"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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May 7, 1926 : Soeroei (Soeroe), Japen

May 7th

This morning at daylight we pulled into the cove at Soeroe to find that the Van Noort and the Fomalhout had preceded us by less than half an hour. With three ships in the cove, Soeroe experienced the busiest day in her history. The unloading of the Van Noort was completed and that of the Fomalhout started, all of the goods being landed on shore where they will be transferred to the Albatross. As there are about 180 tons, the Albatross will not be able to bring it all in one trip. Capt. Posthumous came on the Van Noort and with him the remainder of the personnel of the expedition. Hans came on the Fomalhout after a most interesting cruise up several of the rivers on the Waropen coast of New Guinea and several of the small islands north of here. This afternoon Hans and I found a trail in the jungle and followed it for several miles until it came out on a beach farther up the island. We encountered a number of natives on the way, black mop-headed fellows, naked, carrying bows and arrows. One particularly evil looking fellow fell in behind us as we walked and followed us all the way to the beach. As he was carrying his bow and arrows, we would have preferred him to walk in front if he felt he must accompany us. The women here have astonishingly large mops of frizzy hair, some of them being red with lime. Most of the women wear a sort of cloth sarong about the loins but do not cover the {p. 51} breasts. The men wear a small breach cloth or a small apron about six inches square. Many of the natives were carrying lizard skins. These lizards are quite large - about 3 feet long and the trade in these skins appears to be the principal industry of the island. We saw on the beach a particularly fine canoe with very elaborate bow ornaments of feathers and carved wood. We were told it had just come across from the Waropen coast of New Guinea. The Papuans here are very fond of chewing tobacco. They carry an enormous quid in the mouth. It projects between the lips in a most unsightly manner and appears often to be stuffed between the lower lip and lower teeth. A good many of the men have fairly luxuriant beards. On the whole they are of rather small stature and of slight build. The women when young are fairly good looking but soon become veritable hags. They appear to bathe quite frequently but in spite of this are usually decidedly unclean.

This morning Dick and I took some movie pictures of a big canoe landing. The occupants particularly the younger ones, were quite terrified and burst into loud wailing. Each individual when going anywhere carries his personal belongings in a small net slung over his shoulder. The women are quite as dextrous [sic] in handling the canoes as the men, although we noticed that in a canoe "manned" by women, the stroke paddle was invariably handled by a man. When meeting a group on the trail, the women invariably carried all the load, the man or men walking alongside quite unburdened. It is interesting to note (probably due to the mission influence) quite a number of {p. 52} the men wear a regular American style straw hat, but no other garment of any sort. There are a number of Government officials and residents aboard the Van Noord and the Fomalhout - all dressed immaculately in freshly starched whites and canes. Dick and I, each with 2 weeks growth of beard and grease spotted khaki with no collars or ties, look like a choice pair of tramps. We didn't figure on encountering society here. While Hans and I were making our cross country hike today, we saw a very large tree and stopped to measure it roughly. It was 25 feet in diameter at the base and we estimated 12 feet in diameter 30 feet above the ground.

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