"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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September 3, 1926 : Explorators Camp/Tombe Village ; Overland Trail/Upper Rouffaer/Nogullo River ; Rouffaer River

September 3

"...the rattan bridge across the Rouffaer...is quite a piece of aboriginal engineering work."

We started out this morning and after some steep climbing came to the rattan bridge across the Rouffaer. At this point the river enters a very narrow and precipitous gorge. The bridge is a suspension bridge about 40 yards long. The "cables" are each made from about 10 strands of large rattan, bound together. The foot-path is about 8" wide, made from saplings laid lengthwise and lashed together. {p. 234} This is suspended from the "cables" by rattan strips, making a "V" cross section to the bridge. The ends of the cables are fastened to trees on opposite sides of the river, reinforced by upright poles and the whole strengthened by carrying the ends of the rattan to other trees on the bank or to rock projections. It is quite a piece of aboriginal engineering work. From the bridge a native trail followed up the mountain side and we followed it up to a height of a thousand feet or more. Here we reached the top of the ridge and we sent a Dyak up a tree who reported seeing smoke to the west. We continued along the ridge, still climbing. At about 3000 feet we came suddenly to a clearing with two houses in it. Tomalinda and I were ahead of the others and went down to the nearest house which was oval in shape with split planks for the sides and ends, and a grass thatched roof. Looking inside, it was divided crosswise into two halves; one half with three wooden cages in it evidently for pigs, the other half was for human habitation. There was someone in it who disappeared when we had walked around to the other end. A little farther on we could see more smoke so we followed the trail a few hundred yards farther and came to the village proper. Only one person was in sight - a little girl of about 6 years of age [See Film Selection #21]. To our surprise she waited with a smiling face for us to approach showing neither fear nor surprise. We gave her a few beads much to her delight and {p. 235} she led us to a house in which there was an old woman with a goitre. She too showed no fear of us. We indicated by signs that we wanted to see more people so she got up and left, leaving the small girl with Tomalinda, le Roux and me. In a few minutes a young woman came and in about ten minutes some men. They were all very quiet, very kindly, and seemed neither timid nor obtrusive. They pointed out the location of other villages and some of them were dispatched to see that other people would come. We gave one man a knife and told him we wanted a pig. They followed us when we made camp and in the early evening about thirty men came, evidently from other villages, among them the man we had given the knife with a pig and for good measure a big bunch of bananas. When the pig arrived, they all gathered in a circle and indicated that we were to join it also, and proceeded with much ceremony to slaughter the pig. One man held his forelegs with one hand and his snout with the other to keep him from squealing. Another held his hind legs. Then a third stood two or three yards away and as the first two stretched out the pig between them, he shot it through the heart with an arrow - the arrow going completely through the pig, which was of fair size. The ceremony was conducted quietly, with no excitement or any other disturbance. The pig was dead almost instantly and was laid on the ground beside the bunch of bananas. The transaction was then completed. This little valley or cirque is very steep and there appear to be several small villages in it. Our camp is within 200 yards of the village and we will settle down for {p. 236} a while, as we appear to be welcome neighbors.

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