The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 22

Gilolo.

(MARCH AND SEPTEMBER 1858.)

I MADE but few and comparatively short visits to this large and little known island, but obtained a considerable knowledge of its natural history by sending first my boy Ali, and then my assistant, Charles Allen, who stayed two or three months each in the northern peninsula, and brought me back large collections of birds and insects. In this chapter I propose to give a sketch of the parts which I myself visited. My first stay was at Dodinga, situated at the head of a deep-bay exactly opposite Ternate, and a short distance up a little stream which penetrates a few miles inland. The village is a small one, and is completely shut in by low hills.

As soon as I arrived, I applied to the head man of the village for a house to live in, but all were occupied, and there was much difficulty in finding one. In the meantime I unloaded my baggage on the beach and made some tea, and afterwards discovered a small but which the owner was willing to vacate if I would pay him five guilders for a month’s rent. As this was something less than the fee-simple value of the dwelling, I agreed to give it him for the privilege of immediate occupation, only stipulating that he was to make the roof water-tight. This he agreed to do, and came every day to tally and look at me; and when I each time insisted upon his immediately mending the roof according to contract, all the answer I could get was, “Ea nanti,” (Yes, wait a little.) However, when I threatened to deduct a quarter guilder from the rent for every day it was not done, and a guilder extra if any of my things were wetted, he condescended to work for half an hour, which did all that was absolutely necessary.

On the top of a bank, of about a hundred feet ascent from the water, stands the very small but substantial fort erected by the Portuguese. Its battlements and turrets have long since been overthrown by earthquakes, by which its massive structure has also been rent; but it cannot well be thrown down, being a solid mass of stonework, forming a platform about ten feet high, and perhaps forty feet square. It is approached by narrow steps under an archway, and is now surmounted by a row of thatched hovels, in which live the small garrison, consisting of, a Dutch corporal and four Javanese soldiers, the sole representatives of the Netherlands Government in the island. The village is occupied entirely by Ternate men. The true indigenes of Gilolo, “Alfuros” as they are here called, live on the eastern coast, or in the interior of the northern peninsula. The distance across the isthmus at this place is only two miles, and there, is a good path, along which rice and sago are brought from the eastern villages. The whole isthmus is very rugged, though not high, being a succession of little abrupt hills anal valleys, with angular masses of limestone rock everywhere projecting, and often almost blocking up the pathway. Most of it is virgin forest, very luxuriant and picturesque, and at this time having abundance of large scarlet Ixoras in flower, which made it exceptionally gay. I got some very nice insects here, though, owing to illness most of the time, my collection was a small one, and my boy Ali shot me a pair of one of the most beautiful birds of the East, Pitta gigas, a lame ground-thrush, whose plumage of velvety black above is relieved by a breast of pure white, shoulders of azure blue, and belly of vivid crimson. It has very long and strong legs, and hops about with such activity in the dense tangled forest, bristling with rocks, as to make it very difficult to shoot.

In September 1858, after my return from New Guinea, I went to stay some time at the village of Djilolo, situated in a bay on the northern peninsula. Here I obtained a house through the kindness of the Resident of Ternate, who sent orders to prepare one for me. The first walk into the unexplored forests of a new locality is a moment of intense interest to the naturalist, as it is almost sure to furnish him with something curious or hitherto unknown. The first thing I saw here was a flock of small parroquets, of which I shot a pair, and was pleased to find a most beautiful little long-tailed bird, ornamented with green, red, and blue colours, and quite new to me. It was a variety of the Charmosyna placentis, one of the smallest and most elegant of the brush-tongued lories. My hunters soon shot me several other fine birds, and I myself found a specimen of the rare and beautiful day-flying moth, Cocytia d’Urvillei.

The village of Djilolo was formerly the chief residence of the Sultans of Ternate, till about eighty years ago, when at the request of the Dutch they removed to their present abode. The place was then no doubt much more populous, as is indicated by the wide extent of cleared land in the neighbourhood, now covered with coarse high grass, very disagreeable to walk through, and utterly barren to the naturalist. A few days’ exploring showed me that only some small patches of forest remained for miles wound, and the result was a scarcity of insects and a very limited variety of birds, which obliged me to change my locality. There was another village called Sahoe, to which there was a road of about twelve miles overland, and this had been recommended to me as a good place for birds, and as possessing a large population both of Mahomotans and Alfuros, which latter race I much wished to see. I set off one morning to examine this place myself, expecting to pass through some extent of forest on my way. In this however I was much disappointed, as the whole road lies through grass and scrubby thickets, and it was only after reaching the village of Sahoe that some high forest land was perceived stretching towards the mountains to the north of it. About half-way we dad to pass a deep river on a bamboo raft, which almost sunk beneath us. This stream was said to rise a long way off to the northward.

Although Sahoe did not at all appear what I expected, I determined to give it a trial, and a few days afterwards obtained a boat to carry my things by sea while I walked overland. A large house on the beach belonging to the Sultan was given me. It stood alone, and was quite open on every side, so that little privacy could be had, but as I only intended to stay a short time I made it do. Avery, few days dispelled all hopes I might have entertained of making good collections in this place. Nothing was to be found in every direction but interminable tracts of reedy grass, eight or ten feet high, traversed by narrow baths, often almost impassable. Here and there were clumps of fruit trees, patches of low wood, and abundance of plantations and rice grounds, all of which are, in tropical regions, a very desert for the entomologist. The virgin forest that I was in search of, existed only on the summits and on the steep rocky sides of the mountains a long way off, and in inaccessible situations. In the suburbs of the village I found a fair number of bees and wasps, and some small but interesting beetles. Two or three new birds were obtained by my hunters, and by incessant inquiries and promises Í succeeded in getting the natives to bring me some land shells, among which was a very fine and handsome one, Helix pyrostoma. I was, however, completely wasting my time here compared with what I might be doing in a good locality, and after a week returned to Ternate, quite disappointed with my first attempts at collecting in Gilolo.

In the country round about Sahoe, and in the interior, there is a large population of indigenes, numbers of whom came daily into the village, bringing their produce for sale, while others were engaged as labourers by the Chinese and Ternate traders. A careful examination convinced me that these people are radically distinct from all the Malay races. Their stature and their features, as well as their disposition and habits, are almost the same as those of the Papuans; their hair is semi-Papuan-neither straight, smooth, and glossy, like all true Malays’, nor so frizzly and woolly as the perfect Papuan type, but always crisp, waved, and rough, such as often occurs among the true Papuans, but never among the Malays. Their colour alone is often exactly that of the Malay, or even lighter. Of course there has been intermixture, and there occur occasionally individuals which it is difficult to classify; but in most cases the large, somewhat aquiline nose, with elongated apex, the tall stature, the waved hair, the bearded face, and hairy body, as well as the less reserved manner and louder voice, unmistakeably proclaim the Papuan type. Here then I had discovered the exact boundary lice between the Malay and Papuan races, and at a spot where no other writer had expected it. I was very much pleased at this determination, as it gave me a clue to one of the most difficult problems in Ethnology, and enabled me in many other places to separate the two races, and to unravel their intermixtures.

On my return from Waigiou in 1860, I stayed some days on the southern extremity of Gilolo; but, beyond seeing something more of its structure and general character, obtained very little additional information. It is only in the northern peninsula that there are any indígenes, the whole of the rest of the island, with Batchian and the other islands westward, being exclusively inhabited by Malay tribes, allied to those of Ternate and Tidore. This would seem to indicate that the Alfuros were a comparatively recent immigration, and that they lead come from the north or east, perhaps from some of the islands of the Pacific. It is otherwise difficult to understand how so many fertile districts should possess no true indigenes.

Gilolo, or Halmaheira as it is called by the Malays and Dutch, seems to have been recently modified by upheaval and subsidence. In 1673, a mountain is said to stave been upheaved at Gamokonora on the northern peninsula. All the parts that I have seen have either been volcanic or coralline, and along the coast there are fringing coral reefs very dangerous to navigation. At the same time, the character of its natural history proves it to be a rather ancient land, since it possesses a number of animals peculiar to itself or common to the small islands around it, but almost always distinct from those of New Guinea on the east, of Ceram on the south, and of Celebes and the Sula islands on the west.

The island of Morty, close to the north-eastern extremity of Gilolo, was visited by my assistant Charles Allen, as well as by Dr. Bernstein; and the collections obtained there present some curious differences from those of the main island. About fifty-six species of land-birds are known to inhabit this island, and of these, a kingfisher (Tanysiptera Boris), a honey-sucker (Tropidorhynchus fuscicapillus), and a large crow-like starling (Lycocorax morotensis), are quite distinct from allied species found in Gilolo. The island is coralline and sandy, and we must therefore believe it to have been separated from Gilolo at a somewhat remote epoch; while we learn from its natural history that an arm of the sea twenty-five miles wide serves to limit the range even of birds of considerable powers of flight.

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