On the Equator
by Harry de Windt
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Our Plan of Travel Outfitters—Journey to Marseilles— Departure—"The Inevitable"—Journey Out—Singapore— Leave for Kuching—The Aline—"Talang-Talang"—The Sarawak River—Kuching—The Bazaar, &c.—Comfortable Quarters 9


Territory of Sarawak—History of the Country—Raja Brooke and Muda Hasim—Rebellions in Sarawak—Brooke proclaimed Raja—Chinese Insurrection—Military and Naval Establishment—Exports—Progress of Sarawak—Death of Sir James Brooke 24


Kuching—Society—The Club—Amusements—The Sarawak Gazette—The Bazaar—Health of Kuching—Life in Kuching—Rats—Preparations for Journey to the Matang Mountain 36


Travel in Borneo—Travelling Boats—Leave for Matang— Our Crew—Alligators—Mosquitoes—Matang Bungalow—The Garden—Ascend the Mountain—The Waterfall—A Nasty Jump—View from the Summit—Snakes—Return to Kuching 44


The Rejang Residency—Wild Tribes of the Interior—Start for Rejang—Timber Ships—Sibu—Attack by Katibus—A Dinner Party—The Fireship—Kanowit—"Jok"—Kanowits' Dwellings—Human Heads—"Bones" and "Massa Johnson" 58


Leave Kanowit—Scenery—War Canoes—Arrive at Kapit— Wild Tribes—Kayan Burials—Head Feast—Lat—His Family—Tattooing—The Sumpitan—Kayan and Dyak War Dances—The Kok-Goo—The Bock Expedition to Central Borneo—Cannibalism—Return to Kuching 75


Sport in Borneo—The Orang-Utan—His Habits—Start for Sadong—A Rough Journey—Sadong—The Fort and Village—L. Capsized—The Mines—Our Cook—The Abang—Start for Mias Ground—Our Hunt for Orang—Lost in the Forest—Leave for Sadong—An Uncomfortable Night—Small-Pox—Manangs—A Dyak Don Juan—Return to Kuching 93


Preparations for Departure—Leave Sarawak—A Squall—A Dutch Dinner—Batavia—Weltereoden—Life in Java— Buitenzorg—Koerapan—Dutch Soldiers—A Review—Modes of Execution in the Archipelago—The World-Wide Circus—Return to Singapore—Leave for Europe—Gibraltar 114


Cadiz Custom-House Officers—Spanish Courtship— Marketplace—Leave for Seville—Jerez de la Frontera— Seville—Pilate's House—Las Delicias—Triana—Madrid— Bull Fighting—"Espadas"—A Bull Fight—Frascuelo— Cruelty to Horses—Leave for Paris—A Stormy Passage— Home Again—Adieu 128



Our Plan of Travel Outfitters—Journey to Marseilles— Departure—"The Inevitable"—Journey Out—Singapore— Leave for Kuching—The Aline—"Talang-Talang"—The Sarawak River—Kuching—The Bazaar, &c.—Comfortable Quarters.

It was on the 13th of April, 1880, that, accompanied by an old College friend (whom throughout these pages I shall call L.), I left London for the Eastern Archipelago, via Marseilles and Singapore, our destination being Sarawak, the seat of government of Raja Brooke in the island of Borneo. Our expedition had been a long-projected one, but it was not until the latter end of March, 1880, that we finally decided to start.

Thanks to the small experience gained from a former voyage to these parts we successfully resisted the efforts of our outfitters to supply us with, in addition to what was really necessary, almost every useless thing ever heard of, from a cholera-belt to a velvet smoking suit. We were, however, resolved to take nothing more than was absolutely necessary, as on a journey of this kind nothing is more embarrassing than a large amount of luggage. A small but complete outfit was therefore got together, which was easily carried in one small overland trunk, one small portmanteau for cabin use on board ship, and a gun-case each. This we afterwards found ample to contain all the necessaries required.

On the evening, then, of the 13th of April, we stood on the platform of the Charing Cross Station, awaiting the departure of the mail train for Dover, and—our luggage duly registered for Paris—we ensconced ourselves in a smoking-carriage, and lit up the fragrant weed, not sorry that we were really off at last.

Our journey to Paris was pleasant enough—a quick run to Dover, a smooth moonlit passage to Calais, a sound sleep in a comfortable coupe lit, and we awoke to find Paris around us, white and cheerful in the bright spring sunshine. Putting up at Meurice's Hotel, three days were enjoyably spent here, and on the 17th we left for Marseilles, which was reached at 6.30 a.m. on the 18th, after a tedious journey of twenty hours. We at once drove to the ship, on alighting at the railway station, not forgetting to purchase on our way through the town those essentials on a long sea voyage, a couple of cane easy-chairs.

On arrival at the quay we found active preparations for departure going on, as the ship was to sail at 10 o'clock a.m.; and, being Sunday, she was thronged with holiday-makers, who had come to see her off. Having got on board, we dived below and installed ourselves in a comfortable and roomy cabin (which we were lucky enough to get to ourselves the entire voyage), and returned on deck to watch the busy scene. The hubbub and the noise were deafening, for the squeakings of some sixty or seventy pigs, which were being hoisted on board a vessel alongside bound for Barcelona, added to the din, and combined to make what the French would call "un vacarme infernal."

By 9.30, however, decks were cleared of all but passengers, and at 10 precisely hawsers were cast off, and we steamed out of harbour.

Our vessel, the Sindh, was a very fine one of over 3,000 tons burthen, and our fellow-passengers chiefly Dutch and Spanish bound for the Eastern Archipelago and Manilla, a few French, and but seven English including ourselves. Among the latter was an individual who is usually to be met with on the ships of the P. & O. Company and those of the Messageries Maritimes, though more frequently on the former. L. and I christened him "The Inevitable," as a voyage to India or China can rarely be made without coming across him. He is invariably an Englishman, and my Indian readers will readily recognise him when I say that he is always (in his own estimation!) perfectly au fait on every subject whatever, be it political, social, or otherwise, that he always knows how many knots the ship has run during the night, and is continually having what he calls "a chat" with the captain and officers of the vessel he is on, returning to tell the first unlucky passenger he may succeed in button-holing the result of his conversation. He is also a great hand at organising dances and theatricals on board, and constitutes himself master of ceremonies or stage-manager at either of these entertainments. Our specimen of the genus, however, subsided soon after leaving Naples, finding all his lectures in vain, and confided to us his intention of "never coming out again by this infernal line"—a consummation most devoutly to be wished for the sake of the Messageries Maritimes.

Among our number was also an amusing Yankee, fresh from the States, and bound for Singapore, who announced his intention of "getting to windward of those 'Maylays' before he'd been long in the clearin'."

The arrangements on board the Sindh for the comfort of passengers were simply perfect—a roomy cabin (cool even during the severe heat in the Red Sea), good bath-rooms, and, above all, civility from every one connected with the ship, was the order of the day on board. The food and cooking were excellent, fresh meat and fish, and a good French salad, being provided for dinner daily—even during the run from Point de Galle (Ceylon) to Singapore, in which no land is touched at for nine days—and a good sound claret, iced, supplied at every meal free of charge. When it is considered that the first-class fare from London to Singapore (including the journey through France) is only L70 5s., it is to be wondered how the passenger fares of this line can even be made to cover the outlay.

It would scarcely interest the reader to be told how we beguiled the long tedious days at sea with ship's quoits, "Bull," and other mild amusements of a similar nature, or the still longer evenings with whist; how we went ashore at dirty glary Port Said, and drank bad coffee, while a brass band of German girls discoursed anything but "sweet music"; how "the inevitable" made a desperate effort to get up a dance in the Red Sea on one of the hottest nights, but was instantly suppressed by force of numbers, determined, though well-nigh prostrate from the heat; or how we went to the Wakwalla Gardens at Galle, to drink cocoa-nut milk and admire the first glimpse of tropical scenery. Suffice it to say, that on the 15th of May we arrived at Singapore, after a singularly quick passage from Marseilles. Bidding adieu to our fellow-passengers, including "the inevitable," who of course recommended us to the best hotel in the place (though I very much doubted his ever having been there before), we entered a little red box on wheels drawn by a Java pony, which is designated a "gharry," and drove to Emmerson's Hotel, near the Esplanade. This was reached after a drive of four miles under a blazing sun, and we were not sorry to find ourselves located in two good bed-rooms, which felt delightfully cool and airy after our comparatively close cabin on board. After a cold bath, doubly enjoyable by its contrast with the lukewarm sea-water we had been accustomed to during the voyage, it was not long ere we were doing justice to an excellent breakfast under the cool swing of the punkah.

Singapore is an island 27 miles long by 14 broad, and is divided from the main land, or Malay peninsula, by a narrow strait of three-quarters of a mile broad. The town consists of about 70,000 inhabitants, comprising Europeans, Indians, Chinese, and Malays, the two latter forming the bulk of the population. It is well laid out, and from the sea presents a very picturesque appearance. The neighbourhood is slightly undulating and well wooded, and the country around studded with well-built and substantial houses, belonging to the European merchants and other officials in Singapore. No Europeans live in the town, as the heat there during the south-west and even north-east monsoon is insupportable. The Esplanade, which faces the sea, and near to which our hotel stood, is the fashionable drive, and where the inhabitants enjoy the sea-breezes when the heat of the day is over. The horses and carriages here, however, were a sorry sight, the former being nearly without exception cast-offs from Australia, and sent here as a last resource. The carriages, too, were fearfully and wonderfully made contrivances, and would have caused the inhabitants of Long Acre to shudder, could they have seen them.

The view of the roadstead from the Esplanade is very striking, and is generally alive with shipping of all kinds and nations, from the smart and trim British man-of-war to the grimy collier, and from the rakish Malay prahu to the clumsy junk laden with produce from China. These latter are, however, fast dying out, and most of the larger Chinese firms have now steamers.

We were anxious to make as short a stay in Singapore as possible, and therefore made inquiry the day after our arrival as to the best means of getting over to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, and a journey of forty-eight hours by sea. What was our dismay to find that the Raja Brooke, the only steamer running between Kuching and Singapore, had left the day before, and would not be back for a week at the very least. As she made a stay of five days at either place every trip, this was anything but pleasant news, as nearly a fortnight must elapse ere we could leave Singapore. Luckily, however, the Sarawak Government gunboat Aline, which had been into dock at Singapore, was then lying in the roads, and sailing for Kuching in two days' time, and through the kindness of the Sarawak agents we were offered a passage in her. This we gladly accepted, agreeing to be on board the following Thursday at 10.30 p.m., the Aline sailing at 11.

On the evening appointed, accordingly, we set out from our comfortable hotel to embark. The weather, which had all day been oppressively hot, had suddenly changed, and the rain was now pouring down in torrents. To make matters worse it was as dark as pitch, and it was some time ere, after shouting ourselves hoarse, we could procure a sampan to take us on board. The Aline was luckily lying close in-shore, and we stood on her deck, after a short pull in the sampan, wringing wet. A pleasant welcome from her captain, however, dry clothes, and a glass of grog in her cheerful and well-lit cabin, soon set things right, and we turned in and slept soundly, undisturbed by the bustle and noise that always attends the departure of a ship.

We were awoke at six next morning, and, swallowing a cup of most excellent coffee, Sarawak grown, went on deck. The sun shone brightly, and the air felt cool and fresh after the rain of yesterday. No land was in sight, and with a fair wind and sail set we were making good way through the water.

The Aline is the largest of the gunboats (of which there are four) belonging to the Sarawak Government. She is about 200 tons, schooner rigged, and carries two 32-pounders, fore and aft. Her accommodation, state rooms and saloon, are forward, a good plan in the tropics, as the smell of steam and hot oil from the engine-room are thus avoided, and it is also cooler than aft when the vessel is under weigh. The quarters of the crew are aft; and I was surprised to see how clean and neat everything on board was kept, the more so that the ship's company consisted entirely of Malays, who are proverbially careless and dirty in these matters. She had but two European officers, the captain and engineer. The former, Captain K., who had been in these seas for many years, had some interesting tales to tell of the old pirate days, when Sir James Brooke first visited Borneo in his yacht the Royalist.

Our voyage across was very enjoyable, and our host a very agreeable companion. It seemed but a short time, then, since our departure from Singapore, that on the 25th of May at 4.30 p.m. we sighted the high lands of the island of Borneo; the mountain of Gunong Poe, in Dutch territory, towering high above the rest. By eight o'clock we were abreast of Cape Datu, a long spit of land running far out to sea, and the southernmost point of Sarawak territory. Rounding this we passed Sleepy Bay, in which a boat in search of pirates, commanded by an officer of H.M.S. Dido, was nearly captured by them some years ago. The whole crew, including the watch, had fallen asleep one night while at anchor in the bay, but one of their number happening to wake just in time, gave the alarm, just as the pirate prahus, which had pulled out from the land, were within about thirty yards of them. A sharp skirmish ensued, and the Illanuns were at length driven off, but had they not been warned in time the English must have perished to a man, as these ruffians made it a rule to spare none but Hajis, or Mahometans who have made a pilgrimage to Mecca. The bay derives its name from this occurrence.

At daybreak the next morning we were summoned on deck by Captain K. as we were passing Talang-Talang, or Turtle Island, and should shortly be off the mouth of the Sarawak river. Talang-Talang is a small island literally swarming with turtle, whose eggs form a staple article of commerce in the Sarawak market. The mode of procuring them is curious. Turtles lay only at night, and having dug holes in the ground deposit their eggs therein, and cover them over with sand. Natives who have been on the watch then place sticks in the ground to mark the place where they may be found, and they are the next morning dug out in enormous quantities, and exported to various parts of Borneo and the adjacent islands. The eggs have a stale fishy flavour, are very sandy, and to my mind extremely nasty, although they are considered a great delicacy by the natives, who eat them raw with their curry.

By seven o'clock we were entering the Santubong mouth of the Sarawak river. There are two entrances to this; the other, Moratabas, some few miles farther down the coast, being the larger, is used by men-of-war and other large craft. Vessels of 300 tons and under, however, always use the Santubong entrance, excepting during the north-east monsoon, when it is unsafe for vessels of any size, and Moratabas is always used. The Santubong entrance is far superior to the other as far as scenery is concerned. On the right bank of the river, its base stretching for some way out to sea, stands the Peak of Santubong, rising to a height of over 2,000 feet, and covered with dense forest to a height of nearly 1,700 feet, from which point a perpendicular sandstone precipice rises to the summit.[1] At the foot of the hill, and almost hidden by trees which surround it, lies the little fishing village of Santubong, inhabited by Chinese and Malay fishermen. Kuching is supplied daily with fresh fish from this place. The left-hand bank is a flat, swampy plain of impenetrable jungle, having its river banks lined with mangroves and nipa palms. This extends for about ten miles inland, until the mountain of Matang, which can plainly be seen from the mouth, is reached, and on the near side of which lies the capital, Kuching.

The journey up river from the mouth is flat and uninteresting, and little is to be seen but nipa and other palms on either side, and although Kuching is but seven miles from Santubong as the crow flies, it is quite twenty by river. It was not till ten o'clock, therefore, that signs of civilisation commenced, in the shape of a few Malay houses built close to the water's edge. These are usually built in the same manner on piles of wood of ten to fifteen feet high, the walls and roof being made of "atap," or the leaf of the nipa-palm dried, and the flooring of "lanties" or split bamboo.

The Chinese brick-yards and potteries of "Tanah Puteh," a suburb of Kuching, came into view shortly after this, and immediately after this Fort Margaret, which stands on a hill on the left-hand bank of the river, and commands the entrance to Kuching, and, rounding the bend that hides it from our view, we now come to the town itself, so unique and picturesque a place that a far abler pen than mine is needed to do justice to its description.

Lining the right bank of the river, which is here about 400 yards broad, is the Chinese Bazaar extending for nearly a quarter of a mile along the shore, the houses, which are of brick, presenting a very curious appearance, with their red roofs and bright-coloured facades—the latter, in the case of some of the wealthier owners, embellished with designs of porcelain and majolica ware. The row of acacia trees which line the street from end to end would give the place rather the look of a boulevard in a small French town were it not for the palms growing at the back of the Bazaar, and the Chinese junks and Malay craft moored alongside the bank. At the end of the Bazaar, and separated from it by a small stream running into the main river, which is crossed by a wooden bridge, is the Chinese joss-house, an imposing edifice erected by the principal Chinese merchants here at a cost of over 10,000 dols.[2]

Next to the "Pangkalan Batoo," or principal landing-place, is the prison, a large stone building, on the right of which is the Borneo Company's (Limited) Wharf; and behind this again stands the Court House, containing all the Government offices, such as Treasury, Post-Office, &c., and wherein the Court of Justice is held.

Stone buildings cease here, and the Malay town extends for half a mile up both banks of the river.

On the left bank, in the midst of beautifully laid-out gardens, is the "Astana," or Palace of the Raja, a handsome stone building built in three blocks, connected with each other by means of small bridges. The centre building, which is surrounded by a fine broad verandah, supported by massive stone pillars, contains drawing-room, dining-room, library, and billiard-room, and is flanked by a tower which forms the principal entrance. The buildings on either side of this consist of sleeping apartments, while on the right of the house, and standing on somewhat lower ground, is a bungalow set apart for the use of guests. With the exception of the fort and commandant's house, the "Astana" is the only building on this side of the river. The passage across to the opposite shore, or town side, is made by means of boats built on the model of the Venetian gondola, and propelled by paddles, there being as yet no bridge.

The Aline was anchoring off the town when a message was brought us from the Raja, who kindly offered to place the "Astana" bungalow aforementioned at our disposal during our stay in the country. We gladly availed ourselves of his invitation, and were soon ashore and comfortably installed in our new quarters.


[Footnote 1: The outline of this mountain, as seen from Kuching, bears a remarkable likeness to the profile or side face of the late Raja, Sir J. Brooke.]

[Footnote 2: About L2,000.]


Territory of Sarawak—History of the Country—Raja Brooke and Muda Hasim—Rebellions in Sarawak—Brooke proclaimed Raja—Chinese Insurrection—Military and Naval Establishment—Exports—Progress of Sarawak—Death of Sir James Brooke.

The territory of Sarawak extends for nearly 300 miles along the south-west coast of Borneo from its southernmost boundary, Cape Datu, to Kidorong Point, its northern frontier. It is bounded on the north by Brunei, or kingdom of Borneo proper, and on its other borders by the Dutch possessions, which comprise considerably more than half the island. Sarawak has a mixed population, consisting of Malays, Milanows, Chinese, Dyaks, and other minor races too numerous to mention. These number about 220,000.

Sarawak was ceded by the Sultan of Brunei, under whose suzerainty it originally was, to the late Raja Sir James Brooke; and a short history of the country from the time in which it first came into possession of the Brooke family may be of some interest to the reader.

On the 15th of August, 1838, the Royalist, a yacht of about 200 tons, anchored off the town of Kuching, with Sir James (then Mr.) Brooke on board. The capital was then but a small straggling Malay village, consisting of a few nipa-palm houses. The Raja's palace, so called, was a dilapidated building constructed of the same material, although the state and formality observed within its walls were considerable, and contrasted strangely with the dirt and squalor in which Muda Hasim, the reigning sovereign, was living.

Sarawak was in a sad state in those days. Her coasts were infested with pirates, who effectually prevented anything like trade being carried on, while anarchy, rebellion, and bloodshed reigned inland. The Raja, Muda Hasim, was, as he assured Mr. Brooke, utterly powerless to act. The rebellion in the interior was affecting his government even more seriously than the piratical raids on the coast. He concluded by begging that Mr. Brooke would remain with his yacht, which was fully armed, at Kuching until things looked brighter, hoping that when the rebels heard there was an armed British ship lying at the capital they would be intimidated, and surrender. This arrangement, however, Brooke could not agree to, and, notwithstanding the Raja's entreaties, was obliged to leave for Singapore on the 31st of September of the same year, not, however, without a promise to the Raja to return at some future time.

After an absence of nearly two years, during which he visited Celebes, and other parts of the Archipelago, Brooke returned to Sarawak on August 29th, 1840, only to find the country in a worse state than ever, for, encouraged by their repeated successes, the enemy had advanced to within thirty miles of Kuching. The poor Raja received him with open arms, and implored his assistance, offering to make over the country to him if he would only give him his help. Brooke, conceiving quite a friendship for the poor man, who, with all his faults was kind-hearted and sincere, now determined to do so, and organised an expedition against the enemy, headed by himself in person.

After months of hardship and privation, during which time he was several times deserted by his faint-hearted followers, Brooke succeeded in his efforts, and peace was restored on December 20th, 1840.

Although hostilities were now over, and danger past, Muda Hasim did not forget the promise he had made Brooke concerning the country in his adversity, and a form was drawn up by him for the signature of the Sultan of Brunei. The terms of this document were not, however, quite in accordance with what the Raja had undertaken to do, but this being pointed out to him by Brooke, he replied that the paper was merely a preliminary, and it would come to the same thing in the end. With this explanation Brooke had to be content, and await the return of the deed from Brunei.

Like all Easterns, Malays are most dilatory, and time hung very heavily on Brooke's hands at Kuching. Although the Raja was then (and ever after) a firm friend to Brooke, the native chiefs who surrounded him were not best pleased at the turn affairs were taking, and did their utmost, secretly, to undermine his influence with the people.

These intrigues were carried to such a dangerous extent by a certain Pangeran Makota (who had formerly been Governor of Sarawak, and the chief cause of the troubles in the interior, by his acts of cruelty and oppression), that Brooke determined to act forthwith, and bring matters to a crisis. Loading the Royalist's guns, and bringing them to bear, he went ashore with an armed party to the Raja's palace, and at once pointed out to him Pangeran Makota's treachery. He went on to say that Makota's presence in the country was dangerous both to the safety of the Raja and the Government, and announced his determination of expelling him from it. Brooke concluded by saying that a large force of Dyaks were at his call, and the only way to prevent bloodshed was to instal him Governor then and there.

This speech, and the determined way in which it was spoken, decided Muda Hasim. Brooke's terms were unconditionally accepted, and Makota outlawed. An agreement was signed by the Raja making over the government of Sarawak and its dependencies to Brooke, on his undertaking to pay a small annual tribute to the Sultan of Brunei, and this document having been duly signed by the latter, Brooke was proclaimed Raja of Sarawak on the 24th September, 1841.

From this day matters mended, and under the influence of a just government the country soon showed signs of improvement. In 1847 Raja Brooke went to England for a while, and was there received with great honours. Among others he received the order of knighthood while on a visit to Windsor Castle; and the freedom of the City of London was presented to him in recognition of his deeds in Borneo. He was not long away, however, from his adopted country, returning to Sarawak early the following year.

Sarawak now steadily progressed, and the revenue, which in the first year of Brooke's accession, was next to nothing, began to show a considerable increase. Several Englishmen also were employed by the Raja to maintain order throughout his dominions. An incident, however, occurred in 1857, which, had it not been for the prompt and decisive action shown by the Raja's Government, might have led to serious consequences.

A colony of Chinese (of whom great numbers had come into Sarawak on the accession of Sir James) had settled at Bau, a short distance above Kuching, on the Sarawak river, for the purpose of working gold. These men were members of a "Hue," or Chinese secret society, and, instigated by the three chiefs or leading members thereof, determined to attack Kuching, overthrow the Raja's government, and seize the country.

Descending the river in twenty-five large boats, some 600 strong, and fully armed, they reached the capital about midnight on the 18th of February. Their plan of attack had been carefully laid, and on arrival off the town they divided into two parties: the smaller of these turning up the Sungei Bedil, a small stream running close by the Government House, for the purpose of attacking it, and the larger proceeding down river to attack the fort situated on the opposite bank. Sir James Brooke had already been warned by some Malays that an attack was to be made by the gold-workers on Kuching, but knowing how prone natives are to exaggeration, had given the report no credence.

Roused from his sleep at midnight, however, by the yells of the Chinamen, he quickly guessed the state of affairs, and calling to his European servant—the only other inmate of the house—to follow him, dashed through his bath-room on to the lawn at the back of the house, intending, if possible, to cut his way through the rebels, and so escape. The latter were, however, luckily, all assembled at the front entrance, and the coast clear. Making his way, therefore, with all speed to the Sungei Bedil, the Raja, who was a good swimmer, dived into the stream and under the Chinese boats (which were luckily void of their occupants) in safety, only to fall exhausted on the opposite bank, for he was suffering from a severe attack of fever at the time.

In the meanwhile death and destruction of property were busy. Mr. Nicholetts, a young officer of nineteen, who had but just joined the Sarawak service, was killed; also an Englishman on a visit to Kuching; while Mr. and Mrs. Crookshank[3] were cut down, and the latter left for dead. Two children of Mr. Crymble, the police constable, were hacked to pieces before their mother's eyes, while she lay hidden in a bathing jar, from which she was eventually safely rescued; but Mr Steele,[4] and Penty the Raja's European valet, succeeded in escaping to the jungle, and were both saved.

The larger party were in the meanwhile attacking the fort, which was then but a small wooden stockade. A desperate resistance was made by Mr. Crymble, who was in charge, assisted by only four Malays, but seeing after a while that he was overwhelmed by numbers, he escaped, leaving the position in the hands of the enemy.

The Raja had by this time been discovered by native friends, who at once conveyed him to the house of the Datu Bandar, or principal Malay chief in Kuching. Here he stayed the night; and, next day, accompanied by a small number of officers who had escaped and joined him, set out on foot through the jungle for the Siol stream, leading into the Santubong branch of the Sarawak river, intending to procure boats at the mouth and make his way to the Batang Lupar river, where a sufficiently powerful force of Dyaks and Malays could be organised to attack the rebels and retake Kuching. But the Raja's nephew,[5] Mr. C. Brooke, who was then Resident of the Sakarran district, had already heard the news, and was even then proceeding to Kuching with a force of nearly 10,000 Dyaks and Malays, but of this the Raja was of course ignorant, and was on the point of putting out to sea with his small party for Lingga, a small village at the mouth of the Batang Lupar, when they descried a steamer making for the mouth of the river. This proved to be the B. C. L.'s steamer Sir James Brooke, from Singapore. Those on board had, of course, heard nothing of the disastrous events at Kuching, and were hailed with great joy by the Raja and his little band, who were soon on board and making for the capital with all speed.

The sight of a steamer approaching the town created quite a panic among the Chinese, for they well knew the Sir James Brooke was armed, and as soon as her guns had opened on them, they fired one wild volley at her from every available firearm they possessed. This took no effect whatever, and the wretches fled in dismay into the jungle, intending to reach the border, some twenty-eight miles distant, and cross into Dutch territory.

But the wild and fierce tribes of Saribus and Sakarran had now arrived, led by Mr. C. Brooke, and were soon on their track. Encumbered as were the Chinese by women and children, they found escape next to impossible, but were cut off one by one by the Dyaks, with whom in jungle warfare they had no chance whatever. At length, after days of fearful suffering, about sixty of their number contrived to reach Sambas in Dutch Borneo, this being all that remained of a force of 500 men.

Thus ended the Chinese insurrection, which, although resulting in the loss of valuable lives and much property, was not altogether without its good results, for it served to place the Raja's Government on a firmer basis than before, by showing the natives, Malays, Chinese, and Dyaks alike, that it was a strong one, and to be relied on in the hour of need. It pointed also to the danger of tolerating secret societies in small states, and the penalty for belonging to such in Sarawak has ever since been death.

Trouble is now over for Sarawak, for, with the exception of occasional brushes with the more distant Dyak tribes, the country is thoroughly settled. Natives in great numbers and from all parts of the island settle here yearly, and take refuge under the Sarawak flag,[6] for nowhere, say they, throughout Borneo is such security found for life and property as in the dominions of Raja Brooke.

The Government of Sarawak now employs twenty-two European officers. The Resident Commandant, Treasurer, Postmaster, and Medical Officer, and two or three others holding minor posts, reside in Kuching, while the remainder are quartered at the various forts or out-stations along the coast, and in the interior of the country at the heads of the principal rivers. There are eight of the latter, each of which is in charge of a European Resident and assistant Resident.

The military force of the country consists of about 200 men, who are quartered in the fort barracks at Kuching. The out-stations are garrisoned by these men, who are drafted for certain periods in batches of ten to each fort. Their time over, they are relieved by others, and return to Kuching. The "Sarawak Rangers," as they are styled, are recruited from Malays and Dyaks exclusively, and are instructed in battalion and gun drill by an English instructor. The Raja can, however, always count on the services of the tribes of Batang Lupar, Seribas, and other sea Dyaks. These, who could muster over 25,000 fighting men, are ready at any time to assemble at the call of the Government.

The naval establishment consists of three steamers: the Aline, Ghita, and Young Harry. The former, which I have already described, is principally used to convey the Raja to the various out-stations, while the Ghita is stationed at Sibu on the Rejang river. The Young Harry, which lies at Kuching, is used as a despatch boat, and is very fast.[7]

The chief exports of Sarawak are antimony, quicksilver, coal, timber of many kinds, gutta-percha, rice, sago, and rattans. Gold is also worked in small quantities by Chinese.[8] The principal imports are cloths, salt, tobacco, brass, and crockery-ware. The Borneo Company, Limited, have the monopoly of all minerals.

A better proof of the progress the country is making cannot be shown than by comparing the revenues of 1877-78—185,552 dols. and 197,855 dols. respectively—with that of 1871, which was only 157,501 dols., thus showing an increase of about L40,000 in seven years.

On the 11th of June, 1868, at Burrator, in Devonshire, Sir James Brooke breathed his last, leaving Sarawak to his nephew, Mr. C. Brooke, the present Raja, his heirs and assigns, for ever. To realise the importance and extent of the deeds wrought by the late Raja, the State of Sarawak must be visited—a state which forty years since was a hot-bed of piracy and bloodshed, a state now as peaceful and secure as any of the British possessions in the East.


[Footnote 3: They were both saved eventually, and the courage shown by Mrs. Crookshank on this occasion will not be readily forgotten in Sarawak. Mr. Crookshank was afterwards appointed Resident of Sarawak proper, and retired from the service in 1873.]

[Footnote 4: Mr. Steele was afterwards murdered by Kanowits.]

[Footnote 5: The present Raja.]

[Footnote 6: Black and red cross on yellow ground.]

[Footnote 7: Another vessel of 300 tons, the Lorna Doone, has been added since this was written.]

[Footnote 8: Silver has lately been found to exist also.]


Kuching—Society—The Club—Amusements—The Sarawak Gazette—The Bazaar—Health of Kuching—Life in Kuching—Rats—Preparations for Journey to the Matang Mountain.

Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, although smaller than Pontianak and other Dutch settlements on the coast of Borneo, is generally acknowledged to be the first town in Borneo so far as civilisation and comfort are concerned, and is renowned for its Bazaar, which is the best-built and cleanest in the island. There are two good roads extending at right angles from the town to a distance of seven miles each, at which point they are united by a third. These form a pleasant drive or ride, an amusement unknown in most Bornean townships, where the jungle and undergrowth are usually so dense as to defy any attempts at walking, to say nothing of riding or driving.

The number of Europeans in Kuching, although limited, and consisting of but some twenty in all (five of whom are ladies), form a pleasant little coterie, and there is a marked absence of the scandal and squabbling which generally seems inseparable from any place wherein a limited number of our countrymen and women are assembled. The occasional presence of an English or Dutch man-of-war, also, breaks the monotony of life, and enlivens matters considerably.

The Club, a comfortable stone building, was founded by the Government a few years ago, and contains bed-rooms for the use of out-station officers when on a visit to Kuching. A lawn-tennis ground and bowling alley are attached to it, and serve to kill the time, which, however, rarely hung heavily on our hands in this cheerful little place.

Riding and driving are but still in their infancy, and Kuching boasted of only some dozen horses and four carriages—including a sporting little tandem of Deli (Sumatra) ponies, owned by the Resident. The Deli pony is a rare-shaped little animal, standing from 13 hands to 13.2, with immense strength, and very fast. They would be worth their weight in gold in Europe, and an enterprising Dutch merchant lately shipped a cargo of them to Amsterdam from Singapore, via the Suez Canal, with what result I never ascertained. A new road was being cut when we were there from Kuching to Penrisen, a mountain some thirty miles off, which, when completed, may bring a few more horses here; but Borneo (except far north) can never become a riding or driving country.

Kuching has its newspaper, which is published fortnightly, in the English language, and brought out under the editorship of the Postmaster. This journal contains, among other subjects, the doings of the law courts, reports from the various Residencies, and arrivals and departures of ships, with occasionally an interesting account of a journey inland made by the Resident of one of the up-coast districts. The Sarawak Gazette was organised in 1871, and will form an interesting history of the country in years to come.

But the most interesting and novel sight in Kuching is its Bazaar, which is built in arcades a la Rue de Rivoli, the shops therein belonging chiefly to Chinamen, excepting three or four held by Indians. Birmingham and Manchester furnish these emporiums to a large extent, the article finding most favour with the natives in the edible line being Huntley & Palmer's biscuits, which are imported to Kuching in great quantities. All kinds of brass and crockery-ware, cheap cloth (shoddy), Sheffield cutlery, imitation jewellery, gongs, &c., form the greater part of the goods for sale; but I was surprised, my first walk down the Bazaar, at the great number of large china jars exposed for sale, four or five of these standing at nearly every door. I subsequently found that these are held in great esteem by the Dyaks, and I afterwards saw some in their houses that the owners refused 300 dols. (L60) for! The latter were, however, bona fide ones, some 400 years old, and came from China. Worthless imitations have been sent out from England and Holland of late years, but they proved a bad speculation to the importers, for the Dyak is, in his way, as good a judge of jars as the veriest chinamaniac at home of Sevres or Dresden.

The Chinese are, as I have said, the principal householders in the Bazaar, the richest among them being the Brothers Ken-Wat, a firm trading in gutta, gold-dust, and diamonds, with Singapore and China. Borneo has ever been famous for its diamonds, and, although scarce in quantity, I have heard good judges affirm that they are the finest in quality of any in the world. Some large stones have been found in Sarawak territory, and, only lately, one was discovered by a Chinaman, and sold to Government, weighing 87 carats.

The silver coinage in use in Sarawak is the Mexican dollar, but the copper coinage of cents and half-cents bear the head of the Raja.

A walk under the arcades of the Bazaar in the busy part of the day (11.30 a.m.) is well repaid by the curious spectacle presented—thronged as it is with the quaint dark blue dresses of the Chinese and the gaudy, rainbow-hued garments of the Malays, while now and again a land Dyak from up river may be seen, clad in his "chawat" (waist-band) and turban, evidently quite out of his element, and half-scared at the busy scene around him.

The public health of Kuching, which has a mixed population of 20,000, is good, notwithstanding a severe outbreak of cholera which occurred in 1877 and carried off a great number of the inhabitants; and the climate, for a tropical one, is exceptionally healthy. Although the mid-day heat is during six months in the year excessive, the nights are nearly always cool, for a day seldom passes without a squall of wind and rain during the latter part of the afternoon, which clears the atmosphere. Consumption is unknown in Sarawak; and an English officer who came out to join the government service, afflicted with this complaint, completely recovered after a residence of three years in the country. Indeed, if due attention be paid to diet, and the excessive use of stimulants avoided, a long period may elapse in this climate without returning home to recruit; and there is now an officer living in Kuching who has not been out of the place for eighteen years, and who is in as good health as when he left Europe.

Our days at Kuching slipped pleasantly by. A plunge in the large Astana swimming-bath at dawn began the day; after which, our light breakfast of coffee, eggs, and fruit over, we would go across river for a ride or stroll out with a gun; and during my morning's walk past the neat town and bungalows, the latter surrounded with their pretty gardens and trim hedges, I often thought of what poor old Muda Hasim would think could he arise from his grave and compare Kuching the modern with the Kuching of forty years ago—half a dozen Malay houses on a mud bank!

Dejeunner a la fourchette over, a siesta and cigar would be indulged in till five o'clock, when a ride or rattling set-to at lawn tennis, followed by a refreshing bath, prepared one for dinner—the more enjoyable for the violent exercise that had preceded it. Such was our daily life in Kuching, and one that I shall ever look back upon with pleasure.

But the loveliest countries have their little drawbacks, Sarawak not excepted. Mosquitoes and sand-flies are not, although very numerous, the worst evils in the land, for I was startled, my first night in Kuching, while lying half-awake in bed, to feel something cold and slimy run across my chest. Thinking it was a snake, I was out of bed like (to use a Yankee expression) "greased lightning," and was not a little relieved to find that the cause of the mischief was only a "chik-chak," or common lizard of the country, which was larger than usual in this case, being nearly a foot long.

But the true curses of Sarawak are the rats. Go where you will, avoid them as you may, there is not a bungalow that is not infested with them, and boots, shirts, and even cigars, suffer in consequence. No sooner in bed, and the lights out, than their gambols commence, and they sometimes make such a noise as to keep one awake for the greater part of the night. I have sometimes gone out to the verandah, thinking I heard men's footsteps, and found it to be rats, who fled at my approach. These pests occasionally migrate at night in large numbers, several hundred of them on one occasion passing through the Raja's bed-room at Astana on one of these nocturnal expeditions. Nor are mosquito curtains a guard against them, for an out-station officer at Simanggang, on the Batang Lupar river, woke up one night to find a huge grey rascal sitting on his chest and endeavouring to make a hearty meal off his jersey.

To get rid of rats is, therefore, well-nigh impossible, though a plan adopted by some Europeans of keeping a boa-constrictor between the roofs and ceilings of their bungalows is the most effectual.

There are many snakes in Borneo, but none, with the exception of the cobra, are deadly. Centipedes and scorpions are common, and the Tarantula spider is also occasionally, though rarely, met with.

After nearly a fortnight's stay in the capital, we made preparations for an excursion to Matang, of which we wished to make the ascent, and whither we were about to accompany Mr. H., who was formerly agent of the Raja's coffee estate, half-way up the mountain.


Travel in Borneo—Travelling Boats—Leave for Matang— Our Crew—Alligators—Mosquitoes—Matang Bungalow—The Garden—Ascend the Mountain—The Waterfall—A Nasty Jump—View from the Summit—Snakes—Return to Kuching.

Travelling in the south-western districts of Borneo, and indeed generally throughout the island, excepting in the far north and interior, is done in boats, the density of its forests and swampy nature of the ground rendering journeys overland in most parts of the territory next to impossible. Jungle paths there are, running inland to native houses, and "padi" (rice) clearings, as well as one or two native roads of considerable length, such as the one leading from Lundu, in Sarawak, to the Dutch settlement of Sambas, a distance of twenty-eight miles; but the walking is very severe, and the journey but seldom attempted except by Dyaks.

Its rivers may therefore be said to be the highways of Sarawak, and, fortunately for the traveller, it is a well-watered country. The Rejang, Batang Lupar, and Sarawak rivers are the largest, while among many other smaller streams are the Sadong, Saribus, Kalaka, Eyan, Muka, and Oya; the three latter, although small, are very important, as they run through the sago districts, where are large forests of that palm.

The travelling boats used by Europeans are propelled by means of paddles, and vary considerably in size, from those pulled by six or eight men, to those having a crew of thirty or forty, some of the Dyak war canoes holding as many as eighty men. The latter are used only on expeditions against the enemy. The ordinary travelling boat is roofed over from stem to stern with "kadjangs," or dried palm-leaf awnings, having a space in the centre some 8 feet long or more, according to the size of the boat, walled in on each side with the same material, the better to exclude the fierce rays of the sun. Herein sits, or rather lies, the traveller, the lowness of the awning (which is removable) precluding any other position. Boxed up in this manner, but little can be seen of the surrounding country, but as in Sarawak one river is so precisely alike another this is no great loss. In the interior, however, the scenery improves, and is much finer, as I shall presently show.

A short journey in this style is pleasant enough, but when the unhappy traveller has to live, and cook, &c., for days together in one of these craft it becomes very irksome and trying to the temper. Moreover, the smell from the remnants of the crew's meals, such as stale fish and decayed fruit and vegetables—which they will not take the trouble to throw overboard, but invariably drop under the "lanties" or bamboo deck—is well-nigh insupportable.

We left Kuching on the 4th of June for Matang, intending to make the ascent of Sorapi, the highest peak of the Matang range. The tide not serving further, Santubong was to be our resting-place that night, and we were to proceed on our journey early the following morning. Matang, though only eight miles from Kuching in a straight line, is fully thirty by river, the stream which runs past the landing-place at Matang having its outlet at Santubong. It was once intended by the Sarawak Government to make a road from Kuching to the mountain, but on being surveyed the intermediate country was found to contain a deep swamp four miles across, so the project was abandoned.

Our craft on this occasion was pulled by a crew of six men, and, though small, was, thanks to Mr. H. (who accompanied us), replete with every comfort. On our way down river, H. pointed us out his crew with pride as being all prisoners, who, although he never took a gaoler with him, had never once taken advantage of him for three years, during which time he had made several trips.

Three of these men were in for murder, and H.'s own body-servant, who cooked our meals, waited on us. He was working out a sentence of fifteen years for the murder of a Chinaman, whose head he had one day conceived a desire to possess, which desire he had promptly gratified! This man was a "Kayan," a tribe inhabiting the interior of Borneo, of whom more anon.

By six o'clock that evening we were at Santubong, and cast anchor a short distance from the shore, but were soon left high and dry on the sands by the receding tide. Stepping on to the beach, L. and I set out for a stroll on the sea-shore and a dip in the sea before dinner, leaving H. to superintend the culinary operations in the boat. He warned us ere we started to beware, when bathing, of sharks and alligators, which swarm here.

There has ever been something most repulsive to me about the latter, who, when they have seized their prey, human or otherwise, do not at once devour it, but stow it away in their nests under water for two or three days until the flesh becomes decomposed, when they return to their hideous meal. Alligators do not attain a very large size in Borneo, ranging from 10 to 15 feet long only. The offer by the Sarawak Government of 30 cents, per foot, when captured, has greatly decreased their number in most of the rivers. An amusing anecdote is told of an enterprising Malay fisherman, who, when these rewards were first offered, established a "farm" at the mouth of one of the rivers, killing them when they grew to their full size, and claiming the money for their capture. This did not last long, however, and the "wily Oriental's" ingenuity was nipped in the bud by a punishment that has deterred other natives from following his bad example. It is a curious fact that the eggs of alligators are invariably found in the following numbers—11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, &c.

The following story, which, had it not been told me by the Resident of the district wherein it had occurred, and published in the Gazette, I should have greatly doubted, may interest the reader:—

Two Malay children, the elder a girl, aged seven and four years, were playing at low tide on a mud bank close to their dwelling, and some 15 yards from the water, when an alligator, which had advanced unperceived, seized the younger, and was making for the water with the child in its jaws. The little girl, on seeing this, had the presence of mind to leap on the animal's back and plunge her fingers into its eyes, when it instantly dropped the child unhurt, and made off into the river.

We enjoyed a cool and refreshing dip in the sea, and it was almost dark ere we left the water to return to the boat. A light was placed in her little cabin, which shone like a firefly over the sands, giving promise of good things within, to which we were shortly doing justice, in the shape of an excellent fowl curry (prepared by the murderer), washed down by a bottle of claret cool and fresh from the spring on shore, where it had been placed on arrival. The night was beautiful and starlight, and, our repast over, the awning was removed, and we sat out enjoying our cigars in the cool night breeze blowing in fresh and strong from the sea. The quiet ripple of the waves as they broke on the sandy beach had a soothing effect very favourable to reflection (and baccy), and the lights of the little fishing village twinkling at the foot of the black and rugged peak of Santubong—which rose to a height of 1,500 feet above our heads, and behind which the moon was just rising—presented a fine and uncommon picture.

But, alas! our enjoyment, like many others in this world, was of short duration, and received a severe shock from a sudden exclamation by H. of "By Jove! we have forgotten mosquito curtains! We shall be eaten alive!" It was too true. In the hurry of departure, and forgetting that we were to pass a night at the mouth, we had left them behind, knowing that on Matang mosquitoes are unknown. There was no help for it, however, and, our cigars finished, we turned in with a foreboding that sleep that night was not for us. Nor were we wrong in our conjecture, for no sooner were we wrapped in our blankets, and the lights out, than the enemy, mosquitoes and sandflies—for the latter of which Santubong is famous—attacked us in myriads. We eventually gave it up as a bad job about eleven p.m., lit our lamps, and waited for daylight, when the cold land breeze came and dispersed these pests, leaving us a couple of hours' sleep ere we should start with the morning tide.

The morning was bright and sunny, and, starting at seven, we were entering the Matang stream which runs past the Bungalow landing-stage at eleven o'clock a.m. Our destination was reached at one p.m., and, loading our amiable crew with baggage and provisions, we started off up the mountain for the bungalow, which was reached, after a rather severe climb, at three o'clock.

There was formerly a coffee estate on Matang belonging to the Raja. This was started in 1868, but the coffee, though good in quality, grew in such small quantities that it was deemed advisable to abandon the scheme, and this was accordingly done in 1873. The bungalow, however, which was built in the same year is still kept up as a sanitarium—a great boon to the Europeans in Kuching, as the climate here is delightful, the temperature at night never exceeding 80 even in the hottest season. The bungalow, which stands about 1,000 feet above sea level, is a comfortable wooden house, containing a sitting-room and three good bed-rooms. It stands on the sheer mountain side, the jungle for 100 feet or so below it having been completely cleared, and replaced by a pretty garden, built in five terraces one below the other, and containing roses, honeysuckles, sweetbriar, and many English flowers that would not live a day on the plains below.

It was barely daybreak the next morning ere we were awoke by H., and, hastily swallowing a biscuit and cup of coffee, we set out for the summit. Our road for the first half-mile lay through the old coffee clearing, and the path was easy enough, which was, perhaps, lucky, as everything was enveloped in a dense mist issuing from the valley below, which rendered objects quite invisible ten yards off. By six o'clock, however, the sun was shining so brightly that we were not sorry to leave the open and enter the forest, from which we should not now emerge until we attained the summit.

To arrive at the foot of the Sirapi mountain two distinct ridges must be ascended and descended, and after an hour's hard walking (though nothing to what we were coming to), we descended the second ridge, into the valley, and arrived at the waterfall, which here descends the mountain from a height of some 600 feet.

Seating ourselves on a huge black boulder overhanging the fall, we paused here for a while to regain our breath, of which we should shortly stand so much in need, for up till now the work had been child's play compared with what was coming. The most striking thing about this valley was its dense gloom, the huge forest-trees of Tapang, Pli, and other kinds, excluding every ray of light, excepting where here and there a bright patch of blue sky peeped in through the thick trellis-work of branches overhead. Beautiful palms, kladiums, and tree ferns, grew in profusion around us, and rare orchids filled the air with their sweet perfumes. Strangely enough not a bird, or living thing, was to be seen in this lovely glen, and the solemn stillness which reigned, broken only by the plash of the water as it fell from rock to rock, was almost oppressive.

We could have lingered here willingly for an hour, but our guide was inexorable, and "forward" was again the cry. Climbing now commenced in real earnest, for, leaving the old track altogether, we began the sheer ascent of the mountain. Dense undergrowths and sharp rocks impeded our every step, and cut our feet cruelly, while, every now and then, a fall flat on the face was the result of misplaced confidence in a fallen tree trunk, which had become rotten from the ravages of ants or other insects. Falling any considerable height was, however, scarcely possible, as the binders and undergrowth, which tore our clothes and scratched our faces, legs, and arms, unmercifully, prevented that.

After three-quarters of an hour of this work—which in a tropical climate, with the thermometer something like 90 deg. in the shade, was no joke—we again struck on the old path, which, though now completely overgrown, we determined to follow for a short time. With injunctions from H. to "hold on by our eyelids," and "'ware holes" where the path had given way, we proceeded along this track about three feet wide, whence descended a sheer precipice of at least 2,000 feet. Glancing upwards, however, we could see that the neck of the journey was broken, and, encouraged by this, we went ahead merrily. But our pride was destined to have a fall. L. and I were proceeding alone, H. having stopped behind to secure an orchid, when, on turning a corner, we were brought up "all standing." About ten paces in front of us was an enormous landslip. It had commenced about 150 feet above the track, and, carrying huge rocks and trees with it, had swept down to the base of the mountain, demolishing the path on which we stood, and leaving a smooth, perpendicular precipice of earth, rocks, and trees, to mark its course. Going round was impossible, for it had left a gap about twelve feet wide, while under us yawned the dread gulf, a fall down which must have been fatal. Over this chasm lay a thin bamboo pole about a foot in circumference, evidently thrown over the chasm, and crossed by some native, for Dyaks and Malays are as active as cats, and in feats of this kind know no fear.

This mode of transit seemed to us, however, out of the question, and we were lamenting our bad luck in having to return without having reached the summit, when H. came up. Without a moment's hesitation, and merely remarking "rather an awkward place," he crossed the pole, while it swayed and oscillated with every movement he made, in a way that made my blood run cold. Having seen him over safely, there was no help for it but to follow, and, dissembling a feeling within me very much akin to what schoolboys denominate "funk," I determined to jump for it, but cross that infernal stick—never! Consigning Matang and all things connected with it to a considerably warmer sphere than Borneo, I "threw my heart over" and followed it a run, a wild bound in the air, a scramble, and I was over, L. almost jumping on my back, and both being ignominiously hauled out of danger by H., who showed no more interest in the whole affair than he would have done in crossing Piccadilly!

This little adventure over, matters were easy enough, until within a short distance of the summit. It then became terrible work. Tearing and struggling through masses of briars and thorns, cut about the feet by sharp rocks, and having literally to pull ourselves upwards by tree trunks and branches, on we went, until a shrill yell from L. gave us a happy excuse for a halt. He had been bitten by a "sumut api," or fire-ant, the pain of whose bite is intense, and strongly resembles the running of a red-hot needle into the flesh. "Never mind," said H., "you won't feel it in a minute." We resume the climb, and I am just beginning to be aware that very few minutes more of this work will sew me up altogether, when, O joyful sound! a faint cry from H., who is some distance ahead, comes back to us. "Hurrah! here's the top!" Panting and exhausted, we at length reach the summit, and throw ourselves on the ground dead beat.

When sufficiently recovered in wind and limb to get up and look around us, we feel that double the hard work undergone would have been amply repaid by the magnificent view now disclosed to us.

Far away in front of us, surrounded by an interminable forest of jungle, lies Gunong Poe, the south-west boundary of Sarawak, while behind it again rise the long low hills of Sambas, in Dutch Borneo. Stretching far out to sea, and to the right of Poe, is the long spit of land, or promontory, known as "Tanjong Api," on this side of which lies the mountain of "Gading," or Mount Brooke, in Sarawak territory. Nearer to us again are Santubong and Moratabas, and far down the coast the Sadong mountains, the home of the Mias or orang utan of Borneo.

We can plainly trace the course of the Sarawak river, which looks from here like a thin silver thread, as it winds its way past Kuching, its white houses glittering in the sunshine. The mountains of Singgi and Cerambo are plainly discernible, as also the sharp rugged hills of Legora, where the cinnabar and antimony mines are; while farthest away of any on the dim horizon, we can distinguish the island of Burong, at the mouth of the Batang Lupar, and the flat-topped mountain of Lingga, where the Sarawak Mission has established its headquarters. The sky was cloudless, and H. told us that never before had he been able to procure such a good view from the summit.

We enjoyed the fresh breeze at the top for half an hour, and then commenced our descent, avoiding the landslip, and reached the waterfall in a little over the hour. Pausing here for a few minutes to rest, and quench our thirst, we resumed our journey, and reached the bungalow at midday none the worse, with the exception of leech-bites and cut feet, for the climb. Remarking to H. on the extraordinary number of snakes I had noticed on the way up, he informed me that Matang is famed for them, and that, on rising one morning at the bungalow we were then in, he discovered a cobra eight feet long, curled up asleep under his pillow. It had evidently been there all night, and, not best pleased at the interruption, was crawling away when a bullet from H.'s revolver cut short its career.

We stayed two days more at the bungalow, after which we returned to our quarters at Kuching, not a little pleased at having accomplished the ascent of "Sirapi."


The Rejang Residency—Wild Tribes of the Interior—Start for Rejang—Timber Ships—Sibu—Attack by Katibus—A Dinner Party—The Fireship—Kanowit—"Jok"—Kanowits' Dwellings—Human Heads—"Bones" and "Massa Johnson."

Sarawak is divided into six districts or Residencies, each of which is under the supervision and control of a European Government officer. The latter, who is stationed at the fort established at the principal town of the district, is styled the Resident, and settles law cases, receives revenue, &c.; the entire Residency being under his control.

These districts are as follows:—(1) Sarawak proper (comprising Kuching); (2) Rejang; (3) Batang Lupar; (4) Muka; (5) Bintulu; (6) Lundu.

The Rejang Residency, whither we were now about to make an expedition, contains the largest and most important river in Sarawak, having a draught of five fathoms for a distance of over 130 miles from the mouth. The exports of Rejang are many, the principal ones being gutta-percha, rattans, and bilian wood. A curious article of export, which is found only in this river, is the Galega, or Bezoar stone. This is a perfectly hard light green substance, very much the size and shape of a thrush's egg, which is found in the interior of a peculiar species of monkey inhabiting Rejang. The Bezoar stone, which is supposed to be caused by disease in the animal, takes a beautiful polish, and is used as a charm by the Malays, but the majority are sent to China, where they fetch their weight in gold, being held in great esteem by the Chinese, who use them as a drug.

The races dwelling on the banks of this great river are very numerous, varying from the totally wild and wandering Ukits at its head to the Malay and Milano races inhabiting its shores from Sibu to the mouth. The population of Rejang is roughly estimated at 103,000, but the difficulties of obtaining anything like an accurate census are obvious. The number I have given comprises 40,000 Dyaks (including the Katibus and Kanowit tribes), 30,000 Milanos, 30,000 Kayans, and 3,000 Malays—the latter do not live above Sibu. There are also other tribes of totally different language and customs to the above, whose number it has been found impossible to ascertain. Of these I shall give an account anon.

The Dyaks (who are the principal indigenous race in this part of Borneo) may be classed as follows:—(1) the Sea Dyak; (2) the Land Dyak.

The sea Dyaks are so called from their inhabiting the sea-coast east of the Sadong district, as far as the Rejang river, though some are to be occasionally met with far inland. These, who are the most numerous of any Dyaks, are at the same time the bravest and most warlike, and in former days were greatly addicted to piracy and head hunting. They are of a dark copper colour, and although not tall men are wonderfully strong and well-built, and will endure a great amount of fatigue. They are also endowed with great courage, and are very skilful in the use of weapons, especially the Parang ilang[9] and spear. This tribe has been found by missionaries to possess some small amount of religion, inasmuch as they believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, Batara, who made this earth and now governs it. They believe, also, in good and evil spirits, who dwell in the jungles and mountains. Sickness, death, and every kind of misfortune, are attributed to the latter, while Batara is the accredited author of every blessing.

The land Dyaks are inferior, both morally and physically, to the sea Dyaks. These occupy a portion of the Landu district, with Sarawak proper, Samarahau, and Sadong, and in colour only are similar to the sea Dyaks. The land Dyak is much shorter and weaker in frame, and is also far less skilled in the use of arms. Cowardly, weak, and decimated by sickness, this race had up to the accession of Sir James Brooke in 1840, led a life of slavery and oppression. Since the establishment of the Raja's government, however, their state has greatly improved, although they are even yet a wretched set of people, having none of the nobler instincts or courage characterising their brethren of the sea. The years they have passed in oppression may account for this, as also the continual state of poverty and sickness in which they exist, their villages being seldom entirely free from dysentery or small-pox, while nearly all are more or less afflicted with korrip, a loathsome skin disease peculiar to the Dyak. The religion of the land Dyaks consists solely in superstitious observances, and they are given up to the fear of ghosts. Physical evils, such as poverty, sickness, &c., they try to avert by sacrifices, such as the killing of goats, pigs, &c., which they offer to these spirits. Their belief in a future state is that when a man dies he becomes an autu, or ghost, and lives in the forests.

Of the other races inhabiting Sarawak, and especially the Rejang district, may be mentioned the Kayans, a powerful tribe living at the head of the Rejang river, and occupying the vast tract of land between it and the territory of the Sultan of Brunei in North Borneo; the Kanowits, who take their name from the stream of that name, which rises in the Batang Lupar Residency, and runs into the Rejang; and the Poonans, Pakatans, Sians, and Ukits, the latter of whom are acknowledged to be the wildest of the human race yet met with in Borneo. Of these tribes, all with the exception of the Ukits are tattooed, unlike the Dyaks, who look upon the practice with contempt, and say that they have no need to disfigure their faces to frighten their enemies. A curious mixture of the Dyak and Malay races are the Milanoes. These occupy the sea-coast and Oya, Muka, and Bintulu rivers. The custom (similar to that of the Indians on the Mosquito shore) of flattening their children's heads is prevalent among them.

We were fortunate enough to choose the right time for our expedition to the Rejang. The gunboat Aline was leaving Kuching for Sibu, the residence of the officer in charge of Rejang, in a week's time after our return from Matang, with instructions to him to proceed to Kapit, 200 miles up river in the interior, without delay, as a small wooden fort was being erected at that place, and required supervision. Such an opportunity was not to be lost, and we gladly availed ourselves of the Raja's offer to accompany the expedition.

Such a journey undertaken at our own cost and responsibility would have been next to impossible, for, apart from the danger of travelling among unknown tribes without a guide, we should have lost all the valuable information we were able to obtain from the Resident. Of the Dyak language I had a slight knowledge, but this is practically useless at Kapit and in the interior, the natives around being, both in language and customs, totally unlike Dyaks.

Daybreak on the 16th of June saw us on board the Aline, en route for Sibu. Arrived at the latter place, we were to leave the Aline and proceed in the little launch Ghita; for although, as I have said, the Rejang is navigable for large vessels for a distance of over 150 miles, the stream above Kanowit (our first halting-place after Sibu) being very swift, renders it dangerous for ships of any size.

We arrived off the mouth after a pleasant run of seven hours along the coast, and entered the river Rejang, which is here four miles broad. On the right bank stands the little village of Rejang, and lying off it was a large Portuguese sailing vessel, loading "bilian" or iron wood. This is a tedious business. The wood is cut a considerable distance up river and floated down in rafts, an operation which sometimes detains a ship here for three or four months. Deaths are frequent on board these timber ships, as the country for miles round is one dismal mangrove swamp, and very productive of fever. A great quantity of this timber is exported yearly to China direct from Rejang, and it must be a lucrative speculation for the shippers, as the cost is merely a nominal charge of 1 dol. per ton to Government, and it fetches a considerable price in the Chinese market.

We anchored at sundown off Sarikei, a lonely-looking place, twenty miles from the mouth, consisting of four or five tumble-down Malay houses on a mud bank, and starting next day at daybreak reached our destination at ten o'clock a.m.

Sibu is a clean-looking Malay town of some 30,000 inhabitants. All Malays living here are exempt from taxation on condition that they are liable to be called out by Government in the event of any disturbance among the up-river tribes. The Fort and Bazaar stand on an island in the centre of the river, which is here about one and a half miles broad, and are connected with the town on the right bank by a wooden bridge. "Fort Brooke," as it is styled, is built in a pentagon of solid bilian planks, about 12 feet high; a sloping wooden roof reaching down to within 2 1/2 feet of the plank wall. This interval is guarded by a strong trellis-work, so that when the fort door is shut the building is rendered perfectly secure against any native attack. The Resident's and fortmen's quarters are reached by a ladder inside the fort about eight feet high, while the ground floor is used as a kitchen, rice-store, &c. Fort Brooke is garrisoned by sixteen Malays, and armed with six nine-pounders. All forts in Sarawak are built of the same materials and on the same model as the above, excepting that at Kuching, which is of stone, and much larger.

A daring attempt was made by the Katibus tribe eight years since to capture Fort Brooke, but although taken by surprise, the Resident and his handful of men drove them back with great ease, killing eight of their number, and shooting their chief with his own hand. The fort was attacked (as is the invariable Dyak custom) just before daylight, and the enemy were estimated to number about 150.

The Resident, who was not starting for Kapit until seven the following morning, asked us to dine, the evening of our arrival, at his quarters; where we found that, although in the wilds of Borneo, he (an old Garibaldian) managed to make himself uncommonly comfortable. An excellent dinner, washed down by some champagne well cooled in saltpetre, is no mean fare for the jungle, and it was late ere we returned on board the Aline, which was lying in mid-stream.

A slight headache the next morning (which warned us that Irish whiskey on the top of champagne is not the most wholesome thing to drink in the tropics) was soon dispelled by a cup of hot coffee, and we were on board the Ghita by seven o'clock. The Resident was even at that early hour aboard and awaiting us, and the little launch was soon steaming merrily away up river. Kanowit was to be our halt for that night, as the Resident had some business of importance to transact there, and travelling on the Rejang at night is unsafe.

The scenery up the river for some hours after leaving Sibu presents the same flat uninteresting appearance as we had passed from the mouth to Sibu, the landscape being unbroken by hill or habitation of any kind, and newspapers and books that we had brought with us from Kuching, proved in great demand as the journey for the first few hours was sadly monotonous. Towards four o'clock in the afternoon, however, the scenery entirely changed, and books were discarded to look at the really beautiful country we were passing through, the narrowing of the stream to about 500 yards broad, and the swiftness of the stream indicating that we were approaching Kanowit. The powerful current rushed by so rapidly, that the little Ghita had hard work to make any headway, and the "snags," or huge pieces of timber, that whirled past us, gave the steersman plenty of work in keeping the launch clear of them. The dense jungle here gave place to green park-like plains, broken by a succession of undulating hills, not unlike Rhine scenery. Several Dyak habitations were now passed, which gave evidence of Kanowits being near, their inmates thronging to the water's edge for a look at the fire-ship, a rare and novel sight to them.

At five o'clock we rounded the bend that hid it from our view, and came in sight of the little white fort and village of Kanowit, about a mile distant at the end of the reach we were entering. No sooner had we entered the latter than we were observed by the natives, and could distinguish them, through our glasses, shoving off from the bank in four or five large canoes, and paddling towards us. Their boats are all built flat-bottomed for greater facility in shooting rapids, and were each manned by a crew of ten or twelve men, who presented a curious spectacle—their faces and bodies completely covered with tattooing, their long black locks streaming in the wind, and bright brass ornaments flashing in the sun. As they came alongside us they brandished their paddles and yelled—this being meant as a welcome to the Resident—and, although the Ghita was going at full speed, they laid hold of her bulwarks and commenced clambering on board in such numbers that the little launch's deck was soon so crowded as to offer scarcely standing room, and we should have shortly had to beat a retreat to the cabin had not their chief "Jok" arrived, and sent the majority back into their canoes with more force than ceremony.

The Kanowits are a small tribe, numbering about 500, and are quite distinct and totally unlike any other race in Borneo. They have not unpleasant features, are of lighter complexion than the Dyaks, and, though not so warlike, are fine, strongly-built men. Nearly all were tattooed from head to foot with most intricate patterns, and others representing birds, beasts, fishes, &c., while round the face and throat the marks were made in imitation of a beard, an ornament which none of the tribes yet met with in Borneo possess.

Their chief "Jok," who is a well-known character in Sarawak, may be taken as an example of the way in which the rest of the tribe were clothed: a cloth turban of gaudy colours constituted Jok's head-dress, from under which, and down to his waist, streamed his long black hair. Through his ears were thrust, points outwards, a pair of wild boar's tusks, and from the top to the lobe of the ears about a dozen small brass ear-rings were secured. A linen waist-cloth was Jok's only garment, while around his waist was slung the deadly "Parang ilang," its sheath ornamented with tufts of human hair, trophies of the wearer's prowess on the war-path, for Jok's bravery is renowned throughout the Rejang district. Jok was tattooed from head to foot so thickly as to cause his body to look at a distance of a light blue colour, but a very small portion of his face, around the nose and eyes, being left au naturel. The remainder of the tribe were unarmed, as it is made a strict rule in Sarawak that on entering a fort or Government gunboat all arms, excepting in the case of a chief, shall be left behind.

Arrived off the village, we cast anchor for the night off the fort, and at the mouth of the Kanowit stream. Kanowit village consists of three long houses, built on wooden posts about 40 feet high. They are so built for the purposes of defence, and it is no uncommon thing in Bornean travel to come across a whole village living under one roof. The longest of these dwellings that I have ever seen was when travelling up the Baram River (North Borneo), in 1873, about 170 miles in the interior. This was a house, 103 yards long, which contained the whole village, consisting of about sixty families.

Fort Emma stands on the opposite side of the river to the village, and is in charge of a sepoy and four Malays. It is on a good position, armed with three small guns, and commands the village and entrance to the Kanowit stream. It was on this spot that Messrs. Fox and Steele (then in charge of the station) were brutally murdered by the Kanowits in 1859; but ever since the terrible vengeance that followed, on the part of the Government, the tribe have always been among the firmest allies of the Raja.

We visited Jok's dwelling in the cool of the evening. As all houses belonging to the more civilised indigenous races in Borneo are built on the same principle as Jok's, a description of this will suffice for all.

The houses (as I have said) are built on wooden posts driven firmly into the ground, and ranging from thirty to forty feet high, according to the size of the dwelling. They are entered by a wooden pole, placed in a slanting position, at one end of the building, having notches cut into it to afford firmer foothold. This pole can be drawn into the house on occasion, thus cutting off all communication with the outside. The interior of the house (which in this case was over seventy yards long, by about thirty yards broad) was divided by a thin wooden partition running its entire length and dividing it into two equal portions. On the one side of this partition is the "ruai," or large hall, which is the common dwelling-place of the tribe, and on the other a series of small boxes (for one can call them nothing else) about twelve feet square, which are sacred to the married people. Each of these compartments has a door of its own leading into the "ruai," and these are taxed by Government at 1 dol. a door. Overhead, again, is the "sadow," an upper storey which runs the length of the building, the residence of the unmarried girls, and wherein the valuables of the tribe are kept.

The floorings of these houses are made of split bamboo, which offers but a precarious footing to the unsuspecting traveller, as holes are numerous, and a slip through would precipitate one forty feet below. In front of the house runs a bamboo verandah about twenty feet broad, where domestic operations, such as cooking, padi grinding, &c., are carried on. The roof of dried palm-leaves is a high sloping one, and comes down to within about foot and a half of the floor, throwing the interior of the building into almost total darkness, even in broad daylight.

The Resident's entry was hardly a dignified one, as he had to clamber up the pole and into the building on all fours, drawing his body through the small aperture hardly three feet square, which formed the entry of the house. Once in the "ruai," however, great preparations were made by the inmates for his welcome. Some beautifully-worked mats (in the manufacture of which the Kanowits are very clever) were spread out on the floor, and siri and betel-nut produced; and while the Resident was holding his "Bechara" (or Court business), surrounded by a ring of admiring natives squatted around him, L. and I slipped away with a young Kanowit warrior, who offered to show us round the building.

Our guide first pointed with evident pride to the bunch of smoke-dried human heads (thirty in number) that were hanging from a post in the ruai, but hastened to assure us, on our examining them rather closely, that they were all old ones, the Kanowits having a great dread of being suspected of head-hunting. Proceeding along the ruai, we followed our cicerone into one of the little doors at the end, leading into one of the small compartments of the married people, but a pair of bare legs escaping through the side door into the adjoining "box," warned us that the fair occupant was evidently not at home to us! Bidding us sit down, however, and await his return, our guide gave chase, and presently came back to us, dragging two females of the tribe with him, notwithstanding their cries and protestations to the contrary.

These women were fair specimens, as we were afterwards informed, of the tribe, and were, like the men, tattooed from head to foot. But for the disgusting habit (which I shall mention anon) of blackening their teeth and disfiguring the lobes of their ears, they would not have been bad-looking. They wore a light brown petticoat of cloth woven by themselves, and reaching from the waist to just above the knee. Their hair was not left to fall loose, but tied tightly into a knot at the back of their heads, very much as it is worn in Europe at the present time. A few brass rings round their waists and arms completed their attire. Strangely enough, the Kanowit women are, as a rule, darker than the men.

They lost their sense of shyness after a time, and at length produced the inevitable siri and penang. At the close of the interview we begged their acceptance of a piece of Bristol bird's-eye each, which they at once put in their mouths and commenced chewing, and we then parted with mutual expressions of goodwill.

We now returned to the Resident and his party. The shouts of laughter proceeding from their corner of the house announced that business was over, and that chaff and fun, so dear to the heart of every Kanowit, was being carried on with great gusto. As we arrived and stood by the group, one of their number (evidently a privileged buffoon) begged to be allowed to speak to the Resident. "You remember that gun, Resident," said he, "you gave me?" (This was an old muzzle-loader for which Mr. H. had had no further use.) "Oh yes," was the reply; "what luck have you had with it?" "Oh, wonderful," said the Kanowit, "I killed fourteen deer with one bullet out of that gun!" "What!" rejoined Mr. H., "fourteen deer with one bullet!—but that is impossible!" "Oh no," replied our friend, "for I cut the bullet out each time!"

Roars of laughter greeted this sally, which had evidently been some time preparing for H.'s benefit; and as we took our departure and crawled down the pole, the scene so forcibly reminded me of "Bones" and "Massa Johnson" at the St. James's Hall that I nearly fell off it from laughing.

As we sat on deck that evening, smoking a cigar in the bright moonlight, we could still hear in the distance the gongs and laughter of the jovial Kanowits celebrating the arrival of the "fire-ship," no common occurrence in these waters.


[Footnote 9: A sword (convex and concave) about 2 1/2 feet long, which is made by the Dyaks. The hilt is of ivory or bone, and ornamented with human hair.]


Leave Kanowit—Scenery—War Canoes—Arrive at Kapit— Wild Tribes—Kayan Burials—Head Feast—Lat—His Family—Tattooing—The Sumpitan—Kayan and Dyak War Dances—The Kok-Goo—The Bock Expedition to Central Borneo—Cannibalism—Return to Kuching.

We enjoyed a good night's rest, for the air was deliciously cool, and the noise made by the stream as it rushed past the sides of the little Ghita had a very pleasant and somnolent effect. Mosquito nets were unnecessary, none of these pests existing so far inland; but we were much persecuted during the day by a large red-and-black painted fly, which inflicts a very painful and poisonous bite, and is very numerous on the upper Rejang.

We were up betimes, and at seven o'clock were again under weigh, though making but slow progress against the rapid current. The river, however, widened to nearly a mile in breadth two hours after leaving Kanowit, and we made better way, the mouth of the Katibus stream being passed at mid-day. This, which has evoked the cognomen in Sarawak of the "accursed river," is rightly so called, for it has always been a thorn in the side of the Government, and the tribe (Katibus) living on its banks have given more trouble than any in the country, for although closely allied in manners and customs to the Kanowits, the Katibus are a far braver race, and less easily subdued.

The character of the country around this part of the River Rejang is extremely beautiful, and presents a pleasing contrast to the flat swampy marshes which line the river below Kanowit. Steep rocky hills here rise abruptly to a great height from the river, the water of which was so clear that the smallest pebble at the bottom could be seen, although we found, on sounding, the water to be nearly forty feet deep. Far away on the horizon we could discern a long range of precipitous, rugged mountains, on the far side of which lay Kapit, our destination.

A large war-canoe was passed a short distance above Katibus, containing forty or fifty men of that tribe. They looked fine hardy fellows, and much broader made than any natives I had yet seen in Borneo, but were of far less pleasing countenance and more ferocious aspect than our friends the Kanowits, scarcely deigning to look at the launch as we passed them, but sweeping along down stream with a scowl on their ill-favoured features.

The bright sunny afternoon wore away rather monotonously, for not a living thing was to be seen, excepting occasionally a small Dyak habitation, with its small strip of clearing whereon the owners grew their "padi" or rice. At last, as the sun was setting like a ball of fire behind the distant mountains, we heard the faint sound of gongs, which announced that we were approaching Kapit.

The country around us now became wilder, and we entered a gorge, rocky and precipitous, but less wooded than any part of the Rejang we had as yet passed. The river here narrowed considerably, and the navigation became very dangerous, on account of the extreme swiftness of the current, which rushed by at a tremendous pace, carrying large snags, or pieces of timber, with it, a blow from one of which would have sent the little Ghita flying. The dreaded "Makun" rapid, in which so many have lost their lives, is not far above Kapit, and greatly increases the dangers of ascending this part of the river.

We now came in sight of a fleet of some 100 huge war canoes, each one containing about forty men, who on our appearance struck up a tremendous row on the gongs and drums, to give the Resident welcome. The sound of these, mingled with the roar of the water as it dashed through the ravine, had a strange and weird effect. These people had been living above Kapit and out of sight of the Government, eluding taxes, taking heads, and otherwise misbehaving themselves. A Government expedition was formed to remedy this state of affairs, the result being their total defeat, and the order to remove below Kapit—which they had now obeyed.

Having rounded the corner of the next reach, we arrived off the little wooden fort which protects the village of Kapit. The latter, however, can scarcely be called a village, having consisted, till quite recently, of but two large native houses. The tribes around, as I have said, having given great trouble of late years, it was decided to form a Government Station, and to that end a fine wooden fort (which at the time of our visit was but half finished) was commenced.

The country and climate around Kapit are quite different to other parts of Sarawak, the former being mountainous, rocky, and free from jungle, and the latter temperate and cool.

We landed and walked up to the Fort, which is situated in a first-rate position on one of the many hills overlooking the river. Although in a very unfinished state, it contained one room nearly completed, in which we managed to live very comfortably. We had scarcely arrived here half an hour ere our apartment was filled with some of the most extraordinary mortals I have ever beheld.

A number of tribes exist around Kapit, each of which (with the exception of the wild and homeless Ukit) had its representative here during our visit, for the station being in charge of a Eurasian, or half-caste, the advent of Europeans attracted many to the fort, some of whom had never before seen a white man.

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