"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 4, 1926 : Explorators Camp/Tombe Village

September 4

This morning early all of the Dyaks[,] excepting Tomalinda and one other[,] left on the back trail to River "C". The rest of us are prepared to wait here for awhile. Many pygmies came to visit us and were around camp all day. We did a great deal of trading with them. Our cowrie shells are like diamonds to them and they like them above all else. One cowrie will buy anything. They like other things also. It was most interesting to see them look at a mirror. Like monkeys they would try to see what was behind and tried all sorts of experiments to catch the reflection by surprise. We negotiated for another pig, and they were much worried when the Dyaks left, that we were all going. They are fairly keen traders but are honest and if paid in advance for an article, they will return with it when they get it. On our first arrival, before we started trading they gave us each a present, not overlooking the convicts and Dyaks, [of] arrows, bananas, betel nut, etc. They are in every way a striking contrast to the Papuans of the Rouffaer below. Where they are nervous and excitable, these are calm and tranquil. These are honest and apparently quite trustworthy whereas they are treacherous and unstable.

"Many pygmies came to visit us and were around camp all day."

The most interesting feature of these people from an anthropological standpoint is their very small size and the noticeable difference {p. 237} in physiognomy from the Papuans. They wear a net over the hair and a net bag over the shoulder. They wear a short feed tube through a hole in the septum of the nose and various sorts of ear ornaments. Their most striking article of apparel is the big penis cover consisting of a large gourd, usually tipped with cuscus fur, which curves upwards to the chest. It is fastened by means of a braided ring to a cord around the waist which terminates behind in a sort of bustle made from neatly woven yellow cords of orchid bark. They wear braided arm bands and each man wears a very small woven orchid bark basket containing a species of cocoon which they appear to prize highly. Some of them have their faces painted either black or red. Usually it is the forehead and nose, or else around the eyes and forehead like a highwayman's mask {*}. They are very quiet and usually come very close to talk and then speak in undertones or whispers. Some of their bags are profusely ornamented with pig's [sic] tusks and these seem highly valued in their eyes. They seem to have some correspondence with the trophy bags of the Rouffaer. They also use bird of paradise feathers in ornamenting their bags. These birds are very numerous around here. Tomalinda went out this evening for half an hour and shot two fine specimens. When he returned with them, the pygmies were most astonished to see them and could not figure out how he had obtained them so easily as of course they know nothing of guns {p. 238} and birds of paradise are practically impossible to get with bow and arrow. They indicate astonishment by clicking their gourd penis covers with their finger nails and needless to say our camp sounded like a Western Union telegraph office most of the day as almost everything we had was a wonder to them. In the evening the head man came around with his wife who was carrying three huge net bags over her head before and behind filled with sweet potatoes and roots like taro roots together with a lot of rhubarb like stalks and leaves. We gave him a knife for them, tho apparently he brought them as a gift. Under all of these bags the woman was carrying still another bag with an 8 month old baby hidden completely in its depths. This woman is the mother of the small girl whom we first saw. The costume of the women is a sort of double apron before and behind of very short stubs of palm leaves. She was wearing a lot of necklaces of joints of a bright yellow reed and of black seeds of some sort. They have a hard shelled, shiny round pink seed of some sort which seems to be used as a sort of currency. They held them at quite a high price.

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