"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 30, 1926 : Brown River

July 30th

At dawn we were on our way. The river now is growing noticeably smaller and swifter and the banks higher - in many places 15 or 20 feet in height. We are out of the swamp. The stream from now on is blocked at frequent intervals by logs and we put in much hard work cutting through them or hauling the canoes over them. The Dyaks are experts at this work, and are now almost continually in the water. Our progress is {p. 195} correspondingly slowed down. We now and then see the hulk of an old rotten Papuan canoe in a log jam or in the mud on the banks, so assume there must be habitations above us. Now and then we see where a log abutting into the stream has been cut off with thousands of little strokes with stone axes. A few times we saw fragments of cooked breadfruit floating down the stream. The stream now has a sand bottom and is only about waist deep. We passed an occasional Papuan house but they were not frequent. About 10 o'clock we saw five men on the shore. We held up knives and tried to interest them in trading, but they fitted arrows to their bows and fled into the jungle. Half an hour later they again appeared ahead of us on the bank opposite a log jam. While the Dyaks were clearing a way for the canoes, Dick went ashore and after much smiling and waving of knives succeeded in coming up to them and trading for the bow and arrows of one. About noon we came on another village which had evidently been warned in advance of our approach and had fled into the jungle. We kept on until 3 P.M. when about a dozen men appeared on the bank ahead of us. Among them were the men with whom Dick had traded. We stopped, came ashore, and after 15 minutes of cautious sallying back and forth they started trading with us. Each transaction when completed was greeted with a dance, and shouts of Hah! Hah! Hah! in slow cadence. When we joined in the dance and shouts, their enthusiasm redoubled and they ran back into the jungle and appeared with more goods. In a short {p. 196} time we had acquired a fine collection. Some of the men are very small indeed. Others were of medium stature. Each man seems to have a sort of trophy bag decorated with crests of cassowaries, hornbill beaks, claws of birds of prey and pigs tails. These seemed their most valued possessions but they readily parted with them for our knives. Their hair is cut short, excepting for a tuft on top. Around this they wear a well made head dress of cassowary feathers which hang down all around like a "Dutch bob". Their chief was a bearded man with a particularly disagreeable personality who was an obstructionist to everything we tried to do and whose attitude towards us was anything but friendly. He even tried to stop trading operations after a while and insisted that we move on back downstream. Naturally we did not agree to this demand and made camp on the spot. Many more men came during the late afternoon and brought many bananas. They are very good and are of two varieties; one a rather slender sort like the "pisang ambon" , the other a thick meaty-orange colored sort unlike any I have seen elsewhere. Fishing here was very good. They do not know fish hooks, but use a funnel shaped fish trap of rattan and dam the mouths of the small streams with palm leaves to entrap fish when the water recedes. We saw many of these fish dams on the way up. Some of the traps are made of rattan with the "grappling hooks" on it turned [V1: crossed out: with] {p. 197} so the thorns point inwards. Otherwise the traps are made like those we have seen on the Rouffar. We again posted guards for the night.

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