Senryu : Snippet from a Jungle rescue

Waving down a plane
Compact mirror’s a big help
when a tribe arrives

senryu by M. Nakazato LaFreniere

So now we continue with another snippet from a WWII jungle rescue. Previously on our post, Gremlin’s Journey, the three survivors had reached the jungle clearing atop a hill after putting out a bright yellow lifeboat tarp. Margaret Hastings, Kenneth Decker, and John McCollum had been spotted by a B-17 which dipped it’s wings before heading back to base.  With a thunderstorm coming in, nothing could be done that night.

The three had been subsisting on Charmed hard candy, water and vitamins for the past three days.  Gangrene had begun to set into Hasting’s and Decker’s wounds but with the plane sighting had come hope.  Problem was the clearing wasn’t a natural one.  Trees had been cutdown to cultivate a sweetpotato crop. Camote sweetpotatos were a common Phillipino crop so the survivors may have been familiar with the plant.

Sweet potatoes originated in the Americas.  However, somehow they had made it across the Pacific island so that region used it as a core crop. Several different strands had made it across the seas during different time periods.  The Kumara arrived around 1100-1200 AD.  These come from around the Caribbean and Central America sweet potato varieties. Dating back 1000 years, carbonized sweetpotato roots have been found in New Zealand. This predates European contact (and ships).  More recently, the Batata and Camote strands arrived in the 1500s with the Spaniards.  These strands are genetically shown to come from the Peru/Ecuador area. The New Guinea sweet potatoes are genetically tied to the earlier grouping coming from the Caribbean/Central America indicating there may have been Pre-Columbian early contact …. or a bird flew really far with a seed on it’s back, lol.

At any rate, a sweet potato clearing indicated the tribal villages they buzzed in their sightseeing tours had a claim to the spot.  Since the tribes were known to be headhunters and cannibals, it was a tad troubling.

Sure enough, an hour after the plane left, a tribe tromped up the mountain and surrounded the survivors.  When the virtually naked dark-skinned natives emerged from the jungle, the three thought it was the first time there had been white folks in these parts.  They would have been wrong.

In 1938, on his third expedition to New Guinea, American Richard Archbold had flown over the hidden valley.  It was the first sighting of Baliem Valley by Caucasians.  As it was a heretofor unexplored area, Archbold set up an American Museum of Natural History headquarters in Hollandia, a town on the north coast of New Guinea. This base included scientists, soldiers, and employed as carriers both Borneo Dyak tribesmen and convicts (anticolonial activists–unstated as to whether they were previous colonists or New Guinea tribespeople). From Hollandia, they could send out expedition teams to collect flora and fauna samples from the area.

According to Wikipedia, “In August 1938, Archbold dispatched two exploration teams, each consisting of Dutch soldiers, convicts, and Dayak porters, into the Baliem Valley. One team led by Captain C.G.J. Teerink started at one end of the valley while the other, led by Lieutenant J.E.M. Van Arcken, started at the other end with the goal of meeting in the middle of the valley. On August 10, 1938, an incident occurred near the valley’s center resulting in the death of a Dani tribesman.”

In 1939, Hollandia started to build an airport in readiness for WWII as things were heating up.  Archbold returned to the United States in July 1939 and his plane was lent to the Australian government to determine the practicalities of  flying over India and Africa to Europe rather than over Asia.    It would not be until 1942 that Archbold would publish his findings on the third expedition in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.  So it is unsurprising that the folks stationed in New Guinea had not known Baliem Valley had already been discovered so recently.  Nor did they know, that a tribal person had been killed by an exploring team.

In his book, Lost in Shangri-La, Mitchell Zukoff had the opportunity to meet a Dani villager, Helenma Wandik, who had been a boy when his village had met the survivors.   Wandik complained that the enemy Dani tribe would eat the whole bodies of people killed in their battles.  In contrast, his tribe “only ate the hands of their enemies.”

The group armed with axes made from stone and wood surrounded the three survivors who had nothing but hard candy, a pocketknife and Hasting’s compact.  They laid out their paltry offerings in strade. McCollum ordered his compatriots to smile.  Zukoff, who had access to Hastings diary wrote that she thought, “how awful to have survived a plane crash only to end up in a native stew.”  The Dani had seen the plane crash and thought the three were sky spirits bringing in change.  One of the Dani wanted them to kill the ghosts right away before they brought bad luck.

The Dani did not know what the hard candy was for but the compact mirror was fun.  And luckily, the chief was a trader and often went to visit their allies to trade.

I highly recommend reading the book, Lost in Shangri-La.  Zukoff goes into the meeting between the survivors and the Dani in detail and was lucky enough to have a source who could also tell him the meaning behind some of the actions/customs like tending to the survivors’ souls and what the tribal people were saying.  Like what it meant when the chief breathed on their wounds.   Zukoff worked from both Hasting’s diary and a tribal elder’s narrative of what he observed as a boy.  It is rare for a book to be able to show both sides of a first encounter.

To be continued …..



Journey to West Papua (The Baliem Valley) (August 2016)

Richard Archbold


Papua New Guinea
International Potato Center: World Sweetpotato Atlas

Sweet Potato

On the origin of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.) genetic diversity in New Guinea, a secondary centre of diversity
by C. Roullier, R. Kambouo, J. Paofa, D. McKey, and V. Lebot.

Sweet potato transfers in Polynesian prehistory
by R.C. Green in: The Sweet Potato in Oceania: a Reappraisal. C. Ballard, P. Brown, R.M. Bourke, T. Harwood, (eds.). Ethnology Monographs 19, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Oceania Monograph 56, The University of Sydney: Sydney, Australia; 43–62.

The introduction of sweet potato in Polynesia: early remains in Hawai’i. T.N. Ladefoged, M.W. Graves, J.H. Coil. Journal of Polynesian Society, 2005;114. pages 359–373.

Statement of Corporal Margaret J. Hastings as given to Chester L. Fisher, Jr. on the 27th day of June, 1945
Amos’ Attic discover the rich history of Tioga County, NY

U .8. World War II Army Enlistment Records: 1938-1946 Record about Margaret J Hastings
Amos’ Attic discover the rich history of Tioga County, NY

Review: Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
Good Reads

Lost in Shangri-La
By Carol Muske-Dukes

Who was Corporal Margaret Hastings? (“Lost in Shangri-La”)
The “Conservative Chronicles 24/7” Keeping an eye on what’s important to you!

“Immensely Readable” World War II Survival Tale
BU Today (Boston University)

Impossible Rescue
Airman Magazine, January 26, 2015

Excerpt from “Lost in Shangri-La” by Mitchell Zuckoff ~~Found~~


Daily Prompts, Daily Post

Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate so I get a small percentage when these links are used to buy things from 2% to 10% depending on what it is.  Books are 4.25%. Amazon requires the following text: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.”