CHAPTER XII

THE WAR CHANGES MY PLANS - CHOLERA - UP THE GREAT BARITO RIVER - PURUK TJAHU - DECIDE TO STAY AMONG THE MURUNGS - A DANCING FEAST

In the beginning of July I returned to Bandjermasin, where I packed my collections and despatched them to Europe. I decided to send what goods I had, with my two assistants, to Macassar on Celebes, where the Dayaks who were to take part in the New Guinea undertaking would also be transported. It might be possible for Chonggat to do some collecting in the neighbourhood of the town. At all events, it would be more convenient to have them wait for me there than to take them to Java. Having secured passes from the resident for the two men, and given them recommendations to the Norwegian consul in Macassar, I departed for Batavia to take the last steps in fitting out my expedition to New Guinea.

At this stage of my proceedings the war broke out. On August 6 I had an audience of the Governor-General, who informed me that he was then unable to let me have either soldiers or ship for my explorations. The day before he had recalled his own great expedition on the Mamberamo in Northern New Guinea, and advised me to wait for a more favourable opportunity, promising that he would later give me all assistance. The commanding general was equally agreeable. As I had never been in British India I decided to go there while awaiting developments regarding the war, so the following Saturday found me on my way to Singapore. Here I first arranged for the safe return of my two assistants, who had been left in Macassar, where cholera had broken out. Usually natives, who range under the category of labourers, go as deck-passengers on steamers in the East. Therefore, after I had bought second-class tickets for them, and the Dutch Packet Boat Company had courteously offered to have a man meet them on arrival, I felt satisfied that they would have no trouble in landing. I then continued my journey over Penang to Madras.

In spite of the continuation of the war and the great fascination of India, in April, the following year, 1915, I decided to return to the Dutch Indies and undertake an expedition to Central Borneo, parts of which are unexplored and unknown to the outside world. Briefly, my plans were to start from Bandjermasin in the south, ascend the Barito River, and, branching hence into its northern tributary, the Busang, to cross the watershed to the Mahakam or Kutei River. Following the latter to its mouth I should reach the east coast near Samarinda. This journey, I found, would take me through a country where were some tribes never before studied.

At Colombo I took the Dutch steamer Grotius, which gave me a very pleasant week. The Dutch are a kindly nation. There were fifteen children on first-class playing on deck, and I never heard them cry nor saw them fighting. After more than nine months' absence I again found myself in Batavia, and from there I went to Buitenzorg to ask an audience of the Governor-General. He offered to give me all assistance in furthering my project, and I had the pleasure of being invited to dine at the palace. A large open carriage, with quaint, old-fashioned lanterns, called for me. The coachman and footman were liveried Javanese. It was a beautiful, cool, starlit evening in the middle of June when we drove up the imposing avenue of banyan-trees which leads to the main entrance. The interior of the palace is cool and dignified in appearance, and the Javanese waiters in long, gold-embroidered liveries, whose nude feet passed silently over the marble floor, were in complete accord with the setting.

Several weeks had to be spent in preparation for the trip. It was decided that in Borneo I should be furnished with a small escort. Further, Mr. J. Demmini, photographer in the well-known Topografische Dienst in Batavia, was attached to the expedition, as well as Mr. H.P. Loing, a native surveyor of the same institution. After much searching I finally found a man, Rajimin, a native of Batavia, who seemed competent to collect birds and animals. My kinematograph was out of order, but fortunately I succeeded in replacing it with a secondhand Pathe. The first week in August we departed from Tandjong Priok by steamer, bound for Bandjermasin, Borneo.

On our arrival in Sourabaia we learned that cholera was prevalent in Bandjermasin, and our steamer carried serum for the doctors of the garrison there. Early in the morning we steamed up the river, viewing the usual scene of Malays bathing and children running out of the houses to see the steamer pass. The most urgent matter demanding attention was to have Rajimin, the taxidermist, vaccinated, as well as the two native boys I had brought from Batavia. There were nine deaths a day, but while it is unpleasant to be at a place where such an epidemic is raging, there is reassurance in the knowledge that the bacillus must enter through the mouth, and that therefore, with proper precautions, it is unnecessary for anybody to have cholera.

A Dutch doctor in Sourabaia told me that he had been practising two years on the Barito River in Borneo, and had gone through a severe epidemic of cholera, but neither he nor his wife had been affected, although their native boy, while waiting at table, fell to the floor and in two hours expired. His wife disinfected plates, forks, spoons, and even the fruit, in a weak solution of permanganate of potassium. Of course there must be no alcoholic excesses. In the tropics it is also essential, for several reasons, always to boil the drinking water.