"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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July 10, 1926 : Albatross Camp (Base Camp) ; Mamberamo River

July 10th

We spent most of the day today in packing our luggage for the trip up the river as well as writing a lot of letters as it will be about our last opportunity before leaving. We made some phonograph records of Ambonese music played by four of our Ambonese soldiers and violins, guitar, ukelele and flute. We have a rare assortment of music available in camp. Ambonese, as exemplified by the soldiers, is the most beautiful and resembles as I have mentioned elsewhere, Hawaiian music. The Dyaks play upon stringed instruments called "sampe" on which they produce a beautiful low melody that is quite characteristic. The Malay convicts have what is probably the most {p. 144} interesting orchestra of all, insomuch as they produce most credible Javanese music from instruments made from only such materials as they can pick up here in the jungle. It consists of a xylophone made of sounders of nipa palm crudely attached to a frame of a light sort of balsa wood. The sounders are tuned by carving them to different degrees of thickness. The second instrument of the orchestra consists of a hole in the ground over which is placed a flat, square cover of a kerosine tin. A stick with one end resting on this, stretches a piece of wire about 10 feet long stretched between two posts supporting their shelter. The player squatting before this strikes the wire with a stick, alternating by striking a piece of bamboo held under his bare foot. The hole in the ground with the piece of tin acts as a sounding board and carries the vibrations of the wire through the stick, producing a deep vibrant note. The other essential instrument in this orchestra is a section of large bamboo about 3 feet long and 5 inches in diameter with a wooden mouthpiece at one end. This, when blown, produces a very deep heavy note. Every night as we lie in bed we listen to the weird music of the convicts who usually play to a late hour. In case we tire of these orchestras, we still have the phonograph, with Papuan music too if we wish it. {p. 145}

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