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

Interpretive Essays

Browse Photos and Film

Expedition Source Material

About this Project

expedition source material

Journal of Matthew Stirling
Select a Date:
Select a location/subject:
Current Date and Location/Subject:  

July 23, 1926 : Rouffaer River

July 23rd

"The houses are very flimsy affairs and this was one of the best."

This morning passed much as usual. We stopped several times to trade with Papuans and have now a big load of articles. Today we saw for the first time at close hand a good many women and children. We stopped on shore at one place beside a house and after getting the confidence of the men, after a little trading, le Roux and I climbed up the notched stick and went in. They were not so enthusiastic about this but we smiled broadly, petted them on the shoulders and pretended not to understand their objections. The houses are very flimsy affairs and this was one of the best. It is thatched with sago palm leaves and {p. 179} {*} has a gabled roof. The floor is set up on poles about four feet from the ground. The ends of the house excepting for the round doorways, are closed with the midribs of palm leaves laid horizontally. The floor was made of sago bark laid across poles and on it were eight circular clay hearths each about 2½ feet in diameter and about four or five inches high. On each of these a small fire was burning. Standing about on the floor were baskets of sago bark filled with water, lumps of sago wrapped in leaves, a couple of very crudely carved trench shaped wooden vessels and a number of other articles. From the rafters were hanging sago baskets and net bags filled with bark cloth and personal articles and a number of human skulls which were prepared with a sort of reddish clay and with rattan braiding and handles. These latter they would not part with and when we tried to negotiate for one of them, a man took it and hurried out the "back door" with it. A human jaw bone, carefully wrapped with fiber cord and with a string {*} attached to be worn around the neck was also hanging from a rafter and this they traded to us readily enough along with several other articles, for a knife. Meanwhile the women were peeking around the back of the house, flirting with the soldiers in our canoe. When one of the soldiers would wave to them, they would start dancing. We stopped also at another small village where we saw women, the men were interested only in knives, whereas the women had no interest in iron articles of any sort but went into ecstasies over small mirrors and beads. The farther we progress up the {p. 180} river, the more numerous the population becomes. I think the people in here have trails to the Central mountains which are not so far from this point. They are smaller than the men on the Van der Willigen and are more of the short, bearded type. We saw none of the tall square jawed, smooth cheeked type here. [V2: crossed out: They also wear the net sack over the head of the sort reported from the Swart valley.] The men we traded with yesterday evening did not smoke and would not accept tobacco even as a gift. When Stanley demonstrated smoking it seemed to make them uneasy. It cannot be that they are unfamiliar with the custom as the people we saw today smoked cigars similar to those near the mouth of the Rouffaer, made from their own tobacco. The vertical hairpin-shaped nose ornaments worn here are huge affairs, some of them being ten inches long. They are ornamented with bands of fine fiber weaving covered with some sort of pitch, making a black section in the middle of each prong. Later in the day we could not induce any Papuans to come near us and when we approached them they disappeared. We surmise that the news of the fighting at Head camp and Motor camp has reached here by now. Two Papuans were shot at Head camp and one at Motor camp in their recent attacks there. I have an idea that these attacks were the result of "iron fever", the temptation to obtain the knives they knew to be in the possession of our men being more than they could resist. This evening we made camp between two Papuan villages not more than a half mile apart on the south bank. We had barely put up our shelter when a heavy thunder storm came up. A number of Papuans canoes appeared across the river and though I held up a big parang and shouted and waved {p. 181} to them, they would not approach us. After dark we went to bed and when the noise of the rain stopped, we could hear the Papuans shouting all around us until far into the night. We are here only a few hours from Motor Camp.

CreditsPermissionsMore Expeditions & Voyages