The Papua Insects Foundation

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The Central New Guinea Expedition (1920-1921)

The Central New Guinea Expedition was a Dutch scientific expedition with the intention to reach the snow of the Wilhelmina Peak (Puncak Trikora) from the North coast. The expedition was organized and financed by the Indian Committee for Scientific Surveys.

In a broader sense the aim of this expedition was a scientific survey of the area between the Idenburg River and the Central Mountain Range. Several expeditions were held between 1907 and 1913 approaching the Wilhelmina Peak from the South: the First, Second and Third South New Guinea Expedition of which the last two were successful in reaching the snow. The Central New Guinea Expedition, which had to complete the crossing from North to South, would be much tougher and longer given the fact that the distance was much longer than that of the southern route. A military pre-expedition was exploring the route ahead and build camps and transported supplies. Six months later the actual scientific expedition followed which then should not have any delay of any unexpected set-backs.

The military pre-expedition included several military officers, of which Capt. A.J.A. van Overeem was in charge. Mr. J. Jongejans directed a hundred Dajaks, who were outstanding in the forests and with great skills with canoes and building houses. Another hundred Indonesian soldiers and a hundred convicts, who had to carry the load, completed the expedition. The scientists that followed later were geologist P.F. Hubrecht, zoologist W.C. van Heurn and botanicus H.J. Lam. Mr. Van Heurn would be most important for the collecting of insects.

The expedition started at 15th January 1920 in Soerabaja and sailed with two steamers, Albatros and Deneb, to the Mamberamo River where they arrived at 2nd February 1920. At 7th February the pre-expedition arrived at the old and abandoned Explorer Camp (Pionierbivak) which was then rebuild by the military. During these several weeks of tough labor a lot of expedition members suffered from flue, some even died. At 20th March the pre-expedition started the difficult journey to Batavia Camp (Bataviabivak), another abandoned military camp which was rebuild. This camp was located in the wide and flat Rouffaer Plains (Meervlakte) of the junction of the Mamberamo, Van Idenburg and Rouffaer (Van der Willigen) Rivers. Not sooner than 11th August 1920 the expedition went on the Mamberamo again to reach Canoe Camp (Prauwenbivak) in low mountainous area. Canoe Camp became an important village, even with a telegraph station, a novelty in those days! From Canoe Camp the expedition continued over land in small groups. By this time the expedition leader realized that the aim of reaching the Wilhelmina Peak was no longer possible because of too few carriers. A large and probably inhabited valley, earlier discovered by Doorman, should be the end station of the expedition. At the 18th October for the first time "terra incognita" was entered, a valley and a river which were named the Swart Valley and Swart River in honour of lieutenant-general Swart, chairman of the Indian Committee for Scientific Surveys.

The Swart Valley was inhabited by small Papua people who for the first time of their life met white people. They were very friendly and it was a surprise to see that they took the initiative to shake hands with their right hands, apparently a genetic controled custom of humans! The Swart Valley Papua's appeared to be sophisticated farmers with vegetable gardens and livestock (pigs). The friendly character of these Papua's and their advanced techniques in gardening and lifestyle changed and shaped the opinion of the expedition members about the "wild" and "uncivilized" people in a positive way.

Because of running out of food stores the expedition was forced to return to the coast again where they arrived at 5th December 1920. But because the actual goal, the top of the Wilhelmina Peak, was not reached the whole expedition did not feel like a success. Therefore it was decided to return for a second expedition, a follow up, to reach the snow of the Wilhelmina Peak. At June 1921 this follow up started in charge of Mr. Kremer. Biologists did not participate in this second expedition so for our scope the story ends here. However, it is worth to mention that the expedition reached the snow of the Wilhelmina Peak at 4th December 1921.

List of (collecting) stations in 1920

Original source and text: (in Dutch)


updated on 27th January 2010


Bijlmer, H.J.T., 1922. Met de Centraal Nieuw-Guinee Expeditie A° 1920 naar een onbekende volksstam in het Hooggebergte. Tijdschrift van het Koninklijk Nederlands Aardrijkskundig Genootschap 39: 156-183.
Bijlmer, H.J.T., 1923. Met de Centraal Nieuw-Guinee-Expeditie, A° 1920, naar een onbekende volksstam in het Hooggebergte. De Aarde en haar Volken 59: 97-109; 121-131; 145-155; 170-176: 193-204.
Ploeg, A., 1995. First Contact, in the Highlands of Irian Jaya. Journal of Pacific History 30: 227-239.
Wirz, P., 1924. Anthropologische und ethnologische Ergebnisse der Central Neu-Guinea Expedition 1921-1922. Nova Guinea 16. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
Wirz, P., 1932. Im Lande des Schneckengeldes; Erinnerungen und Erlebnisse einer Forschungsreise ins Innere von Holländisch Neu-Guinea. Frankfurt: Strecker und Schröder.