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

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Journal of Matthew Stirling
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July 15, 1926 : Batavia Camp ; Mamberamo River

July 15th

Leaving camp this morning in the rain it was not long before the sun came out and a warm day started. The rock formation along this stretch of the river consists of layer upon layer of blue shale, in some places lying practically horizontal, in other places sharply tilted. There are a number of beautiful little streams coming out of deep dark fissures in this shale and many fine small waterfalls along the side of the river. We ate our lunch on a gravel bar at the mouth of one of these tunnel-like creeks. In the middle of the afternoon we reached Batavia rapids. They are quite different in character from the Marine and Edi falls. These latter occur where the river is constricted into a narrow channel and the water is very deep with powerful undercurrents. Batavia rapids are the first barrier the river encounters as it enters the mountains on leaving the lake plain. Here the river is very wide and comparatively narrow. The rapids are {p. 153} caused by a rough stony bottom and three great dikes of stone which stretch completely across the river, each separated from the other by a kilometer or more of {*} distance. In very high water, as now, only these three principal falls are distinguishable but when the water is low, there are about 12 or 15 more steps of lesser height. As the river, here more than a half mile wide, passes through for about two miles the surface is churned into great foaming waves, much more violent in appearance, owing to the shallow water than those at Edi or Marine falls. The noise they make is very great but lacks the deep booming note of the Edi and Marine falls. Here the violence of the rapids is all on the surface and although they constitute the roughest part of the whole passage they will not drag down a canoe like the others, tho without skillful men it would be quickly capsized. Shooting these rapids is the fastest, roughest and most thrilling section of the trip down stream, as the waves in places are six feet high. It was a difficult task poling the canoes upstream through the edge of these rapids. As we passed through the final section of the rapids, where the river takes its first 3 foot drop making a great furrow completely across the river, we could see [V2: that the mountains were becoming much lower and as we rounded the next turn we could see] the lake plain ahead of us. On a point of one of the foot-hills in a very pretty location is Batavia camp.

"On a point of one of the foot-hills in a very pretty location is Batavia camp."

[See Film Selection #15] As we approached we saw the aeroplane standing on the bank and the fortified camp on the point. Just across the river is a deserted Papuan village with a lot of bananas and papayas. We had passed several such clearings earlier in the day, but the Dyaks said they had never {p. 154} seen any Papuans at any of them. The village across from Batavia camp is occupied now and then temporarily for ceremonies judging from what we heard here. As we landed at the foot of the long sloping bank, Prince and Hans were there to greet us. It has been a month since we saw them and their beards have flourished mightily since they were last at Albatross camp. We had a fine reunion and opened our remaining bottle of wine to celebrate the occasion. Le Roux joined us and we all ate supper together. Moon was on hand looking as cheerful as ever and he had a reunion of his own with Shorty and Oompah. Shorty and Moon had evidently been practicing their dozen or so words of English diligently on the trip up and on the side Oompah requested Stanley to quiz them in the presence of Moon and the others at the table. This was done and they repeated all words without a miss, and were obviously proud as peacocks at having for once in their lives put one over on Moon.

The sky is beautiful here in the evenings and the cloud effects over the Central mountains are beyond description. Hans and Prince say that there is a fresh "sky show" every evening and it is never the same. We also enjoyed the novelty of a breeze which blows here frequently in the afternoon and evenings. The great drawback to this camp is the mosquitoes which drive everyone to bed under their klambus about 6 o'clock in the evening.

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