Read CHAPTER V of Where the Strange Trails Go Down, free online book, by E. Alexander Powell, on


There is no name between the covers of the atlas which so smacks of romance and adventure as Bornéo. Show me the red-blooded boy who, when he sees that magic name over the wild man’s cage in the circus sideshow or over the orang-utan’s cage in the zoo, does not secretly long to go adventuring in the jungles of its mysterious interior. So, because there is still in me a good deal of the boy, thank Heaven, I ordered the course of the Negros laid for Samarinda, which, if the charts were to be believed, was the principal gateway to the hinterland of Eastern Bornéo. There are no roads in Bornéo, you understand, only narrow foot-trails through the steaming jungle, so that the only practicable means of penetrating the interior is by ascending one of the great rivers. The Koetei, which has its nativity somewhere in the mysterious Kapuas Mountains, winds its way across four hundred miles of unmapped wilderness, and, a score of miles below Samarinda, empties into Makassar Straits, answered my requirements admirably, providing a highroad to the country of my boyish dreams. Though I told the others that I was going up the Koetei in order to see the strange tribes who dwell along its upper reaches, I admitted to myself that I had one object in view and one alone to see the Wild Man.

Viewed from the deck of the Negros, Samarinda, which is the capital of the Residency of Koetei, was entirely satisfying. It corresponded in every respect to the mental picture which I had drawn of a Bornean town. It straggles for two miles or more along a dusty road shaded by a double row of flaming fire-trees. Facing on the road are a few-score miserable shops kept by Chinese and Arabs and the somewhat more pretentious buildings which house the offices of the European trading companies. Further out, at the edge of the town, are the dwellings of the Dutch officials and traders comfortable-looking, one-story, whitewashed houses with deep verandahs, peering coyly out from the midst of fragrant, blazing gardens. The Residency, the Custom House, the Police Barracks and the Koetei Club can readily be distinguished by the Dutch flags that droop above them. The river-bank itself is one interminable street. Here dwells the brown-skinned population Malays, Bugis, Makassars, and a sprinkling of Sea Dyaks. Sometimes the flimsy, cane-walled, leaf-thatched huts, perched aloft on bamboo stilts, stand, like flocks of storks, in clusters. Again they stray a little apart, seeking protection from the pitiless sun beneath clumps of palms. Malays in short, tight jackets and long, tight breeches of kaleidoscopic colors were sauntering along the yellow road, oblivious of the sun. On the shelving beach naked brown men were mending their nets or pottering about their dwellings. Now and then I caught a glimpse of a European, cool and comfortable in topee and white linen. It was all exactly as I had expected. It was, indeed, almost too story-booky to be true. Here, at last, was a green and lovely land, unspoiled by noisy, prying tourists, where one could lounge the lazy days away beneath the palm-trees or stroll with dusky beauties on a beach silvered by the tropic moon. I was impatient to go ashore.

Changing from pajamas to whites, I ordered the launch to the gangway and went ashore to pay my respects to the Resident. To leave your card on the local representative of Queen Wilhelmina is the first rule of etiquette to be observed by the foreigner traveling in the Outer Possessions. In Java, which is more highly civilized, it is not so necessary. Unlike the Latin races, the Dutch are not by nature a suspicious people, but political unrest is prevalent throughout the East, and with Bolshevists, Chinese agitators and other fomenters of disaffection surreptitiously at work among the natives, it is the part of prudence to establish your respectability at the start. To gain a friendly footing with the authorities is to save yourself from possible annoyance later on.

As I approached the shore the glamor lent by distance disappeared. The river-bank, which had looked so alluring from the cutter’s deck, proved on closer inspection to be as squalid as the back-yard of a Neapolitan tenement. It was littered with dead cats and fowls and fish and castaway vegetables and rotten fruit and tin cans and greasy ashes and refuse from fishing nets and decaying cocoanuts by the million and sodden rags. This stewing garbage was strewn ankle-deep upon the sand or was floating on the surface of the river, not drifting seaward, as one would expect, but languidly following the tide up and down, forever lolling along the bank. Above this putrefying feast swarmed myriads of flies, their buzzing combining in a drone like that of an electric fan. The sun struck viciously down upon the yellow foreshore, its glare reflected by the hard-packed sands as by a sheet of brass; the heat-waves danced and flickered. Sending the launch back to the cutter, I picked my way across this noisome place to the shelter of the trees along the road. But the shade that had appeared so inviting from the river proved as illusory as everything else. Grass? There was none. The earth was baked to the hardness of asphalt.

To make matters worse, I found that I had landed too far down the beach. The building that I had assumed was the Residency proved to be the Custom House. The Harbor Master, whom I encountered there, seized the opportunity to present me with a bill for a hundred guilders something over forty dollars for port dues. It seemed a high price to pay for the privilege of lying in the stream, a quarter-mile off-shore. In all the Dutch ports at which we touched I noted this same disposition on the part of the authorities to charge all that the traffic would bear and then some. Foreign vessels are rarely seen at Samarinda, and one would suppose that they would be welcomed accordingly, but the Dutch are a business people and do not permit sentiment to interfere with a chance to make a few honest guilders.

The Residency, I found upon inquiry, was two miles away, in the outskirts of the town. And, as there are neither rickshaws nor carriages for hire in Samarinda, I was compelled to walk. It was really too hot to move. In five minutes my clothes were as wet as though I had fallen in the river. The green silk lining of my sun-hat crocked and ran down my face in emerald rivulets. When I had covered half the distance I paused beneath a waringin tree to rest. A breath of breeze from the river, sighing through the palms, brought to my streaming cheeks a hint of coolness and to my nostrils more than a hint of the garbage broiling on the beach. Anyone who could be romantic in Bornéo must be in love.

The Assistant Resident, Monsieur de Haan, was as glad to see me as a banker away from home is to see a copy of The Wall Street Journal. I brought him a whiff of that great outside world from which he was an exile, with whose doings he kept in touch only through the meager despatches in the papers brought by the fortnightly mail-boat from Java, or through occasional travelers like myself. Dutch officials in the Indies can obtain leave only once in ten years and Monsieur de Haan had not visited the mother country for nearly a decade, so that when he learned I had recently been in Holland he was pathetically eager to hear the gossip of the homeland. For an hour I lounged in a Cantonese chair beneath the leisurely swinging punkah the motive power for the punkah being provided by a native on the verandah outside, who mechanically pulled the cord even while he slept and chatted of homely things: of a restaurant which we both knew on the Dam in Amsterdam, of bathing on the sands of Scheviningen, of band concerts on summer evenings in the Haagsche Bosch. Only when his long-pent curiosity as to happenings in Europe had been appeased did I find an opportunity to mention the reasons which had brought me to Samarinda. I wished to go up country, I explained. I wanted to see the real jungle and the strange tribes which dwell in it; particularly I wished to see the head-hunters. Now in this I was fully prepared for discouragement and dissuasion, for head-hunters are not assets to a country; to a visitor they are not displayed with pride. When, in the Philippines, I wished to see the head-hunting Igorots; when I asked the Japanese for permission to visit the head-hunters of Formosa, I met only with excuses and evasions. At my taste the officials pretended to be surprised and grieved. But Monsieur de Haan, doubtless because he had lived so long in the wilds that head-hunters were to him a commonplace, not only made no objection, he even offered to accompany me.

“We can go up the Koetei on your cutter,” he suggested. “It is navigable as far as Long Iram, two hundred miles up-country, which is the farthest point inland that one of our garrisons is stationed. Thus you will be able to see the Dyak country as comfortably as you could see Holland from the deck of a canal boat. On our way we might pay a visit to the Sultan of Koetei, who has a palace at Tenggaroeng. Though he has no real power to speak of, he exercises considerable influence among the wild tribes, of which he is the hereditary ruler. He’s the very man to put you in touch with the head-hunters.”

The suggestion sounded fine. Moreover, in visiting savages as temperamental as the Dyaks, there would be a certain comfort in having the head of the government along. So, as Monsieur de Haan did not appear to be pressed with business, we arranged to start up-river the following morning.

It was late afternoon when I returned to the Negros. I was completely wilted by the terrible humidity, and, as the river looked cool and inviting in the twilight, I decided to refresh my body and my spirits by a swim. But when I suggested to the Doctor that he join me he shook his head gloomily.

“Nothing doing,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to go in all day but the port surgeon tells me that I’d be committing suicide.”

“But why?” I demanded irritably, for I was ill-tempered from the heat. “It’s perfectly clean out here in mid-stream and there is no danger from sharks here, as there was at Zamboanga and Jolo.”

By way of replying he pointed to a black object, which I took to be a log, that was floating on the surface of the river, perhaps fifty yards off the cutter’s gangway.

“That’s why,” he said dryly.

As he spoke a dugout, driven by half-a-dozen paddles in the hands of lusty natives, came racing down stream. As the canoe drew abreast of us, the paddlers chanting a barbaric chorus, there was a sudden swirl in the water and the object which I had taken for a log abruptly dropped out of sight.

“A crocodile!” I ejaculated, a little shiver chasing itself up and down my spine.

The Doctor nodded.

“The river is alive with them,” he said. “Man-eaters, too. The port surgeon told me that they get a native or so every day.”

“I’ve changed my mind about wanting a swim,” I remarked, heading for the ship’s shower-bath.

(Dusk is settling on the great river and the palm fronds are gently stirring before the breeze that comes with nightfall on the Line. If you have nothing better to do, suppose you sit down beside me in a deck-chair and let me tell you something about these cruel and cunning monsters and the curious methods by which they are captured. Boy! Pass the cheroots and bring us something cold to drink.)

Though crocodiles are found everywhere in Malaysia, they attain their greatest size and ferocity in the rivers of Bornéo, it being no uncommon thing for them to attack and capsize the frail native canoes, killing their occupants as they flounder in the water. I suppose that the crocodile of Bornéo more nearly approaches the giant saurians of prehistoric times than anything alive to-day. Imagine, if you please, a creature as large as a ship’s launch, with the swiftness and ferocity of a man-eating shark, the cunning of a snake, a body so heavily armored with scales that it is impervious to everything save the most high-powered bullets, a tail that is capable of knocking down an ox, and a pair of jaws that can cut a man in two at a single snap. How would you like to encounter that sort of thing when you were having a pleasant swim, I ask you? Compared to the crocodile of Malaysia, the Florida alligator is about as formidable as a lizard. One was captured while we were at Sandakan which measured slightly over twenty-eight feet from the end of his ugly snout to the tip of his vicious tail. Before you raise your eyebrows incredulously you might take a look at the accompanying photograph of this monster. Nor was this a record crocodile, for, shortly before our arrival at Samarinda, one was caught in the Koetei which measured ten metres, or within a few inches of thirty-three feet.

The crocodile obtains its meals by the simple expedient of lying motionless just beneath the surface of a pool where the natives are accustomed to bathe or where they go for water. The unsuspecting brown girl trips jauntily down to the river-bank to fill her amphora usually a battered Standard Oil tin. As she bends over the stream there comes without the slightest warning the lightning swish of a scaly tail, a scream, the crunch of monster jaws, a widening eddy, a scarlet stain overspreading the surface of the water and there is one less inhabitant of Bornéo. But instead of proceeding to devour its victim then and there, the crocodile carries the body up a convenient creek, where it has the self-control to leave it until it is sufficiently gamey to satisfy its palate. For the crocodile, like the hunter, does not like freshly killed meat. Hence, a crocodile swimming up-stream with a native in its mouth is by no means an uncommon sight on Borne an rivers.

“But it is a quick death,” as an Englishman whom I met in Bornéo philosophically observed. “They don’t play with you as a cat plays with a mouse they just hold you under the water until you are drowned.”

Yet, in spite of the hundreds who fall victim to the terrible jaws each year, the natives seem incapable of observing the slightest precautions. For superstitious reasons they will not disturb the crocodile until it has shown itself to be a man-eater. If the crocodile will live at peace with him the native has no wish to start a quarrel. But the day usually comes when a native who has gone down to the river fails to return. In America, under such circumstances, the relatives of the missing man would send for grappling irons and an undertaker. But in Bornéo they summon a professional crocodile hunter. The idea of this is not so much to obtain revenge as to recover the brass ornaments which the dear departed was wearing at the moment of his taking off, for, though human life is the cheapest thing there is in Bornéo, brass is extremely dear.

The professional crocodile hunters are usually Malays. One of the best known and most successful in Bornéo is an old man who runs a ferry across the Barito at Bandjermasin. He has capitalized his skill and cunning by organizing himself into a sort of crocodile liability company, as it were. Anyone may secure a policy in this company by paying him a weekly premium of 2-1/2 Dutch cents. When one of his policy holders is overtaken by death in the form of a pair of four-foot jaws the old man turns the ferry over to one of his children and sets out to fulfill the terms of his contract by capturing the offending saurian, recovering from its stomach the weighty bracelets, anklets and earrings worn by the deceased, and restoring them to the next of kin. In order to make good he sometimes has to kill a number of crocodiles, but he keeps on until he gets the right one. This is not as difficult as it sounds, for the big man-eaters usually have their recognized haunts in certain deep pools in the rivers, many of them, indeed, being known to the natives by name. The old ferryman at Bandjermasin has been so successful in the conduct of his curious avocation that, so the Dutch Resident assured me, he has several hundred policy holders who pay him their premiums with punctilious regularity, thereby giving him a very comfortable income.

The method pursued by the crocodile hunters of Bornéo is as effective as it is ingenious. Their fishing tackle consists of a hook, which is a straight piece of hard wood, about the size of a twelve-inch ruler, sharpened at both ends; a ten-foot leader, woven from the tough, stringy bark of the baru tree; and a single length of rattan or cane, fifty feet or so in length, which serves as a line. One end of the leader is attached to a shallow notch cut in the piece of wood, the other end is fastened to the rattan. With a few turns of cotton one end of the stick is then lightly bound to the leader, thus bringing the two into a straight line. Then comes the bait, which must be chosen with discrimination. Though the body of a dog or pig will usually answer, the morsel that most infallibly tempts a crocodile is the carcass of a monkey. But it must not be a freshly killed monkey, mind you. A crocodile will only swallow meat that is in an advanced stage of decomposition, the more overpowering its stench the greater the likelihood of the bait being taken. The bait is securely lashed to the pointed stick, though anyone but a Malay would require a gas-mask to perform this part of the operation.

Everything now being ready, the bait is suspended from the bough of a tree overhanging the pool which the crocodile is known to frequent, being so arranged that the carcass swings a foot or so above the surface of the stream at high water level, the end of the rattan being planted in the bank. Lured by the smell of the bait, which in that torrid climate quickly acquires a bouquet which can be detected a mile to leeward, the crocodile is certain sooner or later to thrust its long snout out of the water and snap at the odoriferous bundle dangling so temptingly overhead, the slack line offering no resistance until the bait has been swallowed and the brute starts to make off. Then the man-eater gets the surprise of its long and checkered life, for the planted end of the rattan holds sufficiently to snap the threads which bind the pointed stick to the leader. The stick, thus caused to resume its original position at right angles to the line, becomes jammed across the crocodile’s belly, the pointed ends burying themselves in the tender abdominal lining.

The next morning the hunter finds bait and tackle missing, but a brief search usually reveals the coils of rattan floating on the surface of some deep pool at no great distance from the spot where the bait was taken. At the bottom of the pool Mr. Crocodile is writhing in the throes of acute indigestion. Taking the end of the line ashore, the hunter summons assistance. A score of jubilant natives lay hold on the rattan. Then ensues a struggle that makes tarpon fishing as tame in comparison as catching shiners. At first the monster tries to resist the straining line, its tail flailing the water into foam. The great jaws close on the leader like a bear-trap, but the loosely braided strands of baru fiber slip between the pointed teeth. The leader holds. The natives haul at the line as sailors haul at a halliard. Soon there emerges from the churning waters a long and incredibly ugly snout, followed by a low, reptilian head, with venomous, heavy-lidded, scarlet eyes, a body as broad as a row-boat and armored with horny scales, and finally a tremendous tail, twice as long as an elephant’s trunk and twice as powerful, that spells death for any human being that comes within its reach. Sometimes it happens that the hunters momentarily become the hunted, for the infuriated beast, catching sight of its enemies, may come at them with a rush and a bellow, but more often it has to be dragged to land, fighting every inch of the way.

Now comes the most hazardous part of the whole proceeding the securing of the monster. By means of a noose, deftly thrown, the great jaws are rendered harmless. Another noose encircles the lashing tail and binds it securely to a tree. The front legs are next lashed behind the back and the hind legs treated in the same fashion. Thus deprived of the support of its legs, the crocodile is helpless and it is safe to release its tail. A stout bamboo is then passed between the bound legs and a score of sweating natives bear the captive in triumph to the nearest government station, where the bounty is claimed. The crocodile is then killed, the stomach cut open and its contents examined, any brassware or other ornaments worn by its victim at the time of his demise being handed over to the heirs.

The method of fishing pursued by the Dyaks of Bornéo is quite as curious, in its way, as their manner of catching crocodiles. Instead of netting the fish, or catching them with hook and line, they asphyxiate them, using for the purpose a poison obtained from the tuba root, known to scientists as Cocculus indicus. When a Dyak village is in need of food the entire community, men, women and children, repairs to a stream in which fish are known to be plentiful. Across the stream a sort of picket fence is erected by planting bamboos close together. In the center of this fence is a narrow opening leading into an enclosure like a corral, the walls of which are made in the same fashion. When this part of the preparations has been completed a party of natives proceeds up-stream by canoe for a dozen, or more miles, taking with them a plentiful supply of tuba root. Early the next morning the canoes are filled with water, in which the tuba root is beaten until the water is as white and frothy as soapsuds. When a sufficient quantity of this highly toxic liquid has thus been obtained, it is emptied into the stream and, after a brief wait, the canoes are again launched and the fishermen drift slowly down the current in the wake of the poison. Many of the fish are stupefied by the tuba and, as they rise struggling to the surface, are speared by the Dyaks. Other, seeking to escape the poisonous wave, dart down-stream and, when halted by the barrier, pour through the opening into the corral, where they are captured by the thousands. I might add that the tuba does not affect the flesh of the fish, which can be eaten with safety. As a means of obtaining food in wholesale quantities fishing with tuba is perhaps justified. As a sport it is in the same class with shooting duck from airplanes with machine-guns.

Monsieur de Haan, wearing the brass-buttoned white uniform and gold-laced conductor’s cap which is the garb prescribed for Dutch colonial officials, came abroad the Negros shortly after breakfast. The gangway was hoisted, Captain Galvez gave brisk orders from the bridge, there was a jangle of bells in the engine-room, and we were off up the Koetei, into the mysterious heart of Bornéo. Above Samarinda the great river flows between solid walls of vegetation. The density of the Bornean jungle is indeed almost unbelievable. It is a savage tangle of bamboos, palms, banyans, mangroves, and countless varieties of shrubs and giant ferns, the whole laced together by trailers and creepers. Contrary to popular belief, there is little color to relieve the somber monotony of dark brown trunks and dark green foliage. It is as gloomy as the nave of a cathedral at twilight. Here and there may be seen some vine with scarlet berries and many orchids swing from the higher branches like incandescent globes of colored glass. But it is usually impossible for one on the ground to see the finest blooms, which turn their faces to the sunlight above the canopy of green. Gray apes chatter in the tree-tops; strange tropic birds of gorgeous plumage flit from bough to bough, monstrous reptiles slip silently through the undergrowth; insects buzz in swarms above the putrid swamps; occasionally the jungle crashes beneath the tread of some heavy animal a rhinoceros, perhaps, or a wild bull, or an orang-utan. (I might mention, parenthetically, that orang-utan means, in the Malay language, “man of the forest,” while orang-outang, the name which we incorrectly apply to the great red-haired anthropoid, means “man in debt.”) The Bornean jungle is a place of indescribable dismalness and dread, its gloom seldom dissipated by the sun, its awesome silence broken only by the stirrings of the unseen creatures which lurk underfoot and overhead and all around.

The palace of the Sultan of Koetei stands in the edge of the jungle at a horseshoe bend in the river. You come on it with startling abruptness miles and miles of primeval wilderness and then, quite unexpectedly, a bit of civilization. In no respect does its exterior come up to what you would expect the palace of an Oriental ruler to be. It is a great barn of a place, two stories in height, painted a bright pink, with the arms of Koetei emblazoned above the entrance. It reminded me of a Coney Island dance hall or one of the tabernacles built for Billy Sunday.

A broad flight of white marble steps leads to a wide, covered terrace of the same incongruous material. This terrace opens directly into the great throne-hall, a lofty apartment of impressive proportions, though its furnishings are a bizarre mixture of Oriental taste and Occidental tawdriness. Its marble floor is strewn with splendid rugs and tiger-skins; hanging from the ceiling are enormous cut-glass chandeliers; set in the walls, on either side of the scarlet-and-gold throne, are life-size portraits of the present Sultan’s father and grandfather done in glazed Delft tiles, which seem more appropriate for a bathroom than a throne-hall. From each end of the apartment scarlet-carpeted staircases, with gilt balustrades, lead to the second floor. Under one of these staircases is a sort of closet, with glass doors, which looks for all the world like a large edition of a telephone booth in an American hotel. The doors were sealed with strips of paper affixed by means of wax wafers, but, peering through the glass, I could made out a large table piled high with trays of precious stones, ingots of virgin gold and silver, vessels, utensils and images of the same precious metals. It was the state treasure of Koetei and was worth, so the Resident told me, upward of a million dollars.

When I was at Tenggaroeng the young Sultan, an anæmic-looking youth in the early twenties, had not yet been permitted by the Dutch authorities to ascend the throne, the country being ruled by his uncle, the Regent, an elderly, affable gentleman who, in his white drill suit and round white cap, was the image of a Chinese cook employed by a Californian friend of mine. Upon the formal accession of the young Sultan the seals of the treasury would be broken, I was told, and the treasure would be his to spend as he saw fit. I rather imagine, however, that the Dutch controleur attached to his court in the capacity of adviser will have something to say should the youthful monarch show a disposition to squander his inheritance.

Up-stairs we were shown through a series of apartments filled to overflowing with the loot of European shops ornate brass beds, inlaid bureaus and chiffoniers, toilet-sets of tortoise-shell and ivory, washbowls and pitchers of Sèvres, Dresden and Limoges, garnish vases, statuettes, music-boxes, mechanical toys, models of all ships and engines, and a thousand other useless and inappropriate articles, for, when the late Sultan paid his periodic visits to Europe, the shopkeepers of Paris, Amsterdam and The Hague seized the opportunity to unload on him, at exorbitant prices, their costliest and most unsalable wares. Opening a marquetry wardrobe, the Regent displayed with great pride his collection of uniforms and ceremonial costumes, most of which, the Resident told me, had been copied from pictures which had caught his fancy in books and magazines. That wardrobe would have delighted the heart of a motion-picture company’s property-man, for it contained everything from a Dutch court dress, complete with sword and feathered hat, to a state costume of sky-blue broadcloth edged with white fur and trimmed with diamond buttons. I expressed a desire to see the royal crown, for I had noticed that the pictures of former sultans, which I had seen in the throne-room, showed them wearing crowns of a peculiar design, strikingly similar to those worn by the Emperors of Abyssinia. My request resulted in a whispered colloquy between the Resident, the Controleur, the Regent and the young Sultan. After a brief discussion the Resident explained that the Controleur kept the crown locked up in his safe, but that he would get it if I wished to see it. To the obvious relief of everyone except the young Sultan I assured them that it did not matter. He seemed distinctly disappointed. I imagine that he would have liked to have gotten his hands on it.

Outside the palace just below its windows, in fact is a long, low, dirt-floored, wooden-roofed shed, such as American farmers build to keep their wagons and farm machinery under. This was the royal cemetery. Beneath it the former rulers of Koetei lie buried, their resting-places being marked by a most curious assortment of fantastically carved tombs and headstones. Some of the tombs hold the ashes of men who sat on the throne of Koetei when it was one of the great kingdoms of the East, long before the coming of the white man.

Lady luck was kind to me, for shortly after our arrival at Tenggaroeng a delegation of Dyaks from one of the tribes of the far interior appeared at the palace to lay some tribal dispute before the Regent for his adjudication. There were about a score of them, including a rather comely young woman, whose comeliness was somewhat marred, however, according to European standards at least, by the lobes of her ears being stretched until they touched her shoulders by the great weight of the brass earrings which depended from them. The warriors were the finest physical specimens of manhood that I saw in all Malaysia tall, slim, muscular, magnificently developed fellows, with bright, rather intelligent faces. They had the broad shoulders and small hips of Roman athletes and when the sun struck on their oiled brown skins they looked like the bronzes in a museum. Unlike the natives we had seen along the coast, whose garments made a slight concession to the prejudices of civilization, these children of the wild “wore nothing much before and rather less than ‘arf o’ that be’ind.” Several of them were armed with the sumpitan, or blow-gun, which is the national weapon of the Dyaks, and each of them carried at his waist a parang-ilang, the terrible long-bladed knife which the head-hunter uses to kill and decapitate his victims.

Monsieur de Haan, as well as the other Dutch officials whom I questioned on the subject, attributed the prevalence of head-hunting in Bornéo to the vanity of the Dyak women. He explained that, just as American girls expect candy and flowers from the young men who are attentive to them, so Dyak maidens expect freshly severed human heads. The warrior who refused to present his lady-love with such grisly evidences of his devotion would be rejected by her and ostracized by his tribe. Nor does head-hunting end with marriage, for the standing of both the man and his wife in the community depends upon the number of grinning skulls which swing from the ridgepole of their hut. Heads are to a Dyak what money is to a man in civilized countries the more he has, the greater his importance. The Controleur at Tenggaroeng assured me very earnestly that his Dyak charges were by no means ferocious or bloodthirsty by nature and that they practised head-hunting less from pleasure than from force of custom. But I am compelled to accept such an estimate of the Dyak character with reservations. From all that I could learn, head-hunting is a sport, like fox-hunting in England. Nor does it, as a rule, involve any great risk to the hunters, for the head-hunting raids are usually mere butcheries of defenceless people, the Dyaks either stalking their victim in the bush and killing him from behind, or attacking a village when the warriors are absent and slaughtering everyone whom they find in it old, men, women, and children. The head of an orang-utan, by the way, is as highly prized in many of the Dyak tribes as that of a human being. Nor is this surprising, for the warrior who single-handed can kill one of the mighty anthropoids is deserving of the trophy.

During my stay in Bornéo I heard many theories advanced in explanation of head-hunting. Some authorities claimed that it is the Dyak’s way of establishing a reputation for prowess. Others asserted that he takes heads merely to gratify the vanity of his women. There are still others who hold the opinion that the Dyak believes that he inherits the courage and cunning of those he kills. In certain of the Dyak tribes the heads are treated with profound reverence, being wreathed with flowers, offered the choicest morsels of food, and sometimes being given a place at the table, while in other tribes they are hung from the ridgepole and displayed as trophies of the chase. My own opinion is that, though prestige and vanity and superstition all contribute to the prevalence of head-hunting, in the inherent savagery of the Dyak is found the true explanation of the custom.

I have already made passing mention of that characteristic weapon of the Dyaks, the sumpitan, or, as it is called by foreigners, the blow-gun. The sumpitan is a piece of hard wood, from six to eight feet in length and in circumference slightly larger than the handle of a broom. Running through it lengthwise is a hole about the size of a lead-pencil. A broad spear-blade is usually lashed to one end of the sumpitan, like a bayonet, thus providing a weapon for use at close quarters. The dart is made from a sliver of bamboo, or from a palm-frond, scraped to the size of a steel knitting-needle. One end of the dart is imbedded in a cork-shaped piece of pith which fits the hole in the sumpitan as a cartridge fits the bore of a rifle; the other end, which is of needle-sharpness, is smeared with a paste made from the milky sap of the upas tree dissolved in a juice extracted from the root of the tuba. With the possible exception of curare, this is the deadliest poison known, the slightest scratch from a dart thus poisoned paralyzing the respiratory center and causing almost instant death. The dart is expelled from the sumpitan by a quick, sharp exhalation of the breath. In fact, M. de Haan told me that among certain of the Dyak tribes virtually all of the men suffer from rupture as a result of the constant use of the blow-gun. Though I have heard those who have never seen the sumpitan in use sneer at it as a toy, it is, at short distances, one of the most accurate weapons in existence and, when its darts are poisoned, one of the deadliest. In order to show me what could be done with the sumpitan, the Regent stuck in the earth a bamboo no larger than a woman’s little finger, and a Dyak, taking up his position at a distance of thirty paces which I stepped off myself, hit the almost indistinguishable mark with his darts twelve times running. That, as the late Colonel Cody would have put it, “is some shooting.”

In Bornéo the use of the blow-gun is not confined to the Dyaks. They are also used by fish! That is to say, by a certain species of fish. This fish, which is remarkable neither in size nor color, seldom being larger than our domestic goldfish, is known to the natives as ikan sumpit (literally “fish with a sumpitan”) and to science as Toxodes jaculator. But it is unique among the finny tribe in possessing the curious power, on corning to the surface, of being able to squirt from its mouth a tiny jet of water. This it uses with unerring aim against insects, such as flies, grasshoppers and spiders, resting on plants along the edge of the streams, causing them to fall into the water, where they become an easy prey to these Dyaks of the deep. It was lucky for us that the crocodiles were not armed with blow-guns!

When Latins engage in a serious quarrel they are prone to decide it with the stiletto, or, if they belong to the class which subscribes to the code, they meet on the field of honor with rapiers or pistols; Anglo-Saxons are accustomed to settle their disputes in a court of law or with their fists; but when Dyaks become involved in a controversy which cannot be adjusted by the tribal council, they have recourse to the s’lam ayer, or trial by water. This curious method of deciding disputes is conducted with great formality, according to the rules of an established code. For example, should two husky young head-hunters become involved in a lovers’ quarrel over a village belle the lobes of whose ears are probably pulled down to her shoulders by the weight of her brass earrings they adjourn, with their seconds and their friends, to what might appropriately be called the pool of honor. Almost any place where there are four or five feet of water will do. Into the bottom of the pool the seconds drive two stout bamboo poles, a few yards apart. The rivals then wade out into the water and take up their positions, each grasping a pole. At a signal from the chief who is acting as umpire they plunge beneath the water, each duelist keeping his nostrils closed with one hand while with the other he clings to the pole so as to keep his head below the surface. As both of them would drown themselves rather than acknowledge defeat by coming to the surface voluntarily, at the first sign either of the two gives of being asphyxiated, the seconds, who are watching their principals closely, drag the rivals from the water. They are then held up by the heels, head downward, in order to drain off the water they have swallowed, the one who first recovers consciousness being declared the victor and awarded the hand of the lady fair. It is a quaint custom.

As I have no desire to strain your credulity to the breaking-point, I will touch on only one more Dyak custom the disposal of the dead. It seems a fitting subject with which to bring this account of the wild men to a close. Certain of the Dyak tribes expose their dead in trees, some burn them, while still others bury them until the flesh has disappeared, when they exhume the skeletons, disarticulate them, and seal the bones in the huge jars of Chinese porcelain which are a Dyak’s most prized possession. Sometimes these burial-jars are kept in the family dwelling a rather gruesome article of furniture to the European mind but more often they are deposited in a grave-house, a small, fantastically decorated hut or shed which serves as a family vault. But I doubt if any people on the face of the globe have so weird a custom of disposing of their dead as the Kapuas of Central Bornéo, who hollow out the trunk of a growing tree and in the space thus prepared insert the corpse of the departed. The bark is carefully replaced over the opening and the tree continues to grow and flourish literally a living tomb.

Noticing that I was interested in the equipment of the Dyaks, the Regent of Koetei called up their chief and, without so much as a by-your-leave, presented me with his sumpitan and the quiver of poisoned darts, his wooden shield a long, narrow buckler of some light wood, tastily trimmed with seventy-two tufts of human hair, mementoes of that number of enemies slain on head-hunting expeditions a peculiar coat of mail, composed of overlapping pieces of bark, capable of turning an arrow, and his imposing head-dress, which consisted of a cap formed from a leopard’s head, with a sort of visor made from the beak of a hornbill, the whole surmounted by a bunch of yard-long tail-feathers from some bright-plumaged bird. When the presentation was concluded all the chieftain had left was his breech-clout. He did not share in my enthusiasm. From the murderous glance which he shot at me when the Regent was not looking, I judged that if he ever met me alone in the jungle he would get his shield back, with another scalp to add to his collection. And I could guess whose head that scalp would come from.