« AnteriorContinuar »
THE RED BIRD OF PARADISE.
place to sleep in, for my bed was soaked. Fresh leaks kept forming as the rain continued, and we all passed a very miserable and sleepless night. In the morning the sun shone brightly, and every thing was put out to dry. We tried to find out why the mats leaked, and thought we had discovered that they had been laid on upside down. Having shifted them all, and got every thing dry and comfortable by the evening, we again went to bed, and before midnight were again awaked by torrents of rain and leaks streaming in upon us as bad as ever. There was no more sleep for us that night, and the next day our roof was again taken to pieces, and we came to the conclusion that the fault was a want of slope enough in the roof for mats, although it would be sufficient for the usual attap thatch. I therefore purchased a few new and some old attaps, and in the parts these would not cover we put the mats double, and then at last had the satisfaction of finding our roof tolerably water-tight.
I was now able to begin working at the natural history of the island. When I first arrived I was surprised at being told that there were no paradise birds at Muka, although there were plenty at Bessir, a place where the natives caught them and prepared the skins. I assured the people I had heard the cry of these birds close to the village, but they would not believe that I could know their cry. However, the very first time I went into the forest I not only heard but saw them, and was convinced there were plenty about; but they were very shy, and it was some time before we got any. My hunter first shot a female, and I one day got very close to a fine male. He was, as I expected, the rare red species (Paradisea rubra) which alone inhabits this island, and is found nowhere else. He was quite low down, running along a bough searching for insects, almost like a woodpecker, and the long black riband-like filaments in his tail hung down in the most graceful double curve imaginable. I covered him with my gun, and was going to use the barrel which had a very small charge of powder and number eight shot, so as not to injure his plumage, but the gun missed fire, and he was off in an instant among the thickest jungle. Another day we saw no less than eight fine males at different times, and fired four times at them; but though other birds at the same distance almost al
ways dropped, these all got away, and I began to think we were not to get this magnificent species. At length the fruit ripened on the fig-tree close by my house, and many birds came to feed on it; and one morning as I was taking my coffee, a male paradise bird was seen to settle on its top. I seized my gun, ran under the tree, and, gazing up, could see it flying across from branch to branch, seizing a fruit here and another there, and then, before I could get a sufficient aim to shoot at such a height (for it was one of the loftiest trees of the tropics), it was away into the forest. They now visited the tree every morning; but they staid so short a time, their motions were so rapid, and it was so difficult to see them, owing to the lower trees, which impeded the view, that it was only after several days' watching, and one or two misses, that I brought down my bird-a male in the most magnificent plumage.
This bird differs very much from the two large species which I had already obtained, and, although it wants the grace imparted by their long golden trains, is in many respects more remarkable and more beautiful. The head, back, and shoulders are clothed with a richer yellow, the deep metallic green color of the throat extends farther over the head, and the feathers are elongated on the forehead into two little erectile crests. The side-plumes are shorter, but are of a rich red color, terminating in delicate white points, and the middle tail feathers are represented by two long rigid glossy ribbands, which are black, thin, and semi-cylindrical, and droop gracefully in a spiral curve. Several other interesting birds were obtained, and about half a dozen quite new ones; but none of any remarkable beauty, except the lovely little dove (Ptilonopus pulchellus), which with several other pigeons I shot on the same fig-tree close to my house. It is of a beautiful green color above, with a forehead of the richest crimson, while beneath it is ashy white and rich yellow, banded with violet red.
On the evening of our arrival at Muka I observed what appeared like a display of aurora borealis, though I could hardly believe that this was possible at a point a little south of the equator. The night was clear and calm, and the northern sky presented a diffused light, with a constant succession of faint vertical flashings or flickerings, exactly similar to an ordinary aurora in England. The next day was fine, but after that the
weather became unprecedentedly bad, considering that it ought to have been the dry monsoon. For near a month we had wet weather; the sun either not appearing at all, or only for an hour or two about noon. Morning and evening, as well as nearly all night, it rained or drizzled, and boisterous winds, with dark clouds, formed the daily programme. With the exception that
THE RED BIRD OF PARADISE (Paradisea rubra). it was never cold, it
was just such weather as a very bad English November or February.
The people of Waigiou are not truly indigines of the island, which possesses no "Alfuros," or aboriginal inhabitants. They appear to be a mixed race, partly from Gilolo, partly from New Guinea. Malays and Alfuros from the former island have probably settled here, and many of them have taken Papuan wives from Salwatty or Dorey, while the influx of people from those places, and of slaves, has led to the forma tion of a tribe exhibiting almost all the transitions from a nearly pure Malayan to an entirely Papuan type. The language spoken by them is entirely Papuan, being that which is used on all the coasts of Mysol, Salwatty, the north-west of New Guinea, and the islands in the great Geelvink Bay-a fact which indicates the way in which the coast settlements have been formed. The fact that so many of the islands between New Guinea and the Moluccas - such as Waigiou, Guebé, Poppa, Obi, Batchian, as well as the south and east peninsulas of Gilolo-possess no aboriginal tribes, but are inhabited by people who are evidently mongrels and wanderers, is a remarkable corroborative proof of the distinctness of the Malayan and Papuan races, and the separation of the geographical areas they inhabit. If these two great races were direct modifications, the one of the other, we should expect to find in the intervening region some homogeneous indigenous race presenting intermediate characters. For example, between the whitest inhabitants of Europe and the black Klings of South India, there are in the intervening districts homogeneous races which form a gradual transition from one to the other; while in America, although there is a perfect transition from the Anglo-Saxon to the negro, and from the Spaniard to the Indian, there is no homogeneous race forming a natural transition from one to the other. In the Malay Archipelago we have an excellent example of two absolutely distinct races, which appear to have approached each other, and intermingled in an unoccupied territory at a very recent epoch in the history of man; and I feel satisfied that no unprejudiced person could study them on the spot without being convinced that this is the true solution of the problem, rather than the almost univer
sally accepted view that they are but modifications of one and the same race.
The people of Muka live in that abject state of poverty that is almost always found where the sago-tree is abundant. Very few of them take the trouble to plant any vegetables or fruit, but live almost entirely on sago and fish, selling a little tripang or tortoise-shell to buy the scanty clothing they require. Almost all of them, however, possess one or more Papuan slaves, on whose labor they live in almost absolute idleness, just going out on little fishing or trading excursions, as an excitement in their monotonous existence. They are under the rule of the Sultan of Tidore, and every year have to pay a small tribute of paradise birds, tortoise-shell, or sago. Το obtain these, they go in the fine season on a trading voyage to the main land of New Guinea, and getting a few goods on credit from some Ceram or Bugis trader, make hard bargains with the natives, and gain enough to pay their tribute, and leave a little profit for themselves.
Such a country is not a very pleasant one to live in, for as there are no superfluities, there is nothing to sell; and had it not been for a trader from Ceram who was residing there during my stay, who had a small vegetable garden and whose men occasionally got a few spare fish, I should often have had nothing to eat. Fowls, fruit, and vegetables are luxuries very rarely to be purchased at Muka; and even cocoa-nuts, so indispensable for Eastern cookery, are not to be obtained; for though there are some hundreds of trees in the village, all the fruit is eaten green, to supply the place of the vegetables the people are too lazy to cultivate. Without eggs, cocoa-nuts, or plantains, we had very short commons, and the boisterous weather being unpropitious for fishing, we had to live on what few eatable birds we could shoot, with an occasional Cuscus, or Eastern opossum, the only quadruped, except pigs, inhabiting the island.
I had only shot two male Paradiseas on my tree when they ceased visiting it, either owing to the fruit becoming scarce, or that they were wise enough to know there was danger. We continued to hear and see them in the forest, but after a month had not succeeded in shooting any more; and as my chief object in visiting Waigiou was to get these birds, I de