Hugh Charles Clifford.

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

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until the day broke. At dawn, however, it was found
that all the Chiefs except Tungku Panglima, To' Kaya
Duyong, Panglima Dalam, Imam Prang Losong, and
Pahlawan, had sneaked away under the cover of the
darkness. Tungku Musa, the Sultan's great uncle,
was there to act as the King's mouthpiece, but he was
in as great fear as any of them.

At last the Sultan said :

'Well, the day has dawned, why does no one go
forth to kill To' Kaya Biji Derja ? '

Tungku Musa turned upon Tungku Panglima,
4 Go thou and slay him,' he said.

Tungku Panglima said, 'Why dost thou not go
thyself or send Pahlawan ? '

Pahlawan said, * Thy servant is not the only Chief
in Trengganu. Many eat the King's mutton in the
King's Balaiy why then should thy servant alone be
called upon to do this thing ? '

Tungku Musa said : c Imam Prang Losong, go thou
then and kill To' Kaya.'

c I cannot go,' said Imam Prang, ' for I have no

4 1 will give thee some trousers,' said Tungku

'Nevertheless I cannot go,' said Imam Prang, c for
my mother is sick, and I must return to tend her.'


Then the Sultan stood upon his feet and

c What manner of a warrior is this ? ' he asked,
pointing at Tiingku Panglima. ' He is a warrior
made out of offal ! '

Thus admonished, Tungku Panglima sent about a
hundred of his men to kill To' Kaya, but after they
had gone some fifty yards they came back to him, and
though he bade them go many times, the same thing
occurred over and over again.

Suddenly, old Tungku Dalam came hurrying into
the palace yard, very much out of breath, for he is
of a full habit of body, binding on his kris as he ran.
' What is this that men say about To' Kaya running
amok in the palace ? Where is he ? ' he cried.

4 At the Mosque,' said twenty voices.

c Ya Allah ! ' said Tungku Dalam, ' They said he
was in the palace ! Well, what motion are ye making
to sky him ? '

No one spoke, and Tungku Dalam, cursing them
roundly, sent for about forty guns, and, leading the
men himself, he passed out at the back of the palace to
Tungku Chik Paya's house near the mosque, where
To' Kaya still sat upon the low wall which surrounds
that building. When he saw Tungku Dalam, he
hailed him, saying :

* Welcome ! Welcome ! Thy servant has desired
the long night through to fight with one who is of
noble birth. Come, therefore, and let us see which of
us twain is the more skilful with his weapons.'

At this, Mat, one of Tungku Dalam's men, leaped
forward and said, ' Suffer thy servant to fight with him,


it is not fitting, Tiingku, that thou shouldst take part
in such a business.'

But Tiingku Dalam said : c Have patience. He is
a dead man. Why should we, who are alive, risk death
or hurt at his hands ? ' Then he ordered a volley to be
fired, but when the smoke had cleared away, To' Kaya
was still sitting unharmed on the low wall of the
mosque. A second volley was fired, with a like result,
and then To' Kaya cast away the spear he still held in
his hand, and cried out : l Perchance this spear is a
charm against bullets, try once more, and I pray thee
end this business, for it has taken over long in the

A third volley was then fired, and one bullet struck
To' Kaya, but did not break the skin. He rubbed the
place, and leaped up crying : l Oh ! but that hurts me,
I will repay thee ! ' and, as he rushed at them, the men
fell back before him. With difficulty Tungku Dalam
succeeded in rallying them, and, this time, a volley was
fired, one bullet of which took effect, passing in at
one armpit and out at the other. To' Kaya staggered
back to the wall, and sank upon it, rocking his body to
and fro. Then a final volley rang out, and a bullet
passing through his head, he fell forward upon his face.
The cowardly crowd surged forward, but fell back
again in confusion, for the whisper spread among them
that To' Kaya was feigning death in order to get at
close quarters. At length a boy named Samat, who was
related to the deceased Ma' Chik, summoned courage
to run in and transfix the body with his spear. Little
cared the Dato' Kaya Biji Derja, however, for his soul
had * past to where beyond these voices there is peace.'


He had killed his wife, Che' Long, the Kclantan
man Abdul Rahman, Pa' Pek, Ma' Pek, Tungku Long
Pendekar, Ma' Chik, Haji Mih, and Semail ; and had
wounded his baby child, his mother-in-law, Che' Long's
daughter Esah, and Saleh. This is a sufficiently big
butcher's bill for a single man, and he had done all
this because he had had words with his wife, and,
having gone further than he had intended in the
beginning, felt that it would be an unclean thing for
him to continue to live upon the surface of a com-
paratively clean planet. A white man who had stabbed
his wife in the heat of the moment might not im-
probably have committed suicide in his remorse,
which would have been far more convenient for his
neighbours j but that is one of the many respects in
which a white man differs from a Malay.


When my foe is in my hands,
When before me pale he stands,

When he finds no means to fight,
When he knows that death awaits him
At the hands of one who hates him,

And his looks are wild with fright j
When I stare him in the eyes,
Watch the apple fall and rise

In the throat his hard sobs tear j
O, I'll mark his pain with pleasure,
And I'll slay him at my leisure,

But I'll kill, and will not spare.

The Song of the Savage Foeman.

IN a large Sakai camp on the Jelai river, at a point some
miles above the last of the scattered Malay villages, the
annual Harvest Home was being held one autumn
night in the Year of Grace 1 893. The occasion of the
feast was the same as that which all tillers of the soil
are wont to celebrate with bucolic rejoicings, and
the name, which I have applied to it, calls up in the
mind of the exile many a well-loved scene in the quiet
country land at Home. Again he sees the loaded farm
carts labouring over the grass or rolling down the
leafy lanes, again the smell of the hay is in his
nostrils, and the soft English gloaming is stealing over
the land. The more or less intoxicated reapers astride


upon the load exchange their barbarous badinage with
those who follow on foot ; the pleasant glow of health,
that follows upon a long day of hard work in the open
air, warms the blood ; and in the eyes of all is the
light of expectation, born of a memory of the good
red meat, and the lashings of sound ale and sour cider,
awaiting them at the farmhouse two miles across the

But in the distant Salcai country the Harvest Home
has little in common with such scenes as these. The
padl planted in the clearing, hard by the spot in which
the camp is pitched, has been reaped painfully and
laboriously in the native fashion, each ripe ear being
severed from its stalk separately and by hand. Then,
after many days, the grain has at last been stored in
the big bark boxes, under cover of the palm leaf thatch,
and the Sakai women, who have already performed the
lion's share of the work, are set to husk some portions
of it for the evening meal. This they do with clumsy
wooden pestles, held as they stand erect round a sort of
trough, the ding-dong-ding of the pounders carrying
far and wide through the forest, and, at the sound, all
wanderers from the camp turn their faces homeward
with the eagerness born of empty stomachs and the
prospect of a good meal. The grain is boiled in
cooking pots, if the tribe possess any, or, if they
are wanting, in the hollow of a bamboo, for that
marvellous jungle growth is used for almost every
conceivable purpose by natives of the far interior.
The fat new rice is sweet to eat. It differs as much
from the parched and arid stuff you know in Europe,
as does the creamy butter in a cool Devonshire dairy



from the liquid yellow train oil which we dignify by
that name in the sweltering tropics, and the cooked
grain is eaten ravenously, and in incredible quantities
by the hungry, squalid creatures in a Sakai camp.
These poor wretches know that, in a day or two,
the Malays will come up stream to c barter ' with
them, and that the priceless rice will be taken from
them, almost by force, in exchange for a few axe-heads
and native wood knives. Therefore, the Sakai eat
while there is yet time, and while distended stomachs
will still bear the strain of a few additional mouthfuls.
Thus is the harvest home supper devoured in a
Sakai camp, with gluttony and beast noises of satis-
faction, while the darkness is falling over the land ;
but, when the meal has been completed, the sleep of
repletion may not fall upon the people. The Spirits
of the Woods and of the Streams, and the Demons of
the grain must be thanked for their gifts, and pro-
pitiated for such evil as has been done them. The
forests have been felled to make the clearing, the crop
has been reaped, and the rice stored by the tribe.
Clearly the Spirits stand in need of comfort for the
loss they have sustained, and the Sakai customs provide
for such emergencies. The house of the Chief or the
Medicine Man the largest hut in the camp is filled
to the roof with the sodden green growths of the jungle.
The Sakai have trespassed on the domains of the
Spirits, and now the Demons of the Woods are invited
to share the dwellings of men. Then, when night
has fallen, the Sakai, men, women, and little children,
creep into the house, stark naked and entirely unarmed,
and sitting huddled together in the darkness, under


the shelter of the leaves and branches with which the
place is crammed, raise their voices in a weird chant,
which peals skyward till the dawn has come again.

No man can say how ancient is this custom, nor
yet the beginnings in which it had its origin. Does
it date back to a period when huts and garments, even
of bark, were newly acquired things, and when the
Sakai suffered both ungladly after the manner of all
wild jungle creatures ? Did they, in those days, cast
aside their bark loin clothes, and revel once more in
pristine nakedness, and in the green things of the
forest, on all occasions of rejoicing ? We can only
speculate, and none can tell us whether we guess
aright. But year after year, in a hundred camps
throughout the broad Sakai country, the same cere-
mony is performed, and the same ancient chant goes
up through the still night air, on the day which marks
the bringing home of the harvest. The Malays call
this practice ber-jermun, because they trace a not alto-
gether fanciful resemblance between the sheds stuffed
with jungle and the jermun^ or nest-like huts which
wild boars construct for their shelter and comfort.
But although the Malays, as a race, despise the Sakai,
and all their heathenish ways, on the occasion of which
I write, Kria, a man of their nation, was present, and
taking an active part in the demon-worship of the

What was he doing here, in the remote Sakai camp,
herding naked among the green stuff with the chanting
jungle people ? He was a Malay of the Malays, a
Muhammadan, who, in his sane moments, hated all
who prayed to devils, or bowed down to stocks and


stones, but, for the moment, he was mad. He had
come up stream a few weeks before to barter with
the forest dwellers, and the flashing glance from a
pair of bright eyes, set in the pale yellow face of a
slender Sakai girl, had blinded him, and bereft him of
reason. Life no longer seemed to hold anything of
good for him unless Chep, the Bird, as her people
called her, might be his. In the abstract he despised
the Sakai as heartily as ever, but, for the sake of this
girl, he smothered his feelings, dwelt among her people
as one of themselves, losing thereby the last atom of
his self-respect, and finally consented to risk his soul's
salvation by joining in their superstitious ceremonies.
Yet all this sacrifice had hitherto been unavailing, for
Chep was the wife of a Sakai named Ku-ish, or the
Porcupine, who guarded her jealously, and gave Kria
no opportunity of prosecuting his intimacy with the

On her side, she had quickly divined that Kria had
fallen a victim to her charms, and, as he was younger
than Ku-ish, richer, and, moreover, a Malay, a man of a
superior race, she was both pleased and flattered. No
one who knows what a Sakai's life is, nor of the purely
haphazard manner in which they are allowed to grow up,
would dream of looking for principle in a Sakai woman,
or would expect her to resist a temptation. The idea
of right and wrong, as we understand it, never prob-
ably occurred to Chep, and all she waited for was a
fitting time at which to elope with her Malay lover.

Their chance came on the night of the Harvest
Home. In the darkness Kria crept close to Chep,
and, when the chant was at its loudest, he whispered in


her ear that his dug-out lay ready by the river bank,
and that he loved her. Together they stole out of
the hut, unobserved by the Sakai folk, who sang and
grovelled in the darkness. The boat was found, and
the lovers, stepping into it, pushed noiselessly out into
the stream. The river at this point runs furiously
over a sloping bed of shingle, and the roar of its waters
soon drowned the splashing of the paddles. Chep held
the steering oar, and Kria, squatting in the bows,
propelled the boat with quick strong strokes. Thus
they journeyed on in silence, save for an occasional
word of endearment from one to the other, until the
dawn had broken, and a few hours later they found
themselves at the Malay village at which Kria lived.
They had come down on a half freshet, and that, in
the far upper country, where the streams tear over
their pebbly or rocky beds through the gorges formed
by the high banks, means travelling at a rushing head-
long pace. When the fugitives finally halted at Kria's
home, fifty miles separated them from the Sakai camp,
and they felt themselves safe from pursuit.

To understand this, you must realise what the
Sakai of the interior is. Men of his race who have
lived for years surrounded by Malay villages are as
different from him, as the fallow-deer in an English
park from the Sambhur of the jungles. Sakai who
have spent all their lives among Malays, who have
learned to wear clothes, and to count up to ten, or
may be twenty, are hardly to be distinguished from
their neighbours, the other ignorant up country natives.
They are not afraid to wander through the villages,
they do not rush into the jungle or hide behind trees


at the approach of strangers, a water-buffalo does not
inspire them with as much terror as a tiger, and they
do not hesitate to make, comparatively speaking, long
journeys from their homes if occasion requires. In
all this they differ widely from the semi-wild Sakai of
the centre of the Peninsula. These men trade with
the Malays, it is true, but the trade has to be carried
on by visitors who penetrate into the Sakai country
for the purpose. Most of them have learned to speak
Malay, though many know only their own primitive
language, and when their three numerals, na-nu^ nar,
and ne one, two, and three have been used, fall back
for further expression of arithmetical ideas on the word
Kerpn^ which means c many.' For clothes they wear
the narrow loin cloth, fashioned from the bark of
certain trees, which only partially covers their naked-
ness ; they are as shy as the beasts of the forest, and
never willingly do they quit that portion of the country
which is still exclusively inhabited by the aboriginal
tribes. It was to semi-wild Sakai such as these that
Chep and her people belonged.

There are tribes of other and more savage jungle-
dwellers living in the forests of the broad Sakai country,
men who fly to the jungles even when approached by
the tamer tribesmen. Their camps may be seen, on
a clear day, far up the hillsides on the jungle-covered
uplands of the remote interior ; their tracks are occasion-
ally to be met with mixed with those of the bison
and the rhinoceros, the deer and the wild swine, but
the people themselves are but rarely encountered.
The tamer Sakai trade with them, depositing the
articles of barter at certain spots in the forest, whence


they are removed by the wild men and replaced by
various kinds of jungle produce. Of these, the most
valued are the long straight reeds, found only in the
most distant fastnesses of the forest, which are used by
the tamer tribes to form the inner casing of their blow-

Chep had the traditions of her people, and her great
love for Kria had alone served to nerve her to leave
her tribe, and the forest country that she knew. A
great fear fell upon her when, the familiar jungles
being left far behind, she found herself floating down
stream through cluster after cluster of straggling
Malay villages. The knowledge that Kria was at
hand to protect her tended to reassure her, but the
instinct of her race was strong upon her, and her heart
beat violently, like that of some wild bird held in a
human hand. All her life the Malays, who preyed
upon her people, had been spoken of with fear and
terror by the simple Sakai at night time round the
fires in their squalid camps. Now she found herself
alone in the very heart so it seemed to her of the
Malay country. Kria, while he lived among her
people as one of themselves, had seemed to her merely
a superior kind of Sakai. Now she realised that he
was in truth a Malay, one of the dominant foreign
race, and her spirit sank within her. None the less,
it never occurred to her to fear pursuit. She knew
how much her tribesmen dreaded the Malays, and how
strongly averse they were to quitting the forest lands
with which they were familiar, and Kria, who had
recently acquired a considerable knowledge of the
Sakai ways and customs, felt as confident as she.


So Chep and her lover halted at the latter's village,
and took up their abode in his house. The girl was
delighted with her new home, which, in her eyes,
seemed a veritable palace, when compared with the
miserable dwelling places of her own people ; and the
number and variety of the cooking pots, and the large
stock of household stores filled her woman's soul with
delight. Also, Kria was kind to her, and she eat good
boiled rice daily, which was a new and a pleasant ex-
perience. Sooner or later the importunate longing for
the jungle, which is born in the hearts of all forest
dwellers, would rise up and drive her back to her own
people, but of this she knew nothing, and for the time
she was happy.

In the Sakai camp it was not until day had dawned
that the demon-worshippers, looking at one another
through heavy sleepless eyes, set in pallid faces, among
the draggled greenery in the house, noted that two of
their number were missing. The quick sight of the
jungle people soon spied the trail of a man and a woman,
and, following it, they crowded down to the place
where the boat had been moored. Here they squatted
on the ground and began to smoke. ' Rej-a-roj ! '
i She is lost ! ' they said laconically, in the barbarous
jargon of the jungle people, and then relapsed into

4 May they be devoured by a tiger ! ' snarled Ku-
ish, the Porcupine, deep down in his throat, and, at the
word, all his hearers shuddered. The curse is the most
dreadful that the jungle people know, and if you shared
your home with the great cats, as they do, you would
regard it with equal fear and respect. Ku-ish said


little more, but he went back to the camp and unslurig
an exceedingly ancient match-lock, which hung from
a beam of the roof in the Chief's hut. It was the
only gun in the camp, and was the most precious
possession of the tribe, but no man asked him what
he was doing, or tried to stay him when he presently
plunged into the jungle heading down stream.

Two days later, in the cool of the afternoon, Kria
left Chep in the house busy with the evening's rice,
and, accompanied by a small boy, his son by a former
marriage, he went to seek for fish in one of the swamps
at the back of the village. These marshy places,
which are to be found in the neighbourhood of many
Malay Kampongs^ are ready-made rice fields, but since
the cultivation of a a padi swamp requires more exact-
ing labour than most Malays are prepared to bestow
upon it, they are often left to lie fallow, while crops
are grown in clearings on the neighbouring hills. In
dry weather the cracked, parched earth, upon which
no vegetation sprouts, alone marks the places which,
in the rainy season, are pools of stagnant water, but so
sure as there is a pond, there also are the little muddy
fish which the Malays call ruan and sepat. Where
they vanish to when the water in which they live is
licked up by the sunrays, or how they support life
during a long season of drought, no man clearly knows,
but it is believed that they burrow deep into the earth,
and live in the moist mud underfoot until better times
come with the heavy tropic rain.

Kria carried two long joran^ or native fishing rods,
over his shoulder, and his little naked son pattered
along at his heels, holding a tin containing bait in his


tiny hands. The boy crooned to himself, after the
manner of native children, but his father walked along
in silence. Arrived at the swamp, which was now a
broad pool of water, with here and there a tuft of rank
rushes showing above the surface, Kria and his child
each took a rod and began patiently angling for the
little fish. The sun crept lower and lower down the
western sky, till its slanting rays painted the surface
of the pool to the crimson hue of blood. The
clouds were dyed with a thousand gorgeous tints, and
the soft light of the sunset hour mellowed all the land.
Kria had seen the same sight many a hundred times
before, and he looked on it with the utter indifference
to the beauties of nature, which is one of the least
attractive characteristics of Malays. If the reddened
pool at his feet suggested anything to him, it was only
that the day was waning, and that it was time to be
wending his way homeward.

He began to gather up his fishing tackle, while
his son, squatting on the ground, passed a rattan cord
through the fishes' gills to their mouths, so that the
take might be carried with greater ease. While they
were so engaged, a slight rustle in the high grass
behind them caused both father and son to start and
look round. Not a breath of wind was blowing, but,
none the less, a few feet away from them, the tops
of the grass moved slightly, as though the stalks were
brushed against by the passage of some wild animal.

' Hasten, little one,' said Kria, uneasily ; ' it is a

But, as he spoke the words, the grass was parted by
human hands, and Kria found himself looking into the


wild and angry eyes of Ku-ish, the Porcupine, along
the length of an ancient gun barrel. He had time to
note the rust upon the dulled metal, the fantastic shape
of the clumsy sight, and the blue tatoo marks on the
nose and forehead of his enemy. All these things he
saw mechanically, in an instant of time, but before he
had moved hand or foot the world seemed to break in
fragments around him, to the sound of a furious deafen-
ing explosion, and he lay dead upon the sward with
his skull shattered to atoms, and the bloody, mucous
strings of brain flecking the fresh green grass.

At the sight, Kria's son fled screaming along the
edge of the pool, but Ku-ish's blood was up, and he
started in pursuit. The child threw himself down in
the long grass, and, raising his little arms above his
cowering head, shrieked for mercy in his pure shrill
treble voice. Ku-ish, for answer, plunged his spear
again and again through the little writhing body, and,
at the second blow, the expression of horror and fear
faded from the tender rounded face, and was replaced
by that look of perfect rest and peace which is only to
be seen in the countenance of a sleeping child.

Ku-ish gathered up the fish, and took all the
tobacco he could find on Kria's body, for a Sakai
rarely loses sight completely of those cravings of appe-
tite, which, with him, are never wholly satisfied.
Then, when the darkness had shut down over the
land, he crept to Kria's house, and bade Chep follow

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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 7 of 17)