"A Chapter on Sungei Ujong - Letter XIII." by Isabella L. Bird Bishop (1831-1904)
I HAD never heard of this little State until I reached Singapore, and probably many people are as ignorant as I was. The whole peninsula, from Johore in the south to Kedah in the north, is a puzzle, what with British colonies, Singapore, Malacca, and Province Wellesley, and "Protected States," Sungei Ujong, Selângor, and Pêrak, north, south, and east of which lie a region of unprotected Malay States, with their independent rulers, such as Kedah, Patâni, Tringgânu, Kelantân, Pahang, Johore, etc.* In several of these States, more or less anarchy prevails, owing to the ambitions and jealousies of the Rajahs and their followers, and a similar state of things in the three protected States formerly gave great annoyance to the Straits Settlements Government, and was regarded as a hindrance to the dominant interests of British trade in the Straits.
In 1874, Sir A. Clark, the then Governor, acting in British interests, placed British residents in Pêrak, Selângor, and the small State of Sungei Ujong. These residents were to advise the rulers in matters of revenue and general administration, but, it may be believed, that as time has passed, they have become more or less the actual rulers of the States which they profess to advise merely. They are the accredited agents of England, reporting annually to the Straits Government, which, in its turn, reports to the Colonial Office, and the amount of pressure which they can bring to bear is overwhelming.
It is not easy to give the extent and boundaries of Sungei Ujong, the "boundary question" being scarcely settled, and the territory to the eastward being only partially explored. It is mainly an inland State, access to its very limited seaboard being by the Linggi river. The "protected" State of Selângor bounds it on the north, and joining on to it and to each other on the east, are the small "independent" States of Rumbow, Johôl, Moar, Sri Menanti, Jelabu, Jompôl, and Jelai. The Linggi river, which in its lower part forms the boundary between Selângor and Malacca, forks in its upper part, the right branch becoming for some distance the boundary between Sungei Ujong and Rumbow. It is doubtful whether the area of the State exceeds seven hundred square miles.
The Malays of Sungei Ujong and several of the adjacent States are supposed to be tolerably directly descended from those of the parent empire Menangkábau in Sumatra, who conquered and have to a great extent displaced the tribes known as Jakuns, Orang Bukit, Rayet Utan, Samangs, Besisik, Rayet Laut, etc., the remnants of which live mainly in the jungles of the interior, are everywhere apart from the Malays, and are of a much lower grade in the scale of civilization. The story current among the best informed Malays of this region is that a Sumatran chief with a large retinue crossed to Malacca in the twelfth century, and went into the interior, which he found inhabited only by the Jakuns, or "tree people." There his followers married Jakun women, and their descendants spread over Sungei Ujong, Rumbow, and other parts, the Rayet Laut, or "sea-people," the supposed Ichthyophagi of the ancients, and the Rayet Utan, or "forest-people," betaking themselves to the woods and the seaboard hills.
This mixed race rapidly increasing, divided into nine petty States, under chiefs who rendered feudal service to the Sultans of Malacca before its conquest by the Portuguese, and afterward to the Sultan of Johore, at whose court they presented themselves once a year. This confederation, called the Negri Sembilan, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made various commercial treaties with the Dutch, but its domestic affairs were in a state of chronic feud, and four of the States, late in the eighteenth century, becoming disgusted with the arbitrary proceedings of a ruler who, aided by Dutch influence, had gained the ascendency over the whole nine, sent to Sumatra, the original source of government, for a prince of the blood-royal of Menangkábau, and after a prolonged conflict this prince became sovereign of the little States of Sungei Ujong, Rumbow, Johôl, and Sri Menanti, the chiefs of these States constituting his Council of State. This dynasty came to an end in 1832, and intrigues and discord prevailed for many years, till the Datu Klana of Sungei Ujong, troubled by a hostile neighbor in Rumbow and a hostile subject or rival at home, conceived the bright idea of supporting his somewhat shaky throne by British protection.
After some curious negotiations, he succeeded in obtaining both a Resident and the English flag to protect his little fortunes; but it is obvious that his calling in foreign intervention was not likely to make him popular with his independent neighbors or disaffected subjects, and the troubles culminated in a "little war," in which the attacking force was composed of a few English soldiers, Malay military police, and a body of about eighty so-called Arabs, enlisted in Singapore and taken to the scene of action by Mr. Fontaine. The "enemy" was seldom obvious, but during the war it inflicted a loss upon us of eight killed and twenty-three wounded. We took various stockades, shot from sixty to eighty Malays, burned a good deal of what was combustible, and gave stability to the shaky rule of the Datu Klana, Syed Abdulrahman. Of this prince, who owed his firm seat on the throne to British intervention, the Resident wrote in 1880:–"Loyal to his engagements, he had gained the good will of the British Government. Straightforward, honest, and truly charitable, he had gained the love and respect of almost every one in Sungei Ujong, Chinese as well as Malay, and if he had a fault he erred on the side of a weak belief in the goodness of human nature, and often suffered in consequence." This was Captain Murray's verdict after nearly five years' experience.
The population of this tiny State, which in 1832 consisted of three thousand two hundred Malays and four hundred Chinese, at the time of my visit had risen to twelve thousand, composed of three Europeans, a few Klings, two thousand Malays, and ten thousand Chinese. It exports tin in large quantities, gutta-percha collected in the interior by the aborigines, coffee, which promises to become an important production, buffalo hides, gum dammar, and gharroo. In 1879 the exports amounted to £81,976; £81,451 being the value of tin. Its imports are little more than half this amount. Rice heads the list with an import of £18,150 worth, and opium comes next, valued at £14,448. The third import in value is oil; the next Chinese tobacco, the next sugar, the next salt fish, and the next pigs! The Chinese, of course, consume most of what is imported, being in a majority of five to one, and here as elsewhere they carry with them their rigid conservatism in dress, mode of living, food, and amusements, and have a well-organized and independent system of communication with China. It is the Chinese merchant, not the British, who benefits by the rapidly augmenting Chinese population. Thus in the import list the Chinese tobacco, pigs, lard, onions, beans, vermicelli, salted vegetables, tea, crackers, joss-sticks, matches, Chinese candles, Chinese clothing, Chinese umbrellas, and several other small items, are all imported from China.
Having been debited with a debt of £10,000 for war expenses, to be paid off by installments, the finances were much hampered, and the execution of road-making and other useful work has been delayed. This war debt, heavy as it was, was exclusive of £6,000 previously paid off, and of heavy disbursements made to supply food and forage for the British soldiers who were quartered in Sungei Ujong for a considerable time. Apart from this harassing debt, the expenses are pre-eminently for "establishments," the construction of roads and bridges, and pensions to Rajahs whose former sources of revenue have been interfered with or abolished. The sources of revenue are to some extent remarkable, and it is possible that some of them might be altogether abolished if public attention became focussed upon them. Export duties are levied only on tin, the great product of Sungei Ujong, and gutta-percha. The chief import duty is on opium, and in 1879 this produced £4,182, or about one-fourth of the whole revenue. Besides this fruitful and growing source of income, £3,074 was raised in 1879 under the head "Farms;" a most innocuous designation of a system which has nothing to do with the "kindly fruits of the earth" at all, but with spirits, gambling, oil, salt, opium, and a lottery! In other words, the "farms" are so many monopolies, sold at intervals to the highest bidder, the "gambling farm" being the most lucrative of the lot to the Government, and of course to the "farmer"!
The prison expenses are happily small, and the hospital expenses also, owing mainly in the former case to the efforts of the "Capitans China," who are responsible for their countrymen, and in the latter to the extreme healthiness of the climate. The military police force now consists of a European superintendent, ninety-four constables, paid 45s. per month, and twelve officers, all Malays; but as it is Malay nature to desire a change, and it is found impossible to retain the men for any lengthened periods, it is proposed to employ Sikhs, as in Pêrak.
Sungei Ujong, like the other States of the Peninsula, is almost entirely covered with forests, now being cleared to some extent by tapioca, gambier, and coffee-planters. Its jungles are magnificent, its hill scenery very beautiful, and its climate singularly healthy. Pepper, coffee, tapioca, cinchona, and ipecacuanha, are being tried successfully; burnt earth, of which the natives have a great opinion, and leaf mould being used in the absence of other manure.
The rainfall is supposed to average 100 inches a year, and since thermometrical observations have been taken the mercury has varied from 68° to 92°. From the mangrove swamps at the mouths of turbid, sluggish rivers, where numberless alligators dwell in congenial slime, the State gradually rises inland, passing through all the imaginable wealth of tropical vegetation and produce till it becomes hilly, if not mountainous. Sparkling streams dash through limestone fissures, the air is clear, and the nights are fresh and cool. Its mineral wealth lies in its tin-mines, which have been worked mainly by Chinamen for a great number of years.
The British Resident, who was called in to act as adviser, is practically the ruler of this little State, and the arrangement seems to give tolerable satisfaction. At all events it has secured to Sungei Ujong since the war an amount of internal tranquillity which is not possessed by the adjacent States which are still under native rule, though probably the dread of British intervention and of being reduced to mere nominal sovereignty, being "pensioned off" in fact, keeps the Rajahs from indulging in the feuds and exactions of former years. Since my visit the Datu Klana died of dysentery near Jeddah in Arabia in returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, and three out of six of his followers perished of the same disease. The succession was quietly arranged, but the hope that the State to which its late ruler was intensely, even patriotically attached might remain prosperous under the new Rajah, has not been altogether fulfilled. Affairs are certainly not as satisfactory as they were, judging from recent official statements. The import of opium has largely increased. Rice planting had failed owing to the mortality and sickness among the buffaloes used in ploughing, the scanty crop was nearly destroyed by rats, and the Malays had shown a "determined opposition" to taking out titles to their lands.
The new Datu Klana is very unpopular, and so remarkably weak in character as not to be able to bring any influence to bear upon the settlement of any difficult question. The Datu Bandar (alluded to in my letter) is entirely opposed to progress of every kind, and, having a great deal of influence, obstructs the present Resident in every attempt to come to an understanding on the land grant question. A virulent cattle disease had put an end for the time being to cart traffic; and the Linggi, the great high-road to the tin-mines, had become so shallow that the means of water transport were very limited. Large numbers of jungle workers had returned to Malacca. The Resident's report shows very significantly the formidable difficulties which attend on the system of a "Dual Control," and on making any interference with "Malay custom" regarding land, etc. It is scarcely likely, however, that Sungei Ujong and the other feeble protected States which have felt the might of British arms, and are paying dearly through long years for their feeble efforts at independence, will ever seek to shake off the present system, which, on the whole, gives them security and justice.
SEMPANG POLICE STATION.
(At the junction of the Loboh-Chena, and Linggi rivers), Territory of the Datu Klana of Sungei Ujong, Malay Peninsula.
Jan. 24. 1 P.M. Mercury, 87°.
WE left Malacca at seven this morning in the small, unseaworthy, untrustworthy, unrigged steam-launch Moosmee, and after crawling for some hours at a speed of about five miles an hour along brown and yellow shores with a broad, dark belt of palms above them, we left the waveless, burning sea behind, and after a few miles of tortuous steaming through the mangrove swamps of the Linggi river, landed here to wait for sufficient water for the rest of our journey.
This is a promontory covered with cocoa-palms, bananas, and small jungle growths. On either side are small rivers densely bordered by mangrove swamps. The first sight of a real mangrove swamp is an event. This mangi-mangi of the Malays (the Rhizophera mangil of botanists) has no beauty. All along this coast within access of tidal waters there is a belt of it many miles in breadth, dense, impenetrable, from forty to fifty feet high, as nearly level as may be, and of a dark, dull green. At low water the mangroves are seen standing close packed along the shallow and muddy shores on cradles or erections of their own roots five or six feet high, but when these are covered at high tide they appear to be growing out of the water. They send down roots from their branches, and all too quickly cover a large space. Crabs and other shell-fish attach themselves to them, and aquatic birds haunt their slimy shades. They form huge breeding grounds for alligators and mosquitoes, and usually for malarial fevers, but from the latter the Peninsula is very free. The seeds germinate while still attached to the branch. A long root pierces the covering and grows rapidly downward from the heavy end of the fruit, which arrangement secures that when the fruit falls off the root shall at once become embedded in the mud. Nature has taken abundant trouble to insure the propagation of this tree, nearly worthless as timber. Strange to say, its fruit is sweet and eatable, and from its fermented juice wine can be made. The mangrove swamp is to me an evil mystery.
Behind, the jungle stretches out–who can say how far, for no European has ever penetrated it?–and out of it rise, jungle-covered, the Rumbow hills. The elephant, the rhinoceros, the royal tiger, the black panther, the boar, the leopard, and many other beasts roam in its tangled, twilight depths, but in this fierce heat they must be all asleep in their lairs. The Argus-pheasant too, one of the loveliest birds of a region whose islands are the home of the Bird of Paradise, haunts the shade, and the shade alone. In the jungle too, is the beautiful bantam fowl, the possible progenitor of all that useful race. The cobra, the python (?), the boa-constrictor, the viper, and at least fourteen other ophidians, are winding their loathsome and lissom forms through slimy jungle recesses; and large and small apes and monkeys, flying foxes, iguanas, lizards, peacocks, frogs, turtles, tortoises, alligators, besides tapirs, rarely seen, and the palandok or chevrotin, the hog deer, the spotted deer, and the sambre, may not be far off. I think that this part of the country, intersected by small, shallow, muddy rivers, running up through slimy mangrove swamps into a vast and impenetrable jungle, must be like many parts of Western Africa.
One cannot walk three hundred yards from this station, for there are no tracks. We are beyond the little territory of Malacca, but this bit of land was ceded to England after the "Malay disturbances" in 1875, and on it has been placed the Sempang police station, a four-roomed shelter, roofed with attap, a thatch made of the fronds of the nipah palm, supported on high posts,–an idea perhaps borrowed from the mangrove,–and reached by a ladder. In this four Malay policemen and a corporal have dwelt for three years to keep down piracy. "Piracy," by which these rivers were said to be infested, is a very ugly word, suggestive of ugly deeds, bloody attacks, black flags, and no quarter; but here it meant, in our use of the word at least, a particular mode of raising revenue, and no boat could go up or down the Linggi without paying black-mail to one or more river rajahs.
Our wretched little launch, moored to a cocoa-palm, flies a blue ensign, and the Malay policemen wear an imperial crown upon their caps,–both representing somewhat touchingly in this equatorial jungle the might of the small island lying far off amidst the fogs of the northern seas, and in this instance at least not her might only, but the security and justice of her rule.
Two or three canoes hollowed out of tree trunks have gone up and down the river since we landed, each of the inward bound being paddled by four men, who ply their paddles facing forward, which always has an aboriginal look, those going down being propelled by single, square sails made of very coarse matting. It is very hot and silent. The only sounds are the rustle of the palm fronds and the sharp din of the cicada, abruptly ceasing at intervals.
In this primitive police station the notices are in both Tamil and Arabic, but the reports are written in Arabic only. Soon after we sat down to drink fresh cocoa-nut milk, the great beverage of the country, a Malay bounded up the ladder and passed through us, with the most rapid and feline movements I have ever seen in a man. His large prominent eyes were fixed, tiger-like, on a rifle which hung on the wall, at which he darted, clutched it, and, with a feline leap, sprang through us again. I have heard much of amok running lately, and have even seen the two-pronged fork which was used for pinning a desperate amok runner to the wall, so that for a second I thought that this Malay was "running amuck;" but he ran down toward Mr. Hayward, our escort, and I ran after him, just in time to see a large alligator plunge from the bank into the water. Mr. Hayward took a steady aim at the remaining one, and hit him, when he sprang partly up as if badly wounded, and then plunged into the river after his companion, staining the muddy water with his blood for some distance.
Police Station, Permatang Pasir. Sungei Ujong, 5 P.M.–We are now in a native State, in the Territory of the friendly Datu Klana, Syed Abdulrahman, and the policemen wear on their caps not an imperial crown, but a crescent, with a star between its horns.
This is a far more adventurous expedition than we expected. Things are not going altogether as straight as could be desired, considering that we have the Governor's daughters with us, who, besides being very precious, are utterly unseasoned and inexperienced travelers, quite unfit for "roughing it." For one thing, it turns out to be an absolute necessity for us to be out all night, which I am very sorry for, as one of the girls is suffering from the effects of exposure to the intense heat of the sun.
We left Sempang at two, the Misses Shaw reeling rather than walking to the launch. I cannot imagine what the mercury was in the sun, but the copper sheathing of the gunwale was too hot to be touched. Above Sempang the river narrows and shoals rapidly, and we had to crawl, taking soundings incessantly, and occasionally dragging heavily over mud banks. We saw a large alligator sleeping in the sun on the mud, with a mouth, I should think, a third of the length of his body; and as he did not wake as we panted past him, a rifle was loaded and we backed up close to him; but Babu, who had the weapon, and had looked quite swaggering and belligerent so long as it was unloaded, was too frightened to fire; the saurian awoke, and his hideous form and corrugated hide plunged into the water, so close under the stern as to splash us. After this, alligators were so common, singly or in groups, or in families, that they ceased to be exciting. It is difficult for anything to produce continuous excitement under this fierce sun; and conversation, which had been flagging before noon, ceased altogether. It was awfully hot in the launch, between fire and boiler-heat and solar fury. I tried to keep cool by thinking of Mull, and powdery snow and frosty stars, but it would not do. It was a solemn afternoon, as the white, unwinking sun looked down upon our silent party, on the narrow turbid river, silent too, except for the occasional plunge of an alligator or other water monster–on mangrove swamps and nipah palms dense along the river side, on the blue gleam of countless kingfishers, on slimy creeks arched over to within a few feet of their surface by grand trees with festoon of lianas, on an infinite variety of foliage, on an abundance of slender-shafted palms, on great fruits brilliantly colored, on wonderful flowers on the trees, on the hoya carnosa and other waxen-leaved trailers matting the forest together and hanging down in great festoons, the fiery tropic sunblaze stimulating all this over-production into perennial activity, and vivifying the very mud itself.
Occasionally we passed a canoe with a "savage" crouching in it fishing, but saw no other trace of man, till an hour ago we came upon large cocoa groves, a considerable clearing in the jungle, and a very large Malayan-Chinese village with mosques, one on either side of the river, houses built on platforms over the water, large and small native boats covered and thatched with attap, roofed platforms on stilts answering the purpose of piers, bathing-houses on stilts carefully secluded, all forming the (relatively) important village of Permatang Pasir.
Up to this time we had expected to find perfectly smooth sailing, as a runner was sent from Malacca to the Resident yesterday. We supposed that we should be carried in chairs six miles through the jungle to a point where a gharrie could meet us, and that we should reach the Residency by nine to-night at the latest. On arriving at Sempang, Mr. Hayward had sent a canoe to this place with instructions to send another runner to the Resident; but
"The best laid schemes of men and mice gang aft aglee."The messenger seemed to have served no other purpose than to assemble the whole male population of Permatang Pasir on the shore–a sombre-faced throng, with an aloofness of manner and expression far from pleasing. The thatched piers were crowded with turbaned Mussulmen in their bajus or short jackets, full white trousers, and red sarongs or plaitless kilts–the boys dressed in silver fig-leaves and silver bangles only. All looked at our unveiled faces silently, and, as I thought, disapprovingly.
After being hauled up the pier with great difficulty, owing to the lowness of the water, we were met by two of the Datu Klana's policemen, who threw cold water on the idea of our getting on at all unless Captain Murray sent for us. These men escorted us to this police station,–a long walk through a lane of much decorated shops, exclusively Chinese, succeeded by a lane of detached Malay houses, each standing in its own fenced and neatly sanded compound under the shade of cocoa-palms and bananas. The village paths are carefully sanded and very clean. We emerged upon the neatly sanded open space on which this barrack stands, glad to obtain shelter, for the sun is still fierce. It is a genuine Malay house on stilts; but where there should be an approach of eight steps there is only a steep ladder of three round rungs, up which it is not easy to climb in boots! There is a deep veranda under an attap roof of steep slope, and at either end a low bed for a constable, with the usual very hard, circular Malay bolsters, with red silk ends, ornamented with gold and silk embroidery.
Besides this veranda there is only a sort of inner room, with just space enough for a table and four chairs. The wall is hung with rifles, krises, and handcuffs, with which a "Sam Slick" clock, an engraving from the Graphic, and some curious Turkish pictures of Stamboul, are oddly mixed up. Babu, the Hadji, having recovered from a sulk into which he fell in consequence of Mr. Hayward having quizzed him for cowardice about an alligator, has made everything (our very limited everything) quite comfortable, and, with as imposing an air as if we were in Government House, asks us when we will have dinner! One policeman has brought us fresh cocoa-nut milk, another sits outside pulling a small punkah, and two more have mounted guard over us. This stilted house is the barrack of eleven Malay constables. Under it are four guns of light calibre, mounted on carriages, and outside is a gong on which the policemen beat the hours.
At the river we were told that the natives would not go up the shallow, rapid stream by night, and now the corporal says that no man will carry us through the jungle; that trees are lying across the track; that there are dangerous swamp holes; that though the tigers which infest the jungle never attack a party, we might chance to see their glaring eyeballs; that even if men could be bribed to undertake to carry us, they would fall with us, or put us down and run away, for no better reason than that they caught sight of the "spectre bird" (the owl); and he adds, with a gallantry remarkable in a Mohammedan, that he should not care about Mr. Hayward, "but it would not do for the ladies." So we are apparently stuck fast, the chief cause for anxiety and embarrassment being that the youngest Miss Shaw is lying huddled up and shivering on one of the beds, completely prostrated by a violent sick headache, brought on by the heat of the sun in the launch. She declares that she cannot move; but our experienced escort, who much fears bilious fever for her, is resolved that she shall as soon as any means of transit can be procured. Heretofore, I have always traveled "without encumbrance." Is it treasonable to feel at this moment that these fair girls are one?
I. L. B.
BRITISH RESIDENCY, SERAMBANG, SUNGEI UJONG,
BY the date of my letter you will see that our difficulties have been surmounted. I continue my narrative in a temperature which, in my room–shaded though it is–has reached 87°. After hearing many pros and cons, and longing much for the freedom of a solitary traveler, I went out and visited the tomb of a famous Hadji, "a great prophet," the policeman said, who was slain in ascending the Linggi. It is a raised mound, like our churchyard graves, with a post at each end, and a jar of oil upon it, and is surrounded by a lattice of reeds on which curtains are hanging, the whole being covered with a thatched roof supported on posts.
The village looks prosperous, and the Chinaman as much at home as in China,–striving, thriving, and oblivious of everything but his own interests, the sole agent in the development of the resources of the country, well satisfied with our, or any rule, under which his gains are quick and safe.
There are village officers, or headmen, Pangulus, in all villages, and every hamlet of more than forty houses has its mosque and religious officials, though Mohammedanism does not recognize the need of a priesthood. If one see a man, with the upper part of his body unclothed, paddling a log canoe, face forward, one is apt to call him a savage, specially if he be dark-skinned; but the Malays would be much offended if they were called savages, and, indeed, they are not so. They have an elaborate civilization, etiquette, and laws of their own; are the most rigid of monotheists, are decently clothed, build secluded and tolerably comfortable houses, and lead domestic lives after their fashion, especially where they are too poor to be polygamists, though I am of opinion that the peculiar form of domesticity which we still cultivate to some extent in England, and which is largely connected with the fireside, cannot exist in a tropical country. After the obtrusive nudity and promiscuous bathing of the Japanese, there is something specially pleasing in the little secluded bathing sheds by the Malay rivers, used by one person at a time, who throws a sarong on the thatch to show that the shed is occupied.
Babu made some excellent soup, which, together with curry made with fresh cocoa-nut, was a satisfactory meal, and though only in a simple, white, Indian costume, he waited as grandly as at Malacca. Mr. Hayward's knowledge of the peculiarities of the Malay character, at last obtained our release from what was truly "durance vile." He sent for a boatman apart from his fellows, and induced him to make a bargain for taking us up the river at night; but the man soon returned in a state of great excitement, complaining that the villagers had set on him, and were resolved that we should not go up, upon which the police went down and interfered. Even after everything was settled, Miss Shaw was feeling so ill that she wanted to stay in the police station all night, at least; but Mr. Hayward and I, who consulted assiduously about her, were of opinion that we must move her, even if we had to carry her, for if she were going to have fever, I could nurse her at Captain Murray's, but certainly not in the veranda of a police station!
This worthy man, who is very brave, and used to facing danger–who was the first European to come up here, who acted as guide to the troops during the war, and afterward disarmed the population–positively quailed at having charge of these two fragile girls. "Oh," he repeated several times, "if anything were to happen to the Misses Shaw I should never get over it, and they don't know what roughing it is; they never should have been allowed to come." So I thought, too, as I looked at one of them lying limp and helpless on a Malay bed; but my share of the responsibility for them was comparatively limited. Doubtless his thoughts strayed, as mine did, to the days of traveling "without encumbrance." There was another encumbrance of a literal kind. They had a trunk! This indispensable impediment had been left at Malacca in the morning, and arrived in a four-paddled canoe just as we were about to start!
Mr. Hayward prescribed two tablespoonfuls of whisky for Miss Shaw, for it is somewhat of a risk to sleep out in the jungle at the rainy season, for the miasma rises twenty feet, and the day had been exceptionally hot. Our rather dismal procession started at seven, Mr. Hayward leading the way, carrying a torch made of strips of palm branches bound tightly together and dipped in gum dammar, a most inflammable resin; then a policeman; the sick girl, moaning and stumbling, leaning heavily on her sister and me; Babu, who had grown very plucky; a train of policemen carrying our baggage; and lastly, several torch-bearers, the torches dripping fire as we slowly and speechlessly passed along. It looked like a funeral or something uncanny. We crawled dismally for fully three-quarters of a mile to cut off some considerable windings of the river, crossed a stream on a plank bridge, and found our boat lying at a very high pier with a thatched roof.
The mystery of night in a strange place was wildly picturesque; the pale, greenish, undulating light of fireflies, and the broad, red waving glare of torches flashing fitfully on the skeleton pier, the lofty jungle trees, the dark, fast-flowing river, and the dark, lithe forms of our half-naked boatmen.
The prahu was a flattish-bottomed boat about twenty-two and a half feet long by six and a half feet broad, with a bamboo gridiron flooring resting on the gunwale for the greater part of its length. This was covered for seven feet in the middle by a low, circular roof, thatched with attap. It was steered by a broad paddle loosely lashed, and poled by three men who, standing at the bow, planted their poles firmly in the mud and then walked half-way down the boat and back again. All craft must ascend the Linggi by this laborious process, for its current is so strong that the Japanese would call it one long "rapid." Descending loaded with tin, the stream brings boats down with great rapidity, the poles being used only to keep them off the banks and shallows. Our boat was essentially "native."
The "Golden Chersonese" is very hot, and much infested by things which bite and sting. Though the mercury has not been lower than 80° at night since I reached Singapore, I have never felt the heat overpowering in a house; but the night on the river was awful, and after the intolerable blaze of the day the fighting with the heat and mosquitoes was most exhausting, crowded as we were into very close and uneasy quarters, a bamboo gridiron being by no means a bed of down. Bad as it was, I was often amused by the thought of the unusual feast which the jungle mosquitoes were having on the blood of four white people. If it had not been for the fire in the bow, which helped to keep them down by smoking them (and us), I at least should now be laid up with "mosquito fever."
The Misses Shaw and I were on a blanket on the gridiron under the roof, which just allowed of sitting up; Mr. Hayward, who had never been up the river before, and was anxious about the navigation, sat, vigilant and lynx-eyed, at the edge of it; Babu, who had wrapped himself in Oriental impassiveness and a bernouse, and Mr. Hayward's police attendant sat in front, all keeping their positions throughout the night as dutifully as the figures in a tableau vivant, and so we silently left Permatang Pasir for our jungle voyage of eighteen hours, in which time, by unintermitting hard work, we were propelled about as many miles, though some say twenty-nine.
No description could exaggerate the tortuosity of the Linggi or the abruptness of its windings. The boatmen measure the distance by turns. When they were asked when we should reach the end they never said in so many hours, but in so many turns.
Silently we glided away from the torchlight into the apparently impenetrable darkness, but the heavens, of which we saw a patch now and then, were ablaze with stars, and ere long the forms of trees above and around us became tolerably distinct. Ten hours of darkness followed as we poled our slow and tedious way through the forest gloom, with trees to right of us, trees to left of us, trees before us, trees behind us, trees above us, and, I may write, trees under us, so innumerable were the snags and tree trunks in the river. The night was very still,–not a leaf moved, and at times the silence was very solemn. I expected, indeed, an unbroken silence, but there were noises that I shall never forget. Several times there was a long shrill cry, much like the Australian "Coo-ee," answered from a distance in a tone almost human. This was the note of the grand night bird, the Argus pheasant, and is said to resemble the cry of the "orang-outang," the Jakkuns, or the wild men of the interior. A sound like the constant blowing of a steam-whistle in the distance was said to be produced by a large monkey. Yells, hoarse or shrill, and roars more or less guttural, were significant of any of the wild beasts with which the forest abounds, and recalled the verse in Psalm civ., "Thou makest darkness that it may be night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do move." Then there were cries as of fierce gambols, or of pursuit and capture, of hunter and victim; and at times, in the midst of profound stillness, came huge plungings, with accompanying splashings, which I thought were made by alligators, but which Captain Murray thinks were more likely the riot of elephants disturbed while drinking. There were hundreds of mysterious and unfamiliar sounds great and small, significant of the unknown beast, reptile, and insect world which the jungle hides, and then silences.
Sheet lightning, very blue, revealed at intervals the strong stream swirling past under a canopy of trees falling and erect, with straight stems one hundred and fifty feet high probably, surmounted by crowns of drooping branches; palms with their graceful plumage; lianas hanging, looping, twisting–their orange fruitage hanging over our heads; great black snags; the lithe, wiry forms of our boatmen always straining to their utmost; and the motionless white turban of the Hadji,–all for a second relieved against the broad blue flame, to be again lost in darkness.
The Linggi above Permatang Pasir, with its sharp turns and muddy hurry, is, I should say, from thirty to sixty feet wide, a mere pathway through the jungle. Do not think of a jungle, as I used to think of it, as an entanglement or thicket of profuse and matted scrub, for it is in these regions at least a noble forest of majestic trees, many of them supported at their roots by three buttresses, behind which thirty men could find shelter. On many of the top branches of these, other trees have taken root from seeds deposited by birds, and have attained considerable size; and all send down, as it appears, extraordinary cylindrical strands from two to six inches in diameter, and often one hundred and fifty feet in length, smooth and straight until they root themselves, looking like the guys of a mast. Under these giants stand the lesser trees grouped in glorious confusion,–cocoa, sago, areca, and gomuti palms, nipah and nibong palms, tree ferns fifteen and twenty feet high, the bread-fruit, the ebony, the damar, the india rubber, the gutta-percha, the cajeput, the banyan, the upas, the bombax or cotton tree, and hosts of others, many of which bear brilliant flowers, but have not yet been botanized; and I can only give such barbarous names as chumpaka, Kamooning, marbow, seum, dadap; and, loveliest of all, the waringhan, a species of ficus, graceful as a birch; and underneath these again great ferns, ground orchids, and flowering shrubs of heavy, delicious odor, are interlocked and interwoven. Oh that you could see it all! It is wonderful; no words could describe it, far less mine. Mr. Darwin says so truly that a visit to the tropics (and such tropics) is like a visit to a new planet. This new wonder-world, so enchanting, tantalizing, intoxicating, makes me despair, for I cannot make you see what I am seeing! Amidst all this wealth of nature and in this perennial summer heat I quite fail to realize that it is January, and that with you the withered plants are shriveling in the frost-bound earth, and that leafless twigs and the needles of half-starved pines are shivering under the stars in the aurora-lighted winter nights.
But to the jungle again, The great bamboo towers up along the river sides in its feathery grace, and behind it the much prized Malacca cane, the rattan, creeping along the ground or climbing trees and knotting them together, with its tough strands, from a hundred to twelve hundred feet in length, matted and matting together while ferns, selaginellas, and lycopodiums struggle for space in which to show their fragile beauty, along with hardier foliaceous plants, brown and crimson, green and crimson, and crimson flecked with gold; and the great and lesser trees alike are loaded with trailers, ferns, and orchids, among which huge masses of the elk-horn fern and the shining five-foot fronds of the Asplenium Nidus are everywhere conspicuous. Not only do orchids crowd the branches, and the hoya carnosa, the yam, the blue-blossomed Thunbergia, the vanilla (?), and other beautiful creepers, conceal the stems, while nearly every parasitic growth carries another parasite, but one sees here a filament carelessly dangling from a branch sustaining some bright-hued epiphyte of quaint mocking form; then a branch as thick as a clipper's mainmast reaches across the river, supporting a festooned trailer, from whose stalks hang, almost invisibly suspended, oval fruits, almost vermilion colored; then again the beautiful vanilla and the hoya carnosa vie with each other in wreathing the same tree; or an audacious liana, with great clusters of orange or scarlet blossoms, takes possession of several trees at once, lighting up the dark greenery with its flaming splotches; or an aspiring trailer, dexterously linking its feebleness to the strength of other plants, leaps across the river from tree to tree at a height of a hundred feet, and, as though in mockery, sends down a profusion of crimson festoons far out of reach. But it is as useless to attempt to catalogue as to describe. To realize an equatorial jungle one must see it in all its wonderment of activity and stillness–the heated, steamy stillness through which one fancies that no breeze ever whispers, with its colossal flowering trees, its green twilight, its inextricable involvement, its butterflies and moths, its brilliant but harsh voiced birds, its lizards and flying foxes, its infinite variety of monkeys,–sitting, hanging by hands or tails, leaping, grimacing, jabbering, pelting each other with fruits; and its loathsome saurians, lying in wait on slimy banks under the mangroves. All this and far more the dawn revealed upon the Linggi river; but strange to say, through all the tropic splendor of the morning, I saw a vision of the Trientalis Europeæ, as we saw it first on a mossy hillside in Glen Cannich!
GREATER MOTH ORCHID.
But I am forgetting that the night with its blackness and mystery came before the sunrise, that the stars seldom looked through the dense leafage, and that the pale green lamps of a luminous fungus here and there, and the cold blue sheet-lightning only served to intensify the solemnity of the gloom. While the blackest part of the night lasted the "view" was usually made up of the black river under the foliage, with scarcely ten yards of its course free from obstruction–great snags all along it sticking up menacingly, trees lying half or quite across it, with barely room to pass under them, or sometimes under water, when the boat "drave heavily" over them, while great branches brushed and ripped the thatch continually; and as one obstacle was safely passed, the rapidity of the current invariably canted us close on another, but the vigilant skill of the boatmen averted the slightest accident. "Jaga! Jaga!"–caution! caution!–was the constant cry. The most unpleasant sensations were produced by the constant ripping and tearing sounds as we passed under the low tunnel of vegetation, and by the perpetual bumping against timber.
The Misses Shaw passed an uneasy night. The whisky had cured the younger one of her severe sick headache, and she was the prey of many terrors. They thought that the boat would be ripped up; that the roof would be taken off; that a tree would fall and crush us; that the boatmen, when they fell overboard, as they often did, would be eaten by alligators; that they would see glaring eyeballs whenever the cry "Rimou!"–a tiger!–was raised from the bow; and they continually awoke me with news of something that was happening or about to happen, and were drolly indignant because they could not sleep; while I, a blasée old campaigner, slept whenever they would let me.
Day broke in a heavy mist, which disappeared magically at sunrise. As the great sun wheeled rapidly above the horizon and blazed upon us with merciless fierceness, all at once the jungle became vociferous. Loudly clattered the busy cicada, its simultaneous din, like a concentration of the noise of all the looms in the world, suddenly breaking off into a simultaneous silence; the noisy insect world chirped, cheeped, buzzed, whistled; birds hallooed, hooted, whooped, screeched; apes in a loud and not inharmonious chorus greeted the sun; and monkeys chattered, yelled, hooted, quarreled, and spluttered. The noise was tremendous. But the forest was absolutely still, except when some heavy fruit, over ripe, fell into the river with a splash. The trees above us were literally alive with monkeys, and the curiosity of some of them about us was so great that they came down on "monkey ropes" and branches for the fun of touching the roof of the boat with their hands while they hung by their tails. They were all full of frolic and mischief.
Then we had a slim repast of soda water and bananas, the Hadji worshiped with his face toward Mecca, and the boatmen prepared an elaborate curry for themselves, with salt fish for its basis, and for its tastiest condiment blachang–a Malay preparation much relished by European lovers of durion and decomposed cheese. It is made by trampling a mass of putrefying prawns and shrimps into a paste with bare feet. This is seasoned with salt. The smell is penetrating and lingering. Our men made the boat fast, rinsed their mouths, washed their hands, and ate, using their fingers instead of chopsticks. Poor fellows! they had done twelve hours of splendid work.
Then one of them prepared the betel nut for the rest. I think I have not yet alluded to this abominable practice of betel-nut chewing, which is universal among the inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula; the betel nut being as essential to a Malay as tobacco is to a Japanese, or opium to the confirmed Chinese opium-smoker. It is a revolting habit, and if a person speaks to you while he is chewing his "quid" of betel, his mouth looks as if it were full of blood. People say that the craving for stimulants is created by our raw, damp climate; but it is as strong here, at the equator, in this sunny, balmy air. I have not yet come across a region in which men, weary in body or spirit, are not seeking to stimulate or stupefy themselves. The Malay men and women being prohibited by the Koran from using alcohol, find the needed fillip in this nut, but it needs preparation before it suits their palates.
The betel nut is the fruit of the lovely, graceful, slender-shafted areca palm. This tree at six years old begins to bear about one hundred nuts a year, which grow in clusters, each nut being about the size of a nutmeg, and covered with a yellow, fibrous husk. The requisites for chewing are: a small piece of areca nut, a leaf of the Sirih or betel pepper, a little moistened lime, and, if you wish to be very luxurious, a paste made of spices. The Sirih leaf was smeared with a little fine lime taken from a brass box; on this was laid a little, brownish paste; on this, a bit of the nut; the leaf was then folded neatly round its contents, and the men began to chew, and to spit–the inevitable consequence. The practice stains the teeth black. I tasted the nut, and found it pungent and astringent, not tempting. The Malays think you look like a beast if you have white teeth.
ARECA PALM (Areca eatechu).
The heat was exhausting; the mercury 87° in the shade as early as 8.30, and we all suffered, more or less, from it in our cramped position and enforced inactivity. At nine, having been fourteen hours on the river, we came on a small cleared space, from which a bronzed, frank-faced man, dressed in white linen, hallooed to us jovially, and we were soon warmly greeted by Captain Murray, the British Resident in the State of Sungei Ujong. On seeing him, we hoped to find a gharrie and to get some breakfast; and he helped us on shore, as if our hopes were to be realized, and dragged us under the broiling sun to a long shed, the quarters of a hundred Chinese coolies, who are making a road through the jungle. We sat down on one of the long matted platforms, which serve them for beds, and talked; but there was no hint of breakfast; and we soon learned that the Malacca runner had not reached the Residency at all, and that the note sent from Permatang Pasir, which should have been delivered at 1 A.M., had not been received till 8 A.M., so that Captain Murray had not been able to arrange for our transport, and had had barely time to ride down to meet us at such "full speed," as a swampy and partially made road would allow. So our dreams of breakfast ended in cups of stewed tea, given to us by a half-naked Chinaman, and, to our chagrin, we had to go back to the boat and be poled up the shallowing and narrowing river for four hours more, getting on with difficulty, the boatmen constantly jumping into the water to heave the boat off mud banks.
When we eventually landed at Nioto, a small village, Captain Murray again met us, and we found a road; and two antiquated buggies, sent by a Chinaman, with their component parts much lashed together with rope. I charioteered one of these, with reins so short that I could only reach them by sitting on the edge of the seat, and a whip so short that I could not reach the pony with it. At a Chinese village some policemen brought us cocoa-nut milk. After that, the pony could not, or would not, go; and the Malay syce with difficulty got it along by dragging it, and we had to walk up every hill in the fierce heat of a tropic noon. At the large Chinese village of Rassa, a clever little Sumatra pony met us; and after passing through some roughish clearings, on which tapioca is being planted, we arrived here at 4 P.M., having traveled sixty miles in thirty-three hours.
POLICE STATION AT RASSA.
The Residency is on a steepish hill in the middle of an open valley, partially cleared and much defaced by tin diggings. The Chinese town of Serambang lies at the foot of the hill. The valley is nearly surrounded by richly wooded hills, some of them fully three thousand feet high. These, which stretch away to the northern State of Selângor, are bathed in indigo and cobalt, slashed with white here and there, where cool streams dash over forest-shaded ledges. The house consists of two attap roofed bungalows, united by their upper verandas. Below there are a garden of acclimatization and a lawn, on which the Resident instructs the bright little daughter of the Datu Klana in lawn tennis. It was very hot, but the afternoon airs were strong enough to lift the British ensign out of its heavy folds and to rustle the graceful fronds of the areca palms.
Food was the first necessity, then baths, then sleep, then dinner at 7.30, and then ten hours more sleep.
I. L. B.
RESIDENCY, SUNGEI UJONG,
WE have been here for four days. The heat is so great that it is wonderful that one can walk about in the sunshine; but the nights, though the mercury does not fall below 80°, are cool and refreshing, and the air and soil are both dry, though a hundred inches of rain fall in the year. These wooden bungalows are hot, for the attap roofs have no lining, but they are also airy. There is no one but myself at night in the one in which my room is, but this is nothing after the solitude of the great, rambling Stadthaus. Since we came a sentry has been on duty always, and a bull-dog is chained at the foot of the ladder which leads to both bungalows. But there is really nothing to fear from these "treacherous Malays." It is most curious to see the appurtenances of civilization in the heart of a Malay jungle, and all the more so because our long night journey up the Linggi makes it seem more remote than it is. We are really only sixty miles from Malacca.
The drawing-room has a good piano, and many tasteful ornaments, books, and china,–gifts from loving friends and relations in the far off home,–and is as livable as a bachelor would be likely to make it. There is a billiard table in the corridor. The dining-room, which is reached by going out of doors, with its red-tiled floor and walls of dark, unpolished wood, is very pretty. In the middle of the dinner table there is a reflecting lake for "hothouse flowers;" and exquisite crystal, menu cards with holders of Dresden china, four classical statuettes in Parian, with pine-apples, granadillas, bananas, pomegranates, and a durion blanda, are the "table decorations." The cuisine is almost too elaborate for a traveler's palate, but plain meat is rarely to be got, and even when procurable is unpalatable unless disguised. Curry is at each meal, but it is not made with curry powder. Its basis is grated cocoa-nut made into a paste with cocoa-nut milk, and the spices are added fresh. Turtles when caught are kept in a pond until they are needed, and we have turtle soup, stewed turtle, curried turtle and turtle cutlets ad nauseam. Fowls are at every meal, but never plain roasted or plain boiled. The first day there was broiled and stewed elephant trunk, which tastes much like beef.
Babu, who is always en grand tenue, has taken command of everything and saves our host all trouble. He carves at the sideboard, scolds the servants in a stage whisper, and pushes them indignantly aside when they attempt to offer anything to "his young ladies," reduces Captain Murray's butler to a nonentity, and as far as he can turns the Residency into Government House, waiting on us assiduously in our rooms, and taking care of our clothes. The dinner bell is a bugle.
In houses in these regions there is always a brick-floored bathroom, usually of large size, under your bedroom, to which you descend by a ladder. This is often covered by a trap-door, which is sometimes concealed by a couch, and in order to descend the sofa cushion is lifted. Here it is an open trap in the middle of the room. A bath is a necessity–not a luxury–so near the equator, and it is usual to take one three, four, or even five times a day, with much refreshment. One part of Babu's self-imposed duty is to look under our pillows for snakes and centipedes, and the latter have been found in all our rooms.
I must now make you acquainted with our host, Captain Murray. He was appointed when the Datu Klana asked for a Resident four years ago. He devotes himself to Sungei Ujong as if it were his own property, though he has never been able to acquire the language. He is a man about thirty-eight, a naval officer, and an enterprising African traveler; under the middle height, bronzed, sun-browned, disconnected in his conversation from the habit of living without any one in or out of the house to speak to; professing a misanthropy which he is very far from feeling, for he is quite unsuspicious, and disposed to think the best of every one; hasty when vexed, but thoroughly kind-hearted; very blunt, very undignified, never happy (he says) out of the wilds; thoroughly well disposed to the Chinese and Malays, but very impatient of their courtesies, thoroughly well meaning, thoroughly a gentleman, but about the last person that I should have expected to see in a position which is said to require much tact if not finesse. His success leads me to think, as I have often thought before, that if we attempt to deal with Orientals by their own methods, we are apt to find them more than a match for us, and that thorough honesty is the best policy.
He lives alone, unguarded; trusts himself by night and day without any escort among the people; keeps up no ceremony at all, and is approachable at all hours. Like most travelers, he has some practical knowledge of medicine, and he gives advice and medicines most generously, allowing himself to be interrupted by patients at all hours. There is no doctor nearer than Malacca. He has been so successful that people come from the neighboring States for his advice. There is very little serious disease, but children are subject to a loathsome malady called puru. Two were brought with it to-day. The body and head are covered with pustules containing matter, looking very much like small-pox, and the natives believe that it must run its course for a year. Captain Murray cures it in a few days with iodide of potassium and iodine, and he says that it is fast disappearing.
Captain Murray is judge, "sitting in Equity," Superintendent of Police, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Surveyor of Taxes, besides being Board of Trade, Board of Works, and I know not what besides. In fact, he is the Government, although the Datu Klana's signature or seal is required to confirm a sentence of capital punishment, and possibly in one or two other cases; and his Residential authority is subject only to the limitations of his own honor and good sense, sharpened somewhat, were he other than what he is, by possible snubs from the Governor of the Straits Settlements or the Colonial Secretary. He is a thoroughly honorable man, means well by all the interests of his little kingdom, and seems both beloved and trusted.
On Sunday morning we had English service and a sermon, the congregation being augmented by the only other English people–a man from Australia who is here road-making, and his wife; and in the afternoon, disregarding a temperature of 85°, we went through the Chinese village of Serambang.
Tin is the staple product of Sungei Ujong, and until lately the Malay peninsula and the adjacent regions were supposed to be the richest tin producing countries in the world. There is not a single tin mine, however, properly so-called. The whole of the tin exported from Sungei Ujong, which last year (1879), even at its present reduced price, was valued at £81,400, and contributed as export duty to the Government £5,800, is found in the detritus of ancient mountains, and is got, in mining parlance, in "stream works"–that is, by washing the soil, just as gold is washed out of the soil in Australia and California. It is supposed that there is a sufficient supply to last for ages, even though the demand for tin for new purposes is always on the increase. It is tin mining which has brought the Chinese in such numbers to these States, and as miners and smelters they are equally efficient and persevering. In 1828, the number of Chinese working the mines here was one thousand; and in the same year they were massacred by the Malays. They now number ten thousand, and under British protection have nothing to fear.
It is still the New Year holidays, and hundreds of Chinamen were lounging about, and every house was gayly decorated. The Malays never join house to house, the Chinese always do so, and this village has its streets and plaza. The houses are all to a certain extent fire-proof–that is, when a fire occurs, and the attap-thatched roofs are burned, the houses below, which are mostly shops, are safe. These shops, some of which are very large, are nearly dark. They deal mainly in Chinese goods and favorite Chinese articles of food, fireworks, mining tools, and kerosene oil. In one shop twenty "assistants," with only their loose cotton trousers on, were sitting at round tables having a meal–not their ordinary diet, I should think, for they had seventeen different sorts of soups and stews, some of them abominations to our thinking.
We visited the little joss-house, very gaudily decorated, the main feature of the decorations being two enormous red silk umbrellas, exquisitely embroidered in gold and silks. The crowds in this village remind me of Canton, but the Chinese look anything but picturesque here, for none of them–or at all events, only their "Capitans"–wear the black satin skull cap; and their shaven heads, with the small patch of hair which goes into the composition of the pigtail, look very ugly. The pigtail certainly begins with this lock of hair, but the greater part of it is made up of silk or cotton thread plaited in with the hair, and blue or red strands of silk in a pigtail indicate mourning or rejoicing. None of the Chinese here wear the beautiful long robes used by their compatriots in China and Japan. The rich wear a white, shirt-like garment of embroidered silk crêpe over their trousers and petticoat, and the poorer only loose blue or brown cotton trousers, so that one is always being reminded of the excessive leanness of their forms. Some of the rich merchants invited us to go in and drink champagne, but we declined everything but tea, which is ready all day long in teapots kept hot in covered baskets very thickly padded, such as are known with us as "Norwegian Kitchens."
In the middle of the village there is a large, covered, but open-sided building like a market, which is crowded all day–and all night too–by hundreds of these poor, half-naked creatures standing round the gaming tables, silent, eager, excited, staking every cent they earn on the turn of the dice, living on the excitement of their gains–a truly sad spectacle. Probably we were the first European ladies who had ever walked through the gambling-house, but the gamblers were too intent even to turn their heads. There also they are always drinking tea. Some idea of the profits made by the men who "farm" the gambling licenses may be gained from the fact that the revenue derived by the Government from the gambling "farms" is over £900 a year.
Spirits are sold in three or four places, and the license to sell them brings in nearly £700 a year, but a drunken Chinaman is never seen. There are a few opium inebriates, lean like skeletons, and very vacant in expression; and every coolie smokes his three whiffs of opium every night. Only a few of the richer Chinamen have wives, and there are very few women, as is usual in a mining population.
A good many roads have been made in the State, and the Chinese are building buggies, gharries, and wagons, and many of the richer ones own them and import Sumatra ponies to draw them. To say that the Chinese make as good emigrants as the British is barely to give them their due. They have equal stamina and are more industrious and thrifty, and besides that they are always sober, can bear with impunity the fiercest tropical heat, and can thrive and save where Englishmen would starve. The immense immigration of Chinese, all affiliated to clubs or secret societies, might be a great risk to the peace of the State were it not that they recognize certain leaders known as "Capitans China," who contrive to preserve order, so far as is known by a wholesome influence merely; and who in all cases, in return for the security which property enjoys under our flag, work cordially with the Resident in all that concerns the good of the State. How these "Capitans" are elected, and how they exercise their authority, is as inscrutable as most else belonging to the Chinese. The Chinese seem not so much broadly patriotic as provincial or clannish, and the "Hoeys," or secret societies, belong to the different southern provinces. The fights between the factions, and the way in which the secret societies screen criminals by false swearing and other means, are among the woes of the Governor and Lieutenant-Governors of these Settlements. Though they get on very well up here, thanks to the "Capitan China," the clans live in separate parts of the village, have separate markets and gaming houses, and a wooden arch across the street divides the two "Nations."
We went to pay complimentary visits for the New Year to these "Capitans" with the Malay interpreter, and were received with a curious mixture of good-will and solemnity. Wine, tea and sweetmeats were produced at each house. Their houses are very rude, considering their ample means, and have earthen floors. They have comfortable carriages, and their gentle, sweet-mannered children were loaded with gold and diamonds. In one house, a sweet little girl handed round the tea and cake, and all, even to babies who can scarcely toddle across the floor, came up and shook hands. A Chinese family impresses one by its extreme orderliness, filial reverence being regarded as the basis of all the virtues. The manners of these children are equally removed from shyness and forwardness. They all wore crowns of dark red gold of very beautiful workmanship, set with diamonds. When these girl-children are twelve years old, they will, according to custom, be strictly secluded, and will not be seen by any man but their father till the bridegroom lifts the veil at the marriage ceremony.
After these visits, in which the "Capitans China," through the interpreter, assured us of their perpetual and renewed satisfaction with British rule, Mr. Hayward, the interpreter, and I, paid another visit of a more leisurely kind to one of the Chinese gambling houses, which, as usual, was crowded. At one end several barbers were at work. A Chinaman is always being shaved, for he keeps his head and face quite smooth, and never shaves himself. The shaving the head was originally a sign of subjection imposed by the Tartar conquerors, but it is now so completely the national custom that prisoners feel it a deep disgrace when their hair is allowed to grow. Coolies twist their five feet of pigtail round their heads while they are at work, but a servant or other inferior, only insults his superior if he enter his presence with his pigtail otherwise than pendent. The gaming house, whose open sides allow it to present a perpetual temptation, is full of tables, and at each sits a croupier, well clothed, and as many half-naked Chinamen as can see over each others' shoulders crowd round him. Their silent, concentrated eagerness is a piteous sight, as the cover is slowly lifted from the heavy brass box in which the dice are kept, on the cast of which many of them have staked all they possess. They accept their losses as they do their gains, with apparent composure. They work very hard, and live on very little; but they are poor just now, for the price of tin has fallen nearly one-half in consequence of the great tin discoveries in Australia.
Along with Mr. Hayward I paid a visit to the Court House, a large whitewashed room, with a clean floor of red tiles, a tiled dais, with a desk for the judge, a table with a charge sheet and some books upon it, and three long benches at the end for witnesses and their friends. A punkah is kept constantly going. There are a clerk, a Chinese interpreter, who speaks six Chinese dialects, and a Malay interpreter, who puts the Chinese interpreter's words into English. As the judge does not understand Malay, it will be observed that justice depends on the fidelity of this latter official. Though I cannot say that the dignity of justice is sustained in this court, there is not a doubt that the intentions of the judge are excellent, and if some of the guilty escape, it is not likely that any of the innocent suffer. The Datu Bandar sometimes sits on the bench with the Resident.
The benches were crowded almost entirely with Chinamen, and a number of policemen stood about. I noticed that these were as anxious as our own are to sustain a case. The case which I heard, and which occupied more than an hour, was an accusation against a wretched Chinaman for stealing a pig. I sat on the bench and heard every word that was said, and arrived at no judicial conclusion, nor did the Resident, so the accused was dismissed. He did steal that pig though! I don't see how truth can be arrived at in an Oriental court, especially where the witnesses are members of Chinese secret societies. Another case of alleged nocturnal assault, was tried, in which the judge took immense pains to get at the truth, and the prisoner had every advantage; and when he was found guilty, was put into a good jail, from which he will be taken out daily to work on the roads.
Malays being Mussulmen, are mostly tried by the "Divine Law" of the Koran, and Chinamen are dealt with "in equity." The question to be arrived at simply is, "Did the prisoner commit this crime or did he not?" If he did he is punished, and if he did not he is acquitted. There are no legal technicalities by which trial can be delayed or the ends of justice frustrated. Theft is the most common crime. One hundred and fourteen persons were convicted last year, which does not seem a large proportion (being less than one per cent.) out of an unsettled mining population of twelve thousand. Mr. Hayward, through whose hands the crime of Singapore and Malacca has filtered for twenty years, was very critical on the rough and ready method of proceeding here, and constantly interjected suggestions, such as "You don't ask them questions before you swear them," etc. Informal as its administration is, I have no doubt that justice is substantially done, for the Resident is conscientious and truly honorable. He is very lovable, and is evidently much beloved, and is able to go about in unguarded security.
It is not far from the Court House to the prison, a wholesomely situated building on a hill, made of concrete, with an attap roof. The whole building is one hundred feet long by thirty feet broad. There are six cells for solitary confinement. A jailer, turnkey, and eight warders constitute the prison staff. The able-bodied prisoners are employed on the roads and other public works, and attend upon the scavengers' cart, which outcome of civilization goes round every morning! The diet, which costs fourpence a day for each prisoner, consists of rice and salt fish, but those who work get two-pence halfpenny a day in addition, with which they can either buy luxuries or accumulate a small sum against the time when their sentences expire. Old and weakly people do light work about the prison. One man was executed for murder last year under a sentence signed by the Datu Klana. I have not been in a prison since I was in that den of horrors, the prison of the Naam-Hoi magistrate at Canton, and I felt a little satisfaction in the contrast.
The same afternoon we all made a very pleasant expedition to the Sanitarium, a cabin which the Resident has built on a hill three miles from here. A chair with four Chinese bearers carried Miss Shaw up, her sister and the two gentlemen walked, and I rode a Sumatra pony, on an Australian stockman's saddle, not only up the steep jungle path, but up a staircase of two hundred steps in which it terminates, the sagacious animal going up quite cunningly. One charm of a tropical jungle is that every few yards you come upon something new, and every hundred feet of ascent makes a decided difference in the vegetation. This is a very grand forest, with its straight, smooth stems running up over one hundred feet before branching, and the branches are loaded with orchids and trailers. One cannot see what the foliage is like which is borne far aloft into the summer sunshine, but on the ground I found great red trumpet flowers and crimson corollas, like those of a Brobdingnagian honeysuckle, and flowers like red dragon-flies enormously magnified, and others like large, single roses in yellow wax, falling slowly down now and then, messengers from the floral glories above, "wasting (?) their sweetness on the desert air." A traveler through a tropical jungle may see very few flowers and be inclined to disparage it. It is necessary to go on adjacent rising ground and look down where trees and trailers are exhibiting their gorgeousness. Unlike the coarse weeds which form so much of the undergrowth in Japan, everything which grows in these forests rejoices the eye by its form or color; but things which hurt and sting and may kill, lurk amidst all the beauties. A creeping plant with very beautiful waxy leaves, said by Captain Murray to be vanilla, grows up many of the trees.
When we got up to the top of this, which the Resident calls "Plantation Hill," I was well pleased to find that only the undergrowth had been cleared away, and that "The Sanitarium" consists only of a cabin with a single room divided into two, and elevated on posts like a Malay house. The deep veranda which surrounds it is reached by a step-ladder. A smaller house could hardly be, or a more picturesque one, from the steepness and irregularity of its roof. The cook-house is a small attap shed, in a place cut into the hill, and an inclosure of attap screens with a barrel in it under the house is the bath-room. The edge of the hill, from which a few trees have been cleared, is so steep that but for a bamboo rail one might slip over upon the tree-tops below. Some Liberian coffee shrubs, some tea, cinchona, and ipecacuanha, and some heartless English cabbages, are being grown on the hillside, and the Resident hopes that the State will have a great future of coffee.
The view in all directions was beautiful–to the north a sea of densely wooded mountains with indigo shadows in their hollows; to the south the country we had threaded on the Linggi river, forests, and small tapioca clearings, little valleys where rice is growing, and scars where tin-mining is going on; the capital, the little town of Serambang with its larger clearings, and to the west the gleam of the shining sea. In the absence of mosquitoes we were able to sit out till after dark, a rare luxury. There was a gorgeous sunset of the gory, furnace kind, which one only sees in the tropics–waves of violet light rolling up over the mainland, and the low Sumatran coast looking like a purple cloud amidst the fiery haze.
Dinner was well cooked, and served with coffee after it, just as at home. The primitive bath-room was made usable by our eleven servants and chair-bearers being sent to the hill, where the two gentlemen mounted guard over them. After dark the Chinamen made the largest bonfire I ever saw, or at all events the most brilliant, with trunks of trees and pieces of gum dammar, several pounds in weight, which they obtained by digging, and this was kept up till day-light, throwing its splendid glare over the whole hill-top, lighting up the forest, and bringing the cabin out in all its picturesqueness.
I should have liked to be there some time to study the ways of a tribe of ants. Near the cabin, under a large tree, there was an ant-dwelling, not exactly to be called an ant-hill, but a subterranean ant-town, with two entrances. Into this an army of many thousand largish ants, in an even column three and a half inches wide, marched continually, in well "dressed" ranks, about twenty-seven in each, with the regularity of a crack regiment on the "march past," over all sorts of inequalities, rough ground, and imbedded trunks of small trees, larger ants looking like officers marching on both sides of the column, and sometimes turning back as if to give orders. Would that Sir John Lubbock had been there to interpret their speech!
Each ant of the column bore a yellowish burden, not too large to interfere with his activity. A column marshaled in the same fashion, but only half the width of the other, emerged equally continuously from the lower entrance. From the smaller size of this column I suppose that a number of the carrier ants remain within, stowing away their burdens in store-houses. Attending this latter column for eighteen paces, I came upon a marvelous scene of orderly activity. A stump of a tree, from which the outer bark had been removed, leaving an under layer apparently permeated with a rich, sweet secretion, was completely covered with ants, which were removing the latter in minute portions. Strange to say, however, a quantity of reddish ants of much larger size and with large mandibles seemed to do the whole work of stripping off this layer. They were working from above, and had already bared some inches of the stump, which was four feet six inches in diameter. As the small morsels fell among the myriads of ants which swarmed round the base they were broken up, three or four ants sometimes working at one bit till they had reduced it into manageable portions. It was a splendid sight to see this vast and busy crowd inspired by a common purpose, and with the true instinct of discipline, forever forming into column at the foot of the stump.
Toward dusk the reddish ants, which may be termed quarriers, gave up work, and this was the signal for the workers below to return home. The quarriers came down the stump pushing the laborers, rather rudely as I thought, out of their way; and then forming in what might be called "light skirmishing order," they marched to the lower entrance of the town, meeting as they went the column of workers going up to the stump. They met it of course at once, and a minute of great helter-skelter followed, this column falling back on itself as if assailed, in great confusion. If this be the ordinary day's routine, why does that column fall into confusion, and why, after throwing it into disorder, do the reddish ants close their ranks and march into the town in compact order, parallel with the working column going the other way, and which they seemed to terrorize? Is it possible that the smaller ants are only slaves of the larger? Inscrutable are the ways of ants! However, when the advancing column had recovered from its confusion it formed up, and, wheeling round in most regular order, fell behind the rear-guard of the working column, and before dark not an ant remained outside except a dead body.
Soon after the last of its living comrades had disappeared, six ants, with a red one (dare I say?) "in command," came out and seemed to hold a somewhat fussy consultation round the corpse which had fallen on the line of march to the stump. After a minute or two, three of them got hold of it, and with the other four as spectators or mourners, they dragged it for about six feet and concealed it under a leaf, after which they returned home; all this was most fascinating. A little later Captain Murray destroyed both entrances to the town, but before daylight, by dint of extraordinary labor, they were reconstructed lower down the slope, and the work at the stump was going on as if nothing so unprecedented had happened.
I should have liked also to study the ways of the white ant, the great timber-destroying pest of this country, which abounds on this hill. He is a large ant of a pale buff color. Up the trunk of a tree he builds a tunnel of sand, held together by a viscid secretion, and under this he works, cutting a deep groove in the wood, and always extending the tunnel upward. I broke away two inches of such a tunnel in the afternoon, and by the next morning it was restored. Among many other varieties of ants, there is one found by the natives, which people call the "soldier ant." I saw many of these big fellows, more than an inch long, with great mandibles. Their works must be on a gigantic scale, and their bite or grip very painful; but being with a party, I was not able to make their acquaintance.
When it grew dark, tiny lamps began to move in all directions. Some came from on high, like falling stars, but most moved among the trees a few feet from the ground with a slow undulatory motion, the fire having a pale blue tinge, as one imagines an incandescent sapphire might have. The great tree-crickets kept up for a time the most ludicrous sound I ever heard–one sitting in a tree and calling to another. From the deafening noise, which at times drowned our voices, one would suppose the creature making it to be at least as large as an eagle.
The accommodation of the "Sanitarium" is most limited. The two gentlemen, well armed, slept in the veranda, the Misses Shaw in camp beds in the inner cabin, and I in a swinging cot in the outer, the table being removed to make room for it. The bull-dog mounted guard over all, and showed his vigilance by an occasional growl. The eleven attendants stowed themselves away under the cabin, except a garrulous couple, who kept the fire blazing till daylight. My cot was most comfortable, but I failed to sleep. The forest was full of quaint, busy noises, broken in upon occasionally by the hoot of the "spectre bird," and the long, low, plaintive cry of some animal.
All the white residents in the Malacca Settlements have been greatly excited about a tragedy which has just occurred at the Dindings, off this coast, in which Mr. Lloyd, the British superintendent, was horribly murdered by the Chinese; his wife, and Mrs. Innes, who was on a visit to her, narrowly escaping the same fate. Lying awake I could not help thinking of this, and of the ease with which the Resident could be overpowered and murdered by any of our followers who might have a grudge against him, when, as I thought, the door behind my head from the back ladder was burst open, and my cot and I came down on the floor at the head, the simple fact being, that the head-rope, not having been properly secured, gave way with a run. An hour afterward the foot-ropes gave way, and I was deposited on the floor altogether, and was soon covered with small ants.
Early in the morning the apes began to call to each other with a plaintive "Hoo-houey," and in the gray dawn I saw an iguana fully four feet long glide silently down the trunk of a tree, the branches of which were loaded with epiphytes. Captain Shaw asked the imaum of one of the mosques of Malacca about alligator's eggs a few days ago, and his reply was, that the young that went down to the sea became alligators, and those which came up the rivers became iguanas. At daylight, after coffee and bananas, we left the hill, and after an accident, promptly remedied by Mr. Hayward, reached Serambang when the sun was high in the heavens. I should think that there are very few circumstances which Mr. Hayward is not prepared to meet. He has a reserve of quiet strength which I should like to see fully drawn upon. He has the scar of a spear wound on his brow, which Captain Murray says was received in holding sixty armed men at bay, while he secured the retreat of some helpless persons. Yet he continues to be much burdened by his responsibility for these fair girls, who, however, are enjoying themselves thoroughly, and will be none the worse.
We had scarcely returned when a large company of Chinamen, carrying bannerets and joss-sticks, came to the Residency to give a spectacle or miracle-play, the first part consisting of a representation of a huge dragon, which kicked, and jumped, and crawled, and bellowed in a manner totally unworthy of that ancient and splendid myth; and the second, of a fierce mêlée, or succession of combats with spears, shields, and battle-axes. The performances were accompanied by much drumming, and by the beating of tom-toms, an essentially infernal noise, which I cannot help associating with the orgies of devil-worship. The "Capitan China," in a beautiful costume, sat with us in the veranda to see the performance.
I have written a great deal about the Chinese and very little about the Malays, the nominal possessors of the country, but the Chinese may be said to be everywhere, and the Malays nowhere. You have to look for them if you want to see them. Besides, the Chinese are as ten to two of the whole population. Still the laws are administered in the name of the Datu Klana, the Malay ruler. The land owned by Malays is being measured, and printed title-deeds are being given, a payment of 2s. an acre per annum being levied instead of any taxes on produce. Export duties are levied on certain articles, but the navigation of the rivers is free. Debt slavery, one curse of the Malay States, has been abolished by the energy of Captain Murray with the cordial co-operation of the Datu Klana, and now the whole population have the status and rights of free men. It is a great pity that this Prince is in Malacca, for he is said to be a very enlightened ruler. The photograph which I inclose (from which the engraving is taken) is of the marriage of his daughter, a very splendid affair. The buffalo in front was a marriage present from the Straits Government, and its covering was of cloth of gold thick with pearls and precious stones.
A BRITISH MARRIAGE PRESENT.
We visited yesterday a Malay kampong called Mambu, in order to pay an unceremonious visit to the Datu Bandar, the Rajah second in rank to the reigning prince. His house, with three others, a godown on very high stilts, and a mound of graves whitened by the petals of the Frangipani, with a great many cocoa-nut and other trees, was surrounded, as Malay dwellings often are, by a high fence, within which was another inclosing a neat, sanded level, under cocoa-palms, on which his "private residence" and those of his wives stand. His secretary, a nice-looking lad in red turban, baju, and sarong, came out to meet us, followed by the Datu Bandar, a pleasant, able-looking man, with a cordial manner, who shook hands and welcomed us. No notice had been given of our visit, and the Rajah, who is reclaiming and bringing into good cultivation much of his land, and who sets the example of working with his own hands, was in a checked shirt, and a common, checked, red sarong. Vulgarity is surely a disease of the West alone, though, as in Japan, one sees that it can be contagious, and this Oriental, far from apologizing for his déshabille, led us up the steep and difficult ladder by which his house is entered with as much courteous ease as if he had been in his splendors.
I thoroughly liked his house. It is both fitting and tasteful. We stepped from the ladder into a long corridor, well-matted, which led to a doorway with a gold-embroidered silk or valance, and a looped-up portière of white-flowered silk or crêpe. This was the entrance to a small room very well proportioned, with two similar doorways, curtained with flowered silk, one leading to a room which we did not see, and the other to a bamboo gridiron platform, which in the better class of Malay houses always leads to a smaller house at the back, where cooking and other domestic operations are carried on, and which seems given up to the women. There was a rich, dim light in the room, which was cool and wainscoted entirely with dark red wood, and there was only one long, low window, with turned bars of the same wood. There were three handsome cabinets with hangings of gold and crimson embroidery, and an ebony frame containing a verse of the Koran in Arabic characters hung over one doorway. In accordance with Mohammedan prohibitions, there was no decoration which bore the likeness of any created thing, but there were some artistic arabesques under the roof. The furniture, besides the cabinets, consisted of a divan, several ebony chairs, a round table covered with a cool yellow cloth, and a table against the wall draped with crimson silk flowered with gold. The floor was covered with fine matting, over which were Oudh rugs in those mixtures of toned-down rich colors which are so very beautiful. Richness and harmony characterized the room, and it was distinctively Malay; one could not say that it reminded one of anything except of the flecked and colored light which streams through dark, old, stained glass.
The Datu Bandar's brother and uncle came in, the first a very handsome Hadji, with a bright, intelligent countenance. He has lived in Mecca for eight years studying the Koran under a renowned teacher, and in this quest of Mussulman learning has spent several thousand dollars. "We never go to Mecca to trade," he said; "we go for religious purposes only." These men looked superb in their red dresses and turbans, although the Malays are anything but a handsome race. Their hospitality was very graceful. Many of the wealthier Mohammedans, though they don't drink wine, keep it for their Christian guests, and they offered us champagne, which is supposed to be an irresistible temptation to the Christian palate. On our refusing it they brought us cow's milk and most delicious coffee with a very fragrant aroma, and not darker in color than tea of an average strength. This was made from roasted coffee leaves. The berries are exported. A good many pretty, quiet children stood about, but though the Rajah gave us to understand that they were the offspring of three mothers, we were not supposed to see any of "the mean ones within the gates."
Our hosts had a good deal to say, and did not leave us to entertain them, though we are but "infidel dogs." That we are regarded as such, along with all other unbelievers, always makes me feel shy with Mohammedans. Some time ago, when Captain Shaw pressed on the Malays the impropriety of shooting Chinamen, as they were then in the habit of doing, the reply of one of them was, "Why not shoot Chinamen? they've no religion;" and though it would be highly discourteous in members of a ruled race to utter this sentiment regarding their rulers, I have not the least doubt that it is their profound conviction concerning ourselves.
Nothing shows more the honesty and excellence of Captain Murray's purposes than that he should be as much respected and loved as he is in spite of a manner utterly opposed to all Oriental notions of dignity, whether Malay or Chinese. I have mentioned his abruptness, as well as his sailor-like heartiness, but they never came into such strong relief as at the Datu Bandar's, against the solemn and dignified courtesy of our hosts.
We returned after dark, had turtle-soup and turtle-steak, not near so good as veal, which it much resembles, for dinner; sang "Auld Lang Syne," which brought tears into the Resident's kindly eyes, and are now ready for an early start to-morrow.
Stadthaus, Malacca.–We left Serambang before daylight on Thursday in buggies, escorted by Captain Murray, the buggies, as usual, being lent by the Chinese "Capitans." Horses had been sent on before, and after changing them we drove the second stage through most magnificent forest, until they could no longer drag the buggies through the mud, at which point of discomfiture three saddled ponies and two chairs were waiting to take us through the jungle to the river. We rode along an infamous track, much of it knee-deep in mud, through a green and silent twilight, till we emerged upon something like English park and fox-cover scenery, varied by Malay kampongs under groves of palms. In the full blaze of noon we reached the Linggi police station, from which we had started in the sampan, and were received by a company of police with fixed bayonets. We dined in the police station veranda, and as the launch had been obliged to drop down the river because the water was falling, we went to Sempang in a native boat, paddled by four Malays with paddles like oval-ended spades with spade handles, a guard of honor of policemen going down with us. There we took leave of our most kind and worthy host, who, with tears in his kind eyes, immediately turned up the river to dwell alone in his bungalow with his bull-dog, his revolver, and his rifle, a self-exiled man.*
After it grew dark we had the splendid sight of a great tract of forest on fire close to the sea. We landed here at a pier eight hundred feet long, accessible to launches at high water, where several peons and two inspectors of police met us. Our expedition has been the talk of the little foreign world of Malacca. We had an enthusiastic welcome at Government House, but Captain Shaw says he will never forgive himself for not writing to Captain Murray in time to arrange our transport, and for sending us off so hurriedly with so little food, but I hope by reiteration to convince him that thereby we gained the night on the Linggi river, which, as a traveling experience, is worth all the rest.
I. L. B.
* A number of small States are united into a sort of confederation known as the Negri Sembilan, or Nine States. Their relative positions and internal management, as well as their boundaries, remain unknown, as from dread of British annexation they have refused to allow Europeans to pass through their territory.
* In 1881, Captain Murray, feeling ill after prolonged exposure to the sun, went to Malacca, where he died a few days afterward at the house of his friend Mr. Hayward. Sir F. A. Weld writes of him in a dispatch to Lord Kimberley:–"I cannot close this notice of the State of Sungei Ujong without recalling the memory of Captain Murray, so lately its Resident, to whom it owes much, and who was devoted to its people and interests. A man of great honesty of purpose and kindliness of heart, Captain Murray possessed many of those qualities which are required for the successful administration of a Malay State, and though he labored under the disadvantage of want of knowledge of the native tongue, he yet was able to attach to himself, in a singular manner, the affections of all around him. For the last six years, Captain Murray has successfully advised in the administration of the Government of Sungei Ujong, consolidating order and good government, and doing much to open out the country and develop its resources. His name will ever be associated with its prosperity, and his memory be long fresh in the hearts of its inhabitants."
This chapter has been put on-line as part of the
BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteers
Barbara Mercer Cullimore, Marcos Eduardo Acosta, Dona Wunschel, Nicolelise Hainley and Mary Mark Ockerbloom.