"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 30, 1926 : Mamberamo River

April 30th

[V2: drawing of a house]

This morning at daylight we hoisted anchor and continued on our way. We passed around several big bends in the river and had to stop once and send the motor boat out to explore the channel. We continued on our way until shortly after noon, when we entered the mountains. These mountains thus far have been rather low. At 3 P.M. we came to some sunken rocks in the river and sent the motor boat out for the rest of the afternoon to take soundings and to mark the rocks. We went no farther today and will lie at anchor here until daylight. There is a small island just ahead of us called Scholten Island. The river is very high. It is 20 feet over the top of the banks and the banks on both sides are inundated. During the day we passed about a dozen native villages. A few of them appeared to have been recently abandoned on account of the flood water, others when we first sighted them had smoke rising from them, but immediately when they sighted our ship {p. 42} the fires were evidently extinguished, and all the occupants vanished, leaving their house furnishings behind, however. Three or four of the villages did not desert their houses and ran to the water's edge to watch us as we passed. They wore broad bands of cowrie shells across their foreheads, long pointed bone or wooden pegs through the septum of the nose, bracelets and anklets. The men were nude, or wore a small penis cover, the women wore what appeared to be a bunch of grass drawn between the thighs and fastened to a cord about the waist. One woman had on a broad necklace of blue beads. The men carried long bows with even longer arrows. The houses were all quite small and flimsily built. They consisted of a rough platform of tree branches supported on small pilings and covered by a simple roof of palm leaves (laid over one another, not woven) in the form of an inverted V. At one end of the platform was a sort of table of twigs. Shields, baskets, sago pounders, etc, were scattered about the floors of the platforms. In many cases a small rectangular structure rather tightly built of sections of bark from sago logs was built near the dwelling house. I was unable to determine the purpose of these little structures.

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