CHAPTER XXXV

A VISIT TO KUALA KAPUAS - A BREED OF STUMP-TAILED DOGS - THE SHORT-TAILED CATS OF BORNEO - A SECOND EXPEDITION TO LAKE SEMBULO-NATIVES UNDISMAYED BY BERI-BERI - THE TAMOANS - THE PRACTICE OF INCISION

The second trip to Sembulo had to be postponed until the return of the controleur of Sampit from an extended tour, when the steam-launch Selatan would again be placed at my service. During the weeks of waiting I made a trip to Kuala Kapuas, northwest of Bandjermasin. The Kapuas River is broad here, I should say at least 600 metres; if there is any wind one cannot cross because the prahus are all made of iron-wood and sink easily, owing to the fact that they are heavy and do not accommodate themselves to the waves. A German missionary and family had been here ten years. The children looked a little pale but strong, and had never had malaria nor children's diseases.

I soon became convinced that there was little here for me to learn. The Dayaks have been too long exposed to Malay and European influences, though still able to make splendid mats, for which this place is well known. Malay ascendancy is strong on the lower courses of the two great rivers that meet here, on the Kapuas as far as Djangkang, on the Kahayan as far as Pahandut. I carried away mud for future zoological examination from the bottom of a pool, ten minutes walk from the shore. There are always small fish in it, and three or four times a year it is flooded. In dry seasons, although not every year, the water of the sea reaches as far as Mandumei.

In Bandjermasin my attention was drawn to an interesting breed of stump-tailed dogs which belonged to Mr. B. Brouers. The mother is a white terrier which has but half a tail, as if cut off. When she had pups, two had stump tails, two had long ones, and one had none; her sister has no tail. Though the fathers are the ordinary yellowish Dayak dogs with long tails, the breed apparently has taken nothing or next to nothing from them. They are all white, sometimes with hardly noticeable spots of yellow.

Nobody who has travelled in Borneo can have failed to notice the great number of short-tailed cats. In Bandjermasin those with long tails are very rare, and among Malays and Dayaks I do not remember ever having seen them. They are either stub-tailed or they have a ball at the end of a tail that is usually twisted and exceptionally short. These cats are small and extremely tame, and can hardly be pushed away with a kick, because they have always been used to having their own way in the house. They are more resourceful and enterprising than the ordinary domestic cat, using their claws to an almost incredible extent in climbing down perpendicular wooden walls, or in running under the roof on rafters chasing mice. I have twice photographed such cats, a liberty which they resented by striking viciously at the man who held them and growling all the time. Their accustomed food is rice and dried fish.

The steamship Janssens had recently reduced its already infrequent sailings for Singapore, which caused some delay, but finally, toward the end of March, I embarked for Sampit. I was glad to see the controleur, who came down to the pier, for the rare occasions when steamers call here are almost festive events, and arrangements were at once made for my journey to Sembulo. At Pembuang we took on board the native kapala of the district, who was to accompany me; he also brought an attendant, a cook, and a policeman, all natives. Twelve hours later, when we arrived at the kampong Sembulo, the kapala who came on board the Selatan informed us that no Dayaks were there. As the lake was low and the water continued to fall it was impossible to proceed to Bangkal, the other kampong, or to remain here more than a few days. Therefore, at my request the native authorities agreed to have the Bangkal Dayaks congregate here, the kapala himself undertaking to bring them.

The population of the kampong Sembulo, formerly called Pulau Tombak, at the present time is Malay, comprising more than two hundred full-grown men, nearly all recent arrivals from Bandjermasin, Sampit, Pembuang, and other places. Very little rice is planted because the soil is sandy and unsuited to cultivation, therefore the inhabitants confine their activities mainly to rubber gathering. At that time about a hundred men were busy in the jungle on the opposite side, gathering white rubber, which is plentiful in the surrounding country. They cross the lake in their small prahus, pole them up the streams, and remain perhaps three months in the utan working under adverse conditions. When engaged in their pursuit they must always stand in water, which covers the ground and is usually shallow but at times reaches to the armpit.

Four weeks previously an epidemic of beri-beri had started with a mortality of one or two every day. When attacked by the disease they return to the kampong but only few recover, most of them dying from one or the other of the two forms of beri-beri. Nevertheless, the remainder continue the work undismayed - "business going on as usual." In the tropics life and death meet on friendly terms. "That is a sad phase of this country," said a Briton to me in India; "you shake hands with a man to-day and attend his funeral to-morrow."