A CHAPTER ON PERAK
The Boundaries and Rivers of Perak - Tin Mining - Fruits and Vegetables - The Gomuti Palm - The Trade of Perak - A Future of Coffee - A Hopeful Lookout - Chinese Difficulties - Chinese Disturbances in Larut - The "Pangkor Treaty" - A "Little War" - The Settlement of Perak - The Resident and Assistant-Resident
The "protected" State of Perak (pronounced Payrah) is the richest and most important of the States of the Peninsula, as well as one of the largest. Its coast-line, broken into, however, by a bit of British territory, is about one hundred and twenty-five miles in length. Its sole southern boundary is the State of Selangor. On the north it has the British colony of Province Wellesley, and the native States of Kedah and Patani, tributary to Siam. Its eastern boundary is only an approximate one, Kelantan joining it in the midst of a vast tract of unexplored country inhabited solely by the Sakei and Semang aborigines. The State is about eighty miles wide at its widest part, and thirty at its narrowest, and is estimated to contain between four and five thousand square miles. The great artery of the country is the Perak river, a most serpentine stream. Ships drawing thirteen feet of water can ascend it as far as Durian Sabatang, fifty miles from its mouth, and boats can navigate it for one hundred and thirty miles farther. This river, even one hundred and fifty miles from its mouth at Kwala Kangsa, is two hundred yards wide, and might easily be ascended by "stern-wheel" boats drawing a foot of water, such as those which ply on the upper Mississippi. Next in size to the Perak is the Kinta, which falls into the Perak, besides which there are the Bernam and Batang Padang rivers, both navigable for vessels of light draught. Along the shores of these streams most of the Malay kampongs are built.
The interior of Perak is almost altogether covered with magnificent forests, out of which rise isolated limestone hills, and mountain ranges from five thousand to eight thousand feet in height. The scenery is beautiful. The neighborhood of the mangrove swamps of the coast is low and swampy, but as the ground rises, the earth which has been washed down from the hills becomes fertile, and farther inland the plains are so broken up by natural sand ridges which lighten the soil, that it is very suitable for rice culture.
Tin is the most abundant of the mineral products of Perak, and, as in the other States, the supply is apparently inexhaustible. So far it is obtained in "stream works" only. The export of this metal has risen from 144,000 pounds in 1876 to 436,000 pounds in 1881. Tin-mining continues to attract a steady stream of Chinese immigration, and the Resident believes that the number of Chinamen has increased from twenty thousand in 1879 to forty thousand in 1881. Wealth is reckoned in slabs of tin, and lately for an act of piracy a Rajah was fined so many slabs of tin, instead of so many hogsheads of oil, as he would have been on the West African coast.
Gold is found in tolerable quantities, even by the Malay easy-going manner of searching for it, and diamonds and garnets are tolerably abundant. Gold can be washed with little difficulty from most of the river beds, and from various alluvial deposits. The metal thus found is pure, but "rough and shotty." The nearer the mountains the larger the find. It is of a rich, red color. Iron ore is abundant; but though coal has been found, it is not of any commercial value. The methods of mining both for tin and gold are of the most elementary kind, and it is probable that Perak has still vast metallic treasures to yield up to scientific exploration and Anglo-Saxon energy.
Rice is the staple food of the inhabitants. Dry rice on the hillsides was the kind which was formerly exclusively cultivated, but from some Indians who came from Sumatra to Perak the Malays have learned the mode of growing the wet variety, and it is now largely practiced. Partly in consequence of a great lack of agricultural energy, and partly from the immense quantity of rice required by the non-producing Chinese miners, Perak imported in 1881 rice to the value of 70,000 pounds.
There is scarcely a tropical product which this magnificent region does not or may not produce, gutta-percha, india-rubber, sago, tapioca, palm-oil and fibre, yams, sweet potatoes, cloves, nutmegs, coffee, tobacco, pepper, gambier, with splendid fruits in perfection - the banana, bread-fruit, anona, cocoa-nut, mangosteen, durion, jak-fruit, cashew-nut, guava, bullock's heart, pomegranate, shaddock, custard-apple, papaya, pine-apple, with countless others. The indigenous fruits alone are so innumerable, that a description of the most valuable of them would fill a chapter.
Our homely vegetables do not flourish, but watermelons, cucumbers, gourds, capsicums, chilies, cocoa-nut cabbage, edible arums, and, where the Chinese have settled, coarse lettuces, radishes, and pulse, grow abundantly, with various other not altogether to be despised vegetables with Malay names.
The timber is magnificent, and under the unworthy name of "jungle produce" a large trade is done in it. Perak is the land of palms, and produces the invaluable cocoa-palm, most parts of which have their commercial value, the areca palm which produces the betel-nut, the gomuti palm from whose strong black fibres they make ropes, cordage, and strands for capturing the alligator; the jaggary-palm, from which sugar is made, as well as a fermented beverage; the nibong palm, which grows round the Malay kampong, and is used for their gridiron floors and for the posts of their houses; the dwarf-palms which serve no other purpose than to gladden the eyes by their beauty; and the nipah palm which fringes the rivers, and, under the name of attap, forms the thatch of both native and foreign houses.