"Letters VI-X." by Isabella L. Bird Bishop (1831-1904)
CHINA SEA, January.
THIS steamer, one of the finest of the Messageries Maritimes line, is perfect in all respects, and has a deck like that of an old-fashioned frigate. The weather has been perfect also, and the sea smooth enough for a skiff. The heat increases hourly though, or rather has increased hourly, for hotter it cannot be! Punkahs are going continually at meal times, and if one sits down to write in the saloon, the "punkah-wallah" spies one out and begins his refreshing labors at once. But we took on board a host of mosquitoes at Saigon, and the nights are consequently so intolerable that I weary for the day.
The twenty-four hours spent at Saigon broke the monotonous pleasantness of our voyage very agreeably to me, but most of the passengers complain of the wearisome detention in the heat. In truth, the mercury stood at 92°!
At daybreak yesterday we were steaming up a branch of the great Me-kong river in Cochin China, a muddy stream, densely fringed by the nipah palm, whose dark green fronds, ten and twelve feet long, look as if they grew out of the ground, so dumpy is its stem. The country, as overlooked from our lofty deck, appeared a dead level of rice and scrubby jungle intermixed, a vast alluvial plain, from which the heavy, fever-breeding mists were rising in rosy folds. Every now and then we passed a Cochin Chinese village–a collection of very draughty-looking wooden huts, roofed with palm leaves, built over the river on gridiron platforms supported on piles. Each dwelling of the cluster had its boat tethered below it. It looked a queer amphibious life. Men were lying on the gridirons smoking, women were preparing what might be the breakfast, and babies were crawling over the open floors, born with the instinct not to tumble over the edge into the river below. These natives were small and dark, although of the Mongolian type, with wide mouths and high cheek bones–an ugly race; and their attitudes, their tumble-to-pieces houses, and their general forlornness, gave me the impression that they are an indolent race as well, to be ousted in time possibly by the vigorous and industrious Chinaman.
After proceeding for about forty miles up this mighty Me-kong or Cambodia river, wearying somewhat of its nipah-fringed alluvial flats, and of the monotonous domestic economy of which we had so good a view, we reached Saigon, which has the wild ambition to propose to itself to be a second Singapore! All my attempts to learn anything about Saigon on board have utterly failed. People think that they told me something altogether new and sufficient when they said that it is a port of call for the French mail steamers, and one of the hottest places in the world! This much I knew before I asked them! If they know anything more now, no dexterity of mine can elicit it. There was a general stampede ashore as soon as we moored, and gharries–covered spring carts–drawn by active little Sumatra ponies, and driven by natives of Southern India, known as Klings, were immediately requisitioned, but nothing came of it apparently, and when I came back at sunset I found that, after an hour or two of apparently purposeless wanderings, all my fellow-passengers had returned to the ship, pale and depressed. True, the mercury was above 90°!
Arriving in this condition of most unblissful ignorance, I was astonished when a turn in the river brought us close upon a considerable town, straggling over a great extent of ground, interspersed with abundant tropical greenery, its river front consisting of a long, low line of much-shaded cafés, mercantile offices, some of them flying consular flags and Government offices, behind which lies the city with its streets, shops, and great covered markets or bazaars, and its barracks, churches, and convents.
The Me-kong, though tortuous and ofttimes narrow, is navigable as the Donnai or Saigon branch up to and above Saigon for vessels of the largest tonnage, and the great Sindh steamed up to a wharf and moored alongside it, almost under the shade of great trees. A French three-decker of the old type, moored higher up, serves as an hospital. There were two French ironclads, a few steamers, and some big sailing ships at anchor, but nothing looked busy, and the people on the wharf were all loafers.
After all my fellow-passengers had driven off I stepped ashore and tried to realize that I was in Cochin China or Cambodia, but it would not do. The irrepressible Chinaman in his loose cotton trousers was as much at home as in Canton, and was doing all the work that was done; the shady lounges in front of the cafés were full of Frenchmen, Spaniards, and Germans, smoking and dozing with their feet upon tables or on aught else which raised them to the level of their heads; while men in linen suits and pith helmets dashed about in buggies and gharries, and French officers and soldiers lounged weariedly along all the roads. There was not a native to be seen! A little later there was not a European to be seen! There was a universal siesta behind closed jalousies, and Saigon was abandoned to Chinamen and leggy dogs. Then came the cool of the afternoon, i.e., the mercury, with evident reluctance, dawdled down to 84°; military bands performed, the Europeans emerged, smoking as in the morning, to play billiards or écarté, or sip absinthe at their cafés; then came the mosquitoes and dinner, after which I was told that card-parties were made up, and that the residents played till near midnight. Thus from observation and hearsay, I gathered that the life of a European Saigonese was made up of business in baju and pyjamas with cheroot in mouth from 6 to 9.30 A.M., then the bath, the toilette, and the breakfast of claret and curry; next the sleeping, smoking, and lounging till tiffin; after tiffin a little more work, then the band, billiards, écarté, absinthe, smoking, dinner, and card-parties, varied by official entertainments.
Rejecting a guide, I walked about Saigon, saw its streets, cafés, fruit markets, bazaars, barracks, a botanic or acclimatization garden, of which tigers were the chief feature, got out upon the wide, level roads, bordered with large trees, which run out into the country for miles in perfectly straight lines, saw the handsome bungalows of the residents, who surround themselves with many of the luxuries of Paris, went over a beautiful convent, where the sisters who educate native girl children received me with kindly courtesy; and eventually driving in a gharrie far beyond the town, and then dismissing it, I got into a labyrinth of lanes, each with a high hedge of cactus, and without knowing it found that I was in a native village, Choquan, a village in which every house seems to be surrounded and hidden by high walls of a most malevolent and obnoxious cactus, so as to insure absolute privacy to its proprietor. Each dwelling is under the shade of pommeloe, orange, and bamboo. By dint of much peeping, and many pricks which have since inflamed, I saw that the poorer houses were built of unplaned planks or split bamboo, thatched with palm leaves, with deep verandas, furnished with broad matted benches with curious, round bamboo pillows. On these men, scarcely to be called clothed, were lying, smoking or chewing the betel-nut, and all had teapots in covered baskets within convenient reach. The better houses are built of an ornamental framework of carved wood, the floor of which is raised about three feet from the ground on brick pillars. The roofs of these are rather steep, and are mostly tiled, and have deep eaves, but do not as elsewhere form the cover of the veranda. While I was looking through the cactus screen of one of these houses, a man came out with a number of low caste, leggy, flop-eared, mangy dogs, who attacked me in a cowardly bullying fashion, yelping, barking, and making surreptitious snaps at my feet. Their owner called them off, however, and pelted them so successfully that some ran away whimpering, and two pretended (as dogs will) to have broken legs. This man carried a cocoa-nut, and on my indicating that I was thirsty, he hesitated, and then turning back, signed to me to follow him into his house. This was rare luck!
Within the cactus screen, which is fully ten feet high, there is a graveled area, on which the neat-looking house stands, and growing out of the very thirsty ground are cocoa palms, bananas, bread fruit, and papayas. There are verandas on each side of the doorway with stone benches; the doorway and window frames are hung with "portieres" of split reeds, and a ladder does duty for door steps. The interior is very dark, and divided into several apartments. As soon as I entered there was a rush as if of bats into the darkness, but on being reassured, about twenty women and boy and girl children appeared, and contemplated me with an apathetic stare of extreme solemnity. Remember the mercury was 92°, so the women may be excused for having nothing more than petticoats or loose trousers on in the privacy of their home, the children for being in a state of nudity, and the man for being clothed in a loin cloth! As I grew used to the darkness I saw a toothless old woman smoking in a corner, fanned by two girls, who, I believe, are domestic slaves. Near one of the window openings a young woman was lounging, and two others were attentively removing vermin from her luxuriant but ill-kept hair. Mats and bamboo pillows covered the floors, and most of the inmates had been rudely disturbed in a siesta.
I was evidently in the principal apartment, for the walls were decorated with Chinese marine pictures, among which were two glaring daubs of a Madonna and an Ecce Homo. There was also a rude crucifix, from which I gather that this is a Roman Catholic family. There were two teapots of tea on a chair, a big tub of pommeloes on the floor, and a glazed red earthenware bowl full of ripe bananas on another chair. A sort of sickle, a gun, and some bullock gear hung against the wall. In the middle of the room there was a sort of trap in the floor, and there was the same in two other apartments. Through this all rubbish is conveniently dropped. A woman brought in a cocoa-nut, and poured the milk into a gourd calabash, and the man handed me the dish of bananas, so I had an epicurean repast, and realized that I was in Cochin China! They were courteous people, and not only refused the quarter dollar which I pressed upon them, but gave me a handkerchief full of bananas when I left them, being pleased, however, to accept a puggree.
The neat gravel area, the covered walls, and neatly tiled roof, the lattice work, the boards suspended from the door-posts, with (as I have since learned) texts from the Chinese Classics in gold upon them, and the large establishment, show that the family belongs to the upper class of Anamites, and leave one quite unprepared for the reeking, festering heap of garbage below the house, the foul, fetid air, and swarming vermin of the interior, and the unwashedness of the inmates. I bowed myself out, the gate was barred behind me, and in two minutes I had lost what I supposed to be my way, and having left the maze of cactus-walled paths behind, was entangled in a maze of narrow village paths through palms and bananas, flowering trees covered with creepers and orchids, and a wonderful profusion of small and great ferns. Getting back into the cactus hidden village I found groups of pretty, dark-skinned children, quite naked, playing in the deep dust, while some no bigger were lounging in the shade smoking cigars, lazily watching the clouds of smoke which they puffed out from their chubby cheeks.
Finding my own footsteps in the deep dust, I got back to a pathway with a monstrous bamboo hedge on one side, and a rice-field on the other, in which was a slimy looking pond with a margin of pink water-lilies, in which a number of pink buffaloes of large size were wallowing with much noise and rough play, plastering their sensitive hides with mud as a protection against mosquitoes.
With some difficulty, by some very queer paths and with much zigzagging, I at last reached Cholen,* a native town, said to be three or eight miles from Saigon, and was so exhausted by the fatigue of the long walk in such a ferocious temperature that I sat by the roadside on a stump under a huge tropical tree, considering the ways of ants and Anamites. Children with brown chubby faces which had never been washed since birth, and, according to all accounts, will never be washed till death, stood in a row, staring the stare of apathy, with a quiet confidence. They had no clothes on, and I admired their well-made forms and freedom from skin disease. The Mongolian face is pleasant in childhood. A horde of pariah dogs in the mad excitement of a free fight, passed, covering me with dust. (By the way, I am told that hydrophobia is unknown in Cochin China.) Then some French artillerymen, who politely raised their caps; then a quantity of market girls, dressed like the same class in China, but instead of being bare-headed, they wore basket hats, made of dried leaves, fully twenty-four inches in diameter, by six in depth. These girls walked well, and looked happy. Then a train of Anamese carts passed, empty, the solid wooden wheels creaking frightfully round the ungreased axles, each cart being drawn by two buffaloes, each pair being attached to the cart in front by a rope through the nostrils, so that one driver sufficed for eleven carts. The native men could not be said to be clothed, but, as I remarked before, the mercury was above 90°. They were, however, protected both against sun and rain by hats over three feet in diameter, very conical, peaked at the top, coming down umbrella fashion over the shoulders, and well tilted back.
After laboriously reaching Cholen, I found far the greater part of the town to be Chinese, rather than Anamese, with Chinese streets, temples, gaming houses, club houses, and that general air of business and industry which seems characteristic of the Chinese everywhere; but still groping my way about, I came upon what I most wished to see–the real Anamese town. There is a river, the Me-kong, or one of its branches, and the town–the real native Cholen–consists of a very large collection of river-dwellings, little, if at all, superior to those which we passed in coming up. I spent an hour among them, and I never saw any house whose area could be more than twelve feet square, while many were certainly not more than seven feet by six. Such primitive, ramshackle, shaky-looking dwellings I never before have seen. As compared with them, an Aino hut, even of the poorest kind, is a model of solidity and architectural beauty. They looked as if a single gust would topple them and their human contents into the water. Yet, if it were better carried out, it is not a bad idea to avoid paying any Anamese form of rent, to secure perfect drainage, a never-failing water supply, good fishing, immunity from reptiles, and the easiest of all highways at the very door.
These small rooms with thatched roofs and gridiron floors, raised on posts six or eight feet above the stream, are reached from the shore by a path a foot wide, consisting of planks tied on to posts. The river-dwellings, I must add, are tied together with palm fibre rope. One of average size can be put together for eleven shillings. In front of each house a log canoe is moored, into which it is easy to drop from above when the owner desires any change of attitude or scene.
I ventured into two of these strange abodes, but it was dizzy work to walk the plank, and as difficult to walk the gridiron floor in shoes. Both were wretched habitations, but doubtless they suit their inmates, who need nothing more than a shelter from the sun and rain. The men wore only loin cloths. The women were clothed to the throat in loose cotton garments; the children wore nothing. In both the men were fishing for their supper over the edge of their platforms. In one a woman was cooking rice; and in both there was a good store of rice, bananas, and sweet potatoes. There was no furniture in either, except matted platforms for sleeping upon, a few coarse pipkins, a red earthenware pitcher or two, and some calabashes. On the wall of one was a crucifix, and on a rafter in the other a wooden carving of a jolly-looking man, mallet in hand, seated on rice bags, intended for Daikoku, the Japanese God of Wealth. The people were quite unwashed, but the draught of the river carried off the bad smells which ought to have been there, and, fortunately, a gridiron floor is unfavorable to accumulations of dirt and refuse. These natives look apathetic, and are, according to our notions, lazy; but I am weary of seeing the fevered pursuit of wealth, and am inclined to be lenient to these narcotized existences, provided, as is the case, that they keep clear of debt, theft, and charity.
Below this amphibious town there is a larger and apparently permanent floating village, consisting of hundreds of boats moored to the shore and to each other, poor and forlorn as compared with the Canton house boats, but yet more crowded, a single thatched roof sheltering one or more families, without any attempt at furniture or arrangement. The children swarmed, and looked healthy, and remarkably free from eye and skin diseases. There were Romish pictures in some of these boats, and two or three of them exhibited the cross in a not inconspicuous place. In my solitary explorations I was not mobbed or rudely treated in any way. The people were as gentle and inoffensive in their manners as the Japanese, without their elaborate courtesy and civilized curiosity.
Having seen all I could see, I turned shipwards, weary, footsore, and exhausted; my feet so sore and blistered, indeed, that long before I reached a gharrie I was obliged to take off my boots and wrap them in handkerchiefs. The dust was deep and made heavy walking, and the level straightness of a great part of the road is wearisome. Overtaking even at my slow rate of progress a string of creaking buffalo carts, I got upon the hindmost, but after a little rest found the noise, dust, and slow progress intolerable, and plodded on as before, taking two and a half hours to walk three miles. About a mile from Cholen there is an extraordinary burial-ground, said to cover an area of twenty square miles. (?) It is thickly peopled with the dead, and profuse vegetation and funereal lichens give it a profoundly melancholy look. It was chosen by the Cambodian kings several centuries ago for a cemetery, on the advice of the astrologers of the court. The telegraph wire runs near it, and so the old and the new age meet.
On my weary way I was overtaken by a young French artillery officer, who walked with me until we came upon an empty gharrie, and was eloquent upon the miseries of Saigon. It is a very important military station, and a sort of depot for the convicts who are sent to the (comparatively) adjacent settlement of New Caledonia. A large force of infantry and artillery is always in barracks here, but it is a most sickly station. At times 40 per cent. of this force is in hospital from climatic diseases, and the number of men invalided home by every mail steamer, and the frequent changes necessary, make Saigon a very costly post. The French don't appear to be successful colonists. This Cochin Chinese colony of theirs, which consists of the six ancient southern provinces of the empire of Anam, was ceded to France in 1874, but its European population is still under twelve thousand, exclusive of the garrison and the Government officials. The Government consists of a governor, aided by a privy council. The population of the colony is under a million and a half, including eighty-two thousand Cambodians and forty thousand Chinese. According to my various informants–this young French officer, a French nun, and a trader of dubious nationality, in whose shop I rested–France is doing its best to promote the prosperity and secure the good-will of the natives. The land-tax, which was very oppressive under the native princes, has been lowered, municipal government has been secured to the native towns, and corporate and personal rights have been respected. These persons believe that the colony, far from being a source of profit to France, is kept up at a heavy annual loss, and they regard the Chinese as the only element in the population worth having. They think the Anamese very superior to the Cambodians, from whom indeed they conquered these six provinces, but the Cambodians are a bigger and finer race physically.
I do not think I have said how hideous I think the adult Anamese. Somewhere I have read that two thousand years before our era the Chinese called them Giao-chi, which signifies "with the big toe." This led me to look particularly at their bare feet, and I noticed even in children such a wide separation of the big toe from the rest as to convey the perhaps erroneous impression that it is of unusual size. The men are singularly wide at the hips, and walk with a laughably swaggering gait, which is certainly not affectation, but is produced by a sufficient anatomical cause. I never saw such ugly, thick-set, rigid bodies, such uniformly short necks, such sloping shoulders, such flat faces and flatter noses, such wide, heavy, thick-lipped mouths, such projecting cheek-bones, such low foreheads, such flat-topped heads, and such tight, thick skin, which suggests the word hide-bound. The dark, tawny complexion has no richness of tint. Both men and women are short, and the teeth of both sexes are blackened by the constant chewing of the betel-nut, which reddens the saliva, which is constantly flowing like blood from the corners of their mouths. Though not a vigorous, they appear to be a healthy people, and have very large families. They suffer chiefly from "forest fever" in the forest lands, but the rice swamps, deadly to Europeans, do not harm them.
I rested for some time at a very beautiful convent, and was most kindly entertained by some very calm, sweet-looking sisters, who labor piously among the female Anamese, and have schools for girls. The troops are stationed at Saigon for only two years, owing to the unhealthiness of the climate, but these pious women have no sanitarium, and live and die at their posts. Various things in the convent chapel remind one of the faithfulness unto death both of missionaries and converts. In this century alone three successive kings rivaled each other in persecuting the Christians, both Europeans and native, over and over again murdering all the missionaries. In 1841 the king ordered that all missionaries should be drowned, and in 1851 his successor ordered that whoever concealed a missionary should be cut in two. The terrible and sanguinary persecution which followed this edict never ceased, till years afterward the French frightened the king into toleration, and put an end, one hopes forever, to the persecution of Christians. The sisters compute the native Christians at seven thousand, and have sanguine hopes for the future of Christianity in French Cochin China, as well as in Cambodia, which appears to be under a French protectorate.
I do not envy the French their colony. According to my three informants, Europeans cannot be acclimatized, and most of the children born of white parents die shortly after birth. The shores of the sea and of the rivers are scourged by severe intermittent fevers, and the whole of the colony by dysentery, which among Europeans is particularly fatal. The mean temperature is 83° F., the dampness is unusual, and the nights are too hot to refresh people after the heat of the day.*
After leaving the convent I resumed my gharrie, and the driver took me, what I suppose is the usual "course" for tourists, through a quaint Asiatic town inhabited by a mixed, foreign population of Hindus, Malays, Tagals, and Chinese merchants, scattered among a large indigenous population of Anamese fishermen, servants, and husbandmen, through the colonial district, which looked asleep or dead, to the markets, where the Chinamen and natives of India were in the full swing and din of buying and selling all sorts of tropical fruits and rubbishy French goods, and through what may be called the Government town or official quarter. It was getting dark when I reached the wharf, and the darkness enabled me to hobble unperceived on board on my bandaged feet. The heat of the murky, lurid evening was awful, and as thousands of mosquitoes took possession of the ship, all comfort was banished, and I was glad when we steamed down the palm-fringed Saigon or Donnai waters, and through the mangrove swamps at the mouths of the Me-kong river, and past the lofty Cape St. Jacques, with its fort, into the open China Sea.
I. L. B.
SINGAPORE, January 19, 1879.
IT is hot–so hot!–but not stifling, and all the rich-flavored, colored fruits of the tropics are here–fruits whose generous juices are drawn from the moist and heated earth, and whose flavors are the imprisoned rays of the fierce sun of the tropics. Such cartloads and piles of bananas and pine-apples, such heaps of custard-apples and "bullocks' hearts," such a wealth of gold and green giving off fragrance! Here, too, are treasures of the heated, crystal seas–things that one has dreamed of after reading Jules Verne's romances. Big canoes, manned by dark-skinned men in white turbans and loin-cloths, floated round our ship, or lay poised on the clear depths of aquamarine water, with fairy freights–forests of coral white as snow, or red, pink, violet, in massive branches or fern-like sprays, fresh from their warm homes beneath the clear warm waves, where fish as bright-tinted as themselves flash through them like "living light." There were displays of wonderful shells, too, of pale rose-pink, and others with rainbow tints which, like rainbows, came and went–nothing scanty, feeble, or pale!
It is a drive of two miles from the pier to Singapore, and to eyes which have only seen the yellow skins and non-vividness of the Far East, a world of wonders opens at every step. It is intensely tropical; there are mangrove swamps, and fringes of cocoa-palms, and banana-groves, date, sago, and travelers' palms, tree-ferns, india-rubber, mango, custard-apple, jack-fruit, durion, lime, pomegranate, pine-apples, and orchids, and all kinds of strangling and parrot-blossomed trailers. Vegetation rich, profuse, endless, rapid, smothering, in all shades of vivid green, from the pea-green of spring and the dark velvety green of endless summer to the yellow-green of the plumage of the palm, riots in a heavy shower every night and the heat of a perennial sunblaze every day, while monkeys of various kinds and bright-winged birds skip and flit through the jungle shades. There is a perpetual battle between man and the jungle, and the latter, in fact, is only brought to bay within a short distance of Singapore.
I had scarcely finished breakfast at the hotel, a shady, straggling building, much infested by ants, when Mr. Cecil Smith, the Colonial Secretary, and his wife called, full of kind thoughts and plans of furtherance; and a little later a resident, to whom I had not even a letter of introduction, took me and my luggage to his bungalow. All the European houses seem to have very deep verandas, large, lofty rooms, punkahs everywhere, windows without glass, brick floors, and jalousies and "tatties" (blinds made of grass or finely-split bamboo) to keep out the light and the flies. This equatorial heat is neither as exhausting or depressing as the damp summer heat of Japan, though one does long "to take off one's flesh and sit in one's bones."
I wonder how this unexpected and hastily planned expedition into the Malay States will turn out? It is so unlikely that the different arrangements will fit in. It seemed an event in the dim future; but yesterday my host sent up a "chit" from his office to say that a Chinese steamer is to sail for Malacca in a day or two, and would I like to go? I was only allowed five minutes for decision, but I have no difficulty in making up my mind when an escape from civilization is possible. So I wrote back that if I could get my money and letters of introduction in time I would go, and returned to dine at Mr. Cecil Smith's, where a delightfully cultured and intellectual atmosphere made civilization more than tolerable. The needed letters were written, various hints for my guidance were thrown out, and I drove back at half-past ten under heavens which were one blaze of stars amidst a dust of nebulæ, like the inlaid gold spots amidst a dust of gold on old Japanese lacquer, and through a moist, warm atmosphere laden with the heavy fragrance of innumerable night-blossoming flowers.
Singapore, as the capital of the Straits Settlements and the residence of the Governor, has a garrison, defensive works, ships of war hanging about, and a great deal of military as well as commercial importance, and "the roll of the British drum" is a reassuring sound in the midst of the unquiet Chinese population. The Governor is assisted by lieutenant-governors at Malacca and Penang, and his actual rule extends to the three "protected" States of the Malay Peninsula–Sungei-Ujong, Selângor, and Pêrak–the affairs of which are administered by British Residents, who are more or less responsible to him.
If I fail in making you realize Singapore it is partly because I do not care to go into much detail about so well known a city, and partly because my own notions of it are mainly of overpowering greenery, a kaleidoscopic arrangement of colors, Chinese predominance, and abounding hospitality. I almost fail to realize that it is an island; one of many; all, like itself, covered with vegetation down to the water's edge; about twenty-seven miles long by fourteen broad, with the city at its southern end. It is only seventy miles from the equator, but it is neither unhealthy nor overpoweringly hot! It is low and undulating, its highest point, Bukit Timor, or the Hill of Tin, being only five hundred and twenty feet high. The greatest curse here used to be tigers, which carried off about three hundred people yearly. They were supposed to have been extirpated, but they have reappeared, swimming across from the mainland State of Johore it is conjectured; and as various lonely Chinese laborers have been victimized, there is something of a "scare," in the papers at least. Turtles are so abundant that turtle-soup is anything but a luxury, and turtle flesh is ordinarily sold in the meat shops.
Rain is officially said to fall on two hundred days of the year, but popularly every day! The rainfall is only eighty-seven inches, however, and the glorious vegetation owes its redundancy to the dampness of the climate. Of course Singapore has no seasons. The variety is only in the intensity of the heat, the mercury being tolerably steady between 80° and 84°, the extreme range of temperature being from 71° to 92°. People sleep on Malay mats spread over their mattresses for coolness, some dispense with upper sheets, and others are fanned all night by punkahs. The soft and tepid land and sea breezes mitigate the heat to a slight extent, but I should soon long for a blustering north-easter to break in upon the oppressive and vapor-bath stillness.
As Singapore is a military station, and ships of war hang about constantly, there is a great deal of fluctuating society, and the officials of the Straits Settlements Government are numerous enough to form a large society of their own. Then there is the merchant class, English, German, French, and American; and there is the usual round of gayety, and of the amusements which make life intolerable. I think that in most of these tropical colonies the ladies exist only on the hope of going "home!" It is a dreary, aimless life for them–scarcely life, only existence. The greatest sign of vitality in Singapore Europeans that I can see is the furious hurry in writing for the mail. To all sorts of claims and invitations, the reply is, "But it's mail day, you know," or, "I'm writing for the mail," or, "I'm awfully behind hand with my letters," or, "I can't stir till the mail's gone!" The hurry is desperate, and even the feeble Englishwomen exert themselves for "friends at home." To judge from the flurry and excitement, and the driving down to the post-office at the last moment, and the commotion in the parboiled community, one would suppose the mail to be an uncertain event occurring once in a year or two, rather than the most regular of weekly fixtures! The incoming mail is also a great event, though its public and commercial news is anticipated by four weeks by the telegraph.
The Americans boast of the rapid progress of San Francisco, with which the Victorians boast that Melbourne is running a neck and neck race; but, if boasting is allowable, Singapore may boast, for in 1818 the island was covered with dense primeval forest, and only a few miserable fishermen and pirates inhabited its creeks and rivers. The prescience of Sir Stamford Raffles marked it out in 1819 as the site of the first free port in the Malayan Seas, but it was not till 1824 that it was formally ceded to the East India Company by the Sultan of Johore, and it only became a Crown colony in 1867, when it was erected into the capital of the Straits Settlements, which include Malacca and Penang.
Like Victoria, Singapore is a free port, and the vexatiousness of a custom-house is unknown. The only tax which shipping pays is 1 1/2 per cent. for the support of sundry lighthouses. The list of its exports suggests heat. They are chiefly sugar, pepper, tin, nutmegs, mace, sago, tapioca, rice, buffalo hides and horns, rattans, gutta, india rubber, gambier, gums, coffee, dye-stuffs, and tobacco, but the island itself, though its soil looks rich from its redness, only produces pepper and gambier. It is a great entrepôt, a gigantic distributing point.*
The problem of raising a revenue without customs duties is solved by a stamp-tax, land-revenue, and (by far the most important), the sale of the monopolies of the preparation and retailing of opium for smoking, and of spirits and other excisable commodities, these monopolies being "farmed" to private individuals, mostly Chinamen. It is rather puzzling to hear "farmers" spoken of so near the equator. A revenue of nearly half a million annually and a public debt of one hundred thousand pounds is not bad for so young a colony. The prosperity of the Straits Settlements ports is a great triumph for free traders, and a traveler, even if, like myself, he has nothing but a canvas roll and a "Gladstone bag," congratulates himself on being saved from the bother of unstrapping and restrapping stiffened and refractory straps, and from the tiresome delays of even the most courteous custom-house officers.
The official circle is large, as I before remarked. A Crown colony where the Government has it all its own way must be the paradise of officials, and the high sense of honor and the righteous esprit de corps which characterize our civil servants in the Far East, and a conscientious sense of responsibilities for the good government and well-being of the heterogeneous populations over which they rule, seem as good a check as the general run of colonial parliaments.
The Governor, Sir William Robinson (now Sir F. A. Weld), is assisted by an Executive Council of eight members, and a Legislative Council consisting of nine official and six non-official members, including Mr. Whampoa, C.M.G., a Chinaman of great wealth and enlightened public spirit, who is one of the foremost men in the colony. Then on the Civil Establishment there are a legion of departments,–the Colonial Secretary's office with a branch office and Chinese Protectorate, a Land Office, Printing Office, Treasury, Audit Office, Post Office, Public Works and Survey Department, Marine Department, Judicial Department, Attorney-General's Department, Sheriff's Department, Police Court and Police Department, and Ecclesiastical, Educational, Medical, and Prison Staffs.
It is natural that when the mail has been worn threadbare and no stirring incidents present themselves, such as the arrival of a new ship of war or a touring foreign prince, and the receptions of Mr. Whampoa and the Maharajah of Johore have grown insipid, that much of local conversation should consist of speculations as to when or whether Mr. — will get promotion, when Mr. — will go home, or how much he has saved out of his salary; what influence has procured the appointment of Mr. — to Selângor or Pêrak, instead of Mr. — , whose qualifications are higher; whether Mr. — 's acting appointment will be confirmed; whether Mr. — will get one or two years' leave; whether some vacant appointment is to be filled up or abolished, and so on ad infinitum. Such talk girdles the colonial world as completely as the telegraph, which has revolutionized European business here as elsewhere.
The island is far less interesting than the city. Its dense, dark jungle is broken up mainly by pepper and gamber plantations, the latter specially in new clearings. The laborers on these are Chinese, and so are the wood-cutters and sawyers, who frequent the round-topped wooded undulations. The climate is hotter and damper, to one's sensations at least, than the hottest and dampest of the tropical houses at Kew, and heat-loving insects riot. The ants are a pest of the second magnitude, mosquitoes being of the first, the palm-trees and the piles of decaying leaves and bark being excellent nurseries for larvæ. The vegetation is luxuriant, and in the dim, green twilight which is created by enormous forest trees there are endless varieties of ferns, calladiums, and parasitic plants; but except where a road has been cut and is kept open by continual labor, the climbing rattan palms make it impossible to explore.
My short visit has been mainly occupied with the day at the Colonial Secretary's Lodge, and in walking and driving through the streets. The city is ablaze with color and motley with costume. The ruling race does not show to advantage. A pale-skinned man or woman, costumed in our ugly, graceless clothes, reminds one not pleasingly, artistically at least, of our dim, pale islands. Every Oriental costume from the Levant to China floats through the streets–robes of silk, satin, brocade, and white muslin, emphasized by the glitter of "barbaric gold;" and Parsees in spotless white, Jews and Arabs in dark rich silks; Klings in Turkey red and white; Bombay merchants in great white turbans, full trousers, and draperies, all white, with crimson silk girdles; Malays in red sarongs; Sikhs in pure white Madras muslin, their great height rendered nearly colossal by the classic arrangement of their draperies; and Chinamen of all classes, from the coolie in his blue or brown cotton, to the wealthy merchant in his frothy silk crêpe and rich brocade, make up an irresistibly fascinating medley.
The English, though powerful as the ruling race, are numerically nowhere, and certainly make no impression on the eye. The Chinese, who number eighty-six thousand out of a population of one hundred and thirty-nine thousand, are not only numerous enough, but rich and important enough to give Singapore the air of a Chinese town with a foreign settlement. Then there are the native Malays, who have crowded into the island since we acquired it, till they number twenty-two thousand, and who, besides being tolerably industrious as boatmen and fishermen, form the main body of the police. The Parsee merchants, who like our rule, form a respectable class of merchants here, as in all the great trading cities of the East. The Javanese are numerous, and make good servants and sailors. Some of the small merchants and many of the clerks are Portuguese immigrants from Malacca; and traders from Borneo, Sumatra, Celebes, Bali, and other islands of the Malay Archipelago are scattered among the throng. The washermen and grooms are nearly all Bengalees. Jews and Arabs make money and keep it, and are, as everywhere, shrewd and keen, and only meet their equals among the Chinese. Among the twelve thousand natives of India who have been attracted to Singapore, and among all the mingled foreign nationalities, the Klings from the Coromandel coast, besides being the most numerous of all next to the Chinese, are the most attractive in appearance, and as there is no check on the immigration of their women, one sees the unveiled Kling beauties in great numbers.*
These Klings are active and industrious, but they lack fibre apparently, and that quick-sightedness for opportunities which makes the Chinese the most successful of all emigrants. Not a Malay or a Kling has raised himself either as a merchant or in any other capacity to wealth or distinction in the colony. The Klings make splendid boatmen, they drive gharries, run as syces, lend small sums of money at usurious interest, sell fruit, keep small shops, carry "chit books," and make themselves as generally useful as their mediocre abilities allow. They are said to be a harmless people so far as deeds go. They neither fight, organize, nor get into police rows, but they quarrel loudly and vociferously, and their vocabulary of abuse is said to be inexhaustible. The Kling men are very fine-looking, lithe and active, and, as they clothe but little, their forms are seen to great advantage. The women are, I think, beautiful–not so much in face as in form and carriage. I am never weary of watching and admiring their inimitable grace of movement. Their faces are oval, their foreheads low, their eyes dark and liquid, their noses shapely, but disfigured by the universal adoption of jewelled nose-rings; their lips full, but not thick or coarse; their heads small, and exquisitely set on long, slender throats; their ears small, but much dragged out of shape by the wearing of two or three hoop-earrings in each; and their glossy, wavy, black hair, which grows classically low on the forehead, is gathered into a Grecian knot at the back. Their clothing, or rather drapery, is a mystery, for it covers and drapes perfectly, yet has no make, far less fit, and leaves every graceful movement unimpeded. It seems to consist of ten wide yards of soft white muslin or soft red material, so ingeniously disposed as to drape the bust and lower limbs, and form a girdle at the same time. One shoulder and arm are usually left bare. The part which may be called a petticoat–though the word is a slur upon the graceful drapery–is short, and shows the finely turned ankles, high insteps, and small feet. These women are tall, and straight as arrows; their limbs are long and rounded; their appearance is timid, one might almost say modest, and their walk is the poetry of movement. A tall, graceful Kling woman, draped as I have described, gliding along the pavement, her statuesque figure the perfection of graceful ease, a dark pitcher on her head, just touched by the beautiful hand, showing the finely moulded arm, is a beautiful object, classical in form, exquisite in movement, and artistic in coloring, a creation of the tropic sun. What thinks she, I wonder, if she thinks at all, of the pale European, paler for want of exercise and engrossing occupation, who steps out of her carriage in front of her, an ungraceful heap of poufs and frills, tottering painfully on high heels, in tight boots, her figure distorted into the shape of a Japanese saké bottle, every movement a struggle or a jerk, the clothing utterly unsuited to this or any climate, impeding motion, and affecting health, comfort, and beauty alike?
It is all fascinating. Here is none of the indolence and apathy which one associates with Oriental life, and which I have seen in Polynesia. These yellow, brown, tawny, swarthy, olive-tinted men are all intent on gain; busy, industrious, frugal, striving, and, no matter what their creed is, all paying homage to Daikoku. In spite of the activity, rapidity, and earnestness, the movements of all but the Chinese are graceful, gliding, stealthy, the swarthy faces have no expression that I can read, and the dark, liquid eyes are no more intelligible to me than the eyes of oxen. It is the "Asian mystery" all over.
It is only the European part of Singapore which is dull and sleepy looking. No life and movement congregate round the shops. The merchants, hidden away behind jalousies in their offices, or dashing down the streets in covered buggies, make but a poor show. Their houses are mostly pale, roomy, detached bungalows, almost altogether hidden by the bountiful vegetation of the climate. In these their wives, growing paler every week, lead half-expiring lives, kept alive by the efforts of ubiquitous "punkah-wallahs;" writing for the mail, the one active occupation. At a given hour they emerge, and drive in given directions, specially round the esplanade, where for two hours at a time a double row of handsome and showy equipages moves continuously in opposite directions. The number of carriages and the style of dress of their occupants are surprising, and yet people say that large fortunes are not made now-a-days in Singapore! Besides the daily drive, the ladies, the officers, and any men who may be described as of "no occupation," divert themselves with kettle-drums, dances, lawn tennis, and various other devices for killing time, and this with the mercury at 80°! Just now the Maharajah of Johore, sovereign of a small state on the nearest part of the mainland, a man much petted and decorated by the British Government for unswerving fidelity to British interests, has a house here, and his receptions and dinner parties vary the monotonous round of gayeties.
The native streets monopolize the picturesqueness of Singapore with their bizarre crowds, but more interesting still are the bazaars or continuous rows of open shops which create for themselves a perpetual twilight by hanging tatties or other screens outside the sidewalks, forming long shady alleys, in which crowds of buyers and sellers chaffer over their goods, the Chinese shopkeepers asking a little more than they mean to take, and the Klings always asking double. The bustle and noise of this quarter are considerable, and the vociferation mingles with the ringing of bells and the rapid beating of drums and tom-toms–an intensely heathenish sound. And heathenish this great city is. Chinese joss-houses, Hindu temples, and Mohammedan mosques almost jostle each other, and the indescribable clamor of the temples and the din of the joss-houses are faintly pierced by the shrill cry from the minarets calling the faithful to prayer, and proclaiming the divine unity and the mission of Mahomet in one breath.
How I wish I could convey an idea, however faint, of this huge, mingled, colored, busy, Oriental population; of the old Kling and Chinese bazaars; of the itinerant sellers of seaweed jelly, water, vegetables, soup, fruit, and cooked fish, whose unintelligible street cries are heard above the din of the crowds of coolies, boatmen, and gharriemen waiting for hire; of the far-stretching suburbs of Malay and Chinese cottages; of the sheet of water, by no means clean, round which hundreds of Bengalis are to be seen at all hours of daylight unmercifully beating on great stones the delicate laces, gauzy silks, and elaborate flouncings of the European ladies; of the ceaseless rush and hum of industry, and of the resistless, overpowering, astonishing Chinese element, which is gradually turning Singapore into a Chinese city! I must conclude abruptly, or lose the mail.
I. L. B.
S.S. "RAINBOW," MALACCA ROADS,
YESTERDAY I attended morning service in St. Andrew's, a fine colonial cathedral, prettily situated on a broad grass lawn among clumps of trees near the sea. There is some stained glass in the apse, but in the other windows, including those in the clerestory, Venetian shutters take the place of glass, as in all the European houses. There are thirty-two punkahs, and the Indians who worked them, any one of whom might have been the model of the Mercury of the Naples Museum, sat or squatted outside the church. The service was simple and the music very good, but in the Te Deum, just as the verse "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ," I caught sight of the bronze faces of these "punkah-wallahs," mostly bigoted Mussulmen, and was overwhelmed by the realization of the small progress which Christianity has made upon the earth in nineteen centuries. A Singhalese D.D. preached an able sermon. Just before the communion we were called out, as the Rainbow was about to sail, and a harbor boat, manned by six splendid Klings, put us on board.
The Rainbow is a very small vessel, her captain half Portuguese and half Malay, her crew Chinese, and her cabin passengers were all Chinese merchants. Her engineer is a Welshman, a kindly soul, who assured Mr. — , when he commended me to his care, that "he was a family man, and that nothing gave him greater pleasure than seeing that ladies were comfortable," and I owe to his good offices the very small modicum of comfort that I had. Waiting on the little bridge was far from being wearisome, there was such a fascination in watching the costumed and manifold life of the harbor, the black-hulled, sullen-looking steamers from Europe discharging cargo into lighters, Malay prahus of all sizes but one form, sharp at both ends, and with eyes on their bows, like the Cantonese and Cochin China boats, reeling as though they would upset under large mat sails, and rowing-boats rowed by handsome, statuesque Klings. A steamer from Jeddah was discharging six hundred pilgrims in most picturesque costumes; and there were boats with men in crimson turbans and graceful robes of pure white muslin, and others a mass of blue umbrellas, while some contained Brahmins with the mark of caste set conspicuously on their foreheads, all moving in a veil of gold in the setting of a heavy fringe of cocoa-palms.
We sailed at four, with a strong favorable breeze, and the sea was really delightful as we passed among green islets clothed down to the water's edge with dense tropical vegetation, right out into the open water of the Straits of Malacca, a burning, waveless sea, into which the sun was descending in mingled flame and blood. Then, dinner for three, consisting of an excellent curry, was spread on the top of the cabin, and eaten by the captain, engineer, and myself, after which the engineer took me below to arrange for my comfort, and as it was obviously impossible for me to sleep in a very dirty and very small hole, tenanted by cockroaches disproportionately large, and with a temperature of eighty-eight degrees, he took a mattress and pillows upon the bridge, told me his history, and that of his colored wife and sixteen children under seventeen, of his pay of £35 a month, lent me a box of matches, and vanished into the lower regions with the consoling words, "If you want anything in the night, just call 'Engineer' down the engine skylight." It does one's heart good to meet with such a countryman.
The Rainbow is one of the many tokens of preponderating Chinese influence in the Straits of Malacca. The tickets are Chinese, as well as the ownership and crew. The supercargo who took my ticket is a sleek young Chinaman in a pigtail, girdle, and white cotton trousers. The cabin passengers are all Chinamen. The deck was packed with Chinese coolies on their way to seek wealth in the diggings at Pêrak. They were lean, yellow, and ugly, smoked a pipe of opium each at sundown, wore their pigtails coiled round their heads, and loose blue cotton trousers. We had slipped our cable at Singapore, because these coolies were clambering up over every part of the vessel, and defying all attempts to keep them out, so that "to cut and run" was our only chance. The owners do not allow any intoxicant to be brought on board, lest it should be given to the captain and crew, and they should take too much and lose the vessel. I am the only European passenger and the only woman on board. I had a very comfortable night lying on deck in the brisk breeze on the waveless sea, and though I watched the stars, hoping to see the Southern Cross set, I fell asleep, till I was awoke at the very earliest dawn by a most formidable Oriental shouting to me very fiercely I thought, with a fierce face; but it occurred to me that he was trying to make me understand that they wanted to wash decks, so I lifted my mattress on a bench and fell asleep again, waking to find the anchor being let go in the Malacca roads six hours before we should have arrived.
I am greatly interested with the first view of Malacca, one of the oldest European towns in the East, originally Portuguese, then Dutch, and now, though under English rule, mainly Chinese. There is a long bay with dense forests of cocoa-palms, backed by forests of I know not what, then rolling hills, and to the right beyond these a mountain known as Mount Ophir, rich in gold. Is this possibly, as many think, the Ophir of the Bible, and this land of gems and gold truly the "Golden Chersonese?" There are islets of emerald green lying to the south, and in front of us a town of antiquated appearance, low houses, much colored, with flattish, red-tiled roofs, many of them built on piles, straggling for a long distance, and fringed by massive-looking bungalows, half buried in trees. A hill rises near the middle, crowned by a ruined cathedral, probably the oldest Christian church in the Far East, with slopes of bright green grass below, timbered near their base with palms and trees of a nearly lemon-colored vividness of spring-green, and there are glimpses of low, red roofs behind the hill. On either side of the old-world-looking town and its fringe of bungalows are glimpses of steep, reed roofs among the cocoa-palms. A long, deserted-looking jetty runs far out into the shallow sea, a few Chinese junks lie at anchor, in the distance a few Malay fishermen are watching their nets, but not a breath stirs, the sea is without a ripple, the gray clouds move not, the yellow plumes of the palms are motionless; the sea, the sky, the town, look all alike asleep in a still, moist, balmy heat.
Stadthaus, Malacca, 4 p.m.–Presently we were surrounded by a crowd of Malay boats with rude sails made of mats, but their crews might have been phantoms for any noise they made. By one of these I sent my card and note of introduction to the Lieutenant-Governor. An hour afterward the captain told me that the Governor usually went into the country early on Monday morning for two days, which seemed unfortunate. Soon after, the captain and engineer went ashore, and I was left among a crowd of Chinamen and Malays without any possibility of being understood by any of them, to endure stifling heat and provoking uncertainty, much aggravated by the want of food, for another three hours. At last, when very nearly famished, and when my doubts as to the wisdom of this novel and impromptu expedition had become very serious indeed, a European boat appeared, moving with the long steady stroke of a man-of-war's boat, rowed by six native policemen, with a frank-looking bearded countryman steering, and two peons in white, with scarlet-and-gold hats and sashes, in the bow, and as it swept up to the Rainbow's side the man in white stepped on board, and introduced himself to me as Mr. Biggs, the colonial chaplain, deputed to receive me on behalf of the Governor, who was just leaving when my card arrived. He relieved all anxiety as to my destination by saying that quarters were ready for me in the Stadthaus.
We were soon on a lovely shore under the cathedral-crowned hill, where the velvety turf slopes down to the sea under palms and trees whose trunks are one mass of ferns, brightened by that wonderful flowering tree variously known as the "flamboyant" and the "flame of the forest" (Poinciana Regia). Very still, hot, tropical, sleepy, and dreamy, Malacca looks, a town "out of the running," utterly antiquated, mainly un-English, a veritable Sleepy Hollow.
I. L. B.
THIS must surely fade like a dream, this grand old Stadthaus, this old-world quiet, this quaint life; but when it fades I think I shall have a memory of having been "once in Elysium." Still, Elysium should have no mosquitoes, and they are nearly insupportable here; big spotted fellows, with a greed for blood, and a specially poisonous bite, taking the place at daylight of the retiring nocturnal host. The Chinese attendant is not careful, and lets mosquitoes into my net, and even one means a sleepless night. They are maddening.
I was introduced to my rooms, with their floors of red Dutch tiles, their blue walls, their whitewashed rafters, their doors and windows consisting of German shutters only, their ancient beds of portentous height, and their generally silent and haunted look, and then went to tiffin with Mr. and Mrs. Biggs. Mr. Biggs is a student of hymnology, and we were soon in full swing on this mutually congenial subject. Mrs. Biggs devotes her time and strength to the training and education of young Portuguese girls. I pass their open bungalow as I go to and from the Governor's cottage, and it usually proves a trap.
Captain Shaw, who has been for many years Lieutenant-Governor of Malacca, is a fine, hearty, frank, merry, manly, Irish naval officer, well read and well informed, devoted to Malacca and its interests, and withal a man of an especially unselfish, loving, and tender nature, considerate to an unusual degree of the happiness and comfort of those about him. Before I had been here many hours I saw that he was the light of a loving home.* He can be firm and prompt when occasion requires firmness, but his ordinary rule is of the gentlest and most paternal description, so that from the Chinese he has won the name of "Father," and among the Malays, the native population, English rule, as administered by him, has come to be known as "the rule of the just." The family, consisting of the Governor, his, wife, and two daughters just grown up, is a very charming one, and their quiet, peaceful life gives me the opportunity which so rarely falls to the lot of a traveler of becoming really intimate with them.
The Government bungalow, in which I spend most of my time, is a comfortable little cottage, with verandas larger than itself. In the front veranda, festooned with trailers and orchids, two Malay military policemen are always on guard, and two scornful-looking Bengalis in white trousers, white short robes, with sashes of crimson silk striped with gold, and crimson-and-gold flat hats above their handsome but repellent faces, make up the visible part of the establishment. One of these Bengalis has been twice to Mecca, at an expense of £40 on each visit, and on Friday appears in a rich Hadji suit, in which he goes through the town, and those Mussulmen who are not Hadjii bow down to him. I saw from the very first that my project of visiting the native States was not smiled upon at Government House.
The Government bungalow being scarcely large enough for the Governor's family, I am lodged in the old Dutch Stadthaus, formerly the residence of the Dutch Governor, and which has enough of solitude and faded stateliness to be fearsome, or at the least eerie, to a solitary guest like myself, to whose imagination, in the long, dark nights, creeping Malays or pilfering Chinamen are far more likely to present themselves than the stiff beauties and formal splendors of the heyday of Dutch ascendancy. The Stadthaus, which stands on the slope of the hill, and is the most prominent building in Malacca, is now used as the Treasury, Post Office, and Government offices generally. There are large state reception-rooms, including a ball-room, and suites of apartments for the use of the Governor of the Straits Settlements, the Chief-Justice, and other high officials, on their visits to Malacca. The Stadthaus, at its upper end on the hill, is only one story high, but where it abuts on the town it is three and even four. The upper part is built round three sides of a Dutch garden, and a gallery under the tiled veranda runs all round. A set of handsome staircases on the sea side leads to the lawn-like hill with the old cathedral, and the bungalows of the Governor and colonial chaplain. Stephanotis, passiflora, tuberose, alamanda, Bougainvillea, and other trailers of gorgeous colors, climb over everything, and make the night heavy with their odors. There must be more than forty rooms in this old place, besides great arched corridors, and all manner of queer staircases and corners. Dutch tiling and angularities and conceits of all kinds abound.
My room opens on one side upon a handsome set of staircases under the veranda, and on the other upon a passage and staircase with several rooms with doors of communication, and has various windows opening on the external galleries. Like most European houses in the Peninsula, it has a staircase which leads from the bedroom to a somewhat grim, brick-floored room below, containing a large high tub, or bath, of Shanghai pottery, in which you must by no means bathe, as it is found by experience that to take the capacious dipper and pour water upon yourself from a height, gives a far more refreshing shock than immersion when the water is at 80° and the air at 83°.
SMOKING THE MOSQUITOS.
The worst of my stately habitation is, that after four in the afternoon there is no one in it but myself, unless a Chinese coolie, who has a lair somewhere, and appears in my room at all sorts of unusual hours, after I think I have bolted and barred every means of ingress. However, two Malay military policemen patrol the verandas outside at intervals all night, and I have the comfort of imagining that I hear far below the clank of the British sentries who guard the Treasury. In the early morning my eyes always open on the Governor's handsome Mohammedan servant in spotless white muslin and red head-dress and girdle, bringing a tray with tea and bananas. The Chinese coolie who appears mysteriously attends on me, and acts as housemaid, our communications being entirely by signs. The mosquitoes are awful. The view of the green lawns, the sleeping sea, the motionless forest of cocoa-palms along the shore, the narrow stream and bridge, and the quaint red-tiled roofs of the town, is very charming and harmonious; yet I often think, if these dreamy days went on into months, that I should welcome an earthquake shock, or tornado, or jarring discord of some rousing kind, to break the dream produced by the heated, steamy, fragrant air, and the monotonous silence.
I have very little time for writing here, and even that is abridged by the night mosquitoes, which muster their forces for a desperate attack as soon as I retire to the Stadthaus for two hours of quiet before dinner, so I must give the features of Malacca mainly in outline. Having written this sentence, I am compelled to say that the feature of Malacca is that it is featureless! It is a land where it is "always afternoon"–hot, still, dreamy. Existence stagnates. Trade pursues its operations invisibly. Commerce hovers far off on the shallow sea. The British and French mail steamers give the port a wide offing. It has no politics, little crime, rarely gets even two lines in an English newspaper, and does nothing toward making contemporary history. The Lieutenant-Governor has occupied the same post for eleven years. A company of soldiers vegetates in quarters in a yet sleepier region than the town itself. Two Chinese steamers make it a port of call, but, except that they bring mails, their comings and goings are of no interest to the very small English part of the population. Lying basking in the sun, or crawling at the heads of crawling oxen very like hairless buffaloes, or leaning over the bridge looking at nothing, the Malays spend their time when they come into the town, their very movements making the lack of movement more perceptible.
The half-breed descendants of the Portuguese, who kept up a splendid pomp of rule in the days of Francis Xavier, seem to take an endless siesta behind their closely covered windows. I have never seen an Englishman out of doors except Mr. Hayward, the active superintendent of military police, or Mr. Biggs, who preserves his health and energies by systematic constitutionals. Portuguese and Dutch rule have passed away, leaving, as their chief monuments–the first, a ruined cathedral, and a race of half-breeds; and the last, the Stadthaus and a flat-faced meeting-house. A heavy shower, like a "thunder-plump," takes up a part of the afternoon, after which the Governor's carriage, with servants in scarlet liveries, rolls slowly out of Malacca, and through the sago-palms and back again. If aught else which is European breaks the monotony of the day I am not aware of it. The streets have no particular features, though one cannot but be aware that a narrow stream full of boats, and spanned by a handsome bridge, divides the town into two portions, and that a handsome clock-tower (both tower and bridge erected by some wealthy Chinese merchants) is a salient object below the Stadthaus. Trees, trailers, fruits, smother the houses, and blossom and fruit all the year round; old leaves, young leaves, buds, blossom, and fruit, all appearing at once. The mercury rarely falls below 79° or rises above 84°. The softest and least perceptible of land and sea breezes blow alternately at stated hours. The nights are very still. The days are a tepid dream. Since I arrived not a leaf has stirred, not a bird has sung, the tides ebb and flow in listless and soundless ripples. Far off, on the shallow sea, phantom ships hover and are gone, and on an indefinite horizon a blurred ocean blends with a blurred sky. On Mount Ophir heavy cloud-masses lie always motionless. The still, heavy, fragrant nights pass with no other sounds than the aggressive hum of mosquitoes and the challenge of the sentries. But through the stormy days and the heavy nights Nature is always busy in producing a rapidity and profusion of growth which would turn Malacca into a jungle were it not for axe and billhook, but her work does not jar upon the general silence. Yet with all this indefiniteness, dreaminess, featurelessness, indolence, and silence, of which I have attempted to convey an idea, Malacca is very fascinating, and no city in the world, except Canton, will leave so vivid an impression upon me, though it may be but of a fragrant tropic dream and nothing more.
Yesterday Mrs. Biggs took me a drive through Malacca and its forest environs. It was delightful; every hour adds to the fascination which this place has for me. I thought my tropic dreams were over, when seven years ago I saw the summit peaks of Oahu sink sunset flushed into a golden sea, but I am dreaming it again. The road crosses the bridge over the narrow stream, which is, in fact, the roadway of a colored and highly picturesque street, and at once enters the main street of Malacca, which is parallel to the sea. On the sea side each house consists of three or four divisions, one behind the other, each roof being covered with red tiles. The rearmost division is usually built over the sea, on piles. In the middle of each of the three front divisions there is a courtyard. The room through which you enter from the street always has an open door, through which you see houses showing a high degree of material civilization, lofty rooms, handsome altars opposite the doors, massive, carved ebony tables, and carved ebony chairs with marble seats and backs standing against the walls, hanging pictures of the kind called in Japan kakemono, and rich bronzes and fine pieces of porcelain on ebony brackets. At night, when these rooms are lighted up with eight or ten massive lamps, the appearance is splendid. These are the houses of Chinese merchants of the middle class.
And now I must divulge the singular fact that Malacca is to most intents and purposes a Chinese city. The Dutch, as I wrote, have scarcely left a trace. The Portuguese, indolent, for the most part poor, and lowered by native marriages, are without influence, a most truly stagnant population, hardly to be taken into account. Their poor-looking houses resemble those of Lisbon. The English, except in so far as relates to the administration of government, are nowhere, though it is under our equitable rule that the queerly mixed population of Chinese, Portuguese, half-breeds, Malays, Confucianists, Buddhists, Tauists, Romanists, and Mohammedans "enjoy great quietness."* Of the population of the town the majority are said to be Chinese, and still their crowded junks are rolling down on the north-east monsoon. As I remarked before, the coasting trade of the Straits of Malacca is in their hands, and to such an extent have they absorbed the trade of this colony, that I am told there is not a resident British merchant in Malacca. And it is not, as elsewhere, that they come, make money, and then return to settle in China, but they come here with their wives and families, buy or build these handsome houses, as well as large bungalows in the neighboring cocoa-groves, own most of the plantations up the country, and have obtained the finest site on the hill behind the town for their stately tombs. Every afternoon their carriages roll out into the country, conveying them to their substantial bungalows to smoke and gamble. They have fabulous riches in diamonds, pearls, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. They love Malacca, and take a pride in beautifying it. They have fashioned their dwellings upon the model of those in Canton, but whereas cogent reasons compel the rich Chinaman at home to conceal the evidences of his wealth, he glories in displaying it under the security of British rule. The upper class of the Chinese merchants live in immense houses within walled gardens. The wives of all are secluded, and inhabit the back regions and have no share in the remarkably "good time" which the men seem to have.
Along with their industrious habits and their character for fair trading, the Chinese have brought to Malacca gambling and opium-smoking. One-seventh of the whole quantity of opium exported from India to China is intercepted and consumed in the Straits Settlements, and the Malacca Government makes a large revenue from it. The Chinaman who "farms the opium"–i.e., who purchases from the Government the exclusive right to sell it–pays for his monopoly about £50 per day. It must be remembered, however, that every man who smokes opium is not what we understand by an "opium-smoker," and that between the man who takes his daily pipe of opium after his supper, and the unhappy opium-slave who reduces himself to imbecility in such dens as I saw in Canton, there is just as much difference as there is in England between the "moderate drinker" and the "habitual drunkard." Slavery is prohibited in Malacca, and slaves from the neighboring State fly for freedom to the shelter of the British flag; but there is reason to suppose that the numerous women in the households of the Chinese merchants, though called servants, are persons who have been purchased in China, and are actually held in bondage. Apart from these exceptions, the Chinese population is a valuable one, and is, in its upper classes, singularly public-spirited, law-abiding, and strongly attached to British rule.
I saw no shops except those for the sale of fish, fruit, and coarse native pottery, but doubtless most things which are suited to the wants of the mixed population can be had in the bazaars. As we drove out of the town the houses became fewer and the trees denser, with mosques here and there among them, and in a few minutes we were in the great dark forest of cocoa, betel, and sago palms, awfully solemn and oppressive in the hot stillness of the evening. Every sight was new, for though I have seen the cocoa-palm before, the palm-fringes of the coral islands, with their feathery plumes have little kinship with the dark, crowded cocoa-forests of Malacca, with their endless vistas and mysterious gloom. These forests are intersected by narrow, muddy streams, suggestive of alligators, up which you can go in canoes if you lie down, and are content with the yet darker shade produced by the nipah, a species of stemless palm, of which the poorer natives make their houses, and whose magnificent fronds are often from twenty to twenty-two feet in length. The soft carriage road passes through an avenue of trees of great girth and a huge spread of foliage, bearing glorious yellow blossoms of delicious fragrance. Jungles of sugar-cane often form the foreground of dense masses of palms, then a jungle of pine-apples surprises one, then a mass of lianas, knotted and tangled, with stems like great cables, and red blossoms as large as breakfast cups. The huge trees which border the road have their stems and branches nearly hidden by orchids and epiphytes–chiefly that lovely and delicate one whose likeness to a hovering dove won for it the name of the "Flower of the Holy Ghost," an orchid (Peristeria elata) which lives but for a day, but in its brief life fills the air with fragrance. Then the trees change, the long tresses of an autumn-flowering orchid fall from their branches over the road; dead trees appear transformed into living beauty by multitudes of ferns, among which the dark-green shining fronds of the Asplenium nidus, measuring four feet in length, specially delight the eye; huge tamarinds and mimosa add the grace of their feathery foliage; the banana unfolds its gigantic fronds above its golden fruitage; clumps of the betel or areca palms, with their slender and absolutely straight shafts, make the cocoa-palms look like clumsy giants; the gutta-percha, india rubber, and other varieties of ficus, increase the forest gloom by the brown velvety undersides of their shining dark-green leafage; then comes the cashew-nut tree, with its immense spread of branches, and its fruit an apple with a nut below; and the beautiful bread-fruit, with its green "cantalupe melons," nearly ripe, and the gigantic jak and durion, and fifty others, children of tropic heat and moisture, in all the promise of perpetual spring, and the fulfillment of endless summer, the beauty of blossom and the bounteousness of an unfailing fruitage crowning them through all the year. At their feet is a tangle of fungi, mosses, ferns, trailers, lilies, nibongs, reeds, canes, rattans, a dense and lavish undergrowth, in which reptiles, large and small, riot most congenially, and in which broods of mosquitoes are hourly hatched, to the misery of man and beast.
Occasionally a small and comparatively cleared spot appears, with a crowded cluster of graves, with a pawn-shaped stone at the head of each, and the beautiful Frangipani,* the "Temple Flower" of Singhalese Buddhism, but the "Grave Flower" of Malay Mohammedanism, sheds its ethereal fragrance among the tombs. The dead lie lonely in the forest shade, under the feathery palm-fronds, but the living are not far to seek.
It is strange that I should have written thus far and have said nothing at all about the people from whom this Peninsula derives its name, who have cost us not a little blood and some treasure, with whom our relations are by no means well defined or satisfactory, and who, though not the actual aborigines of the country, have at least that claim to be considered its rightful owners which comes from long centuries of possession. In truth, between English rule, the solid tokens of Dutch possession, the quiet and indolent Portuguese, the splendid memories of Francis Xavier, and the numerical preponderance, success, and wealth of the Chinese, I had absolutely forgotten the Malays, even though a dark-skinned military policeman, with a gliding, snake-like step, whom I know to be a Malay, brings my afternoon tea to the Stadthaus! Of them I may write more hereafter. They are symbolized to people's minds in general by the dagger called a kris, and by the peculiar form of frenzy which has given rise to the phrase "running amuck."
The great cocoa groves are by no means solitary, for they contain the kampongs, or small raised villages of the Malays. Though the Malay builds his dismal little mosques on the outskirts of Malacca, he shuns the town, and prefers a life of freedom in his native jungles, or on the mysterious rivers which lose themselves among the mangrove swamps. So in the neighborhood of Malacca these kampongs are scattered through the perpetual twilight of the forest. They do not build the houses very close together, and whether of rich or poor, the architecture is the same. Each dwelling is of planed wood or plaited palm leaves, the roof is high and steep, the eaves are deep, and the whole rests on a gridiron platform, supported on posts from five to ten feet high, and approached by a ladder in the poorer houses, and a flight of steps in the richer. In the ordinary houses mats are laid here and there over the gridiron, besides the sleeping mats; and this plan of an open floor, though trying to unaccustomed Europeans, has various advantages. As, for instance, it insures ventilation, and all débris can be thrown through it, to be consumed by the fire which is lighted every evening beneath the house to smoke away the mosquitoes. A baboon, trained to climb the cocoa palms and throw down the nuts, is an inmate of most of the houses.
The people lead strange and uneventful lives. The men are not inclined to much effort except in fishing or hunting, and, where they possess rice land, in ploughing for rice. They are said to be quiet, temperate, jealous, suspicious, some say treacherous, and most bigoted Mussulmen. The women are very small, keep their dwellings very tidy, and weave mats and baskets from reeds and palm leaves. They are clothed in cotton or silk from the ankles to the throat, and the men, even in the undress of their own homes, usually wear the sarong, a picturesque tightish petticoat, consisting of a wide piece of stuff kept on by a very ingenious knot. They are not savages in the ordinary sense, for they have a complete civilization of their own, and their legal system is derived from the Koran. They are dark brown, with rather low foreheads, dark and somewhat expressionless eyes, high cheek-bones, flattish noses with broad nostrils, and wide mouths with thick lips. Their hair is black, straight and shining, and the women dress it in a plain knot at the back of the head. To my thinking, both sexes are decidedly ugly, and there is a coldness and aloofness of manner about them which chills one even where they are on friendly terms with Europeans, as the people whom we visited were with Mrs. Biggs.
The women were lounging about the houses, some cleaning fish, others pounding rice; but they do not care for work, and the little money which they need for buying clothes they can make by selling mats, or jungle fruits. Their lower garment, or sarong, reaching from the waist to the ankles, is usually of red cotton of a small check, with stripes in the front, above which is worn a loose sleeved garment, called a kabaya, reaching to the knees, and clasped in front with silver or gold, and frequently with diamond ornaments. They also wear gold or silver pins in their hair, and the sarong is girt or held up by a clasp of enormous size, and often of exquisite workmanship, in the poorer class of silver, and in the richer of gold jeweled with diamonds and rubies. The sarong of the men does not reach much below the knee and displays loose trousers. They wear above it a short-sleeved jacket, the baju, beautifully made, and often very tastefully decorated in fine needlework, and with small buttons on each side, not for use, however. I have seen one Malay who wore about twenty buttons, each one a diamond solitaire! The costume is completed by turbans or red handkerchiefs tied round their heads.
In these forest kampongs the children, who are very pretty, are not encumbered by much clothing, specially the boys. All the dwellings are picturesque, and those of the richer Malays are beautiful. They rigidly exclude all ornaments which have "the likeness of anything in heaven or earth," but their arabesques are delicately carved, and the verses from the Koran, which occasionally run under the eaves, being in the Arabic character, are decidedly decorative. Their kampongs are small, and they have little of the gregarious instinct; they are said to live happily, and to have a considerable amount of domestic affection. Captain Shaw likes the Malays, and the verdict on them here is that they are chaste, gentle, honest and hospitable, but that they tell lies, and that their "honor" is so sensitive that blood alone can wipe out some insults to it. They seclude their women to a great extent, and under ordinary circumstances the slightest courtesy shown by a European man to a Malay woman would be a deadly insult; and at the sight of a man in the distance the women hastily cover their faces.
There is a large mosque with a minaret just on the outskirts of Malacca, and we passed several smaller ones in the space of three miles. Scarcely any kampong is so small as not to have a mosque. The Malays are bigoted, and for the most part ignorant and fanatical Mohammedans, and I firmly believe that the Englishman whom they respect most is only a little removed from being "a dog of an infidel." They are really ruled by the law of the Koran, and except when the Imaum, who interprets the law, decides (which is very rarely the case) contrary to equity, the British magistrate confirms his decision. In fact, Mohammedan law and custom rule in civil cases, and the Imaum of the mosque assists the judge with his advice. The Malays highly appreciate the manner in which law is administered under English rule, and the security they enjoy in their persons and property, so that they can acquire property without risk, and accumulate and wear the costliest jewels even in the streets of Malacca without fear of robbery or spoliation. This is by no means to write that the Malays love us, for I doubt whether the entente cordiale between any of the dark-skinned Oriental races and ourselves is more than skin deep. It is possible that they prefer being equitably taxed by us, with the security which our rule brings, to being plundered by native princes, but we do not understand them, or they us, and where they happen to be Mohammedans, there is a gulf of contempt and dislike on their part which is rarely bridged by amenities on ours. The pilgrimage to Mecca is the great object of ambition. Many Malays, in spite of its expense and difficulties, make it twice, and even three times. We passed three women clothed in white from head to foot, their drapery veiling them closely, leaving holes for their eyes. These had just returned from Mecca.
The picturesqueness of the drive home was much heightened by the darkness, and the brilliancy of the fires underneath the Malay houses. The great gray buffalo which they use for various purposes–and which, though I have written gray, is as often pink–has a very thin and sensitive skin, and is almost maddened by mosquitoes; and we frequently passed fires lighted in the jungle, with these singular beasts standing or lying close to them in the smoke on the leeward side, while Malays in red sarongs and handkerchiefs, and pretty brown children scarcely clothed at all, lounged in the firelight. Then Chinese lamps and lanterns, and the sound of what passes for music; then the refinement and brightness of the Government bungalow, and at ten o'clock my chair with three bearers, and the solitude of the lonely Stadthaus.
I. L. B.
STADTHAUS, MALACCA, Jan. 23.
MALACCA fascinates me more and more daily. There is, among other things, a mediævalism about it. The noise of the modern world reaches it only in the faintest echoes; its sleep is almost dreamless, its sensations seem to come out of books read in childhood. Thus, the splendid corpse of a royal tiger has been brought in in a bullock-cart, the driver claiming the reward of fifteen dollars, and its claws were given to me. It was trapped only six miles off, and its beautiful feline body had not had time to stiffen. Even when dead, with its fierce head and cruel paws hanging over the end of the cart, it was not an object to be disrespected. The same reward is offered for a rhinoceros, five dollars for a crocodile (alligator?) and five dollars for a boa-constrictor or python. Lately, at five in the morning, a black tiger (panther?) came down the principal street of Malacca, tore a Chinamen in pieces, and then, scared by a posse of police in pursuit, jumped through a window into a house. Every door in the city was barred, as the rumor spread like wildfire. The policemen very boldly entered the house, but the animal pinned the Malay corporal to the wall. The second policeman, a white man, alas! ran away. The third, a Malay, at the risk of his life, went close up to the tiger, shot him, and beat him over the head with the butt of his rifle, which made the beast let go the corporal and turn on him, but fortunately he had scarcely got hold of him when he fell dead. The corporal is just coming out of hospital, almost completely paralyzed, to be taken care of for the rest of his life, and the man who rescued him has got promotion and a pension. A short time ago a fine young tiger was brought alive to Captain Shaw, and he ordered a proper cage to be made, in which to send him to England, telling Babu, the "double Hadji," to put it into the "godown" in its bamboo cage; but the man put it into the kitchen, and in the morning the cage was found broken into pieces, the kitchen shutters torn down, and the tiger gone! There was a complete panic in Malacca; people kept their houses shut, and did not dare to go out even on business, and not only was the whole police force turned out in pursuit, but the English garrison. It was some days before the scare subsided and the people believed that the beast had escaped to its natural home in the jungle.
A tropical thunderstorm of the most violent kind occurred yesterday, when I was quite alone in the Stadthaus. The rain fell in sheets, deluges, streams, and the lightning flashed perfectly blue through a "darkness which could be felt." There is a sort of grandeur about this old Dutch Stadthaus, with its tale of two centuries. Its smooth lawns, sloping steeply to the sea, are now brilliant with the gaudy parrot-like blossoms of the "flame of the forest," the gorgeous Poinciana Regia, with which they are studded. Malacca is such a rest after the crowds of Japan and the noisy hurry of China! Its endless afternoon remains unbroken except by the dreamy, colored, slow-moving Malay life which passes below the hill. There is never any hurry or noise.
So had I written without prescience! The night of the awful silence which succeeded the thunderstorm was also the eve of the Chinese New Year, and Captain Shaw gave permission for "fireworks" from 7 P.M. till midnight. The term "fireworks" received a most liberal construction. The noise was something awful, and as it came into the lonely Stadthaus, and red, blue, crimson, and greenish-yellow glares at short intervals lighted up the picturesque Malacca steam and its blue and yellow houses, with their steep red-tiled roofs and balconies and quaint projections, and the streets were traced in fire and smoke, while crackers, squibs, and rockets went off in hundreds, and cannon, petards, and gingalls were fired incessantly, and gongs, drums, and tom-toms were beaten, the sights, and the ceaseless, tremendous, universal din made a rehearsal of the final assault on a city in old days. At 1 A.M., every house being decorated and illuminated, the Chinese men began to make their New Year's calls, and at six the din began again. After breakfast the Governor drove out in state to visit the leading Chinese merchants, with whom he is on terms of the most cordial amity, and at each house was offered two dishes of cakes, twelve dishes of candied and preserved fruits, mandarin tea (the price of this luxury is from 25s. to 45s. a pound), and champagne from the finest Rhenish vineyards! At eleven all the Chinese children came forth in carriages shaped like boats, turned up at both ends, painted red and yellow, and with white-fringed canopies over them. These were drawn by servants, and in the case of the wealthy, a train of servants accompanied each carriage. It was a sight worthy of a fabled age. The wealth of the East in all its gorgeousness was poured out upon these dignified and solemn infants, who wore coronals of gold and diamonds, stuffs of cloth of gold brocade, and satin sewn with pearls, and whose cloth-of-gold shoes flashed with diamonds!
During the morning four children of a rich Chinese merchant, attended by a train of Chinese and Malay servants, came to see Mrs. Shaw. There were a boy and girl of five and six years old, and two younger children. A literal description of their appearance reads like fiction. The girl wore a yellow petticoat of treble satin (mandarin yellow) with broad box plaits in front and behind, exquisitely embroidered with flowers in shades of blue silk, with narrow box plaits between, with a trail of blue silk flowers on each. Over this there was a short robe of crimson brocaded silk, with a broad border of cream-white satin, with the same exquisite floral embroidery in shades of blue silk. Above this was a tippet of three rows of embroidered lozenge-shaped "tabs" of satin. The child wore a crown on her head, the basis of which was black velvet. At the top was an aigrette of diamonds of the purest water, the centre one as large as a sixpenny-piece. Solitaires flashing blue flames blazed all over the cap, and the front was ornamented with a dragon in fine filigree work in red Malay gold set with diamonds. I fear to be thought guilty of exaggeration when I write that this child wore seven necklaces, all of gorgeous beauty. The stones were all cut in facets at the back; and highly polished, and their beauty was enhanced by the good taste and skilful workmanship of the setting. The first necklace was of diamonds set as roses and crescents, some of them very large, and all of great brilliancy; the second of emeralds, a few of which were as large as acorns, but spoilt by being pierced; the third of pearls set whole; the fourth of hollow filigree beads in red, burned gold; the fifth of sapphires and diamonds; the sixth a number of finely worked chains of gold with a pendant of a gold filigree fish set with diamonds; the seventh, what they all wear, a massive gold chain, which looked heavy enough even by itself to weigh down the fragile little wearer, from which depended a gold shield, on which the Chinese characters forming the child's name were raised in rubies, with fishes and flowers in diamonds round it, and at the back a god in rubies similarly surrounded. Magnificent diamond earrings and heavy gold bracelets completed the display.
And all this weight of splendor, valued at the very least at $40,000, was carried by a frail human mite barely four feet high, with a powdered face, gentle, pensive expression, and quiet grace of manner, who came forward and most winsomely shook hands with us, as did all the other grave gentle mites. They were also loaded with gold and diamonds. Some sugar-plums fell on the floor, and as the eldest girl stooped to pick them up, diamond solitaires fell out of her hair, which were gathered up by her attendants as if they were used to such occurrences. Whenever she moved her diamonds flashed, scintillated, and gave forth their blue light. Then came the children of the richest Chinaman in Malacca, but the little gentle creatures were motherless, and mourning for a mother lasts three years, so they were dressed in plain blue and white, and as ornaments wore only very beautiful sapphires and diamonds set in silver.
Do not suppose that the Chinese New Year is a fixed, annual holiday lasting a day, as in Scotland, and to a minor extent in England. In Canton a month ago active preparations were being made for it, and in Japan nine weeks ago. It is a "movable feast," and is regulated by the date on which the new moon falls nearest to the day "when the sun reaches the 15° of Aquarius," and occurs this year on January 21st. Everything becomes cheap before it, for shopkeepers are anxious to realize ready money at any loss, for it is imperative that all accounts be closed by the last day of the old year, on pain of a man being disgraced, losing all hope of getting credit, and of having his name written up on his door as a defaulter. It appears also that debts which are not settled by the New Year's Eve cannot thereafter be recovered, though it is lawful for a creditor who has vainly hunted a debtor throughout that last night to pursue him for the first hours after daybreak, provided he still carries a lantern!
The festival lasts a fortnight, and is a succession of feasts and theatrical entertainments, everybody's object being to cast care and work to the winds. Even the official seals of the mandarins are formally and with much rejoicing sealed up and laid aside for one month. On the 20th day of the 12th month houses and temples are thoroughly washed and cleaned, rich and poor decorate with cloth-of-gold, silk embroideries, artificial and real flowers, banners, scrolls, lucky characters, illuminated strips of paper, and bunches of gilt-paper flowers, and even the poorest coolie contrives to greet the festival with some natural blossom. There is no rest either by night or day, joss-sticks burn incessantly, and lamps before the ancestral tablets, gongs are beaten, gingalls fire incessantly, and great crackers like cartridges fastened together in rows are let off at intervals before every door to frighten away evil spirits; there are family banquets of wearisome length, feasts to the household gods, offerings in the temples, processions in the street by torch and lantern light, presents are given to the living, and offerings to the dead, the poor are feasted, and the general din is heightened by messengers perambulating the streets with gongs, calling them to the different banquets. When the fortnight of rejoicing is over its signs are removed, and after the outbreak of extravagant expenditure the Chinese return to their quiet, industrious habits and frugal ways.
Just as this brilliant display left the room, a figure in richer coloring of skin appeared–Babu, the head servant, in his beautiful Hadji dress. He wore white full trousers, drawn in tightly at the ankles over black shoes, but very little of these trousers showed below a long, fine, linen tunic of spotless white, with a girdle of orange silk. Over this was a short jacket of rich green silk, embroidered in front with green of the same color, and over all a pure white robe falling from the shoulders. The turban was a Mecca turban made of many yards of soft white silk, embroidered in white silk. It was difficult to believe that this gorgeous Mussulman, in the odor of double sanctity, with his scornful face and superb air, could so far demean himself as to wait on "dogs of infidels" at dinner, or appear in my room at the Stadthaus, with matutinal tea and bananas!
This magnificence heralded the Datu Klana, Syed Abdulrahman, the reigning prince of the native State of Sungei Ujong, his principal wife, and his favorite daughter, a girl of twelve. It has been decided that I am to go to Sungei Ujong, and that I am to be escorted by Mr. Hayward, the superintendent of police, but, unfortunately, I am to go up in the Datu Klana's absence, and one object of his visit was to express his regret. This prince has been faithful to British interests, and is on most friendly terms with the resident, Captain Murray, and the Governor of Malacca. During his visit Babu interpreted, but Miss Shaw, who understands Malay, said that, instead of interpreting faithfully, he was making enormous demands on my behalf! At all events, Syed Abdulrahman, with truly exaggerated Oriental politeness, presented me with the key of his house in the interior.
This prince is regarded by British officials as an enlightened ruler, though he is a rigid Mussulman. His dress looked remarkably plain beside that of the splendid Babu. He wore a Malay bandana handkerchief round his head, knotted into a peak, a rich brocade baju or short jacket, a dark Manilla sarong, trousers of Mandarin satin striped with red, a girdle clasp set with large diamonds, and sandals with jeweled cloth-of-gold straps. His wife, though elderly and decidedly plain looking, has a very pleasing expression. She wore a black veil over her head, and her kabaya, or upper garment, was fastened with three diamond clasps. The bright little daughter wore a green veil with gold stars upon it over her head, and ornaments of rich, red gold elaborately worked. The Datu Klana apologized for the extreme plainness of their dress by saying that they had only just arrived, and that they had called before changing their traveling clothes. When they departed the two ladies threw soft silk shawls over their heads, and held them so as to cover their faces except their eyes.
There are now sixty-seven thousand Malays in the British territory of Malacca, and the number is continually increased by fugitives from the system of debt-slavery which prevails in some of the adjacent States, and by immigration from the same States of Malays who prefer the security which British rule affords.
[The police force is Malay, and it seems as if the Malays had a special aptitude for this semi-military service, for they not only form the well-drilled protective forces of Malacca, Sungei Ujong, and Selângor, but that fine body of police in Ceylon of which Mr. George Campbell has so much reason to be proud. Otherwise very few of them enter British employment, greatly preferring the easy, independent life of their forest kampongs.]
The commercial decay of Malacca is a very interesting fact.* Formerly fifty merchantmen were frequently lying in its roads at one time. Here the Portuguese fleet lay which escorted Xavier from Goa, and who can say how many galleons freighted with the red gold of Ophir floated on these quiet waters! Now, Chinese junks, Malay prahus, a few Chinese steamers, steam-launches from the native States, and two steamers which call in passing, make up its trade. There is neither newspaper, banker, hotel, nor resident English merchant. The half-caste descendants of the Portuguese are, generally speaking, indolent, degraded with the degradation that is born of indolence, and proud. The Malays dream away their lives in the jungle, and the Chinese, who number twenty thousand, are really the ruling population.
The former greatness of Malacca haunts one at all times. The romantic exploits of Albuquerque, who conquered it in 1511, apostrophized in the Lusiad–
"Not eastward far though fair Malacca lie,live again, though my sober judgment is that Albuquerque and most of his Portuguese successors were little better than buccaneers.
Her groves embosomed in the morning sky,
Though with her amorous sons the valiant line
Of Java's isle in battle rank combine,
Though poisoned shafts their ponderous quivers store,
Malacca's spicy groves and golden ore,
Great Albuquerque, thy dauntless toils shall crown,"
I like better to think of Francis Xavier passing through the thoroughfares of what was then the greatest commercial city of the East, ringing his bell, with the solemn cry, "Pray for those who are in a state of mortal sin." For among the "Jews, Turks, infidels, and heretics" who then thronged its busy streets, there were no worse livers than the roistering soldiers who had followed Albuquerque. Tradition among the present Portuguese residents says that coarse words and deeds disappeared from the thoroughfares under his holy influence, and that little altars were set up in public places, round which the children sang hymns to Jesus Christ, while the passers-by crossed themselves and bowed their heads reverently. Now, the cathedral which crowns the hill, roofless and ruinous, is only imposing from a distance, and a part of it is used for the storage of marine or lighthouse stores under our prosaic and irreverent rule. Xavier preached frequently in it and loved it well, yet the walls are overgrown with parasites, and the floor, under which many prelates and priests lie, is hideous with matted weeds, which are the haunt of snakes and lizards. Thus, in the city which was so dear to Xavier that he desired to return to it to die (and actually did die on his way thither), the only memento of him is the dishonored ruin of the splendid church in which his body was buried, with all the population of Malacca following it from the yellow strand up the grass-crowned hill, bearing tapers. This wretched ruin is a contrast to the splendid mausoleum at Goa, where his bones now lie, worthily guarded, in coffins of silver and gold.
If the Portuguese were little better than buccaneers, the Dutch, who drove them out, were little better than hucksters,–mean, mercenary traders, without redeeming qualities; content to suck the blood of their provinces and give nothing in return. I should think that the colony is glad to be finally rid of them. The English took possession of it in 1795, but restored it to the Dutch in 1818, regaining it again by treaty in 1824, giving Bencoolen, in Sumatra, in exchange for it, stipulating at the same time that the Dutch were not to meddle with Malayan affairs, or have any settlement on the Malay Peninsula. The ruined cathedral of Notre Dame del Monte is a far more interesting object than the dull, bald, commonplace, flat-faced, prosaic, Dutch meeting-house, albeit the latter is in excellent repair. Even this Stadthaus, with its stately solitudes, smells of trade, and suggests corpulent burgomasters and prim burgomasters' wives in wooden hoops and stiff brocades. The influence of Holland has altogether vanished, as is fitting, for she cared only for nutmegs, sago, tapioca, tin and pepper.
The variety of races here produces a ludicrous effect sometimes. In the Stadthaus one never knows who is to appear–whether Malay, Portuguese, Chinaman, or Madrassee. Yesterday morning, at six, the Chinaman who usually "does" my room, glided in, murmuring something unintelligible, and on my not understanding him, brought in a Portuguese interpreter. At seven, came in the Madrassee, Babu, with a cluster of bananas, and after him, two Malays, in red sarongs, who brushed and dusted all my clothes as slowly as they could–men of four races in attendance before I was up in the morning! This Chinese attendant, besides being a common coolie in a brown cotton shirt over a brown cotton pair of trousers, is not a good specimen of his class, and is a great nuisance to me. My doors do not bolt properly, and he appears in the morning while I am in my holoku, writing, and slowly makes the bed and kills mosquitoes; then takes one gown after another from the rail, and stares at me till I point to the one I am going to wear, which he holds out in his hands; and though I point to the door, and say "Go!" with much emphasis, I never get rid of him, and have to glide from my holoku into my gown with a most unwilling dexterity.
Two days ago Captain Shaw declared that "pluck should have its reward," and that I should have facilities for going to Sungei Ujong. Yesterday, he asked me to take charge of his two treasured daughters. Then Babu said, "If young ladies go, me go," and we are to travel under the efficient protection of Mr. Hayward, the superintendent of police. This expedition excites great interest in the little Malacca world. This native State is regarded as "parts unknown;" the Governor has never visited it, and there are not wanting those who shake their heads and wonder that he should trust his girls in a region of tigers, crocodiles, rogue elephants and savages! The little steam-launch Moosmee (in reality by far the greatest risk of all) has been brought into the stream below the Stadthaus, ready for an early start to-morrow, and a runner has been sent to the Resident to prepare him for such an unusual incursion into his solitudes.
I. L. B.
* Cholen, i.e., the big market, has a population which is variously estimated at from 30,000 to 80,000. I am inclined to think that the lowest estimate is nearest the mark.–I. L. B.
* The chief production of the country is rice, which forms half the sum total of the exports. The other exports are chiefly salt-fish, salt, undyed cotton, skins of beasts, and pepper. About seven hundred vessels enter and leave Saigon in a year.
* The exports and imports of Singapore amounted in 1823 to £2,120,000, in 1859-60 to £10,371,000, and in 1880, to £23,050,000! In the latter year, tonnage to the amount of three millions of tons arrived in its harbor. It must be observed that the imports, to a very large extent, are exported to other places.
* The Singapore census returns for 1881 are by no means "dry reading," and they give a very imposing idea of the importance of the island. It is interesting to note that of the 434 enumerators employed only seven were Europeans!
The number of houses on the island is 20,462; the total population is 139,208 souls, viz., 105,423 males and 33,785 females. The total increase in ten years is divided as follows:–
Europeans and Americans 823 Eurasians 930 Chinese 32,194 Malays and other natives of the Archipelago 6,954 Tamils and other natives of India 637 Other nationalities 559
Among these "other nationalities" the great increase has been among the Arabs, who have nearly doubled their numbers. Among the "Malays and other natives of the Archipelago" are included, Achinese, Boyanese, Bugis, Dyaks, Jawi-Pekans, and Manilamen.
The European resident population, exclusive of the soldiers, is only 1,283. The Chinese population is 86,766; the Malay, 22,114; the Tamil, 10,475; the Javanese, 5,881; and the Eurasian, 3,091. In the very small European population 19 nationalities are included, the Germans numerically following the British. Of 15,368 domestic servants, only 844 are women.]
* I should not have reproduced this paragraph of my letter were Captain Shaw still alive, but in five weeks after my happy visit he died almost suddenly, to the indescribable grief of his family and of the people of Malacca, by whom he was greatly beloved.
* By the census of 1881 the resident European population of the Settlement of Malacca consists of 23 males and 9 females, a "grand" total of 32! The Eurasian population, mainly of Portuguese mixed blood, is 2,213. The Chinese numbers 19,741, 4,020 being females. The Malay population is 67,488, the females being 2,000 in excess of the males, the Tamils or Klings are 1,781, the Arabs 227, the Aborigines of the Peninsula 308, the Javanese 399, the Boyanese 212, and the Jawi-Pekans 867. Besides these there are stray Achinese, Africans, Anamese, Bengalis, Bugis, Dyaks, Manilamen, Siamese, and Singhalese, numbering 174. The total population of the territory is 93,579, viz., 52,059 males and 41,520 females, an increase in ten years of 15,823. The decrease in the number of resident Europeans is 31.9 per cent. In "natives of India" 42 per cent., and in "other nationalities" 48.9 per cent. On the other hand the Chinese population has increased by 6,259 or 46.4 per cent., and the Malays by 11,264, or 19.3 per cent. The town of Malacca contains 5,538 houses, and the country districts 11,177. The area of the settlement is 640 square miles, and the density of the population 146 to the square mile; only twelve of the population are lunatics.
* Plumieria sp.
* Linscholt, two hundred and seventy years ago, writes:–"This place is the market of all India, of China, and the Moluccas, and of other islands round about, from all which places, as well as from Banda, Java, Sumatra, Siam, Pegu, Bengal, Coromandil, and India, arrive ships which come and go incessantly charged with an infinity of merchandises."
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