CHAPTER XIX

THE SAPUTANS - HOW THE EARS OF THE CHIEF WERE PIERCED - AN UNEXPECTED ATTACK OF FILARIASIS - DEPARTURE FROM THE SAPUTANS - DOWN THE KASAO RIVER - "TOBOGGANING" THE KIHAMS

The Penyahbongs, men of the jungle, who left us to return home, had not proved such good workers as the Saputans, who, though in a pronounced degree smaller, mostly below medium size, are very strongly built. The first named, nevertheless, are their superiors both physically and morally. The more homely-looking Saputans, though friendly and willing to assist you, try to gain an advantage in bargaining. They set high prices on all things purchased from them and cheat if permitted to do so. Although no case of actual stealing came to my notice, they are dishonest, untruthful, and less intelligent than the tribes hitherto met. The chiefs from two neighbouring kampongs paid us visits, and they and their men made a somewhat better impression, besides having less skin disease.

The Saputans are a crude and somewhat coarse people who formerly lived in caves in the mountains further east, between the Mahakam and the Murung (Barito) Rivers, and migrated here less than a hundred years ago. Lidju, a Long-Glat raja from Batokelau, who at one time was my interpreter and assistant, told me that the Saputans had made a contract with his grandfather to take them to the Kasao. This report was confirmed by the kapala of Batokelau. The Saputans probably do not number over 500 all told.

The custom of cutting the teeth, eight in upper front and six in the lower jaw, is observed to some extent, but is not regularly practised. Both sexes have shrill, sharp voices. The men admire women who have long hair, light yellow skin, and long extension of the ear-lobes. The women like men to be strong and brave on headhunting expeditions. Suicide is very rare. They may use ipoh or tuba for the purpose. All animals are eaten without restriction. The men are good hunters and know how to kill the tiger-cat with sumpitan or spear. They also make good, large mats from split rattan, which are spread on the floor, partly covering it. The women make mats from palm leaves, and when the Saputans are preparing for the night's rest the latter kind is unrolled over the rattan variety. Formerly sumpitans were made in sufficient number, but the art of the blacksmith has almost died out, only one remaining at the present time, and most of the sumpitans are bought from the Bukats on the Mahakam River.

There appear to be more men than women in the tribe. Children are wanted, and though the usual number in a family is four, sometimes there is only one. There are no restrictions in diet for a pregnant woman beyond the prohibition of eating of other people's food.

Only when the chief has a wedding is there any festival, which consists in eating. There is no marriage ceremony, but having secured the girl's consent and paid her father and mother the young man simply goes to her mat. They then remain two days in the house, because they are afraid of the omen birds. On the third day both go to fetch water from the river and she begins to husk rice. Monogamy is practised, only the chief being allowed to have five or more wives. The very enterprising kapala of Data Laong, to the displeasure of his first wife, recently had acquired a second, the daughter of a Penihing chief. While the payment of a parang may be sufficient to secure a wife from among the kampong people, a chiefs daughter is worth ten gongs, and in order to raise the money necessary to obtain the gongs he set all the men of the kampong to work, gathering rattan, for one month. Though each of them received something for his labour, it was less than one-fourth of the amount accruing from the sale of the product, leaving him sufficient to pay the price demanded for the new bride. In Long Iram a gong may be bought for f. 30-80, and for purposes of comparison the fact is mentioned that a Malay usually is required to pay f. 60 to the girl's father to insure his consent to the marriage.

April was rainy, with frequent showers day and night, and thunder was heard every evening. Life there was the same as in most Dayak kampongs, nearly all the people being absent during the day at the ladangs, and in the evening they bring home the roots of the calladium, or other edible roots and plants, which are cooked for food. The paddi had been harvested, but the crop was poor, and therefore they had made no feast. There is no dancing here except war dances. For a generation they have been gathering rubber, taking it far down the Mahakam to be sold. Of late years rubber has nearly disappeared in these parts, so they have turned their attention to rattan.

One day a man was seen running with a sumpitan after a dog that had hydrophobia, and which repeatedly passed my tent. The apparent attempt to kill the animal was not genuine. He was vainly trying to catch it that he might tie its legs and throw it into the river, because the people believe that the shedding of a dog's blood would surely result in misfortune to their health or crops. After three days the dog disappeared.

In Data Laong few were those men, women, and children who had not some form of the skin diseases usual among the Dayaks, which were rendered still more repugnant by their habit of scratching until the skin bleeds. A man and wife whose skin looked dry and dead, the whole body exhibiting a whitish colour, one day came to my tent. Standing, or crouching, before the tent opening they formed a most offensive picture, vigorously scratching themselves, while particles of dead skin dropped in such quantity that after some minutes the ground actually showed an accumulation resembling snow. They were accompanied by a twelve-year-old daughter who, strange to say, had a perfectly clean skin.