"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 8, 1926 : Damuneru Village ; Explorators Camp/Tombe Village

September 8

"For a guide we had Luwet...a small pygmy with red hair and a face and beard with a shaven upper lip hair like an Irishman."

This morning with two soldiers, I started for Damunaru, a village on the top of a high mountain on the other side of this steep valley. For a guide we had Luwet, who has adopted me as his particular charge. He is a small pygmy with red hair and a face and beard with a shaven upper lip hair like an Irishman. When he puts his stubby curved pipe in his mouth, the picture is complete. I wanted to see the village[,] and from the top of the mountain if possible[,] to determine the course of the Rouffaer from here on. Luwe set a hot pace up the steep mountainside and after two hours of climbing over logs and up slippery slides and crossing three small creeks, we came to the clearing. It is a very big clearing, many times larger than this one. In passing through we saw sweet potatoes (ubis), taro, sugar cane, bananas and raspberries. There are probably other plants as well. There is an enormous quantity of ubi plants. Near the lower end of the clearing were a group of four houses all of which had been abandoned for some time. Here and there were temporary structures or shelters utilizing the vertical face of some huge rock as a back or side. Near the upper end of the clearing is the village, it is divided into three corrals, each with a group of three houses. There may be {p. 243} some social significance to this division. There were about 50 men in a group waiting for us as we came up. They were all elaborately dressed and painted as tho for a ceremony. Their faces were painted black or red or both in a number of fanciful combinations. Many of them were wearing the huge circular hats called tam bu made of cassowary feathers and which look like big fur muffs. Others were wearing hats of similar construction and appearance but the band was of pandanus leaf and the feathers the reddish feathers of some other sort of bird. Many of them had their hair filled with a gum of some sort, plastic and sticky as glue. They had their hair nets plastered neatly down against this, which made it impossible for me to take head measurements of those so decorated. A boy of twelve or thirteen was the most elaborately equipped of all and may have been the cause of the ceremony. The upper half of his face was painted black, the lower half red. He was wearing a big circular headdress of red feathers and had a new yellow orchid-bark net bag neatly draped over his hair. When we came inside the village they brought us big lumps of greasy pork which we refused explaining that we had just eaten. They were brought out by a woman. They then brought us a small pig which they offered us apparently as a gift. As we had no means of bringing it, we refused but tried to explain that we would like to have them bring it to our camp. I took physical measurements of about a dozen men {p. 244} and would have liked to have measured some of the women, but they were rather timid, or perhaps there were too many men around, so I did not try to press the matter. The women seem to be considerably fewer in number than the men. Or perhaps there were many male visitors from other villages. Two men were afflicted with syphilis or leprosy apparently. One had a hand almost rotted off and seemed to be in a bad state indeed.

"Many of them were wearing the huge circular hats called tam bu made of cassowary feathers and which look like big fur muffs."

He did not come near the group and remained by himself in a little fenced-in enclosure. The other had the affliction principally on his feet. One woman had goitre. Otherwise they all seemed quite healthy save for the protruding bellies. They do not have scrofula or elephantiasis apparently. While I was photographing and measuring, "Louit" went into the men's house to eat. I went in soon after and I was again offered the unpalatable looking pork. They brought us some very good sugar cane, however, which we ate. After visiting a couple of hours in the village, we went the little way remaining to the top of the mountain. Here a magnificent panorama presented itself to view. Particularly to the north was the view fine and unobstructed. We could see the village and our camp which we had left early in the day, far below us on the other side of the little valley. The canyon of the Rouffaer, whence we had come, could be seen winding its way far to the north. On the steep eastern slopes of the cañon of the Rouffaer we could see the white {p. 245} threads of several small streams falling steeply from the heights to join the river below. Beyond, extended high, rugged mountains. The clearing did not extend over the south side of the ridge, so because of the trees it was not easy to see. However, I could see enough to show that our idea of the course of the river [V2: crossed out: and that presumed by Doorman is] has been quite wrong. There is a big valley which runs from the Rouffaer to the west just on the other side of the range on which we were standing. This river the pygmies call "Da'lo". However, the main canyon of the Rouffaer can be seen to go almost straight ahead, due south for a considerable distance, when it reaches a great rocky sawtooth range and forks, one arm going southeast, the other southwest. The Rouffaer is called by the Pygmies[,] "Nogullo". On the way down we saw an ingenious irrigating device made from a long bamboo pipe. I purchased a number of the elaborate feather headdresses and a very fine woven armor. They were anxious to trade more, but we had no carriers and as we could not bring things, I explained to them the things they had that I wanted and asked them to bring them to our camp tomorrow. Lúwé had disappeared when we were ready to start back so {*} we returned alone.

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