For a dozen years this American sailor was worshiped as a
god by the natives of Luwana. The unmarried gals were sent to his harem
to be taught the art of love.
"John Paul's 500 Native Brides"
by Jaques Laplanche
Can a man have five hundred
wives in this day and age?
We don't mean in South Africa's Kaffirland, where
the price of a wife is ten head of cattle and a man's prosperity is based
on the number of wives he has, plus the number of daughters he expects
to sell soon. And we don't mean on certain South Pacific islands like Rapa,
where women outnumber men by six to one and a few enterprising voyagers
have managed to jump ship and set up small harems in the hills, until the
French authorities ferreted them out and banished them from the island.
(Concerning Rapa, according to an official directory, and guidebook, you'd
have a difficult time landing there now unless you had a mighty strong
And we also don't mean the Moslem world, where such
potentates as the Nizam of Hyderabad and Sultan Abd el Karim of Yemen recently
maintained harems of five hundred females each.
Yet by a curious chain of circumstances one white
man of modest means did succeed in accomplishing this feat, and not so
long ago, either. He was redheaded, stocky but not fat, and bowlegged.
This is gathered from the looks of his descendants. His name was John Paul,
the last name is unknown because he never mentioned it to the natives.
The island on which he accomplished his feat was
Luwana, one of the Dolman group which lie south of New Guinea.
The saga of John Paul began in the 1920's, when
a small ship, the Ganymede, carrying a group of amateur oceanographers
on a voyage around the Pacific Ring of Fire--the circle of undersea volcanoes
that ring the Pacific--failed to complete her voyage as scheduled.
John Paul was not one of the oceanographers, that's
certain. He might have been an itinerant seaman the vessel picked up almost
anywhere; crewmen were constantly jumping ship in those days and replacements
had to be made on the spur of the moment. Or he might have been a stowaway,
a man wanted by the police of some island for anything from cheating at
cards to murder. He might even have been a beachcomber seeking more fertile
territory. Any guess concerning his real identity is as good as any other.
But there are records on Luwana which make it possible
to piece together the story of the arrival of John Paul, his climb to kingship
over the entire island (something native had ever been able to achieve)
, the acquisition of his great harem, and his violent death. There's a
long manuscript written on tanned bear hide in ink made from berry juice,
kept in the men's house of the village of the Green Parrot, where John
Paul maintained his capital. It reveals a fair degree of education and
a sardonic sense of mystery, which may indicate that John Paul was a fugitive
of some sort after all. It's signed simply, "John Paul. White King of Luwana,
Lord of all the susus." Susus means, literally, "women's houses."
Then there's John Paul's big thatched hut largest
in the Green Parrot village. It is 40 feet long and 20 feet wide, with
a towering peaked roof 30 feet high. It is maintained as a shrine and in
it are various mementos. Also in John Paul's hut is his skull, attached
high on a center post. On the highest burial platform in the village cemetery
is the remainder of John Paul's skeleton.
John Paul arrived on Luwana in 1925 or 1926. A party of
warriors from the island was on one of the regular kula or barter, rape
and murder expeditions to a neighboring island when they saw flame and
smoke on what appeared to be the open sea. Rapidly they approached in their
fleet of highprowed outrigger canoes. They found the Ganymede burning fiercely.
Hovering near by were the vessel's two boats, with about four men in each.
Professing friendship, a trick at which they were adept, the natives escorted
the boats to their village, where the white guests were given a great feast
of yams, bananas, oranges, coconuts, fish of all sorts, and fat pig. This
was all washed down with a native brew made of fermented fruits.
In the course of this epic brawl all the white men except
John Paul got drunk. At dawn on the second day when they were offered the
privilege of sleeping in "courting houses" with the prettiest girls, they
accepted it was no problem then for the native warriors to kill them off
as they slept and then neatly remove their heads.
Only John Paul escaped. He pretended to drink but
actually poured most of his beer in the sand. At the first opportunity
he crept out of the village and back to the beach, where he could keep
the boats under observation.
The natives didn't even miss him. Shortly after
dawn on the second day they came down to the beach to loot the Ganymede's
boats. He was ready for them. As they approached he stepped into view with
a Colt .45 repeater in each hand.
He signaled them to halt, but apparently they had
never seen a short arm before, only the "long magic sticks," the name they
used for rifles. As they charged, waving their weapons and yelling, he
let go with both automatics. About five men dropped with holes in their
bellies before the others got the idea and retreated. Then their chief
came forward to parley.
"They were incredibly ill-armed, ignorant of the
white man's power, and backward," John Paul wrote afterward in his manuscript.
"They were literally out of the Stone Age. They did not know how to work
metal. They had no religion, only sorcery and incantations. About their
only art was making canoes. No wonder that they thought me possessed of
supernatural powers, if not a god."
The legends of these islands do mention white gods,
just as the legends of the Mexican Indians mention white gods.
At any rate, John Paul was treated like a god and
he made the most of his opportunity. By sign language he demanded that
both the chief and the sorcerer of the village be brought to him and he
dealt exclusively with these men. He commanded that the contents of the
boats be unloaded and transported to the center of the village--which was
also the cemetery since the Luwanas are great worshipers of their dead--and
placed in a large hut which stood somewhat apart from the rest. Then he
gave a display of magic with some of
the items that had been taken from the boats.
He started fire using matches from a waterproof
tin. He took a photograph of the chief and sorcerer, developed it, and
presented it to them. He gave these men doses of medicinal whisky (which
flattened them), purgatives and pain-killing narcotics. He shot a wild
bear on the run. At night he set off a couple of the flares with which
the boats had been provided.
The natives were properly impressed. They insisted
that he take as his mate a beautiful young girl from one of the largest
susus, a family with the most relatives, and be accepted as a powerful
For a while things went well. John Paul took every
precaution against attack or other injury. He reinforced the walls of his
hut with the strong native fish net and "slept with one eye and ear open."
He refused to eat unless others ate the same food and as much as he did.
The sorcerer was his enemy, that he knew. One day
he chided the man with the fact. The sorcerer didn't deny it. In fact,
he said: "Why shouldn't I hate the man who is my competitor?"
John Paul dared the sorcerer to kill him by magic.
The sorcerer drew a circle in the sand and dared John Paul to stand in
the circle while he recited the incantation that was supposed to cause
gan-goose, the native wasting disease.
John Paul stood in the circle and the sorcerer recited
the incantation, which called, in part, for the victim to waste away "from
the nose, throat, navel, hips, kidneys, entrails."
"Within a moon you will be dead," the sorcerer gloated.
"We shall see," John Paul laughed. "But if I am alive
at the end of the month, then I shall expect my turn to try, some sorcery
At the end of the month he was healthier than before.
He summoned the sorcerer and commanded him to stand in a circle he himself
had drawn. The sorcerer fled in panic and hanged himself from a tree on
his own property, the favorite Dolman method of escaping from an impossibly
Now John Paul was the greatest sorcerer on Luwana.
The natives came to him for all sorts of troubles--to guarantee the fertility
of their yam seeds, to cure diseases like tertiary yaws and ringworm, to
make their wives fertile and their daughters beautiful, to cure impotence.
They also wanted him to destroy their enemies, or at least make them good
and sick for a while.
"This proved embarrassing to me," John Paul wrote,
"because there were many things I knew I could not do. But I was very good
at love charms when mere psychology was involved. I gave the boys expanded
ammunition shells and the girls snapshots to present to reluctant lovers
and it seemed to work very well. As a matter of fact, quite a few of the
girls wanted me to introduce them to the art of love, an experience which
they felt would enhance their charms and which it was difficult to deny
So began John Paul's harem. He squired the maidens
of Luwana with such proficiency that the men of Green Parrot village soon
had to build him a larger house on the outskirts of the village, encircled
by numerous small huts where his love pupils served their apprenticeships.
This was not as immoral to the Luwanans as it may
seem to us. Morality was not really highly prized. The young people indulged
in sexual experimentation before marriage and the older ones in frequent
acts of unfaithfulness after marriage. Marriage itself was primarily a
device to ensure the passage of property through the susu or mother's line,
since the lands and huts belonged to the mothers.
John Paul did not find the Luwana women unattractive.
Although the Dobuans are generally shorter and darker than the Polynesians,
their women have good figures, with slim waists, high breasts, and straight,
graceful legs. Their eyes are wide set and luminous. They bathe frequently
in the swift streams that plunge down the mountainsides of their volcanic
islands, and to cleanse their breaths they chew sweet-scented herbs. And
next to acquiring property, a new romance is the most important. thing
in life to them.
Thus John Paul had everything he could wish for.
He did no work. Everything was done for him by married women who sought
his favors, professional and personal, and unmarried girls who were his
love pupils. He also had other workers--the young men who courted the girls
in his harem.
This was due to the peculiar Dobuan custom of requiring
the suitors to work for at least six months in order to prove their ability
as providers. Since these girls were not living at home their mothers sent
the lovesick swains to John Paul's, where they worked for him. If they
proved satisfactory in his estimation, the marriage was on, if not, it
was off. As a result of all this John Paul had the finest gardens in Green
Parrot village, fresh fish, from the sea every day and wild pig from the
Within five years John Paul was virtual king of
Luwana and his harem contained girls from all the villages. But many disgruntled
swains from other villages wanted John Paul dead because their girls refused
to return home.
One night three boys from Blue Eagle village greased
their bodies to prevent capture, stole into John Paul's harem huts and
quietly strangled the three girls who had jilted them.
This called for retaliation and John Paul accomplished
it alone. He went to Blue Eagle village and demanded that the boys be produced
for punishment. Two of them promptly committed suicide and the third fled
to another island with several friends who also hated John Paul. From then
on John Paul was invincible.
Shortly afterward there was a large-scale head-and-woman
raid on several Luwanan villages by natives from a different island. The
opposition was too strong for the Luwanas to handle alone and John Paul
was asked to lend his supernatural powers. A punitive raid was staged by
about two hundred men in twenty canoes. Twice the number of heads and women
that had been lost were taken, and after each raid John Paul appeared in
the defeated village and put on a little firearms demonstration. But he
didn't participate in the actual raids, nor did he shoot a single man.
These raids, incidentally, followed the same pattern as
raids anywhere. They were always conducted by stealth and always--in theory
at least--in reprisal. The favorite method of killing was to lurk along
a path the victim was known to use, then leap from behind with the strangling
stick. The strangling stick was a pole with a leather loop over the business
end and a sharp point in this same end. The technique was to throw the
loop over the victim's head, then yank it back quickly, cutting off any
outcry and also impaling the back of the neck on the sharp point. If death
did not result immediately, the victim was quickly dispatched with a more
conventional weapon. After that his head was cut off and, if there was
time and no fear of retaliation, the choicer cuts of his body were cooked
and eaten. The entrails were left behind as a warning and a symbol of contempt.
There were numerous attempts on John Paul's life. Several times when he
was in the open men leaped at him screaming the vada curse, which was supposed
to make him die. But he refused to die.
Other men grew to hate him so much that they ran
amok, and a curious facet of Dobuan life is that a madman is not suppressed
but allowed to run free, other people merely getting out of his way. The
theory is that the mad one is possessed of devils who cannot be opposed.
When these men came at him John Paul merely stood his ground and either
wrestled them into submission after disarming them or carved them up a
little with an 11-inch doublebladed knife. This increased his prestige.
Sorcerers were imported to kill him. They recited
incantations of all kinds but nothing worked.
John Paul might be alive today except for one thing.
He failed to consider the vindictiveness of a frustrated girl. One of his
favorites was a girl named Ili, who had been sent from Crow village by
her mother to spend her courtship months in John Paul's harem. At the end
of the time John Paul, hoping to keep her with him a little longer, decreed
that her suitor was not worthy of her. She showed no sign of defiance,
but at the first opportunity, about three nights later while he slept,
she slit John Paul's throat from ear to ear with his own razor-sharp knife.
Then she fled to another island with her lover.
John Paul was given a magnificent funeral. A year of mourning
was decreed. The finest fruit tree on every susu of Luwana was cut down.
In each village there was a feast of fat pig.
A year after John Paul's death his skull was removed and
given to his eldest son, who was then about 11 years old. The son's mother,
who by that time headed an important susu of her own, declared that the
skull must remain forever in John Paul's house, and there it was placed.
All of John Paul's things were carefully preserved by the new sorcerer,
who knew their psychological power even though he didn't know how to work
Conservative estimates are that John Paul made love
to at least 500 Luwanan girls during his merry years as "White King of
Luwana, Lord of all the susus."