CHAPTER XXV

DEPARTURE FROM THE PENIHINGS - FRUIT-EATING FISH - ANOTHER CALL AT LONG PAHANGEI - A TRIP UP THE MERASI RIVER - GENIAL NATIVES - AN INOPPORTUNE VISIT - THE DURIAN, QUEEN OF ALL FRUITS

It became expedient to prepare for our farther journey down the river, but first I wanted to take some photographs and measurements of the kampong people; this, however, proved an impossible task because of the adverse influence of the reticent and conservative Raja Paron, who spoke not one word of Malay. Recently he had been shocked by the sale to me of two live specimens of the curious spectacled lemur (tarsius borneanus), which had been added to my collections. The raja was incensed with the man who sold them, because the makiki, as these animals are called, are regarded as antohs, and in their anger at being sold were making people ill. Therefore these new proceedings for which his sanction was asked were regarded by him with disapproval, and as a result of his opposition the people began to disappear in the direction of their ladangs. Fortunately, I had secured good material in both respects from Long Kai, and I began preparations for departure.

Prahus and a sufficient number of men were secured, and in the middle of July we started. On the Mahakam there never was any difficulty about getting men who were eager to gain their one rupia a day. The difficulty was rather the other way, and this morning the prahus were found to contain more paddlers than had been agreed upon, and seven surplus men had to be put ashore. On the river-banks at this time were noticeable trees bearing small fruit of a yellowish-red colour, and which were so numerous as to impart their hue to the whole tree. Violent movements in the branches as we passed drew our attention to monkeys, which had been gorging themselves with fruit and scampered away on our approach. Birds, naturally, like the fruit, and, strange to say, it is a great favourite with fish, many kinds of which, chiefly large ones such as the djelavat and salap, gather underneath the trees in the season. On the Mahakam and the Katingan this is an occasion for the Dayaks to catch much fish with casting-net, spears, or hooks. The tree, which in Malay is called crevaia, is not cut, and there is no other known to the natives the fruit of which the fish like to eat. Though not sweet, it is also appreciated by the Dayaks.

Another singular observation made on the Mahakam was the effect of dry weather on the jungle. At one place, where it covered hills rising from the river, the jungle, including many big trees, looked dead. From what I later learned about the burning of the peat in Sarawak, where unusually dry weather may start fires which burn for months, this was undoubtedly also the case here, but it seems strange that in a country so humid as Borneo the weather, although admittedly of little stability, may become dry enough to destroy the woods in this manner.

I had decided to pay another short visit to Long Pahangei, where we arrived in the afternoon, and again we were among Oma-Sulings. Some good specimens were added to my ethnographic collections, among them wearing apparel for both sexes said to be over a hundred years old and which I bought from the Raja Besar, who was visiting here. He possessed a number of old implements and weapons of considerable interest. The raja of a near-by kampong arrived on his way to Long Iram, and the largest of his seven prahus was of unusual dimensions, measuring, at its greatest width, 1.34 metres over all. Although the board, four centimetres thick, stands out a little more than the extreme width of the dugout, which is the main part of a prahu, still the tree which furnished the material must have been of very respectable size.

The Raja Besar showed great desire to accompany me on an excursion up the Merasi River, a northern affluent within the domain of the same tribe. My preference was for Lidju, my constant assistant, but on the morning of our start the great man actually forced himself into service, while the former, who had been told to come, was not to be seen. The raja began giving orders about the prahus and behaved as if he were at home. As I remained passive he finally said that he wanted to know whether he could go; if I preferred Lidju he would remain behind. Not wanting a scene, and as he was so intent on going, I gave the desired permission. Though, like the others, he was nude except for a loin-cloth, Raja Besar was a gentleman at heart, but he did not know how to work, especially in a prahu. On account of his exalted position he had never been accustomed to manual labour, but always to command. He naturally selected a place in my prahu and seated himself at one side, which kept the boat tilted; however, it was out of the question for any of the men to correct him. When the prahu moved away the first thing he did was to wash his feet, next his hands and arms, finally to rinse his mouth, and several times during the trip the performance was repeated. He was of little assistance except through the authority that he exerted as a great raja.

Early in the afternoon we arrived at Lulo Pakko (lulo = river; pakko = edible fern), situated in a beautiful hilly country. The natives very obligingly helped to make camp in the usual way. Raja Besar, who made himself at home in the gallery of the long communal house, told me that he wanted his "children," as he called the men, to remain until the following day, his plan being to obtain double wages for them. With the swift current, however, they could easily return the same day, so I said I had no objection to their staying, but that they would receive no extra pay for the additional time; whereupon they left without argument.