"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 28, 1926 : Explorators Camp/Tombe Village

October 28

The transport was due to arrive today, from Head Camp, but it did not. This evening Jordans came back with a couple of carriers from above. Dick will not return until he has reached the top and had a chance to photograph the snow. During the day more visitors arrived from Gulalu, and the first comers from there returned home with the intention of coming back as soon possible with trade goods. We spent a large part of the day trying to find out something of their social organization.

"In Tombe, Igoon is the only man who has a wife."

All through these mountains the men outnumber the women two to one. Whether or not this is due to female infanticide, I do not know. Marriage seems to have an economic basis and is by purchase. Considerable freedom seems to be allowed in the intercourse of the sexes both before and after marriage. In Tombe, Igoon is the only man who has a wife. However, almost all of the rest have one or more children in other villages. Toweno, the wife of Igoon[,] has two sons born before her marriage to Igoon, as well as four of which Igoon is the father. Igoon, on the other hand, has a son and daughter in Ooabu and I don't know {p. 298} where else. The young men travel about considerably[,] visiting other villages and contracting liasons [sic] with young women there. Even the small children long before puberty play at being married. One of the young men here has two children in Ooabu and is very anxious to marry their mother, but is not yet rich enough. Of the marriage ceremony, I have not learned much; but the husband cuts off the first joint of one finger of the bride with a stone axe. When a man's wife dies he in turn cuts off the joint of a finger from one of his hands. The shooting scene I witnessed at Tombage seems to be a test of fortitude which a prospective groom is put through. I suspect many of the scars worn by most of the men, are a result of this ordeal. The married women travel around on long trips of several weeks duration with unmarried men or the husbands of other women. Many women who have visited here have explained that their husbands are in Towase, Agintawa, or where-not. The lot of the women is a very pleasant one. It is true they do most of the hard work in the gardens and around the house, as well as bearing large families of children. They are well treated however and there seem to be few domestic difficulties. Some times, as in the case of old "Shylock" husbands appear to be at least on the verge of being henpecked. They reach old age fairly gracefully contrary to the usual situation among primitive people. For example the mother of Toweno, although she has borne many children, worked all of her life, and has two grown men, at least that I know of, who are her grandchildren, is still strong and healthy, cheerful in dis-{p. 299} position, and anything but senile.

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