CHAPTER III

BANDJERMASIN, THE PRINCIPAL TOWN IN DUTCH BORNEO - NORTHWARD ALONG THE EAST COAST - BALIK PAPAN, AN OIL PRODUCING CENTRE - SAMARINDA - TANDJONG SELOR - THE SULTAN-UP THE KAYAN RIVER

Fifty miles from land the sea assumes a different aspect through the fresh water of the great Barito flowing on the surface. Its red hue is produced by particles of soil brought from the inland of Borneo. In the beginning of December I arrived at Bandjermasin, the principal town in Dutch Borneo, inhabited for the most part by Malays and Chinese. It is the seat of the Resident of the vast South and Eastern Division and has a garrison. The sea loudly announces its presence here, the tide overflowing much of the low ground, hence the Malay name, bandjir = overflow, masin = salt water. Large clumps of a peculiar water-plant float on the river in Bandjermasin in great numbers, passing downward with the current, upward with the tide, producing a singular, but pleasing sight. It is originally a native of America and has attractive light-blue flowers, but multiplies to such an extent that the growth finally may interfere with traffic. In India I saw a lagoon completely choked with it.

There is one hotel where the table is fair and the beds are clean, but blankets are considered unnecessary, and only sheets are provided. The climate was not as hot as I expected, nights and mornings being surprisingly cool. Early in July of the following year the morning temperature was about 73 F. (23 C). Malaria is rare here, but there are frequent indications of beri-beri.

Friends invited me to go on an excursion to a small island, Kambang, where there are a number of monkeys to whom Malays who desire children sacrifice food. On our arrival the animals came to meet us in a way that was almost uncanny, running like big rats in the tall grass on the muddy beach. Many remnants of sacrificial offerings were strewn about.

Two years later I was again in Bandjermasin, when an elderly American and his wife appeared upon the scene-tourists, by the way, being very unusual here. At the breakfast table they asked a young Dutchman the whereabouts of the church and museum, and he replied that he did not think there was either in the town. As a matter of fact there is a small wooden Dutch church hidden away in a back street. Moreover, in 1914 the Resident, who at that time was Mr. L.F.J. Rijckmans, had a house built, in Malay style of architecture, for the safekeeping of Bornean industrial and ethnological objects which had been on view at the exhibition at Samarang in Java, thus forming the nucleus of a museum which at some future time may be successfully developed. The Kahayan Dayaks, not far away to the north, make exquisite cigar-cases from rattan, while the Bugis weave attractive cotton goods, resembling silk, with an original and pleasing colour combination.

The Europeans have a lawn-tennis court where they usually play every afternoon. In Bandjermasin is the headquarters of a German missionary society whose activities are confined mainly to the Kahayan River. They are Protestants and worked for a great number of years without making any noteworthy impression on the natives, but of late years they have been more successful. Catholics, who came later, have a station on the Mahakam River. The government wisely has separated Protestant and Catholic missionary activities, restricting the former to the southern part of the country, the latter to the northern.

There is no difficulty about getting up along the east coast northward as far as the Bulungan, which was my immediate aim. The Royal Dutch Packet Boat Company adheres to a schedule of regular fortnightly steamship connection. On the way a stop is made at Balik Papan, the great oil-producing centre, with its numerous and well-appointed tanks and modern equipment, reminding one of a thriving town in America. One of the doctors in this prosperous place told me that his two children of four and six years enjoyed excellent health. Dysentery was prevalent among the coolies, and occasionally cases of malaria occurred, but malaria is found even in Holland, he added.

As we sailed up the Kutei River in the early morning, approaching Samarinda, an attractive scene presented itself. Absolute calm and peace reigned, a slight morning mist rising here and there before us and giving a touch of charm to the vista of modest white houses that stretched along the beach in their tropical surroundings. Samarinda lies almost on the equator, but nights and mornings are always cool, even to a greater degree than in Bandjermasin. Northeast Borneo and North Celebes have a comparatively cool climate, but from Samarinda southward it is warmer. I called on the assistant Resident, in whose office a beautiful blue water-rail, with a red head, walked unconcernedly about. He advised me that this was the worst time for travelling, when the northwest monsoons, which are accompanied by much rain, are blowing.

The peace and contentment among the natives here, mostly Malays, impresses one favourably. They are all very fond of their children and take good care of them. The crying of children is a sound that is rarely heard. It was my fortune to travel over two years in the Dutch Indies; it is gratifying to state that during that time I never saw a native drunk, cit her in Java or Borneo. My visits did not extend to the Muruts in the north of Borneo, who are known to indulge excessively in native rice brandy. Nor was I present at any harvest feast, but according to reliable report, "strong drink is seldom or never abused" by the tribes of Borneo. The Muruts and the Ibans are the exceptions.