"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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April 19, 1926 : Ambon

April 19th

Today le Roux and van Leeuwen are not feeling well as there seems to be an epidemic of some sort at the Pasar Barang where they stay. I went this morning with van Leeuwen into the jungle east of the Pasar Barang and we watched the {p. 20} natives making sago. In the islands in the eastern part of the archipelago, sago is the staple food, taking the place of rice and maize, which furnishes food for Java, Sumatra, Borneo, etc. There were 2 Ambonese working on the sago. The sago palms grow in swampy ground. Just before the tree flowers the trunk is filled with starch, preparatory to the shooting up of the flower. Many of the palms are very large and tall. At this stage the tree is felled and the trunk cut into logs about 20 feet long. These logs are split in two by means of wooden wedges. The interior is then disclosed as a pinkish mass of starch and fiber. The worker then uses a peculiar sort of adze made of bamboo and rattan, similar in general appearance to the implement used for the same purpose in New Guinea. The blade is of bamboo and has a "hollow ground" effect. The sago gatherer sits astride the log and after clearing a space to the shell of the trunk in the center[,] works with his adze to each end in turn taking a stroke which shaves off a thin sector of the starchy substance which falls under the adze as a powdery pinkish substance somewhat resembling sawdust. When enough has accumulated it is put in a basket and is then washed out in water. One sago palm and a weeks work on it will feed an entire family for several months.

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