"By Aeroplane to Pygmyland" Accounts of the 1926 Smithsonian-Dutch Expedition to New Guinea

Interpretive Essays

Browse Photos and Film

Expedition Source Material

About this Project

expedition source material

Journal of Matthew Stirling
Select a Date:
Select a location/subject:
Current Date and Location/Subject:  

September 9, 1926 : Explorators Camp/Tombe Village

September 9

This morning I went through the gardens with Luwe to see the different sorts of plants they raise. There is {p. 246} a considerable variety, most of which I do not know. "Ubis" or white sweet potatoes are the principal crop, seconded by bananas. There is also much Taro, and these three constitute the bulk of the agricultural produce. In addition to these are sugar cane, raspberries, tobacco [V1/V2: blank line here] Shortly before noon when I returned to the village, I found that about a dozen men from {*} Damunaru had come down for a visit. They were still painted up as the day before, but the paint had lost its freshness and the colors were beginning to run into one another. They were wearing their fine boar's tusk bags and had a lot of fine decorated arrows. I told them to come to our camp to trade. About half an hour later they did so but left behind their best articles. They are getting to be keener traders all of the time but we always drive a sharp bargain so as to keep up the value of cowries. It would be ruinous to their system of exchange if we started dishing them out by the handful. They took a great fancy to a pink crepe face towel hanging in front of my tent and were willing to trade anything for it. One of them wanted to know what a candle was for so I demonstrated and cutting it into sections[,] found it a valuable article of exchange. Then one wanted the trade knife I used to cut it with and I told him I would give it for a boar's tusk bag. He at once returned to the village to get it, and in an hour returned, having cut off all the tusks from one side. Fearing this would start a bad custom of "short-changing" and lead to the spoiling {p. 247} of fine ethnological specimens, I showed that I saw what had been done. They all gathered around then and showed how half of the tusks from the side remaining could be moved over to the other side, thus making it as good as ever. This I would not agree to either and made him supply a number of other articles to replace the missing tusks. They at first cared little for our knives, but now that they have a few and discovered by actual use, their superiority over the stone variety, they are beginning to set a much higher value on them. We would like to supply them with plenty of big parangs to replace their stone axes which must be difficult for them to make but they are too heavy for the carriers to bring many. We are making good progress with their language and have located all of their villages. They have been down the Rouffaer as far as the lake plain where they described meeting the big Papuans there who attacked them and killed several of their number. One displayed a big scar on his back as a relic of this attack. They are great travellers and have trails all over this section of the country, going from one village to another continually. They described also another bad people whom they said were quite small who were also their enemies. These are the "Puto" who live in the very high mountains farther in to the south. They know also of the people of the Swart valley far to the East, whom they describe as friendly. {p. 248} Igoon, who is the head man of this little village is a model host. He has a mildness of manner and a certain dignity that is pleasing to see.

"Igoon, who is the head man of this little village is a model host."

Each evening he comes to our camp with a load of potatoes which he distributes in four groups among us. He has noticed that Jordans and I always eat together so one pile of potatoes with portions for two he brings to our shelter. Le Roux eats alone so he is presented with a single portion. The two convicts eat together, so they get two portions, and the four soldiers get four. They like to visit with the convicts and soldiers and to sit around the cooking fire where they smoke and watch proceedings and feel quite at home. It must be a great drain on the resources of Igoon to have us here as visitors because many men come from the other villages to see us and while they are here he must house and feed them. Whenever we purchase a pig from them, we always give them back half - a procedure which pleases them considerably. They have pens by the houses for the pigs, who come around for a few scraps at meal time. During the day they roam the jungle at large, foraging for themselves. Strong, well made fences of split rails set both vertically and horizontally, lashed together by rattan, surround the gardens to protect them from the pigs. Most of the heavy work is done by the women who carry enormous loads in net begs filled with potatoes, babies, stone axes and spades, taro and other {p. 249} paraphernalia. At Damunaru the men were working in the gardens also, but they don't do much carrying.

CreditsPermissionsMore Expeditions & Voyages