Wanderings Among South Sea Savages and in Borneo and the Philippines

Author: H. Wilfrid Walker

Chapter 8 We Are Attacked by Night.

A Night Attack — A Little Mistake — Horrible Barbarities of the Doboduras — Eating a Man Alive — A Sinister Warning — Saved by Rain — Daylight at Last — "Prudence the Better Part" — The Return — Welcome by the Notus — "Orakaiba."

I was busily engaged in writing my notes of the day, with my rifle by my side, when suddenly a shot rang out, followed by another and another, then a volley from all the sentries on one side of the camp, and the darkness was lit up by the flashes of their rifles. Then came the thrilling war-cry, "Ooh-h-h-h! ah-h-h-h!" that made one’s blood run cold, especially under such surroundings. All the camp was now in the utmost confusion, and there was a great panic among our carriers, who flung themselves on the ground yelling with fear. Never was there such a fiendish noise! I sprang to my feet, flinging my note-book away and picking up my rifle, and ran back to where Monckton was yelling out: "Fall in, fall in, for God’s sake fall in!"

Two houses were hastily set on fire, and instantly became furnaces which lit up the surroundings and the tops of the tall coconut palms over-head, which even in this moment of danger appeared to me like a glimpse of fairyland. I noticed a line of fire-sticks waving in the darkness outside. They seemed to be slowly advancing, and in the excitement of the moment I mistook them for the enemy — and fired!

Luckily, my shot did not take effect, as I soon found out that these fire-sticks were held by some of our own carriers, who had been told by Monckton to carry them so that we could distinguish them from the enemy in case we were attacked. Monckton turned to where the Notus, were, and seeing them all decked out in their war plumes, dancing about among the prostrate carriers, and waving their clubs and spears, naturally took them for Dobodura warriors, and nearly fired at them. He angrily ordered them to take off their feathers.

Calmness soon settled down again, and we learned that the police had fired at some Doboduras who were creeping up into the camp. How many there were we could not tell, but later on we learnt that some of them had been killed, and seeing the flash of the rifles, which was a new experience to them, the rest had retreated for the time being, but soon rallied together for attack that night or in the small hours of the morning. Knowing that if they once rushed us in the darkness we should all be doomed for their cooking pots, the state of our feelings can be imagined.

The first attempt came rather as a shock to a peaceful novice like myself, and seeing warriors in full war paint and feathers rushing about with uplifted club and spear amid our prostrate squirming carriers, I had a very strong inclination to bury myself in the nearest hut and softly hum the lines, "I care not for wars and quarrels," etc. We sat talking in subdued tones for some time, expecting every minute to hear the thrilling war cry of the Doboduras, but nothing was to be heard but the crackling of the embers of the burning houses, the low murmur of our people around their camp fire, and the most dismal falsetto howls of the native dogs in the distance. These howls were not particularly exhilarating at such a time, and I more than once mistook them for the distant war-cry of the Doboduras.

The Papuans, as a rule, do not torture their prisoners for the mere idea of torture, though they have often been known to roast a man alive, for the reason that the meat is supposed to taste better thus. This they also do to pigs, and I myself, on this very expedition, caught some of our carriers making preparations to roast a pig alive, and just stopped them in time. For this reason Monckton would always shoot the pigs brought in for his carriers, but in this case one pig was overlooked. I have heard of cases of white men having been roasted alive, one case being that of the two miners, Campion and King. But we had learnt that this Dobodura tribe had a system of torture that was brutal beyond words. In the first place they always try to wound slightly and capture a man alive, so that they can have fresh meat for many days. They keep their prisoner tied up alive in the house and cut out pieces of his flesh just when they want it, and we were told, incredible as it seems, that they sometimes manage to keep him alive for a week or more, and have some preparation which prevents him from bleeding to death.

Monckton advised both Acland and myself to shoot ourselves with our revolvers if we saw that we were overwhelmed, so as to escape these terrible tortures, and he assured us that he should keep the last bullet in his own revolver for himself. This was my first taste of warfare. Monckton had had many fights with Papuans, and Acland, besides, had seen many severe engagements in the Boer war, but he said he would rather be fighting the Boers than risking the infernal tortures of these cannibals. It all, somehow, seemed unreal to me, and I could hardly realise that I was in serious danger of being tortured, cooked and eaten. It is impossible to depict faithfully our weird surroundings. We chatted on for some time, and tried to cheer each other up by making jokes about the matter, such as "This time to-morrow we shall be laughing over the whole affair," but the depressed tone of our voices belied our words, and it proved to be but a very feeble attempt at joking. We longed for the moon, though that would have helped us little, as it was cloudy.

It is quite unnecessary to go into further details of that awful night. I know we all owned up afterward that it was the most trying night we had ever spent, and for my part I hope I may never spend another like it. None of us got a wink of sleep. I tried to sleep, but I was too excited to do so; besides, all my pockets were crammed full of rifle and revolver cartridges, and I had my revolver strapped to my side, ready for an attack, or in case we got separated in the confusion that was sure to ensue. At about 3 a.m. it began to rain, the first rain we had had in New Guinea for five or six weeks, and that saved us, for we learned later on that about that time the Doboduras were gathering together for a rush on our camp, when the rain set in, and, odd as it may seem, we heard that they had a superstition against attacking in the rain. What their reason was, I never got to hear fully, but we were unaware of all these things as we silently waited and longed for the dawn to break. I never before so wished for daylight. It came at length, and what a load it took off our minds! We could now see to shoot at all events. We saw the Dobodura scouts in the distance on the edge of the forest, but we had made up our minds to "heau" (Papuan for "run away") as things were too hot for us. There was a scene of great excitement as we left, and from the noise our people made they were evidently glad to get away.

The Notus led the way, and they started to hop about, brandishing their spears. They did excellent scouting work in the long grass, rushing ahead with their spears poised. This time the rear guard was formed by some of the police. All the villages we passed through were again deserted, but we heard the enemy crying out to one another in the forest and jungle, telling each other of our whereabouts. We expected an attack, and I often nearly mistook the screeches and cries of cockatoos and parrots and the loud, curious call of the birds of paradise for some distant war-cry, which was quite excusable, considering the state of our nerves and the sleepless night we had spent.

The Notus were great looters, and as we passed through the various villages they took everything they could lay their hands on, and our entrance into a village was marked by a scene of great confusion. Pigs and chickens were speared, betel-nut palms cut down, and hunting nets, bowls, spears and food hauled out of the house, but Monckton was very strict in stopping them from cutting houses and coconut palms down. Ere long we left the last village behind, and halting just inside the forest, sent a man up a tree, who reported the last village we had passed through to be full of people. The police had a few shots, but apparently without success.

When we again reached the coast we knew that we were now safe from attack. Monckton was much puzzled that no attack had been made on us during the return journey, as he felt sure they were not afraid of us, and after we had killed so many of their people he was certain they would try for revenge. He also thought they expected us to camp that night in their country, and that we were only out hunting for them, as we did not hurry away very fast, but stopped a short time in each village.

We found the tide high, so we took off our boots and waded most of the way, and in time arrived at a creek up which the sea was rushing in and out with great violence. We were helped over by police on each side of us, who half dragged us across, otherwise we should have been washed off our legs, so great was the suction. I was very fond of these strong, plucky, good tempered and amusing Papuan police. Often when we were encamped for the night, I would hear them chaffing each other in pidgin English for the benefit of the "taubadas" (masters); they would slyly turn their heads to see if we were amused, and how delighted they were if they saw us smile at their quaint English,

In the evening we found ourselves back in the Notu villages, and were met by many Notus bearing coconuts, which they opened and handed to us. I suppose these were meant as refreshment for the victors, for as such they no doubt regarded us, as well as saviours of their tribe. I could quite imagine the Notu warriors bragging on their return of their own deeds of valour, although all the killing was done by the police. Meanwhile, however, as we passed through the squatting crowds, we were greeted with loud cries of "orakaiba" (peace).


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Chicago: H. Wilfrid Walker, "Chapter 8 We Are Attacked by Night.," Wanderings Among South Sea Savages and in Borneo and the Philippines, ed. Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853 and trans. Clark, Walter, 1846-1924 in Wanderings Among South Sea Savages and in Borneo and the Philippines (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1909), Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CRWHJWHEW3GR5L4.

MLA: Walker, H. Wilfrid. "Chapter 8 We Are Attacked by Night." Wanderings Among South Sea Savages and in Borneo and the Philippines, edited by Braybrooke, Richard Griffin, Baron, 1783-1853, and translated by Clark, Walter, 1846-1924, in Wanderings Among South Sea Savages and in Borneo and the Philippines, Vol. 36, New York, Doubleday, Page, 1909, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CRWHJWHEW3GR5L4.

Harvard: Walker, HW, 'Chapter 8 We Are Attacked by Night.' in Wanderings Among South Sea Savages and in Borneo and the Philippines, ed. and trans. . cited in 1909, Wanderings Among South Sea Savages and in Borneo and the Philippines, Doubleday, Page, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CRWHJWHEW3GR5L4.