CHAPTER XVII

THE PENYAHBONGS, MEN OF THE WOODS - RHINOCEROS HUNTERS - CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PENYAHBONGS - EASY HOUSEKEEPING - DAILY LIFE - WOMAN'S LOT

The Penyahbongs until lately were nomadic people, roaming about in the nearby Muller mountains, subsisting on wild sago and the chase and cultivating some tobacco. They lived in bark huts on the ground or in trees. Some eight years previous to my visit they were induced by the government to form kampongs and adopt agricultural pursuits, and while most of them appear to be in the western division, two kampongs were formed east of the mountains, the Sabaoi and the Tamaloe, with less than seventy inhabitants altogether. Tamaloe is the name of an antoh (spirit) who lived here in the distant past.

The kampong consists of four small, poorly built communal houses, and of the Malays who have settled here, in houses of their own making, the most important is Bangsul, who married a daughter of Pisha, the Penyahbong chief. Both before and since their transition to sedentary habits the Penyahbongs have been influenced by the Saputans, their nearest neighbours, four days' journey to the north, on the other side of the water-shed. Their ideas about rice culture and the superstitions and festivals attending it, come from the Saputans, of whom also a few live in Tamaloe. They have only recently learned to swim and many do not yet know how to paddle. It may be of some interest to note the usual occurrence of rain at this kampong as gathered from native observation. April-July there is no rain; August-October, little; November and December have a little more; January much; February and March less.

Every evening as long as we remained here Pisha, the chief, used to sing, reciting mythical events, thereby attracting good antohs (spirits) and keeping the evil ones away, to the end that his people might be in good health and protected against misfortune. His efforts certainly were persevering, and he had a good voice that sounded far into the night, but his songs were of such an extraordinarily melancholy character that it still makes me depressed to remember them. He was an amiable man, whose confidence I gained and who cheerfully gave any information I wanted. Of his five daughters and three sons only the youngest daughter, who was not yet married, was allowed to pronounce Pisha's name, according to custom. Nor was it permissible for his sons-in-law to give me the name, still less for him to do so himself.

After Mr. Demmini's departure all the photographing fell upon me, to which I had no objection, but it was out of the question also to do developing, except of the kodak films, and as the lieutenant, who had done some before, thought he could undertake it, the matter was so arranged. The first attempts, while not wholly successful, were not discouraging, and as time went on the lieutenant turned out satisfactory results. We had a couple of days' visit from the kapala of Sebaoi, a tall and nervous-looking Penyahbong, but friendly, as were the rest of them. I was then engaged in photographing and taking anthropometric measurements of the gently protesting natives, to whose primitive minds these operations appear weirdly mysterious. At first the kapala positively declined to take any part in this work, but finally reached the conclusion that he would be measured, but photographed he could not be, because his wife was pregnant. For that reason he also declined a glass of gin which the lieutenant offered him.

The valiant man who had tried to catch the yellow snake on our river voyage called on me with his wife, who knew how to embroider well, and I bought some shirts embellished with realistic representations of animals, etc. The husband had that unsightly skin disease (tinea imbricata) that made his body appear to be covered with half-loose fish scales. Next day, to my amazement, he had shed the scales. The previous night he had applied a remedy which made it possible to peel the dead skin off, and his face, chest, and stomach were clean, as were also his legs and arms. His back was still faulty because he had not had enough of the remedy, but he was going to tackle the back that evening. The remedy, which had been taught them by the Saputans, consists of two kinds of bark and the large leaves of a jungle plant with red flowers, one of which was growing near my tent.

All the tribes visited by me suffer more or less from various kinds of skin diseases caused by micro-parasitic animals, the Kenyahs and Oma-Sulings in a much less degree. The most repulsive form, just described, does not seem to interfere with general health. Three of my Kayan carriers thus affected were more muscular and stronger than the rest. One of them was the humorous member of the party, always cutting capers and dancing. Women are less affected than men, and I often saw men with the disfiguring scaly disease whose wives were evidently perfectly free from it.

A party of six fine-looking Penyahbongs were here on a rhinoceros hunting expedition. They came from the western division, and as the rhino had been nearly exterminated in the mountain ranges west and northwest of Tamaloe, the hunters were going farther east. Such a party carries no provisions, eating sago and animals that they kill. Their weapons are sumpitans and parangs, and equipment for stamping sago forms part of their outfit. The rhino is approached stealthily and the large spear-point on one end of the sumpitan is thrust into its belly. Thus wounded it is quite possible, in the dense jungle, to keep in touch with it, and, according to trustworthy reports, one man alone is able in this way to kill a rhino. It is hunted for the horn, which Chinamen will buy.