"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 27, 1926 : Tombage

September 27

The altitude here must be about 6000 feet, and last night it was quite cold. This morning it was quite clear and there was a fine view of the big coxcomb peak which rises from the opposite side of the river. The pygmies call it "Shingaga". A more rugged mountainous aspect it would be difficult to imagine. Vast precipices, precipitous gorges, huge domes and needles of bare rock characterize the north end of this big mountain range. Just below here the Delo cuts through a narrow notch that must be about 800 feet deep and about 100 feet wide; just below in a narrow place the pygmies say is a bridge - the only one across the Delo anywhere. On the steep slopes of the mountain across the river can be seen four villages. From east to west Yebegot, Yemoa, Towase and Bomo. Towase is much the largest and must be the metropolis of the Delo. Bomo, the farthest west, is the smallest and the highest, located on a surprisingly rugged and knife-like ridge. From here to Towase is probably a day's trip, but I have not the time to make it and as the Dyaks and Shorty are tired from the hard trail here, it would be too much to attempt without more rest. In this village are five houses with about 8 or 10 women and twenty men. At noon, with a pygmy as guide[,] oolungdow, one of the Dyaks, and I started down the trail to Towase to see the River and the bridge. Just below here the {p. 269} "Wolele" joins the Delo from this side and we first crossed it, a pretty good sized stream itself and the largest of the three large tributaries we have seen on this side. We crossed it on a fallen tree, but it could be forded without much difficulty. Crossing the low spur which separates it from the Delo, we met two men coming from Towase. They were both astonished and frightened for a moment and fitted arrows to their bows, but they knew our guide, and he soon calmed them down. One had his face painted a jet black, and the other has a bright red. They seemed to be all "dressed up" and were evidently on their way to visit Tombage. After visiting with them a few minutes and partially satisfying their curiosity, we each went our separate ways. In a few minutes we reached the river which we now saw for the first time. The volume of water is quite large and probably contributes a third of the volume of the Rouffaer. The water is cloudy white, with much sediment, and quite cold, so that it is probably the stream that flows from the eternal snows of the Carstentz and Idenberg tops. This must be the case because of the direction from which it comes and the condition of the water. It is this fact which makes it even more difficult to understand why the Nogullo is the main stream. The latter coming from the east must drain the big region between here and the Wilhelmina top. Across the Delo at this point, where it narrows between two rocky bluffs, is a rattan suspension bridge about thirty yards long. The water under it seems to {p. 270} be very deep and runs very swiftly. Just above the bed becomes much broader and there is a big gravel bar in the middle. We crossed over to the other side and walked up the river about a quarter of a mile and could see where it enters the great notch described before. This spectacular spot appears to be the place the river breaks through the backbone of the main mountain range as a tremendous ridge of granite rises from it in a serrated knife edge to the heights of the great 13,000 foot Shingaga peak. After an hour's rest we tackled the stiff climb back to camp. Early in the morning I took the measurements of twenty pygmies so I feel well satisfied with the day's results.

"Across the Delo at this point, where it narrows between two rocky bluffs, is a rattan suspension bridge about thirty yards long."

At this point we have almost skirted the end of the great range. Because of this fact I believe that by climbing a mountain called by the pygmies "Mutuba", I will have a good chance of seeing the snow mountains, and overlooking the great white spot on the map of New Guinea which lies between these two main ranges. The only time to see is in the morning, as the mists gather before noon, so I plan to start with oolungdow as soon as we can see in the morning. I would like to make camp there and stay over night, but I cannot return in time by doing so. In the evening I measured the two men from Towase. One of them, the one with his face painted black, had a most elaborate coiffeur [sic]. His hair had been fixed in a hundred or more small, long curls and was oiled until it shone. He had six hair nets over it, one over the other, which he rather reluctantly removed for me to take his head measurements. {p. 271} During this operation he held his hair carefully in place with both hands and when I had finished, at once put his hair nets back in place. The men here want us to come back again with trade goods and they will kill a big pig and people will come from all neighboring villages. We tried to tell them to come to Tombe with their articles for trade, but they did not respond at all to this suggestion. I have their word with graphic description that the snow mountains can be seen from Mutaba, the mountain to the west, and our guide of today, who is a friendly fellow, has promised to lead us to the trail.

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