Volume 31 1922 > Volume 31, No. 124 > Polynesian linguistics. Part II.--New Hebrides, by A. Leverd, p 171-181
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I DO not pretend here to give an elaborate study of ethnology and linguistics of the large and populous New Hebrides archipelago still so little known. A lifetime would not afford it.

But whereas nothing, or nearly so, has been made on that line, I thought, as I have some understanding of Polynesian dialects, I could endeavour to give a general sketch of the distribution of the two chief ethnic elements in those islands, give a proof of the existence of the Polynesians so strongly represented, and try to explain how they settled there. Such endeavour would seem to contribute somewhat to the history of Polynesian migrations, which, for too long a period, was based more on theory than facts.

I must say first there are in books only, now and then, brief mentions of tribes or populations of lighter colour, which some writers say is due to the intermixture of Polynesian blood.

My design is not to show where is located the Melanesian and where the Polynesian element, but where the former or the latter predominates, as there is no island, I think, in that whole cluster, where there is no mixture at all, no touch of the other, or in the language of which there are no words borrowed from the other element.

I shall draw attention to what Mr. Sydney H. Ray wrote in the March, 1916, number of the Journal; referring to the opportunity of knowing the Polynesian languages of Santa-Cruz, New Hebrides and Loyalty. I shall attempt to do something on that line; then I shall try and draw a conclusion on the question whether the Polynesians in such places, are remains of settlement of the original Polynesians during their migrations from the Havaiki in the west, or whether they are the results of westward drifts or colonies from Central Polynesia.

Nobody will deny the fact of the presence of Polynesians in New Hebrides. We shall see from craniology and study of the people that there is no doubt about it. And where the proportion is noticeable the custom and morals of the people will be more gentle and the race - 172 nicer. Such populations might be warlike, bellicose and cannibal even, but they are sociable and hospitable outside of war, and they are cleaner. This last fact, with the cleanliness of their villages, would often suffice to detect the aforesaid element.

Moreover, the study of the dialect of the country dealt with will give a last and non-disputable confirmation of the assumption.

True it is, Polynesians are much more advanced in civilisation than Melanesians, and they must have, according to a well-known historic law, imposed their language wherever they came in close connection with the people and settled, to such an extent that the percentage of the Polynesian words found in such or such dialect will approximately give the proportion of Polynesian blood in the population which speaks it.

According to the Rev. John Inglis, who lived a long while in New Hebrides, “the natives are a mixture of two races, i.e., Malays and Papuans. The Malays are of Asiatic origin and the Papuans of African extraction. The immigration of the Malays took place evidently much later, and they must have brought a much more advanced civilization with them. They lost a lesser amount of what they brought. Those races are widely different in features, and their languages do not show any kinship.”

It is not quite right to say the two races in New Hebrides are the Malays and the Papuans. We all know they are the Polynesians and the Melanesians, which has not quite the same meaning in Pacific Ethnology.

A fact also well established is the inferiority of the Melanesian element found in New Hebrides, unlike the Papuans of New Guinea, and, if there is any foreign element in the original bulk of Melanesian population, ere the coming of Polynesians, it must be due to intermixture with the ancient Andamanian race, which seems to have extended previous to the Melanesians all over actual Melanesia, besides some other countries not well-known. Melanesians in New Hebrides must therefore not be called Papuans, as these latter are the highest type of Melanesians found in New Guinea.

It appears to me the best clue to find one's way in that modern ethnological and linguistical labyrinth is to divide the study in three parts:

  • I. Craniology.
  • II. Search for populations of a higher physical and moral standard.
  • III. Study of dialects of such populations, proportion of Polynesian words and grammar.

On the first point skulls of Api, Eramanga and Malekula show the most exaggerate expression of Melanesian “morphology” and, - 173 on the contrary, Polynesian affinities are found in Espiritu Santo, Futuna, and Tanna. “Undoubtedly, says Meinecke, Polynesians influenced the Melanesian race in New Hebrides, but it is hard to say how far the influence went.”

These cranium data, on the other hand, only indicate the predominating element. We shall not delay considering such data, as they are few and bear on a small number of individuals whose origin is not always precisely given, and it can not consequently give what we are after.

Coming to direct observation of the population, of their morals, and of their customs, we find:

That every navigator who spoke of Aoba emphasises the fact they are akin to Polynesians, and much alike in appearance, complexion, habits and customs.

Le Chartier, in his “La Nouvelle Caledonie and Les Nouvelles Hebrides,” expresses himself thus: “Why did Bougainville give to this Eden the repulsive name of Leper's Island? It seems to me hard to explain, as it is based on no special fact. It shall not be me, charming Aoba, that will stigmatize thee with an unmerited denomination. Such delightful memories compel me to ask for thee from the hydrographers the well suited name of Venus Island.

“We were still some distance from shore, when we saw large canoes coming. The natives on board looked to us much taller than any we met before. ‘This Aoba race is very gentle and unoffensive,’ says Cook, and I myself could plainly see their hospitable and generous temper was a great contrast from the ferocious and mistrustful natives of the other islands (of New Caledonia and New Hebrides.”)

And farther… “Look at the finely shaped, stalwart, and even coquettish men, at their thick dark hair bound on top of the head, and still rendered darker by a happy contrast with white feathers in shape of a tuft. See how elegantly they handle the paddle, and the honesty in their look as they surround the ‘Tanna’ (the ship) as a triumphal array when she is entering the bay!

“How widely different they are from those hideous and grinning beings whose society we were escaping in Api, in Mallicolo and similar hells! I knew well the reputation of Aoba, but I feared the exaggeration common to voyagers. How was I surprised and charmed to find there the antique Cytherea of voluptuous memory, a second edition of Tahiti!”

So it runs for several pages on the dithyrambic style, a trifle exaggerated, or rather, a little too absolute as we shall see when dealing specially with Aoba. Aobanians are not so fair as a whole, and many among them have a distinctly Melanesian appearance, though most are nearly pure Polynesians.

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Speaking of Maiwo or Aurora the same writer says: “Several canoes, some with only women in them, came to exchange fruits with us. The men had no weapons, and looked as gentle and sociable as the Aoba men.

“So it is too with the people of North Araga (Whitsuntide Island), which island the people of Little Harbour (Loleton) call Siranga.”

Still quoting the same author we find: “There is no possibility of giving a description of the average type of native in New Hebrides, so much they differ from group to group, from island to island, to such a degree that they can be said, at first glance, to come from such island. The bulk, however, seems to be of Melano-Polynesian type. The race in the southern group is as a rule uniformly small, stout and muscular, and has a dark complexion, rather dark brown. The race in the northern group is, on the contrary, tall, slender, and has various aspects.”

Descriptions of the people in Efate, and of small islets north of it, together with the study of the customs, show also a strong proportion of Polynesian blood, though not so strong as in the aforesaid islands. The Mele and Fila islets in Pango Bay, Efate, have even a population of much accentuated Polynesian character.

Then Futuna or Erronan and Niua or Immer, in the southern group, are also mentioned as strongly Polynesian.

Espiritu Santo, mostly in the southern and central parts, would also give evidence of intermixture to some extent. Quiros and Cook had found there men of fair complexion, true Polynesians they say, as individuals among darker people.

M. G. Bourge, Captain of the French steamer, “Pacifique,” in a book entitled “New Hebrides from 1606 to 1906, Paris,” gives such information about the Santo people: “The natives of Santo have higher ideas about art than other natives in the group. They make pottery without varnish, and eat with wooden sticks. Their houses are better kept. Their villages are cleaner than the villages in other islands, apart from the villages built on adjacent islands of Mallicolo (Malukula) and Vate (Efate). Although they cannot help fearing white men, the natives of the southern and central parts of the island use free hospitality toward strangers.”

We hear from the same that the inhabitants of La-Menu (or La-Manu), near Epi, are of a thoroughly different race from the population in the main island.

Speaking of Aoba, he goes on: “Lighter in colour than people of other islands, they are of a widely different type. The Aoba women enjoy a worthy reputation on the plastic standpoint as they are of a fine stature. The hair and beard are often straight and dyed with ‘curcuma’ after Polynesian fashion. Frequently too the women have the upper part of the body tattooed, and their breast ornated with - 175 simple designs.” Such tattooing are, of course, Polynesian tattoos by puncture, and not Melanesian gashes.

“On the contrary Bougainville had met a tribe of short and ill-shaped men, sick with white leper, and that accounts for the name he gave to the island, which name it does not deserve.”

I must remark here from information I had, that the Aoba population is not uniform. Polynesian element is prevalent on the north-western coast, and the Melanesian on the south-eastern. Such it is too with the language, and in the village of Na-butu-riki we find, together, with the nicest type of men and women, the biggest percentage of Polynesian words.

After Admiral Erskine, then Captain, the Efatese men are physically superior to men in other islands. They are taller than Tanna men, and have more regular features. Their arts also are superior to those of natives in the south.

In short, we will not delay in giving all the navigators' remarks on these islands, as they are mostly inaccurate, but we shall try and give approximately and in decreasing order, the proportion of both constituents as it seems to result from my own information and from what is said by various observers:—

A.—Islands where Polynesians are strongly predominant: 1°, Mele and Fila islets, in Efate; 2°, Futuna and Niua, in the southern group; 3°, Lo, in the Torres.

B.—Islands where the proportion of Polynesians is still very strong: 1°, Aoba, Maiwo and North Araga; 2°, Mau, Pele, Nguna, north of Efate; 3°, Mai for part, and the Shepherd as a whole; 4°, La-Manu, north-west of Epi; 5°, Rano, Vala, Vao, Uripi, Sakau, Le Mua, Ure around Malekula; 6°, Malo, Aore, Tutuba, Ariki, Tongoa, south of Santo; Paama and Lopevi, whose people fled to Paama recently.

C.—Islands where the proportion, though noticeable, is feebler: 1°, Efate; 2°, Espiritu Santo; 3°, Tanna; 4°, Epi. Small Banks such as Mota, Ure-palupala, Araa.

D.—Melanesian Islands where there are only a few words in the language: 1°, Torres, except Lo; 2°, Banks, except the small ones; 3°, Ambrym and south of Araga; 4°, Eramanga; 5°, Anatom or Aneytium; 6°, Malekula.

It is no use to enforce that those are appreciations of a very general character, and that even in the more Melanesian islands there might be found some tribes with some Polynesian characters. But, I think, no strongly Polynesian tribe is to be found outside of Aoba, Maiwo and Araga, except on small islands which, as their names show, are mostly Polynesian.

If we only had the names of islands and places to convince us of the coming of Polynesians and of their constant travels in the - 176 archipelago, that would be quite sufficient to give evidence. How are we to find more clearly Polynesian names than those applied to small islands, bays and points, i.e., to the shore?

See for instance:—In the southern group only Niua, (cf. Niua-Foou, Niua-Taputapu, Leua Niua) and Futuna (cf. Futuna, Horn) have Polynesian names, besides Melanesian (Erronan). As for Tanna and Aneytium, there we find only distinctly Melanesian names, as Ijipthaw, Inyang, Anelgauhat

Efate Group.—Mele, Vila, Mau, Pele, Nguna, Tukituki, Pango, Manuro, Palao, Mangea, Na-ora-matua.

Shepherd Group.—Tongariki (small Tonga), Puninga, Tongoa, Tevala, Laika.

Mai Group.—Sasaka, Pula, Iva, Makura, Mataso.

Epi Group.—Malingi, Vatito, Ririna, Tuana, Kau, La-manu, Namuka (cf. Namuka, Tonga).

Ambrym Group.—No Polynesian names.

Pentecoste or Whitsuntide.—Araga, Siranga, Homo, Fana mara-mara, Lifu (cf. Lifu, Loyalty, and Lifu, Timor), Vu marama, Kua te venua.

Aurora.—Maiuo, La ka rere, Narovorovo.

Aoba.—Longana, Varaha, Varingi, Na-buku-riki, Zama-rino, Naone.

Malekula Group.—Sakau, Le Mua, Ure, Vao, Vala, Rano, Uri, Tautu, Taio, Matanuino, Malua, Vovo, La-ruru, Aulua.

Santo Group.—Malo, Malo-kilikili, Tutuba, Aore, Ariki, Tangoa, Ulila-pa, Tupana, Vava, Pekoa, Tasiriki, Talomako, Varai, Vairai.

Banks Group.—Gaua, Vanua-lava, Mota, Valea, Rovo, Ure-palapala, Araa, Pakea, Merigi, Meralaba, Masina.

Torres Group.—Hiu, Tegua, Lo-Toga (cf. Tonga) the southern island.

Does this list not give the impression of reading a chart of some Polynesian archipelago?

On the other hand the names of mountains and localities inland are of a different aspect. Is not that a strong proof that the Polynesians have had the control of the sea and the monopoly of trade for a long time?

If then, as a rule, small islands must be those where we shall find more Polynesians, on the other hand we can also find in them some Melanesian tribes which remained. Such is Mai or Three-Hills; where there are heterogenous tribes of three different types; such is Torres Group where, notwithstanding the true Polynesian names of the islands, only Io has a true Polynesian population. Even Futuna, from what travellers say, has, besides almost pure Polynesian tribes, some distinctly Melanesian ones. The search of scholars for - 177 Polynesian dialects in New Hebrides must therefore bear mostly on such small islands.

This fact, rather this rule, of the settlement of Polynesians on small islands wherever they face a dense Melanesian population, as I have already remarked when dealing with Uvea dialect, is logical from a race of such navigators as the Polynesians, as such islands are easily taken and kept, and it gives overwhelming evidence that the coming of the Maoris in Melanesia was posterior to the coming of Melanesians.

So it is, as it seems rational to think, and the big flow of Polynesian migrations from Malaysia to Polynesia, arrived in the Santa Cruz group, after setting New Guinea and Solomon Islands aside and settling only in such places as Sikaiana, Rennell, Bellona, Motu, etc., went straight south in all or in part, found there a dense Melanesian population it could subdue easily in small islands, but not in large ones. It seems the Polynesian element of both big and small islands of the north and centre of the New Hebrides group is a derivation of those big Polynesian migrations from the fifth to the eighth centuries.

Then, settled in most of the smaller islands, it stepped into the larger ones; crept and filtered into a number of them.

So, passing through the Santa Cruz group the migrations settled in Taumako, Matema, Tapua. They could not penetrate Santa Cruz, but did penetrate in Vanikoro, not upsetting the population altogether, and, dividing, drifted by the left side to Anuda, Fataka, Tukopia, Hiti (Fiji) and so on to eastern Polynesia, and by the right side, passing through Torres Islands, settled in Lo, came to the Banks, settled in Ulepalapala, Valua, Araa, Mota, Meralaba. Still going south, it came to Aoba, Maiuo, Araga which, still strong, it invades, practically destroying all the male population, but is stopped in the middle of Araga.

An offshoot occupied Aore, Tutuba, Malo, Malo Kilikili, Araki, Tangoa, Palikula, small islands south of Santo, and Rano, Vala, Atchin, Vao, Uripi, Sakau, Ure, around Malekula. Of these islets around Malekula, only Rano still presents types of Polynesian half-castes. The Polynesian influence in the other ones is only detected now by language and customs, and first by the cleanliness and comely appearance of their villages. The Polynesians, once predominant, must have been merged later on into Melanesian contingents from the big land of Malekula.

Putting again to sea, and avoiding Ambrym and Epi, the main bulk of the migrations only settled in La-Manu, coming on to the Shepherd group, settled, and, passing through Mai, Nguna, Pele, Mau, using them as bases and strongholds, gradually conquered Efate, not utterly destroying, the aboriginals being weakened by constant - 178 losses and settlements. With time, in Efate, it merged into the Melanesian population and forms the present people of the island.

All those colonies, by constant intercourses with Melanesians, whose women they often marry, giving also themselves their women to Melanesian chiefs, they lose their racial integrity.

As for what concerns the tribes in the southern group; i.e., Tanna, Futuna, Niua, I rather think they are colonies received later from East, from central Polynesia, as a consequence of the constant voyages of Tongans, Samoans, Futunans, Wallisians and others in the West as far as New Caledonia, in search of greenstone and “kura,” which were very frequent in the twelfth century, and were continued afterwards in an interrupted manner.

To such mode also, I think, or owing to compulsory migrations due to war and coming from the same islands, are due the origin of Polynesian settlements in Loyalty Islands, on the eastern coast of New Caledonia, and in the “Ile des Pins.” Some of these settlements, voluntary or not, sometimes due to wreck of canoes, are even quite recent as the one on Uvea, Loyalty, from Uvea, Wallis.

Such must be also, although more ancient, the settlement in Futuna or Erronan may be from Futuna or Horn, and the settlement in Niua may be from Niua-Fou or Niua-Taputapu.

The Polynesian establishment in Mele islet, Pango Bay, Efate, is still more recent, being the result of the wreck of a ship carrying Samoan workers back to their home. They killed the men there, already mixed Melanesians, and took the women as wives.

We must consider there is in New Hebrides a general belief in the coming of migrations from East and North. The people in the north of Araga are plainly said by people of Ambrym to have come from the North. We know, on the other hand, that among the Polynesians the general opinion is that their ancestors came from the West, from Havaiki (i.e, Malaysia), where departed souls return. The direction is not the same in New Hebrides, and the difference is telling.

The Polynesians, when coming, must have brought with them to the New Hebrides, as they did in every group they came to, the breadfruit, the sweet potato, the hen, rat, dog and pig. These last are, with the flying fox, the only mammals found there as in all Polynesia, except New Zealand.

The comparatively recent introduction in New Caledonia, and by a foreign race which is Polynesian, of the above said vegetables and animals, is related by the natives of that island. The names they generally bear among the people there and in New Hebrides clearly shows this. The cocount is almost always called “nu” or “niu,” the sweet potatoe “kumala,” and the pig “puaka” or “poka.”

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LINGUISTIC.—Let us come now to a general examination of the idioms in the numerous New Hebrides Islands.

I shall try and give a general view and a sketch of classification, to be followed by a study of some dialects separately. Little also has been made comparatively in that department, and much remains to be done; although it has been the subject of much more valuable studies than anthropology itself.

I shall give first some general remarks borrowed from M. Bourge in the book quoted above: “There is, may be, no country in the world where so many languages are spoken on so small a surface. One usually reckons some twenty of them in New Hebrides. In some islands the savages have no common language, and two or three different dialects are found. The main New Hebrides languages are subdivided in idioms, whose morphology is often considerably different. Sometimes the words are hard, sometimes long, full of consonnants, and syllables do not always end in a vowel as in the Maori.”

The multitude of Melanesian dialects of groups of relatively small extent is a fact already pointed to as for New Caledonia, and M. J. Bernier, in a study of the dialects of New Caledonia and Australia, says, most rightly I think, it is due to the excessive mobility of the sounds in those primitive nations. In New Caledonia there are also some twenty different dialects, which can be grouped in three families.

Yet Melanesian languages or dialects have some common particularities or characters:—

Very primitive quinteal numeration of little extent; conjugation of nouns as a consequence of a remarkable deficiency in the sense of abstraction; childish syntax including properly only the substantive and having no articles; use of double consonants and syllables frequently ended by consonants; use of trial in pronouns; excessive mobility of pronunciation of both consonants and vowels which substitute each other even in the speech of the same individual.

Polynesian dialects which, on the contrary, show a striking unity, are easily detected by decimal and vigesimal numeration; abundant use of separate particles, personal pronouns, particles for conjugation of verbs and prepositions, declination of nouns; elaborate syntax with all forms. No double consonants and syllables always ended by a vowel; fixity of language except well-known interchanges from group to group (f in h, or v; g in n; r in l; etc.) and permanent suppressing of some letters (k, g, r, h).

The New Hebrides dialects, whether spoken in islands where Melanesians predominate or in islands where Polynesians do so, tend to the first or to the second standard. Some of the dialects of the big islands have in fact been studied and books published on them, but - 180 the small islands, as a rule more strongly Polynesian and therefore more interesting from our point of view, have remained mostly unknown.

There is the Rev. D. Macdonald's Dictionary of Efate dialects—very complete. This dictionary gives useful comparisons, with dialects of Eramanga, Epi, Tanna, Malo, Futuna, Tangoa, Malekula, Paama. The same author has given short grammars of various dialects in his “South Sea Studies,” and studies on the languages of Efate, Eromango, and Santo in his “Three New Hebrides Languages.” The result of that work shows that there are in Efate dialects a fair proportion of Polynesian words, some even in their original form.

There is also a dictionary of Mota in the Banks group, also by English missionaries, giving a good proportion of Polynesian words though not so much as in Efate.

With such materials we can already try to group the languages and dialects in the following order, with no precise boundaries, and start from those more akin to the Polynesians.

  • I.—Dialects of Mele and Fila (Efate); II., dialects of Futuna and Niua; III., dialects of Lo (Torres) and others to be found.
  • IV.—Language of Aoba, Maiwo, North Araga.
  • V.—Language of Shepherd, Mai, etc.
  • VI.—Language of Efate, with some islets to the north, such as Pele, Mau, treated in Macdonald's work.
  • VII.—Language of Malo, Aore, Tutuba, Tangoa.
  • VIII.—Language and dialects in small Banks islands, Mota, etc.
  • IX.—Language of La-Manu, Paama and others.
  • X.—Language of the South of Santo.
  • XI.—Dialects of islets around Malekula: Vao, Vala, Rano, Uripi, Sakau, Ure.
  • XII.—Language of Tanna.
  • XIII.—Language of Epi.
  • XIV.—Language of Vanua Lava and Gaua.
  • XV.—Languages of North Santo.
  • XVI.—Language of Ambrym and South Araga.
  • XVII.—Language of Eramanga.
  • XVIII.—Language of Annatom.
  • XIX.—Melanesian dialects of Torres.
  • XX.—Languages of Malekula.

We do not know how M. Bourge came to fix the number of idioms in New Hebrides at twenty, but by our examination we come to about the same number. But if we consider the fact that such large islands as Malekula and Santo may have several idioms, and that there are some other dialects in small scattered islets, the number - 181 must still be increased. The exact number will be known only when all have been studied. It must be understood that even this classification is provisional and hypothetic for the most part, and is meant only to help the investigator.

Some of the groups are better known (such as Efate group, Aoba-Maiwo-North-Araga group, Ambrym and South-Araga group), but the others are of undescribed extent. On the other hand some of those groups have such affinities as may be well put together in one and the total number lessened. The number of dialects is much greater, and there are quite as many as there are different tribes, that is, hundreds of them. In short, there are only two or three languages present: Polynesian, Melanesian and, may be, the old Andamanian language, almost unknown and very difficult to be found, mixed as it is with Melanesian so difficult itself to define.