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Record number: WCP3674

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
[not recorded]
5 November 1857

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, [address not recorded] to [addressee not recorded] [address not recorded] on 5 November 1857.

Record created:
11 January 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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ENCLOSURE (WCP3674.3577)

An enclosure handwritten in English.

Manuscript by Alfred Russel Wallace entitled "On the Arru Islands".

Held by:
Royal Geographical Society
Finding number:
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

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Transcription information




On the Arru Islands; by Alfred R. Wallace, F.R.G.S.3

These islands are so little known by all [2 words illeg.]

During a six months residence in these islands (January to June 1857,) my movements were very limited owing to a visit of the Magindanao pirates who devastated some of the northern islands & the eastern coast, and struck such terror into the natives that they could scarcely be induced to leave their homes. I however succeeded in reaching the Eastern side of the main islands by one of the curious channels which traverse it, & which I was most anxious to examine myself, as from the accounts of the traders I could make out nothing of their real nature. This journey with some other excursions into the interior has enabled me to understand the accounts I have received of the remaining portion & obtain a general idea of the physical geography of this 4interesting group. The position of Dobbo the Bugis trading village has been determined by Capt[ai]n. Stanley and the northern & southern limits are pretty well known by the observations of the Dutch & French exploring vessels; my remarks will therefore by principally confined to the physical features of the islands which are in many respects highly interesting.

The Arru group may be said to consist of one very large central island with a number of smaller ones scattered around it. The great island is called by the 5natives & traders "Tanna busar" (great or main land) to distinguish it as a whole from any of the detached islands. It is of an irregular oblong form, about eighty miles from north to south and fifty from east to west, in which direction it is traversed by three channels or rivers dividing it into four portions. The 6northernmost of these, the river Watelai, I passed through, & found the entrance about 25 miles S[outh]. S[outh]. E[ast]. from Dobbo in the southern angle of an extensive bay. The entrance is about a quarter of a mile wide with low undulating land on each side. It gradually narrows to about the eighth of a miles which width it retains with very little variation till on approaching its eastern mouth it again spreads out to about one third of a mile. Its course is winding moderately with a general direction of E[ast]. N[orth]. E[ast]. the extreme range of the bearings in passing through it 7[[2]]8 being 105°. The banks, (except near the eastern extremity where there is much tidal swamp) are dry and moderately elevated. In many parts there are cliffs of hard rock more or less worn away by the action of the water. A few smaller streams enter it right & left, at the mouths of which are some small rocky islands and on the whole it has every feature of a true river. It is in fact difficult to believe you are in a small island and not on a fine river watering some extensive country. But that the clear cool water around you is briny as the ocean there is nothing to undeceive you. The depth of this stream is pretty regular being from 10 to 15 fathoms. Its length is according to the best estimate I could make about 44 miles. The other two rivers whose names are Vorkai 9

and Maykor are stated to be very similar in general character. Between these two however which are near together the country is flat & swampy and there are innumerable cross channels cutting the land up in every direction. On the south side of Maykor the banks are very rocky and from thence to the extreme southern end of Ar[r]u near the small island of Kri, is an uninterrupted 10

extent of rather elevated & very rocky country penetrated by numerous small streams in the high limestone cliffs bordering which the larger portion of the edible birds’ nests are obtained. The two southern rivers are universally declared to be longer than Watelai.

The whole country of Arru is very low but by no means so flat and swampy as has been represented or as it appears from the sea. By far the greater part of it is dry rocky ground more or less undulating, now rising in abrupt hillocks now cut into steep & narrow ravines. Except the actual tidal swamps which extend on one side of or the other at the mouths of most of the small rivers which every where penetrate it, there is no level ground, although the greatest elevation is probably not more than 200 feet. The rock which every where appears in the ravines & brooks is a coralline limestone, in some places soft & friable in others so hard and crystalline as to resemble the mountain limestone of England. The small islands which surround the central mass are very numerous, several hundreds in number. On the west are very few,

Wamma & Pulo Babi being the chief. On the North West extremity of the 11

main land of Wokan is Ougia and a little 12 [[3]] 13 beyond it Wassia the

N[orth]. Westernmost of the group. To the E[ast]. of these and all along the east coast are an immense number extending to the extreme south but no where reaching more than 15 or 20 miles from the central island. All are contained in a very shallow sea full of coral & producing the pearl shells which form the principal article of commerce in the islands. The whole of the islands are covered with a dense and very lofty forest.

The physical features here described are of the greatest interest and probably altogether unique, for I have been unable to call to mind any other islands in the world which are completely divided by salt water channels, having the dimensions and every other character of true rivers. What is the true nature of these and how have they originated, are questions which have occupied much of my attention and which I have at length succeeded in answering, to my own satisfaction at least. There are three distinct modes by which islands may have been formed or have arrived at their present condition, elevation, subsidence and separation from a continent a14 larger island. Most volcanic islands have been elevated, coral islands with lagoons or with barrier reefs have suffered subsidence, while our own islands, Sicily, Ceylon & many others have no doubt been separated from the adjacent continents. Now the Arru islands being all coral rock and the adjacent sea all shallow & full of coral, it would seem easy to account for their origin by supposing them to have been elevated gradually from beneath the water as the much more lofty islands of Ke sixty miles to the westward have no doubt been. But in this case it is impossible to explain the formation of those regular river like channels which cut across the great largest & most elevated mass. A fissure produced during elevation will not explain it, for it has all the regular curves & windings of a river, & the action of tides and currents combining with the elevating force will indeed well explain the origin of separate islands divided by channels of carrying width & depth, but cannot be imagined to have produced a true river bed forty miles in length & of the greatest regularity both in width and depth. If we suppose the subsidence of a more extensive island to have brought Arru 15 to its present form, we shall find it equally difficult to account for these rivers, because [[4]]16 the subsidence of any country with an irregular and undulating surface must, by allowing the sea to overflow all the level tracts, produce a most irregular distribution of water in the channels separating islands, and form deep inlets creeks & inland locks all of which are here absent. The only other way of accounting for the origin of the Arru Islands is by supposing them to have once formed a part of the main land of New Guinea from which they have been separated by the subsidence of any intervening district. The principal objection to this view is the great width of open sea (from 100 to 200 miles) between their eastern limits and the south west coast of N[ew]. Guinea. It is however to be observed that this sea nowhere exceeds a depth of forty fathoms while immediately to the north a fathomless sea reaches close up to the New Guinea coast and also within twenty miles of Arru on the west. By supposing the central land of Arru to have remained unmoved during the subsidence the present transverse channels may be explained as being in fact portions of real rivers which flowed from the great central mountain range of New Guinea and here had their outlet after a course of two or three hundred miles. The position and direction of the Utanata and Wakua rivers in N[ew]. Guinea renders it not improbable that the Arru rivers may have been once the contin-uation of them. In no other manner does it seem to me possible to explain the origin of these channels, for I believe no example exists of any thing but true rivers producing narrow winding channels of regular width and depth through an undulating rocky country. If therefore there is only one cause in existing nature 17

adequate to produce the effects visible, we must impute them to that cause even though implying changes of sea and land of such an extensive character.

We have however other evidence of a totally distinct nature which gives a powerful support to this view of the origin of the Arru Islands. The distribution of the Animals of Arru & New Guinea proves the close connection between these countries, it being evident that where a considerable number of animals which have no means of passing from the one to the other are common to two countries some former communication must have existed between them. A few such cases of community may indeed be [[5]]18 explained by the various accidents by which animals may be transported from one country to another; but when the community is more general there is no such easy way of accounting for it. In the present case birds being almost the only animal productions of New Guinea of which any thing is known the evidence argument must be drawn almost entirely from that class which it may be objected can furnish no certain data as they have the means of passing from one country to the other. It is however well known that birds have their geographical limits as accurately defined as other animals, and that many extensive groups are quite as unable to pass wide tracts of oceans as any quadrupeds can be.

19 The first fact them is that out of the small number of land birds known from all parts of the coast of New Guinea20, about 100, I have myself found thirty six in Arru. This renders it highly probably that all the birds of Arru are also found in New Guinea, for, to illustrate by an analogous case, suppose about 100 species of birds had been collected in various parts of Europe, and a person were them to collect for six months in England, it is not likely that more than 30 birds would be common to the two collections although every English bird is also found on the continent. Some of these birds however are incapable of flights as the Cassowary, [words crossed out illeg.] closely allied to the Emeu[sic] of Australia; others are short winged ground feeders, as the beautiful ground thrushes (Pitta), two species of which are identical with the only two known from N[ew]. Guinea; -- others again as the "Great Bird of Paradise" & the "King Bird of Paradise" are found only in New Guinea & Arru, & not in the islands of Ke & Goram which actually approach considerably nearer to New Guinea than does any part of Arru. These facts, scanty as they must necessarily be in the present imperfect state of our knowledge of the

21 Zoology of New Guinea, certainly support the view I have taken of the former connection of the Arru Islands with that country.


A few remarks on the inhabitants & on the trade of Arru will now be given. The natives are all of the Papuan race, having typically a nearly black skin & woolly or frizzly hair. They are taller than the Malays & more slenderly made, have a flatter forehead more projecting brows, larger & thicker nose with the apex rather bent down, and thick lips. The varieties however are so numerous & puzzling that a person unac-quainted with their origin would be apt to conclude that no line of demarcation could be drawn between the Papuans & Malay races. In Arru there are ardent signs of the admixture of Malay Arab & European blood, and that so exten-sively & for so long a period that the mixed races perhaps preponderate over the pure Papuans. Every where are founds natives of Macassar, Javanese, Ceramese & Amboynese who have native wives & have settled permanently in the country. In the Mohammedan districts a lighter skin and finer features indicate the infusion of Arab blood, while the discovery of many Portuguese words still in use in Arru though unknown to the Malays have enabled me to account for some decided South European characteristics which I had previously observed. That enterprising nation had evidently discovered these remote islands & commenced the trade with them during the short period they held the supreme dominion of the Eastern seas. 23

The languages spoken in Arru are very numerous, but they possess so much in common that the different tribes can make themselves understood without much difficulty. The affinities of the languages of this part of the Archipel-ago are very obscure owing to the difficulty of distinguishing between the words introduced by the constant trading intercourse & intermixture, & those resemblances which arise from a community of origin. More materials must be collected to come to any definite conclusion on this point.

The character of the natives of Arru is very different from that of the Malay races. They are less reserved & apathetic, they speak louder laugh more and are altogether a much noisier merrier set of people. The difference is in fact so very marked and striking, that it alone would suffice to separate them completely from the Malays. They use no clothing but a small waist cloth for the men and a piece of matting for the women. The bow is their national weapon & they are very skillful in the use of it. [[7]]24 They cultivate yams sweet potatoes & other roots which with [word crossed out illeg.] native sago forms their whole food, the coast tribes adding fish and those inland the flesh of the wild pig, kangaroo, cassowary and various birds which they obtain occasionally with their bows & arrows. A rich layer of vegetable mould over the coral rock produces sugar cane of the very finest quality, which they chew incessantly & sell during the trading season to at Dobbo.

In the villages of Wamma Wokan & Maykor are resident schoolmasters sent by the Dutch Government from Amboyna, & the inhabitants are Christians; one or two other villages are Mohammedan but all the rest of the population are Pagans. As far as I could judge however there is very little difference in the degree of civilization, that seeming to depend more on their proximity to Dobbo & the amount of communication they have with the traders. A Dutch ship war schooner brings a Commission annually to Arru who stays about a month visiting all the principal villages to hear and decide disputes among the natives & with the traders; so that the whole group is actually under the Dutch Government.

25 The trade of Arru is very considerable and is all carried on with the port of Macassar, & with the islands of Goram & Ceram. In the present year, 1857, fourteen large prows of from 50 to 100 tons and one brig arrived at Dobbo from Macassar. The owners are Bugis, Chinese, or Dutch, & the gross value of their cargoes about £20,000. Besides these not much short of 200 boats & prows of small size arrived from Ke, Goram & Ceram the whole value of whose cargoes may be £7000 or £8000 more. The Macassar traders bring Rice, Tobacco, Gambir, Muskets, Brass Cannon, Gunpowders, Gongs Swords, knives, Choppers, axes, English & Chinese Crockery, calicoes & cottons, Bugis cloth and Arrack. The prows from Goram & Ceram bring principally Sago cakes which are there manufactured for the supply of all the Eastern part of the Archipelago. The Ke islanders bring boards & prows for sale, wooden bowls, native earthen vessels, cocoa nuts and plantains. The produce obtained consists of Pearl shell, Pearls, Tripang, Tortoise-shell,

26 Edible birds’ nests, and Birds of Paradise. Of these the tripang, birds nests & I believe most of the pearls & tortoiseshell finds it[s] way to China, the Mother of pearl shell principally to Europe.


Each of the larger prows calls at Ke on its way to Arru & purchases these one or two small vessels, which are loaded immediately on arriving and sent with a supercargo to pick up produce among the islands on the East Coast. The traders themselves reside at Dobbo where they all have houses, built entirely of poles and palm thatch and annually repaired. Natives from all the adjacent parts daily arrive bringing in their little bits of produce which they sell to the highest bidder. They may often be seen wandering about with a single pearly shell calling at every house to see where they can get the highest price. These as well as the tripang tortoise shell & birds’ nests are all bought by weight, & a whole cargo is made up by purchases of a few pounds or even a few ounces at a time. When a native has accumulated a little stock of produced he takes payment in an assortment of articles every [word illeg.] is including always a box of Arrack the quantity of which consumed is immense. About 3000 boxes are brought annually each containing 15 square bottles of very near half a gallon each, making a total of about 20,000 gallons of strong spirit.

The prows begin to arrive at Dobbo in December at the commencement of the West monsoon and in June 7 July they return to Macassar. Some of the small traders remain the year round picking up produce at a greater profit when there is less competition & some of the larger merchants leave agents to do the same for them. Some years ago the profits of the Arru trade were very great, now they are very moderate owing to the excessive com-petition. English calicoes can be bought in Arru as cheap as they can in England.

28 With the exception of the short visit of the Commission there is no law or govern-ment in Arru, yet the motley population all striving to get what they 29 can, live very peaceably together. Every one minds his own business, and although he "does that which is right in his own eyes" takes care not to injure his neighbour. Gambling quarrels occasionally arise among the Bugis and a few deaths by the creese may occur, as they do in Macassar, but on the whole, considering the mixture of races & religions, the competition in trade & the crowding together of a population of about a thousand in such a remote spot & so far removed from the civilized world, a degree of good feeling & charity is shown, which I am very much afraid would not exist in an equally miscellaneous assem-blage of Europeans for similar purposes.


1. Text reads "large [word illeg.] | Proceedings"

2. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "See Crawford’s"

3. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "The Arru [word illeg.]"

4. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Dobbo -" in the left margin

5. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Tanna | Busar" in the left margin

6. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "River | Watelai" in the left margin

7. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Windsor Earl. (Deer Island -" at the bottom of the page

8. Text reads "2." in the top right corner of the page

9. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Rivers | Vorkai | & | Maykor" in the right margin

10. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Kri" in the left margin

11. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Wamma | & | Pulo Babi" in the right margin

12. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Wokan" in the right margin

13. Text reads "3" in the top left corner of the page

14. The word "a" crossed out in pencil and the word “or” is written above the “a” in unknown hand in pencil

15. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "2" in the left margin

16. Text reads "4." in the top right corner of the page

17. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "X" in the right margin

18. Text reads "5." in the top left corner of the page

19. Paragraph marks in pencil appear here

20. The word "or" is written above the comma in unknown hand in pencil

21. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "3" in the left margin

22. Text reads "6." in the top right corner of the page

23. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "__________ End" in the right margin

24. Text reads "7." in the top left corner of the page

25. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Trade -" in the left margin

26. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "4" in the left margin

27. Text reads "8" in the top right corner of the page

28. An insertion mark in pencil appears here

29. Text in unknown hand in pencil reads "Government" in the right margin

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