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Sport, in the general acceptance of the term, is scarce indeed in Sarawak, and those persons meditating a voyage to Bornéo for the purpose of obtaining it, should think twice ere they venture, for, apart from the scarcity of animals, walking is rendered well-nigh impossible by the swamp and dense undergrowth which exists, with but few exceptions, throughout the island.

None of the larger carnivora such as lion, tiger, &c. have as yet been found in Bornéo, but wild cattle and a small species of elephant are said to exist on the large grass plains around Brunei in North Bornéo, the only part of the island entirely free from jungle. The animal tribe, then, is reduced to the following: Orang-utan, tiger cat, wild pig, deer, and snipe; the pretty “plandok” or mouse-deer, and honey-bears, being also occasionally met with.

Although the aforesaid animals are known to exist in the island, they are extremely hard to get near, and the discomfort of lying out in the jungle all night, eaten up by mosquitoes and other abominations, is scarcely repaid by the chance of a shot at a deer or a pig, which is even then but seldom obtained. The natives, however, are very clever at deer-snaring, and their sporting expeditions are generally attended with success; but the hardships undergone by them on these excursions would completely knock up a European constitution. A few remarks as to the orang-utan, or wild man of the woods, which, as I have said, is the largest wild beast found in Bornéo, may not be here amiss, as this chapter is to be devoted to an expedition made by L. and myself in quest of these strange creatures.

The “orang-utan” (a word derived from the Malay, orang, man; and utan, woods) is the sole wild animal of any size yet met with in Bornéo. He is found only in certain districts of the island, those in Sarawak being Sadong and Lingga (the former of which we were about to visit), it is supposed on account of the enormous quantity of wild fruits produced in these regions. Lingga, in particular, is famed for the “Durian,” a sort of bread-fruit, of which he is very fond. The outside of this fruit is covered with thick, sharp spikes, and when hotly pursued the orang will sometimes make use of it as an article of defence, flinging it on to the heads of his pursuers below. The “Durian” is very heavy, and natives have been known to die from the effects of a blow from this fruit.

Unlike his African brother the gorilla, the orang is seldom of a savage disposition, and will always rather avoid than molest the intruder on his privacy. Nevertheless, at close quarters his enormous reach of arm and strength render him a dangerous antagonist, and brave indeed is the Dyak who will attack him single-handed. Did he know his gigantic strength (which, fortunately, he does not), he would make short work of his natural enemy man.

The “orang-utan” rarely descends to terra firma, but moves slowly from tree to tree, the density of the branches rendering this comparatively easy, and is easily kept up with by the hunter, as this strange animal never essays to get away altogether, even when severely wounded. He does not seem to realise the danger of his situation, and were it not for this, it would be quite useless to attempt to follow him, the swamps which have to be traversed rendering anything like rapid progress quite impossible.

Reports as to the size of the orang greatly differ, but the one shot by Mr. Wallace at Sadong (Sarawak) some years since, is generally considered to be the largest specimen yet obtained. This measured four feet two inches high. Stories are told by natives of the orang-utan seizing and carrying away young Dyak girls to their dens in the forests. This was, I believe, authenticated in one instance, the woman returning to her tribe after a lapse of three months.

The orang when wounded utters a cry wonderfully like a child in pain, and indeed all his actions and ways closely resemble those of a human being; so much so indeed that a story is told of a former worthy Bishop of Sarawak, being, while in quest of orangs, so reminded by the features of one of them of a certain old uncle at home, that he had not the heart to fire, but let his prey pursue his way unmolested!

Our preparations were complete about ten days after our return to Kapit, and it was on a raw, drizzling day that we paddled down the Kuching river with the morning tide in a sampan or native boat (pulled by a crew of six natives), that we had hired for the occasion from a Chinaman in the capital. More than half our journey had to be accomplished by sea, which, as it was blowing half a gale, and looking at the capabilities of our cranky old craft (christened Sri Laut, or Beauty of the Sea, by her proud owner), was not a pleasant prospect. Ere we had been half an hour afloat we were wet through with the rain, which beat through the old palm awning as if it had been note-paper. This state of things, with a journey of over ten hours before us, was not cheering; but, as I have said before, Bornean travel is not all couleur de rose, so, covering ourselves with a tarpaulin, and lighting our pipes, we prepared to make the best of it no easy task in the space allotted to us a space five feet long by three feet wide, and the rain coming in on us in torrents all the time!

We arrived off the village of Moratabas, at the mouth of the Sarawak river, at mid-day, after a hard paddle. Matters here did not mend, for the wind had risen since we started, and the roar of the breakers on the shore recalled Kuching, and the comforts we had left behind us, most vividly to our minds. After, however, a short consultation with our steersman (who acted as skipper), we determined to push on for Sadong at once, and hoisting the old rag that did duty for a sail we stood out to sea.

Seldom have I experienced such a journey as on that day. Once outside the bar, our troubles recommenced, for while crossing it a heavy sea dashed over our bows, drenching everything on board, and at the same time carrying away our awning. For eight mortal hours did we struggle on, shivering like half-drowned rats, and occasionally taking a turn at the paddles to keep life within us. Cooking was naturally out of the question, and our only food that day consisted of a captain’s biscuit, some bottled beer, and a tin of preserved plum pudding! Our progress through the water was not made the more rapid by the fact that two of our crew had to be kept constantly at work baling the water out of the wretched old tub, whose creaks and groans were dismal to hear, and which, as we neared the mouth of the Sadong river, seemed to be coming to pieces altogether.

But the longest lane must have a turning, and by 10 p.m. we were entering the mouth of Sadong, and half an hour afterwards were in smooth water; and heartily thankful we felt, for the Sri must have assuredly gone to pieces with another hour of it. Midnight saw us scrambling, stiff and numbed, up the muddy “batang” or pole that formed the landing-place of the fort, and we were not sorry to take off our saturated clothes, and, after a stiff glass of grog apiece, to tumble into the two little camp bedsteads, that, with the exception of a table and two chairs, formed the sole furniture of the fort.

Morning broke bright and sunny, and we were up by six, feeling none the worse, save a slight stiffness, for our exertions of yesterday. While breakfast was preparing I strolled round the pretty little garden, rich in roses and gardenias, that encircled the fort, and whose sweet perfume filled the air, cool and fresh after the heavy rain, for many yards around.

This residency, the smallest in Sarawak, is now in charge of a Eurasian, or half-caste. Up till two years since, however, it was under the supervision of a European resident, and to the latter was due the trim-looking garden with its gravel walks and gardenia hedges now, alas, fast falling into decay in the care of the half-caste, who, like most of his race, cares but little for anything but filthy lucre. The village of Sadong consists of a Malay population of about 400 souls, and is situated on the banks of the Simunjan, a tributary of the Sadong river, which meets it at this point. Coal is found in large quantities near here, and Government has opened out a small mine for the use of its vessels and those of the Bornéo Company. The coal wharf is situated about half a mile up the Simunjan stream, whence a tramway, three miles long, leads up to the shaft from the landing-place. The coal is conveyed to Kuching weekly, in a small sailing vessel.

We visited the mines the day after our arrival, paddling up stream in two small Malay canoes to the wharf a paddle that proved disastrous to L., who was capsized when close to the landing-stage. The tide was running strong, and, as L. could not swim, things for a moment looked serious; but help was at hand, in the shape of an old Malay fisherman in a canoe moored mid-stream, who pulled him out, none the worse for his ducking. Our walk through the jungle was very picturesque, the forest being alive with butterflies of every description, including the Brookeana, a beautifully-marked green-and-black butterfly, but rarely met with. It was along this tramway that Mr. Wallace shot the orang-utan mentioned in an earlier part of this chapter.

The Sadong mines are superintended by a European overseer, who lives in a small hut on the side of the mountain, and who showed us over the place. He told us that the amount turned out per diem was only ten tons, but the working of the whole place is still in a very primitive state. The tramway was constructed of wooden rails, and the coal cars drawn by an old grey pony. In the hands of a properly organised company the mines would undoubtedly pay, as there is any quantity of coal, and the facilities for shipping are great. Moreover Singapore, which is the coaling station for all vessels bound to and from China, is but two days distant by steamer.

We remained at Sadong for two days, during which time we were principally engaged in getting our guns in order, after the rough usage they had experienced during our sea voyage in the Sri Laut; and arranged to leave for the Mias district, 30 miles up stream, the third day after our arrival at Sadong. The half-caste resident gave us the loan of his cook (a Kling), and a most undeniable hand at a curry, to accompany us, and he proved a treasure in his way, though as a compagnon de voyage he was hardly a pleasant adjunct to our party, as the reader will presently see.

I should not omit to mention an important character, who was constantly appearing on the scene during our sojourn at Sadong. This was the Abang or Malay chief of the village. This worthy constantly dogged our footsteps, and followed us wherever we went, invariably making his appearance at breakfast and dinner time, and squatting himself on the floor by L.’s or my side, gravely watched us throughout the meal. He was a thin, cadaverous-looking old man, about sixty years of age, with a most melancholy cast of features, so much so that we christened him the “Skeleton at the Feast!” As I am but little conversant with high-class Malay, and L. knew none, our conversation was somewhat limited, and while I fully acted up to the old Turkish proverb that “Silence is golden,” he, in his turn, did so to that of “Hurry is the devil’s,” for he never would leave us till we had finished our last glass of grog, and turned in for the night.

The sun was scarcely up on the morning of the 13th of July when we were up and stirring, and by 6.30 were on board the Sri, and, casting off from the shore, paddled away up stream. Our crew now had an addition of two new hands: the cook aforesaid, and a Dyak who accompanied us as guide, and who had the reputation of having killed with his own hand a greater number of orangs than any native in Sarawak.

Four hours above Sadong the stream narrows to about twenty feet in width, and the scenery here is truly beautiful. Tall Nipa palms and a species of bamboo grew out of the water, while above us the long branches of enormous forest trees stretched over us on either side, and formed a kind of natural archway, their branches alive with monkeys of every description, from the hideous proboscis to the pretty wa-wa, whose cry exactly resembles the running of water from a narrow-necked bottle. We emerged from this lovely glade half an hour after entering it, and, the stream again widening, the scenery again became flat and monotonous. We reached the hunting-grounds at about five p.m., after a hard pull against the stream, and mooring the Sri to the bank made all snug for the night.

We landed, or I should rather say left the boat, next morning about eleven a.m., for of dry land, excepting a dismal mangrove swamp extending far away on either side of us, there was none. Our shooting costumes were more light than elegant, consisting as they did of a pair of white duck trowsers, a thin jersey, no socks, a pair of white canvas shoes, and a sun helmet, the latter filled with cartridges. Struggling ashore with some difficulty, we found ourselves without further ado up to our waists in swamp, or rather a substance the colour of but considerably thicker than pea-soup. Bakar (the Dyak hunter) and a Malay boatman preceded us with parangs to clear the way of branches before us, and, all being ready, we set off.

I shall not readily forget the pleasures of that day’s walk! For three long hours did we struggle on through the dense jungle, without a sight of living animal, to say nothing of an orang. To make matters worse, the sun was fearfully hot, and beat down on our heads with a force that the dozen or so of cartridges we carried in our “topics,” did not tend to alleviate; the smell also of decayed vegetation arising from the ground was well-nigh sickening.

We cried a halt after three hours of this, and discovered from Bakar that we had gone a distance probably of about a mile and a half since we started, which will give the reader some idea of jungle walking in Bornéo. Our dismal faces at this species of sport(!) must have excited the compassion of Bakar, for he volunteered the remark that this was rather hard walking, even for Bornéo, a remark with which we cordially agreed.

Up till now we had seen no vestige of living creature, bird or animal. On my observing this, our guide replied: “Oh, never mind! We’ve eight hours before sundown. We must get on. Time is precious!”

Mentally registering a vow that I would see Bakar in a considerably hotter climate than the inhabitants even of Bornéo are accustomed to, if even two hours of this work more saw me at it, we started off again.

Another hour passed away, and well-nigh done up, I was about to suggest a retreat to the boat when we were brought up all standing by a cry from Bakar of “Moniet, Tuan!” and an injunction to keep perfectly still.

“Moniet" there might be, but I could discern nothing until, after a few moments of intense excitement as to whether the “moniet” was but a common proboscis or wa-wa, Bakar came splashing back through the dirty water, and, seizing my shoulder, breathlessly exclaimed, “Moniet besar, Tuan! orang-utan!”

Hurrah then! At last we had got near one of these brutes, and our troubles had not all been in vain. But the next thing was to get a sight of him, and this, through the dense undergrowth and brushwood which intervened, was by no means an easy task. For some time did I gaze through the thick network of green leaves, till, at last, following the direction in which our guide was pointing, I dimly made out a square patch of brown against the green leaves, and, trusting to chance, fired. The spot I had aimed at was not the orang, but the report of the rifle had the desired effect of dislodging the brute from his hiding-place, and bringing him full into view. A fine, strapping fellow he seemed as he remained stationary for some seconds, looking down at us with a puzzled expression, as if he scarcely knew whether to greet us as enemies or as strange specimens of his own species. L. now cut short his reflections with a bullet, which this time had more effect, as was evinced by the sharp cry he gave as he sprang into the branches of the adjoining tree, closely observing all our movements as we waded through the stagnant water beneath him, and took up a favourable position for our next shot. This was again successful, breaking his left fore-arm. Moving slowly on after him, for at least three-quarters of an hour, we fired shot after shot with variable success, until a bullet from L.’s rifle caught him full in the neck, and brought him crashing through the branches to our feet.

On measuring him, we found him but a moderate-sized animal, standing three feet seven inches from the top of the skull to the tip of the toes. This seemed a poor return after the amount of labour we had gone through; however, “experientia docet,” and we determined that this should be our last attempt at orang shooting, and, hoisting our prize on to the shoulders of the faithful Bakar, we set out to regain the sampan. This, however, proved no easy task. The erratic movements of our guide shortly after leaving the spot where we had shot the Mias had attracted our attention, and the reason of this was shortly evident he had lost his way! Here was a pretty predicament to be placed in, and a pleasant ending to our day’s sport. All the stories I had ever heard of natives going astray in the forest, and dying of starvation, crowded into my mind with unpleasant clearness, and among all the horrible deaths connected with Eastern travel that had occurred to L. and myself, that of expiring like two amateur babes in the wood had not been included.

I shall never forget the anxieties of that terrible hour, and the blank faces of our guides as they waded backwards and forwards in search of the lost trail, pausing ever and anon to give a sort of melancholy wail, not unlike the Australian “co-o-o-ey,” the cry of the Dyak when lost in the forest. L. and I had almost given up all hope, and were preparing to make up our minds to a night at least in the jungle, when a cry from Bakar, who had strayed away to the left of us, attracted our attention. He had struck upon the river! We were now safe, and fortunately so, for it was nearly dark as, turning a bend of the stream, we came in sight of our fires and the lamp of our little craft shining over the water. Having arrived on board, we divested ourselves of our now filthy clothes and plunged into the stream, when, after a good rub with our rough towels, we felt ourselves again, and quite ready to do justice to the very excellent curry that our “cordon bleu” of a Kling had prepared for us.

The task of skinning the orang was next day relegated to Bakar, for which we were thankful, as the smell that proceeded from his carcase even at some distance off was fearful. This operation over, he was stowed away in a barrel of arrack that we had brought for the purpose, and we may dismiss him with the remark that he now adorns the smoking-room of a friend of the writer’s in England.

A suggestion of another hunt the following day by Bakar was politely but firmly declined, and we left early the following afternoon at five our anchorage being in a very feverish locality. The halt for the night was to be at a large Dyak house, fifteen miles down stream, and half way to Sadong.

I would remark, for the benefit of sportsmen in general, that the whole of the two days spent in this interesting locality we were unable to leave the boat, owing to the swampy nature of the ground; and as our only recreation consisted of two of Whyte Melville’s works, “The Gladiators” and “Digby Grand” (the latter with half the leaves torn out), the weary hours, as may be imagined, did not fly, and we were not sorry to set off the next day for the Dyak Pangkalan, on as wet, dreary, and uncomfortable an afternoon as it has ever been my lot to experience in Bornéo or elsewhere.

We sighted lights on the left bank about eleven o’clock the same evening. Rain was still falling in torrents; but the noise of gongs and drums in the distance announced that we had nearly arrived at the end of our journey. To land, however, was easier said than done; for the stream, swollen by the heavy rains, was running at a terrific rate, and carried us right past the landing-stage ere our bowman could hold on and make fast, crashing us into a large war-canoe moored just beyond, the property of the “Orang Kaya,” or head-man of the house whither we were bound. We at length succeeded, after a deal of trouble, in securing the sampan to the bank; and, despatching two of our boatmen to announce our arrival to the chief, awaited the invitation which would probably be brought back to stay the night, this being strict etiquette in Bornean travel. During the absence of our two messengers the yells and beating of gongs proceeding from the house, which stood at a distance of about 300 yards from the landing-place, proclaimed that a feast of some sort was being held; and we were debating what substitutes for tobacco and gin (our supply of which we had nearly exhausted) we could present our hosts with, when our men returned. There was no feast, said they. What we heard were the cries of the “manangs,” or medicine-men, whose mode this was of driving away the evil spirit of “char-char,” or small-pox, which had attacked nearly a third of the inmates of the dwelling. L. and I, on hearing this, promptly deciding that mosquito bites were preferable to small-pox, determined not to land, but to sleep in the boat. Our cook, the Kling, who up till this had maintained a stolid silence, now became quite excited, and joined in the conversation. There was hardly a house on the river, said he, entirely free from this loathsome disease; the Dyaks were flying from it in all directions, and added that he himself was not sorry to be returning to Sadong, as two of his own children were very ill with it, and he ought not by rights to have left them!

This was pleasant, to say the least of it, but it was now too late to mend matters, and wrapping ourselves in our rugs we essayed to sleep. The howling and beating of gongs in the house, however, rendering this quite impossible, the inevitable “square-face” was therefore produced, and, lighting our pipes, we made up our minds for a thoroughly wretched night and got it; till about six a.m., when the noise ceased, and the M.D.’s, I conclude, retired to that rest which they must have sorely needed, to say nothing of their unfortunate patients!

Small-pox is and has ever been a disease greatly dreaded by the aborigines of Bornéo, for living as they do in crowded and ill-ventilated dwellings, this terrible scourge, whenever it breaks out amongst them, commits great ravages. A regular panic ensues on the appearance of the epidemic; those seized being left to their fate, with perhaps a bundle of firewood and gourd of cold water placed within their reach, while their more fortunate companions take their flight up or down the river as the case may be, spreading infection wherever they go. It is not surprising, therefore, that so few recover, although vaccination, which is now compulsory in Sarawak, has greatly decreased the number of those attacked.

The “manangs,” or medicine-men aforementioned, are a queer race of creatures. Although of the male sex, they are dressed as women, living in the Sadow and possessing all the privileges of the other sex. Small-pox is never mentioned by its proper name of “char-char” by the Dyaks, but always spoken of as “he,” “she,” or “it;” for they imagine the mere mention of its name may attract, and bring it amongst them.

An amusing anecdote is told of an old Dyak living in the house we were moored off that dismal night. This old man (of some 60 years) became enamoured, while on a visit to Kuching, of an English lady’s-maid residing there; so much so, that he repeatedly urged her to marry and accompany him to his jungle home. This offer was declined with thanks; but on the morning of the day of the departure of this merry old gentleman for his country residence, the lady missed her chignon, which she had placed on her dressing-table the night before on retiring to rest. Not being possessed of so much hair as she might have been, this was no inconsiderable loss. Six months later, when the event was nearly forgotten, an officer up the Simunjan, noticing what looked like a scalp on our old friend’s girdle, and knowing that the Dyaks never take them, examined the object more closely; and, having heard the story of its abstraction from the lady’s apartment by the elderly lover, took it from him and returned with it in triumph to Kuching! Such true love was worthy of a better cause, for the lady was considerably more annoyed than flattered by the incident, chignons not being an article kept in stock by the native coiffeurs of Kuching.

We reached Sadong late the following evening, and partook of a frugal meal at the fort, this time not prepared by our native Soyer, one of whose children had died in our absence. The old chief was at our side ere we had eaten our first mouthful, silent as ever; but dinner over, and his cheroot well under way, he became more loquacious than we had yet known him.

“Perhaps,” said he, dreamily, “you had better not stay here longer than you can help. Small-pox is raging in the kampong (village); there is scarcely a house free from it, and it would be a sad thing if one or both of the Tuans were to die here.”

We were much of the same opinion, and the evening of the next day but one saw us again on board the little Sri, bound for Kuching.

The sun was setting behind the distant Klinkang mountains as we left Sadong, illuminating the landscape around us with its declining rays. Scarcely a breath of wind was stirring, and our little sail flapped lazily to and fro against the slender mast as we drifted slowly down the river. The evening being sultry and oppressive, dense grey mists were already arising from the Simunjan stream, enshrouding the pretty village in their sickly vapours, and the cries of the Malay “Hajis,” praying at the setting of the sun for deliverance from the fatal scourge which was rapidly decimating their population, sounded in melancholy cadence over the water, while the booming of gongs from distant Dyak houses lent to their voices a weird and appropriate accompaniment. All around seemed to wear a depressed and melancholy aspect, even to the very palm-trees, which, drooping their fronds in the damp, hot atmosphere, seemed to be mourning the fate of those who had perished in this plague-stricken spot.

We reached Kuching the next day, not greatly impressed with the sport to be obtained in Bornéo, nor will, I imagine, be the reader of the foregoing chapter.