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- The Malay Archipelago - 30/54 -


Ever since leaving Dobbo I had suffered terribly from insects, who seemed here bent upon revenging my long-continued persecution of their race. At our first stopping-place sand-flies were very abundant at night, penetrating to every part of the body, and producing a more lasting irritation than mosquitoes. My feet and ankles especially suffered, and were completely covered with little red swollen specks, which tormented me horribly. On arriving here we were delighted to find the house free from sand- flies or mosquitoes, but in the plantations where my daily walks led me, the day-biting mosquitoes swarmed, and seemed especially to delight in attaching my poor feet. After a month's incessant punishment, those useful members rebelled against such treatment and broke into open insurrection, throwing out numerous inflamed ulcers, which were very painful, and stopped me from walking. So I found myself confined to the house, and with no immediate prospect of leaving it. Wounds or sores in the feet are especially difficult to heal in hot climates, and I therefore dreaded them more than any other illness. The confinement was very annoying, as the fine hot weather was excellent for insects, of which I had every promise of obtaining a fine collection; and it is only by daily and unremitting search that the smaller kinds, and the rarer and more interesting specimens, can be obtained. When I crawled down to the river-side to bathe, I often saw the blue-winged Papilio ulysses, or some other equally rare and beautiful insect; but there was nothing for it but patience, and to return quietly to my bird-skinning, or whatever other work I had indoors. The stings and bites and ceaseless irritation caused by these pests of the tropical forests, would be borne uncomplainingly; but to be kept prisoner by them in so rich and unexplored a country where rare and beautiful creatures are to be met with in every forest ramble--a country reached by such a long and tedious voyage, and which might not in the present century be again visited for the same purpose--is a punishment too severe for a naturalist to pass over in silence.

I had, however, some consolation in the birds my boys brought home daily, more especially the Paradiseas, which they at length obtained in full plumage. It was quite a relief to my mind to get these, for I could hardly have torn myself away from Aru had I not obtained specimens.

But what I valued almost as much as the birds themselves was the knowledge of their habits, which I was daily obtaining both from the accounts of my hunters, and from the conversation of the natives. The birds had now commenced what the people here call their "sacaleli," or dancing-parties, in certain trees in the forest, which are not fruit trees as I at first imagined, but which have an immense tread of spreading branches and large but scattered leaves, giving a clear space for the birds to play and exhibit their plumes. On one of these trees a dozen or twenty full-plumaged male birds assemble together, raise up their wings, stretch out their necks, and elevate their exquisite plumes, keeping them in a continual vibration. Between whiles they fly across from branch to branch in great excitement, so that the whole tree is filled with waving plumes in every variety of attitude and motion. (See Frontispiece.) The bird itself is nearly as large as a crow, and is of a rich coffee brown colour. The head and neck is of a pure straw yellow above and rich metallic green beneath. The long plumy tufts of golden orange feathers spring from the sides beneath each wing, and when the bird is in repose are partly concealed by them. At the time of its excitement, however, the wings are raised vertically over tile back, the head is bent down and stretched out, and the long plumes are raised up and expanded till they form two magnificent golden fans, striped with deep red at the base, and fading off into the pale brown tint of the finely divided and softly waving points. The whole bird is then overshadowed by them, the crouching body, yellow head, and emerald green throat forming but the foundation and setting to the golden glory which waves above. When seen in this attitude, the Bird of Paradise really deserves its name, and must be ranked as one of the most beautiful and most wonderful of living things. I continued also to get specimens of the lovely little king-bird occasionally, as well as numbers of brilliant pigeons, sweet little parroquets, and many curious small birds, most nearly resembling those of Australia and New Guinea.

Here, as among most savage people I have dwelt among, I was delighted with the beauty of the human form-a beauty of which stay-at-home civilized people can scarcely have any conception. What are the finest Grecian statues to the living, moving, breathing men I saw daily around me? The unrestrained grace of the naked savage as he goes about his daily occupations, or lounges at his ease, must be seen to be understood; and a youth bending his bow is the perfection of manly beauty. The women, however, except in extreme youth, are by no means so pleasant to look at as the men. Their strongly-marked features are very unfeminine, and hard work, privations, and very early marriages soon destroy whatever of beauty or grace they may for a short time possess. Their toilet is very simple, but also, I am sorry to say, very coarse, and disgusting. It consists solely of a mat of plaited strips of palm leaves, worn tight round the body, and reaching from the hips to the knees. It seems not to be changed till worn out, is seldom washed, and is generally very dirty. This is the universal dress, except in a few cases where Malay "sarongs" have come into use. Their frizzly hair is tied in a bench at the back of the head. They delight in combing, or rather forking it, using for that purpose a large wooden fork with four diverging prongs, which answers the purpose of separating and arranging the long tangled, frizzly mass of cranial vegetation much better than any comb could do. The only ornaments of the women are earrings and necklaces, which they arrange in various tasteful ways. The ends of a necklace are often attached to the earrings, and then looped on to the hair-knot behind. This has really an elegant appearance, the beads hanging gracefully on each side of the head, and by establishing a connexion with the earrings give an appearance of utility to those barbarous ornaments. We recommend this style to the consideration of those of the fair sex who still bore holes in their ears and hang rings thereto. Another style of necklace among these Papuan belles is to wear two, each hanging on one side of the neck and under the opposite arm, so as to cross each other. This has a very pretty appearance, in part due to the contrast of the white beads or kangaroo teeth of which they are composed with the dark glossy skin. The earrings themselves are formed of a bar of copper or silver, twisted so that the ends cross. The men, as usual among savages, adorn themselves more than the women. They wear necklaces, earrings, and finger rings, and delight in a band of plaited grass tight round the arm just below the shoulder, to which they attach a bunch of hair or bright coloured feathers by way of ornament. The teeth of small animals, either alone, or alternately with black or white beads, form their necklaces, and sometimes bracelets also. For these latter, however, they prefer brass wire, or the black, horny, wing-spines of the cassowary, which they consider a charm. Anklets of brass or shell, and tight plaited garters below the knee, complete their ordinary decorations.

Some natives of Kobror from further south, and who are reckoned the worst and least civilized of the Aru tribes, came one day to visit us. They have a rather more than usually savage appearance, owing to the greater amount of ornaments they use--the most conspicuous being a large horseshoe-shaped comb which they wear over the forehead, the ends resting on the temples. The back of the comb is fastened into a piece of wood, which is plated with tin in front, and above is attached a plume of feathers from a cock's tail. In other respects they scarcely differed from the people I was living with. They brought me a couple of birds, some shells and insects; showing that the report of the white man and his doing had reached their country. There was probably hardly a man in Aru who had not by this time heard of me.

Besides the domestic utensils already mentioned, the moveable property of a native is very scanty. He has a good supply of spears and bows and arrows for hunting, a parang, or chopping- knife, and an axe-for the stone age has passed away here, owing to the commercial enterprise of the Bugis and other Malay races. Attached to a belt, or hung across his shoulder, he carrion a little skin pouch and an ornamented bamboo, containing betel-nut, tobacco, and lime, and a small German wooden-handled knife is generally stuck between his waist-cloth of bark and his bare shin. Each man also possesses a °cadjan," or sleeping-mat, made of the broad leaves of a pandanus neatly sewn together in- three layers. This mat is abort four feet square, and when folded has one end sewn up, so that it forms a kind of sack open at one side. In the closed corner the head or feet can be placed, or by carrying it on the head in a shower it forms both coat and umbrella. It doubles up ix a small compass for convenient carriage, and then forms a light and elastic cushion, so that on a journey it becomes clothing, house, bedding, and furniture, all in one.

The only ornaments in an Aru horse are trophies of the chase-- jaws of wild pigs, the heads and backbones of cassowaries, and plumes made from the feathers of the Bird of Paradise, cassowary, and domestic fowl. The spears, shields, knife-handles, and other utensils are more or less carved in fanciful designs, and the mats and leaf boxes are painted or plaited in neat patterns of red, black, and yellow colours. I must not forget these boxes, which are most ingeniously made of the pith of a balm leaf pegged together, lined inside with pandanus leaves, and outside with the same, or with plaited grass. All the joints and angles are coffered with strips of split rattan sewn neatly on. The lid is covered with the brown leathery spathe of the Areca palm, which is impervious to water, and the whole box is neat, strong, and well finished. They are made from a few inches to two or three feet long, and being much esteemed by the Malay as clothes-boxes, are a regular article of export from Aru. The natives use the smaller ones for tobacco or betel-nut, but seldom have clothes enough to require the larger ones, which are only made for sale.

Among the domestic animals which may generally be seen in native houses, are gaudy parrots, green, red, and blue, a few domestic fowls, which have baskets hung for them to lay in under the eaves, and who sleep on the ridge, and several half-starved wolfish-baking dogs. Instead of rats and mice there are curious little marsupial animals about the same size, which run about at night and nibble anything eatable that may be left uncovered. Four or five different kinds of ants attack everything not isolated by water, and one kind even swims across that; great spiders lurk in baskets and boxes, or hide in the folds of my mosquito curtain; centipedes and millepedes are found everywhere. I have caught them under my pillow and on my bead; while in every box, and under every hoard which has lain for some days undisturbed, little scorpions are sure to be found snugly ensconced, with their formidable tails quickly turned up ready for attack or defence. Such companions seem very alarming and dangerous, but all combined are not so bad as the irritation of mosquitoes, or of the insect pests often found at home. These


The Malay Archipelago - 30/54

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