A Tenderfoot Explorer in New Guinea

Reminiscences of an Expedition for Birds in the Primeval Forests of the Arfak Mountains

bower bird nest

The display ground of a bower bird: This structure of twigs, which is about two feet high and two and a half feet in diameter, has been erected by a single male of the species Amblyornis inornatus. Around this bower the bird dances and makes his display.

Approaching the summit, we found the trees gradually being replaced by shrubs and open grassland spots, a formation which I will describe in connection with the visit to Mt. Hoidjosera, where I found it much better developed. The summit of Mt. Moendi, at 6300 feet, is the watershed. The valley into which I was descending belonged to the system of rivers that flow into the McCluer Gulf on the south coast of New Guinea.

My path led gently down along a crest into the Ditchi Valley. This was not my original intention. I wanted to descend toward the northwest, but the natives claimed that there were no villages in that region, at least none occupied at that season of the year. So we turned southwest, and finally reached the bottom of the Ditchi Valley at about 3500 feet altitude. At 4000 feet altitude on the other slope of the valley was the village of Ditchi consisting of a few scattered houses, where I established camp on May 22.

This village had never before been visited by a white man. Behind the village two mountains (Mt. Wamma and Mt. Lehoema) rose to an altitude of approximately 6000 feet. These two mountains were my chief collecting grounds during the next weeks. As in Siwi, I wrote down a list of all the native names of the birds, and as soon as I received specimens I was able to identify them by their scientific names. By this method I was sure not to leave out any. At the same time I secured fine collections of plants.

In spite of all the intensive collecting I could not procure all the species in the Ditchi region that were known from the Arfak Mountains. I therefore desired to penetrate still farther inland and establish a collecting station in a higher place. The area that I fancied was the Anggi Lakes, which are situated at an altitude of more than 6000 feet and had been visited by several naturalists previously. But their bird-life had never been studied and I expected some interesting discoveries. The difficulty, however, was how to get there! All the previous parties were accompanied by a troop of soldiers, as the Anggi natives were reputed to be great warriors and anything but friendly toward whites. I heard many stories of murders that had been committed in late years, and I was trying to find a safe way to reach their villages, when chance finally came to my assistance. It turned out that one of the Siwi-men had a sister married to one of the Anggi chiefs. So I sent him up to get an invitation. I reckoned that their curiosity to see a white man would be greater than their suspicion and fright against me, the usual root of all fights. And I knew that I would be perfectly safe if I came to their village as a guest.

I arranged with Basi to call carriers from the Misemi district, but just after the messengers had gone, I fell ill with influenza and was in bed for several days with high fever The carriers finally arrived and we broke up our camp, but after I had gone a few steps, I fainted, weakened by the fever. I was in a rather desperate situation, as my carriers wanted to go ahead, and I did not know if I ever could get them again if I let them go to their villages now. We finally agreed to a two-days’ rest and I departed on the 25th of May. On the first day we had to climb the 4200-foot high divide between the Siwi and Ninei valley, and every step was a struggle for me, my heart being very weak. I arrived in Ninei (2800 feet), more dead than alive.

The next day we followed the Duga River up to the foot of Mt. Moendi, and then I camped, not being able to climb that mountain the same day. On both banks of the river were signs of former floods and I therefore decided to establish my camp not less than fifteen feet above the river. Some of my carriers laughed about my caution and made their camp closer to the water, only about ten feet above its normal level. In the late afternoon it began to rain, and after darkness the rain increased to a downpour of such violence as I had never witnessed before. The river had a very strong fall, and at low water fell in cascades over the bowlders and rocks. But this rain changed the peaceful creek into a boiling torrent.

On the evening of the 8th of June, Wakil, my messenger, came back from the Anggi lakes and brought with him the chief and ten carriers. After an exchange of the usual formalities, we agreed to start for his village the next morning. As I had only ten carriers (except for Wakil and my fourteen-year-old interpreter Kapal, who spoke five languages, nobody from Siwi or Ditchi wanted to go with me), I had to cut down my luggage to the most necessary items. I left two of my Javanese behind me, but one of the bird skinners accompanied me.

The road was bad as always in New Guinea. First we had to climb down to the Ditchi River, then up again 1500 feet on the opposite slope, and as soon as we had reached the ridge we went down another valley. In all, we crossed about six or seven such valleys, tributaries of the Issim River, and when we finally reached the “village” (two houses) of Dohunsehik in the late afternoon, I was thoroughly tired from climbing, although the net gain of altitude was only about 600 feet.

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