A Tenderfoot Explorer in New Guinea

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

Anggi Gidji Lake

A view of Anggi Gidji Lake

We were now directly at the foot of Mt. Hoidjosera, which we had to climb before coming down to the lakes. I decided, therefore, the next morning, to give out cartridges to my hunters to secure some specimens in the alpine zone. But when I opened the cartridge-load I noticed to my horror that I had packed the wrong case and left all the small cartridges for my bird-guns in Ditchi. What to do? The only solution was to send back one native to fetch the cartridges and join me later on at Anggi. I would spend the first two days, until this boy arrived, in shooting large birds and collecting plants.

At 7:30 we started for Anggi, while one boy left for Ditchi. We gained altitude rapidly and the forest soon took on a very mossy character. Above 5000 feet we reached the ridge, and here there became evident a plant formation like that I had encountered already in a lesser degree on Mt. Moendi.

The forest opened up and was replaced by a brushy heather mixed with low conifers. Many of the shrubs, especially the rhododendron trees, were in flower and made this day’s walk a very pleasant experience. On the other hand, the bird-life was disappointing. I did not meet a single species of bird that I had not met already in lower altitudes. There is a decided change of faunal zones at 4500 feet altitude, and as I had collected in this higher zone on Mt. Lehoema and Mt. Wanna, it was perhaps only natural that I did not make any new discoveries on this mountain. About noon we reached the summit of Mt. Hoidjosera, which means in the Manikion language: “The place where the pig fell.” Despite much questioning, I was unable to learn the story on which this name is based.

From the summit I had a magnificent view, as it was unusually clear. In the west stood Mt. Lina (about 8600 feet), the highest summit of the Arfak region. To the south was the Issim Valley, which sends its waters to the south coast of New Guinea, and to the north were the two Anggi lakes, the male and the female, as the natives call them. The two lakes are separated by a ridge approximately 1400 feet in height, and are two entirely different basins: one is the origin of a river that flows to the north coast, and the other of a river that flows eastward to the Geelvink Bay.

After a quick descent I reached the shore of Anggi gidji (the male lake) about two o’clock, and established camp in the village of Koffo. Shortly after five o’clock the boy I had sent back for the cartridges arrived. I could hardly believe my eyes as he handed the cartridges to me. In one day he had made the three-days’ march, including at least 8000 feet of actual climbing. He said he had been running hard for most of the day. I cite this case as an example of the marvelous stamina and climbing ability of these mountain natives. In the lowland, however, I had no difficulty in keeping pace with them.

The five days I spent on the lake easily surpasses all my New Guinea memories, The beauty of the landscape, the splendid scientific success (I discovered in the reeds and grasslands on the edge of the lake several species of birds either new to science or at least new for New Guinea) and the hospitality of these primitive and supposedly savage natives made me very loath to leave. When my party departed, all the women and girls of the village were lined up along the road, shedding copious tears, according to a custom widely distributed over New Guinea. However, as it was the first time that I experienced this proof of hospitality, I was deeply touched, and felt almost like joining in.

We returned the way we had come and after a short stay in Dohunsehik, where I wanted to get a specimen of the rare long-tailed bird of paradise (Astrapia) I arrived in Ditchi. Here I found my Malayans in good health and spirits, much to my relief.

In order to meet the next mail steamer, I returned to the coast immediately, where I left my Malayans, while I took a canoe to Manokwari.

After thirty-five hours of continuous paddling I was back in civilization. Tired, unshaved, dirty, and sunburnt, I was invited immediately on my arrival to board the Dutch marine survey ship, the latest word in European luxury, to tell about my adventures. What a contrast!

Looking back on my first expedition, I value more than the discovery of many specimens and facts new to science, the education that it was for me. The daily fight with unknown difficulties, the need for initiative, the contact with the strange psychology of primitive people, and all the other odds and ends of such an expedition, accomplish a development of character that cannot be had in the routine of civilized life. And this combined with a treasury of memories, is ample pay for all the hardships, worries, and troubles that so often lead us to the verge of desperation in the scientific work that takes us into “the field.”

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