The ‘Ponape Rebellion’ and the Phantomisation of History - article ; n°1 ; vol.104, pg 23-38


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Journal de la Société des océanistes - Année 1997 - Volume 104 - Numéro 1 - Pages 23-38
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Peter Sack
The ‘Ponape Rebellion’ and the Phantomisation of History
In: Journal de la Société des océanistes. 104, 1997-1. pp. 23-38.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Sack Peter. The ‘Ponape Rebellion’ and the Phantomisation of History. In: Journal de la Société des océanistes. 104, 1997-1.
pp. 23-38.
doi : 10.3406/jso.1997.2011'Ponape Rebellion5 The
and the Phantomisation of History
Peter SACK *
I the mysteries of the past, so that I could again
relax and enjoy their entertaining offerings ins
The 'Ponape Rebellion' was one of the key tead of feeling both cheated and threatened by
events during the brief history of German colo them?
nial rule in the Pacific. It is therefore not surpri It hardly needs saying that the examination
sing that the most recent academic discussion of did not put my mind at rest. Instead it demonst
this episode states that so much had already been rated that the realm of academic historiography
written about it that it was superfluous to go into was even more weird and wonderful than I had
details and sufficient to point out some of its feared, as the following pages shall illustrate. I
special features (Hiery, 1995 : 283). Not so long have streamlined my account by focussing pri
ago I would have read this statement to mean marily on three layers of the cake : Hempenstall,
that the facts of the matter had by now been so 1978, Christmann, Hempenstall and Ballen-
fully and firmly established that historians could dorf, 1991 and Hiery 1995 — and on two small
afford to concentrate on developing more slices, namely the corporal punishment which is
said to have triggered the 'rebellion' and the trial sophisticated interpretations, and I would not
have felt the slightest urge to look behind Hiery's which followed the surrender of the 'rebels'. But
account at the apparently voluminous literature, I shall use the overall, official version of the
'Ponape Rebellion' presented in the annual let alone the sources on which it was based. But
then I made the mistake of starting to read the report on the development of German New Gui
writings of historians critically and discovered nea during 1910/11 as a starting point and two
behind their attractive narrative facade a weird older accounts : Hambruch, 1932 and Bascom,
world of phantom history, where a distinction 1950, as stepping stones.
between fact and fiction did not exist.
Was Hiery's statement the icing on a layer-
cake of phantom histories of the 'Ponape Rebell II
ion' or would an examination of its historiogra-
phical treatment show that I had been According to the annual report the peaceful
development of the Eastern Carolines district of unnecessarily scared by encountering some rare
instances of phantom history (see, for example, German New Guinea was suddenly interrupted
by an uprising of the "Jokoj" tribe on Ponape l. Sack, 1990), and that historians were, generally,
Its deeper reasons are identified as a general doing a sterling job of meticulously unravelling
* Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra.
1. The spelling of Micronesian proper names did and still does vary widely in the literature. However, the phonetic
similarities (for example, Sokehs, Sokas, Jokoj, Tsokes, Jokasch, Dschokadsc etc.) are strong enough to avoid confusion. 24 SOCIÉTÉ DES OCEANISTES
discontent among the native population of the pened is, of course, impossible to establish with
island with the tax and road work required from certainty. But this has nothing to do with a uni
que mysteriousness of history. It would also it and dissatisfaction among its chiefs with the
recent abolishment of the traditional feudal sys apply if this execution was planned for tomor
tem. Whereas the other four tribes on the island row and if we had arranged to have it recorded
had accepted these measures, the Jokoj had been by several, independently operating camera
unwilling to do so. The ferment had exploded men : how could we prove that the films had not
been subsequently tampered with or that addiwhen a refractory native had been punished by
the district office. On 18 October 1910 district tional executions had not been carried out in
commissioner Boeder, the secretary of the dis another location ?
trict office, Brauckmann, the officials Haefner This gives me the opportunity to clarify what I
" historical phantoms " and " phanand Hollborn and five natives were killed by the mean by
rebels. Since only 50 Melanesian police-soldiers tom history ". For me phantom history is not
history which is 'objectively' counterfactual, were stationed on Ponape it had been impossible
to take immediate action against the rebellious rather, it is history which purports to be factual
tribe. The government doctor, who had taken but which is contradicted rather than supported
by a critical examination of the " historical charge after the murders, had called upon the
four other tribes to assist in the defence of the record ", understood as the sum total of all
" Kolonie ", the seat of the administration. This available, relevant, published and unpublished,
successful measure had also prevented the sprea primary and secondary sources.
ding of the rebellion to other parts of the island. I should also stress that I find phantom history
After seven weeks of nightly fighting, a rei in this sense objectionable only if it occurs in
nforcement of 172 police-soldiers had arrived academic writings, because in my view historio
from Rabaul, so that the Ponapeans could be graphy as a scholarly exercise has to apply the
sent home. By 10 January 1911 a large naval 'normal' standards of critical rationality and has
force, consisting of the station cruiser Cormoran, to develop approaches which minimise the un
the survey vessel Planet and the cruisers Ntirn- avoidable risks of human error and maximise the
berg and Emden from the East-Asian squadron chances of achieving the purported goals. In
had been assembled. A force of this size had other words, while academic historiography does been required to dislodge the rebels — about 200 not have to be committed to factuality, a form of men, armed with rifles — with the help of the academic historiography which purports to be so ships' from their mountain fortificaartillery committed has to be as factual as the circumstions on the offshore island of Dschokadsch. By tances — and that means the historical record — 22 February 1911 the military operations had permit. Since the annual report was not an acabeen successfully completed. On 23 February 17
demic exercise, I find this particular phantom rebels, who had participated in the murders of 1 8
unobjectionable, although I would find it objecOctober 1910, were sentenced to death and exe
tionable if academic historiographers would cuted the following day. The rest of the Jokoj
report this statement as a historical fact, in partribe — 426 persons — was banished to Palau
ticular if their account shows that they had used and its land was confiscated by the government,
sources which indicate that it was a phantom — (see : Die deutschen Schutzgebiete in Afrika und
and I should add that all the accounts discussed der Sùdsee, Amtlicher Jahresbericht 1910I11,
Ost-Karolinen : 170-72). in this paper purport to be factual.
As we shall see, this account is probably more On the other hand I should also emphasise
'factual' than any of the subsequent accounts to that I personaly do not regard the precise numb
be discussed, but it too contains at least one er of Ponapeans executed, or any other precise
'phantom', since other sources strongly suggest details of this kind, to be historically significant,
that only 15 of the 17 Ponapeans sentenced to in contrast to the 'order of magnitude' — in this
death on 23 February 1911 were executed the case : more than ten, rather than one or two or
several hundred 2. Seen in this light, the preoc- following day. Whether this is what actually
2. I also find it historically significant that the text of the annual report states that 1 7 Ponapeans were sentenced to death and
executed whereas the penal statistics attached to it show that only a total of 1 5 natives were sentenced to death in the Eastern
Carolines in 1910/11, because it suggests that the quality of the official reporting of governmental activities in German New
Guinea left a great deal to be desired. (It appears that in this case both the annual report and the penal statistics are incorrect,
because it looks as if as a result of the 'Ponape Rebellion' alone 1 7 persons were sentenced to death which should have been
shown in the penal statistics which were supposed to report death sentences rather than executions — whereas the annual report
should have stated that only 1 5 of the 1 7 death sentences were carried out.) THE PONAPE REBELLION 25
kadsch had been permitted to conduct their own cupation with precise details in the annual report
defence. As courageous as they had shown themselis remarkable. It is also remarkable that their
ves during their defensive war, they now fought selection appears to reflect certain conventions.
before the colonial court. When the paramount Thus the names and ranks of all the whites killed
chief [sic] Jomatau Niue was asked what caused him (but not their first names) are identified but none
to commit the deed, he put the finger on the open of the names of any of the blacks killed or of the wound of any regime of colonial rule : " My anceswhites wounded. Nor are the names of the tors have ruled this land for a thousand years. What government doctor or of the naval commanders, are you Germans doing here ? We did not call for or the leaders of the 'rebels', given. Indeed, the you ! " According to the evidence of a German annual report attributes all 'happenings' to the eyewitness the German judges were " impressed "
'rebels' or the combined forces. district office, the and became " thoughtful ". But the judgement
In short, the annual report presents a pointedly itself was never in doubt because it [the death sen
impersonal picture of history which describes tence] was " required by the prestige of the German
factually specified events rather than indivi flag "(1995: 284-85) 3.
dually motivated actions or reactions.
But Hiery does not only enrich the picture
presented by the annual report, his version also
Ill contradicts it at several points. Thus he tells us
that 24 rather than 50 Melanesian police-
In this discussion of the 'Ponape Rebellion' soldiers had been serving in Ponape at the
eighty years later, Hiery basically agrees with beginning of the 'Ponape Rebellion', that 18
the impersonal, official interpretation of the rather than 17 Ponapeans were sentenced to
events, although he uses a more fashionable lan death — although only 1 5 of them were executed
guage, calling it a " social-reactionary, traditio — and that their execution took place on 25
nalist revolt " which had, at the same time, been rather that 24 February 1911 (see 1995 : 283-84). an " ethnic-national war against foreign domi Where did Hiery get his information from ?
nation " (1995 : 284). But Hiery offers numerous Instead of relying on the 'experts' Hempenstall
details not included in the annual report. Let me and Christmann (see 1995 : 283, Fn. 106), he
just give two examples. chose two 'exotic' sources : the 'memoirs' of a
Firstly, we are not only told that the punish German naval officer (Spiegel, 1934), presumab
ment of the refractory native had consisted of a ly because he had been an " eyewitness ", and
corporal punishment, but that this form of the " only indigenous source ", The Book of
punishment had recently been introduced by dis Luelen (1977). Thus he takes the date of the
trict commissioner Boeder, because he had belie execution — which is not given by Luelen —
ved, contrary to his clear instructions, that he from Spiegel, whereas he takes the number of
could subdue a stubborn Pacific colony by using death sentences and executions — which are not
the methods employed in German East-Africa, given by Spiegel — from Luelen, who provides a
where he had previously served. Yet, Hiery list of 18 names, including the titles and clan
insists that " the corporal punishment, which affiliations of the persons named, and adds that
had been ordered by the supervisor of the road three of the men, who were to be killed in Yap,
works, Holborn [sic], was only the trigger and were not killed because " it was said that they
not the primary cause of the revolt " (1995 : had no guilt " (1977 : 145).
282). Hiery also combines information from both
The second example is Hiery's account of the sources. This is how Spiegel's " paramount chief proceedings before the " colonial court martial " Jomatau " acquired the name " Niue ", given to
which had tried the " Dschokadsch leaders ". him by Luelen, although the latter gives Niue's
title as " Jaumatonjokaj " and does not indicate
Their enemies during the war had become their that this title made him the " paramount chief " judges during the trial. The soldiers and officers
( Oberhâup tling) . from the German warships and the rest of the Euro
When his two sources contradict each other, pean settlement Kolonia were the jury ; the judge
Hiery tends to favour Spiegel, to the extent that was the new German District Commissioner Kers-
he bluntly declares Luelen's statement that 50 ting, a government medical officer [sic] with admin
istrative experience in Togo and Yap. The Melanesian police-soldiers had been serving on
3. All translations in this paper are mine unless otherwise indicated. The occasional addition of " sic " in square brackets
indicates minor phantoms which are not worth discussing in the text. For example : Dr Kersting held the post of " Bezirksamt-
mann " (district commissioner) and had a medical degree, but he was not a medical officer (Regierungsarzt) but had earned the
civil title of " Regierungsrat ". 26 SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES
Ponape — which, as we have seen, is in line with IV
the annual report (and which was also supported
by Luelen's editors) — by reference to Spiegel to The first 'academic' history of the 'Ponape
be " false " (falsch, see 1995 : 283, Fn. 107). On Rebellion' I have come across was published in
the other hand, Hiery does not accept everything 1932 by the anthropologist Paul Hambruch who
Spiegel has to offer. Thus Spiegel's absurd claim had conducted fieldwork on Ponape between
that the few Europeans and Melanesian police- March and September 1910 (ibid. : v). In it
soldiers on Ponape had faced 3000 to 4000 Pona- Hambruch attributes a rather different stat
pean men able to carry arms becomes " about ement to Jomatau, although it is claimed to have
4000 Ponapeans, the men among whom were not been made in response to a rather similar ques
armed with bows and arrows but with modern tion during his trial. When asked who had sporifles "(1995: 283). ken in favour of war, Jomatau — so Hambruch Moreover, Hiery refers to Luelen rather than — had answered that he " had believed he could Spiegel as regards the enlisting of the four other beat the whites and then become himself the Ponapean tribes for the defence of the Kolonie ruler of Ponape " (1932 : 301). by the government doctor. According to Spiegel, According to Hambruch the 'Ponape RebellDr Girschner had been an honorary chief of ion' had been the culmination of ten years of Kiti and Metalanim whose 30 years [sic] of
effort by a secret society, led by Jomatau, to loyalty to them the Ponapeans now repaid by
prepare the overthrow of German colonial sending their warriors in hundreds of war
rule 6. canoes, which arrived just as the sun was rising
over Langar Island on the morning after the It consisted of conservative elements who wanted murders — that is on 19 October 1910 (1934 : Ponape for the Ponapeans, Ponapean law and cus
111)4. I do not know whether Hiery rejected tom, rather than a foreign order. The society was
Spiegel's version or whether he did not consider therefore a patriotic association which wanted to
it at the time of writing. At any rate, he states terminate foreign domination (1932 : 300).
instead — with a reference to Luelen — that Net,
" after lengthy U, Metalanim and Kiti decided, While this supports Hiery's interpretation,
deliberations " not to take part in the rebellion Hambruch also claims that the 'rebellion' had
of the Dschokadsch but to send troops to defend been planned for 2 June 1910, when Boeder
the Germans (1995 : 283) — even though Luelen would have left with the government steamer
merely states that " on 20 [sic] October the States and no other vessel was expected for some weeks.
of Ponape came together at Kolonia to guard it " But the plan was dropped after it had been
(1977 : 144) 5. betrayed, and Boeder did not pursue the matter
But whatever the attractions of Luelen he after his return. On the contrary, he brushed
could not compete with the immortal lines attr aside Hambruch 's warnings, who had discovered
ibuted by Spiegel to Jomatau. In Spiegel's own this secret society in the course of his fieldwork.
words. Nor did he believe Jomatau when the latter had
told him pointedly some time before the 'rebelAll of us who were sitting at the judges' bench were
lion' : impressed by the proud demeanour of the van
quished enemy. There were even moments during The Spaniards were brave and in the end a bit the trial which lasted for two days when every one of frightened because we Ponapeans have always beaus became thoughtful, for example Jomatau in ten them. But you Germans are cowards. You only answer to the question as to what had caused him to talk about your soldiers, your ships and your Empercommit the deed, declared with the pride of a king : " or, but you do nothing (1932 : 300, Fn. 1). " (1934 : 196). My ancestors ruled this land...
Instead Boeder decided after a visit from the This was far too good to be missed, but was it East-Asian cruiser squadron that the time was also too good to be true ?
ripe to introduce new reforms which consisted of
corporal punishments for persistent lying and
insubordination and a strict regime for prison
inmates, which included the shaving of their
4. This 30 year span would take us back to 1880, that is to say to a time before the beginning of Spanish colonial rule. (As
far as I know Girschner arrived in 1899.)
5. It looks as if three of the tribes came on 19 October whereas Kiti probably arrived after 20 October (see below in the text).
6. This means that plotting had started as soon as Germany had taken over from Spain. THE PONAPE REBELLION 27
In Hambruch's view these measures had acted contradiction between Hambruch's and Hiery's
as a provocation rather than as a deterrent, since version is the number of death sentences : 17 as
touching the head of a Ponapean was a serious against 18. But there are other, more significant
customary offence and since a beating even obli discrepancies. This applies for example, to the
ged the victim and his relatives to kill the person Ponapean response to Girschner's call for sup
responsible in revenge. Yet it was not the first port. While Not, U, Matolemin and Kiti had
beating, administered to a man from Kiti, but acted in unison according to Hiery, although
that of the Tsokes man, Nan ponpei Maluk, after " lengthy deliberations ", the first three tr
which caused the unplanned explosion. When he ibes had responded immediately, according to had " offered resistance " to the road-works Hambruch, whereas Kiti had delayed by three supervisor Hollborn on 17 October 1910, he was days because Nanpei had initially advised taken to the district office and given by the Mela- against supporting the Kolonie during a council nesian police-soldiers the corporal punishment meeting (1932 : 303) 7. As we have seen, Hiery announced for this offence, namely six strokes. based his version on Luelen, who indeed implied He was then sent back to the road-gang with the that the support had been unanimous although message that other cases of insubordination he says nothing about " lengthy deliberations ". would be dealt with in the same manner. As a
Did Hiery selectively combine information from result a decision " to make war against the whit
Luelen and Hambruch, to whom he does not es " was arrived at, Jomatau was elected as the
expressly refer as a source in this context, thereby leader and the killings took place the following
creating a second-hand phantom of his own ? day (1932: 301).
Whereas Hambruch, given the gist of his narHambruch has a great deal to say about these
rative, had good reasons for playing down the killings and the military operations following
personal role of Boeder in bringing about the them, but shows little interest in the trial or the
'Ponape Rebellion' — after all, if events had executions. Instead he emphasises that " the
unfolded according to plan, the 'rebellion' would great ones from Jokes ", as the executed men
have taken place before Boeder introduced his were henceforth called, were laid to rest at the
'reforms', and during his absence — the anthroold cult and burial ground Kumunlai. Many
pologist William R. Bascom, who had carried out songs which did not exactly flatter European ears
fieldwork on Ponape in 1946, presented in 1950 a subsequently glorified their actions. " Their hor
'personalised' version of the reasons for the fully rible and insidious deed may make them crimi
'Ponape Rebellion'. By reference inter alia to nals and rebels in our eyes, for the Ponapeans
Hambruch, he maintains that this event had they died for the liberation and the " lamlam " of
hitherto been generally interpreted as Ponape" (1932: 309).
Whereas this nicely supplements Hiery's ver a native rebellion in protest against German modif
sion what little Hambruch has to say about the ications of land tenure or the regulations affecting
trial paints a rather different picture. district labour and taxation. Both these changes, on
the contrary, are widely approved today, and PonaOn 23 February the court convened. The accounts peans explain the outbreak as the result of the of eyewitnesses and the admissions of the prison cruelty and the wickedness of two men : the German ers had produced already so much material that the overseer, whose acts were immediately responsible guilt of individuals was often already firmly esta and the Governor [sic] Boeder, who was shot with blished. Nonetheless every man was given the his secretary when they appeared in Sokas (1950 : opportunity during the exhaustive hearing to 61) 8. defend himself. Then the judges cast their votes and
passed the judgement... Seventeen men were senten According to Bascom's Ponapean infoced to death. The others were sentenced to forced rmants : labour and banished for life to the Palau Islands. On
the morning of 24 February the sentence " death by the German overseer... had ordered a member of " was made known to the murderers in a shooting Kawath clan to be beaten with a wire-lined rubber
solemn assembly and in the presence of all chiefs hose for laziness or insolence, or perhaps both.
(1932 : 308-09). When the road gang, in protest, did not return to
work the next day the overseer and the chief sur
Nothing is said about the execution itself and veyor set out to round them up. When they appeared
even the statement attributed to Jomatau is in Sokas district at the home of the man who had
quoted in another context. Yet the only direct been beaten, it was assumed that they had come to
7. The role of Henry Nanpei in the 'rebellion' is outside the scope of this paper.
8. Although this is the interpretation advocated in the annual report, it has little to do with the views expressed by
inflict further punishment. His clan members came with Boeder rather than with Hollborn n.
to the rescue and fighting broke out (1950 : 61). According to Hempenstall, Hollborn merely
sent one of the Sokehs labourers, Lahdeleng
Their evidence concerning Boeder's 'wickedn
ess' was equally graphic, for he
to the administrator [sic] with a piece of paper
used to question Ponapeans at trials with a drawn alleging insubordination ; Boeder had no hesitation
revolver pointed at them, which he shot off in their in ordering ten strokes with a wire-lined rubber
faces to frighten them. When he travelled about the hose. The beating was administered by a Melane-
island he flew into fits of rage if he stumbled on a sian and Lahdeleng was helped back to Sokehs
stone or a coconut, threatening to beat his guides barely able to walk (1978 : 103) 12.
and carriers for not having properly cleared the path
Whether the " rumours [which] later circula
They even had an explanation for Boeder's ted in Ponape that he [Boeder] had been in trou
behaviour, as Dr Girschner had told them ble in Africa because of his severity " (1978 : 99)
is an 'understated' version of the information that Boeder was mentally unstable and that he had
attributed by Bascom's informants to Dr Girschkilled many natives in Africa where he had spent
ner is anyone's guess, since no source for this twenty-five years [sic] before coming to Ponape
(1950:61). rumour is given by Hempenstall. There is no
question, however, that he was attracted to pre
Perhaps because neither Jomatau nor his main senting Boeder's " wickedness " as the decisive
'lieutenant', Samuel, were members of the reason for the 'Ponape Rebellion'. Kawath clan, Bascom's 'clan revenge' theory But Hempenstall had come across an even does not appear to have found any followers, but more tempting Ponapean tradition, which had his emphasis on Boeder's " wickedness " was apparently been referred to in a conference paper eagerly taken up — in particular by Hempens- presented by the historian Paul Mark Ehrlich in tall, to whose 1978 version of the 'Ponape Rebell 1975 13. ion' I now want to turn 9.
About a month before Lahdeleng's beating, a cor
ner of Pan Kadara, the most sacred location in the
stone city of Nan Madol, had crumbled. The cor
ners of Pan Kadara were revered on Ponape as Hempenstall's account includes only one
symbols of the various districts, and if any were to direct reference to Bascom, in connection with a
crumble it signified the impending destruction of " Ponapean tradition " that
the area. In this case it had been the Sokehs corner.
Boeder would use a drawn revolver to interrogate Thus the Sokehs people knew and accepted that
Islanders during a trial, occasionally shooting it off Sokehs must die, but, if so, they desired to die
in their faces to frighten them ; and that if he stum fighting as men. Their decision was probably
bled on a stone or a coconut while on an expedition strengthened by the belief that they could expect
he would fly into a rage and threaten to beat his assistance from other districts because of cross-
guides and bearers (1978 : 102-03) 10. district clan relationships ; Soumadau's own clan
Dipwenpahnmei, was the ruling clan of Madoleni-
Yet the " wire-lined rubber hose " is also fea hmw and Net was ruled by Soun Kawad (1978 :
104). tured by Hempenstall, although it is identified
9. I should also point out, however, that it is impossible to reconcile a 'revenge' theory with what Bascom's informants had
told him. How can a fight which broke out because 'the clan' wanted to rescue one of its members from a second beating which
had not yet taken place be interpreted as a revenge for a previous beating to which it had responded by a refusal to work ?
10. Hempenstall, in fact, refers to a 1965 publication of Bascom, which I did not consult. He also refers to a report written
" Ignatius " on 27 December 1910 in the archives of the Kapuziner Mission in Munster, which apparently already contained by similar information. I do not know why Hempenstall chose to paraphrase Bascom as a " Ponapean tradition " instead of relying
on information recorded during the 'Ponape Rebellion' — but I made no attempt to find out what Ignatius had to say in his
11. It is worth pointing out that " Olborn " is the only German identified by name in Luelen's version — although Luelen
did not mention the corporal punishment at all, so that a reference had to be added by his editors — as Hiery noted
disapprovingly (1995 : 282, Fn. 105).
12. There are no specific references. A " wire-lined rubber hose " was certainly not a 'regulation' instrument for the
administration of corporal punishments in German New Guinea or, for that matter, in German East Africa.? I do not know
what " wire-lined rubber hoses " — which were presumably reinforced with a wire spiral to cope with high pressures — were
otherwise used for on Ponape in 1910, or if they were even manufactured at the time.
13. I did not try to obtain a copy of this unpublished paper since I had access to Ehrlich 's PhD thesis, submitted in 1978. PONAPE REBELLION 29 THE
In Hempenstall's 'final analysis' a combinat Ehrlich had learned about this 'legend' not
ion of these two strands of Ponapean evidence from Hambruch but from one of his Ponapean
dominated the entire picture because the informants, although this had only happened
'Ponape Rebellion' had not been eight months after he had started his fieldwork
on Ponape in 1973. Yet when he had subsea crusade for Ponape 's liberation, but an angry reac quently requestioned a number of his infotion against Carl [sic] Boeder's mounting persecut rmants " obliquely about events which might ion, and most of the districts people followed Sou-
have predicated the rebellion ... [a]ll mentioned madau in loyalty to clan and district. Only one
the Sokehs corner in Pan Kedara along with the vision moved them all : that was the negative belief
legend " (1978 : 193, Fn. 16). This was sufficient that Sokehs was to be destroyed, an idea which
for Ehrlich to conclude that " given the dire applied to Sokehs alone, and which made the rest of
portents displayed at Pan Kedara, it no longer Ponape hang back in fear when Germany brought in
mattered what Soumadau did, Sokehs was going her military might (1978 : 215).
to die " (1978 : 167). Was that also the conclu
sion which the Sokehs people had reached — Although the first part of Hempenstall's 'per
sonalised' interpretation stands in sharp even before Lahdeleng's beating ? 15
contrast to the 'structural' interpretation of the The evidence presented by Ehrlich provides
'Ponape Rebellion' good reasons for doubting this. According to his by the annual report, as well
main informant, the Wasai of Sokehs (its 'real' as by Hambruch and Hiery, I found the role
Oberhâuptling) had pronounced that " Sokehs which he attributed to the collapse of the
was going to be destroyed ", when Soumadau 'Sokehs corner' more interesting, because it loo
had called for war, but the same informant had ked so suspiciously like a phantom. The diff
also quoted Soumadau's 'lieutenant', the divinaiculty was that Hempenstall merely asserted that
tion expert Samuel, as having pleaded with Sou" the the Sokehs people were solely moved by madau to postpone fighting with the Germans negative belief that Sokehs was to be des for three years, when they would have a chance to troyed ", although he produced some evidence win after a long struggle : " If you choose to fight for Boeder's " mounting persecution " 14. 1 the " (1978 : now, we will join you, but we will weep refore turned to Ehrlich and discovered that the 168). collapse of the 'Sokehs corner' had already been Sokehs fought and wept. Yet it took little more
known to Hambruch, although, as Ehrlich than three years before German colonial rule
noted " with interest ", he did not refer to it in ended, whereas Sokehs did not " die " — the
his history of the 'Ponape Rebellion' but rather legend notwithstanding — since the survivors of
in his description of the ruins of Nan Madol, the 'Ponape Rebellion' were permitted by their
which was published four years later. It was clear next colonial masters, the Japanese, to return to
therefore that this legend was not a recent 'inven Sokehs.
tion'. This did not mean, however, that it had However, there is little point in further exami
also played a part in the 'Ponape Rebellion' ning this legend and its impact on the 'Ponape
Rebellion' 16, since it is no longer even mentiowhich Hempenstall, following Ehrlich, had
ascribed to it. ned in a 1991 account of this episode
14. Even taken at face value Hempenstall's interpretation is hardly convincing. Why should the rest of Ponape hang back in
fear if only Sokehs was to be destroyed ?
1 5. When did the 'Sokehs corner' crumble ? Or, rather, when was the collapse noticed — and when did the news, that all was
now lost, reach Sokehs ? Why does this apparently traumatic event not figure prominently in Ponapean oral tradition ?
16. The legend is itself more ambiguous than Hempenstall's treatment suggests. To begin with, the corners of Pan Kedara
did not represent the five " districts " on Ponape in 1910. According to Ehrlich there were only four corners which were known
as " the corners of Sokehs, Kiti, Madolenihmw and Katau " (1978 : 163). Moreover, the corner of Katau represented Kusai
Island, about 300 miles away, whereas the remaining three corners were only later equated with Madolenihmw, Kiti and Sokehs
but had originally represented the ancient kingdoms of Malenkopualele, Kopualeng and Puapualik (1978 : 21). In other words
the 'new' kingdoms of Net and U were either not represented at all or they were, for the purposes of the legend, still treated as
part of 'old' from which they had 'separated'. What did " Sokehs must die " mean under these circumstances, when
the 'Sokehs corner' collapsed in September 1910 ? Did the fate include the 'new' kingdom of Net which had formerly been part
of Sokehs — and which helped to defend the Germans against Sokehs — or did it also exclude the semi-autonomous 'district'
of Palakir which, we are told, remained 'neutral' during the 'Ponape Rebellion' ? In addition, it is far from clear what 'dying'
signifies in this context ? Had Sokehs already 'died' when the Soun Kauwad had conquered it (and Net) around 1700 AD (1978 :
1 57) ? Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy, so that 'Sokehs' was effectively dead as soon as the corner had collapsed ? Was Soumadau
— a member of a clan which had no rank in Sokehs — therefore free to lead a rebellion for the liberation of the whole of Ponape
from German colonial rule, like the legendary Isokelkel, who had ended the tyranny of the Sau Deleur (1978 : 24) ? Did the
Germans know about the collapse of the 'Sokehs corner' and its significance ? Hambruch 's account suggests that at least he did,
since he wrote : " In September 1910 the corner collapsed. The Ponapeans took it henceforth for granted that Tsokes would 30 SOCIÉTÉ DES OCÉANISTES
The very next day, 24 February, fifteen of the co-authored by Hempenstall, which replaces the
condemned prisoners, handcuffed together and 'personalised' interpretation adopted by him in
escorted by Melanesian police, were marched down 1978 with an elaborate, 'structural' interpretat
to Kumunlai, an old cemetery and cult place outside ion. But before turning to this new version, I
the colony. There they were lined up against a want to present Hempenstall's 1978 version of
makeshift fence strung between coconut trees and the trial and the executions which followed the
tied with their arms outstretched, 'as Christ crucicollapse of the 'Ponape Rebellion '. fied' 17. The Melanesian soldiers (for the tribunal
had decided that German should not be
subjected to this undignified ritual) ranged [sic] VI
themselves in two lines, one standing, one kneeling.
The denouement was swift. A court-martial was Soumadau was refused permission to speak to the
convened on 23 February, the day after military expectant crowd, but in a quiet voice he greeted the
operations were declared at an end. Representatives people and urged them not to follow the Sokehs
from the two missions and the trading company example. Before he could finish, the first volley of
joined with Kersting, Girschner and a naval officer shots rang out ; the soldiers kept firing until all were
to try summarily those accused of the murder of dead. Then the bodies were thrown into a common
Boeder and his companions. Though each of the grave and the crowd, now hushed, was told to return
leading Sokehs figures was given a full opportunity to their districts (1978 : 112-13).
to defend himself, the tribunal was interested less in
the justice of the result, which was already a fore If we disregard two minor factual discre
gone conclusion as far as the judges were concerned, pancies : the number of death sentences and the
than in the necessity to make an example which date of the execution, where Hempenstall agrees
would deter malcontents in the future. The bulk of with the annual report — this account can easily evidence revealed that resentment of Boeder's be reconciled with Hiery's 1995 version 18, if we actions had run deep and wide, and there were no assume that Spiegel was the naval officer mentioregrets that he was dead. It also became clear that
ned by Hempenstall and that the statement attrthere had been a lingering, almost desperate belief
ibuted by Spiegel to Soumadau was part of the that the Germans might be driven out as had been
evidence which, according to Hempenstall the Spaniards. After all, until Boeder's arrival, none
of the districts had really experienced the strong showed that, despite the 'legend', there had been
hand of Germany, Deputy Governor Oswald had " a lingering, almost desperate belief that the
concluded when he first heard of the uprising : Germans might be driven out ". However, the
1991 version of the 'Ponape Rebellion', just In the final analysis they did not fear us and did
not believe we were earnest in our threats... We referred to, suggests that all three versions are off
suffered from the mistakes of the Spanish. the mark.
Perhaps if we had begun energetically this would
A summary court of justice met in Kolonia on 23 have been avoided.
February 1911. The members were Dr Kersting as
But the court agreed that seventeen Sokehs should judge, Dr Girschner, the Commander of SMS Pla
be executed, several others sent to prison with hard net, a representative of the Jaluit Gesellschaft and
labour at the Angaur phosphate works, and the rest three representatives of the missions. Kersting made
of the district banished en masse to the Palau group. it clear that he sat as Chairperson and District Offi
Ironically, the only call for clemency towards those cer, that they were dealing with 'natives', and that
to be executed came from the navy's representative. the other members were only advisers, not a jury.
Though Kersting himself acknowledged that There was no defence counsel for the accused.
Sokehs had suffered under Boeder, his concern for According to the protocol of the hearing the death
'consistency' of punishment, together with the sentence was decided for all the accused from the
'deterrence' arguments of the missionaries and tra beginning. The only point for discussion was the
ders easily won the day. question of hanging or shooting. Strikingly, Father
perish. After the rebellion the State of Tsokes was finished in February 191 1 " (1936 : 27). Did he warn Boeder ? Did Girschner
use the legend to persuade the other four 'tribes' to support the Germans instead of being drawn into the inevitable destruction
of Sokehs — in addition to blaming the treatment the Ponapeans had recently received on Boeder's mental imbalance ?
Whether it is appropriate and constructive to subject Ponapean traditions to a critical rational analysis is a different matter
which does not concern me, since I am only interested in how academic historiographers treat them in their purportedly factual
1 7. Hempenstall added in a footnote : " This is the way present-day Ponapeans remember the execution and may or may not
be significant " (1978 : 230, Fn. 49).
18.agrees with Hiery rather than the annual report as far as the number of executions carried out on Ponape
is concerned, but he with the annual report rather than Hiery that the total of had been 17 rather than
15. According to him, two of the condemned rebels had already been transported to Yap where they were executed later (1978 :
20, Fn. 49), whereas according to Hiery's version — based on Luelen — the three (!) condemned rebels who had been sent to Yap
were later pardoned. PONAPE REBELLION 31 THE
Gebhardt contributed particularly vigorously to the The next day 15 of the condemned men were shot.
discussion. Finally Kersting pronounced sentence : Soumadau tried to speak to those Ponapean specta
17 of the accused were to be summarily executed, tors who stood some distance away. He was refused
several others were sentenced to hard labour in the permission ; perhaps it was feared he would repeat
phosphate mines of Angaur (Belau), all other memb his outburst in the courtroom where he proudly
ers of the Sokehs district were exiled to the island proclaimed : 'My forefathers have ruled this land for
a thousand years...' (1991 : 272). [of?] Yap (426 people). All landed property was
confiscated and declared property of the Reich ;
Why did they not tell their readers instead that some was given to the local islanders who had hel
ped the Germans in Kolonia (Christmann, Hem- Soumadau, according to Hempenstall 's 1978
penstall and Ballendorf, 1991 : 271-72). version, had disregarded the refusal of permis
sion to speak and had urged the expectant crowd
While there are no straightforward contradic not to follow the Sokehs example ? Why did they
tions between the 1978 Hempenstall version and not inform them about the statement which
the 1991 Christmann, and Ballen Hambruch attributed to Soumadau, although
dorf version, the different emphases are remark Hambruch's account is identified as one of the
able. Thus readers were told in 1978 that " each main sources for the entire 1991 version of the
of the leading Sokehs figures was given a full 'Ponape Rebellion' (1991 : 318, Fn. 17) ? Or why
opportunity to defend himself", whereas they did they not simply disclose what Soumadau is
were told in 1991 that the accused had " no reported as having said in the " protocol of the
" ? defence counsel ". Similarly, the 1978 version hearing
stressed that the only case for clemency came The reason, it appears, is that academic histo
" " from the navy's representative, rians are free to pick and choose whatever infoironically
whereas the 1991 version singled out Father rmation they do or do not want to present in a
Gebhardt's " " vigorous contribution particular account. Nor does it seem to matter strikingly
to the hanging versus shooting discussion. More for academic history whether the 'Ponape Rebell
ion' was a " importantly, both versions indicate that their social-reactionary revolt ", or an
" ethnic-national war ", or both (Hiery, 1995 : authors did not understand what the trial was
about and how it proceeded. Was it a " 284), or whether it was "not a crusade for summary
court of justice " or a " court-martial " ? Was its Ponape 's liberation but an angry reaction
task " to try summarily those accused of the against Carl [sic] Boeder's mounting persecu
murder of Boeder and his companions " or the tion " (Hempenstall, 1978 : 215). In 'the final
analysis' the causes, the course and the consepunishment of those who participated in the " revolt ? How can " the protocol of the hearing quences of the 'Ponape Rebellion' are no more
" was decided for show that the death sentence important for academic history than whether
" when several of Boeder's first name was " Gustav " rather than all accused from the beginning
" were sentenced to hard labour in the " Carl ". Indeed they count for less, since such them
phosphate mines of Angaur " — not to mention minor details are the lifeblood of academic his
" the remainder of the en masse banishment of tory. Precise names, dates and figures have to be
district " ? Had all these 426 people (or was it given because they demonstrate that the author
426 plus 17, plus " several " ?) been 'accused' ? knows what he is talking about. By themselves
Was their banishment, the confiscation of their general statements about historical events,
land, as well as the gift of some of it to " those however ideologically satisfying, do not qualify
local islanders who had helped the Germans ", as academic history. They must be supported by
part of the 'sentence' announced by Kersting ? enough details to establish the author's credentia
ls. The art of writing — and reading — history, As far as the Hiery version is concerned,
Christmann, Hempenstall and Ballendorf it appears, is not to worry about their factuality.
confirm what is plain to any critical reader of It makes no difference whether Lahdeleng (or was
Spiegel's 'memoirs' : that their author had no it Nan ponpei Maluk, or both or neither ?) was
qualms about letting himself be carried away by given six or ten strokes, no difference who orde
red this punishment or which instrument was his imagination ; for Spiegel was not the com
used to carry it out. A huge stick, or the tail of a mander of SMS Planet but had served, accor
ding to his 'memoirs', as first lieutenant on SMS stingray, is just as good as a wire-lined rubber
Cormoran, so that it is highly unlikely that he hose (see Ehrlich, 1978 : 165). It does not matter
ever sat at " the judges' table " during the trial. whether the trial was conducted by a " summary
court of justice " by a " court martial ", whether Nonetheless, Christmann, Hempenstall and Bal
15, 17 or 18 people were sentenced to death and 'eyewitness' lendorf do not in their hesitate very to next quote paragraph. such a dubious
how many of them were executed or pardoned.