Are related to Melanesians and Africans


This is the story of a sunken continent. Not in the literal sense, of course, but figuratively. This continent has not disappeared geographically, but from our knowledge. But even this is not an exact statement, because perhaps we never really knew anything of orientation about this continent.

If I boldly call this area a continent, the geographer will vehemently contradict me, since at best it is a hodgepodge of islands that are also scattered over a wide area. The ethnographer, on the other hand, will be more inclined to agree with me. To be sure, the whole area is quite remote; it is located at the other end of the world, so to speak, and has never really brought itself into conversation through economic, political or civilizing achievements. Rather, it is an area of ​​selected insignificance.

Therefore it is by no means blameworthy to know little or nothing about it. Even if I am insolent enough to ask your attention, it is only because this area gives me a strong aha experience, a classic "What happened if..."Has brought perspective. Or quite simply: because a form of human existence is presented here, of which hardly anyone except a handful of specialists has any idea and which at least a short time ago prevailed in half the southern hemisphere of our earth.

The area I speak of has many names. If I could name just one, I would say: Melanesia.


Cattle that belong to some landowner graze under coconut trees. The grove is light and loose. A path meanders through the trees. Low huts appear like patterns, cubical, covered with palm reeds, neatly built in two rows to the right and left of the path. The ground is greasy from the rain, but children play happily in the puddles and black, wiry pigs search for waste and fresh shoots.

Women and men wear raffia skirts to varying degrees of decay and soiling, the upper body remains uncovered - a requirement given the prevailing laundry room temperatures. As soon as the afternoon downpour is over, the fire is lit again under the stove in the center of the village. The scent is reminiscent of cold house smoke, penetrating and pungent.

In addition, two almost naked men work in the sweat of their bodies and shell coconuts with a machete. The coconut meat is dried in large pieces on the oven to make copra for export. However, it seems to me that this copra is smoked rather than dried, that's how laboriously the fire smoldered. Inferior quality, especially good for soap making. But at least a livelihood for this village, a livelihood that every single father of a family can get hold of, regardless of whether he owns ten, a hundred or a thousand trees. A way to survive in a world where there is usually no room for topless descendants of ex-savages. Copra means life. Life for Melanesians. Without copra, the Melanesians might not have existed for a long time.

They are dark brown to black. Some are particularly black. Ebony black. You can find it on the island of Bougainville because the word "black is beautiful"was taken literally. Mothers preferred their darker children to the lighter ones, and since infant mortality was very high, this meant in practice that lighter children died more easily and the darker ones more and more determined the average color of the islanders. Until the rich ebony was reached Are they Africans? Anyone who sees the dark skin and the finely curled hair for the first time will say yes. This is what Africans look like. But there are weighty reasons for assuming that the Melanesians are not Africans, never anything to do with Africa have had to do.

If you've seen them long enough, you can also see their facial features. And if you later look at a mixed international crowd, for example on the East River in New York, where representatives from all over the world crowd at the United Nations, then you will be able to distinguish the Melanesians from the Africans. Their hair growth is unusually lush, but their features are in some ways more similar to those of Europeans than Africans.

If it is true that black people are a warm form of humanity, created by adapting to the climatic requirements and existential problems of hot regions, then the Melanesians would probably be a parallel development to the Africans. We call them Melanesians who "Inhabitants of the Black Islands"which is of course only a makeshift.

Scattered over half the world 

Strange that they live so isolated in an essentially fair-skinned environment, surrounded in the north and east by Polynesians and Micronesians, in the north-west and west by also quite light-colored Malays. But what about the Aborigines, the black indigenous people of Australia? They must certainly be seen in connection with the Melanesians. And the Papuans in New Guinea? Despite some linguistic and physical differences, they too belong in principle to the Melanesians. Mixed forms of Papuans, Melanesians in the narrower sense and Malay can be found on some Indonesian islands. If one looks further to the west, one encounters the black natives of Ceylon and southern India, the Veddahs and Dravidas and finally one arrives in an arc to the south, to Madagascar; where Melanesian is spoken off the coast of Africa and a Melanesian population element is clearly recognizable.

From Madagascar in the west to Tahiti in the east, where remnants of the Melanesian indigenous population lived more recently, the arc extends around half the globe, the former and present realm of black people who are not Africans, contours of a dark one Continent with a focus on South India, Australia and New Guinea, one of the most extensive settlement areas that a group of people could ever create.

A chapter about the incarnation and being human about which we know little, almost nothing. And yet what Austin Coates wrote about Melanesia is true: "These are, without a doubt, the oldest cultures in the world that have fallen under the shadow of the British Crown for the past two centuries ".

The Melanesians are stepchildren of civilization. While their fair-skinned cousins, the Polynesians, who inhabit the eastern Pacific, went down in eighteenth-century literature as the gentle good savages and were idealized by painters and poets as perfect naturals, the Melanesians fell victim to color prejudice. While the Polynesians were sometimes even petted by Europeans and Americans, the Melanesians were hit by the harshness of a colonial existence.


In Australia, the Aborigines have been discriminated against in a scandalous way up to the present day. In the northwestern part of New Guinea, the Indonesians have established a kind of colonial regime in the style of the 19th century and repeatedly suppressed rebellions by the black Papuans. In the formerly Australian-administered southeastern part of New Guinea, the Papuans and Melanesians were given a more detailed administration, which of course came to an abrupt end when the trust administration for Australia increasingly turned out to be a financial burden. Independent Papua New Guinea suffers from high levels of crime and corruption.

The Gilbert and Ellíce Islands, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu were colonies until a few decades ago that were released into an uncertain future. And on the Fiji Islands, the native Melanesian population has been confronted with the descendants of mass imported Indian coolies for the sugar cane plantations, which have since contested their power in the state.

In Sri Lanka, even after the end of the civil war, the dark Tamils ​​are exposed to severe discrimination by the fair-skinned Sinhalese, and in Madagascar Malay and African elements of the population are predominant. Perhaps you can say that currently only in Niugini, the free Papua New Guinea, the Black Lords in their own country. They know that they are being watched by their neighbors and former masters, who are always ready to smile derisively: Well, they Bushies, the Bushmen, what will they do?

Solomon Islands & Vanuatu

Guadalcanal is the main island of the Solomon Islands, a west Pacific archipelago that is almost exclusively inhabited by Melanesians. Vast rice fields cover the Guadalcanal plain, where one of the main battles of World War II was fought more than seventy years ago. Japanese, Americans, New Zealanders and Australians fought each other here for every meter of earth, and so much floating equipment sank in the narrow strait between Guadalcanal and the neighboring island of Florida that the narrowness has been since then "Iron bottom sound", Is called Eisenboden-Sund. And it was a very common practice to finally wreak a little bloodbath among those who remained on the island, so that a competitor who might come later would not find willing workers, but murderous savages.

The times of Blackbirder are over, the islands have overcome the associated depopulation and people have gained confidence. They came down from the impassable mountains to the coast and established their settlements there, especially on the windless coast of the slot, the slot, as the inland sea is called, which is protected by the mountains of the surrounding islands and extends in the center of the Solomon Islands group.

Similar to the Solomon Islands, the situation in Vanuatu, the former New Hebrides, New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville, and what all the large and small islands between New Guinea and Fiji are called. Of all places in the world, this was where the colonial system lasted the longest. Here the gap that gaped between the civilization of the whites and the Stone Age culture of the Melanesians was almost insurmountable. And no one but the missionaries bothered to close it.


Photo: wikimedia commions


Paradise in the rain 

Certainly the islands in the vastness of a deep blue ocean are of paradisiacal beauty and are still quite untouched despite plantations, forest robberies and the search for mineral resources. But is it also like paradise on them?

Like torrents, tropical rain lashes down on the fanned roof of the coconut and pandanus palms, the long-needle casuarina and the variety of large-leaved plants that give the tropical forest its unmistakable beauty. The sea is gray and cloudy from the falling water. The outrigger boats have pulled up onto the beach, and the roads leading to the main town of Vila have turned into swamp beds. Nowhere on the whole island of Vate; the main island of Vanuatu, there seems to be a dry spot. Even the roofs of the huts, crouching under the palm trees and banana bushes, are not completely waterproof, despite the multiple layers of pandanus reeds, and small brooks form their network over the pounded hut floor. The whole family, made up of people and a few pigs, who stand out for their firmness of character and trustworthiness, crowd into the three-quarter darkness of the hut; only the children play under the canopy in the mud, every now and then washed to a high-gloss brown-black by a rain gust.

The adults sleep partly on the liana-woven family bed, which hovers securely on posts in the back corner above the fauna of the floor. Sometimes the people are busy with little chores or a chat, sometimes they stare out into the wet inferno of paradise, waiting hungrily for an interruption of the flood to catch a few fish on the reef as soon as the sea has calmed down; Melanesian everyday life.

Capri feelings and pimple hoods

The familiar and yet novel South Sea feeling of the black islands, the deeply pagan idyll of nature on these islets, floating like coconuts across the ocean - what does this say to their new, secret masters, the Japanese and Chinese, who as investors and tourists the legacy of the Anglo-Saxons? Do they have Capri feelings here, are the blacks worthy of participation or analysis? Or do they float - as it sometimes seems - as mute gentlemen over this crumbling earth waste, this geographical and anthropological garbage, which is at best worth supplying fish, precious wood and earth for hero's graves, this one on the doorstep gouting in the sun lolling bastard of a dog who is currently spared the obligatory kick because the calf muscle needs protection?

For us Germans, apparently so far away, and yet closer than we are aware of: Melanesia. What do we have to do with the black islands? A lot, because our pimple hooded beards, our "It has been achieved" pioneers, our daring Hanseatic merchants and their Wilhelmine protectors have given an unforgettable guest performance on some of these islands, swelled with loyalty and honesty, with alpine peasant wooden house architecture, soul core and gingerbread gables, They gave the blacks that ugliest of all ugly names, symbols of the worst racism, worthy of Francisco Pizarro and Cecil Rhodes: they baptized the Melanesians "Kanaks" after the French model.

And so they entered the German treasure trove, in the boy’s Wunderhorn, as the naked savages, whose job it is to "toil like the Kanaks". Oh, of course, the German colonies on New Mecklenburg, New Pomerania, New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago were model businesses, patriarchal run like East Elbian latifundia, biblical, clean and extremely efficient, full of justice, even if very strict, and a solid profit for them the offices in Hamburg.

The blacks learned to toil for threateningly twitching mustaches, and on the Emperor's birthday they had to cheer nicely in white shirts. It remained so vivid in her memory that when the dreaded independence approached in New Guinea, the Australians tied their purses and packed their suitcases, some of the chiefs dreamed back to the era of the spiked hats and pith helmets and secretly decided to call the Germans back to Melanesia with it they took care of order, correct coffers and Prussian discipline. At that time a black adept of the Speyer missionaries in Rabaul asked me whether I could convey to the German government in Bonn the wish of the council of chiefs to take over the trusteeship.

The Australians found the chiefs' plans to be too much of a ghost and they disciplined the conspirators. How embarrassed would the German development minister have been if this evil relapse into the imperialist past had been officially proposed to him, for example under the cloak of trust of the United Nations? Don't worry, Kaiser Wilhelm stayed where he belonged, and the former Kanaks groped into freedom alone, seeking advice from the missionaries when they lacked that of the Australians.

Indonesian New Guinea

The bay of Jayapura stretches in a leisurely rounding for kilometers, accompanied by a winding promenade, behind which the still meticulously built houses climb the mountain, getting lost more and more in the green that finally merges into the jungle. All-terrain vehicles and minibuses rumble through the hollows of a construction site, revealing the red laterite soil of New Guinea. Built on stilts on the banks, the coastal people's houses, made entirely of wood and woven sago straw mats, in which some local Melanesians and some immigrant Makassar people from the neighboring island of Sulawesi live, dark and wiry.

A strange contrast, the Melanesians: calm, almost stoic, with large, coarse-boned bodies and heads with heavy chins and bulky noses, like wooden sculptures in the style of bar salmon. As everywhere on the islands, there is also a considerable contrast between the Melanesians of the coast, who live from fishing and trade, and the Bushies, the jungle people, who rarely come to the sea and are considerably further from civilization. So great was the fear of the coastal people at times Bushiesthat they built their houses on reefs artificially made of coral chunks, which were inaccessible to the Bushmen, who neither know how to swim nor how to build boats.

Vikings of the south

The coastal people are considered to be one of the most talented sea peoples in the world. At speeds suitable for racing, their dugout outrigger boats dash across the Jayapura lagoon, framed by an island; in the stern, the family fortune, precious and protected, the American or Japanese outboard motor of 30, 70 or even 100 hp. The dugout canoes are hollowed out with precision, as they were centuries ago in small shipyards, polished and completed with the single or double-sided boom to create a catamaran. For years they saved up on an outboard motor, which is generally regarded as the greatest good among Melanesians, especially as a bride price.And then it goes off, hissing like an arrow across the lagoon, with the proud owner crouching in the rear, comparable to a western playboy steering his racing car through the corners of the Corniche on the Côte d'Azur.


When the first Europeans landed in Melanesia with the Spanish naval captains Mendaña and Queiroz, firmly of the opinion that they had discovered the dreamed-of Australia, human beings were just a few steps away from each other, not only half of the globe in their origins, but also thousands of years different Experience separated. These Melanesians knew no writing and no wheel, no pottery and no metal. They were Stone Age people, whose political associations, which once comprised several islands, even archipelagos, had long since degenerated into an ongoing battle village against village, at best island against island, sometimes man against man.

From the once common language Austronesian, one of the world languages ​​of prehistoric times, which was spoken by Melanesians, Malays and Oceanians from Madagascar to Easter Island, only a Babylonian linguistic confusion remained during the disintegration, which led to the fact that in some areas on Vanuatu there were 260 There is no language for people, although only the direct neighbors understand each other to some extent. The veneration of deceased ancestors by keeping their skulls in bone houses had turned into the forcible acquisition of such relics through headhunting, and from headhunting it was only one step to cannibalism. But wherever this prevails, every community and culture dissolves: how do you want to celebrate parties when innocent guests fear that they will be eaten out of hand?

So Melanesia had come to the end culturally when the whites came who were supposed to be enchanted by virtue of their light skin color. The Bushmen on some of the Solomon Islands saw the strangers climb out of the ships from the heights of their hills and mountains, down there on the beach. But the Bushies did not go down to the water because they never did in their life. Although they always saw themselves surrounded by the sea, they avoided it because they thought it was poisonous. So the Bushies stayed relatively unscathed for centuries to come. Only slave hunters and sandalwood buyers brought them civilization with glass beads, dysentery, malaria, calico cloth, schnapps and stick tobacco.

How grotesque the misunderstandings between Melanesians and Europeans were is revealed by an account of Captain Queiros' expedition to the New Hebrides in the early 17th century. In order to win a first soul for Christ, the Spaniards caught a young man who seemed intelligent to them, dragged him onto the ship, clad him in silk robes - which the Melanesians, who knew no fabric, only saw as spots of color. Then they shaved off his hair and beard, which in Melanesian eyes was an unheard of insult, for the man's head was considered sacred and inviolable to them. They cut his fingernails and toenails, which amounted to a violent shortening of his life expectancy, gave him gifts, including a dangerous magic object like a mirror. Then they beached him again, proud of their civilizing feat. Howling with anger and shame, the horribly disfigured and dishonored ran to his followers, and the Spaniards were furious with the "vicious savages" when they showered them with a hail of arrows in gratitude. Even today there are more remote areas of the Melanesian Islands where a stranger risks his life if he pats a local on the shoulder benevolently.

Blondism and blue eyes 

When I stroll through Honiara in the evening, this capital of the Solomon Islands, which was created from a US base of the Second World War by recycling leftovers - a larger market town - I particularly notice that many of the Melanesian residents indulge in picturesque hair fashion: they wear blond . My eyes are somewhat blinded when my scrutinizing gaze slides down to a blond, curled up young lady with a dark brown complexion and discovers that not only is her hair light, but also her eyebrows and the delicate fluff on her arms. This young lady, who in a flowered hanging dress strives along Menda fi a Avenue to the ice bar, exchanging flirty greetings with several fellows of the same age - this hopeful product of a mission school - is without a doubt real blonde. And she is also, like her numerous blond-haired fellow islanders prove, not a Mendelian whim when crossing European and Solomonic ancestors.

She's a true Melanesian, the only brown-black kind of person in whom blonde hair and even red hair - as I learn later - are indeed widespread. Blondism, a gene mutation that appeared in Pacific islanders around 10,000 years ago, can occur in up to ten percent of Melanesian populations. Here, too, by the way, blonde is considered beautiful, and some mothers are already helping their children to be blonde by washing their hair regularly with lime, which also drives away lice and other lodgers. So even if what is blond is not always real, the control look at the arms shows the real facts. According to reports, there are now and then also blue-eyed people among the South Sea islanders. Aware of this knowledge, I look around me, looking the citizens of Honiara in the eye, but without success.

The cargo cult

One of the peculiarities of Melanesian culture has become known worldwide under the term "cargo cult", a belief that has been common all over the islands and in New Guinea for a time or for a long time. Jack Mc Carthy, an Irishman graying in colonial service, explains very vividly how he himself observed a piece of cargo cult as it was developing: One day he rode from Alexisafen on the northeast coast of the former German New Guinea up into the mountains to visit a village . He found the village on a hilltop above the gorges covered by the jungle: the usual straw houses, a community center and inside large tin cans and vessels, tightly closed, in which coins rattled when shaken. What was that all about? He asked. The villagers assured them that the money would remain locked in there for eight years, because it was about to multiply. Mc Carthy thought he hadn't heard right, then he investigated the story.

A young man who had gone to school with the whites down in Madang had come through the village three years ago and when he heard about the people's chronic lack of money he had promised them help. He would have shown them a printed piece of paper in the language of whites that said how to increase money by making it grow and bear fruit like a tree. That would have made sense to them and they would have scraped together all the cash in the village, 800 dollars, and given it to him with the request to increase it. Then he filled all accessible large vessels with a few coins, closed them and ordered them to keep them for eight years until he came back. Then he took the rest of the money and left. Nobody saw him anymore.

Mc Carthy laughed heartily and tried to enlighten the villagers. Vain. They showed him the famous note, printed in English and decorated with a picture of a tree with dollar bills hanging on it. They triumphantly referred to the drawing as the final scientific proof of the correctness of their shrewdness in how to easily get rich.

The visitor read the text. It was a newspaper advertisement for an American investment company. Again he tried to clarify, but in vain. The villagers firmly believed in the miracle of the money tree, just as August the Strong believed in the gold-making power of the alchemists. Mc Carthy returned enriched with the knowledge that the Melanesian cargo cult is not as far from our world as we think.

The Melanesians believe that airplanes are messengers of the gods of their ancestors living in the sky, which should bring them treasures, but have been intercepted by the evil Europeans. Thus, the blacks regarded the whites as thieves, and the military equipment, which came abundantly from the sky, especially during the Second World War, was in fact stolen Melanesian property. It is no wonder that during the jubilee days of the cargo cult movement in the post-war years there were major uprisings against the colonial administrations of Melanesia.

Even today it has not yet got around everywhere that the whites have homelands in which they diligently manufacture all these wonderful goods in factories; In remote island areas, they are still considered to be trappers of the messengers of the gods, and on the landing strips in the jungle it is said that many pilots still find the offerings of the Bushmen to the bird of the gods deposited at night under the wings of their aircraft, which they consider to be a living being.

Salt water people vs. fresh water people

According to some experts, the most beautiful thing about Melanesia's atolls is the sight of them from the air. That sounds unintentionally mocking, but it is meant superficially. With their radiant play of colors, which range from the green of the vegetation to the white of the sand to the emerald of the lagoon and the indigo of the surrounding sea, atolls are truly natural wonders; Works of art created for people to stay in noble seclusion, in total harmony with a world that simultaneously makes them the absolute master of their microcosm and surrenders them to the confinement from which they can only escape at risk to life and limb, namely by driving in his dugout canoe out into the vastness, the void to the next atoll, which is weeks away, but may look like the deserted one.

Melanesians, although they also inhabit a number of such coral-built groups of mini-islands, cannot be compared with the Micronesians or Oceanians, who specialize in atoll life. In comparison, Melanesians are primarily mainland people: residents of those large islands that almost have the character of a mainland. You have to see them against the backdrop of Oceania in order to understand their peculiarity. Even if the group of "salt water people" among them, as they are called, is large, it is still the customs and religious beliefs of the "fresh water people" or bushies, which predominate by far. Similar to the way that the Bedouins of eastern Arabia are partly desert people, in whose life the absence of water is almost the main condition, but partly were sailors and pearl fishermen, so to speak the exact opposite of this, the Melanesians are also largely water-afraid arable farmers who love their taro and Have brought sweet potato cultures to considerable perfection, but partly aquatic people, from whom the world learned to swim modern and fast.

What athlete thinks today that the crawl style that revolutionized swimming in the last century came from the bare savages of the Solomon Islands? English visitors learned to swim like this from the Solomon Islands in 1904, and from Australia the new fashion went around the world.

The Melanesians also invented a number of other things, for example kava, the intoxicating drink of the Pacific that the people of Vanuatu make from the roots of a type of pepper vine. Originally chewed by boys so far that the juice can be squeezed out and drunk, the roots are now more hygienically crushed using chunks of coral and then pressed. Drunk from half coconut shells, the kava, which tastes like vegetable juice, conveys an extraordinary feeling of clarity and a person's earth connection, while at the same time considerable motor disorders arise, which lead to all sorts of collisions with objects the next morning, when one is usually sick.

The regular consumption of kava is supposed to accelerate and intensify the effect, whereby the feeling of being related to nature, even a part of it, certainly helps to preserve the Stone Age. Those who drink kava become Melanesian - even if only for a few hours - and there should be people who feel right at home with it.

Lack of manpower

One of the problems with the development of the Melanesian Islands is the undeniable fact that Melanesians have no sense of regular work. Not that they didn't work hard when necessary: ​​not for nothing were they considered the black gold of Australia's mines and Fiji plantations. But it does not occur to them of their own accord to work in the European style. Perhaps it is their cultural heritage, or perhaps it is - as in the Caribbean - a reaction to slavery and contract labor that makes them shy away from permanent employment. The few Melanesians who find themselves willing are usually absorbed into administration and other clerical jobs, so that there is always a shortage of labor on the islands. The old colonial rulers knew what to do: they opened the prisons.

In any case, always overwhelmed by practicing justice among the tribes, they were usually content with condemning the sinners to forced labor and making sure that they did not run away. As a result, Europeans surrounded themselves with criminals who served them as workers and houseboys, gardeners and cooks. So it is very possible that the friendly, smiling black ghost who served you the whiskey killed father and mother. That was not taken further tragically in this country.

Indeed, compulsory labor prison was something of a special form of education that gave rise to high hopes. Often a capable man started his career with a punishment: that is by no means considered dishonorable. Efficient administrators, keen to have a large workforce, vigorously prosecuted every crime and misdemeanor in order to increase the number of prisoners. Similar to Siberia, a form of forced labor concealed as crime has also been developed in Melanesia, a system of development that is as effective as it is questionable. One cannot, on the one hand, criminalize modern forms of work and, on the other hand, expect “that the law-abiding part of the population feels addressed by it. Or to believe that a punishment aimed more at exploitation than improvement is particularly convincing.

The Stone Age was preserved under the varnish of the mission schools, which for the sake of convenience were largely entrusted with education. Real integration has not succeeded - especially not where the British and Australians were the masters. It will be interesting to see how the Indonesians will keep their colony of West Papua, the north-western half of New Guinea, inherited from the Dutch, under control in the long term. Although their rule began with a bloodily suppressed uprising by the Papuans, they show many bad habits of the colonial style the previous century, but perhaps in the long run, in their relative poverty and multitude, they will be more humane than the Anglo-Saxons, who are all too convinced of their high civilizational qualities. But so far Papuans and Javanese have not become friends.

The formerly Anglo-French Melanesia was developed at the time as a bulwark against the penetration of the Asians into the Pacific region. The years to come will show whether this was speculation wrong or not. Even the threat of the copper-rich autonomous island of Bougainville that it would break away from Papua New Guinea in 2020 could attract Asian investors. Melanesia is unsteady on its legs.

Perhaps the future of the northern islands lies with the Malays, whether the Anglo-Saxons like it or not. With its oil wealth, the giant Indonesia with its 260 million people is now stronger than ever and its claim to hegemony over the Indo-Pacific region is clearly evident. The only well-functioning independent state of Melanesia, Fiji, has so many descendants of immigrant Indian plantation gulis among its inhabitants that they make up half the population. After long political squabbles, the privileges of the Melanesian indigenous population were abolished in 2014.

Suicides and John Frum

Tanna island, part of Vanuatu, is covered by the primeval forest, silent and black and green. Here, in this formerly half-French, half-British condominium, the Melanesians experienced the worst excesses of the colonial era. - The New Hebrides were considered the country with the highest suicide rate in the world, a land of permanent mourning. Persecuted by the slave traders, shackled by Presbyterian priests, crowded into villages so that better surveillance is possible, driven out by property speculators without the protection of a functioning administration, left to their own devices in the inaccessible mountains, this population reacted to the devilries of the whites with resignation.

Crouching on the Yimwajim, the village's dance floor in front of the reed huts, the Kanaks discussed the sad facts of their existence. They went on birthing strike as early as the 19th century.The men no longer wanted to pay the high bride prices, the married women didn't care whether they had children or not. Often enough, an intelligent piglet took the place of its own brood, was perhaps raised on the mother's breast after a stillbirth, lived with the family until it was large enough for the ritual slaughter at the pig festival, the festive carnage among four-legged family members that is so typical for Melanesians Populations is. If the darling was a boar, then Nuttern later wore his lower jaw, which had grown to a curved beauty due to the breaking out of the upper canine teeth, on the necklace.

Despairing of their inferiority under the impact of modern civilization, the Hebridians languished. Empty highland clearings, where thousands of farmers once made their livelihood, were used in colonial times by French farmers to raise Charolais cattle for their mining customers in neighboring, nickel-rich New Caledonia. Here in Tanna, in the shade of the sago palms and the giant tree ferns, whose slender fans are whipped by hurricane-like rainstorms under floods at night, while the sun conjures up a shining paradise during the day, here where women are still bare-breasted, as in the time of Captain Cook two hundred years ago Going for a walk in grass skirts, the population has recovered from its shock faster than on other islands and has increased in number.

In the last days before the Second World War, a phenomenon that was initially incomprehensible to Europeans arose here: JohnFrum. How were they Storekeeper, the shopkeepers, astonished when the Men-Fir, the Bushmen, appeared one after the other and sold their gold nuggets that were guarded like the apple of their eyes for all sorts of trinkets that they didn't need. John Frum it ordered, so it was said. Then others came into the stores and politely but definitely removed some of the price tags, but not to loot, no, because John Frum had put a taboo on certain colors, namely red, blue and yellow. If, on the other hand, one wore clothing in certain bright colors, it was rated appreciatively: one wore the colors of John Frum. Until recently, Sulfur Bay was the Mecca of devotees John Frums, the black god of Melanesia, whose name is a corruption of the Second World War because the GIs introduced themselves with the words "Hi, I'm John from America"Since the Melanesians did not know America, it stayed the same John Frum.

In endless monotonous group dances, which were celebrated by the Pope of the John Frum people, the return of the Melanesians to the earth of their fathers was evoked in Sulfur Bay on Tanna. Then they went naked again, vigorously tossing the blessings of Western civilization overboard, and becoming savages again. They swore off the Christian churches and the clothes, regular work and school. Instead of beer, they drank kava again, celebrating the juice, which tasted a little like wild mint, on the Yimwayim in the late afternoon with such precision that the Europeans used to mockingly refer to the "five o'clock kava". And the women painted their faces and bodies exactly in the colors of John Frum, the legendary Messiah, who is supposed to be accompanied by large submarines, and whose three sons get out of airplanes.

From Easter Island to Madagascar: the periplus of the Melanesians

While the center of Melanesia, as we call it in the narrower sense, lies to the east and north of Australia, the Aborigines, the Australian natives, belong to the Melanesians as well as the Malagasy people in the far west. It is now believed that the Melanesians mixed themselves out of three different components. Most important of all was probably the influence of the Negritos, a population of curly-haired and dark-skinned pygmies who immigrated to the Pacific region in small groups from southern India, especially from the Andaman Islands, as they are still today in the inaccessible mountain regions of New Guinea, Bougainvilles Solomon Islands and Vanuatus. In Australia, which they once fully populated, they were later pushed to the south, to Queensland and Tasmania, where they became extinct. You can also find their remains on Java.

A group of later immigrants were the so-called Veddoids, dark, tall and with wavy black hair, who mixed with the Negritos and formed the Aborigines of the Australian north, as well as the main part of the population of the Solomon Islands, Hebrides and Fijis. These Veddoids probably also originated in South India, where the Veddahs still form a considerable population group both on the mainland and in Sri Lanka.

According to anthropologists, these two components were joined by a third, the light-skinned, very hairy ainoids, which - as one suspects after research on the origin of the Austronesian language - came from southern China and mixed with the dark peoples in various ways. forming the light-skinned Polynesians and, in a darker shade, the Papuans. A lighter variant of the Papuans are the Ambonese, mixed with Malays, who live on islands to the west of New Guinea and have fought a vain struggle for freedom against the Indonesians. A similar mix, but between Polynesians and Malays, are the Micronesians. If you travel west from New Guinea, the traces of the Melanesíers become thinner and thinner; The Malays and other peoples who later immigrated from the north have displaced the "Kanaks" more and more completely.

Madagascar: Vazimba and Betsileo

All the greater is the astonishment when you come across the familiar Papuan faces again in Madagascar, which are clearly identifiable and can be distinguished from the main part of the population, which is essentially of Malay origin, in terms of their tribes. Both groups speak an essentially Melanesian language, carry a Melanesian culture and cultivate that Melanesian custom that has become so famous around the world, which we call "taboo" in Malagasy, "Fady".

Off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar, this mainland-like island, is comparable in size to New Guinea. A true zoological museum is this fragment of the sunken continent Gondwana, which is said to have once connected East Africa with the Deccan, the central highlands of India, and Western Australia. Here alone you can find the lemurs, graceful half-monkeys and the aepyornis, the once largest bird in the world, which died out because it could not fly and because one thigh was larger than a person and provided food for an entire tribe. Its eggs, which adorn many museums, reach a volume of ten liters.

Somewhere in the legend are the Vazimba, the indigenous people of Madagascar. They were certainly dark, perhaps pygmies, perhaps they were even descendants of those seafaring Negritos who settled the Pacific from South India. In any case, it is clear that the monsoon winds allow a kind of one-way traffic between southern India and Ceylon on the one hand and Madagascar on the other. Since the direction of the winds changes every six months, you can even take a simple sailing boat from India to Madagascar in November to February and return with the monsoons in May / June. This system works so well that not only was it possible to settle the island from Asia, but also that at historical times merchants, especially Arabs, made the trip regularly.

A loose carpet of human presence stretches across the almost treeless highlands of Madagascar: villages from those two-story farmhouses with covered loggias introduced by Jean Laborde, a French adventurer, and rice terraces like in Asia, carefully stepped from the rain of winter in June to August watered by slope. Zebu cattle with wide swinging horns and shoulder humps wade knee-deep in front of a primitive harrow through the underwater fields, guided by shouting and sticking by almost black-skinned men, while the women - the eternal image of Asia - prick the rice plants with their backs bent. These are the Betsileo "the countless invincible", one of the largest tribes in Madagascar. Their stelae decorated with cow horns are reminiscent of wooden stelae on the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Their cousins ​​in the lowlands, especially on the rainy east coast with its primeval forests, continue to live like in the Pacific. Their thatched palm-thatched houses resemble those of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatus in the hair. Their culture, language and music have become decisive for the island nation, and the predominantly Malay tribes who arrived later, especially the Imerina of the highlands, have integrated.

Departure to new shores

From Madagascar to Easter Island and who knows - maybe even further to South America and East Africa - Melanesia, the realm of the blacks who are not Africans, these hard-working farmers and fishermen, who with their pirogues - the outrigger boats - reached so far understand travel.

In the atolls of the Pacific a special law still applies today for convicted sinners, those who quarrel in vain with their own people, the outcasts. He knows exactly what he has to do: he packs provisions in leaves, takes a couple of fishhooks, a container with water and equips his boat. One morning he sets out to sea, secretly watched by his own people. While the breeze billows his sail and carries him out into the empty expanse where the islands are so thinly sown that one can cross a group of them without ever seeing land, the palm trees of his piece of earth on the horizon get smaller and smaller . Desperation seizes the lonely sailor: they will send the boat that says to him: everything is forgiven, you were right, return!

No rust-colored sail unfolds in front of the palm trees, the island sinks into the horizon and the near-suicide is now a done deal. For days, weeks and months the boat will carry its passenger out until he dies of thirst, until a typhoon smashes the weak vehicle or until Melanesian fate is fulfilled as in millennia: to find an island, to be taken in, to go on living like a newborn with his children's children long will tell the legend of the great journey.

Heinrich von Loesch


By the way, worth seeing:

The Bismarck Archipelago