Hugh Charles Clifford.

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

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Malay, with a round bullet-shaped head, and a jolly
smiling face.

Now, Bayan the Paroquet was what is technically
termed a Peng-ttpor Lara or 'Soother of Cares,'
a class of men which is fast dying out in the Peninsula,
as other mediaeval landmarks become effaced. These
people are simply the wandering bards and minstrels,
who find their place in an Independent Malay State
as naturally as did their prototypes in the countries of


Europe during the Middle Ages. They learn by rote
some old-world tale, which has been transmitted by
word of mouth through countless generations, and
they wander from village to village, singing it for pay
to the unlettered people, to whom these songs and
stories represent the only literature which comes with-
in their experience. Such minstrels are greatly loved
by the villagers, who hold them in high honour, giv-
ing them hearty welcome, and the name by which
they are known in the vernacular bears witness to the
joy which they bring with them whithersoever they
go. Bayan's real name was Mat Saman, but we
always called him Bayan which means the Paroquet
because the tale which he sang told of the wonder-
ful doings of a prince, who was transformed into a
fabulous bird called the Burong Agot, and whose
attendants were the Paroquet and the Pied -robin
(Mural], As he sat kneading me, as a baker kneads
dough, he began to sing, and, that evening, and for
many nights after, he sang his song to the Raja and
myself, to the huge delight of our people.

There was also in camp at this time a boy named
To' Muda Long, who was the eldest son of one of the
great up-country Chiefs. He was returning from
Singapore with the Raja^ to whom he had fled after
some escapade of his had excited the paternal wrath.
He was a nice-looking youngster, with a slight lisp,
and a manner as soft as floss-silk, and he was always
smartly dressed in pretty Malay garments. We
travelled together for more than three months, and I
got to know him pretty well, and took something of
a liking to him. I knew, of course, that his manner


to his own people was not always as gentle as that
which he assumed when in the presence of the Raja
or of myself, and during our progress through his
father's district I heard many tales of his ill doings.
To these, however, I attached but little importance,
for Malays are very apt to malign a young Chief who,
as they say, is born like a tiger cub, with teeth and
claws, and may always be expected to do evil. Never-
theless, it would certainly never have occurred to me
at that time that this mild-eyed, soft-spoken, silken-
mannered, rather melancholy young man was capable
of committing a peculiarly cruel, deliberate, and cold-
blooded murder. Until one begins to understand
them, one's Malay friends always seem to be breaking
out in some new and unexpected place, to the intense
mortification and surprise of people who attempt to
judge Oriental character from a purely European

The Raja and I journeyed through Pahang with
great state and pageantry, our party increasing in bulk
as we went along, after the manner of a snowball.
The Raja and I were accommodated on a huge raft
or floating house, and a perfect flotilla of boats accom-
panied us. At length, after many days spent in float-
ing down the beautiful Pahang river, with the cool
ripple of the water in our ears, and the ever-changing
views to delight our eyes, we came in sight of Pekan,
and, that night, we tied up about half a mile below
the capital, at the landing-place which belonged to my
travelling companion.

Thereafter followed negotiations, and interviews
made terrible by unearthly sweetmeats much talk,


and long waiting. Endless delays on the one side,
stubborn patience that refused to be tired out on the
other j and, as dawn was breaking on a certain Easter
Sunday, I found myself, with a promise of a Treaty in
my pocket, making my way out of the mouth of the
river en route for Singapore. A fortnight later I was
back at Pekan, to the no small disgust of my friend
the Sultan and his people, but now I had quarters
assigned to me in the royal village, and accordingly I
saw but little of the Raja with whom I had formerly
travelled, and the people who had accompanied him
from the interior.

One day, about noon, I was aroused from sleep,
for, at Pekan, when first I lived there, all business was
transacted at night, and no one of standing, who re-
spected himself, thought of going to bed before eight
o'clock in the morning, or of getting up till four in
the afternoon. For Malays to wake one means that
there is trouble, or that something untoward has
occurred ; for, in the Native States, slumber is re-
spected, as it ought to be, seeing how hard at times
it is to come by, and the European practice of being
called in the morning, is a barbarous habit with which
Malays have no sympathy. On this occasion there
was a good reason for waking me, as news had just
come in that To' Muda Long had killed Bayan the
Paroquet, and as this had occurred in the compound
of the Raja, with whom I had formerly travelled, and
as he and the Sultan were on bad terms, there was
room for fear that serious political complications would
ensue. I, therefore, had occasion to inquire into the
details of this murder, and this is what I learned.


To' Muda Long, Bayan the Paroquet, and the
rest of the up-country natives, who had accompanied
us down river to Pekan, remained in the Raja's
enclosure to act as his body-guard and boat crew, and
they had not been long at Pekan before the girls of
the town began to send challenges to them, for Malay
women dearly love a change, and these men were all
strangers newly come among them. Nothing loth,
the Raja's followers plunged hotly into the love
intrigues which formed the principal interest in life
to the people of Pekan, and the usual jealousies began
to cause quarrels among them. Now, it chanced that
To' Muda Long and Bayan both desired the same
girl, and she, it would seem, preferred the Paroquet to
the young Chieftain. Perhaps, his good voice, and
the skill with which he sang the Song of the Burong
Agot, turned the balance in his favour, for Malay
women love to be amused, and often favour those who
are willing and able to amuse them. The girl was
well born, and had many relatives, so To' Muda
Long could not make an open scandal by attempting
to seize her by force, but his desire for her was hot in
his breast, and he decided that Bayan the Paroquet
should die.

It only remained to seek a pretext for a quarrel,
and this was easily found. In the afternoon the Raja's
followers were accustomed to play sepak rdga^ a
game which consists in kicking a round basket-work
ball, made of rattan, from one to the other, without
letting it fall to the ground. When it became dark,
the players adjourned to the Raja's balai or hall, and
some of them forgot to let down their trousers, which


had been hitched up above their knees to leave their
legs free while playing. Bayan was one of the older men
among the Raja's followers, and he, therefore, checked
these youths ; for, to enter a Raja's balal with bared
knees is an act of rudeness. To' Muda Long knew
the custom, and, of course, his knees were covered, but
when Bayan spoke he leapt up and said :

* Arrogant one ! Dost thou alone know the
custom of kings ? Thou art over clever at teaching

And, drawing his krls^ he made a murderous
assault on Bayan. The latter whipped his kris out,
too, and it would have gone ill with To' Muda Long,
for Bayan was a strong man and knew the use of his
weapon, had not the older men, who were present,
interfered to separate the combatants.

Next morning, Bayan arose betimes, and, taking
the long bamboos, in which water is stored and
carried, he went down to the river to have his
morning bath, and to fetch water for his house. He
must have attached but little importance to the
incident of the previous afternoon, for he went to the
river unarmed, which was unusual in those days even
for men who had no especial cause of quarrel. A
Malay often judges the courage of his fellows by
whether or no they are careful to be never separated
from their weapons, and Europeans who, in humble
imitation of Gordon, prefer to go about unarmed,
make a great mistake, since a Malay is apt to interpret
such action as being dictated by cowardice. Bayan
bathed in the river, filled his bamboos, and began to
carry them to his house j but To' Muda Long had


been watching his opportunity, and he and two of his
followers, all fully armed, had taken up a position in
the middle of the path, by which Bayan must pass
back to his house.

'Thou wast over arrogant to me last night,' said
To' Muda Long as Bayan approached, 'and now I
will repay thee ! '

1 Have patience, To' Muda, have patience,' said
Bayan. 'Thy servant did not speak to thee; it was
the boys who were unmannerly, and thy servant, being
an old man, did reprove them ! '

' It is not for the like of thee to reprove men, and
the said boys are my people, the sons of my loins. I
will cover their shame ! ' said To' Muda Long, for the
wolf was determined to pick a quarrel with the lamb,
bleat he never so wisely.

1 Have patience, To' Muda ! ' again cried poor
Bayan, but the words were hardly out of his mouth
before To' Muda Long struck at him with his spear,
but missed him. Then, as Bayan retreated step by
step, defending himself with the clumsy bamboo from
the deft spear thrusts, no more words passed between

At last the spear went home. 'Basah ! Basah /
I have wetted thee ! ' cried To' Muda Long, and he
went in at his enemy, kris in hand, Bayan beating
him about the head with the now empty bamboo.
When he got to close quarters, the deed was soon
done, and the body of Bayan the Paroquet, with
seventeen rending wounds upon it, lay stark and
hideously staring at the pure morning sky.

There was loud talk of blood-money, and equally


loud talk of reprisals, but nothing came of it ; and
though I often meet To' Muda Long, who is as soft
spoken and as gentle in his manners as ever, Bayan's
death was never revenged, and the fact that he ever
lived and sang is now well-nigh forgotten, even
by those who knew him, and loved to hear his tales.


. The voice of your complaining

At the little ills you know,
The crumpled leaf that's paining,

At the soil that's yours to sow,
At the exile from your caste-mates,

At the toil, the sweat, the heat,
Bears down our cry against the Fates !

We sufPrers round your feet !

To us the hardest lot you bear,

Ere you pass Home again,
Were free and happy, bright and fair,

If scaled against our pain.
We toil while others reap the fruit,

We suffer nameless ills j
Our lives are withered to the root,

By cruelty that kills.

Our very homes are not our own j

Our children and our wives
Are riven from us, while we moan

And labour out our lives.
They prison us in filthy sties

Would shame your Christian Hell j
No ear there is to heed our cries,

No tongue our pains to tell.

The Very Bitter Cry of the Unprotected.

I HAVE said that the Malays, taken by and large, have
no bowels. The story I am about to tell, illustrates
this somewhat forcibly. The incident related hap-



pened on the East Coast, and I know it to be a fact.
It is not a pleasant story, and any one who has a proud
stomach, would do well not to read it, as it is calculated
to make the gorge rise rebelliously.

In one of the States on the East Coast, there lived
a Raja^ who, though he was not the ruler of the
country, was a man of standing, and was possessed of
considerable power. This man owned much land,
many cattle, several wives, and a number of slave-
debtors, and his reputation for kindness and good-
nature stood high among the people. It must be
remembered, however, that the standard by which he
was judged differs considerably from our own, other-
wise, the things I am about to tell, would appear to
accord but ill with the character he bore.

Upon a certain day a kris was stolen from him,
and suspicion fastened upon one of his slave-debtors
named Talib. The man was innocent of the theft,
but his protestations were not believed, and he was
forthwith consigned to the Pen-jara or local gaol.
The tedious formality of a trial was dispensed with,
and nothing in the nature of the sifting of evidence
was considered necessary. The stolen kris was the
property of a Prince. That was enough j and Talib
went to gaol forthwith, the Raja issuing an order a
sort of lettre de cachet for his admittance. To
European ears this does not sound very terrible. Mis-
carriages of justice, even in civilised lands, are not
unknown, and in semi-barbarous countries they are,
of course, all in the day's march. Unfortunately,
however, an inspection of the gaols of Europe and of
the Protected Native States, does not enable one to


form a picture of the Pen-jara in Independent Malaya ;
and imprisonment in the former is not altogether the
same thing as incarceration in the latter.

The gaol in which Talib was confined was situated
in one of the most crowded portions of the native town.
It consisted of two rows of cages, placed back to back,
each one measuring some six feet in length, two feet
in width, and five feet in height. These cages were
formed of heavy slabs of wood, with intervals of some
two inches in every eight, for the admission of light
and air. The floors, which were also made of wooden
bars, were raised about six inches from the ground ;
and the cages, which were twelve in number, were
surrounded, at a distance of about two feet, by a solid
wall, formed of slabs of wood joined closely one to
another. Prisoners placed in these cells are never
allowed to come out again, until the money payment
has been made in satisfaction of the claim against
them, or until kindly Death puts forth his hand to
deliver them from worse pains than his.

Even this represents little to the European mind.
Natives may perhaps live in a cage from necessity
much as they often live in a boat from choice, and
those who have never visited the prisoners in their
captivity may think that no great suffering is inflicted
upon them by such confinement. To fill in the pic-
ture one has to remember many things. No sanitary
appliances of any kind are provided ; no one ever cleans
out the cages, or takes any steps to prevent the condi-
tion of the captives from being such as would disgrace
that of a wild beast in a small travelling menagerie.
The space between the floor and the ground, and the


interval which separates the cells from the surrounding
fence, is one seething, living mass of stinking putre-
faction. Here in the tropics, under a brazen sun, all
unclean things turn to putrid filthy life within the
hour ; and in a native gaol the atmosphere is heavy
with the fumes and rottenness of the offal of years,
and the reeking pungency of offal that is new. No
ventilation can penetrate into the fetid airless cells,
nor could the veriest hurricane purge the odours bred
by such surroundings.

This then was the wretched life to which Talib
was now condemned ; nor did his agonies end here,
for the gnawing pangs of hunger were added to his
pains. He was handed over to the gentle care of the
Per-tanda or Executioner an official who, in the
Unprotected States, unites the kindly office of life-taker
and torturer, with the hardly more humane post of
gaoler. This man, like all his fellows, had been chosen
for his physical strength, and his indifference to the
sight of pain ; and the calling, which he had pursued
for years, had rendered the natural ferocity of his char-
acter abnormally brutal. He was, moreover, an Oriental
official, a class of worthies who require more super-
vision to restrain them from thieving, than do even
the Chinese coolies in a gold mine, where the precious
metal winks at one in the flickering candle-light.
Needless to say, no attempt of any kind was made by
the higher State officials to control the action of the
Per-tanda. During the months of the year in which
the river was accessible to native crafts, he had the
right to collect dues of rice and fish from all boats
approaching the coast ; but, during the close season of


the north-east monsoon, no allowance of any kind
was made to him for the board of the prisoners in his
charge. Under these circumstances, perhaps, he was
not greatly to blame if he perverted to his own use,
and sold to all comers, the collections which he made
during the open season, so that his household might
not be without rice and raiment, during the dreary
months when the hatches were down for the monsoon.
Naturally, death, from slow and lingering starvation,
was not an altogether uncommon incident in these
dens of captivity, and one of Talib's first experiences
was to witness the last agonies of a fellow prisoner in
an adjoining cage. Talib himself was fed by a girl,
who had been his sweetheart before his trouble fell
upon him ; and, though the pangs of hunger could not
be completely allayed by the slender doles, which she
daily saved from her own ration of rice and fish, he
was not, for the time, exposed to actual danger of death
from want.

The prisoner in the cage to his left was little more
than a skeleton when Talib first entered the prison.
He lay huddled up in a corner, with his hands pressed
to his empty stomach and the sharp angles of his
bones peeping through his bed-sores, motionless, miser-
able, but, let us hope, only half conscious of his misery.
Talib saved a small portion of his own insufficient
meal for this man, but the poor wretch was already
too far gone for any such tardy aid to avail to save him.
It was with difficulty that he could swallow the rice
which Talib passed to him, in grudging handfuls,
through the bars of his cell. When at last the food,
by a superhuman effort, had been forced down his


shrunken gullet, his enfeebled stomach refused to re-
ceive it, and violent spasms and vomiting followed,
which seemed to rend his stricken frame, as a fierce
wind rips through the palm-leaf sail of a native fishing-
smack. In a day or two he became wildly delirious,
and Talib then witnessed a terrible sight. A raving
maniac in a well-ordered asylum, where padded walls
and careful tendance do much to save the poor dis-
ordered soul from tearing its way through the frail
casing of diseased flesh and bone, is a sight to shudder
at, not to see ! But in the vile cage in which this
poor victim was confined, nothing prevented the mad-
dened sufferer from doing himself any injury that it
is possible for a demented wretch to do. With the
strength of frenzy he dashed his head and body relent-
lessly against the unyielding bars of the cage. He
fell back crushed and bleeding, foaming at the mouth
with a bloody froth, and making inarticulate beast
noises in his throat. Then, as the madness again took
hold of him, shaking him as a terrier shakes a rat, he
flung himself once more at the bars, and, after another
fearful paroxysm, fell back inert upon the floor. For
hours he lay exhausted, but wildly restless, too spent
to struggle and too demented and tortured to be still.
He moaned, he groaned, he cursed with horrid filthy
words and phrases, bit as a dog bites in his madness,
strove to gnaw the loathsome rags which had long
ceased to cover his nakedness, and then again was still,
save for the incessant rolling of his restless head, and the
wilder motion of his eyes which glistened and flashed
with fever. Just before dawn, when the chill air was
making itself felt even in the fetid atmosphere of the


place, his reason came back to him for a space, and he
spoke to Talib in a thin, far-away voice, and with
many gasps and sighs and pauses :

'Little Brother,' he said, 'Dost thou also watch?
For not long now shall thy elder brother bear these
pains. Hast thou any water ? I thirst sore. No
matter, it is the fate to which I was born. Brother,
I stole five dollars from a Chief. I did it because my
wife was very fair, and she abused me, saying that I
gave her neither ornaments nor raiment. Brother, I
was detected. I knew not then that it was my wife
who gave the knowledge of my theft to the Chief,
he in whose household I was born and bred. He de-
sired her, and she loved him, and now he has taken
her to wife, I being as one already dead, and my wife
being legally divorced from me. While she was yet
bound to me, she sent to me food, by one of the Chief's
slaves, and from him I learned the plot which had
undone me. Brother, hast thou any water ? I thirst
sore, Little Brother. My mouth is hard and rough
as the skin of the skate, and it is dry as the fish that
has been smoked above the fire. Hast thou no water ?
Maimunah ! My wife ! Water, I pray thee ! Water !
Water ! O mother ! O mother ! O mother of
mine ! Water, mother ! Water ! I die ! I die !
Mother! * * *'

His voice died away into inarticulate moaning, and,
in an hour, he was dead.

Next morning his body was carried out for burial,
and for a time his cage remained unoccupied.

In the cage on Talib's right, there was a man, so
haggard, meagre, filthy, diseased, and brutal in his


habits, that it was difficult to believe that he was
altogether human. His hair fell in long, tangled,
matted, vermin-infested shocks, almost to his waist.
His eyes, two burning pits of fierce fire, were sunk
deep into his yellow, parchment-coloured face. The
cheek-bones were so prominent that they resembled
the sharp edges of a seladang's 1 skull, and his temples
stood out like the bosses on the forehead of a fighting
ram. The dirt of ages clung in the thousand wrinkles
and creases of his skin j and he hardly moved save to
scratch himself fiercely, as a monkey tears at his flea-
infested hide. A small ration of rice and fish was
brought to him daily by an old and wrinkled hag,
his wife of other years, who made a meagre living for
him and for herself, by selling sweet-stuff from door to
door. She came to him twice daily, and he tore
ravenously at the food, eating it with horrible noises
of animal satisfaction, while she cooed at him, through
toothless gums, with many endearing terms, such as
Malay women use to little children. Not even his
misery and degradation had been able to kill her love,
though its wretched object had long ceased to understand
it, or to recognise her, save as the giver of the food he
loved and longed for. He had been ten years in these
cages, and had passed through the entire range of
feeling, of which a captive in a Malay prison is
capable. From acute misery to despair, from despair
to stupid indifference, he had at length reached the
stage which the Malays call kaleh. It means insensi-
bility, such as few can imagine or understand, and

1 Stladang = wild buffalo of the Peninsula.


which is so bestial, that it reduces a feeling thinking
human being to the level of an ape.

Talib himself had as yet reached only the first stage
of his suffering, and the craving for one breath of
fresh air grew and grew and gathered strength, until
it became an overmastering longing that day and night
cried out to be satisfied. At last he could restrain the
desire no longer, and, reckless of the consequences, he
told the Per-tanda that, if he could be taken to a place
a day's journey up the river, he could set his hand upon
the missing kris which he had hidden there. He was
perfectly aware that the kris was not, and never had
been, buried in that place, for he knew as little of it
as the Per-tanda himself. He could forsee that his
failure to find it would be followed by worse tortures,
but he heeded not. He would breathe the free fresh
air once more, would look again up on the clear blue
vault of heaven overhead, would hear the murmur of
running water, the sighing of the wind through the
fruit trees, and would see, smell, hear, and feel, all the
sights, the scents, the sounds, and the surroundings
that he loved and longed for so keenly.

On a certain day he was taken up river, to the
place he had named, but the stinking reek of the cell
seemed to cling about him, and the fresh air was to
him made foul by it. The search was fruitless of

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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 11 of 17)