Hugh Charles Clifford.

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

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their monarch, the latter invariably concluded the con-
versation by calling upon them to testify to the faith
that was in them.

' Who,' he would ask, ' is your Master, and who is
your Chief ? '

And the three, led by Imam Bakar, would make
answer with equal regularity :

'Thou, O Highness, art Master of thy servants,
and His Highness To' Raja is thy servants' Chief.'

Now, from the point of view of the Bendahara, this
answer was most foully treasonable. That in speaking to
him, the King, they should give To' Raja the vassal
he had been at such pains to humble a royal title
equal to his own, was in itself bad enough. But that,
not content with this outrage, they should decline
to acknowledge the Bendahara as both Master and
Chief was the sorest offence of all. A man may own
duty to any Chief he pleases, until such time as he


comes into the presence of his King, who is the Chief
of Chiefs. Then all loyalty to minor personages must
be laid aside, and the Monarch must be acknowledged
as the Master and Lord above all others. But it was
just this one thing that Imam Bakar was determined
not to do, and at each succeeding interview the anger
of the Bendahara waxed hotter and hotter.

At the last interview of all, and before the fatal
question had been asked and answered, the King spoke
with the three Chieftains concerning the manner of
their life in the remote interior, and, turning to Imam
Bakar, he asked how they of the upper country lived.

c Thy servants live on earth,' replied the Imam,
meaning thereby that they were tillers of the soil.

When they had once more given the hateful answer
to the oft put question, and had withdrawn in fear and
trembling before the King's anger, the latter called
To' Gajah to him and said :

c Imam Bakar and the men his friends told me a
moment since that they eat earth. Verily the Earth
will have its revenge, for I foresee that in a little space
the Earth will swallow Imam Bakar.'

Next day the three recalcitrant Chiefs left Pekan
for their homes in the interior, and, a day or two later,
To' Gajah, by the Bendahara's order, followed them
in pursuit. His instructions were to kill all three
without further questionings, should he chance to
overtake them before they reached their homes at
Kuala Tembeling. If, however, they should win to
their homes in safety, they were once more to be
asked the fatal question, and their lives were to depend
upon the nature of their answer. This was done, lest


a rising of the Chieftains' relations should give need-
less trouble to the King's people ; for the clan was not
a small one, and any unprovoked attack upon the
villages, in which the Chieftains lived, would be
calculated to give offence.

Imam Bakar and his friends were punted up the
long reaches of the Pahang river, past the middle
country, where the banks are lined with villages nest-
ling in the palm and fruit trees ; past Gunong Senu-
yum the Smiling Mountain that great limestone
rock, which raises its crest high above the forest that
clothes the plain in which it stands in solitary beauty ;
past Lubok Plang, where in a nameless grave lies the
Princess of ancient story, the legend of whose loveli-
ness alone survives j past Glanggi's Fort, those gigan-
tic caves which seem to lend some probability to the
tradition that, before they changed to stone, they
were once the palace of a King ; and on and on, until,
at last, the yellow sandbanks of Pasir Tambang came
in sight. And close at their heels, though they knew
it not, followed To' Gajah and those of the King's
Youths who had been deputed to cover their Master's

At Kuala Tembeling, where the waters of the river
of that name make common cause with those of the
Jelai, and where the united streams first take the
name of Pahang, there lies a broad stretch of sand
glistening in the fierce sunlight. It has been heaped
up, during countless generations, by little tributes
from the streams which meet at its feet, and it is never
still. Every flood increases or diminishes its size, and
weaves its restless sands into some new fantastic curve


or billow. The sun which beats upon it bakes the
sand almost to boiling point, and the heat-haze dances
above it, like some restless phantom above a grave.
And who shall say that ghosts of the dead and gone do
not haunt this sandbank far away in the heart of the
Peninsula ? If native report speaks true, the spot is
haunted, for the sand, they say, is ' hard ground ' such
as the devils love to dwell upon. Full well may it be
so, for Pasir Tambang has been the scene of many a
cruel tragedy, and could its sands but speak, what tales
would they have to tell us of woe and murder, of
valour and treachery, of shrieking souls torn before
their time from their sheaths of flesh and blood, and
of all the savage deeds of this

race of venomous worms
That sting each other here in the dust.

It was on this sandbank that To' Gajah and his
people pitched their camp, building a small open house
with rude uprights, and thatching it with palm leaves
cut in the neighbouring jungle. To' Gajah knew
that Imam Bakar was the man with whom he really
had to deal. Imam Prang Samah and Khatib Bujang
he rated at their proper worth, and it was to Imam
Bakar, therefore, that he first sent a message, desiring
him once more to answer as to who was his Master
and who his Chief. Imam Bakar, after consulting his
two friends, once more returned the answer that while
he acknowledged the Bendahara as his King and his
Master, his immediate Chief was no other than
' His Highness To' Raja.' That answer sealed his


On the following day To' Gajah sent for Imam
Dakar, and made all things ready against his coming.
To this end he buried his spears and other arms under
the sand within his hut.

When the summons to visit To' Gajah reached
Imam Bakar, he feared that his time had come. He
was not a man, however, who would willingly fly from
danger, and he foresaw moreover that if he took refuge
in flight all his possessions would be destroyed by his
enemies, while he himself, with his wife and little ones,
would die in the jungles or fall into the hands of his
pursuers. He already regarded himself as a dead man,
but though he knew that he could save himself even
now by a tardy desertion of To' Raja, the idea of
adopting this means of escape was never entertained by
him for an instant.

4 If I sit down, I die, and if I stand up, I die ! ' he
said to the messenger. * Better then does it befit a
man to die standing. Come, let us go to Pasir Tarn-
bang and learn what To' Gajah hath in store for me ! '

The sun was half-mast high in the heavens as Imam
Bakar crossed the river to Pasir Tambang in his tiny
dug-out. Until the sun's rays fall more or less per-
pendicularly, the slanting light paints broad reaches of
water a brilliant dazzling white, unrelieved by shadow
or reflection. The green of the masses of jungle on
the river banks takes to itself a paler hue than usual,
and the yellow of the sandbanks changes its shade
from the colour of a cowslip to that of a pale and early
primrose. It was on such a white morning as this
that Imam Bakar crossed slowly to meet his fate. His
dug-out grounded on the sandbank, and when it had


been made fast to a pole, its owner, fully armed, walked
towards the hut in which To' Gajah was seated.

This Chief was a very heavily built man, with a
bullet-shaped head, and a square resolute jaw, partially
cloaked by a short sparse beard of coarse wiry hair.
His voice and his laugh were both loud and boisterous,
and he usually affected an air of open, noisy good-
fellowship, which was but little in keeping with his
character. When he saw Imam Bakar approaching
him, with the slow and solemn tread of one who believes
himself to be walking to his death, he cried out to him,
while he was yet some way off, with every appearance
of friendship and cordiality :

c O Imam Bakar ! What is the news ? Come
hither to me and fear nothing. I come as thy friend,
in peace and love. Come let us touch hands in salu-
tation as befits those who harbour no evil one to

Imam Bakar was astonished at this reception. His
heart bounded against his ribs with relief at finding
his worst fears so speedily dispelled, and being, for the
moment, off his guard, he placed his two hands between
those of To' Gajah in the usual manner of Malay
formal salutation. Quick as thought, To' Gajah seized
him by the wrists, his whole demeanour changing in
a moment from that of the rough good-fellowship of
the boon companion, to excited and cruel ferocity.

4 Stab ! Stab ! Stab ! Ye sons of evil women ! '
he yelled to his men, and before poor Imam Bakar
could free himself from the powerful grasp which held
him, the spears were unearthed, and half a dozen of
their blades met in his shuddering flesh. It was soon


over, and Imam Bakar lay dead upon the sandbank,
his body still quivering, while the peaceful morning
song of the birds came uninterrupted from the forest

Then Khatib Bujang and Imam Prang Samah were
sent for, and as they came trembling into the presence
of To' Gajah, whose hands were still red with the
blood of their friend and kinsman, they squatted
humbly on the sand at his feet.

' Behold a sample of what ye also may soon be,'
said To' Gajah, spurning the dead body of Imam
Bakar as he spoke. ' Mark it well, and then tell me
who is your Master and who your Chief ! '

Khatib Bujang and Imam Prang Samah stuttered
and stammered, but not because they hesitated about
the answer, but rather through over eagerness to speak,
and a deadly fear which held them dumb. At last,
however, they found words and cried together :

c The Bendahara is our Master, and our Chief is
whomsoever thou mayest be pleased to appoint.'

Thus they saved their lives, and are still living,
while To' Gajah lies buried in an exile's grave ; but
many will agree in thinking that such a death as
Imam Bakar's is a better thing for a man to win, than
empty years such as his companions have survived to
pass in scorn and in dishonour.

But while these things were being done at Pekan
and at Pasir Tambang, Wan Lingga, who, as I have
related, had remained behind in the upper country
when To' Raja was carried to Pekan, was sparing no
pains to seduce the faithful natives of the interior from
their loyalty to their hereditary Chief. In all his efforts,


however, he was uniformly unsuccessful, for, though
he had got rid of To' Raja, there remained in the
Lipis Valley the aged Chief of the District, the Dato'
Kaya Stia-wangsa, whom the people both loved and
feared. He had been a great warrior in the days of his
youth, and a series of lucky chances and hair-breadth
escapes had won for him an almost fabulous reputation,
such as among a superstitious people easily attaches
itself to any striking and successful personality. It
was reported that he bore a charmed life, that he was
invulnerable alike to lead bullets and to steel blades, and
even the silver slugs which his enemies had fashioned
for him had hitherto failed to find their billet in his
body. From the first this man had thrown in his lot
with his kinsman To' Raja, and, unlike him, he had
declined to allow himself to be persuaded to visit the
capital when the war came to an end. Thus he con-
tinues to live at the curious little village of Penjum,
on the Lipis river, and, so long as he was present in
person to exert his influence upon the people, Wan
Lingga found it impossible to make any headway
against him.

These things were reported by Wan Lingga to
To' Gajah, and by the latter to the Bendahara. The
result was an order to Wan Lingga, charging him to
attack To' Kaya Stia-wangsa by night, and to slay him
and all his house. With To' Kaya dead and buried,
and To' Raja a State prisoner at the capital, the game
which To' Gajah and Wan Lingga had been playing
would at least be won. The Lipis would fall to the
former, and the Jelai to the latter as their spoils of war j
and the people of these Districts, being left 'like little


chicks without the mother hen,' would acquiesce in
the arrangement, following their new Chiefs as captives
of their bows and spears.

Thus all looked well for the future when Wan
Lingga set out, just before sun-down, from his house
at Atok to attack To' Kaya Stia-wangsa at Penjum.
The latter village was at that time inhabited by more
Chinese than Malays. It was the nearest point on the
river to the gold mines of Jalis, and at the back of the
squalid native shops, that lined the river bank, a well-
worn footpath led inland to the Chinese alluvial wash-
ings. Almost in the centre of the long line of shops
and hovels which formed the village of Penjum, stood
the thatched house in which To' Kaya Stia-wangsa
lived, with forty or fifty women, and about a dozen
male followers. The house was roofed with thatch.
Its walls were fashioned from plaited laths of split
bamboo, and it was surrounded by a high fence of the
same material. This was the place which was to be
Wan Lingga's object of attack.

A band of nearly a hundred men followed Wan
Lingga from Atok. Their way lay through a broad
belt of virgin forest, which stretches between Atok
and Penjum, a distance of about half a dozen miles.
The tramp of the men moving in a single file through
the jungle, along the narrow footpath, worn smooth by
the passage of countless naked feet, made sufficient noise
to scare all living things from their path. The forests
of the Peninsula, even at night, when their denizens
are afoot, are not cheerful places. Though a man lie
very still, so that the life of the jungle is undisturbed
by his presence, the weird night noises, that are borne



to his ears, only serve to emphasise the solitude and
the gloom. The white moonlight straggles in patches
through the thick canopy of leaves overhead, and makes
the shadows blacker and more awful by the contrast of
light and shade. But a night march through the forest
is even more depressing, when the soft pat of bare feet,
the snapping of a dry twig, a whispered word of warn-
ing or advice, the dull deep note of the night-jar, and
the ticking of the tree insects alone break the stillness.
Nerves become strung to a pitch of intensity which
the circumstances hardly seem to warrant, and all the
chances of evil, which in the broad light of day a man
would laugh to scorn, assume in one's mind the aspect
of inevitable certainties.

I speak by the book j for well I know the depression,
and the fearful presentiment of coming evil, which
these night marches are apt to occasion ; and well can
I picture the feelings and thoughts which must have
weighed upon Wan Lingga, during that four hours'
silent tramp through the forest.

He was playing his last card. If he succeeded in
falling upon To' Kaya unawares, and slaying him on
the spot, all that he had longed for and dreamed of, all
that he desired for himself and for those whom he
held dear, all that he deemed to be of any worth,
would be his for all his years. And if he failed ?
He dared not think of what his position would then
be j and yet it was this very thought that clung to
him with such persistence during the slow march. He
saw himself hated and abhorred by the people of the
interior, who would then no longer have reason to
fear him ; he saw himself deserted by To' Gajah, in


whose eyes, he was well aware, he was merely regarded
as a tool, to be laid aside when use for it was over j he
saw himself in disgrace with the King, whose orders
he had failed to carry out ; and he saw himself a
laughing stock in the land, one who had aspired and
had not attained, one who had striven and had failed,
with that grim phantom of hereditary madness, of
which he was always conscious, stretching out its
hand to seize him. All these things he saw and
feared, and his soul sank within him.

At last Penjum was reached, and To' Kaya's house
was ringed about by Wan Lingga's men. The placid
moonlight fell gently on the sleeping village, and
showed Wan Lingga's face white with eagerness and
anxiety, as he gave the word to fire. In a moment
all was noise and tumult. Wan Lingga's men raised
their war-yell, and shrieking 4 By order of the King ! '
fired into To' Kaya's house. Old To' Kaya, thus
rudely awakened, set his men to hold the enemy in
check, and himself passed out of the house in the
centre of the mob of his frightened women-folk. He
was not seen until he reached the river bank, when he
leaped into the stream, and, old man that he was,
swam stoutly for the far side. Shot after shot was
fired at him, and eight of them, it is said, struck him,
though none of them broke the skin, and he won to
the far side in safety. Here he stood for a moment,
in spite of the hail of bullets with which his enemy
greeted his landing. He shook his angry old arm at
Wan Lingga, shouted a withering curse, took one sad
look at his blazing roof-tree, and then plunged into the


When the looting was over, Wan Lingga's people
dispersed in all directions. Nothing, they knew, fails
like failure, and the Lipis people, who would have
feared to avenge the outrage had Wan Lingga been
successful, would now, they feared, wreak summary
punishment on those who had dared to attack their
Chief. Wan Lingga, finding himself deserted, fled
down stream, there to suffer all that he had foreseen
and dreaded during that march through the silent
forests. His mind gave way under the strain put
upon it by the misery of his position at Pekan. The
man who had failed was discredited and alone. His
former friends stood aloof, his enemies multiplied
exceedingly. So when the madness, which was in his
blood, fell upon him at Pekan, he was thrust into a
wooden cage, where he languished for years, tended as
befits the madman whom the Malay ranks with the

When he regained his reason, the politics of the
country had undergone a change, and his old ambitious
dreams had faded away for ever. His old enemy To'
Raja, whom he had sought to displace, was now ruling
the Jelai, and enjoying every mark of the King's
favour. Domestic troubles in the royal household had
led the King to regard the friendship of this Chief as
a matter of some importance, and Wan Lingga's
chances of preferment were dead and buried.

He returned to his house at Atok, where he lived,
discredited and unhonoured, the object of constant
slights. He spent his days in futile intrigues and
plots, which were too impotent to be regarded seriously,
or as anything but subjects for mirth, and, from time


to time, his madness fell upon him, and drove him
forth to wallow with the kine, and to herd with the
beasts in the forest.

At last, in 1891, he resolved to put away the things
of this world, and set out on the pilgrimage to Mecca.
All was ready for his departure on the morrow, and
his brethren crowded the little house at Atok to wish
him god-speed. But in the night the madness fell
upon him once more, and rising up he ran amok
through his dwelling, slaying his wife and child, and
wounding one of his brothers. Then he fled into the
forest, and after many days was found hanging dead in
the fork of a fruit-tree. He had climbed into the
branches to sleep, and in his slumbers had slipped
down into the fork where he had become tightly
wedged. With his impotent arms hanging on one
side of the tree, and his legs dangling limply on the
other, he had died of exhaustion, alone and untended,
without even a rag to cover his nakedness.

It was a miserable, and withal a tragic death, but
not ill fitted to one who had staked everything to gain
a prize he had not the strength to seize ; one whom
Fate had doomed to perpetual and inglorious failure.


Ere the moon has climbed the mountain, ere the rocks are ribbed

with light,

When the downward-dipping tails are dank and drear,
Comes a breathing hard behind thee, snuffle-snuffle through the


It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear !
On thy knees and draw the bow ; bid the shrilling arrow go ;

In the empty mocking thicket plunge the spear ;
But thy hands are loosed and weak, and the blood has left thy

It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear !

RUDYARD KIPLING'S Song of the Little Hunter.

WE had been sitting late in the verandah of my
bungalow of Kuala Lipis, which overlooks the long
and narrow reach, formed by the combined waters of
the Lipis and the Jelai. The moon had risen some
hours earlier, and the river ran white between the dark
banks of jungle which seemed to fence it in on all
sides. The ill-kept garden, with the tennis-ground,
that never got beyond the stage of being dug up, and
the rank grass behind the bamboo fence, were flooded
with the soft light, every tattered detail of its ugliness
showing as clearly as though it was noon. The
night was very still, and the soft, scented air blew
coolly round our faces.


I had been holding forth, to the handful of men who
had been dining with me, on Malay beliefs and super-
stitions, while they manfully stifled their yawns.
When a man has a smattering knowledge of anything,
which is not usually known to his neighbours, it is a
temptation to lecture on the subject, and, looking back,
I fear that I had been on the rostrum during the best
part of that evening. I had told them of the Pen-
angalj that horrible wraith of a woman who has died in
child-birth, and who comes to torment small children,
in the guise of a fearful face and bust, with many feet
of bloody trailing entrails flying in her wake ; of that
weird little white animal the Mati-anak^ that makes
beast noises round the graves of children ; and of the
familiar spirits that men raise up from the corpses of
babes who have never seen the light, the tips of whose
tongues they bite off and swallow, after the child has
been brought back to life by magic agencies. It was
at this point that young Middleton began to cock up
his ears, and I, finding that one of my listeners was at
last inclined to show some interest, launched out with
renewed vigour, until my sorely tried companions had,
one by one, gone off to bed, each to his own quarters.

Middleton was staying with me at the time, and he
and I sat in silence looking at the light upon the river,
and each thinking his own thoughts. Middleton was
the first to speak.

4 That was a curious myth you were telling us,
about the Polong, the Familiar Spirits,' he said. ' I
have heard of it before from natives, but there is a
thing I have never spoken of, and always swore that
I would keep to myself, that I have a good mind


to tell you now, if you will promise not to call me a

' That is all right,' said I. ' Fire away.'
'Well,' said Middleton, puffing at his pipe, 'you
remember Juggins, of course ? He was a naturalist,
you know, and he came to stay with me during the
close season l last year. He was hunting for bugs and
that sort of thing, and he used to fill my bungalow
with all sorts of rotting green stuff, that he brought in
from the jungle. He stopped with me for about ten
days, and when he heard that I was bound for a trip
up into the Sakai country, he said he would come too.
I did not mind much, as he was a decent beggar enough,
in spite of his dirty ways, so I said all right, and we
started up together. When we got well up into the
Sakai country, we had to leave our boats behind at the
foot of the rapids, and leg it for the rest of the time.
We had not enough bearers with us to take any food,
and we lived pretty well on what we could get, yams,
and tapioca, and Indian corn, and soft stuff of that sort.
It was new to Juggins, and it used to give him
awful gripes, but he stuck to it like a man.

' Well, one evening, when the night was shutting
down pretty fast, Juggins and I got to a fairly large camp
of Sakai in the middle of a clearing, and of course all the
beggars bolted into the jungle when we approached.
We went on up to the largest hut of the lot, and there
we found a woman lying by the side of her dead child.
It was as stiff as Herod, though it had not been born
more than half an hour, I should say, and I went up

1 Close season = From November to February, when the rivers on the

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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 15 of 17)