"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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June 1, 1926 : Papuans of Bisano

June 1

Last night the Papuans held a song-fest in the ghost house that lasted all night. They began singing at about dark and sang without stopping until sunrise. The singing was in chorus and parts, and was really quite harmonious, although the same tune with different arrangements was used the whole time. Naturally we didn't sleep much ourselves, for there was plenty of volume to the music; drum accompaniment, and every now and then {p. 107} a shouting climax! This morning, as might be expected, they are all hoarse. We have not found out yet whether the singing was purely for amusement or whether it had a religious significance. It started and ended with the evening and morning Bull Roarer concerts. There were a couple of visitors here from another kampong and it might have been for their benefit. We still have our regular gathering of visitors around. Last night Le Roux suddenly acquired the idea of shaving off his three weeks growth of beard. The Papuans watched this operation with intense interest for which I do not blame them, as I did likewise. With no shaving soap or brush, the amputation was something to watch. There has been one bad reaction. The Papuans now want me to shave and requested that the event be announced in advance so that the whole village may be present. I have no intention tho' of sacrificing my beautiful two months old beard to make a Papuan holiday. This morning I gathered the women together and took physical measurements of ten of them. The preliminaries of this event required all of the arts and blandishments of which I am capable. Finally with the aid of an old woman who is much less bashful than the rest, I got them rounded up. With the tempting reward of a small mirror dangling before them, most of them overcame their coyness sufficiently to submit to the operation, a half dozen however, fled and could not be lured back. The young unmarried women and the old women remained to be measured; the former because they could not resist the temptation to add to their scanty pile of worldly adornment, the latter because {p. 108} they had lost their maidenly shyness with the passing of the years. The young matrons, still possessing their shy natures, but with a few ornaments in their possession, evidently let bashfulness predominate over vanity.

"The young men here are great dandies...The older men wear practically no adornment."

The young men here are great dandies, with ferocious looking nose ornaments of cassowary bones, elaborate hair coiffeurs [sic], bead necklaces, [and] huge rolls of Kani around their waists. The older men wear practically no adornment. The holes in their noses are vacant, bearing evidence of younger and vainer days. When beads or a ring are given to the older men, they in turn give them to the children, with a genuine kindliness that is good to see. For that matter, if a man is given a package of cigarettes or anything divisible as reward for a service of some sort, he at once divides them equally among the others. They readily enough recognize pictures. I brought some prints of photos we took when they visited Albatross Camp. They at once recognized and called by name the subject of the photo. Curiously enough their own photos they contemplated with an unrecognizing foolish look on their faces and did not seem to care to look at them. The photos of the others, however, would be examined with interest. None of them will speak their own name. To find the name of a native it is necessary to ask some one [sic] else. When their name is repeated to them they will nod assent readily enough, but say it they will not. {p. 109}

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