Bismarck Archipelago

Figure 1.--The photo was taken in a Catholic church in easern New Britain before the Sunday Mass. The vestment of altar boy is an adaptation of the classic one. The red cassock is, however, sleeveless an accomodation to the tropical climsate. He is also serving in bare feet. The men in the background, probably members of the choir, are bare-chested.

The Bismarck Arcipelago streaches eastward from New Guinea and iscnorth of the Solomon Islands.. The two principal islands are New Britain and New Ireland. The islands were originally settled by the the Papuans from New Guinea tens of thousands of years ago. They were followed by the Austronesians in historic times (beginning about the 1st century AD). Although the islands are small, the native people speak many different Papuan and Austronesians languages, suggesting different waves of settlements. English buccaneer William Dampier was the first European to report a visit to the islands. He landed on New Britain (1700). He named it Nova Britannia. These remote islands did not attract much European interest. Britain and the other European colonial powers did not incorporate them in their growing empires. Few Europeans settled there. Germany proclaimed a protectorate over what at the time was called the New Britain Archipelago (1884). It was subsequently renamed the Bismarck Archipelago. The two principal islsands were New Britain and New Ireland which the Germans also renamed (Neupommern -- New Pomerania and Neumecklenburg -- New Mecklenburg"). The islands were administered as part of German New Guinea. Very few Germans settled in the islands. A German census estimated an inigenous population of nearly 0.2 million (1909). Less than 1,000 foreginers settled there. About half were Europeans and the others mostly Chinese. Most of the forigners lived salong the northeastern Gazelle Peninsula. The capital Herbertshöhe (now Kokopo) was located there. The Europeans established plantations (copra, cotton, coffee, and rubber). The Germans avoided the rugged interior of New Britain, fearing the indigenous peoples. Only a few weeks after the outbreak of World War I in Europe, an Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landed on New New Guinea. They rapidly defeated the small German force and German New Guinea along with the Bismarck Archipelago became the Australian Territory of New Guinea. The Australians like the Germans, made no effort to intensively settle the islands. After Pearl Harbor, a strong force of the Japanese attacked the islands, first bombing Rabaul fron Truk (January 1942). Rabaul at the eastern tip of New Britain was the principal port in the Archipelago. A substatial force of Japanese marines occupied both New Britain and New Ireland and smaller associated islands. The Allied campaign in the South Pacific Operation Cartwheel) centered on surounding and cutting off Rabaul. After the War, New Britain ad New Ireland became were eventually incorporated into Papua New Guinea.


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Created: 11:16 PM 10/4/2009
Last updated: 11:16 PM 10/4/2009