CHAPTER 12. On the War-Path in Borneo.
I had been at Sibu only three or four days, when word was brought down to Dr. Hose that the Ulu Ai Dayaks, near Fort Kapit, about one hundred miles up the river, had attacked and killed a party of Punans for the sake of their heads. These Punans are a nomadic tribe who wander about through the great forests with no settled dwelling-places, but build themselves rough huts and hunt the wild game of the forest and feed on the many wild fruits that are found in these forests. Hose at once decided to go up to Fort Kapit and punish these Dayaks, and gave me leave to accompany him and Shelford. So one morning at six o'clock we boarded a large steam launch with a party of the Rangers, mentioned above, as the Rajah's troops. We took, from near Sibu, several friendly Dayaks, who were armed to the teeth with spears, "parangs," "sumpitans," shields and war ornaments, all highly elated at the prospect of the fighting in store for them.
In a short account like this, it is of course impossible to describe the many interesting things that I saw on the journey up the river. We passed many of the long, curious Dayak houses and plenty of canoes full of these picturesque people, and at some of the villages little Dayak children hurriedly pushed out small canoes from the shore so as to get rocked by the waves made by our launch. This they seemed to enjoy, to judge from the delighted yells they gave forth. I several times saw a most ingenious invention for frightening away the birds and monkeys from the large fruit trees which surrounded every Dayak village. At one end of a large rattan cord was a sort of wooden rattle, fixed on the top of one of the largest fruit trees. The other end of the rattan was fastened to a slender bamboo stick which was stuck into the river, and the action of the stream caused the bamboo to sway to and fro, thus jerking the rattan which in turn set the rattle going. We passed several small houses built on the tops of large tree-stumps. These, Dr. Hose informed me, were built by Kanawits, of a race of people known as Kelamantans. These Kelamantans are supposed to be the oldest residents of Borneo, being here long before the Dayaks and Kayans, but they axe fast dying out, as are the Punans, I believe chiefly owing to the raids of the warlike Dayaks. They were once ferocious head-hunters, but now they are a very inoffensive people.
About mid-day we stopped at the village of Kanawit, at the mouth of the river of that name. This village, like Sibu, is composed entirely of Chinese and Malays. They are all traders and do a thriving business with the Dayaks and other natives. Here also was a fort with its cannon, with a Dayak or Malay sergeant and a dozen men in charge. As we proceeded up river, the scenery became rather monotonous. There was little tall forest, the country being either cleared for planting "padi" (rice) or in secondary forest growth or jungle, a sure sign of a thick population. We saw many Dayaks burning the felled jungle for planting their "padi," and the air was full of ashes and smoke, which obscured the rays of the sun and cast a reddish glare on the surrounding country.
Toward evening we reached the village of Song and stayed here all night, fastening our launch to the bank. In spite of the fort here, we learned that the Chinamen were in great fear of an attack by the Dayaks, which they daily expected. Leaving Song at half-past five the next morning, we arrived at Kapit about ten a.m. and put up at the fort, which was a large one. A long, narrow platform from the top of the fort led to a larger platform on which, overlooking the river, there was a large cannon which could be turned round so as to cover all the approaches from the river in case there was an attack on the fort. We learned that the day before we arrived at Kapit, Mingo, the Portuguese in charge of the fort, had captured the worst ringleader of the head-hunters in the bazaar at Kapit, and small parties of loyal Dayaks were at once sent off to the homes of the other head-hunters with strict injunctions to bring back the guilty ones, and, failing persuasion and threats, to attack them. In most cases they were successful, and I saw many of the prisoners brought in, together with some of the heads of their victims.
The next morning Hose suddenly called out to me that if I wished to inspect the heads I would find them hanging up under the cannon platform by the river, and he sent a Dayak to undo the wrappings of native cloth and mats in which they were done up. They were a sickening sight, and all the horrors of head-hunting were brought before me with vivid and startling reality far more than could have been done by any writer, and I pictured those same heads full of life only a few days before, and then suddenly a rush from the outside amid the unprepared Punans in their rude huts in the depths of the forest, a woman's scream of terror, followed by the sickening sound of hacking blows from the sharp Dayak "parangs," and the Dayak war-cry, "Hoo-hah! hoo-hah!" ringing through the night air, as every single Punan man, woman and child, who has not had time to escape, is cut down in cold blood. When all are dead, the proud Dayaks, proceed to hack off the heads of their victims and bind them round with rattan strings with which to carry them, and then, returning in triumph, are hailed with shouts of delight by their envious fellow-villagers, for this means wives, a Dayak maiden thinking as much of heads as a white girl would of jewellery. The old Dayak who undid the wrappings pretended to be horrified, but I felt sure that the old hypocrite wished that he owned them himself.