The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 23

Ternate to the Kaioa Islands and Batchian.

(OCTOBER 1858.)

ON returning to Ternate from Sahoe, I at once began making preparations for a journey to Batchian, an island which I had been constantly recommended to visit since I had arrived in this part of the Moluccas. After all was ready I found that I should have to hire a boat, as no opportunity of obtaining a passage presented itself. I accordingly went into the native town, and could only find two boats for hire, one much larger than I required, and the other far smaller than I wished. I chose the smaller one, chiefly because it would not cost me one-third as much as the larger one, and also because in a coasting voyage a small vessel can be more easily managed, and more readily got into a place of safety during violent gales, than a large one. I took with me my Bornean lad Ali, who was now very useful to me; Lahagi, a native of Ternate, a very good steady man, and a fair shooter, who had been with me to New Guinea; Lahi, a native of Gilolo, who could speak Malay, as woodcutter and general assistant; and Garo, a boy who was to act as cook. As the boat was so small that we had hardly room to stow ourselves away when all my stores were on board, I only took one other man named Latchi, as pilot. He was a Papuan slave, a tall, strong black fellow, but very civil and careful. The boat I had hired from a Chinaman named Lau Keng Tong, for five guilders a month.

We started on the morning of October 9th, but had not got a hundred yards from land, when a strong head wind sprung up, against which we could not row, so we crept along shore to below the town, and waited till the turn of the tide should enable us to cross over to the coast of Tidore. About three in the afternoon we got off, and found that our boat sailed well, and would keep pretty close to the wind. We got on a good way before the wind fell and we had to take to our oars again. We landed on a nice sandy beach to cook our suppers, just as the sun set behind the rugged volcanic hills, to the south of the great cone of Tidore, and soon after beheld the planet Venus shining in the twilight with the brilliancy of a new moon, and casting a very distinct shadow. We left again a little before seven, and as we got out from the shadow of the mountain I observed a bright light over one part of the edge, and soon after, what seemed a fire of remarkable whiteness on the very summit of the hill. I called the attention of my men to it, and they too thought it merely a fire; but a few minutes afterwards, as we got farther off shore, the light rose clear up above the ridge of the hill, and some faint clouds clearing away from it, discovered the magnificent comet which was at the same time, astonishing all Europe. The nucleus presented to the naked eye a distinct disc of brilliant white light, from which the tail rose at an angle of about 30° or 35° with the horizon, curving slightly downwards, and terminating in a broad brush of faint light, the curvature of which diminished till it was nearly straight at the end. The portion of the tail next the comet appeared three or four tunes as bright as the most luminous portion of the milky way, and what struck me as a singular feature was that its upper margin, from the nucleus to very near the extremity, was clearly and almost sharply defined, while the lower side gradually shaded off into obscurity. Directly it rose above the ridge of the hill, I said to my men, “See, it’s not a fire, it’s a bintang ber-ekor” (“tailed-star,” the Malay idiom for a comet). “So it is,” said they; and all declared that they had often heard tell of such, but had never seen one till now. I had no telescope with me, nor any instrument at hand, but I estimated the length of the tail at about 20°, and the width, towards the extremity, about 4° or 5°.

The whole of the next day we were obliged to stop near the village of Tidore, owing to a strong wind right in our teeth. The country was all cultivated, and I in vain searched for any insects worth capturing. One of my men went out to shoot, but returned home without a single bird. At sunset, the wind having dropped, we quitted Tidore, and reached the next island, March, where we stayed till morning. The comet was again visible, but not nearly so brilliant, being partly obscured by clouds; and dimmed by the light of the new moon. We then rowed across to the island of Motir, which is so surrounded with coral-reefs that it is dangerous to approach. These are perfectly flat, and are only covered at high water, ending in craggy vertical walls of coral in very deep water. When there is a little wind, it is dangerous to come near these rocks; but luckily it was quite smooth, so we moored to their edge, while the men crawled over the reef to the land, to make; a fire and cook our dinner-the boat having no accommodation for more than heating water for my morning and evening coffee. We then rowed along the edge of the reef to the end of the island, and were glad to get a nice westerly breeze, which carried us over the strait to the island of Makian, where we arrived about 8 P.M, The sky was quite clear, and though the moon shone brightly, the comet appeared with quite as much splendour as when we first saw it.

The coasts of these small islands are very different according to their geological formation. The volcanoes, active or extinct, have steep black beaches of volcanic sand, or are fringed with rugged masses of lava and basalt. Coral is generally absent, occurring only in small patches in quiet bays, and rarely or never forming reefs. Ternate, Tidore, and Makian belong to this class. Islands of volcanic origin, not themselves volcanoes, but which have been probably recently upraised, are generally more or less completely surrounded by fringing reefs of coral, and have beaches of shining white coral sand. Their coasts present volcanic conglomerates, basalt, and in some places a foundation of stratified rocks, with patches of upraised coral. Mareh and Motir are of this character, the outline of the latter giving it the appearance of having been a true volcano, and it is said by Forrest to have thrown out stones in l778. The next day (Oct. 12th), we coasted along the island of Makian, which consists of a single grand volcano. It was now quiescent, but about two centuries ago (in 1646) there was a terrible eruption, which blew up the whole top of the mountain, leaving the truncated jagged summit and vast gloomy crater valley which at this time distinguished it. It was said to have been as lofty as Tidore before this catastrophe. [Soon after I’ left the Archipelago, on the 29th of December, 1862, another eruption of this mountain suddenly took place, which caused great devastation in the island. All the villages and crops were destroyed, and numbers of the inhabitants killed. The sand and ashes fell so thick that the crops were partially destroyed fifty miles off, at Ternate, where it was so dark the following day that lamps had to be lighted at noon. For the position of this and the adjacent islands, see the map in Chapter XXXVII.]

I stayed some time at a place where I saw a new clearing on a very steep part of the mountain, and obtained a few interesting insects. In the evening we went on to the extreme southern point, to be ready to pass across the fifteen-mile strait to the island of Kaióa. At five the next morning we started, but the wind, which had hitherto been westerly, now got to the south and southwest, and we had to row almost all the way with a burning sun overhead. As we approached land a fine breeze sprang up, and we went along at a great pace; yet after an hour we were no nearer, and found we were in a violent current carrying us out to sea. At length we overcame it, and got on shore just as the sun set, having been exactly thirteen hours coming fifteen miles. We landed on a beach of hard coralline rock, with rugged cliffs of the same, resembling those of the Ke Islands (Chap. XXIX.) It was accompanied by a brilliancy and luxuriance of the vegetation, very like what I had observed at those islands, which so much pleased me that I resolved to stay a few days at the chief village, and see if their animal productions were correspondingly interesting. While searching for a secure anchorage for the night we again saw the comet, still apparently as brilliant as at first, but the tail had now risen to a higher angle.

October 14th. — All this day we coasted along the Kaióa Islands, which have much the appearance and outline of Ke on a small scale, with the addition of flat swampy tracts along shore, and outlying coral reefs. Contrary winds and currents had prevented our taking the proper course to the west of them, and we had to go by a circuitous route round the southern extremity of one island, often having to go far out to sea on account of coral reefs. On trying to pass a channel through one of these reefs we were grounded, and all had to get out into the water, which in this shallow strait had been so heated by the sun as to be disagreeably warm, and drag our vessel a considerable distance among weeds and sponges, corals and prickly corallines. It was late at night when we reached the little village harbour, and we were all pretty well knocked up by hard work, and having had nothing but very brackish water to drink all day-the best we could find at our last stopping-place. There was a house close to the shore, built for the use of the Resident of Ternate when he made his official visits, but now occupied by several native travelling merchants, among whom I found a place to sleep.

The next morning early I went to the village to find the “Kapala,” or head man. I informed him that I wanted to stay a few days in the house at the landing, and begged him to have it made ready for me. He was very civil, and came down at once to get it cleared, when we found that the traders had already left, on hearing that I required it. There were no doors to it, so I obtained the loan of a couple of hurdles to keep out dogs and other animals. The land here was evidently sinking rapidly, as shown by the number of trees standing in salt water dead and dying. After breakfast I started for a walk to the forest-covered hill above the village, with a couple of boys as guides. It was exceedingly hot and dry, no rain having fallen for two months. When we reached an elevation of about two hundred feet, the coralline rock which fringes the shore was succeeded by a hard crystalline rock, a kind of metamorphic sandstone. This would indicate flat there had been a recent elevation of more than two hundred feet, which had still more recently clanged into a movement of subsidence. The hill was very rugged, but among dry sticks and fallen trees I found some good insects, mostly of forms and species I was already acquainted with from Ternate and Gilolo. Finding no good paths I returned, and explored the lower ground eastward of the village, passing through a long range of plantain and tobacco grounds, encumbered with felled and burnt logs, on which I found quantities of beetles of the family Buprestidae of six different species, one of which was new to me. I then reached a path in the swampy forest where I hoped to find some butterflies, but was disappointed. Being now pretty well exhausted by the intense heat, I thought it wise to return and reserve further exploration for the next day.

When I sat down in the afternoon to arrange my insects, the louse was surrounded by men, women, and children, lost in amazement at my unaccountable proceedings; and when, after pinning out the specimens, I proceeded to write the name of the place on small circular tickets, and attach one to each, even the old Kapala, the Mahometan priest, and some Malay traders could not repress signs of astonishment. If they had known a little more about the ways and opinions of white men, they would probably have looked upon me as a fool or a madman, but in their ignorance they accepted my operations as worthy of all respect, although utterly beyond their comprehension.

The next day (October 16th) I went beyond the swamp, and found a place where a new clearing was being made in the virgin forest. It was a long and hot walk, and the search among the fallen trunks and branches was very fatiguing, but I was rewarded by obtaining about seventy distinct species of beetles, of which at least a dozen were new to me, and many others rare and interesting. I have never in my life seen beetles so abundant as they were on this spot. Some dozen species of good-sized golden Buprestidae, green rose-chafers (Lomaptera), and long-horned weevils (Anthribidae), were so abundant that they rose up in swarms as I walked along, filling the air with a loud buzzing hum. Along with these, several fine Longicorns were almost equally common, forming such au assemblage as for once to realize that idea of tropical luxuriance which one obtains by looking over the drawers of a well-filled cabinet. On the under sides of the trunks clung numbers of smaller or more sluggish Longicorns, while on the branches at the edge of the clearing others could be detected sitting with outstretched antenna ready to take flight at the least alarm. It was a glorious spot, and one which will always live in my memory as exhibiting the insect-life of the tropics in unexampled luxuriance. For the three following days I continued to visit this locality, adding each time many new species to my collection-the following notes of which may be interesting to entomologists. October l5th, 33 species of beetles; 16th, 70 species; 17th, 47 species; 18th, 40 species; 19th, 56 species — in all about a hundred species, of which forty were new to me. There were forty-four species of Longicorns among them, and on the last day I took twenty-eight species of Longicorns, of which five were new to me.

My boys were less fortunate in shooting. The only birds at all common were the great red parrot (Eclectus grandis), found in most of the Moluccas, a crow, and a Megapodius, or mound-maker. A few of the pretty racquet-tailed kingfishers were also obtained, but in very poor plumage. They proved, however, to be of a different species from those found in the other islands, and come nearest to the bird originally described by Linnaeus under the name of Alcedo dea, and which came from Ternate. This would indicate that the small chain of islands parallel to Gilolo have a few peculiar species in common, a fact which certainly occurs in insects.

The people of Kaioa interested me much. They are evidently a mixed race, having Malay and Papuan affinities, and are allied to the peoples of Ternate and of Gilolo. They possess a peculiar language, somewhat resembling those of the surrounding islands, but quite distinct. They are now Mahometans, and are subject to Ternate, The only fruits seen here were papaws and pine-apples, the rocky soil and dry climate being unfavourable. Rice, maize, and plantains flourish well, except that they suffer from occasional dry seasons like the present one. There is a little cotton grown, from which the women weave sarongs (Malay petticoats). There is only one well of good water on the islands, situated close to the landing-place, to which all the inhabitants come for drinking water. The men are good boat-builders, and they make a regular trade of it and seem to be very well off.

After five days at Kaióa we continued our journey, and soon got among the narrow straits and islands which lead down to the town of Batchian. In the evening we stayed at a settlement of Galela men. These are natives of a district in the extreme north of Gilolo, and are great wanderers over this part of the Archipelago. They build large and roomy praus with outriggers, and settle on any coast or island they take a fancy for. They hunt deer and wild pig, drying the meat; they catch turtle and tripang; they cut down the forest and plant rice or maize, and are altogether remarkably energetic and industrious. They are very line people, of light complexion, tall, and with Papuan features, coming nearer to the drawings and descriptions of the true Polynesians of Tahiti and Owyhee than any I have seen.

During this voyage I had several times had an opportunity of seeing my men get fire by friction. A sharp-edged piece of bamboo is rubbed across the convex surface of another piece, on which a small notch is first cut. The rubbing is slow at first and gradually quicker, till it becomes very rapid, and the fine powder rubbed off ignites and falls through the hole which the rubbing has cut in the bamboo. This is done with great quickness and certainty. The Ternate, people use bamboo in another way. They strike its flinty surface with a bit of broken china, and produce a spark, which they catch in some kind of tinder.

On the evening of October 21st we reached our destination, having been twelve days on the voyage. It had been tine weather all the time, and, although very hot, I had enjoyed myself exceedingly, and had besides obtained some experience in boat work among islands and coral reefs, which enabled me afterwards to undertake much longer voyages of the same kind. The village or town of Batchian is situated at the head of a wide and deep bay, where a low isthmus connects the northern and southern mountainous parts of the island. To the south is a fine. range of mountains, and I had noticed at several of our landing-places that the geological formation of the island was very different from those around it. Whenever rock was visible it was either sandstone in thin layers, dipping south, or a pebbly conglomerate. Sometimes there was a little coralline limestone, but no volcanic rocks. The forest had a dense luxuriance and loftiness seldom found on the dry and porous lavas and raised coral reefs of Ternate and Gilolo; and hoping for a corresponding richness in the birds and insects, it was with much satisfaction and with considerable expectation that I began my explorations in the hitherto unknown island of Batchian.

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