the ‘giver’ to your true intentions. ‘Do you really expect me to buy this terrible thing for twenty kina? Look at the cracks! It’s absolute rubbish! Pathetic! A scandal!’ I stalked away and tripped over a volcanic rock. Shocked faces emerged
all round the village. I continued in this absurd vein until they slowly realised it was an act, smiles spread across their faces like the sea breaking over a rocky shore, as I handed over my kina and pocketed my ‘treasure’. The next village along the stony and shell-littered path was called Debani. Many people wore traditional dress, particularly male children who had miniature pubic sheaths and old women who were bare-breasted and wore long grass skirts. Fires had been lit under the houses, the
window onto the sound world of another planet. I tapped the square CD case in my pocket almost with affection. Afterword Risks abound when using as source material the dramatic accounts of sorcery and witchcraft throughout Papua New Guinea described by anthropologists between the wars. Many of these studies unfairly demonise the inhabitants of the notorious Black Islands. This fearsome image persists unjustifiably to the present day, and times have changed considerably under the influence
into a small crowd that surrounded me. They pushed forward not to attack but desperate to explain, to justify themselves, expecting me to provide an explanation, an instant solution. ‘Everyone hates us. No tourists come because the newspapers report so much violence.’ I said nothing but the headline in the newspaper in my hotel screamed of the rape of three nurses at Mt Hagen Hospital and the theft of an ambulance. The thieves were demanding compensation for the return of the vehicle or they
There are more than a thousand named burials of Australian, British and Indian troops and well over a thousand Australians and eight indigenous policemen with no known grave. Severe earthquakes in the region have meant that each is marked not by a headstone but by a bronze plaque on a low concrete plinth. These lives were squandered in the calamitous withdrawal from Rabaul in the face of the Japanese onslaught. The war cemetery stands on the site of the German radio station at Bitapaka that saw