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"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 29, 1926 : Mamberamo River


April 29th [See Film Selection #5]

Early this morning we found ourselves in muddy seas with considerable driftwood floating about, the detritus of a great river. At about 8 o'clock we could distinguish the entrance {p. 40} to the [V1: interlineated: Mamberamo] river in the low jungle clad coast line. At 9 o'clock we reached Cape D'Urville and entered the mouth of the river. The water is high with considerable vegetation floating down and the banks on both sides appear to be inundated. Although the coast is low at the mouth of the river, it is not a mangrove coast, jungle hardwood trees and beautiful feathery cassowary trees growing to the edge of the sea; great reefs of skeleton logs lodged on the points on either side [of] the mouth bear evidence of the industry of the river. We were quite interested in observing the river with an eye to its use as a landing place for the plane. It is plenty large and the current is not too swift. The only problem in the lower river is to miss the driftwood. We continued up the river until dark, having covered a distance of 45 miles. Curiously enough the river seems to grow larger the farther south we progress. Late in the afternoon we had our first glimpse of the Van Rees mountains, hazy and blue in the distance before us. We were interested in watching the bird life along the river, cockatoos, birds of paradise, white herons, and a kind of small gull were most prevalent.

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"...up the river could be seen deserted shelters at the water's edge, built by Papuans."
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More abundant than any bird were the flying foxes which could be seen hanging singly or as in 3 or 4 cases, by thousands in a single group of trees. These curious creatures are a sort of giant bat and are descriptively named. They make one think of a flock of pterydactyls [sic, = pterodactyls] in flight. Tonight is another perfect night, even as last night. The surface of the river is smooth as a mirror and a brilliant moon makes a path of silver across it. Here and there as we proceeded {p. 41} up the river could be seen deserted shelters at the water's edge, built by Papuans. Only one such place was inhabited, a group of three houses. When our ship appeared, a half dozen men ran out [of] each one holding something white in the palm of his hand and displaying it to us. Someone on the ship threw an empty cigar box overboard and two of them immediately put out from the house in a canoe. They paddled from a standing position, leaning well forward. The natives at Manokwari and at Japen paddled their canoes from a squatting position.




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