Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Meyer's Exploration of New Guinea (S235: 1873)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 102 of the 11 December 1873 issue of Nature. To link directly to this page connect with:

     Few persons can have read Dr. Meyer's account of his recent adventurous and very successful journey with more interest than myself; but I confess I was surprised to find that the translator of my book should have misunderstood what I had stated, and so create a difference between us where none exists. He says (speaking of Dorey) that I "have not given a correct impression of the natives of the surrounding hills and mountains, separating them in some way from the inhabitants of the coast, as smaller, uglier, not mop-headed," &c.; and that he finds on other hand, that "there is no generic difference at all between the Papooas of the mountain and the Papooas of the coast, except such differences as we find everywhere between the highlanders and coast inhabitants of the same race." Now I say exactly the same thing: "From these (sketches) and the captain's description, it appeared that the people of Arfak were similar to those of Dorey." ("Malay Archipelago," 3rd Ed. p. 505.) Dr. Meyer however, probably refers to what I say of the people of one hill village, close to Dorey: "The inhabitants seemed rather uglier than those at Dorey village. They are, no doubt, the true indigenes of this part of New Guinea, living in the interior, and subsisting by cultivation and hunting. The Dorey-men, on the other hand, are shore dwellers, fishers, and traders in a small way, and have thus the character of a colony who have migrated from another district. These hillmen, or Arfaks, differed much in physical features. They were generally black, but some were brown like Malays. Their hair, though always more or less frizzly, was sometimes short and matted," &c. (p. 499). I can only suppose that the word "differed" in the above passage was taken to mean "differed from the Dorey people," whereas the context shows that it means "differed among themselves," or varied, which would have been a better word. In the preceding page I have stated of the inhabitants of Dorey: "The majority have short woolly hair;" so that there is no difference from them in that respect. In all I have written about the Papuans I have maintained that the people of New Guinea and of all the immediately surrounding islands are of one race, with very unimportant local differences; and I do not think my remark, that the people of one village were "rather uglier" than those of another, three miles off, justifies the idea that I supposed there was any "difference," in an ethnological sense, between them. I cannot find that I have said a word about difference of stature.

     The great success of both Messrs. D'Albertis and Meyer in penetrating inland in New Guinea will, it is to be hoped, induce other travellers to attempt the exploration of the far larger and less known southern portion. Two Europeans, with a small steam launch and a Malay crew, would, no doubt, be able to penetrate a long way up some of the larger rivers, and establish a station from which exploration of the central mountains might be effected. There is now no portion of the globe so completely unknown as this, or which promises such great results for every branch of Natural History.

Alfred R. Wallace

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