BORNEO is so near some of the Sulu Islands that a fast steamer could go from one place to the other in a few hours; but our vessel is small, and the journey from Sulu takes more than a day. The weather is fine, and the breeze tempers the hot rays of the sun. We pass “many islets covered with green, and see the American flag floating from places upon them. The water is smooth and so beautifully clear that when the ship stops at an island or so on the way, we hang over the rail and watch the fish swimming far down below us. The variety of sea life is such that it reminds us of the Fijis and the coral islands of the southern Pacific.
At last the mountains of Borneo come into view, a hazy blue line cutting the sky. They grow larger as we come nearer, and the shores, covered with cocoanut palms and other dense vegetation, are visible. Many fishing villages are now to be seen, built high upon piles like those of the Sulus. We wind in and out along the coast, and at last come to anchor in the beautiful harbor of Sandakan (san-da’kan), and land on Borneo, the third largest island of the world. It is larger than any country of Europe with the exception of Russia, and more than twice the size of the whole Philippine archipelago.
Borneo is so large that we can hope to see but a small part of it. Its coast line is as long as the distance from New York to Liverpool, and if we would sail round it, we should have to hire a ship of our own, for there are no regular steamers. There are no roads through the interior, and our information concerning it must come from a visit to the principal ports, and what we can learn from maps and the stories of travelers.
This vast country has great mountains, mighty plains, and numerous rivers. It is wild in the extreme, and much of it has not been trodden by civilized man. The mountains and lowlands are covered with jungle and forest, the trees being bound together with rattans and other ropelike vines which make it almost impossible to cut one’s way through. Many of the plains are flooded during the rainy season, and the rivers swarm with crocodiles.
Borneo is a land of wild animals, including elephants, rhinoceroses, boars, deer, and bears. It has a great variety of monkeys, some very small and others of enormous size, such as the orang-outang, a sort of man ape. This animal looks much like a human being, although it is covered with hair. When grown it is about four feet in height; it has long arms and short legs and is so strong that it often kills the men who attack it. The orang-outang lives in the trees, swinging itself from branch to branch by its hands. It rarely comes to the ground except for food or water, and is inoffensive if unmolested.
The island has snakes of the most deadly kind and great pythons, some of which are thirty or forty feet long. There are flying lizards of a golden green color, and lizards which climb up the walls of the houses catching flies. There are butterflies, some measuring six inches across the wings, and myriads of beetles of various kinds. The island is a world of natural wonders, as we shall see in our excursions out from the ports.
The people, however, are the strangest of all. The population is about two millions in number, almost all savages. There are many different tribes, but they are chiefly Indonesians, called Dyaks (di’aks). Those on the coast near Sandakan are much like the Moros, and they live the same way. Those of the interior are more savage than the wildest of our Filipinos, many of them practicing head-hunting and being by no means particular whose heads they take. They lie in wait for travelers and kill them if they can catch them alone or in small parties, in order to secure their heads as trophies. They dry the heads thus taken and hang them up in their huts. The man who has the largest number of human heads is thought to be the bravest, and among some tribes it is said one is not esteemed of any account until he has captured at least one head. Some of these people believe that the persons whose heads they take will become their slaves in the next world, and others that a new head hung upon the walls of their hut will bring the family prosperity, and make it successful in all its undertakings.
The savages of Borneo, for whom we shall use the general term ” Dyaks,” look not unlike the best savage races of our Philippine Islands, although they are lighter in color, taller, and more active.
They wear but little clothing, the men of some tribes having only a band of bark or cotton cloth about the loins, and the women short petticoats of bark or cotton. In other regions both men and women wear jackets. The Dyaks are fond of display and have many ornaments peculiar to themselves. Some of the women wear corsets made of brass or lead rings strung on strips of rattan, which they wind about their waists and the lower parts of their bodies. A woman so dressed looks not
unlike a barrel walking off upon legs with the head and arms sticking out of the top. The brass rings are often highly polished, so that the girls appear dressed in coats of bright mail.
Many of both sexes wear enormous ear plugs and earrings, some of which are as big around as a napkin ring. The holes in the lobes of their ears are so large that they can carry a cigar in them; and one traveler says he measured one that was seven inches long. We ask how such holes are made and are told that the ear is pierced during babyhood. The hole is very small at first, but it is stretched by putting larger and larger plugs in it, so that when the child is grown up, he has a loop or hole in his ear from one to four inches long.
The Dyaks file and blacken their teeth, sometimes so cutting the edges that they look like saws. They bore holes into the teeth and fit brass pivots in them ; they also hollow them out like those of the Moros.
In North Borneo many of the Dyaks live in villages, some having small farms. They raise fruit and rice and also tobacco and sugar cane. Both women and men labor in the fields, but the women do most of the work. More often, however, they are fishers and hunters, and very expert hunters they are. They use dogs to help them, spearing the game when the dogs bring it to bay. They shoot poisoned arrows through blowpipes and catch crocodiles with a sharp wooden stick to which a rattan rope is attached. They bait the stick by thrusting it through a dead monkey. The crocodile swallows the monkey, and the sharp-pointed stick gets crosswise in his throat or stomach, and the harder he pulls the tighter it is fastened. After a while the crocodile is worn out, and he can then be pulled in and killed.
The natives of Borneo live differently in different parts of the island. In some tribes each family has its own house, and in others all dwell together in great thatched buildings with many compartments, each compartment belonging to a family. In some villages there are bachelors’ flats where the young unmarried men sleep and where travelers are kept over night.
Their houses are generally upon poles high up from the ground, and in some places they are even built in the trees. The buildings are much the same as in the Philippines, the walls and roofs being of the nipa palm and the framework of poles. Very little iron is used, everything being carefully fitted together, and the walls and roofs tied or sewed on with rattan.
All Borneo, although most of it is still in the hands of such savages, is now claimed by the British and the Dutch. The British possessions are by far the smaller. They include the states of North Borneo, Brunei (brou’ni), and Sarawak (sa-ra!wak) in the northern and north-western parts of the mainland. The rest of the island be-longs to Holland, being under the administration of the governor general of the Dutch East Indies, whom we may visit during our travels in Java.
We spend a few days in Sandakan. It is the capital of North Borneo, and is therefore the residence of many English officials and merchants. It has about seven thousand people, of whom perhaps half are Chinese. The English own the best stores, and their houses make Sandakan look more like one of the towns of northern Australia than like the Moro settlements we have just left. There is a good hotel, a newspaper office, and a museum in which we have a chance to see some of the curious things used by the natives.
The English have brought much of the land near Sandakan under cultivation ; and we go out with them to visit their plantations of coffee, tobacco, and hemp. They show us places where vast numbers of rubber trees have been set out, and also cocoanut groves which they have planted to produce copra for Europe. We spend some time with the governor and other officials, and then take ship for Brunei and Sarawak along the west coast.
The journey takes several days. We skirt the shores, seeing everywhere the same rich vegetation and low, jungle-covered plains with great mountains behind them. We pass many Dyaks out fishing in their curious boats, and, sailing into Brunei, stop at the capital on a little river about fifteen miles from its mouth. We steam right up the river into the heart of the city and anchor among houses built upon piles. Some of the houses are apparently floating. The market is made up of stalls, each of which is a canoe, and the purchasers go from stall to stall in their boats. Brunei has a sultan, but as it is under English protection, it may be called a British possession. Our ship remains but a short time, and then steams on several hundred miles down the coast to Sarawak, which is also governed by the English.
Sarawak has a population of about five hundred thousand Dyaks and Malays. It is one of the richest of the Borneo states, producing gold, silver, and diamonds as well as gutta-percha, camphor, beeswax, sago, pepper, and tropical fruits. It became a possession of England in a curious way. In 1839 when the tribes inhabiting it were fighting against one another, and their sultan could not control them, a rich Englishman, named Sir James Brooke, who was sailing about these seas in his own vessel, landed and came to the sultan’s aid. He took the management of the government and brought about peace and good order. He did so well that he was made the actual ruler of the country with the title of Rajah Brooke, and some time after that Sarawak was declared to be under British protection. It is still ruled by the descendants of Sir James Brooke, who govern the island somewhat like an English colony.
Our vessel stops at Kuching (koo’ching), the capital of Sarawak, a city of about twenty thousand people on the Sarawak River twenty-five miles from its mouth. The rajah has been informed of our coming, and we are well taken care of while we stay. He arranges a crocodile hunt for us and also a trip into the interior, where we have ex-citing adventures with monkeys and bears, and narrowly escape injury in our vain attempts to capture an orang-outang. The beast tears the flesh of our guide and then escapes through the trees.
Returning to Kuching we rest there a few days in the comfortable homes of the English residents, and then take ship for Dutch Borneo, landing at Banjermassin (ban-yer-ma’sin), its chief city on the south coast.