Hugh Charles Clifford.

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

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Chiefs and people of Pahang, would be a distinct
breach of the understanding on which British Protec-
tion was accepted by them. The Government is
pledged not to interfere with native customs, and the
sports in which animals are engaged are among the
most cherished institutions of the people of Pahang.
To fully appreciate the light in which any interference
with these things would be viewed by the native
population, it is necessary to put oneself in the
position of a keen member of the Quorn, who saw
Parliament making hunting illegal, on the grounds


that the sufferings inflicted on the fox, rendered it an
inhuman pastime. As I have said in a former chapter,
the natives of Pahang are, in their own way, very
keen sportsmen indeed ; and, when all is said and
done, it is doubtful whether hunting is not more cruel
than anything which takes place in a Malay cock-pit
or bull-ring. The longer the run, the better the
sport, and more intense and prolonged the agony of
the fox, that strives to run for his life, even when he
is so stiff with exertion, that he can do little more
than roll along. All of us have, at one time or
another, experienced in nightmares, the agony of
attempting to fly from some pursuing phantom, when
our limbs refuse to serve us. This, I fancy, is much
what a fox suffers, only his pains are intensified by
the grimness of stern reality. If he stops, he loses his
life, therefore he rolls, and flounders, and creeps along
when every movement has become a fresh torture.
The cock, quail, dove, bull, ram, or fish, on the other
hand, fights because it is his nature to do so, and
when he has had his fill he stops. His pluck, his
pride, and his hatred of defeat alone urge him to
continue the contest. He is never driven by the
relentless whip of stern inexorable necessity. This it
is which makes fights between animals, that are
properly conducted, less cruel than one is apt to

The necessity that knows no law, is the only real
slave driver, as the sojourner in Eastern exile knows
full well. No fetters ever gall so much, as the
knowledge that the chain is made fast at the other


Soul that is dead ere life be sped,

Body that's body of Beast,
With brain of a man to dare and to plan,

So make I ready my Feast !

With tooth and claw and grip of jaw

I rip and tear and slay,
With senses that hear the winds ere they stir,

I roam to the dawn of day.

Soul that must languish in endless anguish,

Thy life is a little spell,
So take thy fill, ere the Pow'rs of 111

Shall drag Thee, Soul, to Hell.

The Song of the Loup Garou.

IF you ask that excellent body of savants the Society
for Psychical Research, for an opinion on the subject,
they will tell you that the belief in ghosts, magic,
witchcraft, and the like having existed in all ages, and
in every land, is in itself a fact sufficient to warrant a
faith in these things, and to establish a strong pro-
bability of their reality. It is not for me, or such as
I am, to question the opinion of these wise men of
the West, but if ghosts, and phantoms, and witchcraft
and hag-ridings are to be accepted on such grounds, I
must be allowed to put in a plea, for similar reasons,


in favour of the Loup Garou, the Were-Tiger, and all
their gruesome family. Wherever there are wild
beasts to prey upon the sons of men, there also is
found the belief that the worst and most rapacious of
the man-eaters are themselves human beings, who
have been driven to temporarily assume the form of an
animal, by the aid of the Black Art, in order to satisfy
their overpowering lust for blood. This belief, which
seeks to account for the extraordinary rapacity of an
animal by tracing its origin to a human being, would
seem to be based upon an extremely cynical apprecia-
tion of the blood-thirsty character of our race. The
white man and the brown, the yellow and the black,
independently, and without receiving the idea from
one another, have all found the same explanation for
the like phenomena, all apparently recognising the
truth of the Malay proverb, that we are like unto the
toman fish that preys upon its own kind. This
general opinion, which seems the more worthy of
acceptance in that it is the reverse of flattering to the
very races that have formed this curious estimate of
their own unlovely character, might by the ignorant
and vulgar be supposed to be the real basis of the
belief of which I speak, were it not for that dictum of
the Society for Psychical Research to which I have
above referred. But bowing to this authority, we
must accept the Loup Garou and all its kith and kin
as stern realities, and not attribute it, as we might
perhaps have been inclined to do, to a deadly fear of
wild beasts, coupled to a thorough knowledge of the
unpleasant qualities of primitive human nature.

Educated Europeans, who live in a land where even


Nature, when she can be seen for the houses, has had
man's hall-mark scarred deep into her face, are apt to
think that the Age of Superstition has gone to fill
the lumber-room of the past. Occasionally they are
awakened from this belief by the torturing of a witch
in a cabin by an Irish-bog ; but even an event so near
home as that is powerless to altogether disabuse their
minds of their preconceived opinion. The difficulty
really is, that they cannot get completely rid of the
notion that the world is peopled by educated Europeans
like themselves, and by a few other unimportant per-
sons, who do not matter. They know that, numeri-
cally, they are as but a drop in the ocean of mankind,
but it is possible to know a thing very thoroughly and
to realise it not at all. Thus they come by their false
opinion ; for, in truth, the Age of Superstition lives as
lustily to-day, as when, in past years, witches blazed
at Smithfield, or died with rending gulps and bursting
lungs, lashed fast to an English ducking stool.

In the remote portions of the Malay Peninsula we
live in the Middle Ages, with all the appropriate acces-
sories of the dark centuries. Magic and evil spirits,
witchcraft and si;orcery, spells and love-potions, charms
and incantations are, to the mind of the native, as real
and as much a matter of everyday life as are the miracle
of the growing rice, and the mysteries of the reproduc-
tion of species. This must be not only known but
realised, not only accepted as a theory, but acknow-
ledged as a fact, if the native view of life is to be
understood and appreciated. Tales of the marvellous
and the supernatural excite interest and fear in a
Malay audience, but they occasion no surprise. Malays


know that strange things have happened in the past, and
are daily occurring to them and to their fellows. Some
are struck by lightning, while others go unscathed ;
and similarly some have strange experiences, which are
not wholly of this world, while others live and die
untouched by the supernatural. The two cases, to the
Malay mind, are completely parallel ; and though both
furnish matter for discussion, and excite fear and awe,
neither are unheard of phenomena calculated to awaken
wonder and surprise.

Thus the existence of the Malayan Loup Garou to
the native mind is a fact and not a mere belief. The
Malay knows that it is true. Evidence, if it be needed,
may be had in plenty ; the evidence, too, of sober-
minded men, whose words, in a Court of Justice, would
bring conviction to the mind of the most obstinate


jurymen, and be more than sufficient to hang the most
innocent of prisoners. The Malays know well how
Haji Abdallah, the native of the little state of Korinchi
in Sumatra, was caught naked in a tiger trap, and
thereafter purchased his liberty at the price of the
buffaloes he had slain, while he marauded in the like-
ness of a beast. They know of the countless Korinchi
men who have vomited feathers, after feasting upon
fowls, when for the nonce they had assumed the forms
of tigers ; and of those other men of the same race
who have left their garments and their trading packs
in thickets, whence presently a tiger has emerged. All
these things the Malays know have happened, and are
happening to-day, in the land in which they live, and
with these plain evidences before their eyes, the empty
assurances of the enlightened European that Were-



Tigers do not, and never did exist, excite derision not
unmingled with contempt.

The Slim Valley lies across the hills which divide
Pahang from Perak. It is peopled by Malays of various
races. Rawas and Menangkabaus from Sumatra, men
with high-sounding titles and vain boasts, wherewith
to carry off their squalid, dirty poverty ; Perak men
from the fair Kinta valley, prospecting for tin, or
trading skilfully ; fugitives from Pahang, long settled
in the district ; and the sweepings of Sumatra, Java,
and the Peninsula. It was in this place that I heard
the following story of a Were-Tiger, from Penghulu
Mat Saleh, who was, and perhaps is still, the Headman
of this miscellaneous crew.

Into the Slim Valley, some years ago, there came
a Korinchi trader named Haji Ali, and his two sons,
Abdulrahman and Abas. They came, as is the manner
of their people, laden with heavy packs of sarongs^
the native skirts or waist-cloths, trudging in single
file through the forests and through the villages, hawk-
ing their goods to the natives of the place, with much
cunning haggling or hard bargaining. But though
they came to trade, they stayed long after the contents
of their packs had been disposed of, for Haji Ali took
a fancy to the place. Therefore he presently purchased
a compound, and with his two sons set to work upon
planting cocoa nuts, and cultivating a rice -swamp.
They were quiet, well-behaved people ; they were re-
gular in their attendance at the mosque for the Friday
congregational prayers, and as they were wealthy and
prosperous they found favour in the eyes of their poorer
neighbours. Thus it happened that when Haji Ali


let it be known that he desired to find a wife, there
was a bustle in the villages among the parents with
marriageable daughters, and, though he was a man
well past middle life, Haji Ali found a wide range of
choice offered to him.

The girl he selected was Patimah, the daughter of
poor parents, peasants living on their land in one of
the neighbouring villages. She was a comely maiden,
plump and round, and light of colour, with a merry
face to cheer, and willing fingers wherewith to serve a
husband. The wedding portion was paid, a feast pro-
portionate to Haji Ali's wealth was held to celebrate
the occasion, and the bride was carried oft, after a
decent interval, to her husband's home among the fruit
groves and the palm-trees. This was not the general
custom of the land, for among Malays the husband
usually shares his father-in-law's house for a long period
after his marriage. But Haji Ali had a fine new house
of his own, brave with wattled walls stained cunningly
in black and white, and with a luxuriant covering of
thatch. Moreover, he had taken the daughter of a
poor man to wife, and could dictate his own terms
to her and to her parents. The girl went willingly
enough, for she was exchanging poverty for wealth, a
miserable hovel for a handsome home, and parents who
knew exactly how to get out of her the last fraction
of work of which she was capable, for a husband who
seemed ever kind, generous, and indulgent. None the
less, three days later she was found beating on the door
of her parents' house, at the hour when dawn was
breaking, trembling in every limb, with her hair dis-
ordered, her garments drenched with dew from the


brushwood through which she had forced her way,
with her eyes wild with horror, and mad with a great
fear. Her story the first act in the drama of the
Were-Tiger of Slim ran in this wise, though I shall
not attempt to reproduce the words or the manner in
which she told it, brokenly, with shuddering sobs, to
her awe-stricken parents.

She had gone home with Haji Ali to the house
where he dwelt with his two sons, Abdulrahman and
Abas, and all had treated her kindly and with courtesy.
The first day she cooked the rice ill, but though the
young men grumbled, Haji Ali said never a word of
blame, when she had expected blows, such as would
have fallen to the lot of most wives under similar cir-
cumstances. She had no complaint to make of her
husband's kindness, but none the less she had fled his
dwelling, and her parents might ' hang her on high,
sell her in a far land, scorch her with the sun's rays,
immerse her in water, burn her with fire,' but never
again would she return to one who hunted by night as
a Were-Tiger.

Every evening after the Isa 1 Haji Ali had left the
house on one pretext or another, and had not returned
until an hour before the dawn. Twice she had not
been aware of his return until she found him lying on
the sleeping-mat by her side ; but, on the third even-
ing, she had remained awake until a noise without told
her that her husband was at hand. Then she had
hastened to unbar the door, which she had fastened
after Abas and Abdulrahman had fallen asleep. The
moon was behind a cloud, and the light she cast was

1 Isa = The hour of evening prayer.


dim, but Patimah saw clearly enough the sight which
had driven her mad with terror.

On the topmost rung of the ladder, which in this,
as in all Malay houses, led from the ground to the
threshold of the door, there rested the head of a full-
grown tiger. Patimah could see the bold, black
stripes which marked his hide, the bristling wires of
whisker, the long cruel teeth, and the fierce green
light in the beast's eyes. A round pad, with long
curved claws partially concealed, lay on the ladder
rung, one on each side of the monster's head, and the
lower portion of its body reaching to the ground was
so foreshortened that to the girl it looked like the body
of a man. Patimah gazed at the tiger, from the dis-
tance of only a foot or two, for she was too paralysed
with fear to move or cry out, and as she looked a
gradual transformation took place in the creature at
her feet. Slowly, as one sees a ripple of wind pass over
the surface of still water, the tiger's features palpitated
and were changed, until the horrified girl saw the face
of her husband come up through that of the beast,
much as the face ot a diver comes up to the surface of
a pool. In another moment Patimah saw that it was
Haji Ali who was ascending the ladder of his house,
and the spell that had hitherto bound her was snapped.
The first use she made of her regained power of motion
was to leap through the doorway past her husband, and
to plunge into the jungle which edged the compound.

Malays do not love to travel singly through the
jungle even when the sun is high, and under ordinary
circumstances no woman could by any means be pre-
vailed upon to do such a thing. But Patimah was wild


with fear of what she had left behind her, and though
she was alone, though the moonlight was dim, and the
dawn had not yet come, she preferred the dismal depths
of the forest to the home of her Were-Tiger husband.
Thus she pushed her way through the underwood,
tearing her garments and her flesh with thorns, catch-
ing her feet in creepers and trailing vines, stumbling
over unseen logs, and drenching herself to the skin
with the dew from the leaves and grasses against which
she brushed. A little before daybreak she made her
way, as I have described, to her father's house, there to
tell the tale of her strange adventure.

The story of what had occurred was speedily noised
through the villages, and the parents with marriageable
daughters, who had been disappointed by Haji Ali's
choice of a wife, rejoiced exceedingly, and did not
forget to tell Patimah's papa and mamma that they had
always anticipated something of the sort. Haji Ali
made no effort to regain possession of his wife, and his
neighbours drawing a natural inference from his
actions, avoided him and his sons until they were
forced to live in almost complete isolation.

But the drama of the Were-Tiger of Slim was to
have a final act.

One night a fine young water-buffalo, the property
of the Headman, Penghulu Mat Saleh, was killed by a
tiger, and its owner, saying no word to any man upon
the subject, constructed a cunningly arranged spring-
gun over the carcase. The trigger-lines were so set that
should the tiger return to finish the meal, which he
had begun by tearing a couple of hurried mouthfuls
from the rump of his kill, he must infallibly be


wounded or slain by the bolts and slugs with which
the gun was charged.

Next night a loud report, breaking in clanging
echoes through the stillness, an hour or two before the
dawn was due, apprised Penghulu Mat Saleh that some
animal had fouled the trigger-lines. In all probability it
was the tiger, and if he was wounded he would not be
a pleasant creature to meet on a dark night. Accord-
ingly Penghulu Mat Saleh lay still until morning.

In a Malay village all are astir very shortly after
daybreak. As soon as it is light enough to see to
walk the doors of the houses open one by one, and the
people of the village come forth singly huddled to the
chin in their sarongs or bed coverlets. Each man
makes his way down to the river to perform his
morning ablutions, or stands on the bank of the
stream, staring sleepily at nothing in particular, a
black figure silhouetted against the broad ruddiness of a
Malayan dawn. Presently the women of the village
come out of the houses, in little knots of three or four,
with the children pattering at their heels. They
carry clusters of gourds in either hand, for it is their
duty to fill them from the running stream with the water
which will be needed during the day. It is not until
the sun begins to rise, when morning ablutions have
been carefully performed, and the first sleepiness of the
waking hour has departed from heavy eyes, that the
people of the village begin to set about the avocations
of the day.

Penghulu Mat Saleh arose that morning and per-
formed his usual daily routine before he collected a
party of Malays to aid him in his search for the


wounded tiger. He had no difficulty in finding men
who were willing to share the excitement of the
adventure, and presently he set off with a ragged
following of near a dozen at his heels, the party having
two guns and many spears and kris. They reached
the spot where the spring-gun had been set, and they
found that beyond a doubt the tiger had returned to
his kill. The tracks left by the great pads were
fresh, and the tearing up of the earth on one side of the
dead buffalo, in a spot where the grass was thickly flecked
with blood, showed that the shot had taken effect.

Penghulu Mat Saleh and his people then set down
steadily to follow the trail of the wounded tiger. This
was an easy matter, for the beast had gone heavily on
three legs, the off-hind leg dragging uselessly. In
places, too, a clot of blood showed red among the dew-
drenched leaves and grasses. None the less the
Penghulu and his party followed slowly and with
caution. They knew that a wounded tiger is never
in a mood in which a child may play with him, and
also that, even when he has only three legs with which
to spring upon his enemies, he can on occasion arrange
for a large escort of human beings to accompany him
into the land of shadows.

The trail led through the brushwood, in which the
dead buffalo lay, and thence into a belt of jungle which
edged the river bank a few hundred yards above
Penghulu Mat Saleh's village, and extended up-stream
to Kuala Chin Lama, a distance of half a dozen miles.
The tiger turned up-stream when this jungle was
reached, and half a mile higher up he came out upon a
slender wood-path.


When Penghulu Mat Saleh had followed thus far,
he halted and looked at his people.

1 Know ye whither this track leads, my brothers ? '
he asked in a whisper.

The men nodded, but said never a word. A glance
at them would have shown you that they were anxious
and uneasy.

c What say ye ? ' continued the Penghulu. l Do we
still follow this trail ? '

4 It is as thou wilt, O Penghulu,' said the oldest
man of the party, answering for his fellows, c we
follow thee whithersoever thou goest.'

4 It is well ! ' said the Penghulu. ' Come let us go.'
No more was said, when this whispered colloquy was
ended, and the party set down to the trail again
silently and with redoubled caution.

The narrow track, which the wounded tiger had
followed, led on towards the river bank, and presently
the high wattled bamboo fence of a native compound
became visible through the trees. Penghulu Mat Saleh
pointed at it. c Behold ! ' was all he said. Then the
party moved on again, still following the tracks of the
tiger, and the flecks of red blood on the grass. These
led them to the gate of the compound, and through it to
the ^laman or open space before the house. Here they
were lost at a spot where the rank spear-blades of the
lalang grass had been beaten down by the falling of
some heavy body. A veritable pool of blood marked
the place. To it the trail of the limping tiger led.
Away from it there was no tracks, save those of the
human beings who come and go through the rank
growths which cloak the earth in a Malay compound.


' Behold ! ' said Penghulu Mat Saleh once more. c Come,
let us ascend into the house.' And so saying he led
the way up the stair-ladder of the dwelling where
Haji Ali lived with his two sons Abas and Abdulrah-
man, and whence a month or two before Patimah had
fled during the night-time with a deadly fear in her
eyes, and the tale of a strange experience faltering on
her lips.

Penghulu Mat Saleh and his people found Abas
sitting cross-legged in the outer apartment preparing
a quid of betel-nut with elaborate care. The visitors
squatted on the mats, and the usual customary saluta-
tions over, Penghulu Mat Saleh said :

1 1 have come in order that I may see thy father.
Is he within the house ? '

1 He is,' said Abas laconically.

'Then make known to him that I would have
speech with him.'

'My father is sick,' said Abas in a surly tone, and
at the word a tremor of excitement ran through
Penghulu Mat Saleh's followers.

' What is that patch of blood in the lalang before the
house ? ' asked the Penghulu conversationally, after a
short pause.

' We slew a goat yesternight,' replied Abas.

' Hast thou the skin, O Abas ? ' asked the Penghulu,
' for I am renewing the faces of my drums, and would
fain purchase it.'

'The skin was mangy, and we cast it into the
river,' said Abas.

' What ails thy father, Abas ? ' asked the Penghulu
returning to the charge.


1 He is sick,' said suddenly a voice from the cur-
tained doorway, which led to the inner apartment.
It was the elder son Abdulrahman who spoke. He
held a sword in his hand, and his face wore an ugly
look as his words came harshly and gratingly with the
foreign accent of the Korinchi people. He went on,
still standing, near the doorway, c He is sick, O
Penghulu, and the noise of your words disturbs him.
He would slumber and be still. Descend out of the
house, he cannot see thee, Penghulu. Listen to these
my words ! '

Abdulrahman's manner, and the words he spoke,
were at once so rough and defiant that the Penghulu
saw that he must choose between a scuffle, which
would mean bloodshed, and a hasty retreat. He was
a mild old man, and he drew a monthly salary from
the Perak Government. Moreover, he knew that the
white men, who guided the destinies of Perak, were
averse to bloodshed and homicide, even if the person
slain was a wizard, or the son of a wizard. Therefore
he decided upon retreat.

As they clambered down the steps of the door-
ladder, Mat Tahir, one of the Penghulu's men, plucked
him by the sleeve, and pointed to a spot beneath the
house. Just below the place, in the inner apartment,
where Haji Ali might be supposed to lie stretched
upon the mat of sickness, the ground was stained a
dim red for a space of several inches in circumference.
Malay floors are made of laths of wood or of bamboo
laid parallel to one another, with spaces between each
one of them. This is convenient, as the whole of the
ground beneath the house can thus be used as a slop-

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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 5 of 17)