CHAPTER 13. Home-Life Among Head-Hunting Dayaks.
In the rafters over my head I noticed a great quantity of spears, shields, "sumpitans" or blowpipes, paddles, fish-traps, baskets and rolls of mats piled up indiscriminately, while just over my head where I slept was a rattan basket containing two human heads, though Dubi told me he thought the Dayaks had hidden most of their heads on my arrival. This description of the house I resided in for some time, applies more or less to all the Dayak houses I saw in Borneo.
This house or village was called Menus, and the old chief's name was Usit. In spelling these names one has to be entirely guided by the sounds and write them after the fashion of the English method of spelling Malay. The village or house of Menus seemed to contain about one hundred inhabitants, not counting small children. Upon my arrival I was soon surrounded by a most curious throng, many of whom gazed at me with open mouths, in astonishment at the sight of an "orang puteh" (white man), as of course no white man had ever been here before and but very few of the people had ever seen one. One old woman remembered having seen a white man, and some of the older men had from time to time seen government officials on the Rejang River, but except to these few I was a complete novelty. Considering this, I was greatly astonished at their friendliness, as not only the men, but the women and children squatted around me in the most amicable fashion, and sometimes even became a decided nuisance. My first evening among them, however, I found extremely amusing, and as my Chinese cook placed the food he had cooked before me, and as I ate it with knife, fork and spoon, they watched every mouthful I took amid a loud buzz of comments and exclamations of delight.
Though by no means the first time I have had to endure this sort of popularity, or rather notoriety, in various countries of the world, I do not think I have ever come across a people so full of friendly curiosity as were these Dayaks. About midnight I began to feel a bit sleepy, but the admiring multitude did not seem inclined to move, so I told Dubi to tell them that I wanted to change my clothes and go to sleep. No one moved. "Tell the ladies to go, Dubi," I said, but on his translating my message a woman in the background called out something that met with loud cries of approval.
"What does she say, Dubi?" I asked.
"She says, Tuan," replied Dubi, "they like see your skin, if white the same all over."
This was rather embarrassing, and I told Dubi to insist upon their going; but Dubi, whose advice I generally took, replied, "I think, Tuan (master), more better you show to them your skin." I therefore submitted with as good a grace as possible, and took my shirt off, while some of them, especially the women, pinched and patted the skin on my back amid cries of approval and delight.
They asked if the skin of the Tuan Muda (the Rajah) was as white, and, on being told that it was, a long and serious conversation took place among them, during which the name of the Tuan Muda kept constantly cropping up.
The great naturalist, Wallace, met with much the same experience among the Dayaks, and as the natives of many other countries among whom I have lived never seemed to display the same curiosity about my white skin, I put it down to the Dayaks wishing to see what kind of a skin the great white Rajah, who rules over them, possesses.
The next two or three nights the crowd that waited to see me change into my pyjamas was, if anything, still larger, a good many Dayaks from neighbouring villages coming over to see the sight. But gradually the novelty wore off, to my great joy, as I was getting a bit tired of the whole performance. I had come here to see the Dayaks, but it appeared that they were even more anxious to see me.
For the next two or three weeks an odd Dayak would from time to time ask to see my skin, so that at length I had absolutely to refuse to exhibit myself any longer.
I had luckily brought several illustrated magazines with me to use as papers for my butterflies, and these were a source of endless delight to the crowds around me in the evenings. They behaved like a lot of small children, and roared with laughter over the pictures. They generally looked at the pictures upside down, and even then they seemed to find something amusing about them. With Dubi as my interpreter I used to make up stories about the pictures, and, pointing to the portrait of some well-known actress, described the number of husbands she had killed, and I'm afraid I grossly libelled many a well-known politician, general, or divine in telling the Dayaks how many heads they possessed or how many wives they owned, till it was quite a natural thing for me to join in their uproarious merriment, as I pictured in my mind some venerable bishop on the war-path.
As is well known, the Dayak women all wear rings of brass around their waists. They are called "gronong," and they are made of pliable rattan inside, with small brass rings fastened around the rattan. In the centre of each ring there are generally two or three small red and black rings of coloured rattan between the brass ones. Some wore only four or five, while others possessed twenty or more, and then they rather resembled a corset. Even the little girls of four or five wore two or three of them.