CHAPTER XVI

ARRIVAL AT BAHANDANG - ON THE EQUATOR - A STARTLING ROBBERY - OUR MOST LABORIOUS JOURNEY - HORN-BILLS - THE SNAKE AND THE INTREPID PENYAHBONG - ARRIVAL AT TAMALOE

Bahandang, where we arrived early in the second afternoon, is the headquarters of some Malay rubber and rattan gatherers of the surrounding utan. A house had been built at the conflux with the river of a small affluent, and here lived an old Malay who was employed in receiving the products from the workers in the field. Only his wife was present, he having gone to Naan on the Djuloi River, but was expected to return soon. The place is unattractive and looked abandoned. Evidently at a previous time effort had been made to clear the jungle and to cultivate bananas and cassavas. Among felled trees and the exuberance of a new growth of vegetation a few straggling bananas were observable, but all the big cassava plants had been uprooted and turned over by the wild pigs, tending to increase the dismal look of the place. A lieutenant in charge of a patrouille had put up a rough pasang-grahan here, where our lieutenant and the soldiers took refuge, while I had the ground cleared near one end of it, and there placed my tent.

Not far off stood a magnificent tree with full, straight stem, towering in lonely solitude fifty metres above the overgrown clearing. In a straight line up its tall trunk wooden plugs had been driven in firmly about thirty centimetres apart. This is the way Dayaks, and Malays who have learned it from them, climb trees to get the honey and wax of the bees' nests suspended from the high branches. On the Barito, from the deck of the Otto, I had observed similar contrivances on still taller trees of the same kind called tapang, which are left standing when the jungle is cleared to make ladangs.

A few days later the rest of our party arrived and, having picked up six rubber gatherers, brought the remainder of the luggage from their camp. Some men were then sent to bring up the goods stored in the utan below, and on February 3 this was accomplished. An Ot-Danum from the Djuloi River, with wife and daughter, camped here for a few days, hunting for gold in the river soil, which is auriferous as in many other rivers of Borneo. They told me they were glad to make sixty cents a day, and if they were lucky the result might be two florins.

We found ourselves in the midst of the vast jungles that cover Borneo, serving to keep the atmosphere cool and prevent air currents from ascending in these windless tropics. We were almost exactly on the equator, at an elevation of about 100 metres. In January there had been little rain and in daytime the weather had been rather muggy, but with no excessive heat to speak of, provided one's raiment is suited to the tropics. On the last day of the month, at seven o'clock in the morning, after a clear and beautiful night, the temperature was 72 F. (22 C.). During the additional three weeks passed here, showers fell occasionally and sometimes it rained all night. As a rule the days were bright, warm, and beautiful; the few which were cloudy seemed actually chilly and made one desire the return of the sun.

Our first task was to make arrangements for the further journey up the Busang River to Tamaloe, a remote kampong recently formed by the Penyahbongs on the upper part of the river. We were about to enter the great accumulation of kihams which make travel on the Busang peculiarly difficult. The lieutenant's hope that we might secure more men from among the rubber gatherers was not fulfilled. The few who were present made excuses, and as for the others, they were far away in the utan, nobody knew where. We still had some Malays, and, always scheming for money or advantage to themselves, they began to invent new difficulties and demand higher wages. Although I was willing to make allowances, it was impossible to go beyond a certain limit, because the tribes we should meet later would demand the same payment as their predecessors had received. The old Malay resident, who in the meantime had returned from his absence, could offer no advice.

Finally exorbitant wages were demanded, and all wanted to return except four. As the lieutenant had expressed his willingness to proceed to Tamaloe in advance of the party and try to hire the necessary men there, it was immediately decided that he should start with our four remaining men and one soldier, while the rest of us waited here with the sergeant and four soldiers. On February 4 the party was off, as lightly equipped as possible, and if all went well we expected to have the necessary men within three weeks.

On the same afternoon Djobing and three companions, who were going up to another rattan station, Djudjang, on a path through the jungle, proposed to me to transport some of our luggage in one of my prahus. The offer was gladly accepted, a liberal price paid, and similar tempting conditions offered if they and a few men, known to be at the station above, would unite in taking all our goods up that far. The following morning they started off.

The Malays of these regions, who are mainly from the upper part of the Kapuas River in the western division and began to come here ten years previously, are physically much superior to the Malays we brought, and for work in the kihams are as fine as Dayaks. They remain here for years, spending two or three months at a time in the utan. Djobing had been here four years and had a wife in his native country. There are said to be 150 Malays engaged in gathering rattan, and, no doubt, also rubber, in these vast, otherwise uninhabited upper Dusun lands.