"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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August 11, 1926 : Rouffaer River

August 11

We left early and shot a couple of ducks just after leaving camp. The native population is getting very numerous. We stopped at a village abut 9 A.M. and began trading. We started with a big knife. We laid it on the ground and then had them lay a pile of goods beside it until we considered it enough. After this we started on beads. At first they held off, wanting knives but when they saw that evidently we did not intend to produce any more, they began. I got in my prow to get some beads and they started coming to me with goods, fully a hundred men. They became greatly excited and did not care what I gave for their articles; 1 bead or 3, it was all the same, and bags, stone axes, feather headdresses, seed ornaments, etc. {*}, began piling up as fast as I could reach out and take them. In all the wild eagerness to trade I have seen in New Guinea, I have never seen anything to approach this. They crowded around the canoe, almost swamping it in their desire to be in the front row to hand over their {p. 209} goods. Now and then some persistent fellow with a baked breadfruit or a lump of sago - I would buy it to get rid of him, later to dump it in the river. One of the Ambonese soldiers stood behind me and handed me beads and helped keep Papuans out of the canoe. Shorty hovered over the rapidly growing pile of trade goods to keep out snatching hands, as they showed a great tendency after making a trade to grab back the article traded. Finally, after about an hour, the howling mob was running low on goods and the canoe was heaped high and I ran out of the readily available stock of beads. Perforce there came a lull in operations. At this juncture, one of the Papuans made a dive into the pile of trade goods and with both hands full, headed for shore. It was all done quick as a flash. Shorty, with more intestinal fortitude than I thought he possessed, emitting a howl, leaped after him as he hit the water and tore the bags out of the Papuan's hands triumphantly returning them to their proper place. For a moment I thought there would be trouble as the Papuans faced us with black looks, figuratively as well as literally, on their faces. I laughed my heartiest laugh and beamed good will on them and their mercurial temperaments responded. In a moment they were all smiles. We continued between islands and at noon had lunch on a large gravel bar where we were promptly visited by a hundred Papuans, with whom we traded, and received many more goods. Amongst other things there were two men's "tails" made from large bunches {p. 210} of white and yellow bird of paradise feathers. This place is quite near the point Hans and I landed with the plane, and it was interesting to note that we had done our part in clothing the nakedness of the heathen, as most of them were wearing a small apron made of the black oilskin cover which we had placed over our cache, the goods thereunder they had doubtless looked upon as a tribal gift from the skies which this big bird had deposited among them, and then departed. It is something of a coincidence, but this very point appears to be the center of densest population of the entire river. With our convoy of 9 canoes and sixty men, they present a fairly friendly front, but they are a treacherous crowd and can't be trusted. Later in the afternoon we began to enter the low hills Hans and I had seen and now the mountains loom up ahead of us quite near. Crocodiles seem quite numerous in this part of the river. There are also many ducks. We usually see them feeding on the gravel bars or banks. They are surprisingly tame. One can shoot into a flock on the shore usually about 3 times before they fly; when they {*} do, they only go a hundred yards or so and the whole process can be repeated. At night we camped on a sand bar among a group of low hills. We were visited by a group of 23 Papuans with whom we did some trading. They did not bring a great deal with them but for a few beads we got what they had. {p. 211}

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