CHAPTER II

BORNEO - CLIMATIC AND BIOLOGICAL CONDITIONS - NATURAL RESOURCES - POPULATION - HISTORY - GOVERNMENT OF THE NATIVES - RACIAL PROBLEMS

Leaving Greenland out of consideration, Borneo is the second largest island on the globe, the greater part of it, southern and eastern, belonging to Holland. In a recent geological period this island as well as Java and Sumatra formed part of Asia. A glance at the map shows that Borneo is drained by rivers which originate in the central region near each other, the greater by far being in Dutch territory, some of them navigable to large steam launches for 500 or 600 kilometres. The principal chain of mountains runs, roughly speaking, from northeast to southwest, the average height being perhaps 1,000-1,500 metres, with higher peaks now and then. There are also ranges from east and west. The remainder is irregular hilly country, with low swampy coasts. The highest mountain is Kinabalu, in the north, about 4,500 metres above the sea and composed of "porphyritic granite and igneous rocks." There are no active volcanoes. The whole island is covered with forest vegetation from the coasts to the tops of the hills and ranges.

The climate is humid and warm and remarkably even, the thermometer in the inland rarely reaching above 85 F. in the shade. Rain is copious most of the year; at night it sometimes rains continuously; but a day of uninterrupted downpour did not occur during my two years of travel. It comes in showers, usually lasting an hour or two, when it clears as suddenly as it began, and within half an hour all is dry again. In the interior, on account of the vast jungles, except in case of thunderstorms, which are rare, there is no wind, but on the coasts one may encounter storms in the time of both the northeast and the southwest monsoons. Though Borneo and the central mountains of New Guinea have the greatest rainfall in the Malay Archipelago, there is a distinct dry season, which is mostly felt during April, May, and June, but is less noticeable in the central parts. As regards the distribution of rain and dry weather, some difference was experienced as between the two years, and a planter of several years' experience in the south told me that one year is not like another. In spite of the general supposition to the contrary the climate of Borneo is quite pleasant, and probably less unhealthful than most equatorial regions, particularly in the central part where malaria is rare and prickly heat does not occur.

Borneo has very many useful trees, notably hard woods. Rubber is still a source of income to the Malays and Dayaks, and the rattan and bamboo, on which the very existence of the natives depends, grow everywhere. The sago-palm and a great number of valuable wild fruits are found, such as the famous durian, mangosteen, lansat, rambutan, and others. The climate seems to be specially suited to fruit, the pineapple and pomelo reaching their highest perfection here. The coconut-palm thrives on the island. Borneo is famous for its orchids and most of the species of pitcher-plants (nepenthes) are found here, the largest of which will hold two "quarts" of water.

The elephant, rhinoceros, tapir, wild cattle, and many other kinds of smaller animals of Asia are found in Borneo. No Indian tigers are in the country, though many varieties of the cat family are there, among them the beautiful large felis nebulosa. Wild pigs of many species roam the jungle in abundance. Several kinds of mammals are peculiar to the island, among which may be mentioned the long-nosed monkey (nasalis larvatus). There are over 550 species of birds, but the individuals of the species are not numerous; the pheasant family is especially gorgeous in form and colour. The rivers and the surrounding sea swarm with fish of many kinds, furnishing an abundance of food, although generally not very palatable. The djelavat, in flavour not unlike salmon, and the salap, both of which I met in the upper courses of the rivers Samba, Barito, and Mahakam, are notable exceptions.

The mineral resources of Borneo are very considerable; coal, gold, iron, diamonds, tin, and antimony are among the most valuable. Anthracite coal is not found in the country, that which is in evidence being from the tertiary period. Gold is everywhere, but thus far is not found in sufficient quantity to pay. Formerly the natives of the upper Kotawaringin district had to pay the Sultan gold as a tax. A mining engineer told me that in Martapura, the principal diamond-field, one may find gold, platinum, and diamonds while washing one pan.

The total population of the island is probably 3,000,000. As regards the South and Eastern Division of Dutch Borneo - roughly half of the island - to which my travels were confined, the census returns of 1914 give in round figures a total of 906,000 people, of whom 800 are Europeans (470 men and 330 women), 86,000 Chinese, 817,000 Dayaks and Malays, and 2,650 Arabs and other aliens. Of these peoples no less than 600,000 live in a comparatively small area of the southeast, the districts of Oeloe Soengei and Bandjermasin. These are nearly all Malays, only 4,000 or 5,000 being Dayaks, who probably do not form the majority of the 217,000 that make up the remainder of the native population of the Division.