The history of expeditions of the outstanding Russian humanist scientist and traveler N.N. Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888) to the northeastern coast of New Guinea (the Maclay Coast) is inextricably linked with his friendship with Tui, the Chief of the Gorendu village.
The two heroes met for the first time on the Maclay Coast on September 20, 1871. Having arrived at the New Guinean shores on the Russian corvette “Vityaz”, Nikolay Nikolayevich went ashore on a small boat. He noticed canoes of the natives. A path through the jungle led him to a site around which there were huts with roofs that extended down almost to the ground. As the scientist wrote in his diary: “Although there didn’t appear to be a living soul in the village, there were signs everywhere that it had been hastily abandoned by its inhabitants. In the open space a smouldering fire occasionally flared up; here was an opened coconut, there an oar, hastily thrown aside”. N.N. Miklouho-Maclay began to look around the huts when suddenly he heard a rustle. Having looked around, he saw a man who looked in his direction and rushed into the bushes. Nikolay Nikolaevich rushed after him, signaling him to stop. “I slowly approached the savage, silently offering him the red cloth, which he took with obvious pleasure and bound round his head. He was a Papuan of medium size, of a dark chocolate colour with dull black somewhat curly hair, short like a negro’s, with a broad flat nose, and eyes looking out from under overhanging brow ridges, and a large mouth, almost, however, covered by a bristling moustache and beard. His entire costume consisted of a rag about 8 inches wide, tied firstly in a kind of girdle and drawn down between the legs and attached to the girdle from behind. Two lightly-bound bands of plaited dry grass were placed above the elbows” — this is how the traveler describes his first encounter with Papuan Tui. It was an encounter of two epochs and very different worlds. At that moment Nikolay Nikolaevich had no idea that he saw not just a man, but his future friend, an intermediary in communication with the inhabitants of the surrounding villages and a guide into the world of the Stone Age people of the northeastern coast of New Guinea.
However, the story of the first encounter does not end here. Seeing the peaceful exchange between Tui and the traveler, several Papuans (indigenous people) came out from the bushes. All of them got gifts from Miklouho-Maclay: beads, nails, fishing hooks and red cloth. When it was time to return to the corvette, the islanders escorted him to the shore, carrying their offerings of coconuts, bananas, and two bound piglets.
Upon arriving at the shores of New Guinea, the traveler made preparations for an extended stay in this unique place. With the help of Russian officers and two assistants, a Swedish sailor Ohlsen and an Oceanian boy Boy, a hut was built at Garagassi Point (Cape Solitude). Tui was the only Papuan who continued to visit N.N. Miklouho-Maclay and watch the construction process. When the work was coming to an end, Tui tried to warn the traveler with expressive gestures and facial expressions that when the ship left, the inhabitants of the neighboring villages would destroy the hut and kill Maclay and the aliens who stayed with him with spears. Nikolay Nikolaevich pretended not to understand the warning.
After the departure of “Vityaz”, life on the coast of Astrolabe Bay seemed to have returned to its usual routine. The natives returned to the surrounding villages of Gorendu, Bongu and Gumbu, and the Papuans (indigenous people) continued canoe fishing in the bay near the traveler’s hut. Nevertheless, the initial threat of a sudden attack on his dwelling did not pass: when the traveler was asleep, Ohlsen and Boy were on watch in turns.
A few days later a large group of Gorendu villagers came to Nikolay Nikolaevich’s hut: they brought a piglet hung on a bamboo stick and coconuts as gifts to Maclay. Tui was among them. In return, the traveler again gave them nails, pieces of red cloth, beads, etc. Seeing the Papuans’ willingness to make contact, the next day the scientist decided to go to the nearest village (Bongu) to get to know its inhabitants better. Although he met armed Papuans in the village. Miklouho-Maclay was distinguished by his ingenuity from an early age, so even in this situation he was able to show the natives that he had come with good intentions – he decided to sleep. Visits to nearby villages were also accompanied by Papuans’ (indigenous people) unpredictable reactions, so the researcher decided to temporarily abandon the idea of visiting villages and limit himself to contacts with the Papuans (indigenous people) who came to his hut.
Nikolay Nikolaevich was right: people from many coastal and mountain villages, as well as the inhabitants of coastal islands Bili Bili (Bilbil), Yambombi (Yabob) and the larger Kar-Kar Island – came and sailed in canoes to see him and his dwelling. Most of these visits were supervised by Tui. He told the visitors about Miklouho-Maclay and his companions, with the traveler’s permission, showed some bizarre objects. Nikolay Nikolaevich found that his neighbors, excited and restless when he visited their villages, became “more tame” and even allowed him to “examine, measure and draw themselves” when they came up to the hut. And the scientist began cautiously to seize this opportunity.
The main thing at the entry of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay into the Papuan world was his friendly, trusting relations with Tui. The Chief of Gorendu used to come to Garagassi Point almost every day. According to the scientist, Tui gave him lessons on “the Papuan language, which was spoken in Bongu, Gorendu and Gumbu”. From his friend, Maclay learned and then mapped the names of many rivers, capes and villages. In turn, Nikolay Nikolaevich, using the few local words he heard and learned, tried to gradually expand the horizons of his friend. “Tui it seems, is beginning to get very interested in geography; he repeated after me the names of parts of the world and countries which I showed to him on the map. But it is very probable that he considers Russia a little larger than Bongu or Bili Bili” — Miklouho-Maclay wrote down in February 1872. Soon Tui and then the other villagers began to call the traveler the tamo russ — “a man from Russia”.
In New Guinea, Miklouho-Maclay was considered a supernatural being. The reason was the light color of the scientist’s skin, due to which he was mistaken for an ancestor who had returned from the other world (the world of the dead and spirits). According to the notes of N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, the locals called him kaaram tamo (“a man from the moon”) and saw in this the key to his power and fantastic abilities. Miklouho-Maclay successfully treated the Papuans (indigenous people), who began to turn to him for medical care. Five months after his arrival, relations with the Papuans began to change; the islanders stopped hiding from him, began inviting him to the so-called men’s houses, where ritual items were stored, and to the night celebrations that took place in the jungle. But they continued to consider the Russian scientist a mythical creature, though not evil (as in other places of the world, Papuans (indigenous people) divided supernatural creatures into good and evil), but carrying out good deeds.
For example, in the morning of February 16, 1872, an inhabitant of Gorendu came in a hurry to say that he was sent by Tui to call for the tamo russ. A tree had fallen on him. Tui had chopped it down, and in falling, it had seriously injured him in the head, and now he was lying down and dying. The traveler took everything needed for bandaging and hastened to the village. The wound was a little above the temple with rather long torn edges. The scientist cut the blood-stained hair, washed and bandaged the still bleeding wound. A day later, the wound was suppurating badly and above and below the eyes there was considerable swelling. Miklouho-Maclay spent a lot of time near the mat with his wounded friend, using all means of medicine available to him at that time, which did not yet have any effective antiseptic drugs. Nikolay Nikolaevich put a poultice of linseed to cause the outflow of pus from the wound. He managed to do this, after which the patient began to recover. Appreciating the help and attention shown by the tamo russ, Tui announced to the people of Gorendu, Bongu and Gumbu gathered around him that Maclay was tamo bilen (“a good man”), and therefore there was no need to hide wives and children from him. The men agreed with his opinion. Immediately an elderly Papuan woman, Tui’s wife, appeared from behind the hut. At the same time, women of various ages and young girls appeared from the bushes and huts. The news of what happened in Gorendu spread quickly around the surrounding villages.
In the second expedition to the Maclay Coast in 1876-1877, the traveler no longer had to bridge the chasm that at first acquaintance separated him from the natives. Disembarking at the shores of the Maclay Coast, he met old friends, including the tamo boro Tui. Of course, there had been some changes in four years. “I missed several old men — they had died during my absence — but many children were already almost adults, and among the young women who would soon be mothers, I recognized some whom I had left as young girls” — the traveler wrote down in his diaries. But the new generation of Papuans (indigenous people) also knew Maclay well and treated him as their fathers and grandfathers did.
The traveler’s last meeting with the old friends on the cherished the Maclay Coast took place in 1883: “I felt as if I was at home <…> Every tree seemed to me an old acquaintance”. Nikolay Nikolaevich found that two blocks in Bongu were completely deserted: their squares were overgrown with grass and the ruins of the surrounding huts were covered with shrubs. Finally, reaching the place where the village of Gorendu was situated six years before, “I was absolutely astounded by its changed appearance. In place of the considerable village there remained only two or three huts”. The Bonguans themselves attributed the loss of population to diseases sent by sorcerers from the foothill villages and the resettlement of many people from the “plague-ridden” area to other coastal and island villages. Nikolay Nikolaevich did not find several of the tamo boro alive, including his friend Tui.
In the XXI century, N.N. Miklouho-Maclay, the descendant of the famous traveler, visited the North East of New Guinea again, in 2017 and 2019. The descendants of Tui are still living on the Maclay Coast to this day. One of them is the Chief of Gorendu Asel Tui. He is about 70 years old and has lived near Garagassi Point in Papua New Guinea for all his life, as his ancestors had. There are now about 50 people in the Tui family and almost all of them live in Gorendu. The family members keep on passing the stories about the great Russian scientist and traveler from generation to generation, as well as the history of that friendship – between a Papuan and a white man, as if he descended to this distant island from the moon. Asel Tui’s younger brother, Yaboi Tui, also passes the history of the village and their clan on to the younger generation.
The modern expeditions of Miklouho-Maclay to Tui, descendant to descendant, showed the main thing – the interest in each other, the desire to communicate and be friends, to discuss the present and the future, and to honor the past.
1. Miklouho-Maclay N.N. Sobranie sochinenii (in six volumes), 2nd edition. Vol 5. St. Petersburg, 2020. 960 p.
2. Tumarkin D.D. Miklouho-Maclay. Dve zhizni «belogo papuasa» / Moscow: Molodaya gvardiya Publishing House, 2012. 454 p.
3. Asel Tui. Descendant of Tui / The Miklouho-Maclay Foundation. URL: https://mikluho-maclay.ru/asel-tuj-potomok-tuya/