CHAPTER XXX

AN EXPEDITION TO THE KATINGAN RIVER - TATUING OF THE ENTIRE BODY - THE GATHERING OF HONEY - A PLEASANT INTERMEZZO - AN UNUSUALLY ARTISTIC PRODUCTION - UP THE SAMBA RIVER - WITH INCOMPETENT BOATMEN

Arrangements were at once begun for another expedition, this time to the west of Bandjermasin. I planned to ascend the Mendawei, or Katingan River, as it is also called, and, if circumstances permitted, cross over to the headwaters of the Sampit, returning by that stream. Through the kind efforts of the resident, Mr. H.J. Grijson, arrangements were made that would enable me to use the government's steam-launchSelatan as far up the river as it is navigable, to Kuala Samba, and in case necessity arose, to have it wait for my return. This arrangement would save much time.

Accompanied by Mr. Loing, the surveyor, on the last day of November I left Bandjermasin on the steamship Janssens, which, en route for Singapore, was to call at Sampit. There is always a large contingent of Malays who with their families go on this steamer to and fro between Borneo and the Malay Peninsula, where they work on rubber and cocoanut plantations; out of their earnings they buy the desires of their hearts - bicycles and yellow shoes. Thus equipped they go back to Bandjermasin to enjoy themselves a few weeks, after which the bicycles are sold and the erstwhile owners return to the scene of their labours to start afresh.

The controleur, Mr. H.P. Schouten, had just returned on the Selatan from a trip up the Katingan, and turned it over to my use. When the coaling had been done and our goods taken on board, the strong little boat lay deep, but the captain said it was all right. He was the same able djuragan of two years before. Having received from the controleur letters to the five native officials located on the Katingan, we departed, and the following morning arrived at the mouth of the river. At first the country was very thinly inhabited, because the banks are too low to encourage settlement. As hitherto noted the country bordering on the lower portions of the great rivers is populated by Malays exclusively, and here their territory stretches almost to Kasungan. The remainder of the riparian lands is occupied by Katingans. There is some slight difference in the language spoken by those who live on the middle part, from Kasungan to Bali (south of Kuala Samba), and those who from Bali northward occupy the rest of the watercourse. They are termed by the Malays Lower and Upper Katingans. Those of the first category appeared to be of medium size and inclined to stoutness; on the upper stretches of the river they are taller. These and other differences may be due in a measure to tribal changes brought about by head-hunting raids. It is known that there was an influx of Ot-Danums from the Samba on account of such raids. While all Katingans eat snakes and large lizards, the upper ones do not eat rusa but the lower ones do. Their total number is estimated to be about 6,000. In 1911-1912 this river was visited by cholera and smallpox, which reduced the population by 600 and caused the abandonment of some kampongs.

Under favourable circumstances one may travel by prahu to Kuala Samba, our first goal, in sixteen days, the return journey occupying half that time. On reaching Kasungan the river was not quite two metres deep, dimming our chances of proceeding further with the steam-launch. The djuragan put up his measuring rod on the beach, for unless the water rose he would have to go one day down stream. The prospect was not pleasing. The under kapala of the district, a native official whose title for the sake of convenience is always abbreviated to the "onder," at once exerted himself in search of a large boat belonging to a Malay trader, supposed to be somewhere in the neighbourhood, and a young Dutchman who recently had established himself here as a missionary was willing to rent me his motor-boat to tow it.

After several days of preparation, the river showing no sign of rising, we started in an unusually large prahu which was provided with a kind of deck made of palm-leaf mats and bamboo, slightly sloping to each side. It would have been quite comfortable but for the petroleum smoke from the motor-boat, which was sickening and made everything dirty.

In 1880, when Controleur W.J. Michielsen visited the Katingan and Samba Rivers, the kampongs consisted of "six to ten houses each, which are lying in a row along the river bank and shaded by many fruit trees, especially cocoanut palms and durians." A similar description would serve to-day. The large communal house as known in most parts of Borneo does not seem to obtain here. Communal houses of small size were in use ten years previously and are still found on the Upper Samba. Their gradual disappearance may be explained by the fact that the government, as I was informed, does not encourage the building of communal houses.

Whatever the reason, at the present time the dwelling is a more or less flimsy structure, built with no thought of giving access to fresh air, and sometimes no provision is made for the escape of smoke from the fireplace. But the people are very hospitable; they gladly received us in their houses, and allowed me, for purposes of ventilation, to demolish temporarily part of the unsubstantial wall, which consisted of bark or stiff mats. The high ladder is generally provided with a railing leaning outward at either side.