"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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April 26, 1926 : Manokwari

April 26

This morning I got up about 7:30 and found we were about a mile offshore from the "Vogelkop" or Birds Head - the western portion of New Guinea. This first view of New Guinea showed a series of jungle clad mountain ranges rising from the water's {*} edge and reaching an elevation of 10,000 feet in the back ranges. It was raining and streaks and threads of mist partially cloaked the mountains here and there. For the first time we were out of the sheltered seas of the archipelago and the free swell of the Pacific from the North had the Albatross rolling in such a manner that several members were missing from the table at lunch time. The coast line proper is either low rocky cliffs with jungle growing down to the water's edge or narrow strips of sand beach. At one place there was a beautiful water-fall {*} which must have been 1500 feet in height, falling like a strip of lace from the rugged range beside us. In the middle of the afternoon we saw native houses on the shore, some of them built on stilts; and close inshore, canoes were darting up and down apparently watching us. The coast line in places {p. 34} is spectacular with a booming surf crashing against the rocks and raising at such points a mist that rises like a fog over the jungle clad shore line. With the glasses we could distinguish white cockatoos and other birds in the trees. As we rounded the point entering the island sheltered bay on which Manokwari is situated, we could see Papuans crouched on the beach, jet black, with great mops of fuzzy hair on their heads watching us stoically as we steamed past. Ahead of us we could see a fleet of outrigger canoes fishing. At 6 P.M. we warped into the little dock at Manokwari. The pier is short and the ship can come quite close to shore. Manokwari itself is a miscellaneous collection of nipa houses and some of corrugated iron. There are two Europeans here, including a Government magistrate. The shops are all run by Chinese. We got off the boat as soon as she docked and walked ashore in the darkness and the rain. There seemed only one way to go - up the single little street of Chinese and Malay shops. There is only a pathway between and for once the ubiquitous Ford was absent. There is not a motor vehicle in all of New Guinea. We sat on the porch of a Chinese shop and chatted in Malay with the hospitable proprietor who brought out seats for us. We were soon the center of a curious ring of Papuans - black fuzzy haired fellows wearing for the most part only the scantiest of loin cloths. Some of then had shell bracelets on their arms and many were tattooed with totemic devices on their chest. This is the most civilized place in New Guinea, but some of the natives look a long way from being tamed. Some of them followed {p. 35} us down the path. If we turned and looked at them they immediately turned and fled, only to stop and follow again when we continued on our way. This was repeated half a dozen times between the shop and the pier. As it continued to rain steadily we soon returned to the ship and so ended the day on which we first set foot on the great island which we hope to explore.

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