"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 19, 1926 : Albatross Camp (Base Camp) ; Mamberamo River

May 19th

Early this morning Stanley went up the river with Posthumous and Jordan and Korteman in the motor boat and with a Dyak canoe. Their aim was to go through the rapids if possible to see if it is possible yet for the canoe transport to start. Dick went hunting with some Dyaks on Havik Island. In the middle of the afternoon Stanley got back. They went through the Marine falls and Anji Ipoei pronounced the rapids passable for a canoe transport. Dick came back from his hunt with a crowned pigeon and a cockatoo. We ate the pigeon for supper and it proved a great delicacy. The cockatoo was eaten by the Dyaks and its feathers utilized for ornament. Dick and the Dyaks trailed a cassowary, sighted it, and Dick shot at it, but missed. The Dyaks have been working hard on our permanent house the last couple of days and finished it tonight. They have a {p. 78} particular liking for us and went to extra pains in the work. The framework is of logs lashed together with rattan. The roof is of atap and the big sleeping room is all enclosed with big hand hewn planks which they cut and fit with surprising rapidity. A number of carved ornaments project above the general level of the boards. One over the door is a carved hornbill which they appear to have selected as our totem. They are now looking for paint to paint a decoration around the wall. The floors are of split bamboo. The place is cool and comfortable and a welcome improvement over our sweltering temporary shack. The house faces over the river with a large sheltered open place in front where we eat and can lounge. The river has now fallen 12 feet or more from the level it had when we first arrived so that now there is a high bank in front of us. [V1: The rest of the May 19th entry is bracketed with the phrase "omit" written in Stirling's own hand]

The day has been one of tribulations. Ever since we were in Java and the expedition organized on a large scale, the military men have been trying to get control. The outlay of expense on the part of the Indian government has naturally been much larger than on our part. This fact has rankled somewhat as they feel that their part is larger than ours, though on our side we took the initiative in the expedition. We did not intend to organize on such a large scale, but when the Indian committee wished to join we were pleased to cooperate with them on the expedition. All through, the Indian committee have been absolutely fair to us and helpful in every way. Now that the plane will not carry as much load as we had said it would in the plan, they have taken advantage of the fact, we have reason {p. 79} to know, to try and force the control from us. They have repeated all of the rumors they have heard and entered them in their official reports. They claim Peck is representing Paramount films as a movie operator, that Stanley is primarily interested in representing the press, that the plane is old and unsafe, that we have willfully misrepresented its carrying capacity etc. Van Leeuwen is ambitious and likewise would like the honor of the leadership, although very politic about it. As we are really on the defensive in regard to the fact that we cannot carry as much food to Head Camp as we had contracted for, the situation has become very strained. After giving the matter careful thought I have decided to wire the Indian committee to the effect that we cannot carry out our entire part as pre-arranged, and to offer them, since therefore the Dutch participation is now the largest, to turn over the leadership to van Leeuwen. This puts the issue up to them and I will await their reply. If they choose to take it over, we will continue and cooperate to the best of our ability. If they choose to let it continue as it is, conditions will not be much changed. As there is no doubt in my mind they would withdraw if I did not pursue this course, I feel that it is better to act in this way than to see the expedition wrecked for a few personal jealousies.

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