CHAPTER 12. On the War-Path in Borneo.
The "Orang-utan" and the "Man of the Jungle" - Voyage to Sarawak - The Borneo Company, Limited - Kuching, a Picturesque Capital - Independence of Sarawak - I meet the Rajah and the Chief Officials - Etiquette of the Sarawak Court - The "Club" - The "Rangers" of Sarawak and their Trophies - Execution by means of the Long Kris - Degeneracy of the Land Dayaks - Ascent of the Rejang River - Mud Banks and Crocodiles - Dr. Hose at his Sarawak Home - The Fort at Sibu - Enormous length of Dayak Canoes - A Brush with Head-Hunters - Dayak Vengeance on Chinamen - First Impressions of the Sea Dayak, "picturesque and interesting" - A Head-Hunting raid, Dayaks attack the Punans - I accompany the Punitive Expedition - Voyage Upstream - A Clever "Bird Scare" - Houses on the top of Tree-stumps - The Kelamantans - Kanawit Village - The Fort at Kapit - Capture of a notorious Head-Hunting Chief - I inspect the "Heads" of the Victims - Cause of Head-Hunting - Savage Revenge of a Dayak Lover and its Sequel - Hose's stem Ultimatum - Accepted by the Head-Hunters - I return to Sibu - A Fatal Misconception.
I had spent about seven months in the forests of British North Borneo, going many days' journey into the heart of the country, had made fine natural-history collections and had come across a great deal of game, including elephant, rhinoceros, bear, and "tembadu" or wild cattle, huge wild pig and deer of three species being especially plentiful. But above all I had come across a great many "orang-utan" (Malay for "jungle-man") and had been able to study their habits. One of these great apes has the strength of eight men and possesses an extraordinary amount of vitality. One that I shot lived for nearly three hours with five soft-nosed Mauser bullets in its body.
But I had not yet seen the REAL jungle-man in his native haunts - the head-hunting Dayak, as the Dayaks are rarely to be found in North Borneo, whereas the people on the Kinabatangan River (where I spent most of my time) were a sort of Malay termed "Orang Sungei" (River People). So, as I was anxious to see the real head-hunting Dayak, I determined to go to Sarawak, which is in quite a different part of Borneo. To do this, I had to return to Singapore, and thence, after a two days' voyage, I arrived at Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Except for a Chinese towkay, I was the only saloon passenger, as strangers rarely visit this country.
Kuching is about twenty-five miles up the Sarawak River, and contains about thirty thousand inhabitants, chiefly Malays and Chinese, with about fifty Europeans, who are for the most part government officials or belong to the Borneo Company, Limited. This company is very wealthy and owns the only steamship line, plying between Singapore and Kuching. It has several gold mines and a great quantity of land planted to pepper, gambier, gutta percha and rubber. The Rajah will not allow any other company or private individual to buy lands or open up an estate, neither will he allow any traders in the country.
It would be difficult to imagine a more picturesque town than Kuching. It chiefly consists of substantial Chinese dwellings of brick and plaster, with beautiful tile-work of quaint figures, while temples glittering with gold peep out of thick, luxuriant, tropical growth. Two miles out of the city you can lose yourself in a dense tropical forest of the greatest beauty, and in the background is a chain of mountains, some of them of extraordinary shape. The reigning monarch or Rajah is an Englishman, Sir Charles Brooke, a nephew of Sir James Brooke, the first Rajah, who was an officer in the British Navy and who, after conquering Malay pirates, was made Rajah of the country by the grateful Dayaks.
Though Sarawak is supposed to be under British protection, and though all his officials are Britishers, Rajah Brooke considers his country independent and will not allow the Union Jack to be flown in his dominions. He possesses his own flag, a mixture of red, black and yellow, and his own national anthem; moreover his officials refer to him as the King, and to his son, the heir to the throne, as the "young King" (or "Rajah Muda").
Two days after my arrival, the Rajah left on his steam yacht for England, but the day before he left, he held a great reception at his "palace" (or "astana," as it is called in Malay). It was attended by all his officials, by high Malay chiefs and the chief Chinese merchants. The reins of government were formally handed over to his son, the Rajah Muda, after which champagne was passed round. The chief resident, Sir Percy Cunninghame, then introduced me to the Rajah. He is a fine-looking old man with a white moustache and white hair, and is greatly beloved by every one. He conversed with me for some time, and asked me many questions about the Chartered Company in British North Borneo. It was rather embarrassing for me, with every one silently and respectfully standing around listening to every word. He wished me success in my travels in the interior, and told his officials to do all in their power to help me. When you talk about the Rajah you say "His Highness," but when you address him, you simply say "Rajah" after every few words - "Yes, Rajah," or "No, Rajah." The native chiefs, I noticed, kissed the hands of both the Rajah and the Rajah Muda.
There is no hotel in Kuching, so I put up at the rather dilapidated government Rest-House, part of which I had to myself, the other half being occupied by two government officers. The club in Kuching seems a most popular institution with all the officials, and "gin pahits" (or "bitters") the popular drink of this part of the world; billiards and pool help to pass many a pleasant evening, the Rajah Muda often joining us at a game of black pool, like any ordinary mortal.