Read EPILOGUE of Through the Malay Archipelago , free online book, by Emily Richings, on

The infinite variety of interests connected with the vast Malay Archipelago, mainly dominated by European authority, can only be inadequately mentioned in the simple record of a half-year’s wandering through scenes which stamp their unfading beauty indelibly on mind and memory. Virgin fields of discovery still invite scientific exploration, and the green sepulchre of Equatorial vegetation retains innumerable secrets of Art and architecture. The geological mysteries of these volcanic shores offer a host of unsolved problems, the surpassing magnificence of flower and foliage makes every island a botanical Paradise, and the varieties of race and language which moulded and coloured the destinies of the Equatorial world, supply historian and philologist with opportunities of unlimited research. The dim chronicles of a distant past, inscribed in vague characters with faint traces of the earliest Malay wanderers, link their shadowy pages with historic records of falling dynasties and warring creeds, preceding the eventful period of colonial enterprise, initiated by the wild campaigns in quest of the precious spices. Although the Malay voyagers remain veiled in the twilight which clouds the verge of authentic history, the track of their keels may yet be followed through the conflicting currents of that hitherto unknown ocean which they opened to a future world. The forests and fishing grounds of every coast and island still support the manifold divisions of the nomadic race which forms the substratum of island life, and the star of hope which led them onward, shone for many subsequent adventurers across those Southern seas which aroused the energies and ambitions of later ages. The symbolical stories of the world’s infancy join the actual experience of struggling humanity to the dreamland from whence it emerged, as some syren song lured it into unknown regions. The old-world legends of mankind “launching out into the deep, and letting down the nets for a draught,” repeat themselves from age to age, for the human heart has ever sacrificed comfort and safety in order to set sail upon some trackless ocean, on the chance of reaping that harvest of life’s sea for which man yearns with insatiable desire. The wanderings of Odysseus, in the youth of the world, illustrate the eternal pursuit of a visionary ideal, in those adventures which breathe the undying romance of the sea. The resemblance between the traditions of savage and civilised nations appears too strong to be fortuitous, and indicates the underlying unity of feeling and purpose implanted in the human race. Modern environment renders it impossible to calculate the tremendous force of the mysterious impulse which swayed the onward march of primeval tribes; even the later obstacles, overcome by bold spirits who followed in their wake, can never be adequately realised amid the artificial conditions of our present life. The charmed circle of the “Equator’s emerald zone,” encloses a region of marvel and mystery, where Imagination, the fairy with the magic mirror, helps to interpret and reveal the secrets of Beauty and Truth, which transfigure material form and colour with the halo of idealism. The tale of the mysterious ages when “the threads of families” were first “woven into the ropes of nations,” still sways mind and fancy, but the romance of the world continues, though the progress of Humanity varies the pictured page. In the warm heart of the tropical Archipelago, Nature, triumphing in eternal youth, seems to mock the transient phases of aspiration and achievement, which vanish by turn into the misty past. The great Mother chants her “Song of Songs” throughout the myriad changes of Time, in terms so similar to the imagery of the Divine Epithalamium that, from a human standpoint, it seems swept by the spice-laden breezes of the Malayan Lotus-land, rather than by the fainter fragrance wafted from the orchards and gardens of Palestine or Egypt. Possibly the Syrian fleet, in search of ivory and peacocks, touched at the enchanted shores where “all trees of frankincense” perfumed the air, and produced those aromatic “powders of the merchant,” regarded as priceless treasures both in primitive and mediaeval days. The story might well capture the fancy of the royal poet, and enrich the music of his verse with the luscious fragrance of a more luxuriant land than even his own pastoral Canaan, flowing with milk and honey. The hyperbole of Eastern thought often rests on a solid foundation of fact, and the Hebrew love-song weaves tropical Nature’s lavish wealth of flower, fruit, and fragrance into a symbolic garland, flung in passionate rapture at the feet of the beloved one. The spiritual significance of the sacred lyric only transposes the mystic melody into a higher key, and heaps the thurible of the sanctuary with the frankincense of praise, to celebrate the typical bridal of Earth and Heaven.

The diadem of palms on the last outlying islet of the Malay Archipelago, stands out in dark relief against the golden haze of the afterglow, which floods the sky, and changes the purple waters into a sea of fire. The pageant of sunset lingers for a moment, and then vanishes beneath of the pall of the swiftly-falling night. The fairyland of eternal summer sinks below the horizon, and realities melt into the shadows of that mental subconsciousness which holds the wraiths of departed joys. Memories of the golden hours spent in threading the flowery maze of the vast Archipelago, seem a mere handful of shells gathered on the surf-beaten shores, but if even the empty shell can hold the sound of the waves, this brief record of a cruise in sunny seas may also convey faint whispers of that syren voice which echoed through the ages of the past, and still allures the spellbound listener to the swaying palms and spice-scented bowers of Malaya’s Island Paradise.