"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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October 5, 1926 : Agintawa District

October 5

This morning our guides returned early, together with old "Shylock", a native who visited us shortly after our arrival at Tombe and earned his title because of his bargaining propensities and his shrewd old eye. He also brought his wife, three children, a big bag full of sweet potatoes, and a good sized pig. (Or rather his wife brought them.) Her face is as pleasant, incidentally, as his is mean. He insisted upon killing the pig on the spot, in spite of the fact that we preferred to {p. 280} have it done at the village. He wanted the head and viscera for himself as interest for the trouble of bringing the pig to us and was presented with them with due ceremony. We continued along the trail up the mountain and in about an hour reached the village of Aeimba which consists of the clan of Shylock, two houses with a good-sized clearing in which are growing sweet potatoes, sugar cane, bananas, taro, raspberries and the usual crops. The clearing is on a mountain spur above the junction of the "Babu", the river by which we camped last night and the "Aeijabu" which is the Jasper river. From here there is a fine view down the canyon of the Aeijabu to the Nogullo and of the mountains on the other side of the Nogullo. In a north-westerly direction one can look up the canyon of the Aeijabu. The mountain range flanking it on the on the north is very high, rising well above the timber line. From here it appears that this high range would be comparatively easy to climb by starting up the spur at the north side of the mouth of the Aeijabu. I am inclined to think it would be a quicker way back to camp, to follow the Aeijabu down to the Nogullo and there intercept our transport trail from Head Camp. It appears from such information as we get here, that "Agintawa", the famous, is the name of a district or tribe comprising the territory south of the Aeijabu, comprising a number of separate small villages, of which this is evidently the farthest east. We were presented on arrival with a huge bunch of ripe bananas, which are excellent {p. 281} eating and quite different in taste from any we have had before, being of a sugary consistency and the skins pale green when ripe. Another big surprise was when they brought around some fine lemons of large size and fine flavour. Tomorrow Oompah is going to make some syrup from sugar cane and we will have lemonade, which is considerable "class" for the Nassau mountains. Tomorrow Shylock says he is going to kill a big pig for which he wants ten cowries. During the afternoon, when our camp was established, I measured a number of women and men and found an interesting contrast. Just as the women at Tombe and Towase are large in proportion to the men, the reverse is the case here. Evidently the men here get their wives from the pygmies and vice versa.

"...I measured a number of women and men and found an interesting contrast."

Several women were less than 140 c.c. [sic] in stature. This evening I watched the complete process of cooking the one meal they have in the day, which is the evening meal. A number of flat rocks are laid on the ground and a fire built on them, the sticks being laid crosswise in the form of a square about 2½ feet in width. This is built up to about two feet in height, more rocks being added at each succeeding layer. When the fire has burned for some time, a shallow square pit nearby is lined with fern leaves and banana leaves, and in it are dumped a big heap of "greens" from the tops of the potato plants. Then hot rocks are picked up with a pair of tongs consisting of two flat sticks, and wrapped in big green leaves. These wrapped rocks are then placed under and among the greens. {p. 282} Over this is placed a layer of banana leaves on top of which are placed another layer of hot rocks. This pit is thus built up about three stories high, in the top layer being placed the meat. More hot rocks are placed on top; the ends of the big leaf and fern lining are drawn up and bound together with a vine and it is then left to cook for about an hour and a half or two hours. While the fire is burning, potatoes are thrown on the coals and hot rocks and when roasted are eaten. Later when the pit is opened all gather around crouched in a circle and eat. Men, women and children all eat together. They have no containers, such as baskets or pottery, and water is never boiled. This meal is eaten about 5 P.M. the dogs waiting hopefully around the edge of the circle for any scraps that may be cast aside.

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