Volume 109 2000 > Volume 109, No. 4 > Dr P.J. Eyma's writings on agriculture in the Paniai area, Central Highlands, western New Guinea, by Anton Ploeg, p 401-420
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ANTON PLOEG Centre for Pacific and Asian Studies, Nijmegen University, The Netherlands

This article discusses some of the results of research into New Guinea Highlands agriculture carried out by the Dutch botanist Dr. P.J. Eyma in and near the Paniai area, western New Guinea, in 1939. 1 The text is in three parts. In the first I introduce the context in which Eyma worked; in the second I translate a talk given by Eyma dealing with his Paniai research; and in the third I discuss his findings, focusing on his appreciation of the New Guineans in and near Paniai, and on his hypothesis that the sweet potato was a post-Magellanic introduction.


The colonial administration of the Dutch East Indies established its first patrol post in the Central Highlands of western New Guinea in late 1938 (de Bruijn 1978:39f). It was located at Enarotali on the shores of Lake Paniai in the western part of the Central Highlands (see Fig.l). The presence of a lake made the area a favourable site for a station since supplies could be brought in by seaplane. Moreover, it had one of the largest concentrations of people in western New Guinea (Groenewegen and van de Kaa 1964: Fig.8, van Eechoud 1957:48). In addition to Lake Paniai there are two smaller lakes, named Tage and Tigi. At first the three were briefly known as Bernhard Lakes, after the name of the Dutch prince consort-to-be, but later as Wissel Lakes, after the air force pilot who had spotted them from the air in late December 1936 (Schumacher 1954:92). After the Indonesian takeover they became jointly known as the Paniai Lakes.

The dominant ethnic group in the Paniai area is also known by a number of names. Pospisil, who did research in a valley to the west of Paniai, uses the name Kapauku. De Bruijn, one of the first administrative officers working in the area, and also Protestant and Catholic missionaries have used the term Ekari or Ekagi. Recently, Giay introduced the term Me, the vernacular word for ‘people’ (Giay 1995:xvii). Kapauku seems an inappropriate name since it is an exonym 2 first used by south coast New Guineans to refer to the Highlanders to the north of them. As for Ekagi, missionaries such as Hylkema and van Nunen continue using this term, maintaining that it is not another

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Figure 1: Sketch map of the Paniai and Tage lakes and the area to their north, including part of the Kemabu Valley (taken from Eyma 1940).
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exonym first used by other Highlanders (pers. comm.). Moreover, although Giay is a Me himself and so seems to have the principal say, I wonder whether this is an appropriate name for a single ethnic group in a multi-ethnic political unit such as western New Guinea, in which other groups, specifically the Amung-me, also use the same term me to refer to ‘people’. As a tentative alternative I have used the term Ekagi-me instead (Ploeg 1996). 3 Ekagi-me live in the western tip of the Central Highlands, and the Paniai lakes are at the eastern end of their territories. Groups of Moni people had intruded from the east, in keeping with the generally westward migration in that part of the Highlands (de Bruijn 1978:61, Gibbons 1981:Ch.8).

At the time of European settlement, the Paniai Lakes area was one of the two locations in the Central Highlands of New Guinea where wet agriculture was practised over a large area, the other one being the Grand Valley of the Baliem. In his regional geography of Melanesia, Brookfield describes Ekagi-me wet agriculture as one of the most intensive in that region (Brookfield 1971:113; see also Yen 1974:117f.).

Europeans had not expected the New Guineans to be practising intensive agriculture, and the Javanese military, who were familiar with wet rice cultivation and formed part of the first administrative patrols arriving in the area, expressed admiration of the practice (Boelaars 1995:278). Soon after the establishment of the patrol post near Lake Paniai, the botanist Dr P.J. Eyma started carrying out field research in the area, staying there until late 1939 (van Steenis-Kruseman 1950). In early 1939, Dr J.V. de Bruijn became Officer in Charge of the patrol post (de Bruijn 1978:84). He was a keen explorer, and Eyma and de Bruijn made several patrols in the areas north and east of the Paniai, up until then unknown to Europeans. Finally, during the latter part of Eyma's stay, he was a member of the large-scale expedition organised by the Royal Dutch Geographic Society—the KNAG—and led by le Roux. The personnel and the material resources of the expedition presumably enhanced his work (Eyma 1940: see map).

In the Dutch East Indies, Eyma had previously worked on Sulawesi and Seram (van Steenis-Kruseman 1950). While in New Guinea, he became impressed by the Highlanders and their way of life, having been struck by their intensive agriculture, high population density, apparent peacefulness and wide geographic mobility (Eyma n.d.a.). He perceived them as people quite different from Lowland New Guineans. In this view he was supported by administrators and other researchers (le Roux 1950:Ch.14, van Baal 1954:445). As documented by Hays (1993), a similar dichotomy was proposed for the eastern half of New Guinea. During his patrols Eyma made extensive field notes. He started writing a book about the people, but the Second World War intervened and that book was never published. Eyma - 404 joined the Dutch Indian Army and was taken prisoner after the Dutch surrender in early 1942. He died in a prisoner of war camp shortly before the end of the war (van Steenis 1950). At least some of his manuscripts have survived and are now held in the library of the National Herbarium (the Rijksherbarium), Leiden, in the Netherlands (Ploeg 1997). The major publication resulting from the 1939 KNAG expedition is the three-volume, De Bergpapoea's van Nieuw Guinea en hun Woongebied [Highland New Guineans and Their Habitat] (le Roux 1948-50). Le Roux mentions Eyma's work, but does not discuss it (1950:280). He also mentions an account of Ekagi-me agriculture written by Huliselan, an Indonesian agricultural assistant (1950:280,290), which forms part of the lengthy report written by van Eechoud describing his patrol to Paniai and setting up the patrol post there (van Eechoud 1939). 4 In 1954-55 Pospisil worked in the Kamu Valley, west of Paniai. There also the Ekagi-me practised wet agriculture on the floor of a recently and naturally drained lake (Pospisil 1963:57). Pospisil (1963) made a detailed study of agriculture practice there.

In the opinion of the Dutch authorities, colonial policy had to be grounded in scientific data (e.g., van Doorn 1995:44f.). To assemble such data, a number of expeditions had carried out explorations in New Guinea. Several botanists had participated, among them Pulle (n.d.[1915]), who later became Eyma's academic supervisor when he prepared his Ph.D. thesis, and Lam, later Professor of Botany at Leiden University. In 1921, Lam took part in the lengthy van Overeem-Kremer Expedition into the Central Highlands. On their way from the Lake Plain to the Trikora Mountain in the south of the Central Highlands they trekked through the Toli Valley, the habitat of groups of Western Dani people. Lam published a series of papers about his findings in Dutch (Lam 1927-29). Nearly two decades later, Perry published an abbreviated English translation (Lam 1945). Furthermore, among Eyma's papers held in the Rijksherbarium is the text of a paper presented by Lam (1922) to the 2nd Dutch Indian Scientific Congress dealing with Toli Dani agriculture. As discussed below, Eyma takes issue with Lam's ideas in his own writings.


The paper by Eyma that I translate here is a talk which he most probably gave in Bogor or nearby Jakarta in 1940 or 1941. The text does not mention either the venue or audience. But since he was appointed to the Bogor Herbarium in 1940 (van Steenis-Kruseman 1950), and since he presumed some botanical knowledge among his audience, it seems likely that he addressed colleagues. I selected this text because most of it deals with agriculture, the subject of the present paper. Eyma showed a number of - 405 slides in the course of his presentation. I do not know which ones he showed, so cannot include them here. This procedure seems admissible since the landscape he deals with is now well known, in contrast to when he presented his paper. Furthermore, I have omitted some sections of the talk not concerned with agriculture, and added, in indented sections, additional information Eyma wrote up in other manuscripts, or material that is relevant from the work of others. Square brackets surround clauses I have added in the interest of clarity. The translations are my own. I retained the Dutch spelling of names in Indonesian, with oe pronounced as oo in tool, and j as y in yam. Eyma's text follows.

Some information about Mountain Papuan livelihood in the Wissel Lakes area, New Guinea, western central highlands.

I had the privilege of spending about 12 months in the interior [of New Guinea], first as a member of the Exploration Group which the Resident Commissioner of the Moluccas had sent to the Wissel Lakes area, and later, on the arrival of the KNAG expedition, as botanist of this expedition.

While earlier expeditions had already provided some information about the New Guinea Highlands populations, these reports do not mention more intensive agriculture, and report only shifting cultivation. Now it does seem that both population density and the attention given to the crops increase the further one gets into the interior. That these two aspects—intensive agriculture and more dense population—are interrelated is plausible. The reason for their increase in the direction of the centre is less clear.

As you know, in many locations an unpopulated, or sparsely populated, area follows the habitat of the lowland tribes, before one arrives in the land of the mountain people. This “empty” land is not merely swamp, the source of sago for the Lowlands people, but also includes part of the lower mountains. Once one has struggled through this often rugged terrain, one encounters in the upper catchment areas of the great New Guinean rivers a numerous, and in many locations dense, population. They are real farmers, not sago producers, while hunting is of minor importance in the provision of food. This population, which has to be counted in thousands and tens of thousands, instead of, as in the Lowlands, in tens and hundreds, and which, moreover, lives on rather infertile soil, can only provide for its livelihood and remain healthy, strong and contented through intensive efforts in agriculture. This is the topic of my presentation.

For convenience I start with the plains. This photograph shows the eastern shore of the Paniai Lake, with the plains and deltas of the rivers which flow into the lake. Enarotali Government Station [is located on this shore]. From a canoe the deltas look exactly like a Dutch lakes area. They are too swampy - 406 for settlement. The people live in the main along the edges of the plains, and only further away from the lake in the plains themselves. These plains are in fact completely level. They are silted or drained estuaries, with the result that at their edges drainage is an important problem. It has been solved logically by constructing garden beds and digging drains, in some cases proper ditches. Since in this work a propensity for order and neatness is apparent, the result is the marvellous checkerboard gardens of which I show a picture.

The beds, about 1-1½ by 2 metres, are separated by narrow ½ metre deep drains. This procedure has a double advantage: drainage and augmentation of the layer of fertile soil on the beds (Eyma n.d.a.:46).

The gardens are all heavily fenced against the pigs, primarily domestic pigs, of which there are a large number in and near the villages….Tillage is done by means of a digging stick, somewhat like a pikul, a carrying stick, but about 75cm to 1m long. With a cutting movement of this stick sods are loosened and jerked free, like stones from a pavement, after which people use their hands to put the sods in their correct spots.

Pospisil (1963:105-6) describes a similar technique among the Kamu Valley Ekagi-me, although the tool they use has the shape of a paddle rather than a stick.

The photograph also shows something else: composting with hay or grass. The top layer of a bed is removed and temporarily put in the ditches, then a layer of hay or grass is put on the bed, and finally the fertile top layer is put on the hay.

This requires some manoeuvring with layers of soil, which an Ekagi, however, does not mind doing (Eyma n.d.a.:46).

Huliselan adds that the top layer is about 20-25cm thick (1939:386).

The fertile top layer is precious: the foothills consist of yellow clay covered with only a thin layer of fertile soil. The clay is completely infertile and sterile, so in the government station weeding was unnecessary; even weeds do not grow there. When the first experimental garden was being made—at the time necessarily close to the camp, and hence in the foothills—the area was hoed deeply in the orthodox way, possibly even two hoe blades deep. The result was very disappointing. This was repeated at Jába [on the eastern shore of Lake Tigi] when the teacher there practised what he had - 407 been taught at agricultural school and, against warnings of the local people, hoed his garden deeply. Result: complete sterility. A later garden, made without deep tillage, yielded excellent potatoes and radishes.

The local population cannot keep such tracts under cultivation for a long period: there, agriculture is the most extensive. Farther downhill, near the edge of the plain, the soil is of much better quality: grey clay, in the plain mixed with varying amounts of peat. My impression is that gardens there remain in intensive use. One finds for instance around Enárotali and Oebóetoe villages a large, contiguous complex of cultivated and uncultivated fields. I do not know the length of the cultivation cycle. That figure is anyway hard to ascertain in a country without clear seasons…. A new experimental garden laid out next to the garden complex mentioned produced much better results than the first one.

I have not come across penning pigs in abandoned gardens which the Archbold Expedition reported for areas farther to the east. Because of the large number of free-ranging pigs and since the people do not defecate in the water but on land, tracts which have been under fallow for a longer period and which are no longer fenced in, are rather richly fertilised. Since the people are knowledgeable about composting with hay and grass, it will not be difficult, given their intelligence and their lack of conservatism, to introduce fertilisation with nitrogen-fixing plants.

I mentioned above the lack of distinct seasons. Of course you would like to know more about the climate. As mentioned, there are no clear wet and dry seasons. Farther to the east, near the snow-covered mountains, they do occur. Accordingly, the water level of Lake Paniai varies. Moreover, there are also periods, usually not very long, during which there is little or no rain. The climate near the government station can be described as follows: in the mornings, after the morning mists have lifted, the weather is sunny, warm, “summery”; later winds rise, and in the afternoons it is very often real Dutch autumn weather: bleak, windy and showery. The direction of the winds is very variable, depending on how the landscape is formed. Further into the plains it is often milder, notwithstanding the closeness of the high mountains. This is because one is further away from the lake with its winds. The deltas, especially, can be bitterly cold during the night.

What is cultivated? In most areas the main food is Ipomoea batatas, in the southwest and in some other locations it is Colocasia esculenta. To start with the area just described, Ipomoea on the beds, in the ditches often Colocasia, along the edges of the ditches often a row of green vegetables, either Amaranthus (bajem) [the Indonesian name for a number of leafy vegetables (Heyne 1927:605f, lxiv); see further the section on vegetables in Liklik Buk (The Melanesian Council of Churches 1977)], or rungia (an - 408 Acanthacea with nice blue flowers), and along the fences often Abelmoschus manihot [Tok Pisin: aibika (Heyne 1927:1037)]. Sugar cane is planted in old sweet potato beds in rather large quantities: sticks of about half a metre in length are placed at regular intervals in the ground at an angle of about 45 degrees. Older cane is thinned and tied up against stakes. Bananas are planted everywhere but rarely in a regular pattern…. Tobacco is planted near the houses, but never more than a few plants together. Some time ago there were press reports about tobacco fields. They are pure fantasy just like the reports about wet rice cultivation by Highlands tribes. Rice is even completely unknown in the interior…. One finds, moreover, always small quantities of ginger (Zingiber) and Panicum palmifolium, a grass species of which the thick stem base is eaten as a delicacy [the current name of this species is Setaria palmifolia (J.F. Veldkamp pers. comm.)].

The New Guinea Central Mountains are remarkable for what they do not have, for their isolation. All the uninitiated are surprised to hear that the local people do not have chickens, rice or maize [Zea mays], and almost none of the common Ind[ones]ian fruits. And where, in some localities, some do occur, they were in my view almost certainly introduced by previous expeditions, for example papaya and cassava (Eyma n.d.a.:48).

So far I have discussed only the plains near the lakes. The great river valleys present a quite different picture. I would like to tell you about the most prosperous and most densely-populated one, Kemàndora, the valley of the [river called] Kémaboe, to which I accompanied cadet controleur Dr de Bruijn on his reconnaissance patrol [see Fig.l]. 5 While the lakes area is inhabited by the Ékari tribe (less accurately also called the Kapáukos), farther east one enters the area of the Mónis, very different from the Ékagis in language and behaviour. After people from Keàmandora had come to the station via the Móni enclave Kóegapa, an official delegation came in February to invite us to visit their country. This patrol, which Dr de Bruijn has described in the TKNAG [the Journal of the Royal Dutch Geographic Society; presumably, however, Eyma refers to de Bruijn's paper in Tijdschrift Nieuw Guinea, 1939-40] became an unforgettable event for both hosts and guests. After a committee of welcome had walked several days to meet us, a continually growing number of Mónis, singing and marching in front and in the rear, accompanied us from village to village…. In less than three weeks the patrol had had to accept more than 30 large pigs and a number of piglets, some already in the Ékari area, but by far the majority in that of the Mónis…. In contrast to the lakes area discussed, where the hard rocks consist almost exclusively of lime and sandstone, in Kemàndora a fairly wide strip of schist - 409 surfaces. Garden beds are seldom found. Yet the crops do well and the population is dense; one goes through village after village. Although almost as high [as the lakes area]—1600-1800m—the climate is rather mild. The occurrence of some crops which do not occur near the lakes, or occur in small quantities, is remarkable: Dioscorea, planted regularly and against stakes in splendid gardens, papaya, and a more luxuriant growth of, for instance, Abelmoschus and banana. I should mention the very rich stands of lemon nipis trees [a citrus fruit]. According to definite reports, Manihot [most likely Manihot esculenta, cassava] is cultivated, but I have not observed it. This area seems close to reaching its population capacity, hence the encroachment to the west of Mónis and of people living to their east, which has led to the formation of Móni enclaves in the Ékari area.

Perhaps some of you are intrigued by the occurrence, in an area which has remained in such isolation, of a number of plants of American origin: Ipomoea (presumably), Manihot, papaya and tobacco, not to mention the weeds. It would be going too far to go deeper into this. The data I have now at hand do not suggest imports from Polynesia but from the west. I hope to report more about this in due course.

From the above you will have noticed that we are dealing here with a people quite different from the Lowlanders, who are more or less nomadic and notorious for their head-hunting and their cannibalism. We have here an orderly, autarctic society which does not leave a primitive impression at all, notwithstanding the fact that metal in many places has only been known for a short time…. My impression is that this society does not rank below that of other inland tribes in the [Indonesian] archipelago; in some respects it even strikes me as more orderly, more tranquil and more finely honed. I have already shown you this as far as agriculture is concerned.

Subsequently Eyma discusses the prominent role of cowrie shells as coins, and suggests that they are the prime wealth item among the Ekagi-me. He refers to the “so-called pig feasts” which “each village which counts holds about once every year”. The largest ones attract hundreds of visitors. During the feasts pork is sold for shells, and for shells only. At the end of his talk he returns to hunting.

To conclude, a few words on hunting and fishing. As I mentioned earlier, hunting is of secondary importance, rather a pastime. Rat [sic] traps are often set. In contrast, there is a great deal of fishing on the two largest lakes: once I counted with my binoculars about 100 canoes in the southwest corner of the large lake [Lake Paniai]. People do not fish for the small ground fish, but for crayfish which occur in large quantities. [The text of Eyma's talk ends here.]

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At the time Eyma gave his talk, the inhabitants of Dutch New Guinea were generally held in low regard, both by the Dutch and by other inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies. In the three-volume Nieuw Guinee, edited by Klein (1935-38), 6 a compilation of current knowledge about the island, negative views of New Guineans are expressed in several of the papers. The book does not contain a contribution by a social or cultural anthropologist. The paper discussing the population is written by Bijlmer, a medical doctor and physical anthropologist. He reports that Papuans belong to one of “the most primitive of existing races”, adding that the eastern parts of Australian New Guinea are populated by “an ‘improved’ variety of Papuans because of Polynesian influence”. He refers to this category of people as “Melanesians” (1935:221-22). The primary “racial” element he mentions is skin colour. He further mentions the “coarse facial features”, given the “enormously wide nose and the ungainly mouth size” (1935:222-23). In these respects Papuans, he writes, compare unfavourably with, for instance, the Dayak, although “nature on Borneo is about as pristine” as in New Guinea and although its inhabitants are scarcely less in “a state of nature” (1935:224) than Papuans. These comments refer not only to physical characteristics; for Bijlmer asserts that Papuans are “on one of the lowest rungs of the ladder of civilisation” and is sceptical whether they are able to reach the level reached by their “white masters” (1935:252).

Several other papers in Nieuw Guinee reflect similarly negative views. In the paper dealing with labour relations, Kepper and van Sandick 7 write that “the education which the Papuan needs is to get to know discipline, order and work” (1938:902). The authors consider it necessary in New Guinea to retain indentured labour, with its penal sanction, especially since it was being phased out elsewhere in the Dutch East Indies (1938:936f). In a closing paper, Klein (1938) endorses Bijlmer's, and Kepper and van Sandick's conclusions.

In discussing his posting to Paniai in 1939, de Bruijn writes in his autobiography: “People were unable to imagine New Guinea as other than primitive, barbaric, hostile to humans and extremely unhealthy. That pertains not only to the Dutch, but just as much to the Ambonese” (1978:41). This statement is tinged with self-conceit, since it implies that de Bruijn could perceive the attraction of a New Guinea posting whereas apparently all others could not, but it reveals the negative image of the inhabitants of New Guinea.

Given these views, Eyma had to take into account that his listeners might well have very pejorative views of Papuans. He had little firsthand knowledge of coastal Papuans, but because of his work in Sulawesi and Seram he could compare the Ekagi-me with other Indonesian peoples. That comparison was - 411 favourable to the Ekagi-me. Thus Eyma contributed to a changing appreciation of New Guineans that is also apparent in the writings of de Bruijn and van Eechoud. Eyma's opening statement that he had been “privileged” to have spent a year in the interior of New Guinea may have been designed to surprise his audience. In several other respects his talk deviates from current stereotypes, for instance with his comments on the peacefulness of the Ekagi-me. Pospisil's ethnography makes it clear that in the Kamu Valley, in the mid 1950s when he carried out his field research, the people were far from peaceable (1958:88). I do not exclude the possibility that the peoples Eyma had to deal with were in many respects equally warlike, but that, during his stay, so soon after first contact with Europeans, they had suspended hostilities to benefit more from the presence of the newly-arrived members of the colonial establishment: the controleur and other public servants, the missionaries and the members of the KNAG Expedition. Their presence meant the influx of a considerable number of cowrie shells (Dubbeldam 1964).

Another example of Eyma's positive view of the Ekagi-me is his appreciation of their industry, being real farmers with “marvellous checkerboard gardens”, which I suppose led him to think of Ekagi-me society as “autarctic” and “orderly”. His comments recall Hides' statements about Huli agriculture: “As I looked upon these green cultivated gardens, of such mathematical exactness, I thought of wheat fields, or the industrious areas of a colony of Chinese” (1936:77-8), and also the impressions of Michael Leahy and Dwyer in the early 1930s, while trekking through what later became the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea: “in many places… a patchwork of well-made gardens, sufficient to support thousands of people …” (Fowke 1995:35).

Pospisil's 1963 discussion of Kamu Valley agriculture is far more extensive than the data presented by Eyma in his talk and his draft monograph, but their reports show great similarities. However, Eyma deals with another locale, the Paniai Lakes area, which seems to have poorer soils than the Kamu Valley, a thinner layer of top soil and a cooler climate (Pospisil 1978:118, de Bruijn 1978:120). Pospisil supports Eyma with regard to the unimportance of hunting (1963:231) and the importance of crayfish catching in the lakes (1963:222f.). The presence of crayfish may have induced people to live close to the lakes in spite of the work involved in swamp gardening and of the risk of flooding. 8

Eyma's data make it clear that the ditching practised by the Ekagi-me is for drainage (cf. Brookfield 1964:36-37). In this respect Ekagi-me agriculture differs from Grand Valley Dani agriculture since the latter also serves to retain water (Brookfield 1971:114). The two groups also use different tools: - 412 the Dani the long, paddle-shaped spade known from elsewhere in the Highlands (Steensberg 1980:91f.); Ekagi-me a much shorter implement, either paddle-shaped, as in the Kamu Valley, or more like a digging stick (le Roux 1948-50, vol. 1:290, vol.3: Plate 31). Eyma suggests that without ditching much of the Paniai area would be unsuitable for agriculture. The risk of flooding is greater: he writes that he observed the level of Lake Paniai varying by 1.5 metres (Eyma 1939:2). He also indicates that the construction of the square beds means that the scarce fertile soil is accumulated on top of them.

Furthermore, Eyma addresses the issue of the introduction of the sweet potato into New Guinea. Since the 1960s, the issue, sparked off by S. and R. Bulmer (1964), has been much debated with regard to the prehistory of the Papua New Guinea Highlands. In the Bulmers view, the post-Magellanic adoption of the sweet potato as the major staple by Highlanders started a new phase in Highlands prehistory (1964:52). Subsequently Watson (e.g., 1965) expounded on the revolutionary changes which, in his view, reliance on the sweet potato might have entailed: among them population increase, keener competition for resources, changes in cultivation techniques, wider scope for pig husbandry and shifts in the division of labour between the sexes. Such views, and the results of archaeological research in the Highlands, made the introduction of the sweet potato and its impact one of the most intensively debated issues in the (pre)history and the anthropology of the Highlands (Golson and Gardner 1990:396,407; Scaglion and Soto 1994:261f.). The majority are of the opinion that the sweet potato is a post-Magellanic introduction and has since then made rapid, major changes in Highlands economies and societies (e.g., Godelier and Strathern 1991, Feil 1995). 9 Against this, Scaglion and Soto (1994) have put forward, on the basis of a lexical analysis of the names for sweet potato used by New Guinean ethnic groups, that an introduction from eastern Indonesia, contacted very early in the colonial era by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, is unlikely. In their view, their analysis leaves open the possibility of much earlier and multiple introductions (1994:286).

In the ethnography of the Highlands of western New Guinea, the issue had been raised by Lam, after his participation in the van Overeem-Kremer Expedition into the Central Highlands, in the early 1920s (Ploeg 1995). Lam acknowledged the American provenance of the sweet potato, but considered a possible pre-Magellanic introduction (1927:313-14,1945:161). However, in the paper he presented in 1922, in Eyma's possession, he opines that the introduction is not earlier than 400 years ago (1922:7). Only after this introduction, he argues, had New Guineans been able to settle in the Highlands. There are extensive grasslands in the Toli Valley, the locale of - 413 Lam's Highlands research. Lam regarded these as anthropogenic and, in line with this view, he saw the shifting cultivation of the Toli Dani, quite different from Paniai agriculture, as utterly unsustainable (1929:338, 1945:161). This opinion led Eyma to conclude that the migrations of Highlanders towards Paniai and further west might well have resulted from the abandonment of land with exhausted soils (n.d.a.:42).

Eyma adds to Lam's argument by pointing out that before the sweet potato had reached the New Guinea Highlands their inhabitants could have used taro as their main staple. During his patrols he noticed that in some areas away from the Paniai Lakes taro was a more important cultigen than sweet potato. In another draft he put it succinctly: “My impression is that Ipomoea plus pigs has driven out an older culture Colocasia [sic] without pigs to peripheral areas” (n.d.b.:2), notably the southwestern territories of the Ekagi-me at the western tip of the Central Highlands. More recently, Hylkema has reinforced Eyma's observations by proposing (1990) a geographic variation in the Ekagi-me ways of life. In the areas away from the Paniai Lakes and the Kamu Valley, taro has remained the major crop up until the colonial era; agriculture was extensive and pig exchanges were of minor importance, in contrast to hunting, and successful hunters gained renown (1990:5-7). Eyma's and Hylkema's observations seem noteworthy since they suggest parallels between socio-cultural developments at the western end of the New Guinea Highlands and areas in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea where, until recently, taro has remained the major crop in areas west of the Strickland River and in the Southern Highlands Province.

Following up on his hypothesis that the sweet potato was recent in the New Guinea Highlands, Eyma had started researching the question of where the introduction had taken place. On the basis of a lexical analysis of sweet potato names, Eyma concluded that the sweet potato had arrived in New Guinea from the Philippines. Unfortunately, Eyma discloses only part of his evidence. He notes that the three main ethnic groups in the Paniai area use the following names for the sweet potato: nòtta (Ekagi-me), balarái (Moni) and èlom (Damal) (Eyma 1939). 10 It is noteworthy that there are three names in this one area, but this is in accordance with the situation elsewhere in New Guinea where there are a “bewildering array of names, seemingly unrelated” (Yen 1974:345). Eyma comments that nòtta, balarái and élom all are Philippine names, and one of them “clearly Aztec-Mexican” (Eyma n.d.a.:42), but he does not give the Philippine renderings, let alone the Mexican one. Possibly he refers here to camote, in Nahuatl camoh-tli (Karttunen 1983:24; cf. Yen 1974:14). In contemporary Spanish the word was pronounced with the stress on the middle syllable (J.H.F. Sollewijn Gelpke pers. comm.).

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With this line of reasoning Eyma was the first researcher to investigate the idea that the introduction of the sweet potato into New Guinea was associated with the European expansion into the Pacific. But with his argument that it arrived via the Philippines, he seems to ignore Lam's point that among the ruderal plants 11 that he observed in the Toli, specifically Southeast Asian ones predominated (1929:316f.,1945:148f.). Eyma's evidence was scanty. He was in correspondence with Merrill, the American botanist who had pointed to the importance of human, especially European, travel in spreading plants (summarised in Merrill 1954), so he was alert to the possibility that the presence of the sweet potato in the New Guinea Highlands had to do with European explorations. In his monograph on the Ekagi-me, which I assume he drafted before early 1942 when he was taken prisoner, he writes that he was further researching the issue (n.d.a.:42). He had reason to ground his idea as carefully as possible because he disagreed with Lam, at the time the most prominent tropical Dutch botanist (Jacobs 1984). Among his papers are excerpts and notes on publications dealing with the introduction of the sweet potato into the Philippines by the Spaniards, especially papers by Zingg (1934), “American plants in Philippine ethnobotany”, and Laufer (1929), “The American plant migration”. However, he was a botanist, not a linguist, and it remains unclear how knowledgeable he was about phonetic permutations. Moreover, he does not seem to have considered the possibility, later evidenced by Dutton, that “wherever a foodstuff comes into competition with another… its name will be found to fluctuate with the name for the competing item” (1977:67). Nor does he account for the fact that in the Cenderawasih Bay area, by way of which the new crop most likely arrived, it had become known by quite different names (Scaglion and Soto 1994, J.H.F. Sollewijn Gelpke pers comm.). Given the early presence of missionaries and colonial administrators in that area, at least some of these names were known to Europeans in the late 1930s.

Much later other researchers, notably Yen (1974), also argued in favour of a post-Magellanic introduction, while equipped with a far wider and fuller range of data than Eyma had at his disposal. But it seems beside the point to focus primarily on how Eyma argued his hypothesis; its importance seems to be in its content. Had he survived the war and been able to continue his research and publish his data, his idea might have been the starting point of a fruitful debate, much like the papers by the Bulmers (1964) and Watson (1965) discussed above.

Finally, Eyma's observations illustrate the uneven spread of new cultigens into the Paniai area. Although it is in doubt when the sweet potato was introduced in New Guinea, it is generally accepted that tobacco and maize are indeed post-Magellanic introductions. Boomgaard - 415 has documented their spread in the Indonesian archipelago. He concludes that maize may have been introduced into eastern Indonesia before the end of the 16th century, but that “by the 1670's, it had firmly established itself in the Moluccas (Amboina, Ternate, Tidore)” (1999:46). These locations were visited by New Guineans, so they were in a position to observe and to experiment with the crop. Moreover, in the mid-19th century maize was exported from Seram (Boomgaard 1999:51), which had many trade links with the south New Guinea coast. About tobacco Boomgaard writes that the Spaniards introduced it into the Philippines in the 1570s. Ternate was a major producer by the 1670s (1999:53). At the time of first contact with Europeans, not all New Guineans were knowledgeable about tobacco cultivation and consumption. Given the distribution of names for this cultivar and the areas where it was not known, both Riesenfeld (1952) and Hays (1990) conclude that it was introduced into New Guinea from the northwest. They do not consider the possibility that it was first observed by New Guineans themselves on their travels to the Moluccas. However, their argument supports the hypothesis that, among New Guinea Highlanders, Ekagi-me were in a favourable position to get to know these cultigens, because they lived close to Cenderawasih Bay. Nevertheless, while Ekagi-me had taken up tobacco cultivation by the time Eyma arrived, they did not cultivate maize, although at first contact it was cultivated elsewhere in the Highlands (Bulmer and Bulmer 1964:47). Nevertheless, after the Europeans had introduced the crop in the late 1930s, it soon became popular (Pospisil 1963:114). Unlike most Ekagi-me cultigens, it is planted by seed, but this can hardly have been an impediment since the same holds for the pre-colonial native beans (Pospisil 1963:114). However, to explore the reasons for this unevenness is beyond the scope of this paper.

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1   Dr Wim Vink drew my attention to Eyma's work. I would like to thank him, Professor Ann Chowning and Professor Terence Hays for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.
2   This term was coined by Appell, who defined it as follows: “terms used for ethnic identification that are derived from the folk classification of peoples foreign to those being identified might, for convenience, be referred to as ‘exonyms’”(Appell 1968:2).
3   In proposing this name I was guided by the occurrence of names such as Marind-anim, Marind people or Marind men, and Kanum-anim, Kanum people (van Baal 1966:10), and also the names of the Mountain-Ok peoples, such as Telefolmin, Telefol people, Ulapmin, Ulap people and so on (Craig and Hyndman 1990:3).
4   I traced Huliselan's account thanks to Mr. D. van Duren M.A., a staff member of the Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam.
5   The Kémaboe, nowadays Kemabu, rises on the high plain north of Puncak Jaya and flows to the west, reaching the Pacific Ocean in Cenderawasih Bay. Its valley became the main avenue through which colonial administrators and missionaries explored the Central Mountains departing from the Paniai area (de Bruijn 1978, Gibbons 1981).
6   Klein edited a new version, also in three volumes, entitled Nieuw Guinea: De Ontwikkeling op Economisch, Sociaal en Cultureel Gebied, in Nederlands en Australisch Nieuw Guinea [New Guinea: Economic, Cultural and Social Development, in Dutch and Australian New Guinea], and published it in 1953-55.
7   Kepper was a former labour inspector of the colonial administration. Van Sandick had been governor of the Moluccas in which capacity he was in charge of the administration of Dutch New Guinea.
8   This point was prompted by remarks by van Rhijn and Ballard. Van Rhijn has written that Western Dani carried crayfish from the Balim and, with varying success, set them out in the Ilaga, Sinak and Bokondini Valleys (1969:30). Ballard observed that Western Dani living at Kwiyawagi, in the upper catchment of the Balim river, at 2680 m, reportedly prefer living there because of the ample availability of crayfish, and notwithstanding the risk of frost (Ballard, n.d.:7,9).
9   In their major analysis of Enga oral history, Wiessner and Tumu are cautious about the time of the introduction of the sweet potato (1998:103), but definite about the impact of that introduction (1998:Ch. 4).
10   The three terms mentioned by Eyma occur also in the lists used by Scaglion and Soto. In their orthography: nota as an isolated term (1994: Table 5, category M); badagaj as both an isolated term, in category M, and, written as balerai, in subset C with hiperi, a term used in the Grand Valley; and elom as one of a subset of terms used by Damal, Western Dani and Grand Valley Dani.
11   Lam refers with this term to plants which remain in or invade an area cleared by humans. The seeds of some may have been carried along unwittingly by the human invaders (1927:155, 1945:27).