Hugh Charles Clifford.

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

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forehead, neat, glossy hair, bright, laughing eyes, with
eyebrows arched and well-defined, 'like the artificial
spur of a fighting cock,' and the pretty little hands
and feet which are so common among all well-born
Malay women. The man was hideous. His shrunken
and twitching face with its taut skin, and his utterly
broken, degraded, and decrepit appearance were inde-
scribably horrible, and the flickering of the moonlight,
through the torn mat overhead, only added to the
grotesqueness of his figure.

At length the girl looked up at the White Man,
and spoke :

4 The Tuan knows Awang Itam ? ' she asked.
Yes, the White Man knew him well, but had not
seen him for some months.


1 This is he,' she said, pointing to the abject figure
by her side, and her listener felt as though she had
struck him across the face. When last he had seen
Awang Itam, he was one of the best favoured of the
King's Youths, a fine, upstanding youngster, dressed
in many-coloured silks, and with an amount of side and
swagger about him, which would have amply sufficed
for a regiment of Her Majesty's Guards. Now he
half lay, half sat, on the damp decking, the most
pitiful wreck of humanity that the White Man had
ever seen. What had befallen him to cause so fearful
a change ? I will tell you the tale, in my own words,
as the White Man learned it from him and Bedah, as
they sat talking during the watches of that long night.

In every Independent Malay State, there is a gang
of fighting men, which watches over the person
of the King and acts as his bodyguard. It is
recruited from the sons of the chiefs, nobles, and men
of the well-bred classes ; and its members follow at
the heels of the King whenever he goes abroad, paddle
his boat, join with him in the chase, gamble unceas-
ingly, do much evil in the King's name, slay all who
chance to offend him, and flirt lasciviously with the
girls within the palace. They are always ready for
anything from c pitch-and-toss to manslaughter,' and
no Malay king has to ask twice in their hearing 'Will
nobody rid me of this turbulent priest ? ' Their one
aim in life is to gain the favour of their master, and,
having won it, to freely abuse their position. As the
Malay proverb has it, they carry their master's work
upon their heads, and their own under their arms, and
woe betide those who are not themselves under the


immediate protection of the King, that chance throws
in their way. Sometimes they act as a kind of irregular
police force, levying chantage from those whom they
detect in the commission of an offence ; and, when
crime is scarce, they often exact blackmail from
wholly innocent people by threatening to accuse them
of some ill-deed, unless their goodwill is purchased at
their own price. They are known as the Eudak Raja
or King's Youths and are greatly feared by the
people, for they are as reckless, as unscrupulous, as
truculent, and withal as gaily dressed and well born a
gang of young ruffians, as one would be like to meet
in a long summer's cruise.

Awang I tarn had served the King for several years
as one of the Eudak Raja, but his immediate chief
was Saiyid Usman, a youngster who was also one of
the King's Youths, and was usually spoken of as Tuan
Bangau. Awang had been born and bred in the house
of which Tuan Bangau's father was the head, and,
though in accordance with the immutable Malay
custom, Awang always spoke of himself as c thy servant '
when he addressed Tuan Bangau, the relations which
subsisted between them more nearly resembled those of
brothers, than those which we recognise as being proper
to master and servant. They had crawled about the
floor of the women's apartments in company, until
they were old enough to play in the open air j they
had played porok and tuju lubang, and all the games
known to Malay children, still in company ; they had
splashed about in the river together, cooling their little
brown bodies in the running water ; they had often
eaten from the same plate, and had slept side by


side on the same mat spread in the verandah. Later,
they had been circumcised on the same day, and,
having thus entered upon man's estate, they had to-
gether begun to participate in the life of dissipation
which every court- bred Malay boy regards as his birth-
right. Thus they had gone astraying after strange
women, gambling and quarelling with the other youths,
but still in company, and with their old love for one
another unaltered. They had been duly entered as
members of the King's Youths, and had proved them-
selves not to be the least reckless and truculent of those
who form that ruffianly gang, but they had chiefly
used their position to carry on their love intrigues
with greater freedom and daring. Both were hand-
some, dashing, fearless, swaggering, gaily-dressed boys,
and many were the girls within the palace, and the
town which lay around it, who cast loving eyes upon
them. Awang, however, cared little for this, for, by
the irony of that Fate which always directs that men
should fall in love with the wrong women, and vice
versd^ his heart was eaten up with a fiery desire for a
girl who was a jamah-jama h-an, or casual concubine of
the King, and who resolutely declined to have ought
to do with him. Nevertheless, the moth still fluttered
around the candle, and Awang never missed an oppor-
tunity of catching a passing glimpse of the object of
his longing. It was an evil day for both Awang Itam
and Tuan Bangau, however, when, as they swaggered
past the palace-fence, seeking to peep at this girl, they
were seen by the King's daughter, Tungku Uteh, and
a desire was straightway born in her breast for the
young and handsome Saiyid.


In the East, love affairs develop quickly ; and that
very day Awang Itam again saw lang Munah, the girl
whom he had loved so long and so hopelessly, and by
a flash of an eye-lid was informed that she had that to
tell him which it concerned him to know. When
both parties desire a secret interview many difficulties
may be overcome, and that evening Awang whispered
into the ear of Tuan Bangau that 'the moon was
about to fall into his lap.'

c I dreamed not long since,' said Tuan Bangau,
' that I was bitten by a very venomous snake ! ' And
then Awang knew that his friend was ready for any

To dream of a snake bite, among any of the people
of the Far East, means that ere long the dreamer will
receive generous favours from some lady who is either
of exalted rank, or of most surpassing beauty. The
greater the venom of the snake, the brighter, it is
believed, are the qualities with which the dreamer's
future mistress is endowed. It is not only in Europe,
that venom enters into the soul of a man by reason of
a woman, and this is, perhapSj the explanation of how
this dream comes to bear this peculiar interpretation.

Tuan Bangau's position was a curious one. He
did not desire Tungku Uteh for herself ; she was his
King's daughter, and the wife of a royal husband ; and
his duty and his interest alike forbade him to accept
her advances. If his intrigue with her was discovered,
he was a ruined, if not a dead man, and, moreover, he
was at this time devoted to another girl, whom he had
recently married. The challenge which had been
conveyed to him, however, was one which, in spite of


all these things, his code of honour made it impossible
for him to refuse. The extreme danger, which lay
in such an intrigue, gave him no choice but to accept
it. That was his point of view, His honour rooted
in dishonour stood,' and no self-respecting Malay,
brought up in the poisonous atmosphere of an Inde-
pendent Malay State, could admit of any other opinion.

With Awang Itam things were different. I have
already said that he was passionately in love with lang
Munah, and he knew that he would at length win his
Heart's Desire. He would accompany his chief on
his nocturnal visits to the palace, and, while Tuan
Bangau wooed the Princess, the handmaiden would
give herself to him. He felt the c blood run redder in
every vein ' at the bare thought, and he was the eager
and impatient lover when the twain crept into the
palace in the noon of the night.

They effected their entrance by a way known only
to themselves, and left by the same means before the
breaking of the dawn, passing to their quarters in the
guard -house, through the slumbering town, and lay
sleeping far into the day. For more than a month
they paid their secret visits unobserved by any save
those whom they sought, and by the old crone who
unbarred the door for them to enter ; but, upon a
certain night, they narrowly escaped detection. The
King, like many Malay Rajas, kept curious hours.
Sometimes, he slept all day, sometimes he slept all
night ; some days he went to rest at noon, to awake
at midnight ; and, on such occasions, he often
wandered about the palace alone, pouncing upon
ill-doers, like the lion which seeketh whom it may


devour. In this way he chanced upon Tuan Bangau
and Awang Itam, but they had fled from the palace
before he had learned who they were, and who were
the girls whom they had come to seek.

After this the meetings ceased for a space, but
Tungku Uteh was not to be so easily baulked, and a
taunting message soon brought Tuan Bangau once
more to her feet. The meetings, however, no longer
took place within the palace itself, the lovers meeting
and passing the night in a wood-shed within the fence
of the royal enclosure.

Things had gone on in this way for some time
when Tungku Uteh began to weary of the lack of ex-
citement attending the intrigue. Like many Malay
women she regarded it as a reproach to a girl if no
man desired her, and the longing became greater and
greater to show her partner and her immediate
entourage that she also was wooed and loved. She had
an affection for Tuan Bangau, and admired him as a
lover and a man, but even this could not restrain the
growing longing for notoriety. Perhaps she hardly
realised how grave would be the consequences j
perhaps she struggled against the impulse ; who can
say ? The fact remains that her lover was sacrificed,
as many a man has been before and since, upon the
altar of a woman's ungovernable vanity.

One night, when the yellow dawn was splashing
the gray in the East, and the thin smoke-like clouds
were hurrying across the sky, like great night fowls
winging their homeward way, Tuan Bangau awoke
and found Uteh sitting beside him with his krts and
girdle in her hands. She had taken them from his


pillow as he slept, and no persuasions on his part could
induce her to return them. While he yet sought to
coax her into foregoing her resolve, she leaped to her
feet, and, with a sweet little laugh, disappeared in the
palace, and Tuan Bangau returned homeward with
Awang Itam, each knowing that now indeed their
hour was come.

Once inside her own apartments, Tungku Uteh
placed the krts ostentatiously at the head of her
sleeping mat, and then composed herself calmly to
enjoy the tranquil slumber, which in the West is
erroneously supposed to be the peculiar privilege of
the just. Next day, the kris had been seen and
recognised, but her father and mother received
nothing but taunts from Uteh in reply to their
inquiries. What her object was is difficult for the
European mind to appreciate, for it must be distinctly
remembered that she had no quarrel with Tuan
Bangau. A Malay woman, however, is very far from
regarding the possession of a lover as a disgrace :
in this case, Uteh's vanity was gratified by the
intrigue becoming known. To obtain this even the
sacrifice of her lover did not seem too heavy a price
to pay.

The King's anger knew no bounds when he heard
of what had occurred, and physical punishment was,
of course, the only means of covering his shame,
which occurred to his primitive and unoriginal
imagination. His position, however, was a difficult
one. Tuan Bangau was a member of a very powerful
clan ; he was also a Saiyid, and the King feared that
the fanaticism of his people would be aroused if he


openly slew a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
Awang Itam, whose intrigue had also become known,
was arrested, carried into the palace, and all trace was
lost of him for months. lang Munah also disappeared
from among the women ; but to Tuan Bangau not a
word was said, and never by sign or gesture was he
allowed to guess that his crime was known to the

One day the King went a hunting, and took his
way up a small stream which was totally uninhabited.
Tuan Bangau was of the party, and those who went
with them were all men selected for their discretion,
and their unwavering loyalty to the King. The
hunting party travelled in boats, of which there were
two, the King going in one, and his son Tungku
Saleh in the other. In the latter boat sat Tuan
Bangau, and about a dozen of the King's Youths.
Arrived at a certain place, the King's boat went on
round the point, and Tungku Saleh's boat tied up in
mid-stream, while the Prince ate some sweatmeats
which had been brought for the purpose.

When he had eaten his fill, he bade Tuan Bangau
and one or two other Saiyids, who were among his
followers, fall to on what remained, and it was while
Tuan Bangau was washing his mouth over the side of
the boat after eating, that Tungku Saleh gave the
signal which heralded his death. A man who was
behind him stabbed him in the shoulder with a spear,
and another blow given almost simultaneously knocked
him into the river. Tuan Bangau dived, and swam
until he had reached the shallow water near the bank.
Here he rose to his feet, drew his kris^ and called to



those within the boat to come and fight him one at
a time if they dared. The only answer was a spear
which wounded him in the neck, and a bullet from a
gun which penetrated to his heart. In a moment all
that remained of Tuan Bangau was a shapeless heap
of useless flesh, lying in the shallow water, with the
eddies playing around and in and out of the brilliant
silk garments, which had made him so brave a sight
when alive. Those who had slain him, buried him ;
where, no man knoweth ; the report that he had strayed
and been lost, was diligently spread, and, though gener-
ally disbelieved, was found to be impossible of disproof.
But Bedah, his wife who had loved him, had learnt
these things, and now told all to the White Man, hop-
ing that thus her husband's murder might be avenged,
and thereby she risked the life which his death had
temporarily made desolate.

Compared with that of Awang mm, however,
Tuan Bangau's fate was a happy one. When the
former disappeared from the sight of men, he was the
victim of nameless tortures. As he told the tale of
what he had suffered on the night that followed his
arrest ; of the ghastly tortures and mutilations which
had wrecked his manhood, and left him the pitiable
ruin he then was, the White Man writhed in sym-
pathy, and was filled with a horror that made him

1 Better it were to die,' said he, * than to live the
life which is no life, and to suffer these nameless tor-

4 It is true,' said Awang Itam, c it is true. But
readily would I bear it over again, Tuan y if thereby for


a little space I might be what I have been, and my
Heart's Desire could once more be satisfied ! '

These were the last words spoken while the dawn
was breaking, as the White Man clambered over the
side and wended his way homeward ; and, therefore, I
have called this tale the story of c His Heart's Desire.'


The glaring eyes through the brushwood shine,

And the striped hide shows between
The trees and bushes, 'mid trailing vine

And masses of ever-green.
A snarling moan comes long and low,

We may neither flee nor fight,
For well our leaping pulses know

The Terror that stalks by Night.

IF you put your finger on the map of the Malay
Peninsula an inch or two from its exact centre, you
will find a river in Pahang territory which has its rise
in the watershed that divides that State from K elan tan
and Trengganu. This river is called the Tembeling,
and it is chiefly remarkable for the number of its rapids
and the richness of its gutta- bearing forests. Its in-
habitants are a ruffianly lot of Malays, who are preyed
upon by a family of Wans, a semi-royal set of nobles
who do their best to live up to their traditions. Below
the rapids the natives are chiefly noted for the quaint
pottery that they produce from the clay which abounds
there, and the rude shapes and ruder tracery of their
vessels have probably suffered no change since the days
when Solomon's fleets sought gold and peafowl and
monkeys in the jungles of the Peninsula, as everybody


knows. Above the rapids the Malays plant enough
gamblr to supply the wants of the whole betel-chewing
population of Pahang, and, as the sale of this com-
modity wins them a few dollars annually, they are too
indolent to plant their own rice. This grain, which
is the staple of all Malays, without which they cannot
live, is therefore sold to them by down river natives,
at the exorbitant price of half a dollar the bushel.

A short distance up stream, and midway between
the mouth and the big rapids, there is a straggling
village, called Ranggul, the houses of which, made of
wattled bamboos and thatched with palm leaves, stand on
piles, amid the groves of cocoa-nut and areca-nut palms,
varied by clumps of smooth-leaved banana trees. The
houses are not very close together, but a man can call
from one to the other with ease ; and thus the cocoa-
nuts thrive, which, as the Malays say, grow not with
pleasure beyond the sound of the human voice. The
people of the village are not more indolent than other
Malays. They plant a little rice, when the season
comes, in the swamps behind the village. They work
a little jungle produce, when the pinch of poverty
drives them to it, but, like all Malays, they take life
sufficiently easily. If you chance to go into the village
of Ranggul, during any of the hot hours of the day,
you will find most of its occupants lying about in their
dark, cool houses, engaged upon such gentle mental
tasks as may be afforded by whittling a stick, or hack-
ing slowly at the already deeply scored threshold-block,
with their clumsy wood-knives. Sitting thus, they gossip
with a passing neighbour, who stops to chatter as he sits
propped upon the stair ladder, or they croak snatches


of song, with some old-world refrain to it, and, from
time to time, break off to cast a word over their
shoulders to the wife in the dim background near the
fireplace, or to the little virgin daughter, carefully
secreted on the shelf overhead, in company with a
miscellaneous collection of dusty, grimy rubbish, the
disused lumber of years. Nature has been very lavish
to the Malay, and she has provided him with a soil
which returns a maximum of food for a minimum of
grudging labour. The cool, moist fruit groves call
aloud to all mankind to come and revel in their fragrant
shade during the parching hours of mid-day, and the
Malay has caught the spirit of his surroundings, and is
very much what Nature has seen fit to make him.

Some five-and-thirty years ago, when Che' Wan
Ahmad, now better known as Sultan Ahmad Maatham
Shah, was collecting his forces in Dungun, preparatory
to making his last and successful descent into the
Tembeling valley, whence to overrun and conquer
Pahang, the night was closing in at Ranggul. A large
house stood, at that time, in a somewhat isolated
position, within a thickly-planted compound, at one
extremity of the village. In this house, on the night
of which I write, seven men and two women were at
work on the evening meal. The men sat in the
centre of the floor, on a white mat made from the
plaited leaves of the mengkuang palm, with a plate piled
with rice before each of them, and a brass tray, holding
various little china bowls of curry, placed where all
could reach it. They sat cross-legged, with bowed
backs, supporting themselves on their left arms, the
left hand lying flat on the mat, and being so turned


that the outspread fingers pointed inwards. With the
fingers of their right hands they messed the rice,
mixing the curry well into it, and then swiftly carried
a large handful to their mouths, skilfully, without
dropping a grain. The women sat demurely, in a
half kneeling position, with their feet tucked away
under them, and ministered to the wants of the men.
They said never a word, save an occasional exclamation,
when they drove away a lean cat that crept too near to
the food, and the men also held their peace. There
was no sound to be heard, save the hum of the insects
out of doors, the deep note of the bull-frogs in the rice
swamps, and the unnecessarily loud noise of mastication
made by the men as they ate.

When the meal was over the women carried what
was left to a corner near the fireplace, and there fell
to on such of the viands as their lords had not con-
sumed. If you had looked carefully, however, you
would have seen that the cooking-pots, over which the
women ruled, still held a secret store for their own con-
sumption, and that the quality of the food in this cache
was by no means inferior to that which had been allotted
to the men. In a land where women wait upon them-
selves, and have none to attend to their wants, or
forestall their wishes, they very soon acquire an ex-
tremely good notion of how to look after themselves ;
and, since they have never known a state of society in
which women are treated as they are amongst ourselves,
they do not repine, and seem, for the most part, to be
sufficiently bright, light-hearted, and happy.

The men, meanwhile, had each rolled up a quid of
betel-nut, taking the four ingredients carefully from


the little brass boxes in the wooden tray before them>
and having prepared cigarettes of Javenese tobacco,
with the dried shoots of the nip ah palm for wrappers,
had at length broken the absorbed silence, which had
held them fast while the matter of the meal was
occupying their undivided attention.

The talk flitted lightly over many subjects ; for a
hearty meal, and the peace of soul which repletion
brings with it, are not conducive to concentration of
attention, nor yet to activity of mind. The Malay,
too, is always superficial, and talk among natives
generally plays round facts, rather than round ideas.
Che' Seman, the owner of the house, and his two
sons, Awang and Ngah, discussed the prospects of the
crop then growing in the fields behind the compound.
Their cousin Abdollah, who chanced to be passing the
night in the house, told of a fall which his wife's
aunt's brother had come by, when climbing a cocoa-
nut tree. Mat, his biras (for they had married two
sisters, which established a definite form of relationship
between them, according to Malay ideas), added a few
more or less ugly details to Abdollah's description of
the corpse after the accident. And as this attracted
the attention of the two remaining men, Potek and
Kassim, who had been discussing the price of rice, and
the varying chances of getah hunting, the talk at this
point became general. Potek and Kassim had recently
returned from Dungun, where, as has been said, the
present Sultan of Pahang was, at that time, collecting
the force with which he afterwards successfully invaded
and conquered the State. They told of all they had
seen and heard, multiplying their figures with the


daring recklessness that is born of unfettered imagina-
tions, and the lack of a rudimentary knowledge of
arithmetic. But even this absorbing topic could not
hold the attention of their hearers for long. Before
Potek and Kassim had well finished the enumeration
of the heavy artillery, of the thousands of the elephants,
and the tens of thousands of the followers, with which
they credited the adventurous, but slender bands of raga-
muffins, who followed Ahmad's fortunes, Che' Seman
broke into their talk with words on a subject which, at
that time, was ever uppermost in the minds of the
Tembeling people, and the conversation straight-
way drifted into the channel in which it had run,
with only casual interruptions, for many weeks

1 He of the Hairy Face * is with us once more,'

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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 13 of 17)