"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 3, 1926 : Papuans of Bisano ; Mamberamo River ; Albatross Camp (Base Camp)

June 3rd

We were up early this morning and Jordans and I started out with five Dyaks and a soldier for the Mamberamo in order to return to Albatross Camp as quickly as possible. Le Roux left about the same time with the convicts, the rest of the soldiers and the remainder of the Dyaks. Jordans and I went very rapidly and reached the Mamberamo early in the afternoon and from the mouth of the Uama made a quick canoe trip with our Dyaks to Albatross camp. In the evening Le Roux arrived with our baggage {p. 111} and the rest of the party. There had been a number of incidents at Albatross camp during our absence. A soldier was lost in the jungle and could not be found. We have practically given up hope for him now. Also three convicts escaped down river, taking with them a Dyak canoe. They have practically no chance because if the Papuans do not get them they have not enough food to take them to the border and it is doubtful at best if they could make the coastwise trip by canoe. [V2: crossed out and marked "Omit": There are more difficulties in the way of transport. Posthumus has found that the canoes will not carry the load that had been calculated upon, and they are afraid they cannot bring sufficient food up the Rouffaer to keep the expedition in the Central Mountains. The making of the expedition a cooperative affair was a big mistake which now I can plainly see. Administering cooperatively means administering in their way; and the way of the Dutch is not our way. They are much too conservative in the first place, much too ready to say "Impossible" or "It can't be done" in the second place. If there is no precedent they are at a loss how to proceed. They have not the slightest conception of being able to go into the jungle without bringing all the luxuries of civilization. They must have tents, cots, mattresses, camp chairs[,] food delicacies[,] and many such articles that I should never think of bringing. The idea of doing any physical work is unthinkable. The result is that each Dutch member requires a small convoy only to look after his personal effects and food. The idea of carrying a pack on their back would not be entertained an instant. Instead of proceeding immediately up the river and getting the food supply and food line started up the river, they have spent exactly one month building an elaborate, comfortable, permanent camp, which will be practically deserted as soon as the expedition has really started up the river. Instead of just starting the convoy, we should now be several weeks on our way. As two weeks after our arrival here, the river had dropped sufficiently to start safely and, with more difficulty, the start could have been made at once! And now because the military have reported that they cannot bring enough food, Van Leeuwen is discouraged and has telegraphed that unless the committee sent 60 more Dyaks at once, the expedition should be withdrawn. It would really be more satisfactory from our standpoint if they should withdraw leaving us our thirty Dyaks and a minimum of soldiers and convicts - a party of sensible size, and then with no hampering entanglements we would soon produce some action that would get us some place. It has been an unfortunate circumstance and a largely complicated one, but owing to our position we can do nothing about it now, only await developments...(The next 19-20 lines in the handwritten journal are completely crossed out and illegible)]

"A big whipping post in the shape of a cross was erected back of our house..."

This afternoon at 5 o'clock two convicts who had been caught stealing were whipped with the rattan in the main "plaza" of the camp. A big whipping post in the shape of a cross was erected back of our house and in the presence of the other convicts the rather medieval scene was enacted. The ceremony of the whole affair, the elaborate lashing of the convicts to the post, the air of expectancy, the trimmings, such as the doctor in attendance, the sterilizing of the rattan whipping rods, the reading of the crime and sentence by a sergeant, made it a somewhat gruesome and impressive spectacle. As a matter of fact, the actual whipping of five lashes did not amount to much. The whipping was across the buttocks, not the back, and the culprits had their pants on. The physical pain could not have been much more than a good stinging. Also, because of the petty thieving and the escape of the three convicts, a stockade is now being built around the convicts' quarters within which they must all be after sunset. {p. 112}

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