"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 26, 1926 : Tombage

September 26

We got an early start this morning and found that the trail still continued to rise. After about an hour we came over the edge of a small plateau which seems to lie between the Delo and the river to the north. It is covered with a tall saw grass and we enjoyed the mile or two of level trail before the {p. 265} trail again went over the edge and began to descend steeply. Just after leaving the edge the way was quite difficult as the undergrowth was very dense and the trail was little more than a tunnel through it for quite a distance. We came shortly to what appeared to be an old native clearing in which there was a temporary shelter erected by the natives. From here we had a good view of the mountains on the other side of the river and could see several clearings with houses. The trail descended until I thought we were going to cross the Delo at last, but instead we crossed a good sized tributary stream tumbling through a bed of solid rock, and began to climb steeply again. From this point we had nothing but the most difficult of going, the trail being quite dangerous in many places, as well as very difficult. About 2 P.M. we crossed another good sized tributary stream, also with a solid rock bed and being only a succession of fairly high waterfalls. It proved to be a ticklish piece of work crossing this stream as we had to ford it at the brink of a thirty foot fall. When we had succeeded in this our troubles had only begun as we then had to climb a perpendicular cliff of 100 feet, covered with slippery moss, in getting up the opposite side of the stream. Finally at 4:30 P.M. we came to the edge of a clearing and saw some houses above us with smoke rising from them. The clearing was roughly circular in form surrounded by a hog-proof fence. The houses were at the upper edge. The {p. 266} trail followed next to the fence, but as it was through high sawgrass, I thought it best to approach through the open gardens where they could see us and we could see them. We were not seen however, and I walked to the fence surrounding the house and shouted "Wau!", the friendly greeting of the pygmies. As at Tombe the first person I saw was a small girl, about 9 years old.

"The village is "Tombage.""

However, quite different was the reaction. When she saw me looking over the fence she nearly died of fright, and letting out a shriek ran into the house. For fully two minutes nothing happened and nothing could be heard except the weeping of the girl and another child who joined the chorus. Then a man came cautiously out with his bow and arrows. He peeked around the corner, saw us, and ducked back again. Some excited chatter from within the house followed. Meanwhile we were repeating "Wau!" and smiling our friendliest smiles. In a minute he came out again, obviously very much frightened and uncertain as to what to do. I jumped down into the house yard from the fence and walked towards him, smiling, with hand extended. He retreated and would not let me come too near him. Finally however he responded to our smiles and I succeeded in handing him a mirror. He then stood in the middle of the yard and began shouting to the four winds at the top of his lungs, "Wah! {p. 267} Wah! Wah! Wah! Wu! Wu! Wu! Wu! Wu!" over and over again. At this[,] men began appearing from all directions on the run with their bows and arrows. As they came to the yard he spoke to each and they laid their weapons outside before coming in. We popped fingers with all and everyone was soon at his ease. Soon women began to appear also and before long there were eight or ten women and about fifteen men gathered. I indicated a place in the garden and asked if we might make camp there. The first man we saw, who is also head man of the village, said yes. I had picked a spot that was a little rough because there were no plants growing in it. He indicated a level place alongside with a number of taro growing in it. When I looked questioningly at the latter, he tore up two or three by the roots and threw them aside, to show that it was all right to camp on them. As we started to make camp before an interested circle of spectators, the head man brought us a huge bag full of fine sweet potatoes and taro and a sort of big bean in the pod that none of us had ever seen before. There was food enough for twenty men for three days instead of our little group of five for one day. I gave presents of mirrors all around and some cloth to the head man so that by the time we were eating supper everyone felt at home and they seemed to have lost their fear of us. The village is "Tombage." {p. 268}

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