CHAPTER XV

FINAL START FOR CENTRAL BORNEO - CHRISTMAS TIME - EXTENT OF MALAY INFLUENCE - THE FLOWERS OF EQUATORIAL REGIONS - AT AN OT-DANUM KAMPONG - THE PICTURESQUE KIHAMS, OR RAPIDS - FORMIDABLE OBSTACLES TO TRAVEL - MALAYS ON STRIKE

Having arranged various matters connected with the expedition, in the beginning of December we made our final start from Bandjermasin in the Otto, which the resident again courteously placed at my disposal. Our party was augmented by a military escort, under command of Onder-Lieutenant J. Van Dijl, consisting of one Javanese sergeant and six native soldiers, most of them Javanese. At midday the surface of the water was absolutely without a ripple, and the broad expanse of the river, ever winding in large curves, reflected the sky and the low jungle on either side with bewildering faithfulness. At night the stars were reflected in the water in the same extraordinary way.

In order to investigate a report from an otherwise reliable source about Dayaks "as white as Europeans, with coarse brown hair, and children with blue eyes," I made a stop at Rubea, two or three hours below Muara Tewe. It was a small and sad-looking kampong of thirteen families in many houses. Several children were seen, a little lighter of colour than usual, but their eyes were brown, and there was nothing specially remarkable about them nor the rest of the people whom the kapala called from the ladangs. Children lighter than the parents is a usual phenomenon in black and brown races. There was, however, one four-year-old boy conspicuous for his light hair and general blondness, who was different from the ordinary Dayak in frame and some of his movements; he was coarsely built, with thick limbs, big square head, and hands and feet strikingly large. There could be no doubt about his being a half-breed, neither face nor expression being Dayak. One hare-lipped woman and a child born blind were observed here. Other kampongs in the inland neighbourhood, mentioned in the same report, were not visited.

On our arrival at Puruk Tjahu the low water at first made it doubtful whether the Otto would be able to proceed further, but during the night it rose five metres, continued rising, and changed into a swollen river, as in springtime, carrying sticks and logs on its dirty reddish waters. After a foggy morning the sun came out and we had an enchanting day's journey, the movement of the ship producing a soft breeze of balmy air after the rainy night and morning. We passed a timber float stranded on high ground, with Malay men, women, and children who had been living there for weeks, waiting for the water to rise again as high as where it had left them. They evidently enjoyed the unusual sight of the steamer, and followed us attentively.

In the afternoon we arrived at Poru, a small, oppressively warm kampong, deserted but for an old man and one family, the others having gone to gather rattan in the utan. This was to be our starting-point, where our baggage would have to be put in convenient shape for travel in boat and overland, and where we hoped it might be possible to buy prahus and obtain men by searching the kampongs higher up the river. In this we were disappointed, so the lieutenant went back to Puruk Tjahu, in the neighbourhood of which are many kampongs, nearly all Malay, there as well as here. He took with him one soldier who had proved to have an obnoxious disease, leaving us with five for the expedition, which we deemed sufficient.

On Christmas day I bought from an old Dayak a large, ripe fruit called in Malay nangca (artocarpus integrifolia) of the jack fruit family. It is very common. Before maturing it is used as an every-day vegetable, which is boiled before eating. I was surprised to find that when fully ripe this fruit has an agreeable flavour of banana, but its contents being sticky it is difficult to eat. The sergeant, with the culinary ability of the Javanese, prepared for the holiday a kind of stew, called sambil goreng, which is made on the same principle as the Mexican variety, but decidedly superior. Besides the meat or fish, or whatever is used as the foundation, it contains eight ingredients and condiments, all indigenous except red pepper and onions.

In the ladangs is cultivated the maize plant, which just then was in condition to provide us with the coveted green corn, and carried my thoughts to America, whence the plant came. Maize is raised on a very limited scale, and, strange to say, higher up the river the season was already over. At Poru we tried in vain to secure a kind of gibbon that we heard almost daily on the other side of the river, emitting a loud cry but different from that of the ordinary wah-wah. Rajimin described it as being white about the head and having a pronounced kind of topknot.

As far as we had advanced up the Barito River, Malay influence was found to be supreme. The majority of the kampongs are peopled by Malays, Dayaks at times living in a separate section. This relation may continue at the lower courses of the tributaries, yielding to a Dayak population at the upper portions. In the kampongs, from our present camp, Poru, up to the Busang tributary, the population continues to be subject to strong Malay influence, the native tribes gradually relinquishing their customs, beliefs, and vernacular. But back from the river on either side the Dayak still easily holds his own.