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Title: Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo

A Record of Intimate Association with the Natives of the Bornean Jungles

Author: Edwin Herbert Gomes

Release Date: May 23, 2018 [eBook #57201]

Language: English

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Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe.

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Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo.

A Record of Intimate Association with the Natives of the Bornean Jungles. By Edwin H. Gomes, M.A., Author of “The Sea Dyaks of Borneo,” &c. With an Introduction by the Rev. John Perham, formerly Archdeacon of Singapore. With 40 Illustrations and a Map. Demy 8vo., 16s.

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A Dyak Girl Dressed in all her Finery to Attend a Feast

She has in her hair a comb decorated with silver filigree work. Round her neck is a necklace of beads. The rings round her body are made of hoops of cane, round which little brass rings are arranged close together so that none of the cane is visible. These hoops are worn next to the body above the waist, and over the petticoat below. The silver coins fastened to this brass corset, and worn as belts round it, are the silver coins of the country. The petticoat is a broad strip of cloth, sewn together at the ends and having an opening at the top and bottom. It is fastened at the waist with a piece of string.


Seventeen Years Among
The Sea Dyaks of Borneo





38 Great Russell Street





With the establishment of Rajah Brooke’s government in Sarawak, the different races of its native population gradually became known to English people, and at length the Dyakland of Borneo has found a definite place and shape in the English mind, much as the Zululand of Africa has done. The Sea Dyak soon appeared in print; travellers mentioned him, sometimes only as a simple savage; men who have spent some time in the country, like the late Sir Hugh Low and the late Sir Spenser St. John, described something of his life; missionary reports had him in their pages; European residents and civil administrators and others wrote of him in various papers and periodicals. But most, if not all, of these accounts were unavoidably brief, partial, and sketchy, for it did not come within the scope of their purpose to set forth a full and systematic statement of all things Dyak. Mr. Ling Roth collected all the notes about Dyaks he could find, from various sources, and published his harvest of accumulations in two large volumes. It is a monument of industrious collecting; but his work is that of the scissors rather than of the pen, a compilation rather than a writing; and in the extracts, being the productions of various writers at different periods, we see much overlapping and repetition, and some confusion; and, necessarily, such a book was too bulky to obtain a general circulation. More recently Miss Eda Green has given[viii] to English readers a little book about Borneo, wonderful in its general accuracy, and vivid in its descriptions; but it is meant especially for missionary circles and missionary reading—in fact, it was written expressly for the Borneo Mission Association, whose objects it has done much to promote. But it is a book about the Mission rather than about the Dyaks, and it does not profess to give a complete account of the entire field of Sea Dyak life.

This is Mr. Gomes’s object, and he attains it. His book is not a mere personal narrative of life in Sarawak. We have in it a very full, systematic, and comprehensive description of Sea Dyak life—its works, thoughts, sentiments, superstitions, customs, religion, beliefs, and ideals. Our attention is not directed to the magnificent beauties of Bornean tropical scenery and luxuriant flora, nor to the wonders of the insect life with which the land simply abounds. Mr. Gomes sees Dyaks, and Dyaks only, in his mind. The “brown humanity” of the country, not its natural history, occupies his attention. He knows that humanity intimately, and writes from the storehouse which he has accumulated in long years of experience and observation. And he puts all within manageable compass and volume. His book is, I believe, the first which contains a complete picture of Sea Dyak life in all its phases, yet in moderate dimensions. And from my own experience of some twenty years in Sarawak, I can testify to the truthfulness of every page.

Possibly it is sometimes thought that the missionary is not the best man to write about the people to whom he appeals; that he may be easily biassed in one direction or another, and may think too ill or too well of them, and may allow his judgment to be overcoloured by his religious purpose. A little experience among the people of any race, especially where the language is not well[ix] known, may easily result in limited views and imperfect conceptions. But when his residence has extended over many years, and he knows the language as well as his own; when he has had constant opportunities of observing their tone and conduct in every relation of life, and of hearing how they talk and think on every imaginable subject, and of seeing how they behave at home as well as abroad—how they bear themselves, not only to an occasional white man whom they meet, but also to each other in social dealings—when he thus lives in close touch with them at every point, he cannot but obtain a thorough understanding of the realities of their lives.

And the Sea Dyaks are generally a very communicative people. They will willingly give information about every belief and custom, and will quietly discuss every practice and every event, good or bad; and it needs only a little patience and sympathy to enable one to get an insight into the working of their minds, and to realize the true character of their actions in the struggles, the comedies, or the tragedies of their lives.

Mr. Gomes is thus able to make the Sea Dyak live before us in genuine colours. We can see this dusky son of the jungle in his beliefs and fears, which are many, in his work and in his play, in his ugly faults and amiable virtues, in his weaknesses and in his abilities. And I think that everyone who reads his pages will feel that henceforth he knows the Sea Dyak of Sarawak better than he ever knew him before, and will come to the conclusion that, in spite of his faults, he is a very likeable man.

The Sea Dyaks, then, are worth knowing. They constitute a very valuable element in the population of Sarawak, not only from their numbers, but also from their force of character. They are active, hardworking,[x] industrious, ready to earn an honest penny when they have the chance; and in their domestic relations are amiable and hospitable towards strangers, and when treated with civility and sympathy, all their good points come to the surface. They work hard at rice-planting, which, it is true, is of a very primitive sort, but it is the best they know, and as good as that practised by their Mohammedan neighbours, the Malays. If some simple system of irrigation could be introduced among them, especially in lowland cultivation, this, their main industry, would be far more productive than it is, and it would be a real boon to the country at large. They have adventured upon the cultivation of other products when the way has been made clear to them, which is an evidence of their capacity for progress. They penetrate and traverse far-off jungles in search of indiarubber and gutta-percha to add to their earnings. An increasing number of them are keen upon book-learning, as Mr. Gomes points out. They form the Rajah’s soldiers and guards, and are capable of useful service in subordinate positions as officers. And thus these people, who were once only known as fighters, pirates, and head-takers, are now a real influence in the evolution of a better civilization and a more fruitful era to come in those lands. The civilizing, Christianizing force no doubt works slowly; but there it is, and, comparing present with past, we can see it. A large influx of white people of the usual colonist class would doubtless be too strong for them, and would push them out of the way; but with a favourable chance, which they now have, of working out a salvation for themselves, I think the Sea Dyaks have a better future before them than Mr. Gomes appears to anticipate.

It is interesting to watch the process of a gradual enlightening going on among such a race when brought[xi] into contact with higher civilization and better religion. Mr. Gomes mentions some instances of its expression. Perhaps I may add an illustrative instance which occurred in my own experiences, many years ago. One night I was at anchor with a Dyak crew on the Saribas River, waiting for the turn of the tide. About 3 a.m. I was awakened by a frightened cry from one of the crew: “Antu! antu!” (A spirit, a spirit!). Thinking myself lucky at last in a chance of actually seeing one of those invisible beings whom Dyaks dread so much, I pushed my head from under the mosquito-curtain, and looked out, and beheld a comet brightly shining not far above the horizon. Presently I heard a school-lad say: “That’s not a spirit; it’s only a star with a tail. I have learnt about it.” There was the old superstition and the new knowledge struggling together, a symbol of what is going on in other departments of Dyak thought and belief—the working of that which, it is to be hoped, will issue in a higher and an improved life for the race. Our Author’s book will evoke a lively interest in such an improvement in Dyakland, and will inspire a deeper sympathy with every progressive effort towards it.

In going over Mr. Gomes’s pages my thoughts have often gone back to days, now long past, when he and I were workers together among the people of whom he writes so sympathetically, and many a long-forgotten incident has come back to mind; and it is a pleasure to write a simple word of welcome to this product of his pen, and to express a conviction that his book is just what was wanted to give the public a clear and adequate conception of one of the leading races which have been ruled over by the “Two White Rajahs” of Sarawak.


Chard, December, 1910.



I wish to express my thanks to Sir Clement Kinloch-Cooke, M.P., for the preface which he has kindly contributed to this volume, and for allowing me to reproduce my translations of Sea Dyak legends which appeared in the Empire Review; to Bishop Hose, under whom I worked for seventeen years among the Sea Dyaks of Sarawak, for allowing me to use his excellent article on “The Contents of a Dyak Medicine-chest”; to the Rev. John Perham, formerly Archdeacon of Singapore, with whom I worked in Sarawak for some years, for his introduction, and also for allowing me to make use of the scholarly papers which he wrote for the Journal of the Straits Branch of the Asiatic Society, on Sea Dyak Religion and Folklore; and to the Rev. David Steele-Morris for going through the manuscript and making many useful suggestions.

I am indebted to His Highness the Rajah of Sarawak for permission to insert his portrait; to Dr. Charles Hose for his great kindness in allowing me to use his excellent photographs, and also to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts for lending me one of their blocks; to Messrs. Bassano, of Bond Street, and Messrs. G. R. Lambert and Co., of Singapore, whose photographs I am kindly permitted to reproduce; to Mr. Hewitt, formerly curator of the Sarawak Museum; and Mr. Ha Buey Hon, of Kuching, who have also been so good as to lend me photographs.

To all these, as well as to many unmentioned friends who have helped me to write this book, I offer my sincere thanks.


Upper Norwood, December, 1910.



Bornean jungles—A picture from the past—Unsettled life—Sudden attacks—Head-hunting—Pirates—Malay pirates—Dyak pirates—Sir James Brooke—the Royalist—Rajah Muda Hassim—Rajah of Sarawak—Suppression of piracy and head-hunting—Captain Keppel—Visit to England, 1847—Introduction of Christian mission—Sir Charles Brooke 21-32
The word “Dyak”—Other native races in Sarawak—MilanausKayansKinyehs—Cruelty—UkitsBukitansPunansSeru—Sea Dyaks—Land Dyaks—The appearance of the Sea Dyak—Men’s dress—Tattooing—Women’s dress—Rawai, or corset—The teeth—Depilation—Language 33-41
Dyak village house—TanjuRuaiBilikSadau—Human heads—Valuable jars—Paddy-planting—Men’s work—Women’s work—House-building—Boat-building—Kadjangs—Dyak tools—BliongDuku—Weaving—Plaiting mats and basket-making—Hunting—Traps—Fishing—Spoon-bait—Casting-net—Tuba-fishing—Crocodile-catching 42-60
General remarks—Kind to children—Industrious—Frugal—Honest—Two cases of theft—Curses—Honesty of children—Truthful—Curious custom—Tugong Bula—Hospitable—Morals—Desire for children—Divorce—Adultery—Dyak law concerning adultery—Dyak view of marriage—Unselfishness—Domestic affection—Example 61-71
Head-hunting—Women an incentive—Gruesome story—Marriage of Dyak Chiefs—Legend—Some customs necessitating a human head—A successful head-hunter not necessarily a hero—A dastardly crime—War expeditions—The spear token—My experience at a village in Krian—Dyak war costume—Weapons—The Sumpit—Poison for darts—Consulting omen birds—War-boats—Camping—War Council—Defences—War alarm—Ambushes—Decapitation and treatment of head—Return from a successful expedition—Women dancing—Two Christian Dyak Chiefs—Their views on the matter of head-taking 72-85
Social position of the women—Dyak food—Meals—Cooking food in bamboo—Laws with regard to leaving a Dyak house—Rule of the headman—A Dyak trial—Power of the headman in old days—Dyak wealth—Valuable jars—GusiNagaRusa—A convenient dream—Trading incident at Sebetan—Land tenure—Laws about fruit-trees—Slavery—Captives in war—Slaves for debt 86-95
The couvade among the Dyaks—Harm to the child—Ways of evading these restrictions—A Christian woman’s ideas on the subject—Witch-doctors and their methods—The waving of a fowl—Treatment of the mother and child—Infanticide—Bathing the child—Ceremony for insuring happiness to the child—Naming the child—Change of name—Children—Toys—Smallness of families—Reason 96-104
Up-country mission schools—Education—The Saribas Dyaks eager to learn—School programme—What the boys were taught—Some schoolboy reminiscences—A youthful Dyak manang—The story of Buda—The opening of the Krian Mission and the Saribas Mission 105-119
Courtship—Discussion where the married couple are to live—The fetching of the bride—The wedding ceremony—Mlah Pinang—Visit of the bride to her mother-in-law—Bride’s dress—Bridegroom—Old bachelors among the Dyaks—Age of marriage—Monogamy—Prohibitive degrees—Dyak view of marriage—Conjugal affection—Mischief-making mothers-in-law—Separation and reconciliation—Divorce—Adultery 120-132
Life beyond the grave—Wailings—Rice strewn on the dead man’s chest—The professional wailer—Feeding the dead—Carrying the dead—The grave—Articles buried with the dead—Baiya—Fire lit at sunset—The ulit, or mourning—Pana, or offering to the dead—The wailer’s song—Sumping—Periodical Sabak—Feast in honour of the dead—Gawai Antu—The dead not forgotten—Other methods of disposing of the dead besides burial—Dyak ideas of a future life 133-144
Travelling by boat—Paddles v. oars—Dangers—Tidal bores—Sand-banks-Langan—Up-river travelling—Poling—Camping out at night—Travelling on foot—Jungle paths—Scenery—Wild animals—The Orang-utan—Vegetation 145-151
Seven omen birds—Other omen animals—Omens sought before beginning rice-farming—House-building omens—Substitutions for omens—Good and bad omens in farming—A dead animal—Means of avoiding bad effects—Omens obeyed at all times—Bird flying through a house—A drop of blood—Killing an omen bird or insect—Origin of the system of omens—Augury—Dreams 152-162
Manangs supposed to possess mysterious powers over evil spirits—Dyak theory of disease—Treatment of disease—Lupong, or box of charms—Batu IlauManang performances—Pagar Api—Catching the soul—Sixteen different manang ceremonies—Killing the demon BuyuSaut—Salampandai—Deceit of manangs—Story of a schoolboy—Smallpox and cholera—Three ceremonies of initiation—Different ranks of manangs 163-181
Native remedies—Cupping—Charms—A Dyak medicine chest—Smallpox and cholera—My experience at Temudok 182-193
Certain religious observances—Petara, or gods—Singalang Burong, the god of war—Pulang Gana, the god of the soil—Salampandai, the maker of men—Mali, or taboo—Spirits—Girgasi, the chief of evil spirits—The dogs of the spirits—Stories—Customs connected with the belief in spirits—Sacrifices—Piring and ginselan—The victim of the sacrifice generally eaten, but not always—Material benefits expected by the Dyaks by their religious ceremonies—Nampok, a means of communicating with spirits—Batu kudi, “stones of wrath”—Belief in a future life—Conclusion 194-208
Four classes of feasts—Preparations—Feasts connected with: 1, Head-taking; 2, Farming; 3, The dead; 4, Dreams, etc.—House-warming—Social feasts 209-219
Dyak games—Football—War Dance—Sword Dance—Dyak music—Cock-fighting—Tops-“Riding the tidal bore”—Swimming—Trials of strength 220-224
Love of music—Love songs—Boat songs—War songs—Incantations at Dyak feasts—The song of mourning—Musical instruments 225-232
Love of travel—“The innocents abroad”—Gutta-hunting—Collecting canes—Hunting for edible birds’-nests—Camphor-working 233-239
The itinerant missionary—Visit to a Dyak house—Reception—Cooking—Servants—The meal—Teaching the Dyaks—Christians—Services—Prayer-houses—Offertory—Reception of the missionary—Dangers of sea travelling during the north-east monsoon—My boat swamped—In the jungle—Losing my way—A Dyak’s experience 240-251
Sea Dyak stories—EnseraKana—The mouse-deer and the tortoise—Klieng—Kumang—Apai Saloi—The cunning of the mouse-deer—The mouse-deer and other animals who went out fishing—The mouse-deer, the deer and the pig—Sea Dyak proverbs 252-263
Dyak fairy tales and legends—I. Danjai and the Were-Tiger’s Sister—II. The Story of Siu, who first taught the Dyaks to observe the omens of birds—III. Pulang Gana, and how he came to be worshipped as the god of the earth 264-315
Trial by ordeal—Diving contests—A diving contest at Krian—A Dyak superstition—Names—Fruit found by the pathway—Circumcision—Fishing and hunting superstition—Madness—Leprosy—Time—Form of greeting 316-323
The Sea Dyak—Work—Bad times—Cheerfulness—The view from within—The Sea Dyak’s future—Mission work among them—Government—Development in the immediate future 324-331
Glossary 332-337
Index 338-343



A Dyak Girl dressed in all her Finery to attend a Feast Frontispiece
A Sea Dyak with Shield 22
Sir Charles Brooke, G.C.M.G., the Present Rajah of Sarawak 30
Three Typical Dyaks 36
Dyak Village House in Course of Construction 44
Dyak making a Blowpipe 44
Dyak Girls pounding Rice 46
A Husking Mill 46
Drying Paddy 46
Sea Dyaks making a Canoe 50
Girls Weaving 52
Dyaks returning from Tuba-fishing 56
A Dyak Woman making a Mat with Split Cane 62
Five Dyaks in War Dress, with Spears and Shields 74
A Dyak in War Dress 78
Human Heads 78
Dyak Warfare 82
Dyak Houses 88
Dyak Children 102
A Dyak Youth 114
A Dyak Lad 114
A Dyak Wedding 124
Dyak Girl Spinning 128
A Dyak Bride 130
A Dyak Girl 130
A Dyak Cemetery by the River-side 136
[xx]A Dyak Dancing the War Dance 136
Boat-travelling 146
A Dyak Youth holding a Spear 160
A River Scene 206
Cock-fighting 210
Three Dyak Girls dressed in their Finery to attend a Feast 212
Cock-fighting 222
A Long Dyak Village House 242
A Dyak Woman in Everyday Costume 268
A Dyak using a Wooden Blowpipe 280
A Dyak Girl 290
Scraping Palm-Leaves for Fibre 290
Dyaks making a Dam for Tuba-fishing 296
A Dyak in Gala Costume 326




Bornean jungles—A picture from the past—Unsettled life—Sudden attacks—Head-hunting—Pirates—Malay pirates—Dyak pirates—Sir James Brooke—The Royalist—Rajah Muda Hassim—Rajah of Sarawak—Suppression of piracy and head-hunting—Captain Keppel—Visit to England, 1847—Introduction of Christian mission—Sir Charles Brooke.

The Bornean jungles are immense tracts of country covered by gigantic trees, in the midst of which are mountains clothed in evergreen foliage, their barren cliffs buried beneath a network of creepers and ferns. The striking features are the size of the enormous forest trees and the closeness of their growth, rather than their loveliness or brilliancy of colour. In the tropical forests few bright-coloured flowers relieve the monotony of dark green leaves and dark brown trunks and branches of trees. The prevailing hue of tropical plants is a sombre green. The greater and lesser trees are often loaded with trailers and ferns, among which huge masses of the elk-horn fern are often conspicuous. But there is little colour to relieve the monotony of all these sombre hues. Here and there may be seen some creeper with red berries, and many bright-coloured orchids hang high overhead. But it is[22] impossible for the observer to gain a favourable position for beholding the richest blooms, which often climb far above him, turning their faces towards the sunlight above the roof of foliage.

These regions are still inhabited by half-clad men and women, living quaint lives in their strange houses, observing weird ceremonies, and cherishing strange superstitions and curious customs, delighting in games and feasts, and repeating ancient legends of their gods and heroes. But in a few years all these things will be forgotten; for in Borneo, as elsewhere, civilization is coming—coming quickly—and all the distinctive Dyak customs will soon be things of the past. Already the Dyak is mixing with other races in the towns, and is changing his picturesque dress for Western costume. He is fast forgetting his old practices and his old modes of thought.

The tropical forests of Sarawak were much the same years ago as they are to-day. But the life of the Dyak is already greatly changed, and his lot improved by the introduction of just rule, law and order, and respect for human life. For a moment let us go back to the past, and try to picture the life of the Sea Dyak as it was some sixty years ago.

In those days there was constant warfare between the different tribes, and the Dyaks lived together in large numbers in their long houses, which had stockades around them, so that they had some defence against any sudden attack. Very often the young braves would make an expedition against some neighbouring tribe, simply because they wanted to bring home, each man of them, the ghastly trophy of a human head, and thus gain favour in the eyes of the Dyak girls. In these expeditions many were killed and many taken captive, to be the slaves of the conquerors.

A Sea Dyak with Shield

He is dressed in the usual waist-cloth the Dyaks wear. On his head is a headkerchief decorated with a fringe. He wears a necklace of large silver buttons. On his arms are sea-shell bracelets, and on his calves a large number of palm fibre rings. His right hand is holding the handle of his sword, the sheath of which is fastened to his belt, and his left hand is on his shield. The shield is made out of one piece of wood and coloured with a fanciful design. It is decorated with human hair from the head of dead enemies.


Often in those days a party of Dyaks would suddenly attack some neighbouring house. Such of the men as were at home would repel the attack as best they could, for defeat meant certain death, if not worse. The women and children—such of them as had not managed to escape and hide in the jungle—would be crowded together in the veranda of the Dyak house, and the men, armed with sword and spear and shield, would form a circle round them. The large brass gongs (tawak) would be struck in a peculiar manner, to let the neighbours know of the attack, and to implore their help. The fight would continue till one party was defeated. If any came to the rescue, the attacking party would retreat, pursued by such of the inmates of the house as dared to follow them; but if no help came, the house would be rushed, the men and women cut down, and the children killed or taken captive. The heads of the dead would be cut off amid wild whoops of joy, and carried off in triumph.

I have spoken to Dyaks who have been present at such scenes, and asked them to describe to me what happens on such occasions. What they had to say was horrible enough to listen to, but what must the reality have been!

Sometimes the victims would be attacked when at work on their farms, or some solitary farm-hut would be surrounded at night. In each case the enemy would meet with little resistance. Thus the Dyaks used to live in a constant state of fear.

In those days many of the Sea Dyaks joined the Malays in their piratical attacks upon trading boats. It was the practice of the Malay pirates and their Dyak allies to wreck and destroy every vessel that came near their shores, to murder most of the crew who offered any resistance,[24] and to make slaves of the rest. The Malay fleet consisted of a large number of long war-boats, or prahus, each about ninety or more feet long, and carrying a brass gun in the bows, the pirates being armed with swords and spears and muskets. Each boat was paddled by from sixty to eighty men. These terrible craft skulked about in the sheltered coves waiting for their prey, and attacked merchant-vessels making the passage between China and Singapore. These piratical raids were often made with the secret sanction of the native rulers, who obtained a share of the spoil as the price of their connivance.

The Dyaks of Saribas and Skrang and the Balaus gladly joined the Malays in these expeditions, not only for the sake of obtaining booty, but because they could thus indulge in their favourite pursuit, and gain glory for themselves by bringing home human heads to decorate their houses with. The Dyak bangkongs were long boats capable of holding as many as eighty men. They often had a flat roof, from which the warriors fought, while their comrades paddled below.

Both the piracy and the terrible custom of head-hunting were put down by Sir James Brooke. The romantic story of how he came to be the first Rajah of Sarawak may here be briefly recalled.

James Brooke was born on April 29, 1803. His father was a member of the Civil Service of the East India Company, and spent a great many years in India. Following in his father’s footsteps, he entered the Company’s service, and was sent out to India in 1825. Not long after his arrival he was put in command of a regiment of soldiers, and ordered to Burmah, where he took part in the Burmese War; and, being dangerously wounded in[25] an engagement, was compelled to return home on furlough. For over four years his health prevented him from rejoining his regiment, and when at last he started, the voyage out was so protracted, through a shipwreck and other misfortunes, that his furlough had expired before he was able to reach his destination. His appointment consequently lapsed, and he quitted the service in 1830.

In that same year he made a voyage to China, and was struck by the natural beauty and fertility of the islands of the Indian Archipelago, and horrified with the savagery of the tribes inhabiting them, who were continually at war with one another, and engaged in a monstrous system of piracy. He conceived the grand idea of rescuing them from barbarism, and of extirpating piracy in the Eastern Archipelago.

On the death of his father he inherited the sum of £30,000, and found himself in a position to carry out his schemes. He bought and equipped a yacht, the Royalist, and for three years he cruised about, chiefly in the Mediterranean, training his crew of twenty men for the arduous work that lay before them.

On October 27, 1838, he sailed from the Thames on his great adventure, travelled slowly on the long journey round the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived in Singapore in 1839. Here he met a shipwrecked crew, who had lately come from Borneo. They said they had been kindly treated by Muda Hassim—a native Rajah in Borneo—and they asked Mr. James Brooke to take presents and letters of thanks to him, if he should be going thither in his yacht. Mr. Brooke had not decided which of the many islands of the Eastern Archipelago he would visit, and he was as ready to go to Borneo as to[26] any other; so, setting sail, he made his way up the Sarawak River, and anchored off Kuching on August 15, 1839. The country was nominally under the rule of the Sultan of Brunei, but his uncle, Rajah Muda Hassim, was then the greatest power in the island. As he was favourable to English strangers, Mr. Brooke paid him the customary homage, and was favourably received, and given full licence to visit the Dyaks of Lundu. The Rajah was at this time engaged in war with several fierce Dyak tribes in the province of Sarawak, who had revolted against the Sultan; but his efforts to quell this rebellion were ineffectual. The absolute worthlessness of the native troops under his command, and his own weakness of character, induced him to cling to Mr. Brooke, in whom he recognized a born leader of men, and he appealed for his help in putting down the insurgents, and implored him not to leave him a prey to his enemies. The Rajah even offered to transfer the government of the province to Brooke if he would remain and take command. This offer he felt bound at the time to decline, but it led to his obtaining a position of authority at Sarawak, useful for the purposes of trade.

With James Brooke’s help the rebellion, which the Malay forces were too feeble to subdue, was effectually stayed. The insurgents were defeated in a battle in which Brooke, with the crew of his yacht and some Malay followers, took part. For his services on this occasion Muda Hassim conferred on him the title of Rajah of Sarawak, and this was the first step towards that larger sovereignty which he afterwards acquired. Some time elapsed, however, before the Sultan of Brunei could be induced to confirm the title. Mr. Brooke at once took vigorous action, making many reforms and introducing[27] a system of administration far superior to any that the native authorities had ever dreamed of; and in September, 1841, the government of Sarawak and its dependencies was formally made over to him. In the following year the Sultan of Brunei confirmed what Rajah Muda Hassim had done, on the condition that the religion of the Mohammedans of the country should be respected.

And now Rajah Brooke found himself in a position of authority which enabled him to bring all his administrative powers into operation. He saw clearly that the development of commerce would be the most effective means of civilizing the natives, and to make this possible it was necessary to suppress the hideous piracy which was not only a curse to the savage tribes, appealing as it did to their worst instincts, but a standing danger to both European and native traders in those seas.

In the suppression of piracy James Brooke found a vigorous ally in Captain (afterwards Admiral) Keppel, who, in command of H.M.S. Dido, was summoned from the China station in 1843 for this service. Various expeditions were organized and sent out against the marauders, the story of which has been told by himself. The pirates were attacked in their strongholds by Captain Keppel and other commanders of British ships. They fought desperately, and the slaughter was immense. The pirate crews found the entrances to the rivers blocked up by English gunboats, and their retreat cut off. These strenuous measures soon cleared the seas.

The practice of head-hunting was also dealt with by Sir James Brooke. He declared it to be a crime punishable with death, and by his rigorous treatment of head-hunting parties he gave the deathblow to this horrible national custom.


After his strenuous life in Sarawak, Sir James Brooke had a great desire to visit England. Besides other reasons, the wish to see his relatives and friends, he felt he could effect more for the inhabitants of Borneo by a personal interview with Government Ministers in England than by correspondence. He left Sarawak, and reached England early in October, 1847. There honours awaited him. He was presented with the freedom of the City of London; Oxford University conferred upon him the degree of LL.D.; he was graciously received at Windsor by the Queen and the Prince Consort. The British Government recognized the work he had done, and appointed him Governor of Labuan and Commissioner and Consul-General in Borneo, and made him a K.C.B. The warrant of investiture was issued by Her Majesty on May 22, 1848.

The extirpation of piracy was the first step towards introducing into the country the blessings of a settled government, with all its civilizing influences. But he was not satisfied with this, and soon began to take measures for the establishment of a Christian Mission in Sarawak. When Sir James Brooke visited England in 1847, he appealed to the Church, and especially to the two Universities, to come to his aid. Neither of the two great missionary societies was able at the time to undertake this new enterprise through lack of funds, and a new organization, the “Borneo Church Mission,” was founded, which laboured in the island for a few years. Then, in 1854, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was able to take up the work, and has ever since been responsible for it. The original organization had, however, done well in the choice of the missionaries it sent out, the first of whom was the Rev. F. T. McDougall,[29] who was consecrated Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak in 1855.

My father, the Rev. W. H. Gomes, B.D., worked under Bishop McDougall as a missionary among the Dyaks of Lundu from 1852 to 1867, and I myself have worked, under Bishop Hose, as a missionary in Sarawak, for seventeen years, and have thus gained an intimate knowledge of the people and of their lives, now so rapidly changing under Western influence.

Sir James Brooke was a man of the highest personal character. That a young English officer, with a fortune of his own, should have been willing to devote his whole life to improving the condition of the Dyaks was a grand thing. That he should have been able, by perfectly legitimate means, to do this in the teeth of much official and other opposition; that he should have been able to put down piracy and head-hunting, with their unspeakable accompaniments of misery and cruelty, and to do it all with the hearty good-will of the people under his rule,—this was indeed an achievement which might have seemed hardly possible.

The present Rajah of Sarawak, Sir Charles Brooke, is a nephew of the first Rajah. He joined his uncle in 1852, when he held the rank of lieutenant in the British navy. For ten years he played an important part in the arduous work of punishing rebels and establishing a sound government. In 1857, when the Chinese insurrection broke out, it was his action that led to the punishment of the insurgents and the restoration of peace. In 1863, on the retirement of the first Rajah, he assumed control of the country, and five years later, on the death of his predecessor, he became Rajah of Sarawak. Ever since he became the responsible ruler of the country,[30] Sarawak has advanced steadily, and made great moral and material progress. To the general public the first Rajah will always appear the romantic, heroic figure; but, while yielding full measure of praise and admiration to the work of a great man, those who know the country will, I think, agree with me that the heavier burden of working steadily and unwearyingly, when the romance of novelty had worn off, has been borne by his successor. With talents not less than those of his illustrious uncle he has carried out, in the face of disappointments and the most serious obstacles, a policy of regeneration for which the striking exploits of Sir James Brooke merely paved the way.

Photo. Bassano

Sir Charles Brooke, G.C.M.G., the present Rajah of Sarawak

His work is well summarized by himself in an address to the Kunsil Negri (the Council of the Country) in 1891. He said he might divide his term of service of thirty-nine years into three periods of thirteen years each. The first period had been almost wholly spent in the work of suppressing head-hunting among the Dyaks. It involved frequent expeditions against rebellious Dyaks, much hard travelling by river and by land, and a constant watch against subtle enemies. The second period had been divided between occasional expeditions of the same nature and the establishment of trade and peaceful pursuits, and the giving and amending of laws as need arose. The last period had almost entirely been taken up with attending to the political and social affairs of a settled and peaceful community. Those present, who had been young with himself in the early days of his service, had been of great assistance to him, and had carried through the work set them, rough and perilous in the extreme, in mountainous region of jungle, and on treacherous, rapid-flowing rivers, subject to every kind of exposure;[31] but now these hardships were no more required, and that was well, for both they and himself were growing old. The character of his task and theirs was changed: he and his old comrades, who had faced so many dangers together on river and in jungle, could now sit down comfortably and attend to the political business and the commercial progress of the country.

To these three periods the Rajah has since added a fourth, and that the longest of all, during which, as occasion served, a great deal has been done to extinguish the lingering sparks of intertribal hostility. There are occasional outbreaks among the Dyaks of the interior, and head-hunting still survives where natives think there is a chance of escaping detection and consequent punishment. But, happily, these are getting more and more rare, and do not affect the prosperity or trade of the country.

The method employed by the present Rajah to suppress head-hunting is best described in his own words:

“As soon as ever one of these parties started, or even listened to birds of omen preparatory to moving, a party was immediately despatched by Government to endeavour to cut them off, and to fine them heavily on their return; or, in the event of their bringing heads, to demand the delivery up of them, and the payment of a fine into the bargain. This was the steady and unflinching work of years, but before many months were over my stock of heads became numerous, and the fines considerable. Some refused to pay or follow the directions of the Government. These were declared enemies, and had their houses burnt down forthwith, and the people who followed me to do the work would be the Dyaks of some other branch-tribe on the same river.”

The natives of Sarawak owe much to the Brookes.[32] The work, nobly begun by Sir James Brooke, has been ably carried on by the present Rajah. To use his own words: “He as founder, and myself as builder, of the State have been one in our policy throughout, from the beginning up to the present time; and now shortly I have to hand it to my son, and I hope that his policy may not be far removed from that of his predecessors.”



The word “Dyak”—Other native races in Sarawak—MilanausKayansKinyehs—Cruelty—UkitsBukitansPunansSeru—Sea Dyaks—Land Dyaks—The appearance of the Sea Dyak—Men’s dress—Tattooing—Women’s dress-Rawai, or corset—The teeth—Depilation—Language.

The derivation of the word “Dyak” is uncertain. Some think it is derived from daya, which in the Brunei Malay dialect means “inland,” “interior.” Others derive it from the Land Dyak word daya, which means “a man.” Whatever may be the derivation, it is quite incorrect to apply it to all the inland races of Borneo. There are many tribes, such as the Kayans, Muruts, Ukits, and Punans, who are not Dyaks at all, their language, customs, and traditions being quite different.

Before describing the Dyaks, some mention must be made of the other native races to be found in Sarawak. They are the Milanaus, Kayans, Kinyehs, Muruts, Ukits, Bukitans, Punans, and Seru.

The Milanaus are a quiet people who keep very much to themselves. They are not Mohammedans, although they dress like the Malays. They are an important tribe, and are to be found in large numbers at Matu, Oya, Muka, and Bintulu. They plant paddy and cultivate sago on a large scale. They are skilled in working iron, and are[34] excellent boat-builders. Their speech is somewhat similar to that of the Kayans, and many of their customs are alike.

The Kayans and Kinyehs, who may be classed together, are a numerous race inhabiting the upper waters of the Baram and Rejang Rivers. In many ways they seem to be a more advanced race than the Sea Dyaks. They build better houses, and are more expert in the manufacture of weapons, being able to extract their iron from the native ore. Their moral character, however, is vindictive and cruel, and they are lacking in that spirit of hospitality which is such a great feature of the Sea Dyak character. A few years ago a party of Dyak gutta-percha collectors were attacked by the Punans, and many of them killed. Four young Dyaks managed to escape, and after wandering for many days in the jungle, arrived destitute and starving at a Kayan house, and asked for food and shelter. The treatment they received was horrible in the extreme. The Kayans bound the young men, and after breaking their arms and legs, handed them over to the women, who slowly despatched them by hacking them to pieces with little knives.

The Muruts inhabit the Limbang and Trusan Rivers. Their language and customs differ entirely from those of the Sea Dyaks.

The Ukits, Bukitans (name probably derived from Malay bukit, “a hill”), and Punans are races which inhabit the far interior, and lead a wandering life in the Kayan country. They do not build houses, but only make temporary shelters for themselves between the buttresses of large forest trees. They live by hunting, and are expert in the use of the sumpit, or blow-pipe.

The Seru are a small and fast dying out race. There[35] used to be a little village of the Seru near my house in Kalaka, where some forty of them lived in a long house, similar to that built by the Dyaks. The men wore the Dyak dress, but the women were dressed like the Malays, and wore a long petticoat reaching to the ankles (sarong), and a long jacket (kabayah). They planted paddy, but did not depend entirely on this for their livelihood. The men were great hunters, and would salt and sell the wild pig they killed. They were a very secluded people, and kept very much to themselves. They were not Mohammedans, and did not seem to have any of the religious rites peculiar to the Dyaks. They told me they believed in a good Spirit and a bad one, but their religious ideas were very vague.

Besides the tribes already mentioned, there are two distinct races of Dyaks in Borneo—the Sea Dyaks and the Land Dyaks. The former live by the sea and on the banks of the rivers, though many of them may be found far inland. The Land Dyaks inhabit the interior of the country, and are not so numerous or energetic as the Sea Dyaks. The language and traditions of these two divisions of the Dyak race are quite distinct.

The Dyaks spoken of in this work are the Sea Dyaks. Their home is in Sarawak—the country governed by Rajah Brooke—though they often travel far afield, and they are to be found in large numbers on the banks of the rivers of Sarawak—the Batang, Lupar, Saribas, Krian, and Rejang.

The Dyak is of rather greater stature than that of the Malay, though he is considerably shorter than the average European. The men are well-proportioned, but slightly built. Their form suggests activity, speed, and endurance rather than great strength, and these are the qualities[36] most required by dwellers in the jungle. Their movements are easy and graceful, and their carriage erect. The women are generally smaller than the men. They have neat figures, and are bright, cheerful, and good-looking in their youth, but they age very soon.

The colour of their skin varies considerably, not so much between one tribe and another as in different parts of the country. Generally speaking, those who reside in the interior of the country, on the banks of the upper reaches of the rivers, are fairer than those who live nearer the sea. This may be due to the deeper shade afforded by old jungle, and the bathing in and drinking of the water of the clear, gravel-bedded streams. Their colour varies from a dark bronze to a light brown, with a tinge of yellow. Their eyes are black or dark brown, clear and bright, with quick intelligence and good temper. Their mouths are generally ill-shapen and disfigured by excessive chewing of sireh and betel-nut, a habit much indulged in by both men and women.

In dress great alterations have resulted from foreign influence, and the Dyaks who live near the towns wear the trousers and coat of civilized races, but the original style still prevails in the up-country villages.

Three Typical Dyaks

The man on the right is using a seat mat made of the skin of an animal. Sometimes these mats are made of split cane. The Dyak, in his wanderings in the jungle, has often to sit on prickly grass or sharp stones, and a seat mat is a useful part of his attire.

Love of finery is inherent in the young Dyak. The old men are often very shabbily dressed, but the young are more particular. The ordinary male attire consists of a sirat, or waist-cloth, a labong, or headkerchief, and a tikai buret, or seat-mat. The waist-cloth is made of the soft inner bark of a tree, or more frequently of some red or blue cotton cloth. This is one yard wide, and from eight to eighteen feet long, and is twisted round and round their waists, and pulled up tight between the thighs, one end hanging down in front and the other behind. Sometimes[37] this waist-cloth is woven by the Dyak women, and then the end that hangs down in front has an elaborate pattern woven into it. Their head-dress is either a bright-coloured headkerchief, or else a small cap of woven cane, in which feathers and other ornaments are often stuck. The tikai buret, or seat-mat, is made either of the skin of some animal or of cane matting. Its edges are decorated with red and white cloth, and with beads or buttons.

Besides these articles of apparel the men sometimes wear a sleeveless jacket, or klambi. These are often woven by the Dyak women, either from yarn spun from cotton of their own growing or from imported yarn of a finer texture. More often in the present day they are made of cloth of European manufacture. The patterns of the Dyak-woven klambi are various, but those of a particular type can only be worn by men who have succeeded in securing a human head when on the warpath. The lower edge of this jacket is ornamented with beads, shells, and buttons, and bordered by a fringe.

In addition to the attire already mentioned, the men have sometimes a dandong, or shawl, which is thrown over the shoulders. The ornaments worn on the arms and legs are brass rings, which vary among the Dyaks of different districts. Armlets made from sea-shells are very much in favour among some inland tribes. The young men generally wear their hair long, cut in a fringe in front, and either hanging down loose behind, or tucked into their caps.

Tattooing is practised by most of the Dyaks in a greater or less degree. It is confined to the male sex, who often have little patterns tattooed on the forehead, throat-apple, shoulders, or chest.

The dress of the women consists of a petticoat (kain),[38] drawn tightly round the waist and reaching to the knee, and in addition a klambi, or jacket, worn when out of doors. For ornaments the women wear finger-rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, and often a girdle formed of silver coins, or of silver or brass chain. Round the stomach are wound long strips of coloured cane. Among some tribes a peculiar corset, called the rawai, is worn by the women. This is made of small brass rings strung closely together on hoops of rattan, which are connected with one another inside by a network of cane. A few of these hoops are made larger so as to hang loose over the hips. The series that encase the waist, stomach, and chest fit very close. This corset must be very uncomfortable, as the wearer can hardly bend the body at all, especially when it is worn right up to and covering the breasts, as it is done by some young women who can afford such extravagance.

The hair is worn long, and tied in a knot at the back of the head. Some of the women have beautiful raven black hair of great length. Wavy or curly hair is seldom seen.

The teeth are often blackened, as black teeth are considered a sign of beauty. The blackening is done by taking a piece of old cocoanut-shell or of certain woods, and holding it over a hot fire until a black resinous juice exudes. This juice is collected, and while still warm the teeth are coated with it. The front teeth are also frequently filed to a point, and this gives their face a curious dog-like appearance. Sometimes the teeth are filed concavely in front, or else the front teeth are filed down till almost level with the gums. Another curious way of treating the front teeth is to drill a hole in the middle of each tooth, and fix in it a brass stud. I was once present when this operation was in progress. The man lay down[39] with a piece of soft wood between his teeth, and the “dentist” bored a hole in one of his front teeth. The agony the patient endured must have been very great, judging by the look on his face and his occasional bodily contortions. The next thing was to insert the end of a pointed brass wire, which was then filed off, leaving a short piece in the tooth; a small hammer was used to fix this in tightly, and, lastly, a little more filing was done to smooth the surface of the brass stud. I am told the process is so painful that it is not often a man can bear to have more than one or two teeth operated on at a time.

The Dyaks do not like beards, and much prefer a smooth face. In the whole course of my Dyak experience I have only met with one bearded man. The universal absence of hair upon the face, on the chest, and under the arm-pits might lead one to suppose that it was a natural deficiency. But this is not the case at all, as old men and chronic invalids, who by reason of age or infirmity have ceased to care about their personal appearance, have often chins covered with a bristly growth. The absence of hair on the face and elsewhere is due to systematic depilation. The looking-glass and tweezers are often seen in the hands of the young men, and they devote every spare moment to the plucking out of stray hairs. Kapu, or quicklime, which is one of the constituents of betel-nut mixture chewed by the Dyaks, is often rubbed into the skin to destroy the vitality of the hair-follicles.

Among some tribes it is the fashion for both men and women to shave the eyebrows and pull out the eyelashes, and this gives their faces a staring, vacant expression. I have often tried to convince them of the foolishness of trying to improve upon nature in this way, and pointed out that both eyebrows and eyelashes are a protection[40] to the eyes from dust and glare. But my remarks have made little impression on them. Among the Dyaks, as elsewhere, fashions die hard.

The Sea Dyak language is practically a dialect of Malay which is spoken more or less over all Polynesia. It is not nearly so copious as other Malayan languages, but the Dyaks do not scruple to use Malay words in their conversation when necessary. The Dyak language is particularly weak in expressing abstract ideas. What the mind cannot grasp the tongue is not likely to express. I believe there is only one word—rindu—to express all the different varieties of love. On the other hand, the language is rich in words expressing the common actions of daily life. There are many words to express the different ways of carrying anything; one word for carrying in the hand, another for carrying on the back, and another for carrying on the shoulder.

There are several words in Dyak which resemble Malay words of the same meaning, the difference being that the Malay suffix an is changed into ai. Thus, the Malay word makan (to eat) becomes makai in Dyak, and jalan (to walk) becomes jalai. There are some words exactly the same in both languages, and these are for the most part simple substantives, such as rumah (house), laki (husband), bini (wife). Verbs, however, commonly differ, though expressing simple necessary actions. Thus, the Malay word for “to drink” is minum, the Dyak word is ngirup; the Malay for “to eat” is makan, and the Dyak empa as well as makai.

It is not surprising that there should be many words in Dyak not known to the Malays. Though derived from the same parent tongue, the Dyak language has developed independently by contact with other races.


There are many tribes that talk the Sea Dyak language. The Sabuyaus living on the coast and at Lundu, the Balaus of the Batang Lupar and elsewhere, the dwellers on the Skrang and Saribas Rivers, as well as the Kanowit and Katibas branches of the Rejang River, all speak it, with slight modifications. There can be no doubt that all these tribes are descended from the same parent stock.

The difference of dialect between the different tribes is often a source of great amusement, and I remember well taking some Saribas boys, who had been some time in my school at Banting, on a visit to their people. We sat in the long veranda of the Dyak house, and I noticed that as they spoke to their relatives and friends there were shrieks of laughter and great merriment. The reason of this was that the boys had unconsciously picked up the Balau dialect during their stay at Banting, and their manner of speaking amused their Saribas friends exceedingly.



Dyak village house—TanjuRuaiBilikSadau—Human heads—Valuable jars—Paddy-planting—Men’s work—Women’s work—House-building—Boat-building—Kadjangs—Dyak tools—BliongDuku—Weaving—Plaiting mats and basket-making—Hunting—Traps—Fishing—Spoon-bait—Casting-net—Tuba-fishing—Crocodile-catching.

Among the Dyaks a whole village, consisting of some twenty or thirty families, or even more, live together under one roof. This village house is built on piles made of hard wood, which raise the floor from six to twelve feet above the ground. The ascent is made by a notched trunk or log, which serves as a ladder; one is fixed at each end of the house. The length of this house varies according to the number of families inhabiting it; but as the rooms occupied by the different families are built on the same plan and by a combination of labour, the whole presents a uniform and regular appearance.

The roof and outside walls are thatched with the leaves of the nipa palm, which are first made into attap. These are made by doubling the leaves over a stick about six feet long, each leaf overlapping the other, and sewn down with split cane or reeds. These attap are arranged in rows, each attap overlapping the one beneath it, and thus[43] forming a roof which keeps off the rain and sun, and lasts for three or four years.

The long Dyak village house is built in a straight line, and consists of a long uncovered veranda, which is called the tanju. The paddy is put on the tanju to be dried by the sun before it is pounded to get rid of its husk and convert it into rice. Here also the clothes and a variety of other things are hung out to dry. The family whetstone and dye vat are kept under the eaves of the roof, and the men sharpen their tools and the women do their dyeing on the tanju. The flooring of this part of the house is generally made of bilian, or iron-wood, so as to stand exposure to the weather.

Next to the tanju comes the covered veranda, or ruai. This also stretches the whole length of the house, and the floor is made of bamboo, or nibong (a kind of palm), split into laths and tied down with rattan or cane.

This ruai, or public hall, is generally about twenty feet wide, and as it stretches the whole length of the house without any partition, it is a cool and pleasant place, and is much frequented by men and women for conversation and indoor pursuits. Here the women often do their work—the weaving of cloth or the plaiting of mats. Here, too, the men chop up the firewood, or even make boats, if not of too great a size. This long ruai is a public place open to all comers, and used as a road by travellers, who climb up the ladder at one end, walk through the whole length of the house, and go down the ladder at the other end. The floor is carpeted with thick and heavy mats, made of cane interlaced with narrow strips of beaten bark. Over these are spread other mats of finer texture for visitors to sit upon.

The length of this covered veranda depends upon the[44] number of families living in the house, and these range from three or four to forty or fifty.

Each family has its own portion of this ruai, and in each there is a small fireplace, which consists of a slab of stone, at which the men warm themselves, when they get up, as they usually do, in the chill of the early morning before the sun has risen.

Over this fireplace hangs the most valuable ornament in the eyes of the Dyak, the bunch of human heads. These are the heads obtained when on the warpath by various members of the family—dead and living—and are handed down from father to son as the most precious heirlooms—more precious, indeed, than the ancient jars which the Dyaks prize so highly.

The posts in this public covered veranda are often adorned with the horns of deer and the tusks of wild boars—trophies of the chase. The empty sheaths of swords are suspended on these horns or from wooden hooks, while the naked blades are placed in racks overhead.

On one side of this long public hall is a row of doors. Each of these leads into a separate room, or bilik, which is occupied by a family. The doors open outwards, and each is closed by means of a heavy weight secured to a thong fastened to the inside. If the room be unusually large, it may have two doors for the sake of convenience.

Dyak Making a Blow-pipe

He is seen here shaping the outside of the blow-pipe. The hole is bored while the wood is about six inches in diameter, and it is then pared down to about two inches.

Dyak Village House in course of Construction

This picture shows the arrangement of pillars and rafters of a Dyak house. The floor nearest the earth is divided into the long open veranda and the rooms in which the different families live. Above this is the loft, where the paddy is stored away. Part of the roof in the picture has been covered with palm-leaf thatch.

This room serves several purposes. It serves as a kitchen, and in one corner there is a fireplace where the food is cooked. This fireplace is set against the wall of the veranda, and resembles an open cupboard. The lowest shelf rests on the floor, and is boarded all round and filled with clay. This forms the fireplace, and is furnished with a few stones upon which the pots are set[45] for cooking. The shelf immediately above the fireplace is set apart for smoking fish. The shelves above are filled with firewood, which is thoroughly dried by the smoke and ready for use. As the smoke from the wood fire is not conducted through the roof by any kind of chimney, it spreads itself through the loft, and blackens the beams and rafters of the roof.

This room also serves as a dining-room. When the food is cooked, mats are spread here, and the inmates squat on the floor to eat their meal. There is no furniture, the floor serving the double purpose of table and chairs.

This bilik also serves as a bedroom. At night the mats for sleeping on are spread out here, and the mosquito-curtains hung up.

There is no window to let in the air and light, but a portion of the roof is so constructed that it can be raised a foot or two, and kept open by means of a stick.

Round the three sides of this room are ranged the treasured valuables of the Dyaks—old jars, some of which are of great value, and brass gongs, and guns. Their cups and plates are hung up in rows flat against the walls. The flooring is the same as that of the veranda, and is made of split palm or bamboo tied down with cane. The floor is swept after a fashion, the refuse falling through the flooring to the ground underneath. But the room is stuffy, and not such a pleasant place as the open veranda. The pigs and poultry occupy the waste space under the house.

From the bilik there is a ladder which leads to an upper room, or loft (sadau), where they keep their tools and store their paddy. If the family be a large one, the young unmarried girls sleep in this loft, the boys and young men sleeping outside in the veranda.


Both men and women are industrious and hard-working. With regard to the paddy-planting on the hills, the work is divided between the men and women in the following manner. The men cut down the jungle where the paddy is to be planted. When the timber and shrubs have been burnt, the men and women plant the grain. The roots of the trees are left in the ground. The men walk in front, with a long heavy staff in the right hand of each, and make holes in the ground about a foot apart. The women walk behind them and throw a few grains of seed in each hole.

When the paddy has grown a little, the ground has to be carefully weeded; this work is done by the women. When the crop is ripe, both men and women do the reaping. They walk between the rows of standing grain, and with a sharp, oddly-shaped little knife they cut off the heads one by one, and place them in their baskets, which are tied in front of them. The carrying home of the paddy thus reaped is mostly done by the men, who can carry very heavy loads on their backs, though the women help in this to some extent. The next thing is to separate the grain from the little tiny stems to which it is still attached. This is done by the men. The grain is put on a large square sieve of rattan fixed between four posts in the veranda of the Dyak house, and the men tread on it and press it through the sieve. The paddy that falls through is taken and stored in the loft in large round bins made of bark.

Dyak Girls Pounding Rice

After the paddy has been passed through the husking mill it is pounded out in wooden mortars. Here are two girls at work. Each has her right foot in the upper part of the mortar to kick back any grains of paddy that may be likely to fall out.

A Husking Mill (Kisar)

After the paddy is dried and before it is pounded, it is generally passed through a husking mill made in two parts—the lower half having a stem in the middle which fits into the upper part, which is hollow. The paddy is put into a cavity in the upper half, and a man or woman seizes the handles and works the upper half to the right and left alternately. The paddy drips through on to the mat on which this husking mill is placed.

Drying Paddy

Before it is possible to rid the paddy of its husk and convert it into rice, it has to be dried in the sun. Here a woman is seen spreading out the paddy on a mat with her hands. She is on the outside veranda of the Dyak house (tanju). The long pole over her head is used by her to drive away the fowls and birds who may come to eat the paddy put out to dry.

When rice is wanted for food, the paddy is dried, and then pounded by the women in wooden mortars, with pestles five feet long. As a rule two or three women each use their pestles at one mortar, which is cut out of the trunk of a tree. I have seen as many as six girls using[47] their pestles in quick succession at one mortar. In this way the grain is freed from husk, and is made ready for food.

Each family farms its own piece of land. Much of such work as cutting down the jungle and planting is done by a combination of labour, several families agreeing to work for each other in turn. By this means all the planting on the land belonging to a particular family is done in one day, and all the grain ripens at the same time.

When the Dyaks wish to abandon an old habitation in favour of a new one, a general meeting of the inhabitants is held to consider the matter, and the desirability of building a new house is fully discussed. Sometimes it happens that some families do not agree with the wishes of the majority, and these families split off and join another house. If a move be decided on, a few experienced men are deputed to choose a site, and to report on its adaptability. There are several matters to be taken into account. The site must be for preference on rising ground, and be near a good supply of water. There must also be some jungle near, where the inmates can get their firewood, and there must be large tracts of land not far away where they can plant their paddy.

When the new house has to be built on the low-lying, marshy ground in the lower reaches of the river, the choice is not difficult. All that is necessary is to choose a part of the river where the current is not very strong. But in the hill country it is not easy to find a site where the ground is fairly level, and can accommodate a large house of thirty or forty families.

Before building on the chosen site the omen birds are consulted. If the omens be favourable, all the men and[48] lads turn out immediately with axes and choppers to cut down the trees of the jungle, which are then left to dry. Another meeting is then held to decide who is to be the tuai, or headman, of the new house, and to settle the size and the sequence of the rooms. The next move is to appoint a time for all the people to meet at the site of the new village. The ground is then cleared. All the timber is carried off, as it is considered unfortunate to burn it. The ground is measured out for the different rooms belonging to the different families, and pegs are put in where the posts have to stand. A piece of bamboo is then stuck in the ground, filled with water and covered with leaves. A spear and a shield are placed beside it, and the whole is surrounded by a wooden rail. The rail is to prevent the bamboo from being upset by wild animals, and the weapons are to warn strangers not to touch it. A few people remain to keep watch, and to make a great deal of noise with brass gongs and drums to frighten away the evil spirits. If in the early morning they find there is much evaporation, the place is considered unhealthy, and is abandoned. If all be well, the building of the house is begun. Each family must kill a fowl or a pig before the holes for the posts can be dug, and the blood must be smeared on the sharpened ends and sprinkled on the posts to propitiate Pulang Gana, the tutelary deity of the earth. They begin by making the holes for the headman’s quarters, and then work simultaneously to left and right of it. The posts, of which there are a great number, are about twelve inches or less in diameter, and are of bilian or other hard wood so as not to rot in the earth. A hole four feet deep is made to receive each post. They must be planted carefully and firmly, for if one were to give way subsequently it would[49] be regarded as foreboding evil, and the house would have to be abandoned and a new house built.

All the men combine to labour collectively until the skeleton of the house is complete, and then every family turns its attention to its own apartments. During the building of the house, there is a great deal of striking of gongs and other noisy instruments to prevent any birds of ill omen being heard. I have sometimes argued with the Dyaks that if the warnings of the birds are to be trusted, then why make so much noise to prevent hearing them? The Dyak’s reply to this was that as long as they did not hear the warning, the spirits would not be displeased at their not regarding it; so to spare themselves the trouble of choosing another site and building another house, they make so much noise as to drown the cries of any birds.

When the building is sufficiently advanced to receive the inmates, they pack up their possessions and convey them to the house, halting on the way till they have heard some favourable omen, after which they proceed joyfully. Their belongings must not be moved into the house before themselves, but must be taken with them when they move into the new house.

House-building is considered the work of the men, and another important work the men have to do is the making of boats. These are of all sizes, from the dug-out canoe twelve feet long to the long war-boat eighty to ninety feet in length.

The ordinary boats of the Dyaks are cut out of a single log. Some of my schoolboys, under the guidance of the native schoolmaster, once made a small canoe for their own use, so I saw the whole process. A tree having a round straight stem was felled, and the desired length of trunk cut off. The outside was then shaped with the[50] adze to take the desired form of a canoe. Then the inside was hollowed out. The next thing to do was to widen the inside of this canoe. This was done by filling the boat with water and making a fire under it, and by fastening weights to each side. When the shell had been sufficiently opened out, thwarts were placed inside, about two feet from each other, to prevent the wood shrinking when the wood dried. The stem and stern of the canoe are alike, both being pointed and curved, and rising out of the water. The only tool used for the making of a boat of this kind is the Dyak axe or adze (bliong).

This is the usual type of Dyak boat, and the method of making a smaller or larger canoe is exactly the same. Even a war-boat, ninety feet long, is made from the trunk of one tree. In the longer boats planks or gunwales are stitched on the sides, and the seams are caulked so as to render the boat watertight. These boats are covered with awnings called kadjangs, which make a very good covering, as they are at once watertight, very light, easily adjusted, and so flexible that if necessary each section can be rolled up and stored in the bottom of the boat. These kadjangs are made of the young leaves of the nipa palm. The leaves are sewn together with split cane, each alternate leaf overlapping its neighbour on either side, until a piece about six and a half feet square is made. This section is made to bend in the middle crosswise, so that it can be doubled and rolled up, or partly opened, and made to serve as a roof. Sometimes kadjangs are made from the leaves of the Pandanus palm.

Sea Dyaks making a Canoe

Sea Dyaks at work on a small dug-out. The tree has been felled, and the trunk is being cut into shape and hollowed out. The Dyaks are using the native axe or bliong, and the picture shows their method of handling it.

To propel these boats the Dyaks use paddles about three feet or more in length. The paddle used by the steersman is larger than those used by the others, and the women use much smaller paddles than the men. These[51] dug-out boats draw very little water, and are easily handled, and may be propelled at a good pace.

In shallow streams and in the rapids up-river, the Dyaks use small canoes, which they propel with poles, standing up in the boat to do so.

The principal tools the Dyaks have for their work are the duku and bliong. The duku is a short, thick sword, or, rather, chopping-knife, about two feet in length. The blade is either curved like a Turkish scimitar, or else quite straight. The handle is beautifully carved, and is made of hard wood or of horn. The duku is used in war as well as for more peaceful purposes. In the jungle it is indispensable, as without it the Dyak would not be able to go through the thick undergrowth which he is often obliged to penetrate. It is, moreover, used for all purposes where a knife or chisel is used, and is a warrior’s blade as well as a woodman’s hatchet.

The bliong is the axe the Dyaks use, and is a most excellent tool. They forge it of European steel, which they procure in bars. In shape it is like a small spade, about two and a half inches wide, with a square shank. This is set in a thin handle of hard wood, at the end of which there is a woven pocket of cane to receive it. The lower end of this handle has a piece of light wood fixed to it to form a firm grip for the hand. The bliong can be fixed in the handle at any angle, and is therefore used as an axe or adze. With it the natives make their boats, and cut planks and do much of their carpentering work. The Dyak can cut down a great forest tree with a bliong in a very short time.

While the work of the men is to build houses and to make boats, the work of the women is to weave cloth and make mats.


The cloth which the women weave is of two kinds, striped and figured. The former is made by employing successively threads of different colours in stretching the web. This is simple enough. The other pattern is produced by a more elaborate process. Undyed white thread is used, and the web stretched. The woman sketches on this the pattern which she wishes to appear on the cloth, and carefully notes the different colours for the different parts. If, for example, she wishes the pattern to be of three colours—blue, red, and white—she takes up the threads of the web in little rolls of about twenty threads, and carefully wraps a quantity of vegetable fibre tightly round those parts which are intended to be red or white, leaving exposed those parts which are intended to be blue. After she has in this manner treated the whole web, she immerses it in a blue dye made from indigo, which the Dyaks plant themselves. The dye takes hold of the exposed portions of the threads, but is prevented by the vegetable fibre from colouring the other parts. Thus the blue portion of the pattern is dyed. After it has been dried, the vegetable fibre is cut off, and the blue parts tied up, and only the portion to be dyed red exposed, and the web put into a red dye. In this way the red part of the pattern is obtained. By a similar method all the colours needed are produced. The weft is of one colour, generally light brown.

Dyak weaving is a very slow process. The woman sits on the floor, and the threads of the weft are put through one by one. The cloth they make is particularly strong and serviceable. The women seem to blend the colours they use in a pleasing manner, though there is a great sameness in the designs.

Girls Weaving

They are seated on mats on the floor. The threads are fastened to a frame, which is kept in position by a large band that is secured to the girl’s waist, and she can tighten or loosen the threads by leaning back or bending forward. The threads of the weft are put through one by one from right to left and left to right.

Mats are made either with split cane or from the outer[53] bark of reeds. The women are very clever at plaiting, and some of their mats have beautiful designs.

They also make baskets of different sizes and shapes, some of which have coloured designs worked into them.

Hunting is with the Dyaks an occasional pursuit. They live upon a vegetable rather than upon an animal diet. But in a Dyak house there are generally to be found one or two men who go out hunting for wild pig or deer on any days when they are free from their usual farm work. The Dyak dogs are small and tawny in colour, and sagacious and clever in the jungle.

Native hunting with good dogs is easy work. The master loiters about, and the dogs beat the jungle for themselves. When they have found a scent, they give tongue, and soon run the animal to bay. The master knows from the peculiar bark of the dogs if they are keeping some animal at bay, and follows them and spears the game. The boars are fierce and dangerous when wounded, and turn furiously on the hunter, who often has to climb a tree to escape from their tusks. The dogs are very useful, and by attacking the hind legs of the animal keep making it turn round.

Deer are more easily run down than pigs, because they have not the strength to go any great distance, especially in the hot weather.

A favourite way of catching deer is to send a man to follow the spoor of a deer, and to find out where it lies to rest during the heat of the day. Then large nets made of fine cane are hung around, and the deer is driven into these by a large number of men, women, and boys making a noise. When the deer is caught in the net, he is soon killed.

A variety of traps are made by the Dyaks to catch[54] birds and wild animals. One of these traps (peti) set for killing wild pig is a dangerous contrivance by which many Dyaks have lost their lives. It consists of a spring formed by a stick being tied to the end of a post and pulled apart from it. The end of this stick is armed with a sharp bamboo spear. I have known of several men being killed by this trap, and in Sarawak this particular trap is forbidden by the Government to be set.

The Sea Dyaks are very expert with the rod and line, and with them fishing is a favourite occupation. They begin fishing at an early age. For bait they use worms or certain berries. Their hooks are made of brass wire.

Another method of fishing is by wooden floats (pelampong), generally cut in the form of a duck. Each has a baited hook fastened to it, and is set swimming down the stream. The owner of these floats drifts slowly in his canoe after them, watching, till the peculiar motions of any of these ducks shows that a fish has been hooked.

The achar is a spoon-bait. A piece of mother-of-pearl shell or some white metal is cut in the form of a triangle. At the apex the line is attached, and at the base are fastened two or three hooks by a couple of inches of line. This appliance is generally used with a rod from the bows, and another man in the stern paddles the boat along.

The Dyaks also have many varieties of fish-traps, which they set in the streams and rivers. Most of these are made of split bamboo.

They also have nets of various kinds; the most popular is the jala, or circular casting-net, loaded with leaden or iron weights in the circumference, and with a spread sometimes of twenty feet. Great skill is shown by the Dyak in throwing this net over a shoal of fish which he has sighted. He casts the net in such a manner that all[55] the outer edge touches the water almost simultaneously. The weights cause it to sink and close together, encompassing the fish, and the net is drawn up by a rope attached to its centre, the other end of which is tied to the fisherman’s left wrist. The thrower of this net often stands on the bow of a small canoe, and shows great skill in balancing himself. The jala is used both in fresh and salt water, and can be thrown either from the bank of a river or by a man wading into the sea.

But the most favourite mode of fishing among the Dyaks is with the tuba root (Cocculus indicus). Sometimes this is done on a small scale in some little stream. Sometimes, however, the people of several Dyak houses arrange to have a tuba-fishing. The men, women, and children of these houses, accompanied by their friends, go to some river which has been previously decided upon. A fence made by planting stakes closely together is erected from bank to bank. In the middle of this there is an opening leading into a square enclosure made in the same fashion, into which the fish enter when trying to escape from the tuba into fresh water. The canoes then proceed several hours’ journey up the river, until they get to some place decided on beforehand. Here they stop for the night in small booths erected on the banks of the river. The small boats are cleared of everything in them so as to be ready for use the next day.

All the people bring with them fishing-spears and hand-nets. The spears are of various kinds—some have only one barbed point, while others have two or three. The shaft of the spear is made of a straight piece of bamboo about six feet long. The spear is so made that, when a fish is speared the head of the weapon comes out of the socket in the bamboo; but as it is tied on to the shaft,[56] it is impossible for the fish to escape. Even when the fisherman throws his spear at the fish, there is little chance of the fish escaping, because the bamboo bears it to the surface, and it is easy for the men to pick up the bamboo shaft and thus secure the fish.

Most of the people bring with them some tuba root, made up into small close bundles, the thickness of a man’s wrist, and about six inches long. Early the next morning some of the canoes are filled with water, and the root is beaten and dipped into it. For an hour or so fifty or more clubs beat a lively tattoo on the root bundles, as they are held to the sides of the boats. The tuba is dipped into the water in the boat, and wrung out from time to time. This gives the water a white, frothy appearance like soap-suds. The Dyaks, armed with fish-spears and hand-nets, wait in readiness in their canoes. At a given signal the poisoned liquid is baled out into the stream, and the canoes, after a short pause, begin to drift slowly down the current. The fish are stupefied by the tuba, and as they rise struggling to the surface, are speared by the Dyaks. The large fish are thus secured amid much excitement, several canoes sometimes making for the same spot where a large fish is seen. The women and children join in the sport, and scoop up the smaller fish with hand-nets. The tuba does not affect the flesh of the fish, which can be cooked and eaten.

This form of fishing, when carried out on a large scale, is always a great event among the Dyaks, because besides the large amount of fish secured on these occasions, there is always a great deal of fun and excitement, and it is looked upon as a pleasant sort of picnic.

Dyaks Returning from Tuba-fishing

In tuba fishing the juice of the tuba root is put in the water to poison it, and cause the fish to rise stupefied to the surface, when they are secured either with spears or by hand-nets. In the picture the men are seen taking up to the Dyak house their fish spears and the fish they have succeeded in taking. The boats, which are dug-outs, each made out of the trunk of a tree, are being made fast to the bank. The large hats the men are wearing as a protection from the sun are made of palm leaves. On the right of the picture is seen a three-pronged fish-spear.

For superstitious reasons the Dyaks do not interfere with the crocodile until he has shown some sign of his[57] man-eating propensity. If the crocodile will live at peace with him, the Dyak has no wish to start a quarrel. If, however, the crocodile breaks the truce and kills someone, then the Dyaks set to work to find the culprit, and keep on catching and killing crocodiles until they find him. The Dyaks generally wear brass ornaments, and by cutting open a dead crocodile they can easily find out if he is the creature they wish to punish. Sometimes as many as ten crocodiles are killed before they manage to destroy the animal they want.

There are some men whose business it is to catch crocodiles, and who earn their living by that means; and whenever a human being has fallen a victim to one of these brutes, a professional crocodile catcher is asked to help to destroy the murderer. The majority of natives will not interfere with the reptiles, or take any part in their capture, probably fearing that if they did anything of the kind, they themselves may some time or other suffer for it by being attacked by a crocodile.

The ordinary way of catching a crocodile is as follows. A piece of hard wood about an inch in diameter and about ten inches long, is sharpened to a point at each end. A length of plaited bark of the baru tree, about eight feet long, is tied to a shallow notch in the middle of this piece of wood, and a single cane or rattan, forty or fifty feet long, is tied to the end of the bark rope, and forms a long line. The most irresistible bait is the carcase of a monkey, though often the body of a dog or a snake is used. The more overpowering the stench, the greater is the probability of its being taken, as the crocodile will only swallow putrifying flesh. When a crocodile has fresh meat, he carries it away and hides it in some safe place until it decomposes. This bait is securely lashed[58] to the wooden bar, and one of the pointed ends is tied back with a few turns of cotton to the bark rope, bringing the bar and rope into the same straight line.

The next thing is to suspend the bait from the bough of a tree overhanging the part of the river known to be the haunt of the animals. The bait is hung a few feet above the high-water level, and the rattan line is left lying on the ground, and the end of the rattan is planted in the soil.

Several similar lines are set in different parts of the river, and there left for days, until one of the baits is taken by a crocodile. Attracted either by the smell or sight of the bait, some animal raises itself from the water and snaps at the hanging bundle, the slack line offering no resistance until the bait has been swallowed and the brute begins to make off. Then the planted end of the line holds sufficiently to snap the slight thread binding the pointed stick to the bark rope. The stick thus returns to its original position, at right angles to the line, and becomes jammed across the crocodile’s stomach, the two sharpened points fixing themselves into the flesh.

Next morning the trappers search for the missing traps, and seldom fail to find the coils of floating rotan, or cane, on the surface of some deep pool at no great distance from the place where they were set. A firm but gentle pull soon brings the crocodile to the surface, and if he be a big one, he is brought ashore, though smaller specimens are put directly into the boat, and made fast there.

Sometimes the cotton holding the bar to the line fails to snap. In that case the crocodile, becoming suspicious of the long line attached to what he has swallowed, manages to disgorge the bait and unopened hook in the jungle, where it is sometimes found. But should the[59] cotton snap and the bar fix itself in the animal’s inside, nothing can save the brute.

The formidable teeth of the crocodile are not able to bite through the rope attached to the bait, because the baru fibres of which the rope is made get between his pointed teeth, and this bark rope holds no matter how much the fibres get separated.

Professional crocodile catchers are supposed to possess some wonderful power over the animals which enables them to land them and handle them without trouble. I have seen a man land a large crocodile on the bank by simply pulling gently at the line. But this is not surprising, as from the crocodile’s point of view there is nothing else to do but follow, when every pull, however gentle, causes considerable pain.

The rest of the proceeding is more remarkable. The animal is addressed in eulogistic language and beguiled, so the natives say, into offering no resistance. He is called a “rajah amongst animals,” and he is told that he has come on a friendly visit, and must behave accordingly. First the trapper ties up its jaws—not a very difficult thing to do. The next thing he does appears to me not very safe. Still speaking as before in high-flown language, he tells the crocodile that he has brought rings for his fingers, and he binds the hind-legs fast behind the beast’s back, so taking away from him his grip on the ground, and consequently his ability to use his tail. When one remembers what a sudden swing of the muscular tail means, one cannot help admiring the man who coolly approaches a large crocodile for the purpose of tying his hind-legs. Finally the fore-legs are tied in the same way over the animal’s back. A stout pole is passed under the bound legs, and the animal is carried away. He is taken[60] to the nearest Government station, the reward is claimed, and he is afterwards cut open, and the contents of his stomach examined.

Though the animal is spoken to in such flattering terms before he is secured, the moment his arms and legs are bound across his back and he is powerless for evil, they howl at him and deride him for his stupidity.

The professional crocodile catchers are generally Malays, who are sent for whenever their services are required. But there are Dyaks who have given up their old superstitious dread of the animal, and are expert crocodile catchers.



General remarks—Kind to children—Industrious—Frugal—Honest—Two cases of theft—Curses—Honesty of children—Truthful—Curious custom—Tugong Bula—Hospitable—Morals—Desire for children—Divorce—Adultery—Dyak law concerning adultery—Dyak view of marriage—Unselfishness—Domestic affection—Example.

The Dyaks are seen at their best in their own jungle homes, in the midst of their natural surroundings. The man who has only met the hangers-on of the towns has little idea of their true character. To one who knows them well, who has lived among them, and seen them at their work and at their play, there is something very attractive about the Dyaks. They are very human, and in many points are very like children, with the child’s openness in telling his thoughts and showing his feelings, with the child’s want of restraint in gratifying his wishes, the child’s alternate moods of selfishness and affection, obedience and obstinacy, restlessness and repose. Like children, they live in the present, and take little thought for the future. Like children, they love passionately those who are kind to them, and trust absolutely those whom they recognize as their superiors.

They are cheerful, merry, and pleasure-loving. Fine dress is a passion, and the love, in both men and women, for bright colours is very marked, and yet somehow the[62] brilliant colours that are seen at a Dyak feast are not at all displeasing. They are fond of song; the boatman sings as he paddles along. They are fond of games, and a Dyak feast is the occasion for playing many games, and for friendly trials of strength. They are fond of dancing, and the two Dyak dances—the Sword Dance and the War Dance—are always watched with interest by those present.

They are, like most Orientals, apathetic, and have no desire to rise above their present condition. But they are truthful and honest, and are faithful to those who have been kind to them; and these qualities cover a multitude of deficiencies, and are rather unusual in Eastern races.

They are kind and affectionate to children, and in all the many years I lived in Borneo I did not meet a single instance of cruelty to children. They are considerate to the aged, and parents who are past work are generally kindly treated by their children and grandchildren. They are most hospitable to strangers, and offer them food and shelter. And yet these are the people who some sixty years ago were dreaded pirates and terrible head-hunters! Their improvement under a kind and just Government has been wonderful.

A Dyak Woman making a Mat with Split Cane

She is seated on the outside open veranda of the Dyak house. The flooring in the picture is made of the round trunks of small trees, and these are tied down with cane. Sometimes the flooring is made of split palm or split bamboos, but more often of laths of bilian or ironwood, so as to stand exposure to the weather. The outside uncovered veranda is a favourite place to sit in in the cool of the evening.

The Dyaks are industrious and hard-working, and in the busy times of paddy-planting they work from early in the morning till dusk, only stopping for a meal at midday. The division of labour between the men and the women is a very reasonable one, and the women have no more than their fair share of work. The men do the timber-felling, wood-cutting, clearing the land, house and boat building, carrying burdens, and the heavier work generally. The women help in the lighter part of the farm[63] work, husk and pound the rice they eat, cook, weave, make mats and baskets, fetch the water for their daily use from the well or river, and attend to the children.

The Dyak is frugal. He does not as a rule seek to accumulate wealth, but he is careful of whatever he may earn. He plants each year what he supposes will produce sufficient rice to supply his own needs—a portion of this is for family consumption, a portion for barter for such simple luxuries as tobacco, salt fish, cloth, etc., and a third portion for hospitality. If he happen to have an exceptionally good harvest, he may sell some paddy, and the money thus obtained is not lavishly squandered, but saved with the object of investing in gongs or other brassware, old jars, etc., which do not decrease in value with age. On such occasions as feasts nearly all the food and drink used are home products or begged from friends. A Dyak drinks water as a rule, but if he takes alcohol in any form, it is a home-brewed rice spirit (tuak). To spend money upon anything which he can make for himself, or for which he can make a substitute, is, in his opinion, needless waste.

The Dyak in his jungle home is remarkably honest. Families are often away from their homes for weeks at a time, living in little huts on their farms, and though no one is left in charge of their rooms, things are seldom stolen. Sometimes Dyaks become demoralized by associating with other races in the towns, but a case of theft among the Dyaks in their native wilds is indeed rare. I have not been able to discover any enactment of traditional law which fixes the punishment for theft. It has not been necessary to deal with the subject at all. In my missionary travels in Borneo I have often left by mistake in a Dyak house some small thing like a soap-box,[64] or a handkerchief, or a knife—things I know the Dyaks love—but it has always been returned to me.

With an experience of nearly twenty years in Borneo, during which I came into contact with thousands of the people, I have known of only two instances of theft among the Dyaks. One was a theft of rice. The woman who lost the rice most solemnly and publicly cursed the thief, whoever it might be. The next night the rice was secretly left at her door. The other was a theft of money. In this case, too, the thief was cursed. The greater part of the money was afterwards found returned to the box from which it had been abstracted. Both these incidents show the great dread the Dyak has of a curse. Even an undeserved curse is considered a terrible thing, and according to Dyak law, to curse a person for no reason at all is a fineable offence.

A Dyak curse is a terrible thing to listen to. I have only once heard a Dyak curse, and I am sure I do not want to do so again. I was travelling in the Saribas district, and at that time many of the Dyaks there had gone in for coffee-planting; indeed, several of them had started coffee plantations on a small scale. A woman told me that someone had over and over again stolen the ripe coffee-berries from her plantation. Not only were the ripe berries stolen, but the thief had carelessly picked many of the young berries and thrown them on the ground, and many of the branches of the plants had been broken off. In the evening, when I was seated in the public part of the house with many Dyak men and women round me, we happened to talk about coffee-planting. The woman was present, and told us of her experiences, and how her coffee had been stolen by some thief, who, she thought, must be one of the inmates of the house.[65] Then she solemnly cursed the thief. She began in a calm voice, but worked herself up into a frenzy. We all listened horror-struck, and no one interrupted her. She began by saying what had happened, and how these thefts had gone on for some time. She had said nothing before, hoping that the thief would mend his ways; but the matter had gone on long enough, and she was going to curse the thief, as nothing, she felt sure, would make him give up his evil ways. She called on all the spirits of the waters and the hills and the air to listen to her words and to aid her. She began quietly, but became more excited as she went on. She said something of this kind:—

“If the thief be a man, may he be unfortunate in all he undertakes! May he suffer from a disease that does not kill him, but makes him helpless—always in pain—and a burden to others. May his wife be unfaithful to him, and his children become as lazy and dishonest as he is himself. If he go out on the war-path, may he be killed, and his head smoked over the enemy’s fire. If he be boating, may his boat be swamped and may he be drowned. If he be out fishing, may an alligator kill him suddenly, and may his relatives never find his body. If he be cutting down a tree in the jungle, may the tree fall on him and crush him to death. May the gods curse his farm so that he may have no crops, and have nothing to eat, and when he begs for food, may he be refused, and die of starvation.

“If the thief be a woman, may she be childless, or if she happen to be with child let her be disappointed, and let her child be still-born, or, better still, let her die in childbirth. May her husband be untrue to her, and despise her and ill-treat her. May her children all desert her if she live to grow old. May she suffer from such diseases as are peculiar to women, and may her eyesight[66] grow dim as the years go on, and may there be no one to help her or lead her about when she is blind.”

I have only given the substance of what she said; but I shall never forget the silence and the awed faces of those who heard her. I left the house early next morning, so I do not know what was the result of her curse—whether the thief confessed or not.

The children are just as honest as their elders. A missionary used to visit certain stations once a quarter. At one of the stations he had a small native hut built for his accommodation. On one occasion some small Dyak boys came to him with three cents (less than one penny in value), which they said they wished to return to him. They had picked them up under the floor of his hut. They thought they had fallen through the open floor, and belonged to the missionary, and, as a matter of course, they wished to return the money to the owner. I have never had occasion to punish any of the schoolboys living in my house for theft. They had access to everything there was, but, though they had no scruples about asking for things, they never stole anything.

The Dyaks are also very truthful. So disgraceful indeed do the Dyaks consider the deceiving of others by an untruth that such conduct is handed down to posterity by a curious custom. They heap up a pile of the branches of trees in memory of the man who has uttered a great lie, so that future generations may know of his wickedness and take warning from it. The persons deceived start the tugong bula—“the liar’s mound”—by heaping up a large number of branches in some conspicuous spot by the side of the path from one village to another. Every passer-by contributes to it, and at the same time curses the man in memory of whom it is.[67] The Dyaks consider the adding to any tugong bula they may pass a sacred duty, the omission of which will meet with supernatural punishment, and so, however pressed for time a Dyak may be, he stops to throw on the pile some branches or twigs.

A few branches, a few dry twigs and leaves—that is what the tugong bula is at first. But day by day it increases in size. Every passer-by adds something to it, and in a few years’ time it becomes an imposing memorial of one who was a liar. Once started, there seems to be no means of destroying a tugong bula. There used to be one by the side of the path between Seratok and Sebetan. As the branches and twigs that composed it often came over the path, on a hot day in the dry weather I have more than once applied a match to it and burnt it down. In a very short time a new heap of branches and twigs was piled on the ashes of the old tugong bula.

It has often been remarked by Dyaks that any other punishment would, if a man had his choice, be much preferred to having a tugong bula put up in his memory. Other punishments are soon forgotten, but this remains as a testimony to a man’s untruthfulness for succeeding generations to witness, and is a standing disgrace to his children’s children. Believing, as the Dyaks do, in the efficacy of curses, it is easy to understand how a Dyak would dread the accumulation of curses which would necessarily accompany the formation of a tugong bula.

The Dyaks are very hospitable. They are always ready to receive and entertain strangers. A man travelling on foot through the Dyak country need never trouble about food. He would be fed at the Dyak houses he passed on his journey, as part of their crops is reserved[68] to feed visitors. When the family meal is ready, visitors are invited to partake of it. If many visitors come to a house at the same time, some have their meal with one family and some with another.

The morals of the Dyak from an Eastern point of view are good. There is no law to punish immorality between unmarried people. The parents do not seem to be strict, and it is considered no disgrace for a girl to be on terms of intimacy with the youths of her fancy until she has made her final choice. It is supposed that every young Dyak woman will eventually marry, so her duty is plainly to choose a husband in her youth from among the many men she knows. And yet, for all this, I should say that promiscuous immorality is unknown. It is true that very often a girl is with child before her marriage, but from the Dyak point of view this is no disgrace if the father acknowledges the child and marries the woman. The greatest desire of the Dyak is to become a parent, to be known as father or mother of So-and-so. They drop their own names after the birth of a child. A young couple in love have no opportunities of private meetings excepting at night, and the only place is the loft where the young lady sleeps. The suitor pays his visit, therefore, when the rest of the family are asleep, and she gets up from her bed and receives him. Two or three hours may be spent in her company before he leaves her, or if he should be one whom she is not willing to accept as a husband, she soon gives him his dismissal. If acceptable, the young man may be admitted to such close intimacy as though they were already married. The reason is to ascertain the certainty of progeny. On his departure he leaves with the young lady some ornament or article of his attire, as a pledge of his sincerity and good faith. On[69] the first signs of pregnancy the marriage ceremony takes place, and they are man and wife.

Divorce is very uncommon after the birth of a child, but where there are no children, for such reasons as incompatibility of temper or idleness, divorce is obtainable by either husband or wife by paying a small fine. The women as a rule are faithful to their husbands, especially when they have children, and adultery is very uncommon when there is a family.

The Dyak law respecting adultery is peculiar and worthy of notice. If a woman commit adultery with a married man, his wife may make a complaint to the headman of the house, and receive a fine from the guilty woman; or, if she prefer it, she may waylay the guilty woman and thrash her; but if she do so, she must forgo one-half of the fine otherwise due to her. In the eyes of the Dyak the woman is alone to blame in a case like this. “She knew,” they say, “the man has a wife of his own; she had no business to entice him away from her.” If a married man commits adultery with an unmarried woman the procedure is similar. The wife of the man may punish the girl, but no one punishes the man. The whole blame, according to Dyak ideas, falls on the woman for tempting the man.

If a married man commits adultery with a married woman, the husband of the woman is allowed to strike him with a club or otherwise maltreat him, while the wife of the adulterer has the right to treat the adulteress in the same way. The innocent husband supposes the one most to be blamed is not his wife, but her tempter, and vice versâ. This striking must not, however, take place in a house; it must be done in the open. The club used must not be of hard wood. Very often this striking[70] is merely a means of publishing the fact that adultery has been committed, and no one is much hurt, but I have known cases where the man has been very badly wounded. No striking can take place after the matter has been talked about or confessed, and if one knew for certain of a case of adultery, one could easily stop this maltreatment of each other by talking about it publicly. The case is then settled by fining the guilty parties. Where both parties are married, and no divorce follows, the fining is no punishment, because each party pays to the other.

The Dyak view of the marriage state, especially where there are children, is by no means a low one. Though an Oriental people living in a tropical climate, their own traditional law allows a man to have only one wife. If, as sometimes is the case, a couple continue to live together after one of them has committed adultery, it is due to the fact that there are little children whom they do not want to part with, and not because they think lightly of the crime of adultery.

The Dyaks are very unselfish, and show a great deal of consideration for each other. They live together under one roof in large communities. Though each family has a separate room, all the rooms are usually connected one with another by little windows in the partition walls. This communal life accounts for the good-nature and amiability of the Dyaks. The happiness and comfort, to say nothing of the safety, of the community in times past, depend largely on their getting on well one with another. Therefore, as a natural result, there has grown up a great deal of unselfish regard for each other among the inmates of the Dyak village house.

Domestic affection between the different members of[71] one family is very great. Especially is this the case between parents and children. An old father or mother need never work unless they like. Their children will provide for them.

Parents will risk their lives for their children. At Semulong, near Banting, a man and his son, a youth about twenty years old, were returning from their farm, and had just arrived at the landing-place. The father stepped out of the canoe, washed his feet on the river-bank, and then turned to speak to his son in the boat. But the son had disappeared. The father at once guessed that a crocodile had taken him, though he had heard no noise. He shouted for help from the village house, and at once jumped into the water. He dived, and felt his hand strike the crocodile. Drawing his short sword (duku), he attacked the animal. He managed to drive the point of his sword into the animal, when the beast let go his son. The father brought him at once to the nearest mission-station, where he was treated, but after ten days died of tetanus. The inner part of the thigh and knee of one leg was torn away, so as to expose the ragged ends of sinews under the knee.



Head-hunting—Women an incentive—Gruesome story—Marriage of Dyak Chiefs—Legend—Some customs necessitating a human head—A successful head-hunter not necessarily a hero—A dastardly crime—War expeditions—The spear token—My experience at a village in Krian—Dyak war-costume—Weapons—The Sumpit—Poison for darts—Consulting omen birds—War-boats—Camping—War Council—Defences—War alarm—Ambushes—Decapitation and treatment of head—Return from a successful expedition—Women dancing—Two Christian Dyak Chiefs—Their views on the matter of head-taking.

Warfare is an important element among all savage races, and the Dyaks are no exception to the rule. But it would be wrong to suppose that they are naturally abnormally bloodthirsty because head-hunting was such a regular practice with them. Mere love of fighting is not the only reason for the terrible custom of head-hunting which at one time prevailed to such a great extent among the Dyaks, but which at present, under the rule of Rajah Brooke, is fast dying out. There are many other causes. Theft committed by one tribe against another, revenge for the murder of some of their friends, and a thousand other minor pretexts, are often the origin of an expedition of one tribe against another. The Dyaks are faithful, hospitable, just, and honest to their friends, and, being so, it naturally follows that they avenge any act of injustice or cruelty to them,[73] and they are consequently bloodthirsty and revengeful against their enemies, and willing to undergo fatigue, hunger, want of sleep, and other privations when on the war-path. I have often been told by Dyaks that the reason why the young men are so anxious to bring home a human head is because the women have so decided a preference for a man who has been able to give proof of his bravery by killing one of the enemy.

The desire to appear brave in the eyes of his lady-love sometimes leads a young man to mean and cowardly crimes. The following gruesome incident actually took place many years ago. A young man in the Batang Lupar started by himself to seek for a head from a neighbouring tribe. In a few days he came back with the desired prize. His relatives asked him how it was he was able to get to the enemy’s country and back in such a short time. He replied gravely that the spirits of the woods had assisted him. About a month afterwards a headless trunk was discovered near one of their farms. It was found to be the body of his victim, an old woman of his own tribe, not very distantly related to himself!

In the old days no Dyak Chief of any standing could be married unless he had been successful in procuring the head of an enemy. (See also Chapter XXII.) For this reason it was usual to make an expedition into the enemy’s country before the marriage-feast of any great Chief could be held. The head brought home need not be that of a man; the head of a woman or a child would serve the purpose quite as well.

There is a legend related among the Dyaks as a reason for this custom. Once upon a time a young man loved a maiden, but she refused to marry him until he had[74] brought to her some proof of what he was able to do. He went out hunting and killed a deer, and brought it to her, but still she would have nothing to say to him. He went again into the jungle, and, to show his courage, fought and killed a mias (orang-utan), and brought it home as a proof of his courage; but still she turned away from him. Then, in anger and disappointment, he rushed out and killed the first man he saw, and, throwing the victim’s head at the maiden’s feet, he blamed her for the crime she had led him to commit. To his surprise, she smiled on him, and said to him that at last he had brought her a worthy gift, and she was ready to marry him.

It is sometimes stated that, according to ancient custom, no Dyak could marry without having first procured a human head as a token of his valour. This is not true. It was only in cases of the great men—their Chiefs—that such a thing was necessary. A little consideration will show how impossible it was for every man who married to be the owner of the head of some human victim.

There were certain ancient customs which necessitated the possession of a human head. When any person died the relatives went into mourning. They put away their ornaments and finery, which were tied together in bundles. At the feast in honour of the dead—Begawai Antu—these were all undone, and the women and men put on their finery again. Some man cut the string with which they were tied up. Before he could do such a thing, it used to be necessary that a human head be brought into the house, and it was usual for the man who had obtained that head to take a leading part in the ceremonies and cut open the bundles.

Five Dyaks in War Dress with Spears and Shields

The spears are made of steel and have shafts of hard heavy wood. The shields are each cut out of one piece of wood, and are often coloured with some fantastic design. Sometimes, as in the case of the man’s shield on the left, cross pieces of cane or wood are fixed in the shield to prevent it splitting. The second man on the left is wearing a large sleeveless jacket, or collar, of skin to protect his shoulders from wounds.


Again, it was customary in some tribes to bring home a head as an offering to the spirits when a new village was to be built.

Both these customs are no longer observed. At the feast in honour of the dead—Begawai Antu—the headman of the house generally cuts open the bundles of finery that have been put away, and at the building of a new house the killing of a pig is supposed to be sufficient to satisfy the demands of the spirits.

It is presumed that a man who has secured a human head must necessarily be brave. But this need not be the case at all, for, as has been said, the head of a woman or child will serve the purpose. And these heads need not be obtained in open warfare. Very often the head of an enemy is taken while he is asleep. Nor is it necessary that a man should kill his victim with his own hand. Frequently many of his friends assist him in killing some unfortunate man whom they have waylaid, and then he comes home with the head, and poses as a hero!

It was customary in the old days to announce an expedition that one tribe intended to take against another at one of their feasts, when the village was thronged with guests from far and near. Some great Chief would advance his reason for the intended attack. Either some of his people had been slain, and revenge was called for, or else they wished to put off their mourning, and for that required a human head taken in war. Perhaps the reason was that they intended to build a new village house, and so required some human heads to use as offerings to the spirit of the land; or possibly he himself wished to marry, and wanted a head as a[76] proof of his valour in the eyes of his lady-love. Among the crowd who listened to him there were sure to be many who were willing to follow him on the war-path. The women would help him by urging their husbands, or lovers, or brothers, to go. Out of the crowd of eager followers the Chief would choose a certain number to form a Council of War. These would discuss the whole matter, and it would be decided when the party was to start for the enemy’s country. Details would also be discussed—how much food each man was to take with him, by what route they were to go. The time of the year generally chosen would be just after the planting season, because that would give the men a clear three months before the harvest. The weeding of the paddy-fields between the planting season and the harvest is work that is usually done by the women.

The next thing to do would be to send the War Spear round to the neighbouring villages, to let all know when the expedition was to take place, and where it was to start from. A man would bring this spear to a long Dyak house, deliver his message, and return, leaving the spear to be carried on by one of the men in that house to the next village, and so on. At once the men in the house would get their war-boats ready. They would begin making figure-heads for the bows of their boats, and paint the side planks in various patterns. They would furbish up their arms, and sharpen their weapons, and decorate their helmets and war-jackets. The Dyaks generally wear their best when going out to fight. I asked a Dyak once why this was done, because, as I pointed out to him, most of the finery they put on interfered with the free action of their limbs. His answer was that if they were well dressed, in case of their death,[77] the enemy who saw the bodies would know that they were not slaves, but free men of some standing.

In the present day, under the rule of Rajah Brooke, no Sea Dyaks may go out on a fighting expedition unless called out for that purpose by the Government. I remember not long ago that there were some rebels in the upper reaches of the Batang Lupar River, who had been guilty of many murders, and would not submit to the Government. After trying milder measures without any effect, it was decided to take a force into their country, and the Government sent round the War Spear to let the people of the different villages know they were to be ready to go on expedition at a certain date. I happened to be in a Dyak village in the Krian. It was evening, and I was seated on a mat in the open veranda of the house, and round me were seated a crowd of men and women, whom I was trying to teach. A man arrived at the house with a spear decorated with red cloth. At first no one noticed him. He spoke to a man near the top of the ladder of the house. The man came up to the middle of the house, where I was seated, and said something which I did not quite catch. At once the whole crowd got up and left me. They listened eagerly to what the man who brought the spear had to say. I was not left long in doubt of what it all meant. The message the man brought was short and to the point: “You are to be ready with your war-boats, and be at Simanggang at the next full moon. There is to be an expedition up the river.”

It is difficult for me to describe the change that came over the crowd. The headman of the house at once asked a youth to carry on the spear to the next house with the same message. The men at once discussed the question of war-boats, and it was decided there and then[78] that they should begin making a new war-boat the next day. The women were just as excited about the expedition as the men, and there was a general turning out of war-caps and war-jackets which had long been put away.

The costume a Dyak wears when going on the war-path consists of a basket-work cap decorated with feathers and sometimes with human hair, a sleeveless skin jacket, or in place of it a sleeveless quilted cotton jacket, and the usual Dyak costume of the waist-cloth (sirat). For weapons they have a sword, or duku. This may be of foreign or of their own make. It is a dangerous weapon at close quarters, and is what they use to cut off the head of a fallen enemy. They also have a spear, consisting of a long wooden shaft of some hard wood with a steel spear-head, which is tied on to the shaft with rattan. Sometimes the shaft of the spear is the sumpit, or blow-pipe. For defensive purposes the Dyak has a large wooden shield about three feet long, which, with its handle, is hollowed out of a single block of wood. It is held in the left hand well advanced before the body, and meant not so much to receive the spear-point as to divert it by a twist of the hand. It is often painted in bright colours, with some elaborate design or fantastic pattern, and often decorated with human hair.

The sumpit, or blowpipe, is a long wooden tube about eight feet long. The smoothness and straightness of the bore is remarkable. The hole is drilled with an iron rod, one end of which is chisel-pointed, through a log of hard wood, which is afterwards pared down, and rounded till it is about an inch in diameter.

A Dyak in War Dress

Holding up his shield in readiness to receive the attack of the enemy. He is holding his sword in his right hand. The shield is decorated with human hair.

Human Heads

The heads of slain enemies are smoked and preserved and looked upon as valuable possessions. The above is a bunch of old heads as they appear hanging from the rafters of a Dyak house.

The dart used with the sumpit is usually made of a thin splinter of the wood of the nibong palm, stuck into a round piece of very light wood, so as to afford a surface[79] for the breath to act upon. These darts are sharpened to a fine point, and are carried in neatly carved bamboo quivers.

The poison that is used for these darts is obtained from the epoh tree (upas). Incisions are made in the tree, and the gutta which exudes is collected and cooked over a slow fire on a leaf until it assumes the consistency of soft wax. It is a potent and deadly poison. Some Dyaks say that the most deadly poison is made of a mixture of the gum from the epoh tree and that from some creeper.

A dart is put in at one end, and the sumpit is lifted to the mouth, and with the breath the dart is driven out. Up to twenty-five yards they shoot with accuracy, but though the darts can be sent fifty yards or more, at any distance greater than twenty-five yards their aim is uncertain.

Before starting on a war expedition, the Dyaks consult the omen birds. The headman of the village, with the help of a few chosen friends, builds a little hut at a convenient distance from the Dyak house, and stays there, listening to the voices of the birds. If the first omens he hears are unfavourable, he continues living there until he hears some bird of good omen. When this happens, the men get ready their war-boats and start for the appointed meeting-place.

The war-boat is generally made in the same way as the Dyak dug-outs in ordinary use, out of the trunk of one large tree, only it is very much larger and longer, and able to hold sixty men or more. They paint this boat with a pattern of red and white—the red is an ochre and the white is lime. It is propelled with paddles, and the steering is done with one or two greatly developed[80] fixed paddles, which the steersman works with his foot if he happens to be standing up.

Sometimes the war-boat is built of planks in the following manner. First they make a long lunas, or keel plank, of hard wood the whole length of the boat. This has two ledges on each side on its upper surface, each about an inch from the edge of the keel. Then several planks are made, all of which are also the entire length of the boat. Each plank has an inside ledge on its upper edge, its lower edge being quite plain. When the Dyaks have made as many planks as are necessary, they put them together in the following manner. The keel plank is put in position, then the first side-planks are brought and placed with their lower or plain edges upon the two ledges of the keel planks. The ledge of the first side-plank receives in turn the next plank, and so on, till they have enough planks, generally four or five, on each side. The ledges and the planks next to them are bored, and firm rattan lashings are passed from one to the other. The seams are caulked up so as to render the boat watertight. In the construction of a boat of this kind no nails or bolts are employed—nothing but planks ingeniously fastened together with cane or rattan. These lashings are not very durable, as the rattans soon get rotten. But this is of little consequence, as the boat is only used for war expeditions, and on her return the lashings are cut, and the separated planks are stored in the Dyak house. When she is again required, the planks are got out and the boat reconstructed as before.

This kind of war-boat is not often seen nowadays. It is clumsy, and does not travel very fast. In the whole of my experience I have only seen one boat of this kind in course of construction.


Dyak war-boats hold from thirty to a hundred men. When filled with dusky warriors with naked arms and legs just visible beneath the palm-leaf awning, paddling with a regular, vigorous stroke, with their Chief standing in the stem working the rudder with hand or foot, they form a grand sight.

When all the boats have arrived, a start is made for the enemy’s country. The line of advance is most irregular. There are wide gaps between the boats, some lagging behind to cook or fish, and others, deterred by bad dreams or unpropitious omens, waiting a day or two before moving on.

When the landing-place of the enemy is reached, a camp is formed, and temporary huts are built lining the river bank. The warriors lie down to rest side by side. Their spears are stuck in the ground near them, and their shields and swords are by their side, so that they can spring to their feet in a moment, ready for battle. The boats are hauled ashore and hidden in the brushwood, to be used again on the return journey.

A War Council is held and the route decided upon, and the best way to attack the enemy discussed. On a given day the march commences, each shouldering his pack containing a cooking-pot, rice, etc. The pace is more or less rapid as long as they are far from the enemy, but slackens when they come nearer. The leaders proceed warily, as the enemy may be in ambush by the way.

The Dyaks who are expecting an attack defend their houses with a strong palisading of hard wood, strengthened by bamboo stakes fixed between the perpendicular posts, with the sharpened points projecting in all directions, presenting an impassable barrier of spikes to the invader. The whole is tied firmly together with rattan or creepers.[82] This fence is about six feet high, and surrounds the whole village. Two gates are made in it, but when these are closed, they present the same appearance as the rest of the palisading.

The landing-places and approach to the village are all protected with sharpened spikes of bamboo or hard wood. Their valuables—their jars and brass gongs, etc.—they conceal in the jungle.

If they feel confident that they are able to repel the attack of the enemy they keep the women and children at home. If there is any doubt about the matter, they too are hidden away in the forest, and when resistance becomes hopeless, they are rejoined by their relatives at some fixed rendezvous.

The moment the enemy appears, the gongs are struck in a peculiar manner, three strokes following each other very rapidly, a short pause, and then three strokes again, and so on. When the neighbours hear this, they recognize the signal, and know that their friends have been attacked, and they hurry to their help.

Dyak Warfare

The figures in this picture are posed to give some idea of Dyak warfare. In the foreground is a dead man. The Dyak over him is grasping his hair and about to cut off his head. The two figures on the left and the man behind are waiting with their spears to attack the man who has taken refuge in the hole in the stump of a tree.

A favourite stratagem of defence in the lower reaches of the river is to entice the leading boats of the enemy into an ambush on shore. There are sure to be some boats of the attacking party far in advance of the others, as they are anxious to be foremost in the fight. The defenders choose a convenient spot, and a strong party is placed in ambush among the trees. One or two men stroll upon the shingly bank to lure the enemy. As the warriors from the attacking boats leap ashore, the men in ambush spring from their hiding-place. They throw large stones at them, and break their wooden shields. They engage with swords and spears in a short and desperate conflict. As the main body comes round the[83] bend of the river, whooping and yelling, they plunge into the jungle with the heads that they have obtained, and are soon safely far away.

The Dyaks do not attack a village or group of villagers, if their approach has been discovered and the people are on the defensive. Under these circumstances they content themselves with cutting off stragglers, or hide near the waterside for people who are going to bathe or on their way to examine their fish-traps. These they attack unawares, cut down, take their heads, and flee into the jungle before the alarm can be given.

In fighting the Dyak warriors gather round their Chiefs, and defend them bravely. Relatives often congregate together and help to defend each other. When one of them is killed, rather than allow the enemy to take his head, they decapitate him themselves, and bring his head back. When possible, they carry their dead and wounded away with them, but more often they only take their heads, and bury the bodies.

The Sea Dyaks, after having severed the head at the neck, scoop out the brains with a bit of bamboo either through the nostrils or by the occipital hole, cover the eyes with leaves, and hang the head up to dry in the smoke of a wood fire. They cut off the hair to ornament their sword-hilts and sheaths, as well as their shields.

Though cannibalism is not practised by the Dyaks, yet I have heard that sometimes a man who has taken a head eats a small piece from the cheek, in the hope of acquiring the bravery and virtues of the man killed. A Dyak in the Saribas district told me he attempted to eat a little of the brain of an enemy he had killed, but was unable to do so. Deep in the mind of the primitive man of every country lies the idea that he can acquire[84] the attributes of another by eating his flesh or drinking his blood. The Dacota Indian, I am told, eats the heart of his slain enemy, and the New Zealander his eyes. It would appear that the Dyaks have the same idea.

On the return from a war expedition, if the people of any particular boat have been fortunate enough to secure a human head, word is sent up to the Dyak village house of this fact, as soon as the boat reaches the landing-stage. The men remain in the boat, and wait there till all the women-folk from the house come to it, dressed in their best. Generally only the men dance, and the arrival of a boat bearing the ghastly trophy of a human head is the only occasion when the women dance. The excitement is great, and there are continual shouts of triumph as the women, singing a monotonous chant, surround the hero who has killed the enemy and lead him to the house. He is seated in a place of honour, and the head is put on a brass tray before him, and all crowd round him to hear his account of the battle, and how he succeeded in killing one of their foes and bringing home his head.

From all that has been said, it will be seen how the Dyaks value the heads taken in war. They hang them over the fireplaces in the long open veranda of their houses, they make offerings to them, and they believe that the souls of those whom they have slain will be their slaves in the other world. I look upon it as a remarkable fact worthy of record that two great Dyak Chiefs who became Christians—one the Orang Kaya of Padih, Saribas, and the other, Tarang of Krian—should have taken such a decided step as to refuse to treasure their enemies’ heads any more. They were both men of position, with a great reputation for bravery. The Orang Kaya buried all the heads he possessed, and gave out[85] that none of his followers in a war expedition should bring back heads. Two of his grandchildren were at my school in Temudok for some years. A son of Tarang, Tujoh by name, worked as my catechist in Krian for some years. I asked him what his father did with the old heads he possessed when he refused to keep them himself. He told me that he did not think his father acted wisely in that matter. His relatives begged for the heads, and he gave them to them, and they did just what his father did not wish—made a feast in honour of these heads, and treasured them!

While so many Dyak Christians are most unwilling to give up their old heathen customs, these two Christian Dyak Chiefs happily took up the right attitude in such an important matter in the eyes of the Dyaks as head-taking.



Social position of the women—Dyak food—Meals—Cooking food in bamboo—Law with regard to leaving a Dyak house—Rule of the headman—A Dyak trial—Power of the headman in old days—Dyak wealth—Valuable jars—GusiNagaRusa—A convenient dream—Trading incident at Sebetan—Land tenure—Laws about fruit-trees—Slavery—Captives in war—Slaves for debt.

The Dyak woman does not hold, as in most Eastern countries, an inferior and humiliating position. As has already been stated, the women do no more than a fair share of the work: they cook, make garments and mats, help in the lighter part of farm work, and husk and pound the grain. The men do the timber-felling, wood-cutting, clearing of the land, house and boat building, and all the heavier work.

When the Dyaks meet together to discuss any matter such as the advisability of migrating to a new house, the women are allowed to take part in the discussion. Generally the men sit round in a circle, and behind them are the women and children. And it is no unusual thing to hear a woman express an opinion, and her remarks are listened to with deference by the men.

The Dyak women have no reason to complain of their lot. Their wants are few and easily satisfied. They may have sometimes a little more than their fair share of work, but this is always the case where the men spend[87] much time on the war-path, and as the women keep the men up to the mark in this respect, and often will not marry a man who has not been successful in war, they are scarcely to be pitied if extra work fall to their lot during the time the men are away fighting.

The women are earlier risers than the men, and retire to bed earlier. They generally go to the river as soon as they wake, carrying their water-gourds with them. They have a bath, fill their gourds with water, and return to the house to cook the morning meal.

The principal article of food is rice, which is cooked in brass or iron pots. When the rice is ready, it is put out on plates. They eat with their rice either vegetables or fish. Sometimes they have the flesh of wild pig or venison, but that is not usual. A favourite method of cooking is to put the proper quantity of fish or vegetables or meat with sufficient water and a little salt into a newly-cut bamboo. The mouth is then stopped up with leaves, and the bamboo is placed over the fire, resting on a stone at an angle of 45 degrees or more. By the time the bamboo is thoroughly charred the contents are sufficiently cooked, and it is taken from the fire and emptied out into a plate. Sometimes rice is cooked in bamboos, and when it is ready to be eaten, the bamboo is split and torn off in strips, when the rice is found well cooked inside—a stiff mass moulded in the form of the bamboo.

When the food is ready and put out in plates, the men are asked to come into the room and eat. Sometimes the women eat with the men; but if there are too many to eat comfortably at one sitting, the men have their meal first, and the women eat with the children after the men have done.

The Dyaks all sit on the floor, which also serves as[88] their table. They have their rice on plates, or sometimes upon clean leaves. They eat with their fingers, dipping the hand when necessary into the common stock of salt, or common dish of meat or vegetables. They eat with their right hand, compressing the rice into portions of convenient size.

Nearly every animal is eaten by the Dyaks; fish, venison, and pork are eaten by all, but many tribes eat monkeys, snakes, and even crocodiles.

When breakfast is over, they clean the crockery and put it away. The mats are swept and taken up, and the refuse thrown through the open floor for the pigs and poultry under the house to eat.

Each long Dyak village house has its headman, who generally occupies a room in the middle of the house. He is called the tuai rumah—“the old man or chief of the house”—and he settles all disputes among the inmates, and decides the amount of the fine the guilty party has to pay. Great deference is paid to him, and as a general rule his people abide by his decisions. But his power is only one of persuasion, and depends upon his personal ability and sense of justice. He cannot in any way coerce his people into obedience. Upon the prestige and conduct of this tuai rumah depends the number of families a Dyak house contains. If he be a man of strong personal character, clear-headed, and upright in his dealings, many will settle under him. If he be otherwise, he will quickly lose the families living in his house. They will migrate to other houses where the headman is one they admire and respect.

Dyak Houses

Showing the outside open platform where paddy, etc., is put out to dry. Where the eaves are very low, parts of it are often raised to admit more light into the house. The palm trees in the picture are cocoanut palms.

There are certain laws among the Dyaks with regard to a family leaving a house. If a new house is to be built, any families of the former inmates may refuse to make[89] their home in the new house, and may join some other village or decide to build a house for themselves. If a family wish to leave a house at any other time, they must not only leave the posts, roof, and flooring of their part of the house, but they must undertake to keep these in repair until such a time as the house is pulled down and a new one built.

The Sea Dyak administration of law among themselves by the headman of the house has its advantages. Disputes are settled at once and on the spot. Unfortunately sometimes prejudice and the ties of relationship impede the carrying out of justice, but more often the Chiefs are peculiarly alive to the advantage of a just administration, which never fails to secure the aid and support of the majority of the people.

I have often been present when some small dispute was settled by the headman of a Dyak house. Both parties and their friends sat on mats in a circle before the Chief. Each party had their say; the headman asked a few questions. Then he pronounced judgment somewhat after this fashion. He began by saying that as the disputants were living in the same house—“brothers and sisters” so to speak—it was not necessary to inflict a heavy punishment; all that was needed was to impose a small fine to show which was in the wrong, and one party must pay the other a fine of so many cups or so many plates as the case required.

Whenever I have been present, the fine was cheerfully paid. The punishment, in fact, was very slight. Though the Government recognize this method of settling disputes among themselves, still, if Dyaks are discontented with the decision of their headmen, they can always bring their case for trial before the Government officer of the district.[90] But this is seldom done. The fine imposed by the headman is so small compared to that which would have to be paid if the case were tried elsewhere that the guilty party generally prefers to pay it cheerfully rather than appeal to the Government.

If the dispute be between the inmates of one house and those of another, then the headmen of both houses have to be present at the trial. When matters are at all complicated, headmen from other houses are also asked to be present and help in the administration of justice.

I learn from conversations with the older Dyaks that in bygone days the power of the headman was much greater than it is now. Then he used to impose much heavier fines and take part of them himself for his trouble, and no Dyak dared to murmur against the decision of his Chief. In those days there was no court of appeal. The only means of protesting was to leave the house and build on to another, and in the old days such a thing was not so easily done as at present. The Dyak houses were much longer and built much farther apart, and to join another house meant moving to a district very far away and cutting off all connection with relatives and friends.

Wealth among the Dyaks is not so much the accumulation of money as the possession of brass gongs, guns, and valuable jars. Money is not used except by the inhabitants of the towns. The up-country Dyaks procure what they need by a system of barter, and in most of the shopping done in the Chinese bazaars near the Dyak villages no money passes hands at all. Silver coins are used by the Dyaks for making belts and bangles, and are often attached to the edge of the petticoats worn by the women at feasts and on other special occasions, and are[91] esteemed only as ornaments. Brass ware of all kinds is much valued, especially old brass guns and gongs.

The valuable jars (tajau) which the Dyaks prize so highly are in appearance much like the earthen water-pots that are manufactured in large numbers by the Chinese, and which cost from five to ten shillings. But closer examination shows certain differences. The Dyaks are prepared to pay exorbitant prices for a really old jar, and they venerate it and make offerings to it. The best known of these sacred jars are the Gusi, the Naga, and the Rusa. The first is the most valuable of the three. It is of a greenish colour, about eighteen inches high, and is much sought after. A good one would cost £80 or more. The Naga is about two feet high, and is called by that name because it is ornamented with Chinese figures of dragons, or naga. It is worth from eight to ten pounds. The Rusa is covered with the representation of some kind of deer (rusa), and is worth about four pounds. These prices, except the first, may not seem very great to our ideas, but when one remembers how poor the Dyaks are, they are very large amounts for them to pay for such fragile things as earthenware jars.

The Gusi is always kept wrapped in cloth and treated with the greatest respect. People crawl in its presence, and touch it with the greatest care. At certain feasts a jar of this kind is brought out, and offerings are made to it. Besides being the abode of a spirit, it is supposed to possess marvellous qualities—one of them being that if anything be placed in it overnight, the quantity will increase before morning; another, that food kept in a jar of this kind has peculiar medicinal virtues.

When any of these sacred jars are bought, before bringing it into the room where it is to be kept an offering[92] is always made to it. A chicken is killed and the blood smeared on the jar.

It is not known for certain where these jars originally came from. One theory is that many years ago a colony of Chinese settled in Borneo for a short period, and made these jars and then left the country.

These old jars have been imitated by the Chinese, and many modern jars are very like the originals. A very profitable business is done by Malay traders, who, for one genuine old jar in their possession, have six or more modern jars. The Dyaks are very cautious about paying a large price for a doubtful article, but for all that they are often taken in.

I was at a Dyak house in Saribas, and was shown a jar which a Malay trader had brought for sale. A Dyak had decided to buy it, the price had been agreed upon, and the trader was to come on the following day to receive it in brass guns, gongs, and money. The Dyaks, on examining the jar more closely, came to the conclusion that it was a modern imitation. When the trader came, he was told that the Dyak had had a bad dream about the jar, and so was not prepared to buy it. In talking to an old Dyak about it, I was told that to say one had a bad dream was the usual way of refusing to buy a jar which seemed of doubtful value.

An amusing incident happened at Sebetan in Krian when I was there. A Malay trader, whom we will call “A,” came to a Dyak house with a jar to sell. “A” was well known, as he lived in his coffee plantation on the bank of the Krian River. The Dyaks examined the jar and saw many defects in it, and said so. The next day another Malay trader, whom we will call “B,” arrived with a jar to sell, but no one in the house seemed inclined[93] to buy it. “A” and “B” seemed to be quite strangers to one another. “A” examined the jar “B” had brought, and then said: “My jar is not a good one; I admit that. But this is a genuine old jar, and worth the eighty dollars he asks for it. I have not got much money with me; but if anyone here will lend me the money, I am quite prepared to pay eighty dollars for it.” As “A” was well known, the headman of the house lent him the sum of money he required to enable him to buy the jar. The money was paid to “B,” who went off. Then “A” began to boast about his bargain; he dwelt on all the good points of the jar, and told the Dyaks that they were very foolish to have let such a chance slip. He praised the jar so much that the headman of the house said he would buy it from him for the same price as he paid for it. “A” said he did not want to part with it, as it was a genuine old jar, and honestly worth much more than he gave for it. After some discussion “A” agreed to sell it to the Dyak for one hundred dollars, and so he made a profit of twenty dollars in a very short time.

It was found out afterwards that “B” was living with “A” during his stay in Krian! The jar was considered by experts to be a modern imitation and comparatively worthless. When “A” was spoken to about the matter, he persisted in saying that in his opinion the jar was a genuine old one, but that he might be mistaken.

With regard to land, it has been the immemorial custom of the Dyaks that when a person fells the virgin forest he acquires by that act a perpetual title to the land. He may sell it, lend it, let it, or leave it to his successor. The rent he is supposed to demand for a piece of land large enough to be farmed by one man is one dollar. If, however, he is not paid in money, he may claim a game-cock, or two[94] plates. As a gamecock or two plates cost about a quarter of a dollar, it is dearer to pay for the use of land with money. Land disputes are very common among Dyaks. As they often leave a particular district, and then return again after many years, it is not surprising that complications arise.

Fruit-trees are owned by the people who plant them. The different families in a Dyak house plant fruit-trees near their part of the house. When they leave the spot and build a new habitation elsewhere, they each still claim ownership of the trees they planted. The rule with regard to fruit-trees is that anyone may take the ripe fruit that has fallen, but only the owner or someone deputed by him may climb the tree. Banting Hill, where I lived for some years, was covered with fruit-trees (durian), and at night during the fruit season crowds of men and boys would watch for the falling of the ripe fruit. They would each have a torch made of the bark of some tree, and they would sit and wait with the torch smouldering by their side. As soon as a ripe durian fruit was heard to fall, they would wave their torches in the air to make them flare up into a flame, and they would rush to the spot, and the person who found the fruit would take possession of it.

Slavery exists among the Dyaks, but not to any great extent. There are two classes of slaves—captives in war, and slaves for debt.

The Sea Dyaks when on the warpath spare neither man, women, nor children, but it occasionally happens that when they are able to do so, they carry little children back with them as captives. There are not many slaves to be met with among the Sea Dyaks, and these do not seem to be hardly treated. The slaves are not distinguishable[95] from their masters and mistresses, and they live all together and fare precisely the same, very often eating the same food at the same time from the same dish. In many cases children who have been taken captive become so endeared to their masters that they are adopted, and intermarry with the sons and daughters of the other inhabitants of the village.

The ceremony of adoption is usually performed at a great feast, so that the matter may be made as public as possible. The owner of the slave announces to the assembled guests that he has freed him and adopted him as his brother. He then presents to him a spear, with which he is told to slay the man who dares in future to call him a slave.

The old Dyak law concerning debts was that if a man borrowed paddy or rice from another, he must pay double that amount at the next harvest. If therefore a debtor had a succession of bad harvests, his debt would become so great that he could not ever hope to pay it off. If he paid part of his debt, then the following year he would be expected to pay double the amount still due. In process of time his debt would become so great that he and his family would have to become slaves in payment of it.

According to old Dyak laws people who were careless enough to set a house on fire rendered themselves liable to become the slaves of those who were burnt out. The damage done by their carelessness would be too great for them to compensate, so they would become slaves for debt.

Sir James Brooke made a law that after a certain number of years all slaves for debt were to be set free, so at present there are not any, except those who have grown old in the service of their masters, and do not wish for their freedom.



The Couvade among the Dyaks—Harm to the child—Ways of evading these restrictions—Punishment for violating these restrictions—A Christian woman’s ideas on the subject—Witch doctors and their methods—The waving of a fowl—Treatment of the mother and child—Infanticide—Bathing the child—Ceremony for insuring happiness to the child—Naming the child—Change of name—Children—Toys—Smallness of families—Reason.

As the Sea Dyaks look upon child-birth as a very ordinary event, there are not many ceremonies connected with it, though there are many rules and restrictions which have to be observed by the parents before the child is born.

The Couvade is in existence among the Sea Dyaks, and there are many superstitions which impede and harass those who are about to become parents.

When it is known that a woman is enceinte, the following restrictions, binding on both husband and wife, come into force, and have to be observed until the child has cut its first teeth. The parents may not cut creepers that hang over the water or over the path, lest the mother should suffer from hæmorrhage after delivery. They may not cut anything in the shape of cloth, cotton, etc., nor lay hold of the handle of a knife or chopper, nor bind up anything into a parcel; nor may they dam a stream to set up a fish-trap, or plait the rattan for fixing the adze.[97] They must under no circumstances tie up anything with a string, or drive a nail into a board. Neither parent may eat anything while in the act of walking. If the neighbour in the next room should hand anything through the small window in the partition wall, the hand that receives it must not be passed through the window, so as to be on the other side in the next room, but must be kept on its own side of the wall. The man may not nail up a wall or fasten together the planks of a boat. Nor must he plant a post in the earth, nor dig a trench. Plaiting a basket or mat-work must not be done by the woman. It is unfortunate if the cord of the water-gourd, used by the women, break when carrying water, but in case of such an accident, evil consequences may be averted if the woman step astride over the gourd or other vessel three times backwards and forwards. To do any of these forbidden things would hinder the wife’s parturition.

There are many prohibitions which, if disregarded by the parents, would result in some harm to the child. They must not pour out oil, lest the child should suffer from inflammation of the ears; or fix the sword (duku) in its hilt, lest the child be deaf; or break an egg, lest the child be blind; or plant a banana-tree, lest the head of the child should be abnormally large; or kill any animal, lest the child be deformed or its nose bleed; or scrape the shell of a cocoanut, lest the child’s hair should not grow. It is also forbidden to eat anything in a mosquito curtain, lest the child should be still-born; to carry stones, lest the child should be paralyzed; to bend into a circle any piece of wood, lest the child should not prosper.

There are a great many other matters of a similar sort forbidden, but in the case of nearly all their restrictions, there are ways by which they can be circumvented,[98] and no evil effects follow. For instance, the mother may do basket-work and make mats, provided some other woman begin the work for her, and the man may dig trenches or erect a hut provided the hands of others are first laid to it. A man may not kill an animal yet, if he does kill anything, and runs away and then returns a few minutes afterwards, and makes some remark like this aloud, “I wonder who killed this animal?” he has nothing to fear.

These curious restrictions are more or less similar among the different tribes. It is probable that they are founded on some theory of sympathy. Man, woman, and unborn or newborn babe are all linked together by some unseen bond, and, accordingly, the wrong action of one may result in harm to the others.

The whole period of a woman’s pregnancy is passed in fear lest the spirits (antu) should do harm to her or her unborn babe. If the mother has a bad dream or hears a bird of ill omen, at once a fowl is sacrificed to propitiate the spirits.

Should the husband wilfully violate any of the restrictions, the wife’s relations immediately bring him to justice, and, according to Dyak law, he has to pay a fine.

Some years ago Bishop Hose, accompanied by a missionary, visited Ginsurai, one of the villages in the Saribas. The Christians there had built for themselves a small chapel, where services were held. In the evening, when the Dyaks were sitting together in the ruai of the Dyak house talking to the Bishop and his companion, the question arose as to whether the attending of public worship should be included among the many restrictions imposed upon a pregnant woman. The wife of the headman[99] in the house was a great invalid, and she gave her opinion on the matter. “I think,” she said, “a woman in that state should be allowed to come to public worship. It is just the time she needs it most. You men have so much to engage your attention, and go out to your work. I am an invalid, and am left at home ill. I often go by myself into our little chapel and say the Lord’s Prayer, and I find it is a great consolation to me. A pregnant woman, who is perhaps feeling ill and low-spirited, ought to be allowed to join in public prayers.” Not so very long after she spoke in this way this woman, Manja’s wife, died. Let us hope that there are many others in Borneo who, like herself, have learnt to rely on a Higher Power in time of need.

When the time of delivery is near, and the woman is in travail, two or three older women come in and attend to her.

Should any difficulty occur in the delivery of the child the manangs, or witch-doctors, are called in. One takes charge of the proceedings in the lying-in room, while the others remain outside in the ruai, or common veranda. The manang inside the room winds a loop of cloth around the woman above the womb. One of the manangs outside wraps his body around in the same manner, but first places within the folds of a cloth a large stone. A long incantation is then sung by the manangs outside, while the one within the room strives to force the child downward, and so hasten delivery. If he succeed in doing this, he draws down upon it the loop of cloth, and twists it tightly around the mother’s body, so as to prevent the upward return of the child. A shout from him proclaims his success to his companions outside, and the manang who is personating the mother moves the loop of cloth[100] which contains the stone and encircles his body a stage downwards, in imitation of what has been done to the mother in the room. So the matter proceeds until the child is born, or until all concerned become assured of the fruitlessness of their efforts.

Fortunately for Dyak mothers, difficulties of this sort seldom occur. Delivery is generally very easy. The mother may often be seen sitting up with her back to the fire half an hour after her child is born, looking none the worse for what she has gone through, and before a week she will probably be back at her work as usual.

As soon as the child is born, a signal is given either by beating a bamboo with a stick or by striking a brass gong to announce the event. Then a fowl is waved over the heads of all present, including the infant and his mother. The fowl is killed and the blood smeared on the foreheads of those present. It is afterwards cooked and eaten by the parents of the child and any friends that may be present.

The mother has a poultice of ground ginger placed on her abdomen, and is bandaged and made to sit up with her back to the fire, and she is given an unlimited amount of ginger-tea to drink. Her poultice is changed once a day. The infant is washed, and a compound of betel-nut and pepper leaf, which has been chewed in the mouth, is placed on its stomach, and a binder tied round it. It is then made to lie on the spathe of a betel-nut palm, a cloth is put round it, and a Dyak sheet hung over it.

Until a civilized Government interfered to prevent such atrocious murders, there used to be a custom among the Dyaks that, if the mother died in giving birth to her child, the babe should pay the penalty and be buried with the mother. The reasons given by them for this[101] cruel act being, that it was the cause of the mother’s death, and that there was no one to nurse and care for it. No woman would dare to suckle such an orphan, lest it should bring misfortune upon her own children. Therefore the poor child was very often placed alive in the coffin with the dead mother, and both were buried together. This was the old Dyak custom, but it is a long time since it has been carried out. I have myself known many cases among the Dyaks when, the mother having died in child-birth, the orphan has been adopted and brought up by some friend or relative.

During the first three days the child receives its bath in a wooden vessel in the house, but on the fourth day it is taken to the river. Some ceremonies attend its first bath in the river. An old man of some standing, who has been successful in all he has undertaken, is asked to bathe the child. He wades into the river holding the child in his arms. A fowl is killed on the bank, a wing is cut off, and if the child be a boy, this wing is stuck upon a spear, and if a girl, it is fixed to the shuttle used to pass between the threads in weaving, and this is erected on the bank, and the blood allowed to drop into the stream as an offering to propitiate the spirits supposed to inhabit the waters, and to insure that, at any rate, no accident by water shall happen to the child. The remainder of the fowl is taken back to the house, cooked and eaten.

At some period after the child’s birth—it may be within a few weeks, or it may be deferred for years—a ceremony is gone through in which the gods are invoked to grant the child health and wealth, and success in all his undertakings. The ceremony is generally postponed for some years if the parents are poor, in order to enable them to save a little to pay for the entertainment of their[102] friends and relations on the occasion. Where the parents are better off, the ceremony is held a few weeks after the birth of the child. Several witch-doctors are asked to take part in this performance. A portion of the long open veranda of the Dyak house is screened off by large, hand-woven Dyak sheets (puah), and within these the mother sits with her child in her arms. The medicine men walk round and round, singing some incantation. Generally there is a leader, who sings by himself for a few minutes; then he pauses, and turns round to his followers, and they all sing in chorus. Then the leader sings by himself again, and so on. They all walk round, first turning their feet to the right and stamping on the floor, then pausing a moment and turning their feet to the left, still stamping. This ceremony begins in the evening, and goes on for several hours. When it is over, food is brought out to the assembled guests, and all partake of the provided feast.

The proceedings differ very much according to the wealth and standing of the parents. Among the poor it is a very quiet affair—two or three witch-doctors attend, and only the near relatives of the child are present. On the other hand, among those who are rich, this ceremony is made the occasion of holding a great feast, and inviting people from all parts to attend. Pigs and fowls are killed for food. Jars of tuak (a spirit obtained from rice) are brought forth for the guests to drink, and all are invited to rejoice with the parents.

The naming of the child is not made the occasion for any ceremonies, and it is not unusual to meet children of seven or eight years old who have not yet received a name. They are known by some pet name, or are called endun (little girl), or igat, or anggat (little boy).

Dyak Children

The figure on the right is a boy, the other five are girls. The children are fond of games, and are generally expert swimmers, but they have to make themselves useful, and help their parents very early in life. Dyak parents are very kind to their children, who, as a rule, return the affection, and do as they are told from a desire to please them.


Even when a name is given to a child, it is often changed for some reason or other. The Dyaks have a great objection to uttering the name of a dead person, so if the namesake of a child dies, at once a new name is chosen. Again, if a child is liable to frequent attacks of illness, it is no uncommon thing for parents to change the name two or three times in the course of a year. The reason for this is that all sickness and death is supposed to be caused by evil spirits, who are put off the scent by this means. When they come to take the child’s soul away, they do not hear his old name uttered any more, and so they conclude he no longer exists, and return without him!

The Dyaks are very fond of children, and treat them very kindly. They rarely, if ever, punish them. The children have a great deal of liberty, but are not often unruly, disobedient, or disrespectful. They are, as a rule, very fond of their parents, and when they grow older, do as they are told from a desire to please them.

The girls like to help their mothers in the work of the house, and become useful at an early age. The boys also begin to work early, and are often seen accompanying their fathers when they work on their farms. A boy is very proud when he has succeeded in making his first dug-out canoe, which he sometimes does at fifteen. He can at this age join a party working in the jungle and collecting gutta-percha, canes, and other jungle produce, and he receives an equal share with the adult members of the party. The boys generally bring back what money they earn in this way, and give it to their parents.

Dyak children have not many toys. Little girls are sometimes seen with rudely carved wooden dolls, and little boys play with models of boats. The boys are fond of spinning-tops, which they make for themselves.


Though the Dyaks marry young, they do not have large families. It is not often that one meets a family of over three or four children, and I have only known of one case where a woman had seven children. The conditions are favourable, one would think, to a rapid increase of population. They have plenty of good plain food, and the climate is healthy. There are none of the principal checks to population mentioned by Malthus among savage nations—starvation, disease, war, infanticide, or immorality. What, then, is the cause of the small number of births? Climate and race may have something to do with it, but I think the main cause of it is the infertility of the women. This is no doubt brought about by the hard work they do, and the heavy loads they often carry. A Dyak woman sometimes spends the whole day in the field, and carries home at night a heavy load, often walking for several miles over hilly paths. In addition to this, she has to pound the rice, a work which strains every muscle of the body. I have often been told by Dyak women that the hardest work they have to do is this rice-pounding. This kind of hard labour begins at an early age, and never ceases until the woman is too old or too weak to work. Need we wonder, then, at the limited number of her children?



Up-country mission schools—Education—The Saribas Dyaks eager to learn—School programme—What the boys were taught—Some schoolboy reminiscences—A youthful Dyak manang—The story of Buda—The opening of the Krian Mission and the Saribas Mission.

In this chapter I want to say something about the little school of Dyak boys I had in the up-country mission station in my charge. My school was a very small one. The largest number of boarders I ever had was sixteen. It would seem hardly necessary to devote a whole chapter to it, but the up-country school is an important factor for good, and deserves encouragement. I should like to see more of these schools in different parts of the country. I feel sure that it does a Dyak boy a great deal of good to be a few years in one of these small schools under the personal supervision of the missionary in charge. Here he would do much manual work, just as he would do in his own home, and he would at the same time be taught moral truths as well as general knowledge. When he returns to his Dyak home, he is sure to influence his people for good. The object of education is to build up character. The way to improve the Dyaks is not to educate a certain number of them to earn their living elsewhere, but to take some young people from the Dyak village, improve them by implanting in their minds right[106] ideas, and then send them back to live with their own people the ordinary work-a-day life of the Dyak. I agree with those who say that to place Dyak boys in one of the larger schools in Kuching for any length of time will make a return to their old surroundings distasteful to them, and unfit them for the ordinary life and occupations of their people. And therefore I think that only those who show a special aptitude to become teachers should be sent on to the school at the capital to be taught to read and write English. A certain number of clerks are needed, but that number is very limited, and to produce a large number of Dyak clerks for whom there is not sufficient work is surely a mistake. There are some who advocate technical education for the Dyak. No doubt he would with training make an excellent carpenter or smith, but again he would find difficulty in getting work. He would never be able to compete with the Chinese artisan into whose hands all the skilled labour has fallen.

The main object of my school in the jungle was to teach Dyak boys for a few years, and then send them back to their own people. Unfortunately, I had not the means to carry this out to any great extent.

A few of my schoolboys, after being with me for some time, were sent on to the larger school at Kuching to be taught English. These were the boys who one hoped would in after years become teachers and catechists. There is so little Dyak literature that it is necessary that a person learn English so as to be able to educate himself by reading English books. But the majority of my boys stayed with me for two, three, or four years, and then returned to their Dyak homes. In my school there was manual work as well as lessons to do. They lived plainly,[107] cooking their own food and doing most of their own work. They were cut away from all the superstitious customs of their people, and received a certain amount of moral and religious training. After three or four years of such school life they were ready to return to their old surroundings, taking with them the lessons they had learnt.

For the present, at any rate, there is no need for the Dyak to take up new industries. What he wants is to be taught to do the work he has to do more thoroughly, and to be released from the bondage of superstition and the constant fear of evil spirits in which he lives. The problem of his future will work itself out by a natural process. When the present sources of supply fail him, necessity will force him to take up new industries.

My schoolboys came from different Dyak villages, but the majority of them were boys from Saribas. The Dyaks of that district are more anxious to improve themselves than other Dyak races. The following incident will show how keen they are to learn to read. A party of Saribas Dyaks going on a gutta-hunting expedition asked for a copy of the first Dyak reading-book, because one of them could read, and thought he would teach the others in the evenings when they were not at work. And this is indeed what did happen, and when the party returned most of them were able to read. The Saribas women are just as keen as the men, and many of them have been taught to read by some Dyak friend. I have myself noticed, when holding services for the Christians in some villages in Saribas, how many of those present were able to use the Dyak Prayer-Book and follow the service and read the responses.

A Dyak schoolmaster, who had taught in Banting for many years, afterwards worked as the Government clerk[108] at Betong in Saribas. He told me that he was struck by the number of Dyak men and women in Saribas who could write, and how they often wrote letters to their friends who were away, and received letters from them.

The school programme for the day was as follows:

5.45 a.m.—The two boys whose turn it was to cook, and the two boys whose turn it was to sweep out the school-room and the lower room of the Mission House, would get up and begin their duties.

6.30 a.m.—A gong would be struck telling the boys to come to breakfast. They would all go to the kitchen and have their meal, consisting of rice with a little salt fish or vegetables.

7 a.m.—The boys would be told what manual work they had to do: either they would weed the paths, or cut the grass, or work at their different vegetable gardens. Sometimes they would go out into the jungle to get firewood. At Temudok, where the soil was good, the schoolboys had excellent vegetable gardens.

8.30 a.m.—A gong would be struck to let them know they were to stop working and have a bath, after which, at 8.45 a.m., there would be a short service.

9-11 a.m.—Morning school.

12 noon.—Midday meal.

2-4 p.m.—Afternoon school.

5 p.m.—Evensong, to which some of the Dyaks from the village would come.

6 p.m.—Evening meal.

7-8 p.m.—Preparation for next day’s lessons.

9 p.m.—Two or three short prayers and one verse of a children’s evening hymn, after which the boys would go to bed.


On Saturdays there was no school. The boys did their washing on that day, and often went into the jungle for firewood, but they had most of the day for play.

The children were taught to read and write Dyak, and a little arithmetic. They were also taught the elements of the Christian religion. They were always encouraged to ask the schoolmaster or myself any questions they liked. I have learned from conversations I had with my boys what were the special points in Christianity that needed explanation to Dyaks. Living with me as they did, I got to know my boys very well, and through them I learnt to know their parents and friends. They did not have many lessons to learn; there was plenty of time for play and work. It was not so much what they learnt from books that did the boys good, as their being separated for a time from the customs and superstitions of the Dyaks. We have had many instances of families becoming Christian through some children of theirs coming to school.

Most of the boys in the school were Christians, but all, whether Christians or not, attended the services and were taught about God. Some of the bigger heathen boys, after being in the school some time, have asked to be baptized.

The following schoolboy reminiscences may be of interest to my readers:—

When I was visiting the different villages in the Saribas River and teaching the people in the evening in the public hall of the Dyak house, very often some boys would say they would like to join my school. Then I would speak to their parents, and if they agreed to it these boys would go back with me on my return to the Mission House and attend my school.


I must relate an incident which occurred when I was stationed at Temudok on the Krian River. I paid my usual quarterly visit to Saribas, and when I was at Stambak a boy named Usat, about twelve years old, said he would like to attend my school. In the evening, when we were seated on mats in the public part of the house, the headman, who was a great warrior, and had a very gruff manner, said to me:—

“I hear you are thinking of taking Usat to your school. His brother is here, but he is a fool and cannot speak, so I will speak for him. I should not advise you to take Usat. He is a bad boy, and never obeys his elders. Why, one day he took a knife and wanted to attack me! Of course, if you wish to take a boy of that kind with you, you can, but I have warned you.”

Usat was himself present and heard all this, but said nothing. I said to him: “If you come with me to school you must do what you are told; I don’t want disobedient boys.” He made no reply.

Later on in the evening, when I was returning to my boat, I heard a pattering of feet behind me on the log which formed the path. Turning round, I saw it was Usat, who had followed me, and wanted to say something to me.

“If you take me with you,” he said, “I will do as I am told.”

I liked his looks, as he seemed bright and intelligent, so I told him I would call for him in about ten days’ time, when I had visited the other Saribas villages, and was on my way back to Temudok, and if his parents consented to his going to school, he could accompany me.

He was waiting for me on my return from up-river, and[111] I took him in my boat to Temudok, where he soon made friends with the other boys. He was full of fun and mischief, but very frank and open, and we all liked him very much.

After he had been with me about three weeks, four Dyaks came overland from Stambak. They said they had been sent by Usat’s parents and friends, who felt certain that the boy must have given a great deal of trouble, and that I was anxious to get rid of him, and so they had come to fetch him home. I told them the boy was happy enough, and that I did not want to send him back, so they returned without him. I do not know what they said about the boy, but, anyhow, he was allowed to stay at my school for over two years, when his parents wished him to return to help them in their work.

A little boy from Seblak, a branch of the Krian River, came to me at Temudok, and asked to be admitted into my school. There were no Christians in the village where he lived, but his brother, who was in the Government employ at Kabong as a fortman, had heard of my school. Belawan was not a particularly sharp boy, but he was very strong for his age and a very good wrestler. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to wrestle and beat a boy older than himself. He stayed at my school a little over two years. I have never done any missionary work on the Seblak River, but I am glad Belawan came to my school, because I learnt from him what absurd ideas the people at Seblak had of the missionary and the Mission House. One thing he said was that there was a general idea among some of the people that I had a roomful of antu (evil spirits) in the Mission House, and he said that was one reason why for a long time he hesitated about joining[112] the school at Temudok! Seblak is rather out of the usual beat, and the Dyaks there do not come into contact with missionaries, and I was not at all surprised that the people of that district should have absurd ideas. I hope later on, when missionary work is begun in Seblak, the fact that Belawan stayed for two years in my house will have helped to pave the way for a kind reception of the missionary.

I was once returning to Temudok from a visit to the Saribas River, and as usual had in my boat a few Dyak schoolboys who had been on a visit to their friends at Saribas. We had had a tiring day, and my boat got to Kabong—the mouth of the Krian River—at about 7 p.m. The boatmen had not had their evening meal, and everybody was tired and hungry. I was going to spend the night at the Fort, so the men and boys carried from the boat such things as I might require. When everything I needed had been brought to the Fort, one of the schoolboys, Saran, said to me:—

“There is a Malay boy on the beach who says he would like to fight me. If you give me leave, I should be glad to fight him.”

“What do you want to fight for at this hour?” I said. “You are all tired and hungry. The best thing for you to do is to have your dinner.”

“The Malay boy was very cheeky,” Saran went on to say; “he shook his fist at me, and said I was afraid of him. I should like to give him a thrashing.”

“Very well,” I said; “go and fight him if you like, but don’t come back whining to me and say you are hurt.”

About half an hour afterwards Saran returned very pleased with himself. It seems that when the Malay boy[113] saw Saran meant business, he took to his heels, and my schoolboy had the pleasure of chasing him to the Malay village. Though he did not have his fight, he had the pleasure of feeling he had defeated the enemy. I mention this little incident to show how very much like other boys the Dyaks are, and how my schoolboy was ready for a fight even though he was tired and hungry.

When stationed at Temudok, I used to visit the Christians on the Budu River—a branch of the Krian River—and I had there a little native-built hut, where I used to live for a week or so. The boys and girls there were very anxious to learn, so I got some slates for them. In the evenings there used to be about a dozen boys and girls in my room learning to read and write. It was amusing to see what they did when they wanted a slate pencil. They would go to the shingly bed of the river a few yards away, and pick up a long thin bit of slate, and rub it against some other stone till it was the right shape to be used as a pencil.

One day I went with my Catechist, Tujoh, and two schoolboys, who had accompanied me from my Mission School at Temudok, overland to a long Dyak house higher up the Budu River. A boy about fourteen years old was pointed out to me there, and I was told that he was a manang, or witch-doctor. I had never seen anybody as young as that acting as a manang, and knowing what a great deal of deceit is practised by the Dyak witch-doctor, there was to me something very sad in the thought of this young boy doing such work. I was also curious to know what led him to become a manang, so I spoke to him, and told him that if he cared to pay a visit to Temudok, or to come to school there, he would be[114] welcome. After some little discussion, his parents allowed him to come with me on a visit, and later on the boy, whose name was Ambu, was allowed to attend my school. I found out from him that he understood very little of the doings of the witch-doctors. There were very few manangs near his village, and there was a difficulty in getting more than two or three to take part in their ceremonies over the sick, so Ambu was persuaded to join them and walk round when incantations were made. While the other Dyak doctors were well paid, Ambu received some trifle for his part in the proceedings. Ambu stayed with me nearly a year, and then returned to his people. I had a long talk with him before he went back about the work of the manangs. I said that my advice to him was not to have anything to do with their ceremonies for the next few years. If, when he was old enough to judge for himself, he still wished to be a manang, he could do so, but in the meantime he had better follow the advice of one who was older than himself, and knew something of the deceit of the manangs. I lost sight of Ambu soon after his return to his people, because the house was broken up, and the inmates moved to some distant part.

I conclude this rambling chapter with the romantic but true story of how one of the most influential native Catechists became a Christian through seeing the missionary teaching some boys in an up-country Mission School.

A Dyak Youth

He has on an elaborate headkerchief decorated with tassels and small pieces of silver or brass. These headkerchiefs are sometimes woven by the Dyaks themselves, or else they make the border of bright-coloured threads and sew it round a piece of red or blue imported cloth.

A Dyak Lad

On his head he has a headkerchief which consists of a square piece of cloth tied in such a manner as to form a cap.

Buda was the youngest of the warrior sons of the old Orang Kaya Pemancha, the famous pirate and war-leader of the Saribas Dyaks in the old lawless days. One of his brothers, Haji, was killed fighting against the Government forces sent to punish the rebels and restore[115] order in the Saribas. Loiyo and Nanang, two other brothers, were at one time followers of Rentap, who held out so long against the Sarawak Government, and made Sadok Mountain, between the Saribas and the Skrang Rivers, his headquarters. The Dyaks often relate with keen interest the story of those ancient days when Rentap’s stronghold, high up on Sadok Mountain, with precipitous approaches on every side, was considered impregnable. Many an expedition did the Government lead against Rentap, but to no purpose. Rentap, who was called by his followers the “Inland Rajah,” and was the leader of the opposition to the rule of the Rajah of Sarawak, was supported by a large force of disaffected Saribas and Skrang Dyaks, and was not to be easily beaten.

In 1861, however, Rentap was losing his popularity, and a great many of his followers had deserted him. They could not endure the violence and wilfulness of their leader, and they saw that the Dyaks who had submitted to Rajah Brooke’s Government were happy and flourishing. Moreover, Rentap had offended their Dyak prejudices. He had discarded his old wife, and married one of the girls he had taken captive, and called her “the Ranee of Sadok.” This was contrary to all Dyak custom, and was greatly resented by his followers. In that year Loiyo and Nanang, two of Rentap’s leading warriors, and their adherents, made their submission to Rajah Brooke. They had to give security to the amount of forty valuable jars (worth about £500), which were to be retained for three years, and then returned to their owners should they remain loyal.

The next expedition led by the Government succeeded in defeating Rentap. When he found that his stronghold[116] was no longer tenable, he fled with such of his followers as were able, down the opposite side of the mountain. Deserted by most of his followers, he retired to the Entabai branch of the Kanowit River, and died there some years after.

Buda and his brother Unting, the two other sons of the Orang Kaya Pemancha, did their share of fighting during these troubled times, and took part in many a bold deed, to the annoyance of the Government. Unting married and settled at Saribas, and I knew him well. Buda married into a family at Sebetan, and made his home there.

I have told the history of Buda and his brothers in order to give some idea of the kind of reputation his family had among the Dyaks. At the time of Buda’s visit to Banting, the Rev. W. R. Mesney (afterwards Archdeacon of Sarawak) was living at Banting with the Rev. Walter Chambers, who became afterwards Bishop of Labuan and Sarawak. Let me give the account of what happened in Mr. Mesney’s own words:—

“Buda had started from his home to visit different places—belelang, as the Dyaks call it. He had with him a couple of favourite fighting-cocks, and these he matched against the cocks of the houses he came to in his wanderings. In this way he came down the Batang Lupar, and reached Banting, where he knew that a distant connection of his family lived, and for that house he shaped his course. He made himself known to these friends, who welcomed him, and were proud of a visit from the son of the Orang Kaya Pemancha. He put his fighting-cocks into one of the kurongs (baskets) under the lantai (flooring) of the house, and made his pets safe, and then, as it was just the time for the women to begin their rice-pounding,[117] he dressed himself up, and marched off, and found his way up the hill to the Mission House.

“I was just then there alone. Mr. Chambers was gone to visit some of the out-stations on the Batang Lupar. I was teaching half a dozen small fry at the table, which stood in what corresponded to the veranda in the old Mission House at Banting. I was not paying any attention to the door, nor troubling about who came in, as at that time of the day many young fellows, who were on the hill for any purpose, were in the habit of coming in and watching the boys learning. I was busy with a couple of the youngsters, when I noticed the others all press up close together, and begin whispering and signalling as Dyaks can, and showing unmistakable signs of uneasiness. When I saw this, I looked up to see the cause of it, and there, standing by one of the posts of the house, was a strange man, very unlike a Balau in dress and appearance, with his hand on the handle of his ilang (sword); in fact, behaving in quite a different way to the ordinary Dyak visitor. The boys did not like his manner at all, I could see, and I heard them whisper “munsoh” (enemy) to each other.

“I asked the man to sit down, but this he declined to do, for he continued standing there with his eyes fixed on us and his hand on the handle of his sword, from the sheath of which a large bunch of charms was suspended. I kept my eye on the man, and at the same time went on teaching. He continued to watch us for some minutes, and the boys got more and more uncomfortable. When at last the man actually came up to the table and picked up a piece of paper, I thought the boys would have all bolted. However, after looking at the paper for a few minutes, he made some remark, and I again asked him[118] to sit down. This time he did what I asked him to do, and sat down on the floor just where he had been standing. I asked him the usual questions, “Ari ni nuan?” (“From where have you come?”) and so on. He soon made some remark about the paper he had picked up, and we talked to each other. In the midst of our conversation, he suddenly got up and went to the door, where he proceeded to take off his sword and the great bunch of charms that he was wearing at his waist, and placed them very carefully down on the floor just outside the door, as he could not find anything to hang them up to. He came back, and this time took his seat on the form at the table. I went on for a short time longer teaching the boys, and then began talking to my visitor. He was very much interested, and said that he should like to hear more; might he come again when the boys were being taught? After he had gone, I heard who he was, and what he had come to Banting for.

“The next day he made his appearance again, and sat and listened while the boys had their lesson. The reading was the attraction to him, and he said that he would like to be able to read; might he stay at Banting, and come up to the Mission House for lessons? And so it came about that when Mr. Chambers returned, he walked into the Mission House, and found me with the redoubtable Buda, seated and quietly learning his A B C! Mr. Chambers, of course, knew the man well by reputation, and he took me aside, and asked me if I knew his character, and what he had done in the past. I could only say that I had gathered from the behaviour of other people that he was well-known, but that I had had no cause to complain of his behaviour during the few days he had been at Banting and coming to the Mission House. When Mr. Chambers[119] found the man was amenable, he was glad to have him at Banting, and Buda devoted himself to learning, and was quite a pattern scholar.”

From this account it will be seen that Buda was first induced to take lessons by seeing Dyak boys being taught at an up-country Mission School. After a short stay in Banting he went back to his home, but returned to Banting again for more instruction. He was baptized, and afterwards worked as Catechist. He accompanied Mr. Chambers to his home in Sebetan, where he had already taught many of the Dyaks, and thus the Krian and Sebetan Mission was started. For many years Buda worked as Catechist at Sebetan under Mr. Perham, afterwards Archdeacon of Singapore.

When returning from one of his visits to Sebetan, Mr. Chambers persuaded Buda to come back to Banting and bring his wife and child with him, so that she might get more instruction. While at Banting on that occasion, Buda proposed to Mr. Mesney that he should go with him to the Saribas, and see whether they could not influence some of his relatives there in the Gospel message. Mr. Chambers hesitated for some time, because the Balaus of Banting distrusted the Saribas Dyaks, who used to be their enemies. But at last he said that, if Mr. Mesney was bold enough to visit the Saribas Dyaks, and could get men to accompany him, he might do so. There was some difficulty in getting the men, but this was overcome, and Mr. Mesney, accompanied by Buda and some Banting Dyaks, paid a visit to Saribas. That was the beginning of the Saribas Mission, which at the present time is the most successful and encouraging of all the missions in Sarawak.



Courtship—Discussion where the married couple are to live—The fetching of the bride—The wedding ceremony—Mlah Pinang—Visit of bride to her mother-in-law—Bride’s dress—Bridegroom—Old bachelors among the Dyaks—Age of marriage—Monogamy—Prohibitive degrees—Dyak view of marriage—Conjugal affection—Mischief-making mothers-in-law—Separation and reconciliation—Divorce—Adultery.

The mode of courtship among the Dyaks is peculiar. No courting goes on by day, but at night, when all is quiet, a young lover creeps to the side of the curtain of his lady-love, and awakes her. The girls sleep apart from their parents—sometimes in the same room, but more often in the loft. He presents her with a roll of sireh leaf, in which is wrapped the betel-nut ingredients the Dyaks love to chew.

If, when awakened, the girl accepts the betel-nut roll which the young man presents her, and puts it in her mouth, it is a sign that his visit is acceptable, and that he may stay and speak to her. If, on the other hand, she says, “Please blow up the fire,” or “Be good enough to light the lamp” (which is usually a bamboo filled with resin), it shows that she will have nothing to say to him, and he recognizes the usual form of dismissal and goes away.

If the lover’s visit be acceptable to her, they chew[121] sireh and betel-nut, a plentiful supply of which the man brings with him, and make arrangements about the future.

This nocturnal visiting goes on for some weeks. If the parents of the girl think the match a suitable one, the young people are permitted to see each other very often. On the other hand, if the young man does not find favour with them, they soon let him know that his visits are not desired. They do not allow their daughter to see him alone, and the matter goes no farther.

This nightly courtship is, in fact, the only way a man and woman can become acquainted with each other, for such a thing as privacy during the day is quite unknown in a Dyak house. If the girl be pleased with her lover, he remains with her until close upon daybreak, when he leaves with her some article as a pledge of his honour, such as a bead necklace, or ring, or a headkerchief, or anything else which he may have about him. This act of leaving some gift with the girl is considered as a betrothal between the two parties, and the man who refuses to marry the girl after doing so is considered guilty of breach of promise of marriage, and liable, according to Dyak law, to a fine.

I have often spoken to older Dyaks about the matter, and have been told by them that these nocturnal visits very seldom result in immorality. The girl who is not careful how she behaves very soon gets a bad name among the young men, and all her chances of securing a husband are lost. And it is a fact that, considering the population, there are not many illegitimate children among the Dyaks.

When the young couple have decided the question of the future to their mutual satisfaction, the next step in[122] the proceedings is for the man to make known his wishes to his own parents, and then a visit is paid by the man’s relatives and friends to the girl’s parents to request formally the hand of their daughter in marriage. This consent is seldom refused, because as a rule the parents of the girl approve of her choice, or they would not have allowed her to receive visits from the man.

There is a great deal of discussion, sometimes lasting for days, as to where the married couple are to live after the wedding ceremony. The wife does not always leave her home to go and live with her husband. As often as not the man takes up his abode in the house of his wife’s relations. Many matters are taken into consideration in deciding where they are to live. If the daughter be an only child, her parents generally make it a condition of marriage, that the son-in-law should come and live with them, and work for them, but where the girl has many brothers and sisters, and the man has not, she is allowed to go and live in his house. Then, again, the question of social standing comes in, and if a girl marries beneath her she refuses to go to the house of her husband, and expects him to come to her.

When everything has been satisfactorily arranged, and the consent of the girl’s parents has been obtained, a day is fixed for the marriage ceremony.

The day before the wedding is spent by the bridegroom in obtaining a plentiful supply of betel-nut, sireh leaf (a species of pepper), lime, gambier, etc.—all necessary concomitants for the guests to chew during the proceedings connected with the marriage ceremony.

The wedding may take place either at the house of the bride, or else at that of the bridegroom. Generally it is held in the house in which the newly married couple do[123] not intend to reside; that is, if it be decided that the newly married wife should settle in her husband’s house, then the wedding will take place at her home. If, on the other hand, the relatives decide that the husband is to live in the home of his wife, then the wedding takes place at the house of his parents.

The principal part of the ceremony among the Sea Dyaks is the fetching of the bride from her father’s to the bridegroom’s house. The women-folk of his village set out in a boat, gaily decorated with an awning of parti-coloured sheets, and with streamers and flags flying, to an accompaniment of gongs and drums, and musical instruments, to fetch the bride to her future husband’s house.

When the other party arrive at the landing-stage of the house at which the wedding is to take place, they walk up to the house—a gaily-dressed crowd—and sit down in the open veranda, to talk over the future prospects of the young couple, chewing betel-nut and sireh all the time. A portion of these chewing ingredients are carefully set aside to be used later on. The Dyak, with his great love for divination, cannot allow such an occasion to pass without making some attempt to penetrate into the secrets of the future.

The company sit down in the long common room of the Dyak house, and then are brought forward the betel-nut, sireh, etc., specially set aside for the ceremony. A betel-nut is split into seven pieces by a man supposed to be lucky in matrimonial matters, and these, together with the other ingredients of the betel-nut mixture, are all put in a little basket, which is bound together with red cloth and laid for a short time upon the open platform adjoining the house.


The master of the ceremonies, who splits the betel-nut, generally an older man of some standing, then makes to the assembled guests the declaration that if either party should desert the other without sufficient reason, the offending party shall be fined to such an amount as has been already agreed upon.

The basket containing the split pieces of betel-nut is then brought in and uncovered, and the contents examined to ascertain the will of the gods. Should the pieces of betel-nut by some mystic power increase in number, the marriage will be an unusually happy one; but should they decrease it is a bad omen, and the marriage must be postponed, or relinquished altogether. But as a matter of fact, they neither increase nor decrease, and this is interpreted to mean that the wedding is one upon which the spirits have pronounced neither a good nor a bad verdict.

This action gives the name to the marriage ceremony. The Dyaks call marriage Mlah Pinang—“splitting the betel-nut.”

The contents of the little basket used to discover the will of the higher powers are chewed just as other pinang and sireh, and the marriage ceremony is over; the young couple are lawfully man and wife.

The married couple stay for three days in the house which is to be their future home. On the fourth day a visit is paid, lasting for three days, to the family with whom the alliance has been made. Then the young couple return to settle down in their new home.

A Dyak Wedding

The bride is seated in the middle with a large filigree silver comb in her hair. The bridegroom is seated on her right, and her mother on her left. The old man on the right is the “Master of Ceremonies.” Before him, covered with a native cloth, is the basket containing the pieces of split betel-nut, which are examined to see if the marriage will be a happy one.

On the occasion of the first visit of the bride to the house of her husband, she must not enter her mother-in-law’s room, but must be led in either by that much dreaded relative herself, or by some woman deputed by[125] her to perform that office. The bride, therefore, goes into the room of some female friend living in the house, and there awaits the coming of her mother-in-law; the husband meanwhile sits down on a mat in the open veranda outside his mother’s room.

The lady, having ascertained the whereabouts of her daughter-in-law, goes and fetches her, and brings her into the room. She bids her sit down on a mat spread for the purpose. Then she goes out to her son in the veranda, and leads him in, and tells him to sit by his wife’s side. When they are seated side by side, the mother waves a live fowl over her son and daughter-in-law with a hastily muttered invocation for future health and prosperity.

The respect that Dyaks are required to pay to the father-in-law and mother-in-law is far greater than they have to pay to their own parents.

It is considered a terrible crime for a man to mention the names of his wife’s parents, and he dare not disobey their commands. A young man marrying an only child and living with her parents has generally a hard time of it, because he has to give way in everything to the wishes of his wife’s parents. In the same way a girl who marries an only son, and lives with his parents, has often an unhappy time, being continually ordered about and scolded by her mother-in-law. I have known cases where husband and wife have separated simply because the mother-in-law has made the life of the wife unbearable.

For the wedding, and for the subsequent visit which the bride pays to her husband’s home, she decks herself out in all the finery she possesses or can borrow from her friends. Her wedding-dress consists of a short petticoat[126] of Dyak woven cloth which reaches to her knees. Along the bottom edge of this there are sewed several rows of tinsel and of silver coins, below which probably hang some rows of hawk-bells, which make a tinkling sound as she moves. Round her waist are several coils of brass or silver chain, and two or three belts made of dollars or other silver coins linked together.

From her hips upwards, as far as her armpits, she wears a corset formed by threading upon split cane a great number of small brass rings, arranged so closely together as completely to hide the cane. To this corset may be fixed two or three bands of silver coins. Her armlets of brass or silver extend as far up as her elbow. As many rings as she possesses are on her fingers, and she wears necklaces of small beads, worked in very beautiful patterns, and finished off with a tassel of beads, or else a large number of big silver or brass buttons strung together round her neck. Her ears are decorated with filigreed studs of silver gilt, with a setting of scarlet cloth behind the filigree work to show them off.

In her hair is a towering comb of silver filigree work, to which are attached a number of silver spangles, which glitter with every movement of her head. She wears her hair in a knot into which are stuck a number of large brass hair-pins decorated with beads and little tags of red and yellow and white cloth. She possesses a bright-coloured jacket of Dyak woven cloth; but she does not wear it; it is slung over her right shoulder.

After this detailed description of the bride’s dress, it is disappointing to learn that the bridegroom takes no special pains to ornament his person. The men wear a great deal of finery when they attend a feast, or when they go out on the warpath, but on the occasion of his[127] wedding the bridegroom takes no extra trouble about his apparel.

I have been present at a Dyak wedding more than once, and what struck me most was the perfunctory manner in which everything was done. No one seemed to listen much to what the Master of Ceremonies had to say; all sat round talking and laughing as the mood suited them. The examining of the basket containing the pieces of split betel-nut was not awaited with any anxiety. Everything seemed to be done because it was the custom, and for no other reason.

Nearly every Sea Dyak is married, and it is very unusual to meet a bachelor above the age of twenty-five. The exception to this is among the Skrang Dyaks, among whom one often sees an unmarried man over forty years of age. The expression Bujang Skrang—“a Skrang bachelor”—means an old bachelor.

A man rarely marries a woman who has an illegitimate child. But children are very much desired, and the Dyaks have a great horror of being childless. Intercourse often takes place between those who have been betrothed, but not formally married, simply to ascertain if the marriage will be fruitful. At the first signs of the desired result the marriage ceremony takes place.

Both sexes marry at an early age. The young men marry when about eighteen to twenty years of age, and the girls at sixteen or seventeen, though sometimes marriage is postponed till later. They frequently separate by mutual consent, and nothing is thought of it if the couple be childless; but it is very seldom that anything of the kind occurs if there are children.

Among the Dyaks no man has more than one wife. Polygamy is considered very displeasing to the gods, and[128] if a man does take to himself two wives, the other people of the village compel him to give one up, and sacrifices are offered to the gods and spirits to avert any evil effects upon the community for the crime.

The Dyaks are very particular as to their prohibitive degrees, and are opposed to the marriage of relatives. The prohibitive degrees are much the same as among Christians.

The Dyak men view marriage as an arrangement for the mutual convenience of both parties in order to obtain children. Though there is often a great deal of love between husband and wife, still, when the marriage is childless, the Dyak idea is that the proper thing to do is to separate. I have known many childless couples who have continued to live together, and have perhaps adopted a child; but they have done so in spite of all that has been said to them and in opposition to the wishes of their friends. I have often heard Dyaks say: “When you plant a fruit-tree you expect it to bear fruit, and when you marry you expect your wife to bear children.”

The Dyak women generally regard marriage as a means of obtaining a man to work for them. A woman will often separate from her husband simply because he is lazy, and will not do his fair share of the work. There is a certain division of labour among Dyaks, and there are some kinds of work which it is usual for the man to do, and other work which falls to the share of the woman. It is no unusual thing to hear a woman who wishes to be divorced from a lazy husband say: “I married because I wanted a man to work for me; but if I have to do the man’s work as well as my own, as I have to with a husband like mine, I might just as well be unmarried.”

Dyak Girl Spinning

She is seated on a mat, in a characteristic attitude, and is making yarn out of the cotton, using a primitive spinning-wheel.

It must not be supposed from what has been said that[129] conjugal affection is rare among the Dyaks. On the contrary, a great deal of it exists, and the men very often love their wives and think a great deal of their opinion. They will not decide upon any important course of action without consulting them. Where there are children, the husbands very often help their wives in doing more than their share of the man’s work, and I have often seen the men nursing and fondling their naked babies when the mothers were busy.

Dyaks who have come in contact with civilization, and who have been to school themselves, see the advantages of being educated, and I know of a Dyak in Saribas who married a young wife and sent her to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts Girls’ School in the capital of Sarawak (Kuching) for two years to be taught before she came to live with him in his Dyak home.

As has been mentioned before, the parents of a woman often tyrannize over a son-in-law who takes up his abode with them. If the woman herself side with her parents, it is often very unpleasant for the husband. I remember talking over this matter with some Dyaks at Sebetan, and telling them that I thought, as a general rule, it was better for husband and wife to settle between themselves any differences they might have, without interference from others, and I mentioned certain cases of divorce which, I said, I felt sure would not have come about except for the interference of the mothers-in-law, who behaved foolishly and caused mischief. Then I turned round to one of the men present, and said:—

“You have lived for many years with your wife’s relatives, and you seem to be happy enough. You are one of the few who have had no differences with the relatives of their wives, and live happily in spite of[130] your mother-in-law’s presence in your house. Is it not so?”

“Yes,” he said, “we do get on very well now, but it was not always so. When I was first married, her parents were always taking her side against me, and the result was that I was ordered about so much, and found fault with so often, that I was beginning to get sick of it. However, matters soon came to a climax. One day my wife was pounding paddy, and, turning to me, she said: ‘This lesong (wooden mortar) is not a nice one; will you make me another?’ I said I would, and I went to the jungle, cut down a tree, and made a new wooden mortar, and carried it home. She did not like it. It was, in her opinion, no better than the other.”

(I may mention here that the Dyak women like a mortar that makes a great deal of noise when paddy is pounded in it to rid it of the husk. Probably the only fault to be found with the mortar was that it did not make enough noise when in use to satisfy his wife.)

“I was told,” the man continued, “to make another lesong for my wife. This I obediently did, but I did not succeed in pleasing her with my second attempt any better than I did with my first. I was told to go into the jungle and make her a third mortar. This I refused to do. I said that evidently I could not make a wooden mortar to her satisfaction, and the best thing to do was for us to get someone else to make one, and pay him for it. She was very angry at my refusal, and said that when she married she did not expect to have to buy things which other husbands made for their wives.

A Dyak Bride

She wears a silver filigree comb in her hair and a necklace of brass or silver buttons. Round her body is the brass corset worn by the women and three belts of silver coins. She has bangles on her wrists and earrings in her ears. Her jacket is slung over her right shoulder.

A Dyak Girl

Round her body is the brass corset the women wear, and she has a necklace made of large buttons of brass or silver.

“In all this,” he said, “my wife was backed up by her mother, who, in many ways, had been making mischief,[131] and was often criticizing my work. I said little, but when she called me the ‘dead body of a man’ (bangkai orang) it was more than I could stand, and when she went on to say that I might just as well return to my people if I was not going to work, I packed up my clothes and returned to my parents.

“After a few days my mother-in-law came to the house of my parents to ask me to return with her. I refused to do so, because, I said, I was not sure what sort of reception I should get from my wife. She said that she had been sent by my wife, and that I need not fear that there would be any unpleasantness. Still I refused to return, and I told my mother-in-law that I would not return unless my wife came herself to ask me.”

(I may remark that it is a very unusual thing for a man to speak in this way to his mother-in-law. She is treated with so much respect that it is very seldom a Dyak dares to oppose her wishes.)

“My mother-in-law returned to her house, and a few days after she and my wife came to fetch me. I went back with them, and ever since I have had no serious trouble either with my wife or mother-in-law.”

I have already said that until children are born a Dyak husband and wife often separate from each other for very trivial reasons. After the birth of children there is seldom a divorce except for adultery, and even then very often the friends and relatives try hard—sometimes successfully—to persuade the husband and wife to live together again for the sake of the children. This lax view that Dyaks have of the marriage tie causes them very often to marry without any serious consideration. Where divorce is easy it naturally follows that marriage ceases to be a serious matter, which ought not to be “taken in[132] hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly,” as the marriage service has it.

I remember one day holding a service at a little chapel in a village in Saribas, and giving an address on marriage, and trying to explain to my small congregation of Dyaks the Christian view of it. I said that marriage ought to be a life-long tie, that the Dyak custom of husband and wife separating for any trivial cause was a bad one, and that Christians, when married, should live together “for better for worse” till death parted them. An old Dyak present interrupted me by asking: “What if one of them commits adultery?”

I went on to say that adultery was the only reason which Christ said justified a divorce.

I mention this little incident because I think it shows in an indirect way that deep down in the Dyak heart there is a feeling that adultery is a terrible crime, far worse than any other, and that where there has been adultery it is impossible for husband and wife to live happily together.



Life beyond the grave—Wailings—Rice strewn on the dead man’s chest—The professional wailer—Feeding the dead—Carrying the dead—The grave—Articles buried with the dead—Baiya—Fire lit at sunset—The ulit, or mourning—Pana, or offering to the dead—The wailer’s song—Sumping—Periodical Sabak—Feast in honour of the dead—Gawai Antu—The dead not forgotten—Other methods of disposing of the dead besides burial—Dyak ideas of a future life.

Death for the Dyak does not mean the end of all. He has a belief in a life beyond the grave—a life different indeed from his existence in the flesh, with all its cares and anxieties, a life with little of the spiritual about it, but still, for all that, life, and not annihilation. The soul survives burial, and in Hades (Sabayan) lives anew much the same life as he does on earth, building houses and sowing and planting as do his friends and relatives in this world. He is able to watch those on earth, and can help them when required, and so his aid is often asked for in time of need. And in the Sea Dyak burial rites there are seen glimpses of a belief in the communion between those on earth and those who have crossed the River of Death, such as we would expect to find only among people of a higher civilization and a higher education.

From that distant unknown land of Death the spirits[134] of the dead relatives and friends of the dying man come in a long boat, so the Dyaks say, to take his soul away. For a long time there is a struggle between those on earth trying to keep him back and the unseen spirits urging him to join them. Over and over again when the man loses consciousness there are distracted cries from those around of “Pulai! Pulai!”—“Come back! Come back!”

The witch-doctors, who are often called in, try by their incantations to frighten away the spirits.

Immediately the breath has left the body, the female relatives begin loud and melancholy wailings. They wash the corpse and get it ready for burial. All the able-bodied men of the village turn out to help the bereaved family, as in a hot climate the burial has to take place within twenty-four hours.

Rice is strewn on the dead man’s chest. This is a propitiation to the gods for any wrong he may have done while alive. According to Dyak ideas, death is the punishment for some sin, and for that sin some sacrifice must be made, or the living may also suffer for it. By sin is meant either the doing of any of the thousand and one things which a Dyak considers forbidden by the gods, or the disregarding of the warnings of birds or dreams. While this sin-offering is being made, others collect his belongings—his clothes, his implements of work, his shield, his spear—all of which are to be buried with him, and which he is supposed to make use of in the other world. The corpse is dressed in its best garments, and is borne into the great open veranda or common hall (ruai), and covered with a Dyak sheet. Here he is surrounded by the friends and relatives, to be mourned over. Sometimes a professional wailer sits on a swing near the head[135] of the corpse and sings her song of mourning. She calls upon the different parts of the house, beginning at the roof-ridge and proceeding downwards, and blames them for not keeping back the soul of the dead man. Then in highly figurative language she speaks of the journey to Hades, and asks the spirits to guide his soul in the right direction, so that he may not lose his way.

While the body is laid out in the public part of the house none may step over the corpse. There is no special reason against this except the general belief that if such a thing were done the dead man would not live happily in Hades, but would continually visit his former home and trouble the living.

At sunset a fire is lit by the side of the corpse. All through the long hours of the night the sad watchers sit around, and the loud sustained cry of the professional wailer mingles with the sobs and spasmodic utterances of those who feel most the loss of the dead man.

Early on the following morning food is given him to strengthen him for that long journey to Hades, and a little cotton-wool is placed as a pillow for his head. The food is given to the dead in a curious manner. Rice is dashed into his mouth, and the earthen cooking-pot is then broken in pieces—it may not be used for the living, having once been used for the dead. The pillow of cotton-wool is about the size of a pigeon’s egg, and, as far as can be gathered from the Dyaks, it in some way insures the comfort of the dead man in the other world.

Then the body, wrapped in mats and covered over with a light framework of wood, is carried on the shoulders of four men. As they descend the ladder ashes from the fire burnt near the corpse are thrown after them by the people who are left in the house. This is done in order[136] that the dead man may not know his way back to the house, and may thus be unable to trouble his friends afterwards. The women are not permitted to accompany the body to its burial, so they raise a dismal wail as the body is carried away from the house.

The body is either taken by boat or carried on foot to the jungle, where a tree is to be cut down for the coffin. When the spot is reached a halt is made. A fowl is killed, and the blood is collected in a cup and mixed with a little water. Each person present is touched with the blood, to propitiate the gods of the infernal world and to secure immunity from any evil consequences to the persons engaged in the funeral rites. They now set to work to make the coffin. A tree is felled, and the required length cut off. This is split in two, and each half is hollowed out. The corpse is then placed in this rude coffin, the two parts of which are now firmly lashed together with cane.

The crowd then proceed either on foot or by boat to the place of burial. The burial-ground, or pendam, is generally on the side of a hill. The trees are not cut down, and there is nothing to distinguish the pendam from ordinary jungle. The Dyaks regard a cemetery with superstitious terror as the abode of spirits, and never go to it except to bury their dead, and when they do this they do not stay longer than they can help, but hurry away lest they should meet some spirit from the other world. The consequence is that the place is wild and uncared for. The graves, being shallow and not fenced round, are often dug up by wild pigs or bears, and bones and skulls strew the ground.

A Dyak Cemetery by the River-side

This shows the carved wooden erections put over some of the graves. The trees are generally left standing in a Dyak cemetery, and a little distance from the river bank it is covered with jungle growth.

A Dyak Dancing the War Dance

He is imitating the action of a man creeping through the jungle, sword in hand, to attack the enemy. The man on the right is playing a Dyak musical instrument called the Engkrurai.

When they reach the spot where the grave is to be, some rice is scattered on the ground. This rice is the[137] price paid to Pulang Gana, the spirit who owns the land, for the grave. Then a fowl is killed, and the blood sprinkled on the ground. These offerings are made to prevent the spirits from hurting any of those who take part in digging the grave.

The graves are rarely more than three feet deep. The Dyaks dare not step into the grave to deepen it, because, according to their superstitious ideas, anyone who does such a thing will die a violent death. They use no spade or hoe to turn up the earth, but cut the soil with their choppers, and throw up the mould with their hands. They dig into it as far as their arms will reach and no farther.

The corpse is lowered into the grave hurriedly, and all present shout. They cry to the dead man, but why they do so or what advantage is gained by doing so is not clear. The reason why the body is hurriedly buried is the fear lest the cry of some sacred bird may be heard, and the burial of the man become unpropitious; the less time they take in putting the corpse into the grave the less chance there is of this.

With the corpse are put for use in the next world various articles of clothing, personal ornaments, weapons of warfare, implements for farm work, and even instruments of music, according to the sex and natural proclivities of the dead. Some of these things belonged to the departed; others are given by friends as tokens of affection. Rice, tobacco, and betel-nut are also cast into the grave, as these things may be needed in the other world. It used to be the custom to place money, gold and silver ornaments, and brass utensils in the grave, but these articles were so often stolen that, nowadays, it is the practice to break in pieces all the utensils placed[138] in the grave. Jars and brass gongs are not buried with the corpse, but placed on the grave. When all this has been done, the grave is fenced round, and food and drink are placed in the enclosure, and at either end something is put to indicate the sex and favourite occupation of the deceased. If the grave be that of a warrior, it is roofed and decorated with streamers, and such of his weapons as are not buried with him are hung about, and the ground around is palisaded and spiked. The grave of the hunter is distinguished by his blow-pipe and quiver, together with the trophies of the chase—stags’ antlers and boars’ tusks. Some article of feminine attire or work—spindles or petticoats, or waist-rings or water-gourds—indicate the graves of women. The graves of the rich have valuable jars or gongs, which are secured in their places by having a stake driven through them and thus rendered worthless.

A lighted torch is always carried to a funeral, and when the body is buried it is extinguished at the grave.

The articles which are buried with the dead person or put upon the grave are called baiya. They are for the use of the spirit in the other world. The Dyaks argue that though the articles placed on the grave remain there, still the spirit of these articles are of use to the soul in Hades, and so their gifts are not wasted.

Those of the mourners who leave the grave last plant sharpened stakes in the ground, so that the spirit of the dead man may not follow them back to the Dyak house, the stakes planted in the ground being supposed to prevent his return.

At sunset on the day of death, a fire is lit at the landing-place on the bank of the river near the house of the dead man. This fire is kept burning all night. For three or[139] four evenings after death they light a fire either at the landing-place or somewhere outside the house. This is for the use of the departed, for in Hades fire is not to be procured without paying for it, and if the dead find any difficulty about obtaining fire, they can come and fetch it from the fire lit by their earthly friends. This idea does not seem consistent with the many things done to prevent the soul of the dead man finding his way back to his earthly home.

When there is a death among the Dyaks, none of the inmates of the house do any farm work on the day of the funeral. In the case of the death of a Chief, they refrain from work for three days or even more.

When anyone dies, the ulit, or mourning, has to be observed by the immediate relatives of the deceased, and continues until the feast in honour of the dead (Gawai Antu) is held. All the finery and bright articles of apparel belonging to the relatives are tied up in a bundle and put away. At the Gawai Antu the string which binds this bundle together is cut by the headman of the house, and they may use their bright garments again. The mourning (ulit) includes many other restrictions beside the prohibition of ornaments and bright-coloured clothing. There must be no striking of gongs or drums or dancing or merrymaking in the house. In the old days the mourning could not end until one of the relatives managed to secure a human head.

On the third day an observance called Pana is made. A plate containing rice and other eatables, as well as a Dyak chopper, an axe, and a cup, are taken by several of the neighbours to the room of the dead person. They go to tell the mourners to weep no more, and to give the dead man food. They enter the room, and one of them—generally[140] an old man of some standing—pushes open the window with the chopper, and the offering of food is thrown out for the benefit of the dead man and his spirit companions. Up to this time the near relatives of the dead man live in strict seclusion in their room, but after it they may come out to the public part of the house and return to their usual occupations. But the ulit, or mourning, is still observed, and does not come to an end till the feast in honour of the dead (Gawai Antu) is held.

Among tribes where professional wailers exist it is not enough to throw the offering of food out of the window at the back of the house. The wailer must help to send that food to Hades. She sings her incantation and calls upon the adjutant bird to convey the articles of food and the tears and sobs of the relatives to the other world. The bird, so sings the wailer, speeds on its way, and arrives at the Country of the Dead. There the spirits are supposed to see the visitant, and inquire where it comes from and what is the object of its journey. “Do you come to look at the widows? We have thirty-and-one; but only one is handsome. Do you come to seek after maidens? We have thirty-and-three; but only one is beautiful.” “No,” says the bird, “we have many widows and maidens in the land of the living; and they are all beautiful and admired of men.” They ask as they see what it carries: “What is that you have brought with you so securely covered up?” “Bring a vessel, and I will pour the contents of my burden into it.” A large vessel is brought, the crowd stand expectant around, and the bird pours out the offering of food, and lo! the eatables, as well as the tears and sobs of the living which accompany them, have become gold and silver and precious stones[141] wondrously beautiful. But the inhabitants of Hades cannot understand what it all means, and quarrel among themselves. Then an old learned woman, who has lived in Hades very many years, speaks. She bids them be silent and listen to her, and she explains that the bird has come from the land of the living with presents for them from their earthly friends.

Until this Pana is made, the Dyaks say the soul of the dead man is unsettled. It has not quite left this world, and Hades will not receive it or give it food and drink. But after this observance it is received and welcomed as a regular denizen of the spirit world.

There is another observance called Sumping, which is sometimes carried out at a varying period after death. The Dyaks bring the symbols and trophies of a head-hunting raid and place them in the middle of the public hall of the house. The wailer sings her incantation, and procures the services of the Spirit of the Winds to convey them to the dead, whose abode, until now full of discomfort and darkness, becomes at sight of these trophies filled with light. The spirits rejoice at the thought that their relatives have revenged upon others their own death.

This observance, according to ancient custom, could not be held until the head of an enemy had been obtained. It brings out the darker and fiercer side of the Dyak nature. They would fight with Death if they could, and rescue their dead friends from his clutches. But as they cannot do this, they rejoice in taking vengeance upon the living and killing someone, so that their relatives in Hades may have the satisfaction of saying: “My death has been avenged. A life has been paid for my life.” In these days, when the Dyaks live under a strong and just[142] Government, it is very seldom that this observance can be carried out according to ancient custom; now they have either to dispense with the newly-procured human head or omit the observance altogether.

The dead man is not forgotten. Periodical mournings (sabak) at intervals of two or three months are held in his memory, and the professional wailer calls on the dead man and weeps over him. The relatives work themselves up into a frenzy of sorrow on these occasions, and many of them are often seen weeping sadly. The Dyaks believe that the dead hear their cries, and that a bond of sympathy unites them with those on earth.

A year or two after the death the Gawai Antu is held. This feast is held in honour of all those that have died since the last Gawai Antu was held. Small, curiously-shaped baskets, supposed to represent the different implements a man or woman uses in work when alive, are made and placed on the different graves. Thus they furnish the dead with the means of livelihood in Hades. This feast ends all mourning for the dead, and after it has been held there are no more periodical mournings.

But even after all mourning has ceased the Dyak still believes that his dead friends and relatives live and visit the earth. Before going forth on an expedition against the enemy, the dead are invoked, and are begged to help their friends on earth, so that they may be successful against their foes. In times of peril and of need the dead are called upon; and on the hilltops or in the solitudes of the jungle a man often goes by himself and spends the night in the hope that the spirit of some dead relative may visit him, and in a dream tell him of some charm by means of which he may overcome difficulties and become rich and great.


Burial is the usual, but not the only, mode of disposing of the dead. Manangs, or witch-doctors, are never buried, but their coffins are hung up in the cemetery. Among some tribes a young child dying before he has any teeth is put in a jar instead of a coffin, and this is tied to the branch of some tree in the burial-ground.

The Dyak believes in a future life, but it is simply a prolongation of the present state of things in a new sphere. Even the journey from this world to the land of spirits is much like the journey from one part of the country to another. The traveller must be provided with food and money for his journey, which may take a longer or a shorter time, dependent to a great extent on the liberality of his friends here on earth and to the kindness of those whose houses he passes in his journey to the spirit world.

If the dead man has been able while in this terrestrial sphere to provide for himself assistance in the world of spirits, then his life in the other world will be an easy one. The spirits of the enemies whose heads he has taken become his slaves in the other world, and the man who has succeeded in killing many enemies lives in Hades a life of ease.

I have given the general belief among the Sea Dyaks about the future existence. But occasionally other conceptions are met with. The idea of metempsychosis is not unknown, and I have met a Dyak who treated a snake with the greatest kindness, because he said it had been revealed to him in a dream that the spirit of his grandfather dwelt in that snake.

Some Dyaks speak of a series of spirit worlds through which their souls must pass before they become finally extinct. Some Dyaks say they have to die three times;[144] others say seven times; but all seem to agree in the idea that after these successive dyings they practically cease to exist, and are absorbed into air and fog. They do not believe in an endless life, because perhaps they lack the mental capacity to conceive of such a thing.



Travelling by boat—Paddles v. oars—Dangers—Tidal bores—Sandbanks—Langan—Up-river travelling—Poling—Camping out at night—Travelling on foot—Jungle paths—Scenery—Wild animals—The Orang-utan—Vegetation.

Most of the Sea Dyaks live on the banks of the rivers, so that travelling is usually done by boat. The lower reaches of the river have very swift tides, against which it is impossible to row or paddle; so, when travelling up-river, the flood-tide is taken advantage of, and the boat either anchors or is tied to the bank during the ebb, and vice versâ. Some of the boats used by the Dyaks are roomy and well built. The Balaus are very good boat-builders, and their boats are very well made and swift.

The question is sometimes raised as to whether oars or paddles propel a boat best. If the number of boatmen be taken into consideration, then oars certainly drive a boat along much faster than paddles. Four oars would be sufficient for a boat thirty or forty feet long, but for a boat of that length at least twenty paddles would be needed to make it travel at any pace.

The Dyaks sit in their boats on a rough matting made of split bamboo tied together with cane. For shelter against the sun and rain they have an awning made of[146] palm-leaves (kadjang). This is tied on to a rough framework of wood fixed on the boat, and is an excellent protection against the weather.

There are many dangers to be guarded against when travelling by boat in Borneo. Many rivers have a large tidal bore during the spring-tides, and if the boat be in some narrow part of the river when it meets the tidal bore it is likely to be swamped. The safest course is to wait for the tidal bore in some broad part of the river, where it is not at all dangerous.

There are also many sand-banks, and though Dyak boats draw little water, still these have to be guarded against when the tide is very swift. I have known cases where a boat has struck against a sand-bank and been rolled over and over by the swift tide, and lives lost.


A boat being dragged through the rapids. The boatmen are wading in the water and dragging it along.

In certain parts of the lower reaches of the large Bornean rivers, where large sand-banks are to be found, the swift incoming spring-tide makes, soon after it has covered the sand-bank, a peculiar dangerous motion of the water, called by the natives langan. We all know the bubbling appearance of boiling water in an open pot, and if we picture to ourselves that kind of thing on a very large scale, it will give a good idea of what the langan is like. It does not last long in any particular part of the river, because, as soon as the water has risen and is deeper, the langan disappears. It is most dangerous. The peculiar motion of the water is so irregular and uncertain that small boats are easily swamped, and many lives have been lost owing to this langan. The part of the Batang Lupar near the village of Rawan is particularly dangerous from this cause. I have known of many cases of a Dyak boat being swamped by the langan there, and not a single person being saved. Though the Dyaks are good swimmers,[147] the boat is rolled over by the swift current, and they have no chance of saving themselves. When I have had to travel past Rawan during the spring-tides when there is most danger, if the tide has only just made, I have thought it wisest not to run any risks, and have told my boatmen to fasten the boat to the bank, and wait for ten minutes, and not to proceed till there was no danger of being swamped by the terrible langan.

In the rapids up the rivers travelling is done in a “dug-out,” because that draws little water. The boat has a long cane or creeper tied to the bows, and when it has to be pulled over the rapids some of the men drag at this, while the others remain in the boat and work with their poles or small paddles. The skill with which the Dyaks pole the boat along, as they stand up in it, is beautiful to see. With a skilful turn of the pole they will guide the boat past some huge boulder which it seems impossible to avoid. The sensation to one sitting in a boat going over the rapids, either up or down stream, is not particularly pleasant. The boat is bumped and jerked about, and the water often splashes in. At times the boat will be propelled by poles; then, when the water is too shallow, the men jump out and walk by the side, pulling the boat along. When they get to deeper water, they jump in again.

The Dyaks are most excellent companions when travelling has to be done. They are hard-working and good-tempered, and most resourceful. When one is travelling in small “dug-outs” in the upper reaches of the river, it often happens that he has to spend some nights on the journey. If any Dyak house be near, the travellers make for it, knowing well that the hospitable inmates will gladly give them shelter. But sometimes[148] they have to camp out on the river-bank. It is quite remarkable how well the Dyaks manage under such circumstances. I have always admired the way in which in a very short time wood and creepers are got from the jungle, and a little hut put up for me on a cleared spot on the river-bank. The creepers are used for tying the wood together; the kadjang from the boat is fastened up for the roof of the little hut; a flooring, two or three feet off the ground, is made of laths of wood tied together with creepers; my small cork boat mattress and curtain are fixed up; and in about an hour’s time I am safely lodged for the night. The Dyaks themselves are very hardy. They will wrap themselves up in their puah, or sheet, and sleep in the open air, sometimes on mats; but if there are no mats, they will make for themselves a bed of leaves on the ground, and think it no great hardship to sleep on this.

When travelling has to be done on foot, one has to walk on a Dyak jungle path, which consists of the trunks of the giants of the forest placed in a line. No attempt is made to hew the round trunks into an even upper surface, so one must walk carefully lest he slip off; for in some parts the bark on these tree-trunks is rotten, and in others there is a growth of wet slippery moss. Over the jungle streams there are Dyak bridges made, like the path, of the trunk of a tree, sometimes with a light hand-rail tied to it, sometimes not.

I have often travelled on foot through the jungle, accompanied by Dyaks carrying my baggage. We have walked in single file on these trunks of trees, and have listened to the weird jungle sounds—the creaking of giant trees, the strange cries of insects, or birds, or monkeys. And sometimes in the gathering darkness,[149] when the storm-clouds have hurried overhead and the winds shrieked through the tree-tops in fierce discord, ruthlessly twanging the harp-strings of Nature, I have understood why it is that the Dyaks believe that the lone forests are inhabited by the spirits of the wind and the rivers, of the mountains and the trees.

No one can adequately realize the Equatorial Bornean jungle until he sees it in all its wonder—the heated steamy stillness broken by weird sounds, the colossal trees, the birds with brilliant plumage, and the infinite variety of monkeys among the branches, sitting, hanging by hands or tails, leaping, grimacing, jabbering, as they see the strange sight of human beings invading their domains.

What are the wild animals that the traveller is likely to meet as he walks through the jungle? The animal life of Borneo is akin to that of Sumatra or Java, but with certain differences. Borneo is free from tigers, and this is fortunate, for travelling through the forests would be dangerous indeed if tigers were likely to be encountered. The only wild animals to be met with are the small and comparatively harmless tree-tiger, and the small brown honey-bear, but neither of them is much feared. There are, of course, ferocious crocodiles in the rivers, and many varieties of snakes, varying in size from the python downwards. But the cobra, so much dreaded in India, is not met with in Borneo, and death from a snake-bite is very rare. The elephant and the rhinoceros seem to be confined to the north end of the island. There is the great man-like ape—the orang-utan, or maias, as it is called by the Dyaks. It is only found in a limited area, in the territory between the Batang Lupar and the Rejang Rivers. As a rule, this animal does not exceed the height of four feet two inches, though there are[150] stories told of its attaining a far greater size. The height, however, gives a poor idea of the animal’s bulk and strength. The body is as large as that of an average man, but the legs are extremely short. Its arms are of great length, and measure over seven feet in spread. The whole body is covered with long red hair. It rarely attacks man, but when provoked is very ferocious, and as its strength is very great, it is a foe not to be despised. There are numerous wild boars in the jungle, but they never attack the traveller, and are not a source of danger.

The vegetation of Borneo is rich and varied. By the seashore and at the mouths of the rivers there grows the nipa palm, “the tree of a thousand uses.” The young leaves are used for making kadjangs, the awnings with which Dyak boats are covered. The old leaves are made into attap for the roofs and walls of their houses. From the blossom a sweet drink is obtained, and this is converted into sugar. From the ashes of the burnt stump of this palm salt is obtained. As one travels up a Bornean river the nipa palms become less and less plentiful, and one finds the banks covered with mangroves. These trees thrive on the muddy banks. A network of roots grows out of the stem several feet above the soil, and keeps them firm. At night these mangroves are lit up by myriads of fireflies. The missionary stationed at Banting many years ago had all the mangrove-trees, except one on each side of his landing-place, cut down, and on the darkest night there was no difficulty in knowing where his boat was to stop. These two trees, covered with fireflies, were not to be mistaken in the surrounding darkness.

In Borneo there are many varieties of palms. There is the nibong palm, the trunk of which is often used for the[151] posts of native houses. When split up, it is used for the flooring. There is the sago palm, from the pith of the trunk of which sago is obtained. There are the cocoanut and betel-nut palms, and lastly a useful climbing palm—the cane, or rotan—which is exported in great quantities and used for the seats of chairs.

There are many kinds of useful woods to be found in the Bornean jungles. There is the bilian, or iron-wood, which is so valuable for building purposes, as it is practically indestructible. It will not rot in earth or water, and it is the only wood that the white ants cannot destroy. There are also many other hard woods used for the building of houses and the making of keels for boats.

The ebony-tree is to be found in Borneo. The ebony is the heart of the tree, the rest of the wood being of a light colour.

The camphor-tree is also found, as well as various trees which produce gutta and rubber of different sorts.

There are many fruit-trees, but the fruit most loved by the Dyaks is the durian. This grows on a large tree, and is about the size of a man’s head. When ripe, it is easily split open, and in it are pods in which are rows of seeds covered with a sweet pulp.



Seven omen birds—Other omen animals—Omens sought before beginning rice-farming—House-building omens—Substitutions for omens—Good and bad omens in farming—A dead animal—Means of avoiding bad effects—Omens obeyed at all times—Bird flying through a house—A drop of blood—Killing an omen bird or insect—Origin of the system of omens—Augury—Dreams.

The Dyak is conscious of his ignorance of the natural laws which govern the world in which he lives. He longs for some guidance in his precarious farming, in his work in the lonely depths of the jungle, in his boating over the dangerous rapids or treacherous tides of the swift rivers. He is aware that injury or death may suddenly confront him from many an unexpected source. He knows that Nature has voices, many and varied, and he is convinced that if he could only understand those voices aright, he would know when to advance and when to recede. He feels the need of guidance, and he has devised for himself a system of omens.

Like the ancient Romans, who took auguries from the flight or notes of certain birds—the raven, the owl, the magpie, the eagle, and the vulture—the Dyak has his sacred birds, whose flight or calls are supposed to intimate to him the will of unseen powers. They are seven in number, and their native names are: Katupong, Beragai,[153] Kutok, Embuas, Nendak, Papau, and Bejampong. They are beautiful in plumage, but, like most tropical birds, they have little song, and their calls are shrill and piercing. They are supposed to be manifestations of the seven spirit sons of the great god Singalang Burong (see the “Story of Siu,” p. 278).

The system, as carried out by the Dyaks, is most elaborate and complicated, and the younger men have constantly to ask the older ones how to act in unexpected combinations of apparently contradictory omens. The law and observance of omens occupy a greater share of the thoughts of the Dyak than any other part of his religion.

It is not only to the cry of birds that the Dyaks pay heed. There are certain animals—the deer, the armadillo, the lizard, the bat, the python, the cobra, even the rat, as well as certain insects—which all may give omens under special circumstances. But these other creatures are subordinate to the birds, from which alone augury is sought at the beginning of any important undertaking.

Some idea of the method in which the Dyaks carry out their system of omens may be gathered from what is done at the commencement of the yearly rice-farming. Some man who has the reputation of being fortunate, and has had large paddy crops, will be the augur, and undertake to obtain omens for a large area of land on which he and others intend to plant. The Dyaks begin clearing the ground of jungle and high grass when the Pleiades appear at a certain height above the horizon at sunset. Some little time before this the augur sets about his work. He will have to hear the cry of the nendak, the katupong, and the beragai, all on his left. If these cries come from birds on his right, they are not propitious. The cries of[154] the other sacred birds must sound on his right. He goes forth in the early morning, and wanders about the jungle till the cry of the nendak is heard on his left. He will then break off a twig of anything growing near, and take it home and put it in a safe place. But it may happen that some other omen bird or animal is first to be seen or heard. In that case he must give the matter up, return, and try his chance another day. Thus, sometimes several days pass before he has obtained his first omen. When he has heard the nendak, he will then listen for the katupong and the other birds in the necessary order. There is always the liability of delays caused by the wrong birds being heard, and it may possibly be a month or more before he obtains all those augural predictions, which will give him confidence that his farming for the year will be successful. When the augur has collected a twig for each bird he has heard, he takes these to the land selected for farming, buries them in the ground, and with a short form of address to the birds and to Pulang Gana—the god of the Earth—clears a small portion of the ground of grass or jungle, and then returns home. The magic virtues of the birds have been conveyed to the land, and the work of clearing it for planting may be begun at any time.

The sacred birds can be bad omens as well as good. If heard on the wrong side, or in the wrong order, the matter in hand must be postponed or altogether abandoned, unless a subsequent conjunction of good omens occurs, which in the judgment of old experts more than counterbalances the bad omens.

I have mentioned the omens necessary before planting the seed. In a similar manner, before beginning to build a house, or starting on a war expedition, or undertaking[155] any new line of action, certain omens are required if good fortune is to attend them and the Fates be propitious.

For house-building, the cries of the same birds are required, and in the same order as before planting the seed. But for a war expedition, birds heard on the right hand are best, except in the case of the nendak, which may be heard either on the right or on the left hand side.

There are, I believe, certain substitutions for this tedious process of seeking the omens of birds. It is said that for farming, if a piece of gold be hidden in the ground, the hearing of the proper omen birds may be dispensed with. If a fowl be sacrificed, and the blood made to drop in a hole in the earth in which the fowl is afterwards buried, it is said the gods will be satisfied, and a good harvest ensue. And on the occasion of a war expedition, if an offering is made with beating of gongs and drums on starting from the house, it is said that no cries of birds need be obeyed afterwards. But none of these methods are ever used, the Dyaks preferring to submit to the tedious procedure of listening to the cries of the birds.

It is in regard to farming that the practice is most conspicuous. And if any of these omen birds are heard or seen by the Dyak on his way to his work on his paddy land, it foretells either good or evil to himself or to his farm—if good, then all is well, and he goes on his way rejoicing; if evil, he will at once turn back and wait for the following day before going to his work again. The nendak foretells good, whether heard on the right hand or the left; so does the katupong; but the papau is of evil omen, and, if heard, the man must at once beat a retreat. A beragai heard occasionally does not matter, but if heard frequently, no work must be done for one day. The embuas[156] heard on the right hand is very bad, and in order to insure a good harvest, the unlucky man must not work on his farm for five days. The cry of the beragai acts as an antidote, and destroys the bad effects of the cries of birds of bad omen. For instance, the kutok and katupong are both birds of bad omen, but if after hearing them the cry of a beragai is heard, no evil effects need be dreaded. If the cry of a deer, a gazelle, or a mouse-deer be heard, or if a rat crosses the path of a man on his way to his farm, a day’s rest is necessary, or he will either cut himself, or become ill, or suffer by failure of his crop.

When a remarkably good omen is heard—one which foretells a plentiful harvest—the man must go to his farm at once, and do some trifling work there, and then return, and in this way clench the foreshadowed luck and at the same time reverence the spirit who promises it. Should a deer, a gazelle, or a mouse-deer come out of the jungle to the farm when a man is at work there, it is an exceptionally good omen. It means that customers will come to buy the paddy, and that therefore the crop will be very good in order that there may be paddy to sell. They honour this omen by resting from work for three days.

But the worst of all omens is to find anywhere on the farm the dead body of any animal, especially if it be that of any animal included in the omen list. It infuses a deadly poison into the whole crop, and one or other of the owner’s family will certainly die within the year. When such a terrible thing happens, the omen is tested by killing a pig, and divining from the appearance of its liver directly after death. If the liver be pronounced to be of good omen, then all is well, but if not, then all the rice grown on that ground must be sold or given away.[157] Other people may eat it, for the omen affects only those who own the crops.

A way of escaping from the bad effects of omens is sometimes resorted to. Certain men, who by some peculiar magic influence are credited with possessing in themselves some occult power which can overcome bad omens, are able by eating some little thing of the produce of the farm to turn away the evil prognostication and render it ineffectual. Something grown on the farm—a little Indian corn or a few cucumber-shoots—is taken to the man. For a small consideration he eats it raw. By this means he appropriates to himself the evil omen, which can do him no harm, and thus delivers the owner of the farm from any possible evil in the future.

The Dyak pays heed to these ominous creatures not only in his farming, but in all his journeyings and in any kind of work he may be engaged in. If he be going to visit a friend, the cry of a bird of ill omen will send him back. If he be engaged in carrying beams from the jungle for his house, and hear a kutok, or bejampong, or an embuas, he will at once throw down the piece of timber, and it will be left there for a day or two, or perhaps abandoned altogether. If at night the inhabitants of a long Dyak house hear an owl make a peculiar noise called sabut, they will all hastily leave the house in the early morning, and remain away, living in temporary sheds, for some weeks, and return to the house only when they hear a nendak or beragai cry on their left. There are many omens which make a place unfit for habitation—for example, a beragai flying over the house or an armadillo crawling up into it.

So great is the Dyak belief in omens that a man will sometimes abandon a nearly finished boat simply because[158] a bird of ill omen flies across its bows. The labour of weeks will thus be wasted. I have myself seen wooden beams and posts left half finished in the jungle, and have learned on inquiry that some bird of ill omen was heard while the man was at work on them, and so they had to be abandoned.

If a katupong flies in at one end of the house and flies out at the other, it is a bad omen, and the house is often abandoned. On one of my visits to Sebetan there was great excitement at the Dyak house near mine because on the previous night a katupong had flown through the house. Opinions were divided. Some thought the house ought to be abandoned; others said that if sacrifices were offered, there was no need to desert the house. My opinion was asked. At that time of the year the Dyak house was very empty, as most of the families, if not all, would be living on their farms, and I said: “You have fruit-trees growing thickly all round your houses, and as you leave your houses empty, I am not surprised at any bird flying through the house.” My matter-of-fact ideas were not much approved. As usual in doubtful cases, they sacrificed a pig and examined its liver. Luckily, the omen was good, so they continued to live in the house; otherwise, they would have had to leave that house and build another.

To see a drop of blood on a mat or on the floor of a Dyak house is considered a bad omen, which sometimes necessitates the abandoning of the house altogether. I remember hearing a woman of this same house in Sebetan relate that, after she and the children had had their evening meal, she was putting away the plates on the rack in the wall, when she saw a drop of fresh blood on the mat. The Dyaks considered it a most terrible thing[159] to happen. I was asked what I thought about it. I said that probably one of the children had a cut finger, and the blood was from that. The mother was positive the blood was not that of any of her children. I said that perhaps there was a wounded rat in the roof, and the blood was from it. I could see that the Dyaks considered me very ignorant. They told me that they were sure the blood must be that of some spirit who chose that method of showing his displeasure. It was useless for me to argue that if the spirit was invisible, his blood must be invisible, too.

To kill one of these omen creatures, be it bird or insect, is a crime which will certainly be punished by sickness or death. But this sacredness of life, it may be noticed, does not apply to the deer, the gazelle, the mouse-deer, the armadillo, and the iguana, all of which they freely kill for food. Rats also are killed, as they are great pests. It would seem that physical requirements are stronger than religious theory.

This is the merest outline of the practice of interpreting omens among the Dyaks, but it will give some idea of the tediousness of the process. And the intricacies of the subject are great. The different combinations of these voices of Nature are endless, and it is difficult to know in each special case whether the spirits intend to foretell good or bad fortune. It is not an unusual thing to see old men, industrious and sensible in ordinary matters of life, sitting down for hours discussing the probable effect on their destiny of some special combination of omens.

The full Dyak explanation of the origin of this system of listening to the cries of certain birds is contained in the “Story of Siu” (see p. 278).

Another story tells how some Dyaks in the Batang[160] Lupar made a great feast, and invited many guests. When everything was ready, and the arrival of the guests expected, the sound of a great company of people was heard near the village. The hosts, thinking they were the invited friends, went to meet them, but to their surprise found they were all utter strangers. However, they received them with due honour, and entertained them in a manner suitable to the occasion. When the time of departure came, they asked the strange visitors who they were, and from whence they came. Their Chief replied: “I am Singalang Burong, and these are my sons-in-law and their friends. When you hear the voices of the following birds [giving their names] you must pay heed to them. They are our deputies in this lower world.” And then the Dyaks understood that they had been entertaining guests from the Spirit World, who rewarded their hospitality by giving them the guidance of the omen system.

A favourite way of auguring good or evil among the Dyaks is the old classical method of examining the entrails of some animal offered in sacrifice. A pig is killed, and the heart and liver taken out and placed upon leaves. These organs are handed round to the old men present, who closely examine them, and pronounce them to augur either good or evil. This method of augury is often resorted to when the interpretation of the cries of birds is doubtful.

A Dyak Youth Holding a Spear

He is wearing the usual waistcloth and has also a sleeveless war-jacket made of skin covered with hair.

A study of the subject of omens and augury shows the need the Dyak feels, in common with all mankind, of some guidance from higher and unseen powers. What is the principle which underlies this system of omens? There is no doubt a morbid anxiety to know the secrets of the future. But that is not all. Surely in addition to[161] this there is the hidden conviction that the gods have some way of revealing their wishes to mankind, and that obedience to the will of the higher powers is the only way to insure success and happiness.

The Dyaks place implicit confidence in dreams. Their theory is that during sleep the soul can hear, see, and understand, and so what is dreamt is really what the soul sees. When anyone dreams of a distant land, they believe that his soul has paid a flying visit to that land. They interpret their dreams literally. The appearance of deceased relatives in dreams is to the Dyaks a proof that the souls live in Sabayan, and as in the dreams they seem to wear the same dress and to be engaged in the same occupations as when they lived in this world, it is difficult to persuade the Dyaks that the life in the other world can be different from that in this.

In dreams, also, the gods and spirits are supposed to bring charms to human beings. The story is often told of how a man falls asleep, and dreams that a spirit came to him and gave certain charms, and lo! when he awakes, he finds them in his hands. Or else he is told in his dream to go to a certain spot at a certain time, and take some stone which will have some mysterious influence for good over his fortunes. Very often these magic charms, or pengaroh, as they are called by the Dyaks, are nothing more than ordinary black pebbles, but the possession of them is supposed to endow the owner with exceptional powers.

No doubt Dyaks often concoct dreams out of their waking thoughts to suit their own interests, and many a man falsely declares he has received the gift of a charm from some spirit in order to appear of importance before others.


To conclude, dreams are looked upon by the Dyaks as the means the gods and spirits use to convey their commands or to warn men of coming danger. Houses are often deserted, and farming land on which much labour has been spent abandoned, on account of dreams. Newly-married couples often separate from the same cause. It is no unusual thing for a man or a woman to dream that the spirits are hungry and need food. In that case the inmates of the Dyak house organize a feast, and offerings are made to the hungry spirits.

Sometimes dreams are made an excuse for evil deeds. A woman who had been guilty of adultery said she was only carrying out the command of the gods conveyed to her in a dream, and that if she disobeyed she would probably become mad!



Manangs supposed to possess mysterious powers over evil spirits—Dyak theory of disease—Treatment of disease—Lupong, or box of charms—Batu IlauManang performances—Pagar Api—Catching the soul—Sixteen different manang ceremonies—Killing the demon BuyuSaut—Salampandai—Deceit of manangs—Story of a schoolboy—Smallpox and cholera—Three ceremonies of initiation—Different ranks of manangs.

Among the lower races of mankind there is always to be found the witch-doctor, who claims to have mysterious powers, and to be able to hold communication with the spirit-world. Where there is ignorance as to the cause of disease, and the effects that different medicines have on the human body, magical ceremonies and pretensions to supernatural powers are allowed full sway. Fear and anxiety in cases of illness make men eager to believe in any suggested remedy, however absurd it may be. The Dyaks are no exception to the rule. They have their manangs, or witch-doctors.

The peculiar attribute of the manang is the possession of mysterious powers over the spirits, rather than any special knowledge of medicines. There is often some small idea of the use of certain simple herbal remedies, but it is not on this knowledge that his importance depends. The great function of the manang is to defeat[164] and drive away the malignant spirits which cause sickness and death. All maladies are supposed to be inflicted by the passing or the touch of demons, who are enemies to mankind. The Dyak description of most diseases is pansa utai, literally “something passed him.” A spirit passed him and struck him. In accordance with this idea of disease, the only person who can cure the sick man is the one who can cope with the unseen evil spirit. The manang claims to be able to do this. He can charm or persuade or kill the evil spirit and rescue the departing soul from his cruel clutches. When called in to attend a patient, he, in company with other medicine-men, goes through a performance called Pelian. There are different varieties of this ceremony, according to the disease and the amount of the fees paid.

Manangs are generally called to their profession by a revelation made to them in dreams by some spirit. Each manang, therefore, claims to have a familiar spirit, whom he can call to his aid when necessary. When a person receives a call from the spirit, he bids adieu for a while to his relatives, abandons his former occupations, and attaches himself to some other experienced manang, who, for a consideration, will take him in hand and instruct him in the incantations, a knowledge of which is necessary for his calling.

The manang looks upon a sick person as in the power of an evil spirit. As long as that spirit remains in possession, the patient cannot recover. He bids it depart. If it be obstinate and will not go, he summons his own familiar spirit to his aid. If the evil spirit still refuse to go, then the manang admits his inability to deal with the case alone, and several other manangs are called to his aid.


Whether the patient live or die, the manang is rewarded for his trouble. He makes sure of this before he undertakes a case, as he is put to considerable inconvenience by being fetched away from his own home and his own work. He takes up his abode with the patient, and has his meals with the family, and in other ways makes himself at home. If a cure be effected, he receives a present in addition to his regular fee. Herbal remedies are often administered internally or applied outwardly by him, but, in addition to these, spells are muttered and incantations made to exorcize the evil spirit that is tormenting the man.

Every manang consults his familiar spirit as to what is best to be done for the case. When a person complains of pain in his body, the familiar is said to suggest that some mischievous spirit has put something into him to cause the pain. The manang will then manipulate the part, and pretend to draw something out—a small piece of wood or a stone, or whatever it may chance to be—and exhibit it as the cause of the pain in the body. This he has by his magical power been able to remove from the body without even leaving a mark on the skin!

The manang always possesses a lupong, or medicine-box (see p. 184), generally made of the bark of a tree, and this is filled with charms consisting of scraps of wood or bark, curiously twisted roots, pebbles, and fragments of quartz. These medicinal charms are either inherited, or have been revealed by the spirits in dreams to their owners. One important and necessary charm is the Batu Ilau (“stone of light”)—a bit of quartz crystal which every manang possesses.

The manang never carries his own box of charms; the people who fetch him must carry it for him. He arrives[166] at the house of the sick man generally at sunset, for he never performs in daylight, unless the case is very serious and he is paid extra for doing so. It is difficult and dangerous work, he says, to have any dealings with the spirits in the daytime. Sitting down by the patient, after some inquiries, he produces out of his medicine-box a boar’s tusk or pebble, or some other charm, and gently strokes the body with it. If there be several medicine-men called in, the leader undertakes the preliminary examination, the rest giving their assent.

The manang now produces his Batu Ilau (“stone of light”), and gravely looks into it to diagnose the character of the disease, and to see where the soul is, and to discover what is the proper ceremony necessary for the case in question. Where there is serious illness the witch-doctor affirms that the spirit of the afflicted person has already left the body and is on its way to the next world, but that he may be able to overtake it and bring it back, and restore it to the person to whom it belongs. He pretends to converse with the spirit that troubles the sick man, repeating aloud the answers that the spirit is supposed to make.

There are many different ceremonies resorted to in cases of illness, but the following is what is common to all manang performances.

In the public hall of the Dyak house a long-handled spear is fixed blade upwards, with a few leaves tied round it, and at its foot are placed the medicine-boxes of all the witch-doctors who take part in the ceremony. This is called the Pagar Api (“fence of fire”). Why it is called by this curious name is not clear. The manangs all squat on the floor, and the leader begins a long monotonous drawl, the rest either singing in concert or joining in the[167] choruses or singing antiphonally with him. After a tiresome period of this dull drawling, they stand up and march with slow and solemn step in single file round the Pagar Api. The monotonous chant sometimes slackens, sometimes quickens, as they march round and round the whole night through, with only one interval for food in the middle of the night. The patient simply lies on his mat and listens.

Most of what is chanted is unintelligible, and consists of meaningless sounds, it being supposed that what is not understood by man is intelligible to the spirits. But some parts of it, though expressed in very prolix and ornate language, can be understood by the careful listener.

The witch-doctors call upon the sickness to be off to the ends of the earth, and return to the unseen regions from whence it came. They invoke the aid of spirits and of ancient worthies and unworthies down to their own immediate ancestors, and spin the invocation out to a sufficient length to last till early morning. Then comes the climax to which all this has been leading—the truant soul has to be caught and brought back again to the body of the sick man.

If the patient be in a dangerous state they pretend his soul has escaped far away. Perhaps they give out that it has escaped to the river, and they will wave about a garment or a piece of woven cloth to imitate the action of throwing a casting net to enclose it as a fish is caught. Or else they say that it has escaped into the jungle, and they will rush out of the house to secure it there. Or perhaps they say that it has been carried over the sea to unknown lands, and they all sit down and imitate the action of paddling a boat to follow it. But this is[168] only done in special cases, and I have often been told by Dyaks who have been present at a particular manang performance: “The man was very ill indeed. His samengat (soul) had gone so far away that the manangs had great difficulty in finding it. They paddled over the sea, they threw a net into the water, and did many other things before they ultimately succeeded in catching it.”

Generally the next thing they do is to move faster and faster, till they rush round the Pagar Api as hard as they can, still singing their incantation. One of their number suddenly falls to the floor and remains motionless. The others sit down round him. The motionless manang is covered over with a blanket, and all wait while his spirit is supposed to hurry away to the other world to find the wandering soul and bring it back. Presently he revives, and looks vacantly round like a man just waking out of sleep. Then he raises his right hand, clenched as if holding something. That hand contains the soul, and he proceeds to the patient and solemnly returns it to the body of the sick man through the crown of his head, muttering at the same time more words of incantation. This “catching of the soul” (nangkap samengat) is the great end to which all that has preceded leads up. One function remains to complete the cure. A live fowl must be waved over the patient, and as he does so, the leader sings a special invocation of great length. The animal is afterwards killed as an offering to the spirits, and eaten by the manangs.

I have given a general account of all Pelian or manang performances. There are different kinds of ceremonies, according to the advice of the manang or the fee the patient is prepared to pay. In the following list are the[169] names of the principal Pelian. If a patient fail to recover after one kind of ceremony, the manangs often recommend another and more expensive one.

1. Betepas (“sweeping”): At the time of the birth of each individual, a plant is supposed to grow up in the other world. If this plant continues to grow well, then the man enjoys good and robust health; if it droops, the man’s health suffers. When a man, therefore, has bad dreams or feels slightly unwell for a few days, his plant in Hades is said to be in a bad condition, and the manang is called to weed and sweep around it, and by doing so improve the condition of the plant, and consequently the health of the man. This is the first and cheapest function of the manang. In this he does not “catch the soul,” as is done in the other ceremonies. All he does is to mutter some incantation and wave a fowl over the person.

2. Berenchah (“making an assault”): The door between the private room and the public veranda is thrown open, and the manangs march backwards and forwards between room and veranda. Each manang carries two swords, one in each hand, and he beats these against each other, and they rush at the patient as if to attack him. This is supposed to be making an assault against the evil spirits and scattering them on all sides.

3. Berua (“swinging”): A swing is hung up outside the door of the sick person’s room. The manang sits in this swing, with the double object of catching the man’s soul, if it leave his body, and also of frightening any evil spirit that may come near to hurt the man.

4. Betanam pentik (“planting a pentik”): A pentik is a roughly carved wooden representation of a man.[170] The manang rushes through the house three times with this figure, and then plants it in the ground at the foot of the ladder of the house, and near it is put a winnowing-basket, a cooking-pot, and the piece of wood used in weaving to press the threads together. The figure is planted in the ground in the evening. If it remain till the morning in an upright position, recovery is certain; but if it be inclined either to the right or left, it is an omen of death.

5. Bepancha (“making a pancha”): A pancha is a swing erected on the tanju, or open-air platform, of the house. In this swing the manang sits, and by the movement of his feet “kicks away” the disease. While seated in this swing he “catches the soul” of the patient.

6. Ngelembayan (“taking a long sight”): A number of planks are laid about in the public veranda, and the manangs walk upon them, chanting their incantations. Then one of their number pretends to swoon, and is supposed to sail over rivers and seas to find the soul and bring it back.

7. Bebayak (“making a bayak, or iguana”): Some cooked rice is moulded into the shape of an iguana, and is covered over with cloths. This figure is supposed to eat up the evil spirits which cause the disease.

8. Nemuai Ka Sabayan (“making a journey to Hades”): The manangs, with hats on their heads, march up and down the house singing their incantations. While their bodies are doing this, their souls are supposed to speed away to Hades and bring back all manner of medicinal charms and talismans, as well as the wandering soul of the sick man.

9. Betiang garong (“making a post for departed souls”): A piece of bamboo is hung up to the roof-ridge,[171] and an offering is put on the ridge. A swing is erected up there for the manang, and he makes his incantations and “catches the soul.”

10. Begiling lantai (“rolled up in the flooring”): In this ceremony, when the manang feigns to swoon, his body is rolled up in part of the flooring, and certain miniature articles are put by his side, just as a dead man’s possessions are put by his body, and the manang is taken out of the house as if to be buried.

11. Beburong raia (“making or acting the adjutant bird”): The manangs walk up and down the house seven times, imitating the actions of the adjutant bird. They are covered with native sheets, put over their bodies like cloaks, and they pretend to personate the bird.

12. Bebaju besi (“wearing an iron coat”): Each manang fastens two choppers on his back and two in front, and carries one in each hand. Thus equipped, they walk round and “catch the soul.”

13. Bebandong Api (“displaying fire”): The patient is laid out in the public part of the house, and several small fires are made round him. The manangs pretend to dissect his body, and fan the flames towards him to drive away the sickness.

14. Betiti tendai (“walking on the tendai”): The tendai is the bar on which cotton is placed when being spun. This bar is oiled and placed in the middle of the public veranda, and the manang, armed with a chopper in each hand, walks on it in order to “catch the soul” of the patient.

15. Beremaung (“acting the tiger”): In the middle of each family’s portion of the public veranda is placed a wooden mortar, and the manang prowls round them to “catch the soul” of the patient.


16. Betukup rarong (“to split open the coffin”): A manang is put in a coffin, and by his side are put miniature articles, supposed to represent the utensils used in daily life. The other manangs walk round, and attempt to “catch the soul” of the sick man. When they have succeeded in doing this, the coffin is split open and the manang gets out.

These are the different kinds of manang ceremonies known, but only the first four are in common use. The others are rarely resorted to nowadays.

In addition to these must be mentioned the Munoh Antu, or Bepantap Buyu (“killing the demon,” or “wounding Buyu”). Buyu is the name of the evil spirit who brings many diseases and causes miscarriage in women. When there is some unusual or obstinate disease, or when a woman has had miscarriage, the manangs declare that Buyu is the cause of the trouble, and must be killed. A large number of witch-doctors are called together, and the feat is performed in this way: The patient is taken out of the room, and laid on the common veranda, and covered with a net. In the room is placed an offering of food, and the manangs walk in procession up and down the whole length of the house, chanting their incantations, and inviting the evil spirit to come to his victim, and also to partake of the sumptuous repast that is prepared for him. This occupies some time, for the spirit may be far away, on a journey, or fishing, or hunting. All lights are extinguished, and in the darkness the manangs walk up and down the public hall of the Dyak house. At intervals one of them peeps in at the door to see if the spirit has arrived. In due time the demon comes, and then the manangs themselves enter the darkened room. Presently sounds of scuffling,[173] of clashing of weapons, and of shouting are heard by the Dyaks outside. Soon after the door is thrown open, and the demon said to be dead. He was cheated into coming to torment his prey, and instead of a weak and helpless victim he met the crafty and mighty manangs, who have done what ordinary mortals cannot do—attacked and killed him. As a proof of the reality of the deed lights are brought in, and the manangs point to spots of blood on the floor, and occasionally to the corpse itself in the shape of a dead monkey or snake, which they say was the form the spirit took for the occasion. The trick is a very simple one. Some time in the day the manangs procure blood from a fowl or some other animal, or it may be from their own bodies, mix it with water in a bamboo to prevent congealing, smuggle it into the room, and scatter it on the floor in the dark. This can safely be done, as no one but the manangs themselves are in the room. Neither lights nor outsiders are admitted, on the plea that under such circumstances the demon could not be enticed to enter. The trick has often been detected and the performers openly accused of imposture; consequently, it is not now practised so often as in former times. When this victory over the spirit is won, the Pelian goes on in the usual way till the morning hours.

In addition to these Pelian, there is another manang ceremony which is often performed, and known by the name of Saut. A feast is always given in the house where this ceremony takes place, so it is the occasion of the gathering of friends from many different Dyak houses. The reasons for having this ceremony are various. If they have had a series of bad harvests, or if one or more people in the house are ill, or if they wish the future of[174] one child or many to be bright and prosperous, then the manangs are called in to perform the Saut.

The principal god or deity invoked in this ceremony is Selampandai, the god who fashions mankind out of clay by hammering them out on an anvil. As in other performances of the manangs, there is a Pagar Api put up in the open veranda. The ceremony begins at dusk, when three offerings of food are made. The first is to the gods of the women, and this is thrown out of the window of the room to the ground; the second offering is made to the gods of the men, and is thrown out to the ground from the unroofed veranda in front of the house; the third offering is to Selampandai, and this is put in the loft over the Pagar Api.

Areca-nut blossoms are placed ready for use on a little shelf, and three plates of rice are put near them as offerings to the spirits. A large valuable jar (tajau) filled with native spirit (tuak) is placed in the public veranda of the house. If there be a sick man to be cured, he sits on a brass gong (chanang) by the Pagar Api. The manangs march up and down singing their incantations. After doing this for some time, each of them takes a bunch of areca-blossom in his hands, and they strike each other with these until the blossoms are broken and strew the ground. Then the manangs walk slowly round the jar, bowing to it at each step. After this they join hands, and rush round the jar as fast as they can go, until they are quite exhausted.

During this the guests who have been invited to the feast are seated about eating and drinking, or chatting to each other. Later on in the evening, when the manangs have completed their ceremony, the tuak in the jar is handed round in cups for the guests to drink. As usual[175] at feasts, when a cup of spirit is given to a man, he drinks the contents and keeps the cup, and it is no unusual thing to see a man returning from a feast with twenty or thirty cups in his possession.

There is a good deal of deceit and humbug and a little clumsy sleight-of-hand on the part of the manang, and an unlimited amount of faith on the part of the patient. The manang must be conscious of his own deceit, but he believes that his incantations do good, and I have often known cases of manangs having these ceremonies for members of their own family who are ill. But as a rule a manang is not a truthful man at all. He is not above telling any number of lies to increase his importance. He always pretends to have had previous knowledge of what is going to happen, and often says, when he is called in to a case, that he knew some time previously that his patient would be ill and come to him for help.

There can be no doubt that the average Dyak knows that there is a great deal of deceit connected with the manang’s profession, but he also knows he must submit to that deceit if he wishes to have his help, and he believes that in some way the incantations and remarkable actions of the manangs help to scare away the evil spirit which is the cause of the disease.

I remember that one of my schoolboys was on a visit to his relatives in Saribas. His sister was ill, and his parents sent for the manangs to cure her. The boy protested. He said they were Christians, and ought not to make incantations to the spirits. But no notice was taken of what he said. The manang went through the usual farce of “catching the soul” and restoring it to the girl. The boy looked on, and when it was over said to him:

“You are a fraud. You know you cannot ‘catch the[176] soul,’ and you only pretend to do so, and get paid for it.”

The manang was no doubt disgusted at being thus reproved by a little boy, and replied:

“I am able to catch the soul and restore it. I will catch your soul if you like.”

“Do so,” said the boy. “I would like you very much to do it.”

The foolish manang pretended to faint; then he woke up in the orthodox manner with one hand clenched, and when he opened it, lo and behold! there was something there which he declared was the boy’s soul.

The boy sat and looked on while all this went on.

“Here is your soul,” the manang said, “which I have succeeded in catching after much troubled. Let me restore it to you, so that you may be in good health.”

“Call that my soul?” said the boy. “I make a present of it to you. I do not want it. You can keep it. I have a soul which you cannot touch.”

The manang was puzzled. He had never known such a thing as anyone daring to refuse to have his own soul. He spoke to the parents, and said that something terrible would happen to the boy if he persisted in not having his soul returned to his body. The parents wished the boy to do what the manang desired, but he was determined, and did what all Dyak boys do when they are disobedient—ran off into the jungle, where he knew he would not easily be found.

When this boy came back to my school, he told me all about it, and later on, when he and I went to his people, they spoke about it. As the boy was in very good health, they all had a laugh at the manang’s expense. If, however, anything had happened to the boy, no[177] doubt the manang would have made much capital out of it.

I have sometimes argued with a manang that if the soul has already left the body of the patient when he is called in, then the man ought to be dead. The answer to this is that a man has more than one soul. It is only when all his souls leave the body that the man dies. Some Dyaks assert that a man has three souls, and others seven. Their ideas on this matter do not agree.

Though the manang is supposed to be able to defeat the evil spirits which cause disease, there are some diseases which are too terrible for even his mystical powers. The epidemic scourges of cholera and smallpox are said to be caused by the direct influence of evil spirits. Smallpox is said to be caused by the King of Evil Spirits, because it is such a terrible disease. The name by which it is known among the Dyaks is Sakit Rajah (the sickness of, or caused by, the King of Evil Spirits). But the manangs will not go near a case of either. Probably a consciousness of their own powerlessness, combined with a fear of infection, has made them assert that those diseases do not come within reach of their powers. Other means, such as propitiatory sacrifices and offerings, must be resorted to.

To qualify a man to take part in this mixed system of symbolism and deceit, a form of initiative ceremony is gone through by other witch-doctors, in the course of which he is supposed to learn the secrets of his mystic calling. The aspirant to the office of manang must first commit to memory a certain amount of Dyak traditional lore, to enable him to take part in the incantations in company with other witch-doctors. But in addition to this, before he can accomplish the more important parts,[178] such as pretending to catch the soul of a sick man, he must be publicly initiated by one or more of the following ceremonies:

1. The first is called Besudi, which means “feeling,” or “touching.” The aspirant sits in the veranda of the Dyak house, and a number of witch-doctors walk round him singing incantations the whole night. The ceremony performed over him is the same as that done for a sick man (Pelian). This is supposed to endow him with the power to touch and feel the maladies of the body, and apply the requisite cure. It admits to the lowest grade, called manang mata (unripe manang), and is obtainable for the lowest fees.

2. If a manang wishes to attain a higher grade, he goes through a second ceremony, which is called Bekliti, or “opening.” A whole night’s incantation is again gone through by the other manangs, and in the early morning the great function of initiation is carried out. The witch-doctors lead the aspirant into an apartment curtained off from public gaze by large sheets of native woven cloth. There they assert they cut his head open, and take out his brains and wash and restore them. This is to give him a clear mind to penetrate into the mysteries of disease and to circumvent the wiles of the unseen spirits. They insert gold-dust into his eyes to give him keenness and strength of sight, so that he may be able to see the soul wherever it may have wandered. They plant barbed hooks in the tips of his fingers to enable him to seize the struggling soul and hold it fast, and, lastly, they pierce his heart with an arrow to make him tender-hearted and full of sympathy with the sick and suffering. Needless to say, none of these things are done. A few symbolic actions representing them are all that are gone through.[179] A cocoanut is placed on the head of the man and split open instead of the head, and so on. After this second ceremony the man is a fully-qualified manang—a manang mansau (a ripe manang)—competent to practise all parts of his deceitful craft.

3. There is, however, a third and highest grade, which is attainable only by ambitious candidates who are rich enough to make the necessary outlay. They may become manang bangun, manang enjun (manangs waved upon, manangs trampled upon). As in other cases, this involves a whole night’s ceremony, in which many of the older witch-doctors take part. They begin by walking round and round the aspirant to this high honour, and wave over him bunches of betel-nut blossom. This is the bangun (the waving upon). Then in the middle of the veranda a large jar is placed having a short ladder fastened on each side and connected at the top. At various intervals during the night the manangs, leading the new candidate, march him up one ladder and down the other, but what this is supposed to symbolize is not clear. As a finish to this play at mysteries, the man lays himself flat on the floor and the others walk over him and trample upon him. In some mysterious way this action is supposed to impart to him the supernatural power they themselves possess. This is the enjun, the “trampling upon.” The fees necessary to obtain this highest grade among witch-doctors are high, and therefore few are able to afford it. One who has been through this ceremony will often be heard to boast that he is no ordinary spirit-controller or soul-catcher, but something far superior—a manang bangun, manang enjun.

There is a yet higher grade which some manangs attain[180] to—that is, when he becomes a manang bali. Bali means “changed,” and a manang bali is one who is supposed to have changed his sex, and become a woman.

Sometimes a male manang assumes female attire. He does this, it is said, because he has had a supernatural command conveyed to him in dreams on three separate occasions. To disregard such a command would mean death. He prepares a feast, and sacrifices a pig or two to avert evil consequences to the tribe, and then assumes female costume. Thenceforth he is treated like a woman, and occupies himself in female pursuits. His chief aim in life is to copy female manners and habits as accurately as possible.

A manang bali is paid much higher fees than an ordinary manang, and is often called in when others have been unable to effect a cure. I do not think there is ever a case of a young man becoming a manang bali. Generally it is an old and childless man who uses this means of earning a livelihood.

The only occasion on which I have met a manang bali was in the upper part of the Krian River. He seemed a poor sort of creature, and appeared to me to be looked down upon by the Dyaks, though they were glad enough to ask his help in cases of illness. He had a “husband,” a lazy good-for-nothing, who lived on the earnings of the manang bali.

Women as well as men may become manangs, though it is not usual to meet many such nowadays. I have only come across one woman manang, and that was at Temudok, though I have heard of several others in different parts of the country.

The fact that the manang claims to be able to hold communion with the spirit-world would lead one to[181] suppose that he is the priest of the Dyak system of worship. But in practice the manang is more a doctor than a priest. His aid is always called in case of illness, but not necessarily at the great religious functions of the Dyaks—the sacrifice of propitiation to Pulang Gana, the god of the earth, or the sacrificial feast to Singalang Burong, the god of war. Generally, other Dyaks are the officiating ministers on these occasions, the only requisite qualification being the ability to chant the invocation and incantations which accompany the offering and ceremonies. Also at marriages or at burials the manang is not the officiant, but some old man of standing, who has a reputation for being fortunate in his undertakings. A manang may be the officiant, not by virtue of his office, but for other reasons.



Native remedies—Cupping—Charms—A Dyak medicine-chest—Smallpox and cholera—My experience at Temudok.

As has already been shown in the preceding chapter, the Dyak looks to the manang, or witch-doctor, to help him in all cases of illness. All sickness is caused by some evil spirit, and the manang alone has power over these unseen enemies, and he uses incantations to appease or frighten these demons away.

But though in all cases of serious illness the manang is called in, yet the treatment of every disease is not left in his hands. Dyaks use some things as outward applications, and certain herbal remedies are given internally in the case of illness. I have seen Dyaks boil some bitter bark in water and drink this liquid when they have fever. Certain oils are also used as liniments. The betel-nut and pepper-leaf (sireh) mixture is used as an outward application for many complaints. Some man—generally one who is successful in what he undertakes—is asked to chew some of this hot mixture in his mouth. Having done this, he leans over and squirts the red saliva over the affected part, and rubs it in with his fingers. Dyaks with a headache will be seen with their foreheads smeared over with it. Newly-born[183] babes have their stomachs and chests covered with daily applications of the same thing by their mothers.

Ground ginger is also used as a poultice, especially in the case of women who have given birth to a child; and the water in which pieces of ginger have been boiled is drunk by people suffering from ague, as well as by lying-in women.

The Dyaks are very fond of blood-letting whenever there is pain in any part of the body or limb, and they have a method of “cupping” which is rather ingenious. The part from which the blood is to be drawn has incisions made in it with a small knife. The “cupping-glass” is a young wet bamboo which has a knot at one end, but is open at the other. This is heated at the fire, and then placed firmly over the incisions made in the flesh. Cold water is then poured on the bamboo, and it draws out the blood. The heat fills the bamboo with steam from its dampness. The cold water condenses this steam, and makes the bamboo an excellent “cupping-glass.”

As the Dyak believes that all sickness is caused by the spirits, it is not surprising that his faith in medicines is small, and that he knows of few remedies, and depends for his cures either on the mysterious ceremonies of the witch-doctors or on charms which have been made known by the spirits to the fortunate owners by means of dreams. These charms are generally pebbles, roots, leaves, feathers, or bits of wood. The pebbles and roots are rubbed on the body, or else put in water and the water applied. The leaves, bits of wood, feathers, etc., are burnt, and the ashes rubbed on the affected part.

Though the manang depends upon his power over[184] spirits to cure diseases, still he calls to his aid his numerous charms, which he claims to have received from the spirits. These valued treasures are carried in his lupong, or medicine-chest.

The following excellent description of “The Contents of a Dyak Medicine-chest,” by Bishop Hose, under whom I worked for many years as a missionary to the Dyaks, is reproduced here by his kind permission. The place and the people mentioned in it are all well known to me, as the village of Kundong is in the Saribas District, which was in my charge for many years:—

“A few days ago I was in the upper part of the Saribas River, the home of the race once celebrated throughout Malaya for daring deeds of piracy. My companion was the Rev. William Howell, the joint author with Mr. D. J. S. Bailey of “A Dictionary of the Sea Dyak Language,” and an authority on all subjects connected with the religious and other customs of that people. We had ascended the Padih, an affluent of the main river, to the village of Kundong, where we were going to spend the night in the Dyak house of which Brok is the tuai, or headman. The house is of moderate length—about twenty doors—and as usual the apartments of the tuai are near the middle of the building. There we were hospitably installed on the ruai, or undivided hall (sometimes described as a veranda), which extends throughout the whole length of a Sea Dyak house and occupies about half of its area. The good mats were brought down from the sadau, or loft, and spread for us—the rare luxury of a chair was provided for me—and there we talked, and taught, and answered questions, and dispensed medicines, while the inhabitants of the other rooms gathered round us, as well as the occupants of our host’s[185] private quarters. There also we ate, and there we slept when the kindly people would at last consent to our going to bed.

“The majority of the ‘rooms’—i.e., separate tenements—in this house are inhabited by Christians of long standing, but there are a few who have not yet come in. Amongst them is a manang, or doctor of magic, named Dasu, who has a large practice in the neighbourhood. I was anxious to interview him in order to get some information that I wanted for the purpose of comparing the original spiritual beliefs of the Borneans with those that underlie the Mohammedanism of the Malays of the Peninsula. I was also desirous of ascertaining how far the methods of the Dyak manang, when undertaking to cure diseases, resembled those of the pawang and bomor, his Malay confrères.

“At our invitation Dr. Dasu came out of his room readily enough, and sat down with us to chat and smoke a cigarette. He talked freely and intelligently about such matters of general interest as happened to be broached, especially the late expedition against the turbulent people of the Ulu Ai, and the terrible epidemic of cholera which was just passing away. But as soon as we began to give the conversation a professional turn, and speak of the practice of medicine by the native doctors of the Saribas, he put on a look of impenetrable reserve, and could hardly be persuaded to speak at all. There is reason to believe that this was chiefly owing to the presence of Mr. Howell. He has succeeded in winning the confidence and affectionate regard of Dyaks to an unusual degree, but he is unpopular among the manangs. His teaching has led people to think for themselves, and wherever he goes the business and the gains of the village doctor show[186] a tendency to decrease. Moreover, several of the fraternity have submitted to his influence, abandoned their tricks, and taken to honest farming. It is known, too, that some of these have surrendered their whole stock of charms to my friend, and have also made dangerous revelations, whereby the profession has been much discredited.

“So Dr. Dasu was only with great difficulty induced to impart to us his knowledge. He told me, after more confidential relations had grown up between us, that he suspected me of an intention, by some means or other, to get possession of his precious materia medica, and so deprive him of his means of living. However, his fears were removed by repeated assurances that it was information only that I wanted, and that I was consulting him just because I preferred to get it direct from a professor of repute rather than trust to reports received from white men. At length we persuaded him to be gently catechized. I got some precise answers to my questions respecting certain articles of Dyak belief which had been variously defined by different investigators, and about which my ideas had been a good deal confused. But those matters are not the subject of this note. It is the concluding incident of the rather prolonged interview that I propose to describe.

“We had talked to one another so pleasantly and frankly that I thought I might ask Dasu as a great favour to show me his lupong, or medicine-chest, and the charms of power which it contained. It was quite evident that this aroused his suspicions again, and he retired within himself as before. But the principal people of the house, who were sitting by us, urged him to consent, and, as old acquaintances of mine, assured him of my good faith. So[187] he was at last persuaded, and went to his own room to fetch the treasure.

“As I have said, the good mats of the household, as is usual when it is intended to show respect to a visitor, had been taken down for our accommodation from the place where they are stored. But we now saw that the most valued of them all had been held in reserve. This, which was made of fine and very flexible rotan, the latest triumph of the skill and industry of our courteous hostess, Ipah, Brok’s wife, was now handed down and spread in front of us for the reception of the great man and the mysterious implements of his profession. After some considerable delay, probably intended to excite our curiosity the more, he appeared, and sat down on the mat prepared for him, a subdued murmur of applause and satisfaction greeting him as he took his seat.

“A manang’s lupong, or case for holding his charms, may be almost anything. Sometimes it is a box, sometimes a basket, sometimes a bag. In this instance it was an open-mouthed basket made of thin shavings of bamboo hung round the neck of the owner by a strip of bark.

“Before beginning the exhibition, Dasu made a little formal speech, in which, with much show of humility, he spoke in depreciation of his own powers and knowledge and of his collection of remedial charms, as compared with those of other members of the profession elsewhere. These remarks were of course received with complimentary expressions of dissent from the audience; and then at last the contents of the basket were displayed before us. They were tied up together in a cloth bag, the most highly-prized being further enclosed in special receptacles of their own, such as a second cloth covering, a little bamboo box with a lid, or a match-box. They were ceremoniously[188] brought out, and placed side by side on the mat of honour. I was then invited to handle and examine them, and the name and use of each were told me without any fresh indication of unwillingness. This is a list of them:

“1. Batu bintang, or star-stone. A small, transparent stone rounded by the action of water till it was almost spherical, with a rather rough surface. The manang looked upon it as his badge of authority, and told the following story of the way he became possessed of it. Many years ago, in the interval between harvest and the next seed-time, he was working as a cooly in Upper Sarawak. There he had a dream in which he was visited by the being whom he looked upon as his guardian spirit. As in all cases when this spirit has had any communication to make to him, it appeared in the form of a tortoise. It told him that he must forthwith put himself under instruction in order to be qualified for the office of a manang; and that if he neglected this command all the spirits would be angry, and death or madness would be the penalty. When he awoke he found the batu bintang by his side, and had no doubt it was the gift of the spirit. Accordingly, he did as he was bidden without loss of time. He acquired the professional knowledge and the stock-in-trade which were necessary, and was at last duly initiated with all the proper rites and ceremonies.

“2. Batu krat ikan sembilan, or the petrified section of the Sembilan fish. This was a curious object which I could not quite make out. It was oblong in shape, about two inches long, one inch broad, and half an inch thick in the middle, but getting suddenly thinner towards the two edges till it became not more than one-sixteenth of an inch.[189] The thick part was hollow, having a large, oval-shaped perforation going through it. It resembled a section from the middle of a large winged seed, but heavy for its size, and feeling like a stone. I could not of course test this by cutting or scraping. When used it is soaked for a time in water; the water is then given to the sick man to drink, or is rubbed gently upon the part of his body which is affected.

“3. Batu lintar, or thunderbolt. A small, dark-coloured stone, about an inch and a half long and a quarter of an inch thick at the base, tapering to a sixteenth of an inch at the point, curved, and rather like a very small rhinoceros horn, and highly polished. It was probably the same kind of stone as that of which the stone implements found in the Malay Peninsula are made, which is also called batu lintar. It is pressed firmly against the body wherever pain is felt.

“4. Batu nitar, another name for thunderbolt. A minute, four-sided crystal, half an inch long and about two lines thick. A charm to be used only in extreme cases. It is dipped in water and then shaken over the patient. If he starts when the drops of water fall upon his body he will recover, otherwise he will die.

“5. Batu krang jiranau, or petrified root-stock of jiranau (a zingiberad?). They told us this is the Dyak name of a kind of wild ginger. The word is curiously near to jerangau, or jeringu, which Ridley says is Acorus calamus, ‘a plant much used by native medicine-men’ (Wilkinson, ‘Malay-English Dictionary’). The thing so called was possibly part of the backbone of some animal, bent double and the two ends tied together, each vertebra brown and shining after long use. A charm for dysentery and indigestion, and also for consumption. It is dipped[190] in oil and rubbed on the patient’s body in a downward direction.

“6. Batu ilau, or sparkling stone, also called batu kras, or the hard stone. A six-sided crystal, two inches long and three-quarters of an inch thick. One end appeared to have been formerly stuck into some sort of handle, as it was covered with malau, or lac. This is the indispensable sight-stone to be looked into for a view of that which is future, or distant, or otherwise invisible to the ordinary eyes. It is specially used by manangs for discovering where the soul of the sick man, wandering away from the body, is concealing itself, or for detecting the particular demon who is causing the illness.

“There were also, jumbled up together at the bottom of the bag, a number of tusks of wild boar, pebbles, and other rubbish, but these were pronounced to be utai ngapa—things of no importance. One article that we hoped to find was absent. Dasu said he should be glad indeed to have it, but it had never come in his way. It is the batu burung endan, or pelican stone. He explained to us that this is a stone which has the magical power of securing the presence and co-operation of a spirit who dwells in the form of the endan (Pelicanus malaccensis). When the manang is seeking to enter Sabayan, the spirit-world, in search of the errant soul of a sick man, this demon can insure to him a swift and unimpeded passage thither and back again.

“While Dasu was telling us the story of his vision of the tortoise spirit who gave him the batu bintang, I watched his face carefully for any sign that he believed or did not believe his account. I could not be sure, but I am inclined to think he did not. He seemed relieved when we had finished our examination of his possessions,[191] and he could pack them all up and carry them off to the security of his own dwelling.

“Several similar collections of charms have at different times been given to me, obtained from manangs who have become Christians, but it was particularly interesting to me to have a set actually in use exhibited and explained by their owner.”

The Dyak medicine-man, either by means of medicines, or by the use of charms, or by his incantations, is supposed to be able to cure all diseases. But, as I have said, the two terrible epidemics of cholera and smallpox are beyond his powers. No witch-doctor will approach any case of these, however well he may be paid.

So great is the fear of the Dyaks for either of these diseases that, when a man falls ill of cholera, all his friends desert the house in which he is, and he is left to manage for himself. In the case of smallpox those who have already had the disease may stop and nurse their friends, but the others all leave the house and build for themselves shelters in the jungle. Very often people die of smallpox or cholera simply because they are too ill to cook food, and have no one to attend to their wants.

When there is smallpox or cholera in the country, the Dyaks plant by the path leading to the house a post with a cross-bar attached to it. This is to show others that they may not come up to the house. To disregard such a signpost is punishable according to Dyak law.

When I was stationed at Temudok, very early one morning, I heard someone calling out from the landing-stage by the river-bank. I got out of bed, and went to the veranda and shouted out to the man that he was to come to the house if he had anything to say to me.[192] He came half-way up the hill, and then said that he was afraid to come any nearer. There were two men dead of smallpox in his boat, and many others ill. Some of the Dyaks in the boat were Christians whom I knew, some were not. We had a conversation as to what it was best to do under the circumstances. The first thing was to bury the two dead bodies. I had many planks, as the carpenters were still at work at the Mission House, and two coffins were soon made, the dead bodies placed in them and buried.

But what was to be done with those in the boat who were ill? I could not have them at the Mission House, because the schoolboys lived there, and also one room was used for services which the Christian Dyaks in Temudok attended. I remembered there was a small Dyak house a little way up-river which had been deserted not long before, and I told the Dyaks to take the sick to that house, and I promised to supply them with food and anything else they might require. Three of the crew were well, but there were eight who had smallpox.

I sent a message up-river to the friends and relatives of these men, and asked them to come themselves or send others to nurse them. I was very much disappointed to find that only two women came in reply to my request. The Dyaks are so afraid of smallpox that even those who had already had smallpox, and need not have feared infection, were not allowed by those who lived with them to nurse a suffering relative.

I shall never forget the first time I went to see these smallpox patients. They lay in a row in the open veranda of the Dyak house—a miserable sight. Plates of rice had been placed by them which they were not able to eat. I had the place swept and cleaned, and the food taken[193] away. I took them some condensed milk and sugar, as well as other food.

Two of their number died; the others recovered. Before they returned to their homes they came to me. I had them disinfected, burnt up their clothes and mats, etc., and gave them each a piece of cloth for clothing. I am glad to say they did not take the infection to their houses.



Certain religious observances—Petara, or gods—Singalang Burong, the god of war—Pulang Gana, the god of the soil—Salampandai, the maker of men—Mali, or taboo—Spirits—Girgasi, the chief of evil spirits—The dogs of the spirits—Stories—Customs connected with the belief in spirits—Sacrifices—Piring and ginselan—The victim of the sacrifice generally eaten, but not always—Material benefits expected by the Dyaks by their religious ceremonies—Nampok, a means of communicating with spirits—Batu kudi, “stones of wrath”—Belief in a future life—Conclusion.

The Dyaks have no special forms of worship, nor do they build temples in honour of their gods, and yet they certainly have a religion of their own. They believe in certain gods and spirits, who are supposed to rule over different departments of life, and they have certain religious observances which may be classed as follows:

1. The killing and eating of fowls and pigs offered in sacrifice, of which a portion is set aside for the gods.

2. The propitiation of gods and spirits by offerings of food.

3. The use of omens and augury.

4. The singing of long incantations to the gods and spirits on certain occasions.

The Dyaks have only one word, Petara, to denote the deity, and there is no literature to appeal to in order to explain this word. We have to depend upon what the[195] Dyaks can tell us themselves, and also upon what we can gather from the different pengap—long incantations made on such semi-sacred occasions as the offering of sacrifices at feasts. These pengap are handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Some Dyaks have good memories, and are able to learn and repeat them.

The general idea is that there are many Petara, but the whole subject is one upon which Dyaks have very hazy ideas. They cannot give a connected and lucid account of their belief. They all admit, however, that the Petara are supernatural beings, who are invisible and have superior powers.

But their conception of gods is a very low one, and this is not to be wondered at, because, as is well known, the grosser the nature of a people, the grosser will be their conception of a deity or of deities. We can hardly expect a high and spiritual conception of gods from Dyaks in their present intellectual condition. Their Petara are most human-like beings. They are represented as delighting in a “feast of rice, and pork, and venison, cakes and drink,” just as the Dyaks themselves do; and yet they are the beings who can bestow the highest blessings the Dyaks can desire!

Although the conception of Petara is not an exalted one, yet he is a good being, and no evil is attributed to him. He is always on the side of justice and right. The ordeal of diving is an appeal to Petara to help the innocent and overthrow the guilty. He is supposed to be angry at acts of wickedness, and I have often heard a Dyak say that he dare not commit some particular crime, because he fears the displeasure and punishment of Petara. He may be able to hide his wickedness from the eyes of man, but not from the Petara.


There are a large number of gods mentioned by name in the Dyak incantations, but the following are the most important deities:

Singalang Burong takes the highest position in honour and dignity, and is the ruler of the spirit-world. He stands at the head of the Dyak pedigree, and they trace their descent from him, for he is believed to have once lived on earth as a man. It is doubtful what the word Singalang means, but Burong means “bird,” and probably Singalang Burong means “bird chief.” The Dyaks are great observers of omens, as is noticed in Chapter XII., and among their omens the cries and flight of certain birds are most important. All these birds are supposed to be manifestations of the spirit sons-in-law of Singalang Burong, who is himself manifested in the white and brown hawk which is known by his name.

Singalang Burong is also the god of war, and the guardian spirit of brave men. He delights in fighting, and head-taking is his glory. When Dyaks have obtained a human head, they make a great feast in his honour and invoke his presence. He is the only god ever represented by the Dyaks in a material form. It is a carved, highly-coloured bird of grotesque shape. This figure is erected on the top of a pole thirty feet or more in height, with its beak pointing in the direction of the enemy’s country, so that he may “peck at the eyes of the enemy.”

Next in importance to Singalang Burong is Pulang Gana. He is the tutelary deity of the soil, and presides over the rice-farming. He is an important power in Dyak belief, and to him offerings are made and incantations are sung at the Gawai Batu, the “Stone Feast,” which takes place before the farming operations begin, and also[197] at the Gawai Benih, the “Festival of the Seed,” just before the planting of the paddy. Upon his good-will, according to Dyak belief, is supposed to depend their supply of the staff of life. His history is given in a myth handed down from ancient times (see p. 300).

Salampandai is the maker of men. He hammers them into shape out of clay, and forms the bodies of children to be born into the world. There is an insect which makes at night the curious noise—kink-a-clink, kink-a-clink. When the Dyaks hear this, they say it is Salampandai at his work. The story goes that he was commanded by the gods to make a man, and he made one of stone; but it could not speak, and so was rejected. He set to work again and made one of iron; but neither could that speak, so the gods refused it. The third time he made one of clay,[1] and this had the power of speech. The gods, Petara, were pleased, and said: “The man you have made will do well. Let him be the ancestor of the human race, and you must make others like him.” And so Salampandai began forming human beings, and is forming them now at his anvil, using his tools in unseen regions. There he hammers them out, and when each child is formed it is brought to the Petara, who asks: “What would you like to handle and use?” If it answer, “A sword,” the gods pronounce it a male; but if it answer, “Cotton and the spinning-wheel,” it is pronounced a female. Thus they are born as boys or girls, according to their own wishes.

There is a word which is often used by the Dyaks—mali. It is difficult to find an exact English equivalent[198] to the word. We may say it means “sacred,” or “forbidden,” or “taboo,” but none of these seems to me to convey the full force of the word mali. To the Dyak mind, to do anything mali is to incur the displeasure of the gods and spirits, and that means not only misfortune in this world, but for all time. Even the children seem to dread the word, and the little boy, who is wilful and disobedient, will at once drop what he has in his hand if he is told it is mali for him to touch it. There are many things which the Dyaks say it is mali to do. Often they can give no reason for it except that it has always been so from ages past.

Most races of mankind believe in the existence of a class of beings intermediate between deity and humanity. The Dyak is no exception, and he believes that innumerable spirits, or antu, inhabit the forests, the rivers, the earth, and the heavens; but whereas among other races the spirits seem to act as mediators between the gods and mankind, this is not the case among the Dyaks, because they believe that their gods are actually present in answer to invocations and sacrifices, and that they visit these human regions and partake of the food given them. With the Dyaks the distinction between spirits—antu—and gods—Petara—is very vague. There are both good and evil spirits. The former assist man, the latter do him injury. Of the gods no evil is predicated, and so it comes to pass that the good spirits are closely identified with their gods.

Any unusual noise or motion in the jungle, anything which suggests to the mind some invisible operation, is at once attributed by the Dyak to the presence of some spirit, unseen by human eyes, but full of mighty power. Though generally invisible, these spirits sometimes vouchsafe[199] to mankind a revelation of themselves. The form they assume in these manifestations is not anything very supernatural, but either a commonplace human form, or else some animal—a bird, or a monkey—such as is often seen in the forests. There is, however, the chief of evil spirits, Girgasi by name, who, when seen, takes the form of a giant about three times the size of a man, is covered with rough shaggy hair, and has eyes as big as saucers, and huge glittering teeth.

There are innumerable stories told by the Dyaks of their meeting with spirits in the jungle, and sometimes speaking to them. Such stories generally relate how the man who sees the spirit rushes to catch him by the leg—he cannot reach higher—in order to get some charms from him, but he is generally foiled in his attempt, as the spirit suddenly vanishes. But some men, it is believed, do obtain these much coveted gifts. If a Dyak gets a good harvest of paddy, it is attributed to some magic charm he has received from some kindly spirit. Also, if he be successful on the warpath, he is credited by his fellows with the succour of some mysterious being from the spirit-world.

The spirits rove about the jungle and hunt for wild beasts, as the Dyaks do themselves. Girgasi, already mentioned, is specially addicted to the chase, and is often to be met with hunting in the forest, and when seen assumes a formidable appearance. There are certain animals which roam about in packs in the jungle, and are called by the Dyaks pasan. These are supposed to be the dogs that accompany the spirits when they are out hunting, and they attack those whom the spirits wish to kill. I have never seen one of these animals, but to judge from the description of them, they seem to be a kind of[200] small jackal. They will follow and bark at men, and from their supposed connection with the spirits are greatly feared by the Dyaks, who generally run away from them as fast as they can.

A Dyak in Banting solemnly told me that one day when out hunting he met a spirit in human form sitting upon a fallen tree. Nothing daunted, he went up and sat upon the same tree, and entered into conversation with him, and asked him for some charm. The spirit gave him some magic medicine, which would give his dogs pluck to attack any wild pig or deer so long as he retained possession of it. Having given him this, the spirit advised the man to return quickly, for his dogs, he said, would be back soon, and might do him harm. This advice he willingly followed, and hurried away as fast as he could.

There are some wonderful stories related about meeting the demon Girgasi. It is said that a man once saw this terrible spirit returning from the hunt, carrying on his back a captured Dyak whom he recognized. Strange to relate, the man died the same day on which he was seen carried by the spirit!

The spirits are said to build their invisible habitations in trees, and many trees are considered sacred as being the abode of one or more spirits, and to cut down one of these trees would provoke the spirits’ vengeance. The wild fig-tree (kara) is often supposed to be inhabited by spirits. It is said that one way of testing whether the kara tree is the abode of spirits or not is to strike an axe into it at sunset, and leave it fixed in the trunk of the tree during the night. If the axe be found next morning in the same position, no spirit is there; if it has fallen to the ground, he is there and has displaced the axe!

The tops of the hills are favourite haunts for spirits.[201] When Dyaks fell the jungle of the larger hills, they always leave a clump of trees at the summit as a refuge for the spirits. To leave them quite homeless would be to court certain disaster from them. According to Dyak belief the evil spirits far outnumber the good ones.

There are many strange customs connected with the Dyak belief in spirits. As all illnesses are caused by the spirits, it is necessary that these be propitiated. When there is any great epidemic in the country—when cholera or smallpox is killing its hundreds on all sides—one often notices little offerings of food hung on the walls and from the ceiling, animals killed in sacrifice, and blood splashed on the posts of the houses. When one asks why all this is done, they say they do it in the hope that when the evil spirit, who is thirsting for human lives, comes along and sees the offerings they have made and the animals killed in sacrifice, he will be satisfied with these things, and not take the lives of any of the people living in the Dyak village house.

As a matter of fact, this offering of sacrifices to the evil spirits is a frequently recurring feature in Dyak life. The gods are good, and will not injure them, and so the Dyaks worship them at their own convenience, when they wish to obtain any special favour from them. But the evil spirits are always ready to do them harm, and to take the lives of victims, and therefore sacrifices must constantly be made to the spirits, who will accept sacrificial food as a substitute for the lives of human beings.

From what has been said it will be seen that the spirits are to the Dyaks not mere apparitions which come and go without any special object, but have definite power, and can either bestow favours or cause sickness and death. Therefore they rule the conduct of the Dyak, and receive[202] religious homage. They are, indeed, a constituent and important part of Dyak religion.

The sacrifices offered by the Dyaks are of two kinds—piring and ginselan.

The piring is an offering composed of rice cooked in bamboos, cakes, eggs, sweet potatoes, plantains, or other fruit, and sometimes small live chickens. If the offering be made in the house these things are put on a brass dish (tabak). If the occasion of the sacrifice requires that it be offered elsewhere, a little platform is constructed, consisting of pieces of wood tied together with cane, and fixed on four sticks stuck in the ground. This is the para piring (the altar of sacrifice), and the offering is laid on it. It is covered with a rough roof of palm-leaf, and looks like a miniature native house, and is decorated with white flags. It is the most flimsy thing imaginable, and soon tumbles to pieces. The god or spirit is supposed to come and eat the good things provided, and go away contented. It is no use arguing with the Dyak that he can see for himself that his offering is eaten up by fowls, or pigs, or boys, who are full of mischief, and have no fear of spirits. The Dyak says the spirits eat the soul or spirit of the food; what is left on the altar is only its outer husk, not its true essence.

I remember when I was staying at Temudok the Dyaks put up a little shed, with offerings of food, at the landing-place on the bank of the river. There was an epidemic of cholera at the time, and the spirits of disease were supposed to eat these offerings and go away contented. Among the offerings was a little live chicken, that was tied to the para piring, but which managed to get loose. Some of the schoolboys staying with me asked if they might catch the chicken, which was running about in the[203] grass, and rear it. I did not like to allow them to do this, because I thought the Dyaks would resent the boys interfering with their sacrifice. But my Dyak catechist told me that the Dyaks had done their duty in making the offerings, and what happened afterwards to the things offered did not matter. So the boys caught the chicken and reared it. I spoke to the Dyaks about it afterwards, and they did not seem to mind their “altar of sacrifice” being robbed of its offering!

In the ginselan there is always some animal slain, and the blood of the victim is used. The person on whose behalf the offering is made is sprinkled or touched with the blood to atone for any wrong he may have done, and the house or farm upon which the blessing of the gods is desired is also sprinkled with the blood.

This kind of sacrifice is very often offered on behalf of farms, and no Dyak thinks his paddy will come to maturity without some application of blood. The fowl is waved in the air over the farm, then it is killed, and the blood sprinkled over the growing paddy.

When there is an epidemic, the ginselan is often offered to the spirits of disease, and blood is sprinkled on the posts of the house and on the ladder leading up to it.

On most occasions the victim of the sacrifice, be it pig or fowl, is afterwards eaten. But if the sacrifice be to Pulang Gana at the commencement of the farming, the pig and other offerings are conveyed with the beating of gongs to the land prepared for receiving the seed. The pig is killed, its liver and gall examined for divination, the body and other offerings put in the ground, and some tuak (native spirit) poured upon them; a long invocation is then made to Pulang Gana, the god of the land. If a[204] fowl be sacrificed for adultery, its body is thrown away in the jungle.

For all ordinary sacrifices a fowl suffices, but on great occasions a pig, being the largest animal the Dyak domesticates, is killed.

Anyone may offer these sacrifices. There does not seem to be among the Dyaks any priestly order whose duty it is to officiate at religious ceremonies. Any man who has been fortunate in life, or knows the form of address to be used to the deities on these occasions, may perform the sacrificial function.

All that the Dyak hopes to get by his religious ceremonies is material benefits—good crops of paddy, the heads of his enemies, skill in craft, health, and prosperity. Even when there is some idea of the propitiation for sin, as in the slaying of a victim after an act of adultery, the idea of the Dyak is not so much the cleansing of the offender as the appeasing of the anger of the gods, because in their anger the gods may destroy their crops or otherwise give them trouble. There is no idea of seeking for pardon for the offenders. It is merely a compensation for wrong done, and a bargain with the gods to protect their material interests.

The longing to communicate with the supernatural is common to all races of mankind. The Dyak has a special means of bringing this about; he has a custom which is called nampok. To nampok is to sleep on the top of some mountain, or other lonely place, in the hope of meeting some good spirit from the unseen world. A cemetery is a favourite place to nampok in, because the Dyaks think there is great probability of meeting spirits in such places. The undertaking requires considerable pluck. The man must be quite alone, and he must let no one know of his[205] whereabouts. The spirit he meets may take any form; he may come in human form and treat him kindly, or he may assume a hideous form and attack him.

A man nampoks for one of two reasons. Either he is fired with great ambition to shine in deeds of strength and bravery, and to attain the position of a Chief, and hopes to receive some charm (pengaroh) from the spirits, or he is suffering from some obstinate disease, and hopes to be told by some kindly spirit what he must do in order to be cured. It can easily be understood how the desire would in many cases bring about its own fulfilment. The unusual surroundings, the expected arrival of some supernatural being, the earnest wish acting upon a credulous and superstitious imagination in the solemn solitude of the jungle—all would help to make the man dream of some spirit or mythical hero.

The Dyak has no temple erected in honour of some god to which, like the ancients of the Western World, he can make a pilgrimage. He has no altar before which he can spend the night in order to receive revelations in dreams, but he goes instead to the lonely mountain-top, or the cemetery where so many heroes of the past have been buried, and makes his offering and lies to rest beside it. The circumstances are different, but the spirit and the object in both cases are the same. The story often told of a miraculous cure is also similar in each case.

There are certain rocks in different parts of Borneo which are called by the Dyaks batu kudi (stones caused by the wrath of the gods). A story is related in connection with each. The following are some of these mythical stories:—

1. In the bed of the Sesang River there is a rock[206] which is only visible at the lowest of the ebb-tide. It is called Batu Kudi Sabar. The story goes that in olden days the inmates of a Dyak house tied to a dog’s tail a piece of wood, which they set alight. They all laughed at the sight as the dog ran off in fright, dragging after him the burning torch. Suddenly there was darkness, and a great storm came on. There were thunder and lightning, and torrents of rain, and the house and its inmates were turned into this large rock. A family consisting of three persons managed to escape. They did not join in the laughter at the dog, but ran out of the house and hid in a clump of bamboo. They saw all that happened, and told the tale.

2. On the bank of the Krian River just above Temudok is a large rock called Batu Kudi Siap. It is said that the people in a long Dyak house held a feast to which many invited guests came. An old woman who was living alone in a farm-hut, and had not been asked to the feast, dressed up a cat in finery, “like a young damsel going to a feast,” tied a piece of wood to her tail, and, placing her before the people, said: “Here is a girl come to you to ask for a light.” The people laughed at the cat. Instantly there were darkness and a terrible storm, and the house and all the inmates were turned to stone. A similar tale is told of the Batu Kudi at Selanjan.

A River Scene

The illustration shows some native huts by a river which flows through a cocoanut plantation.

3. There are Batu Kudi in the Grenjang River, as well as in the Undup and Batang Ai Rivers, of which the following tale is told: Two girls were standing in the water catching fish with a fishing-basket (pemansai). A small emplasi fish jumped out of the basket, and hit the breast of one of the girls. She laughed, and said: “Even my lover would not dare to touch my breast as you do.” Her companion also laughed at the fish. There was a[207] storm, accompanied by lightning and thunder, and both girls were turned into rocks.

4. In the Saribas River there is a Batu Kudi, of which the following tale is told: Some men and boys were watching a monkey crossing the river on a creeper which hung low down over the water. The tail of the animal touched the water, and one of them laughed, and said: “The end of his waist-cloth (sirat) is wet; why was he so foolish as not to tie it round his waist?” At this remark all laughed, and a terrible storm came on, and they were turned to stone.

There is a similarity about all these stories. In each some animal is made fun of and laughed at by human beings. This incurs the displeasure of the gods, whose anger is shown in the same way—a terrible storm, thunder and lightning, and the turning of the offenders into stone.

There are, however, other Batu Kudi of which different stories are told, but these are not so common. For instance, in the Skrang River there are two large black boulders which are said to be a brother and sister who were guilty of the crime of incest; and in the Sebuyau River there is a collection of rocks said to be the inhabitants of a whole village, who were guilty of a serious breach of the law of hospitality, and refused to give food and shelter to some travellers.

The moral of these mythical tales is good. All sin is displeasing to the gods, and will meet with deserved punishment, but specially are they angry when they see human beings ill-treat and ridicule dumb animals.

These Batu Kudi are not worshipped. Offerings of food are sometimes seen hanging near them, but these are not made to the “stones of wrath,” but to the gods of whose displeasure they are the testimony.


The Sea Dyak belief in a future life has already been mentioned in the chapter on Burial Rites. But it is no gloomy Tartarus, nor is it a happy Elysium, that lies before him. It is simply a prolongation of the present state of things in a new sphere. The dead are supposed to build houses, make paddy farms, and go through all the drudgery of a labouring life in that other world. This future life does not, in the mind of the Dyak, mean immortality. Death is still the final and inevitable destiny of man. He may live many lives in different spheres—he may die as often as seven times—but in the end he becomes annihilated, and absorbed into air, or earth, or certain jungle plants.

To sum up, the Sea Dyak worships his gods. There are good spirits ready to help him, and evil spirits eager to harm him. He has omens and divination and dreams to encourage or warn him. The traditions of his ancestors, handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, are his authority for his beliefs. He makes sacrifices to the gods and spirits, and invokes their help in long incantations. He believes he has a soul which after death will live in another world a future life differing little from his existence in the flesh.



Four classes of feasts—Preparations—Feasts connected with: 1, Head-taking; 2, Farming; 3, The dead; 4, Dreams, etc.—House-warming—Social feasts.

The Dyak religious feasts may be divided into the four following classes:

Those connected with—

Though the Dyak feasts differ in their aims, there is a great deal which seems to be common to them all. The social character of all these feasts seems to be of more importance than the religious aspect, and the feasting of the guests has more consideration than the making of offerings to the spirits or gods. In none of these feasts does there seem to be any real, reverential, religious worship. It is true food is offered to the spirits, but this is done as the mere observance of an ancient custom, without any approach to religious reverence. There are also long incantations made to the higher powers by men selected for that purpose, who have good memories and can recite in a monotonous chant the special hymns of[210] great length connected with each feast. But the guests do not share in it as an act of religious worship. They are generally sitting round, talking and laughing and eating. While these incantations are sung, topics of common interest are discussed and plans formed, and in all these feasts sociability, friendship, and the partaking of food and drink seem to take a more prominent place than any religious worship.

The preparations for all these feasts are much alike. They extend over a length of time, and consist for the most part in the procuring of food for the guests. The young men go to their friends, far and near, and obtain from them presents of pigs or fowls for the feast, and as cock-fighting is loved by the Dyaks, they at the same time procure as many fighting-cocks as possible. The women busy themselves with pounding out an extra amount of rice, both for the consumption of the guests and also for the making of tuak, or native spirit.

A little before the date fixed for the feast a great tuba fishing takes place, by which means a great amount of fish is generally obtained, salted, and kept for consumption at the feast. The men go out into the jungle to hunt for pig and deer.

The special characteristics and religious aspect of the different feasts must now be noticed.

1. Feasts connected with Head-Taking.—All these are given in honour of Singalang Burong. He is supposed to be the ruler of the spirit-world and the god of war. These feasts are not held so frequently as those connected with farming, but when any of them take place a great deal is made of the event.

Cock Fighting

A rehearsal. Two Dyak youths matching their cocks in friendly contest.

1. Gawai Burong (the “Bird Feast”), or Gawai Tenyalang (the “Hornbill Feast”), or Gawai Pala (the “Head[211] Feast”). This feast, which is known by different names, is the most important of Dyak feasts, and lasts three days, whereas other feasts last only one day. In this feast food is given to the human heads taken in war. In the old days, it was only held on the return from a successful war expedition, when the heads of the enemy were brought home in triumph. But in the present day, this feast is organized when the people of the Dyak house get a good harvest and wish to have it.

Among the preparations for this feast is the making of the tenyalang, a carved wooden figure of the rhinoceros hornbill. Some men carrying offerings, and others beating drums and playing musical instruments, go to the jungle and select a suitable tree. At the foot of it the offerings are placed, and some fowls are killed and the blood sprinkled on the ground to propitiate the spirits. The tree is felled, and a portion of it, which is to be carved, is taken to the Dyak house, where it is received with much rejoicing.

This wood is given to the men who are to carve it into the desired shape, and each man has the necessary tools given him. When he has finished his work, he keeps these tools, and, in addition, receives some other payment. The number of carved birds differs according to the number of the people in the house who are of importance, and have taken heads in warfare.

The tenyalang are not an exact copy of the hornbill, but are elaborately and fantastically carved and gorgeously painted in many bright colours.

Some men go into the jungle and cut down belian trees to make poles on which the figures of the rhinoceros hornbill are to be set up. These are of different lengths, according to the rank of the person who intends to use it,[212] the man of greatest importance having the longest pole.

The first day of the feast is spent in completing the carving and the colouring of these tenyalang and making other final preparations. The guests are entertained with food and drink. As Dyak hosts are considered niggardly if there is no drunkenness at a feast, the young men are encouraged to drink as much as possible. The Dyak girls, who do not drink themselves, serve out the tuak, or native spirit. They hand a cup of liquor to a man and shout, “Weh! Weh!” as he drinks it. When he has finished it, he puts the cup down by his side to take home with him when the feast is over. Another full cup is handed to him in the same manner, and he goes on drinking until he is unable to do so any longer. A group of young men seated in the public hall of the Dyak house surrounded by gaily-dressed girls serving them with drink is not a pleasant sight. The noise and confusion are great, as many are drunk. Plates containing cakes and other delicacies, as well as rice cooked in bamboos, are handed round to the men, women, and children at short intervals.

A rather pretty ceremony takes place on the first day of the feast. A number of women dressed in their best garments and wearing all the jewellery and ornaments they possess, walk in single file, holding in their hands plates of yellow rice and paddy. They are led by a Dyak dancer in full war-dress, armed with sword and shield, and dancing to the accompaniment of musical instruments. The women sprinkle the paddy and yellow rice on the assembled guests as they walk slowly the length of the whole house.

Three Dyak Girls dressed in their Finery to Attend a Feast

The girls on the right and left wear collars worked with beads and coloured threads. They are all wearing ear pendants and belts made of silver coins.

On the second day of the feast the painted figures of the rhinoceros hornbill are first of all timanged, or sung to[213] in a monotonous manner. This is looked upon as a kind of consecration of them. They are now ready to be fixed on the top of the poles which are planted in a row. Sacrifices are made to Singalang Burong, whom these figures are supposed to represent. Balls of rice are thrown up to these carved tenyalang, and the blood of pigs and fowls is shed in honour of the great Singalang Burong, the god of war and the inspirer of bravery. When seen, this god takes, as I have said, the form of the white and brown hawk so common in Borneo. Why the figure made to represent him is that of the rhinoceros hornbill, and not that of the hawk, is an inconsistency for which the Dyaks have no explanation.

Some human heads are placed in large brass dishes in the public hall of the Dyak house, and to these offerings of food and drink are made. Some of this food is stuffed into the mouths of these heads, and the rest is placed before them.

There are also certain erections called pandong put up at regular intervals in the long public veranda, and to these are hung war charms and swords and spears, etc. The men who are to make the incantations walk up and down, going round the pandong and the heads in the brass dishes, singing the particular pengap, or incantation, which is used at this feast. There are generally two principal singers, each of whom is followed by five or six others. The leaders sing in turn a few lines, and the rest join in the chorus at the end of each verse. The leaders are dressed gaily, and have, in addition to their Dyak dress, a long coat reaching to the ground. They all hold long walking-sticks in their hands and stamp their feet as they walk along.

This song of the head feast takes the form of a story[214] setting forth how the mythical hero Klieng held a head feast on his return from the warpath, and invited the god of war, Singalang Burong, to attend it. It describes at great length all that happened on that occasion. The singing of this song takes up the whole night. It begins before 8 p.m., and lasts till next morning. Except for a short interval for rest in the middle of the night, the performers are marching and singing all the time.

On the third day the people go out on the tanju, or open-air platform, in front of the Dyak house. They take with them offerings of food and drink and a live pig. The mats are spread out, and the guests sit down, and food is handed round to them. The men of rank and those who have distinguished themselves in battle sit together, and the oldest of these is asked to make the offering to Singalang Burong. The drums are struck in a particular manner called pepat; the pig is killed as a sacrifice, and the liver examined to find out whether good or bad fortune is in store for them. The people shout together (manjong) at short intervals until a hawk is seen flying in the heavens. That hawk is Singalang Burong, who has taken that form to manifest himself to them. He has accepted their offerings and has heard their cry. The ceremony is over, and the crowd return into the house. The guests go back to their homes after feasting and drinking liberally for three days and nights.

(2) Gawai Ijok (the “Ijok Feast”): The ijok is the gamuti palm from which the native drink tuak is obtained. When a man has held the hornbill feast several times, and has been successful against the enemy, this feast sometimes takes place. The special characteristic of this feast is that a long pole is set up, and at the top of it a jar of native spirit (tuak) is placed. Incantations[215] and offerings are made to Singalang Burong as in the former feast.

(3) Gawai Gajah (the “Elephant Feast”): This feast can only be held by a war leader who has been particularly successful against the enemy, and has succeeded in obtaining a large number of heads. It is of so great importance that the Dyaks say that, after this feast has been held, no other need be held in honour of any new heads that may be brought into the house. It is very rarely observed in modern times. The last was held some fifteen years ago by Kinching, a Skrang Dyak living in the Undup. Offerings and incantations are made to Singalang Burong as in the Tenyalang feast. The wooden figure of an elephant is placed on the top of a long pole planted in the ground, and to this figure offerings are made.

2. The three principal Feasts connected with Farming are the Gawai Batu, the Gawai Benih, and the Gawai Nyimpan Padi.

(1) Gawai Batu (the “Stone Feast”): This feast takes place before the farming operations begin, and is in honour of Pulang Gana, the god of the land, who lives in the bowels of the earth, and has power to make the land fruitful or unfruitful. In this feast invocations are made to this god, and he is asked to give them a good harvest. The whetstones and farming implements are placed in a heap in the veranda of the Dyak house, and offerings are made to the whetstones with a request that they may sharpen their tools and thus lighten their labours. After the feast is over the whetstones are taken to the different farms, and the work of cutting down the jungle for planting begins.

(2) Gawai Benih (the “Seed Feast”): This feast is held just before sowing. The seed is placed in baskets in the[216] public part of the Dyak house, and Pulang Gana is asked to bless it and make it fruitful.

(3) Gawai Nyimpan Padi (the “Feast of Storing the Paddy”): This is held after the reaping and winnowing are over and the paddy is ready to be stored in the paddy-bins in the loft of the Dyak house. It is only held when the harvest is a particularly good one. A blessing is asked upon the paddy, that it may last a long time, and may not decrease in any mysterious way. Friends who are invited to the feast help to carry and store away the paddy.

3. The great Feast connected with the Dead is the Gawai Antu (the “Spirit Feast”): No definite period is fixed for the celebration of it, and it may be held one or more years after the death of the person. All those that have died since the last time the feast was held, and have not yet been honoured by this festival for the dead, are remembered at the same time, so that the number of departed spirits commemorated by this feast is great, especially if it is many years since the last time the feast was held.

The preparation is carried on for many weeks. Food and drink and other things are procured. Distant friends are visited and asked to help the feast with gifts of food or money. When all is ready, the whole neighbourhood for miles around is invited to it. It is an opportunity for a friendly social gathering, and it is a formal laying aside of mourning, but in addition, it is a religious ceremony, and means the doing of certain things necessary for the final wellbeing of the dead in the other world.

The dead are invoked and invited to be present at this feast. But how are they to come from Hades? Send a boat for them, says the Dyak, and so he sends what he calls a lumpang. A piece of bamboo in which rice has[217] been cooked is make into a tiny boat and sent to Hades. Actually it is thrown away beneath the house, but spiritually, through the incantation of the wailer, it is carried to the unseen realm to fetch their dead relatives and friends. Great is the joy of the spirits when they see this boat, which by the time of its arrival has grown into a large war-boat. They are ready to start as soon as the final summons comes.

The preparations for the feast go on. The hard wood memorial monuments for the graves are got ready by the men. The day before the feast, the women weave, with finely-split bamboo, small imitations of various articles of personal and domestic use, and these are hung over the graves—that is to say, given to the dead for their use in the other world. If it be a man for whom the feast is made, a bamboo gun, a shield, a war-cap, and such things are woven; if a woman, a loom, a fish-basket, a winnowing fan, etc.; if a child, toys of various kinds.

An offering of food is put outside the house for the dead visitors who may be too hungry to wait for the food in the house.

The living guests arrive during the day, but the feasting does not begin till the evening. Before the feasting comes the formal putting off of mourning. The nearest male relative of the dead person in whose honour the feast is held comes dressed in an old waist-cloth or trousers. These are slit through by some Chief, and the man assumes a better garment. In the case of female relatives the rotan rings round the waist are cut through and set aside, and they resume the use of their personal ornaments and jewellery. The bundles containing the finery, that were put away at the death of their relative,[218] are brought forth, and the string tying them cut through. As the feast is in honour of several who have died since the feast was last held, this kind of thing goes on in several of the rooms at the same time.

The professional wailer sings her song of mourning (see p. 228), beginning in the evening. The journey from Hades is so long that the dead do not arrive till early dawn. And then occurs an action in which the dead and living are supposed to join. A portion of tuak (rice spirit) has been reserved in a bamboo as the peculiar portion of the dead. It is now drunk by some old man renowned for bravery, who is not afraid of so near a contact with the spirits of the dead. This “drinking of the bamboo,” as it is called, is an important part of the festival, and is greeted with shouts of joy.

The morning after the feast, the last duty to the dead is performed. The ironwood monuments, the bamboo imitation articles, and food of all kinds are arranged upon the different graves. Having received these gifts, the dead relinquish all claim upon the living, and depend on their own resources. But before the Gawai Antu they are supposed to come to the house and take their share of the food and drink.

According to ancient custom, this feast could not be held until a new human head had been procured, but this ghastly ornament to the festival has now generally to be dispensed with.

4. A superstitious people like the Dyaks, living in constant dread of unseen powers, naturally hold a feast whenever anything unusual takes place. As the gods and spirits are supposed to communicate their wishes to human beings by means of dreams, it naturally follows that if a man dreams that some spirit is hungry and[219] asks for food, at once a feast is held, and offerings made to that spirit. As the omens of birds are observed and obeyed by the Dyaks, and the special omen birds are looked upon as sons-in-law and messengers of the great god Singalang Burong, when a bird of ill omen comes into a Dyak house, the Dyaks hold a feast and make offerings to the gods and spirits. When a man has recovered from a long and dangerous illness, very often a feast is held to thank the spirit of disease for leaving them, and to beg him to stay away a long time. Also when a valuable jar (tajau) is brought into a house a feast is often made in its honour.

In addition to all these feasts, there is the Gawai Mandi Rumah. This is a kind of house-warming, and is held when the Dyaks go into a new house. Offerings are made to the gods and spirits, and a blessing is asked upon the new house, so that those who live in it may have good crops, good health, and live happily together.

The Dyaks also sometimes hold feasts which are social gatherings for eating and drinking, and have no connection with any religious idea. These are called Makai di ruai (“eating in the hall”), or Makai rami (“eating joyfully in large numbers”).



Dyak games—Football—War Dance—Sword Dance—Dyak music—Cock-fighting—Tops—“Riding the tidal bore”—Swimming—Trials of strength.

At certain times of the year the Dyaks are very busy at their farms, and go to work early in the morning, and do not return till late at night. But they have their slack times, when there is not so much work to be done, and then they have plenty of opportunity to indulge in games.

They do not seem to have a large variety of pastimes. The following are those most popular among them.

Football is played by the Dyaks in a curious manner. The players stand in a circle about four yards from each other, the size of this circle varying according to the number of the players. The ball is kicked in the air by the player to whom it falls nearest. This kicking is done in a curious manner with the sole of the foot. A party of good players will keep a ball in the air for several minutes, each player kicking it upwards just as it is about to fall, or as it bounds upwards from the ground. The ball itself is a light hollow one of rattan open-work, and is about the size of a croquet-ball.

The Dyaks are fond of dancing, and at their feasts and[221] on other occasions when many are met together, they will keep it up for hours to the thumping of drums and the beating of brass gongs. They have a musical instrument of bamboo, like the pan-pipe (engkrurai), to which they sometimes dance; but the usual music on such occasions is a row of small brass gongs (engkrumong), placed on the ground, and beaten with two sticks, also large brass gongs, and a variety of drums.

The two popular dances are the Sword Dance and the War Dance, both of which are danced by the men. It is very rarely that the women dance. I am told that they only do so when a fighting-party have been successful, and return with a human head which has been taken in war. Then the women, dressed up in all their finery, go to the landing-stage where the war-boat is, and as the head is taken to the house the women dance around it singing a monotonous chant.

The Mencha, or Sword Dance, is danced in the following manner: Two swords, or in their place two sticks, are placed on the mat, and the two dancers commence from the opposite ends, turning the body, clapping the hands, and extending the arms, lifting their feet and planting them down in grotesque but not ungraceful attitudes. For a few minutes they posture and move in leisurely manner round and round about; then they seize the swords, and pass and repass each other, now cutting, now crossing swords, retiring and advancing. Sometimes one kneels as though to defend himself from the attacks of his adversary. The main idea of this Sword Dance seems to be the posturing in different attitudes, and not so much the skill displayed in fencing. Those are considered the best dancers who, according to Dyak ideas, are the most graceful in their movements. I have often[222] watched a Dyak Sword Dance where neither has touched the other with his sword, the movements having been so leisurely that there has been plenty of time to ward off each attack.

The dance seems quite in keeping with the Dyak surroundings, and the whole effect of it is very striking. The long veranda of the Dyak house dimly lighted up by damar torches; the pretty silver tones of the small row of brass enkrumong struck by two sticks in fast measure; the deep tones of the large brass gongs; the numerous noisy drums; the crowd of spectators standing, sitting, or kneeling; the screams of encouragement to the dancers; the evolutions of the two performers—all help to form a weird and striking scene.

The Ajat, or War Dance, is danced by one man. He is generally fully armed with sword, and spear, and shield. He acts in pantomime what is done when on the warpath. The dancer begins by imitating the creeping through the jungle in cautious manner, looking to the right and to the left, before and behind, for the foe. The lurking enemy is suddenly discovered, and after some rapid attack and defence a sudden plunge is made upon him, and he lies dead on the ground. The taking of the head of this invisible enemy in pantomime now follows. A great deal of liberty is allowed the dancer, and the dances are very varied. Sometimes the dance ends with the defeat and death of the dancer. The last agonies of the dying man are too closely and painfully depicted to be altogether pleasant to watch.

Cock Fighting

Sometimes at feasts cock fighting takes place in the veranda of the Dyak house. At other times it takes place on the ground outside. Here two Dyaks are matching their cocks against each other, while a crowd of men and boys stand around.

The musical instruments which accompany the War Dance are much the same as those used for the Sword Dance. There are the engkrumong, or row of little brass gongs, the large gongs, and a variety of drums. But the[223] music is in different time, the music for the War Dance being quicker than that for the Sword Dance.

Cock-fighting is a very favourite amusement of the Dyaks, and is indulged in to a great extent at all their feasts. In fact, one of the preparations for a feast is for the inmates of the house to go round to their friends and beg for as many fighting-cocks as they can. The cocks have artificial steel spurs, which are very sharp.

Spinning tops is a favourite amusement, not only of the children, but also of grown-up men. They generally divide themselves into two sides. One side spin their tops, and the other party, standing at a given distance, aim at the spinning tops with their tops. Great skill is shown in the manner in which a man often hits a top, driving it far away, and leaves his top spinning in its place.

The Dyaks are very much at home on the water, and a favourite amusement of the Dyaks at Banting was to “ride the tidal bore.” During the spring-tides, when there was a tidal bore, they would paddle down the river some distance, and wait for the turn of the tide. When the bore came, they would get just in front of it, and the great wave would send the boats up-river at a good pace without any paddling on their part. Of course, a great many boats were often swamped, but that only added to the fun. When I was stationed at Banting, the schoolboys often asked to be allowed to “ride the bore.”

The Sea Dyaks seem to acquire naturally the art of swimming. They are taken to the water regularly from infancy, and dipped and floated on the water, and at an early age they are able to swim. They swim hand over hand. They never take “a header” in diving, but jump in feet foremost.


The Dyaks are fond of wrestling, and many of them are good wrestlers. At a Dyak feast very often the young men have friendly wrestling matches. They have also other trials of strength. Two young men sit on the ground opposite each other, feet placed against feet, and a stout stick is grasped by both their hands. Each then tries to throw himself back, so as to raise his adversary from the ground either by main strength or sudden effort. Another trial of strength is to put two fingers of one opponent against two fingers of another, the elbows being placed upon a table or log; then each party tries to force the other’s fingers backward. Or else two stand up face to face, and each grasps the two first fingers of his opponent, holding his arm up, so that their hands are the same level as their faces, and they each try by main force to lower the arm of the other.

The Dyaks are very fond of jumping, and at Banting, in the cool of the evening, the young men, returning with me from Evening Prayer in church, would often try the long-jump or high-jump near the Mission House.

They also play a game called galangang, not unlike prisoners’ base. The players divide themselves into parties, and one party is set to watch certain lines which the other party cross. If anyone is touched as he crosses a line, his side loses, and has to do the watching.

The evening amusements are listening to some story, either set to verse and sung, or simply told in prose, and the asking each other riddles. These riddles are generally rhyming verses.



Love of music—Love songs—Boat songs—War songs—Incantations at Dyak feasts—The song of mourning—Musical instruments.

The Dyaks are very fond of singing, and it is no unusual thing to hear some solitary boatman singing as he paddles along. Weird beyond words, and yet possessing a quaint rhythm, are most of the songs of the Dyak. They give vent to their feelings in their own way, which is very different from ours, but their plaintive songs are not unpleasant, and show a certain amount of poetical feeling.

The pelandai, or love song, seems to be very popular among the young men. In it the native singer pours forth his feelings, his sorrows and disappointments, his hopes and his fears. The music is to our ideas monotonous, and it is not always easy to understand the meaning of what is sung, as many archaic expressions are used, and the singer sometimes calls his love by one name, sometimes by another; at one time she is spoken of as a bird, and then, in the next line perhaps, the name of some animal is applied to her. A similar song sung by the women is called bedungai.

They have their boat songs, with which the crew of a long Dyak boat often enliven the time. The leader sings a verse, and the others join in the chorus, keeping time[226] with the strokes of the paddle or oar. The leader often improvises his subject as he sings, and introduces any little incident that has taken place, or little experience they have gone through, much to the amusement of his companions.

In their war songs the singer chants in a low monotonous voice the deeds of heroes in the olden days, and how they won and brought home human heads to lay at the feet of their brides. These war songs are often accompanied by the excited whoops and yells of the listeners.

There is the bernong, usually sung by two singers, who take it in turns to sing a verse, and then the chorus is sung by both. This, as well as the pelandai, or love song, may often be heard in the evening in the long Dyak house.

Then there is the kana, in which some legend or fairy-tale is sung by someone versed in ancient lore, as he sits on a swing in the dimly-lit veranda of the Dyak house.

Singing also forms part of all their sacred rites. At all their ceremonial feasts connected with warfare, farming, or the dead, the incantations, or pengap, as they are called, are in the form of Dyak verse, and sung. These songs differ considerably from the ordinary language of the Dyak, and a person, who can understand and speak Dyak, may yet find the pengap most unintelligible. Native metaphor and most excessive verbosity, together with the use of many archaic expressions, the meanings of which have long been forgotten, as well as the introduction of many coined words, which mean nothing, and are simply dragged in because they rhyme with the words preceding—all these things are quite certain to mystify an[227] uninstructed hearer. Another reason why it is so difficult to understand the pengap is that the language used is that of many generations back. The pengap, being learnt by heart, and handed down with verbal accuracy from one generation to another, is in the language of the past, whereas the ordinary spoken language of the Dyak is continually changing and developing new forms. There are a great deal of alliteration in the pengap, a certain peculiar rhythm and a string of rhyming words.

The presence of invisible beings is very strongly believed by the Dyak, and he is persuaded that spirits both good and bad are always round him. As a form of invocation to these spirits, and in all the ceremonial feasts of the Dyaks, as well as on other important occasions, the pengap are sung, sometimes by one man seated on a swing, sometimes by a number of men, who walk up and down the long veranda, dressed in flowing robes, with a long staff in the right hand of each. From what has been said it will be easily understood that there are a great number of different pengap suited to different occasions. In each incantation some special spirit or deity is more specially invoked.

At the Dyak Head Feast, Singalang Burong—the Mars of Dyak mythology—is specially invoked to be present in the pengap which is sung. In the feasts connected with farming, Pulang Gana, the god of the soil, is invoked, and asked to drive from their farms all rats and birds and insects that may hurt the paddy. And at the feasts given in honour of the dead all the spirits of dead relatives and friends, as well as those of mythical heroes, are invited to partake of the good things provided. Then, again, when the manangs, or Dyak witch-doctors, are called in to cure a sick man, they often walk round and[228] round the sick man, and chant a pengap, invoking Salampandai, the Great Spirit-Doctor, to come to their aid, and make their charms efficacious in bringing about the cure of the sick man.

Some of the Dyak pengap are of great length, and the singing of them occupies the whole night. The singer or singers begin soon after 8 p.m., and go on till early dawn, only resting for about half an hour, two or three times during the whole night.

The song of mourning is among some tribes sung by a professional wailer, generally a woman, who is paid to lament the lost, and by her presence and incantation to assist and guide the soul in its journey to Hades (Sabayan). Her song is begun on the evening of the death, and lasts the whole night. The sum of it is this:—She blames the different parts of the house for allowing the soul to depart, and she calls upon bird, beast, and fish to go to Hades with a message, but in vain, for they are unable to undertake the journey. Then in despair she calls upon the Spirit of the Winds to go. At first the spirit is reluctant, but at the earnest request of the wailer, who calls his wife to her aid, he at length consents to do her bidding. His journey through forests and plains, hills and valleys, across rivers and the sea, is minutely described till night comes on, and, tired and hungry, he stops to rest for the night. He climbs a high tree to see which is the proper road—on all sides there are roads: the ways of the dead are very numerous—but all is dim, misty, and uncertain. In his perplexity, he changes his human form, and metamorphoses himself into a rushing wind. He soon makes his presence in Hades known by a furious tempest, which sweeps all before it, and rouses the sleeping inhabitants. Startled, they ask each other[229] what is the meaning of this great commotion. The Spirit of the Wind answers that their presence is wanted in the land of the living. They must go and fetch a certain man and his belongings who wishes to come to Hades, but does not know the way, and needs someone to guide him. The dead rejoice at the summons. In a moment they collect together, get into a long boat, and paddle hurriedly through Limban, the Dyak Styx. When they arrive at the landing-place, the dead make an eager rush for the house, and enter the room of the dead man. The departed soul cries out in anguish at being thus suddenly and violently carried off, but long before the ghostly party have reached their abode in Hades, he becomes reconciled to his fate. Such in brief outline is the song of the wailer. By her song she has helped to convey the soul to its new home. Without her aid the soul would be lost, and remain suspended in mid-air and find no rest.

The songs and incantations of the Dyaks are not set to any particular melody. They are sung to a kind of chant, and long sentences are often repeated on one note. But they have several distinct settings for the different songs and incantations, and these seem to suit the subject. The song of mourning, for instance, sounds very sad and pathetic even to one who does not understand the language.

The musical instruments of the Dyaks are of a more or less primitive type, but when played together, the result is not unpleasing. Those employed as an accompaniment to the Sword Dance or the War Dance are brass gongs of different sizes and a variety of drums. First there is the deep-sounding brass tawak, the sound of which travels a great distance, and which, when struck in a peculiar manner, is the danger signal in times of war. Next in[230] order of importance comes the smaller brass gong which is called the chanang, and lastly the engkrumong of eight small brass gongs of different sizes arranged in order in a long open box. The player of the engkrumong has a stick in each hand, and strikes these different gongs in quick succession.

They have numerous drums of different shapes and sizes. They are made of different kinds of wood, with deer-skin or monkey-skin tightly stretched over one or both ends.

The effect of all these instruments of percussion played together is inspiring, and not at all displeasing. There is no harsh discordant clanging, as is so often the case in the music of primitive races. There are different ways of striking the drums and other instruments, and each of these ways has a distinctive name. The rhythm of the music of the Sword Dance differs entirely from that of the War Dance, and for each of these dances there are various different arrangements for the musical instruments.

Among their wind instruments is the engkrurai, which is constructed of a number of bamboo tubes fixed in an empty gourd, the long stem of which forms the mouth-piece. All the notes can be sounded together, and combinations of notes or single notes can be produced from it by shutting or opening finger-holes placed laterally at the lower end of the bamboo tubes. There are generally seven bamboo tubes, six of them arranged in a circle round a larger and longer central one. All seven are furnished with a reed at the base, where they are inserted into the gourd. Holes are cut in the six outer pipes for fingering. The central pipe is an open or drone-pipe, the tone of which is intensified by fixing a loose cap of bamboo[231] on the upper end. It is played by blowing air into the neck of the gourd, or by drawing in the breath, according to the effect desired. The volume of sound is not great, and the music produced is not unlike that of the Scotch bagpipes played very softly and very badly.

They have a flute, or rather flageolet (ensuling), made of bamboo, with a plug at the mouth-hole. It is blown at the end, and there are three or four finger-holes, so that different notes can be produced.

Another musical instrument is the serunai, or one-stringed fiddle. The body is half a gourd-shell, the mouth of which is covered up with a circular piece of soft wood, which is thin and close-fitting, the seams being cemented with wax. To this is fixed the stock, an arm about two feet long made of hard wood. The bow is a bent cane, and the string of the bow a split rattan about a foot in length. The string of this instrument is of the same material, and there is a peg at the end of the stock by which the string can be tightened. There is a movable bridge on the belly of the instrument for the string to rest upon. The body is sometimes made of half a cocoanut-shell instead of a gourd. The string has to be wetted before it will sound, and then it gives forth a monotonous, mournful, dismal sound when the bow is rubbed against it.

The Dyaks also have a four-stringed zither. The strings are made of split cane, and are stretched over a wooden box of soft wood. This instrument varies in shape and size, and is called the engkratong.

The blikan is a rude guitar made of soft wood, with two strings of rattan and two pegs for tightening them. The strings are pressed with the tips of the fingers of the left hand to modify the tone, and the fingers of the right[232] hand brush the strings. This instrument is about three feet long from end to end.

From all that has been said, it will be seen that their musical instruments, though various, are very primitive, and that, though the Dyak is fond of music, his ideas on the subject are very crude.



Love of travel—“The innocents abroad”—Gutta-hunting—Collecting canes—Hunting for edible birds’-nests—Camphor-working.

The Dyak is fond of travel, and, like other people, loves to visit foreign countries and to return and relate his adventures to his stay-at-home friends. He is always at home in the jungle, and in whatever country he may be collecting jungle produce, he is in his element. But this is by no means the case when he is in any foreign town. I have sometimes seen Dyaks in Singapore walking aimlessly about, quite out of touch with their surroundings. I think they are looked upon as fair game by the Chinese shopkeepers in Singapore, who have no scruples in taking advantage of their innocence, as the following incident will show.

Some years ago I took some Dyaks from Banting on a visit to Singapore. I told them not to wander too far away from the house by themselves, as they might lose their way, and advised them to let me send someone with them when they wanted to buy anything, because they had no idea of the price of things, and would probably be swindled by the Chinese shopkeepers. For the first few days they were very careful to do as I told them, but afterwards, they considered themselves experienced travellers who could well manage to buy things for[234] themselves. One day they came to me and said they had met such a nice Chinese shopkeeper, from whom one of them had bought a silk jacket. He was such a pleasant man, and his things were so cheap, that they had quite made up their minds to visit his shop again. I asked to see the silk jacket they had bought. It was brought to me carefully wrapped up in Chinese brown paper, and the parcel, being opened, was found to contain a cotton jacket! When the purchase was made, the “very pleasant shopkeeper” kindly bundled it up for them, and this was the result. I told them that they had been taken in, and that there was no help for it, and that they must always be on their guard against the Chinese shopkeeper. But my words were wasted. They were quite positive that there was some mistake. It was quite absurd to imagine that such a nice Chinaman would think of swindling them. All that had to be done was to go back to the shop and explain matters, and everything would be put right. They did go back to the shop, and returned with long faces. The nice Chinaman said he did not remember selling them a silk jacket; they must have mistaken the shop. Was there anything he could sell them? Needless to say, they bought nothing more from that shop, and returned “sadder and wiser men.”

Gutta-hunting is a favourite method of the Dyaks for earning money. A party of them go to the Malay Peninsula, or Sumatra, or Java, and stay away for months or even years, and do not return until they have accumulated some hundreds of dollars. Before starting for such a journey they have to consult the omen birds, and if these are favourable, they start off with a little money for their expenses, taking with them the few tools necessary[235] for their work. They go to some town, and from it they make journeys into the surrounding jungle, returning after intervals of a month or more to sell the gutta they have succeeded in obtaining, and to buy provisions.

The way in which the Dyak works gutta is this:—He wanders in the jungle till he finds a gutta-tree. He cuts it down, and rings it neatly all along the trunk and branches at intervals of a foot or two with a kind of hollow chisel that he brings with him for the purpose. Under each ring he puts a leaf made into a cup to catch the milk-white sap which slowly exudes. Into each of these he puts a little scraped bark of the tree. Then he collects all the sap, and boils it until the gutta is precipitated at the bottom of the pot like a mass of dough. This is taken out while it is still soft, placed upon a board, and kneaded vigorously with the hands, and afterwards trodden with the bare feet. When it is almost too stiff to work, it is flattened out carefully, and then rolled into a wedge-shaped mass. A hole is punched through the thin end, through which a string is put to carry it, and it is ready for sale. This crude gutta has a mottled or marbled light brown appearance, which is given to it by the scraped bark which is mixed with it. The juice of the wild fig-tree (Ficus) or of the different species of bread-fruit trees (Artocarpus) is sometimes used to adulterate it.

Sometimes, instead of working gutta, the Dyaks earn money by collecting canes, or rotan. A journey is made by a party of them to some jungle region where canes abound, and they collect the various marketable species of the genus Calamus. These canes are creeping plants the stems of which are covered with a hard flinty bark.[236] The leaves are very thorny, and cling to the trees and branches around. The older part of the cane has no leaves. It is very tough and strong, and in size about one-quarter of an inch in diameter. It is easily split, and used for the seats of chairs, etc.

Sometimes the Dyaks join others in the collection of edible birds’-nests for the Chinese market. This is a great industry in those parts of Borneo where there are large limestone caves, in which these nests are found. The caves are farmed out by Government, and whatever is obtained over the amount paid to Government is the profit of the workers. In Upper Sarawak certain tribes possess caves in which edible birds’-nests are found, and they divide the nests with the Government.

Sometimes Dyaks who wish to earn a little extra money go and help these tribes in collecting birds’-nests, and get a share of the profits, or more often they go to small caves which belong to no one in particular and collect birds’-nests for themselves, and then give a share of what they find to the Government.

Some of the caves in which edible birds’-nests are found are very large. At the entrance the visitor is met by thousands of bats and swallows. The latter resemble the common swallow in appearance, but are only half as large. These small swallows make the edible nests. Inside, the cave is often like an immense amphitheatre roofed like a dome, the middle of which is over a thousand feet high. Thousands of nests are seen clinging to the pillar-like rocky sides and roof. The most flimsy-looking stages of bamboos tied together with cane are the simple means employed by the natives to collect the nests from the seemingly most inaccessible positions.

Though there are rifts in the sides through which come[237] rays of light, still in parts the cave is so dark that lamps and torches have to be used.

The Dyaks climb up the bamboo scaffolding, carrying with them long cane ladders. These are fixed against the sides. Two men work on each ladder, which often hangs high up in the air. One carries a light four-pronged spear about fifteen feet long, and near the prongs a lighted candle is fixed. Holding on to the ladder with one hand, he manages the spear with the other, and transfixes the nest. A slight push detaches it from the rock, and the spear is then held within reach of the second man, who detaches the nest and puts it into a basket tied to his waist.

The natives say that there are two species of swallows that inhabit these caves. Those that take up their abode near the entrance of the cave build nests which are of no value. These birds often attack the other and smaller species which make the edible nests. The natives often destroy the nests of the larger swallows, so as to lessen their number.

The best quality nests are very translucent, and of a pale yellow colour, and mixed with very few feathers. These are nests that have been freshly made. If the nests are not removed, the birds make use of them again, so that by age and accession of dirt they become quite useless. The old nests are of no value, and the natives destroy them, so that the birds may build new ones in their place.

The nests are collected four times a year. The natives say that the birds will lay four times a year if their nests are collected often, but if there are only two collections, then the birds only lay twice in the year. The best time for collecting nests is when the eggs are just laid. One[238] would imagine that there would be a danger of over-collecting, and that the number of birds would diminish; but the natives say there is no danger of this, as the birds carry on their breeding in nooks and crannies inaccessible to the collectors.

Another jungle industry is the hunting for camphor. The kind the Dyaks obtain is known as “hard camphor,” and is found in crystals in the hollow trunk of a tree. It is much more valuable than ordinary camphor.

Before going out to collect camphor, the Dyaks live in little huts in the jungle, and listen to the omens of birds, just as they would do before going out gutta-hunting. If the omens be favourable, then they start off, being careful not to use in conversation certain words which are considered “taboo,” or mali. It is forbidden to use the word “camphor,” or to mention the names of the implements used in working it, or of any races, such as the Chinese, Malays, or Europeans, because these will have something to do with the selling of the camphor later on. If the spirits who own the camphor know what the men are after, or that their property is likely to be taken away and sold to distant lands, they will carefully hide it, and the camphor workers will never be able to find it; so the Dyaks have to use other expressions to express the articles whose names must not be mentioned. “Camphor” becomes “the thing that smells,” and so on.

The Dyaks, as well as the Malays, believe that to be careless and to make use of any forbidden word is sure to result in failure to find camphor. Even if a tree containing camphor is felled, they say that the crystallized camphor will become liquid, and therefore useless.

When a camphor-tree is found in the jungle it is chipped[239] with an axe between two buttresses, and the wood smelt. If the wood smells very strongly of camphor, then it is likely that the trunk is hollow, and there is crystallized camphor-gum inside it. They tap the trunk to find out how far up this hollow extends. The tree is cut down at this place, and the stump remains standing. The wood is then split down on each side. There is a good deal of uncertainty in the finding of camphor. If lucky, the workers may find the whole of the hollow trunk from four to seven feet deep full of crystallized camphor. On the other hand, the hole in the wood may be quite empty, except for a little liquid gum at the bottom, which is useless. This crystallized camphor fetches a good price in the Chinese market. The Chinese value it very highly for medicinal purposes, and as much as fifty dollars or more is given for a katty—a pound and a quarter—of it.



The itinerant missionary—Visit to a Dyak house—Reception—Cooking—Servants—The meal—Teaching the Dyaks—Christians—Services—Prayer-houses—Offertory—Reception of the missionary—Dangers of sea travelling during the north-east monsoon—My boat swamped—In the jungle—Losing my way—A Dyak’s experience.

As the long Dyak village houses are often built at great distances from each other, the missionary who wishes to do effective work among the Dyaks must travel from house to house. Only by visiting distant villages, and living with the Dyaks as their guest, can the missionary learn to understand the people, and know their real inner life.

Let me try and describe a visit to some Dyak house, which no missionary has visited before, and where there is hope of breaking new ground. After travelling by boat or on foot I come to the house, and at the foot of the ladder leading up to it, one of my Dyak companions shouts out, “Jadi rumah?” (“Is the house tabooed?”—that is to say: “May we walk up?”) The usual answer is “Jadi,” which implies that there is no reason against our entering the house. We climb up the ladder leading to the common hall and walk to the middle of the house, where the headman and the more important inhabitants[241] have their rooms. Some inmate spreads out mats for us, and we are asked to sit down.

If I arrive at the house early in the day, most of the men will probably be out, and only women and children at home. These crowd round, standing at a respectful distance, and the wife or daughter of the headman asks us what we have come for, and invites us to stay in the house. She also clears away their own cooking from the fireplace, and my servant is asked to do whatever cooking is needed for the Tuan in their room.

The cooking is generally a simple matter. The dinner generally consists of one course. My servant buys from the Dyaks a fowl—it would be libel to call it a “chicken”!—and cooks it, or else he falls back on tinned food, of which I always had a supply.

During all the years I worked in Borneo I always had a Dyak servant, and I was fortunate in having for many years an excellent native named Ah Choy. He was born at Banting, and attended the Mission School there, and then went on to the school at Kuching. I joined the Mission Staff soon after he left school, and he worked for me as my general factotum—cook, housekeeper, boatman, personal attendant, etc.—for ten years or more. He was, what is unusual among the Dyaks, a good cook, and, in addition to this, was an excellent servant in many ways. He understood about boats, and I found his advice in all matters connected with travelling very trustworthy. He had a good idea of carpentering, and was able himself to fit up many little conveniences in my boat. Besides all this he was able to help me in my missionary work, as he was a Christian and a communicant himself. I think that if a Missionary visits native houses to teach the Dyaks, and has as his attendant a “heathen Chinee” or[242] a “scoffing Mohammedan,” it must be a hindrance to his work. Ah Choy left me to work for his mother, who was a widow, but even after he had left my service he often accompanied me on my missionary travels as one of the boatmen, and I was always very glad to have him with me. He died, while quite a young man, during an epidemic of cholera.

When my dinner is ready my servant tells me, and I go into the room to eat it. A mat is spread for me, and I sit cross-legged upon it. A few of the women of the house sometimes stay in the room while I have my meal, but never a crowd, and one is able to have one’s food in comfort.

After the evening meal I come out into the common hall, where the mats are spread and the people gathered together. The evening is the usual time for any discussion, as the men are all back from their outdoor work then. I sit down on a mat, and both men and women are seated in a semicircle before me, and I try to teach them. Very simple things at first—telling them how God created the world, and made all things good, and how man of his own wickedness brought sin into the world—very simple things of this kind, and these said over and over again, because it takes them time to take in new ideas. After two or three evenings spent in this way I leave the house, but visit it again after an interval of some weeks or months.

A Long Dyak Village House

When a house is very long, as in this case, in addition to the ladders at each end, there are often extra ladders in the middle of the house. One of these ladders is seen on the right of the picture. The logs of wood on the ground are for walking upon.

In the nature of the Dyak there has grown up a crop of rank superstitions which he cannot overcome easily. He has his gods, but his conception of a God is quite different to that of the Christian. Innumerable hostile spirits he believes are around him, and these have to be dealt with, propitiated or outwitted. Though he has[243] many ceremonies the Dyak has little religious spirit. The ceremonial rites which he practises—sacrifices, incantations, observance of omens—are magic charms to procure material benefits. Hence he has a difficulty in conceiving a spiritual religion. In the conversations one has in the Dyak house it is very usual to be asked such a question as this: “What material advantage shall I get if I become a Christian? Shall I get better paddy-crops and become rich? Shall I have better health?” Another question which is often asked the Missionary is: “Must we give up our old customs?” “Yes,” says the Missionary, “such of them as are founded upon falsehood or derogatory to the true God.” Dreams are often discussed, and numerous examples are brought forward of dreams which have come true. The Missionary acknowledges that God has spoken in ancient days to men in dreams, but maintains that the necessity for doing so no longer exists.

Endless questions lead to endless explanations, and often the Missionary feels at the end of it all that little has been gained. But unpromising as the soil apparently is, the good seed does germinate. On the next visit the Missionary makes to that same house, he will probably find that some of his hearers have thought over what he has said, and are willing to learn more. And after a few visits some of the Dyaks are willing to put themselves under instruction, and these are taught by the native Catechist in charge of the district, and also by the Missionary when he pays his visits. When they are sufficiently taught and wish to become Christians, they are baptized, and if they live good consistent Christian lives, and have been further instructed, later on they are brought to the Bishop to be confirmed.


Happily the Gospel message, though profound in truth, is very simple in form. A plain narration of the life of Jesus Christ always produces a deep impression upon the Dyak. It is quite a new revelation to him, the Incarnation of the Son of God, bringing him totally new thoughts and ideas of God.

A great help to the work of the Missionary is the example of some man who has bravely emancipated himself from the burdensome traditions of his forefathers, and puts his whole trust in God. There are many such living in the Saribas district, and they were a great help to the Mission work there. That a Dyak can succeed in his labours, or even exist for any length of time without the observance of bird omens, or paying heed to dreams, or continually making sacrifices to gods and spirits, is to Dyaks in general such a remarkable thing that it rouses their minds to consider what Christianity means. To give up heathen practices, and to pay no heed to the omens of birds, is but a small part of the Christian religion, but it sets men thinking. It is a mark of freedom from the slavery of tyrannous superstition, and clears the ground for the foundation of a real Christian belief and trust in God.

But it may be asked: “How are services provided for these Dyak Christians who live so far away from the Church and the Mission House?” Well, we do the best we can for them. By the side of each Dyak house where there are Christians we build a small prayer-house. It is a very plain and simple building, and is the same in material and style as their own houses. The Christian Dyaks build it themselves. They go out into the jungle and get whatever is necessary for it. It is an oblong structure, raised a few feet off the ground on posts of[245] wood. The walls and the roof are of palm-leaf thatch, work which the natives can do themselves; the flooring is of laths of wood fastened down with cane or creepers. And there are no seats in the building—no forms or chairs—everyone sits on the floor, on which mats are spread. At one end we have a little table, which the natives make themselves, and that we use as an altar when we have a celebration of the Holy Communion. Altogether it is as primitive a house of worship as it is possible to imagine, but it is enough for necessary purposes, and is the best that can be done under the circumstances. The building does not last long, but is easily rebuilt where there is a will to do so. To build permanent churches would in most cases be useless waste, for the Dyaks are constantly moving their village houses to new sites.

The services held in these little prayer-houses are very reverent. The offertory at the celebration of Holy Communion is worthy of remark. At our up-country churches and prayer-houses, we receive in kind as well as in money. Dyaks very seldom have money, but they have rice, and that is the “kind” in which the offertory is made. The rice is brought in little baskets or cups, and emptied into a large basket. Sometimes eggs or fruit are given. The Missionary gives an equivalent in money for the rice, etc., collected, and that money is given to the man who has charge of the offertory. This “church-warden” is some Christian living in the Dyak house near.

The Missionary has a very large district in his charge, and travelling is so difficult that he cannot very often visit the different houses where there are Christians; and the native teacher has also a large ground to cover, and[246] cannot very often hold services at the different prayer-houses. So if we can find some man in the house who is a good Christian, and has been to school and can read, we ask him, in the absence of the Missionary and of the native teacher, to conduct services. On the Sunday morning in many Dyak houses, when neither the Missionary nor the native teacher is there, one of themselves—some young man—will collect the Christians together, and they will go to the little prayer-house, and he will read the prayers, and they will offer up their petitions and thanksgivings to God. In many Dyak houses, however, though there are Christians, there is no one whom we can ask to read the prayers. They have to go without their services, sometimes for long intervals, until such time as the native teacher or the Missionary can visit them.

Visiting the houses where there are Christians, and holding services in the little prayer-houses built by themselves, is pleasant and interesting work. The Dyaks are told beforehand when the Missionary is coming, and they look forward to his visit, and as many as are able leave their farm-huts where they may be staying so as to be at the house to welcome him. The Dyaks are civil, natural in manner, kindly disposed, and cheerful. They are also very intelligent, and I have had many interesting conversations on my Missionary visits. Questions are often asked by the Dyaks showing that they have thought over something that has been said on a former visit; and in the Saribas district, where so many Dyaks had learnt to read, it was no unusual thing to be asked to explain some particular passage in the Gospels, the Dyak translation of which many of them had.


Travelling by river is safe enough except where there are sandbanks, and there a little extra care is necessary. But during the north-east monsoon—October to March—the sea is generally very rough, and travelling by sea in the kind of boat the Missionary uses is sometimes dangerous. He has to use a boat that draws very little water, because of the sand banks in the rivers, and such a boat is not suitable for the sea. I am thankful to say that during all the years I was in Borneo my boat was only swamped once. We have had many narrow escapes—the boat full of water over and over again, and two men baling out the water as fast as possible while the others were rowing. The boat I used in my travels was made of light wood, and the only part of it that was made of harder wood was the keel. Even if it were full of water, it would still float, and we could often row through the waves without anything worse than a thorough wetting.

On the occasion when my boat was swamped I was returning from the capital, Kuching, where I had been Acting-Chaplain for some months, to my up-country station at Temudok on the Krian River. It was during the north-east monsoon, and the sea was very rough. After leaving the Kuching River we put in at Sampun, a little stream near. There we stayed seven days. Early every morning we put out to sea, but it was impossible to row through the waves, and we had to put back. Then we ran short of food; we had no rice for the men. At the next flood-tide I told my boatmen to row up the Sampun stream, as I felt certain I should be able to buy rice from some people living there. After two hours’ rowing we came to the hut of a Chinaman. He said he had only three gantangs of rice. (A gantang is a dry measure, and[248] equal to about three-quarters of a peck.) I asked him to sell me all the rice he had. He was quite willing to do so, and said that if I would wait a day, he would have some paddy pounded, and be able to supply me with more rice. I said what he had would be sufficient, and I told my boatmen that whatever the weather was next day, we must put out to sea.

Very early next morning we started. The sea was very rough, and to escape the breakers we went farther and farther away from land. I had my excellent servant, Ah Choy, with me, and he was steering, and I had a very good crew of Dyak boatmen. After some time Ah Choy said to me:

“We are very far out, and can hardly see the land. Had we not better get nearer shore?”

The men were rowing as well as they could, but they were getting very tired, and we were making very little progress.

I told Ah Choy to bring the boat nearer shore, but as soon as we got into shallower water the waves were so great that it was evident the boat could not live through them.

I asked Ah Choy to steer the boat straight for the shore, and I told the men to row as hard as they could, and as soon as they felt their oars touch bottom to jump out and pull the boat up the shore as fast as they could. They did exactly as I wished. The boat was dragged ashore, but several large waves beat into it, and everything was soaked. It had one or two hard bumps on the sand, and was split from end to end.

We were not far from Kabong, a village at the mouth of the Krian River, and I, accompanied by one of my[249] boatmen, walked along the beach to the Government Fort there. The clerk in charge, Ah Fook Cheyne, kindly supplied me with food and with sleeping things for the night. I sent some Malays to look after my boat, which they managed to bring to Kabong the next day.

Whenever I have had to travel on foot I have always had with me Dyaks who knew the country, so there has been no danger of my losing my way. But it is remarkable how easily one can get lost in the jungle. I have sometimes gone off the path for no great distance, and have had some difficulty in finding my way back. At Banting one afternoon I was accompanied by two schoolboys, and we went into the lowland jungle near the Mission Hill after some wood-pigeon. We followed the birds from one wild fig-tree to another, and managed to shoot a few, and then we tried to find our way back. After wandering about for some twenty minutes we came to a spot where a tree had been cut down, and a length of the trunk used evidently for a Dyak coffin. As someone had been buried a few days ago in the cemetery round the church, we guessed we could not be far from Banting Hill, on which the Mission House and Church stood. We tried to follow what we thought was the track made by the people who had cut the tree down, but after wandering about for over half an hour, we found ourselves in the same spot again.

We could see the sun through the trees, and one of the boys with me said:

“When we sit on the seat on the brow of the hill facing the river we see the sun setting in front of us, so if we walk in the direction of the sun we are sure to come to some part of Banting Hill.”


It seemed a sensible suggestion. We had been walking in the opposite direction. We turned round and walked back, and sure enough we got to the fruit-trees on Banting Hill, and had no difficulty in finding our way to the Mission House.

One day when I was at Sebetan I left the path which ran along the side of the river. I had with me three Dyak schoolboys, and we wandered about and could not find our way out of the jungle. One of the boys said, when we came to a small jungle-stream:

“If we follow this stream it will lead us to the river.”

We did so, and soon found the path by the river.

It will be noticed that on both these occasions I was with Dyak boys who helped me to find my way. I have noticed that older Dyaks seem to have a good idea of locality, and generally know in what direction the path they have left lies.

It is, however, not an unknown thing for Dyaks to be lost in the jungle. A Dyak friend of mine in Sebetan told me that on one occasion he had been in the jungle all day collecting canes, and in the evening when he wanted to return he could not find his way out. He climbed up a tree in the hope of seeing the smoke of some Dyak house or farm hut, but saw no such thing. As it was growing dark, and there was no likelihood of his finding his way till next morning, he prepared to spend the night where he was. He climbed up a tree, and made himself as comfortable as possible among the branches, took off his waist-cloth, and tied himself to the tree, that he might not slip off when asleep, and spent an uncomfortable night up there. Next morning[251] he had no difficulty in finding his way back to his house.

The wonder to me is that Dyaks so seldom get lost in the jungle. When they are hunting wild pig they must often wander far from the path, and yet somehow they manage to find their way out of the jungle without any difficulty.



Sea Dyak stories—EnseraKana—The mouse-deer and the tortoise—Klieng—Kumang—Apai Saloi—The cunning of the mouse-deer—The mouse-deer and other animals who went out fishing—The mouse-deer, the deer, and the pig—Sea Dyak proverbs.

The Sea Dyaks possess many stories, legends, and fables handed down by tradition from ancient times. All these have been transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation, as the Dyaks have no written language of their own. These tales may be roughly divided in two classes—those that are plainly told, and called ensera; and those that are set in a peculiar rhythmical measure, and sung to a monotonous chant, and called kana.

Among the former are a large number of stories corresponding to the adventures of Brer Rabbit, or our own tales illustrating the cunning of the fox. In the Dyak stories the mouse-deer and the tortoise—two of the smallest animals they know—are generally represented either acting in concert or individually, and their cunning is always more than a match against the strength of all other animals. The Dyaks also have many legends which give an account of the origin and reason for some of their religious beliefs and customs. These are no doubt purely Dyak, but the many tales related nowadays[253] about Rajahs and their adventures are probably derived from Malay sources in more recent times.

The exploits of the mythical heroes of the Dyaks are also related. The greatest hero is Klieng, who is not a god, but supposed to belong to this world of ours. He is not now visible to human eyes, but his help is often invoked in times of war, and offerings of food are often made to him. Tradition says that he had no father or mother, but was found in the knot of a tree by Ngelai, who brought him up as his brother. As he grew up, he developed a restless spirit, and would not apply himself to the regular Dyak pursuits. He was wayward and capricious, and would disappear for long periods, often being given up for dead by his sorrowing friends. Then he would suddenly reappear in his own home, to the surprise and joy of his friends. He is represented as handsome and brave, and always successful in expeditions against his enemies. He had a wonderful power of metamorphosis, and, when necessary, could transform himself into an animal or anything else. On one occasion he is said to have changed himself into the fragment of a broken water-gourd, and was carried by Ngelai in his basket to the battle. The enemy were too powerful for them, and Ngelai and his friends were being defeated, when the basket was placed on the ground, and Klieng revealed himself in his true character of a great warrior, and in a very short time routed the enemy.

Klieng married Kumang, the Dyak Venus. Many stories concerning them are set to native song. These kana are sometimes sung by some Dyak singer, who lies on a mat or sits on a swing in the dim light of the covered veranda of the long Dyak house. His audience sit or lie around and listen to him, very often till the small hours[254] of the morning. The incidents in a story thus sung are not many, but the Dyaks delight in verbosity and amplification, and use a dozen similes where one would do, and love to repeat over and over again the description of the various characters in different words, with the double object of showing their command of language and to lengthen the story.

They have many amusing tales told of Apai Saloi (the father of Saloi)—the Simple Simon of the Dyaks. He is represented as doing the most foolish things, and always outwitted by his enemy, Apai Samumang (the father of Samumang), who does not hesitate to take advantage of his stupidity. The following will give an idea of the kind of story related of Apai Saloi:—One day he was paddling in his boat in the river, and his axe-head fell into the water. He made a notch in the side of the boat to mark the spot where the axe-head dropped into the water, and paddled home. “There will be plenty of time,” he said, “for me to look for it to-morrow morning.” He reached the landing-stage of his house, and pulled his boat up the bank. The next day he went to the boat and looked for his lost axe-head underneath the part of the boat where he saw the notch he had made the day before. He was very much surprised at not finding his lost axe-head!

But what seems to give the Dyaks most pleasure are tales about animals, especially those in which the cunning of the mouse-deer (akal plandok) is displayed. The following are well known among them, and I have myself often heard these related, with variations, by the Dyaks themselves. Very often, in travelling by boat in Borneo, one has to wait for the turn of the tide, and the Dyak boatmen on these occasions often relate some of their old stories to each other to while away the time.


The Story of the Mouse-Deer and other Animals who went out Fishing.

Once upon a time the Mouse-Deer, accompanied by many other animals, went on a fishing expedition. All day long they fished, and in the evening returned to the little hut that they had put up by the river-side, salted the fish that they had caught, and stored it up in their jars. They noticed that somehow or other their fish disappeared day by day, and the animals held a council to decide what it was best to do. After some discussion the Deer said he would stay behind while the others went out to fish, so that he might catch the thief.

“I shall be able to master him, whoever he is,” said the Deer. “If he refuses to do what I wish, I shall soon punish him with my sharp horns.”

So the others went out fishing, leaving the Deer at home. Soon he heard the tramp of someone coming to the foot of the steps leading up into the hut, calling out:

“Is anyone at home?”

“I am here,” said the Deer. Looking out, he saw a great Giant, and his heart failed him. He wished he had asked one of his companions to stay at home with him.

“I smell some fish,” said the Giant. “I want some, and I must have it. I am hungry. Let me have what I want.”

“It does not belong to me,” said the Deer in great fear. “It belongs to the Pig, the Bear, the Tiger, and the Mouse-Deer. They would punish me severely if I gave any of it to you.”

“Don’t talk to me in that way. If you do not let[256] me have what I want, I will eat you up,” said the Giant.

The Deer was too much awed by his visitor to attack the Giant, so he let him eat the fish and take some away with him.

When his companions returned, the Deer gave them his account of the Giant’s visit. They blamed him for his cowardice, and the Wild Boar said he would keep watch the next day.

“If the Giant comes,” said he, “I will gore him with my tusks and trample him underfoot.”

But he fared no better than the Deer, for when he saw the Giant, who threatened to kill him if he refused to give him some fish, he was afraid, and let him take as much as he wanted.

Great was the disgust of the others to find on their return that their fish had again been stolen.

“Let me watch,” said the Bear. “No Giant shall frighten me. I will hug him in my arms and scratch him with my sharp claws.”

So Bruin was left in charge the next day, while the others went out to fish.

Soon he heard the Giant, who came to the foot of the steps and shouted: “Hullo! who’s there?”

“I am,” said the Bear. “Who are you, and what do you want?”

“I can smell some nice fish, and I am hungry, and want some.”

“I cannot let you have any,” said the Bear. “It does not belong to me.”

“Let me have some at once,” said the Giant in a voice of thunder, “before I kill and eat you.”

The Bear was too much frightened to interfere while[257] the Giant ransacked the jars. When he had had enough, he bade the Bear “Good-bye” and went off.

On the return of the other animals, the Tiger said he would put a stop to this state of things. He would stay at home the next day and keep watch. It would have to be a very strong Giant indeed that would dare to fight him.

The Giant paid his visit as before, and when he found the Tiger at home, he said that he was hungry, and asked for some fish. At first the Tiger refused to give any to him, but when he saw his formidable enemy he was afraid, and let him have as much as he wanted.

On their return again the animals found their fish had been stolen.

Then the Mouse-Deer spoke. “I see,” he said, “that it is no use depending on you others. You boast, but when the time comes for action, you have no courage. I will stay at home and secure this Giant that you speak of.”

When his companions had gone away the next morning, the Mouse-Deer put a bandage round his forehead and lay down.

Soon came the Giant, and shouted: “Who’s there?”

“Only me,” said the Mouse-Deer, groaning with pain. “Come up, whoever you may be.”

The Giant climbed up the rickety steps, and saw the Mouse-Deer lying with his head bandaged.

“What is the matter with you?” asked the Giant.

“I have a headache,” was the answer.

“Whatever has given you the headache?” asked the Giant.

“Can’t you guess?” said the Mouse-Deer. “It is the smell of this fish in these jars. It is so strong it is enough to make anyone ill. Don’t you feel ill yourself?”


“I think I do,” said the Giant. “Cannot you give me some medicine?”

“I have no medicine with me,” said the Mouse-Deer, “but I can bandage you, as I have done myself, and it is sure to do you good.”

“Thank you,” said the Giant. “It is good of you to take the trouble to cure me.”

So the Giant lay down as he was bid, while the Mouse-Deer bandaged his head, and fastened the ends of the bandage to pegs which he drove in the ground under the open flooring of the hut.

“Don’t you feel a little pain in your ankles?” anxiously suggested the Mouse-Deer.

“I think I do,” said the foolish Giant. “Suppose you bandage them, too.”

So the Mouse-Deer, chuckling to himself, bandaged his ankles, and made them fast to the floor of the hut.

“Do you not feel the pain in your legs?” asked the Mouse-Deer.

“I think I do,” was the foolish Giant’s reply.

So the Mouse-Deer bandaged his legs and made them secure, so that the Giant was quite unable to move.

By this time the Giant began to feel uneasy, and trying to get up, and finding himself securely bound, he struggled and roared in pain and anger.

The little Mouse-Deer sat before him and laughed, and said:

“You were a match for the Deer, the Pig, the Bear, and the Tiger, but you are defeated by me. Don’t make so much noise, or I shall drive a peg through your temples and kill you.”


Just then the others returned from their fishing. Great was their joy to find their enemy securely bound. With cries of triumph they fell upon the Giant and killed him, and praised the Mouse-Deer for his cleverness in securing him.

The Story of the Mouse-Deer, the Deer and the Pig.

A Mouse-Deer wandering in the jungle fell into a pit. He could not get out, so he waited patiently for some passer-by. Presently a Pig passed by the mouth of the pit. The Mouse-Deer called out to him, and he looked in and asked the Mouse-Deer what he was doing there.

“Don’t you know what is going to happen? The sky is going to fall down, and everybody will be crushed to dust unless he takes shelter in a pit. If you want to save your life you had better jump in.”

The Pig jumped into the pit, and the Mouse-Deer got on his back, but he found he was not high enough to enable him to leap out.

Next a Deer came along, and, seeing the two animals in the pit, asked them what they were doing there.

The Mouse-Deer replied: “The sky is going to fall, and everyone will be crushed unless he hides in some hole. Jump in if you want to save your life.”

The Deer sprang in, and the Mouse-Deer made him stand on the back of the Pig; then he himself got on the back of the Deer and jumped out of the pit, leaving the other two to their fate.

The Deer and the Pig were very angry at being tricked in this way by such a small animal as the Mouse-Deer.[260] They scratched the side of the pit until it sloped, and enabled them to get out; then they followed the trail of the Mouse-Deer, and soon overtook him.

The Mouse-Deer saw them coming, and climbed up a tree, from the boughs of which a large beehive was hanging.

“Come down,” said the Pig and Deer angrily. “You have deceived us, and we mean to kill you.”

“Deceived you?” said the Mouse-Deer. “When did I deceive you, or do anything to deserve death?”

“Didn’t you tell us that the sky was going to fall, and that if we did not hide ourselves in a pit we should be killed?”

“Oh yes,” was the reply. “What I said was perfectly true, only I persuaded the King to postpone the disaster.”

“You need not try to put us off with any more lies. You must come down, for we mean to have your blood.”

“I cannot,” said the Mouse-Deer, “because the King has asked me to watch his gong,” pointing to the bee’s-nest.

“Is that the King’s gong?” said the Deer. “I should like to strike it to hear what it sounds like.”

“So you may,” said the Mouse-Deer, “only let me get down and go to some distance before you do so, as the noise would deafen me.”

So the Mouse-Deer sprang down and ran away. The Deer took a long stick and struck the bee’s-nest, and the bees flew out angrily and stung him to death.

The Pig, seeing what had happened, pursued the Mouse-Deer, determined to avenge the death of his friend. He found his enemy taking refuge on a tree round the trunk of which was a large python curled.

“Come down,” said the Pig, “and I will kill you.”


“I cannot come down to-day. I am set here to watch the King’s girdle. Look at it,” he said, pointing to the Python. “Is it not pretty? I have never seen such a handsome waist-belt before.”

“It is beautiful,” said the Pig. “How I should like to wear it for one day!”

“So you may,” said the Mouse-Deer, “but be careful, and do not spoil it.”

So the foolish Pig entangled himself in the folds of the Python, who soon crushed him to death and ate him for his dinner, and the clever Mouse-Deer escaped, having outwitted his enemies.

Sea Dyak Proverbs.

King Solomon, we are told, “spake three thousand proverbs,” and many of these, as well as proverbs of an older date, have been handed down to us in a more or less authentic form. A translation of them into English is to be found in a well-known book. King Solomon was perhaps the first to make a collection of proverbs, but long before his time proverbs were in common use. It would seem that in every age and in every clime the existence of language is accompanied by the existence of proverbs.

The Sea Dyaks have their proverbs, and these remind us of the lines:—

“Turn, turn thy wheel! The human race,
Of every tongue, of every place,
Caucasian, Coptic, or Malay,
All that inhabit this great earth,
Whatever be their rank or worth,
Are kindred and allied by birth,
And made of the same clay.”

It is impossible to imagine two nationalities so far removed from each other in every respect as the English[262] and the Dyak, and yet, when we come to consider their proverbs, we find that they join hands and stand on common ground. Allowing for difference in environment, and consequent difference of similes, the ideas expressed in many Dyak proverbs is precisely similar to that of some well known among the English.

The three following examples, taken from among many others, which are often used by the Dyaks of the present day, will illustrate what I mean:—

Remaung di rumah, rawong di tanah (“A tiger in the house, [but] a frog in the field”). A lion in council, but a lamb in action.

Kasih ka imbok, enda kasih ka manok (“To show kindness to the wild pigeon, [but] not to show kindness to the domestic fowl”). Charity begins at home.

Lari ka ribut nemu ujan, lari ka sungkup nemu pendam (“Running from the hurricane, he encounters the rain; running from a tombstone, he finds himself in a graveyard”). Out of the frying-pan into the fire.

Necessarily, a great deal in human life changes as the years roll on. Science grows, knowledge increases, society makes its way to new forms of organization, and the outward fashions of life pass away, and new ones take their place. All this is obvious and inevitable. And so there must of necessity be many points of difference between primitive races and races high up in the scale of civilization. Yet in human life there are certain things which are always the same. Underneath what is variable in man there is that which never changes. Now and again we catch glimpses of this as we read some ancient author, and find that across the gap of ages lived one who, thousands of years ago, in some respects, at least,[263] thought as we think and felt as we feel. The radical fundamental thoughts and passions of mankind all over the world, in every age, are much the same; and so, after consideration, it ought not to be a matter of surprise to find that some of the Sea Dyak proverbs convey precisely the same ideas as the proverbs of the English.



Dyak fairy-tales and legends—I. Danjai and the Were-Tiger’s Sister—II. The Story of Siu, who first taught the Dyaks to observe the omens of birds—III. Pulang Gana, and how he came to be worshipped as the god of the earth.

There are many fairy-tales and legends known to the Sea Dyaks of the present day. As they have no written language, these have been handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation from ancient times. These tales and legends may be divided into two classes:—

1. Those purely fabulous, and related as such, which are simply meant to interest and amuse, and in these respects resemble the fairy-tales familiar to us all.

2. And those believed to be perfectly true, and to record events which have actually taken place, which are the traditions respecting their gods and preternatural beings. These form, in fact, the mythology of the Dyaks. To this latter class belong the many and varied adventures of Klieng, the great warrior hero of ancient times, and his wife Kumang, the Dyak Venus, as well as the traditions relating to the gods believed in by the Dyaks of the present day. To these must be added certain stories which give a reason for some of the curious customs observed by the Dyaks. The three myths which[265] follow belong to this latter class. The Dyak legends are fast being forgotten, and I had the greatest difficulty in obtaining the few here preserved.

I. Danjai and the Were-Tiger’s Sister.

Once upon a time there lived a great Chief named Danjai. He was the head of one of the longest Dyak houses that were ever built. It was situated on a hill in the midst of a large plantation of fruit trees. Danjai was said to be very rich indeed. He possessed much farming land, many fruit trees, many tapang trees, where the wild bees made their abode, and from which the sweet honey is obtained, and in his room there were many valuable jars of various kinds, and also a large number of brass vessels; for the Dyaks convert their wealth into jars and brassware to hand down to posterity. Every year he obtained a plentiful harvest of paddy,[2] much more than he and his family could consume, and he had always much paddy for sale, so much so that the news of his wealth travelled to distant lands, and many from afar off would come and buy paddy from him. Danjai also possessed many slaves, who were ready to help him in his work.

All the people in his house had a very high opinion of his judgment, and were ready to obey his decisions, whenever he settled any of their disputes. So great indeed was his reputation for wisdom that men from distant villages would often consult him and ask his advice when in any difficulty. He had also great fame as a brave warrior, and during expeditions against the[266] enemy, he was the leader of the men of his own village and of many villages around, for all liked to follow such a brave man as Danjai, who was sure to lead them to victory. Over the fireplace in his veranda he had, hanging together in a bunch, the dried heads of the enemies whom he himself had killed.

Now this man Danjai had a very pretty wife whom he had recently married, but the marriage feast had not been held, because he had not yet obtained a human head from the enemy as a token of his love for her: for this girl was of good birth and a Chief’s daughter, and wanted the whole world to know, when they attended her marriage feast, what a brave man her husband was. One day Danjai said to his young wife: “I will hold a meeting of the Chiefs around, and tell them that we must all get our war-boats ready, as I intend leading an expedition against the enemy. I should like to bring you a human head as a token of my love, so that you may not be ashamed of your husband. And as soon as I return, we will have the wedding feast.” Though his wife was sorry that her husband intended leaving her, still she did not oppose his wishes, for she wished him to come back covered with glory. So a council of war was held, and Danjai told the assembled Chiefs what he intended to do, and it was decided that all should begin at once making war-boats, which were to be ready in two months’ time.

Assisted by his slaves and followers, Danjai had been at work at his boat for several weeks, and it was nearly finished. It was a beautiful boat made out of the trunk of one large tree, and Danjai was proud of his work. He was so anxious to finish his boat that one day he started very early in the morning, before his breakfast[267] was ready, and he asked his wife to bring his food to him later on to the part of the jungle where he was working at his boat.

Accordingly, Mrs. Danjai cooked the food and ate her own breakfast. Then she made up a small bundle of rice and also put together some fish and salt, and placed all in a little basket to take to her husband. She had never been out in the jungle by herself before, but she was not afraid, for her husband had told her the way, and she could hear the sound of his adze as he worked at his boat not very far off. She hung her basket over her left shoulder, and, holding her small knife in her right hand, went cheerfully on. Presently she came to the stump of a tree on which was placed a bunch of ripe sibau fruit. They looked so tempting that she could not help eating some of them, and as they were very nice, she put what remained in her basket, saying to herself: “Perhaps Danjai forgot to take these with him and left them here. I will take them to him myself; he will no doubt be glad to eat these ripe fruits after his hard work.”

Now there was in this land a Were-Tiger, that was much feared by all who lived around. He had the appearance of a man, but at times would transform himself into a tiger, and then he would attack human beings and carry off their heads as trophies to his own house. But he never attacked any unless they had first done wrong by taking something which belonged to him. So this Were-Tiger would leave tempting fruit by the side of jungle paths, and on the stumps of trees, in the hope that some tired traveller would take and eat them. And if anyone ate such fruit, then he or she was doomed to be killed by him that same day. But all knew about him, and though he placed many tempting baits in all[268] parts of the jungle, no one touched his fruit, for all feared the fate which awaited them if they did any such things. But Danjai’s wife knew nothing about the Were-Tiger. No one had told her of him, and she had never been out before in the jungle by herself, and she had never been warned not to touch any fruit she might find lying about.

“Oh, Danjai,” she said, as soon as she met her husband, “I am afraid I am rather late. You must be very tired and hungry, working the whole morning at your boat without having had anything to eat. Never mind! Here is your breakfast at last.” And she handed the basket which contained his food to her husband.

Now Danjai was really very hungry, so he was glad to see his food had arrived. He thanked his wife, and at once began to empty the basket.

The first thing he saw was the ripe sibau fruit at the top, and he asked his wife where she got them from. She told him she had found them on the stump of a tree by the wayside, and she said she thought they had been left there by him. She added with a smile that they were very good, as she had eaten some herself.

Then Danjai, brave man though he was, turned pale with fear and anxiety.

“We must not linger here a moment,” he said to his wife. “Hungry though I am, I will not eat my food here. We must both hurry home at once. You have taken and eaten fruit belonging to the Were-Tiger, so much feared by all. It is said that whoever touches his fruit will surely die a terrible death: and you are the first person I know who has done so.”

A Dyak Woman in Everyday Costume

She is wearing a necklace of small silver current coins, fastened together with silver links. The bangles are hollow, and of silver or brass, made separately, but worn several together on each wrist. The two favourite colours for petticoats are blue and red. The red petticoat, as in the picture, has often a design in white worked or woven into it.

Danjai hurriedly gathered together all his tools and told those that were with him of his trouble, and they all[269] started and walked silently back. Danjai was wondering how he was to avert the fate which awaited his young wife. She was silent, because she saw her husband was troubled, and she was sorry that she had caused him grief.

As soon as they arrived at the house, Danjai sent for all the men round about and told them what had happened, how his wife had taken and eaten the fruit of the Were-Tiger. He begged them all to help to shield her, for the Were-Tiger was sure to have his revenge, and come and take the head of his wife.

So they all prepared themselves for the tiger’s visit by sharpening their knives and spears. Some men placed themselves on the roof of the house, others in the veranda. The ladder leading up to the house was also guarded, and so were all parts of the house by which he was likely to force an entrance. As for Danjai’s wife, they hid her beneath some mats and sheets in the room, and twelve brave men stood round her with their swords drawn, ready to save her life even at the cost of their own.

Just before dark they heard the roar of the tiger in the distance. Though still a long way off, the sound was very terrible to hear, and the men all grasped their swords and spears firmly, for they knew the tiger would soon be upon them.

Once more the tiger’s roar sounded, nearer and clearer, and then they heard him crash through the leaf-thatch roof and fall into the room. There was a great commotion among the men, but though all tried to kill the animal, none could see him. Soon after they heard a roar of triumph from the tiger outside the house. They lifted up the mats and sheets which covered Danjai’s wife, and there they saw her headless body! The Were-Tiger[270] had succeeded in his attack, and had carried off the head of his victim!

Loud was the weeping and great the lamentation over her dead body. She was so young to die! And what death could be more terrible than hers whose head had been carried away by her murderer! All in the house mourned her loss for seven days, and during that time the house was very quiet, as all lived in their separate rooms, and did not come out into the common veranda to do work or to talk to each other.

The death of his wife grieved Danjai very much. But though his grief was great, his desire for revenge was greater still.

Very early on the morning of the next day Danjai started after the tiger. The drops of blood which had fallen could plainly be seen on the ground, and he had no difficulty in finding out in what direction the tiger had gone. On and on he tracked the blood till he came to a cave at the foot of a high mountain. The sides of the cave were splashed with blood, so Danjai walked boldly in, determined to revenge the death of his wife. It was not very dark in the cave. In the distance he could see an opening, and he hurried towards it.

He came out on the other side of the mountain, and saw a large plantation of sugar-cane and plantain-trees. Beyond this he saw a long Dyak house.

“This,” he said to himself, “is surely the abode of the Were-Tiger, and soon I shall have an opportunity of revenging the death of my wife.”

He planted two sticks one across the other in the ground to mark the opening in the mountain, so that he might not miss his way on his return, and then he boldly walked towards the house.


He followed a path through the sugar-cane plantation—still tracking the drops of blood upon the ground—until he came to the ladder leading up to the house. He was so anxious to attack his wife’s murderer that he did not pause to ask—as is the usual Dyak custom—whether he might walk up or not, but went straight on into the house. Men sitting in the veranda asked him, as he passed them, where he was going and what he wanted, but he did not answer them. His heart was heavy within him, thinking of his dead wife, and wondering if he would be able to accomplish his task, and whether he would succeed in leaving the house as easily as he came in. But he was determined to avenge his wife’s murder, and he would not shrink from any difficulties in the way.

He stopped at the room of the headman of the house, and a girl asked him to sit down, and spread a mat for him. He did so, and the girl went into the room to fetch the brass vessel containing the betel-nut ingredients which the Dyaks love to chew. As he sat down, he saw drops of blood on the fireplace, and, looking up, he noticed a fresh head, still dripping with blood, among the other skulls hanging there. He recognized it at a glance—it was the head of his loved wife!

The girl came out with the brass vessel of betel-nut, and said: “Help yourself, Danjai. We did not expect you to visit us so soon. Please excuse me for a while; I have to attend to the cooking. But you will not be alone, for my brother will soon be back. He has only gone to the plantation to fetch some sugar-cane.”

So Danjai sat on the mat by himself, thinking what he was to do next, and what he was to say to his wife’s murderer when he came in. Soon the Were-Tiger[272] arrived, carrying on his shoulder a bundle of sugar-cane.

“I am very pleased to see you, Danjai,” he said. “Would you like some sugar-cane? If so, help yourself.”

Danjai was so sad thinking of his wife that he did not notice how curious it was that they should know his name when they had never seen him before. He did not feel at all inclined to eat sugar-cane, but lest his host should think he had come to kill, and to put him off his guard, he pretended to eat a little. He heard the Were-Tiger say to his sister in the room that she was to be sure to have enough food cooked, as Danjai would eat with them that evening. Then he left them and went to the river to bathe.

The sister came out of the room, and spoke to Danjai, who was still sitting in the veranda, and asked him to come into the room, as she had something to say to him.

“Yes, Danjai,” she said to him in a kind tone of voice, “I know of your trouble and I am sorry for you. However, if you follow my advice, all will be well. You must be careful, for my brother is easily put out, and has no scruples about killing any who displease him. Our own people here hate him, for he is so merciless; but no one dares attack him, for all fear him greatly. Now listen attentively to what I have to say. When I put out the plates of rice in the room presently, do not take the one he tells you to have: take any of the others, for the one he wishes you to have is sure to contain some poison. Later on, when you retire to rest, do not spend the night on the mat spread out for you, but sleep somewhere else, and put the wooden mortar for pounding paddy on the[273] mat in your stead; and so again on the second night, place the wooden mill for husking the paddy on your mat; and on the third night a roll of the coarse matting used for treading paddy. If his three attempts to kill you are unsuccessful, then he will be in your power, and will do what you command. But even then there is still danger, and you must not do anything rash, but ask my advice again later on. But go outside now into the veranda, for I think I hear my brother returning from his bath. I must make haste and put out the food for you all to eat.”

Soon the Were-Tiger came in, and, sitting on the mat by Danjai, asked him the news and how matters were in his country. Danjai answered little, for he was very sad; besides, his host always laughed at him whenever he spoke. The fact was that he was amused at the idea of the man whose wife he had killed sitting in his veranda and talking to him in a friendly way.

The sister came out of the room and asked them in to have their meal. All happened as she said it would. Danjai remembered her advice, and did not take the plate of rice his host offered him. But he was too sad to eat much.

In the evening Danjai and the Were-Tiger sat by a fire in the veranda. Over this fire hung several human heads. The tears came into Danjai’s eyes as he sat there and saw the head of his dear wife being scorched by the fire. He felt inclined there and then to grasp his sword and attack her murderer; but he restrained himself, remembering the advice of the Tiger’s sister.

The Were-Tiger said to him with a nasty laugh: “What is troubling you that you should weep?”


“I am not troubled about anything,” said Danjai; “but the smoke of the fire is too much for my eyes, and it makes them water and feel sore.”

“If so,” said his host, “let us put out the fire and retire to rest, as it is very late.”

Two mats were spread out for them, one on each side of the fireplace, and they lay down to sleep. But Danjai kept awake, and when his companion was asleep, he rose and placed the wooden mortar for pounding paddy on his mat, and covered it over with a sheet; and he himself retired to a safe place, as he was advised to do by the Tiger’s sister. He watched to see what would happen, and he was not disappointed. Not long after, he saw the Were-Tiger wake up and fetch a sword, and walk up to the place where he was supposed to be asleep. With the sword he made two or three vicious cuts at the wooden mortar, and said:

“Now, Danjai, this will settle you. You will not think of revenging yourself on me any more.”

Then Danjai cried out from where he was: “What is the matter? What are you doing?”

“Oh, Danjai! Is that you?” said his host. “I did not mean to hurt you. I had a bad dream, and I sometimes walk in my sleep. How lucky it is you were not lying on the mat! I should have certainly killed you, and I should never have forgiven myself for doing so. Please understand I meant no harm to you, and let us lie down to rest again.”

On the two following nights the Were-Tiger attempted to kill Danjai, but failed each time, because, following the advice given him, Danjai placed first the wooden mill for husking the paddy on his mat, and next a roll of coarse matting used for treading paddy. His host[275] made the same excuse for his strange behaviour each time.

On the morning of the fourth day, after the Were-Tiger had left the house to see whether any fish had been caught in his fish-trap, his sister asked Danjai to come into the room, as she had something to say to him before he left to return home.

“Now, Danjai,” she said, “as I told you before, since my brother has not been able to kill you these three days, he is in your power. After breakfast ask him to accompany you and show you the way back to your country. When you have both come to the farther end of the sugar-cane plantation, beg him to sit down for a little while, and say you would like to eat some sugar-cane before you leave him and go on your journey alone. When he gives you the sugar-cane, ask him to lend you his sword, giving as an excuse that yours is not sharp enough for peeling the sugar-cane, or that it is stuck fast in its sheath and cannot be drawn. When he hands you his sword, you must attack him with it and kill him. My brother is invulnerable to any other sword but his own. When you have killed him, cut off his head and bring it to me, and I will give you your wife’s head in exchange for it.”

A few minutes after this conversation the Were-Tiger returned with a basket full of fish. Some of these were soon cooked, and they sat down to breakfast.

Soon after they had eaten, Danjai told his host that he must be returning to his own country, and asked him to accompany him and show him his way back. So they started together and walked through the sugar-cane plantation.

Just as they came near the end of it, Danjai begged his[276] companion to stop. He said he would like to have some sugar-cane before going on.

“I am sorry I did not offer you any,” said the Were-Tiger; “it was very forgetful of me. Never mind, I will at once cut down some sugar-cane for us.”

When he had brought the sugar-cane and had finished peeling the piece he wanted for himself, Danjai said to him:

“Please lend me your sword, for mine is stuck fast in its sheath, and I cannot draw it out.”

The Were-Tiger, suspecting nothing, handed the sword to him, and Danjai began peeling his sugar-cane.

Just then the Were-Tiger turned round to look at his house, and Danjai, seizing his opportunity, gave him a blow with the sword and killed him. Then he cut off the head and carried it back with him to the house he had just left.

When he came near, he saw the sister watching for his return, and standing at the top of the ladder leading up to the house. He followed her into the house, and gave her the head of her brother.

“You ought to be quite satisfied now, Danjai,” she said, “for you have taken your revenge for the death of your wife. I want you to promise me certain things before you go. First of all, you must not let anybody know that you have killed my brother. Next, on your return, you must go on the warpath and bring back to me the head of a woman, to enable me to put away the mourning of myself and my relatives for the death of my brother. And then I hope you will take me with you as your wife. And I give you now some locks of my hair, to be used as a charm to make you invisible to the enemy, when you are on the warpath. Lastly, I advise you and your people[277] never to eat or to take away any fruit you may find lying about in the jungle, on the stump of a tree, or on a rock, without knowing for certain who put it there and to whom it belongs, or making sure that it has fallen from some tree near. This must be remembered from generation to generation. Whoever disobeys this advice will be punished by death. You may now have the head of your wife to take back to your country.”

As she finished speaking, she handed him his wife’s head, and Danjai started off at once, for he was anxious to get back.

He reached his house late that same evening. All his friends were glad to see him come back safe and sound. They had given up all hope of seeing him again. They were also pleased to see he had been successful in bringing back the head of his dead wife.

Soon after Danjai’s return from the Were-Tiger’s country, he gathered all his followers together and told them that he intended going on the warpath. As soon as they were able to get everything ready, they started for the enemy’s country. They were very successful, and succeeded in taking many heads; but Danjai, protected as he was by the charm which he had received from the Were-Tiger’s sister, was more successful than the others. They resumed with much rejoicing, and a great feast was held in honour of their victory. The human heads were placed on a costly dish, and the women carried them into the house with dancing and singing.

A few days after, Danjai started to fulfil his promise to the Were-Tiger’s sister. He brought her back with him as his wife, and they lived very happily together for many years.

This story explains why the Dyaks, even at the present[278] day, dare not eat any fruit they may find lying on the stump of a tree, or on a rock in the jungle. They fear that evil will happen to them as it did to Danjai’s wife.

II. The Story of Siu, who first Taught the Dyaks to Plant Paddy and to Observe the Omens of Birds.

Many thousands of years ago, before the paddy-plant was known, the Dyaks lived on tapioca, yams, potatoes, and such fruit as they could procure. It was not till Siu taught them how to plant paddy that such a thing as rice was known. The story of how he came to learn of the existence of this important article of food, and how he and his son Seragunting introduced it among their people, is set forth in the following pages.

Siu was the son of a great Dyak Chief. His father died when he was quite a child, and at the time this story begins he lived with his mother, and was the head of a long Dyak house in which lived some three hundred families. He was strong and active, and handsome in appearance, and there was no one in the country round equal to him either in strength or comeliness. When ready to go on the warpath, he was the admiration of all the Dyak damsels. On these occasions he appeared in a many-coloured waist-cloth, twelve fathoms in length, wound round and round his body. On his head he wore a plaited rattan band, in which were stuck some long feathers of the hornbill. His coat was woven of threads of bright colours. On each well-shaped arm was an armlet of ivory. To his belt were fastened his sword and[279] the many charms and amulets that he possessed. With his spear in his right hand and his shield on his left arm, he presented a splendid type of a Dyak warrior. But it is not of Siu’s bravery nor of his deeds of valour against the enemy that this tale relates. It tells only of an adventure which ended in his discovery of paddy.

He proposed to the young men of his house that they should take their blowpipes with them and go into the jungle to shoot birds. So one morning they all started early. Each man had with him his bundle of food for the day, and each went a different way, as they wished to see, on returning in the evening, who would be the most successful of them all.

Siu went towards a mountain not far from his house, and wandered about the whole morning in the jungle, but, strange to say, he did not see any bird, nor did he meet with any animal. Everything was very quiet and still. Worn out with fatigue, he sat down to rest under a large tree, and, feeling hungry, he ate some of the food he had brought with him. It was now long past midday, and he had not been able to kill a single bird! Surely none of the others could be so unfortunate as he! Determined not to be beaten by the others, after a short rest he started again, and wandered on in quest of birds. The sun had gone half-way down in the western heaven, and Siu was beginning to lose heart, when suddenly he heard not far off the sound of birds. Hurrying in that direction, he came to a wild fig-tree covered with ripe fruit, which a large number of birds were busy eating. Never before had he seen such a sight! On this one tree the whole feathered population of the forest seemed to have assembled together! Looking more carefully, he was surprised to see that the different kinds of birds[280] were not all intermingled together as is usually the case, but each species was apart from the others. He saw a large flock of wild pigeons on one branch, and next to them were the parrots, all feeding together, but keeping distinct from them. Upon the same tree there were hornbills, woodpeckers, wild pigeons, and all the different kinds of birds he had ever seen.

Siu hid himself under the thick leaves of a shrub growing near, very much pleased at his luck, and, taking a poisoned dart, he placed it in his blow-pipe, and shot it out. He had aimed at one bird in a particular flock, and hit it. But that bird was not the only one that fell dead at his feet. To his astonishment, he saw that many of the other birds near it were killed also. Again he shot out a dart, and again the same thing happened. In a very short time Siu had killed as many birds as he could carry. As the little basket in which he had brought his food was too small to hold them all, he set to work and made a coarse basket with the bark of a pendok tree growing near. Then he put his load on his back and started to return home, glad that he had been so successful.

He tried to return the same way by which he had come, but as he had not taken the precaution to cut marks in the trees he passed, he very soon found himself in difficulties. He wandered about, sometimes passing by some large tree which he seemed to remember seeing in the morning. He climbed up a steep hill and went several miles through a large forest, but did not find the jungle path which he had followed early in the day. It was beginning to grow dusk and the sun had nearly set.

A Dyak using a Wooden Blow-pipe

He is seated on the ground with his blow-pipe held in position to his mouth. He is just in the act of blowing out one of his poisoned darts, some of which are lying on the ground in front of him. To his waist is fastened the bamboo receptacle in which the darts are kept.

“I must hurry on,” said Siu to himself, “in the hope[281] of finding some house where I can get food and shelter. Once it is dark I shall be forced to spend the night in the jungle.”

Coming to a part of the jungle which had lately been a garden, he thought there must be a path from it leading to some house, so he began to walk round it. Soon he found an old disused path, which he followed. By this time it was quite dark, and Siu made haste to reach the Dyak house which he felt sure was not very far off. He came to a well, and near at hand he saw the lights and heard the usual sounds of a Dyak house. He was glad to think that he would not have to spend the night in the jungle, but would be able to get food and shelter at the house. He stopped to have a bath, and hid the birds he was carrying and his blow-pipe and quiver in the brushwood near the well, hoping to take them with him when he started to return the next morning.

As he approached the house, he could hear the voices of the people there. When he came to the bottom of the ladder leading up to the house, he shouted: “Oh, you people in the house, will you allow a stranger to walk up?” At once there was dead silence in the house. No one answered. Again Siu asked the same question, and after a pause a voice answered, “Yes; come up!”

He walked up into the house. To his surprise he saw no one in the open veranda in front of the different rooms. That part of a Dyak house, usually so crowded, was quite empty. Nor did he hear the voices of people talking in any of the rooms. All was silent. Even the person who answered him was not there to receive him.

He saw a dim light in the veranda further on, in the middle of the house, and walked towards it, wondering[282] the while what could have happened to all the people in the house, for not long before he had heard many voices.

“This seems to be a strange house,” he said to himself. “When I was bathing, and when I walked up to the house, it seemed to be well inhabited, but now that I come in, I see no one and hear no voice.”

When Siu reached the light he sat down on a mat. Presently he heard a woman’s voice in the room say: “Sit down, Siu; I will bring out the pinang[3] and sireh[4] to you.”

Siu was very pleased to hear a human voice. Soon a young and remarkably beautiful girl came out of the room with the chewing ingredients, which she placed before him.

“Here you are at last, Siu,” she said; “I expected you would come earlier. How is it you are so late?”

Siu explained that he had stopped at the well to have a bath, as he was hot and tired.

“You must be very hungry,” said the girl; “wait a moment while I prepare some food. After you have eaten, we can have our talk together.”

When Siu was left to himself, he wondered what it all meant. Here was a long Dyak house, built for more than a hundred families to live in, and yet it seemed quite deserted. The only person in it appeared to be the beautiful girl who was cooking his food for him. Again, he was surprised that she knew his name and expected him that day.

“Come in, Siu,” said the voice from the room; “your food is ready.”


Siu was very hungry, and went in at once, and sat down to eat his dinner.

When they had done eating, she cleared away the plates and put things back into their places and tidied the room. Then she spread out a new mat for him, and brought out the pinang and sireh, and bade him be seated, as she wished to have a chat with him.

Siu had many questions to ask, and as soon as they were both seated, he began:—

“Why are you all alone in this house? This is a long house, and many families must live in it. Where are the others? Why is everything so silent now? I am sure I heard voices before I entered the house; but now I hear no sound.”

“Do not let us talk about this house or the people in it for the present. I would much rather talk of other matters. Tell me of your own people, and what news you bring from your country.”

“There is no news to give you,” Siu replied. “We have been rather badly off for food, as our potatoes and yams did not turn out so well this year as we hoped.”

“Tell me what made you come in this direction, and how it was you found out this house.”

“While I was hunting in the jungle to-day I lost my way. After wandering about a long time, I found a path which I followed and came to this house. It was kind of you to take me in and give me food. If I had not found this house, I would have been lost in the jungle. To-morrow morning you must show me the way to my country, and also I must beg of you some food for my journey back. My mother is sure to be anxious about me. She is left all alone now that I am away.[284] My father died a long time ago, and I am her only son.”

“Do not go away as soon as to-morrow morning. Stay here a few days at any rate.”

At first Siu would not consent, but she spoke so nicely to him that she succeeded in persuading him to stay there at least a week. Then he went out to the veranda, and she brought out a mat for him to sleep on and a sheet to cover himself with. As Siu was very tired, he soon fell sound asleep, and did not wake up till late on the following morning.

He saw some little children playing about the next day, but he did not see any grown-up people. He went into the room to have his morning meal, but saw no one there, except the girl he had seen the evening before. He felt very much inclined to ask her again where the people of the house were, but he did not do so, as she did not seem inclined to speak about them.

Now though Siu knew it not, this was the house of the great Singalang Burong, the Ruler of the Spirit-World. He was able to metamorphose himself and his followers into any form. When going forth on an expedition against the enemy, he would transform himself and his followers into birds, so that they might travel more quickly. Over the high trees of the jungle, over the broad rivers, sometimes even across the sea, Singalang Burong and his flock would fly. There was no trouble about food, for in the forests there were always some wild trees in fruit, and, while assuming the form of birds, they lived on the food of birds. In his own house and among his own people, Singalang Burong appeared as a man. He had eight daughters, and the girl who was cooking food for Siu was the youngest of them.


The reason why the people of the house were so quiet, and did not make their appearance, was because they were all in mourning for many of their relatives who had been killed some time back. Only the women and children were at home, because that same morning all the men had gone forth to make a raid upon some neighbouring tribe, so that they might bring home some human heads to enable them to end their mourning. For it was the custom that the people of a house continued to be in mourning for dead relatives until one or more human heads were brought to the house. Then a feast was held, and all mourning was at an end.

After Siu had been in the house seven days, he thought he ought to think of returning to his own people. By this time he was very much in love with the girl who had been so kind to him, and he wished above all things to marry her, and take her back with him to his own country.

“I have been here a whole week,” he said to her, “and though you have not told me your name, still I seem to know you very well. I have a request to make, and I hope you will not be angry at what I say.”

“Speak on; I promise I will not be angry whatever you may say.”

“I have learnt to love you very much,” said Siu, “and I would like to marry you if you will consent, so that I shall not leave you, but take you with me, when I return to my own land. Also I wish you to tell me your name, and why this house is so silent, and where all the people belonging to it are.”

“I will consent to marry you, for I also love you. But you must first promise me certain things. In the first place, you must not tell your people of this house, and[286] what you have seen here. Then also you must promise faithfully never to hurt a bird or even to hold one in your hands. If ever you break this promise, then we cease to be man and wife. And, of course, you must never kill a bird, because, if you do so, I shall not only leave you, but revenge myself on you. Do you promise these things?”

“Yes,” said Siu; “I promise not to speak of what I have seen here until you give me leave to do so. And as you do not wish it, I will never touch or handle a bird, and certainly never kill one.”

“Now that you have promised what I wish, I will tell you about myself and the people of this house,” said the maiden. “My name is Endu-Sudan-Galinggam-Tinchin-Mas (the girl Sudan painted like a gold ring), but my people call me by my pet names, Bunsu Burong (the youngest of the bird family), and Bunsu Katupong (the youngest of the Katupong family). This house, as you noticed, seems very empty. The reason is that a month ago many of our people were killed by some of the people of your house, and we are all still in mourning for them. As you know, when our relatives have lately died, we stay silent in our rooms, and do not come out to receive visitors or to entertain them. Why are your people so cruel to us? They often kill our men when they go out fishing or hunting. On the morning of the day on which you arrived, all the men of this house went on the warpath, so as to obtain the heads of some of the enemy to enable us to put away our mourning. With us as with you, it is necessary that one or more human heads be brought into the house before the inmates can give up sorrowing for their dead relatives and friends. You see us now in the form of human beings, but all the people[287] in this house are able to transform themselves into birds. My father, Singalang Burong, is the head of this house. I am the youngest of eight sisters; we have no brother alive. Our only brother died not long ago, and we are still in mourning for him, and that is the reason why my sisters did not come out to greet you.”

Siu heard with surprise all she had to say. He said to himself that it was lucky he did not bring up to the house the basket of birds which he had killed in the jungle, and that he had hidden them with his blow-pipe and quiver containing poisoned darts in the brushwood near the well. He determined to say nothing about the matter, as probably some of her friends or relations were among the birds that were killed by him.

So Siu married Bunsu Burong, and continued to live in the house for several weeks.

One day he said to his wife: “I have been here a long time. My people must surely be wondering where I am, and whether I am still alive. My mother, too, must be very anxious about me. I should like to return to my people, and I want you to accompany me. My mother and my friends are sure to welcome you as my wife.”

“Oh yes, I will gladly accompany you back to your home. But you must remember and say nothing of the things you have seen in this house. When shall we start?”

“We can start early to-morrow morning, soon after breakfast,” answered Siu.

They started early the next day, taking with them food enough for four days, as they expected the journey would last as long as that. Siu’s wife seemed to know the way, and after journeying for three days, they came to the stream near the house, and they stopped to have a bath.[288] Some of the children of the house saw them there, and ran up to the house, and said: “Siu has come back, and with him is a beautiful woman, who seems to be his wife.”

Some of the older people checked the children, saying: “It cannot be Siu; he has been dead for a long time. Don’t mention his name, for if his mother hears you talk of him, it will make her very unhappy.”

But the children persisted in saying that it was indeed Siu that they had seen. Just then Siu and his wife appeared and walked up to the house.

Siu said to his wife: “The door before which I hang up my sword is the door of my room. Walk straight in. You will find my mother there, and she will be sure to gladly welcome you as her daughter-in-law.”

When they came into the house, all the inmates rushed out to meet them, and to congratulate Siu on his safe return. They asked him many questions: where had he been living all this time? how he came to be married? and what was the name of his wife’s country? But Siu answered little, as he remembered the promise he had made to his wife, that he would not speak of what he had seen in her house.

When they reached the door of his room, Siu hung up his sword, and his wife went into the room. But she did not see his mother, as she was ill, and was lying in her mosquito-curtain. Then Siu followed his wife into the room, and called out: “Mother, where are you? Here is your son Siu come back!”

But his mother made no answer, so he opened her curtain, and saw her lying down, covered up with a blanket. She had been so troubled at the thought that her son was dead, that she had refused to eat, and had become quite ill.


She would not believe that her son had really returned alive, and she said: “Do not try to deceive me; my son Siu is dead.”

“I am indeed your son Siu, and I have come back alive and well!”

“No,” she replied, “my son Siu is dead. Leave me alone; I have not long to live. Let me die in peace, and follow my son to the grave.”

Siu then went to the box in which his clothes were kept and put on the things that his mother had often seen him wear. Then he went to her again, and said: “Even if you do not believe that I am your son, at any rate you might turn round and look at me, to make sure that I am not your son.”

Then she looked at him, and saw that it was indeed her son. She was so pleased at his return that she soon recovered from her illness, which was really caused by her sorrow and refusal to eat. Siu told his mother of his marriage, and she welcomed his wife with joy.

The women all crowded round Siu’s wife, and asked her what her name was. She answered: “Endu-Sudan-Galinggam-Tinchin-Mas” (The girl Sudan painted like a gold ring). They looked at her in surprise; they had never heard of such a name before.

“Where do you come from?” they asked. “What is the name of your country?”

Nanga Niga Bekurong Bebali nyadi Tekuyong Mabong” (The mouth of the hidden Niga stream changed into an empty shell),[5] was the reply.

They were astonished at her answer. They had never heard of such a country. They asked her of her people,[290] but she would not say anything more of herself or speak about her people.

Everybody admired the great beauty of Siu’s wife. No more questions were asked of her, as she seemed unwilling to answer. Her parentage remained a mystery.

In process of time Siu’s wife bore him a son whom they named Seragunting. He was a fine child, and as befitted the grandson of Singalang Burong, he grew big and strong in a miraculously short time, and when he was three years old, he was taller and stronger than others four times his age.

One day, as Seragunting was playing with the other boys, a man brought up some birds which he had caught in a trap. As he walked through the house he passed Siu, who was sitting in the open veranda. Siu, forgetting the promise he had made to his wife, asked him to show him the birds, and he took one in his hands and stroked it. His wife was sitting not far off, and saw him hold the bird, and was very much vexed that he had broken his promise to her.

She got up and returned to her room. Siu came in and noticed that she was troubled, and asked her what was wrong. She said that she was only tired.

She said to herself: “My husband has broken his word to me. He has done the thing he promised me he would never do. I told him he was never to hold a bird in his hands, and that if he did such a thing, I would leave him. I cannot stay here in this house any longer. I must return to the house of my father, Singalang Burong.”

She took the water-vessels in her hands, and went out as if to fetch water. But when she came to the well, she placed the water-vessels on the ground and disappeared in the jungle.

A Dyak Girl

Seated on a mat and folding up a petticoat before putting it away. The girls are very careful of their clothing and are often very vain, but when they are married they frequently become very untidy. A woman’s wardrobe is not extensive. It consists of two petticoats and one jacket as a general rule.

Scraping Palm Leaves for Fibre

With this the women tie up the threads they weave, so that when they are dipped in any particular dye the parts which are tied may not be affected by the dye. It is by this means that the different patterns in Dyak cloth are obtained.


In the meantime Seragunting, tired with his play, came back in search of his mother. She was very fond indeed of him, and he expected her to come to him as soon as he called out to her. But he was disappointed. No one answered his call, and when he looked in the room she was not there. He asked his father where his mother was, and he told him that she had just gone to the well to fetch water, and would soon be back.

But hour after hour passed, and she did not return to the house. So Seragunting began to be anxious, and asked his father to accompany him to the well to look for her. At first his father refused to do so, but when he saw his son crying for his mother, he went with him to the well. They found the water-vessels there, but saw no signs of her.

“Your mother is not here, Seragunting,” said Siu. “Perhaps she has gone to the garden to get some vegetables for our dinner. Let us go back to the house. If your mother is not back early to-morrow morning, we will go and look for her.” So they both returned to the house, taking back with them the water-gourds which Siu’s wife had left at the well.

Early the next morning Seragunting and his father went in search of her. They took with them only a little food, as they expected to find her not very far off. But they wandered the whole day, and saw no signs of her. They spent the night under a large tree in the jungle. Early the next morning they were surprised to find a small bundle of food, wrapped up in leaves, near Seragunting. This food was evidently meant for him alone, as it was not enough for two, but he gave some of it to his father, who ate sparingly of it, so that his son might not be hungry. They wandered on for several days, and[292] every night the same strange thing occurred—a bundle of food was left near Seragunting. Siu suggested to his son that they should return; but Seragunting, who during the journey had grown up into a strong lad, with a will of his own, would not consent to do so, as he was determined to find his mother.

They wandered on for several days, deeper and deeper into the jungle, but could find no signs of her whom they sought. At last they came to the sea-shore. Here they rested for some days, in the hope that some boat might pass. Still, as before, each morning a bundle of food was found by Seragunting. If it were not for this food, they would have long ago died of starvation. On this they managed to live, waiting hopefully to see some boat appear to take them on their journey.

One day as Seragunting was watching, he heard the sound of paddles, and saw in the distance several long boats approaching. He hailed the first, and asked the men in it to take him and his father with them. The boat made for the shore, but the man in the bows recognized the two wanderers, and shouted out: “It is Siu and his son Seragunting; do not let them come into the boat.” The boat went on and left them to their fate. The same thing happened in the case of each of the other boats. As soon as Siu and his son were recognized, no one would help them.

Now these were the boats of the sons-in-law of Singalang Burong: Katupong, Beragai, Bejampong, Papau, Nendak, Kutok, and Embuas. They were not pleased at their sister-in-law marrying a mere mortal like Siu, and so refused to help him and his son.

The next day Seragunting saw what seemed to be a dark cloud come towards him over the sea. As it came nearer,[293] it took the form of a gigantic spider, carrying some food and clothes.

“Do not be afraid,” said the Spider; “I have come to help you and your father. I have brought you food and clothing. When you have eaten and changed your clothes I will take you across the water to the land on the other side. My name is Emplawa Jawa (the Spider of Java). I know your history, and I will lead you to your mother whom you seek.”

After they had eaten and put on the new clothes brought them, the spider told them to go with him across the sea. They were not to be afraid, but to follow his track, not turning to the right hand nor to the left. They obeyed his words. Strange to say, the water became as hard as a sandbank under their feet. For a long time they were out of sight of land, but towards evening they approached the opposite shore, and saw a landing-place where there were a large number of boats. Not far off were several houses, and one longer and more imposing than any of the others. To this house the Spider directed Seragunting, telling him that he would find his mother there. The Spider then left them. As it was late, they did not go up to the house that evening, but spent the night in one of the boats at the landing-place. Among the boats were those belonging to the sons-in-law of Singalang Burong, which had passed Siu and his son as they waited on the sea-shore for some boat to take them across the sea.

When Seragunting and his father woke up next morning, they saw that the road leading up to the house had sharpened pieces of bamboo planted close together to prevent their walking up to it. As they were wondering what they were to do next, a fly came to Seragunting, and said:


“Do not be afraid to walk up. Tread on the spikes that I alight on; they will not hurt you. When you come to the house you will find swords with blades turned upwards fastened to the ladder. Tread on the blades that I alight on, and walk boldly up into the house.”

They did as the fly advised them, and were not hurt. The bamboo spikes crumbled under their feet, and the sword-blades they trod on were blunt and harmless.

The people of the house took no notice of them, and they sat down in the veranda of the house. Then the fly came to Seragunting, and whispered to him: “You must now follow me into the room. Your mother is there, lying in her mosquito curtain. I will point out to you which it is, and you must wake her up and tell her who you are. She will be very pleased to see you. Then when you come out into the veranda and see the sons-in-law of Singalang Burong, you must greet them as your uncles. They will disown you, and pretend that you are no relation of theirs. But do not be afraid. You will be victorious in the end.”

Seragunting followed the fly into the room, and went to the curtain on which it alighted. He called out to his mother, and she awoke and saw with joy her son. She embraced him, and he said to her:

“How is it you went away and left us? We missed you so much, and were so sorry to lose you, that my father and I have been travelling for many days and nights in search of you. Now our troubles are over, for I have found you.”

“My dear son,” she said as she caressed him, “though I left you I did not forget you. It was I who placed the food by you every night. I left your father because he broke the promise he made to me. But you are my own[295] son, and I have been wishing to see you ever since I left your house. It was I who sent the Spider to help you and show you your way here. My love for you is as great as it ever was. We will go out now into the veranda, and I will introduce you to your uncles and aunts, and to your grandfather. They may not welcome you, because they were opposed to my marriage to your father. But do not fear them. We will be more than a match for them all.”

Then she spoke to her husband Siu, whom she was glad to meet again. All three then went out into the veranda, which was now full of people. Seragunting called the sons-in-law of Singalang Burong his uncles, but they refused to acknowledge him as their nephew.

They proposed several ordeals to prove the truth of his words, that he was indeed the grandson of Singalang Burong. In all of these Seragunting came off victorious.

As the men and boys were spinning their tops, they asked Seragunting to join them. He had no top of his own, so he asked his mother for one. She took an egg and uttered some mysterious words over it, and immediately it became a top. This she gave to her son, who went and joined the others in the game. Whenever Seragunting aimed at a top, he always hit it and smashed it. None of the others were a match for him. In a short time all the tops, except that of Seragunting, were broken in pieces.

Then they suggested a wrestling match. Seragunting was quite ready to try a fall with any of them, old or young. Some of their best wrestlers came forward. The first two were overthrown by him so easily, that the others saw it was no use their attempting to wrestle with Seragunting.


As a last trial they proposed that all should go out hunting. Here they hoped to be more fortunate. All the sons-in-law of Singalang Burong took their good hunting dogs with them, confident of success. Seragunting was told that he could have any of the other dogs left in the house. There he saw a few old dogs, weak and useless for hunting. With these he was expected to compete against the others, and if he were not successful, both he and his father were to be killed! Seragunting consented even to such an unfair ordeal as that. He called to him an old sickly-looking dog and gently stroked it. At once it became young and strong! While the others went forth into the jungle with a pack of hounds, Seragunting was only accompanied by one dog. In the evening Katupong, Beragai, Bejampong, and the others all returned unsuccessful. Soon after Seragunting’s dog appeared, chasing a huge boar, which made a stand at the foot of the ladder of the house. Seragunting asked the others to kill the beast if they dared. The spears cast at it glided off and left the beast unharmed. Some of those who were rash enough to go near the animal had a close escape from being torn in pieces by its tusks.

Seragunting, armed with nothing better than a little knife belonging to his mother, walked up to the infuriated animal and stabbed it in a vital part, and it fell down dead at his feet.

After these marvellous feats, all were compelled to admit that Seragunting was a true grandson of the great Singalang Burong. They all acknowledged him as such, and he was taken to his grandfather, who was pleased to see the lad, and promised to help him throughout his life.

Dyaks making a Dam for Tuba Fishing

The poison from the tuba root is put in the water some distance up river, and the Dyaks follow it as it drifts, and spear and net the poisoned fish. The tuba does not seem to affect the flesh of the fish, which can be cooked and eaten. Many fish swim down river to escape the poison. These come to this dam, in which there is an opening leading to an enclosure; in this the fish congregate and are afterwards captured.

But Siu was unhappy in his new home. He could not[297] help thinking of his mother, whom he had left alone, and he was anxious to return to his own people. He begged his wife to accompany him back to his old home, but she refused to do so. It was decided that Siu and his son should stay in the house of Singalang Burong till they had obtained such knowledge as would be useful to them in the future, and that then they were to return to the lower world, bringing with them the secrets they had learnt from those wiser and more powerful than themselves.

All the people of the house were now most kind to Siu and his son, and were most anxious to teach them all they could. They were taken on a war expedition against the enemy, so that they might learn the science and art of Dyak warfare. They were taught how to set traps to catch deer and wild pig. They were shown the different methods of catching fish, and learnt to make the different kinds of fish-trap used by the Dyaks of the present day. They remained in Singalang Burong’s house that whole year so that they might have a complete and practical knowledge of the different stages of paddy-growing.

When the year was ended, Seragunting’s mother took him and Siu to see her father, Singalang Burong, so that they might receive from him his advice, as well as such charms as he might wish to give them before they left to return to the lower world of mortals.

Singalang Burong was sitting in his chair of state, and received them most kindly. He bade them be seated on the mat at his feet, as he had many things to say to them. Then he explained to Siu and his son who he was, and the worship due to him, and they learnt also about the observance of omens, both good and bad.

“I am the Ruler of the Spirit-World,” said Singalang[298] Burong, “and have the power to make men successful in all they undertake. At all times if you wish for my help, you must call upon me and make offerings to me. Especially must this be done before you go to fight against the enemy, for I am the God of War, and help those who pay me due respect.

“You have learnt here how to plant paddy. I will give you some paddy to take away with you, and when you get back to your own country, you can teach men how to cultivate it. You will find rice a much more strengthening article of food than the yams and potatoes you used to live upon, and you will become a strong and hardy race.

“And to help you in your daily work, my sons-in-law will always tell you whether that you do is right or wrong. In every work that you undertake you must pay heed to the voices of the sacred birds—Katupong, Beragai, Bejampong, Papau, Nendak, Kutok, and Embuas. These birds, named after my sons-in-law, represent them, and are the means by which I make known my wishes to mankind. When you hear them, remember it is myself speaking through my sons-in-law for encouragement or for warning. Whatever work you may be engaged in,—farm-work, house-building, fishing, or hunting—wherever you may be you must always do as these birds direct. Whenever you have a feast, you must make an offering to me, and you must call upon my sons-in-law to come and partake of the feast. If you do not do these things, some evil is sure to happen to you. I am willing to help you and to give you prosperity, but I expect due respect to be paid to me, and will not allow my commands to be disobeyed.”

Then Singalang Burong presented them with many[299] charms to take away with them. They were of various kinds. Some had the power to make the owner brave and fortunate in war. Others were to preserve him in good health, or to make him successful in his paddy-planting, and cause him to have good harvests.

Siu and Seragunting then bade their friends farewell and started to return. As soon as they had descended the ladder of the house of Singalang Burong, they were swiftly transported through the air by some mysterious power, and in a moment they found themselves at the bathing-place of their own house.

Their friends crowded round them, glad to see them back safe and well. They were taken with much rejoicing to the house. Friends and neighbours were told of their return, and a great meeting was held that evening. All gathered round the two adventurers, who told them of their strange experiences in the far country of the Spirit Birds. The charms received from Singalang Burong were handed round for general admiration. The new seed, paddy, was produced, and the good qualities of rice as an article of food explained. The people congregated there had never seen paddy before, but all determined to be guided by Siu and Seragunting, and to plant it in future. The different names of the sacred birds were told to the assembled people, and all were warned to pay due respect to their cries.

And so, according to the ancient legend, ended the old primitive life of the Dyak, when he lived upon such poor food as the fruits of the jungle, and any yams and potatoes he happened to plant near his house; the old blind existence, in which there was nothing to guide him; and then began his new life, in which he advanced forward a step, and learnt to have regularly, year by year, his seed-time[300] and harvest, and to know that there were unseen powers ruling the universe, whose will might be learnt by mankind, and obedience to whom would bring success and happiness.

III. Pulang-Gana, and how He came to be Worshipped as the God of the Earth.

Long, long ago, though the Dyaks knew of paddy, and planted it every year, yet they had very poor crops, because they did not know what god owned the land, and as they did not offer him sacrifices he did nothing to help them. In those days there lived together seven brothers and their only sister. The brothers’ names were Bui-Nasi, Belang-Pinggang, Bejit-Manai, Bunga-Jawa, Litan-Dai, Kenyawang, and Pulang-Gana, and the sister’s Puchong-Kempat. They lived on a hill by the side of a broad river. On all sides were wide plains, and beyond them high hills rose in the distance. Most of these plains were covered with thick jungle, and only a few clearings where paddy had been planted could be seen.

Not far from the house the brothers had a garden in which they planted potatoes, yams, sugar-cane, and tapioca; but a porcupine would often come at night and do much damage to the garden. They bade their youngest brother, Pulang-Gana, keep watch, directing him to drive away the animal or kill it if he could. But all his efforts were vain. When he was awake the animal did not come, but as soon as he fell asleep the porcupine would creep in quietly and eat up the potatoes and yams. The elder brothers were not kind to Pulang-Gana. They would not[301] keep watch themselves, but whenever they saw fresh damage done they not only scolded their younger brother, but beat him with sticks.

“He is only lazy,” they said, “and deserves a thrashing. He does nothing but sleep, and is too lazy to wake up at night and drive the porcupine away!”

Poor Pulang-Gana! His was a hard lot indeed!

He determined to keep careful watch one night, and, whatever it cost him, to kill the porcupine, so that his brothers might have no more cause for blaming him. That night he did not sleep at all. The porcupine came just before dawn, when all was still. Pulang-Gana was awake, and went after it, determined to kill it. The animal ran away, and Pulang-Gana followed. The moon was shining brightly, and he had no difficulty in seeing in what direction the animal went. Every now and then the porcupine stopped, but as soon as Pulang-Gana came up it started off again, and he was not able to kill it; so the animal went on, and Pulang-Gana followed, determined not to give up the chase until he had effected his purpose.

The sun was beginning to rise in the east, and still Pulang-Gana pursued the porcupine.

“Sooner or later,” he said to himself, “I must catch it up. The animal is already tired. I will not return home till I have killed it.”

The porcupine now came to the foot of a rocky mountain. Pulang-Gana, thinking the chase would soon be over, hurried on, but before he could reach the animal it had escaped through an opening in the solid rock. The cave into which it had disappeared was large enough for a man to stand upright in, and Pulang-Gana said to himself:—


“Now I have you. Wait till I have a light to show me where you are, and then I will come in and kill you.”

He collected some dry branches, and tied them together for a torch. He found a piece of dry soft wood, and also a short stick of some hard wood, the point of which he sharpened. With the palms of his hands he worked the small stick and drilled a hole in the soft wood. Soon it began to smoke, and with the aid of some dry twigs he blew the fire into a blaze; then he lighted his torch, and hurried into the cave after the porcupine.

He saw the animal a little distance ahead of him, and followed it leisurely. There was no need for haste, as he would be able to kill it easily enough when he drove it to the end of the cave, and it had no means of escape. The cave seemed to extend a great way into the mountain. After a few hours’ walking Pulang-Gana was surprised to come to an opening in the rock, through which the porcupine had evidently escaped. Outside the sun was shining brightly. Pulang-Gana went through this opening, but, though he looked in all directions, he could see no signs of the porcupine.

He was uncertain what he ought to do next. The porcupine had escaped, and there was no chance of his being able to kill it. He did not feel inclined to return to his brothers, because they were all unkind to him. On the other hand, he did not know if this new country in which he found himself was inhabited; and, if inhabited, whether the people would treat him kindly. Looking around, he saw smoke arising some distance off, and guessed that it was a Dyak house. As he was hungry, he decided to make for it, hoping the inmates would be kind to him and give him food.


As Pulang-Gana came nearer, he saw the house was a very long one, inhabited by about one hundred families. He stopped at the bottom of the ladder leading up to the house, and, following the Dyak custom, asked in a loud voice if he might walk up.

“Yes; come up, Pulang-Gana,” said a voice in reply. “We have been expecting you for some time, and will be glad to see you.”

He was surprised that his name should be known in this strange country in which he had never been before. He walked up, and in the long open hall stretching the whole length of the house he saw an old man and a young and beautiful girl.

“Spread out a mat, my daughter,” the old man said, “that Pulang-Gana may sit and rest after his long journey, and you can prepare some food for him. No doubt he is hungry as well as tired.”

She spread out a mat for Pulang-Gana, and then went into the room to get ready a meal for their visitor. Soon after she opened the door of the room and asked him to come in and eat.

The old man, who seemed kind and hospitable, said to him:—

“Go in and have some food. You must be hungry after your long journey. When you have eaten and rested we can have a talk together. I have long wished to meet you and to ask you about yourself and your brothers, and how affairs are in your country.”

Pulang-Gana went into the room, and found a nice meal awaiting him. Being very hungry, he did full justice to it.

That evening, as they sat by the fire, the old man asked him about his people, and if they had good crops of paddy[304] in his country. Pulang-Gana answered that, though his brothers possessed the largest paddy-fields in the country, he never remembered their having a really good harvest. The paddy they obtained was not sufficient to last them the whole year, and they had to fall back on potatoes and sago for food. The old man seemed interested in what his guest said of himself, so Pulang-Gana went on and told him of all his circumstances,—how he lived with his six brothers and only sister, and how unkind his brothers were to him. He also told the old man about the porcupine which did such damage to their garden, and how often he had been scolded and beaten by his brothers for not being able to drive away or kill the animal. He gave an account of his adventures that morning, and how, determined to kill the porcupine, he had followed it through the underground passage under the mountain, and had found himself in this strange country.

“I have heard your story,” said the old man, “and think you are much to be pitied. Your brothers seem to have been very unkind and to have treated you very badly. I would like you to stay with me here, and not return to them. I have no son, and would like you to marry my daughter and live with us. I am getting old, and am not so strong as I used to be, and will be glad of your help.”

“I should like to stay with you very much, for you seem so kind, and are so different to my brothers, and I should like to marry your daughter and spend the rest of my life here. But there is no one to look after our garden, and the porcupine will do much damage to it. My brothers are sure to be angry with me for leaving them, and when they see their garden destroyed through my neglect they are sure to hunt for me, and when they[305] find me they will probably kill me. No; much as I would like to stay, I am afraid I cannot. I must start to return to-morrow. It would have been different if I had succeeded in killing the porcupine; then it would not matter so much if I stayed away some time.”

“You need not trouble yourself about the animal that attacks the vegetables planted in your garden. I can prevent its coming again. That porcupine is not really an animal. One of our slaves here, named Indai-Antok-Genok, is commanded by me to transform herself into a porcupine, and pay visits to that garden. I shall tell her to do so no more, and your brothers’ garden will be safe enough without you to watch it. You must remain here with us. There is nothing for you to fear. If you do not return, your brothers will think that some accident has happened to you, and that you are dead. As they are all so unkind to you, you may be sure they will not trouble to look for you.”

“Well, if that be the case, I will gladly live with you. I was not happy with my brothers, and I am sure I shall be happy here.”

So it was decided that Pulang-Gana should remain in the house of the old man. Some months afterwards he married the daughter, and they lived happily as husband and wife. His wife’s father and mother were kind to him, and so were the other people in the house, and Pulang-Gana was very glad he decided to cast in his lot with them.

Now, this old man who treated Pulang-Gana so kindly was no ordinary mortal. His name was Rajah Shua, and he ruled the spirits who lived in the underground caves of the earth. His wife was quite as powerful as he. She was a goddess, and had power over the animals of the[306] forest, all of which obeyed her. She was known as Seregendah. The daughter that married Pulang-Gana was called Trentom-Tanah-Tumboh, and sometimes Setanggoi-Tanggoi-Buloh.

In process of time Pulang-Gana’s wife gave birth to a girl, who was very much admired by all, and greatly loved by her parents.

When the child was a few years old, she came one day to her father and mother and asked what property they intended to leave her. The mother showed her the valuable jars and brassware that she possessed, all of which were to belong to her child. Then the little girl asked her father what he had to give her. Pulang-Gana had no property to leave to his daughter. Years ago he had come by chance to this house of Rajah Shua, bringing nothing with him, and unless his brothers gave him a share of their father’s property, he would have nothing to leave his daughter. So he told her to be content with what her mother gave her. She would be very rich without anything from him. But she was not satisfied with this reply, and cried because her father said he had nothing to give her.

When Pulang-Gana saw how sad his child was he said to his father-in-law that he would like to pay a visit to his brothers, and ask them for his share of the property, that he might have something to give his daughter. Rajah Shua told him he might go to them, but warned him that probably he would not have a kind reception, and advised him not to be away long, but to return as soon as possible.

Pulang-Gana started on his journey to his old home, wondering how his brothers would receive him after his long absence. He had no difficulty in finding his way,[307] as his father-in-law gave him very definite instructions about his journey. He found that his brothers had built a new house not far from the site of the old one in which he had lived with them years ago. The house seemed very quiet, and he learnt that nearly all the people were away on a tuba-fishing expedition. Only his sister-in-law, the wife of his brother Belang-Pinggang, was at home.

She was very much surprised to see him, and said they had given him up for dead long ago. She told him that the others were away fishing, and that his brother Bui-Nasi, herself, and a little boy were the only members of the family left at home. He would find his brother and the little boy working at the forge making some implements for their work.

Pulang-Gana said he would go to his brother, and he left the house and walked in the direction where he guessed the forge was from the sound of hammering he heard.

“Oh! is that you, Pulang-Gana?” said Bui-Nasi, as soon as he saw him. “Where have you been all these years? We thought that you had met with some accident, and had died long ago.”

Pulang-Gana said little about himself to his brother. He told him how he had lost his way in the jungle years ago, and when he arrived at last at a house the people there persuaded him to stay with them, and he said that he was now married and had a daughter.

“Have you come with your wife to stay with us?” asked Bui-Nasi.

“No,” was the answer; “I have only come on a short visit by myself to ask for my share of the property left us by our father.”


“You have nothing whatever to expect. You left us years ago of your own will, and have been away all this time, and now you have the impudence to come and ask for your share of the property. I advise you to say nothing of this to the others. They will be very vexed with you if you do.”

“I do not ask for much,” said Pulang-Gana. “I will be satisfied with little. But my daughter asked me what I had to give her, so I came here to beg for something, and I should be sorry to return empty-handed.”

“You shall not return empty-handed,” said Bui-Nasi in scorn. “Here is something for you to take back with you. It is all that you will get from us, I can tell you.” With these words he threw Pulang-Gana a clod of earth which he saw lying near. “Now go away, and do not let us see your face again.”

Pulang-Gana put the lump of earth in his bag, and with a heavy heart started to return to his house. So this was the way his brothers treated him! There was nothing to expect from them!

When he arrived at his house, all the family gathered round him. They had heard that he had gone to ask his brothers for his share of the property, and they were anxious to see what he brought back. His little daughter rushed up eagerly to him and said:—

“Father, what have you brought back for me from my uncles? Let me see the nice things they gave you.”

Then Pulang-Gana said sadly: “I received no share of the property from your uncles. They would have nothing to do with me, and drove me away.”

“But did you get nothing at all from them?” asked his father-in-law.


“Yes,” said Pulang-Gana; “my brother Bui-Nasi did give me something, but I am ashamed to tell you what it is. Here it is.” And he took out from his bag the lump of earth his brother had given him, and handed it to his father-in-law.

When Rajah Shua saw what Pulang-Gana had received from his brothers, he said joyfully:—

“They have given you the most valuable gift it is possible to imagine. You are now a person of great importance. The earth is yours. Whoever wishes to plant on it must first make offerings and sacrifices to you, and pray to you to give him a good harvest. It is in your power to make the earth fruitful or barren, and to give mankind a good or a bad harvest as you will.”

A few months after, the brothers of Pulang-Gana, at the advice of Bui-Nasi, decided on the site where they were to plant paddy that year. It was a large forest some distance away from their house. First they cut down the smaller trees, and then they felled the large trees, and when all this work was done they rested for some weeks, waiting for the sun to dry up the timber, so that it might be set on fire and the land be ready for planting on.

One day Pulang-Gana’s father-in-law said to him: “I hear that your brothers have been busy cutting down the trees where they intend to plant paddy this year. As they gave you the earth some time ago to be your share of the property, it is only right that they should ask leave from you before planting on it. Since they have not done so, you must stop them from planting paddy there.”

“How can I prevent them planting paddy where[310] they like?” said Pulang-Gana in dismay. “Is it likely that they will take any notice of anything I say?”

“Yes,” said his father-in-law, Rajah Shua; “they will have to listen to what you say, for I will be on your side, and will help you. I am the god that rules the spirits that live in the underground caves of the earth, and my wife Seregendah has power over the animals and the spirits which inhabit the forests. As your brothers have treated you so unkindly, and have given you no share of the property, and have simply given you a clod of earth to take back with you, my wife and I will punish them and reward you by giving you power over everything that grows on the earth. Before the land is planted, offerings must be made to you, and invocations must be sung to yourself, and myself, and my wife Seregendah. Unless these things be done, the ground will not be fruitful.

“As your brothers have not done anything of the kind, you must teach them a lesson, and prevent them from going on with their work. This evening at dusk you must go to the newly cleared forest and cry aloud: ‘Come here, all you who are the servants of Seregendah and Rajah Shua,’ and name all the wild beasts of the forest. They will come to you in large numbers. Then you must ask them, as well as the invisible spirits, who will be present too, to help you to put up all the trees that have been cut down.”

Pulang-Gana did as his father-in-law advised him. He went at dusk to the part of the jungle where his brothers had been cutting down the trees, and called to the animals in the name of Rajah Shua and of Seregendah, and they came in large numbers and helped him to put[311] up all the trees that had been felled, and the forest appeared just as it had been before any of the trees had been cut down.

The next day Bui-Nasi went early in the morning to see if the fish-traps he had set in the stream had caught any fish, and as he was near the part of the forest where the trees had been cut down by his brothers and himself not long before, he went on to see how things were getting on, and if the felled jungle was dry enough to be burnt.

To his great surprise he found all the trees standing, and no signs of the clearing that had been made. He hurried home and told his brothers what he had seen, and they all returned, accompanied by their friends and followers, and found that what Bui-Nasi had told them was perfectly true. They were all very much surprised, as they had never known such a thing happen before.

“I wonder if this is really the part of the forest which we cleared a few weeks ago,” said one of the brothers. “Perhaps we have mistaken the spot.”

“No,” said Bui-Nasi in reply; “there is no mistake. Here are the whetstones on which we sharpened our axes and hatchets; and here, too, is where we did our cooking for our midday meal.”

They held a consultation as to what was to be done.

“This is very strange,” said Bui-Nasi. “Some enemy, who is helped by powerful spirits, is determined not to let us plant paddy here. Let us try and find out who has made the trees that we have cut down stand upright as before. My advice is that we cut down the jungle anew, and that some of us remain and keep watch[312] here all night. Perhaps we may be able to catch the culprit.”

So the brothers and all their friends and followers set to work, and before the day was ended they had cleared afresh a large stretch of jungle.

Twelve men, with Bui-Nasi at their head, were set to watch, and the others returned home, discussing among themselves what had taken place.

Those that were left by the clearing had not long to wait. Soon after dusk they saw a man come, and, standing on the trunk of a large felled tree, call aloud to the animals of the forest and the invisible spirits around in the name of Rajah Shua and Seregendah to come to his help. The twelve men crept up cautiously behind him and seized him.

“We have you now,” they said as they held him fast. “It is you who have caused us all the trouble of having to cut down this jungle for the second time. Now we intend to kill you, and you will not be able to play your tricks on us any more.”

It was too dark to see who it was, and Bui-Nasi said: “Let us have a light and see what he is like. I am sure he must be as ugly as he is troublesome.”

One of them fetched a light, and to their great surprise they saw their prisoner was Pulang-Gana!

“So it is you, Pulang-Gana!” said his brother in anger. “You are up to your old tricks again. You were too lazy to work before, and would not keep watch over our garden, and you left us without telling us where you were going. And now, after several years’ absence, you come back and disturb us in our work, and by some means or other set up the trees we have had the trouble of cutting down. Though I am your brother, I have[313] no pity for you. As long as you are alive you will give us trouble, so we intend to kill you and be well rid of you.”

He expected Pulang-Gana to be afraid of him, and to plead for his life. But things were very much changed from the old days, when Pulang-Gana was the despised youngest brother, beaten and scolded by the others. Now he was the son-in-law of the gods, and had Rajah Shua and Seregendah to help him, and he was not at all afraid of his brothers, because he knew well they could do him no harm.

He shook off those that held him, and told them to listen to what he had to say. His manner and bearing were very different from that of one who feared them. They stood around him in awe, for they instinctively felt that Pulang-Gana was not to be trifled with, and from what had already taken place they knew that he was aided by powerful spirits.

Then Pulang-Gana spoke:—

“I have good reason for doing what I did. You have no right to cut down this jungle or to plant on this land. You have not asked my leave to do so, and have not paid me the price of the land. Not long ago, you, Bui-Nasi, gave me a clod of earth as my share of the property of our father, and so I have now the right of preventing any from planting on the earth. It is no use you attempting to kill me. Though you are many in numbers, it is impossible for you to kill me, because I am now the god of the earth, and am assisted by Rajah Shua and Seregendah, whose power you know.”

There was silence for a short time, and then Bui-Nasi said:—

“No doubt what you say is true, for no one without[314] supernatural aid could have made the trees that were cut down stand upright and grow. What do you wish us to do, and how are we to obtain your leave to plant on the land?”

Pulang-Gana told them to gather all the people together the next day, and he would tell them what they must do in order to insure their getting good crops of paddy.

That same night messengers were sent in all directions to tell the people in the neighbouring villages to come together the next day, in order that they might learn from Pulang-Gana what they were to do before cutting down the jungle and planting paddy.

The next morning a very large crowd gathered together, and Pulang-Gana said to them:

“You must always remember that I am the god of the earth, and before cutting down the jungle for planting you must make invocations to me, as well as to Rajah Shua and Seregendah, and you must ask me for permission to plant on the piece of land you have chosen. You must also kill some animal—a pig or a fowl—and offer it as a sacrifice to me, and in addition to this some offering of food—rice, or eggs, or potatoes, or fruit—must be made. Then, lastly, you must remember to bury some small offering in the ground. That is the rent you pay me for the use of the land, for all the land belongs to me, and I expect rent to be paid by all who use it.

“And if anything goes wrong in your paddy-fields, and the crops are poor, or, being good, are attacked by insects or wild animals, then you must call upon Rajah Shua and Seregendah and myself to come to your aid, and we will help you.”

Then for the first time did the new ceremonies come[315] into force, and, aided by the higher powers, men were able to obtain much better crops than they had done before. And this is why no Dyak dares to plant paddy without first burying some small gift in the earth, and also making invocations and offerings to Pulang-Gana, Rajah Shua, and Seregendah.



Trial by ordeal—Diving contests—A diving contest in Krian—A Dyak superstition—Names—Fruit found by the pathway—Circumcision—Fishing and hunting superstition—Madness—Leprosy—Time—Form of greeting.

The practice of referring disputed questions to supernatural decision is not unknown to the Dyaks. They have the trial by ordeal, and believe that the gods are sure to help the innocent and punish the guilty. I have heard of several different methods, which are seldom resorted to nowadays. The only ordeal that I have frequently seen among the Dyaks is the Ordeal by Diving. When there is a dispute between two parties in which it is impossible to get any reliable evidence, or where one of the parties is not satisfied with the decision of the headman of the Dyak house, the Diving Ordeal is often resorted to.

Several preliminary meetings are held by the representatives of both parties to determine the time and place of the match. It is also decided what property each party should stake. This has to be paid by the loser to the victor. The various articles staked are brought out of the room, and placed in the public hall of the house in which each litigant lives, and there they are covered up and secured.

The Dyaks look upon a Diving Ordeal as a sacred[317] rite, and for several days and nights before the contest they gather their friends together, and make offerings and sing incantations to the spirits, and beg of them to vindicate the just and cause their representative to win. Each party chooses a champion. There are many professional divers who for a trifling sum are willing to undergo the painful contest.

On the evening of the day previous to that on which the diving match is to take place each champion is fed with seven compressed balls of cooked rice. Then each is made to lie down on a fine mat, and is covered with the best Dyak woven sheet they have; an incantation is made over him, and the spirit inhabitants of the waters are invoked to come to the aid of the man whose cause is just.

Early the next morning the champions are roused from their sleep, and dressed each in a fine new waist-cloth. The articles staked are brought down from the houses and placed upon the bank. A large crowd of men, women, and children join the procession of the two champions and their friends and supporters to the scene of the contest at the riverside. As soon as the place is reached, fires are lit and mats are spread for the divers to sit on and warm themselves. While they sit by their respective fires, the necessary arrangements are made.

Each party provides a roughly-constructed wooden grating to be placed in the bed of the river for his champion to stand on in the water. These are placed within a few yards of each other, where the water is deep enough to reach the waist, and near each a pole is thrust firmly in the mud for the man to hold on to when he is diving.

The two men are led out into the river, and each stands[318] on his own grating grasping his pole. At a given signal they plunge their heads simultaneously into the water. Immediately the spectators shout aloud at the top of their voices, over and over again, “Lobon—lobon,” and continue doing so during the whole contest. What these mysterious words mean, I have never been able to discover. When at length one of the champions shows signs of yielding, by his movements in the water and the shaking of the pole he is holding to, the excitement becomes very great. “Lobon—lobon,” is shouted louder and more rapidly than before. The shouts become deafening. The struggles of the poor victim who is fast becoming asphyxiated are painful to witness. The champions are generally plucky, and seldom come out of the water of their own will. They stay under water until the loser drops senseless, and is dragged ashore apparently lifeless by his companions. The friends of his opponent, raising a loud shout of triumph, hurry to the bank, and seize and carry off the stakes. The vanquished one, quite unconscious, is carried by his friends to the fire. In a few minutes he recovers, opens his eyes and gazes wildly around, and in a short time is able to walk slowly home. Next day he is probably in high fever from the effects of his dive. When both champions succumb at the same time, the one who first regains his senses is held to be the winner.

I have timed several diving contests, and where the divers are good they keep under water between three and four minutes.

Among some tribes of Dyaks, the champion is paid his fee whether he wins or loses. They say it is not the fault of the diver, but because his side is in the wrong, that he is beaten. Among other tribes, however, no fee is given[319] to the losing champion, so he comes off very poorly indeed.

There are certain cases where diving seems to be the only means of a satisfactory decision. Take the case of the ownership of a durian tree. The tree probably does not bear fruit till fifteen years after it has been planted. Up to that time no one pays any attention to it. When the tree begins to bear fruit two or three lay claim to it. The man who originally planted it is probably dead, and no one knows for certain whom the tree belongs to. In a case like this, no amount of discussion can lead to a satisfactory decision, whereas a diving contest settles the matter to the satisfaction of all parties.

The Dyaks have great faith in the Diving Ordeal, and believe that the gods will always maintain right by making the man who is in the wrong be the loser. In fact, if a Dyak refuses the challenge of a Diving Ordeal, it is equivalent to his admitting that he is in the wrong.

Among the Dyaks of the Batang Lupar diving contests are frequent. Champions are poorly paid for diving, and the losing diver receives nothing at all. Little or nothing is staked, and there is not much attached to the winning or losing of a case except the property in dispute. If the diving contest be about a fruit-tree, the winner becomes the owner of the tree, and the loser is not allowed to make any further claim. In the villages on the Krian River, however, the ordeal by diving is rarely resorted to, and when a diving contest does take place, the stakes are very high indeed.

A remarkable dispute was decided in Krian many years ago. I was told of it by the son of the man who won the case. A girl put out in the sun a petticoat she had woven. It was stolen. Some months after she saw a girl wearing[320] it, and recognized it as her petticoat. She accused the girl of stealing it. The girl declared it was her own, and denied the theft. Both girls belonged to good families. It was decided to resort to the ordeal by diving. The stakes were very high. It was agreed that the losing party should give to the other eight valuable jars.

Each party chose a good champion, and the fee paid him was very high. On the day of the contest a very large crowd from far and near came together to witness it.

The losing party paid to the victors the eight valuable jars as promised, and were reduced to poverty by doing so.

The Dyaks have a curious superstition that if food is offered to a man, and he refuses it, and goes away without at least touching it, some misfortune is sure to befall him. It is said that he is sure to be either attacked by a crocodile, or bitten by a snake, or suffer from the attack of some animal.

When Dyaks have been asked to stay and have a meal, if they do not feel inclined to do so, I have often noticed them touch the food before going away. They say it would be puni not to do so. I have never been able to discover the reason for this curious superstition, but innumerable tales are told of those who have disregarded it, and have paid the penalty by being attacked by some animal.

A curious custom prevails among the Dyaks with regard to names. Parents are no longer known by their names, but as the father or mother of So-and-so. For instance, if the child is born, and named Janting, the father would no longer be known by his own name, but would be called Apai Janting (the father of Janting) and the mother Indai Janting (the mother of Janting).

The names of children are often changed because the[321] Dyaks have a great dislike of mentioning the name of anyone who is dead. So when a man dies, it is usual for his namesakes in his village to have new names given them.

It is considered a terrible crime to mention the name of the father-in-law or mother-in-law. Though a Dyak does not speak of his father and mother by name, still if he were asked their names, he would give them. But if a man were asked the name of his father-in-law or mother-in-law, he would not tell it, but ask some other person present to do so.

The Dyaks will eat fruit that has fallen from any tree, but if they find fruit by the path, they will never touch it. The reason for this is given in the Dyak legend, “Danjai and the Were-Tiger’s Sister” (p. 265).

I remember once walking with some Dyaks, and a man carrying a load of fruit passed us. Farther on we saw some fruit which had evidently dropped from his load, but none of the Dyaks would eat it.

Circumcision is practised among certain Dyak tribes. It is not a religious ceremony, and is not accompanied with the offering of sacrifices or the singing of incantations. All I have been able to learn from such tribes as practise it, is that it has been the custom from ancient days, and so they do it. The cutting of the foreskin is not done with a knife, but with a piece of sharpened bamboo. The custom is by no means universal among the Sea Dyaks.

When going out fishing or hunting it is considered most unfortunate to mention the name of any fish or bird, or to talk of any animal which it is hoped to secure. One evening I was out shooting wild pig, and was sitting in a dug-out, which was paddled up a stream by three Dyaks.[322] I said in fun: “There will be plenty of room to put a pig here behind me if we manage to shoot one.” The Dyaks all looked horrified, and I was told that saying such a thing as that meant with them the certainty of failure. As it happened, we succeeded in killing a wild pig, and brought it back that evening in the boat. There was much discussion among the people in the Dyak house, and they were surprised at our success after what I had said.

Madness is looked upon by the Dyaks as possession by some evil spirit. All they can do for it is to call the witch-doctors in to sing their incantations, and exorcise the evil spirit. If no good result follows, and the man is still a violent lunatic, a large wooden cage (bubong) is made, and the man is kept in it. This is only done in the case of dangerous and violent madmen. Harmless lunatics and idiots are allowed their freedom.

Leprosy is not unknown among the Dyaks, and occasionally cases of it are met with. There used to be a village in the Krian where there were several suffering from leprosy. When the disease is so far advanced as to make it unsafe to let them live with others in the long Dyak house, a separate little hut is put up for them at some distance away. I remember seeing a poor woman who lived by herself in this way. The people from the house would often go and see her, and take her food and water, but sometimes she would be left for days. She told me that once her fire went out, and as no one came to see her for two days, she was unable to cook any food, and had to live as best she could during that time. It must have been a lonely, unhappy life she led, and one can imagine such an one longing for death to end her troubles.

The Dyaks mark the time by the position of the sun.[323] A man will tell you at what hour you may expect him by saying something of this kind, “I shall come to-morrow when the sun is there,” pointing to the part of the sky where the sun will be.

The usual form of greeting when Dyaks meet is, “Kini ka nuan?” (“Where are you going?”), or, “Ari ni nuan?” (“Where have you come from?”).



The Sea Dyak—Work—Bad times—Cheerfulness—The view from within—The Sea Dyak’s future—Mission work among them—Government—Development in the immediate future.

There are occasions when one who has lived among a people like the Dyaks, and has learnt to know and to love them, looks forward into the coming years and tries to picture what is in store for them. Those who have read the preceding pages will be able to form some idea of the Dyaks as they are, and know their manner of life, and to a certain extent, I hope, their modes of thought. In this chapter I shall say something of the probable future of the Sea Dyak in Sarawak. Let me first recall some features of the home life of the average Dyak at the present day.

He marries at an early age, and lives in a long Dyak village house with his wife and children. His wife since her marriage has grown into a tired-looking, untidy woman, very different from the bright merry girl of ten years ago. How can she help it? She has four children to look after, and the youngest is still an infant, who needs a great deal of her attention. She has to fetch the water required, and do the cooking for the family. She has to attend to the drying and pounding of the paddy, and convert it[325] into the rice for their daily food. In addition to all this, there is the worry and commotion connected with having to move the household for some months each year to the little hut put up in their paddy-farm some little distance away.

The Sea Dyak has year after year to grow as much paddy as possible. He rises on work-days early in the morning, partakes of his frugal meal of rice and salt, or rice and salt fish, varied, if he be very lucky, by a piece of wild pig’s flesh or venison, which he has received as a gift or bought from some hunting friend. His wife bundles up for him his midday meal in the spathe of the Penang palm, and he goes off to his work, returning home late in the evening.

There are days when he does not go to work on his paddy-farm, but spends his time in getting firewood or mending things in his room, or in sitting about in the common veranda chatting with his friends.

When the paddy has grown a little, and the time for weeding draws near, the family remove to the little hut put up in the paddy-field. In the weeding the Sea Dyak is helped by his wife, the younger children being left in charge of the elder for the greater part of the day, while their parents are at work. When the weeding has been done, the family return to the long Dyak house for a month or so; then they go back to their hut to watch the ripening paddy and guard it against attacks of birds and beasts.

Paddy-planting is the chief occupation of every Sea Dyak, but he has plenty of time for other things, and his life is not quite so monotonous as may be supposed. The actual work of paddy-planting, and things connected with it, such as the building of farm-huts and the getting[326] ready of farming implements, takes up seven or perhaps eight months of the year. The Sea Dyak has, therefore, a certain amount of time during which he can visit his friends, make boats, or hunt for jungle produce.

On certain occasions the Sea Dyaks muster in great force. At a feast a large number of them appear dressed in such finery as they possess, and they eat more than is good for them, and drink enough bad Dyak tuak (spirit) to make them very sick and to give them a bad headache for the next few days. At a large tuba-fishing crowds of them congregate with their hand-nets and fish-spears, and a pleasant sort of picnic is spent, attended, if they are fortunate, with the procuring of much fish.

The Sea Dyak has his bad times. When he has had a bad crop, he has to think of some means of raising money—not for luxuries in dress and food, but for the plain necessaries of rice and salt upon which many Dyaks have to live for several months in the year. On these occasions he will work for some Chinaman at the nearest bazaar for a low wage, or sell firewood to them for whatever they will give. If he possess such things, he sells some old brass gun or gong to buy food for his family. If he be reduced to borrowing paddy from his neighbours, he will have to pay back the following year double the amount he has received.

A Dyak in Gala Costume

He has a fringed headkerchief, in which are fixed feathers of the rhinoceros hornbill, and other birds. His ears are decorated with lead pendants. Round his neck are necklaces of beads, and brass or silver buttons. He has shell bracelets and brass and cane rings on his arms, and a large number of palm fibre rings on his wrists. Round his waist is a belt of silver coins, and his sword is fastened to his side. He is wearing the Dyak waistcloth and has a sarong on his right shoulder. This is the usual dress worn by a Dyak at a feast.

Below the class of industrious workers whom I have tried to depict, there is a lower stratum consisting of the failures. These are the lazy Dyaks, the poor workers, who have never by any possible chance enough paddy at the harvest to last them through the year; who live perpetually in an atmosphere of debt; who eke out their livelihood by selling wild-ferns and bamboo-shoots for the[327] trifling payment in paddy that people will give for such things; who live a hugger-mugger life, depending a good deal on the charity of their neighbours. Of this class I say nothing. It is not numerous, and does not come within the scope of this chapter. Another class which I pass over consists of the few rich men, whose wealth is continually increasing, who sell paddy year after year, and, when there is more work than they can conveniently do, can always afford to get extra labour by paying for it. The class I am dealing with is neither rich nor poor, and is to be met with in large numbers in any Dyak community.

The Dyak is cheerful and contented with his life. If his lot is a hard and uneventful one, he is ignorant of any other, and is quite satisfied with it. He knows little of the outside world. He reads no books or newspapers. The scope of his conversation is limited to matters of farming or of boat-building, varied perhaps by some local Dyak scandal, or some experience he may have gone through when, in his younger days, before he settled down as a sober married man, he went out gutta-hunting in distant lands. He has no wish to improve himself. His father and grandfather lived in long Dyak houses, and what was good enough for them is good enough for him. Why should he worry himself about building better houses, or farming in some new and improved way? He will not meddle with matters that are too high for him; and yet, notwithstanding this calm and even existence that he leads from childhood to the grave, those who are most interested in the Sea Dyak must feel that his life is not what it ought to be, that it shows few signs of progress, and is too stagnant to be healthy.

They do not suppose him to be a “fortuitous aggregation[328] of atoms that will shortly be dispersed throughout space.” They believe that there is something Divine in him holding those fleeting atoms together, and making them one, and that he is journeying through a world of tragic meaning to the significance of which he seems to be for ever blind. They long to see him brought under the elevating and purifying influence of Christianity.

It may be asked: What are the Missions, Church of England and Roman Catholic, doing to elevate the Sea Dyak? I believe they are doing the best they can, but there are many things to contend against. First, there is the natural inability of the Dyak to keep his attention fixed upon one subject for any length of time, and so it is difficult to prevent the conversation from drifting into some commonplace topic when one is talking about serious matters. Then, again, when are they to be taught? They usually come home from their work late in the evening, and then they are tired, and take no interest in anything, being greatly in need of rest. It is at all times difficult to have a quiet conversation in a Dyak house. The common veranda is suitable for many things, but it is far too noisy to be convenient for teaching. They are often away from their homes for months, and the Missionary, who generally has a large field to cover, finds he cannot visit many villages in his parish more than once in three months. How much of such teaching is likely to be remembered? Of course, things are better where the Church and Mission House are. There regular services are held, and these the Sea Dyak has the opportunity of attending. He can also come up to the Mission House and talk over matters with the Missionary in charge, or the Schoolmaster, or the Catechist. But the number of Mission Houses with resident Missionaries[329] among the large and scattered population of Sea Dyaks in Sarawak is but small.

The up-country Mission Schools, which the Government liberally support, admit boys at an early age, when they are most susceptible to the reception of new ideas. Here they are away from Dyak surroundings, and live with the Missionary and Schoolmaster. One naturally hopes that each of these boys returning to his family will be an example to them, leading them into the right way, and no doubt the old schoolboys have an influence for good, in more ways than one, on the homes to which they return. There are, indeed, among the Christian Sea Dyaks of Sarawak some striking examples of an intelligent reception of the truth, and of a faith which is a living personal force governing their lives. But, unhappily, these cases are few as compared with the bulk of the population, and the people live such an unsettled life that missionary effort, as it exists in Sarawak at the present time, can but touch a small proportion of them, and, unless greatly reinforced, cannot affect, to any very considerable extent, the future of the Sea Dyak.

The Government, by maintaining discipline in the different districts, by punishing crime and regulating trade, is no doubt instilling into the mind of the people important principles of law and order, and it has suppressed the atrocious crimes of piracy and head-hunting. The importation of Hakka Chinese to show the Dyaks how paddy ought to be planted is an important move in the right direction, and will conduce to their prosperity if only they can be persuaded to submit to instruction. But the future of the Sea Dyak even as regards material well-being is somewhat doubtful. There are those who say that he is slowly, but none the less surely,[330] improving, and that he will at no very distant time reach the stage of progress to which most of the Malays in the country have attained; that his means of earning a livelihood then will not be confined to paddy-planting and occasionally working jungle produce, but that he will work sago, and also engage in fishing and boat-building on a large scale. Others, however, mutter dark things concerning the Sea Dyak’s primitive methods of farming and his unwillingness to give them up, and they paint a dismal picture of villages crowded in the distant future by half-starved men and women, living on worn-out land which will not bear abundant crops, as in the old days, a weakly and sickly race, debilitated by insufficiency of food.

Whatever may be the ultimate fate of the Sea Dyak, that events will move on certain lines in the immediate future seems to be fairly probable. The Sea Dyak will go on living in the same kind of house as his ancestors had—much the same kind of life year after year. He will go on farming in his present primitive way till the soil around is worn out; then he will ask leave of the Government, as has been done in many cases lately, to remove to some new and uncultivated country, and to be allowed to cut down the jungle on the hills there. Enormous tracts of lowland jungle exist in the lower reaches of the rivers on whose banks the Sea Dyaks live; but though they are industrious enough to plant their paddy on swampy soil which was cleared of jungle generations ago, they do not seem to care to cut down lowland jungle and prepare such land for planting. No doubt the reason is that it is harder work, and that after the trees are felled, it is six or seven years before the roots have rotted, and the soil has settled, and the land is fit[331] for planting paddy on. What the Sea Dyaks like is to be allowed to remove to some country with plenty of wooded hills. They prefer planting paddy on the hills to clearing the lowland jungle, and waiting till the swampy land is fit for planting. The old sequence of events will repeat itself. The new land, rich virgin soil at first, will, under his devastating hand, soon become exhausted and worn out. It does not take long to impoverish land if no attempt is made to enrich it.

That these melancholy forebodings may never be fulfilled must be the earnest wish of all who have in some way or other come into contact with the Sea Dyak—a warm-hearted, hospitable, cheery figure, satisfied with little, living in the present, with no thought of the future, quite content if he have food to eat and tobacco to smoke, and yet, for this very reason, because he is so satisfied with his lot, most unwilling to admit new ideas, seemingly for ever unconscious of the significance of his life, and ignorant of the infinite possibilities for good or evil which exist in him.


[1] “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground” (Gen. ii. 7). In this respect Dyak tradition corresponds with the Biblical account.

[2] Rice in the husk.

[3] Pinang, betel-nut.

[4] Sireh, a kind of pepper-leaf which the Dyaks are fond of eating with betel-nut.

[5] The Dyaks are fond of rhyming names, which often have no special meaning.




Achar, a spoon-bait.

Akal plandok, the cunning of the plandok or mouse-deer.

Anggat, a term of endearment used in addressing a boy.

Antu, a spirit; the dead.

Ari ni nuan? “From whence are you (come)?” A form of greeting.

Attap, a leaf roof made from the leaves of the nipa palm.


Baiya, goods put aside upon the owner’s death and placed upon or within his grave.

Banghong, a Dyak boat.

Baru, a tree with fibrous bark.

Batu, a stone.

Batu bintang, “star stone.”

Batu ilau, “stone of light.”

Batu krang jiranau, the petrified section of jiranau (Zingeberad?).

Batu krat ikan sembilan, the petrified section of the sembilan fish.

Batu kudi, “stones of wrath.”

Batu lintar, thunderbolt.

Batu nitar, thunderbolt.

Bebaju besi, “wearing an iron coat.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Bebandong api, “displaying fire.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Bebayak, making a bayak or iguana. Name of a manang ceremony.

Beburong raia, “making or acting the adjutant bird.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Begiling lantai, “rolled up in the flooring.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Bekliti, opening. One of the ceremonies of initiation of a manang, or witch-doctor.

Belelang, to wander about; to visit a far country.

Benih, seed.

Bepancha, “making a pancha, or swing.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Beremaung, “acting the tiger.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Berencha, “making an assault.” Name of a manang ceremony.


Berua, “swinging.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Besi, iron.

Besudi, “feeling or touching.” One of the ceremonies of initiation of manang, or witch-doctor.

Betanam pentik, “planting a pentik, or wooden representation of a man.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Betepas, “sweeping.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Betiang garong, “making a post for souls.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Betiti tendai, “walking on the tendai, or bar on which cotton is placed in weaving.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Betukup rarong, “to split open the coffin.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Bilian, iron-wood; the only wood which the white ants do not attack.

Bilik, a room.

Bliong, a Dyak tool, which can be used both as an adze and an axe.

Bubong, a cage.


Chanang, a brass gong, smaller than the tawak.


Dandong, a shawl; a sarong, or long skirt.

Duku, a chopper; a sword.

Durian, a fruit very much liked by the Dyaks.


Embuas, name of an omen bird.

Endun, a term of endearment applied to girls.

Engkratong, a musical instrument resembling a guitar.

Engkrumong, a set of eight small brass gongs, each sounding a different note, arranged in a frame.

Engkrurai, a musical instrument made of bamboo tubes fixed in a gourd.

Ensera, a fairy tale.

Ensuling, a flageolet.


Galanggang, a game, not unlike prisoner’s base, played by the Dyaks.

Gawai Antu, the “Spirit Feast”; feast in honour of the dead.

Gawai Batu, the “Stone Feast,” held before farming operations begin.

Gawai Benih, the “Seed Feast,” held just before sowing the seed.

Gawai Burong, the “Bird Feast,” held in honour of human heads taken in war.

Gawai Gajah, the “Elephant Feast”; the greatest of all feasts connected with head-hunting.

Gawai Ijok, the “Ijok Feast.” The ijok is the gamuti palm from which a native drink (tuak) is obtained. This feast is connected with head-hunting.


Gawai Mandi Rumah, a feast given when a new house is built; the house-warming.

Gawai Nyimpan Padi, the “Feast of Storing the Paddy,” held after the reaping and winnowing are over, when the paddy is ready to be stored.

Gawai Pala, “the Head Feast.” Another name for Gawai Burong.

Gawai Tenyalang, “the Horn-bill Feast.” Another name for Gawai Burong.

Ginselan, a sacrifice in which some animal is slain and the blood used.

Gusi, the name of an old jar of great value, and looked upon as sacred.


Igat, a term of endearment applied to boys.

Ilang, a curiously carved sword.

Ipoh, a tree (Antiaris toxicaria) the sap of which is poisonous, and used to poison the darts of the blow-pipe.


Jadi rumah? “Is the house free from taboo?”—i.e., May we walk up into the house? The usual question asked before entering a Dyak house.

Jala, a casting-net.


Kabayah, a long jacket worn by Malay women.

Kadjang, a covering made of the young leaves of the nipa palm, etc., sewn together with split cane. This is used as awnings for boats, or for the roof of temporary huts.

Kain, a woman’s petticoat.

Kana, a fairy tale set to verse and sung.

Kapu, lime.

Kasih ka imbok enda kasih ka manok, “To show kindness to the wild pigeon, but not to the domestic fowl” (Dyak proverb).

Kati, 1¼ pounds.

Katupong, an omen bird.

Kini ka nuan? “Where are you going?” A form of greeting.

Klambi, a sleeveless jacket; a coat.

Kutok, an omen bird.


Labong, a headkerchief.

Langan, waves in tidal rivers which are caused at flood-tide by the strong current rushing over the shallows.

Lantai, bamboo, or palms, etc., split into laths, and tied together for the flooring of a house, or to sit upon in boats.

Lari ka ribut nemu ujan, lari ka sungkup nemu pendam, “Running from the hurricane, he encounters the rain; running from a tombstone, he finds himself in a graveyard” (Dyak proverb).


Lesong, a wooden mortar used for pounding rice, etc.

Limban, the Dyak Styx; the river in Hades.

Lobon-lobon, the words shouted by those watching a diving ordeal. The meaning is uncertain.

Lumpang, a piece of bamboo in which rice has been cooked; used at the feast for the dead as a boat to fetch the spirits from Hades.

Lunas, the keel of a boat.

Lupong, a Dyak medicine-chest.


Maias, the orang-utan (Simia satyrus).

Makai di ruai, literally “eating in the public hall of a Dyak house.” Name of a social feast.

Makai rami, literally “eating joyfully in large numbers.” Name of a social feast.

Mali, forbidden; tabooed.

Manang, a witch-doctor.

Manang bali, a witch-doctor who has changed his sex and become a woman.

Manang bangun, a witch-doctor who has been “waved upon”—i.e., who has been through the “waving upon” ceremony.

Manang enjun, a witch-doctor who has been “trodden upon”—i.e., who has been through the “trodden upon” ceremony.

Manang mansau, literally “a ripe manang”—i.e., one who is a fully qualified manang.

Manang matak, literally “an unripe manang”—i.e., one who has not been fully initiated into the mysteries of the manang’s profession.

Manjong, to shout all together.

Mencha, the Sword Dance.

Mlah pinang, literally “to split the betel-nut.” To perform the marriage ceremony by splitting the betel-nut.


Naga, a dragon. A valuable old jar with the figure of a dragon on it.

Nampok, to spend the night at a solitary place in order to obtain some charms from the spirits.

Nemuai ka Sabayan, “making a journey to Hades.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Nendak, an omen bird.

Ngelembayan, “taking a long sight.” Name of a manang ceremony.

Nibong, a thorny palm (Oncosperma tigillaria).

Nipa, a palm which grows by the sea and at the mouths of rivers (Nipa fructicans).


Orang-utan, the maias (Simia satyrus).



Padi, rice in the husk.

Pagar api, literally “a fence of fire.” A spear fixed blade upwards, with leaves tied to it, round which the manangs walk when taking part in their ceremonies.

Pana, an offering of food given to the dead by the friends of those who are in mourning.

Pandong, a kind of altar erected in different parts of the veranda of the Dyak house during the Bird Feast.

Papau, an omen bird.

Para piring, the altar of sacrifice.

Pelampong, a wooden float, generally cut in the form of a duck, to which baited hooks are fastened.

Pelandai, a love-song.

Pelian, a manang ceremony to restore the health of a sick person.

Pendam, a burial-ground.

Pendok, a tree with fibrous bark.

Pengap, an incantation.

Pengaroh, a charm.

Petara, gods.

Peti, a spring trap set to kill wild pig.

Pinang, the betel-nut; the areca-nut.

Piring, an offering of food.

Plandok, the mouse-deer.

Puni, a peculiar Dyak superstition that, if food is offered to a man and he goes away without at least touching it, some misfortune is sure to befall him. It is said that he is sure to be attacked by a crocodile, or bitten by a snake, or suffer from the attack of some other animal.


Rawai, a Dyak woman’s corset, made of tiny brass rings strung close together on hoops of cane.

Rarong, a coffin.

Remaung di rumah rawong di tanah, “A tiger in the house, but a frog in the field” (Dyak proverb).

Rotan, cane; rattan.

Ruai, the public veranda of a Dyak house.

Rusa, a deer. A valuable old jar with the figure of a deer on it.


Sabayan, Hades.

Sadau, the loft of a Dyak house.

Sakit Rajah, “the disease caused by the King (of evil spirits)”—smallpox.

Sarong, a long petticoat worn by Malay men and women.

Saut, the name of a manang ceremony.

Serumai, a one-stringed fiddle.

Sirat, a waist-cloth; the usual male attire of the Dyak.


Sireh, a vine of the pepper tribe; its leaves are chewed with lime, gambier, and betel-nut.

Sumping, a Dyak observance held after the death of relatives.

Sumpit, a blow-pipe.


Tabak, a brass dish.

Tajau, a valuable jar.

Tanju, the uncovered veranda of a Dyak house, where paddy and other things are put out to dry in the sun.

Tawak, a large brass gong.

Tendai, the bar on which cotton is placed in weaving.

Tenyalang, the rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros).

Tikai buret, a seat-mat.

Timang, to sing to in a monotonous manner.

Tuai rumah, the headman or chief of a Dyak house.

Tuak, native spirit.

Tuan, gentleman; master; sir. The term of respect usually applied to Englishmen.

Tuba, the name applied to a poison from the root of a shrub (Derris alleptica), or of a creeper. The poisonous bark of a tree. There are several kinds of tuba used for tuba-fishing.

Tugong bula, “the liar’s mound.” A pile of branches and twigs heaped up in memory of a man who has told a great lie.


Ulit, mourning.






A Catalogue of Books for Young
People, Published by Seeley & Co.
Ltd., 38 Great Russell St., London

Some of the Contents

The Library of Romance 13
The Library of Adventure 13
The Heroes of the World Library 8
The Olive Library 10
The Pink Library 11
The Prince’s Library 12
The Scarlet Library 14
The Wonder Library 16
Sunday Echoes 2
Stories by Professor Church 3
Stories by Mrs. Marshall 9
Stories by Miss Beatrice Marshall 9
Books by Miss Giberne 7

The Publishers will be pleased to send post free their complete Catalogue or their Illustrated Miniature Catalogue on receipt of a post-card



Arranged alphabetically under the names of Authors and Series


The Days of Bruce. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. (Scarlet Library.)


Fairy Tales. With Illustrations. 2s. and 3s. 6d. (Scarlet and Prince’s Libraries.)


Little Women and Good Wives. With Illustrations. 2s. (Scarlet Library.) Also Little Women, Extra crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.; and Good Wives, Extra Crown, 1s. 6d.

Amadis of Gaul. See Knight-Errant.

Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. With Illustrations. 2s. (Scarlet Library.)


The Dog Crusoe and His Master. With Illustrations by H. M. Brock, R.I. Extra crown 8vo, 2s.


The Wild Man of the Woods. With Illustrations. 1s. 6d.


The Siege of Norwich Castle. With Illustrations, 5s.


The Wild Lass of Estmere, and other Stories. Cr. 8vo, 3s. 6d.


The Bird’s Nest, and other Songs for Children, 1s.

Dame Wynton’s Home. A Story Illustrative of the Lord’s Prayer. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.

Home Memories. Crown 8vo, 5s.

My Father’s Hand, and other Stories. Crown 8vo, 2s.

Sunday Echoes in Weekday Hours. A Series of Illustrative Tales, Seven Vols. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d. each.

I. The Collects.
II. The Church Catechism.
III. Journeyings of the Israelites.
IV. Scripture Characters.
V. The Epistles and Gospels.
VI. The Parables.
VII. The Miracles.

Working and Waiting. Crown 8vo, 5s.



The Kidnapping of Ettie, and other Tales. With Sixteen Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.


The Pilgrim’s Progress. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. (Scarlet Library.)

CARTER, Miss J. R. M.

Diana Polwarth, Royalist. A Story of the Life of a Girl in Commonwealth Days. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.


England’s Yeomen. Crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.

Oliver of the Mill. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.

Ministering Children.

1. With Sixteen Illustrations. Crown 8vo, cloth gilt, gilt edges, 3s. 6d.
2. Olive Library. Cloth gilt, 2s. 6d.
3. Scarlet Library. Cloth, 2s.
4. With Four Illustrations. Cloth, 1s. 6d.

Ministering Children: A Sequel. With Illustrations. Cloth, 1s. 6d. Also with Eight Illustrations. Cloth 2s. and 2s. 6d.

The Old Looking-Glass. Crown 8vo, 1s.

The Broken Looking-Glass. Crown 8vo, 1s.

The Old Looking-Glass and the Broken Looking-Glass; or, Mrs. Dorothy Cope’s Recollections of Service. In one volume. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.

Sunday Afternoons in the Nursery. With Illustrations. 2s. 6d.


The Romance of the Ship. With Thirty-three Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

CHURCH, Rev. ALFRED J., formerly Professor of Latin in University College, London.

“Professor Church’s skill, his overflowing knowledge, and above all, that cultured simplicity of style, in respect of which he has absolutely no rival among contemporary writers for boys, enable him to overcome all obstacles.”—Spectator.

Extra crown 8vo, 5/-each.

The Children’s Æneid. Told for Little Children. With Twelve Illustrations in Colour. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

The Children’s Iliad. Told for Little Children. With Twelve Illustrations in Colour. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

The Children’s Odyssey. Told for Little Children. With Twelve Illustrations in Colour. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

The Crown of Pine. A Story of Corinth and the Isthmian Games. With Illustration in Colour by George Morrow. Ex. cr. 8vo, 5s.

The Count of the Saxon Shore. A Tale of the Departure of the Romans from Britain. With Sixteen Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.


The Faery Queen and her Knights. Stories from Spencer. With Eight Illustrations in Colour. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Stories of Charlemagne and the Twelve Peers of France. With Eight Illustrations in Colour. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Crusaders. A Story of the War for the Holy Sepulchre. With Eight Illustrations in Colour. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Stories from the Greek Tragedians. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Greek Story. With Sixteen Illustrations in Colour. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Stories from the Greek Comedians. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Hammer. A Story of Maccabean Times. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Story of the Persian War, from Herodotus. With Coloured Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Heroes of Chivalry and Romance. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Stories of the East, from Herodotus. Coloured Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Helmet and Spear. Stories from the Wars of the Greeks and Romans. With Eight Illustrations by G. Morrow. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Story of the Iliad. With Coloured Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s. Also Thin Paper Edition, cloth, 2s. nett; leather, 3s. nett. Cheap Edition, 6d. nett; also cloth, 1s.

Roman Life in the Days of Cicero. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Stories from Homer. With Coloured Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Stories from Livy. With Coloured Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Story of the Odyssey. With Coloured Illustrations. 5s. Also Thin Paper Edition, cloth, 2s. nett; leather, 3s. nett. Cheap Edition, 6d. nett. Also cloth, 1s.

Stories from Virgil. With Coloured Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s. Cheap edition, sewed, 6d. nett.

With the King at Oxford. A Story of the Great Rebellion. With Coloured Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Crown 8vo, 3/6 each.

The Fall of Athens. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.

The Burning of Rome. A Story of Nero’s Days. With Sixteen Illustrations. Cheaper Edition. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.


The Last Days of Jerusalem, from Josephus. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d. Also a Cheap Edition, Sewed, 6d.

Stories from English History. With many Illustrations. Cheaper Edition. Revised. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.

Extra crown 8vo, 2/6 each.

To the Lions. A Tale of the Early Christians. With Coloured Frontispiece and other Illustrations, 2s. 6d.

Heroes of Eastern Romance. With Coloured Frontispiece and Eight other Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.

A Young Macedonian in the Army of Alexander the Great. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.

The Chantry Priest. With Illustrations.

Three Greek Children. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.

Crown 8vo, 1/6 each.

A Greek Gulliver. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.

Heroes and Kings. Stories from the Greek. Illustrated. Small 4to, 1s. 6d.

The Stories of the Iliad and the Æneid. With Illustrations. 16mo, sewed, 1s.; cloth, 1s. 6d. Also without Illustrations, cloth, 1s.

To the Lions. A Tale of the Early Christians. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.

CODY, Rev. H. A.

On Trail and Rapid. By Dog-sled and Canoe. A Story of Bishop Bompas’s Life among the Red Indians and Esquimo. Told for Boys and Girls. With Twenty-six Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.


What Katy did at Home and at School. With Four Illustrations in Colour by H. M. Brock, R.I. Crown 8vo, 2s.; also in leather, 3s. 6d. nett.

COUPIN, H., D.Sc., and J. LEA, M.A.

The Romance of Animal Arts and Crafts. With Twenty-five Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.


Caedwalla: or, The Saxons in the Isle of Wight. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 3s. 6d. (Prince’s Library.)

The Island of the English. A Story of Napoleon’s Days. With Illustrations by George Morrow. Crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.

The Captain of the Wight. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.



John Halifax. Illustrated. Extra cr. 8vo, 2s. (Scarlet Liby.)


A Knight-Errant and his Doughty Deeds. The Story of Amadis of Gaul. With Eight Coloured Illustrations by H. M. Brock, R.I. Square Extra Crown 8vo, 5s.

DAWSON, Rev. Canon E. C.

Heroines of Missionary Adventure. With Twenty-four Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Lion-Hearted. Bishop Hannington’s Life Retold for Boys and Girls. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, 2s. 6d. (Olive Library), and 1s. 6d. (Pink Library).

In the Days of the Dragons. Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.


Robinson Crusoe. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. and 3s. 6d. (Scarlet and Olive Libraries.)


Copsley Annals Preserved in Proverbs. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.

Mrs. Blackett. Her Story. Fcap. 8vo, 1s.

ELLIOT, Prof. G. F. SCOTT, M.A., B.Sc., F.R.G.S., F.L.S.

The Romance of Plant Life. Describing the curious and interesting in the Plant World. With 34 Illustrations. Ex. crown 8vo, 5s.

“Popularly written by a man of great scientific accomplishments.”—The Outlook.

The Romance of Savage Life. With Forty-five Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

The Romance of Early British Life: From the Earliest Times to the Coming of the Danes. With 30 Illustrations. Ex. crown 8vo, 5s.


A Pair of Originals. With Coloured Frontispiece and Eight other Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.


Heroes of Missionary Enterprise. With many Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.


Sylvia in Flowerland. With 16 Illustrations Cr. 8vo, 3s. 6d.


Coming; or, The Golden Year. A Tale. Third Edition. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Great World’s Farm. Some Account of Nature’s Crops and How they are Grown. With a Preface by Professor Boulger, and Sixteen Illustrations. Second Edition. Crown 8vo, 5s.



The Romance of the Mighty Deep. With Illustrations. 5s.

“Most fascinating.”—Daily News.

Among the Stars; or, Wonderful Things in the Sky. With Coloured Illustrations. Eighth Thousand. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Duties and Duties. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Curate’s Home. Crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.

The Ocean of Air. Meteorology for Beginners. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Starry Skies. First Lessons on Astronomy. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.

Sun, Moon, and Stars. Astronomy for Beginners. With a Preface by Professor Pritchard. With Coloured Illustrations. Twenty-sixth Thousand. Revised and Enlarged. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The World’s Foundations. Geology for Beginners. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.


The Romance of Modern Electricity. Describing in non-technical language what is known about electricity and many of its interesting applications. With Forty-one Illustrations. Ex. crown 8vo, 5s.

“Admirable … clear, concise.”—The Graphic.

The Romance of Modern Photography. The Discovery and its Application. With many Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

The Romance of Modern Manufacture. A Popular Account of the Marvels of Machinery. With Twenty-four Illustrations and Sixteen Diagrams. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

How Telegraphs and Telephones Work. Explained in non-technical language. With many Diagrams. Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d.

GILLIAT, EDWARD, M.A. Formerly Master at Harrow School.

Forest Outlaws. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Heroes of Modern Crusades. With Twenty-four Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

In Lincoln Green. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The King’s Reeve. Illustrated by Sydney Hall. 3s. 6d.

Wolf’s Head. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.

The Romance of Modern Sieges. With Sixteen Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 3s.

Heroes of the Elizabethan Age. With Sixteen Full-page Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

GOLDEN RECITER, THE. See Reciter, The Golden.

GREW, EDWIN S., M.A. (Oxon.).

The Romance of Modern Geology. A popular account in non-technical language. With Twenty-four Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. and 3s. 6d. (Scarlet and Prince’s Libraries.)



Each Volume lavishly Illustrated. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Heroes of Missionary Enterprise. By Rev. Claud Field, M.A.

Heroes of Pioneering. By Rev. Edgar Sanderson, M.A., Scholar of Clare College, Cambridge.

Heroines of Missionary Adventure. By Rev. Canon Dawson, M.A.

Heroes of Modern Crusades. By Rev. Edward Gilliat.

Heroes of Modern India. By Rev. E. Gilliat.

Heroes of the Elizabethan Age. By Rev. E. Gilliat.


Tom Brown’s Schooldays. With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. and 2s. 6d. (Scarlet and Olive Libraries.)


Adventures in the Great Deserts. With Sixteen Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Adventures in the Great Forests. With Sixteen Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Adventures among Wild Beasts. With Twenty-four Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Adventures in the Arctic Regions. With Sixteen Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Adventures among Red Indians. With Sixteen Full-page Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.


Westward Ho! With Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 2s. & 2s. 6d. (Scarlet and Olive Libraries.)


The story of Amadis of Gaul. Edited by N. J. Davidson, B.A. With Eight Coloured Illustrations by H. M. Brock, R.I. Square extra crown 8vo, 5s.


Tales from Shakespeare. With Illustrations. Ex. crown 8vo, 2s. (Scarlet Library.)


The Romance of Missionary Heroism. True Stories of the Intrepid Bravery and Stirring Adventures of Missionaries in all Parts of the World. With Thirty-nine Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

Missionary Heroes in Asia. Illustrated. Cr. 8vo, 1s. 6d.

Missionary Heroes in Africa. Illustrated. Cr. 8vo, 1s. 6d.

Missionary Heroes in Oceania. Illustrated. Cr. 8vo, 1s. 6d.

LEA, JOHN, M.A. (Oxon.)

The Romance of Animal Arts and Crafts. See Coupin.

The Romance of Bird Life. With Twenty-six Illustrations. 5s.



For the Honour of the Flag. A Story of our Sea Fights with the Dutch. With Illustrations by Lancelot Speed. Crown 8vo, 5s.


The Romance of Modern Astronomy. With Twenty-four Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.


His Most Dear Ladye. A Story of the Days of the Countess of Pembroke, Sir Philip Sidney’s Sister. Illustrated. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

The Siege of York. A Story of the Days of Thomas, Lord Fairfax. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

An Old London Nosegay. Gathered from the Day-Book of Mistress Lovejoy Young. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Old Blackfriars. In the Days of Van Dyck. A Story. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Queen’s Knight-Errant. A Story of the Days of Sir Walter Raleigh. With Eight Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

MARRYAT, Captain.

Masterman Ready. With Illustrations by H. M. Brock, R.I. 2s. (Scarlet Library.)


“Mrs. Marshall’s imaginative pictures of the England of other days are in reality prose poems.”—Literature.

Crown 8vo, 5/-

In Colston’s Days. A Story of Old Bristol. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

In Four Reigns. The Recollections of Althea Allingham, 1785-1842. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

In the Choir of Westminster Abbey. A Story of Henry Purcell’s Days. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

In the East Country with Sir Thomas Browne, Knight. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

In the Service of Rachel, Lady Russell. A Story of 1682-94. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

A Haunt of Ancient Peace. Memories of Mr. Nicholas Ferrar’s House at Little Gidding. With Illustrations by T. Hamilton Crawford. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Kensington Palace. In the Days of Mary II. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Master of the Musicians. A Story of Handel’s Day. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Parson’s Daughter, and How she was Painted by Mr. Romney. With Eight Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Penshurst Castle. In the Days of Sir Philip Sidney. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s. Cheap Edition. Demy 8vo, 6d.

Winchester Meads. In the Days of Bishop Ken. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s. Cheap Edition. Demy 8vo, 6d.


Under Salisbury Spire. In the Days of George Herbert. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s. Cheap Edition. 6d.

Under the Dome of St. Paul’s. In the Days of Sir Christopher Wren. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Under the Mendips. A Tale of the Times of Hannah More. With Illustrations. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Constantia Carew. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Crown 8vo, 3/6

Castle Meadow. A Story of Norwich a Hundred Years Ago.

Edward’s Wife.

An Escape from the Tower.

Joanna’s Inheritance.

Life’s Aftermath.


On the Banks of the Ouse.

The White King’s Daughter.

Winifrede’s Journal.

Extra Crown 8vo, 2/6

The Old Gateway.

Millicent Legh.

Violet Douglas.

Helen’s Diary.

Crown 8vo, 1/6

Brothers and Sisters.

Up & Down the Pantiles.


The First Light on the Eddystone.



Extra Crown 8vo. With Coloured and other Illustrations, 2s. 6d. each.


Ministering Children.

A Sequel to Ministering Children.

England’s Yeomen.

Oliver of the Mill.

CHURCH, Prof. A. J.

The Chantry Priest.

Heroes of Eastern Romance.

A Young Macedonian.

Three Greek Children.

To the Lions. A Tale of the Early Christians.

DAWSON, Rev. E. C.

Lion-Hearted. The Story of Bishop Hannington’s Life told for Boys and Girls.



A Pair of Originals.


Tom Brown’s Schooldays.


Westward Ho!


The Old Gateway.

Violet Douglas.

Helen’s Diary.

Millicent Legh.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


Agathos, The Rocky Island, and other Sunday Stories.


The Romance of Modern Chemistry. With Twenty-nine Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.



Crown 8vo. With many Illustrations. 1s. 6d.

CHURCH, Prof. A. J.

To the Lions.

The Greek Gulliver.


Brothers and Sisters.

Brook Silvertone.


Ministering Children.

The Sequel to Ministering Children.

The Old and the Broken Looking-Glass.

DAWSON, Rev. E. C.



Missionary Heroes in Asia.

Missionary Heroes in Oceania.

Missionary Heroes in Africa.


Agathos and The Rocky Island.


Little Women.

Good Wives.


The Wild Man of the Woods.


The World before the Flood.



Fairy Tales and Stories.

GRIMM, The Brothers.

Fairy Tales and Stories.


The Life of a Bear.

The Life of an Elephant.

Only a Dog.


With Coloured Frontispiece and other Illustrations. Extra Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.

The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.

Andersen’s Fairy Tales.

Caedwalla. By Frank Cowper.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The Wolf’s Head. By Rev. E. Gilliat.

The Last of the White Coats. By G. I. Whitham.

Diana Polwarth, Royalist. By J. R. M. Carter.

The Fall of Athens. By Professor A. J. Church.

The King’s Reeve. By the Rev. E. Gilliat.

The Cabin on the Beach. By M. E. Winchester.

The Captain of the Wight. By Frank Cowper.

Robinson Crusoe. By Daniel Defoe.

RECITER, THE GOLDEN. A volume of Recitations & Readings in Prose & Verse selected from the works of Rudyard Kipling, R. L. Stevenson, Conan Doyle, Maurice Hewlett, Christina Rossetti, Thomas Hardy, Austin Dobson, A. W. Pinero, &c., &c. With an Introduction by Cairns James, Professor of Elocution at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music. Extra crown 8vo, 704 pp. 3s. 6d. Also Thin Paper Edition for the Pocket, with gilt edges. Small crown 8vo, 5s.

“An admirable collection in prose and verse.”—The Spectator.

RECITER, THE GOLDEN HUMOROUS. Edited, and with an Introduction by Cairns James, Professor of Elocution at the Royal College of Music. Recitations and Readings selected from the writings of F. Anstey, J. M. Barrie, S. R. Crockett, Major Drury, Jerome K. Jerome, Barry Pain, A. W. Pinero, Owen Seaman, G. B. Shaw, &c. Over 700 pages, extra crown 8vo, cloth, 3s. 6d. Also a Thin Paper Edition, with gilt edges, small crown 8vo, 5s.

ROBINSON, Commander C. N.

For the Honour of the Flag. A Story of our Sea Fights with the Dutch. With Illustrations by Lancelot Speed. Crown 8vo, 5s.


Heroes of Pioneering. True Stories of the Intrepid Bravery and Stirring Adventures of Pioneers in all Parts of the World. With Sixteen Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.



With many Illustrations. Extra Crown 8vo, 5s. each.

“Delightful books of adventure, beautifully printed and tastefully got up.”—Educational Times.

Adventures in the Arctic Regions. By H. W. G. Hyrst.

Adventures among Wild Beasts. By H. W. G. Hyrst.

Adventures on the High Seas. By R. Stead, B.A.

Adventures in the Great Deserts. By H. W. G. Hyrst.

Adventures on the Great Rivers. By Richard Stead.

Adventures in the Great Forests. By H. W. G. Hyrst. With Sixteen illustrations.

Adventures on the High Mountains. By R. Stead. With Sixteen Illustrations.

Adventures among Red Indians. By H. W. G. Hyrst. With Sixteen Full-page Illustrations.


Fully Illustrated. Bound in blue, scarlet, and gold.

Extra Crown 8vo, 5s. each.

“Splendid volumes.”—The Outlook.

“Gift books whose value it would be difficult to overestimate.”—Standard.

The Romance of the Ship. The story of its origin and evolution. By E. Keble Chatterton. With Thirty-three Illustrations.

The Romance of Modern Astronomy. By Hector Macpherson, Jun. With Twenty-four Illustrations.

The Romance of Modern Chemistry. By J. C. Philip, D.Sc., Assistant Professor of Chemistry, South Kensington.

The Romance of Modern Manufacture. By C. R. Gibson, F.R.S.E.

The Romance of Early British Life. From the Earliest Times to the Coming of the Danes. By Prof. G. F. Scott Elliot, M.A., B.Sc. With 30 Illustrations.

The Romance of Modern Geology. By E. S. Grew, M.A. (Oxon.).

The Romance of Bird Life. By John Lea, M.A.

The Romance of Modern Photography. Its Discovery and its Application. By C. R. Gibson, A.I.E.E. With 63 Illustrations.

The Romance of Modern Sieges. By the Rev. E. Gilliat. With 24 Illustrations.

The Romance of Savage Life. By Professor G. F. Scott Elliot, M.A., B.Sc., &c. With 45 Illustrations.

The Romance of the World’s Fisheries. By Sidney Wright. With 24 Illustrations.


The Romance of Animal Arts & Crafts. By H. Coupin, D.Sc., and J. Lea, M.A. With 24 Illustrations.

“Extremely fascinating.”—Liverpool Courier.

The Romance of Early Exploration. By A. Williams, B.A., F.R.G.S. With 16 Illustrations.

“We cannot imagine a book that a boy would appreciate more than this.”—Daily Telegraph.

The Romance of Missionary Heroism. By John C. Lambert, B.A., D.D. With 39 Illustrations.

“About 350 pages of the most thrilling missionary lives ever collected in one volume.”—Methodist Times.

The Romance of Plant Life. By Prof. G. F. Scott Elliot, B.A. (Cantab.), B.Sc. (Edin.). With 34 Illustrations.

“Besides being entertaining, instructive and educative.”—Liverpool Courier.

The Romance of Polar Exploration. By G. Firth Scott. With 24 Illustrations. “Thrillingly interesting.”—Liverpool Courier.

The Romance of Insect Life. By Edmund Selous.

The Romance of Modern Mechanism. By A. Williams.

“Genuinely fascinating. Mr. Williams is an old favourite.”—L’pool Courier.

The Romance of Modern Electricity. By Charles R. Gibson, F.R.S.E.

“Admirable … clear and concise.”—The Graphic.

The Romance of the Animal World. By Edmund Selous.

“A very fascinating book.”—Graphic.

The Romance of Modern Exploration. By A. Williams.

“A mine of information and stirring incident.”—Scotsman.

The Romance of Modern Invention. By A. Williams.

“An ideal gift book for boys, fascinatingly interesting.”—Queen.

The Romance of Modern Engineering. By A. Williams.

“An absorbing work with its graphic descriptions.”—Standard.

The Romance of Modern Locomotion. By A. Williams.

“Crisply written, brimful of incident not less than instruction. Should be as welcome as a Ballantyne story or a Mayne Reid romance.”—Glasgow Herald.

The Romance of Modern Mining. By A. Williams.

“Boys will revel in this volume.”—City Press.

The Romance of the Mighty Deep. By Agnes Giberne.

“Most fascinating.”—Daily News.

SCARLET LIBRARY, THE ILLUSTRATED. Large crown 8vo, cloth, gilt. With Eight original Illustrations by H. M. Brock, Lancelot Speed, and other leading Artists. Price 2s. per volume.

The Pilgrim’s Progress. By John Bunyan.

The Wide, Wide World. By Susan Warner.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin. By H. Beecher Stowe.

Ben Hur. By General Lew Wallace.

Westward Ho! By Charles Kingsley.

John Halifax. By Mrs. Craik.

Robinson Crusoe. By Daniel Defoe.

Little Women and Good Wives. By L. M. Alcott.

The History of Henry Esmond. By W. M. Thackeray.


The Swiss Family Robinson.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales. A New Translation.

Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

Don Quixote. By Cervantes.

Gulliver’s Travels. By Jonathan Swift.

The Days of Bruce. By Grace Aguilar.

Tom Brown’s Schooldays. By Thomas Hughes.

Tales from Shakespeare. By Charles Lamb.

Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales.

The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.

The Scalp Hunters. By Captain Mayne Reid.

Ministering Children. By Miss Charlesworth.

Ministering Children. A Sequel.

The Dog Crusoe. By R. M. Ballantyne.

Masterman Ready. By Captain Marryat.

What Katy did at Home and at School. By Susan Coolidge.


The Romance of Polar Exploration. Illustrated. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

“Thrillingly interesting, excellently illustrated.”—Liverpool Courier.


This Great Globe. First Lessons in Geography, 1s. 6d.


The World before the Flood. Stories from the Best Book. With Illustrations by G. P. Jacomb Hood. Crown 8vo, 1s. and 1s. 6d.


The Romance of the Animal World. Illustrated. Ex. crown 8vo, 5s.

“A very fascinating book.”—Graphic.

The Romance of Insect Life. Illustrated. Ex. cr. 8vo, 5s.

“Mr. Selous, the well-known naturalist, writes in purely informal style.”—The Globe.


Fresh from the Fens. With Illustrations. Cr. 8vo, 3s. 6d.


To Mars via the Moon. An Astronomical Story. With Eight Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.


Agathos. With Illustrations. Fcap. 8vo, sewed, 6d.; cloth, 1s.

Agathos, The Rocky Island, and other Sunday Stories. With Sixteen Illustrations. Extra Crown 8vo, 1s. 6d., 2s. 6d.

The Rocky Island and other Similitudes. With Illustrations. Fcap. 8vo, sewed, 6d.; cloth, 1s.



Adrift in a Great City. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, 5s.

City Violet. Crown 8vo, 5s.

The Cabin on the Beach. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.

A Nest of Skylarks.

A Nest of Sparrows. Crown 8vo, 5s.

Under the Shield. Crown 8vo, 5s.

A Wayside Snowdrop. Crown 8vo, 2s. 6d.

Chirps for the Chicks.


The Romance of Early Exploration. Illustrated. Crown 8vo, 5s.

“A companion volume to ‘The Romance of Modern Exploration,’ and if possible, more full of Romance.”—Evening Standard.

The Romance of Modern Exploration. With 26 Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

“A mine of information and stirring incident.”—Scotsman.

The Romance of Modern Mechanism. With 25 Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.

“Mr. Williams is an old favourite; a genuinely fascinating book.”—Liverpool Courier.

The Romance of Modern Invention. With 24 Illustrations.

“An ideal gift book for boys, fascinatingly interesting.”—Queen.

The Romance of Modern Engineering. Illustrated.

“An absorbing work with its graphic descriptions.”—Standard.

The Romance of Modern Locomotion. Illustrated.

“Crisply written and brimful of incident.”—Glasgow Herald.

The Romance of Modern Mining. With 24 Illustrations.

“Boys will revel in this volume.”—City Press.


The Last of the White Coats. A Story of Cavaliers and Roundheads. Illustrated in colour by Oscar Wilson. Ex. crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.


With Eight Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo. Price 2s.

The Wonders of Animal Ingenuity. By H. Coupin, D.Sc., and John Lea, M.A, Author of “The Romance of Bird Life,” &c. &c.

The Wonders of Mechanical Ingenuity. By Archibald Williams, B.A., F.R.G.S., Author of “The Romance of Engineering.”

The Wonders of Asiatic Exploration. By Archibald Williams, B.A., F.R.G.S., Author of “The Romance of Early Exploration.”

The Wonders of the Plant World. By G. F. Scott Elliot, M.A., B.Sc., &c., Author of “The Romance of Early British Life.”

The Wonders of Modern Railways. By Archibald Williams, B.A., F.R.G.S., Author of “The Romance of Modern Locomotion.”

The Wonders of the Insect World. By E. Selous, Author of “The Romance of the Animal World.”


The Romance of the World’s Fisheries. With many Illustrations. Extra crown 8vo, 5s.




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