"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 31, 1926 : Overland Trail/Upper Rouffaer/Nogullo River ; Rouffaer River

August 31

Today we followed the rocks along the river's edge wherever possible; ascending the cliff on the side of the gorge only when it was quite impossible to follow the rocks. About 8 A.M. we came to a big rock in the middle of the river with cassowary trees growing on the downstream side of it. A few hundred yards above it[,] on the east side of the river[,] a very pretty little waterfall tumbles into the Rouffaer. At this point, we were forced to climb the mountain, and came back to the Rouffaer after much climbing and hard work, to a nice broad sand beach where we enjoyed the luxury of about 300 yards of smooth walking. At the end of this we again climbed a cliff, coming out on a broad beach about 100 feet above the river with a rather open jungle and many large trees. {p. 229} From this we descended to a beautiful tributary river of clear water. It being noon, we stopped here for lunch. The mountains open out a little here. There is quite a bit of level fertile bench land around the mouth of this river with big trees growing. This river is the largest tributary stream we have encountered, being about double the size of the stream we {*} crossed on the 29th. At this point it flows through a sort of mountain valley and its descent is not so rapid. As the water on the south side was about 5 feet deep, with a strong current, the Dyaks felled a tree on the opposite shore, cutting notches in it so that it made an inclined bridge over the deep part of the river near the bank. After an hour[']s rest, we continued keeping close to the river. Here for the first time we began to see signs of human occupation. A faint trail along the Rouffaer begins at the mouth of the big tributary river which I will temporarily call the Jasper River, as the boulders in its bed contain many fine red jasper. We soon saw a small tree that had been felled with a stone axe. At about 2:30 P.M. we came to a good sized creek and Tomanpalan spotted a native house on the bank. I climbed up to it and found it to be totally different from the Papuan houses on the river below. One end was formed by the angle of the buttresses at the base of a big tree, while the other end was open and opened out on a 25 foot bluff over the creek, so that it was necessary to climb by the hands up some projecting roots to enter it. The structure was the shape of an inverted "V" with {p. 230} one end of the ridge pole attached to the big tree and the other lashed to an upright pole at the edge of the bank. The roof was formed by big sections of bark placed crosswise over the ridge pole. Over this was placed dead leaves, ferns, palm leaves and evidently anything that came to hand. The roof extended to the ground on both sides. Poles were placed crosswise on the part of the floor near the opening to make it level and some big leaves which had evidently served as a bed were laid on top of this. Inside were a number of sections of bamboo, evidently sawed off by friction. The skull of a cuscus on the floor was evidently the relic of a meal. Behind the house was a rectangular pit about two feet square and sixteen inches deep, the opening of which was framed with small logs. It was partly filled with ashes and burned rocks, and all about it were heaped dozens of rocks which had been heated. I went up the stream a little distance where a tree had been felled across the stream and stripped of its bark, for making the roof of the house. A couple of hundred yards farther up the stream a huge tree, between 4 and 5 feet in diameter had been felled by means of stone axes at the cost of much labor, evidently to make a bridge across the stream. The tree had been cut off about twelve or fifteen feet above the ground so as to get above the buttresses and swelling at the base. In order to do this two or three saplings had been felled against the trunk so as to make a precarious 3 piece platform on which the chopper might stand. Looking at the thousands of {p. 231} little chips, it must have been a very considerable task to have done this. As it has been another hard day, we decided to make camp here. The rain began early and continued in a steady drizzle all afternoon and evening.

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