CHAPTER XXVII

CONTINUING THE JOURNEY DOWN THE RIVER - GREAT KIHAMS - BATOKELAU - AT LONG IRAM - LAST STAGES OF OUR JOURNEY - ARRIVAL AT SAMARINDA - HINDU ANTIQUITIES - NATIVE'S SUPERIORITY TO CIVILISED MAN

Early in August, as soon as the river had receded sufficiently to be considered favourable for travel, we started in seven prahus with thirty-two men. After less than two hours' swift journey we encountered the advance-guard of the kihams, which, though of little account, obliged us to take ashore almost all our goods, and we walked about fifteen minutes. It seemed a very familiar proceeding. Early in the afternoon we arrived at the kubo, a desirable shelter that had been erected at the head of the first great kiham, but its limited accommodations were taxed to overflowing by our arrival. Already camped here were a few Buginese traders and a raja from the Merasi River, accompanied by two good-looking wives, who were all going to Long Iram and had been waiting two days for the river to fall. The raja, who presented me with some bananas, moved with his family a little farther down the river, and I put up my tent as usual.

Next morning the transportation of our goods on human backs was begun, and shortly after six o'clock I started with the men to walk to the foot of the rapids, which takes about three hours. On the way, I observed a large accumulation of vines and branches heaped round the base of a tall trunk which at first sight looked dead. The tree to all appearances had died, all the branches had fallen, and with them the vines, orchids, ferns, etc., that had lived on it, but after being rid of all this burden it came to life again, for at the top appeared small branches with large leaves. A singular impression was created by the big heap of vegetable matter, not unlike a burial-mound, from the midst of which emerged the tall, straight trunk with the fresh leaves at the top, telling the tale of a drama enacted in the plant world through which the tree had passed triumphantly.

My camping-place was a small clearing on the high river-bank, where I remained two days while the goods were being transported. There had been little rain for a few days; indeed, it is possible the dry season had begun, and the weather was intensely hot, especially in the middle of the day. I catalogued a number of photographic plates, but the heat in my tent, notwithstanding the fly, made perspiration flow so freely that it was difficult to avoid damage. Moreover, I was greatly annoyed by the small yellow bees, which were very numerous. They clung to my face and hair in a maddening manner, refusing to be driven away. If caught with the fingers, they sting painfully.

The river fell more than one metre during the first night, and the Merasi raja's party passed in their prahus at seven o'clock next morning. At twelve our seven prahus showed up, bringing some large packages that could easiest be spared in case anything happened. The following day the remainder of the baggage arrived, carried on the backs of the men, and I was glad to have all here safe and dry.

In a couple of hours we arrived in the kampong Batokelau (turtle), and below are other rapids which, though long, are less of an obstacle. A beautiful mountain ridge, about 1,200 metres high, through which the river takes its course, appears toward the southeast. The population includes fifty "doors" of Busangs, forty "doors" of Malays, and twenty of Long-Glats. Crocodiles are known to exist here, but do not pass the rapids above. The kapala owned a herd of forty water-buffaloes, which forage for themselves but are given salt when they come to the kampong. When driven to Long Iram, they fetch eighty florins each. The gables of the kapala's house were provided with the usual ornaments representing nagah, but without the dog's mouth. He would willingly have told me tales of folklore, but assured me he did not know any, and pronounced Malay indistinctly, his mouth being constantly full of sirin (betel), so I found it useless to take down a vocabulary from him.

Continuing our journey, we successfully engineered a rapid where a Buginese trader two weeks previously had lost his life while trying to pass in a prahu which was upset. Afterward we had a swift and beautiful passage in a canyon through the mountain ridge between almost perpendicular sides, where long rows of sago-palms were the main feature, small cascades on either side adding to the picturesqueness. At the foot of the rapids we made camp in order to enable me to visit a small salt-water accumulation in the jungle a couple of kilometres farther down the river. As we landed near the place, we saw over a hundred pigeons leaving. There were two kinds of these birds at the pool, most of them of a very common large variety, with white head and green wings, and all were shy; according to the opinion of the Dayaks, owing to the prevalence of rain.

Next morning we started shortly after six o'clock, and early in the afternoon reached the kampong Omamahak, which is inhabited by Busangs, with a sprinkling of Malays. Two hours later twenty-one prahus arrived from Apo Kayan with one hundred and seventy-nine Kenyahs on their way to Long Iram to carry provisions to the garrison. Soon afterward the captain of Long Iram overtook us here, returning from his tour of inspection above, so the place became very populous. The next night we stopped at Hoang Tshirao, inhabited by a tribe of the same name, also called Busang, apparently quite primitive people. The kampong was neat and clean; there were many new wooden kapatongs, as well as small wooden cages on poles, evidently serving for sacrificial offerings. The following day we arrived at Long Iram.