"By Aeroplane to Pygmyland" Accounts of the 1926 Smithsonian-Dutch Expedition to New Guinea

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Journal of Stanley Hedberg
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June 6, 1926 : Albatross Camp (Base Camp) ; Mamberamo River ; Airplane Flights ; Papuans of Bisano

June 6th

Jordans and the transport left early this morning. They had nine canoes loaded with food. Without the motor boats they will make faster time through the rapids. Hans and Prince were busy on the motor for they were to continue their work of transporting food even though it was Sunday. It was a nice day again for a change. After the ship had been serviced and gassed, she was loaded with the customary 321½ kilos of food. It gives one quite a kick to see them putting all that load into an aeroplane here on the Mamberamo. The space from the shore does not look large, and it is amusing to see the soldiers, convicts and the Dyaks stand and look in amazement (the Dutch staff also) as they start a fire line procession of tins full of rice down the bank[;] Hans loads while Prince hands it up to him. Finally it is all in and the work of starting the motor commences. That is a job at times for when the Liberty is hot[,] as it is out in the sun[,] it is hard to start. Prince takes a whack at it first and then comes Dick and then Doc when the occasion requires. If it fails to start then Hans takes a turn or two at it and it starts. It doesn’t always do that but the first trip today it did. The Ern must be getting tired of carrying all that load over the mountains. I don’t blame her in a way for she sure is loaded to the limits. The motor kicks over and she is off. Hans taxies downstream[,] warming her up in the meantime. He turns and is off against the current. The roar of the motor and the spray from the prop and the pontoons is old stuff to the inhabitants of the camp now but they all stand by to watch. She took off nicely and we watch[ed] her climb into the heavens. It is gained bit by bit and soon they are high enough to turn and are off on their long dangerous journey. We watch them until they are lost from sight. The plane surely looks {F1.54} well in the air. As I stand and watch it flying over these dense jungled [sic] clad mountains around us in all directions, I have a pecular [sic] feeling. It is a feeling of satisfaction for the Ern is doing wonders. It is flying with train[-]like or mail schedule regularity carrying food over a distance that takes days of many men’s effort against swift mountain stream which comes dashing over the rocks in the mountain gorge.

When the necessary time has elapsed – it is thirty five minutes up and approximately 35 minutes to return – we start watching for her in the skies. The skies are always full of low hanging white clouds. It is only occasionally that one can see a clear blue spot now and then. Finally it is the hum of the motor that attracts us and looking up we see her soaring through the air. Sometimes we can pick her out before we can hear the motor roar. She sails smoothly and swiftly. Hans “cuts the gun” and she floats gently down the river and is soon landed in the mud banks. Luncheon of rise [sic, = rice], Deng Deng (dried Meat) and perhaps hash and tea follows. They tell of what they saw. After lunch it is another trip and the plane is serviced and gassed and soon is on its way with another similar load. The Batavia Express is what we call her now. The sergeant sends back a message to the Captain or the Captain sends a message to the sergeant. This time he wanted two shovels and they [are] made a part of the load. A package of fresh baked break [sic, = bread] is also a part of the supplies and it is steaming hot for it has just been taken from the Army Bakery. They are off a second time and are soon lost to vision. I get a kick out of every flight. Hans and Prince and the Ern are performing wonders. They are flying here with all the odds against them and are putting it over big. We figure out the time they should return and when it comes our eyes are trained in that direction. Here she comes again. Her silver wings and the floats hanging on beneath make a striking contrast against the clouds[,]{F1.55} white or black. She floats gracefully to the water[,] skims along and then taxies for the shore. Another trip is completed. That was the fourth in two days. They saw the transports fighting their way up the rapids and Prince shot some good pictures of it. It must be a funny feeling to the Dyaks[,] who are working with all of the skill and muscles[,] to see this huge bird soar over their heads and quickly pass from sight. They have been paddling strong for two days and this aeroplane has gone over their heads with a roar four times. Prince and Hans waved to them from the air and they waved in return. The pile of food stuffs at Batavia camp which the Ern is depositing every trip is increasing. It is almost as large as that deposited by the first canoe transport. Sunday makes no difference to the boys. It is the same as the rest of the days here in New Guinea. Food and medicines are needed above before we can move up there safely and that is what they are doing two times a day. The Bakery man is a fine fellow. He is a jack of all trades and weighs in the load of food for the plane. He is a hard worker and willing. Been in the army 18 years and is to retire when he gets back to Java. Is the most energetic Dutchman we have seen in the army. If they were all as energetic as he this expedition would go fast and in short time.

Sunday evening was the clearest evening we have seen here. The night was black without a moon but the sky was full of stars. Not a cloud in the sky and it was delightful to sit in front of our house on the river bank and visit with the Papuans who came just before dusk. They were the friendly ones which Matt and Leroux visited and they were evidently returning their call for they brought many new folks along with them, including three small children. One of them was particularly attached to Matt and he greeted him with a flow of language that would have put Bryan to shame from an eloquence standpoint, if it could have been understood. One could see the friendly {F1.56} feeling they had for him [and] of course it was the result of their visit. Another one, we called him “Red” because of his red hair[,] was also profuse in his greeting. He was the champion talker[,] however. He seems to start off with twenty words all at once and then cuts them off as though some one had clapped a hand over his mouth before he had finished talking. It was amusing to listen to him although it was not pleasant to have him close to you, for his entire body, arms and legs and well as face and hands were covered with scabs. Like a good many of the others[,] he has scroufla [sic, = scrofula]. They visited all over the camp and naturally begged continuously for tobacco, rice and anything they could put in their net[-]like bags. We had to chase them away so we could eat supper. Afterwards, however, when we were comfortably seated in front of the house[,] smoking and enjoying the evening and stars[,] they returned and sat around on the ground in front of us. Of course, we had to produce tobacco so they could smoke also. The military guard which has been placed in front of the quarters stood close by and observed them. They didn’t like it and plainly showed their fear. One of them mentioned it several times. Later Posthumus told them they had put that soldier on duty to guard them against attack from their hated enemies, the Boramese. Still they were uneasy. They didn’t like the business[-]like appearance of the gun he had strapped over his shoulder. They soon yawned and departed for their beds on the ground in front of Leroux’[s] house. It was too nice an evening to go to bed so we sat out and studied the stars shining all above us. It was the first time we had an opportunity of studying them since we arrived. The southern cross was plainly visible in the south and the big dipper lined up with it just above the jungle on the north. We observed many falling stars – five or six all told – as they shot through the atmosphere. Some were quite distinct. {F1.57}

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