CHAPTER XIV

THE SCALY ANT-EATER - THE PORCUPINE - THE BLOW-PIPE - AN UNUSUAL ADVENTURE WITH A SNAKE - HABITS AND CUSTOMS OF THE MURUNGS - AN UNPLEASANT AFFAIR

A Murung one day brought and exhibited to us that extraordinary animal, the scaly ant-eater (manis), which is provided with a long pipe-like snout, and is devoid of teeth because its only food, the ant, is gathered by means of its long tongue. The big scales that cover the whole body form its sole defence, and when it rolls itself up the dogs can do it no harm. Unable to run, it cannot even walk fast, and the long tail is held straight out without touching the ground. Its appearance directs one's thoughts back to the monsters of prehistoric times, and the fat meat is highly esteemed by the Dayaks. The animal, which is possessed of incredible strength in proportion to its size, was put in a box from which it escaped in the night through the carelessness of Rajimin.

A large live porcupine was also brought for sale by a Dayak woman who had raised it. The creature was confined in a kind of bag, and by means of its strength it managed to escape from between the hands of the owner. Although she and several Dayaks immediately started in pursuit, it succeeded in eluding them. However, the woman believed implicitly that it would return, and a couple of days later it did reappear, passing my tent at dusk. Every evening afterward about eight o'clock it was a regular visitor, taking food out of my hand and then continuing its trip to the kitchen, which was less than a hundred metres farther up the river bank. Finally it became a nuisance, turning over saucepans to look for food and otherwise annoying us, so I bought it for one ringit in order to have it skinned. The difficulty was to catch it, because its quills are long and sharp; but next evening the Murungs brought it to me enmeshed in a strong net, and how to kill it was the next question.

The Dayaks at once proposed to shoot it with the sumpitan - a very good scheme, though I fancied that darkness might interfere. However, in the light of my hurricane lamp one man squatted on the ground and held the animal, placing it in a half upright position before him. The executioner stepped back about six metres, a distance that I thought unnecessary, considering that if the poisoned dart hit the hand of the man it would be a most serious affair. He put the blow-pipe to his mouth and after a few moments the deadly dart entered the porcupine at one side of the neck. The animal, which almost at once began to quiver, was freed from the entangling net, then suddenly started to run round in a small circle, fell on his back, and was dead in less than a minute after being hit.

It was a wonderful exhibition of the efficiency of the sumpitan and of the accuracy of aim of the man who used the long heavy tube. The pipe, two metres long, is held by the native with his hands close to the mouth, quite contrary to the method we should naturally adopt. The man who coolly held the porcupine might not have been killed if wounded, because the quantity of poison used is less in the case of small game than large. The poison is prepared from the sap of the upas tree, antiaris toxicaria, which is heated until it becomes a dark paste. It is a fortunate fact that these extremely efficient weapons, which noiselessly bring down birds and monkeys from great heights, are not widely distributed over the globe. If one is hit by the dart which is used when destined for man or big game, and which has a triangular point, it is said that no remedy will avail.

Rajimin, the taxidermist, had frequent attacks of malaria with high fever, but fortunately he usually recovered rapidly. One day I found him skinning birds with his pulse registering one hundred and twenty-five beats a minute. I engaged a Murung to assist in making my zoological collections, and he learned to skin well and carefully, though slowly. Judging from the number of long-nosed monkeys brought in, they must be numerous here. These animals are at times met in droves of a hundred or more passing from branch to branch through the woods. When old they cannot climb. One morning this Dayak returned with three wah-wahs, and related that after the mother had been shot and had fallen from the tree, the father seized the young one and tried to escape, but they were both killed by the same charge.

On account of adverse weather conditions most of the skins here spoiled, in some degree at least, in spite of all efforts, especially the fleshy noses of the long-nosed monkeys. A special brand of taxidermist's soap from London, which contained several substitutes for arsenic and claimed to be equally efficient, may have been at fault in part, though not entirely, the main cause being the moist heat and the almost entire lack of motility in the air. So little accustomed to wind do the natives here appear to be that a small boy one day jubilantly drew attention to some ripples in the middle of the river caused by an air current.