"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 20, 1926 : Junction of the Rouffaer and Van Daalen Rivers ; Van der Willigen River

July 20th

We broke camp this morning and were away at 6:30. As dawn was just breaking the kalongs were seen returning just as they had left in the opposite direction at sunset. At about 8 o'clock we passed a large sago swamp with a Papuan lean-to shelter on the river bank made of green palm leaves. Tied to a pole in front of this was a large canoe of very crude construction. The rear end was hacked off square, the prow was upturned where the natural curve of the roots of the tree began after this fashion.[V2: drawing of a canoe] There was no sign of any Papuans about, however. About an hour later after passing a few more deserted houses we saw a raft on the shore made of four logs lashed together at either end. Not {p. 165} long after this we saw two Papuans paddling across the river ahead of us on what appeared to be one of these rafts. They disappeared around a point and when we rounded it they were waiting in front of their village. Instead of a raft, their craft turned out to be a shallow canoe, very crudely made, the edges of which did not clear the water more than an inch or so. They had a fire burning in the middle of it. We drew alongside of them and gave a knife and a safety razor blade for all of the arrows and wearing apparel they had. They have the vertical and horizontal bone nose ornaments, tobacco boxes in the ear, belt armor and wear broad belts of woven rattan. These latter fit so tightly that they had a great difficulty in taking them off for us. Their apron of bark cloth is very small and perfunctory in purpose, as it does not conceal the penis and testicles. They wear bracelets of pig hide and crocodile skin. One of them had a fine full beard and was quite patriarchal in appearance. He appeared to be their head man. They are strongly built and seem to be larger than the Van Rees peoples. We did not see any of the women or children. We finished trading and they brought us a large quantity of very fine bananas, and also lumps of sago wrapped in leaves. In all we saw seven men at this place. The clearing and plantation were comparatively new. Clearing timber is a difficult task for them with only stone tools with which to work. All of the trees are cut off at a height of six or seven feet from the ground and seem to be felled by some friction process judging {p. 166} from the appearance of the cuts. We did not see how it was done. The houses along here are simple palm thatched structures and are probably only semi-permanent. The paddles they were using for the canoe were of a curious design. They were narrow and instead of being flat they had a V shaped surface to the blades. They hold the paddles in their toes when they are not paddling.

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