CHAPTER XXVIII

AN EARTHQUAKE - ERADICATING THE PLAGUE - THROUGH THE COUNTRY NORTHEAST OF BANDJERMASIN - MARTAPURA AND ITS DIAMOND-FIELDS - PENGARON - THE GIANT PIG - THE BUKITS - WELL-PRESERVED DECORATIVE DESIGNS - AN ATTRACTIVE FAMILY

I decided to travel more in Borneo, but before undertaking this it was necessary for several reasons to go to Java. In Soerabaia I had my first experience of an earthquake. Shortly before two o'clock, while at luncheon in the hotel, a rather strong rocking movement was felt, and I looked at the ceiling to see if there were cracks which would make it advisable to leave the room. But it lasted only a few seconds, although the chandeliers continued to swing for a long time. At other places clocks stopped, and I read in the papers that the vibration passed from south to north, damaging native villages. In one town the tremors lasted three minutes and were the worst that had occurred in thirty-four years, but when the disturbance reached Soerabaia it was far less severe than one experienced in Los Angeles, California, in April, 1918.

As is well known, the government of the Dutch Indies expends millions in eradicating the plague, which is prevalent in portions of eastern Java. In addition to exterminating the rats, it is necessary to demolish the bamboo huts of the natives and move the inhabitants to new quarters. Houses of wood are erected, lumber for the purpose being imported from Borneo in great quantities. That the efforts have been crowned with success is indicated from the reports issued in 1916, showing that plague cases had been reduced seventy per cent.

Returning to Bandjermasin toward the end of October, I began to make arrangements for a journey to Lok Besar, in a hilly region of the Northeast at the source of the Riam Kiwa River. This kampong had recently been visited by the government's mining engineer, Mr. W. Krol, on one of his exploring expeditions. At first glance it might seem unpromising to make researches in a region so near to a stronghold of the Malays, but as he was the first and only European who had been in the upper country of that river, there was a fair chance that the natives might prove of considerable interest. It was a matter of five or six days by prahu from Bandjermasin, followed by a three days' march, and I decided to return by a different route, cross the mountain range, and emerge by Kandangan.

Accompanied by Mr. Loing, the surveyor, and the soldier-collector, I started from Bandjermasin on November 1. To travel by the canal to Martapura can hardly be regarded as a pleasure-trip, as mosquitoes and flies are troublesome. Half a year later I went by the road to the same place under more cheerful conditions, and though the day was overcast, the flooded country just north of the town presented a picturesque appearance. Rows of high-gabled Malay houses, with narrow bridges leading out to them, were reflected in the calm water, and beautiful blue morning-glories covered the small bushes growing in the water. Along the road were forests of melalevca leucodendron, of the family of myrtaceae, from which the famous cajuput-oil is obtained. It is a very useful, highly aromatic, and volatile product, chiefly manufactured in the Moluccas, and especially appreciated by the Malays, who employ it internally and externally for all ailments. They are as fond of cajuput-oil as cats are of valeriana.

Early in the afternoon the prahus landed us at Martapura, which is renowned for its diamonds and once was the seat of a powerful sultanate. The fields, which have been known for a long time, cover a large area, and the diamonds found in gravel, though mostly small and yellow, include some which are pronounced to be the finest known to the trade. There is always water beneath the surface, and natives in bands of twenty occupy themselves in searching for the precious stones, digging holes that serve besides as self-filling basins in which the gravel is panned. The government does not work the fields. In a factory owned by Arabs the diamonds are cut by primitive but evidently very efficient methods, since South African diamonds are sent here for treatment, because the work can be done much cheaper than in Amsterdam.

The controleur, Mr. J.C. Vergouwen, said that there were 700 Dayaks in his district. He was able to further my plans materially by calling a Malay official who was about to start in the same direction for the purpose of vaccinating the natives some distance up country. The kapala of the district, from Pengaron, who happened to be there, was also sent for, and both men were instructed to render me assistance. Next day the Malay coolies carried our baggage to the unattractive beach near the market-place, strewn with bones and refuse, loaded our goods in the prahus, and the journey began. The men were cheap and willing but slow, and it was near sunset when we arrived at the English rubber plantation near Bumirata.

The controleur had been friendly enough to send word to the manager that he had invited me to stay overnight at the estate. However, upon arrival there we were told that the manager had gone to Bandjermasin the day before, but was expected back at seven o'clock. It did not seem the proper thing to make ourselves at home in his absence, so we returned to the kampong, five minutes below by prahu, to make camp in a spacious, rather clean-looking, shed that formed the pasar or market-place.