Garden City Publishing Company:Garden City, New York, 1932.
pages 291 - 345
[posted by Otto Steinmayer. To Otto Steinmayer's Homepage]
IN SOME book I once read, all descriptions of scenery
and weather were omitted from the text, but inserted at the end. in a sort
of postscript, to be taken or left alone according to the taste of the reader.
This impressed me as highly considerate on the part of the author, and I resolved
to follow his good example. But when it came to the actual writing of my
own books, I weakened, for these manifestations of Nature gave me my best
chance to use the large stock of elaborate adjectives acquired during a most
expensive college course. However, I am going to follow that system
in regard to the mechanical difficulties encountered (but not hitherto recorded)
with the Flying Carpet. I've kept them out of all the previous chapters,
to touch upon—and dismiss—at this point.
This "point" is Singapore.
The Flying Carpet, still accompanied by Elly's Klemm. had traveled from Mt. Everest back to Calcutta, and on around the marshy coast of the Bay of Bengal. After a visit to the gilded temples of Rangoon, we sailed down the Burma shores till we saw "the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea." Here we turned inland and headed for Bangkok, across two hundred and fifty miles of sharp ridges and deep canyons, all smothered beneath a dense and unrelieved blanket of steaming jungle.* [*See first paragraph, line eight]
In Bangkok, the King and Queen of Siam gave Elly a party, but Moye and I could not wait to attend it, as our pontoons had arrived in Singapore and we were impatient to get them attached.
As we flew southward down the coast of the Gulf of Siam, the thousand miles of Malay Peninsula looked beautiful and colorful enough. However, I had painful memories of this country. I had once attempted to tramp across the narrowest part of it during the flood season. The distance was only forty miles, but it took three days and two nights to fight my way through the morasses of roots and water. Now, when we crossed my old trail at right angles, I could discern the Bay of Bengal on the other side of the peninsula. It was hard to believe that such a narrow strip of land could once have seemed so endlessly broad to me, afoot.
Another five hundred miles, following the beach below, took us into Singapore.
And now for the promised difficulties!
We had our share of them from the very first. On the third day's flight eastward from California, our engine had stopped dead just as we were taking off from the Oklahoma City airport. It required the most skilful piloting on Moye's part to get us back—with only two hundred feet of altitude and no speed—into the field. The Flying Carpet's career almost ended then and there.
Motor trouble hounded us all the way to New York.
Here we were held up three weeks while our engine was being doctored.
Then, loading the plane aboard the Majestic, the stevedores allowed the fuselage to swing against a ventilator and several huge holes were the result. Disembarking in Europe, the fabric was ripped completely off one wing. And all these damages had to be repaired before we could "merely speak the magic name of Timbuctoo to be transported there!"
In Paris, our aileron pushrods, which had always vibrated more than they should, began to oscillate dangerously. For four long weeks the combined force of technicians at Le Bourget airport could not locate the cause. Then an American aeronautical engineer, called all the way from Finland for the purpose, found that in assembling the airplane in California, the riggers had installed the pushrods upside down—an error by no means as obvious as it sounds. Once found, the trouble was remedied in five minutes. Even so, I began to wonder if my new "province" was going to be all the workshops of the world, as well as "the clouds and the continents."
Landing in Colomb Bechar in the sand-storm, we tore the cushion tire off our tail wheel, and rather than wait for a new one to be shipped from London, We wrapped the rim in heavy cord and flew on across the Sahara. When the roaring Fire Bird frightened the storks in Timbuctoo, it still bore this bandaged tail.
In Venice the motor began to falter again, and from there to Bagdad we sputtered along, never knowing at what inconsiderate moment it would die away entirely. We seemed to have a jinx motor, as though our Magic Carpet had the wrong spell cast upon it. Four separate exorcisms, even with Moye's adept direction, failed to banish the trouble. Then, after three hundred hours of its temperamental behavior, we threatened to throw the blasted motor into the Tigris and immediately it reformed of its own accord and ran superlatively well thenceforth.
So we could forget the engine. But we were by no means clear of trouble. In Teheran the snow and frost of the hangar-less landing field damaged our fabric to such an extent that Moye had to hasten to Bushire for repairs. Exposure to Persian winter weather may improve oriental rugs, but it doesn't improve Flying Carpets.
In Karachi, we found that all our Karachi-to-Singapore flying maps, which had been sent out from London, had been received before our arrival—and returned! We used chiefly our imagination to fly by, for the next three thousand miles.
In Agra, while we were flying upside down to salute the Taj, a section of the main fuel tank worked loose and dumped forty gallons of gasoline into my lap. We managed to land without catching fire; but lost a week waiting for the tank to be repaired.
These troubles, however, were nothing compared to what awaited us in Singapore. Our pontoons arrived there without the support struts, which we had been told could be made "easily" in Singapore. But it took the engineers and local mechanics from January until April to finish the work. The delay was maddening, and the struts and their installation cost as much as the pontoons themselves.
Three things helped make life endurable through these twelve impatient weeks of waiting. One was the courtesy and hospitality of the Royal Air Force, whose air-base we were using in Singapore. Another was the support of the Shell Oil Company. Back in America, we had made arrangements to have them supply us with fuel wherever we needed it, and to have them accept signed receipts to be collected in New York, instead of our making complicated payments in local currencies. In Colomb Bechar—at the isolated Saharan tank—in Timbuctoo—in Lisbon—in Galilee—in Maan, near Petra—in Persia—in Siliguri, where we fueled for Everest—in Burma and Malay—in short, everywhere we went, the Shell company had supplies for us. The problem of fuel proved to be no problem at all. We could always be sure of finding not only oil and gasoline, but also friendly assistance, even in the outposts where Shell stations are almost the only link with civilization. The company's officials were particularly obliging in Singapore, doing their best to lighten the tedium of our delay.
But the third, and pleasantest, distraction from our mechanical troubles was Elly. Following us on from Bangkok, she was persuaded to wait with us through a whole month of our tribulations. She kept insisting that she should fly on to Australia right away, but we wouldn't let her. We'd put What Good Am I Without You? on the phonograph, and she'd weaken and stay another day.
But at length she really did decide to go, and all our efforts to hold her were in vain. Our own route, fixed for Borneo and the Philippines, must now diverge from hers. We would not fly with Elly Beinhom again.
We escorted her to the flying field to send her and her "husband" on their way. For Moye and me, it was a blue moment when she said good-by. Elly had become an essential part of our adventure. We three had enjoyed a comradeship in which we thought and acted as one. To lose her upset everything. She had spoiled us, scolded us, lifted us at one bound up to the gay and gallant level of life in which she moved. And then, when we had learned to depend on her to take care of us completely—she left us flat!
Her little Klemm took off and circled overhead. Elly waved—and disappeared into the tropical sky.
Shortly after, we received a note from Batavia:
My dear Papas:
Batavia was easy—only six hours—but it seemed a such long time with no Flying Carpet to keep me company. The world became very big and very empty again, after I left Singapore. What Good Am I—without my two Papas? And what will you do without Elly? Who will keep Moye from talking about aviation, and who will make Dick wear his sun-helmet? I'm sure you both go to the dogs. But I'll play St. Louis Blues for you on my phonograph each day, and you must play Falling In Love Again for me, and love me very much.
I kiss you both on your sunburned noses—and will always stay your good child—
BEHIND US across the jade waters of the South China
Sea, Singapore was rapidly disappearing. Before us stretched a myriad jungled
islets, the tattered fringe of the Eastern continent, pierced by the arrow
of the Equator. The Flying Carpet was on its way again.
But what a changed Flying Carpet! Its undercarriage, with the fat balloon tires which had rolled us across a hundred flying fields, had been removed, and two twenty-foot silvery pontoons attached (at long last!) in their place. The dry land where it had paused between flights for nearly forty thousand miles it must now disown, and henceforth rest, like the albatross, upon the waves.
This Floating-Flying Carpet, proud of its new seagoing power, had cast about for new sea-tracks to travel—for destinations as lost in the sea as Timbuctoo had been in the Sahara. We decided, first of all, to call upon the White Queen of Borneo.
But has Borneo a white queen? Isn't it a savage aboriginal island, inhabited only by head-hunting wild men and orang-utans? Speaking largely, that is true. But over these head-hunters, and over these jungles where the big apes live, there rule a white King and Queen as cultivated, as urbane, as any in the world—with a history as romantic and remarkable.
In the year 1803, there was born in India, of English parents, a baby boy, James Brooke. who was destined to lead a life unique in modern annals. From childhood he had one all-consuming ideal—he wanted to make a country of his own. And with his imagination, his powerful personality, and his zest for fighting—qualities which became apparent as he grew—he seemed well equipped to achieve his ambition, rash as it was.
At thirty-two, James Brooke was able, on inheriting a small fortune, to buy a sailing ship, the Royalist, in which to pursue his idea. He set out from England to take his vessel to strange unexplored regions of the globe, to see what no Englishman had ever seen before, to fight pirates, to dethrone kings—and to raise a new throne, somewhere, for James Brooke to sit upon.
The East, at that period, was still the most adventurous part of the world, so he drifted eastward. In Singapore he heard that the northern coast of Borneo offered endless opportunities for exploration and adventure; that its Malay rulers were at war with the inhabitants, and that the whole island was harassed by pirates and slave-traders, who prevented any development of its rich resources.
To James Brooke this promised just the exciting element he was seeking. He set his course for Borneo. Reaching it, and finding a beautiful nameless river debouching past a Gibraltar-like promontory into the sea, he steered his auspiciously named ship some twenty miles up-stream. There he came to a thatched village, which its handful of Malay and Dyak inhabitants called Kuching
But Kuching, when he arrived, was not the peaceful place its peaceful setting indicated. The town was in ruins; its people in rebellion against the oppression of their overlord, the Sultan of Brunei, who lived farther up the coast. Brooke, just to stretch his legs, went ashore with gun and cutlass, and practically singlehanded, through moral suasion and physical force, established order in the distracted land. The citizens of Kuching, impressed with Brooke's air of power, insisted that he become their King and govern them as a state completely independent of Brunei. This was the opportunity he had dreamed about. He not only accepted, but forced the Sultan to recognize him, and to cede him seven thousand square miles of land along the river.
So James Brooke had a country of his own.
The next thing he did was to give his country a name— Sarawak. Then he began to organize it and develop it. He built himself a palace—for he felt he was there to stay; chose a council of state, created an army, designed a national flag, and composed a Constitution which gave him and his heirs absolute ownership forever. His subjects numbered about two thousand partly civilized Malay townsmen, and twenty thousand head-hunting Dyaks living in communal long-houses in the jungle.
But from the first, Brooke had to face the most powerful opposition. England looked upon him as a menace to her interests in the Indies, if not as an actual pirate, and withheld support. The Sultan of Brunei conspired constantly to recapture Sarawak from this alien interloper. The Moro slave-dealers swooped down to loot his new "capital." The Dyaks proved unruly subjects, warring continually for each other's head, and for Brooke's, too, when he tried to interfere. One rebellion brought about the murder of all his native officials. In another, his palace was burned to the ground, and he himself escaped only by swimming the river. Still a third started a conflagration that wiped Kuching completely off the map.
But Rajah Brooke, as this resourceful one-man government was called between revolutions, never relaxed from his original purpose of making—and holding—a country of his own. He rebuilt Kuching. He drove out the pirates and overcame every rebellion. And he actually managed to become leader of a British punitive expedition against Brunei, where he captured the capital, drove the Sultan into the jungle, and put an end to any threat of danger from this neighboring country.
In 1864—twenty-four years after his landing in Sarawak—Rajah Brooke's greatest desire was granted: England recognized his government, and sent a consul to Kuching
Four years later, worn out by the cares and battles of his extraordinary career, he died, and was succeeded— having no sons of his own, since he had never married— by his nephew, Charles Brooke. A Brooke Dynasty was thus begun.
The new Rajah proved to be no less energetic than his predecessor. He began to expand his boundaries by accepting the governing responsibilities of adjoining states. Brunei became only an isolated port, its territory having been annexed by Sarawak. At last, finding himself king of half a million people and fifty-five thousand square miles (a country larger in area than England itself), Rajah Charles Brooke made a treaty with Queen Victoria which guaranteed Sarawakës independence. Only in foreign affairs was England to be consulted, in exchange for her protection against foreign aggression.
Secure and well governed, this new state grew out of its savage infancy. Agriculture was promoted, slavery abolished and head-hunting discouraged. Several other adventurous Englishmen came out to explore and govern the wild interior. In 1917, when Rajah Charles Brooke died and his son Vyner became Rajah in turn, Sarawak was a going concern.
Vyner Brooke had been educated at Winchester and Cambridge. But the moment he became of age his father brought him to Borneo and made him the government's agent in the loneliest and most savage part of the backwoods. Vyner Brooke learned his Rajahship from the bottom rung. He fought cholera plagues among the Dyaks; he quelled local rebellions; he learned the dialects; he explored every inch of his father's territory. At forty-three, as thoroughly prepared for his office as any king who ever ruled, he ascended the throne.
And with him ascended Her Highness, the Ranee Sylvia, daughter of Lord Esher.
This royal couple, in their turn, have ever since ruled Sarawak with the same wisdom and benevolence that marked the reigns of the two previous Rajahs. Audience with them awaits any poorest, nakedest subject of the realm who seeks the palace at Kuching. The Dyak chiefs, leaving their smoked human heads in their longhouses' and dressed largely in beads and tattoo, paddle down to the capital and march into the palace. There, squatting on the floor and chewing the inevitable betelnut, they gravely place their difficulties before the Great White Tuan, and are as gravely listened to and counseled.
Despite the intimate and paternal form of Sarawak's government, it is taken quite seriously in Europe. Young Englishmen are always ready to accept the Rajah's appeal to enter the service of his proud, romantic little nation. Fully seventy-five English-born state officers are now scattered about the country, maintaining order, and offering protection to the childlike race of jungle dwellers who inhabit it.
It is not strange, therefore, that the White Rajah and the Ranee, with their unique position, have become celebrated throughout the Far East. But their position explains only part of their distinction. They have become famous, too, for their charm, their hospitality, their democratic manners, and, in recent years, for their strikingly beautiful daughters—the three white Princesses of this land of head-hunters.
With such enlightened rulers, Sarawak has made great progress since the World War—but progress without that distressing capital "P," for the rulers are determined not to exploit the country nor to change it from what it still remains: the native land of their primitive subjects. What changes they have wrought are not such as to spoil the little kingdom's character. Rubber has been planted along the coast, and an oil refinery operates, to supply all the Far East with gasoline. Otherwise, there is little encroachment upon the native color of the land, except in Kuching itself. There, a moving-picture house equipped for sound (and such sound! mostly Chinese) has been given to the citizens by the Princesses—who are themselves its best customers. A radio station talks over the local news with Singapore. A racetrack and grandstand ornament the park.
And one day, during the running of the Grand Prix, a few months before the publication of this book, the radio excitedly called up Singapore to tell how an airplane—a gold and scarlet airplane equipped with huge shining pontoons—had come roaring in from over the sea, found the racetrack, wheeled above the royal box, and lit upon the river before the palace. It was the biggest news in months.
Having landed, Moye and I found a buoy to which we
secured the ship. Then, completely exhausted from the most trying day since
our encounter with the sandstorm on the Sahara, we stretched out on our pontoons
and waited for a boat—any boat—to pick us up.
While waiting, I was unable to dismiss from my mind the painful things that had happened since that morning.
Back in Singapore, having little confidence in the new and untried support-struts of our pontoons, we had not been willing to risk the four-hundred-mile open water flight to Kuching. We thought it wiser, until our new equipment had been proved, to court the shore as much as possible, and approach Sarawak via the six-hundred-mile chain of islands that swings south from Singapore to Sumatra, and from there west to Borneo. Our first day's destination, a landlocked harbor on the coast of Sumatra, we reached safely. The next day, still experimenting with anchors and ropes and all the unfamiliar features of water-flying, we struck westward along the Equator, still following the chain. It was a brilliant day—the sea, dazzlingly blue, beat upon the little isles in rings of foam. Dense forests of palms hid every foot of land. One quiet cove, isolated, lonely, indescribably beautiful, so lured us that we landed on its surface, anchored, swam to the sandy beach, and bathed in the sun for half the day.
Our goal that afternoon was Pontianak, a small seaport on the west coast of Dutch Borneo. We found it, strewn along a river, and came down, to the great astonishment of the community. Ours was the first airplane that had ever been there. In an instant a hundred dugouts and rowboats came out to welcome the Flying Carpet.
But next morning, as we prepared to fly on to Sarawak, misfortune fell upon us.
The river at Pontianak is greatly affected by the tides. During the ebb and flow, the current races by at violent speed. Unfortunately, at the moment of our departure, this current was at its height, flowing seaward. By the time I'd pulled the anchor up and cranked the engine, we were already rushing down-stream. Moye, in order to hold us against the flow, had to accelerate the engine. With the propeller whirling two feet away from me, I stood on the pontoon and tried to coil up the new and stubborn anchor rope, and unshackle the anchor. But an especially fierce blast from the propeller caused me to lose my balance, and as I clutched wildly at a strut to keep from going overboard, a blade of the prop caught a flying loop of the rope—and I still had most of it wrapped around my arm. In a flash, the rope and the anchor and I were all jerked toward the prop. Moye, hearing the banging and the clatter and my cry, instantly cut the engine and looked around to see what was happening.
He saw the rope ripped into shreds; he saw the propeller bent into a bow-knot; he saw the water pouring into a big hole in the pontoon where the anchor, before it was hurled overboard, had been whipped against it; and he saw me, with all the skin raked off my arm and hand, lashed to the motor cylinders by the same strands of hemp which had fouled the crankshaft—my head not an inch from the prop—and the Flying Carpet rushing helplessly down-stream, right in the path of an oncoming freighter.
Moye, true to form, kept a cool head. Diving out of his cockpit with a knife, he slashed the rope which, bound around my shoulders, was sawing me in half. He didn't stop to analyze the miracles that had saved me from the propeller—the freighter was upon us—the left pontoon was sinking dangerously low. He waved frantically at the steamer—it veered to one side and we scraped past. A half-dozen launches, seeing our distress, came hurrying to our aid. One threw us a towline, and we were dragged into a side canal.
Fortunately, our pontoon had four compartments, and only one was flooded. The crankshaft did not seem to be bent. The propeller, however, looked hopeless. But Moye, taking blocks of wood and a blunt-headed hammer, beat the prop out—believe it or not!—more or less straight again. And a local machine-shop fitted a makeshift patch over the hole in the pontoon—all in five hours.
Then, when that was done, Moye looked after me. My arm and hand had been savagely skinned by the rope, and were swollen to twice their normal size. But except for that (and my very shaky knees) I was all right.
So, rather than give ourselves a chance to think about my narrow escape, we got back in the Flying Carpet and started off again for Sarawak, three hours beyond, with a crankshaft that might or might not be bent, and with a propeller that was only as smooth and straight as an iron mallet could make it.
But there was no further help to be had in Pontianak. We might as well try to fly on toward Kuching.
Somewhat to our surprise, the Carpet flew! Borneo unrolled beneath us again. We followed the completely wild and uninhabited coastline around the northwest corner of the island, found Kuching, and landed in the river.
As I have said, it had been a trying day.
But we had no time to brood over our troubles. Hardly were we ashore when Ranee Sylvia sent us a summons to appear at the palace that evening for the annual Grand Prix Ball.
Moye and I, dressed in our flying togs (I with my arm in bandages), accepted.
It was a memorable party.
Practically every European in the entire country—over two hundred—had collected at the capital for raceweek, and they were all on hand. But the Rajah himself was not there. He had gone to England with his oldest daughter just the week before, leaving the Ranee and her two younger daughters to receive the haut monde of Sarawak at this, the climax of the social season.
Half-encircled by a bank of orchids, the Ranee, in white and wearing a magnificent diamond necklace, greeted her guests, assisted by the Princess Elizabeth, age eighteen, and the Princess Valerie, sixteen. Every woman present was jeweled and smartly gowned in the latest (minus eight weeks!) Paris mode; and every man resplendent in military or civil service uniform . . . scarlet jackets, medals, ribbons. A Filipino orchestra played for the hundred couples dancing in the great banquet hall, from the walls of which gazed the portraits of Sarawak's Rajahs, past and present. It was as beautiful and graceful a picture of social life as I've ever seen . . . and outside, the head-hunters, dressed in gee-strings, watched from the lawn.
Each with a Princess on his arm, Moye and I, wearing the flying clothes Elly Beinhom had patched together for us in Persia, led the Grand March!
So this was Borneo!
On our arrival, we had been presented to the Ranee.
She was slim, vivacious, keenly alive.
"What a surprise you gave us this afternoon!" she said. "When you flew over our heads at the racetrack the most important race of the week was being run. The Rajah's horse was leading . . . but I didn't know whether to watch the finish or look at the airplane. It was excruciating."
"I hope your horse won, just the same," I said, trying to be gallant.
"He didn't—but nobody seemed to care in the excitement. I've never seen the natives so agitated. We weren't expecting you—an American airplane, unannounced, swooping out of nowhere down on top of us, out here in Sarawak—really, it seemed almost supernatural."
"We couldn't have asked for a more royal welcome," said Moye, looking about.
"Yes, it is fortunate that you came today. We don't dress up like this often. You might have found Kuching dull at any other season than race-week.... But how did you come?—where did you start from?—it's all too amazing!"
"We started in Hollywood, Ranee Sylvia. But we came here from Singapore. We're on our way to Manila."
"I suppose you left Singapore just this afternoon?"
"No," Moye answered ruefully. "We left three days ago. We had a little trouble along the way that delayed us. We almost lost the ship this morning, and Mr. Halliburton's head."
"How dreadful! Did you come down among my head-hunters?"
I explained briefly what had happened. "It was very embarrassing," I said. "I'm still a bit shaky. The champagne helps greatly, though. Now, if I could only dance with you, I'd be completely revived."
You may. I always like to dance with Americans."
I was fortunate, because the Ranee was decidedly the best dancer at her party.
We waltzed beneath a beautiful full-length portrait of the first Rajah Brooke.
"What would he think," I asked, "seeing the present Ranee of Sarawak at the swankiest palace-party of the year, dancing with a man in corduroy trousers—and patched corduroy, at that?"
"I'm sure he'd be delighted," she answered, "—especially as you are an American. He always felt friendly toward your country. It was the very first to recognize Sarawak, you know—long before England. And your plane, by the way, has the same colors as our flag."
What a charming person my dance-partner was. Her friendliness gave me an inspiration:
"Ranee," I said suddenly (she was Sylvia Ranee of Sarawak, but "Ranee" to her guests!) "—would you, as a great favor to Stephens and me, go riding with us aboard the Flying Carpet? In spite of the accident, it seems to be running well enough."
"Of course I would," she said, with enthusiasm. "I was afraid you weren't going to ask me. No other woman has ever flown before in Borneo—I'll be the first."
"We promise not to do any dangerous stunts—looping-the-loop and all that."
"Then I don't want to go," she said, laughing.
Our invitation to the Ranee and her immediate acceptance seemed to me to be a purely personal affair, but it almost caused a civil war in Kuching. The government was horrified—the Ranee trusting her life to a couple of perfectly strange foreigners who had just landed in their midst, unbidden, unexplained, unintroduced. Perhaps we were kidnappers—"Kidnappers in Airplane Steal White Queen of Borneo—Rajah Hurries Home—Army Called Out—Head-Hunters throughout Sarawak are instructed not to take head of any Englishwoman found wandering in the jungle...." The idea of such headlines in the Sarawak Gazette only raised the Ranee's enthusiasm for this unheard-of adventure.
Presently the proposed flight was on every tongue, Malay, Chinese, Dyak and English. Some of the younger government secretaries were heartily in favor—if we'd flown here from Timbuctoo we must be safe enough! The Minister of Public Works and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were also pro-flight. But the Secretary of State and all the wives (who hadn't been invited ) were vehemently anti-flight. What would happen in the Rajah's absence, they asked, if the Ranee were injured? The Rajah would hold the Secretary of State and the Minister of Health responsible. And if she were killed, the government would be without a ruler for several weeks. There might be a coup d'état, even a revolution. The Secretary of State threatened to radio the Rajah to radio back to his wife and forbid her to take this foolish risk. In fact, the secretary did just that.
"Now we've got to hurry, and have our flight before the Rajah's cable comes," the Ranee confided in me. "I do want to fly!"
And so we hurried. The Ranee, the pro-flight Chamberlain, and the Princesses Elizabeth and Valerie, with two Dyak chiefs as escorts, and Moye and I, set off on the royal yacht, down-stream to where the Flying Carpet was anchored. The Ranee, provided with helmet and goggles, climbed into the front cockpit. I raised the anchor, cranked the engine, and climbed in beside her. Moye, in the rear cockpit, soon rocked us off the water, and in a moment we were far up in the sky.
Straightway we flew back over the palace and the town. Shops and offices were emptied and all business suspended, as the entire population rushed out into the streets to gaze up at their Ranee overhead in the flying boat.
Sarawak looked extraordinarily beautiful from the air. Smoky-blue jungle hiding every foot of ground . . . and the broad river winding down from the mountains, past the neat little whitewashed, palm-shaded town, and flowing out into the China Sea—the river up which James Brooke had sailed in his Royalist over ninety years before, to make a country of his own.
We landed safely beside the yacht, and delivered our passenger back on deck—unkidnapped. She was elated over her flight, but had some trepidations about facing the Secretary of State. The Rajah's cable came just in time to save the situation—it insisted that the Ranee must by no means miss this opportunity of riding aboard the Flying Carpet and seeing Sarawak from the air!
Next day, loaded down with little presents from the royal family, and armed with letters of safe-passage, we set sail for the interior to call upon the head-hunters. Before turning inland, however, we circled over the palace grounds. As we did so, the Ranee and the two Princesses ran out on to the lawn, and waved good-by with big white scarfs. We returned them all the salutes an airplane is capable of giving, and ended with a dive straight toward the waving figures. At the right moment, I dropped overboard the helmet which the Ranee had worn, and then we rose again and left the town behind. Looking back, I could see the Ranee picking up the helmet and reading what we had inked upon it
"LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!
From The Flying Carpet and
MY FIRST encounter with Wild Men of Borneo came some
years before this visit to their native island. It happened in Berlin, where
I was visiting a circus sideshow. The Wild Men were on exhibition—dark brown,
almost black, skin; clothed only in a loin-cloth, and decorated with red paint
on their faces and wild-boars' tusks around their necks and ankles. They
were in an iron cage, before which a large crowd, fascinated by such ferocious
and dangerous savages, stood and stared. As curious as any one, I pressed
close to get a good look at the exhibits, and as I did so I overheard this
"Sho' is hot," one savage said to the other.
They were perfectly good Mississippi negroes, making an easy living by this great impersonation.
My faith in Wild Men was considerably shaken by such disillusioning experience. I wondered if, when we landed at the Dyak long-house we were headed for, the chief was going to greet me with "Good mornin', suh! Ain't that airyplane sump'm!"
Our objective was marked clearly on a huge chart I had before me in the cockpit. The chart had been given to us by the Ranee, after the officials who best knew the interior had indicated on it the long-house chosen for us to visit, on the Rejang River at a point two hundred miles from the sea—a long-house ruled by one of the greatest Dyak chiefs in Sarawak.
There were other reasons, too, why this house had been recommended: Besides being one of the greatest Dyak communities, it was also one of the most remote from civilization—very near the heart of the island. And yet, the Rejang River and its tributaries connected it directly with the sea. We could follow this river as a guiding thread and come down in smooth water at almost any point. If anything went wrong with the flying mechanics of our plane, we would be able to float the entire two hundred miles back to the coast.
The Headman of the district, Chief Koh, made this particular long-house his capital. He was a great favorite with the Rajah and the Ranee, despite the fact that he had been to Kuching only once in his life. The Ranee had urged us to visit him in order not only to meet the native ruler best able to show us Dyak life in its richest and most unspoiled form, but also to present ourselves as good-will ambassadors bearing a gift from the Throne.
From Kuching, with our pontoons and propeller properly mended, we had sailed up the coast a hundred miles, come to the estuary of the Rejang, and turned up this enormous river—a river pouring into the China Sea a volume of water as great as the Mississippi.
For another hundred miles this vast yellow flood twisted and turned as if trying to shake us loose; but we made every effort not to be shaken, for on either side stretched jungle as dense and as hostile as any in the world. The banks were the home of countless giant crocodiles. The pythons waited in the trees above the waterside for the wild pigs to come to drink; and the orang-utans, big as men, ruled as undisputed kings throughout this kingdom of swamps and trees.
At rare intervals we noticed long-houses beside the river, and an occasional government post ornamented by a log fort.
During the second hundred miles, the river narrowed greatly and ran more swiftly as we approached the highlands. We watched carefully for every fork and landmark, to keep our exact position clear on the chart.
Guided by that chart, we came at length to the post called Kapit, and according to instructions from the Ranee, landed there to make the acquaintance of the district Resident, a young Englishman. Official letters requested him to follow us to Chief Koh's long-house, to act as escort and interpreter. It was agreed we should depart next morning, and that as soon as he saw we had escaped the dangerous floating logs and were on our way, he would follow as quickly as possible in his motor-dugout, arriving at the long-house perhaps six hours later than we.
Starting off ,again, at the appointed time, we flew for another twenty minutes across jungle penetrable only via the river. This river-route would take the Resident and his servants, in the most modern conveyance in Central Borneo, twenty times as long as it was taking us.
Amid such a sea of treetops, the clearing on the riverbank around our particular long-house destination marked it before we got there. Just above the clearing we selected a broad smooth patch of water where two rivers joined—an ideal place to alight.
But first we would announce ourselves by diving wideopen at the long-house!
In all the history of Borneo, there was probably never such excitement, such consternation, as prevailed inside that house. Its three hundred Dyak inmates rushed out upon the front veranda-like platform that extended the entire length of the building, and darted about in complete panic, supposing no doubt that the shrieking demoniac bird had come to devour them. Some leaped to the ground and fled into the jungle. Others seized their babies and hid underneath the house. There was pandemonium.
We had hoped that our arrival might bring these jungle people some entertainment, and were sorry that our first appearance had frightened them half to death instead.
So, desisting, we landed on the river and anchored in shallow water.
Not a soul appeared.
How were we going to get ashore? The river was too full of crocodiles to risk swimming; and anyway, there were no banks to swim to—just a border of half-drowned branches of trees. Taxying around to the long-house in the hope of attracting a boat seemed unwise, for we did not know what hidden rocks the water might conceal. There seemed nothing to do but wait six hours for our friend the English Resident to overtake us.
Then, just as we were resigning ourselves to spending half a day on our pontoons, a dugout appeared around the bend, manned by an extraordinarily fine-looking young Dyak. He wore only the usual red cotton cloth, wrapped tightly about his loins. His trim muscular body, shining in the sun and extravagantly tattooed on arms and legs, made a perfect picture of natural grace and strength. Thick, straight, jet-black hair hung in bangs across his forehead and down his back to his waist. From each ear dangled a heavy gold ring, suspended from long slits in his ear-lobes. And around his wrists were dozens of black grass bracelets.
Paddling at full speed, he came toward us, shouting and smiling. He drew alongside our pontoons and shook our hands, talking excitedly in Dyak and trying desperately, with gesticulations, to make us understand that we were welcome. He explained—and we understood quite clearly enough—that everybody else had fled to the jungle, but that he had been not only to Kuching, but even to "Singapura," and had seen a "be-loon" (balloon, meaning an airplane) fly there. He knew what we were, but nobody had given him time to explain.
Moye and I embarked in his dugout, paddled to the long-house and climbed the ladder from the water's edge up to the front platform. Peering timidly around corners at the extreme end of the house, a handful of Dyaks reappeared. Our escort shouted at them to come and meet us—we were only Tuans like the Resident, come in a be-loon to visit them.
Little by little, like wild forest animals, the Dyaks began to gather closer, shyly at first, but with increasing courage and increasing numbers, until presently three hundred brown bodies were swarming toward us from the jungle, from the branches, from the hillside above. It finally became a race to reach us—and the naked little children, agile as squirrels, got there first.
We looked about curiously at our new friends. They were all full blooded Dyaks—surprisingly small, but surprisingly beautiful. The men were dressed uniformly in red loin-cloths and narrow aprons, heavy earrings, anklets and wristlets of twisted grass. The women were dressed as simply—bare from the waist up, with their hips wrapped in a single cotton cloth. A few of them Wore high corsets made of rattan hoops wrapped in copper wire, fitting snugly around their waists. They wore their hair pulled back and tied in a knot. All the men, on the other hand, allowed theirs to fall freely down their backs. It not infrequently reached their knees. Everybody was adorned with the same tattoo, always dark blue in color, we had noticed on the young man in the dugout. What agreeable faces! True, all the noses had flat bridges, and the eyes had a slight Mongolian slant, but in their glance were quick intelligence and appealing kindliness.
But what gave them all such a surprised expression? . . . It was their eyebrows and eyelashes—there weren't any. Every eyelash and eyebrow had been pulled out. Only the littlest girls were still unplucked.
We could not help observing their teeth as they crowded around us, now talking and laughing. Each mouth was black from betel-nut; each tooth had been filed down almost to the gums. Only the black stumps remained, or in some cases, among what was obviously the better class, to these stumps were fixed bright brass teeth. (Any dog can have white teeth, but only rich people can have beautiful brass ones!) It seems hard to believe that these disfigurements would not completely wreck their appearance. But despite all their efforts to mar themselves, they still remained strikingly handsome. Such physiques did not need eyebrows or teeth to compel admiration.
From out of the dense ring around us, an especially fine figure of a man, probably fifty years old, emerged to greet us. Gray hair—deep chest—powerful arms and legs—and a face that was as noble and as full of character as any face I've ever seen. It had firmness about the mouth, but good humor in the wide-set eyes. This Dyak would have commanded attention and respect any place in the world.
He was Chief Koh.
The young man who had first come to welcome us was his son, Jugah.
Into their hands we now put ourselves and, followed by a small mob, were shown about the long-house.
A Bornean long-house is a community dwelling, always erected lengthwise along a river-bank. The rear half is given over to a long row of cubicles, one for each family, all of which open upon the front half, which consists of one long, unpartitioned public gallery that extends from end to end of the building and forms a sort of covered Main Street. In the case of Chief Koh's house, this gallery was thirty feet wide and fully six hundred feet long. Here the children play, the mats are woven, the rice is winnowed, the drums and the blowpipes and the spears are kept; all community life takes place here. And from the rafters of this gallery the smoked human heads, trophies of the tribe's prowess in war, hang in hundreds.
We noticed that our entire house was lifted some twenty feet off the ground on poles. The space below the house was used for the pig-pens and chicken coops and as a general receptacle for all the refuse. Our long-house was not a model of sanitation, but that did not keep it from being an amazing structure nevertheless, considering its colossal size and the skilled craftsmanship that had taken the reeds and trees from the jungle, and with the crudest of implements—without bricks or stone, without saws or nails—fashioned a cooperative apartment that sheltered three hundred people and contained all the requirements of their village life.
That afternoon, the Resident overtook us. He spoke Dyak like a native, and proved fully informed about this interesting and attractive race.
At sunset, Moye and I, having learned that the depth of the water permitted, taxied the Flying Carpet up to the crude dock before the long-house. This gave the entire population of the place all the chance they wanted to inspect the monster.
Old Chief Koh stood on the bank and gazed with consuming curiosity at the winged demon. He turned to the Resident and asked several earnest questions relative to our plane.
"Is it a bird?" he inquired. Everything that flies in the air must be a bird. "—Does it lay eggs?"
"Yes," I said, through the interpreter, when he told me about Koh's questions. "It is a magic bird. But it will fly only for a special magic-maker, and only when it is roaring. If allowed, the bird will hurl itself to the ground in order to destroy any one riding upon it. Yes— this bird can lay eggs, too—iron eggs. They are always laid while flying, and wherever they fall, they explode with a terrible roar and demolish everything in sight. When you wish to destroy your enemy's long-house, you just make this bird fly overhead and lay an egg, which falls down on the roof and blows it up."
Chief Koh listened with open mouth, but Jugah wouldn't believe a word of it. He knew it wasn't a bird at all. It was a be-loon.
Chief Koh's intense interest in our magic vehicle was not without an ulterior motive. He took the Resident aside, and asked him if it might be possible for us to fly over the long-house of the mountain-Dyaks, fifty miles farther inland, with whom he'd been having no end of trouble and lay an egg on the rival chief. The Resident was horrified. After all these years of pacification, old Koh's foremost thought was still the destruction of his neighbors. The Resident excused us by pointing out that the exploding eggs would smash the enemies' heads to bits, and make them useless as trophies.
Koh's request, however, gave the Resident what he thought was a much better idea—What a grand spectacle it would be for all the tribesmen if their chief could be persuaded to go for a ride! . . . but not immediately— not until he could collect his sub-chiefs and their retainers to watch.
Moye and I naturally responded to the idea. We'd play it up, prepare the stage, make his flight an event that would go down in Dyak history, make it an impressive honor bestowed in the name of the Rajah's government at Kuching.
The Resident announced this plan to Koh and explained that it would give him prestige beyond calculation. It would also bring to the tribe as much glory as a successful head-hunting war. But Koh was dubious. This seemed like invading the realm of the gods and the demons. To give him courage, Moye led him on to the pontoons, and into the front cockpit' and tried to explain that it really wasn't dangerous at all.
Moved chiefly by his pride, he finally agreed to fly.
And that very night, he instructed messengers to go into the tributary rivers, carrying the fantastic story of the magic bird to all the other tribal long-houses and their subsidiary chiefs. These chiefs must be summoned to appear three days hence, in the morning,, to meet the Tuans who had come there riding through the air on the magic bird that laid iron eggs, and to behold their great Penghulu ï carried up into the clouds and brought home again by this same monster. It was to be a very great event. They must wear all their best feather headdresses, and all their silver jewelry, and bring their swords and shields, and come in their war-boats with as many followers as possible.
From the dock where the Flying Carpet was tied, a dozen dugouts, each manned by two paddlers, pushed off to spread the news throughout Chief Koh's territory.
SOCIAL activity began to seethe that night. Rice wine
was brought out by the jugful, and all the men, crouched on their heels in
an arc about the three white Tuans, got pleasantly drunk. In ceremony
after ceremony, we had to take part. Seated beside Koh and Jugah in the long
gallery, lighted only by the line of open cooking fires, we were fed an official
dinner. Five piled-up plates of rice were placed before us, and a tray of
eggs, fish, onions and so forth. Each of us had to garnish his own rice with
these various dressings, and in a rigidly conventional routine. We watched
Koh prepare his plate, and then followed his example. Before we were allowed
to eat it, five young, unmarried (but highly marriageable!) girls came and
kneeled before us, one girl for each, with large gourds of rice wine. We had
to drink it down as they held the gourds to our lips with their own hands.
Then a live squawking rooster was passed to us by its legs, and we had to
wave the flapping fowls over our bowl of rice and over our maiden and ask
the gods to give us the good fortune always to have a full dinner pail and
a full love-life.
All around, the men and boys sat and watched, drinking gourd after gourd of rice wine and making comic innuendos (judging from the boisterous laughter) about the virgins and ourselves. The women and girls collected at a distance, but missed nothing.
This memorable scene had one other feature that I'll never forget—the dogs. There were several dogs to each Dyak, and such dogs!—ratlike, mangy, starved. At the smell of food they broke through the circle like hungry flies, and snatched food from our very hands. A blow sent them yelping, but in a moment they had sneaked back again. We had to eat our rice with one hand—literally—and beat off the swarms of these scaly, hairless little beasts with the other. The wretched animals never seemed to be fed and certainly were not loved—not even wanted. But to destroy one was considered extremely bad form. So they were allowed to multiply and starve, accepted as a curse like the mosquitoes.
Our eating ceremony began before Chief Koh's apartment, and was conducted by his women-folk. The moment it was over, we were moved down the long gallery to the dining space belonging to the next family of importance, and exactly the same meal as before was brought out, with the same wine-bibbing and rooster-waving. To our consternation, we learned that we must go through this ceremony twenty times, and to omit a single gesture would be unpardonable rudeness. The rice began to swell before our eyes, and to resist being swallowed. The wine (about twenty per cent alcohol) began to intoxicate us. Only by pretending to eat, and by making our lovely virgins drink not only their half the loving-cup but ours too, were we able to finish up this gastronomic endurance test in a conscious condition.
Our sleeping quarters were in a large partitioned corner
of the chief's apartment. A bit wobbly, Moye and the Resident and I were each
led by two maidens, holding our hands, across the rickety cane floor into
this guest room. These floors were never made for two-hundred-pounders like
Moye to walk upon. His foot found a weak spot, and with a crashing and splintering
of bamboo, he plunged through the hole his foot had made. Only the clutch
of his two pretty escorts saved him from tumbling straight into the pig-pens
As I undressed for bed—three pallets of mats and cotton quilts had been prepared side by side for the three Tuans—I looked up through the dim light shed by the Resident's kerosene lamp, and to my horror I saw several dozen human heads suspended from the low rafters by rattan cords, and grinning down at us—or was it the effects of the rice wine? I tried to hide under the cotton spread, but these gruesome gaping heads kept leering down at me through all protection.
"Is Koh at peace with the world?" I asked the Resident, visioning a night attack from some enemy tribe eager to add white men's heads to their collection.
"Quite," the Resident assured me. "Koh is at peace—or at least too strong to be attacked. Anyway, Rajah Brooke has almost succeeded in stamping out the practise of head-hunting in Sarawak—if that's what is worrying you. Heads are still taken in the wild mountain districts along the Dutch Borneo border; but even there the custom is rapidly coming to an end. There are probably very few, if any, heads up there above us taken within the last five years.
"Head-hunting is still practised by the Sarawak Army soldiers, though. When they slay an enemy in authorized warfare, no power on earth can stop them from decapitating their victim. The soldiers all carry, along with their rifles, a short sword-hoping for the best. If they do take a head in this manner, they return with it to their native long-house and are welcomed like conquering heroes. There is a feast and dancing, and much drinking of rice wine, and many invitations from the maidens.
"But every adult in this house can remember the old days. Dyaks have always been the most pugnacious tribe on the island, and the most incorrigible hunters—and any slim excuse for a war was sufficient. If there was no excuse, they made raids anyway—just the collector's instinct! No Dyak girl would look at a boy until he had at least one head to present to her.
"Life was cheap then. Every Dyak had to be constantly on guard. The fighting men slept with their swords and shields beside them. It's a true and familiar story that the man with the scaly skin disease—you've seen several people in this house afflicted with it—was considered highly useful as a watch-dog, because he itched and scratched all night, and couldn't sleep. The disease actually had a monetary value. The lucky owner could sell the infection to others who wanted to keep awake.
"Attacks on enemy long-houses were usually made just at early dawn. Bundles of shavings were always thrust under the house first and set on fire. As you can see, the long-houses are perfect tinder-boxes. A fire once started underneath will consume the entire house in fifteen minutes. While the inhabitants were fleeing down the ladders, trying to escape from being burned to death, the attackers pounced upon them and didn't spare man or woman. A head is a head, and its sex of no consequence when it has been dried and smoked, and hangs from a ceiling at home.
"Naturally, there would be reprisals upon the houses of the attackers. So it became perpetual motion. It's a wonder the Dyak race ever survived this organized slaughter of one another. Now that the Rajah has just about pacified this country, the Dyaks are multiplying rapidly. Their numbers have doubled in twenty years."
"Do you suppose these heads up there are community trophies, or the proof of Chief Koh's private prowess?" I asked.
"They are all his own. He was made a chief in his early manhood because of his ability as a war-leader, and his ruthlessness in taking heads. He boasts of having taken over fifty. There must be that many here—though you can't tell how many are of women. A few may even have been chopped from orang-utans or corpses, just to add to the impressiveness of his collection."
That night was weird and restless for all three of us. Our ribbed cane mattress—the floor—began to leave its cross-marks. The innumerable dogs yelped interminably, fighting for possession of the dying ashes in the cooking fires, ashes they slept in. The pigs grunted down below. Old men, in the long room outside, scratched and talked. The cocks began their canticle long before daylight—and the hideous heads hanging above kept peering into our very souls. Only the overdose of rice wine made sleep possible.
But next day was occupied with new interests and we soon forgot our uncomfortable night.
At sunup the entire population of the long-house trooped down to the river and bathed. However careless they may have been about the state of their dwelling, personally they were scrupulously, almost fanatically, cleanly. Two, even three, baths a day are the custom. They bathed in families and in groups, as completely unconscious of their nudity as the monkeys and the parrots that watched in the trees above.
We were seeing and learning new things every minute. Jugah, traveled, liberated, keenly intelligent, quick thinking and quick acting, was always by our side, anticipating, though he spoke not one word of any language that we spoke, our every wish.
He took us into his own apartment, next to Koh's. There we met his wife and their two strikingly beautiful little children—a boy about three and a girl a year older. Perfectly formed, clean, lovable, they would have taken prizes in baby shows anywhere.
It was obvious that Jugah was passionately fond of his children. And in this respect he was typical of all Dyaks. Children are the strongest interest in their lives. They can never have enough. Barrenness on the part of a wife is the commonest ground for divorce. Dyaks will buy children, steal children, do anything to get them. The occasional Chinese one sees among the people are the result of Chinese traders selling their own unwanted babies to baby-crazy Dyaks.
Jugah led his tribe in introducing the smartest and latest modes of dress and entertainment. On his return from "Singapura" (where the Resident had arranged for him to work for a season on a rubber plantation, by way of "education") he had acquired vast tone with his new mechanical purchases and his new wardrobe. He showed us his special treasures: Three cheap alarm clocks—though he had not the faintest idea how to tell time by them, or even knew what "time" meant. But the alarm part, all three going at once, brought joy to his soul.
And then he showed us his treasured store-clothes. He had one pair of high-button, bright yellow shoes, into which he thrust his tough prehensile feet. On his head went a Homburg hat, so big it fell over his ears. His suit, sold to him by some Arab trader, was a nauseating green shade and made to fit a man twice Jugah's size. Dressed in all his glory, the young Dyak, elated as a child in fancy-dress, paraded around the room to show Off his elegance, and asked me to take his picture.
I could not suppress my despair at seeing such a beautiful young animal hidden under this clownish garb. I begged him to take it off and put on his own colorful, barbaric adornments—his shell necklaces, his embroidered loin-cloth, his silver girdle with the carved buckles, his glorious head-dress stuck with feathers two feet long; and to seize his spear and his shield covered with the hair of dead enemies; to dress like the noble young prince he was; and then I'd photograph him to his heart's content. He obliged me, however disappointed he may have been at my low taste.
Mrs. Jugah was as grandly arrayed as her husband. Her party dress was the usual corset, but wrapped in silver wire, and a short knee-length skirt made entirely of beads and bells. There was a sweet soft tintinnabulation when she moved. Mrs. Jugah also possessed the most elaborate tattoo in the long-house. Every inch of her lovely brown body was decorated with graceful and really beautiful designs, all done in dark blue ink. It had taken years of pain and patience to acquire her decorations. Every Dyak in our long-house was tattooed from head to foot; but Mrs. Jugah's undoubtedly cost the most.
Her brass teeth also were something marvelous. At twelve or thirteen, she had deliberately lain down, as is the custom for all girls of that age, and allowed a Chinese pedler to draw his heavy iron file across her teeth until they were ground off to the gums. The girls undergoing this operation squirm and suffer, not because of the pain, which doesn't seem to bother them at all, but because their position is so immodest!
Mrs. Jugah had gone all the way to Sibu, one hundred and fifty miles down-stream, for her teeth, and they were worth the journey, for upon the brass background were enameled in red and green color the suits of a deck of cards—hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades.
While Jugah was leading the hunting and the fishing and the dancing (alas, there was little fighting unless you joined the army), and with his wife lending the social gaiety to their long-house, his father was handling the departments of Government and Justice. In his hands rested the administration of all moral and social affairs. But in Dyak-land, so simple, so natural, are their moral and social codes, and so faithfully are these codes followed, that Koh really did not have a great deal to do. Nowhere is the relationship between the sexes so uncomplicated as in Borneo. The Resident, who had lived several years in the company of these people, and had learned to understand and to love them, explained that for Dyaks completely free love is not only accepted, but encouraged The moment an adolescent boy feels the attraction of girls, he "goes looking for tobacco" and loses no time in solving the sex-mysteries. Eligible maidens sleep in the loft above their parents' quarters—Jugah had shown us these special apartments and, with a few sly comments and gestures, the ladder connecting the loft with the outside world. The girl receives whom she likes when she likes. The language of love is simple enough. For all her suitors she rolls cigarettes. Tied in one manner, the cigarette means, "Let's talk about books." Tied in another manner, it means, "I'm so glad you came—I'm cold and lonely." Consequently in this utterly natural society there is no such thing as prostitution or repression.
There is such a thing, however, as maternity, but maternity is not unwelcomed, for a girl who has proved her ability to bear a child, has all the more reason to expect a permanent child-loving husband and a "home" of her own. If there is any uncertainty about the father, she names the man she suspects (or desires), and the betrothal is announced. But if the boy rebels and refuses to marry her, he need only pay a fine equaling five dollars in our money to the girl's family, and the case is dropped. For a few babies by various previous lovers in no way interfere with the girl's ultimate marriage eligibility.
Such a standard of fines is the punishment of every deviation from a social rule. If a married man goes "hunting for tobacco" and is caught, he must pay a one-dollar fine. If he wishes to divorce his wife, because he's tired of her, the fine is three dollars and a half. But if he is found guilty of their crime of crimes—incest with his aunt—the fine is the maximum—ten dollars, a whole life's savings.
Incest is supposed to bring unfailingly a curse upon the entire tribe. When the rice crop fails, when a plague of cholera comes upon them, when a flood washes away their property, in short, when any dire event happens, the chief begins to look for an incestuous cause. And so prohibited is incest, and consequently so alluring, that he usually finds what he's looking for. The guilty party is denounced, the fine is paid, the plague departs, and everybody is happy.
Their rule against incest is most frequently broken by a father or his son with an adopted daughter, and by a son with his father's second or third or fourth wife's sisters. These sisters are all considered "aunts" and in many cases may be the same age as, or younger than, the guilty boy. In a natural, free-loving society, this last offense seems pardonable enough, as there is no blood relationship. But for some strange reason the knowledge of one's "aunt" is a disastrous, unspeakable sin—yet not so unspeakable that ten dollars paid to the chief doesn't wash everybody clean.
On the second afternoon of our visit, Jugah gave us
each a blowpipe and a quiver of darts, such as the Dyaks use in their hunting,
and we went out to look for game along the twilit jungle trails leading from
the long-house. The power and accuracy of these pipes amazed us. Fifteen feet
long, straight, light, hollowed true? they are effective at two hundred feet.
The slightest puff sends the dart shooting forth almost faster than the eye
can follow. Jugah was a wonderful marksman. He got a wild pig on the run,
and brought down half a dozen wood pigeons from the treetops. The darts were
all dipped in poison, which, while almost instantly fatal to birds and small
animals when introduced through a wound, seemed in no way injurious to their
flesh. We ate the birds and felt no harmful effects.
Our own first efforts with the blowpipes were completely unsuccessful. We missed everything and used up all our darts. But following Jugah's example, we made little bullets of mud, and found those could be fired through the pipe with the same deadly force as the darts. Jugah killed almost as many pigeons with these tiny mud pellets as with the poisoned arrows.
As entertaining, and even more curious, was our tuba fishing. With fish providing for the Dyaks, along with rice, the chief staff of life, they can not be condemned for the unsportsmanlike way their fish are caught. Tuba is a poison made from the root of a tree; and when it is poured into a stream, all the fish die of suffocation. In preparation for the hundreds of guests due next day, Jugah organized a first-class tuba expedition, and we went along.
He chose a stream that had not been poisoned in several months. A platform sloping into the water was first built across the hundred-foot mouth of the stream. This was to catch the fish when, in their death struggles, they came leaping down-river. Then three canoe-loads of us went half a mile farther up, and with rocks beat to a pulp a hundred pounds of tuba root. The juice, when mixed with water, instantly turns to a milk-white color. This fatal fluid we poured into the stream, and with nets and spears stood by in our canoes to capture the fish when they came to the surface.
As they began to rise, there were wild shouts of delight from the boatmen. Jugah and his friends had fished this way a hundred times, but from the hullabaloo they made, one would have thought this was a pursuit as new to them as to us.
With paddles flashing and the canoes darting back and forth, we made after the big fellows. Nets were whipped about, spears jabbed into the water. With almost every stroke, a struggling fish was swept into our boats. More shouts on the platform down-stream indicated that they too were busy. The biggest catch of all was there. Fish weighing three and four pounds were splashing about, landing on the platform, and being clubbed by the Dyaks who, brandishing their heavy sticks, were simply dancing with excitement. It was more of a harvest than a hunt, but it was interesting while it lasted.
We returned home with our three dugouts loaded down. This was our contribution to the great feast that would come tomorrow.
MEANWHILE, during my own adventures and observations,
Chief Koh was busy indeed. He was expecting several hundred, perhaps even
a thousand, visitors for our Bornean flying-meet. For two days basket-loads
of rice were made ready; a dozen pigs were killed; and the fish we had caught
were cleaned and stored; and rice wine, jars upon jars of it, waited in readiness.
However apprehensive Koh may have been over his forthcoming travels aboard the demon bird, he did not dare express his apprehension now. But the night before, he began imbibing considerably more rice wine than usual; and next morning, when the war-boats big and small began to pour in, old Koh had reached a state wherein he was willing to ride on any bird that flew. And if he had to perish in the clutches of this roaring monster—whoopee!—he would die like a man!
Larger and larger grew the visiting company. Each moment brought new boats and new crews. Soon there was a numerous fleet of dugouts tied along the bank, and a dense crowd of Dyaks gaping at the Flying Carpet still tied to the dock.
American Indians in all their war-paint and regalia were never arrayed like these dressed-up Borneans. The jungle had been combed for the brightest, longest feathers to be stuck in their huge head-dresses; their bronze chests were half hidden by yards of necklaces. Many wore a small shoulder-cape made of white monkey fur. Each brave carried his five-foot shield, a sword in its sheath of silver, and a long slim spear. There were high spirits, loud laughter, ardent speculation about the magic bird and what it would do, and why Jugah went about still explaining that it was a be-loon; but this explained nothing, for nobody knew what that was.
At last the great hour arrived. Koh stood at the top of the ladder, drunk as a native lord can get, but still looking, with his noble face, like a brown-skinned Olympian. The most striking thing was the extreme simplicity of his dress. While his guests and his family were ablaze with jewelry and fur and feathers, Chief Koh had removed every adornment, even to his earrings. About his loins and down his thighs hung a simple black cotton cloth. Otherwise he was undraped and undecorated.
I wondered if he knew that this simplicity gave him a hundred times the distinction of his barbarically dressed fellows. Did he know that when he descended the steps to meet, as he believed, his destiny, a thousand eyes looked upon him with awe ?
We strapped the helmet and goggles over his head, and placed him in the front cockpit. His subjects pressed close about, not even daring to speak now—the situation was too deadly serious, too fraught with magic and with potential disaster for them all.
I cranked the engine. The bird roared. I fastened the safety-belt across Koh and myself, and we glided away from the dock, on around the bend to where the Flying Carpet had first landed. Behind, like the tail of a scarlet comet, a hundred dugouts of all sizes paddled after us. We reached the broad water, motioned to the gallery to keep back, opened the throttle, raced down the river and rose into the air.
I watched Chief Koh. His eyes were very big and exceedingly anxious; he trembled, but seeing my own composure, he relaxed and even looked overboard, grinning, at the flotilla below.
Moye kept us in sight of the canoes. Presently, taking careful aim, he zoomed straight down, within thirty feet of them, and then sky-rocketed a thousand feet back into the sky. The boats scattered like so many waterbugs, but when they saw that the magic bird was only playing a game and not dashing their chief to his death, they waved their spears and feather helmets in wild acclamation.
We flew low over Koh's long-house. We roared up the river at a hundred and twenty miles an hour, just skimming the waves. We raced past the other neighboring long-houses, to give their inhabitants, too, the thrill of beholding Koh's triumph. For twenty minutes the magic bird carried the chief back and forth, up and down, above the heads of his tribesmen.
When he landed, he was no longer a mere Dyak chief-of-chiefs. He had become almost a deity.
That night our long-house gallery swarmed with five
hundred visitors, all ready, eager, to pay obeisance anew to the
great Koh, who had flown through the air.
Koh himself, bursting with pride, received all this homage solemnly. He had achieved the pinnacle. He, Koh, had done what no other Dyak had ever done since the beginning of his race. But there would be enough broadcasting throughout Borneo of this momentous event, without his having to talk about it.
So he merely sat there quiet and aloof, presiding over the feast, as louder and louder his people sang his praises.
When the time seemed ripe, the Resident asked to have the floor. He translated to the audience of warriors the message of good-will Moye and I had brought to Koh from the Ranee. The Resident eulogized the chief as a conspicuous example of bravery and wisdom; and told how the Great White Tuan in Kuching loved him and trusted him to continue leading his people into paths of peace, and dignity, and honor. The Ranee's gift to Koh, which we had brought with us in the Flying Carpet, was then presented—O rarest and loveliest gift in the world!—a hunting rifle!
But Koh was not to be outdone in generosity. With striking eloquence, he launched forth in counterpraise of the Rajah and the Ranee, and swore eternal allegiance to their rule. He had kind things to say for Moye and me, and to demonstrate his appreciation for the distinction we had brought to him, he made us a gift such perhaps as no other foreigner ever received in the history of Borneo—twelve human heads!
And still the rice wine flowed, flowed in a steady, inexhaustible stream. The orchestra of gongs and drums and native bagpipes began to resound through the long-house. The rice and fish and pork were brought out, piled mountain high on wicker trays. There was no limit to the food, no bottom to the wine jars.
Happier and happier grew the guests. They crowded around Koh, around Jugah, around the Resident and Moye and me, pressing cups of wine upon us, giving us their bracelets, their necklaces, as presents; offering us their wives and daughters if we'd only come visit their long-houses. Jugah, dressed in all his gorgeous belts and feathers, cleared a space and, brandishing sword and shield, danced with superlative grace a wild, leaping, shouting war dance that would have done honor to a Nijinsky. Encouraged by the son of the chief, and animated by the wine, a dozen other young warriors seized their spears and did their best to out-dance the prancing Jugah. Twelve were soon twenty; one orchestra had grown to four; the shouting and singing became almost deafening, echoing and reechoing out into the dense jungle surrounding us.... And down upon this riotous scene looked the rows and rows of black and grinning human heads, mocking this effort to clutch at life, this vainglorious disdain of death; waiting for those who danced to cease their dancing and come to join the grim society of the skulls.
It was a wild, boisterous, abandoned evening—but it was not without its beauty, too. Whoever calls these people savage does not know the Dyaks. Except for the smoked heads, which are after all merely their war monuments, every expression of their nature is intensely appealing. gentler, more lovable people are not to be found. Clean-hearted, untroubled, artistic, moral in their way, following the simple life Nature intended man to follow—perhaps, heads or no heads, they are far wiser, perhaps far more nearly arrived at the ultimate goodness of life, than ourselves.
Those who know the Dyaks hope fervently that they will never change, that the blight of our Western age will never spread to their home in the heart of Borneo. Fortunately, the foremost of their friends is the Rajah of Sarawak himself, who has sworn that as long as he is a power in the land, his children of the jungle will always be allowed to remain natural, simple, beautiful, as they were when his great ancestor first came to Borneo to make a country of his own.
WHEN Moye and I flew back down-river from Chief Koh's
long-house, we had aboard our Flying Carpet one of the strangest cargoes
ever carried by an airplane—Koh's gift of human heads.
These heads had created a problem from the very start. In the first place, they were surprisingly heavy—some twelve pounds apiece, or a total of nearly one hundred and fifty pounds. Since leaving America we had been chronically overloaded with necessary baggage and extra fuel-tanks. And when we had added our extra-large pontoons, this overload had become a serious, indeed a dangerous, problem. True, we had carried third persons several times since the Flying Carpet became a flying-boat, but each time we had first removed the two hundred pounds of books, clothes and spare parts that we always had carried with us. This unburdening of the plane was imperative for safety's sake.
Consequently, when I calmly added another hundred and fifty pounds at the long-house, where we planned to subtract nothing from our load, Moye politely but firmly refused to fly. He also argued that besides being heavy, the heads tool; up all our baggage space; that they smelled to heaven of stale Dyak, and old smoke; and that such passengers would certainly prove to be a jinx.
But on the other hand, we couldn't leave the heads behind. To have done that, since Koh had presented them so formally, would have been a most unpardonable rudeness. Moreover, to injure Koh's sensibilities after we had helped to promote the entente cordiale between him and the government, would have been exceedingly poor diplomacy. Anyway, I wanted those heads to put in my what-not back home, as a souvenir of the Flying Carpet's reception in Borneo. As to the jinx, I didn't believe in hoodoos—yet.
I finally got around Moye's most serious objection by cutting down the baggage load. Thirty pounds of books, my entire cockpit library, were given to the Resident. I next gave half my flying clothes to the delighted Jugah—and half of Moye's when he wasn't looking. That reduced us by twenty pounds more. And then came a stroke of genius—the phonograph. It was no longer much pleasure to us, since most of the music had been played off the records. But its dreadful stridency thrilled Mrs. Koh no end, when we carried it to her, playing full tilt, as a sort of thanks-for-the-week-end gift. That saved twenty-five pounds more. Thus by seventy-five pounds, our load was lightened.
That still wasn't enough. So I began reducing the heads. Two of them were orang-utan skulls which any child would have known were not human heads at all. The most Neanderthaloid man never had a forehead like that. Koh had perhaps insisted to everybody for so long that these two trophies were gained in desperate combat, that he had come to believe it himself; or else he hoped we wouldn't know the difference. They could go out.
The Resident wanted them as curios. so without Koh's knowledge we reduced the twelve to ten. One of the ten was crumbling to pieces. It had been cloven half in two by a kris, and only rattan held it together. So we discarded that one also.
Nine were left. But with our suitcases still to go into the baggage compartment, we had no space to carry even nine. This difficulty was solved, too. Dumping the heads into the front cockpit, I sat on them.
As they became warm, the third problem rose to my attention insistently. That offensive odor had to he conquered! Groping among my shaving things in the flap-pocket, I found a bottle of Listerine and sprinkled them with that.
The jinx question, however, baffled me. I could only hope that it was one of Moye's foolish pilot-superstitions, and that by sitting, on the heads I'd keep their baleful influence properly suppressed.
Moye still mistrusted my cargo: if changing one's helmet, and carrying crucifixes or flowers, brought bad luck, think what nine human heads were going to do!
He was quite genuinely surprised when we reached Sibu, the little Malay-Chinese town a hundred and fifty miles down the Rejang River, entirely without mishap. But sure enough, right away next day, we began to have trouble—the Flying Carpet, with every tank filled for the first time since Singapore, refused to rise from the water. We charged up and down, rocking and lunging, trying to break the clutch of the waveless river upon our pontoons which, with the plane overloaded, sank too deep to permit a take-off.
It was the heads—not their weight, but their evil power. Moye glared at them and at me. I agreed to throw one just one—overboard, and did so, choosing the heaviest. But it soon became evident that tossing all of them overboard wouldn't lighten us enough to balance our heavy load of fuel. Before we could finally rise from the river, we had to dump our gas, send it ahead to the coast, fly there with only a few gallons, refuel again and take off in the open sea, where the salt water buoyed us up and the waves helped bounce us off.
Our next stop was Brunei, up the coast, a most curious and interesting town, built entirely on stilts above the water of a bottle-neck bay. This bay was the chief stronghold of the China Sea pirates until the time when James Brooke himself drove them out. Here also the Sultan who played such a large part in the history of the first White Rajah, had lived and ruled. His descendant reigns there today, over a remnant of the Sultanate from which Brooke wrested Sarawak.
Brunei offers an unexpected sidelight on Borneo, for it claimed distinction as a seat of Malay commerce and culture as far back as the tenth century. But now only a cluster of thatch houses remain, and the commerce and culture are long since forgotten.
I'm sure Moye watched for trouble again when we took off, headed for Sandakan, the capital of British North Borneo. Anyway, we got it. While taxying up the bay, though we both were watching carefully, we hit a log which was so far submerged as to be almost invisible. The result was another terrific dent in our already badly wounded left pontoon.
Overboard went another head. That seemed to be the easiest way to appease Moye, who insisted that I, sitting my nest of skulls, was only hatching trouble for him.
With only seven heads now, we flew on again.
Moye's superstition had begun to prove contagious. If anything had happened at Sandakan, I too should have been inclined to suspect that my death-heads were exerting an evil influence, and have fed them to the sharks But for once, we avoided trouble.
Just the calm before the storm . . . !
Having left Borneo behind, and crossed a hundred miles of open sea, we reached one of the southernmost islands of the Philippines—Sulu. Here, with our Carpet anchored in the open harbor, we visited the Sultan—"the wretched Sultan of Sulu." He was a nice old man—and proud of his distinction as the only Sultan ruling under the American flag. We were so taken with his island we might have spent a week there, had disaster not threatened us again.
A freak typhoon, three months ahead of season, came screaming out of the Pacific straight for Sulu. The American radio station there got the warning, and the island steeled itself for the onslaught. Moye and I flung our baggage and my seven heads into the Flying Carpet, and fled at top speed to the protection of the breakwater at Zamboanga, a hundred and fifty miles north on the island of Mindanao.
That night the typhoon struck Sulu with appalling unpredecented fury. The Sultan's palace was torn to bits; the shores of the harbor where we'd anchored our Carpet were strewn with the wreckage of two score native villages... [and so they get back to California ---OS]
The Flying Carpet
Had I said to an Englishman, Oh, how I'd simply love to fly!", he would
have replied, after five minutes of the heaviest cogitation, "Look here
old thing, hadn't you better think it over . . . . I mean to say it's an
awfully beastly responsibility for a chap, . . . . by jove it is."
Not so America. I had hardly finished the sentence before Dick Halliburton had whisked out his note book and was "go-getting me into that plane." "Fly." He said. "Gee girl, that's easy—Monday—stone steps—none o'clock—we'll take you up."
I hadn't time to protest—I hadn't time to be alarmed—that's America!
At nine o'clock, I was on the stone steps. I couldn't feel anything except that tremendous sinking you have when deep down in your soul you know you are partaking of forbidden fruit. Suppose something happened. But there, nothing would happen. Wasn't I being piloted by one of the men who had taken part in "Hell's Angels"?
The Americans were alarmingly cheerful that morning. The kind of cheerfulness your parents assume when as a child you are going to the dentist. Dick Halliburton would keep on photographing. I didn't want to be photographed. I didn't feel like a picture at all. If he could have taken an ex-ray impression of me it might have been different. It might have been interesting to see all my bones leaning together in fear.
We had an hour's trip by launch to reach the plane which was anchored at Pending, and during that hour a few more grey hairs were added to my head. When we got to Pending Dick Halliburton would photograph again. I remarked grimly that I thought he had taken quite enough of me to identify the body!
My one consolation over the whole affair had been that at any rate I should have Dick Halliburton to cling to. Picture my embarrassment when I was pushed into a tiny seat in front of the pilot—alone!—
Then we started. With a roar the Flying Carpet streaked through the dead low water—Faster—Faster, and I was just beginning to like it when we started to rise.
Do you know I didn't mind it after all? That fearful anticipation had suddenly turned into a very pleasurable reality. When we were well up I liked it. As we headed for Kuching I loved it. No giddiness—No sickness—Very little bumping—Kuching was beautiful from above. The Astana looked like a mushroom on a fresh green slope. I saw all our Malay boys waving from the garden and I tried to wave back, but the wind nearly tore my hand from my wrist, and one of my rings blew right off from my finger. I saw little white figures darting from the offices, and one figure, not so little, clambering onto the Dispensary roof. Then we started to turn.
How easily one uses the phrase "paralyzed" with fear. I now know what that means. There were two iron loops in front of me, and I crooked my fingers in those and shut my eyes and prayed. The more I prayed the more Moye Stephens went on turning. I was just contemplating dropping quietly out and getting it over, when we straightened again.
This time we went out to the open sea. I felt really safe. We had our floats and the sea was like glass. The thing that struck me most in the scenic effect below was the entanglement of rivers threading in and out of the green jungle like little veins. How in the world these two Americans found Kuching through that maze of water I cannot imagine.
Then we started to come down. Moye said he would come down gradually so as not to hurt my ears. Coming down gradually meant turning and twisting like an eel. Once more that awful paralyzing fear.
Nevertheless, I loved it. And I want to do it again. As Moye and I clambered from the machine I asked him if those iron hoops were really meant for hanging onto.
"Oh that," he replied, "is the Crash bar—So if you do crash you don't get the engine in your stomach. Didn't tell you before," he added. "Thought you mightn't like it."
And how right he was!
SYLVIA OF SARAWAK
Sarawak Gazette, June 1, 1932, p. 112
Third Division Reports:
...Two Americans, Messrs. Halliburton and Stephens, flying around the
world, arrived on the 7th instant, leaving for Brunei via Mukah on the 16th
The District Officer, Mr. H. E. Cutfield, reports:— ...
...On the 7th Messrs. Halliburton and Stephens arrived in their aeroplane
The Flying Carpet from Kuching on their world tour. During their
stay they visited some Dyak houses in the Igan and also went for a short
visit above Kapit. On their return from Kapit they very kindly consented
to take two Penghulus for a flight one at a time. Penghulu Temonggong Koh
and Penghulu Dalam were the two selected. This is believed to be the first
record of a Dyak having flown in an aeroplane, and their description of their
flight and sensations were somewhat vivid. Messrs. Halliburton and Stephens
left on Sunday 17th instant for Brunei via Mukah where they halted to take