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The island of Tomman off Malekula, New Hebrides, May 5: Here we came upon the extraordinary "pig" society of the New Hebrides. A man's wealth depends on the number of pigs he has, and more specifically, the number of tusker pigs, i.e., those which have had the two upper front teeth removed so that the two lower front teeth grow to an abnormal size, often curling around and growing right back again into the lower jaw. A man's wife, or wives as the case may be, is only as good as her ability to care for the pigs, making sure that nothing happens to them before the pig is killed amidst great ceremony and the circular tusks removed to become a great symbol of wealth.
From Tomman, we moved over to Pentecost Island to see the Pentecost Manhood rites. The Pentecost natives prove their manhood by diving toward the ground from towers constructed of tree branches and vines sometimes 75 feet high. The only thing that prevents death is a cluster of vines tied around their ankles and attached to the jumping tower. The vines stop the divers with a tremendous jerk just as their heads and shoulders are about to touch the earth. All during the six hours that it took the 28 jumpers to dive, a weird dance and chanting was carried on by the men and women of the village at the foot of the tower.
Only one diver balked and finally refused to jump although one small boy, about 8, had to be pushed off the end of his board.
Guadalcanal! Dawn on Saturday morning, May 29: I was on the morning watch from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. when Ray Jewell, the ship's cameraman, shook me to say that we were steaming through "Iron Bottom Bay," with Guadalcanal to port, Florida and Tulagi off to starboard, and the bowsprit pointing directly at Savo Island.
As we came abeam of Lunga Point, some of us sat out on the bowsprit with field glasses, scanning the beaches which are still littered with rusting wrecks of landing craft, trucks, tanks and barrels. In fact, the whole north coast of the island appears this way, and as we neared the anchorage at Cape Esperance we could see two rusting hulks of Jap transports run aground there during a counterinvasion. Honiara came in sight after we rounded Lunga Point. There was Henderson Field and many old GI buildings. "Route 50," which runs from Honiara out toward Lunga Point and which was at one time perhaps the busiest highway in the world, is now just a single lane of dusty coral. We stopped by the Tenaru River, scene of some of the bloodiest warfare the world has ever known. All of this section is now completely covered by second growth. The new trees haven't gained their full height, but it is impenetrable all the same. Here and there you can see a blackened, naked tree standing out against the green background, while some of the surviving coconut trees are dotted with shrapnel holes. The many flowers, mostly red ginger and a wild yellow flower, make the scenery quite beautiful, despite the grim feeling you get while traveling through.
We spent quite a lot of time at Henderson Field. It is now just a huge open area, overgrown with long yellow grass. Except for a small snake and a swarm of yellow jackets which inhabit the tower, the whole field—object of months of fighting in 1942-'43, is entirely deserted.
New Guinea, June 25: We first dropped anchor at Lae. New Guinea is such an inaccessible territory that flying is literally the only way to get from one place to another. A great deal of the interior is still dangerously primitive, and the job of patrolling this territory is not to be envied. We met one patrol officer in a remote hill station who told us that only eight months before two of his fellow officers had been killed by natives way up the Sepik River. The majority of the natives are very friendly, however, and they greet you by patting you all over—and I mean ALL over. The women, called marys, are especially strong on this; but once you get used to it, you no longer shrink back when a mary approaches you with hands beckoning and cooing ay-yeh!
The most exciting New Guinea adventure came in a very remote area some 7,000 feet high in the mountains, where the entire crew witnessed thousands of the not-so-long-ago cannibalistic New Guinea natives as they celebrated in a gigantic "sing-sing." The ceremony, the biggest in New Guinea in years, had been going on for months, and we arrived for the climax—the slaughtering of some 1,500 pigs, carefully raised for years for this event. The sing-sing covered nine villages, and in each one there was a scene of great confusion, the core of which was a large group of native men marching and dancing in a confined area. After lingering in one village for a while, I moved upward to the second village about 15 minutes away and met most of the crew up there. On the way I gathered quite an escort of men, women and children, also making their way to another dancing and celebration center. Dragging that gang along with me, I felt like a jungle version of the Pied Piper.
That evening a couple of us climbed the high promontory right behind our camping ground after supper and watched and listened to New Guinea. We could hear the drums beating from far distant hills and other celebrating villages; watch the little flickering lights move up and down the hillsides as natives moved from center to center for more dancing, and pick out the brighter reddish spots which marked the feast areas.
The next day we saw the big pig-killing. In each village the sight was the same—many, many pigs staked out in the compound—perhaps 60-75 in a village. Some had feathers attached to their heads, others were decorated with the same bright paints as their owners displayed, and often we saw a woman comforting an animal she had raised for years. At 10 a.m., zero hour, two natives, armed with crude hand-cut clubs of iron wood, advanced on the first pig, helplessly tied to the stake. The first dealt a blow on the head which usually stunned the animal sufficiently to down him, but if not, the second man struck with killing force. As soon as the first pig was dead, more natives advanced on their animals, and the air was filled with the sound of the blows and intermittent squeals. After a while you got used to it, but the first two came hard.