Hugh Charles Clifford.

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

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ejaculated Che' Seman ; and when this announcement
had caused a dead silence to fall upon his hearers, and
had even stilled the chatter of the women-folk near
the fireplace, he continued :

'At the hour when the cicada is heard (sunset),
I met Imam Sidik of Gemuroh, and bade him stay to
eat rice, but he would not, saying that He of the
Hairy Face had made his kill at Labu yesternight, and
it behoved all men to be within their houses before the
darkness fell. And so saying he paddled his dug-out
down stream with the short quick stroke used when
we race boats. Imam Sidik is a wise man, and his
words are true. He of the Hairy Face spares neither

1 Si Pudong = one of the names used by jungle-bred Malays to describe
a tiger. They avoid using the beast's real name lest the sound of it
should reach his ears, and cause him to come to the speaker.


priest nor prince. The girl he killed at Labu was a
daughter of the Wans her name Wan Esah.'

'That makes three-and-twenty whom He of the
Hairy Face hath slain in one year of maize' (three
months), said Awang in a low fear -stricken voice.
1 He touches neither goats nor kine, and men say He
sucketh more blood than He eateth flesh.'

'That it is which proves Him to be the thing he
is,' said Ngah.

'Thy words are true,' said Che' Seman solemnly.
' He of the Hairy Face has his origin in a man. The
Semang the negrits of the woods drove him forth
from among them, and now he lives solitarily in the
jungles, and by night he takes upon himself the form
of Him of the Hairy Face, and feasts upon the flesh of
his own kind.'

' I have heard tell that it is only the men of
Korinchi who have this strange power,' interposed
Abdollah, in the tone of one who longs to be re-

' Men say that they also possess the power,' rejoined
Che' Seman, 'but certain it is that He of the Hairy
Face was born a Semang^ a negrit of the woods, and
when He goeth forth in human guise he is like all
other Semangs to look upon. I and many others have
seen him, roaming alone, naked, and muttering to
himself, when we have been in the forests seeking for
jungle produce. All men know that it is He who by
night harries us in our villages. If one ventures to go
forth from our houses in the time of darkness, to the
bathing raft at the river's edge, or to tend our sick, or
to visit a friend, Si Pudong is ever to be found


watching, and thus the tale of his kills waxes longer
and longer.'

'But men are safe from him while they sit within
their houses ? ' asked Mat with evident anxiety.

4 God alone knows,' answered Che' Seman piously,
' who can say where men are safe from Him of the
Hairy Face ? He cometh like a shadow, and slays like a
prince, and then like a shadow he is gone ! And the
tale of his kills waxes ever longer and yet more long.
May God send Him far from us ! Ya Allah ! It is
He ! Listen ! '

At the word, a dead silence, broken only by the
hard breathing of the men and women, fell upon all
within the house. Then very faintly, and far away
up stream, but not so faintly but that all could hear it,
and shudder at the sound, the long-drawn, howling,
snarling moan of a hungry tiger broke upon the still-
ness. The Malays call the roar of the tiger aum, and
the word is vividly onomatopoetic, as those who
have heard the sound in the jungle during the silent
night watches can bear witness. All who have
listened to the tiger in his forest freedom know that
he has many voices wherewith to speak. He can give
a barking cry, which is not unlike that of a deer ; he
can grunt like a startled boar, and squeak like the
monkeys cowering at his approach in the branches
overhead j he can shake the earth with a vibrating,
resonant purr, like the sound of faint thunder in the
foot-hills ; he can mew and snarl like an angry wild-
cat ; and he can roar like a lusty lion cub. But it is
when he lifts up his voice in the long-drawn moan
that the jungle chiefly fears him. This cry means


that he is hungry, and, moreover, that he is so sure of
his kill that he cares not if all the world knows that
his belly is empty. It has something strangely
horrible in its tone, for it speaks of that cold-blooded,
dispassionate cruelty which is only to be found in
perfection in the feline race. These sleek, smooth-
skinned, soft-footed, lithe, almost serpentine animals,
torture with a grace of movement, and a gentleness in
strength which has something in it more violently
repugnant to our natures than any sensation with
which the thought of the blundering charge and
savage goring of the buffalo, or the clumsy kneading
with giant knee-caps, that the elephant metes out to
its victims, can ever inspire in us.

Again the long-drawn moaning cry broke upon the
stillness. The cattle in the byre heard it and were panic-
stricken. Half mad with fear, they charged the walls
of their pen, bearing all before them, and in a moment
could be heard in the distance plunging madly through
the brushwood, and splashing through the soft earth
of thepadi fields. The dogs whimpered and scampered
off in every direction, while the fowls beneath the
house set up a drowsy and discordant screeching.
The folk within the house were too terror-stricken to
speak, for fear, which gives voices to the animal world,
renders voluble human beings dumb. And all this
time the cry broke forth again and again, ever louder
and louder, as He of the Hairy Face drew nearer and
yet more near.

At last the cruel whining howl sounded within the
very compound in which the house stood, and its
sudden proximity caused Mat to start so violently


that he overturned the pitch torch at his elbow,
and extinguished the flickering light. The women
crowded up against the men, seeking comfort by
physical contact with them, their teeth chattering like
castanets. The men gripped their spears, and squatted
tremblingly in the half light thrown by the dying
embers of the fire, and the flecks cast upon floor and
wall by the faint moonbeams struggling through the
interstices of the thatched roof.

4 Fear nothing, Minah,' Che' Seman whispered, in
a hoarse, strange voice, to his little daughter, who
nestled miserably against his breast, c in a space He will
be gone. Even He of the Hairy Face will do us no
harm while we sit within the house.'

Che' Seman spoke from the experience of many
generations of Malays, but he knew not the nature of
the strange beast with whom he had to deal. Once
more the moan-like howl broke out on the still night
air, but this time the note had changed, and gradually
it quickened to the ferocious snarling roar, the charge
song, as the tiger rushed forward and leaped against
the side of the house with a heavy jarring thud. A
shriek from all the seven throats went up on the
instant, and then came a scratching, tearing sound,
followed by a soft, dull flop, as the tiger, failing to
eftect a landing on the low roof, fell back to earth.
The men started to their feet, clutching their weapons
convulsively, and, led by Che' Seman, they raised,
above the shrieks of the frightened women, a lament-
able attempt at a sorak^ the Malayan war-cry, which is
designed as much to put heart into those who utter it, as
to frighten the enemy in defiance of whom it is sounded.


Mat, the man who had upset the torch and plunged
the house in darkness, alone failed to add his voice to
the miserable cheer raised by his fellows. Wild with
fear of the beast without, he crept, unobserved by the
others, up into the para^ or shelf-like upper apartment,
on which Minah had been wont to sit, when strangers
were about, during the short days of her virginity.
This place, as is usual in most Malay houses, hardly
deserved to be dignified by being termed a room. It
consisted of a platform suspended from the roof in one
corner of the house, and among the dusty lumber with
which it was covered Mat now cowered and sought to
hide himself.

A minute or two of sickening suspense followed
the tiger's first unsuccessful charge. But presently the
howl broke forth again, quickened rapidly to the note
of the charge song, and once more the house trembled
under the weight of the great animal. This time the
leap of Him of the Hairy Face had been of truer aim,
and a crash overhead, a shower of leaflets of thatch,
and an ominous creaking of the woodwork told the
cowering people in the house that their enemy had
effected a landing on the roof.

The miserable thready cheer, which Che' Seman
exhorted his fellows to raise in answer to the charge
song of the tiger, died down in their throats. All
looked upwards in deadly fascination as the thatch was
torn violently apart by the great claws of their
assailant. There were no firearms in the house, but
the men instinctively grasped their spears, and held
them ready to await the tiger's descent. Thus for a
moment, as the quiet moonlight poured in through


the gap in the thatch, they stood gazing at the great
square face, marked with its black bars, at the flaming
eyes, and the long cruel teeth framed in the hole which
the claws of the beast had made. The timbers of
the roof bent and cracked anew under the unwonted
weight, and then, with the agility of a cat, He of the
Hairy Face leaped lightly down, and was in among
them before they knew. The striped hide was slightly
wounded by the spears, but the shock of the brute's leap
bore all who had resisted it to the floor. The tiger never
stayed to use its jaws. It sat up, much in the attitude
of a kitten which plays with something dangled before
its eyes, and the soft pit-pat of its paws, as it struck
out rapidly and with unerring aim, speedily disposed
of all its enemies. Che' Seman, with his two sons,
Awang and Ngah, were the first to fall. Then lang,
Che' Seman 's wife, reeled backwards against the wall,
with her skull crushed out of all resemblance to any
human member, by the awful strength of one of those
well-aimed buffets from the fearful claws. Kassim,
Potek, and Abdollah fell before the tiger in quick
succession, and Minah, the girl who had nestled against
her father for protection, lay now under his dead body,
sorely wounded, wild with terror, but still alive and
conscious. Mat, cowering on the shelf overhead,
breathless with fear, and gazing fascinated at the
carnage going on within a few feet of him, was the
only inmate of the house who remained uninjured.

He of the Hairy Face killed quickly and silently,
while there were yet some alive to resist him. Then,
purring gently, he drank a deep draught of blood
from each of his slaughtered victims. At last he


reached Che' Seman, and Minah, seeing him approach,
made a feeble effort to evade him. Then began a
fearful scene, the tiger playing with, and torturing the
girl, just as we all have seen a cat do with a maimed
mouse. Again and again Minah crawled feebly away
from her tormentor, only to be drawn back again just
when escape seemed possible. Again and again she
lay still in the utter inertia of exhaustion, only to be
quickened into agonised movement once more by the
touch of the tiger's cruel claws. Yet so cunningly
did he play with her, that, as Mat described it, a time
as long as it would take to cook rice had elapsed,
before the girl was finally put out of her misery.

Even then He of the Hairy Face did not quit the
scene of slaughter. Mat, as he lay trembling in the
shelf overhead, watched the tiger, through the long
hours of that fearful night, play with the mangled
bodies of each of his victims in turn. He leaped from
one to the other, inflicting a fresh blow with teeth or
claws on their torn flesh, with all the airy, light-
hearted agility and sinuous grace of a kitten playing
with its shadow in the sun. Then when the dawn
was breaking, the tiger tore down the door, leaped
lightly to the ground, and betook himself to the

When the sun was up, an armed party of neigh-
bours came to the house to see if ought could be done.
But they found the place a shambles, the bodies
hardly to be recognised, the floor-laths dripping blood,
and Mat lying face downward on the shelf, with his
reason tottering in the balance. The bodies, though
they had been horribly mutilated, had not been eaten,


the tiger having contented himself with drinking the
blood of his victims, and playing his ghastly game
with them till the dawn broke.

This is, I believe, the only recorded instance in the
Peninsula of a tiger having dared to attack men
within their closed houses ; and the circumstances
are so remarkable in every way, that I, for one, cannot
find it in me to greatly blame the Malays for
attributing the fearlessness of mankind, and the lust
for blood displayed by Him of the Hairy Face, to the
fact that he owed his existence to magic agencies, and
was in reality no mere wild beast, but a member of
the race upon which he so cruelly preyed.


Alas, the shifting years have sped,
Since we were hale and strong,
Who oft have seen the hot blood shed,

Nor held the deed a wrong ;
When the flames leap'd bright, thro' the frightened night,

When the scrak rang thro' the lea,
When a man might fight, and when might was right,
In the Days when the Land was Free.

The Song of the Fettered Folk.

IN 1873 'he P e pl e f Pahang who, then as now,
were ever ready to go upon the war-path, poured over
the cool summits of the range that forms at once the
backbone of the Peninsula and the boundary between
Pahang and Selangor. They went, at the invitation
of the British Government, to bring to a final con-
clusion the protracted struggles, in which Malay Rajas,
foreign mercenaries, and Chinese miners had alike
been engaged for years, distracting the State of
Selangor, and breaking the peace of the Peninsula. A
few months later, the Pahang Army, albeit sadly
reduced by cholera, poured back again across the
mountains, the survivors slapping their chests and
their >m-hilts, and boasting loudly of their deeds, as


befitted victorious warriors in a Malay land. The
same stories are still told 'with circumstance and
much embroidery,' by those who took part in the
campaign, throughout the length and breadth of
Pahang even unto this day.

Among the great Chiefs who led their people
across the range, one of the last to go, and one of those
whose heart was most uplifted by victory, was the
present Mahraja Perba of Jelai, commonly called To'
Raja. His own people, even at that time, gave him
the title he now bears, but the Bendahara of Pahang
(since styled Sultan) had never formally installed him
in the hereditary office of which he was the heir, so
by the Court Faction he was still addressed as Panglima
Prang Mamat.

On his arrival at Pekan, the Panglima Prang, un-
mindful of the fate which, at an earlier period, had
befallen his brother Wan Bong, whose severed head
lay buried somewhere near the palace in a nameless
grave, began to assert himself in a manner which no
Malay King could be expected to tolerate. Not
content with receiving from his own people the semi-
royal honours, which successive To' Rajas have insisted
upon from the natives of the interior, Panglima Prang
allowed his pride to run away with both his prudence
and his manners. He landed at Pekan with a follow-
ing of nearly fifty men, all wearing shoes, the spoils of
war, it is said, which had fallen to his lot through the
capture of a Chinese store ; he walked down the
principal street of the town with an umbrella carried
by one of his henchmen ; and he ascended into the
King's Eulal with his kris uncovered by the folds of


his sarong ! The enormity of these proceedings may
not, perhaps, be apparent ; but, in those days, the
wearing of shoes of a European type, and the public
use of an umbrella, were among the proudest privileges
of royalty. To ascend the Balai with an uncloaked
weapon in one's girdle was, moreover, a warlike pro-
ceeding, which can only be compared to the snapping
of fingers in the face of royalty. Therefore, when
Panglima Prang left Pekan, and betook himself up
river to his house in the Jelai, he left a flustered court,
and a very angry King behind him.

But at this time there was a man in Pahang who
was not slow to seize an opportunity, and in the
King's anger he saw a chance that he had long been
seeking. This man was Dato' Imam Prang Indera
Gajah Pahang, a title which, being interpreted,
meaneth, The War Chief, the Elephant of Pahang.
Magnificent and high sounding as was this name, it
was found too large a mouthful for everyday use, and
to the people of Pahang he was always known by the
abbreviated title of To' Gajah. He had risen from
small beginnings by his genius for war, and more
especially for that branch of the science which the
Malays call tipu prang the deception of strife a term
which is more accurately rendered into English by
the word treachery, than by that more dignified
epithet strategy. He had already been the recipient
of various land grants from the King, which carried
with them some hundreds of devoted families who
chanced to live on the alienated territories ; he already
took rank as a great Chief; but his ambition was to
become the master of the Lipis Valley, in which he


had been born, by displacing the aged To' Kaya Stia-
wangsa, the hereditary Chief of the District.

To' Gajah knew that To' Kaya of Lipis, and all
his people were more or less closely related to Pang-
lima Prang, and to the Jelai natives. He foresaw that,
if war was declared against Panglima Prang by the
King, the Lipis people would throw in their fortunes
with the former. It was here, therefore, that he saw
his chance, and, as the fates would have it, an instru-
ment lay ready to his hand.

At Kuala Lipis there dwelt in those days an old
and cross-grained madman, a Jelai native by birth,
who, in the days before his trouble came upon him,
had been a great Chief in Pahang. He bore the title
of Orang Kaya Haji, and his eldest son was named
Wan Lingga. The latter was as wax in To' Gajah's
hands, and when they had arranged between them-
selves that in the event of a campaign against Pang-
lima Prang proving successful, Wan Lingga should
replace the latter by becoming To' Raja of Jelai,
while the Lipis Valley should be allotted to To'
Gajah, with the title of Dato' Kaya Stia-wangsa, they
together approached the Bendahara on the subject.

They found him willing enough to entertain any
scheme, which included the humbling of his proud
vassal Panglima Prang, who so lately had done him
dishonour in his own capital. Moreover the Benda-
hara of Pahang was as astute as it is given to most
men to be, and he saw that strife between the great
Chiefs must, by weakening all, eventually strengthen
his own hand, since he would, in the end, be the
peacemaker between them. Therefore he granted a


letter of authority to Wan Lingga and To' Gajah,
and thus the war began.

The people of Pahang flocked to the interior, all
noisily eager to stamp out of existence the upstart
Chief, who had dared to wear shoes, and to carry an
umbrella in the streets of their King's capital. The
aged Chief of Lipis and his people, however, clove to
Panglima Prang, or To' Raja, as he now openly called
himself, and the war did not prosper. To' Gajah had
inspired but little love in the hearts of the men whom
the Bendahara had given him for a following, and
they allowed their stockades to be taken without a
blow by the Jelai people, and on one occasion To'
Gajah only escaped by being paddled hastily down
stream concealed in the rolled up hide of a buffalo.

At last it became evident that war alone could
never subdue the Jelai and Lipis districts, and con-
sequently negotiations were opened. A Chief named
the Orang Kaya Pahlawan of Semantan visited To'
Raja in the Jelai, and besought him to make his peace
by coming to Pekan.

* Thou hast been victorious until now,' said he,
4 but thy food is running low. How then wilt thou
fare ? It were better to submit to the Bendahara, and
I will go warrant that no harm befalls thee. If the
Bendahara shears off thy head, he shall only do so
when thy neck has been used as a block for mine own.
And thou knowest that the King loveth me.' To'
Raja therefore allowed himself to be persuaded, but
stipulated that Wan Lingga, who was then at Kuala
Lipis, should also go down to Pekan, since if he re-
mained in the interior he might succeed in subverting


the loyalty of the Jelai people who hitherto had been
faithful to To' Raja. Accordingly Wan Lingga left
Kuala Li'pis, ostensibly for Pekan, but, after descend-
ing the river for a few miles, he turned off into a side
stream, named the Kichan, where he lay hidden
biding his time.

When To' Raja heard of this, he at first declined
to continue his journey down stream, but at length,
making a virtue of necessity, he again set forward,
saying that he entertained no fear of Wan Lingga,
since one who could hide in the forest c like a fawn or
a mouse-deer ' could never, he said, fill the seat of To'
Raja of Jelai.

It is whispered, that it had been To' Gajah's
intention to make away with To' Raja, on his way
down stream, by means of that 4 warlike ' art for
which, I have said, he had a special aptitude ; but
the Jelai people knew the particular turn of the
genius with which they had to deal, and conse-
quently they remained very much on their guard.
They travelled, some forty or fifty strong, on an
enormous bamboo raft, with a large fortified house
erected in its centre. They never parted with their
arms, taking them both to bed and to bath ; they
turned out in force at the very faintest alarm of
danger ; they moored the raft in mid-stream when
the evening fell ; and, wonderful to relate, for Malays
make bad sentinels, they kept faithful watch both
by day and by night. Thus at length they won
to Pekan without mishap ; and thereafter they were
suffered to remain in peace, no further and immediate
attempts being made upon their lives.


To' Raja or Panglima Prang as he was still
called by the King and the Court Faction remained
at the capital a prisoner in all but the name. The
Bendahara declined to accord him an interview,
pointedly avoided speech with him, when they chanced
to meet in public, and resolutely declined to allow
him to leave Pekan. This, in ancient days, was
practically the King's only means of punishing a
powerful vassal, against whom he did not deem it
prudent to take more active measures ; and as, at
a Malay Court, the entourage of the Raja slavishly
follow any example which their King may set them,
the position of a great Chief living at the capital
in disgrace was sufficiently isolated, dreary, humiliat-
ing, and galling.

But To' Raja's own followers clove to him with
the loyalty for which, on occasion, the natives of
Pahang are remarkable. The Bendahara spared no
pains to seduce them from their allegiance, and the
three principal Chieftains who followed in To' Raja's
train were constantly called into the King's presence,
and were shown other acts of favour, which were
steadfastly denied to their master. But it profited the
Bendahara nothing, for Imam Bakar, the oldest of the
three, set an example of loyalty which his two com-
panions, Imam Prang Samah and Khatib Bujang,
followed resolutely. Imam Bakar himself acted from
principle. He was a man whom Nature had endowed
with firm nerves, a faithful heart, and that touch of
recklessness and fatalism which is needed to put the
finishing touch to the courage of an oriental. He
loved To' Raja and all his house, nor could he be


tempted or scared into a denial of his affection and
loyalty. Imam Prang Samah and Khatib Bujang,
both of whom I know well, are men of a different
type. They belong to the weak-kneed brethren, and
they followed Imam Bakar because they feared him
and To' Raja. They found themselves, to use an
emphatic colloquialism, between the Devil and the
Deep Sea, nor had they sufficient originality between
them to suggest a compromise. Thus they imitated
Imam Bakar, repeated his phrases after him, and, in
the end, but narrowly escaped sharing with him the
fate which awaits those who arouse the wrath of a

At each interview which these Chieftains had with

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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 14 of 17)