Wanderings Among South Sea Savages And in Borneo and the Philippines
H. Wilfrid Walker

Part 3 out of 3

the rest away, and this accounts for the birds' extreme tameness.

It seemed odd that we should be paddled about the lake, to shoot wild
fowl, by these people, who until to-day had never seen a white man
before and had fled from us in the morning. However, most of them
had fled and would not return until we had left their country.

There is little doubt that this part of the country is most
unhealthy. Many of our police and carriers were two days later down
with fever, and a few weeks later I had a bad attack of fever, with
which I was laid up in Samarai for some time, and which I feel sure I
got into my system in this swamp. The mosquitoes were certainly very
plentiful and vicious.

We spent the following day here, duck-shooting on the lake, and I did
a little natural-history collecting in the adjacent forest. We had
intended to try and induce two of the Agai Ambu to accompany us back to
Cape Nelson, but most unfortunately they understood that we were going
to take them forcibly away. They became alarmed and all disappeared,
and we were not able to get into communication with them again.

When Sir Francis Winter visited them about a month later they were
evidently quite friendly again, but on the second day of his visit
his native followers demanded a pig of the Agai Ambu in his, Sir
Francis's, name. At this they became alarmed and retreated to the
further village, and he was unable to see any more of them. Since
then I believe nothing more has been seen of these flat-footed people.

We returned to our old camping ground in the Baruga village on the
banks of the Barigi River, and the friendly Baruga people brought
us a big supply of pigs, sago and other native food. The next day
we continued our journey to the coast, and camped at the mouth of
the Barigi River. We had intended making an expedition into the
Hydrographer range of mountains, which we could see from here, and
which were unexplored, but Monckton and Acland were far from well, and
most of our carriers and police were down with fever, and so, greatly
to my disappointment, this had to be abandoned. We resumed our homeward
journey in the whaleboat early the following morning. We started with
a fair breeze, but this changed after a time to a head wind, against
which it was quite impossible to make any headway, so we landed at a
place where there was a small inlet leading into a lagoon. We stayed
here till six p.m., when the wind dropped sufficiently to enable
us to start off again, and, passing the mouth of the Musa River,
we landed about one a.m. in Porlock Bay, where we camped for the night.

We spent the following day shooting, which entailed a lot of wading
amongst the shallow streams, lagoons and small lakes. I had a bit of a
fright here, as I suddenly stepped into some quicksands and felt myself
sinking fast, but, thanks to Arigita and the branch of a tree, I was
able to pull myself out after a great deal of trouble and anxiety,
though if I had not had Arigita with me I should most certainly
have gone under. We got a splendid bag between us of various birds,
chiefly duck and pigeon. One of the police shot a large cassowary,
and also a large wild pig and a wallaby, so there was plenty of food
for all. We sailed again that night at eleven p.m., and got six of
the Okeina canoes to tow us along. This they did not seem to relish,
and before they got into line there was a great deal of angry talking
and shouting, and Monckton had to call them to order by firing a rifle
in the air. It was amusing to see the way the long line of canoes
pulled us round and round in the form of the letter "S," and they
would often bump against each other, and plenty of angry words were
exchanged. It was an amusing FINALE to the expedition. They left us
for their homes when we got near the Okeina country. We landed in the
early morning on the beach, where we had breakfast, and then rowed on,
followed by the Kaili-kaili and Arifamu canoes, and eventually landed
again at the station at Tufi, Cape Nelson, about two p.m.

In conclusion I should mention that Mr. Oelrechs, Monckton's assistant,
had heard rumours that we had all been massacred, and he told me that
he had been seriously thinking of gathering together a large army of
friendly natives to go down and avenge us, though I think he would
have found it no easy matter, but, as can be seen, we saved him the
trouble, and so our expedition ended.

Wanderings and Wonders in Borneo.


On the War-Path in Borneo.

The "Orang-utan" and the "Man of the Jungle" -- Voyage to Sarawak
-- The Borneo Company, Limited -- Kuching, a Picturesque Capital --
Independence of Sarawak -- I meet the Rajah and the Chief Officials
-- Etiquette of the Sarawak Court -- The "Club" -- The "Rangers" of
Sarawak and their Trophies -- Execution by means of the Long Kris --
Degeneracy of the Land Dayaks -- Ascent of the Rejang River -- Mud
Banks and Crocodiles -- Dr. Hose at his Sarawak Home -- The Fort at
Sibu -- Enormous length of Dayak Canoes -- A Brush with Head-Hunters
-- Dayak Vengeance on Chinamen -- First Impressions of the Sea Dayak,
"picturesque and interesting" -- A Head-Hunting raid, Dayaks attack
the Punans -- I accompany the Punitive Expedition -- Voyage Upstream
-- A Clever "Bird Scare" -- Houses on the top of Tree-stumps -- The
Kelamantans -- Kanawit Village -- The Fort at Kapit -- Capture of a
notorious Head-Hunting Chief -- I inspect the "Heads" of the Victims
-- Cause of Head-Hunting -- Savage Revenge of a Dayak Lover and its
Sequel -- Hose's stem Ultimatum -- Accepted by the Head-Hunters --
I return to Sibu -- A Fatal Misconception.

I had spent about seven months in the forests of British North
Borneo, going many days' journey into the heart of the country, had
made fine natural-history collections and had come across a great
deal of game, including elephant, rhinoceros, bear, and "tembadu" or
wild cattle, huge wild pig and deer of three species being especially
plentiful. But above all I had come across a great many "orang-utan"
(Malay for "jungle-man") and had been able to study their habits. One
of these great apes has the strength of eight men and possesses an
extraordinary amount of vitality. One that I shot lived for nearly
three hours with five soft-nosed Mauser bullets in its body.

But I had not yet seen the REAL jungle-man in his native haunts --
the head-hunting Dayak, as the Dayaks are rarely to be found in North
Borneo, whereas the people on the Kinabatangan River (where I spent
most of my time) were a sort of Malay termed "Orang Sungei" (River
People). So, as I was anxious to see the real head-hunting Dayak,
I determined to go to Sarawak, which is in quite a different part of
Borneo. To do this, I had to return to Singapore, and thence, after a
two days' voyage, I arrived at Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Except
for a Chinese towkay, I was the only saloon passenger, as strangers
rarely visit this country.

Kuching is about twenty-five miles up the Sarawak River, and contains
about thirty thousand inhabitants, chiefly Malays and Chinese,
with about fifty Europeans, who are for the most part government
officials or belong to the Borneo Company, Limited. This company is
very wealthy and owns the only steamship line, plying between Singapore
and Kuching. It has several gold mines and a great quantity of land
planted to pepper, gambier, gutta percha and rubber. The Rajah will
not allow any other company or private individual to buy lands or
open up an estate, neither will he allow any traders in the country.

It would be difficult to imagine a more picturesque town than
Kuching. It chiefly consists of substantial Chinese dwellings of brick
and plaster, with beautiful tile-work of quaint figures, while temples
glittering with gold peep out of thick, luxuriant, tropical growth. Two
miles out of the city you can lose yourself in a dense tropical forest
of the greatest beauty, and in the background is a chain of mountains,
some of them of extraordinary shape. The reigning monarch or Rajah
is an Englishman, Sir Charles Brooke, a nephew of Sir James Brooke,
the first Rajah, who was an officer in the British Navy and who,
after conquering Malay pirates, was made Rajah of the country by the
grateful Dayaks.

Though Sarawak is supposed to be under British protection, and though
all his officials are Britishers, Rajah Brooke considers his country
independent and will not allow the Union Jack to be flown in his
dominions. He possesses his own flag, a mixture of red, black and
yellow, and his own national anthem; moreover his officials refer
to him as the King, and to his son, the heir to the throne, as the
"young King" (or "Rajah Muda").

Two days after my arrival, the Rajah left on his steam yacht for
England, but the day before he left, he held a great reception at his
"palace" (or "astana," as it is called in Malay). It was attended
by all his officials, by high Malay chiefs and the chief Chinese
merchants. The reins of government were formally handed over to his
son, the Rajah Muda, after which champagne was passed round. The chief
resident, Sir Percy Cunninghame, then introduced me to the Rajah. He is
a fine-looking old man with a white moustache and white hair, and is
greatly beloved by every one. He conversed with me for some time, and
asked me many questions about the Chartered Company in British North
Borneo. It was rather embarrassing for me, with every one silently and
respectfully standing around listening to every word. He wished me
success in my travels in the interior, and told his officials to do
all in their power to help me. When you talk about the Rajah you say
"His Highness," but when you address him, you simply say "Rajah" after
every few words -- "Yes, Rajah," or "No, Rajah." The native chiefs,
I noticed, kissed the hands of both the Rajah and the Rajah Muda.

There is no hotel in Kuching, so I put up at the rather dilapidated
government Rest-House, part of which I had to myself, the other half
being occupied by two government officers. The club in Kuching seems
a most popular institution with all the officials, and "gin pahits"
(or "bitters") the popular drink of this part of the world; billiards
and pool help to pass many a pleasant evening, the Rajah Muda often
joining us at a game of black pool, like any ordinary mortal.

The Rajah's troops, the Rangers, are a fine body of men; they are
chiefly recruited from the Malays and Dayaks, and have an English
sergeant to drill them. I was told that when they go fighting the wild
head-hunters, they are allowed to bring in as trophies the heads of
those they kill, in the same way that the Dayaks themselves do. The
method of execution here is the same as in other Malay countries,
the criminal being taken down to the banks of the river, where a long
"kris" is thrust down through the shoulder into the heart, and is
then twisted about till the man is dead.

After a visit to Bau, further up the Sarawak River, where the Borneo
Company, whose guest I was, have a gold mine (the clay being treated
by the "cyanide" process), I collected specimens for some time in the
beautiful forests at the foot of the limestone mountains of Poak. Here
I saw something of the Land Dayaks, but they are a poor degenerate
breed, and not to be compared to the Sea Dayaks, who are born fighters,
and whose predatory head-hunting instincts give a great deal of trouble
to the government. These latter were the Dayaks I was anxious to meet,
and I soon made arrangements to visit their country, which is a good
way from Kuching, the real Sea Dayak rarely visiting the capital.

So one morning early I found myself with my two servants, a Chinese
cook and a civilized Dayak named Dubi (Mr. R. Shelford also going),
on board a government paddle-wheel steamer which was bound for Sibu,
on the Rejang River. Twenty-five miles' descent of the Sarawak River
brought us to the sea. We did not skirt the coast, but cut across a
large open expanse of sea for about ninety miles. We then came to the
delta of the Rejang River, and went up one of its many mouths, which
was of great width, though the scenery all the way was monotonous,
and consisted of nothing but mangroves, PANDANUS, the feathery NIPA
palm and the tall, slender "nibong" palm, with here and there a
crocodile lying, out on the mud banks -- a dismal scene.

At nightfall we anchored a short way up the river, as the government
will not allow their boats to travel up the river by night, it being
unsafe. We were off again at daylight the next morning, the scenery
improving as the interminable mangroves gave place to the forest. Sixty
miles up the river found us at Sibu, where I put up with Dr. Hose,
the Resident, the celebrated Bornean explorer and naturalist. The
only other Europeans here were two junior officials, Messrs. Johnson
and Bolt. And yet there is a club at Sibu, a club for three, and here
these three officials meet every evening and play pool.

There is a fort in Sibu, as indeed there is at most of the river
places in Sarawak. It is generally a square-shaped wooden building,
perforated all round with small holes for rifles, while just below
the roof is a slanting grill-work through which it is easy to shoot,
though, as it is on the slant, it is hard for spears to enter from the
outside. There are one or two cannons in most of these forts. The fort
at Sibu was close to Dr. Hose's house and was attacked by Dayaks only
a few years ago. Johnson, one of Dr. Hose's assistants, showed me a
very long Dayak canoe capable of seating over one hundred men. It was
made out of one tree, but large as it was, it did not equal some of the
Kayan canoes on this river, one of which was one hundred and forty-five
feet in length. This Dayak canoe was literally riddled with bullets,
and Johnson told me that a few weeks' ago he was fighting some Dayaks
on the Kanawit, a branch river near here, when he was attacked by some
Dayaks in this very canoe. As they came up throwing spears he told his
men to fire, with the result that eighteen Dayaks were killed. The
river at Sibu was of great width, over a mile across, in fact, and
close to the bank is a Malay village, and a bazaar where the wily
Chinaman does a thriving trade in the wild produce of the country,
and makes huge profits out of the Dayaks and other natives on this
river. But the Dayaks often have their revenge and attack the Chinamen
with great slaughter, the result being that they take home with them
plenty of yellow-skinned heads with nice long pig-tails to hang them
up by. During my stay on this river there were two or three cases of
Chinamen being slaughtered by the Dayaks, and if it were not for the
forts on these rivers, every Chinaman would be wiped out of existence.

My first real acquaintance with the Sea Dayak was in the long bazaar
at Sibu, and I was by no means disappointed in my first impressions,
as I found him a most picturesque and interesting individual. The men
usually have long black hair hanging down their backs, often with a
long fringe on their foreheads. Their skin is brown, they have snub
noses but resolute eyes, and they are of fine proportions, though they
rarely exceed five feet five inches in height. Beyond the "jawat,"
a long piece of cloth which hangs down between their legs, they wear
nothing, if I except their many and varied ornaments. They wear a great
variety of earrings. These are often composed of heavy bits of brass,
which draw the lobes of the ears down below the shoulder. When they
go on the war-path they generally wear war-coats made from the skins
of various wild animals, and these are often padded as a protection
against the small poisonous darts of the "sumpitan" or blow-pipe which,
together with the "parang" (a kind of sword) and long spears with
broad steel points constitute their chief weapons. They also have
large shields of light wood; often fantastically painted in curious
patterns, or ornamented with human hair.

I had been at Sibu only three or four days, when word was brought down
to Dr. Hose that the Ulu Ai Dayaks, near Fort Kapit, about one hundred
miles up the river, had attacked and killed a party of Punans for
the sake of their heads. These Punans are a nomadic tribe who wander
about through the great forests with no settled dwelling-places, but
build themselves rough huts and hunt the wild game of the forest and
feed on the many wild fruits that are found in these forests. Hose
at once decided to go up to Fort Kapit and punish these Dayaks, and
gave me leave to accompany him and Shelford. So one morning at six
o'clock we boarded a large steam launch with a party of the Rangers,
mentioned above, as the Rajah's troops. We took, from near Sibu,
several friendly Dayaks, who were armed to the teeth with spears,
"parangs," "sumpitans," shields and war ornaments, all highly elated
at the prospect of the fighting in store for them.

In a short account like this, it is of course impossible to describe
the many interesting things that I saw on the journey up the river. We
passed many of the long, curious Dayak houses and plenty of canoes full
of these picturesque people, and at some of the villages little Dayak
children hurriedly pushed out small canoes from the shore so as to
get rocked by the waves made by our launch. This they seemed to enjoy,
to judge from the delighted yells they gave forth. I several times saw
a most ingenious invention for frightening away the birds and monkeys
from the large fruit trees which surrounded every Dayak village. At
one end of a large rattan cord was a sort of wooden rattle, fixed on
the top of one of the largest fruit trees. The other end of the rattan
was fastened to a slender bamboo stick which was stuck into the river,
and the action of the stream caused the bamboo to sway to and fro,
thus jerking the rattan which in turn set the rattle going. We passed
several small houses built on the tops of large tree-stumps. These,
Dr. Hose informed me, were built by Kanawits, of a race of people
known as Kelamantans. These Kelamantans are supposed to be the oldest
residents of Borneo, being here long before the Dayaks and Kayans,
but they axe fast dying out, as are the Punans, I believe chiefly
owing to the raids of the warlike Dayaks. They were once ferocious
head-hunters, but now they are a very inoffensive people.

About mid-day we stopped at the village of Kanawit, at the mouth of the
river of that name. This village, like Sibu, is composed entirely of
Chinese and Malays. They are all traders and do a thriving business
with the Dayaks and other natives. Here also was a fort with its
cannon, with a Dayak or Malay sergeant and a dozen men in charge. As
we proceeded up river, the scenery became rather monotonous. There
was little tall forest, the country being either cleared for planting
"padi" (rice) or in secondary forest growth or jungle, a sure sign
of a thick population. We saw many Dayaks burning the felled jungle
for planting their "padi," and the air was full of ashes and smoke,
which obscured the rays of the sun and cast a reddish glare on the
surrounding country.

Toward evening we reached the village of Song and stayed here all
night, fastening our launch to the bank. In spite of the fort here,
we learned that the Chinamen were in great fear of an attack by the
Dayaks, which they daily expected. Leaving Song at half-past five the
next morning, we arrived at Kapit about ten a.m. and put up at the
fort, which was a large one. A long, narrow platform from the top of
the fort led to a larger platform on which, overlooking the river,
there was a large cannon which could be turned round so as to cover
all the approaches from the river in case there was an attack on the
fort. We learned that the day before we arrived at Kapit, Mingo, the
Portuguese in charge of the fort, had captured the worst ringleader of
the head-hunters in the bazaar at Kapit, and small parties of loyal
Dayaks were at once sent off to the homes of the other head-hunters
with strict injunctions to bring back the guilty ones, and, failing
persuasion and threats, to attack them.[11] In most cases they were
successful, and I saw many of the prisoners brought in, together with
some of the heads of their victims.

The next morning Hose suddenly called out to me that if I wished
to inspect the heads I would find them hanging up under the cannon
platform by the river, and he sent a Dayak to undo the wrappings
of native cloth and mats in which they were done up. They were a
sickening sight, and all the horrors of head-hunting were brought
before me with vivid and startling reality far more than could have
been done by any writer, and I pictured those same heads full of life
only a few days before, and then suddenly a rush from the outside
amid the unprepared Punans in their rude huts in the depths of the
forest, a woman's scream of terror, followed by the sickening sound of
hacking blows from the sharp Dayak "parangs," and the Dayak war-cry,
"Hoo-hah! hoo-hah!" ringing through the night air, as every single
Punan man, woman and child, who has not had time to escape, is cut
down in cold blood. When all are dead, the proud Dayaks, proceed to
hack off the heads of their victims and bind them round with rattan
strings with which to carry them, and then, returning in triumph,
are hailed with shouts of delight by their envious fellow-villagers,
for this means wives, a Dayak maiden thinking as much of heads as a
white girl would of jewellery. The old Dayak who undid the wrappings
pretended to be horrified, but I felt sure that the old hypocrite
wished that he owned them himself.

Only seven of the heads had been brought in, and two of them were
heads of women, and although they had been smoked, I could easily
see that one of them was that of a quite young, good-looking girl,
with masses of long, dark hair. She had evidently been killed by a
blow from a "parang," as the flesh on the head had been separated by
a large cut which had split the skull open. In one of the men's heads
there were two small pieces of wood inserted in the nose. They were
all ghastly sights to look at, and smelt a bit, and I was not sorry
to be able to turn my back on them.

As in the present case, the brass-encircled young Dayak women are
generally the cause of these head-hunts, as they often refuse to
marry a man unless he has one or more heads, and in many cases a
man is absolutely driven to get a head if he wishes to marry. The
heads are handed down from father to son, and the rank of a Dayak is
generally determined by the number of heads he or his ancestors have
collected. A Dayak goes on the war-path more for the sake of the heads
he may get, than for the honour and glory of the fighting. Generally,
though, there is precious little fighting, as the Dayak attacks only
when his victims are unprepared.

While I was in Borneo I heard the following story of Dayak barbarity,
which is a good example of the way the women incite their men to go
on these head-hunting expeditions. In a certain district where some
missionaries were doing good work among the Dayaks, a Dayak young
man named Hathnaveng had been persuaded by the missionaries to give
up the barbaric custom of headhunting. One day, however, he fell in
love with a Dayak maiden. The girl, although returning his passion,
disdained his offer of marriage, because he no longer indulged in the
ancient practice of cutting off and bringing home the heads of the
enemies of the tribe. Hathnaveng, goaded by the taunts of the girl,
who told him to dress in women's clothes in the future, as he no
longer had the courage of a man, left the village and remained away
for some time. When he returned, he entered his sweetheart's hut,
carrying a sack on his shoulders. He opened it, and four human heads
rolled upon the bamboo floor. At the sight of the trophies, the girl
at once took him back into her favour, and flinging her arms round
his neck, embraced him passionately.

"You wanted heads," declared her lover. "I have brought them. Do you
not recognize them?"

Then to her horror she saw they were the heads of her father, her
mother, her brother and of a young man who was Hathnaveng's rival
for her affections. Hathnaveng was immediately seized by some of
the tribesmen, and by way of punishment was placed in a small bamboo
structure such as is commonly used by the Dayaks for pigs, and allowed
to starve to death.[12] This is a true story, and occurred while I
was still in Borneo.

The day after we arrived at Kapit a great crowd of Dayaks, belonging to
the tribe of those implicated in the attack on the Punans, assembled
at the fort to talk with Dr. Hose on the matter, and the upshot of
it all was startling in its severity. This was Hose's ultimatum:
They must give up the rest of those that took part in the raid, and
they would all get various terms of imprisonment. They must return
the rest of the heads. They must pay enormous fines, and, lastly,
those villages which had men who took part in the raid, must move
down the river opposite Sibu, and thus be under Hose's eye as well
as under the guns of the fort. I watched the faces of the crowd, and
it was interesting to witness their various emotions. Some looked
stupefied, others looked very angry, and that they could not agree
among themselves was plainly evident from their angry squabbling. They
were a curious crowd with their long black hair and fringes and round
tattoo marks on their bodies. They finally agreed to these terms, as
Hose told them that if they did not do so, he would come and make them,
even if he had to kill them all. The following days I witnessed large
bands of Dayaks bringing to the fort their fines, which consisted of
large jars and brass gongs, which are the Dayak forms of currency. The
total fine amounted to $5,200, and the jars were carefully examined,
the gongs weighed and their values assessed. Some of the jars were
very old, but the older they are the more they are worth. Three of
the poorest looking ones were valued at $1,400 (the dollar in Borneo
is about two of our shillings). Of the total, $1,200 was later paid to
the Punans as compensation ("pati nyawa"). I watched some Dayaks -- who
had just brought in their fines -- as they went away in one of their
large canoes, and they crossed the river with a quick, short stroke
of their paddles in splendid time, so that one heard the sound of
their paddles, as they beat against the side of the canoe, come in one
short tr-r-up. They seemed to be very angry, all talking at once, and
I still heard the sound of their angry voices above the paddles' beat,
long after they had disappeared up a narrow creek on the other side.

I had intended going with my two servants further up the river and
living for some time among the Dayaks, but Dr. Hose made objections
to my doing so. He said it would be very unsafe for me to live among
these Kapit Dayaks at the present time, as they were naturally in a
very excitable state, and would have thought little of killing one of
the "orang puteh" (white men), whom they no doubt considered the cause
of all their trouble. They would be sure to take me for a government
official. Hose instead advised me to go up a small unexplored branch
river below Sibu, so as the launch was returning to Sibu I determined
to return in her, leaving Hose and Shelford at Kapit.

During my short stay at Kapit I added very few new specimens to
my collections of birds and butterflies; in fact, it was the worst
collecting-ground that I struck during more than a year's wanderings
in Borneo. I, however, made a fine collection of Dayak weapons,
shields and war ornaments from our friendly Dayaks, who seemed very
low-spirited now that there was to be no fighting, and on this
account traded some of their property to me which at other times
nothing would have induced them to part with, at a very low figure.

I returned to Sibu with Mingo, and we took with us the ringleader of
the head-hunters. He was kept handcuffed in the hold, and he worked
himself up into a pitiable state of fright. He thought he was going to
be killed, and the whole of the voyage he was chanting a most mournful
kind of song, a regular torrent of words going to one note. My Dayak
servant Dubi informed me that he was singing about the heads he had
taken, and for which he thought he was now going to die.

After a day's stay in Sibu I went up the Sarekei River with my
two servants, and made a long stay in a Dayak house. I will try to
describe my life among the Dayaks in the next chapter. In conclusion,
I must tell the tragic story of a fatal mistake, which was told me by
Johnson, one of the officials at Sibu, which serves to illustrate the
superstitious beliefs of the Malays. A Chinese prisoner at Sibu had
died, at least Johnson and Bolt both thought so, and they sent some of
the Malay soldiers to bury the body on the other side of the river. A
few days later one of them casually remarked to Johnson that they had
often heard it said that the spirit of a man sometimes returned to
his body again for a short time after death (a Malay belief), but he
(this Malay) had not believed it before, but he now knew that it was
true. Johnson, much amused, asked him how that was. "Oh," said the
Malay, "when the Tuan (Johnson) sent us across the river to bury the
dead man the other day, his spirit came back to him and his body sat
up and talked, and we were much afraid, and seized hold of the body;
which gave us much trouble to put it into the hole we had digged,
and when we had quickly filled in the hole so that the body could not
come out again, we fled away quickly, so now we know that the saying
is true." It thus transpired that they had buried a live Chinaman
without being aware of the fact.


Home-Life Among Head-Hunting Dayaks.

I leave the Main Stream and journey up the Sarekei -- A Stream
overarched by Vegetation -- House 200 feet long -- I make Friends with
the Chief -- My New Quarters -- Rarity of White Men -- Friendliness
of my New Hosts -- Embarrassing Request from a Lady, "like we your
skin" -- Similar Experience of Wallace -- Crowds to see me Undress --
Dayak's interest in Illustrated Papers -- Waist-rings of Dayak Women
-- Teeth filled with brass -- Noisiness of a Dayak House -- Dayak
Dogs -- A well-meant Blow and its Sequel -- Uproarious Amusement of
the Dayaks -- Dayak Fruit-Trees -- The Durian as King of all Fruits
-- Dayak "Bridges" across the Swamp-Dances of the Head-Hunters --
A Secret "Fishing" Expedition -- A Spear sent by way of defiance to
the Government -- I "score" off the Pig-Hunters -- Dayak Diseases --
Dayak Women and Girls -- Two "Broken Hearts" -- I Raffle my Tins --
"Cookie" and the Head-Hunters, their Jokes and Quarrels -- My Adventure
with a Crocodile.

The Rejang is one of the many large rivers which abound in Borneo,
and its tributaries are numerous and for the most part unexplored. The
Rejang is tidal for fully one hundred and fifty miles, and at Sibu
is over a mile in width. The banks of this river are inhabited by
a large population of Malays, Chinese, Dayaks, Kayans, Kanawits,
Punans and numerous other tribes. Thus it is a highly interesting
region for an ethnologist.

It was with feelings of pleasant anticipation that I started down
the river in the government steam-launch from Sibu just as dawn was
breaking, on my way to spend several weeks among the wild Dayaks
on the unexplored Sarekei River. I took with me my two servants,
Dubi, a civilized Dayak, and my Chinese cook. After a journey of
four hours we arrived at a large Malay village near the mouth of
the Sarekei River. Here I disembarked and sought out the chief of
the village and demanded the loan of two canoes, with some men to
paddle them, and in return I offered liberal payment. Accordingly,
an hour after my arrival I found myself with all my belongings and
servants on board the two canoes, with a crew of nine Malays. Soon
after leaving the Malay village we branched off to the left up the
Sarekei River. It was very monotonous at first, as the giant plumes
of the NIPA palm hid everything from my view. My Malays worked hard
at their paddles, and late in the afternoon we left the main Sarekei
River and paddled up a small and extremely narrow stream. There we
found ourselves in the depth of a most luxuriant vegetation. We were
in a regular tunnel formed by arching ferns and orchid-laden trees,
giant PANDANUS, various palms and arborescent ferns and CALADIUMS. Here
grew the largest CRINUM lilies I had ever seen. They literally towered
over me, and the sweet-scented white and pink flowers grew in huge
bunches on stems nearly as thick as my arm.

After the bright sun on the main river, the dark, gloomy depths of this
side-stream were very striking. It was so narrow that sometimes the
vegetation on both sides was forced into the canoes, and the "atap"
(palm-thatched) roof of my canoe came in for severe treatment as it
brushed against prickly PANDANUS and thorny rattans.

The entrance to this stream was completely hidden from view, and no
one but these Malays, who had been up here before, trading with the
Dayaks, could have discovered it. I had told the Malay chief that I
wished to visit a Dayak village where no white man had ever been and
where they were head-hunters. He had smiled slyly and nodded as if he
understood. Thereupon he said, "Baik (good), Tuan," and said he would
help me. Just as darkness was setting in we arrived at a Dayak village,
consisting of one very long house, which I afterwards found to exceed
two hundred feet in length. It was situated about one hundred yards
from the stream. No sooner had we sighted it than the air resounded
with the loud beating of large gongs and plenty of shouting. There
was a great commotion among the Dayaks.

I at first felt doubtful as to the kind of reception I should get,
and immediately made my way to the house with Dubi, who explained
to the Dayak chief that I was no government official, but had come
to see them and also to get some "burong" (birds) and "kopo-kopo"
(butterflies). I forthwith presented the old chief with a bottle of
gin, such as they often get from the Malay traders, and some Javanese
tobacco, and his face was soon wreathed in smiles.

The Dayaks soon brought all my baggage into the house and I paid
off my Malays and proceeded to make myself as comfortable as I could
for my stay of several weeks, the chief giving me a portion of his
own quarters and spreading mats for me over the bamboo floor. On the
latter I put my camp-bed and boxes. I occupied a portion of the open
corridor or main hall, which ran the length of the house and where
the unmarried men sleep. This long corridor was just thirty feet
in width, and formed by far the greater portion of the house; small
openings from this corridor led on to a kind of unsheltered platform
twenty-five feet in width, which ran the length of the house and on
which the Dayaks generally dry their "padi" (rice).

The other side of the house was divided into several rooms, each of
which belonged to a separate family. Here they store their wealth,
chiefly huge jars and brass gongs. The house was raised on piles fully
ten to twelve feet from the ground, the space underneath being fenced
in for the accommodation of their pigs and chickens. The smells that
came up through the half-open bamboo and "bilian"-wood flooring were
the reverse of pleasant. The entrance at each end was by means of
a very steep and slippery sort of ladder made out of one piece of
wood with notches cut in it, the steps being only a few inches in
width. One of these ladders had a rough bamboo hand-rail on each side,
and the top part of the steps was roughly carved into the semblance
of a human face.

In the rafters over my head I noticed a great quantity of spears,
shields, "sumpitans" or blowpipes, paddles, fish-traps, baskets and
rolls of mats piled up indiscriminately, while just over my head where
I slept was a rattan basket containing two human heads, though Dubi
told me he thought the Dayaks had hidden most of their heads on my
arrival. This description of the house I resided in for some time,
applies more or less to all the Dayak houses I saw in Borneo.

This house or village was called Menus, and the old chief's name
was Usit. In spelling these names one has to be entirely guided by
the sounds and write them after the fashion of the English method
of spelling Malay. The village or house of Menus seemed to contain
about one hundred inhabitants, not counting small children. Upon my
arrival I was soon surrounded by a most curious throng, many of whom
gazed at me with open mouths, in astonishment at the sight of an
"orang puteh" (white man), as of course no white man had ever been
here before and but very few of the people had ever seen one. One old
woman remembered having seen a white man, and some of the older men
had from time to time seen government officials on the Rejang River,
but except to these few I was a complete novelty. Considering this,
I was greatly astonished at their friendliness, as not only the men,
but the women and children squatted around me in the most amicable
fashion, and sometimes even became a decided nuisance. My first evening
among them, however, I found extremely amusing, and as my Chinese cook
placed the food he had cooked before me, and as I ate it with knife,
fork and spoon, they watched every mouthful I took amid a loud buzz
of comments and exclamations of delight.

Though by no means the first time I have had to endure this sort of
popularity, or rather notoriety, in various countries of the world,
I do not think I have ever come across a people so full of friendly
curiosity as were these Dayaks. About midnight I began to feel a bit
sleepy, but the admiring multitude did not seem inclined to move,
so I told Dubi to tell them that I wanted to change my clothes and
go to sleep. No one moved. "Tell the ladies to go, Dubi," I said,
but on his translating my message a woman in the background called
out something that met with loud cries of approval.

"What does she say, Dubi?" I asked.

"She says, Tuan," replied Dubi, "they like see your skin, if white
the same all over."

This was rather embarrassing, and I told Dubi to insist upon their
going; but Dubi, whose advice I generally took, replied, "I think,
Tuan (master), more better you show to them your skin." I therefore
submitted with as good a grace as possible, and took my shirt off,
while some of them, especially the women, pinched and patted the skin
on my back amid cries of approval and delight.

They asked if the skin of the Tuan Muda (the Rajah) was as white, and,
on being told that it was, a long and serious conversation took place
among them, during which the name of the Tuan Muda kept constantly
cropping up.

The great naturalist, Wallace, met with much the same experience
among the Dayaks, and as the natives of many other countries among
whom I have lived never seemed to display the same curiosity about
my white skin, I put it down to the Dayaks wishing to see what kind
of a skin the great white Rajah, who rules over them, possesses.

The next two or three nights the crowd that waited to see me change
into my pyjamas was, if anything, still larger, a good many Dayaks
from neighbouring villages coming over to see the sight. But gradually
the novelty wore off, to my great joy, as I was getting a bit tired
of the whole performance. I had come here to see the Dayaks, but it
appeared that they were even more anxious to see me.

For the next two or three weeks an odd Dayak would from time to time
ask to see my skin, so that at length I had absolutely to refuse to
exhibit myself any longer.

I had luckily brought several illustrated magazines with me to use
as papers for my butterflies, and these were a source of endless
delight to the crowds around me in the evenings. They behaved like a
lot of small children, and roared with laughter over the pictures. They
generally looked at the pictures upside down, and even then they seemed
to find something amusing about them. With Dubi as my interpreter
I used to make up stories about the pictures, and, pointing to
the portrait of some well-known actress, described the number of
husbands she had killed, and I'm afraid I grossly libelled many a
well-known politician, general, or divine in telling the Dayaks how
many heads they possessed or how many wives they owned, till it was
quite a natural thing for me to join in their uproarious merriment,
as I pictured in my mind some venerable bishop on the war-path.

As is well known, the Dayak women all wear rings of brass around
their waists. They are called "gronong," and they are made of pliable
rattan inside, with small brass rings fastened around the rattan. In
the centre of each ring there are generally two or three small red
and black rings of coloured rattan between the brass ones. Some wore
only four or five, while others possessed twenty or more, and then
they rather resembled a corset. Even the little girls of four or five
wore two or three of them.

I noticed on my first arrival that the women and some of the men seemed
to have their teeth plentifully filled with gold, but I soon found out
that it was brass that they had ornamented their teeth with, a small
piece being inserted in some way in the centre of each tooth. Their
teeth are generally black from the continual chewing of the betel-nut,
and I noticed small children of four or five years of age going in for
this dirty habit, and still younger children smoking cigarettes, the
covering of which is made out of the dried leaf of the sago-palm. The
Dayaks are almost as dirty as the Negritos in the Philippines, and yet
they are both certainly the merriest people I have ever met with. The
heartiest and most unaffected laughter I have ever heard proceeded
from the throats of Dayaks and Negritos. It almost seems as if dirt
in some cases constitutes true happiness.

The Dayak women seemed to bathe more often than the men, but they
never seemed to take off their brass waist-rings when bathing in the
river. The women also have their wrists covered with brass bangles,
which are all fastened together in one piece. The noise in the house
was deafening at times, especially in the evening, when all come home
from working in their "padi" fields, where the women are supposed to
do most of the work, the men generally going hunting. The continual
hum of conversation and loud laughter, with the noise made by the
pigs and chickens under the house, the dogs and chickens in the house,
and the beating of deep-toned gongs at times nearly drove me frantic,
especially when I was writing.

They resembled a lot of small children and would beat their gongs
simply to amuse themselves. Very often a Dayak, on returning from
his work or a hunt in the jungle, would walk straight up to a large
gong that was hanging up and hammer on it for a few minutes in a most
businesslike way, looking all the time as if it bored him. Then he
would walk away in much the same way as a man would leave the telephone
(as if he had just got through some business). I suppose it soothed
them after their day's work, but it irritated me.

The Dayak dogs are fearful and wonderful animals, both as regards
shape and colour, and I could get very little sleep on account of
the noise they made; yet the Dayaks seemed to sleep through it all.

One night I woke up after a particularly noisy fight, and saw what
appeared to me to be a dog sitting calmly by my bed with its back
turned to me. Lifting my mosquito net, therefore, very quietly, I let
drive with my fist at it, putting all my pent-up indignation and anger
for sleepless nights into the blow. Alas! it was a very solid dog that
I struck against, being nothing more nor less than the side of one of
my boxes, and I barked my knuckles rather badly. The laughter of the
Dayaks was loud and prolonged when Dubi translated the yarn to them
next day, and they remembered it long afterwards. Until I heard the
roar of laughter that went up, the story had not struck me as being
so very amusing!

All around the house for some distance was a forest of tall
fruit-trees. They had of course all been planted in times past by
the Dayaks' ancestors, and every tree had its owner, but they had
become mixed up with many beautiful wild tropic growths which had
sprung up between the trees. Some of these fruit-trees, such as the
"durian," "rambutan," mango, mangosteen, "tamadac" or jackfruit,
"lansat" and bananas, were familiar to me, but there were a great
number of fruits that I had never heard of before, and I got their
names from my Dayak friends.[13]

Needless to say, I never before tasted so many fruits that were
entirely new to me, and most of them were ripe at the time of my
visit. The "durian" comes easily first. It is without doubt the
king of all fruit in both the tropic and temperate zones, and is
popular alike with man and beast, the orang-utan being a great
culprit in robbing the Dayaks of their "durians." I never saw the
"good" "durian" growing wild in Sarawak, but I tasted here a small
wild kind with an orange centre which made me violently sick. No
description of the "durian" taste can do it justice. But its smell
is also past description. It is so bad that many people refuse to
taste it. It is a very large and heavy fruit, covered with strong,
sharp spines, and as it grows on a very tall tree, it is dangerous
to walk underneath in the fruiting season when they are falling,
accidents being common among the Dayaks through this cause. I myself
had a narrow escape one windy day. I was sitting at the foot of one
of these trees eating some of the fallen fruit, when a large "durian"
fell from above and buried itself in the mud not half a yard from me.

Danna, the second chief, would always leave one or two of the fruit
for me on a box close by my head where I slept, before he went off
to his "padi "-planting early in the morning, so that I got quite
used to the bad smell.

The Dayak house was surrounded on three sides by a horrible swamp,
the roads through which consisted of fallen trees laid end to end,
or else of two or three thick poles, laid side by side, and kept in
place by being lashed here and there to two upright stakes, so that
I had to balance myself well or come to grief in the thick mud. The
Dayak bridges, made chiefly of poles and bamboos, were in many cases
awkward things to negotiate, and I had one or two rather nasty falls
from them. While the Dayak women and children never showed any fear
of me in the house, whenever I met them out in the woods or jungle
they would run from me as if I were some kind of wild animal.

I saw several Dayak dances. The men put on their war-plumes and with
shield and "parang" (mentioned above) twirl round and round and cut
with their "parangs" at an imaginary foe, the women all the time
accompanying them with the beating of gongs. Dubi one night showed
them a Malay dance, which consisted of a sort of gliding motion
and a graceful waving of the hands, quite the reverse of the Dayak
dance. One night I noticed a general bustle in the house. The women
seemed greatly excited, and the men passed to and fro with their
"parangs" and "sumpitans" (blowpipes), and cast anxious looks in my
direction as they passed me. They told Dubi they were going fishing;
but it seemed strange that they should go fishing with these warlike
weapons, and I told Dubi so. He himself thought they were going
head-hunting, and I felt sure of it, as they left only the old men,
youths, women and children behind. I did not see them again till the
following evening, nor did I then see signs of any fish. I told Dubi
that I thought it best that he should not ask them any questions, as it
might be awkward if they thought we suspected them. At the same time,
I am bound to admit that there was no direct proof to show that they
had been headhunting; and for this I was glad, as there was no cause
for me to say anything to the Government about it, and so get my kind
hosts into trouble. Some months later I read in a Singapore paper that
"the Dayaks in this district," between Sibu and Kuching, were restless
and inclined to join form with the Dayaks at Kapit, who had sent
Dr. Hose a spear, signifying their defiance of the Sarawak Government.

One evening, when out looking for birds, Dubi and I came across two
Dayaks, who were perched up in trees, waiting for wild pigs that
came to feed on the fallen fruit, when they would spear them from
above. They seemed rather annoyed with us for coming and frightening
the pigs away, and that evening they told everyone that we were the
cause of their not getting a pig. I rather scored them off, by telling
Dubi in an angry voice to ask them what "the dickens" they meant by
getting up in trees and frightening all my birds away. This highly
amused all the other Dayaks, who laughed loud and long, and my two
pig-hunting friends retired into the background discomfited. I myself
went out one evening with a party of Dayaks after wild pig, and stayed
for two hours upon a platform in a tree while they climbed other
trees close by. However, no pigs turned up, although two "plandok"
(mouse-deer) did, though I did not shoot them for fear of frightening
the pigs away. I took my revolver with me, to the great amusement of
the Dayaks, who, of course, had not seen one before, and ridiculed the
idea of so small a weapon being able to kill a pig. The Dayaks told
me that there were plenty of bears here, but I never saw any myself in
this part of Borneo. They told me the bears were very fierce, and had
often nearly killed some of their friends. The Dayak dogs are fearful
cowards, and I was told that they run away at the sight of a wild pig.

Animal life here was not plentiful, and quite the reverse of what I
had seen in the forests of North Borneo, where it was very plentiful.

I noticed the prevalence of that horrible scurvy-like skin-disease
among several of the Dayaks. It was common in New Guinea among
the Papuans, where it was termed "supuma." I cured two little Dayak
children of intermittent fever by giving them quinine and Eno's fruit
salts. The result was that I was greatly troubled by demands on my
limited stock of medicines. One old man had been growing blind for
the last two years, and another was troubled with aches all over him,
and they would hardly believe me when I said that I could not cure
them. They told Dubi that they thought that the white people who
could make such things as I possessed could do anything. So much of
my property seemed to amuse and astonish them, that it was a treat to
show them such things as my looking-glass, hair-brush, socks, guns,
umbrella, watch, etc. I showed them that child's trick of making the
lid of my watch fly open, and they were delighted.

The Dayak women can hardly be considered good-looking. I saw one or two
that were rather pretty, but they were very young and unmarried. Dubi
fell madly in love with one of them and she with him, and when I left
there were two broken hearts. Many of the little girls of about five
and six years old would have been regular pictures if they had only
been cleaner. I made the discovery that some of my Dayak friends were
addicted to the horrible habit of eating clay, and actually found
a regular little digging in the side of a hill where they worked
to get these lumps of reddish grey clay, and soon caught some of
the old men eating it. They declared that they enjoyed it. All my
empty tins (from tinned meats, etc.) were in great demand, and so
to save jealousy I actually demoralized the Dayaks to the extent of
introducing the raffling system among them. Great was the excitement
every evening when I raffled old tins and bottles. Dubi would hand
the bits of paper and they would be a long time making up their minds
which to take. One night Dubi overheard my Chinese cook telling some
of the Dayaks that "the white tuan had no use for these tins himself,
that is why he gives them to you."

This cook, whom I used to call Cookie, was a great nuisance to me,
but he was the most amusing character I ever came across, and he
was the source of endless delight to the Dayaks, who enjoyed teasing
him and jokingly threatened to cut off his head, until he was almost
paralyzed with fright and came and begged me to leave, as we should
all have our heads cut off. After a week or two his courage returned
and I learned that when I was out of the house he would stand on his
head for the amusement of the women and children, though he was by
no means a young man. He soon became quite popular with the women,
who found him highly amusing, and who were always in fits of laughter
whenever he talked. In the evenings he sometimes joined a group of
Dayak youths and would start to air his opinions. Then it was not long
before they were all jeering and mimicking him, and poor old Cookie
would look very foolish and a sickly smile would spread over his yellow
features. Finally he would go off and sulk, and when I asked him what
the matter was, he would reply, "Damn Dayak no wantee." Whenever I
called out for Cookie, the whole house would resound with jeering
Dayak cries of "Cookie, Cookie." He and Dubi were always quarrelling,
and Cookie would work himself up into such a state of excitement that
the place would be full of Dayak laughter, though the Dayak understood
not a word of what they were talking about. In my later wanderings
in Borneo the quarrel between my two servants, Dayak and Chinaman,
grew to such an extent that I feared it would end in murder.

The foregoing account, short as it is, will, I trust, give some idea of
what my long stay among head-hunting Dayaks was like. All things must
have an ending, however, and having finished my collecting in this
neighbourhood I said good-bye to my Dayak friends, with deep regret,
and I think the sorrow was mutual. I know well that Dubi and his little
Dayak sweetheart were almost heartbroken. The Dayaks begged me to stay
longer, but I had already stayed longer than I had at first intended.

Old Usit, the chief, and his crew of Dayaks paddled me all the way
to Sibu. There is little to relate about the journey there, except
that the canoe leaked very badly and the Dayaks had to keep bailing
her out. At night we tied the canoe up to a small wooden platform
outside a Malay house on the Rejang River, to await the change of
the tide, and one of the Dayaks knocked at the door of the house so
that we could cook some food, but the Malays thought that we were
head-hunters, and there was great lamentation, and for some time they
refused to open. While eating my food, with my legs dangling over the
side of the wooden platform, I noticed a dark object that glistened
in the moonlight noiselessly swimming toward me, and I pulled up my
legs pretty quickly. It was a large crocodile, attracted, no doubt,
by the smell of my dinner. The only objection I had was that it might
have taken me for the dinner.


Visit to the Birds'-nest Caves of Gomanton.

My stay in British North Borneo -- Visit to a Tobacco Estate (Batu
Puteh) -- Start for the Birds'-nest Caves -- News of the Local
Chief's Death -- Applicants for the Panglima-ship -- We Visit the late
Chief's House-Widows in white -- The Hadji "who longed to be King" --
Extraordinary Grove of Banyan-trees -- Pigs, Crocodiles and Monkeys --
Astonishing Swimming Performance of a Monkey -- Water Birds Feeding
on the Carcase of a Stag -- The Hadji and his Men pray at a Native
Grave-shrine -- An Elephant charges past us -- Arrival at the Caves
-- The Entrance -- A Cave of enormous Height, description of the
Interior -- Return to the Village -- Visit to the Upper Caves --
Beautiful Climbing Plants -- We reach the Largest Cave of all:
its Extreme Grandeur -- "White" Nests and "Black" Nests secured --
Distinctions between the two kinds of Swallows by whom the Nests are
made -- Millions of small Bats: an Astonishing Sight -- Methods of
Securing the Nests described -- Perilous Climbing Feats -- Report
of numerous Large Snakes -- Cave-coffins, and their (traditional)
rich contents -- Dangers of the Descent -- All's well that ends well.

I had just returned down the river with Richardson from
Tangkulap. Tangkulap is a journey of several days up the Kinabatangan
River in British North Borneo. Richardson was the magistrate for this
district, and his rule extended over practically the whole of this
river, Tangkulap being his headquarters. Only three or four white men
had ever been up the river as far as Tangkulap, it being a very lonely
spot in the midst of dense forests, with no other white man living
anywhere near. I had stayed with him for two months, making large
natural history collections and seeing a great deal of both native
and animal life. We had then returned down the river in Richardson's
"gobang" (canoe) to Batu Puteh, a large tobacco estate, and the
only one on this river. Here we were the guests of Paul Brietag, the
manager, a most hospitable German. He and his three German, French,
and Dutch assistants were the only other white men on the whole of
this great river.

While here, Richardson and I determined to visit the wonderful
Gomanton birds'-nest caves, from which great quantities of edible
birds' nests are annually taken. Very few Europeans had ever visited
them, though they are considered among the wonders of the world.

We left Batu Puteh in Richardson's canoe early one morning, and,
although we had a strong stream with us going down, we did not reach
Bilit till evening. Bilit is a large village made up of Malays,
Orang Sungei, and Sulus. Quite a crowd met us on our arrival, and
they seemed not a little excited. It appeared that their late Panglima
(chief), who was also a Hadji, had been on a second voyage to Mecca,
and they had just heard that he had died on his way back. "That was
quite right," they said; "his time had come, and, besides, it had
been foretold that he would die if he tried to go to Mecca again."

Two men were most anxious to gain favour with Richardson -- viz., the
dead man's son and another Hadji, who was the richest man in Bilit,
and who had a large share in the Gomanton caves. The reason was that
Richardson had the power to appoint whom he liked as the new Panglima,
provided, of course, that the man was of some standing and fairly
popular. Richardson sent for one of the most influential men in the
village to come and talk the matter over, but he lived on the other
side of the river, and, it being late, they said he dared not cross
in his small "gobang," as the crocodiles are very bad indeed here,
and at night they often help themselves to a man out of his canoe. We
went to the late Panglima's house and had a chat, but nothing was said
about the new Panglima. I caught sight of one of the widows swathed in
white, going through all sorts of contortions by way of mourning for
her late husband. We found that the people were going to the caves in
two or three days to collect the black nests. The white nests had been
collected earlier in the year, but the influential Hadji "who would
be king" offered to go with us on the morrow and start work earlier
than he at first intended if his dreams were favourable, and thus
we should be able to see them at work collecting the nests. Here was
luck both for ourselves and the Hadji: it meant a step in his hopes
of the much-desired Panglima-ship by thus gaining favour with the
magistrate over his younger rival. He was a tall, haughty-looking man,
with an orange-coloured turban, worn only by Hadjis, and the people
seemed to stand in great awe of him and addressed him as "Tuan" or
"Tuan Hadji," the word "Tuan" being usually used only when addressing
Europeans like ourselves; still, his house in which we spent the night
was little better than a pigsty, although he was a very wealthy man.

The next morning we were off before sunrise. After leaving the
village we had a walk of about an hour and a half over a very steep
hill through luxuriant, tall forest, and on the other side came to a
small river, the Menungal, on the banks of which was a shed full of
"gobangs" (canoes) which were speedily launched, we both getting into
the leading one. We were followed by three others, in one of which was
the Hadji. Most of the way was through fine forest, the trees arching
overhead to shade us from the hot sun, the only exception being when
we passed through a stretch of swamps, with low, tangled growth, when
the river broadened out, but in the shady forest it was delightful,
gliding along to the music of the even dip of the paddles.

The most striking feature about the forest on this Menungal River
was the extraordinary growth of a species of banyan trees (FICUS
sp.). I have seen many curious stilted trees of this FICUS family in
various tropical countries I have visited, but these I think were more
curious than any I had ever seen. One hardly knew where they began and
where they ended, for they all seemed joined together, and roots and
branches seemed one and the same thing. It was the acme of vegetable
confusion. Even the river could not stop their progress, and we were
constantly gliding between their roots and branches. The growth of
ferns, orchids and parasites on the branches and roots of these trees
was luxuriant to a degree and formed veritable hanging gardens.

On these Bornean rivers one is constantly seeing pigs, crocodiles and
monkeys, but I noticed on this river an abundance of a monkey which
one seldom sees on the large Kinabatangan River. I refer to the very
curious proboscis or long-nosed monkey (NASALIS LARVATUS). These
animals often sat still overhead and stared down at us in the most
contemptuous and indifferent manner, and they looked so human and yet
so comical with their enormous red noses that I found myself laughing
aloud, our scullers doing the same, till the monkeys actually grinned
with indignation. They axe large monkeys with long tails, and are
beautifully marked with various shades of grey and brown, and their
large, fleshy, red noses give them an extraordinary appearance.

One of them did a performance that astonished me. We saw a group of
them on a branch over the river about forty yards ahead of us, when
one of them jumped into the middle of the river and coolly swam to a
hanging creeper up which it climbed, none the worse for its voluntary
bath. This was the only time that I had ever seen a monkey swim, but
the natives assured me that these monkeys are very good swimmers. It
struck me as being a very risky performance, as this river was full
of crocodiles.

I saw on this river a wonderful orchid growing on large trees. This
was a GRAMMATOPHYLLUM with bulbs some times over eight feet in
length. The length of the name is certainly suitable for so large
an orchid. I saw plenty of water-birds, including white egrets and
a long-necked diver which is called the "snake-bird," owing to its
long neck projecting lout of the water and thus greatly resembling a
snake. I shot several of each kind of bird, plucking the fine plumes
from the backs of the egrets. We ate some of the divers that evening
and found them first-class food, tasting much like goose. We later in
the day disturbed a whole colony of these water-birds feeding on the
carcase of a large stag in the river, and the smell was very strong
for some distance. I did not attempt to shoot any more mock geese
till we had put a good many miles between ourselves and the dead
stag. We passed several canoes slowly wending their way to the eaves,
the people taking it easy and camping on the banks and fishing. They
dried the fish on the roofs of their thatched canoes. Some of these
people had very curious rattan pyramid-shaped hats gaily ornamented
with strips of bright-coloured cloth.

Toward evening the river got exceedingly narrow, and fallen trees
obstructed our way, so that we had sometimes to lie flat on our backs
to pass under them, and at other times we had to get out while our
canoe was hauled over the mud at the side.

Just before we reached our destination for the night, we came to a
spot where the bank was hung with bits of coloured cloth and calico
fastened to sticks, I also noticed some bananas and dried fish tied to
the sticks. This signified that there was a native burial ground close
by, and all the canoes were stopped, the scullers putting their paddles
down, while the Hadji and all his men proceeded to wash their faces
in the river. This they did to ensure success in their nest-collecting.

We stayed the night in one of two raised half-thatched huts used only
by the natives in the collecting seasons, a ladder from the river
leading into them. It was almost dark when we arrived, and hardly were
we under shelter when rain came down in torrents. It poured all night,
and when we started off on foot at sunrise the next morning we found
the track in the forest a regular quagmire; in places we waded through
mud up to our knees. As we scrambled and floundered through the mud
at our best pace we heard a great crashing noise just in front of us,
and the air resounded with cries of "Gajah, gajah!" (elephant). I was
just in time to see a large elephant tear by. It literally seemed to
fly, and knocked down small trees as if they were grass. It seemed
greatly frightened, and made a sort of coughing noise. It went by so
quickly that I was unable to see whether it had tusks or not.

After about three hours' hard tramping, I caught sight of a high
mass of white limestone gleaming through the trees. It made a pretty
picture in the early morning, the white rock peeping out of luxuriant
creepers and foliage. It rises very abruptly from the surrounding
forest, and at a distance looked quite inaccessible to a climber.

We waded through a stream of clear water, washing the horrible forest
mud from off us, and soon found ourselves in a most picturesque
village at the very base of the rock. We disturbed quite a crowd of
native girls bathing in a spring, and they seemed very much alarmed
and surprised at seeing two Europeans suddenly turn the corner. Out
of season I don't believe any one lives in this village except some
watchers at the mouths of the eaves to guard against thieves. The
Hadji gave us a rough hut with a flooring of split bamboo and kept us
provided with chickens. All this no doubt was in his estimation part
of the necessary steps to securing that much-desired Panglima-ship.

The two days we were here, people kept flocking into the village,
most of the men carrying long steel-pointed spears, in many cases
beautifully mounted with engraved silver: others carried long "parangs"
and "krises" in rough wooden sheaths, but the handles were often of
carved ivory and silver.

After some breakfast we started off to see the near lower cave, which
was one of the smaller ones. We followed a very pretty ferny track
by the side of a rocky stream for a short distance, the forest being
partially cleared and open, with large boulders scattered around. The
sky overhead was thick with swallows, in fact one could almost say
the air was black with them. These of course were the birds that make
the nests. The mouth of the cave partly prepared me for what I was to
see. I had expected a small entrance, but here it was, I should say,
sixty feet in height and of great width, the entrance being partly
overhung with a curtain of luxuriant creepers. The smell of guano
had been strong before, but here it was overpowering.

Extending inside the cave for about one hundred yards was a small
village of native huts used chiefly by the guards or watchers of
these caves. Compared with the vastness of the interior of the cave
-- I believe about four hundred and eighty feet in height -- one
could almost imagine that one was looking at the small model of a
village. A small stream ran out of a large hill of guano, and if you
left the track you sank over your knees in guano. The vastness of the
interior of this cave impressed me beyond words. It was stupendous,
and to describe it properly would take a better pen than mine. One
could actually see the very roof overhead, as there were two or
three openings near the top (reminding one of windows high up in
a cathedral) through which broad shafts of light forced their way,
making some old hanging rattan ladders high up appear like silvery
spider webs. Of course there were recesses overhead where the light
could not penetrate, and these were the homes of millions of small
bats, of which more presently. As for the birds themselves, this
was one of their nesting seasons, and the cave was full of myriads
of them. The twittering they made resembled the whisperings of a
multitude. The majority of them kept near the roof, and as they
flew to and fro through the shafts of light they presented a most
curious effect and looked like swarms of gnats; lower down they
resembled silvery butterflies. Where the light shone on the rocky
walls and roofs one could distinguish masses upon masses of little
silver black specks. These were their nests, as this was a black-nest
cave. Somewhere below in the bowels of the earth rumbled an underground
river with a noise like distant thunder. This cavernous roar far below
and the twittering whisper of the swallows far overhead, combined to
add much to the mysteriousness of these wonderful caves.

On the ground in the guano I picked up several eggs, unbroken. How
they could fall that distance and yet not get smashed is hard to
understand, unless it is that they fell in the soft guano on their
ends. We were told that when a man fell from the top he was smashed
literally into jelly. I also picked up a few birds which had been
stunned when flying against the rocks. This saved me from shooting any.

Spread out on the ground in the cave and also drying outside, raised
from the ground on stakes, were coil after coil of rattan ropes and
ladders used for collecting the nests. These always have to be new
each season, and are first carefully tested. The ladders are made
of well twisted strands of rattan with steps of strong, hard wood,
generally "bilian."

On our return to the village we bathed in a shady stream of clear
water, the banks of which I noted were composed chiefly of guano. In
the afternoon we started off in search of the upper eaves. After
a short, stiff climb amid natural rockeries of jagged limestone,
we passed under a rock archway or bridge, under which were perched
frail-looking raised native huts of the watchers. As we stood under
this curious archway we looked down a precipice on our left. It was
very steep at our feet, but from the far side it took the form of a
slanting shaft, which terminated in a little window or inlet into the
lower cave we had visited in the morning. In our ascent we had to climb
up very rough, steep ladders fastened against the rocky ledges. The
rocks were in many places gay with variegated plants, the most notable
being a very pretty-leafed begonia, covered with pink and silver spots,
the spots being half pink, half white. The natives with us seemed to
enjoy eating these leaves; they certainly looked tempting enough.

Another fine plant growing among these rocks was a climbing POTHOS,
with very dark green leaves, ornamented with a silver band across
each leaf, but the finest of all was a fine velvet-leafed climber,
veined with crimson, pink, or white (CISSUS sp.).

We at length came to the entrance of a long chain of eaves, through
which we passed, going down a very steep grade, and our guides had to
carry lights. After a climb down some steep rocks in semi-darkness,
we at length found ourselves in the largest cave of all, supposed to
be about five hundred and sixty feet in height.[14] It, too, had two or
three natural windows, through which the light penetrated. One of them
was on the top, in the very centre of the cave, and from down below
it looked like a distant star. This opening was on the very summit of
the Gomanton rock. This cave greatly resembled the smaller one I have
already described, except that it was of much grander dimensions. As in
the first cave, one could hear the roar of an underground torrent, and
the swallows seemed even more numerous. On the rocky walls I noticed
plenty of large spiders and a curious insect, with a long body and
long, thin legs, which ran very fast, and whose bite we were told
was very poisonous.

On the way back, when passing through some very low caves, the Hadji
got some of his men to knock down for me a few of the white nests from
the sides of the cave with long poles, and in another cave they got me
some black nests. The difference between these white and black nests
is this: they are made by two different kinds of swallows. The white
nest is made by a very small bird, but the bird that builds the black
nest is twice the size of the other. The white nest looks something
like pure white gelatine, and is very clean, and has no feathers
in it. The black nest, on the contrary, is plentifully coated with
feathers, and it is, in consequence, not worth nearly as much as the
white nest. The nests are made from the saliva of the birds. Both
are very plain coloured birds; an ordinary swallow is brilliant in
comparison. This is unusual in a country so full of brilliant-plumaged
birds as Borneo is; but, as they spend most of their lives in the
depths of these sombre caves, I suppose it is only natural that their
plumage should be obscure and plain. These birds'-nest caves are found
all over Borneo and the Malay Peninsula, and also in Java and other
parts of the Malay archipelago, but these are by far the largest. The
revenue from these caves alone brings the Government a very large
sum. By far the greatest number of these nests are sent to China,
where birds'-nest soup is an expensive luxury. The natives of Borneo
do not eat them. For myself, I found the soup rather tasteless.

We were told that if they missed one season's nest collecting, most
of the birds would forsake these caves, possibly because there would
be so little room for them to build again. I learned that they build
and lay four times a year, but I think that they meant that both
the black and the white-nest birds lay twice each. The white kind
build their first nests about March, and the black kind in May, and,
as these nests are all collected before they have time to hatch their
eggs, there are no young birds till later in the year, when the nests
are not disturbed, but the old nests are collected with the new ones
the following year. If the guano could be easily transported to the
coast it would be a paying proposition, but the Government fears that
it might frighten the birds away.

About dusk that evening after we had returned to our hut, I heard a
noise like the whistling of the wind, and, going outside, I saw a truly
wonderful sight, in fact a sight that filled me with amazement. The
millions of small bats which share these caves with the birds were
issuing forth for the night from the small hole I spoke about on the
very top of the rock leading into the large cave, but what a sight it
was! As far as the eye could see they stretched in one even unbroken
column across the sky. They issued from the cave in a compact mass
and preserved the same even formation till they disappeared in the far
distance. As far as I could see there were no stragglers. They rather
resembled a thick line of smoke coming out of the funnel of a steamer,
with this exception that they kept the same thick line till they went
out of sight. The most curious thing about it was that the thick line
twisted and wriggled across the sky for all the world like a giant
snake, as if it were blown about by gusts of wind, of which, however,
there was none. Even with these strange manoeuvres the bats kept the
same unbroken solid formation. They were still coming forth in the same
manner till darkness set in, and then I could only hear the beating
of myriads of wings like the sighing of the wind in the tree-tops.

They return in early morning in much the same fashion. I heard that
the swallows usually did the same thing, only the other way about;
when the bats came out, the swallows entered the eaves, and when the
bats went in, the swallows came out, but it being now their nesting
season, they went in and out of the eaves irregularly all day, but
I was quite satisfied to see the bats go through the performance,
as it was one of the most wonderful sights I have ever seen.

We had been told that it would be three or four more days before the
collecting would take place, and also that they had to wait for a
good omen in the shape of a good dream coming to one of the chief
owners of the caves. Our pleasure was great, therefore, when the
Hadji and some of his followers paid us a visit that night and told
us that work should start in the largest cave the next morning for
our benefit. That was good news, indeed, as Richardson could not wait
more than another day. It was another good move for the Hadji and his
Panglima-ship, and I told Richardson he ought to give it him forthwith.

The next morning we climbed to the top of the rock. It was hard
work climbing over the brittle rocks and up perpendicular and
shaky ladders. On reaching the summit we got a splendid view of the
surrounding country, and could plainly see the distant sea; but all
else was thick, billowy forest, dotted at long intervals with limestone
ridges, also covered with forest. Here we found the hole on the top
of the large cave, and stretching across it were two long, thick
"bilian" logs, to which the natives were now fastening their long
rattan ladders before descending them to collect the nests. We crept
along the logs and listened to the everlasting twittering far below;
but, although we could see nothing but pitchy darkness, the thought
of what was below made me soon crawl back with a very shaky feeling
in my legs

We then descended again till we came to the mouth of a curious cave,
which was practically a dark chasm at our feet. We climbed down
into the depths on a straight, swaying ladder, which required a good
grip, and then, after a climb over slanting, slippery rocks, we found
ourselves in the large cave, on a sort of ledge, within perhaps sixty
feet of the roof. We were told that we were the first Europeans who
had ever descended on to this ledge. From here we watched the natives
collecting the nests. In a short account of this description it is
impossible for me to detail all the wonderful methods the natives
had for collecting the nests, but the chief method was by descending
rattan ladders, which were let down through the hole on the top of
the cave. It made one quite giddy even to watch the men descending
these frail swaying ladders with over five hundred feet of space
below them. The man on the nearest ladder had a long rattan rope
attached low down to his ladder, with a kind of wooden anchor at
the end of it. At the second attempt he succeeded with a wonderful
throw in getting the anchor to stick in the soft guano on the edge
of the slanting ledge where we were. It was then seized by several
men waiting there; by these it was hauled up until they were enabled
to catch hold of the end of the ladder, which they dragged higher and
higher up the steep, slanting rocks we had come down by. This in time
brought the flexible ladder, at least the part on which the man was,
level with the roof, and he, lying on his back on the thin ladder,
pulled the nests off the rocky roof, putting them into a large rattan
basket fastened about his body.

We saw many other methods they have of collecting these nests by the
aid of long bamboo poles and rattan ropes, up which they climbed to
dizzy heights.

These eaves, we were told, were full of very large harmless snakes,
but we did not come across them. If I had had a good head and plenty
of skill and pluck as a climber, I might have come away a wealthy man,
as the Hadji told us that in a sort of side cave high up in the large
cave were the coffins of the men that first discovered these caves,
and with them were large jars of gold and jewels, but no one dared
touch them, as they said it would be certain death to the man who did
so. A man once did take some, but a few days later was taken violently
ill and so had them put back and thus recovered. It was not for any
scruples of this kind that I declined the Hadji's offer to help myself
when he pointed out to me the spot where they were, but I think he
must have guessed that I would not have trusted myself on one of those
frail swaying ladders with over five hundred feet of space beneath me.

On the way back we scrambled up to a small cave where there were
numerous carved coffins and bones which belonged to some of the former
owners of the caves, but alas! no jars of gold; possibly poor men, they
did not realize good prices. We returned down the rocks a different
way, which made Richardson indulge in some hearty language at the
Hadji's expense, who must have had fears that the Panglima-ship was
at the last moment slipping away from him. It certainly was awkward
and dangerous work climbing down the steep precipices, and we could
never have done it, but that the rocks were quite honeycombed with
small holes which enabled us to get a good hold for our hands.

That night was a busy one for me, skinning my numerous birds and
blowing the eggs by a dim light to the accompaniment of Richardson's
snores, and I did not get to bed till 2 a.m. We were up again at 4
a.m. for the return journey. But I had seen one of the most wonderful
sights in the world, and to me it seemed extraordinary that until I
came to Borneo I had never even heard of the Gomanton eaves. Some
day, perhaps within our time, they will become widely advertised,
and swarms of noisy tourists will come over in airships from London
and New York, but there will be one thing lacking -- all romance
will have gone from these lonely wilds and forests, and that is the
chief thing. The Hadji returned with us to Bilit, and got his desire,
the Panglima-ship, and well he deserved it.


[1] -- C is pronounced as Th.: E.G., "Cawa" -- "Thawa."

[2] -- Nabuna, pron. Nambuna.

[3] -- Panes of glass in a FIJIAN house are very unusual, but this
house, being Government-built, was European. I can only recall one
other instance, that of Ratu Kandavu Levu on his small island of
Bau, and then it was only in the native house where he entertained
European guests.

[4] -- These circumstances were a matter of common knowledge,
at the time of my visit, all over Fiji. On the other hand it must
be remembered that Ratu Lala did not think he was doing any harm,
for the woman, having done wrong, required punishing, and naturally
South Sea Island ideas of punishment, inherited from past generations,
differ radically from those of Europeans.




[8] -- Pron.: longa-longa.

[9] -- Pronounced "Samothe."

[10] -- "b" pronounced "mb."

[11] -- R. Shelford's Report.

[12] -- From a Singapore Paper.

[13] -- Some of these names that I got were "kudong" "blimbing,"
"mawang," "sima" "lakat," "kamayan," "nika," "esu," "kubal," "padalai"
and "rambai."

[14] -- These were the heights given me by the Malays.


Back to Full Books