In the late XIX and XX centuries, the expeditions of Russian scientists to Oceania ceased. But already in the mid-1920s, plans to continue exploring the South Pacific began to appear in the USSR. However, due to political problems, and then the outbreak of World War II, all work in this direction was stopped. Only in the first post-war years, the ship “Vityaz” (named so in 1949 in memory of two Russian corvettes of the same name, built in 1862 and 1884, the first of which delivered N.N. Miklouho-Maclay to the shores of New Guinea in 1871), placed at the disposal of the USSR Academy of Sciences began to make regular voyages to the Pacific Ocean, first to the northern and then to the southern latitudes. But these expeditions were mainly of an oceanological nature. Nevertheless, the “Vityaz” visited the Maclay Coast twice. For the first time, in April 1966, it stayed in the city of Madang for five days to refuel and replenish water and food supplies. In December 1970, the “Vityaz” visited the Maclay Coast  again and went for a few hours to Constantine Bay (where the village of Bongu is located, near which N.N. Miklouho-Maclay lived and conducted research in the 1870s). On Garagassi Point, where the famous scientist’s hut was located, the participants of the oceanological expedition installed a concrete slab with a memorial plaque in Russian and English specially brought for this occasion.

As for the first scientific ethnographic expedition in the XX century dedicated to the 100th anniversary of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s first visit to New Guinea and the 125th anniversary of his birth, the ship “Dmitry Mendeleev” which arrived in the Maclay Coast in 1971, a year after the visit of “Vityaz”.

The 1970s became one of the important milestones in the development of Russian ocean studies, as Soviet ethnographers finally got the opportunity to conduct field research during the two voyages of the research vessel “Dmitry Mendeleev” organized in those years. The goals were to carry out complex ethnographic fieldwork on various island groups of Oceania and primarily on the Maclay Coast, as well as to prepare a springboard for longer studies of lifestyle and culture, economic structure, social organization, material culture, religious beliefs, folklore, education system, etc.

Departure of “Dmitry Mendeleev” from Vladivostok was scheduled for June 1971. From January to May, the research fellows from the Institute of Oceanology, the Institute of Ethnography and other scientific institutions (Zoological and Botanical Institutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Anthropology of Moscow State University, the Darwin Museum, etc.) to take part in the voyage have been intensively preparing for the unique expedition.

The first thing to do was to choose the expedition team: who will be in the ethnographic group, who will be its leader? There were many ethnologists-oceanologists in the country at that time, but most of them could not travel abroad for various reasons. As a result, the expedition was led by an outstanding scientist Daniil Davidovich Tumarkin and his colleague Nikolay Alexandrovich Butinov, a well-known specialist in the ethnographic studies of Oceania, who had defended doctoral dissertation on the topic “The Papuans of New Guinea” in 1970. In addition, he began to deeply study the biography and scientific works of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay before the other members of the team.

At that time, Daniil Tumarkin was already a well-known expert in ethnography and he advanced quite far in studying the life and works of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay. But he had no experience working “in the field”. Not a single trip! And therefore, it was necessary, first of all, to have an experienced “in the field” ethnographer in the team. The selection criteria were as follows: a physically healthy person who had already traveled abroad, and was able to get the hang of things quickly and prepare for the study of a range of subjects. The choice fell on Vladimir Basilov, a specialist in shamanism of Central Asia.

Another experienced “in the field” ethnographer of the ethnographic group was Mikhail Kryukov, a fellow of the Institute of Ethnography. A specialist in the ethnography of East and Southeast Asia, especially China, and some subjects of general ethnography, he had interned in China and had experience in communicating with foreign scientists. As Mikhail Vasilyevich used to joke, he not only worked at the Miklouho-Maclay Institute of Ethnography, but also lived in Moscow on a street named after this scientist. How could he refuse to take part in an expedition in the footsteps of the brave traveler?!

It was decided to take an anthropologist and a folklorist into the team. So, Oleg Pavlovsky, a fellow of the Moscow State University Institute of Anthropology, was invited to take part in the expedition. There was also a first-class folklorist Boris Putilov, a fellow of the Institute of Ethnology (Leningrad branch). His main subject was the folklore of the Southern Slavs, for the study of which he repeatedly traveled to Eastern Europe. However, Boris Putilov, like Daniil Tumarkin, “got hooked” on Miklouho-Maclay too.

It is known that during his travels in the 1870s and 1880s, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay compiled dictionaries of the languages of the peoples he studied. In order to continue and develop these ethnolinguistic studies, N.A. Butinov recommended that Nikolay Girenko, a fellow of the Africa Department of the Institute of Ethnography (Leningrad Branch), be included in the expedition team. Before joining the Institute of Ethnography, he had been working for two years as a translator in Tanzania, was proficient in English and one of the most famous languages of the African continent – Swahili, and easily mastered new languages in general. Nikolay Mikhailovich was to help Butinov in studying the ethnolinguistic matter in Oceania, and above all on the Maclay Coast.

The voyage of the research vessel “Dmitry Mendeleev” in 1971 was dedicated to the double anniversary: the centenary of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay’s first visit to the North-East of New Guinea and the 125th anniversary of his birth.

The ethnographic group of the expedition consisted of eight scientists: D.D. Tumarkin (leader of the group), V.N. Basilov, N.A. Butinov, M.V. Kryukov, N.M. Girenko, O.M. Pavlovsky, B.N. Putilov, I.M. Meliksetova (ocean historian from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences). In addition, documentary filmmakers V.G. Ryklin and A.N. Popov were invited. M.V. Sobolevsky was the captain of the ship, and  an oceanologist A.A. Aksenovthe was appointed head of the expedition.

The expedition team left Vladivostok on 17 June 1971 and headed for the southern latitudes. On June 27, the ship called in at Singapore for four days and then set course for the shores of New Guinea. On July 8, “Dmitry Mendeleev” arrived in Madang, a port city in the immediate vicinity of the Maclay Coast, where an Australian employee of the local administration, Craig Simons, got on board as a “curator”.

The next day, July 9, “Dmitry Mendeleev” cast anchor in Constantine Bay (now Melanua). A boat was lowered, and the ethnographic team headed for the shore. On the ship anchored about 3 miles from Bongu, an order was announced: in order not to interfere with the work of the ethnographers, other members of the expedition team and the ship’s crew were forbidden to visit this village without special permission. Meanwhile, a crowd gathered on the shore. The Papuans (the natives) watched the approaching boat with a wary frown. However, their mood changed dramatically for the better when they heard: “Oh tamo, kaye! Ga abatra simum” (“Hello people! We are brothers”).

The fact that some members of the group could speak the local language to some extent made a strong impression on the Papuans (indigenous people). This language was then spoken only in the village of Bongu. The Australian colonial officials who visited the village from time to time did not speak the language and communicated with the Bonguans in Tok Pisin (an Anglo-native hybrid language, today one of the three official languages of Papua New Guinea, along with English and Hiri Motu). And now they saw strange white people speaking in their native language. But when the Bonguans learned that these people came from Tal Maclay (“Maclay village”), as they used to call Russia, their joy and surprise increased even more. The Bonguans willingly answered the questions of the Soviet ethnographers and helped them in every possible way. The researchers did not need to overcome the psychological barrier, as N.N. Miklouho-Maclay did 100 years ago. During the four-day field work, the researchers found that the Bonguans retained many of the major features of their original culture, and elements of Western influence were imposed on the traditional way of life.

So, the basis of the economy remained slash-and-burn agriculture and fishing. Agricultural tools were the same (wooden stake – sab and wooden spade – udya sab), widely spread mats made of palm leaves, dishes  — of wood and coconut shells, as well as clay pots, which, as in the times of Maclay, the Bonguans purchased in the coastal village of Bili Bili. Bonguans went out fishing on traditional dugout boats with outriggers (balance beam), but they used iron fishing hooks, and the tips of bamboo spears were made from nails.

On the other hand, the importance and cohesion of the clans (vemunu) decreased, and the role of the small family increased. A missionary elementary school, a church (a large wooden shed with a roof of palm leaves), three small kiosk-type shops appeared in Bongu, which were closed almost all the time, and their owners were engaged in farming and fishing along with other Bonguans. The locals used metal axes, saws and knives, they wore European-style clothes made of purchased fabrics, but still walked barefoot, they used kerosene lamps (when they had enough money for kerosene). The elder of the village had a transistor radio. The main source of cash income was the sale of copra (dried coconut pulp) to Australian buyers.

Some men went to work on large plantations owned by Australian companies. The money received was used to pay the poll tax, the church fee, to pay for children’s education at school, to buy rice, fabrics, kerosene, etc.

Bonguans adopted Christianity only superficially and intricately intertwined it with their traditional beliefs. The memory of Maclay among the Bonguans was preserved and passed down from generation to generation, as the legends about him became an important part of local folklore and religious beliefs. The Bonguans also remembered that it was Nikolay Nikolaevich who brought the first steel axes and knives, many cultivated plants unknown to them, and gave a bull and a cow. These historical facts were imprinted not only in their collective memory, but also in the Bonguan language, which included several phonetically modified Russian words: skhapor (axe), gugrus (corn), abrus (originally watermelon, and later, when watermelons ceased to be cultivated, melon), bika (bull). In addition, it became common to add his name to the local names of some cultivated plants brought by the Russian scientist: diigli Maclay (cucumber), valiu Maclay (pumpkin), etc. The members of the ethnographic group tape recorded three versions of the legend about Miklouho-Maclay (two in Tok Pisin, one in Bonguan). The translations of them into English were also recorded. Traditional musical instruments, including those that played an important sacred role in the ritual life of the Bonguans, had been perfectly preserved. There was one primary missionary school in Bongu, which belonged to the “T” type — the so-called “territorial schools”, the programs of which were intended for the indigenous population. In addition to such schools in areas where the European and Asian population prevailed, there were schools with Australian educational programs. Children who spoke English well studied there. There were 5 grades at the Bonguan school instead of 7, which was a consequence of the lack of certified teachers from the indigenous population. This was mainly due to the lack of secondary and vocational education on the island. On the last day of the ethnographers’ stay in the village, the Papuans (the natives) arranged a grand celebration in their honor with songs, dances and pantomimes. Other members of the team and crew members joined this feast.

Especially vivid and memorable was the pantomime on the first appearance of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay. Here is how N.A. Butinov described this event: “In the village they beat a signal drum — a thick, hollowed-out log of two meters long. The sounds carry far away and announce that tamo russ Maclay will soon go ashore. We are going ashore. Making and two other Papuans (indigenous people), painted, decorated, with spears, bows and arrows, with feathers in their hair and with bracelets, are already ready to start the performance. The captain’s boat approaches, its engine chirring. Tamo russ Maclay jumps down into the water, goes to the sandy shore and begins his journey to Cape Bugarlom. As agreed, our captain plays Maclay. The memory of the Papuans (indigenous people) is imperfect. On his first visit, Maclay walked to Garagassi Point, and not to Cape Bugarlom. The bull and cow, the fear of which Making and his friends so successfully express, he brought not on the first, and not even on the second, but on the third visit. But does it really matter? Maclay walks calmly, slowly, and the Papuans (the natives) aim at him with the bows, swing their spears, retreat, fall, hide behind trees. I can see some concern in the captain’s eyes. Making pulls the bowstring to the limit and aims at his face. It is unlikely that any of the professional actors will have to play the role of Maclay in such conditions. If Making touches a tree branch with his elbow, his fingers could release the bowstring, and the arrow would fly to the target. Maclay has repeatedly got into such situations and came out of them with honor. Our captain decided to play his role as realistically as the Papuans (the natives) their own. He calmly walked along the path to the church under construction, turned right, went down to the shore at Cape Bugarlom, where Maclay’s hut stood in 1876-1877. Here the performance ended with a storm of applause and cheers from numerous villagers, crew members and the expedition team.” After the feast, the Bonguans paid a return visit to “Dmitry Mendeleev”, where they were given a tour. On July 13, the ethnographic group was taken to the ship, after which it headed for Madang.

Soviet ethnographers collected a huge amount of material on the culture and customs of the inhabitants of the Maclay Coast. These results were presented in several monographs and a number of articles published in various scientific journals. In 1975, the collective monograph “On the Maclay Coast (Ethnographic essays)”, related to the economic structure, material culture, languages, and the anthropological type of the inhabitants of the village of Bongu, was released. In 1972, the documentary film “To the Shores of Distant Oceania” was released, which consisted of the footage from the expedition.


In 1977, another expedition voyage of the vessel “Dmitry Mendeleev” to Oceania took place, in which, in addition to oceanologists, other scientists (ethnographers, zoologists, botanists, etc.) participated. Accordingly, the voyage route included numerous visits to the Pacific islands.

The main purpose of the expedition of 1977 was to continue studying contemporary cultural features (economy, social system, ethnic and demographic aspects, religion, folklore) of various regions of Oceania and to collect art objects. Special attention was paid to the study of social relations in indigenous societies.

This time the ethnographic group consisted of five members: D.D. Tumarkin (the leader of the group), V.N. Basilov, I.M. Meliksetova, E.N. Kalshchikov, V.N. Shamshurov. N.A. Butinov, N.M. Girenko, M.V. Kryukov, O.M. Pavlovsky and B.N. Putilov, who participated in the previous expedition, this time were unable to go to the islands of Oceania for various reasons. As in the previous time, documentary filmmakers V.G. Ryklin and A.N. Popov joined the team. In addition, artists M.L. Plakhova and B.V. Alekseev (a married couple) were included. The captain of the ship was A.S. Svitailo, and the head of the expedition was the hydrobiologist L.A. Ponomareva.

Before getting to the Maclay Coast, the expedition team visited Port Moresby, the capital of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (gained Independence in 1975). Then “Dmitry Mendeleev” headed for Astrolabe Bay.

On February 11, the ship approached Madang, where it stood for two days to refuel and replenish water and food supplies. There, a curator, an indigenous Papuan Joe Somae, a representative of the new Government of the already Independent State of Papua New Guinea, got on board. On February 13, the ethnographic group went ashore at Constantine Bay and headed for Bongu. This time, the scientists spent five days in the village, conducting field work in different directions. So, D.D. Tumarkin, in addition to coordinating the work of the group and regular contacts with the Chief and the head of the expedition, studied the relationship between traditions and innovations, the new configuration of the Authority, continued to find and record legends and stories about Miklouho-Maclay. V.N. Basilov focused on the study of archaic elements of culture and social organization. V.N. Shamshurov was interested in modern socio-ethnic and demographic aspects. E.N. Kalshchikov focused on the study of changes in material culture. He, at the request of B.N. Putilov, tape recorded traditional songs and melodies, as well as the sound of a slit signal gong (barum), a hand drum (okam) and a flute (skhumbing) I.M. Meliksetova studied the issues of education and religious life. Along with the traditional methods of field work for ethnographers, the scientists decided (on the initiative of V.N. Shamshurov) to use the questionnaire method, which at that time became widely used in ethnosociological research in the USSR. V.N. Shamshurov together with D.D. Tumarkin and V.N. Basilov developed a special questionnaire (in English): it was printed out on a multiplier machine that was on the ship. It was decided to hand it over to the heads of small families. The final version of the questionnaire contained 61 questions. They were designed to identify the demographic composition of Bongu residents, their level of education, knowledge of English and Tok Pisin, the migration of the population, its causes and directions, the composition of small families, the range of marital ties, property differentiation, the attitude of fathers to their children’s education, their choice of profession, etc. At the request of D.D. Tumarkin, the new village Elder assigned three local young men who spoke English to conduct a survey and gathered the “big men” of the village to explain this outlandish procedure to them (as he understood it), and called on all men to answer the questions. However, the decision to conduct the survey in Bongu turned out to be a bold step, yet not quite realistic. Although V.N. Shamshurov instructed these young men and constantly monitored their work, they clearly did not have the necessary qualifications and hardly understood some of the questionnaire questions. Besides, not all the questions could be answered. Thus, the majority of respondents did not know their age and the age of their wives, sisters and children. It was possible to collect information about 63 families, which was about three quarters of their total number in the village. On a number of questions, the data obtained can be considered as characteristic of Bongu as a whole. However, the incomplete coverage made it impossible to define the size of each clan, their numerical ratio, to reveal the full picture of marital ties. Taking into account the imperfection of this work, the scientists had to admit that the questionnaire as an addition to the traditional methods of field work enabled Soviet ethnographers to get a more complete picture of the socio-economic and cultural processes in this village in conditions of acute shortage of time.

First of all, the ethnographic group managed to expand the understanding of the main features of local clans, their relationship with small families and the village as a whole, the presence of sub-clans, the dynamics of the local social structure (transformation of sub-clans into independent clans and absorption of vanishing clans by more numerous ones).

At the same time, two long-existing clans were identified, which were not registered in 1971. It is established that in the time of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, the Bongu ethnic group lived not in three villages (Bongu, Gorendu, Gumbu), as the Russian scientist believed, but in four. The fourth small settlement, So-Banglu, was located near Gumbu. The scientists managed to collect interesting material about the functions of men’s houses in the past and present, about the features of the Initiation rite, which used to be performed also in the 1970s, when all Bonguans, at least formally, had been converted to Christianity.

While researching, a significant increase in property differentiation among Bonguans was revealed in comparison to 1971. In 1975, with the help of the Papua New Guinea Development Bank controlled by the authorities, Bonguans bought a large coconut plantation Melama, founded on their lands by a German New Guinea company, and then after the First World War sold to the Australian company “Coconuts Products Limited”. Formally, the plantation was transferred to the clans that owned this land before its capture by the colonizers. But in fact, the owner of most of the coconut palms growing there turned out to be a former village Elder, Kamu. Thus, the “palm parcelization” characteristic to other regions of Oceania, started being practiced in Bongu, when private ownership of significant arrays of fruit trees with commercial value arises, while formally preserving collective ownership of the land.

Another sign of increased property differentiation is the appearance of small herds of cattle among the six villagers, which they acquired with the help of loans provided by the authorities. At the same time, the all-village herd, which existed in 1971, was liquidated. In the field of agriculture, D.D. Tumarkin noticed a very important element: irrigation channels passing between garden plots. Through these ditches, rainwater, flowing down the slope of the hill, accumulated in a small pond. The Bonguans said that these irrigation ditches had existed here since time immemorial. This primitive irrigation system, which is not typical for the inhabitants of the northeastern part of New Guinea, was not mentioned in Miklouho-Maclay’s records, and in 1971 scientists did not find it, because they did not inspect the vegetable gardens. A survey made in 10 houses showed that the residents of Bongu had more purchased things — clothes, dishes, etc. Electric flashlights were commonly used in everyday life, there were more than a dozen portable radios. Using the radios Bonguans regularly listened to the news transmitted from the capital Port Moresby in Tok Pisin, educational programs, a variety of music from traditional Oceanic songs and melodies to modern Western ones, such as jazz and hard rock.

But at the same time, Bonguans continued to widely use traditional wooden and bamboo vessels, clay pots and mats made of palm leaves. The houses retained their former shape and were built exclusively of local materials. It should be noted that at the end of the XIX century, as a result of land expropriations by the German colonial authorities, the villagers of Gorendu and Gumbu were forced to move to Bongu, and during the Soviet expeditions, this village was still the only settlement for the Bongu ethnic group (Gorendu and Gumbu villages were newly built and settled in the 1990s).

It should be noted that in the six years that passed since the first expedition in 1971, the memory of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay has not only not weakened, but has also gained new forms. An interesting encounter took place on the first day of the ethnographers’ stay in Bongu. A shopkeeper John Botti (formerly a school teacher) came from the nearby village of Bogadim to the pre-election meeting. In his hands he was holding a book – an English translation of the N.N. Miklouho-Maclay New Guinea Diaries released in 1975 by the small publishing house “Kristen Press”. The publication of this book was timed to coincide with the declaration of Independence of Papua New Guinea. John Botti willingly agreed to tell about his impressions of the book he read and to assess the activities of the Russian scientist in New Guinea. A dozen and a half Bonguans gathered to listen to his story. D.D. Tumarkin tape recorded this interview and V.G. Ryklin filmed the scene. The English edition of the N.N. Miklouho-Maclay New Guinea Diaries has been widely distributed in Papua New Guinea. Moreover, on the basis of these diaries, a series of programs in English and Tok Pisin was made, which was repeatedly broadcast by the radio of Port Moresby. These radio broadcasts made Miklouho-Maclay famous and popular in all provinces of the country. As in 1971, Bonguans were invited to an excursion on the ship “Dmitry Mendeleev”. On the last day of the ethnographers’ stay in the village, the Bonguans again arranged a big feast with songs, dances and pantomimes for all members of the expedition team.

Scientific results of this expedition were very significant. Ethnographers have published a number of articles on various cultural aspects of the islands they visited, and in 1981, a book by M.L. Plakhova and B.M. Alekseev “Oceania far and Near. Artists’ Travel Diary” was published.

Ethnographic works based on the results of two expeditions of 1971 and 1977 are of great importance for Russian ocean studies. Especially this refers to the study of Bonguans, since this ethnic group has not been studied by Western scientists, and information about their material culture and social organization, reflected in the publications, is a very valuable ethnographic source.


After two comprehensive scientific expeditions organized by the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1971 and 1977, which continued the work started by N.N. Miklouho-Maclay in 1871, and made a significant contribution to the multilateral study of the Maclay Coast, field research was not conducted on the northeastern coast of New Guinea. It was only at the beginning of the XXI century that Russian specialists again visited the shores of New Guinea in Astrolabe Bay, but no comprehensive expeditions were organized at that time. For the first time, scientific expeditions aimed at continuing the research of the great ethnographer were organized in 2017 and 2019 by the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation for the Preservation of Ethnocultural Heritage directed by its founder N.N. Miklouho-Maclay Jr., the full namesake of the legendary scientist and a descendant through his elder brother Sergey Miklouho-Maclay.

Of course, first of all one should answer the question: why organize a research expedition in the footsteps of Miklouho-Maclay in the XXI century ? D.D. Tumarkin, the leader of the expedition ethnographic groups to Papua New Guinea in 1971 and 1977, PhD in History, chief researcher and consultant of the Center of Asian and Pacific Studies of the N.N.Miklouho-Maclay Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, spoke well about the significance of the research: “On the example of the indigenous inhabitants, the Papuans (indigenous people) of the Maclay Coast, one can trace the development of human civilization in this region from the period of the “Stone Age” up to the present day”. In the times of Miklouho-Maclay these people did not know about iron and used stone axes.

The goal was to collect information on the changes that happened on the Maclay Coast over the 40 years since the last Soviet expeditions, and to compare the contemporary life of the indigenous inhabitants of Astrolabe Bay with the diary records of the famous ancestor, as well as to establish friendly comprehensive relations between the Russian Federation and the island state. The preparation for the expedition lasted for two years, that’s how long it took to collect and study the materials and re-establish contacts that were completely lost.

2017 was a significant year in the history of the Maclay Coast studies by Russian scientists. The Miklouho-Maclay Foundation for the Preservation of Ethnocultural Heritage organized the first in the history of Russia scientific research expedition in the XXI century to conduct field research in this region. The team included scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences from Moscow and St. Petersburg: I.V. Chininov, a research fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies IAE RAS, A.A. Lebedeva, a research fellow at the Department of Australia, Oceania and Indonesia of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography RAS (Kunstkamera). In Madang, the Catholic missionary S.Tsergel from Irkutsk, who was invited in advance in coordination with the Catholic mission in PNG, joined the expedition team as an interpreter from the local Tok Pisin language. D.I. Sharomov provided photo and video shooting: it was important for the expedition team members not just to compare the diary records of the XIX century with the current situation, but to collect photo and video material so that in the future it would be possible to present to the world an objective picture of life on the Maclay Coast, which is undoubtedly of interest to many scientists and people of the world.

The expedition team departed from Moscow to Sydney on 11 September 2017. For a number of reasons, such as delays and cancellations of flights, as well as problems with visas, the trip by plane, including transfers and stops, lasted 6 days. As a result, the expedition team arrived in Madang, from where it was planned to go by boat to the Maclay Coast, only on September 16, on the Independence Day of Papua New Guinea. On the same day, the expedition team headed for Garagassi Point (the place where N.N. Miklouho-Maclay went ashore in 1871 and called it Cape Solitude) on a ship of Peter Barter, an Australian, a major public figure in Papua New Guinea, who assisted the Russian expedition.

The arrival of guests from the homeland of Maclay, or “Maclay’s village”, as the Papuans (the natives) called Russia in the XIX century (there is no the word “country” in the language of the Papuans (indigenous people) of this part of New Guinea, so they use just “village”), was an incredible event. They were informed that the head of the expedition was a descendant of the big, still revered by them White Brother Tamo boro rus, which meant “big Russian man” in the local Bonguan language. It should be recalled that 150 years ago, local residents deified N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, believing that had descended from the moon, because of his white skin. By the arrival of the expedition team, more than three thousand people from all the surrounding villages had gathered on the shore and were looking forward to the appearance of people from another world. “Maclay came back and brought the rain,” the Papua New Guineans said, recalling the magical power of Maclay and rejoicing at the rain on the arrival of Maclay Jr.

The head of the expedition N.N. Miklouho-Maclay Jr. was the first to go to the shore by boat, and then all the other members of the team. The locals arranged a traditional performance with songs, dances and pantomimes in honor of the arrival of dear guests.

It was incredible that they erected the Russian flag on the place where the scientist’s hut was located, and where the flag of our country, erected by N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, fluttered 150 years ago. It is worth noting that this was an initiative of local residents: they found the Russian flag to please the Russians. The Papua New Guineans sang the anthem of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. This touching acquaintance with the world, which the researchers knew so well from N.N. Miklouho-Maclay diaries, as well as the books and works of Soviet scientists, left an indelible impression and awareness of how well Russia and the “man from the Moon” are remembered here. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay Jr. also prepared for the meeting in advance by buying a huge pig over 100 kg, which he presented as a gift, which is the highest sign of respect for the traditions of the Papuans (indigenous people).

Local residents, just as in the 1970s, performed the first encounter of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay with Tui. This time, his descendent played the role of the Russian scientist. During the celebration, many local residents put on traditional outfits that are still used on the holidays: the outfits almost had not changed since the time of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay (except that there were significantly fewer head ornaments made of bird feathers due to the impoverishment of the local fauna). Performing ancient sing-sing songs and dances, they accompanied with handheld wooden drums – okams, which had been used even during the first expedition of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay in 1871. Okam is made, as before, of a single piece of a tree trunk (up to a meter long), burning out its inner part. The upper side is tightened with a lizard skin, and this surface (in the Bongu language — tali) is beaten with fingers and palm.

At the end of the solemn meeting, which lasted several hours, the team members went to Gorendu village and were accommodated there in one of the huts, where they were to live for ten days.

In the evening, the Russian scientists gathered around a campfire in the village to get acquainted with the descendants of Tui — the first Papuan (indigenous people) who had become a friend and guide of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay in the XIX century. The head of the expedition discussed the plans with the chiefs of the clans and personally introduced each member of the expedition team. Only after receiving their approval, it was possible to start planning the work of the expedition.

In addition to Gorendu, the researchers also visited neighboring villages Bongu and Gumbu, located a few kilometers from each other. It should be clarified that the central village is considered to be Bongu, there is a local school for three villages, designed for five hundred children of different ages, where they can get education in comparison to Russia up to 7-8 grade. There are about one thousand people in Bongu. On the East it borders Gorendu with a population of about five hundred people, and further to the East, there is Gumbu village a little far from the shore in the jungle with a population of about seven hundred people.

Residents of Maclai Coast still adhere to the traditional way of life. This is especially noticeable in the way they build their houses. During field research, it turned out that only the house of the Chief of Gorendu, Asel Tui, is currently a rare example of how houses were built 150 years ago on the ground. Most of the houses retained the same character as during the expeditions of the late XX century. Almost all of them were built on piles — this tradition originated here at the turn of the XIX-XX centuries and was documented after the arrival of the colonial German administration. Other construction features (excepting windows, rooms and verandas), including building materials (the roof is necessarily covered with sago palm leaves, the walls are made of split bamboo, etc.) have not changed. In addition, new houses were being built, which means a demographic increase.

The houses in the village, which are quite close to each other, are arranged in a certain way to form an inner space (typical for Bongu), where important social events take place.

According to Sir P. Barter, who regularly provides various humanitarian assistance to local residents and has been living in Madang for more than 40 years, “people have not changed, they have remained the same as before, obvious changes appear only due to schools that give young people the opportunity to continue their education in Madang”.

In general, the villagers of Bongu, Gorendu and Gumbu, while preserving many elements of their traditional culture, organically combine their way of life with modern elements, without completely transforming it. Moreover, many local residents are very passionate about their ethnocultural identity and instill it in the younger generation with all their might. “We preserve traditions due to the fact that our children live with us,” – Asel Tui, a descendant of Tui, who was the first to meet N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, of about 80 years of age, answered the question about preserving traditions.

Recording of legends and stories of indigenous people was one of the most important tasks in the ethnographic expedition, this fell on the shoulders of the head of the expedition, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay Jr. It became possible to record the extant stories of the villagers of Bongu, Gumbu and Gorendu about Maclay, who was well remembered to that day. It is worth noting that their stories about the great friend of the Papuans (indigenous people) were extremely consistent with his diary records, and some facts suggested that Miklouho-Maclay had been almost a mythical creature for the local people, that forever had left a mark in the folklore of the Papuans (indigenous people). The locals of the Maclay Coast have a tradition in preserving the memory of their white friend: they give their children his name — Maclay. During the stay of the Russian expedition team, a baby was born, who was named Maclay in honor of the arrival of the guests and in memory of the Russian scientist.

Communication was carried out with the help of an interpreter into the local language, and during the conversation Asel Tui told the following interesting fact: Maclay, being hungry, was walking to the village and whistling. But the scientist writes in his diary that he used to whistle right before entering the village, so as not to frighten the locals with his unexpected appearance. One fact of whistling and two different perceptions of it. This situation forced the expedition team members to pay more attention to the stories of the inhabitants of the Maclay Coast, compare them with the diaries of the scientist, once again making sure of the authenticity of the prescribed details, and look at the world they are studying through the eyes of indigenous people, Papuans. The work carried out on the Maclay Coast resulted in the documentary “Asel Tui: descendant of Tui”, which demonstrates for the first time the view of the locals on N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, captures the traditions of the Maclay Coast and shows the reasons for studying it by Europeans.

With a more detailed study of the life of the locals, the expedition team members revealed many other well-established elements of their traditional material culture. For example, mats woven of coconut palm leaves are still commonly used in everyday life, clay pots produced in Bili Bili village are used for cooking, wicker bags are in use everywhere, however, as early as the end of the XIX century they were only women’s accessory, mainly for carrying children and household utensils, and now they are worn by both men and women. There are also various ornaments made of wild pig tusks and shells, which were considered money in the XIX century. They are still valued and used in various decorations. All this confirms that, despite the penetration of objects of the modern Western world, the indigenous inhabitants of these villages carefully preserve many of their traditions. And their original culture has not completely dissolved under the pressure of innovations and harmoniously gets along with innovations such as radio, cell phones, solar panels, modern dishes for cooking.

One of the goals of the expedition was to establish business and academic contacts. It is significant that immediately after conducting research in Astrolabe Bay and arriving in Madang, the Russian researchers met with local scientists and lecturers at the University of Madang and then in the capital Port Moresby at the University of Papua New Guinea, the main educational and scientific institution of the country with about 5 thousand students, and taking into account the branches – about 15 thousand throughout the country. Zeal for knowledge of Papua New Guinean students was of special attention: they understood that education was a door to a new world.

The expedition of 2017 resulted in extensive information about the material culture of modern Bonguans, a unique collection of 56 objects from their everyday life, most of which were identical to the artifacts brought by N.N. Miklouho-Maclay from expeditions in the XIX century. This once again confirms the continuity in the organization of everyday life of the Papuans (indigenous people) of the Maclay Coast, despite the past 150 years. Upon returning home, the collection was described in detail by the research fellows of the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) in St. Petersburg. They confirmed its high historical, cultural and ethnographic value, and some objects were added to the collections of the museums of Russia.

Ethnologist I.V. Chininov wrote a tractate “The material culture of the Gorendu and Bongu villagers in the beginning of XXI century: traditions and innovations (by field research)”, then published in the journal “Herald of Anthropology” (2019. No. 3 (47)).

Also, made of the footage of the expedition of 2017 a documentary “The Man from the Moon”, directed by Miklouho-Maclay Jr., was released, which was broadcast with constant success on TV channels in Russia and Papua New Guinea. High quality photographs and portraits of indigenous people were given to the D.N. Anuchin Anthropological Museum of Moscow State University. Illustrated editions were prepared, and in 2018, the publishing house “Nauka” published a popular science book “Journey to the Maclay Coast” authored by the head of the expedition N.N. Miklouho-Maclay Jr. It is known that a detailed description of the indigenous inhabitants of this region of New Guinea is contained in the works of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, and it was all the more interesting to find out how his descendant and a team of scientists, Russian researchers of the XXI century, saw the Maclay Coast. The previously mentioned full-length documentary “The Man from the Moon”, dedicated to the exciting work of specialists, has become a good help for studying this unique place of our planet, where the Russian scientists have made a significant contribution to the study of the culture, traditions, folklore and language of the Bonguans over the almost 150-year history of research.

Based on the photo materials of the expedition an exhibition photo project was launched. 35 events have been held in several cities of Russia, which were visited by more than 15 thousand people in the first year. From that moment, the true popularization of ethnoceanistics and Maclay studies in our country began. The project “Miklouho-Maclay. XXI century. Revived History” in the first year covered more than 14 million Russians, who learned about the revival of research on the Maclay Coast and the entire Oceania. In addition, economic relations between Russia and Papua New Guinea began to develop.


The positive results of the first expedition of 2017 laid the foundation for the continuation of research in this region by Russian scientists and the establishment of closer comprehensive contacts between Russia and Papua New Guinea.

In late April-early May 2019, the second expedition to Papua New Guinea took place, organized and conducted by the Miklouho-Maclay Foundation for the Preservation of Ethnocultural Heritage. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay Jr. was the head this time too. The expedition team this time included an ethnologist I.V. Chininov and a linguist from the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby Olga Temple (a former USSR citizen).

On the Maclay Coast (Madang province), the guests from distant Russia were greeted as old friends. Maclay Jr. promised to come back and came back! This time the expedition team members settled in Maclay village – it is a part of the village of Gorendu, consists of five family huts and was named so by Asel Tui in honor of Maclay Sr. and in memory of the expedition of 2017. The village is located opposite Cape Solitude (Garagassi Point), where the Russian scientist went ashore in the XIX century. The researchers visited the villages of Gorendu, Bongu and Gumbu, where they studied the economic structure, local folklore, photographed and filmed material for a documentary. Linguist O. Temple conducted her research based on the notes of Miklouho-Maclay Sr., who compiled the first dictionary of 350 words of the languages of the Maclay Coast. Of course, it was very pleasant to know that the language that the Russian scientist began to study first was perfectly preserved, and some Russian words became a part of it.

It should be recalled that Papua New Guinea is a unique country of our planet, where 867 languages are spoken, and often the inhabitants of neighboring villages do not understand each other at all. In the XXI century, English is increasingly used for communication, since it is the language of education and the state language. Tok Pisin is another state language and more widely spoken. This language appeared in the colonial era as means for communication between the locals and European traders, and later became the language of inter-ethnic communication. In addition, the languages of the indigenous people are perfectly preserved. Often, in addition to their native language, they also speak the languages of the neighboring villages. The third official language of Papua New Guinea is Hiri Motu, which also developed in colonial times. Thus, multilingualism is typical for Papua New Guineans.

Ethnologist I.V. Chininov continued studying the modern economic structure of the Gorendu and Bongu villagers, which he started in 2017. The structure which had not changed much over the past 150 years. Agriculture, fishing, hunting and farming remain its basis. Moreover, the first one significantly prevails over the others. The most important of the garden crops are taro (bau), yams (ayang), sweet potato (diegarghul), banana (moga), sugar cane (dieng). Moreover, these crops have different varieties with excellent taste qualities. Bananas are mostly of the vegetable kind, which is consumed only after heat treatment. Corn is also grown, the seeds of which were brought to the Bonguans by Miklouho-Maclay. However, melon, pumpkin and cucumbers, also introduced by Russian travelers, could not be found in Gorendu’s gardens. Miklouho-Maclay also brought watermelon seeds, and in the late XIX-early XX centuries, residents of several villages on the Maclay Coast grew watermelons, but in the 1970s they stopped cultivating them. Another branch of local agriculture is fruit trees. There are such traditional cultivated plants as coconut palm (mongi), areca palm (ghau), as well as papaya introduced by Miklouho-Maclay. Some families make juice from fresh papaya.

The most important plant for Bonguans (as for most Oceanic peoples) is the coconut palm. Coconut pulp is one of the favorite delicacies of Papuans (the natives), copra (dried pulp) is also made of it. The juice (“milk”) of an unripe coconut perfectly quenches thirst, and various crafts are made of the shell. Mats are woven of the leaves, the fibers are used for jewelry and household activities.

N.N. Miklouho-Maclay Jr., in addition to collecting another collection of artifacts, worked on a film about the everyday life of the Papuans (indigenous people) of the Maclay Coast. During the filming, as well as during the interviews with the villagers for the future film, it was possible to talk even with the Chiefs of clans, this became possible due to the fact that Maclay Jr. had already become one of the Gorendu village clan: he, like Maclay Sr., was named tamo boro (“big man”, “boss”). In addition to the prestigious status of the same level as the Chief of the clan, tamo boro was obliged to take care of his clan (since then his family) on the Maclay Coast.

The expedition team members were lucky enough to participate in hunting wild pigs and fishing. Nowadays, the share of hunting in the economy of the locals, even in comparison with the 1970s, is much lower than 150 years ago. The team went fishing on a canoe with an outrigger (balancer), which allows the boat to be more stable like a catamaran, but with one hull. By participating in hunting and fishing, the scientists have obtained valuable information that enables to assert that these activities of Papua New Guineans still retain traditional elements. The only difference is that now there are only several skilled men in every village, and in the XIX century every man was engaged in this activity. According to Asel Tui, who is mainly engaged in gardening, every boy is trained in hunting and fishing, and then he chooses what he likes the most.

As for farm animals, Bonguans still breed chickens and dogs. Pigs are not bred by every family. A similar situation was in the 1970s. Bonguans began to get rid of pigs because they would trample down the planting of coconut palms. However, dog meat is not used for food now.

As the result of the second expedition of 2019 the team has collected valuable material about the household and everyday life of the indigenous people, Papuans (agriculture, fishing, hunting, gathering and farming). The current state of the Bonguan language was studied, the changes that have occurred over the past few decades since the Soviet expeditions of the 1970s were recorded. The material for the documentary “Asel Tui: descendant of Tui” was filmed. The film is telling about various aspects of everyday life of the Gorendu, Bongu, Gumbu villagers. Valuable legends and stories about the scientist N.N. Miklouho-Maclay were recorded in Gorendu.

In fact, the Russian expeditions to the Maclay Coast in the XXI century have revived not only the scientific research of Russians in this region, but also established cultural, humanitarian and economic relations between Russia and Papua New Guinea. The Russian Corner, the first Russian cultural and information center for teaching the Russian language and developing bilateral relations in the cultural and scientific spheres, was opened in the capital Port Moresby on 12 December 2019 and became a significant project that testifies to the development of cultural relations between the two states. Cooperation in the field of culture, a deeper acquaintance with each other’s traditions will serve as a good basis for building long-term bilateral friendly relations between the states.

Another important result of the scientific expeditions of 2017 and 2019 to the Maclay Coast was that all the expedition team members were able to see firsthand that Russia was remembered in this region. And they remember it thanks to N.N. Miklouho-Maclay. The respectful attitude of the researcher to the indigenous people of New Guinea became the key to the fact that stories about him are still passed on by word of mouth by local residents. The outstanding Russian scientist and humanist, the public figure, on the example of the Papuans (indigenous people) of New Guinea proved to the whole world that no ethnic group or people can be considered inferior because of any differences from a white person, who is only a part of this world, but not a model human being. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay emphasized that it was necessary to respect the culture of all peoples of our planet, and warned against attempts to interfere in their development by imposing our own standards. In Papua New Guinea, the Russian scientist N.N. Miklouho-Maclay is one of the five most important, recognized outstanding personalities, and his ideological legacy about the equality of races and peoples is still relevant today.

Moreover, the results of the expeditions of 2017 and 2019 have laid the foundation for future discoveries on the Maclay Coast.