"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 24, 1926 : Papuans of Bisano ; Mamberamo River ; Albatross Camp (Base Camp)

May 24th

This is the day after Whitsunday and is another holiday, the camp exhibiting the same scene of idleness as yesterday. Since it is costing many hundreds of guilders a day, it seems to me a foolish thing to observe holidays here, particularly when they come two in a row. This afternoon about 2:30, two canoes containing twelve Papuans came from downstream to camp. They were costumed in a manner quite similar to the others whom we have had here. They wore the same waist armor of braided rattan, coiled hair ornaments, tail ornaments, bracelets and net bags. They also wore the hairpin shaped nose ornaments although not all {*} of them had them. Some appeared to be much more "dressy" than others. The older men, particularly, wore almost no ornaments. They were a bit shy about coming on shore at first, {p. 83} but two of the older men came up the bank, and it was not long before the rest followed. We gave them rice, film tins and tobacco and le Roux got a number of words from them. Their language is quite closely related to the people whom we met from above here. They are on the whole not of particularly fine physique. Only two or three could really be called well built.

"...they showed no objections to being photographed and would hold a pose with considerable patience."

One had a swelling on his knee, another had one leg which was partly withered, another was sick and two or three had the dry skin disease which seems so common among the Papuans of this region. Like the others, they showed no objections to being photographed and would hold a pose with considerable patience. Doc. Hoffman gave them a great thrill by coming out of his shack next door to us wearing a grotesque white mask. Posthumous has two celluloid kewpie dolls, one pink and one black. For some reason or other these created more astonishment among the Papuans than any of the other things in camp. We have also some lithographs {*} of movie stars tacked on the wall, claiming them as our wives. They attracted not a little interest. I showed them some photos of the other Papuans who visited us from upstream. These they comprehended full well, and a great chatter and discussion started when the little jew-like old man's picture was produced. Like the other bunch they spent a fine time, gathering up discarded meat tins, pasteboard boxes and other odds and ends about camp. These treasures were either stuffed in their net bags or put in their canoe to bring home with them. As a group of them were {p. 84} passing the bath house in front of the officers' quarters, Hoffman, who was taking a bath, threw out a little water on them. For some reason they resented this highly, probably being quite unaccustomed to the touch of water. Although they had promised to stay the night, after this incident they immediately got into their canoes and left in a huff.

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