Wednesday, 16 March 2005

In the yeere 1545 Rui de villa lobos sent from the island of Tidore another ship towards New Spaine by the south side of the line, wherein was captaine one Inigo Ortez de Rotha, and for pilot one Jaspar Rico…They sailed to the coast of the Papuans, and ranged all along the same, and because they knew not that Saavedra had been there before, they challenged the honor and fame of that discoverie. And they named it Nueva Guinea. For the memorie of Saavedra as then was almost lost, as all things else do fall into oblivion which are not recorded, and illustrated by writing.

Antonio Galvano, The Discoveries of the World from their First Original until the year of Our Lord, 1555, Bethune, ed., London, 1862.

The romance of those first contacts. Of course there’s no single ‘first’ meeting between Papuans and Europeans; you can read things involving the coastal people from the ye olde 1500s, and then turn to say the 1930s and descriptions of the first meetings between an Australian gold hunter and Highlanders. Every part of this place is so different, and there are so many stories.

Still, it’s these initial meetings that I like reading about, and what happens next - whether people settle or split, struggle or stop; how they negotiate and survive. Differences in these accounts are so dramatic: they’re black and white, they’re life writ large, and written with theatre.

It bears no resemblance to what it is like for me to come here; none. But it is somehow comforting, and definitely fascinating, to read about these encounters between strangers.

No comments: