CHAPTER XX

ARRIVAL ON THE MAHAKAM RIVER - AMONG THE PENIHINGS - LONG KAI, A PLEASANT PLACE - A BLIANAS SHIELD - PUNANS AND BUKATS, SIMPLE-MINDED NOMADS - EXTREME PENALTY FOR UNFAITHFULNESS - LONG TJEHAN

A few minutes later we came in sight of the Mahakam River. At this point it is only forty to fifty metres wide, and the placid stream presented a fine view, with surrounding hills in the distance. In the region of the Upper Mahakam River, above the rapids, where we had now arrived, it is estimated there are living nearly 10,000 Dayaks of various tribes, recognised under the general name Bahau, which they also employ themselves, besides their tribal names.

The first European to enter the Mahakam district was the Dutch ethnologist, Doctor A.W. Nieuwenhuis, at the end of the last century. He came from the West, and in addition to scientific research his mission was political, seeking by peaceful means to win the natives to Dutch allegiance. In this he succeeded, though not without difficulty and danger. Although he was considerate and generous, the Penihing chief Blarey, apprehensive of coming evil, twice tried to kill him, a fact of which the doctor probably was not aware at the time. Kwing Iran, the extraordinary Kayan chief, knew of it and evidently prevented the plan from being executed. Blarey did not like to have Europeans come to that country, which belonged to the natives, as he expressed it.

The Penihing kampong, Sungei Lobang, was soon reached. It is newly made, in accordance with the habit of the Dayaks to change the location of their villages every fourteen or fifteen years, and lies on a high bank, or rather a mud-ridge, which falls steeply down on all sides. It was the residence of the chief and the Penihings who brought us here, and if conditions proved favourable I was prepared to make a stay of several weeks in this populous kampong, which consists of several long, well-constructed buildings. The Dayaks assisted in putting up my tent, and of their own accord made a low palisade of bamboo sticks all around it as protection against the roaming pigs and dogs of the place. It proved of excellent service, also keeping away the obnoxious fowls, and during the remainder of my travels this measure of security, which I adopted, added considerably to my comfort. On receiving their payment in the evening the Dayaks went away in bad humour because they had expected that such a tuan besar as I was would give them more than the usual wages allowed when serving the Company, as the government is called. This tuan, they said, had plenty of money to boang (throw) away, and he had also a good heart.

Otherwise, however, these natives were kindly disposed and more attractive than either of the two tribes last visited. In husking rice the Penyahbongs, Saputans, and Penihings have the same method of gathering the grains back again under the pestle with the hands instead of with the feet, as is the custom of the Kenyahs and Kayans. All day there were brought for sale objects of ethnography, also beetles, animals, and birds. Two attractive young girls sold me their primitive necklaces, consisting of small pieces of the stalks of different plants, some of them odoriferous, threaded on a string. One girl insisted that I put hers on and wear it, the idea that it might serve any purpose other than to adorn the neck never occurring to them. Two men arrived from Nohacilat, a neighbouring kampong, to sell two pieces of aboriginal wearing apparel, a tunic and a skirt. Such articles are very plentiful down there, they said, and offered them at an astonishingly reasonable price.

Malay is not spoken here, and we got on as best we could - nevertheless the want of an interpreter was seriously felt. The chief himself spoke some and might have served fairly well, but he studiously remained away from me, and even took most of the men from the kampong to make prahus at another place. I was told that he was afraid of me, and certainly his behaviour was puzzling. Three months later I was enlightened on this point by the information that he had been arrested on account of the murder by spear of a woman and two men, a most unusual occurrence among Dayaks, who, as a rule, never kill any one in their own tribe. With the kampong well-nigh deserted, it soon became evident that nothing was to be gained by remaining and that I would better change the scene of my activities to Long Kai, another Penihing kampong further down the river.

A small garrison had been established there, and by sending a message we secured prahus and men, which enabled us to depart from our present encampment. There were some rapids to pass in which our collector of animals and birds nearly had his prahu swamped, and although it was filled with water, owing to his pluck nothing was lost. At Long Kai the lieutenant and Mr. Loing put up a long shed of tent material, while I placed my tent near friendly trees, at the end of a broad piece of road on the river bank, far enough from the kampong to avoid its noises and near enough to the river to enjoy its pleasant murmur.