Hugh Charles Clifford.

In court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula online

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^ 5

^OJITCHO^ ^awnvD-jo 5 ^















First printed April 1897
Reprinted September 1903


My knowledge of all these things was won

Ere to gladden my life You came,
But the Land I knew, the Deeds saw done

Will be never again the same,
For You have come, like the rising Sun,

To golden my World with your flame.

H. C.



THE nineteen tales and sketches, which are enclosed
within the covers of this Book, relate to certain brown
men and obscure things in a distant and very little
known corner of the Earth. The Malay Peninsula
that slender tongue of land which projects into the
tepid seas at the extreme south of the Asiatic Continent
is but little more than a name to most dwellers in
Europe. But, even in the Peninsula itself, and to the
majority of those white men whose whole lives have
been passed in the Straits of Malacca, the East Coast
and the remote interior, of which I chiefly write, are
almost as completely unknown.

It has been my endeavour, in writing this book,
to give some idea of the lives lived in these lands
by Europeans whose lot has led them away from
the beaten track ; by the aboriginal tribes of Sdkai
and Sema ng ; but, above all, by those Malays who,
being yet untouched by contact with white men, are
still in a state of original sin. My stories deal with
natives of all classes ; dwellers in the Courts of Kings ;
peasants in their kampongs^ or villages, by the rivers


and the rice-fields ; and with the fisher-folk on the
seashore. I have tried to describe these things as
they appear when viewed from the inside, as I have
myself seen them during the many dreary years that
I have spent in the wilder parts of the Malay Peninsula.
It will be found that the pictures thus drawn are not
always attractive what man's life, when viewed from
the inside, ever is pretty to look at ? But I have told
my tales of these curious companions of my exile,
nothing extenuating, but setting down nought in

The conditions of life of which I write, more
especially in those sketches and tales which deal with
native society in an Independent Malay State, are
rapidly passing away. Nor can this furnish matter
for regret to any one who knew them as they were
and still are in some of the wilder and more remote
regions of the Peninsula. One may, perhaps, feel
some measure of sentimental sorrow that the natural
should here, as elsewhere, be replaced by the artificial ;
one may recognise with sufficient clearness that the
Malay in his natural unregenerate state is more
attractive an individual than he is apt to become under
the influence of European civilisation ; but no one
who has seen the horrors of native rule, and the misery
to which the people living under it are ofttimes
reduced, can find room to doubt that, its many draw-
backs notwithstanding, the only salvation for the
Malays lies in the increase of British influence in the


Peninsula, and in the consequent spread of modern
ideas, progress, and civilisation.

I feel this so strongly that, in common with many
of my countrymen, I am content to devote the best
years of my life to an attempt to bring about some of
those revolutions in facts and in ideas which we hold
to be for the ultimate good of the race. None the
less, however, this book has been written in a spirit of
the deepest sympathy with all classes of Malays, and I
have striven throughout to appreciate the native point
of view, and to judge the people and their actions by
their own standards, rather than by those of a White
Man living in their midst.

With regard to the tales themselves, many of them
have been told to me by natives, and all are more
or less founded on fact. Some of the incidents re-
lated have come under my personal observation, and
for the truth of these I can vouch. For the accuracy
of the remaining stories others are responsible, and
I can only be held answerable for the framing of
the pictures.




November 7, 1896.


As I came through the Desert thus it was,
As I came through the Desert.

The City of Dreadfol Night.






5. IN CoCK-PlT AND BuLL-RlNG ... 46


7. THE AMOK OF D&ro KAYA Biji DRJA . . 78



10. 'ONE MORE UNFORTUNATE' . . . .125

11. AMONG THE FISHER- FOLK . . . . 134



14. IN A CAMP OF THE S&MANGS . . . .171

15. His HEART'S DESIRE 182

16. A NIGHT OF TERROR ..... 196



19. UP COUNTRY 245



The charmed sunset linger'd low adown

In the red West : thro' mountain clefts the dale

Was seen far inland, and the yellow down

Border'd with palm, and many a winding vale

And meadow, set with slender galingale ;

A land where all things always seem'd the same !

And round about the keel with faces pale,

Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,

The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

The Lotos-Eaten.

IN these days, the boot of the ubiquitous white man
leaves its marks on all the fair places of the Earth, and
scores thereon an even more gigantic track than that
which affrighted Robinson Crusoe in his solitude. It
crushes down the forests, beats out roads, strides across
the rivers, kicks down native institutions, and gener-
ally tramples on the growths of nature, and the works
of primitive man, reducing all things to that dead level
of conventionality, which we call civilisation. Inci-
dentally, it stamps out much of what is best in the
customs and characteristics of the native races against
which it brushes ; and, though it relieves them of
many things which hurt and oppressed them ere it



came, it injures them morally almost as much as it
benefits them materially. We, who are white men,
admire our work not a little which is natural and
many are found willing to wear out their souls in
efforts to clothe in the stiff garments of European
conventionalities, the naked, brown limbs of Oriental-
ism. The natives, who, for the most part, are frank
Vandals, also admire efforts of which they are aware
that they are themselves incapable, and even the
laudator temporis actl has his mouth stopped by the
cheap and often tawdry luxury, which the coming of
the Europeans has placed within his reach. So effec-
tually has the heel of the white man been ground into
the face of Perak and Selangor, that these Native States
are now only nominally what their name implies.
The alien population far out-numbers the people of
the land in most of the principal districts, and it is
possible for a European to spend weeks in either of
these States without coming into contact with any
Asiatics save those who wait at table, wash his shirts,
or drive his cab. It is also possible, I am told, for a
European to spend years on the West Coast of the
Peninsula without acquiring any very profound know-
ledge of the natives of the country, or of the language
which is their speech-medium. This being so, most
of the white men who live in the Protected Native
States are somewhat apt to disregard the effect which
their actions have upon the natives, and labour under
the common European inability to view matters from
the native standpoint. Moreover, we have become
accustomed to existing conditions, and thus it is that
few, perhaps, realise the precise nature of the work


which the British in the Peninsula have set themselves
to accomplish. What we are really attempting, how-
ever, is nothing less than to crush into twenty years
the revolutions in facts and in ideas which, even in
energetic Europe, six long centuries have been needed
to accomplish. No one will, of course, be found to
dispute that the strides made in our knowledge of the
art of government, since the Thirteenth Century, are
prodigious and vast, nor that the general condition of
the people of Europe has been immensely improved
since that day ; but, nevertheless, one cannot but
sympathise with the Malays, who are suddenly and
violently translated from the point to which they had
attained in the natural development of their race, and
are required to live up to the standards of a people who
are six centuries in advance of them in national pro-
gress. If a plant is made to blossom or bear fruit
three months before its time, it is regarded as a triumph
of the gardener's art ; but what, then, are we to say
of this huge moral-forcing system which we call
4 Protection ' ? Forced plants, we know, suffer in the
process ; and the Maky, whose proper place is amidst
the conditions of the Thirteenth Century, is apt to
become morally week and seedy, and to lose something
of his robust self-respect, when he is forced to bear
Nineteenth-Century fruit.

Until the British Government interfered in the
administration of the Malay States in 1874, the people
of the Peninsula were, to all intents and purposes,
living in the Middle Ages. Each State was ruled by
its own Sultan or Raja under a complete Feudal
System, which presents a curiously close parallel to


that which was in force in Mediaeval Europe. The
Raja was, of course, the paramount authority, and
all power emanated from him. Technically, the
whole country was his property, and all its in-
habitants his slaves ; but each State was divided into
districts which were held in fief by the Orang Besar^
or Great Chiefs. The conditions on which these
fiefs were held, were homage, and military and other
service. The Officers were hereditary, but succession
was subject to the sanction of the Raja^ who
personally invested and ennobled each Chief, and gave
him, as an ostensible sign of authority, a warrant and
a State spear, both of which were returned to the
Raja on the death of the holder. As in Europe, high
treason (derhaka] was the only offence which war-
ranted the Raja in forfeiting a fief. Each of the
districts was sub-divided into minor baronies, which
were held, on a similar tenure, from the District
Chief by a Data* Muda ; and the village communes,
of which these baronies were composed, were held in
a like manner, and on similar conditions, by the
Headmen from the Data* Muda. When war or any
other public work was toward, the Raja summoned
the Great Chiefs, who transmitted the order to their
Dato" Muda. By the latter, the village Headmen and
their able-bodied raayat 1 were called together, the
free-holders in each village being bound to the local
Penghulu 2 by ties similar to those which bound him
to his immediate Chief. In the same way, the Raja
made his demands for money-grants to the Great

1 Raayat = Peasants, villagers.
a Penghulu = Headman.


Chiefs, and the raiiyat supplied the necessary contribu-
tions, while their superiors gained the credit attaching
to those who fulfil the desires of the King. Under
this system, the raayat^ of course, possessed no rights,
either of person or property. He was entirely in the
hands of the Chiefs, was forced to labour unremittingly
that others might profit by his toil ; and neither his
life, his land, his cattle, nor the very persons of his
women-folk, could properly be said to belong to him,
since all were at the mercy of any one who desired to
take them from him, and was strong enough to do so.
This, of course, is the weak point in the Feudal
System, and was probably not confined to the peoples
of Asia. The chroniclers of Mediaeval Europe tell
only of Princes and Nobles, and Knights and Dames
and merry tales they are but we are left to guess
what was the condition of the bulk of the lower
classes in Thirteenth-Century England. If we knew
all, however, it is probable that their lot would prove
to have been but little more fortunate than is that of
the Malay raayat of to-day, whose hardships and
grievances, under native rule, move our modern souls
to indignation and compassion. Therefore, we should
be cautious how we apply our fin de siecle standards to
a people whose ideas of the fitness of things are much
the same as those which prevailed in Europe some six
centuries agone.

Those who love to indulge in that pleasing but
singularly useless pastime of imagining what might
have been under certain impossible circumstances, will
find occupation in speculating as to whether the
Malays, had they remained free from all extraneous

influence for another thousand years, would ever have
succeeded in evolving a system of Government in any
way resembling our own, out of a Feudal System
which presents so curious a parallel to that from
which our modern institutions have sprung. Would
the Great Chiefs have ever combined to wrest a
Magna Charta from an unwilling King, and the
raayat have succeeded in beating down the tyranny of
their Chiefs ? No answer can be given ; but those
who know the Malays best will find reason to doubt
whether the energy of the race would ever, under any
circumstances, have been sufficient to grapple with
these great questions. The raayat would have been
content, I fancy, to plod on through the centuries
' without hope of change ' ; and, so far as the past
history of a people can be taken as giving an indication
of its future, it would seem that, in Malay countries,
the growing tendencies made rather for an absolute
than for a limited monarchy. The genius of the
Malay is in most things mimetic rather than original,
and, where he has no other model at hand to copy, he
falls back upon the past. An observer of Malay
political tendencies in an Independent Native State
finds himself placed in the position of Inspector
Bucket there is no move on the board which would
surprise him, provided that it is in the wrong

Such changes have been wrought in the condition
of the Malay on the West Coast, during the past
twenty years of British Protection, that there one can
no longer see him in his natural and unregenerate
state. He has become sadly dull, limp, and civilised.


The gossip of the Court, and the tales of ill things
done daringly, which delighted his fathers, can scarcely
quicken his slackened pulses. His wooings have lost
their spice of danger, and, with it, more than half their
romance. He is as frankly profligate as his thin blood
permits, but the dissipation in which he indulges only
makes him a disreputable member of society, and calls
for none of the manly virtues which make the Malay
attractive to those who know and love him in his
truculent untamed state. On the East Coast, things
are different, and the Malay States are still what they
profess to be States in which the native element pre-
dominates, where the people still think boldly from
right to left, and lead much the same lives as those
their forbears led before them. Here are still to be
found some of the few remaining places, on this over-
handled Earth, which have as yet been but little dis-
turbed by extraneous influences, and here the lover of
things as they are, and ought not to be, may find a
dwelling among an unregenerate and more or less
uncivilised people, whose customs are still unsullied by
European vulgarity, and the surface of whose lives
is but little ruffled by the fever-heated breath of
European progress.

As you crush your way out of the crowded road-
stead of Singapore, and skirting the red cliffs of Tanah
Merah, slip round the heel of the Peninsula, you turn
your back for a space on the seas in which ships jostle
one another, and betake yourself to a corner of the
globe where the world is very old, and where con-
ditions of life have seen but little change during the
last thousand years. The only modern innovation is


an occasional c caster,' or sea tramp, plying its way up
the coast to pick up a precarious profit for its owners
by carrying cargoes of evil-smelling trade from the
fishing villages along the shore. Save for this, there is
nothing to show that white men ever visit these seas,
and, sailing up the coast in a native craft, you may
almost fancy yourself one of the early explorers skirting
the lovely shores of some undiscovered country. As
you sprawl on the bamboo decking under the shadow
of the immense palm leaf sail which is so ingeniously
rigged that, if taken aback, the boat must turn turtle,
unless, by the blessing of the gods, the mast parts
asunder you look out through half-closed eyelids at a
very beautiful coast. The waves dance, and glimmer,
and shine in the sunlight, the long stretch of sand is
yellow as a buttercup, and the fringes of graceful
casuarina trees quiver like aspens in the breeze, and
shimmer in the heat haze. The wash of the waves
against the boat's side, and the ripple of the bow make
music in your drowsy ears, and, as you glide through
cluster after cluster of thickly-wooded islands, you lie
in that delightful comatose state in which you have all
the pleasure of existence with none of the labour
of living. The monsoon threshes across these seas for
four months in the year, and keeps them fresh, and
free from the dingy mangrove clumps, and hideous
banks of mud, which breed fever and mosquitoes in the
Straits of Malacca. In the interior, too, patches of
open country abound, such as are but rarely met with
on the West Coast, but here, as elsewhere in the
Peninsula, the jungles, which shut down around them,
are impenetrable to anything less persuasive than an axe.


These forests are among the wonderful things of
the Earth. They are immense in extent, and the
trees which form them grow so close together that
they tread on one another's toes. All are lashed, and
bound, and relashed, into one huge magnificent tangled
net, by the thickest underwood, and the most mar-
vellous parasitic growths that nature has ever devised.
No human being can force his way through this maze
of trees, and shrubs, and thorns, and plants, and
creepers ; and even the great beasts which dwell in the
jungle find their strength unequal to the task, and
have to follow game paths, beaten out by the passage
of innumerable animals, through the thickest and
deepest parts of the forest. The branches cross and
recross, and are bound together by countless parasitic
creepers, forming a green canopy overhead, through
which the fierce sunlight only forces a partial passage,
the struggling rays flecking the trees on which they
fall with little splashes of light and colour. The air
'hangs heavy as remembered sin,' and the gloom of a
great cathedral is on every side. Everything is damp,
and moist, and oppressive. The soil, and the cool
dead leaves under foot are dank with decay, and sodden
to the touch. Enormous fungous growths flourish
luxuriantly ; and over all, during the long hot hours
of the day, hangs a silence as of the grave. Though
these jungles teem with life, no living thing is to be
seen, save the busy ants, a few brilliantly-coloured
butterflies and insects, and an occasional nest of bees
high up in the tree-tops. A little stream ripples its
way over the pebbles of its bed, and makes a humming
murmur in the distance ; a faint breeze sweeping over


the forest gently sways the upper branches of a few of
the tallest trees ; but, for the rest, all is melancholy,
silent, and motionless. As the hour of sunset
approaches, the tree beetles and cicada join in their
strident chorus, which tells of the dying day ; the
thrushes join in the song with rich trills and grace-
notes ; the jungle fowls crow to one another ; the
monkeys whoop and give tongue like a pack of fox-
hounds ; the gaudy parrots scream and flash as they
hunt for flies ;

And all the long-pent stream of life
Bursts downwards in a cataract.

Then, as you lie listening through the long watches
of the night, sounds are borne to you which tell that
the jungle is afoot. The argus pheasants yell to one
another as the hours creep by ; the far-away trumpet
of an elephant breaks the stillness ; and the frightened
barking cry of a deer comes to you from across the
river. The insects are awake all night, and the little
workman bird sits on a tree close by you and drives
coffin nails without number. With the dawn, the
tree beetles again raise their chorus ; the birds sing
and trill more sweetly than in the evening ; the
monkeys bark afresh as they leap through the branches ;
and the leaves of the forest glisten in the undried dew.
Then, as the sun mounts, and the dew dries, the
sounds of the jungle die down one by one, until the
silence of the forest is once more unbroken for the
long hot day.

Through these jungles innumerable streams and
rivers flow seawards ; for so marvellously is this country


watered that, from end to end of the Peninsula, no two
hills are found, but there is a stream of some sort in
the gut which divides them. Far up-country, the
rivers run riot through long successions of falls and
rapids, but as they near the coast, they settle down
into broad imposing looking streams, miles wide in
places, but for the most part uniformly shallow, the
surfaces of which are studded with green islands and
yellow sandbanks. These rivers, on the East Coast,
form the principal, and often the only highways, many
of them being navigated for nearly three hundred miles
of their course. When they become too much ob-
structed by falls to be navigable even for a dug-out,
they still serve the Malays of the interior as highways.
Where they are very shallow indeed they are used as
tracks, men wading up them for miles and miles. A
river-bed is a path ready cleared through the forests,
and, to the Semang, 1 Sakai, 2 and jungle-bred Malay,
it is Nature's macadamized road. More often the
unnavigable streams serve as guides to the traveller in
the dense jungles, the tracks running up their banks,
crossing and recrossing them at frequent intervals.
One of these paths, which leads from Trengganu to
Kelantan, crosses the same river no less than thirty
times in about six miles, and, in most places, the fords
are well above a tall man's knee. The stream is
followed until a ka-naik or taking-off place is
reached, and, leaving it, the traveller crosses a low

1 Semang = Aboriginal natives of the Peninsula, belonging to the
Negrit family.

a Sakai = Aboriginal natives of the Peninsula, belonging to the
Mon-Annam family.


range of hills, and presently strikes the banks of a
stream, which belongs to another river basin. A path,
similar to the one which he has just left, leads down
this stream, and by following it he will eventually
reach inhabited country. No man need ever lose
himself in a Malay jungle. He can never have any
difficulty in finding running water, and this, if followed
down, means a river, and a river presupposes a village
sooner or later. In the same way, a knowledge of the
localities in which the rivers of a country rise, and a
rough idea of the directions in which they flow, are
all the geographical data which are required in order
to enable you to find your way, unaided, into any
portion of that, or the adjoining States which you
may desire to visit. This is the secret of travelling
through Malay jungles, in places where the white
man's roads are still far to seek, and where the
natives are content to move slowly, as their fathers
did before them.

The Malay States on the East of the Peninsula are
Senggora, Petani, Jambe, Jaring, Raman, Legeh,
Kelantan, Trengganu, Pahang, and Johor.

Senggora possesses the doubtful privilege of being
ruled by a Siamese Official, who is appointed from
Bangkok, as the phrase goes, to kin or eat the sur-
rounding district.

The next four States are usually spoken of collec-
tively as Petani, by Europeans, though the territory
which really bears that name is of insignificant import-
ance and area, the jurisdiction of its Raja only extend-
ing up the Petani river as far as Jambe. It is said
that when the Raja of Petani and the ruler of the


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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 1 of 17)