"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 26, 1926 : Motor Camp ; Rouffaer River

July 26th

Got up early this morning so as to be out of our wet beds as soon as possible. Just after sun-up the clouds lifted from the Central Mountains and to our great surprise and pleasure we got an excellent view of the snow mountains, a {p. 183} sight never before seen [V1: interlineated: by us] from the lake plains [V1: crossed out: "s"]. The sun was shining on the snow capped tops and with the glasses we could make out every detail through the clear atmosphere. We saw the Carstenz and Idenberg tops and to the east of them, a large snow field not recorded on the maps. The view lasted for more than half an hour before the clouds again closed in. At 10 o'clock this morning Becker left for downstream again with the motor boat and the big canoe, together with one small canoe. At noon Stan and I with le Roux went up the river two or three miles and visited a number of Papuan houses. Most of the isolated houses proved to be more or less temporary structures evidently built to be near the scene of sago gathering operations. They all showed signs of having been just abandoned apparently in some haste, as a number of articles such as bows, net bags, sago pounders, bark baskets, etc., were left in most of them. We also visited two villages both on the south bank of the river - one almost across from the camp, one about 2 miles farther upstream. The one across the river has about 10 houses. There were barefoot tracks on the path from the river made since last night's rain. All of the houses seemed to have been hastily abandoned. In front of the principal structure of the village was set up in the ground the green bough of a tree about seven feet high with the leaves still fresh; alongside it, a stone axe had been driven into the ground with the head up. It had then been hacked half in two in the middle of the handle and broken {p. 184} so that the stone head touched the ground. Ipoei was of the opinion that this signified a declaration of war. It seems to me also possible that it might symbolize the fact that they had stopped work at this village and gone downstream (as the head of the axe pointed in that direction) and that the condition of the leaves on the branch would indicate how much time had elapsed since their departure. There were quite a number of things left in the houses, but the village had the appearance of being quite abandoned. There was a small rude platform made of four poles for supports and covered with sago leaves. From one corner of this hung a small net bag which contained the jaw bone of a child. It is probable that it had been used as a burial platform. The houses, all very simply made, had platform floors of sago bark about three feet off from the ground. On this floor at one side was usually erected a secondary platform about five feet above the floor. On the floor were from one or two to six clay hearths covered with ashes and with charred sticks on them. The permanent houses have the ends partly closed with the midribs of sago palm leaves and are in general more substantially built than the flimsy shacks of the sago camps.

We visited the village two miles above and found it in similar condition of hasty abandonment. There were even more articles remaining in the houses. Again we found the green sprig set up in the ground with the broken axe beside it. In one of the houses hanging from the rafters was a fine "medicine bag" in which were hanging a human jaw, {p. 185} the crests of three cassowaries, several herons' beaks and several pigs' tails. We then came down the river, where from the opposite bank there seemed to be the mouth of a creek entering the Rouffaer. When we reached it, much to our surprise we found it to be apparently an arm of the Rouffaer, as the water was flowing from the river strongly into it. As it is a good 100 yards wide and quite swift it takes a big chunk of water from the Rouffaer. We followed this stream for about a half mile and it seemed to continue straight south. This led us to surmise, particularly since we had not noticed the corresponding re-entry of this large arm on the river below, that it might run across the lake plain into the van Daalen {*}. If this is so, it would make a fine short cut to the mountains. There were many banana trees along both banks and several deserted houses, including one deserted dog who was making the air melancholy with his howls. We went ashore to shoot some kalongs and he came rushing through the undergrowth to our canoe but when he saw us he at once ran back into the jungle where we heard him howling, but saw him no more. As it was growing late we returned to camp, le Roux shooting a duck at the mouth (or source) of our mysterious river arm.

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