CHAPTER XVIII

A STRANGE MAMMAL - ANIMAL LIFE IN CENTRAL BORNEO - A SUPERB AND SILENT REALM - VISIT TO A SALT WATER EXUDATION - PASSING THE DIVIDING RIDGE - A MOUSE-DEER CHASE - ON THE KASAO RIVER

I was planning a visit to the headwaters of the Busang River, to be made in connection with our future journey. Few natives, if any, have entered that region, which was described as very mountainous, though the mountains cannot be very high. But all who were approached on the subject, whether Penyahbong or Malay, absolutely declined to take part in an expedition to that country, because they would be killed by an animal called nundun, which is very numerous there. They might be able to tackle one, they said, but as soon as you encounter one there are hundreds more coming for you, and there is nothing else to do but to run for your life. Those regions, although known to be rich in rubber trees, are shunned by all natives. Unless this is an altogether fabulous animal, which is hardly likely to be the case, because the Punans and Bukats confirmed its existence, it would appear to be a kind of bear which perhaps in fruit seasons gathers in great numbers, and which is ferocious.

Nundun, in Penyahbong and Bukat called bohang (bear), is said to run faster than a dog, is killed with the sumpitan at twenty to thirty metres distance, and is eaten. It is further declared that its habitat extends through the hilly regions between the headwaters of the Busang River and the Upper Barito, and that it is especially numerous near the kampong Kelasin. If any one with the hope of possibly finding a new species of mammal should care to follow the matter up, Kelasin on the Upper Barito would not be an extremely difficult place to reach, with good men. Both the lieutenant and I, having so many rifles, were much inclined to defy the terrors of the nundun, but desirable as this expedition would have been, it had to be given up because of the formidable difficulties in getting men, even if we followed the route over the watershed which is used by the natives.

Bangsul had undertaken to negotiate with us on behalf of the Penyahbongs and the Malays, and although in some ways he was an estimable man, his Malay characteristic of turning everything to his own advantage at times got the better of him and delayed an agreement. At first they demanded a sum amounting to seven florins a day for each of the twenty-nine men needed, but as fourteen Malay rubber-gatherers arrived very opportunely, it was agreed that we should be taken to the Kasao River for 300 florins and my six prahus. The natives had some trouble deciding how the prahus should be divided among them, the kapala insisting upon having the largest and best for himself.

This question having been settled through Bangsul, on March 22 we departed. Our prahus were poled most of the way on a stream which, though rather shallow, ran with a swift current, and at times made my heavily loaded craft take water. In Borneo it usually requires as many days to get up-stream as it takes hours to come down.

We stayed for the night at a former camping place of rattan seekers, a small, narrow clearing on the river brink, on which tents and sheds were huddled closely together in the way military men prefer when travelling in the utan. The paddlers had asked us to be ready at daylight, but at seven o'clock in the chilly and very foggy morning they were still warming themselves around the fire. An hour later, when we had finished loading the prahus, the river began to rise incredibly fast, at the rate of ten centimetres per minute in the first six minutes, and in two hours and a quarter it had risen 2.30 metres, when it became steady. In the meantime we had remade our camp, hoping that the river might permit us to travel next day. Three of the Penyahbongs went out hunting with the only sumpitan we had, and shortly afterward returned with a pig.

Early in the afternoon we were much surprised by the appearance of a prahu with three Dayaks who had a dog and a sumpitan and brought a pig which they had killed in the morning. They were the chief, with two companions, from Data Laong on the Kasao River for which we were aiming. The rumour of our party had reached his ears, and with thirty men he had been waiting for us on this side of the watershed. Their scanty provisions soon ran out, and after waiting nine days all had returned home except the present party, whom we welcomed. The new men proved a valuable addition to our crew. The kapala, who was attached to my prahu, was active and gave his orders as if he knew how, a great relief from a weak Malay that hitherto had been at "the helm." When the men with the poles were unable to move the boat against the current, the small, but strongly built man, with a few very powerful pushes, would bring it forward, making it vibrate by his strength.

At Tamaloe animals and birds were not plentiful, the call of the wah-wah usually imparting a little life to the mornings; and I once heard a crow. I do not remember to have seen on the whole Busang River the most familiar of all birds on the Bornean rivers, an ordinary sandpiper that flits before you on the beach. Birds singing in the morning are always rare except in the localities of paddi fields. The one most likely to attract attention on a forenoon is the giant hornbill, and as we advanced up the Busang its laugh might still be heard. Much more unusual was the call of some lonely argus pheasant or a crow. A few of the beautiful white raja birds were observed.