"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 29, 1926 : Rouffaer River ; Motor Camp ; Rouffaer River

July 29th

Left Motor Camp at 8 A.M. and crossed the Rouffaer entering the brown river of July 27th. Le Roux and I were in one canoe with Saleh, Ipoei and 4 other Dyaks. Dick and Stan with 5 Dyaks were in the other canoe. We came to our village of the little basin and the many canoes and the 2 burials. We approached silently but found it deserted. There were only 3 canoes left in the basin and of these 2 were of not much account. The parang we had left was gone. We examined the houses and found most of the bags and personal articles gone. We left a knife in one of the houses and went on. From this point the river was new to us. We passed a Papuan house every now and then and a good many canoes singly or in pairs. About 5 miles above our village of the 27th we came around a bend [and] suddenly upon a village of two houses with fifteen canoes in front. We approached cautiously and went ashore. The houses were deserted and the fires had had water poured upon them. {p. 192} The houses were filled with personal articles - net bags, bows and arrows, stone axes, wooden dishes, etc. A number of skulls and jaw bones were hanging from the roof. As in all of the houses, there were dozens of pig skulls hanging in rows from the roof poles. There were a couple of dogs, who were very friendly towards us and made no sound. We left a knife and went on.

The river is very pretty - clumps of pandanus trees with their long drooping {*} leaves and fantastic roots, festoons of flaming scarlet flowers of a climbing vine and all the varied growth of the jungle at close quarters on either side. The bird life is the most varied and profuse I have yet seen. Birds of Paradise which are frequently heard {*}, but seldom seen here were seen at frequent intervals as well as being heard almost continually. Great white herons now and then gave a vivid splash of white against the dark green jungle wall. About noon we came to another hastily deserted house and stopped by it and had lunch. Fish are very abundant and we caught several while preparing our camp fire. We left a knife here also. About an hour later we stopped under the bank to give the Dyaks a smoke. A few minutes later a Papuan canoe with 3 men appeared around the bend ahead of us. They did not see us for a second or two; when they did we shouted to them and they tried hastily to turn their canoe, gave it up as too slow and leaped {*} overboard, abandoning it in midstream. We paddled {p. 193} up to and tied it to shore, leaving a knife in it. In the canoe were about a dozen freshly picked breadfruit and two stone axes. They carried their bows and most of their arrows with them when they swam ashore. We went on, passing more houses and quite a number of banana trees. The banks were now getting noticeably higher. In the middle of the afternoon we sighted smoke ahead. Paddling silently and keeping close to the opposite bank we rounded the turn and came on a village by surprise. A canoe full of women in the middle of the stream upset in their haste to reach shore. A great uproar arose in the village and a large number of men ran down to the bank in front of the village with their bows and arrows. We stopped along the opposite bank about a hundred yards below. The Dyaks advised approaching by land so Le Roux and I with Saleh and 5 Dyaks made a sortie through the tall sawgrass opposite the village, the Dyaks with their shields and lances and Saleh with the rifle, Le Roux and I with side arms. When we came out of the high grass directly opposite the village, all of the Papuans fled into the jungle, back of the village. We returned to the canoes and paddled slowly to the village keeping on opposite shore. Le Roux and I then paddled across to the village, shouted and left a knife in front of the principal house. There was a great babel of voices back of the village but we could see no one. We went back into the canoe {p. 194} and both canoes paddled upstream about 200 yards above the village and waited about ten minutes. A canoe with four Papuans coming downstream hastily, evidently to see the cause of the noise, saw us and leaped overboard swimming ashore. After 5 minutes more we paddled slowly back to bank opposite the village and waited. After a while half a dozen men appeared and motioned violently for us to go away, meanwhile making threatening motions with their bows and arrows. We decided to go on. We passed a few more houses and plantations, making camp in the evening on a point farmed by a small tributary stream on the east bank. Here the Dyaks caught a large number of catfish. In the evening just before dark, a Papuan canoe bore down on camp from around the bend above. I was in one of our canoes, fishing with a Dyak. We saw them first and shouted. They looked up, saw us, and like the others leaped overboard and swam ashore. We posted guard with the Dyaks during the night.

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