1902 Encyclopedia > New Hebrides and Santa Cruz

New Hebrides and Santa Cruz

NEW HEBRIDES AND SANTA CRUZ. These islands form part of the long chain of groups in the west Pacific known as MELANESIA (q.v.), having the Solomon Islands about 200 miles west and north-west of their northern and New Caledonia at the same distance west of their southern extremity. They extend for about 700 miles between 9° 45' and 20° 16' S. lat., and between 165° 40' and 170' 30' E. long., - the Santa Cruz group lying about 100 miles north of the New Hebrides. Excepting the small Torres group in the North New Hebrides, and some other small islands north of Santa Cruz which are all perched on reefs, but without lagoons, all the islands are of volcanic formation, the larger ones lying on both sides of the line of volcanic activity. The largest of them, being thought by its discoverer, Quiros (1606), to be the longsought Terra Australis, was named by him Australia del Espiritu Santo. It is 75 by 40 miles ; its peaks and mountains have a fine appearance from the sea. Pottery is made here as in Fiji and New Caledonia, the manufacture being suggested, it is said, by the form and material of the hornet's nest (Eumenes xanthura). South-east from Espiritu Santo lie Mallicolo (56 by 20 miles), with a fine harbour, and Ambrym (22 by 17 miles), very beautiful, with a great volcano, 2800 feet ; south of this Lopevi, a perfect volcanic cone, also active, rises to 5000 feet. Farther south are Vote or Sandwich Island (30 by 15 miles), with the very fine harbour of Havannah; Erromango (30 by 22 miles; 3000 feet), where sandalwood is still found; Tanna (18 by 10 miles), containingYasowa, the largest volcano of the group ; and Aneiteum, the most southerly (2788 feet). Sulphur from the volcanoes is exported. Santa Cruz or Nitendi Island was the scene of Mendalia's ill-fated attempt in 1595 to found a colony ; and on Vanikoro, south of Santa Cruz, La Perouse's expedition was lost (1788). Except in the two localities above mentioned, and at Aneiteum, the coasts are almost free from reefs (the subterranean heat being probably fatal to zoophyte life), and the shores rise abruptly from deep water, the hills being densely wooded, and the scenery and vegetation singularly varied and beautiful. The trees - Casuarina, candle nut (illeurites triloba), kaurie pine (on Tauna), various species of Ficus, Myrtacew, and many others - are magnificent ; the cocoa-nut is not confined to the coast, but grows high up the valleys on the hill-sides. Beautiful crotons and draczenas abound. Besides the breadfruit, sago-palm, banana, sugar, yam, taro, arrowroot, and several forest fruits, the orange, pine-apple, and other imported species flourish ; and European vegetables are exported to Sydney. The fibres of various Urticew and Malvacew are used.

No land mammals are known except the rat and Pteropidw. Birds (species) are less numerous than in the Solomon Islands. Pigeons, parrots, ducks, and swallows are common, and a Megapodigts is found. Of fish more than one hundred kinds are known, mostly inferior as food, and some poisonous. Whales and beche-de-mer abound and are fished for. There are two kinds of serpents (harmless), three or four lizards, and two turtles ; locusts, grasshoppers, butterflies, and hornets are numerous.

The population is perhaps 50,000. Isolated Polynesian communities occur on the smaller islands ; and on Vate - and perhaps also on Santa Cruz and Vanua Lavu - there is an infusion of Polynesian blood, producing a taller, fairer, and less savage population. The people, however, vary on every island. At Aneiteum they are all Christians, and this influence predominates in the neighbouring southern islands of the group ; on Vate and Tanna, too, there are European factories (cotton and copra), but the population is dwindling rapidly. Motu, in the Santa Cruz group, was the late Bishop Patteson's principal island station. The general type is an ugly one : below the middle height, fairer than the typical Papuan, with low receding foreheads, broad faces, and flat noses. They wear nose- and ear-rings and bracelets of shells, and frequently nothing else. The men, but not the women, drink kava. They are constantly fighting ; their weapons are bows and arrows, often beautifully designed, clubs of elaborate patterns, spears, and latterly muskets. Their houses are either the round -huts described by Mendatia three hundred years ago, or rectangular with pitched roofs resting on three parallel rows of posts ; in Vate the reception houses are adorned with festoons of bones and shells. In Aurora the roof is set directly on the ground, with a square doorway 2 feet high in a deep gable at the end. The villages are scrupulously clean and neat, and ornamented with flowering shrubs, crotons, and dracaenas.

In character the people differ in different islands, but much of their inhospitality and savagery, disastrously shown in the murder of several missionaries, Bishop Patteson, and Captain Goodenough, is traced to the misconduct and cruelty of traders and labour agents, or to revenge for the introduction of epidemic diseases. In some islands there is the objection also found among Malays to mention their names, or as in Australia the name of the mother-, sister-, and daughter-in-law. They are inveterate cannibals, with a few excepLions, as at Santa Cruz and Banks's Islands (North New Hebrides). They believe much in sorceries and omens ; but prayer and offerings (usually of shell money 1) are addressed mainly to the spirits of the (recently) dead, and there is another class of spirits, called Vui, who are appealed to when incorporate in certain stones or animals ; of one or two such the divinity is recognized generally. By the villages a space shadowed by a great banyan tree is often set apart for dances and public meetings. A certain sacredness attaches also sometimes to the Casuarina and the Cycas. An important institution is the club-house, in which there are various grades, whereon a man's rank and influence mainly depend, his grade being recognized even if he goes to another island where his language is unintelligible. In like manner a division into two great exogamous groups prevails, at all events throughout the northern islands. It would therefore seem that the present diversity of languages in the group must be of relatively recent origin. These languages or dialects are numerous, and mutually unintelligible, but alike as to grammatical construction, and belonging to the Melanesian class.

Principal Authorities. - Lleut. A. IL Markham, R.N., in Roy. Geog. Soc. Jour., 1B72; Brenchley, Cruise of the Curagoa;; Bev. R. IL Codrington, "On Religious Beliefs and Practices in meinnesia," in Jour. Anthrop. x. ; Walter Conte, Wanderings South and East. (C. T.)

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