"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 31, 1926 : Brown River

July 31st

At 5:30 A.M., Le Roux, Saleh and I with five Dyaks started a reconnaissance south on foot as we figured that we had about reached the limit of canoe navigation.We had scarcely left camp when we encountered a group of Papuans bringing more articles for trade. We kept on and crossed the river to the west bank, heading S.W. into the jungle. We came on a Papuan trail and followed it. We heard Papuan voices and came upon a house with the fire burning, after first shouting to warn them of our approach. In the house were four friendly dogs and two contented looking pigs under it. These dogs never bark, but frequently howl with fine effect. From the rafters of this house hung two bundles of human bones, principally femur and tibia of fairly fresh appearance, the ends of which were charred by fire. The bones still had a quantity of gristle attached. We continued South in a heavy downpour of rain. The ground was covered with thousands of leeches which gave us great annoyance, and the Dyaks['] bare legs were soon bloody from them. We soon found ourselves in a sago swamp, and came upon another house with the fires burning. We had again heard voices and had again shouted. Here were more dogs and a very affectionate pig. We stopped to eat a little and {p. 198} went on. The swamp was continually getting worse and we were frequently wading up to our hips. The leeches, if possible, were more numerous than before. As it looked impossible to proceed farther in this direction we decided to return and cross the river. We finally came up the stream again by following a trail from the last house and crossed by means of a Papuan canoe tied to the shore. To keep one of these round bottomed craft upright is no simple task. On the east bank we found the ground much higher and we proceeded rapidly, finally intercepting another well traveled trail. This we followed as it led south. We found here that the river forks, so we kept the trail which followed the east fork. After a couple of miles we heard a great babel of voices ahead of us. We shouted. The voices stopped for a moment and then the noise redoubled. We continued up the trail and came upon a Papuan house with about 30 men gathered with their bows and arrows. Their attitude was not friendly and they motioned us to go away. We recognized many as being our visitors of the evening before, among them the hostile chief who was haranguing them and us in considerable anger. We stopped by them and ate our lunch. Although they protested, we looked in the house. Two men rushed ahead of us, seized something in the house and ran out with it hastily the back way, into the jungle. We went along the trail about 50 yards, the Papuans forging ahead of us, to {p. 199} another larger house - the largest we have seen on the river. They lined up between us and the house and refused to let us pass. Le Roux tried to walk through their line and they pushed him violently back so that he lost his footing. They are now quite angry. We debated a while and decided not to force the matter. They pointed out a trail which they indicated was the trail back to our camp. One Papuan went about 30 yards ahead of us, motioning us to follow; about 20 followed close behind us, the rest remaining. We soon saw by the compass that the trail was leading in the opposite direction from our camp, but we continued to follow for about three-quarters of an hour. The trail finally led into a swamp and after branching in many smaller ways finally became indistinguishable. Then suddenly all of the Papuans disappeared. We immediately started to return. If it had been their intention to lose us they reckoned without the Dyaks who are like hounds on a trail. [sic] We retraced our way very cautiously. As we approached the village all was absolute quiet where before there had been such great uproar. There seemed something sinister in this atmosphere, so we detoured around the village through a section of dense jungle and intercepted the trail by which we came. This ran finally into a very distinct trail which was going our way and which we decided was the main Papuan trail overland along the river and which no doubt led to the houses near our camp and intercepts the villages along the river. This proved to be the case. {p. 200} We returned to the village by our camp and found it deserted. We entered the house. There were human skulls and many nets hanging from the roof poles. There were a number of polished dagger-like implements made from human [V1: interlineated: cassowary?] long bones. I took a half dozen of these and a couple of stone knives, leaving a couple of trade knives behind. We ate the rest of our lunch and ten minutes later were in camp. Dick and Stan had been visited by the Papuans about an hour after our departure. They had traded but were not very friendly and seemed much disturbed by the overland expedition of Le Roux and me.

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