The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 24

Batchian.

(OCTOBER 1858 To APRIL 1859.)

I LANDED opposite the house kept for the use of the Resident of Ternate, and was met by a respectable middle-aged Malay, who told me he was Secretary to the Sultan, and would receive the official letter with which I had been provided. On giving it him, he at once informed me I might have the use of the official residence which was empty. I soon got my things on shore, but on looking about me found that the house would never do to stay long in. There was no water except at a considerable distance, and one of my men would be almost entirely occupied getting water and firewood, and I should myself have to walk all through the village every day to the forest, and live almost in public, a thing I much dislike. The rooms were all boarded, and had ceilings, which are a great nuisance, as there are no means of hanging anything up except by driving nails, and not half the conveniences of a native bamboo and thatch cottage. I accordingly inquired for a house outside of the village on the road to the coal mines, and was informed by the Secretary that there was a small one belonging to the Sultan, and that he would go with me early next morning to see it.

We had to pass one large river, by a rude but substantial bridge, and to wade through another fine pebbly stream of clear water, just beyond which the little but was situated. It was very small, not raised on posts, but with the earth for a floor, and was built almost entirely of the leaf-stems of the sago-palm, called here “gaba-gaba.” Across the river behind rose a forest-clad bank, and a good road close in front of the horse led through cultivated grounds to the forest about half a mile on, and thence to the coal mines tour miles further. These advantages at once decided me, and I told the Secretary I would be very glad to occupy the house. I therefore sent my two men immediately to buy “ataps” (palm-leaf thatch) to repair the roof, and the next day, with the assistance of eight of the Sultan’s men, got all my stores and furniture carried up and pretty comfortably arranged. A rough bamboo bedstead was soon constructed, and a table made of boards which I had brought with me, fixed under the window. Two bamboo chairs, an easy cane chair, and hanging shelves suspended with insulating oil cups, so as to be safe from ants, completed my furnishing arrangements.

In the afternoon succeeding my arrival, the Secretary accompanied me to visit the Sultan. We were kept waiting a few minutes in an outer gate-house, and then ushered to the door of a rude, half-fortified whitewashed house. A small table and three chairs were placed in a large outer corridor, and an old dirty-faced man with grey hair and a grimy beard, dressed in a speckled blue cotton jacket and loose red trousers, came forward, shook hands, and asked me to be coated. After a quarter of an hour’s conversation on my pursuits, in which his Majesty seemed to take great interest, tea and cakes-of rather better quality than usual on such occasions-were brought in. I thanked him for the house, and offered to show him my collections, which he promised to come and look at. He then asked me to teach him to take views-to make maps-to get him a small gun from England, and a milch-goat from Bengal; all of which requests I evaded as skilfully as I was able, and we parted very good friends. He seemed a sensible old man, and lamented the small population of the island, which he assured me was rich in many valuable minerals, including gold; but there were not people enough to look after them and work them. I described to him the great rush of population on the discovery of the Australian gold mines, and the huge nuggets found there, with which he was much interested, and exclaimed, “Oh? if we had but people like that, my country would be quite as rich ”

The morning after I had got into my new house, I sent my boys out to shoot, and went myself to explore the road to the coal mines. In less than half a mile it entered the virgin forest, at a place where some magnificent trees formed a kind of natural avenue. The first part was flat and swampy, but it soon rose a little, and ran alongside the fine stream which passed behind my house, and which here rushed and gurgled over a rocky or pebbly bed, sometimes leaving wide sandbanks on its margins, and at other places flowing between high banks crowned with a varied and magnificent forest vegetation. After about two miles, the valley narrowed, and the road was carried along the steep hill-side which rose abruptly from the water’s edge. In some places the rock had been cut away, but its surface was already covered with elegant ferns and creepers. Gigantic tree-ferns were abundant, and the whole forest had an air of luxuriance and rich variety which it never attains in the dry volcanic soil to which I had been lately accustomed. A little further the road passed to the other side of the valley by a bridge across the stream at a place where a great mass of rock in the middle offered an excellent support for it, and two miles more of most picturesque and interesting road brought me to the mining establishment.

This is situated in a large open space, at a spot where two tributaries fall into the main stream. Several forest-paths and new clearings offered fine collecting grounds, and I captured some new and interesting insects; but as it was getting late I had to reserve a more thorough exploration for future occasions. Coal had been discovered here some years before, and the road was made in order to bring down a sufficient quantity for a fair trial on the Dutch steamers. The quality, however, was not thought sufficiently good, and the mines were abandoned. Quite recently, works had been commenced in another spot, in Hopes of finding a better vein. There ware about eighty men employed, chiefly convicts; but this was far too small a number for mining operations in such a country, where the mere keeping a few miles of road in repair requires the constant work of several men. If coal of sufficiently good quality should be found, a tramroad would be made, and would be very easily worked, owing to the regular descent of the valley.

Just as I got home I overtook Ali returning from shooting with some birch hanging from his belt. He seemed much pleased, and said, “Look here, sir, what a curious bird,” holding out what at first completely puzzled me. I saw a bird with a mass of splendid green feathers on its breast, elongated into two glittering tufts; but, what I could not understand was a pair of long white feathers, which stuck straight out from each shoulder. Ali assured me that the bird stuck them out this way itself, when fluttering its wings, and that they had remained so without his touching them. I now saw that I had got a great prize, no less than a completely new form of the Bird of Paradise, differing most remarkably from every other known bird. The general plumage is very sober, being a pure ashy olive, with a purplish tinge on the back; the crown of the head is beautifully glossed with pale metallic violet, and the feathers of the front extend as much over the beak as inmost of the family. The neck and breast are scaled with fine metallic green, and the feathers on the lower part are elongated on each side, so as to form a two-pointed gorget, which can be folded beneath the wings, or partially erected and spread out in the same way as the side plumes of most of the birds of paradise. The four long white plumes which give the bird its altogether unique character, spring from little tubercles close to the upper edge of the shoulder or bend of the wing; they are narrow, gentle curved, and equally webbed on both sides, of a pure creamy white colour. They arc about six inches long, equalling the wing, and can be raised at right angles to it, or laid along the body at the pleasure of the bird. The bill is horn colour, the legs yellow, and the iris pale olive. This striking novelty has been named by Mr. G. R. Gray of the British Museum, Semioptera Wallacei, or “Wallace’s Standard wing.”

A few days later I obtained an exceedingly beautiful new butterfly, allied to the fine blue Papilio Ulysses, but differing from it in the colour being of a more intense tint, and in having a row of blue stripes around the margin of the lower wings. This good beginning was, however, rather deceptive, and I soon found that insects, and especially butterflies, were somewhat scarce, and birds in tar less variety than I had anticipated. Several of the fine Moluccan species were however obtained. The handsome red lory with green wings and a yellow spot in the back (Lorius garrulus), was not uncommon. When the Jambu, or rose apple (Eugenic sp.), was in flower in the village, flocks of the little lorikeet (Charmosyna placentis), already met with in Gilolo, came to feed upon the nectar, and I obtained as many specimens as I desired. Another beautiful bird of the parrot tribe was the Geoffroyus cyanicollis, a green parrot with a red bill and head, which colour shaded on the crown into azure blue, and thence into verditer blue and the green of the back. Two large and handsome fruit pigeons, with metallic green, ashy, and rufous plumage, were not uncommon; and I was rewarded by finding a splendid deep blue roller (Eurystomus azureus); a lovely golden-capped sunbird (Nectarinea auriceps), and a fine racquet-tailed kingfisher (Tanysiptera isis), all of which were entirely new to ornithologists. Of insects I obtained a considerable number of interesting beetles, including many fine longicorns, among which was the largest and handsomest species of the genus Glenea yet discovered. Among butterflies the beautiful little Danis sebae was abundant, making the forests gay with its delicate wings of white and the richest metallic blue; while showy Papilios, and pretty Pieridae, and dark, rich Euphaeas, many of them new, furnished a constant source of interest and pleasing occupation.

The island of Batchian possesses no really indigenous inhabitants, the interior being altogether uninhabited; and there are only a few small villages on various parts of the coast; yet I found here four distinct races, which would wofully mislead an ethnological traveller unable to obtain information as to their origin, first there are the Batchian Malays, probably the earliest colonists, differing very little from those of Ternate. Their language, however, seems to have more of the Papuan element, with a mixture of pure Malay, showing that the settlement is one of stragglers of various races, although now sufficiently homogeneous. Then there are the “Orang Sirani,” as at Ternate and Amboyna. Many of these have the Portuguese physiognomy strikingly preserved, but combined with a skin generally darker than the Malays. Some national customs are retained, and the Malay, which is their only language, contains a large number of Portuguese words and idioms. The third race consists of the Galela men from the north of Gilolo, a singular people, whom I have already described; and the fourth is a colony from Tomóre, in the eastern peninsula of Celebes. These people were brought here at their own request a few years ago, to avoid extermination by another tribe. They have a very light complexion, open Tartar physiognomy, low stature, and a language of the Bugis type. They are an industrious agricultural people, and supply the town with vegetables. They make a good deal of bark cloth, similar to the tapa of the Polynesians, by cutting down the proper trees and taping off large cylinders of bark, which is beaten with mallets till it separates from the wood. It is then soaked, and so continuously and regularly beaten out that it becomes as thin and as tough as parchment. In this foam it is much used for wrappers for clothes; and they also make jackets of it, sewn neatly together and stained with the juice of another kind of bark, which gives it a dark red colour and renders it nearly waterproof.

Here are four very distinct kinds of people who may all be seen any day in and about the town of Batchian. Now if we suppose a traveller ignorant of Malay, picking up a word or two here and there of the “Batchian language,” and noting down the “physical and moral peculiarities, manners, and customs of the Batchian people”—(for there are travellers who do all this in four-and-twenty hours)— what an accurate and instructive chapter we should have’ what transitions would be pointed out, what theories of the origin of races would be developed while the next traveller might flatly contradict every statement and arrive at exactly opposite conclusions.

Soon after I arrived here the Dutch Government introduced a new copper coinage of cents instead of doits (the 100th instead of the 120th part of a guilder), and all the old coins were ordered to be sent to Ternate to be changed. I sent a bag containing 6,000 doits, and duly received the new money by return of the boat. Then Ali went to bring it, however, the captain required a written order; so I waited to send again the next day, and it was lucky I did so, for that night my house was entered, all my boxes carried out and ransacked, and the various articles left on the road about twenty yards off, where we found them at five in the morning, when, on getting up and finding the house empty, we rushed out to discover tracks of the thieves. Not being able to find the copper money which they thought I had just received, they decamped, taking nothing but a few yards of cotton cloth and a black coat and trousers, which latter were picked up a few days afterwards hidden in the grass. There was no doubt whatever who were the thieves. Convicts are employed to guard the Government stores when the boat arrives from Ternate. Two of them watch all night, and often take the opportunity to roam about and commit robberies.

The next day I received my money, and secured it well in a strong box fastened under my bed. I took out five or six hundred cents for daily expenses, and put them in a small japanned box, which always stood upon my table. In the afternoon I went for a short walk, and on my return this box and my keys, which I had carelessly left on the table, were gone. Two of my boys were in the house, but had heard nothing. I immediately gave information of the two robberies to the Director at the mines and to the Commandant at the fort, and got for answer, that if I caught the thief in the act I might shoot him. By inquiry in the village, we afterwards found that one of the convicts who was on duty at the Government rice-store in the village had quitted his guard, was seen to pass over the bridge towards my house, was seen again within two hundred yards of my house, and on returning over the bridge into the village carried something under his arm, carefully covered with his sarong. My box was stolen between the hours he was seen going and returning, and it was so small as to be easily carried in the way described. This seemed pretty clear circumstantial evidence. I accused the man and brought the witnesses to the Commandant. The man was examined, and confessed having gone to the river close to my house to bathe; but said he had gone no farther, having climbed up a cocoa-nut tree and brought home two nuts, which he had covered over, because he was ashamed to be seen carrying them! This explanation was thought satisfactory, and he was acquitted. I lost my cash and my box, a seal I much valued, with other small articles, and all my keys-the severest loss by far. Luckily my large cash-box was left locked, but so were others which I required to open immediately. There was, however, a very clever blacksmith employed to do ironwork for the mines, and he picked my locks for me when I required them, and in a few days made me new keys, which I used all the time I was abroad.

Towards the end of November the wet season set in, and we had daily and almost incessant rains, with only about one or two hours’ sunshine in the morning. The flat parts of the forest became flooded, the roads filled with mud, and insects and birds were scarcer than ever. On December Lath, in the afternoon, we had a sharp earthquake shock, which made the house and furniture shale and rattle for five minutes, and the trees and shrubs wave as if a gust of wind had passed over them. About the middle of December I removed to the village, in order more easily to explore the district to the west of it, and to be near the sea when I wished to return to Ternate. I obtained the use of a good-sized house in the Campong Sirani (or Christian village), and at Christmas and the New Year had to endure the incessant gun-firing, drum-beating, and fiddling of the inhabitants.

These people are very fond of music and dancing, and it would astonish a European to visit one of their assemblies. We enter a gloomy palm-leaf hut, in which two or three very dim lamps barely render darkness visible. The floor is of black sandy earth, the roof hid in a smoky impenetrable blackness; two or three benches stand against the walls, and the orchestra consists of a fiddle, a fife, a drum, and a triangle. There is plenty of company, consisting of young men and women, all very neatly dressed in white and black — a true Portuguese habit. Quadrilles, waltzes, polkas, and mazurkas are danced with great vigour and much skill. The refreshments are muddy coffee and a few sweetmeats. Dancing is kept up for hours, and all is conducted with much decorum and propriety. A party of this kind meets about once a week, the principal inhabitants taking it by turns, and all who please come in without much ceremony.

It is astonishing how little these people have altered in three hundred years, although in that time they have changed their language and lost all knowledge of their own nationality. They are still in manners and appearance almost pure Portuguese, very similar to those with whom I had become acquainted on the banks of the Amazon. They live very poorly as regards their house and furniture, but preserve a semi-European dress, and have almost all full suits of black for Sundays. They are nominally Protestants, but Sunday evening is their grand day for music and dancing. The men are often good hunters; and two or three times a week, deer or wild pigs are brought to the village, which, with fish and fowls, enables them to live well. They are almost the only people in the Archipelago who eat the great fruit-eating bats called by us “flying foxes.” These ugly creatures are considered a great delicacy, and are much sought after. At about the beginning of the year they come in large flocks to eat fruit, and congregate during the day on some small islands in the bay, hanging by thousands on the trees, especially on dead ones. They can then be easily caught or knocked down with sticks, and are brought home by basketsfull. They require to be carefully prepared, as the skin and fur has a rank end powerful foxy odour; but they are generally cooked with abundance of spices and condiments, and are really very good eating, something like hare. The Orang Sirani are good cooks, having a much greater variety of savoury dishes than the Malays. Here, they live chiefly on sago as bread, with a little rice occasionally, and abundance of vegetables and fruit.

It is a curious fact that everywhere in the Past where the Portuguese have mixed with the native races they leave become darker in colour than either of the parent stocks. This is the case almost always with these “Orang Sirani” in the Moluccas, and with the Portuguese of Malacca. The reverse is the case in South America, where the mixture of the Portuguese or Brazilian with the Indian produces the “Mameluco,” who is not unfrequently lighter than either parent, and always lighter than the Indian. The women at Batchian, although generally fairer than the men, are coarse in features, and very far inferior in beauty to the mixed Dutch–Malay girls, or even to many pure Malays.

The part of the village in which I resided was a grove of cocoa-nut trees, and at night, when the dead leaves were sometimes collected together and burnt, the effect was most magnificent — the tall stems, the fine crowns of foliage, and the immense fruit-clusters, being brilliantly illuminated against a dark sky, and appearing like a fairy palace supported on a hundred columns, and groined over with leafy arches. The cocoa-nut tree, when well grown, is certainly the prince of palms both for beauty and utility.

During my very first walk into the forest at Batchian, I had seen sitting on a leaf out of reach, an immense butterfly of a dark colour marked with white and yellow spots. I could not capture it as it flew away high up into the forest, but I at once saw that it was a female of a new species of Ornithoptera or “bird-winged butterfly,” the pride of the Eastern tropics. I was very anxious to get it and to find the male, which in this genus is always of extreme beauty. During the two succeeding months I only saw it once again, and shortly afterwards I saw the male flying high in the air at the mining village. I had begun to despair of ever getting a specimen, as it seemed so rare and wild; till one day, about the beginning of January, I found a beautiful shrub with large white leafy bracts and yellow flowers, a species of Mussaenda, and saw one of these noble insects hovering over it, but it was too quick for me, and flew away. The next clay I went again to the same shrub and succeeded in catching a female, and the day after a fine male. I found it to be as I had expected, a perfectly new and most magnificent species, and one of the most gorgeously coloured butterflies in the world. Fine specimens of the male are more than seven inches across the wings, which are velvety black and fiery orange, the latter colour replacing the green of the allied species. The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause.

I had decided to return to Ternate in a week or two more, but this grand capture determined me to stay on till I obtained a good series of the new butterfly, which I have since named Ornithoptera croesus. The Mussaenda bush was an admirable place, which I could visit every day on my way to the forest; and as it was situated in a dense thicket of shrubs and creepers, I set my man Lahi to clear a space all round it, so that I could easily get at any insect that might visit it. Afterwards, finding that it was often necessary to wait some time there, I had a little seat put up under a tree by the side of it, where I came every day to eat my lunch, and thus had half an hour’s watching about noon, besides a chance as I passed it in the morning. In this way I obtained on an average one specimen a day for a long time, but more than half of these were females, and more than half the remainder worn or broken specimens, so that I should not have obtained many perfect males had I not found another station for them.

As soon as I had seen them come to flowers, I sent my man Lahi with a net on purpose to search for them, as they had also been seen at some flowering trees on the beach, and I promised him half a day’s wages extra for every good specimen he could catch. After a day or two he brought me two very fair specimens, and told me he had caught them in the bed of a large rocky stream that descends from the mountains to the sea abort a mile below the village. They flew down this river, settling occasionally on stones and rocks in the water, and he was obliged to wade up it or jump from rock to rock to get at them. I went with him one day, but found that the stream was far too rapid and the stones too slippery for me to do anything, so I left it entirely to him, and all the rest of the time we stayed in Batchian he used to be out all day, generally bringing me one, and on good days two or three specimens. I was thus able to bring away with me more than a hundred of both sexes, including perhaps twenty very fine males, though not more than five or six that were absolutely perfect.

My daily walk now led me, first about half a mile along the sandy beach, then through a sago swamp over a causeway of very shaky poles to the village of the Tomore people. Beyond this was the forest with patches of new clearing, shady paths, and a considerable quantity of felled timber. I found this a very fair collecting ground, especially for beetles. The fallen trunks in the clearings abounded with golden Buprestidae and curious Brenthidae, and longicorns, while in the forest I found abundance of the smaller Curculionidae, many longicorns, and some fine green Carabidae.

Butterflies were not abundant, but I obtained a few more of the fine blue Papilio, and a number of beautiful little Lycaenidae, as well as a single specimen of the very rare Papilio Wallacei, of which I had taken the hitherto unique specimen in the Aru Islands.

The most interesting birds I obtained here, were the beautiful blue kingfisher, Todiramphus diops; the fine green and purple doves, Ptilonopus superbus and P. iogaster, and several new birds of small size. My shooters still brought me in specimens of the Semioptera Wallacei, and I was greatly excited by the positive statements of several of the native hunters that another species of this bird existed, much handsomer and more remarkable. They declared that the plumage was glossy black, with metallic green breast as in my species, but that the white shoulder plumes were twice as long, and hung down far below the body of the bird. They declared that when hunting pigs or deer far in the forest they occasionally saw this bird, but that it was rare. I immediately offered twelve guilders (a pound) for a specimen; but all in vain, and I am to this day uncertain whether such a bird exists. Since I left, the German naturalist, Dr. Bernstein, stayed many months in the island with a large staff of hunters collecting for the Leyden Museum; and as he was not more successful than myself, we must consider either that the bird is very rare, or is altogether a myth.

Batchian is remarkable as being the most eastern point on the globe inhabited by any of the Quadrumana. A large black baboon-monkey (Cynopithecus nigrescens) is abundant in some parts of the forest. This animal has bare red callosities, and a rudimentary tail about an inch long — a mere fleshy tubercle, which may be very easily overlooked. It is the same species that is found all over the forests of Celebes, and as none of the other Mammalia of that island extend into Batchian I am inclined to suppose that this species has been accidentally introduced by the roaming Malays, who often carry about with them tame monkeys and other animals. This is rendered more probable by the fact that the animal is not found in Gilolo, which is only separated from Batchian by a very narrow strait. The introduction may have been very recent, as in a fertile and unoccupied island such an animal would multiply rapidly. The only other mammals obtained were an Eastern opossum, which Dr. Gray has described as Cuscus ornatus; the little flying opossum, Belideus ariel; a Civet cat, Viverra zebetha; and nice species of bats, most of the smaller ones being caught in the dusk with my butterfly net as they flew about before the house.

After much delay, owing to bad weather and the illness of one of my men, I determined to visit Kasserota (formerly the chief village), situated up a small stream, on an island close to the north coast of Batchian; where I was told that many rare birds were found. After my boat was loaded and everything ready, three days of heavy squalls prevented our starting, and it was not till the 21st of March that we got away. Early next morning we entered the little river, and in about an hour we reached the Sultan’s house, which I had obtained permission to use. It was situated on the bank of the river, and surrounded by a forest of fruit trees, among which were some of the very loftiest and most graceful cocoa-nut palms I have ever seen. It rained nearly all that day, and I could do little but unload and unpack. Towards the afternoon it cleared up, and I attempted to explore in various directions, but found to my disgust that the only path was a perfect mud swamp, along which it was almost impossible to walk, and the surrounding forest so damp and dark as to promise little in the way of insects. I found too on inquiry that the people here made no clearings, living entirely on sago, fruit, fish, and game; and the path only led to — a steep rocky mountain equally impracticable and unproductive. The next day I sent my men to this hill, hoping it might produce some good birds; but they returned with only two common species, and I myself had been able to get nothing; every little track I had attempted to follow leading to a dense sago swamp. I saw that I should waste time by staying here, and determined to leave the following day.

This is one of those spots so hard for the European naturalist to conceive, where with all the riches of a tropical vegetation, and partly perhaps from the very luxuriance of that vegetation, insects are as scarce as in the most barren parts of Europe, and hardly more conspicuous. In temperate climates there is a tolerable uniformity in the distribution of insects over those parts of a country in which there is a similarity in the vegetation, any deficiency being easily accounted for by the absence of wood or uniformity of surface. The traveller hastily passing through such a country can at once pick out a collecting ground which will afford him a fair notion of its entomology. Here the case is different. There are certain requisites of a good collecting ground which can only be ascertained to exist by some days’ search in the vicinity of each village. In some places there is no virgin forest, as at Djilolo and Sahoe; in others there are no open pathways or clearings, as here. At Batchian there are only two tolerable collecting places — the road to the coal mines, and the new clearings made by the Tomóre people, the latter being by far the most productive. I believe the fact to be that insects are pretty uniformly distributed over these countries (where the forests have not been cleared away), and are so scarce in any one spot that searching for them is almost useless. If the forest is all cleared away, almost all the insects disappear with it; but when small clearings and paths are made, the fallen trees in various stages of drying and decay, the rotting leaves, the loosening bark and the fungoid growths upon it, together with the flowers that appear in much greater abundance where the light is admitted, are so many attractions to the insects for miles around, and cause a wonderful accumulation of species and individuals. When the entomologist can discover such a spot, he does more in a mouth than he could possibly do by a year’s search in the depths of the undisturbed forest.

The next morning we left early, and reached the mouth of the little river in about au hour. It flows through a perfectly flat alluvial plain, but there are hills which approach it near the mouth. Towards the lower part, in a swamp where the salt-water must enter at high tides, were a number of elegant tree-ferns from eight to fifteen feet high. These are generally considered to be mountain plants, and rarely to occur on the equator at an elevation of less than one or two thousand feet. In Borneo, in the Aru Islands, and on the banks of the Amazon, I have observed them at the level of the sea, and think it probable that the altitude supposed to be requisite for them may have been deduced from facts observed in countries where the plains and lowlands are largely cultivated, and most of the indigenous vegetation destroyed. Such is the case in most parts of Java, India, Jamaica, and Brazil, where the vegetation of the tropics has been most fully explored.

Coming out to sea we turned northwards, and in about two hours’ sail reached a few huts, called Langundi, where some Galela men had established themselves as collectors of gum-dammar, with which they made torches for the supply of the Ternate market. About a hundred yards back rises a rather steep hill, and a short walk having shown me that there was a tolerable path up it, I determined to stay here for a few days. Opposite us, and all along this coast of Batchian, stretches a row of fine islands completely uninhabited. Whenever I asked the reason why no one goes to live in them, the answer always was, “For fear of the Magindano pirates.” Every year these scourges of the Archipelago wander in one direction or another, making their rendezvous on some uninhabited island, and carrying devastation to all the small settlements around; robbing, destroying, killing, or taking captive all they nee with. Their long well-manned praus escape from the pursuit of any sailing vessel by pulling away right in the wind’s eye, and the warning smoke of a steamer generally enables them to hide in some shallow bay, or narrow river, or forest-covered inlet, till the danger is passed. The only effectual way to put a stop to their depredations would be to attack them in their strongholds and villages, and compel them to give up piracy, and submit to strict surveillance. Sir James Brooke did this with the pirates of the north-west coast of Borneo, and deserves the thanks of the whole population of the Archipelago for having rid them of half their enemies.

All along the beach here, and in the adjacent strip of sandy lowland, is a remarkable display of Pandanaceae or Screw-pines. Some are like huge branching candelabra, forty or fifty feet high, and bearing at the end of each branch a tuft of immense sword-shaped leaves, six or eight inches wide, and as many feet long. Others have a single unbranched stem, six or seven feet high, the upper part clothed with the spirally arranged leaves, and bearing a single terminal fruit ac large as a swan’s egg. Others of intermediate size have irregular clusters of rough red fruits, and all have more or less spiny-edged leaves and ringed stems. The young plants of the larger species have smooth glossy thick leaves, sometimes ten feet long and eight inches wide, which are used all over the Moluccas and New Guinea, to make “cocoyas” or sleeping mats, which are often very prettily ornamented with coloured patterns. Higher up on the bill is a forest of immense trees, among which those producing the resin called dammar (Dammara sp.) are abundant. The inhabitants of several small villages in Batchian are entirely engaged in searching for this product, and making it into torches by pounding it and filling it into tubes of palm leaves about a yard long, which are the only lights used by many of the natives. Sometimes the dammar accumulates in large masses of ten or twenty pounds weight, either attached to the trunk, or found buried in the ground at the foot of the trees. The most extraordinary trees of the forest are, however, a kind of fig, the aerial roots of which form a pyramid near a hundred feet high, terminating just where the tree branches out above, so that there is no real trunk. This pyramid or cone is formed of roots of every size, mostly descending in straight lines, but more or less obliquely-and so crossing each other, and connected by cross branches, which grow from one to another; as to form a dense and complicated network, to which nothing but a photograph could do justice (see illustration at Vol. I. page 130). The Kanary is also abundant in this forest, the nut of which has a very agreeable flavour, and produces an excellent oil. The fleshy outer covering of the nut is the favourite food of the great green pigeons of these islands (Carpophaga, perspicillata), and their hoarse copings and heavy flutterings among the branches can be almost continually heard.

After ten days at Langundi, finding it impossible to get the bird I was particularly in search of (the Nicobar pigeon, or a new species allied to it), and finding no new birds, and very few insects, I left early on the morning of April 1st, and in the evening entered a river on the main island of Batchian (Langundi, like Kasserota, being on a distinct island), where some Malays and Galela men have a small village, and have made extensive rice-fields and plantain grounds. Here we found a good house near the river bank, where the water was fresh and clear, and the owner, a respectable Batchian Malay, offered me sleeping room and the use of the verandah if I liked to stay. Seeing forest all round within a short distance, I accepted his offer, and the next morning before breakfast walked out to explore, and on the skirts of the forest captured a few interesting insects.

Afterwards, I found a path which led for a mile or more through a very fine forest, richer in palms than any I had seen in the Moluccas. One of these especially attracted my attention from its elegance. The stein was not thicker than my wrist, yet it was very lofty, and bore clusters of bright red fruit. It was apparently a species of Areca. Another of immense height closely resembled in appearance the Euterpes of South America. Here also grew the fan-leafed palm, whose small, nearly entire leaves are used to make the dammar torches, and to form the water-buckets in universal use. During this walk I saw near a dozen species of palms, as well as two or three Pandani different from those of Langundi. There were also some very fine climbing ferns and true wild Plantains (Musa), bearing an edible fruit not so large as one’s thumb, and consisting of a mass of seeds just covered with pulp and skin. The people assured me they had tried the experiment of sowing and cultivating this species, but could not improve it. They probably did not grow it in sufficient quantity, and did not persevere sufficiently long.

Batchian is an island that would perhaps repay the researches of a botanist better than any other in the whole Archipelago. It contains a great variety of surface and of soil, abundance of large and small streams, many of which are navigable for some distance, and there being no savage inhabitants, every part of it can be visited with perfect safety. It possesses gold, copper, and coal, hot springs and geysers, sedimentary and volcanic rocks and coralline limestone, alluvial plains, abrupt hills and lofty mountains, a moist climate, and a grand and luxuriant forest vegetation.

The few days I stayed here produced me several new insects, but scarcely any birds. Butterflies and birds are in fact remarkably scarce in these forests. One may walk a whole day and not see more than two or three species of either. In everything but beetles, these eastern islands are very deficient compared with the western (Java, Borneo, &c.), and much more so if compared with the forests of South America, where twenty or thirty species of butterflies may be caught every day, and on very good days a hundred, a number we can hardly reach here in months of unremitting search. In birds there is the same difference. In most parts of tropical America we may always find some species of woodpecker tanager, bush shrike, chatterer, trogon, toucan, cuckoo, and tyrant-flycatcher; and a few days’ active search will produce more variety than can be here met with in as many months. Yet, along with this poverty of individuals and of species, there are in almost every class and order, some one, or two species of such extreme beauty or singularity, as to vie with, or even surpass, anything that even South America can produce.

One afternoon when I was arranging my insects, and surrounded by a crowd of wondering spectators, I showed one of them how to look at a small insect with a hand-lens, which caused such evident wonder that all the rest wanted to see it too. I therefore fixed the glass firmly to a piece of soft wood at the proper focus, and put under it a little spiny beetle of the genus Hispa, and then passed it round for examination. The excitement was immense. Some declared it was a yard long; others were frightened, and instantly dropped it, and all were as much astonished, and made as much shouting and gesticulation, as children at a pantomime, or at a Christmas exhibition of the oxyhydrogen microscope. And all this excitement was produced by a little pocket lens, an inch and a half focus, and therefore magnifying only four or five times, but which to their unaccustomed eyes appeared to enlarge a hundred fold.

On the last day of my stay here, one of my hunters succeeded in finding and shooting the beautiful Nicobar pigeon, of which I had been so long in search. None of the residents had ever seen it, which shows that it is rare and slay. My specimen was a female in beautiful condition, and the glassy coppery and green of its plumage, the snow-white tail and beautiful pendent feathers of the neck, were greatly admired. I subsequently obtained a specimen in New Guinea; and once saw it in the Kaióa islands. It is found also in some small islands near Macassar, in others near Borneo; and in the Nicobar islands, whence it receives its name. It is a ground feeder, only going upon trees to roost, and is a very heavy fleshy bird. This may account far the fact of its being found chiefly on very small islands, while in the western half of the Archipelago, it seems entirely absent from the larger ones. Being a ground feeder it is subject to the attacks of carnivorous quadrupeds, which are not found in the very small islands. Its wide distribution over the whole length of the Archipelago; from extreme west to east, is however very extraordinary, since, with the exception of a few of the birds of prey, not a single land bird has so wide a range. Ground-feeding birds are generally deficient in power of extended flight, and this species is so bulky and heavy that it appears at first sight quite unable to fly a mile. A closer examination shows, however, that its wings are remarkably large, perhaps in proportion to its size larger than those of any other pigeon, and its pectoral muscles are immense. A fact communicated to me by the son of my friend Mr. Duivenboden of Ternate, would show that, in accordance with these peculiarities of structure, it possesses the power of flying long distances. Mr. D. established an oil factory on a small coral island, a hundred miles north of New Guinea, with no intervening land. After the island had been settled a year, and traversed in every direction, his son paid it a visit; and just as the schooner was coming to an anchor, a bird was seen flying from seaward which fell into the water exhausted before it could reach the shore. A boat was sent to pick it up, and it was found to be a Nicobar pigeon, which must have come from New Guinea, and flown a hundred miles, since no such bird previously inhabited the island.

This is certainly a very curious case of adaptation to an unusual and exceptional necessity. The bird does not ordinarily require great powers of flight, since it lives in the forest, feeds on fallen fruits, and roosts in low trees like other ground pigeons. The majority of the individuals, therefore, can never make full use of their enormously powerful wings, till the exceptional case occurs of an individual being blown out to sea, or driven to emigrate by the incursion of some carnivorous animal, or the pressure of scarcity of food. A modification exactly opposite to that which produced the wingless birds (the Apteryx, Cassowary, and Dodo), appears to have here taken place; and it is curious that in both cases an insular habitat should have been the moving cause. The explanation is probably the same as that applied by Mr. Darwin to the case of the Madeira beetles, many of which are wingless, while some of the winged ones have the wings better developed than the same species on the continent. It was advantageous to these insects either never to fly at all, and thus not run the risk of being blown out to sea, or to fly so well as to he able either to return to land, or to migrate safely to the continent. Pad flying was worse than not flying at all. So, while in such islands as New Zealand and Mauritius far from all land, it vas safer for a ground-feeding bird not to fly at all, and the short-winged individuals continually surviving, prepared the way for a wingless group of birds; in a vast Archipelago thickly strewn with islands and islets it was advantageous to be able occasionally to migrate, arid thus the long and strong-winged varieties maintained their existence longest, and ultimately supplanted all others, and spread the race over the whole Archipelago.

Besides this pigeon, the only new bird I obtained during the trip was a rare goat-sucker (Batrachostomus crinifrons), the only species of the genus yet found in the Moluccas. Among my insects the best were the rare Pieris arum, of a rich chrome yellow colour, with a black border and remarkable white antenna — perhaps the very finest butterfly of the genus; and a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle, which has been named Megachile Pluto by Mr. B. Smith. I collected about a hundred species of beetles quite new to me, but mostly very minute, and also many rare and handsome ones which I had already found in Batchian. On the whole I was tolerably satisfied with my seventeen days’ excursion, which was a very agreeable one, and enabled me to sea a good deal of the island. I had hired a roomy boat, and brought with me a small table and my rattan chair. These were great comforts, as, wherever there was a roof, I could immediately instal myself, and work and eat at ease. When I could not find accommodation on shore I slept in the boat, which was always drawn up on the beach if we stayed for a few days at one spot.

On my return to Batchian I packed up my collections, and prepared for my return to Ternate. When I first came I had sent back my boat by the pilot, with two or three other men who had been glad of the opportunity. I now took advantage of a Government boat which had just arrived with rice for the troops, and obtained permission to return in her, and accordingly started on the 13th of April, having resided only a week short of six months on the island of Batchian. The boat was one of the kind called “Kora-kora,” quite open, very low, and about four tons burthen. It had outriggers of bamboo about five feet off each side, which supported a bamboo platform extending the whole length of the vessel. On the extreme outside of this sit the twenty rowers, while within was a convenient passage fore and aft. The middle portion of the boat was covered with a thatch-house, in which baggage and passengers are stowed; the gunwale was not more than a foot above water, and from the great top and side weight, and general clumsiness, these boats are dangerous in heavy weather, and are not unfrequently lost. A triangle mast and mat sail carried us on when the wind was favourable — which (as usual) it never was, although, according to the monsoon, it ought to have been. Our water, carried in bamboos, would only last two days, and as the voyage occupied seven, we had to touch at a great many places. The captain was not very energetic, and the men rowed as little as they pleased, or we might have reached Ternate in three days, having had fine weather and little wind all the way.

There were several passengers besides myself: three or four Javanese soldiers, two convicts whose time had expired (one, curiously enough, being the man who had stolen my cash-box and keys), the schoolmaster’s wife and a servant going on a visit to Ternate, and a Chinese trader going to buy goods. We had to sleep all together in the cabin, packed pretty close; but they very civilly allowed me plenty of room for my mattrass, and we got on very well together. There was a little cookhouse in the bows, where we could boil our rice and make our coffee, every one of course bringing his own provisions, and arranging his meal-times as he found most convenient. The passage would have been agreeable enough but for the dreadful “tom-toms,” or wooden drums, which are beaten incessantly while the men are rowing. Two men were engaged constantly at them, making a fearful din the whole voyage. The rowers are men sent by the Sultan of Ternate. They get about threepence a day, and find their own provisions. Each man had a strong wooden “betel” box, on which he generally sat, a sleeping-mat, and a change of clothes — rowing naked, with only a sarong or a waistcloth. They sleep in their places, covered with their mat, which keeps out the rain pretty well. They chew betel or smoke cigarettes incessantly; eat dry sago and a little salt fish; seldom sing while rowing, except when excited and wanting to reach a stopping-place, and do not talk a great deal. They are mostly Malays, with a sprinkling of Alfuros from Gilolo, and Papuans from Guebe or Waigiou.

One afternoon we stayed at Makian; many of the men went on shore, and a great deal of plantains, bananas, and other fruits were brought on board. We then went on a little way, and in the evening anchored again. When going to bed for the night, I put out my candle, there being still a glimmering lamp burning, and, missing my handkerchief, thought I saw it on a box which formed one side of my bed, and put out my hand to take it. I quickly drew back on feeling something cool and very smooth, which moved as I touched it. “Bring the light, quick,” I cried; “here’s a snake.” And there he was, sure enough, nicely coiled up, with his head just raised to inquire who had disturbed him. It was mow necessary to catch or kill him neatly, or he would escape among the piles of miscellaneous luggage, and we should hardly sleep comfortably. One of the ex-convicts volunteered to catch him with his hand wrapped up in a cloth, but from the way he went about it I saw he was nervous and would let the thing go, so I would mot allow him to make the attempt. I them got a chopping-knife, and carefully moving my insect nets, which hung just over the snake and prevented me getting a free blow, I cut him quietly across the back, holding him down while my boy with another knife crushed his head. On examination, I found he had large poison fangs, and it is a wonder he did not bite me when I first touched him.

Thinking it very unlikely that two snakes had got on board at the same time, I turned in and went to sleep; but having all the time a vague dreamy idea that I might put my hand on another one, I lay wonderfully still, not turning over once all night, quite the reverse of my usual habits. The next day we reached Ternate, and I ensconced myself in my comfortable house, to examine all my treasures, and pack them securely for the voyage home.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30