CHAPTER XXIII

A PROFITABLE STAY - MAGNIFICENT FRUITS OF BORNEO - OMEN BIRDS - THE PENIHINGS IN DAILY LIFE - TOP PLAYING - RELIGIOUS IDEAS - CURING DISEASE

On my return to camp a pleasant surprise awaited me in the arrival of mail, the first in six months. The days that followed were laborious: buying, arranging, and cataloguing collections. From early morning Penihings came to my tent, desiring to sell something, and did not quit until late at night. Some were content to stand quietly looking at the stranger for ten or fifteen minutes, and then to go away, their places being taken by others. But after all it was a happy time, much being accomplished every day by adding to my collections and gaining much interesting information.

Over my tent grew a couple of rambutan trees, and close by were two trees bearing a still more delicate fruit called lansat (lansium domesticum). It is mildly acid, like the best kind of orange, but with more flavour, and In appearance resembles a small plum without a stone, and when ripe is almost white in colour. Every morning, at my request, the chief climbed one of these trees, on Which the fruit hung by the bushel, and sold me a basketful for a trifle. The lansat is so easily digested that one can eat it freely in the evening without inconvenience; in fact it is a decided aid to digestion. According to the natives these trees are plentiful in the utan, but in the kampong they, as well as the famous durian and the rambutan, have been raised from seed. Borneo certainly possesses fine wild fruits, but as the jungle is laborious to pass through it would be most difficult to find the trees. I have hitherto directed attention to the superior quality attained by the fruits of the island which are grown from imported stock, as the pineapple, pomelo, etc.

The usual nuisance of crowing cocks is not to be avoided in a Dayak kampong, though here they were few. I saw a hen running with a small chicken in her beak, which she had killed in order to eat it - a common occurrence according to the Penihings. The ludicrous self-sufficiency of the Bornean male fowls, at times very amusing, compensates to some extent for the noise they make, but they are as reckless as the knights-errant of old. Outside my tent at dawn one morning I noticed one of them paying devoted attention to a hen which was hovering her chickens. He stood several seconds with his head bent down toward hers, then walked round her, making demonstrations of interest, and again assumed his former position, she meanwhile clucking protectingly to her brood. Finally, he resolutely attacked her, whereupon she emitted a discordant shriek while seven or eight tiny yellow chicks streamed forth from underneath her; in response to her cry of distress another cock immediately appeared upon the scene and valiantly chased the disturber away.

No less than nine prahus started out one day, bound for Long Iram to buy salt and other goods, taking a small quantity of rattan. The following day, late in the afternoon, the party returned, having passed the night a short distance away. As they had approached Long Blu an omen bird, evidently a small woodpecker, had flown across their path in front of the first prahu, whereupon the whole flotilla at once retraced their course - a tedious day's trip against the current. It makes no difference whether this bird flies from left to right, or from right to left, or whether it crosses in front or behind the boat. If the bird is heard from the direction on the left of the party the augury is bad, whether he is seen or not. If heard from the right side everything is well. After waiting three days the party proceeded on their way.

There are seven omen birds, according to the Penihings, and they are regarded as messengers sent by a good antoh to warn of danger. For the same purpose he make a serpent pass in front of the prahu, or a rusa cry in the middle of the day. At night this cry is immaterial. The most inauspicious of all omens is the appearance of a centipede. If a man in a ladang is confronted with such an animal he at once stops work there and takes up a new field.

The tribal name of the Penihings is A-o-haeng. Until recently each kampong had from two to five supi, chiefs or rajas, one being superior to the others. The office was hereditary. There are still several rajas in one kampong, for instance, three in Long Tjehan. The Penihings have a practical turn of mind and though they usually tell the truth at times they may steal. They are the best workers among the tribes on the Mahakam River (above the great rapids) and on a journey they travel in their prahus day and night, resting only a couple of hours in the early morning. However, the custom of travelling at night may be due to fear of meeting omen birds.

The hair of the Penihings and the Oma-Sulings, though it looks black, in reality is brown with a slight reddish tint plainly visible when sunlight falls through it. I believe the same is the case with other Dayak tribes. In Long Tjehan I observed two natives who, though passing as Penihings, were of decidedly different type, being much darker in colour and of powerful build, one having curly hair while that of the other was straight. Penihing women have unpleasantly shrill voices, a characteristic less pronounced with the men. Members of this tribe are not so fine-looking as those of other tribes on the Mahakam, with the exception of the Saputans.