The Appurtenances of Civilization — Babu — Characteristics of Captain Murray — An Embodied Government — Chinese Mining Enterprise — A Chinese Gaming–House — The “Capitans China” — New–Year Visits — Sittings “In Equity” — A Court of Justice — The Serambang Prison — “Plantation Hill” — A Monster Bonfire — An Ant World — An Ant Funeral — Night on “Plantation Hill” — The Murder of Mr. Lloyd — A Chinese Dragon Play — A Visit to a Malay Prince — The Datu Bandar’s House — A Great Temptation — The Return Journey — An Obituary Quotation
RESIDENCY, SUNGEI UJONG, January 30.
We have been here for four days. The heat is so great that it is wonderful that one can walk about in the sunshine; but the nights, though the mercury does not fall below 80 degrees, are cool and refreshing, and the air and soil are both dry, though a hundred inches of rain fall in the year. These wooden bungalows are hot, for the attap roofs have no lining, but they are also airy. There is no-one but myself at night in the one in which my room is, but this is nothing after the solitude of the great, rambling Stadthaus. Since we came a sentry has been on duty always, and a bull-dog is chained at the foot of the ladder which leads to both bungalows. But there is really nothing to fear from these “treacherous Malays.” It is most curious to see the appurtenances of civilization in the heart of a Malay jungle, and all the more so because our long night journey up the Linggi makes it seem more remote than it is. We are really only sixty miles from Malacca.
The drawing-room has a good piano, and many tasteful ornaments, books, and china — gifts from loving friends and relations in the far off home — and is as livable as a bachelor would be likely to make it. There is a billiard table in the corridor. The dining-room, which is reached by going out of doors, with its red-tiled floor and walls of dark, unpolished wood, is very pretty. In the middle of the dinner table there is a reflecting lake for “hot-house flowers;” and exquisite crystal, menu cards with holders of Dresden china, four classical statuettes in Parian, with pine-apples, granadillas, bananas, pomegranates, and a durion blanda, are the “table decorations.” The cuisine is almost too elaborate for a traveler’s palate, but plain meat is rarely to be got, and even when procurable is unpalatable unless disguised. Curry is at each meal, but it is not made with curry powder. Its basis is grated cocoa-nut made into a paste with cocoa-nut milk, and the spices are added fresh. Turtles when caught are kept in a pond until they are needed, and we have turtle soup, stewed turtle, curried turtle and turtle cutlets ad nauseam. Fowls are at every meal, but never plain roasted or plain boiled. The first day there was broiled and stewed elephant trunk, which tastes much like beef.
Babu, who is always en grand tenue, has taken command of everything and saves our host all trouble. He carves at the sideboard, scolds the servants in a stage whisper, and pushes them indignantly aside when they attempt to offer anything to “his young ladies,” reduces Captain Murray’s butler to a nonentity, and as far as he can turns the Residency into Government House, waiting on us assiduously in our rooms, and taking care of our clothes. The dinner bell is a bugle.
In houses in these regions there is always a brick-floored bath-room, usually of large size, under your bedroom, to which you descend by a ladder. This is often covered by a trap-door, which is sometimes concealed by a couch, and in order to descend the sofa cushion is lifted. Here it is an open trap in the middle of the room. A bath is a necessity — not a luxury — so near the equator, and it is usual to take one three, four, or even five times a day, with much refreshment. One part of Babu’s self-imposed duty is to look under our pillows for snakes and centipedes, and the latter have been found in all our rooms.
I must now make you acquainted with our host, Captain Murray. He was appointed when the Datu Klana asked for a Resident four years ago. He devotes himself to Sungei Ujong as if it were his own property, though he has never been able to acquire the language. He is a man about thirty-eight, a naval officer, and an enterprising African traveler; under the middle height, bronzed, sun-browned, disconnected in his conversation from the habit of living without anyone in or out of the house to speak to; professing a misanthropy which he is very far from feeling, for he is quite unsuspicious, and disposed to think the best of every one; hasty when vexed, but thoroughly kind-hearted; very blunt, very undignified, never happy (he says) out of the wilds; thoroughly well disposed to the Chinese and Malays, but very impatient of their courtesies, thoroughly well meaning, thoroughly a gentleman, but about the last person that I should have expected to see in a position which is said to require much tact if not finesse. His success leads me to think, as I have often thought before, that if we attempt to deal with Orientals by their own methods, we are apt to find them more than a match for us, and that thorough honesty is the best policy.
He lives alone, unguarded; trusts himself by night and day without any escort among the people; keeps up no ceremony at all, and is approachable at all hours. Like most travelers, he has some practical knowledge of medicine, and he gives advice and medicines most generously, allowing himself to be interrupted by patients at all hours. There is no doctor nearer than Malacca. He has been so successful that people come from the neighboring States for his advice. There is very little serious disease, but children are subject to a loathsome malady called puru. Two were brought with it to-day. The body and head are covered with pustules containing matter, looking very much like small-pox, and the natives believe that it must run its course for a year. Captain Murray cures it in a few days with iodide of potassium and iodine, and he says that it is fast disappearing.
Captain Murray is judge, “sitting in Equity,” Superintendent of Police, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Surveyor of Taxes, besides being Board of Trade, Board of Works, and I know not what besides. In fact, he is the Government, although the Datu Klana’s signature or seal is required to confirm a sentence of capital punishment, and possibly in one or two other cases; and his Residential authority is subject only to the limitations of his own honor and good sense, sharpened somewhat, were he other than what he is, by possible snubs from the Governor of the Straits Settlements or the Colonial Secretary. He is a thoroughly honorable man, means well by all the interests of his little kingdom, and seems both beloved and trusted.
On Sunday morning we had English service and a sermon, the congregation being augmented by the only other English people — a man from Australia who is here road-making, and his wife; and in the afternoon, disregarding a temperature of 85 degrees, we went through the Chinese village of Serambang.
Tin is the staple product of Sungei Ujong, and until lately the Malay peninsula and the adjacent regions were supposed to be the richest tin producing countries in the world. There is not a single tin mine, however, properly so-called. The whole of the tin exported from Sungei Ujong, which last year (1879), even at its present reduced price, was valued at 81,400 pounds, and contributed as export duty to the Government 5,800 pounds, is found in the detritus of ancient mountains, and is got, in mining parlance, in “stream works” — that is, by washing the soil, just as gold is washed out of the soil in Australia and California. It is supposed that there is a sufficient supply to last for ages, even though the demand for tin for new purposes is always on the increase. It is tin mining which has brought the Chinese in such numbers to these States, and as miners and smelters they are equally efficient and persevering. In 1828, the number of Chinese working the mines here was one thousand; and in the same year they were massacred by the Malays. They now number ten thousand, and under British protection have nothing to fear.
It is still the New Year holidays, and hundreds of Chinamen were lounging about, and every house was gayly decorated. The Malays never join house to house, the Chinese always do so, and this village has its streets and plaza. The houses are all to a certain extent fire-proof — that is, when a fire occurs, and the attap-thatched roofs are burned, the houses below, which are mostly shops, are safe. These shops, some of which are very large, are nearly dark. They deal mainly in Chinese goods and favorite Chinese articles of food, fireworks, mining tools, and kerosene oil. In one shop twenty “assistants,” with only their loose cotton trousers on, were sitting at round tables having a meal — not their ordinary diet, I should think, for they had seventeen different sorts of soups and stews, some of them abominations to our thinking.
We visited the little joss-house, very gaudily decorated, the main feature of the decorations being two enormous red silk umbrellas, exquisitely embroidered in gold and silks. The crowds in this village remind me of Canton, but the Chinese look anything but picturesque here, for none of them — or at all events, only their “Capitans” — wear the black satin skull cap; and their shaven heads, with the small patch of hair which goes into the composition of the pigtail, look very ugly. The pig-tail certainly begins with this lock of hair, but the greater part of it is made up of silk or cotton thread plaited in with the hair, and blue or red strands of silk in a pigtail indicate mourning or rejoicing. None of the Chinese here wear the beautiful long robes used by their compatriots in China and Japan. The rich wear a white, shirt-like garment of embroidered silk crepe over their trousers and petticoat, and the poorer only loose blue or brown cotton trousers, so that one is always being reminded of the excessive leanness of their forms. Some of the rich merchants invited us to go in and drink champagne, but we declined everything but tea, which is ready all day long in tea-pots kept hot in covered baskets very thickly padded, such as are known with us as “Norwegian Kitchens.”
In the middle of the village there is a large, covered, but open-sided building like a market, which is crowded all day — and all night too — by hundreds of these poor, half-naked creatures standing round the gaming tables, silent, eager, excited, staking every cent they earn on the turn of the dice, living on the excitement of their gains — a truly sad spectacle. Probably we were the first European ladies who had ever walked through the gambling-house, but the gamblers were too intent even to turn their heads. There also they are always drinking tea. Some idea of the profits made by the men who “farm” the gambling licenses may be gained from the fact that the revenue derived by the Government from the gambling “farms” is over 900 pounds a year.
Spirits are sold in three or four places; and the license to sell them brings in nearly 700 pounds a year, but a drunken Chinaman is never seen. There are a few opium inebriates, lean like skeletons, and very vacant in expression; and every coolie smokes his three whiffs of opium every night. Only a few of the richer Chinamen have wives, and there are very few women, as is usual in a mining population. A good many roads have been made in the State, and the Chinese are building buggies, gharries, and wagons, and many of the richer ones own them and import Sumatra ponies to draw them. To say that the Chinese make as good emigrants as the British is barely to give them their due. They have equal stamina and are more industrious and thrifty, and besides that they are always sober, can bear with impunity the fiercest tropical heat, and can thrive and save where Englishmen would starve. The immense immigration of Chinese, all affiliated to clubs or secret societies, might be a great risk to the peace of the State were it not that they recognize certain leaders known as “Capitans China,” who contrive to preserve order, so far as is known by a wholesome influence merely; and who in all cases, in return for the security which property enjoys under our flag, work cordially with the Resident in all that concerns the good of the State. How these “Capitans” are elected, and how they exercise their authority, is as inscrutable as most else belonging to the Chinese. The Chinese seem not so much broadly patriotic as provincial or clannish, and the “Hoeys,” or secret societies, belong to the different southern provinces. The fights between the factions, and the way in which the secret societies screen criminals by false swearing and other means, are among the woes of the Governor and Lieutenant–Governors of these Settlements. Though they get on very well up here, thanks to the “Capitan China,” the clans live in separate parts of the village, have separate markets and gaming houses, and a wooden arch across the street divides the two “Nations.”
We went to pay complimentary visits for the New Year to these “Capitans” with the Malay interpreter, and were received with a curious mixture of good-will and solemnity. Wine, tea and sweet-meats were produced at each house. Their houses are very rude, considering their ample means, and have earthen floors. They have comfortable carriages, and their gentle, sweet-mannered children were loaded with gold and diamonds. In one house, a sweet little girl handed round the tea and cake, and all, even to babies who can scarcely toddle across the floor, came up and shook hands. A Chinese family impresses one by its extreme orderliness, filial reverence being regarded as the basis of all the virtues. The manners of these children are equally removed from shyness and forwardness. They all wore crowns of dark red gold of very beautiful workmanship, set with diamonds. When these girl-children are twelve years old, they will, according to custom, be strictly secluded, and will not be seen by any man but their father till the bridegroom lifts the veil at the marriage ceremony.
After these visits, in which the “Capitans China,” through the interpreter, assured us of their perpetual and renewed satisfaction with British rule, Mr. Hayward, the interpreter, and I, paid another visit of a more leisurely kind to one of the Chinese gambling houses, which, as usual, was crowded. At one end several barbers were at work. A Chinaman is always being shaved, for he keeps his head and face quite smooth, and never shaves himself. The shaving the head was originally a sign of subjection imposed by the Tartar conquerors, but it is now so completely the national custom that prisoners feel it a deep disgrace when their hair is allowed to grow. Coolies twist their five feet of pigtail round their heads while they are at work, but a servant or other inferior, only insults his superior if he enter his presence with his pigtail otherwise than pendent. The gaming house, whose open sides allow it to present a perpetual temptation, is full of tables, and at each sits a croupier, well clothed, and as many half-naked Chinamen as can see over each others’ shoulders crowd round him. Their silent, concentrated eagerness is a piteous sight, as the cover is slowly lifted from the heavy brass box in which the dice are kept, on the cast of which many of them have staked all they possess. They accept their losses as they do their gains, with apparent composure. They work very hard, and live on very little; but they are poor just now, for the price of tin has fallen nearly one-half in consequence of the great tin discoveries in Australia.
Along with Mr. Hayward I paid a visit to the Court House, a large whitewashed room, with a clean floor of red tiles, a tiled dais, with a desk for the judge, a table with a charge sheet and some books upon it, and three long benches at the end for witnesses and their friends. A punkah is kept constantly going. There are a clerk, a Chinese interpreter, who speaks six Chinese dialects, and a Malay interpreter, who puts the Chinese interpreter’s words into English. As the judge does not understand Malay, it will be observed that justice depends on the fidelity of this latter official. Though I cannot say that the dignity of justice is sustained in this court, there is not a doubt that the intentions of the judge are excellent, and if some of the guilty escape, it is not likely that any of the innocent suffer. The Datu Bandar sometimes sits on the bench with the Resident.
The benches were crowded almost entirely with Chinamen, and a number of policemen stood about. I noticed that these were as anxious as our own are to sustain a case. The case which I heard, and which occupied more than an hour, was an accusation against a wretched Chinaman for stealing a pig. I sat on the bench and heard every word that was said, and arrived at no judicial conclusion, nor did the Resident, so the accused was dismissed. He did steal that pig though! I don’t see how truth can be arrived at in an Oriental court, especially where the witnesses are members of Chinese secret societies. Another case of alleged nocturnal assault, was tried, in which the judge took immense pains to get at the truth, and the prisoner had every advantage; and when he was found guilty, was put into a good jail, from which he will be taken out daily to work on the roads.
Malays being Mussulmen, are mostly tried by the “Divine Law” of the Koran, and Chinamen are dealt with “in equity.” The question to be arrived at simply is, “Did the prisoner commit this crime or did he not?” If he did he is punished, and if he did not he is acquitted. There are no legal technicalities by which trial can be delayed or the ends of justice frustrated. Theft is the most common crime. One hundred and fourteen persons were convicted last year, which does not seem a large proportion (being less than one per cent.) out of an unsettled mining population of twelve thousand. Mr. Hayward, through whose hands the crime of Singapore and Malacca has filtered for twenty years, was very critical on the rough and ready method of proceeding here, and constantly interjected suggestions, such as “You don’t ask them questions before you swear them,” etc. Informal as its administration is, I have no doubt that justice is substantially done, for the Resident is conscientious and truly honorable. He is very lovable, and is evidently much beloved, and is able to go about in unguarded security.
It is not far from the Court House to the prison, a wholesomely situated building on a hill, made of concrete, with an attap roof. The whole building is one hundred feet long by thirty feet broad. There are six cells for solitary confinement. A jailer, turnkey, and eight warders constitute the prison staff. The able-bodied prisoners are employed on the roads and other public works, and attend upon the scavengers’ cart, which outcome of civilization goes round every morning! The diet, which costs fourpence a day for each prisoner, consists of rice and salt fish, but those who work get two-pence halfpenny a day in addition, with which they can either buy luxuries or accumulate a small sum against the time when their sentences expire. Old and weakly people do light work about the prison. One man was executed for murder last year under a sentence signed by the Datu Klana. I have not been in a prison since I was in that den of horrors, the prison of the Naam–Hoi magistrate at Canton, and I felt a little satisfaction in the contrast.
The same afternoon we all made a very pleasant expedition to the Sanitarium, a cabin which the Resident has built on a hill three miles from here. A chair with four Chinese bearers carried Miss Shaw up, her sister and the two gentlemen walked, and I rode a Sumatra pony, on an Australian stock-man’s saddle, not only up the steep jungle path, but up a staircase of two hundred steps in which it terminates, the sagacious animal going up quite cunningly. One charm of a tropical jungle is that every few yards you come upon something new, and every hundred feet of ascent makes a decided difference in the vegetation. This is a very grand forest, with its straight, smooth stems running up over one hundred feet before branching, and the branches are loaded with orchids and trailers. One cannot see what the foliage is like which is borne far aloft into the summer sunshine, but on the ground I found great red trumpet flowers and crimson corollas, like those of a Brobdingnagian honeysuckle, and flowers like red dragon-flies enormously magnified, and others like large, single roses in yellow wax, falling slowly down now and then, messengers from the floral glories above, “wasting (?) their sweetness on the desert air.” A traveler through a tropical jungle may see very few flowers and be inclined to disparage it. It is necessary to go on adjacent rising ground and look down where trees and trailers are exhibiting their gorgeousness. Unlike the coarse weeds which form so much of the undergrowth in Japan, everything which grows in these forests rejoices the eye by its form or color; but things which hurt and sting and may kill, lurk amidst all the beauties. A creeping plant with very beautiful waxy leaves, said by Captain Murray to be vanilla, grows up many of the trees.
When we got up to the top of this, which the Resident calls “Plantation Hill,” I was well pleased to find that only the undergrowth had been cleared away, and that “The Sanitarium” consists only of a cabin with a single room divided into two, and elevated on posts like a Malay house. The deep veranda which surrounds it is reached by a stepladder. A smaller house could hardly be, or a more picturesque one, from the steepness and irregularity of its roof. The cook-house is a small attap shed, in a place cut into the hill, and an inclosure of attap screens with a barrel in it under the house is the bath-room. The edge of the hill, from which a few trees have been cleared, is so steep that but for a bamboo rail one might slip over upon the tree-tops below. Some Liberian coffee shrubs, some tea, cinchona, and ipecacuanha, and some heartless English cabbages, are being grown on the hillside, and the Resident hopes that the State will have a great future of coffee.
The view in all directions was beautiful — to the north a sea of densely wooded mountains with indigo shadows in their hollows; to the south the country we had threaded on the Linggi river, forests, and small tapioca clearings, little valleys where rice is growing, and scars where tin- mining is going on; the capital, the little town of Serambang with its larger clearings, and to the west the gleam of the shining sea. In the absence of mosquitoes we were able to sit out till after dark, a rare luxury. There was a gorgeous sunset of the gory, furnace kind, which one only sees in the tropics — waves of violet light rolling up over the mainland, and the low Sumatran coast looking like a purple cloud amidst the fiery haze.
Dinner was well cooked, and served with coffee after it, just as at home. The primitive bath-room was made usable by our eleven servants and chair-bearers being sent to the hill, where the two gentlemen mounted guard over them. After dark the Chinamen made the largest bonfire I ever saw, or at all events the most brilliant, with trunks of trees and pieces of gum dammar, several pounds in weight, which they obtained by digging, and this was kept up till daylight, throwing its splendid glare over the whole hill-top, lighting up the forest, and bringing the cabin out in all its picturesqueness.
I should have liked to be there some time to study the ways of a tribe of ants. Near the cabin, under a large tree, there was an ant-dwelling, not exactly to be called an ant-hill, but a subterranean ant-town, with two entrances. Into this an army of many thousand largish ants, in an even column three and a half inches wide, marched continually, in well “dressed” ranks, about twenty-seven in each, with the regularity of a crack regiment on the “march past,” over all sorts of inequalities, rough ground, and imbedded trunks of small trees, larger ants looking like officers marching on both sides of the column, and sometimes turning back as if to give orders. Would that Sir John Lubbock had been there to interpret their speech!
Each ant of the column bore a yellowish burden, not too large to interfere with his activity. A column marshaled in the same fashion, but only half the width of the other, emerged equally continuously from the lower entrance. From the smaller size of this column I suppose that a number of the carrier ants remain within, stowing away their burdens in store-houses. Attending this latter column for eighteen paces, I came upon a marvelous scene of orderly activity. A stump of a tree, from which the outer bark had been removed, leaving an under layer apparently permeated with a rich, sweet secretion, was completely covered with ants, which were removing the latter in minute portions. Strange to say, however, a quantity of reddish ants of much larger size and with large mandibles seemed to do the whole work of stripping off this layer. They were working from above, and had already bared some inches of the stump, which was four feet six inches in diameter. As the small morsels fell among the myriads of ants which swarmed round the base they were broken up, three or four ants sometimes working at one bit till they had reduced it into manageable portions. It was a splendid sight to see this vast and busy crowd inspired by a common purpose, and with the true instinct of discipline, forever forming into column at the foot of the stump.
Toward dusk the reddish ants, which may be termed quarriers, gave up work, and this was the signal for the workers below to return home. The quarriers came down the stump pushing the laborers, rather rudely as I thought, out of their way; and then forming in what might be called “light skirmishing order,” they marched to the lower entrance of the town, meeting as they went the column of workers going up to the stump. They met it of course at once, and a minute of great helter-skelter followed, this column falling back on itself as if assailed, in great confusion. If this be the ordinary day’s routine, why does that column fall into confusion, and why, after throwing it into disorder, do the reddish ants close their ranks and march into the town in compact order, parallel with the working column going the other way, and which they seemed to terrorize? Is it possible that the smaller ants are only slaves of the larger? Inscrutable are the ways of ants! However, when the advancing column had recovered from its confusion it formed up, and, wheeling round in most regular order, fell behind the rear-guard of the working column, and before dark not an ant remained outside except a dead body.
Soon after the last of its living comrades had disappeared, six ants, with a red one (dare I say?) “in command,” came out and seemed to hold a somewhat fussy consultation round the corpse which had fallen on the line of march to the stump. After a minute or two, three of them got hold of it, and with the other four as spectators or mourners, they dragged it for about six feet and concealed it under a leaf, after which they returned home; all this was most fascinating. A little later Captain Murray destroyed both entrances to the town, but before daylight, by dint of extraordinary labor, they were reconstructed lower down the slope, and the work at the stump was going on as if nothing so unprecedented had happened.
I should have liked also to study the ways of the white ant, the great timber-destroying pest of this country, which abounds on this hill. He is a large ant of a pale buff color. Up the trunk of a tree he builds a tunnel of sand, held together by a viscid secretion, and under this he works, cutting a deep groove in the wood, and always extending the tunnel upward. I broke away two inches of such a tunnel in the afternoon, and by the next morning it was restored. Among many other varieties of ants, there is one found by the natives, which people call the “soldier ant.” I saw many of these big fellows, more than an inch long, with great mandibles. Their works must be on a gigantic scale, and their bite or grip very painful; but being with a party, I was not able to make their acquaintance.
When it grew dark, tiny lamps began to move in all directions. Some came from on high, like falling stars, but most moved among the trees a few feet from the ground with a slow undulatory motion, the fire having a pale blue tinge, as one imagines an incandescent sapphire might have. The great tree-crickets kept up for a time the most ludicrous sound I ever heard — one sitting in a tree and calling to another. From the deafening noise, which at times drowned our voices, one would suppose the creature making it to be at least as large as an eagle.
The accommodation of the “Sanitarium” is most limited. The two gentlemen, well armed, slept in the veranda, the Misses Shaw in camp beds in the inner cabin, and I in a swinging cot in the outer, the table being removed to make room for it. The bull-dog mounted guard over all, and showed his vigilance by an occasional growl. The eleven attendants stowed themselves away under the cabin, except a garrulous couple, who kept the fire blazing till daylight. My cot was most comfortable, but I failed to sleep. The forest was full of quaint, busy noises, broken in upon occasionally by the hoot of the “spectre bird,” and the long, low, plaintive cry of some animal.
All the white residents in the Malacca Settlements have been greatly excited about a tragedy which has just occurred at the Dindings, off this coast, in which Mr. Lloyd, the British superintendent, was horribly murdered by the Chinese; his wife, and Mrs. Innes, who was on a visit to her, narrowly escaping the same fate. Lying awake I could not help thinking of this, and of the ease with which the Resident could be overpowered and murdered by any of our followers who might have a grudge against him, when, as I thought, the door behind my head from the back ladder was burst open, and my cot and I came down on the floor at the head, the simple fact being, that the head-rope, not having been properly secured, gave way with a run. An hour afterward the foot-ropes gave way, and I was deposited on the floor altogether, and was soon covered with small ants.
Early in the morning the apes began to call to each other with a plaintive “Hoo-houey,” and in the gray dawn I saw an iguana fully four feet long glide silently down the trunk of a tree, the branches of which were loaded with epiphytes. Captain Shaw asked the imaum of one of the mosques of Malacca about alligator’s eggs a few days ago, and his reply was, that the young that went down to the sea became alligators, and those which came up the rivers became iguanas. At daylight, after coffee and bananas, we left the hill, and after an accident, promptly remedied by Mr. Hayward, reached Serambang when the sun was high in the heavens. I should think that there are very few circumstances which Mr. Hayward is not prepared to meet. He has a reserve of quiet strength which I should like to see fully drawn upon. He has the scar of a spear wound on his brow, which Captain Murray says was received in holding sixty armed men at bay, while he secured the retreat of some helpless persons. Yet he continues to be much burdened by his responsibility for these fair girls, who, however, are enjoying themselves thoroughly, and will be none the worse.
We had scarcely returned when a large company of Chinamen, carrying bannerets and joss-sticks, came to the Residency to give a spectacle or miracle-play, the first part consisting of a representation of a huge dragon, which kicked, and jumped, and crawled, and bellowed in a manner totally unworthy of that ancient and splendid myth; and the second, of a fierce melee, or succession of combats with spears, shields, and battle-axes. The performances were accompanied by much drumming, and by the beating of tom-toms, an essentially infernal noise, which I cannot help associating with the orgies of devil-worship. The “Capitan China,” in a beautiful costume, sat with us in the veranda to see the performance.
I have written a great deal about the Chinese and very little about the Malays, the nominal possessors of the country, but the Chinese may be said to be everywhere, and the Malays nowhere. You have to look for them if you want to see them. Besides, the Chinese are as ten to two of the whole population. Still the laws are administered in the name of the Datu Klana, the Malay ruler. The land owned by Malays is being measured, and printed title-deeds are being given, a payment of 2s. an acre per annum being levied instead of any taxes on produce. Export duties are levied on certain articles, but the navigation of the rivers is free. Debt slavery, one curse of the Malay States, has been abolished by the energy of Captain Murray with the cordial co-operation of the Datu Klana, and now the whole population have the status and rights of free men. It is a great pity that this Prince is in Malacca, for he is said to be a very enlightened ruler. The photograph which I inclose (from which the engraving is taken) is of the marriage of his daughter, a very splendid affair. The buffalo in front was a marriage present from the Straits Government, and its covering was of cloth of gold thick with pearls and precious stones.
We visited yesterday a Malay kampong called Mambu, in order to pay an unceremonious visit to the Datu Bandar, the Rajah second in rank to the reigning prince. His house, with three others, a godown on very high stilts, and a mound of graves whitened by the petals of the Frangipani, with a great many cocoa-nut and other trees, was surrounded, as Malay dwellings often are, by a high fence, within which was another inclosing a neat, sanded level, under cocoa-palms, on which his “private residence” and those of his wives stand. His secretary, a nice-looking lad in red turban, baju, and sarong, came out to meet us, followed by the Datu Bandar, a pleasant, able-looking man, with a cordial manner, who shook hands and welcomed us. No notice had been given of our visit, and the Rajah, who is reclaiming and bringing into good cultivation much of his land, and who sets the example of working with his own hands, was in a checked shirt, and a common, checked, red sarong. Vulgarity is surely a disease of the West alone, though, as in Japan, one sees that it can be contagious, and this Oriental, far from apologizing for his dishabille, led us up the steep and difficult ladder by which his house is entered with as much courteous ease as if he had been in his splendors.
I thoroughly liked his house. It is both fitting and tasteful. We stepped from the ladder into a long corridor, well-matted, which led to a doorway with a gold-embroidered silk or valance, and a looped-up portiere of white-flowered silk or crepe. This was the entrance to a small room very well proportioned, with two similar doorways, curtained with flowered silk, one leading to a room which we did not see, and the other to a bamboo gridiron platform, which in the better class of Malay houses always leads to a smaller house at the back, where cooking and other domestic operations are carried on, and which seems given up to the women. There was a rich, dim light in the room, which was cool and wainscoted entirely with dark red wood, and there was only one long, low window, with turned bars of the same wood. There were three handsome cabinets with hangings of gold and crimson embroidery, and an ebony frame containing a verse of the Koran in Arabic characters hung over one doorway. In accordance with Mohammedan prohibitions, there was no decoration which bore the likeness of any created thing, but there were some artistic arabesques under the roof. The furniture, besides the cabinets, consisted of a divan, several ebony chairs, a round table covered with a cool yellow cloth, and a table against the wall draped with crimson silk flowered with gold. The floor was covered with fine matting, over which were Oudh rugs in those mixtures of toned-down rich colors which are so very beautiful. Richness and harmony characterized the room, and it was distinctively Malay; one could not say that it reminded one of anything except of the flecked and colored light which streams through dark, old, stained glass.
The Datu Bandar’s brother and uncle came in, the first a very handsome Hadji, with a bright, intelligent countenance. He has lived in Mecca for eight years studying the Koran under a renowned teacher, and in this quest of Mussulman learning has spent several thousand dollars. “We never go to Mecca to trade,” he said; “we go for religious purposes only.” These men looked superb in their red dresses and turbans, although the Malays are anything but a handsome race. Their hospitality was very graceful. Many of the wealthier Mohammedans, though they don’t drink wine, keep it for their Christian guests, and they offered us champagne, which is supposed to be an irresistible temptation to the Christian palate. On our refusing it they brought us cow’s milk and most delicious coffee with a very fragrant aroma, and not darker in color than tea of an average strength. This was made from roasted coffee leaves. The berries are exported. A good many pretty, quiet children stood about, but though the Rajah gave us to understand that they were the offspring of three mothers, we were not supposed to see any of “the mean ones within the gates.”
Our hosts had a good deal to say, and did not leave us to entertain them, though we are but “infidel dogs.” That we are regarded as such, along with all other unbelievers, always makes me feel shy with Mohammedans. Some time ago, when Captain Shaw pressed on the Malays the impropriety of shooting Chinamen, as they were then in the habit of doing, the reply of one of them was, “Why not shoot Chinamen? they’ve no religion;” and though it would be highly discourteous in members of a ruled race to utter this sentiment regarding their rulers, I have not the least doubt that it is their profound conviction concerning ourselves.
Nothing shows more the honesty and excellence of Captain Murray’s purposes than that he should be as much respected and loved as he is in spite of a manner utterly opposed to all Oriental notions of dignity, whether Malay or Chinese. I have mentioned his abruptness, as well as his sailor-like heartiness, but they never came into such strong relief as at the Datu Bandar’s, against the solemn and dignified courtesy of our hosts.
We returned after dark, had turtle-soup and turtle-steak, not near so good as veal, which it much resembles, for dinner; sang “Auld Lang Syne,” which brought tears into the Resident’s kindly eyes, and are now ready for an early start to-morrow.
Stadthaus, Malacca. — We left Serambang before daylight on Thursday in buggies, escorted by Captain Murray, the buggies, as usual, being lent by the Chinese “Capitans.” Horses had been sent on before, and after changing them we drove the second stage through most magnificent forest, until they could no longer drag the buggies through the mud, at which point of discomfiture three saddled ponies and two chairs were waiting to take us through the jungle to the river. We rode along an infamous track, much of it knee-deep in mud, through a green and silent twilight, till we emerged upon something like English park and fox-cover scenery, varied by Malay kampongs under groves of palms. In the full blaze of noon we reached the Linggi police station, from which we had started in the sampan, and were received by a company of police with fixed bayonets. We dined in the police station veranda, and as the launch had been obliged to drop down the river because the water was falling, we went to Sempang in a native boat, paddled by four Malays with paddles like oval-ended spades with spade handles, a guard of honor of policemen going down with us. There we took leave of our most kind and worthy host, who, with tears in his kind eyes, immediately turned up the river to dwell alone in his bungalow with his bull-dog, his revolver, and his rifle, a self-exiled man.*
[*In 1881, Captain Murray, feeling ill after prolonged exposure to the sun, went to Malacca, where he died a few days afterward at the house of his friend Mr. Hayward. Sir F. A. Weld writes of him in a dispatch to Lord Kimberley:— “I cannot close this notice of the State of Sungei Ujong without recalling the memory of Captain Murray, so lately its Resident, to whom it owes much, and who was devoted to its people and interests. A man of great honesty of purpose and kindliness of heart, Captain Murray possessed many of those qualities which are required for the successful administration of a Malay State, and though he labored under the disadvantage of want of knowledge of the native tongue, he yet was able to attach to himself, in a singular manner, the affections of all around him. For the last six years, Captain Murray has successfully advised in the administration of the Government of Sungei Ujong, consolidating order and good government, and doing much to open out the country and develop its resources. His name will ever be associated with its prosperity, and his memory be long fresh in the hearts of its inhabitants.”]
After it grew dark we had the splendid sight of a great tract of forest on fire close to the sea. We landed here at a pier eight hundred feet long, accessible to launches at high water, where several peons and two inspectors of police met us. Our expedition has been the talk of the little foreign world of Malacca. We had an enthusiastic welcome at Government House, but Captain Shaw says he will never forgive himself for not writing to Captain Murray in time to arrange our transport, and for sending us off so hurriedly with so little food, but I hope by reiteration to convince him that thereby we gained the night on the Linggi river, which, as a traveling experience, is worth all the rest.
I. L. B.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48