"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 31, 1926 : Papuans of Bisano

May 31st

"...I hiked into the jungle with old Kanagua as guide..."

This morning I spent three hours making physical measurements of men, at five yellow beads per head. Some were a little reticent about it and most of them so ticklish that a number of the measurements were difficult to take. I have not succeeded in measuring any women as yet, but I have not insisted much and rather expect I will be able to do so in a few days. After measuring all the men available, I hiked into the jungle with old Kanagua as guide, to watch the women making sago. I took half a dozen photos and made presents of beads and tobacco all around. The women had felled a large sago palm and were working on it. The upper portion of the stalk is delicious eating just as it is cut from the palm. It is white in color with a nut like flavor. We had some of it yesterday, taken from this same palm. The women were sitting on the trunk working with their sago axes much after the manner they did it at Ambon. Two or three of the women had their breasts ornamented with white horizontal stripes. As they worked in unison with their axes they sang a sort of chant to punctuate their strokes. It was educating to see the coy behavior of the young and better looking girls when posing for photographs. Although they had never seen a camera before, they would strike a coquettish attitude that would do credit to a professional Follies actress. When I {p. 105} had completed my photographic operations, I wanted to stand by and observe them at work for awhile; but Kanagua, evidently not trusting my honorable intentions, or possibly fearing I would not be able to withstand the sidelong glances of the maidens, insisted that we leave them to themselves. To keep peace in the village, I went. Armein has developed into a first rate scientific assistant. In addition to his cooking, laundering and valet operations, he helps me when I am taking measurements and is a big help. Le Roux has spent the whole morning deciphering native songs. He has succeeded in working one out, which is no little task. The song is about a paradise hunter who came to this region and whom they killed. This noon I went over to the men's house and watched Pejuwa preparing a meal. He first cooked the oil out of some fat which he had. I could not tell what the fat was from but he assured me it was not hog fat. He drained this oil into a half a cocoanut shell. He had about 2 dozen small lizards which he had captured this morning under his arm band.

"Although they had never seen a camera before, they would strike a coquettish attitude that would do credit to a professional Follies actress."

These he slipped out one by one, dipped them in the hot oil and ate them without further ceremony. For dessert he had a helping of a sort of pink sago cake. Pejuwa is a young man and has no wife so must do his own foraging and cooking. Catching lizards is the particular joy and province of the small boys, who are most proficient at it. Only this morning my favorite of them all, a small boy of six or seven years, with big brown eyes and a shy air, came around to me with {p. 106} an offering of about a dozen small lizards which he had carefully wrapped in a leaf. I had not the heart to refuse them and to his great delight gave him three cigarettes in exchange for them. He looks for all the world like a real southern pickaninny [V1: crossed out: of the best type]. Lizards of all kinds are taken, but the small ones seem to be the greatest delicacy. Yesterday le Roux saw a huge green iguana-like lizard with a saw edged back, nearly three feet long. The Papuan with him tried to kill it but the creature escaped. I saw three or four that must have been similar, on the banks of the Mamberamo about four or five miles above Albatross Camp. Our food supply that we brought with us is none too large, and Armein has been doing some foraging on his own account. He brought in some breadfruit and some onion like roots which were quite palatable and also got hold of some small fish; I don't know where, but probably in the tributary stream to the Uama which evidently comes within a mile or two of the village.

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