Fairchild Tropical Garden Expedition aboard the Cheng Ho 1939-1940
FEBRUARY 1940
 
 
 
 
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MARCH 1940
 
 
 
 
 
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APRIL 1940
 
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MAY 1940
 
 
 
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MAY 1940
21

Kasiruta, Indonesia

Written by Edward Beckwith on Tuesday, May 21, 1940

Started early in the large launch with David, Anne, Marian, Hugo and Fenton. We followed the islands to Batjan and there went southward along the coast through Herberg Strait. While off the Batjan coast we saw a native prau being paddled rapidly and going in our direction. We caught up with it, first hiding all the cameras and found an official looking native, who interrogated David in considerable detail. Who were we? Where were we going? Where did we come from? etc. Finally he wanted to go with us to our boat. David avoided this and we left, returning to the Cheng Ho, but first landing at a very small island to explore it. The island had one or two large trees and was not more than 80 ft across. Approaching the Cheng Ho I noticed how completely she blended into the mountain behind and how difficult it would be for a passing boat to see her. However, this morning’s incident made me apprehensive, especially as Marian confided to me that the order from the commander at Ambon stated that we must not stop at Batjan or any other port. She had not let David see that part of the order, so that he would stay as long as possible in these beautiful islands.

As soon as we got back to the boat David wanted me to start right off in the small launch with him and Marian up the Kasiruta River. We took the lunch along, eating on the way so as not to lose time. David considered this river the most beautiful he had seen and very interesting botanically.

We first made a lot of pictures of a native making starch from sago. The native was friendly and obliging and David gave him and his family presents, scissors for the women, cigarettes and matches for the men, and toy balloons for the children.

We then went on up the river against a strong current, Ah Fook constantly jumping out of the boat to get us over some shoal. We finally tied the boat up and David and Marian went into the jungle while Hugo started on one of his exploring hikes. I soon followed David and Marian into the moderately open high growth. David was carried away by the things he saw and went collecting specimens without paying much attention to the mosquitoes, which swarmed around us. I was in shorts and could only keep them away by constantly swishing a fern leaf about my legs and head. After about an hour of uncomfortable wandering during which David and Marian collected a good many specimens, he thought it was time to get back to the river. David has confessed to me that he has no sense of direction or locality, which I have verified. Both he and Marian depended on me to get them back to the boat. I led in the direction I knew the river to be but had not thought we would go so far and had therefore not noticed our course at the start. There were several delays for further collecting and we came upon the skeleton of a large Python, curved around and with all the bones in place. I photographed it and David took one of the bones, cautioning me not the tell about it on the boat on account of the superstition connected with the python.

We finally reached the river and I called, expecting an answer from Ah Fook. There was none, and I noticed that the obstructions in the river were such that the boat could not have passed them, so I concluded that the boat was down stream. We followed the river down for what seemed a long distance but only occasionally got a faint answer to my calls – an answer which might have been from a native. David was getting tired and I felt considerably concerned. I had the cheerful idea that perhaps this was another river or a branch of the old one. Finally Marian asked to stop and talk things over. They then rested and I went on ahead, at times through thick under growth. Enormous birds flew overhead making a strange noise with their wings and white parrots circled and screamed while monkeys called intermittently. I got no answer to my calls and was greatly puzzled by the distance I had gone down stream without finding the boat. Finally, Hugo answered and was soon with us. He was dragging a palm leaf that looked as big as the wing of an aeroplane. He said that he had made the same mistake, that the river took a sharp turn and that we had been beyond the beach. He soon led us to the boat and I waded out in the stream to take a photograph of the boat with the others getting in.

Everyone was relieved but cheerful and I acted as though nothing had happened, but at the time it did not seem so pleasant.

We ran aground many times coming back and Hugo lost a pole in trying to steer the boat. We also got caught in the rain. I was glad to get back. The python was not mentioned.

Bad news in the evening came from Europe over the radio. The Germans were reported to have reached the French coast and cut off the allied troops in Belgium.

Cheng Ho in Kasiruta Bay
Cheng Ho in Kasiruta Bay. Photographed by David Fairchild.
Herberg Strait between Bacan and Kasiruta Islands
Herberg Strait between Bacan and Kasiruta Islands. Photographed by David Fairchild.
Shoreline along the Herberg Strait
Shoreline along the Herberg Strait. Photographed by David Fairchild.
Village on the coast of Bacan Island
Village on the coast of Bacan Island. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
Sago maker at work on the shore of the Kasiruta River
Sago maker at work on the shore of the Kasiruta River. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
Sago maker at work on the shore of the Kasiruta River.
Sago maker at work on the shore of the Kasiruta River. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
Family of the sago worker
Family of the sago worker. Photographed by David Fairchild.
David Fairchild inflating a balloon for a boy
David Fairchild inflating a balloon for a boy. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
David Fairchild giving a ring to the sago maker
David Fairchild giving a ring to the sago maker’s wife. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
Kasiruta River
Kasiruta River. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
David Fairchild wading in the Kasiruta River
David Fairchild wading in the Kasiruta River. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.
The Cheng Ho launch on the Kasiruta River
The Cheng Ho launch on the Kasiruta River. Photographed by Edward Beckwith.

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