"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 30, 1926 : Papuans of Bisano

May 30th

Up betimes this morning and did partake of my daily oatmeal which my knave "Armein" doth prepare with right good taste. The rain of yesterday left the ground muddy and the air misty, but the storm is over. Our first visitor this morning was our young friend with the freshly pierced nose who is fast developing into a first rate beggar. He is a willing informant and a willing singer and has a particularly cheerful disposition which does not seem to be affected by refusal of his desires. Kornesa, on the other hand, sulks and makes himself disagreeable when he does not receive what he considers his just due. It is interesting to note that the objects the natives particularly desire are not the goods brought expressly for that purpose. While our beads, mirrors and cloth are thankfully received as gifts, they are loth to part with any of their own possessions for them. On the other hand, one hardy savage has set his heart on the tape lashings on the top of my puttees. Still another would sell his soul for le Roux'[s] teapot. And thus it goes. Cloth and tobacco are [the] best of the trade goods. Sally went on another trip [V1: crossed out: today] lasting most of the day. He went east until he struck the Uama river, then he followed it down to the point where we left to climb over the ridge. He brought {p. 102} back several fine specimens of coal and from their appearance it would seem that the vein or veins is somewhere in this part of the stream as the coal occurs more frequently and is not much waterworn.

This afternoon le Roux and I had another long session with the Papuans. We have made quite a bit of progress with their language which is no small task without any means of interpreting. I had a goodly crowd on hand to watch me take my bath. Later when we were seated with them on a log, they took great pleasure in feeling our persons with their fingers. They would roll up our sleeves to feel our arms and then our trouser legs to feel of our legs and wished to proceed farther, but enough is enough. Whether this investigation was conducted from an epicurean or an aesthetic standpoint, I am not sure. It is certain however that our soft, white, satiny skins and the rolls of flesh beneath interested them highly. With this proceeding still fresh in [V1: interlineated: our; crossed out: their] minds, they asked us if we could die. Suppressing a strong desire to claim immortality, we assured them that die we would eventually. Then, hoping to learn something of their own views on the subject; with a confidence quite out of keeping with the facts[,] we stated that upon our demise we would go to Heaven - pointing upwards by way of illustration. This novel idea did not awaken any similar train of thought in their own beliefs evidently and it got us nowhere. {p. 103}

I learned a lot of names of dogs today; this line of investigation being brought on by the fact that my tent was raided by one of their canines last night, resulting in a total loss for my butter and sugar. This is a small tragedy, as we are all on minimum rations and it means that I must go without sugar in my tea or oatmeal {*} from now on and must have my deng-deng [sic, = dendeng] and hash cooked dry.

"Oh yes, I forgot. Female dogs are permitted in the ghost house."

Returning to the subject of dogs, I asked if female dogs were allowed in the men's house. This brought forth a great burst of merriment and appears to have been the prize joke of the season as half the audience at once got up and ran laughing to the village to tell it to the rest. Oh yes, I forgot. Female dogs are permitted in the ghost house. As nearly as I can gather, dogs names are only bestowed on another dog after the original has died and left the name open, as it were. The Papuans brought in a large wild hog today and cut it into chunks which were cooked first over an open fire and then put on a wooden frame over a slow fire where they have been smoking all day. This fire is under the men's house and when I went over this evening to take in the bull roarer concert I found the interior of the ghost house unbearable and I soon left with streaming eyes [V1: interlineated: which did not result from the music]. It seems that small boys as soon as they leave their mothers' apron strings are permitted to enter freely the ghost house, where they witness the bull roarer music but evidently do not participate. Some of the boys who were present at the music could not have been more than seven or eight years old. The bull roarer {p. 104} concert must be held twice daily we learned. Once early in the morning, about sunrise or before, and again, about an hour before sunset.

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