Lak - History and Cultural Relations

While a number of European explorers laid anchor at Cape Saint George (including Dampier, Carteret, Bougainville, and Duperry), only Duperry's crew, in 1824, made contact with the population. Two members of this crew, Blosseville and Lesson, were the first to report of the duk-duk, or masked men's society, in New Ireland. The last half of the nineteenth century saw a great deal of "blackbirding," or impressment of New Irelanders into plantation service in Australia and Samoa; however, few Lak speakers fell victim to such servitude because of their continued movement from coast to interior and their generally hostile attitude toward Europeans. In 1880, Charles Bonaventure du Breuil, the self-styled "Marquis de Rays," chose the Lak region as the site for "Port Breton," a large-scale attempt at colonization that led to famine for the colonists and a jail term for their leader. Major European penetration of the area did not occur until 1904, when Germany enforced its colonial claim by sending a punitive expedition against an interior Lak group. By about 1915, most of the interior groups had relocated to the coast, where copra planting and trade with Europeans were well under way. By this time, pacification was complete. Following World War I, the area reverted to English and then Australian control, but the region appears to have seen even less Western contact with time.

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