Hugh Charles Clifford.

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

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husband and brothers had to be sought, in order to


eject a solitary derisive man, who successfully defied
the assembled emancipated females to move him from
his position ; but neither of these stories seems to me
to illustrate the inherent feebleness of women, when
unaided by the ruder sex, quite as forcibly as does the
pleasant story of Tungku Aminah and her brother,
Tungku Indut.


There's joy in all sport, no matter the sort,

In each game that is fought for and won j
There's joy in the skill, that helps to a kill,

Be the weapon, rod, spear, or gun.
There's joy in the chase, in the rush of a race,

In all that is fierce and strong 5
There's joy in the strife, that is war to the knife,

Let those who will, brand it as wrong.
But no joy that we know, in our life here below,

For man, or for bird, or for cattle,
Can come within sight of the gorgeous delight,

The glorious frenzy of battle !

TAKING them by and large the Malays have no bowels.
Physical pain, even if endured by human beings,
excites in them but little sympathy or compassion, and
to the beasts that perish they are often almost as
wantonly cruel as an English drayman. The theory
that men owe any duties to the lower animals, is one
which the Malays cannot be readily made to under-
stand ; and the idea of cruelty to a beast can only be
expressed in their language by a long and roundabout
sentence. The Malays can hardly be blamed for this
perhaps, seeing that, even among our immaculate selves,
a consideration for animals is of comparatively modern
origin, and the people of the Peninsula, as I have been


at some pains to show, are in their ideas on many
subjects, much what our ancestors were some hundreds
of years ago. A few animals, however, are hedged
about and protected by some ancient superstition,
the origin of which is now totally forgotten, but even
these do not escape scot free. Thus, it is a common
belief among Malays, that, if a cat is killed, he who
takes its life, will in the next world, be called upon to
carry and pile logs of wood, as big as cocoa-nut trees,
to the number of the hairs on the beast's body.
Therefore cats are not killed; but, if they become
too daring in their raids on the hen-coop, or the
food rack, they are tied to a raft and sent floating
down-stream, to perish miserably of hunger. The
people of the villages, by which they pass, make
haste to push the raft out again into mid-stream,
should it in its passage adhere to bank or bathing
hut, and on no account is the animal suffered to
land. To any one who thinks about it, this long
and lingering death is infinitely more cruel than one
caused by a blow from an axe, but the Malays do
not trouble to consider such a detail, and would care
little if they did.

In spite of the stupid callousness with regard to
pain inflicted on animals, of which this is an instance,
the Malays are not as a race cruel in the sports wherein
animals take a part, and, on the East Coast especially,
little objection can be raised, save by the most strait-
laced and sentimental, to the manner in which both
cock and bull-fights are conducted. Many, of course,
hold that it is morally wrong to cause any animals to
do battle one with another, and this is also the teaching


of the Muhammadan religion. The Malays, however,
have not yet learned to breathe the rarefied atmosphere,
which can only be inhaled in comfort, by the fre-
quenters of Exeter Hall, and, seeing that Allah has
implanted an instinct of combat in many animals, the
Malays take no shame in deriving amusement from
the fact.

In the Archipelago, and on the West Coast of the
Peninsula, cock-fights are conducted in the manner
known to the Malays as ber-taji^ the birds being armed
with long artificial spurs, sharp as razors, and curved
like a Malay woman's eyebrow. These weapons
make cruel wounds, and cause the death of one or
another of the combatants, almost before the sport has
well begun. To the Malay of the East Coast, this
form of cock-fighting is regarded as stupid and un-
sportsmanlike, an opinion which I fully share. It is
the marvellous pluck and endurance of the birds, that
lend an interest to a cock-fight, qualities which are
in no way required, if the birds are armed with weapons,
other than those with which they are furnished by

A cock-fight between two well-known birds is a
serious affair in Pahang. The rival qualities of the
combatants have furnished food for endless discussion
for weeks, or even months before, and every one of
standing has visited and examined the cocks, and has
made a book upon the event. On the day fixed for
the fight, a crowd collects before the palace, and some
of the King's youths set up the cock-pit, which is a
ring, about three feet in diameter, enclosed by canvas
walls, supported on stakes driven into the ground.


Presently the Judra^ or cock-fighters, appear, each
carrying his bird under his left arm. They enter the
cock-pit, squat down, and begin pulling at, and sham-
pooing the legs and wings of their birds, in the manner
which Malays believe loosen the muscles, and get the
reefs out of the cocks' limbs. Then the word is given
to start the fight, and the birds, released, fly straight
at one another, striking with their spurs, and sending
feathers flying in all directions. This lasts for perhaps
three minutes, when the cocks begin to lose their
wind, and the fight is carried on as much with their
beaks as with their spurs. Each bird tries to get its
head under its opponent's wing, running forward to
strike at the back of its antagonist's head, as soon as
its own emerges from under its temporary shelter.
This is varied by an occasional blow with the spurs,
and the Malays herald each stroke with loud cries of
approval. Basah ! Basah ! Thou hast wetted him !
Thou has drawn blood ! Ah itu dia / That is it !
That is a good one ! Ah sakit-lah Itu ! Ah, that was
a nasty one ! And the birds are exhorted to make
fresh efforts, amid occasional bursts of the shrill chorus
of yells, called sorak^ their backers cheering them on,
and crying to them by name.

Presently time is called, the watch being a small
section of cocoa-nut in which a hole has been bored, that
is set floating on the surface of a jar of water, until it
gradually becomes filled and sinks. At the word, each
cock-fighter seizes his bird, drenches it with water,
cleans out with a feather the phlegm which has collected
in its throat, and shampoos its legs and body. Then,
at the given word, the birds are again released, and



they fly at one another with renewed energy. They
loose their wind more speedily this time, and there-
after they pursue the tactics already described, until
time is again called. When some ten rounds have
been fought, and both the birds are beginning to
show signs of distress, the interest of the contest
reaches its height, for the fight is at an end if either
bird raises its back feathers, in a peculiar manner, by
which cocks declare themselves to be vanquished. Early
in the tenth round the right eye-ball of one cock is
broken, and, shortly after, the left eye is bunged up, so
that for the time it is blind. Nevertheless, it refuses
to throw up the sponge, and fights on gallantly to the
end of the round, taking terrible punishment, and
doing but little harm to its opponent. One cannot
but be full of pity and admiration for the brave bird,
which thus gives so marvellous an example of its pluck
and endurance. At last time is called, and the cock-
fighter, who is in charge of the blinded bird, after
examining it carefully, asks for a needle and thread,
and the swollen lower lid of the still uninjured eye-ball
is sewn to the piece of membrane on the bird's cheek,
and its sight is thus once more partially restored.
Again time is called, and the birds resume their con-
test, the cock with the injured eye repaying its ad-
versary so handsomely for the punishment which it
had received in the previous round, that, before the
cocoa-nut shell is half full of water, its opponent has
surrendered, and has immediately been snatched up
by the keeper in charge of it. The victorious bird,
draggled and woebegone, with great patches of red flesh
showing through its wet plumage, with the mem-


brane of its face, and its short gills and comb swollen
and bloody, with one eye put out, and the other only
kept open by the thread attached to its eyelid, yet
makes shift to strut, with staggering gait, across the
cock-pit, and to notify its victory, by giving vent to a
lamentable ghost of a crow. Then it is carried off
followed by an admiring, gesticulating, vociferous
crowd, to be elaborately tended and nursed, as befits
so gallant a bird. The beauty of the sport is that
either bird can stop fighting at any moment. They
are never forced to continue the conflict if once they
have declared themselves defeated, and the only real
element of cruelty is thus removed. The birds in
fighting, follow the instinct which nature has im-
planted in them, and their marvellous courage and
endurance surpass anything to be found in any other
animals, human or otherwise, with which I am ac-
quainted. Most birds fight more or less ; from the
little fierce quail, to the sucking doves which ignorant
Europeans, before their illusions have been dispelled
by a sojourn in the East, are accustomed to regard as
the emblems of peace and purity ; but no bird, or
beast, or fish, or human being fights so well, or takes
such pleasure in the fierce joy of battle, as does a plucky,
lanky, ugly, hard-bit old fighting-cock.

The Malays regard these birds with immense respect,
and value their fighting-cocks next to their children.
A few years ago, a boy, who was in charge of a
cock which belonged to a Raja of my acquaintance,
accidentally pulled some feathers from the bird's tail.
4 What did you do that for ? Devil ! ' cried the Raja.

4 It was not done on purpose Ungku ! ' said the boy.


4 Thou art marvellous clever at repartee ! ' quoth the
Prince, and, so saying, he lifted a billet of wood, which
chanced to be lying near at hand, and smote the boy
on the head so that he died.

1 That will teach my people to have a care how they
use my fighting-cocks ! ' said the Raja ; and that was
his servant's epitaph.

c It is a mere boyish prank,' said the father of the
young Raja, when the matter was reported to him,
4 and moreover it is well that he should slay one or two
with his own hand, else how should men learn to fear
him ? ' And there the matter ended ; but it should
be borne in mind that the fighting cock of a Malay
Prince is not to be lightly trifled with.

I have said that all birds fight more or less, but
birds are not alone in this. The little wide-mouthed,
goggled-eyed fishes, which Malay ladies keep in bottles
and old kerosine tins, fight like demons. Goats sit up
and strike with their cloven hoofs, and butt and stab
with their horns. The silly sheep canter gaily to the
battle, deliver thundering blows on one another's fore-
heads, and then retire and charge once more. The
impact of their horny foreheads is sufficient to reduce
a man's hand to a shapeless pulp, should it find its way
between the combatants' skulls. Tigers box like
pugilists, and bite like French school-boys ; and buffa-
loes fight clumsily, violently, and vindictively, after the
manner of their kind.

The natives of India have an ingenious theory,
whereby they account for the existence of that ungainly
fowl, the water-buffalo, a fact in natural history, which
certainly seems to call for some explanation. The


High Gods, they say, when creating all things, made
also the cow, the highest of the beasts that perish.
This the devil beheld, and, in futile emulation, striving
to outdo the work of the High Ones, he imitated their
creation, and produced the water-buffalo ! Every one
who knows this brute, must admit that the Indian
theory bears on its face the imprint of truth ; for a
more detestable beast of the field does not exist, and it
would be difficult, for any one less skilled in evil than
His Satanic Majesty, to have conceived the idea of so
diabolical an animal. In the Malay Peninsula, its
principal functions would appear to be stamping
bridle-paths into quagmires ; dragging unwieldy lum-
bering carts, and thereby frightening horses into fits ;
tugging and frequently running away with, all manner
of primitive ploughs and sledges ; and humiliating as
publicly as possible, any white man that it does not
gore. It seems to cherish a peculiar spite against all
Europeans ; for a buffalo, that is as mild as a lamb
with the most unattractive native, cannot be brought
to tolerate the proximity of the most refined, and least
repulsive of white men. Which one is there amongst
us, who does not bear a grudge against the water-
buffalo as a class, and against some one black or pink
bully in particular ? Which of us is there, who has
not passed moments in the company of these brutes,
such as might well 'score years from a strong
man's life ' ? Some of us have been gored by the
brutes, and most of us, who have pursued the crafty
snipe bird in his native padi swamps, have put in
various mauvais quarts cTheure^ with some of these
sullenly vindictive animals mouching after us, much


in the way that a gendarme pursues a. gamin. Then
has entered upon the scene a Delivering Angel, in the
shape of a very small, very muddy, very naked child of
exceedingly tender years. This tiny deus ex machina
has straightway tackled the angry monster, with all
the fearlessness of a child, has struck it twice in the
face, in a most business-like manner, has piped c Diam !
Diam ! l which sounds like a curse word, in a furious
voice, and finally has hooked his finger into the beast's
nose ring, and has led it away reluctant, and crest-
fallen, but unresisting. Most of us, I say, have
experienced these things at the hands of the small boy
and the water-buffalo ; and, when both have dis-
appeared in the brushwood, and the sweat of fear has
had time to dry on our clammy foreheads, we have one
and all cursed the Devil who made the brute, and have
felt not a little humiliated at the superiority of the
minute native boy over our wretched and abject

All these bitter memories crowd into our minds,
when we find ourselves in a Malay bull-ring, and we
should be more than human if we felt any keen sym-
pathy for the combatant buffaloes. We are apt to
experience also an intense sense of relief at the thought
that the brutes are about to fight one another, and
will be too busy to waste any of their energies in
persecuting the European spectators, with the amiable
intention of putting them to the shame of open shame,
and generally taking a rise out of them.

The bulls have been trained and medicined, for
months beforehand, with much careful tending, many

1 Diam! = Be still!


strength-giving potions, and volumes of the old-world
charms, which put valour and courage into a beast.
They stand at each end of a piece of grassy lawn, with
their knots of admirers around them, descanting on
their various points, and with the proud trainer, who
is at once keeper and medicine man, holding them by
the cord which is passed through their nose-rings.
Until you have seen the water-buffalo stripped for the
fight, it is impossible to conceive how handsome the
ugly brute can look. One has been accustomed to
see him with his neck bowed to the yoke he hates,
and breaks whenever the opportunity offers ; or else
in the padi fields. In the former case he looks out of
place, an anachronism belonging to a prehistoric
period, drawing a cart which seems also to date back
to the days before the Deluge. In the fields the
buffalo has usually a complete suit of grey mud, and
during the quiet evening hour, goggles at you through
the clouds of flies, which surround his flapping ears
and brutal nose, the only parts that can be seen
of him, above the surface of the mud-hole, or the
running water of the river. In both cases he is un-
lovely, but in the bull-ring he has something magnifi-
cent about him. His black coat has a gloss upon it
which would not disgrace a London carriage horse,
and which shews him to be in tip-top condition.
His neck seems thicker and more powerful than that
of any other animal, and it glistens with the chill
water, which has been poured over it, in order to
increase his excitement. His resolute shoulders, his
straining quarters, each vying with the other for the
prize for strength, and his great girth, give a look of


astonishing vigour and vitality to the animal. It is
the head of the buffalo, however, which it is best to
look at on these occasions. Its great spread of horns
is very imposing, and the eyes which are usually
sleepy, cynically contemptuous and indifferent, or
sullenly cruel, are for once full of life, anger, passion,
and excitement. He stands there quivering and
stamping, blowing great clouds of smoke from his
mouth and nose :

With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim.
And with circles of red for his eye-socket's rim.

The wild joy of battle is sending the blood boiling
through the great arteries of the beast, and his accus-
tomed lethargic existence is galvanised into a new
fierce life. You can see that he is longing for the
battle, with an ardour that would have distanced that
of a Quixote, and, for the first time, you begin to see
something to admire even in the water-buffalo.

A crowd of Rajas, Chiefs, and commoners are
assembled, in their gaily coloured garments, which
always serve to give life and beauty to every Malay
picture, with its setting of brilliant never-fading green.
The women in their gaudy silks, and dainty veils,
glance coquettishly from behind the fenced enclosure,
which has been prepared for their protection, and
where they are quite safe from injury. The young
Rajas stalk about, examine the bulls, and give loud
and contradictory orders, as to the manner in which
the fight is to be conducted. The keepers, fortunately,
are so deafened by the row which every one near them
is making, that they are utterly incapable of following


directions which they cannot hear. Malays love many
people, and many things, and one of the latter is the
sound of their own voices. When they are excited
and in the bull-ring they are always wild with excite-
ment they wax very noisy indeed, and, as they all talk,
and no one listens to what any one else is saying, the
green sward, on which the combat is to take place,
speedily becomes a pandemonium, compared with
which the Tower of Babel was a quiet corner in
Sleepy Hollow.

At last the word to begin is given, and the keepers
of the buffaloes let out the lines made fast to the bull's
noses, and lead their charges to the centre of the green.
The lines are crossed, and then gradually drawn taut,
so that the bulls are soon facing one another. Then
the knots are loosed, and the cords slip from the nose-
rings. A dead silence falls upon the people, and for a
moment the combatants eye one another. Then they
rush together, forehead to forehead, with a mighty
impact. A fresh roar rends the sky, the backers of
each beast shrieking advice, and encouragement to the
bull which carries their money.

After the first rush, the bulls no longer charge, but
stand with interlaced horns, straining shoulders, and
quivering quarters, bringing tremendous pressure to
bear one upon the other, while each strives to get a
grip with the point of its horns upon the neck, or
cheeks, or face of its opponent. A buffalo's horn is
not sharp, but the weight of the animal is enormous,
and you must remember that the horns are driven with
the whole of the brute's bulk for lever and sledge-
hammer. Such force as is exerted, would be almost


sufficient to push a crowbar through a stone wall, and,
tough though they are, the hardest of old bull
buffaloes is not proof against the terrible pressure
brought to bear. The bulls show wonderful activity
and skill in these fencing matches. Each beast gives
way the instant that it is warned by the touch of the
horn-tip that its opponent has found an opening, and
woe betide the bull that puts its weight into a stab which
the other has time to elude. In the flick of an eye,
as the Malay phrase has it, advantage is taken of the
blunder, and, before the bull has time to recover its
lost balance, its opponent has found an opening, and
has wedged its horn-point into the neck or cheek.
When at last a firm grip has been won, and the horn
has been driven into the yielding flesh, as far as the
struggles of its opponent render possible, the stabber
makes his great effort. Pulling his hind legs well
under him, and straightening his fore-legs to the
utmost extent, till the skin is drawn taut over the pro-
jecting bosses of bone at the shoulders, and the knots
of muscle stand out like cordage on a crate, he lifts his
opponent. His head is skewed on one side, so that
the horn on which his adversary is hooked, is raised to
the highest level possible, and his massive neck strains
and quivers with the tremendous effort. If the stab is
sufficiently low down, say in the neck, or under the
cheek-bone, the wounded bull is often lifted clean off
his fore-feet, and hangs there helpless and motionless
' while a man might count a score.' The exertion of
lifting, however, is too great to admit of its being con-
tinued for any length of time, and as soon as the
wounded buffalo regains its power of motion, that is


to say, as soon as its fore-feet are again on the ground,
it speedily releases itself from its adversary's horn.
Then, since the latter is often spent, by the extra-
ordinary effort which has been made, it frequently
happens that it is stabbed, and lifted in its turn, before
balance has been completely recovered.

Once, and only once, have I seen a bull succeed in
throwing his opponent, after he had lifted it off its
feet. The vanquished bull turned over on its back,
before it succeeded in regaining its feet, but the victor
was itself too used up, to more than make a ghost of
a stab at the exposed stomach of its adversary. This
throw is still spoken of in Pahang as the most
marvellous example of skill and strength, which has
ever been called forth, within living memory, by any
of these contests.

As the stabs follow one another, to the sound of
the clicking of the horns, and the mighty blowing
and snorting of the breathless bulls, lift succeeds lift
with amazing rapidity. The green turf is stamped
into mud, by the great hoofs of the labouring brutes,
and at length one bull owns himself to be beaten.
Down goes his head, that sure sign of exhaustion,
and in a moment, he has turned round, and is off in a
bee-line, hotly pursued by the victor. The chase is
never a long one, as the conqueror always abandons it
at the end of a few hundred yards, but while it lasts,
it is fast and furious, and woe betide the man who
finds himself in the way of either of the excited

Mr. Kipling has told us all about the Law of the
Jungle, which after all is only the code of man,


adapted to the use of the beasts, by Mr. Rudyard
Kipling, but those who know the ways of buffaloes,
are aware that they possess one very well recognised
law. This is c Thou shalt not commit trespass.'
Every buffalo- bull has his own ground ; and into
this no other bull willingly comes. If he is brought
there to do battle, he fights with very little heart, and
is easily vanquished by an opponent of half his
strength and bulk, who happens to be fighting on his
own land. When bulls are equally matched, they are
taken to fight on neutral ground. When they are
badly matched, the land owned by the weaker is
selected for the scene of the contest. This is an
interesting fact, in its way, as it tends to prove that
it is not only the unhappy Malay of Malacca who
feels that he is born possessing some rights in the
soil from which he springs, and on which he lives,
moves, and has his being.

All these fights are brutal, and in time they will,
we trust, be made illegal. To pass a prohibitionary
regulation, however, without the full consent of the

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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 4 of 17)