Anthropology Friday: Melanesia

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we’re visiting Melanesia., but first I’d like to direct your attention to a new study by Westaway et al, “An early modern human presence in Sumatra 73,000–63,000 years ago“:

Here we reinvestigate Lida Ajer [a fossil site] to identify the teeth confidently and establish a robust chronology using an integrated dating approach. Using enamel–dentine junction morphology, enamel thickness and comparative morphology, we show that the teeth are unequivocally AMH. Luminescence and uranium-series techniques applied to bone-bearing sediments and speleothems, and coupled uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating of mammalian teeth, place modern humans in Sumatra between 73 and 63 ka. This age is consistent with biostratigraphic estimations7, palaeoclimate and sea-level reconstructions, and genetic evidence for a pre-60 ka arrival of AMH into ISEA2. Lida Ajer represents, to our knowledge, the earliest evidence of rainforest occupation by AMH, and underscores the importance of reassessing the timing and environmental context of the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa.

Back to Melanesia:

Polynesians–who settled Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island, and Madagascar–are considerably more famous than their cousins over in Melanesia–chiefly Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji. (The Australian Aborigines are closely related to Melanesians.)

“Polynesia” means “many islands.” “Micronesia” means “tiny islands.” But “Melanesia” means dark islands, not because they are actually dark, but because the locals have dark, high-melanin skin.

Dr. Henry B. Guppy was a British surgeon and naturalist stationed in the Solomon Islands. Confusingly, there is a species of gecko named after Dr. Guppy–the Lepidodactylus guppyi, endemic to the Solomon Islands.

Dr. Guppy also wrote a book, the aptly titled “The Solomon Islands,”:

Amongst the Solomon Islands the student of nature may be compared to a man who, having found a mine of great wealth, is only allowed to carry away just so much of the precious ore as he can bear about his person. For there can be no region of the world where he experiences more tantalisation. Day after day he skirts the shores of islands of which science has no “ken.” Month after month, he may scan, as I have done, lofty mountain-masses never yet explored, whose peaks rise through the clouds to heights of from 7,000 to 10,000 feet above the sea. He may discern on the mountain-slopes the columns of blue smoke which mark the abodes of men who have never beheld the white man. But he cannot land except accompanied by a strong party; and he has therefore to be content usually with viewing such scenes from the deck of his vessel. …

A Melanesian is always careful to turn his toes in as he walks, and the narrowness of the bush track causes him no inconvenience, but the white man is not so careful how he plants his feet and is constantly striking the numerous objects which lie by the side of the track or on its surface. Moreover, a native person keeps his hands by his side as he walks, whereas the white man does not know the necessity for care in the matter and he frequently hits the numerous obstacles with his hands, and some of the leaves on the edge of the track are studded with sharp thorns! Every Melanesian carries a “scrub” knife, and with it he cuts away the limbs that fall over the path, but he cuts them at his own height and in an immediate line with the path; this suits him well, but proves awkward for any person who is taller or less careful about his method of progression.

Naural blond hair
Two Melanesian girls from Vanatu

There is a great deal of interest in Dr. Guppy’s account, but for now we are going to leave him and turn to the Dictionary and Grammar of the Language of Sa’a and Ulawa, Solomon Islands, by Walter G. Ivens, 1918:

Several external characteristics of the Melanesian peoples serve to distinguish them from the Polynesians: (1) Shortness of stature, the average height of the males being possibly 5 feet 4 inches and of the females 4 feet 10_ inches; (2) a chocolate-colored skin; (3) bushy hair, frizzled and tangled and standing erect, owing probably to the incessant teasing of it by the native combs.

The languages spoken in Melanesia vary considerably among themselves, but on examination they are shown to possess common features and to have a very large underlying sameness. The external resemblances, however, between the Melanesian languages are much less than those between the languages of Polynesia; e. g., the external resemblances between Maori and Samoan are far greater than those between Mota and Florida.

Two languages have been separated for a long time will have become more different from each other than two languages that have been separated for only a while. For example, all of the Romance languages are quite similar to each other, and have only been developing since the age of the Roman Empire–about 2,000 years or less. By contrast, English and Russian, while both Indo-European languages that therefore share many characteristics, have far fewer similarities than the Romance languages, because they have been separated for far less time.

If the Melanesian languages have more differences than the Polynesian, then they have likely been separated for longer–and indeed, this appears to be true. Melanesians appear to be descended from one of the first population waves to reach the area (along with their neighbors, the Australian Aborigines,) whereas Polynesians arrived in the area from Taiwan much more recently. (In fact, the Polynesian Maori people only arrived in New Zealand around 1250-1300 AD.)

Dr. Codrington has shown in “Melanesian Anthropology” that there is a large general resemblance in the religious beliefs and practices, the customs and ways of life, which prevail in Melanesia proper, and further research on the lines indicated by him will probably reveal the presence of similar beliefs and conditions of life among the Melanesian peoples of New Guinea and the neighbouring islands.

A distinguishing social condition of Melanesia is the complete absence of tribes, if the word tribe is to be applied as it is to the Maori people of New Zealand, or as used in Fiji. Descent in nearly every part of Melanesia is counted through the mother and the people are everywhere divided into two classes which are exogamous. This division of the people is the foundation on which the fabric of native society is built up. …

Animal food is but rarely partaken of by Melanesians. Pigs they all have, but they keep them for great events, for death feasts or for wedding banquets. Opossums (cuscus) and the large fruit-eating bats and wood pigeons and the monitor lizard are often eaten as relishes with vegetable food. The coast people get large quantities of shellfish at the low spring tides, and on an island like Ulawa a great deal of fishing is done both from the rocks and also out of canoes. The people make all their own fishing-lines out of home-made string or out of strong creepers found in the forest, and in old days their hooks were cut out of tortoise shell or out of black pearl-shell. Even to-day the hooks for the bonito fishing are of native manufacture and the tiny hooks for whiffing sardines are exquisitely made.

Fishing with nets is followed extensively by the Lau-speaking peoples who live on the artificial islets off the northeast coast of Malaita. These peoples and the people of the Reef Islands at Santa Cruz live almost entirely on a fish diet. The flesh of the porpoise is much prized by the peoples of Malaita and regular drives of porpoises are much held, the animals being surrounded and forced ashore into muddy creeks, where they are captured. The main value of the porpoise lies in the teeth, which form one of the native currencies. …

Tambu-House on the Island of Santa Anna, Solomon Islands

The men and boys in the Solomons have club-houses, both in the villages and also down at the beach. In the club-house at the beach the canoes for bonito fishing are kept. Strangers are entertained in these club houses; the relics of the dead are kept in them and religious rites are performed in them. Women are excluded from the club houses. …

Bark cloth (tapa) is made in Melanesia, but it never figured as an article of clothing and its main use was to form a kind of shawl in which the baby was slung when carried from the shoulder. Before the coming of the white man clothing of any sort was very little worn by Melanesians. The people of Santa Cruz, both men and women, were indeed clad sufficiently to satisfy our European notions of decency, and in the southern New Hebrides and in Florida and Ysabel the women wore petticoats made of mats or of grass, but in very many of the islands the women’s dress was of the scantiest, and the men wore nothing but a section of a leaf of a large pandanus. In the southeast Solomons the men commonly were quite naked and the women wore but a scanty fringe, while on Big Malaita not even the traditional fig leaf was worn.

In Santa Cruz, where all women and girls are swathed in mats and are kept in strict seclusion, there is more immorality, and that of a gross and shocking sort, than in the Lau-speaking districts of Malaita, where the women wear no clothing of any sort whatever. Once the mind gets over the shock experienced at the idea of the unclothed body, it will be obvious to the unprejudiced person that the absence of clothing does not necessarily imply immodesty either of thought or action. A Heathen woman on Malaita knows no shame at the fact that her body is unclothed.

Fijian mountain warrior

Another point as to which incorrect ideas exist is the question of cannibalism. Doubtless cases of anthropophagy occurred in many of the Melanesian islands, but it was never characteristic of the people as a whole, and the man-eating propensities of the Fijian people could never be predicated of the whole people of any single group in the sphere of the Mission. So local and confined is the practice that, while portions of one island regularly follow it, other portions of the same island hold it in abhorrence, as in the case of Malaita.

Joseph Wate, of Sa’a, a reliable witness, assured me that the Tolo peoples of Malaita were cannibals, but his own peoples were not, nor were the shore peoples of Big Malaita. The latter were fish-eaters, and those who lived on a fish diet did not practice as a regular thing the eating of human flesh. Cannibalism is the regular practice on San Cristoval, but is held in abhorrence on Ulawa. Yet the belief in cannibalism is so firmly fixed that one reads in the reports and books of the Mission that the two Reef Islanders who were held captive at Port Adam in Bishop Selwyn’s time were being fattened up and kept for eating, whereas in all probability they were regarded as “live heads” (lalamoa mori) and kept for killing, should any necessity arise when a victim would be demanded, as, e. g., at the death of any important person in the place, or they might be sold to anyone looking for a person to kill. The bodies after death would be buried. …

Great care is expended in bathing small children and shielding them from the rays of the sun. A young mother is excused from all work and she has the best time in all her life when her first baby is born. Her whole time is given up to the child, and it is seldom out of her arms. Owing to the lack of nourishing foods children are suckled till they are quite large. The Melanesian baby seems to have no natural liking for water and one often hears the shrill cries of small children being bathed in the streams or being washed in the houses. In the latter case water is poured from a bamboo into one of the wooden bowls and the child is then washed by hand.

The children at a very early stage of their existence are freed from the authority of their parents. They have no household duties to perform; there is no set time for meals; in the morning they may be given something cold left over from the night before, or the mother may roast a yam on the fire, but as a rule there is no cooking done till the late afternoon, when the women return from their gardens. During the day, if the children are hungry they can get a coconut or a breadfruit, or shell-fish, or they can roast a yam or a taro, and a fire can be made anywhere. The boys can get themselves an opossum or an iguana and in the hill districts they even find grasshoppers to eat. One and all they use large quantities of areca nut and pepper leaf and lime. These seem to be as necessary to the Melanesians of the northern islands as is a pipe to a confirmed smoker.

One would expect that children freed thus early from any dependence on their elders would run riot and learn licentious ways and habits, but such does not seem to be the case. There is but little individuality in Melanesians, and they are not “inventors of evil things.” They are bound by traditional customs, by the laws of the elders, by those social restrictions that the people have evolved for themselves as a safeguard against the breaking up of their society, and free agents though the children may be, and lacking parental control from our point of view, yet there is no such thing among them as the organized following of doing evil, and the ruling moral ideas of the people are found as the guide also of their children. …

they have no means of preserving the welfare of themselves as a whole. They have no tribes, no kingdoms, no laws beyond the unwritten social laws relating to marriage, etc.; life is insecure, accusations of witchcraft are easily made, and death follows as a matter of course; infanticide is a common practice, big families are almost unknown, polygamy is a recognized thing. So Christianity comes to them as a means of insuring both individual and social vigor and only in so far as they become Christian will they be saved from extinction. …

There can, however, be no question of leaving them alone now, whatever may have been the case in past years; civilization, i. e., trade, is coming in fast and the inevitable consequence will be that the white man’s view of life will alter the old style of things. Experience has taught us that wherever a people without a settled state and a kingdom and the external power of law is invaded by any of our western peoples, with their vigor and personality, the less-developed people lose all their pristine distinctiveness, all bonds are loosed, and inevitable decay sets in; in other words, the white man destroys the black….

There is very little that goes on in a native village that is not known to most of the people, and things are very well discussed before any action is taken, and generally the whole village knows the doings and the intentions of every inhabitant. If the teacher did know beforehand the chances are that he could not prevent the wrong. Individual action is rare among Melanesians. …

The isolation of the peoples in most of the Melanesian islands has in all probability been largely responsible for the lack of concerted action thitherto among the Christians. Social life as such was not known in Melanesia before the advent of Christianity. In their pre-Christian days these natives do not live in villages or hamlets, but in isolated groups with two or three houses or huts in a group. With the exception of certain places in Florida and also of the artificial islets off the northeast coast of Malaita, where hundreds of people live on tiny rookeries of stone just raised above the level of the tide, there was nothing that was worthy of the name of a village in the whole of the Mission’s area in the Solomons. …

Each subdistrict had its own petty chief with a following of half a dozen men in some cases. Every man knew who his own chief was and would support him when called upon. Each main district had also its head chief and to him tribute was paid whensoever he demanded it. Even these head chiefs had no state or surroundings. Thus at Roasi, on Little Malaita, Horohanue was the alaha paine, the main chief, but he had no immediate retinue and lived alone with his two wives, the guardian of his ancestral spirits, ‘akalo, and with the skulls of his dead in the house along with him. …

The Melanesian attitude with regards to presents is peculiar. A number of women would come with yams in baskets for sale; one special basket would be reported as “not for sale,” its contents (often inferior yams) were a gift–but it would have been the height of foolishness to accept such a gift without making a corresponding return. On being discharged from hospital a man would ask for a present in that he had been cured! Where there is no sense of debt there can be no showing of gratitude, gratitude being a spiritual and not a natural gift, a sense of the need to try to make a return for favors rendered. A Melanesian knows nothing of social duties; his life is lived apart from that of his fellows; he has no social sense, no dependence on his fellows, no common bonds of union such as spring up in community life; he asks nothing from his fellows nor they anything from him; he owes them nothing, and in consequence his circumstances have never been such as would be likely to encourage the growth of gratitude. …

The average Melanesian is a person of few worldy possessions; his house furniture consists of a few wooden bowls, a mortar for pounding yams or taro, a supply of vegetables smaller or larger according to his energy, an axe or a cane-knife; also a little stock of native money and perhaps a canoe. Of clothes he has practically none and the missionary’s simple wardrobe seems to him to be lavish in the extreme; he therefore has no compunction in asking of what he knows the white man to possess. If a person has practically never owned anything at all and if all his fellows are in the same condition too it is almost impossible to get him to understand that he should feel gratitude towards those who give him anything, since from his point of view they have so much in that they have anything at all.

EvX: That is one man’s view, of course. I am not in a position to judge the validity of Ivens’s observations, so I offer them with little comment.

Advertisements

Pirate Friday: Malays

Matteo Ricci’s map of the Far East

Welcome back to not-quite-Anthrpology Friday. Today we’re finishing The Pirate’s Own Book with a look at Malay pirates (as usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability):

“A glance at the map of the East India Islands will convince us that this region of the globe must, from its natural configuration and locality, be peculiarly liable to become the seat of piracy. … A large proportion of the population is at the same time confined to the coasts or the estuaries of rivers; they are fishermen and mariners; they are barbarous and poor, therefore rapacious, faithless and sanguinary. … It is not surprising, then, that the Malays should have been notorious for their depredations from our first acquaintance with them.

“Among the tribes of the Indian Islands, the most noted for their piracies are, of course, the most idle, and the least industrious, and particularly such as are unaccustomed to follow agriculture or trade as regular pursuits. The agricultural tribes of Java, and many of Sumatra, never commit piracy at all; and the most civilized inhabitants of Celebes are very little addicted to this vice.

source

“Among the most confirmed pirates are the true Malays, inhabiting the small islands about the eastern extremity of the straits of Malacca, and those lying between Sumatra and Borneo, down to Billitin and Cavimattir. Still more noted than these, are the inhabitants of certain islands situated between Borneo and the Phillipines, of whom the most desperate and enterprising are the Soolos and Illanoons, the former inhabiting a well known group of islands of the same name, and the latter being one of the most numerous nations of the great island of Magindando.”

EvX: I’ve yet to figure out who the Soolos and Illanoons are.

“The Soolo pirates chiefly confine their depredations to the Phillipine Islands, which they have continued to infest, with little interruption, for near three centuries, in open defiance of the Spanish authorities, and the numerous establishments maintained to check them. The piracies of the Illanoons, on the contrary, are widely extended, being carried on all the way from their native country to the Spice Islands, on one side, and to the Straits of Malacca on the other. … Besides those who are avowed pirates, it ought to be particularly noticed that a great number of the Malayan princes must be considered as accessories to their crimes, for they afford them protection, contribute to their outfit, and often share in their booty; so that a piratical proa is too commonly more welcome in their harbours than a fair trader. …

A Piratical Proa in Full Chase

“In Nov. 1827, a principal chief of pirates, named Sindana, made a descent upon Mamoodgoo with forty-five proas, burnt three-fourths of the campong, driving the rajah with his family among the mountains. Some scores of men were killed, and 300 made prisoners, besides women and children to half that amount. In December following, when I was there, the people were slowly returning from the hills, but had not yet attempted to rebuild the campong, which lay in ashes. During my stay here (ten weeks) the place was visited by two other piratical chiefs, one of which was from Kylie, the other from Mandhaar Point under Bem Bowan, who appeared to have charge of the whole; between them they had 134 proas of all sizes. …

“An European vessel was faintly descried about three o’clock one foggy morning; the rain fell in torrents; the time and weather were favorable circumstances for a surprise, and the commander determined to distinguish himself in the absence of the Rajah Raga, gave directions to close, fire the guns and board. He was the more confident of success, as the European vessel was observed to keep away out of the proper course on approaching her. On getting within about an hundred fathoms of the Elk they fired their broadside, gave a loud shout, and with their long oars pulled towards their prey.

“The sound of a drum beating to quarters no sooner struck the ear of the astonished Malays than they endeavored to get away: it was too late; the ports were opened, and a broadside, accompanied with three British cheers, gave sure indications of their fate. The captain hailed the Elk, and would fain persuade him it was a mistake. It was indeed a mistake, and one not to be rectified by the Malayan explanation.

“The proa was sunk by repeated broadsides, and the commanding officer refused to pick up any of the people, who, with the exception of five were drowned; these, after floating four days on some spars, were picked up by a Pergottan proa, and told the story to Raga, who swore anew destruction to every European he should henceforth take.

“This desperado has for upwards of seventeen years been the terror of the Straits of Macassar, during which period he has committed the most extensive and dreadful excesses sparing no one. … it is well known that he has cut off and murdered the crews of more than forty European vessels, which have either been wrecked on the coasts, or entrusted themselves in native ports. … The western coast of Celebes, for about 250 miles, is absolutely lined with proas belonging principally to three considerable rajahs, who act in conjunction with Raga and other pirates. Their proas may be seen in clusters of from 50, 80, and 100 (at Sediano I counted 147 laying on the sand at high water mark in parallel rows,) and kept in a horizontal position by poles, completely ready for the sea. Immediately behind them are the campongs, in which are the crews; here likewise are kept the sails, gunpowder, etc. necessary for their equipment. On the very summits of the mountains, which in many parts rise abruptly from the sea, may be distinguished innumerable huts; here reside people who are constantly on the lookout.

“A vessel within ten miles of the shore will not probably perceive a single proa, yet in less than two hours, if the tide be high, she may be surrounded by some hundreds. Should the water be low they will push off during the night. Signals are made from mountain to mountain along the coast with the utmost rapidity; during the day time by flags attached to long bamboos; at night, by fires. Each chief sends forth his proas, the crews of which, in hazardous cases, are infuriated with opium, when they will most assuredly take the vessel if she be not better provided than most merchantmen.

“Mr. Dalton, who went to the Pergottan river in 1830 says:

“… [The pirates] were anchored off the point of a small promontory, on which the rajah has an establishment and bazaar. The largest of these proas belonged to Raga, who received by the fleet of proas, in which I came, his regular supplies of arms and ammunition from Singapore. Here nestle the principal pirates, and Raga holds his head quarters; his grand depot was a few miles farther up.

“Rajah Agi Bota himself generally resides some distance up a small river which runs eastward of the point; near his habitation stands the principal bazaar, which would be a great curiosity for an European to visit if he could only manage to return, which very few have.

“The Raga gave me a pressing invitation to spend a couple of days at his country house, but all the Bugis’ nacodahs strongly dissuaded me from such an attempt. I soon discovered the cause of their apprehension; they were jealous of Agi Bota, well knowing he would plunder me, and considered every article taken by him was so much lost to the Sultan of Coti, who naturally would expect the people to reserve me for his own particular plucking.

“When the fact was known of an European having arrived in the Pergottan river, this amiable prince and friend of Europeans, impatient to seize his prey, came immediately to the point from his country house, and sending for the nacodah of the proa, ordered him to land me and all my goods instantly. An invitation now came for me to go on shore and amuse myself with shooting, and look at some rare birds of beautiful plumage which the rajah would give me if I would accept of them; but knowing what were his intentions, and being well aware that I should be supported by all the Bugis’ proas from Coti, I feigned sickness, and requested that the birds might be sent on board.

“Upon this Agi Bota, who could no longer restrain himself, sent off two boats of armed men, who robbed me of many articles, and would certainly have forced me on shore, or murdered me in the proa had not a signal been made to the Bugis’ nacodahs, who immediately came with their people, and with spears and krisses, drove the rajah’s people overboard. The nacodahs, nine in number, now went on shore, when a scene of contention took place showing clearly the character of this chief.

“The Bugis from Coti explained, that with regard to me it was necessary to be particularly circumspect, as I was not only well known at Singapore, but the authorities in that settlement knew that I was on board the Sultan’s proa, and they themselves were responsible for my safety. To this circumstance alone I owe my life on several occasions, as in the event of any thing happening to me, every nacodah was apprehensive of his proa being seized on his return to Singapore; I was therefore more peculiarly cared for by this class of men, and they are powerful.

“The rajah answered the nacodahs by saying, I might be disposed of as many others had been, and no further notice taken of the circumstance; he himself would write to Singapore that I had been taken by an alligator, or bitten by a snake whilst out shooting; and as for what property I might have in the proa he would divide it with the Sultan of Coti.

“The Bugis, however, refused to listen to any terms, knowing the Sultan of Coti would call him to an account for the property, and the authorities of Singapore for my life. Our proa, with others, therefore dropped about four miles down the river, where we took in fresh water. Here we remained six days, every argument being in vain to entice me on shore. At length the Bugis’ nacodahs came to the determination to sail without passes, which brought the rajah to terms. The proas returned to the point, and I was given to understand I might go on shore in safety.

“I did so, and was introduced to the rajah whom I found under a shed, with about 150 of his people; they were busy gambling, and had the appearance of what they really are, a ferocious set of banditti. Agi Bota is a good looking man, about forty years of age, of no education whatever; he divides his time between gaming, opium and cockfighting; that is in the interval of his more serious and profitable employment, piracy and rapine. He asked me to produce what money I had about me; on seeing only ten rupees, he remarked that it was not worth while to win so small a sum, but that if I would fight cocks with him he would lend me as much money as I wanted, and added it was beneath his dignity to fight under fifty reals a battle. On my saying it was contrary to an Englishman’s religion to bet wagers, he dismissed me; immediately after the two rajahs produced their cocks and commenced fighting for one rupee a side.

“I was now obliged to give the old Baudarre five rupees to take some care of me, as whilst walking about, the people not only thrust their hands into my pockets, but pulled the buttons from my clothes.

“Whilst sauntering behind the rajah’s campong I caught sight of an European woman, who on perceiving herself observed, instantly ran into one of the houses, no doubt dreading the consequences of being recognized. There are now in the house of Agi Bota two European women; up the country there are others, besides several men. The Bugis, inimical to the rajah, made no secret of the fact; I had heard of it on board the proa, and some person in the bazaar confirmed the statement.

“On my arrival, strict orders had been given to the inhabitants to put all European articles out of sight. … In one house were the following articles: four Bibles, one in English, one in Dutch, and two in the Portuguese languages; many articles of wearing apparel, such as jackets and trowsers, with the buttons altered to suit the natives; pieces of shirts tagged to other parts of dress; several broken instruments, such as quadrants, spy glasses (two,) binnacles, with pieces of ship’s sails, bolts and hoops; a considerable variety of gunner’s and carpenter’s tools, stores, etc. In another shop were two pelisses of faded lilac color; these were of modern cut and fashionably made. On enquiring how they became possessed of these articles, I was told they were some wrecks of European vessels on which no people were found, whilst others made no scruple of averring that they were formerly the property of people who had died in the country.

“All the goods in the bazaar belonged to the rajah, and were sold on his account; large quantities were said to be in his house up the river; but on all hands it was admitted Raga and his followers had by far the largest part of what was taken. …

“In consequence of the strict orders given on the subject I could see no more; indeed there were both difficulty and danger attending these inquiries. I particularly wanted to obtain [a] miniature picture, and offered the Mandoor fifty rupees if he could procure it; he laughed at me, and pointing significantly to his kris, drew one hand across my throat, and then across his own, giving me to understand such would be the result to us both on such an application to the rajah.

“It is the universal custom of the pirates, on this coast, to sell the people for slaves immediately on their arrival, the rajah taking for himself a few of the most useful, and receiving a percentage upon the purchase money of the remainder, with a moiety of the vessel and every article on board. European vessels are taken up the river, where they are immediately broken up. The situation of European prisoners is indeed dreadful in a climate like this, where even the labor of natives is intolerable; they are compelled to bear all the drudgery, and allowed a bare sufficiency of rice and salt to eat.””

EvX: After some pirating of the usual sort, the US government decided to do something about the mater:

“The government immediately adopted measures to punish so outrageous an act of piracy by despatching the frigate Potomac, Commodore Downs, Commander.”

EvX: Finally we have some events I can independently confirm. According to Wikipedia:

The First Sumatran expedition, which featured the Battle of Quallah Battoo (Aceh: Kuala Batèë, Malay: Kuala Batu) in 1832, was a punitive expedition by the United States Navy against the village of Kuala Batee (id), presently a subdistrict in Southwest Aceh Regency. The reprisal was in response to the massacre of the crew of the merchantmanFriendship a year earlier. The frigatePotomac and its crew defeated the local uleëbalang (ruler)’s forces and bombed the settlement. The expedition was successful in stopping Sumatran attacks on U.S. shipping for six years until another vessel was plundered under different circumstances, resulting in a second Sumatran expedition in 1838.

On Commodore Downs:

Downes served as acting midshipman from 9 September 1800 and was appointed midshipman 1 June 1802. He rendered distinguished service during the First Barbary War in 1804 in the frigate Congress, and distinguished himself again while a midshipman on the frigate New York in a boat attack upon Tripolitan feluccas.

In March 1807, he was made a lieutenant, and served as executive officer for Captain David Porter in Essex during her cruise in the Pacific in the War of 1812. In the Action off James Island, Downes was in command of the sloop Georgiana during the capture of three British privateers. He also participated in the Action off Charles Island before sailing to Nuku Hiva to assist in building America’s first military base in the Pacific. …

Wikipedia also makes some unsourced accusations:

Downes took command of USS Macedonian in 1818 and set forth on a three-year show of power for America to South America and beyond. On this trip, he decided to use the ship for his own enrichment and became a banking ship, giving protection, passage and banking service to privateers, pirates and others. He took large amounts for his own private use. He took at least 2.6 million in specie during his trip.

As for the Potomac:

On her first overseas cruise, Potomac departed New York 19 August 1831 for the Pacific Squadron via the Cape of Good Hope on the first Sumatran Expedition. On 6 February 1832, Potomac destroyed the town of Kuala Batee in retaliation for the capture there in February of the previous year of the American merchantman Friendship, which had been recaptured and returned to Salem to report the murder of many of her crew.[3] Of Potomacs 282 sailors and Marines who landed, two were killed while 150 natives died, including Mahomet, the chieftain.[4] After circumnavigating the world, Potomac returned to Boston 23 May 1834.

The frigate next made two cruises to the Brazil Station, protecting American interests in Latin America from 20 October 1834 to 5 March 1837, and from 12 May 1840 to 31 July 1842. From 8 December 1844 to 4 December 1845, she patrolled in the West Indies, and again from 14 March 1846 to 20 July 1847 in the Caribbean and the Gulf. During this latter period, she landed troops at Port Isabel, Texas, on 8 May 1846 in support of General Zachary Taylor’s army at the Battle of Palo Alto. She also participated in the siege of Vera Cruz, 9 to 28 March 1847.

But back to the Pirates:

USS Potomac in Valparaiso Harbor, 1834.

“The Potomac sailed from New York the 24th of August, 1831, after touching at Rio Janeiro and the Cape of Good Hope. She anchored off Quallah Battoo in February 1832, disguised as a Danish ship, and came to in merchantman style, a few men being sent aloft, dressed in red and blue flannel shirts, and one sail being clewed up and furled at a time.

“A reconnoitering party were sent on shore disguised as pepper dealers, but they returned without being able to ascertain the situations of the forts. The ship now presented a busy scene; it was determined to commence an attack upon the town the next morning, and every necessary preparation was accordingly made, muskets were cleaned, cartridge-boxes buckled on, cutlasses examined and put in order, etc.

“At twelve o’clock at night, all hands were called, those assigned to take part in the expedition were mustered, when Lieut. Shubrick, the commander of the detachment, gave them special orders; when they entered the boats and proceeded to the shore, where they effected a landing near the dawn of day, amid a heavy surf, about a mile and a half to the north of the town, undiscovered by the enemy, and without any serious accident having befallen them, though several of the party were thoroughly drenched by the beating of the surf, and some of their ammunition was injured.

“The troops then formed and took up their line of march against the enemy, over a beach of deep and heavy sand. They had not proceeded far before they were discovered by a native at a distance, who ran at full speed to give the alarm. A rapid march soon brought them up with the first fort, when a division of men, under the command of Lieut. Hoff, was detached from the main body, and ordered to surround it.

“The first fort was found difficult of access, in consequence of a deep hedge of thorn-bushes and brambles with which it was environed. The assault was commenced by the pioneers, with their crows and axes, breaking down the gates and forcing a passage. This was attended with some difficulty, and gave the enemy time for preparation. They raised their warwhoop, and resisted most manfully, fighting with spears, sabres, and muskets. They had also a few brass pieces in the fort, but they managed them with so little skill as to produce no effect, for the balls uniformly whizzed over the heads of our men.

U.S. Infantry assaulting the Acehnese forts at Kuala Batu in 1832

“The resistance of the Malays was in vain, the fort was stormed, and soon carried; not, however, till almost every individual in it was slain. Po Mahomet, a chief of much distinction, and who was one of the principal persons concerned in the outrage on the Friendship [an American ship whose capture prompted the expedition] was here slain; the mother of Chadoolah, another rajah, was also slain here; another woman fell at this port, but her rank was not ascertained; she fought with the spirit of a desperado. …

“Lieutenants Edson and Ferret proceeded to the rear of the town, and made a bold attack upon that fort, which, after a spirited resistance on the part of the Malays, surrendered. Both officers and marines here narrowly escaped with their lives. One of the natives in the fort had trained his piece in such a manner as to rake their whole body, when he was shot down by a marine while in the very act of applying a match to it. The cannon was afterwards found to have been filled with bullets.

“This fort, like the former, was environed with thick jungle, and great difficulty had been experienced in entering it. The engagement had now become general, and the alarm universal. Men, women and children were seen flying in every direction, carrying the few articles they were able to seize in the moments of peril, and some of the men were cut down in the flight. Several of the enemy’s proas, filled with people, were severely raked by a brisk fire from the six pounder, as they were sailing up the river to the south of the town, and numbers of the natives were killed.

“The third and most formidable fort was now attacked, and it proved the most formidable, and the co-operation of the several divisions was required for its reduction; but so spirited was the fire poured into it that it was soon obliged to yield, and the next moment the American colors were seen triumphantly waving over its battlements.

“The greater part of the town was reduced to ashes. The bazaar, the principal place of merchandize, and most of the private dwellings were consumed by fire. The triumph had now been completed over the Malays; ample satisfaction had been taken for their outrages committed upon our own countrymen, and the bugle sounded the return of the ship’s forces; and the embarkation was soon after effected. The action had continued about two hours and a half, and was gallantly sustained both by officers and men, from its commencement to its close.

“The loss on the part of the Malays was near a hundred killed, while of the Americans only two lost their lives. Among the spoils were a Chinese gong, a Koran, taken at Mahomet’s fort, and several pieces of rich gold cloth. Many of the men came off richly laden with spoils which they had taken from the enemy, such as rajah’s scarfs, gold and silver chunam boxes, chains, ear rings and finger rings, anklets and bracelets, and a variety of shawls, krisses richly hilted and with gold scabbards, and a variety of other ornaments. Money to a considerable amount was brought off.

“That nothing should be left undone to have an indelible impression on the minds of these people, of the power of the United States to inflict punishment for aggressions committed on her commerce, in seas however distant, the ship was got underway the following morning, and brought to, with a spring on her cable, within less than a mile of the shore, when the larboard side was brought to bear nearly upon the site of the town.

“The object of the Commodore, in this movement, was not to open an indiscriminate or destructive fire upon the town and inhabitants of Quallah Battoo, but to show them the irresistible power of thirty-two pound shot, and to reduce the fort of Tuca de Lama, which could not be reached on account of the jungle and stream of water, on the morning before, and from which a fire had been opened and continued during the embarkation of the troops on their return to the ship.

“The fort was very soon deserted, while the shot was cutting it to pieces, and tearing up whole cocoa-trees by the roots. In the afternoon a boat came off from the shore, bearing a flag of truce to the Commodore, beseeching him, in all the practised forms of submission of the east, that he would grant them peace, and cease to fire his big guns.

“Hostilities now ceased, and the Commodore informed them that the objects of his government in sending him to their shores had now been consummated in the punishment of the guilty, who had committed their piracies on the Friendship.

“Thus ended the intercourse with Quallah Battoo. The Potomac proceeded from this place to China, and from thence to the Pacific Ocean; after looking to the interests of the American commerce in those parts she arrived at Boston in 1834, after a three years’ absence.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia, Downes was harshly criticized upon returning to the US for killing so many people. Piracy did die down for 6 years, when the Eclipse was attacked, provoking the Second (and more effective) Sumatran Expedition:

In August 1838, the American trading vessel Eclipse was visiting the village of Trobongan, on Sumatra, when 24 Malays approached. The ship’s second mate allowed the Malays to board after they relieved themselves of their weapons. A few moments later the Americans returned the Malays their weapons as a sign of friendship. The Malays, now rearmed with knives and other bladed weapons, attacked the crew. First they killed the second mate and then one by one the remaining men. … News of the massacre reached CommodoreGeorge C. Read in December 1838 while he was sailing off Ceylon in command of the East India Squadron. Immediately Commodore Read in the frigateColumbia set sail southeast for Sumatra, together with the frigate John Adams. … 

The two American vessels first headed for Quallah Battoo. Once they had arrived, the two U.S. Navy vessels formed a line of battle just in range of five earth and wooden forts that protected the village and opened fire. Over an hour later all of the forts were destroyed or in shambles. The chief of the village surrendered and agreed never again to attack American ships. … Columbia and John Adams arrived off Muckie the following day. The Americans landed a force of 360 officers, marines and sailors, all under the command of Commander T.W. Wyman of the navy. … Although most of the inhabitants fled their village upon the outbreak of fighting, some of the Malay men attempted to resist the attack but were overwhelmed. Within a short time, Muckie was in flames. The landing party then returned to their ships and sailed away. The punitive expedition ended after the Muckie engagement, and Commodore Read continued his cruise around the world. The second Sumatran expedition achieved what the first expedition had not. Never again did Malays plunder an American merchant ship.

This Wikipedia article is unusually low on footnotes.

That’s all for today. Tune in next week, when Anthropology Friday will take a look at Melanesia.