CHAPTER XXIX

THE BALEI OR TEMPLE - A LITTLE KNOWN PART OF THE COUNTRY - A COURTEOUS MALAY - POWER OVER ANIMALS - NEGARA

The kapala cleared the way with his parang, and just before dusk we arrived at the balei, a large structure which the people had taken as a permanent abode, having no houses and possessing ladangs near by. Many fires were burning inside, round which the families had gathered cooking rice, and my entire party also easily found room. The kapala at once sent out five men to gather the necessary coolies for the continuance of our journey the following day.

The carriers were slow in coming, and while waiting in the morning I catalogued four baskets which my messenger had brought from Tappin and a few more which I was able to buy here. The woman from Tappin, who accompanied my man, was even better informed than Dongiyak. She knew designs with remarkable certainty, and it was gratifying to be able to confirm information gathered before, also in two instances to correct errors. Many of the designs seemed familiar to the men standing around, for they, too, without being asked, would sometimes indicate the meaning correctly.

This done, I again inspected the balei, accompanied by the kapala who himself was a blian; he and the others were perfectly willing to give any information about customs and beliefs, although equally unable to do so. The dancing space in the middle was rectangular, about eight metres long, lying nearly east and west. It was about thirty centimetres lower than the remainder of the floor, on which I counted nineteen small rooms, or rather stalls. In the middle of the dancing place was a large ornamental stand made of wood, twice as high as a man, from which were hanging great quantities of stripped palm leaves. From the western part of the stand protruded upward a long narrow plank, painted with simple curved designs representing nagah, the great antoh, shaped like a serpent and provided with four short curved fangs stretched forward. The people could not be induced to sell the effigy because it was not yet one year old.

The country was uneven and heavy for travelling, or, as the carriers expressed it, the land was sakit (Malay for "ill"). There were more mountain ranges than I expected, rather low, though one we got a fine view of two quite impressive mountains. Here and there on the distant hillsides ladangs were seen and solitary houses could be discerned. On our arrival in the first kampong we were hospitably offered six young cocoanuts, considered a great delicacy even among white people. Although I do not much appreciate the sweetish, almost flavourless water of this fruit, they proved very acceptable to my men, as the day was intensely hot for Borneo.

At the kampong Belimbing, by taking out on of the walls which were constructed like stiff mats, I obtained a good room in the pasang grahan, but the difficulty about getting men increased. The kapala, or pumbakal, as this official is called in these parts, was obliging and friendly, but he had slight authority and little energy. He personally brought the men by twos and threes, finally one by one, and he worked hard. When finally we were able to start, still a couple of men short, he asked to be excused from accompanying me further, to which I readily assented. There were too many pumbakals who graced the expedition with their presence. I believe we had four that day who successively led the procession, generally with good intentions to be of assistance, but, in accordance with their dignity, carrying little or nothing, and receiving the same payment as the rest. However, it must be conceded that their presence helped to make an impression on the next kampong which was expected to furnish another gang of carriers.

We managed to travel along, and finally reached the last Dayak kampong, Bayumbong, consisting of the balei and a small house. The balei was of limited proportions, dark, and uninviting, so I put up my tent, which was easily done as the pumbakal and men were friendly and helpful. All the carriers were, of course, anxious to return, but as they were engaged to go to Kandangan I told them they would have to continue, promising, however, to pay for two days instead of one and to give them all rice in the evening. These people are like children, and in dealing with them a determined but accommodating ruling is necessary.

The journey was less rough than before, though we still passed gulches over which bamboo poles afforded passage for a single file, and soon the road began to be level. It was not more than four or five hours' walk to Kandangan, but rain began to fall and the men each took a leaf from the numerous banana trees growing along the road with which to protect themselves. On approaching the village we found two sheds some distance apart which had been built conveniently over the road for the comfort of travelling "inlanders." As the downpour was steady I deemed it wise to stop under these shelters, on account of the natives, if for no other reason, as they are unwilling carriers in rain.

The house of a Malay official was near by, and after a few minutes he came forth in the rain, a servant bringing a chair which he offered to me. Feeling hungry, I inquired if bananas were purchasable, but without immediate result. He was naturally curious to know where I came from, and having been satisfied in that respect he went back to his house, soon returning with bananas and a cup of tea. Hearing that I had been three weeks without mail and was anxious to have news of the war, he also brought me two illustrated Malay periodicals published in Amsterdam. Alas! they were half a year old, but nevertheless, among the illustrations were some I had not seen before. This was a worthy Malay and not unduly forward - he was too well-mannered for that.