The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 11

Lombock: Manners and Customs of the People.

HAVING made a very fine and interesting collection of the birds of Labuan Tring, I took leave of my kind host, Inchi Daud, and returned to Ampanam to await an opportunity to reach Macassar. As no vessel had arrived bound for that port, I determined to make an excursion into the interior of the island, accompanied by Mr. Ross, an Englishman born in the Keeling Islands, and now employed by the Dutch Government to settle the affairs of a missionary who had unfortunately become bankrupt here. Mr. Carter kindly lent me a horse, and Mr. Ross took his native groom.

Our route for some distance lay along a perfectly level country bearing ample crops of rice. The road was straight and generally bordered with lofty trees forming a due avenue. It was at first sandy, afterwards grassy, with occasional streams and mudholes. At a distance about four miles we reached Mataram, the capital of the island and the residence of the Rajah. It is a large village with wide streets bordered by a magnificent avenue of trees, and low houses concealed behind mud walls. Within this royal city no native of the lower orders is allowed to ride, and our attendant, a Javanese, was obliged to dismount and lead his horse while we rode slowly through. The abodes of the Rajah and of the High Priest are distinguished by pillars of red brick constructed with much taste; but the palace itself seemed to differ but little from the ordinary houses of the country. Beyond Mataram and close to it is Karangassam, the ancient residence of the native or Sassak Rajahs before the conquest of the island by the Balinese.

Soon after passing Mataram the country began gradually to rise in gentle undulations, swelling occasionally into low hills towards the two mountainous tracts in the northern and southern parts of the island. It was now that I first obtained an adequate idea of one of the most wonderful systems of cultivation in the world, equalling all that is related of Chinese industry, and as far as I know surpassing in the labour that has been bestowed upon it any tract of equal extent in the most civilized countries of Europe. I rode through this strange garden utterly amazed and hardly able to realize the fact that in this remote and little known island, from which all Europeans except a few traders at the port are jealously excluded, many hundreds of square miles of irregularly undulating country have been so skillfully terraced and levelled, and so permeated by artificial channels, that every portion of it can be irrigated and dried at pleasure. According as the slope of the ground is more or less rapid, each terraced plot consists in some places of many acres, in others of a few square yards. We saw them in every state of cultivation; some in stubble, some being ploughed, some with rice-crops in various stages of growth. Here were luxuriant patches of tobacco; there, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, yams, beans or Indian-corn varied the scene. In some places the ditches were dry, in others little streams crossed our road and were distributed over lands about to be sown or planted. The banks which bordered every terrace rose regularly in horizontal lines above each other; sometimes rounding an abrupt knoll and looking like a fortification, or sweeping around some deep hollow and forming on a gigantic scale the seats of an amphitheatre. Every brook and rivulet had been diverted from its bed, and instead of flowing along the lowest ground, were to be found crossing our road half-way up an ascent, yet bordered by ancient trees and moss-grown stones so as to have all the appearance of a natural channel, and bearing testimony to the remote period at which the work had been done. As we advanced further into the country, the scene was diversified by abrupt rocky bills, by steep ravines, and by clumps of bamboos and palm-trees near houses or villages; while in the distance the fine range of mountains of which Lombock Peak, eight thousand feet high, is the culminating point, formed a fit background to a view scarcely to be surpassed either in human interest or picturesque beauty.

Along the first part of our road we passed hundreds of women carrying rice, fruit, and vegetables to market; and further on, an almost uninterrupted line of horses laden with rice in bags or in the car, on their way to the port of Ampanam. At every few miles along the road, seated under shady trees or slight sheds, were sellers of sugar-cane, palm-wine, cooked rice, salted eggs, and fried plantains, with a few other native delicacies. At these stalls a hearty meal may be made for a penny, but we contented ourselves with drinking some sweet palm-wine, a most delicious beverage in the heat of the day. After having travelled about twenty miles we reached a higher and drier region, where, water being scarce, cultivation was confined to the little fiats bordering the streams. Here the country was as beautiful as before, but of a different character; consisting of undulating downs of short turf interspersed with fine clumps of trees and bushes, sometimes the woodland, sometimes the open ground predominating. We only passed through one small patch of true forest, where we were shaded by lofty trees, and saw around us a dark and dense vegetation, highly agreeable after the heat and glare of the open country.

At length, about an hour after noon, we reached our destination — the village of Coupang, situated nearly in the centre of the island — and entered the outer court of a house belonging to one of the chiefs with whom my friend Mr. Ross had a slight acquaintance. Here we were requested to seat ourselves under an open den with a raised floor of bamboo, a place used to receive visitors and hold audiences. Turning our horses to graze on the luxuriant glass of the courtyard, we waited until the great man’s Malay interpreter appeared, who inquired our business and informed us that the Pumbuckle (chief) was at the Rajah’s house, but would soon be back. As we had not yet breakfasted, we begged he would get us something to eat, which be promised to do as soon as possible. It was however about two hours before anything appeared, when a small tray was brought containing two saucers of rice, four small fried fish, and a few vegetables. Having made as good a breakfast as we could, we strolled about the village, and returning, amused ourselves by conversation with a number of men and boys who gathered around us; and by exchanging glances and smiles with a number of women and girls who peeped at us through half-opened doors and other crevices. Two little boys named Mousa and Isa (Moses and Jesus) were great friends with us, and an impudent little rascal called Kachang (a bean) made us all laugh by his mimicry and antics.

At length, about four o’clock, the Pumbuckle made his appearance, and we informed him of our desire to stay with him a few days, to shoot birds and see the country. At this he seemed somewhat disturbed, and asked if we had brought a letter from the Anak Agong (Son of Heaven) which is the title of the Rajah of Lombock. This we had not done, thinking it quite unnecessary; and he then abruptly told us that he must go and speak to his Rajah, to see if we could stay. Hours passed away, night came, and he did not return. I began to think we were suspected of some evil designs, for the Pumbuckle was evidently afraid of getting himself into trouble. He is a Sassak prince, and, though a supporter of the present Rajah, is related to some of the heads of a conspiracy which was quelled a few years since.

About five o’clock a pack-horse bearing my guns and clothes arrived, with my men Ali and Manuel, who had come on foot. The sun set, and it soon became dark, and we got rather hungry as we sat wearily under the shed and no one came. Still hour after hour we waited, until about nine o’clock, the Pumbuckle, the Rajah, some priests, and a number of their followers arrived and took their seats around us. We shook hands, and for some minutes there was a dead silence. Then the Rajah asked what we wanted; to which Mr. Ross replied by endeavouring to make them understand who we were, and why we had come, and that we had no sinister intentions whatever; and that we had not brought a letter from the “Anak Agong,” merely because we had thought it quite unnecessary. A long conversation in the Bali language then took place, and questions were asked about my guns, and what powder I had, and whether I used shot or bullets; also what the birds were for, and how I preserved them, and what was done with them in England. Each of my answers and explanations was followed by a low and serious conversation which we could not understand, but the purport of which we could guess. They were evidently quite puzzled, and did not believe a word we had told them. They then inquired if we were really English, and not Dutch; and although we strongly asserted our nationality, they did not seem to believe us.

After about an hour, however, they brought us some supper (which was the same as the breakfast, but without the fish), and after it some very weak coffee and pumpkins boiled with sugar. Having discussed this, a second conference took place; questions were again asked, and the answers again commented on. Between whiles lighter topics were discussed. My spectacles (concave glasses) were tried in succession by three or four old men, who could not make out why they could not see through them, and the fact no doubt was another item of suspicion against me. My beard, too, was the subject of some admiration, and many questions were asked about personal peculiarities which it is not the custom to allude to in European society. At length, about one in the morning, the whole party rose to depart, and, after conversing some time at the gate, all went away. We now begged the interpreter, who with a few boys and men remained about us, to show us a place to sleep in, at which he seemed very much surprised, saying he thought we were very well accommodated where we were. It was quite chilly, and we were very thinly clad and had brought no blankets, but all we could get after another hour’s talk was a native mat and pillow, and a few old curtains to hang round three sides of the open shed and protect us a little from the cold breeze. We passed the rest of the night very uncomfortably, and determined to return in the morning and not submit any longer to such shabby treatment.

We rose at daybreak, but it was near an hour before the interpreter made his appearance. We then asked to have some coffee and to see the Pumbuckle, as we wanted a horse for Ali, who was lame, and wished to bid him adieu. The man looked puzzled at such unheard — of demands and vanished into the inner court, locking the door behind him and leaving us again to our meditations. An hour passed and no one came, so I ordered the horses to be saddled and the pack-horse to be loaded, and prepared to start. Just then the interpreter came up on horse back, and looked aghast at our preparations. “Where is the Pumbuckle?” we asked. “Gone to the Rajah’s,” said he. “We are going,” said I. “Oh! pray don’t,” said he; “wait a little; they are having a consultation, and some priests are coming to see you, and a chief is going off to Mataram to ask the permission of the Anak Agong for you to stay.” This settled the matter. More talk, more delay, and another eight or ten hours’ consultation were not to be endured; so we started at once, the poor interpreter almost weeping at our obstinacy and hurry, and assuring us “the Pumbuckle would be very sorry, and the Rajah would be very sorry, and if we would but wait all would be right.” I gave Ali my horse, and started on foot, but he afterwards mounted behind Mr. Ross’s groom, and we got home very well, though rather hot and tired.

At Mataram we called at the house of Gusti Gadioca, one of the princes of Lombock, who was a friend of Mr. Carter’s, and who had promised to show me the guns made by native workmen. Two guns were exhibited, one six, the other seven feet long, and of a proportionably large bore. The barrels were twisted and well finished, though not so finely worked as ours. The stock was well made, and extended to the end of the barrel. Silver and gold ornament was inlaid over most of the surface, but the locks were taken from English muskets. The Gusti assured me, however, that the Rajah had a man who made locks and also rifled barrels. The workshop where these guns are made and the tools used were next shown us, and were very remarkable. An open shed with a couple of small mud forges were the chief objects visible. The bellows consisted of two bamboo cylinders, with pistons worked by hand. They move very easily, having a loose stuffing of feathers thickly set round the piston so as to act as a valve, and produce a regular blast. Both cylinders communicate with the same nozzle, one piston rising while the other falls. An oblong piece of iron on the ground was the anvil, and a small vice was fixed on the projecting root of a tree outside. These, with a few files and hammers, were literally the only tools with which an old man makes these fine guns, finishing then himself from the rough iron and wood.

I was anxious to know how they bored these long barrels, which seemed perfectly true and are said to shoot admirably; and, on asking the Gusti, received the enigmatical answer: “We use a basket full of stones.” Being utterly unable to imagine what he could mean, I asked if I could see how they did it, and one of the dozen little boys around us was sent to fetch the basket. He soon returned with this most extraordinary boring-machine, the mode of using which the Gusti then explained to me. It was simply a strong bamboo basket, through the bottom of which was stuck upright a pole about three feet long, kept in its place by a few sticks tied across the top with rattans.

The bottom of the pole has an iron ring, and a hole in which four-cornered borers of hardened iron can be fitted. The barrel to be bored is buried upright in the ground, the borer is inserted into it, the top of the stick or vertical shaft is held by a cross-piece of bamboo with a hole in it, and the basket is filled with stones to get the required weight. Two boys turn the bamboo round. The barrels are made in pieces of about eighteen inches long, which are first bored small, and then welded together upon a straight iron rod. The whole barrel is then worked with borers of gradually increasing size, and in three days the boring is finished. The whole matter was explained in such a straightforward manner that I have no doubt the process described to me was that actually used; although, when examining one of the handsome, well-finished, and serviceable guns, it was very hard to realize the fact that they had been made from first to last with tools hardly sufficient for an English blacksmith to make a horseshoe.

The day after we returned from our excursion, the Rajah came to Ampanam to a feast given by Gusti Gadioca, who resides there; and soon after his arrival we went to have an audience. We found him in a large courtyard sitting on a mat under a shady tree; and all his followers, to the number of three or four hundred, squatting on the ground in a large circle round him. He wore a sarong or Malay petticoat and a green jacket. He was a man about thirty-five years of age, and of a pleasing countenance, with some appearance of intellect combined with indecision. We bowed, and took our seats on the ground near some chiefs we were acquainted with, for while the Rajah sits no one can stand or sit higher. He just inquired who I was, and what I was doing in Lombock, and then requested to see some of my birds. I accordingly sent for one of my boxes of bird-skins and one of insects, which he examined carefully, and seemed much surprised that they could be so well preserved. We then had a little conversation about Europe and the Russian war, in which all natives take an interest. Having heard much of a country-seat of the Rajah’s called Gunong Sari, I took the opportunity to ask permission to visit it and shoot a few birds there which he immediately granted. I then thanked him, and we took our leave.

An hour after, his son came to visit Mr. Carter accompanied by about a hundred followers, who all sat on the ground while he came into the open shed where Manuel was skinning birds. After some time he went into the house, had a bed arranged to sleep a little, then drank some wine, and after an hour or two had dinner brought him from the Gusti’s house, which he ate with eight of the principal priests and princes, he pronounced a blessing over the rice and commenced eating first, after which the rest fell to. They rolled up balls of rice in their hands, dipped them in the gravy and swallowed them rapidly, with little pieces of meat and fowl cooked in a variety of ways. A boy fanned the young Rajah while eating. He was a youth of about fifteen, and had already three wives. All wore the kris, or Malay crooked dagger, on the beauty and value of which they greatly pride themselves. A companion of the Rajah’s had one with a golden handle, in which were set twenty-eight diamonds and several other jewels. He said it had cost him £700. The sheaths are of ornamental wood and ivory, often covered on one side with gold. The blades are beautifully veined with white metal worked into the iron, and they are kept very carefully. Every man without exception carries a kris, stuck behind into the large waist-cloth which all wear, and it is generally the most valuable piece of property he possesses.

A few days afterwards our long-talked-of excursion to Gunong Sari took place. Our party was increased by the captain and supercargo of a Hamburg ship loading with rice for China. We were mounted on a very miscellaneous lot of Lombock ponies, which we had some difficulty in supplying with the necessary saddles, etc.; and most of us had to patch up our girths, bridles, or stirrup-leathers as best we could. We passed through Mataram, where we were joined by our friend Gusti Gadioca, mounted on a handsome black horse, and riding as all the natives do, without saddle or stirrups, using only a handsome saddlecloth and very ornamental bridle.

About three miles further, along pleasant byways, brought us to the place. We entered through a rather handsome brick gateway supported by hideous Hindu deities in stone. Within was an enclosure with two square fish-ponds and some fine trees; then another gateway through which we entered into a park. On the right was a brick house, built somewhat in the Hindu style, and placed on a high terrace or platform; on the left a large fish-pond, supplied by a little rivulet which entered it out of the mouth of a gigantic crocodile well executed in brick and stone. The edges of the pond were bricked, and in the centre rose a fantastic and picturesque pavilion ornamented with grotesque statues. The pond was well stocked with fine fish, which come every morning to be fed at the sound of a wooden gong which is hung near for the purpose. On striking it a number of fish immediately came out of the masses of weed with which the pond abounds, and followed us along the margin expecting food. At the same time some deer came out of as adjacent wood, which, from being seldom shot at and regularly fed, are almost tame. The jungle and woods which surrounded the park appearing to abound in birds, I went to shoot a few, and was rewarded by getting several specimens of the fine new kingfisher, Halcyon fulgidus, and the curious and handsome ground thrush, Zoothera andromeda. The former belies its name by not frequenting water or feeding on fish. It lives constantly in low damp thickets picking up ground insects, centipedes, and small mollusca. Altogether I was much pleased with my visit to this place, and it gave me a higher opinion than I had before entertained of the taste of these people, although the style of the buildings and of the sculpture is very much inferior to those of the magnificent ruins in Java.

I must now say a few words about the character, manners, and customs of these interesting people.

The aborigines of Lombock are termed Sassaks. They are a Malay race hardly differing in appearance from the people of Malacca or Borneo. They are Mahometans and form the bulk of the population. The ruling classes, on the other hand, are natives of the adjacent island of Bali, and are of the Brahminical religion. The government is an absolute monarchy, but it seems to be conducted with more wisdom and moderation than is usual in Malay countries. The father of the present Rajah conquered the island, and the people seem now quite reconciled to their new rulers, who do not interfere with their religion, and probably do not tax them any heavier than did the native chiefs they have supplanted. The laws now in force in Lombock are very severe. Theft is punished by death. Mr. Carter informed me that a man once stole a metal coffee-pot from his house. He was caught, the pot restored, and the man brought to Mr. Carter to punish as he thought fit. All the natives recommended Mr. Carter to have him “krissed” on the spot; “for if you don’t,” said they, “he will rob you again.” Mr. Carter, however, let him off with a warning, that if he ever came inside his premises again he would certainly be shot. A few months afterwards the same man stole a horse from Mr. Carter. The horse was recovered, but the thief was not caught. It is an established rule, that anyone found in a house after dark, unless with the owner’s knowledge, may be stabbed, his body thrown out into the street or upon the beach, and no questions will be asked.

The men are exceedingly jealous and very strict with their wives. A married woman may not accept a cigar or a sirih leaf from a stranger under pain of death. I was informed that some years ago one of the English traders had a Balinese woman of good family living with him — the connection being considered quite honourable by the natives. During some festival this girl offended against the law by accepting a flower or some such trifle from another man. This was reported to the Rajah (to some of whose wives the girl was related), and he immediately sent to the Englishman’s house ordering him to give the woman up as she must be “krissed.” In vain he begged and prayed, and offered to pay any fine the Rajah might impose, and finally refused to give her up unless he was forced to do so. This the Rajah did not wish to resort to, as he no doubt thought he was acting as much for the Englishman’s honour as for his own; so he appeared to let the matter drop. But some time afterwards he sent one of his followers to the house, who beckoned the girl to the door, and then saying, “The Rajah sends you this,” stabbed her to the heart. More serious infidelity is punished still more cruelly, the woman and her paramour being tied back to back and thrown into the sea, where some large crocodiles are always on the watch to devour the bodies. One such execution took place while I was at Ampanam, but I took a long walk into the country to be out of the way until it was all over, thus missing the opportunity of having a horrible narrative to enliven my somewhat tedious story.

One morning, as we were sitting at breakfast, Mr. Carter’s servant informed us that there was an “Amok” in the village — in other words, that a man was “running a muck.” Orders were immediately given to shut and fasten the gates of our enclosure; but hearing nothing for some time, we went out, and found there had been a false alarm, owing to a slave having run away, declaring he would “amok,” because his master wanted to sell him. A short time before, a man had been killed at a gaming-table because, having lost half-a-dollar more than he possessed, he was going to “amok.” Another had killed or wounded seventeen people before he could be destroyed. In their wars a whole regiment of these people will sometimes agree to “amok,” and then rush on with such energetic desperation as to be very formidable to men not so excited as themselves. Among the ancients these would have been looked upon as heroes or demigods who sacrificed themselves for their country. Here it is simply said — they made “amok.”

Macassar is the most celebrated place in the East for “running a muck.” There are said to be one or two a month on the average, and five, ten, or twenty persons are sometimes killed or wounded at one of them. It is the national, and therefore the honourable, mode of committing suicide among the natives of Celebes, and is the fashionable way of escaping from their difficulties. A Roman fell upon his sword, a Japanese rips up his stomach, and an Englishman blows out his brains with a pistol. The Bugis mode has many advantages to one suicidically inclined. A man thinks himself wronged by society — he is in debt and cannot pay — he is taken for a slave or has gambled away his wife or child into slavery — he sees no way of recovering what he has lost, and becomes desperate. He will not put up with such cruel wrongs, but will be revenged on mankind and die like a hero. He grasps his kris-handle, and the next moment draws out the weapon and stabs a man to the heart. He runs on, with bloody kris in his hand, stabbing at everyone he meets. “Amok! Amok!” then resounds through the streets. Spears, krisses, knives and guns are brought out against him. He rushes madly forward, kills all he can — men, women, and children — and dies overwhelmed by numbers amid all the excitement of a battle. And what that excitement is those who have been in one best know, but all who have ever given way to violent passions, or even indulged in violent and exciting exercises, may form a very good idea. It is a delirious intoxication, a temporary madness that absorbs every thought and every energy. And can we wonder at the kris-bearing, untaught, brooding Malay preferring such a death, looked upon as almost honourable to the cold-blooded details of suicide, if he wishes to escape from overwhelming troubles, or the merciless of the hangman and the disgrace of a public execution, when he has taken the law into his own hands and too hastily revenged himself upon his enemy? In either case he chooses rather to “amok.”

The great staples of the trade of Lombock as well as of Bali are rice and coffee; the former grown on the plains, the latter on the hills. The rice is exported very largely to other islands of the Archipelago, to Singapore, and even to China, and there are generally one or more vessels loading in the port. It is brought into Ampanam on pack-horses, and almost everyday a string of these would come into Mr. Carter’s yard. The only money the natives will take for their rice is Chinese copper cash, twelve hundred of which go to a dollar. Every morning two large sacks of this money had to be counted out into convenient sums for payment. From Bali quantities of dried beef and ox-tongues are exported, and from Lombock a good many ducks and ponies. The ducks are a peculiar breed, which have very long flat bodies, and walk erect almost like penguins. They are generally of a pale reddish ash colour, and are kept in large flocks. They are very cheap and are largely consumed by the crews of the rice ships, by whom they are called Baly-soldiers, but are more generally known elsewhere as penguin-ducks.

My Portuguese bird-stuffer Fernandez now insisted on breaking his agreement and returning to Singapore; partly from homesickness, but more I believe from the idea that his life was not worth many months’ purchase among such bloodthirsty and uncivilized peoples. It was a considerable loss to me, as I had paid him full three times the usual wages for three months in advance, half of which was occupied in the voyage and the rest in a place where I could have done without him, owing to there being so few insects that I could devote my own time to shooting and skinning. A few days after Fernandez had left, a small schooner came in bound for Macassar, to which place I took a passage. As a fitting conclusion to my sketch of these interesting islands, I will narrate an anecdote which I heard of the present Rajah; and which, whether altogether true or not, well illustrates native character, and will serve as a means of introducing some details of the manners and customs of the country to which I have not yet alluded.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01