A Pleasant Canter — A Morning Hymn — The Pass of Bukit Berapit — The “Wearing World” Again! — A Bad Spirit — Malay Demonology — “Running Amuck” — An Amok–Runner’s Career — The Supposed Origin of Amok — Jungle Openings in Perak — Debt–Slavery — The Fate of Three Runaway Slaves — Moslem Prayers — “Living Like Leeches” — Malay Proverbs — A “Ten–Thousand-Man Umbrella”
BRITISH RESIDENCY, TAIPENG, February 21.
I am once again on this breezy hill, watching the purple cloud-shadows sail over the level expanse of tree-tops and mangroves, having accomplished in about four hours the journey, which took nearly twelve in going up. The sun was not up when I left the bungalow at Kwala Kangsa this morning. I rode a capital pony, on Mr. Low’s English saddle, a Malay orderly on horseback escorting me, and the royal elephant carried my luggage. It was absurd to see this huge beast lie down merely to receive my little valise and canvas roll, with a small accumulation of Malacca canes, mats, krises, tigers’ teeth and claws, and an elephant’s tusk, the whole not weighing 100 lbs.
Mr. Low was already at his work, writing and nursing Eblis at the same time, the wild ape sitting on a beam looking on. I left, wishing I were coming instead of going, and had a delightful ride of eighteen miles. The little horse walked very fast and cantered easily. How peaceful Perak is now, to allow of a lady riding so far through the jungle with only an unarmed Malay attendant! Major M’Nair writes: “The ordinary native is a simple, courteous being, who joins with an intense love of liberty a great affection for his simple home and its belongings,” and I quite believe him. Stories of amok running, “piracies,” treachery, revenge, poisoned krises, and assassinations, have been made very much of, and any crime or slight disturbance in the native States throws the Settlements into a panic. It must have been under the influence of one of these that such a large sea and land force was sent to Perak three years ago. Crime in the Malay districts in these States is so rare, that were it not for the Chinese, a few policemen would be all the force that would be needed. The “village system,” the old Malay system with its head man and village officials, though formerly abused, seems under the new regime to work well, and by it the Malays have been long accustomed to a species of self-government, and to the maintenance of law and order. I notice that all the European officials who speak their language and act righteously toward them like them very much, and this says much in their favor.
I met with no adventures on the journey. I had a delightful canter of several miles before the sun was above the tree-tops, the morning mists, rose-flushed, rolled grandly away, and just as I reached the beautiful pass of Bukit Berapit, the apes were hooting their morning hymn, and the forests rang with the joyous trills and songs of birds. “All Thy works praise Thee, O Lord!”
There were gorgeous butterflies. Among them I noticed one with the upper part of its body and the upper side of its wings of jet black velvet, and the lower half of its body and the under side of its wings of peacock-blue velvet, spotted; another of the same “make,” but with gold instead of blue, and a third with the upper part of the body and wings of black velvet with cerise spots, the lower part of the body cerise, and the under side of the wings white with cerise spots. All these measured fully five inches across their expanded wings. In one opening only I counted thirty-seven varieties of these brilliant creatures, not in hundreds but in thousands, mixed up with blue and crimson dragon-flies and iridescent flies, all joyous in the sunshine.
The loud-tongued stream of crystal water was very full, and through the deep greenery, and among the great, gray, granite boulders, it flung its broad drifts of foam, rejoicing in its strength; and every green thing leaned lovingly toward it or stooped to touch it, and all exquisite things which love damp, all tender mosses and selaginellas, all shade-loving ferns and aroids, flourish round it in perennial beauty; while high above, in the sunshine, amid birds and butterflies, the graceful areca palm struggles with the feathery bamboo for precarious root-hold on rocky ledges, and spikes of rose-crimson blossoms, and dark green fronds of bananas, and all the leafy wealth born of moisture and sunshine, cling about it tenderly. And lower down the great forest trees arch over it, and the sunbeams trickle through them, and dance in many a quiet pool, turning the far-down sands to gold, brightening majestic tree-ferns, and shining on the fragile polypodium tamariscinum which clings tremblingly to the branches of the graceful waringhan, on a beautiful lygodium which adorns the uncouth trunk of an artocarpus, on glossy ginger-worts and trailing yams, on climbers and epiphytes, and on gigantic lianas which, climbing to the tops of the tallest trees, descend in vast festoons, many of them with orange and scarlet flowers and fruitage, passing from tree to tree, and interlacing the forest with a living network, while selaginellas and lindsayas, and film ferns, and trichomanes radicans drape the rocks in feathery green, along with mosses scarcely distinguishable from ferns. Little rivulets flash out in foam among the dark foliage, and mingle their musical warble with the deep bass of the torrent, and there are twilight depths of leafy shade into which the sunshine never penetrates, damp and cool, in which the music of the water is all too sweet, and the loveliness too entrancing, creating that sadness hardly “akin to pain” which is latent in all intense enjoyment.
Gunong Pondok, the limestone butte, twelve hundred feet in nearly perpendicular height, showed all its brilliancy of color, and Gunong Bubu, one of the highest mountains in Perak, reared his granite crest above the forest. The lotus lake at Bukit Gantang was infinitely more beautiful than under the grayer sky of Friday; a thousand rosy vases were drinking in the sunshine, and ten thousand classic leaves were spreading their blue-green shields below them; all nature smiled and sang. I was loath to exchange my good horse for a gharrie, with a Kling driver draped slightly in Turkey-red cotton sitting on the shafts, who, statuesque as he was, had a far less human expression than Mahmoud and Eblis. In the noonday the indigo-colored Hijan hills, with their swollen waterfall coming down in a sheet of foam, looked cool, but as we dashed through Taipeng I felt overpowered once more by what seems the “wearing world,” after beautiful, silent Kwala Kangsa, for there are large shops with gaudy sign-boards, stalls in the streets, tribal halls, buffalo-carts with buffaloes yoked singly, for the spread of their huge horns is so great that they cannot be yoked in pairs; trains of carts with cinnamon-colored, humped bullocks yoked in pairs standing at shop doors, gharries with fiery Sumatra ponies dashing about, crowds of Chinese coolies, busy and half-naked, filling the air with the din of their ceaseless industry, and all the epitomized stir of a world which toils, and strives, and thirsts for gain.
But I must give these coolies their due, for in some ways they show more self-respect than the ordinary English laborer, inasmuch as in bad times they don’t become chargeable to anyone, and when the price of the commodity which they produce falls, as that of tin has done, instead of “striking” and abusing everybody all round, they accept the situation, keep quiet, live more frugally, and work for lower wages till things mend. But I don’t intend to hold up the Taipeng Chinese as patterns of the virtues in other respects, for they are not. They are turbulent; and crime, growing chiefly out of their passion for gain, is very rife among them. The first thing I heard on arriving here was that a Chinese gang had waylaid a revenue officer in one of the narrow creeks, and that his hacked and mutilated body had drifted down to Permatang this morning.
Mr. Maxwell tells me that, as he returned from escorting me to Bukit Gantang, he overtook a gharrie with a Malay woman in it, and dismounting joined her husband who was walking, but did not speak to the woman. to-day the man told him that his wife woke the following night with a scream which was succeeded by a trance; and that, knowing that a devil had entered into her, he sent for a pawan (a wise man or sorcerer), who on arriving asked questions of the bad spirit, who answered with the woman’s tongue. “How did you come?” “With the tuan,” i.e., Mr. Maxwell. “How did you come with him?” “On the tail of his gray horse.” “Where from?” “Changat–Jering.” The husband said that these Changat–Jering devils were very bad ones. The pawan then exorcised the devil, and burned strong-smelling drugs under the woman’s nose, after which he came out of her, and she fell asleep, the “wise man” receiving a fee.
I never heard of any country of such universal belief in devils, familiars, omens, ghosts, sorceries, and witchcrafts. The Malays have many queer notions about tigers, and usually only speak of them in whispers, because they think that certain souls of human beings who have departed this life have taken up their abode in these beasts, and in some places, for this reason, they will not kill a tiger unless he commits some specially bad aggression. They also believe that some men are tigers by night and men by day!
The pelisit, the bad spirit which rode on the tail of Mr. Maxwell’s horse, is supposed to be the ghost of a woman who has died in childbirth. In the form of a large bird uttering a harsh cry, it is believed to haunt forests and burial-grounds and to afflict children. The Malays have a bottle-imp, the polong, which will take no other sustenance than the blood of its owner, but it rewards him by aiding him in carrying out revengeful purposes. The harmless owl has strange superstitions attaching to it, and is called the “specter bird;” you may remember that the fear of encountering it was one of the reasons why the Permatang Pasir men would not go with us through the jungle to Rassa.
A vile fiend called the penangalan takes possession of the forms of women, turns them into witches, and compels them to quit the greater part of their bodies, and flyaway by night to gratify a vampire craving for human blood. This is very like one of the ghoul stories in the Arabian Nights Entertainments. Then they have a specter huntsman with demon dogs who roams the forests, and a storm fiend who rides the whirlwind, and spirits borrowed from Persia and Arabia. It almost seems as if the severe monotheism to which they have been converted compels them to create a gigantic demonology.
They have also many odd but harmless superstitions: For instance, that certain people have the power of making themselves invulnerable by the agency of spirits; that the regalia of the States are possessed of supernatural powers; that the wearing of a tiger claw prevents disease; that rude “Aeolian harps” hung up in trees will keep the forest goblins from being troublesome; that charms and amulets worn or placed about a house ward off many evils; that at dangerous rapids, such as those of Jerom Pangong on the Perak river, the spirits must be propitiated by offerings of betel-nut and bananas; that to insure good luck a betel- chewer must invariably spit to the left; that it is unlucky either to repair or pull down a house; that spirits can be propitiated and diseases can be kept away by hanging up palm leaves and cages in the neighborhood of kampongs, and many others. They also believe as firmly as the Chinese do in auspicious and inauspicious days, spells, magic, and a species of astrology. I hope that Mr. Maxwell will publish his investigations into these subjects.
“Running amuck” (amok) is supposed by some to be the result of “possession;” but now, at least, it is comparatively uncommon in these States. A Malay is on some points excessively sensitive regarding his honor, and to wipe out a stain upon it by assassinating the offender is considered as correct and in accordance with etiquette as dueling formerly was in our own country. In cases, however, in which the offender is of higher rank than the injured man, the latter in despair sometimes resorts to opium, and, rushing forth in a frenzy, slays all he can lay hands upon. This indiscriminate slaying is the amok proper. In certain cases, such as those arising out of jealousy, the desire for vengeance gains absolute possession of a Malay. Mr. Newbold says that he has seen letters regarding insults in which the writers say, “I ardently long for his blood to clean my face,” or “I ardently long for his blood to wash out the pollution of the hog’s flesh with which he has smeared me!”
Considering how punctilious and courteous the Malays are, how rough many of the best of us are, how brutal in manner many of us are, and how inconsiderate our sailors are of the customs of foreign peoples, especially in regard to the seclusion of their women, it is wonderful that bloody revenge is not more common than it is.
“Amok” means a furious and reckless onset. When Mr. Birch was murdered, the cry “amok! amok!” was raised, and the passion of murder seized on all present. Only about a year ago one of the sons of the Rajah Muda Yusuf, a youth of twenty, was suddenly seized with this monomania, drew his kris, and rushing at people killed six, wounded two, and then escaped into the jungle. Major M’Nair says that a Malay, in speaking of amok, says: “My eyes got dark, and I ran on.”
In Malacca Captain Shaw told me that “running amuck” was formerly very common, and that on an expedition he made, one of his own attendants was suddenly seized with the “amok” frenzy. He mentioned that he had known of as many as forty people being injured by a single “amok” runner. When the cry “amok! amok!” is raised, people fly to the right and left for shelter, for after the blinded madman’s kris has once “drank blood,” his fury becomes ungovernable, his sole desire is to kill; he strikes here and there; men fall along his course; he stabs fugitives in the back, his kris drips blood, he rushes on yet more wildly, blood and murder in his course; there are shrieks and groans, his bloodshot eyes start from their sockets, his frenzy gives him unnatural strength; then all of a sudden he drops, shot through the heart, or from sudden exhaustion, clutching his bloody kris even in the act of rendering up his life.
As his desire is to kill everybody, so, as he rushes on, everybody’s desire is to kill him, and gashed from behind or wounded by shots, his course is often red with his own blood. Under English rule the great object of the police is to take the “amok” runner alive, and have him tried like an ordinary criminal for murder; and if he can be brought to bay, as he sometimes is, they succeed in pinning him to the wall by means of such a stout two-pronged fork as I saw kept for the purpose in Malacca. Usually, however the fate of the “amok” runner is a violent death, and men feel no more scruple about killing him in his frenzy than they would about killing a man-eating tiger. I hear that this form of frenzy affects the Malays of all the islands of the Archipelago. Some people attribute it to the excessive use of opium by unprepared constitutions, and others to monomania arising from an unusual form of digestive disturbance; but from it being peculiar to Malays, I rather incline to Major M’Nair’s view: “There can be no doubt that the amok had its origin in the deed of some desperate Malay, that tradition handed it down to his highly-sensitive successors, and the example was followed and continues to be followed as the right thing to do by those who are excited to frenzy by apprehension, or by some injury that they regard as deadly, and only to be washed out in blood.”
I have been interrupted by a visit from two disconsolate-looking Ceylon planters, who have come “prospecting” for coffee. An enterprising son of an Edinburgh “Bailie” has been trying coffee-planting beyond the Perak, but he has got into difficulties with his laborers, and is “getting out of it.” This difficulty about labor will possibly have to be solved by the introduction of coolies from India, for the Malays won’t work except for themselves; and the Chinese not only prefer the excitement of mining, and the evening hubbub of the mining towns, but in lonely places they are not always very manageable by people unused to them.
Even for clearing the jungle foreign labor must be employed. Perak is a healthy and splendid State, and while the low grounds are suited for sugar, tapioca, and tobacco, the slopes of the hills will produce coffee, cinchona, vanilla, tea, cloves, and nutmegs. It is a land of promise, but at present of promise only! I understand that to start a plantation a capital of from 2,500 pounds to 3,500 pounds would be required. Jungle is cleared at the rate of 25s. per acre. The wages of Javanese coolies are 1s. a day, and a hut which will hold fifty of them can be put up for 5 pounds. Land can be had for three years free of charge. It is then granted in perpetuity for a dollar an acre, and there is a tax of 2–1/2 per cent. on exported produce. These arrangements are not regarded as altogether satisfactory, and will probably be improved upon. Tell some of our friends who have sons with practical good sense, but more muscle than brains, that there are openings in the jungles of Perak! Good sense, perseverance, steadiness, and a degree of knowledge of planting, are, however, preliminary requisites.
The two “prospectors” look as if they had heard couleur de rose reports, and had not “struck ile.” Possibly they expected to find hotels and macadamized roads. Roads must precede planting, I think, unless there are available lands near the rivers.
I have mentioned slavery and debt-slavery more than once. The latter is a great curse in Perak, and being a part of “Malay custom” which our treaties bind us to respect, it is very difficult to deal with. In the little States of Sungei Ujong and Selangor, with their handful of Malays, it has been abolished with comparative ease. In Perak, with its comparatively large Malay population, about four thousand are slaves, and the case seems full of complications.
Undoubtedly the existence of slavery has been one cause of the decay of the native States, and of the exodus of Malays into the British settlements. Some people palliate the system, and speak of it as “a mild form of domestic servitude;” but Mr. Birch, the late murdered Resident, wrote of it in these strong terms: “I believe that the system as practiced in Perak at the present time involves evils and cruelties which are unknown to any but those who have actually lived in these States.”
From the moment a man or woman becomes a debtor, he or she, if unable to pay, may be taken up by the creditor, and may be treated as a slave, being made to work in any way that the creditor chooses, the debtor’s earnings belonging to the creditor, who allows no credit toward the reduction of the debt. To make the hardship greater, if a relative or friend comes forward to pay the debt, the creditor has the right to refuse payment, and to keep his slave, whose only hope of bettering himself is in getting his owner to accept payment for him from a third party, so that he may become the slave of the person who has ransomed him.
But there are worse evils still, for in cases where a married man contracts a debt, his wife and existing children, those who may hereafter be born, and their descendants, pass into slavery; and all, male and female, are compelled as slaves to work for their master, who in very many cases compels the women and girls to live a life of degradation for his benefit, and even the wives of a creditor are well satisfied to receive the earnings of these poor creatures. If a debt be contracted by an unmarried man or woman, and he or she marry afterwards, the person so taken in marriage and all the offspring become slave debtors. The worst features of the system are seen where a Rajah is the creditor, for he is the last man to be willing to receive payment of a debt and free the debtor, for the number of his followers, even if they are but women and girls, increases his consequence, and debtors when once taken into a Rajah’s household are looked upon as being as much a part of his property as his cattle or elephants. Mr. Swettenham, the Assistant Colonial Secretary of the Straits Settlements, writes that “in Perak the cruelties exercised toward debtors are even exclaimed at by Malays in the other States.”* In Selangor, where it is said that slavery has been quietly abolished, only five years ago the second son of that quiet-looking Abdul Samat killed three slave debtors for no other reason than that he willed it; and when two girls and a boy, slave debtors of the Sultan’s, ran away, this same bloodthirsty son caught them, took the boy into a field, and had him krissed. His wife, saying she was going to bathe in the Langat river, told the two girls to follow her to a log which lay in the water a few yards from her house, where they were seized, and a boy follower of her husband took them successively by the hair and held their heads under the water with his foot till they were dead, when their corpses were left upon the slimy bank. The Sultan, to do him justice, was very angry when his son went to him and said, “I have thrown away those children who ran away.”
[*For Mr. Swettenham’s Report on Slavery in the Native States, see Appendix B.]
In Perak it has been the custom to hunt and capture the Jakun women and make them and their children slaves.
Instances of cruelty have greatly diminished since British influence has entered Perak, and I should think that Mr. Low will ere long mature a scheme for the emancipation of all persons held in bondage.* I heard of a curious case this morning. The aunt of a Malay policeman in Larut, passing near a village, met an acquaintance, and taking a stone from the roadside sat down upon it while she stopped to talk, and on getting up forgot to remove it. An hour later a village child tripped over the stone and slightly cut its forehead. The placing the stone in the pathway was traced to the woman, who was arrested and sentenced to pay a fine of $25, and being unable to pay it she and her children became slave-debtors to the father of the child which had been hurt. In this case, though Captain Speedy lent the policeman money wherewith to pay his aunt’s fine, the creditor repeatedly refused to receive it, preferring to exercise his prerogative of holding the family as his rightful slaves.
[*Such a scheme is now under consideration. See Appendix C.]
Slavery and polygamy, the usual accompaniments of Islamism, go far to account for the decay of these States.
I wish it were possible to know to what extent the Malays are a “religious” people as Moslems. That they are bigots and have successfully resisted all attempts to convert them to Christianity there is no doubt, as well as that they are ignorant and grossly superstitious. Their prayers, so far as I can hear anything about them, consist mainly of reiterated confessions of belief in the Divine unity, and of simple appeals for mercy now and at the last day.
The pilgrimage to Mecca is made not only once, but twice and thrice by those who can afford it, and at much cost earthen jars containing water from the holy well of Zem-zem, the well said to have been shown to Hagar in the wilderness, are brought home by the pilgrims for themselves and their friends for use in the hour of death, when Eblis, the devil, is supposed to stand by offering a bowl of the purest water with which to tempt the soul to abjure its faith in the unity of God. One of the declarations most commonly used is, “There is no God but God alone, whose covenant is truth and whose servant is victorious. There is no God but God without a partner. His is the kingdom, to Him be praise, and He over all things is Almighty.” There is a grand ring of Old Testament truth about these words, though of a melancholy half truth only.
The men who make the Mecca pilgrimage are not regarded by the English who know them as a “holy lot”; in fact, they are said to lead idle lives, and to “live like leeches on the toil of their fellow-men,” inciting the people “to revolt or to make amok.” Doubtless it adds to a man’s consequence for life to be privileged to wear the Arab costume and to be styled Tuan hadji. Yet they may have been stirred to devotion and contrition at the time as they circled the Kaabeh reciting such special prayers as, “O God, I extend my hands to Thee, great is my longing towards Thee. Oh accept Thou my supplications, remove my hindrances, pity my humiliation, and mercifully grant me Thy pardon;” and “O my God, verily I take refuge with Thee from idolatry, and disobedience, and every hypocrisy, and from evil conversation, and evil thoughts concerning property, and children, and family;” or, “O God, I beg of Thee that faith which shall not fall away, and that certainty which shall not perish, and the good aid of Thy prophet Mohammed — may God bless and preserve him! O God, shade me with Thy shadow in that day when there is no shade but Thy shadow, and cause me to drink from the cup of Thy apostle Mohammed — may God bless him and preserve him! that pleasant draught after which is no thirst to all eternity. O Lord of honor and glory.”*
[*I have preferred to give, instead of the translation of these prayers which I obtained in Malacca, one introduced by Canon Tristram into a delightful paper on Mecca in the Sunday at Home for February, 1883.]
As I write, I look down upon Taipeng on “a people wholly given to idolatry.” This is emphatically “The dark Peninsula,” though both Protestants and Romanists have made attempts to win the Malays to Christianity. It may be that the relentless crusade waged by the Portuguese against Islamism has made the opposition to the Cross more sullen and bigoted than it would otherwise have been. Christian missionary effort is now chiefly among the Chinese, and by means of admirable girls’ schools in Singapore, Malacca, and Pinang.
In Taipeng five dialects of Chinese are spoken, and Chinamen constantly communicate with each other in Malay, because they can’t understand each other’s Chinese. They must spend large sums on opium, for the right to sell it has been let for 4,000 pounds a year!
Mr. Maxwell tells me that the Malay proverbs are remarkably numerous and interesting. To me the interest of them lies chiefly in their resemblance to the ideas gathered up in the proverbs of ourselves and the Japanese.*
[*Mr. Maxwell has since published a paper on Malay proverbs in the Transactions of the Straits branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. I have not been able to obtain it, but I understand that it contains a very copious and valuable collection of Malay proverbial philosophy.]
Thus, “Out of the frying-pan into the fire” is, “Freed from the mouth of the alligator to fall into the tiger’s jaws.” “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good,” is, “When the junk is wrecked the shark gets his fill.” “The creel tells the basket it is coarsely plaited” is equivalent to “The kettle calling the pot black.” “For dread of the ghost to clasp the corpse,” has a grim irony about it that I like.
Certain Scriptural proverbial phrases have their Malay counterparts. Thus, the impossibility of the Ethiopian changing his skin or the leopard his spots is represented by “Though you may feed a jungle-fowl off a gold plate, it will make for the jungle all the same.” “Casting pearls before swine” by “What is the use of the peacock strutting in the jungle?” “Can these stones become bread?” by “Can the earth become grain?” “Neither can salt water yield sweet,” by a very elaborate axiom, “You may plant the bitter cucumber in a bed of sago, manure it with honey, water it with molasses, and train it over sugar cane, but it will be the bitter cucumber still,” and “Clear water cannot be drawn from a muddy fountain.”
Some of their sayings are characteristic. In allusion to the sport of cock-fighting, a coward is called “a duck with spurs.” A treacherous person is said to “sit like a cat, but leap like a tiger;” and of a chatterer it is said, “The tortoise produces a myriad eggs and no one knows it; the hen lays one and tells the whole word.” “Grinding pepper for a bird on the wing” is regarded as equivalent to “First catch you hare before you cook it.” “To plant sugar-cane on the lips” is to be “All things to all men.” Fatalism is expressed by a saying, “Even the fish which inhabit the seventh depth of the sea sooner or later enter the net.” “Now it is wet, now it is fine,” is a common way of saying that a day of revenge is not far off. Secrecy is enjoined by the cynical axiom, “If you have rice, hide it under the unhusked grain.” “The last degree of stinginess is not to disturb the mildew,” is a neat axiom; and “The plantain does not bear fruit twice,” tells that the Malays have an inkling that “There is a tide in the affairs of men,” etc.
I have found it very interesting to be the guest of a man who studies the Malays as sympathetically as Mr. Maxwell does. I hope he will not get promotion too soon!*
[*As I copy this letter I hear that Mr. Maxwell has been removed to a higher and more highly paid post, but that he leaves the Malays with very sincere regret, and that they deeply deplore his loss, because they not only liked but trusted him. During the time in which he was Assistant Resident, and living in the midst of a large Chinese population, it was necessary to be very firm, and at times almost severely firm, but the Chinese have shown their appreciation of official rectitude by presenting him with a gorgeous umbrella of red silk, embroidered with gold, which they call “A ten-thousand-man umbrella,” i.e., an offering from a community which is not only unanimous in making it, but counts at least that number of persons.]
I. L. B.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48