A PNG pil­grim­age

Richard An­drews re­ports on a Rus­sian pil­grim­age to PNG to hon­our the work of 1800s an­thro­pol­o­gist Niko­lay Mik­louho-Ma­clay.

Paradise - - Contents -

Pa­puans al­ways re­mem­ber a friend – even after 150 years. That’s what Niko­lay Mik­louho-Ma­clay found in Madang last year, when he re­traced the steps of his name­sake and great great grand-un­cle.

Mik­louho-Ma­clay, the elder, was re­put­edly the first an­thro­pol­o­gist to re­search the for­mer New Guinea, where he lived for more than two years in Bongu vil­lage.

How­ever, his stay be­came more than the field trip of a de­tached re­searcher and he be­came closely in­volved with the lo­cals.

“Speak­ing their lan­guage suf­fi­ciently, I thought it my duty as their friend (and also as a friend of jus­tice and hu­man­ity) to warn the na­tives ... about the ar­rival, sooner or later, of the white men, who, very pos­si­bly, would not re­spect their rights to their soil, their homes, and their fam­ily bonds,” he later wrote in the

Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald news­pa­per. Mik­louho-Ma­clay lob­bied pas­sion­ately for New Guinea’s in­de­pen­dence while cam­paign­ing against black­bird­ing, colo­nial ex­pan­sion and the South Pa­cific traf­fic in arms and in­tox­i­cants.

Sup­ported by the Rus­sian writer, Leo Tol­stoy, Mik­louho-Ma­clay set out to sci­en­tif­i­cally dis­prove the com­mon 19th-cen­tury belief that the hu­man race could be di­vided into dif­fer­ent species and ranked in terms of so-called su­pe­ri­or­ity. A belief Euro­peans used to jus­tify the slave trade.

Ac­cord­ing to Tol­stoy: “You were the first to demon­strate be­yond ques­tion by your ex­pe­ri­ence that man is man ev­ery­where, that is, a kind, so­cia­ble be­ing with whom com­mu­ni­ca­tion can and should be es­tab­lished through kind­ness and truth, not guns and spir­its.”

In­spired by the hu­man­ist ef­forts of his Rus­sian an­ces­tor, his great great grand-nephew es­tab­lished the Mik­louho-Ma­clay Foun­da­tion for the Preser­va­tion of Eth­no­cul­tural Her­itage.

The foun­da­tion runs a mu­seum in St Peters­burg and fi­nances projects around the world to pro­tect tra­di­tional cul­tures.

As an eth­nol­o­gist in his own right, Mik­louhoMa­clay led his own ex­pe­di­tion last year to meet de­scen­dants of the vil­lagers first con­tacted by his un­cle and to study Rus­sia’s early in­flu­ence on lo­cal cul­ture.

“A jour­ney to the Ma­clay (Rai) Coast, named after my un­cle, has been a dream since child­hood,” he says. “We had to over­come many chal­lenges, but I was de­ter­mined to make it hap­pen when I turned 42, the same age as Niko­lay Niko­layevich when he died.”

Fol­low­ing the route set in 1871, the re­search team sailed from Port Moresby to north­east Madang. Un­like the orig­i­nal wary en­counter with armed lo­cals, the re­turn vis­i­tors were

given a celebrity wel­come by about 3000 res­i­dents from Bongu, Gumbu and Gorendu, decked out in their finest cer­e­mo­nial dress.

“I could not even imag­ine this re­cep­tion,” says Mik­louho-Ma­clay,“Not only that, but our ar­rival was ac­com­pa­nied by long-awaited rains. ‘Ma­clay has come back and has called the rain’, we were told.”

He cred­its Madang iden­tity and busi­ness­man, Sir Peter Barter, for the suc­cess of the visit.

“Sir Peter helped us or­gan­ise the ex­pe­di­tion and spread the word that the ‘young Ma­clay’ was re­turn­ing to meet the de­scen­dants of those who knew his an­ces­tor.”

He also helped the team set up a satel­lite TV link-up between St Peters­berg and Gara­gasi Point, where the Rus­sian an­thro­pol­o­gist’s hut stood a cen­tury and a half ago.

With the co­op­er­a­tion of Te­likom PNG and the TASS News Agency, peo­ple in Rus­sia were able to speak on­line with par­tic­i­pants in the celebration.

“It was very ex­cit­ing for both sides,” says Mik­louho-Ma­clay. “My un­cle was a Soviet-era cul­tural hero and many Rus­sians re­mem­ber him from history books and his di­aries.

“In Madang, we found that sto­ries about him are passed down through the gen­er­a­tions. A school and even chil­dren are named Ma­clay, in hon­our of his mem­ory.” ( The Scot­tish name comes from a 17th­cen­tury baron who fought in what’s now

Ukraine and later mar­ried a Cos­sack woman.)

The Rus­sian team stayed in Bongu dur­ing the visit and met de­scen­dants of Tui, a lo­cal chief who first be­friended the 19th- cen­tury an­thro­pol­o­gist.

“We found they also re­mem­bered such Rus­sian words as topor (axe) kuku­ruza (corn) and ar­buz (wa­ter­melon). Some be­lieve Rai Coast also has Rus­sian ori­gins,” says Mik­louho-Ma­clay.

“At the same time, I was very happy to see that the peo­ple make ev­ery ef­fort to pre­serve their an­cient tra­di­tions and rit­u­als.”

After PNG, the team re­traced the Rus­sian an­thro­pol­o­gist’s jour­ney to Aus­tralia and

vis­ited his memorials in Syd­ney.

Mik­louho-Ma­clay moved to the city in 1878, where he built the first bi­o­log­i­cal re­search sta­tion in the South­ern Hemi­sphere. He be­came a prom­i­nent lo­cal fig­ure (a park is named after him in Birch­grove) and mar­ried the daugh­ter of NSW pre­mier, Sir John Robertson.

The an­thro­pol­o­gist died of a brain tu­mour in 1888 dur­ing a visit to Rus­sia and is now largely a for­got­ten hero. How­ever, his de­scen­dant is com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing his un­cle’s work through cul­tural ex­changes, a doc­u­men­tary and a pro­posed list­ing of the Ma­clay Coast as a UNESCO World Her­itage Site.

“I’d like the whole world to know about this sen­si­tive re­gion and take care of its di­verse cul­ture,” says Mik­louho-Ma­clay.

“As far as I am con­cerned, New Guinea has been al­ways in my heart, and prob­a­bly my life will be con­nected with the is­land for­ever.” See mik­luho-ma­clay.ru.

Flash­back ... an­thro­pol­o­gist Niko­lay Mik­louho-Ma­clay in PNG in the 1800s (left); his great grand-nephew, of the same name, last year vis­ited the vil­lage where his un­cle stayed and was warmly wel­comed.

In memo­riam ... lo­cal chil­dren at a me­mo­rial at Gara­gasi Point, where Mik­louho-Ma­clay's hut stood 150 years ago (right); a cer­e­mo­nial wel­come for the great grand-nephew (far right).

A fam­ily snap­shot ... de­scen­dants of Chief Tui at Gorendu vil­lage.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Papua New Guinea

© PressReader. All rights reserved.