CHAPTER VIII

THE JOURNEY CONTINUED UP THE KAYAN RIVER - FIRST EXPERIENCE OF KIHAMS, OR RAPIDS - WITH KENYAH BOATMEN - ADVANTAGE OF NATIVE COOKING - LONG PELABAN - THE ATTRACTIVE KENYAHS - SOCIAL STRATA - CUSTOMS AND HABITS - VALUABLE BEADS

At Long Pangian several days were spent in vain efforts to secure men and prahus to continue the journey up the Kayan River. The few Malays about, as usual, did not believe in work, but the posthouder finally succeeded in calling Kenyahs from the river above, and on the 1st of May we started with five prahus and twenty-four men. It was quite refreshing to hear again the joyous shouts of the paddlers, who worked eagerly and quickly against the strong current. A little over an hour brought us to some well-known rapids, or "kihams," as they usually are called in Borneo. Formerly this Kiham Raja had a bad reputation, Dayaks being killed here occasionally every year, but of late the government has blasted out rocks and made it more passable. However, even now it is no trifle to negotiate these rapids. Below them we halted and threw explosive Favier into the water in the hope of getting fish, and as soon as the upheaval of the water began the Kenyahs, as if by a given signal, hurried all the prahus out to the scene. With other natives than Dayaks this would have given me some anxiety, as the boats were heavily laden and contained valuable cameras and instruments. We secured quite a number of fish and the Kenyahs had a good time.

The traveller soon assumes a feeling of confidence in these experienced men as, according to circumstances, they paddle, pole, or drag the prahu by a long piece of rattan tied to the inside of the bow. In passing these rapids most of them got out and dragged us by the rattan, but as the shore consisted of big stones that sometimes were inaccessible, they would often throw themselves with the rope into the foaming water and manage to get foothold a little further up. Sometimes it looked as if they would not succeed, the prahu receding precariously, but they were so quick in their movements and the prahus followed each other so closely that it was possible to give mutual help.

Amban Klesau, the only son of the chief of Long Mahan, directed my prahu. He had taken part in an expedition to New Guinea and was an efficient and pleasant man who had seen something of the world, but his attire was fantastic, consisting of a long white nightshirt with a thin red girdle around the waist, to which was attached his parang adorned with many ornaments. He liked that shirt, for he did not take it off all day, notwithstanding the extreme heat. The dry season had set in, and though in our travels I took good care to place mats over the iron boxes in which cameras and plates were kept, still they became warm. When I photographed, perspiration fell like rain-drops. At Long Mahan (mahan = difficulties, or time spent) we found the pasang-grahan occupied by travelling Malays, two of whom were ill from a disease resembling cholera, so we moved on to a ladang a little higher up, where we found a camping-site.

Next day we stopped to photograph a beautiful funeral house on the bank of the river, in which rest the remains of a dead chief and his wife. This operation finished, the Dayaks prepared their midday meal consisting of rice alone, which they had brought in wicker bottles. A number of bamboo sticks were procured, which were filled with rice and water and placed in a row against a horizontal pole and a fire was kindled underneath. As soon as this cooking was finished the bamboos were handed to the chief, Amban Klesau, who in the usual way split one open with his parang to get at the contents. Having eaten, he distributed the rest of the bamboos. I was given one, and upon breaking it open a delicious smell met my olfactory sense. The rice, having been cooked with little water, clung together in a gelatinous mass which had a fine sweet taste, entirely lacking when cooked in the white man's way.

During my travels in Borneo I often procured such rice from the Dayaks. It is a very clean and convenient way of carrying one's lunch, inside of a bamboo, the open end closed with a bunch of leaves. Fish and meat are prepared in the same manner. With fish no water is used, nevertheless, when cooked it yields much juice, with no suggestion of the usual mud-flavoured varieties of Borneo. It will remain wholesome three days, and whenever necessary the bamboo is heated at the bottom. One who has tasted meat or cereals cooked between hot stones in earth mounds knows that, as regards palatable cooking, there is something to learn from the savages. It is a fact that Indians and Mexicans prepare green corn in a way superior to that employed by the best hotels in New York. There is no necessity of returning to the bamboo and hot stones as cooking utensils, but why not accept to a greater extent the underlying principle of these methods?

In the evening we arrived at Long Pelaban, a large Kenyah kampong, where for some time I made my headquarters. On the opposite bank of the river we cut the tall grass and jungle and made camp. Soon we were visited by many small boys who afterward came every day to look for tin cans. With few exceptions they were not prepossessing in appearance; nearly all were thin, and one was deaf and dumb, but they were inoffensive and well-behaved. During my travels among Dayaks I never saw boys or girls quarrel among themselves - in fact their customary behaviour is better than that of most white children. Both parents treat the child affectionately, the mother often kissing it.