"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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December 5, 1926 : Albatross Camp (Base Camp)

December 5

Albatross Camp. We continued to Head Camp, Stan arriving in a pretty weakened condition owing to having made practically the whole trip with fever. Here we met Prince who is convalescing. He looked a little thin but is much better than he was. The 'ole swimmin' hole at Head Camp on River "C" is a fine place in which to recuperate. A couple of days later le Roux and Korteman arrived with Igoon and about 20 pygmies, who carried for them on the trail and who came to bid us all goodbye. Saleh arrived in Tombe the day after we left with a very bad fever with which he was barely able to reach the camp and was in no condition to make the trip to Head Camp. The Dyak with blackwater fever was {p. 304} also too weak to walk and will have to be carried on a litter at least part of the way. This was a tough undertaking and can only be done slowly. We sent up a canoe with a volunteer crew of Dyaks to go up the "impassable" water above Head Camp as far as possible to meet the downcoming transport thus saving a lot of gruelling land travel for the invalids. This was done, the canoe going several kilometers above camp and saving at least two days of litter travel. It was the kind of trip that it only pays to try once, however. Dick, Stan and I, a couple of days later, with seven canoes, made the trip to Motor Camp. There were lots of Papuans around the vicinity of River "A" and from there to Motor Camp. They made the usual noise but we did not land and had no trouble with them. I saw, through the door of one of their houses, the big blue tin of le Roux'{*}[s] that Hans and I left with the plane. I should have liked to have gone ashore to investigate but the other canoes had gone on ahead and I could not risk stopping as there were many Papuans there. At Motor Camp we stayed only two nights and one day and then with the motorboat, the "prow besar" and three small prows tied on we made the trip to Batavia Camp without particular incident. We camped the first night near the Van Daalen river where we were visited by about twenty Papuans who were very nervous but seemed friendly. They brought us a lot of sago. We found Batavia Camp looking much as we had left it. The kalongs were still circling by the thousands over {p. 305} Kalong Island and there were flocks of tens of thousands of parakeets, which flew in cloud formation like blackbirds, making fantastic, shifting formations as they maneuvered in the air. We landed at night in Batavia Camp. The gasoline lantern hanging in front of the camp which we sighted two miles away, looking like a beacon light and impressing us as the light of the home port must have impressed the crew of the sailing vessels in the old days. There was a new white sergeant in charge of the camp, who came on the last ship that visited Albatross Camp. Here also was mail waiting for us so our arrival was properly celebrated. After one day[']s rest, Dick, Stan, van Leeuwen and I shot the rapids of the Mamberamo and reached Albatross Camp which now has the aspect of a young city. Prince stayed behind to bring the motor of the aeroplane down on one of the motor boats. This turned out to be a dangerous assignment. When the second motor transport arrived at Batavia Camp with le Roux, Jordans and the rest of the expedition, one of the motor boats was dead and had to be lashed alongside the other, thus making them difficult to handle in the rapids, difficult enough at best, and pretty much in the nature of an experiment. In the Edi falls the boats were caught in a whirlpool and one of the steering wires broke. Prince reached out behind and used the metal tiller, {*} the boat missing being dashed onto the rocks by the narrowest of margins. It was only by virtue of Tomalinda's eye and knowledge of the falls that it was possible to make the trip through with the motor boats. He handled the wheel through all of the rapids. {p. 306} Fortunately the water was not very high. At Albatross Camp we cleaned, dried, and packed our collections in wooden cases made by the Dyaks, and got ourselves ready for the coming of the ships. Albatross Camp now sports a football field, a big producing garden - papaya trees grow along the river bank. Log walks extend to all parts of the camp, neatly bordered by rows of crossed sticks. Deep drainage ditches keep the camp dry and these are bridged by small log bridges. The aeroplane float is now in use as a boat landing and in front of the "European quarters" is a regular pier built out into the river. The night we arrived the Ambonese soldiers celebrated with a hilarious drinking party which carried into the wee small hours. They had it coming. The days have passed here leisurely. Daytime in packing, reading and loafing; evenings in cards or reading, then to bed and under the klambus listening to the wailing music of the Ambonese soldiers - violins, guitars, ukeleles with a Hawaiian twang; the weird, difficult to understand music of the Malays from the convict quarters or the pleasing singing of the Dyaks - or as frequently, all together. To add a note of discord we occasionally would break out in some American ditty, though our quartette is not all that it should be. Stan has taught Oompah to sing "The Corn in Iowa" and "Paw didn't raise no corn last year" in English, both of which he renders with impressive effect,{*} and is proud of his accomplishment. {p. 307}

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