CHAPTER 13. Home-Life Among Head-Hunting Dayaks.
I leave the Main Stream and journey up the Sarekei - A Stream overarched by Vegetation - House 200 feet long - I make Friends with the Chief - My New Quarters - Rarity of White Men - Friendliness of my New Hosts - Embarrassing Request from a Lady, "like we your skin" - Similar Experience of Wallace - Crowds to see me Undress - Dayak's interest in Illustrated Papers - Waist-rings of Dayak Women - Teeth filled with brass - Noisiness of a Dayak House - Dayak Dogs - A well-meant Blow and its Sequel - Uproarious Amusement of the Dayaks - Dayak Fruit-Trees - The Durian as King of all Fruits - Dayak "Bridges" across the Swamp-Dances of the Head-Hunters - A Secret "Fishing" Expedition - A Spear sent by way of defiance to the Government - I "score" off the Pig-Hunters - Dayak Diseases - Dayak Women and Girls - Two "Broken Hearts" - I Raffle my Tins - "Cookie" and the Head-Hunters, their Jokes and Quarrels - My Adventure with a Crocodile.
The Rejang is one of the many large rivers which abound in Borneo, and its tributaries are numerous and for the most part unexplored. The Rejang is tidal for fully one hundred and fifty miles, and at Sibu is over a mile in width. The banks of this river are inhabited by a large population of Malays, Chinese, Dayaks, Kayans, Kanawits, Punans and numerous other tribes. Thus it is a highly interesting region for an ethnologist.
It was with feelings of pleasant anticipation that I started down the river in the government steam-launch from Sibu just as dawn was breaking, on my way to spend several weeks among the wild Dayaks on the unexplored Sarekei River. I took with me my two servants, Dubi, a civilized Dayak, and my Chinese cook. After a journey of four hours we arrived at a large Malay village near the mouth of the Sarekei River. Here I disembarked and sought out the chief of the village and demanded the loan of two canoes, with some men to paddle them, and in return I offered liberal payment. Accordingly, an hour after my arrival I found myself with all my belongings and servants on board the two canoes, with a crew of nine Malays. Soon after leaving the Malay village we branched off to the left up the Sarekei River. It was very monotonous at first, as the giant plumes of the NIPA palm hid everything from my view. My Malays worked hard at their paddles, and late in the afternoon we left the main Sarekei River and paddled up a small and extremely narrow stream. There we found ourselves in the depth of a most luxuriant vegetation. We were in a regular tunnel formed by arching ferns and orchid-laden trees, giant PANDANUS, various palms and arborescent ferns and CALADIUMS. Here grew the largest CRINUM lilies I had ever seen. They literally towered over me, and the sweet-scented white and pink flowers grew in huge bunches on stems nearly as thick as my arm.
After the bright sun on the main river, the dark, gloomy depths of this side-stream were very striking. It was so narrow that sometimes the vegetation on both sides was forced into the canoes, and the "atap" (palm-thatched) roof of my canoe came in for severe treatment as it brushed against prickly PANDANUS and thorny rattans.
The entrance to this stream was completely hidden from view, and no one but these Malays, who had been up here before, trading with the Dayaks, could have discovered it. I had told the Malay chief that I wished to visit a Dayak village where no white man had ever been and where they were head-hunters. He had smiled slyly and nodded as if he understood. Thereupon he said, "Baik (good), Tuan," and said he would help me. Just as darkness was setting in we arrived at a Dayak village, consisting of one very long house, which I afterwards found to exceed two hundred feet in length. It was situated about one hundred yards from the stream. No sooner had we sighted it than the air resounded with the loud beating of large gongs and plenty of shouting. There was a great commotion among the Dayaks.
I at first felt doubtful as to the kind of reception I should get, and immediately made my way to the house with Dubi, who explained to the Dayak chief that I was no government official, but had come to see them and also to get some "burong" (birds) and "kopo-kopo" (butterflies). I forthwith presented the old chief with a bottle of gin, such as they often get from the Malay traders, and some Javanese tobacco, and his face was soon wreathed in smiles.
The Dayaks soon brought all my baggage into the house and I paid off my Malays and proceeded to make myself as comfortable as I could for my stay of several weeks, the chief giving me a portion of his own quarters and spreading mats for me over the bamboo floor. On the latter I put my camp-bed and boxes. I occupied a portion of the open corridor or main hall, which ran the length of the house and where the unmarried men sleep. This long corridor was just thirty feet in width, and formed by far the greater portion of the house; small openings from this corridor led on to a kind of unsheltered platform twenty-five feet in width, which ran the length of the house and on which the Dayaks generally dry their "padi" (rice).
The other side of the house was divided into several rooms, each of which belonged to a separate family. Here they store their wealth, chiefly huge jars and brass gongs. The house was raised on piles fully ten to twelve feet from the ground, the space underneath being fenced in for the accommodation of their pigs and chickens. The smells that came up through the half-open bamboo and "bilian"-wood flooring were the reverse of pleasant. The entrance at each end was by means of a very steep and slippery sort of ladder made out of one piece of wood with notches cut in it, the steps being only a few inches in width. One of these ladders had a rough bamboo hand-rail on each side, and the top part of the steps was roughly carved into the semblance of a human face.