CHAPTER XI

DEPARTURE FOR BANDJERMASIN - A PLEASANT STEAMSHIP LINE - TWO HEAD-HUNTERS - AN EXPEDITION TO LAKE SEMBULO - SAMPIT - THE ORANG-UTAN - STORMY WEATHER - A DISAGREEABLE RECEPTION

In Tandjong Selor I was exceedingly busy for three days getting boxes and packing the collections, and early in June I departed for Bandjermasin, on S.S. De Weert. It has been my fortune to travel much on the steamships of the Royal Packet Boat Company, which controls the whole Malay Archipelago from Singapore to New Guinea and the Moluccas. It is always a pleasure to board one of these steamers, as the officers are invariably courteous, and the food is as excellent on the smaller steamers as on the large ones. The same kind of genuine, good claret, at a reasonable price, is also found on all of them, and it may readily be understood how much I enjoyed a glass of cool Margaux-Medoc with dinner, after over five months in the utan. The sailors on these steamers are Javanese. Those from Madura, rather small men, made an especially good impression. A captain told me they never give any trouble except when on leave ashore in Sourabaia, where they occasionally remain overtime, but after a few days they come to the office and want to be taken on again. They are punished by having their wages deducted for the days they are absent, but the loss of coin does not trouble them much. If they have cigarettes and their meals they are happy, and they never accumulate money. They are engaged for one year and some of them renew their contracts.

As we sailed southward from the Kayan River we were told of a French count who with his wife lived on an island three or four kilometres long, near the coast. At first he had fisheries and sold dried fish, which, with rice, forms the staple food of the natives of Borneo and other countries of the East. He was enabled to change his business into cocoanut plantations, which to-day cover the island. According to report they dressed for dinner every day, to the end that they might not relinquish their hold upon the habits of civilised society. Later I learned that when the war broke out the count immediately went to France to offer his services.

Lieutenant C.J. La Riviere came aboard in Samarinda, en route to Holland for a rest, after being in charge of the garrison at distant Long Nawang in Apo Kayan. There are 40 soldiers, 2 officers, and 1 doctor at that place, which is 600 metres above sea, in a mountainous country with much rain, and therefore quite cool. In a single month they had had one and a half metres of rain. Officers have been known to spend three months in going from Long Iram to Apo Kayan, travelling by prahu almost the whole distance. Usually the trip may be made in a couple of months or less. The river at last becomes only four metres broad, with very steep sides, and in one night, when it rains copiously, the water may rise five to six metres. Mail usually arrives three times a year, but when the lieutenant boarded the steamer he had not seen a newspaper for five months.

He expressed his opinion that the government would find it extremely difficult to stamp out head-hunting in Apo Kayan, with its 15,000 Dayaks, because the custom is founded in their religious conception. "Our ancestors have always taken heads," they say; "we also do it, and the spirits will then be satisfied. We have learned it from our ancestors, who want us to do it." "They often ask us," the lieutenant said: "When are you going to leave Long Nawang? When you are gone then we will again take up the head-hunting." These same Kenyahs are entrusted to go to Long Iram to bring provisions to the garrison. About eighty of them are sent, accompanied by only two soldiers, and after three months' absence the goods arrive safely at Long Nawang.

On board the steamer were also two Punan head-hunters from the interior who were being taken to Bandjermasin under the guard of two soldiers. They had been caught through the assistance of other Punans, and in prison the elder one had contracted the dry form of beri-beri. He was a pitiful sight, in the last stage of a disease not usually found among his compatriots, no longer able to walk, looking pale and emaciated and having lost the sight of his right eye. They had rather wild but not unpleasant faces, and were both tatued like the Kenyahs. Their hair had been cut short in the prison. I later took the anthropometric measurements of the young man, who was a fine specimen of the savage, with a splendid figure, beautifully formed hands and feet - his movements were elastic and easy.

As it had been found impossible to secure Dayaks in the Bulungan for my expedition to New Guinea, the resident courteously offered to get eighty men from the Mahakam River. This would take at least two months and gave me opportunity to visit a lake called Sembulo, a considerable distance west of Bandjermasin. It was necessary first to go to Sampit, a small town, two days distant, on a river of the same name, where there is a controleur to whom the resident gave me an introduction, and who would be able to assist in furthering my plans. I could not afford to wait for the monthly steamer which touches at Sampit on its way to Singapore, so I arranged to make the trip on board an old wooden craft which was under repairs in Bandjermasin, and in the afternoon of June 5 we started.