Hugh Charles Clifford.

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

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him. She came without a word, for women whose
ancestors have been slaves for generations have very
little will of their own. She wept furtively when
Ku-ish told her, in a few passionless sentences, that


he had killed Kria and his son, and she bewailed herself
aloud when, at their first halting-place, she received
the severe chastisement, which Ku-ish dealt out to her
with no grudging hand, as her share in the general
punishment. But, when the thrashing was over, she
followed him meekly, with the tears still wet upon her
cheeks, making no attempt to escape. Thus Ku-ish,
the Porcupine, and Chep, the Bird, made their way
through the strange forests, until they had once more
regained the familiar Sakai country, and were safe
among their own people.

Pursuit into such a place is impossible, for a Sakai
comes and goes like a shadow, and can efface himself
utterly when he desires to do so. Thus, though
Kria's relatives clamoured for vengeance, little could
be done. I was myself at that time in charge of the
district in which these things occurred, and it was
only by the most solemn promises that no evil should
befall them, that I induced the various Sakai chiefs to
meet me near the limits of their country. My request
that Ku-ish should be handed over for trial was received
by the assembled elders as a demand which was mani-
festly ridiculous. Ku-ish was in the jungle, and they
knew that pursuit would be useless, unless his own
people aided in the chase. This they were determined
not to do, and I, being bound by promises not to harm
the Chiefs, was powerless to force them to come to
my assistance.

At length, a very aged man, the principal headman
present, a wrinkled old savage, scarred by encounters
with wild beasts, and mottled with skin disease and
dirt, lifted up his voice and spoke, shaking his strag-


gling mop of frowsy grizzled hair in time to the words
he uttered.

1 There is a custom, Tuan y when such things occur.
The Porcupine has killed the Gob (Malay), and our
tribe must repay sevenfold. Seven lives for a life. It
is the custom.'

The proposal sounded generous, and I was inclined
to jump at it, until, on inquiry, I discovered what the
ancient chief really intended. His suggestion was
that the blood-money should take the form of seven
human beings, who were to be duly delivered to the
relations of the murdered man as slaves. These seven
creatures were not to be members of his or Ku-ish's
tribe, but were to be captured by them from among
the really wild people of the hills, who had had no
share in the ill-doing which it was my object to
punish. The Porcupine and his brethren, he ex-
plained, would run some risk, and be put to a con-
siderable amount of trouble, before the seven wild men
could be caught, and this was to be the measure of
their punishment. The old Chief went on to tell me
that the wild Sakai only pursued a raiding party until
they came to a spot where a spear had been left sticking
upright in the ground. This custom, he said, was
well known to the marauders, who took care to avail
themselves of it, so soon as their captives had been
secured. My informant said that the wild men would
never venture past a spear left in this manner, but he
was unable to explain the reason, and did not profess
to understand the superstition with which this spear
is probably connected in the minds of the jungle


Blood-money in past times, I was assured both by
Malays and Sakai, had always been paid in this manner
by the semi-wild tribes of the interior. It was the
custom, and Kria's relatives were eager in their prayers
to me to accept the proposal. Instead, I exacted a
heavy fine of jungle produce from the tribe to which
Ku-ish, the Porcupine, belonged, and thus I gave
complete dissatisfaction to all parties concerned. The
Sakai disliked the decision because they found the fine
more difficult to pay, while the Malays thought the
blood-money paid hopelessly inadequate, when com-
pared with the value of seven slaves. But, as the
Indian Proverb says, c an order is an order until one
is strong enough to disobey it.' Therefore the fine
was paid by the Sakai and accepted by the Malays
with grumblings, of which I only heard the echoes.

So ends the story of the Flight of Chep, the Bird,
and of the deed whereby Ku-ish, the Porcupine,
cleansed his honour from the shame that had been
put upon him. The murder was a brutal act, savagely
done, and the ruthless manner in which the Porcupine
killed the little defenceless child, who had done no
evil to him or his, makes one's blood boil. None the
less, when one remembers the heavy debt of vengeance,
for long years of grinding cruelty and wicked wrong,
which the Sakai owes to the Malay, one can find it
in one's heart to forgive much that he may do when
the savage lust of blood is upon him, and when, for a
space, his enemies of the hated race are delivered into
his hand.


Adown the stream, whence mist like steam

Arises in early morning,
'Mid shout and singing they bear me swinging

A mark for the people's scorning.
By long hair hanging, amid the clanging

Of drums that are beaten loud,
I am borne the Head of the ghastly Dead,

That ne'er knew coffin nor shroud !
But I swing there, nor greatly care

If the Victor jeers or sings,
Nor heed my foe, for now I know

The worth of these mortal things.

The Song of the Severed Head.

WHEN the Portuguese Filibusters descended upon the
Peninsula, they employed so says the native tradition
the time-worn stratagem of the Pious ./Eneas j and,
having obtained, by purchase, as much land as could
be enclosed by the hide of a bull, from the Sultan of
Malacca, they cut the skin up into such cunning strips
that a space large enough to build a formidable fort
was won by them. This they erected in the very
heart of the capital, which, at that time, was the head
and front of the Malay Kingdoms of the Peninsula.
Thence they speedily overran the State of Malacca,
and, though the secret of making gunpowder, and


rude match-locks, was known to the Malays, native
skill and valour was of no avail when opposed to the
discipline and the bravery of the mail-clad Europeans.
Thus, the country was soon subdued, and, in 1511,
Sultan Muhammad, with most of his relations and a
few faithful followers, fled to Pahang, which, at that
time, was a dependency of Malacca. Here he founded
a new Dynasty, his descendants assuming the title of
Bendahara, and doing homage and owing allegiance
to the Sultan of Daik, whose kingdom, in its turn,
has since fallen to the portion of the Dutch.

The people of Pahang were ever lawless, warlike folk,
and the Malacca Rajas^ who seem to have been a
mild enough set of people while in their own country,
speedily caught the infection from their surroundings.
Thus, from one generation to another, various rival
claimants to the throne strove for the mastery during
successive centuries. The land was always more or
less on the rack of civil war, and so to-day the
largest State in the Peninsula carries a population
of only some four human beings to the square

War was lulled, and peace fell upon Pahang when
Bendahara Ali, the father of the present Sultan, came
to the throne ; but, when he died in his palace among
the cocoa-nut trees, across the river opposite to the
Pekan of to-day, civil war broke out once more with
redoubled fury. During the years that he was a
fugitive from the land of his birth, Che' Wan Ahmad,
who now bears the high - sounding title of Sultan
Ahmad Maatham, Shah of Pahang, made numerous
efforts to seize the throne from his brother and


nephew, but it was not until the fifth attempt that he
was finally successful.

During one of those pauses which occurred in the
war game, when Ahmad had once more been driven
into exile, and his brother's son Bendahara Korish
reigned in Pahang, the ambitions of Wan Bong of
Jelai brought him who had cherished them to an
untimely and ignoble death.

The Jelai valley has, from time immemorial, been
ruled over by a race of Chiefs, who, though they are
regarded by the other natives of Pahang as ranking
merely as nobles, are treated by the people of their
own district with semi-royal honours. The Chief of
the Clan, the Dato' Mahraja Perba Jelai, commonly
known as To' Raja, is addressed as Ungku^ which
means c Your Highness,' by his own people. Homage
too is done to him by them, hands being lifted up in
salutation, with the palms pressed together, as in the
attitude of Christian prayer, but the tips of the
thumbs are not suffered to ascend beyond the base of
the chin. In saluting a real Raja y the hands are
carried higher and higher, according to the prince's
rank, until, for the Sultan, the tips of the thumbs are
on a level with the forehead. Little details, such as
these, are of immense importance in the eyes of the
Malays, and not without reason, seeing that, in an
Independent Native State, many a man has come by
his death for carelessness in their observance. A
wrongly given salute may raise the ire of a Raja,
which is no pleasant thing to encounter j or if it
flatter him by giving him more than his due, the fact
may be whispered in the ears of his superiors, who will



not be slow to resent the usurpation and to punish the

At the time of which I write, the then To' Raja
of Jelai was an aged man, cursed by the possession
of many sons, arrogant folk, who loved war. The
eldest, the most arrogant, the most warlike, the most
ambitious, and the most evil of these, was Wan Bong.
He, the people of the Jelai called Che' Aki, which
means c Sir Father,' because he was the heir of their
Dato', or Chief, which word in the vernacular literally
means a grandfather. He was a man of about thirty-
five years of age, of a handsome presence, and an
aristocratic bearing. He wore his fine black hair
long, so that it hung about his waist, and he dressed
with the profusion of coloured silks, and went armed
with the priceless weapons, that are only to be seen
in perfection on the person of a Malay prince. Into
the mind of this man there entered, on a certain day,
an idea at once daring and original. Ever since the
death of Bendahara Ali, nearly a decade earlier,
Pahang had been racked by war and rumours of war,
and, wherever men congregated, tales were told of the
brave deeds done by the rival Rajas, each of whom
was seeking to win the throne for himself and for his
posterity. It was the memory of these things that
probably suggested his project to Wan Bong. Che'
Wan Ahmad had fled the country after his last defeat,
and Bendahare Korish, with his sons Che' Wan
Ahman, and Che' Wan Da, ruled at Pekan. To
none of the latter did Wan Bong cherish any feeling
but hatred, and it occurred to him that now, while
they were still suffering from the effects of their fierce


struggle with Che' Wan Ahmad, it would be possible,
by a bold stroke, to upset their dynasty, and to secure
the broad valleys of Pahang as an inheritance for his
father, To' Raja, for himself, and for their heirs for

Every man in Pahang was, at that time, a soldier ;
and the people of Jelai and Lipis were among the
most warlike of the inhabitants of the country. All
the people of the interior followed Wan Bong like
sheep, and he speedily found himself at the head of a
following of many thousands of men. For a noble to
rise up against his sovereign, with the object of
placing his own family upon the throne, was an
altogether unheard of thing among the natives of the
Peninsula j but the very originality of Wan Bong's
plan served to impress the people with the probability
of its success. The Rajas at Pekan were very far
away, while Wan Bong, with unlimited power in his
hands, was at their very doors. Therefore the natives
of the upper country had no hesitation in selecting
the side to which it was most politic for them to

Wan Bong installed his father as Bendahara of
Pahang with much state, and many ceremonial observ-
ances. All the insignia of royalty were hastily
fashioned by the goldsmiths of Penjum, and, when-
ever To' Raja or Wan Bong appeared in public, they
were accompanied by pages bearing betel boxes,
swords, and silken umbrellas, as is the manner of
Malay kings.

To' Raja remained in his village of Bukit Betong,
on the banks of the Jelai river, and Wan Bong, with


his army, speedily conquered the whole of Pahang as
far as Kuala Semantan. Thus more than half the
country was his, almost without a struggle j and Wan
Bong, flustered with victory, returned up river to
receive the congratulations of his friends, leaving
Panglima Raja Sebidi, his principal General, in charge
of the conquered districts.

The Rajas at Pekan, however, were meanwhile
mustering their men, and, when Wan Bong reached
Kuala Tembeling, he received the unwelcome intelli-
gence that his forces had fallen back some sixty miles
to Tanjong Gatal, before an army under the command
of Che' Wan Ahman and Che' Wan Da. At Tan-
jong Gatal a battle was fought, and the royal forces
were routed with great slaughter, as casualties are
reckoned in Malay warfare, nearly a score of men
being killed. But Che' Wan Ahman knew that
many Pahang battles had been won without the aid of
gunpowder or bullets, or even kris and spear. He
sent secretly to Panglima Raja Sibidi, and, by
promises of favours to come, and by gifts of no small
value, he had but little difficulty in persuading
him to turn traitor. The Panglima was engaged in
a war against the ruler of the country, the Khalifah,
the earthly representative of the Prophet on Pahang
soil, and the feeling that he was thus warring against
God, as well as against man, probably made him the
more ready to enrich himself by making peace with the
princes to whom he rightly owed allegiance. Be this
how it may, certain it is that Panglima Raja Sebidi
went to Wan Bong, where he lay camped at Kuala
Tembeling, and assured him that after the defeat at


Tanjong Gatal, the royal forces had dispersed, and
that the Pekan Rajas were now in full flight.

4 Pahang is now thine, O Prince ! ' he concluded,
'so be pleased to return to the Jelai, and I, thy
servant, will keep watch and ward over the con-
quered land, until such time as thou bringest thy
father with thee, to sit upon the throne which thy
valour has won for him, and for his seed for ever ! '

So Wan Bong set off on a triumphal progress up
river to Bukit Betong, disbanding his army as he went.
But scarcely had he reached his home, than he learned,
to his dismay, that Che' Wan Ahman and Che' Wan
Da, with a large force, were only a few miles behind
him at Batu Nering. Panglima Raja Sibidi, with
all his people, had made common cause with the
enemy, whose ranks were further swelled by the very
men who had so lately been disbanded by Wan Bong
on his journey up river. The Pekan Rajas had
carefully collected them man by man as they followed
in the wake of the dispersing army, and Wan Bong
thus found himself deprived, in an instant, not only
of all that he had believed himself to have won, but
even of such poor following as had been his in the
days before his ambitious schemes were hatched.

But before the royal forces began their invasion of
the upper country, it became evident to them that
Che' Jahya, the Chief who had been left in charge of
the Tembeling River by Wan Bong, must be dis-
posed of. This man had followed Wan Bong's
fortunes from the first, and it was known in the royal
camp that no attempt to buy his loyalty would be
likely to prove successful. Wan Bong had started up


the Jelai on his triumphal progress, and it was im-
portant that no news should reach him, that might
cause him to stay the dispersal of his men. So Che'
Jahya's fate was sealed. About the second day after
Wan Bong's departure for Bukit Betong, Che' Jahya
was seated in the cool interior of his house at Kuala
Atok, on the Tembeling River. The sun was hot
overhead, and the squeaking low of a cow-buffalo,
calling to its calf, came to his ears. The fowls
clucked and scratched about the ground beneath the
flooring, and the women - folk in the cook - house
chattered happily. All spoke of peace. The war was
over, and Che' Jahya sat dreaming of the good things
which would be his in the days that were coming.
He had stood by Wan Bong when bullets were flying,
and had camped on the bare earth when his armies
had taken the field. His aid and his counsel had had
no small share in his chiePs success. Che' Jahya's
heart was filled with peace, and the gladness of one
whose toils are over, and who sees his rewards well
within his grasp. Already, in imagination, he was
acting as the new Bendaharas deputy, having power
over men, a harem full of fair women, and wealth to
gild his ease. And yet, as he sat there dreaming, his
death was ever drawing nearer to him, unfeared and

Shortly before sunset, at the hour when the kine
go down to water, a party of Rawa men came to Che'
Jahya's house. These people are a race of Sumatran
Malays, and members of their tribe have been mercen-
aries and hired bravos in the Peninsula, beyond the
memory of man. They came to Che' Jahya, they


said, to offer their services to him ; and, in their com-
ing, he saw the first evidence of that authority over
men and things, of which he had sat dreaming through
the hot hours of the day. He received them courte-
ously, and had rice and spiced viands placed before
them, inviting them to eat, and, in doing so, he almost
unconsciously assumed the tone and manners of a great
chief. All partook of the meal in heartiness and good
fellowship, for the Rawa people have no fine feelings
about abusing hospitality, and a meal, come by it how
you may, is a meal, and as such is welcome. When
the food had been disposed of, and quids of betel nut
and cigarettes were being discussed, the talk naturally
turned upon the war, which had so recently closed.
Che' Jahya, still living in his Fool's Paradise, and
intoxicated by his new honours and importance, was
blind to any suspicions of treachery, which, at another
time, might have presented themselves to him. He
spoke condescendingly to his guests, still aping the
manners of a great chief. He dropped a passing hint
or two of his own prowess in the war, and when
Baginda Sutan, the Headman of the Rawa gang,
craved leave to examine the beauties of his kris^ he
handed his weapon to him, without hesitation, and
with the air of one who confers a favour upon his

This was the psychological moment for which his
guests had been waiting. So long as Che' Jahya was
armed, it was possible that he might be able to do one
of them a hurt, which was opposed to the principles
upon which the Rawa men were accustomed to work ;
but as soon as he had parted with his /-r/V, all the


necessary conditions had been complied with. At a
sign from their Chief, three of the Rawa men snatched
up their guns, and a moment later Che' Jahya rolled
over dead, with three gaping holes drilled through his
body. There he lay, motionless, in an ever-widening
pool of blood, on the very spot where, so few hours
before, he had dreamed those dreams of power and
greatness dreams that had then soared so high, and
now lay as low as he, crushed and obliterated from
the living world, as though they had never been.

Sutan Baginda hacked off Che' Jahya's head, salted
it, for obvious reasons, stained it a ghastly yellow with
turmeric, as a further act of dishonour, and, when the
house and village had been looted, carried his ghastly
trophy with him down river to the camp of Che' Wan
Ahman. Then it was fastened to a boat pole, fixed
upright in the sand of Pasir Tambang, at the mouth
of the Tembeling River, where it dangled with all the
horror of set teeth, and staring eyeballs the fixity of
the face of one who has died a violent death until,
in the fulness of time, the waters rose and swept
pole and head away with them. Thus was a plain
lesson taught, by Che' Wan Ahman to the people
of Pahang, as a warning to dreamers of dreams.

But to return to Wan Bong, whose high hopes
had all been shattered as completely, and almost as
rudely, as those of poor Che' Jahya. When the
evil news of the approach of Che' Wan Ahman and
his people reached him, Wan Bong's scant following
dwindled rapidly, and, at length, he was forced to
seek refuge in the jungles of the Jelai, with only
three or four of his closest adherents still following


his fallen fortunes. As he lay on his bed of boughs,
under a hastily improvised shelter of plaited palm
leaves, with the fear of imminent death staring him
in the eyes ; when through the long day every
snapping twig and every falling fruit, in those still
forests, must have sounded to his ears like the foot-
fall of his pursuers, Wan Bong must have had
ample time to contrast his past position with that
in which he then found himself. A few days be-
fore, he had returned to Jelai, a conqueror flushed
with triumph. All Pahang, he had then imagined,
lay at his feet, and he alone, of all the nobles of
the Peninsula, had in a few months upset an old-
world dynasty, and placed himself upon a royal
throne. Then, in an instant of time, the vision
had been shattered to fragments, and here he lay,
like a hunted beast in the jungles, quaking at every
sound that broke the stillness, an outlaw, a ruined
man, with a price set upon his head.

The jungles, for a fugitive from his enemies, are
not a pleasant refuge. The constant dampness,
which clings to anything in the dark recesses of
the forest, breeds boils and skin irritation of all
sorts on the bodies of those who dare not come out
into the open places. Faces, on which the sunlight
never falls, become strangely pallid, and the constant
agony of mind scores deep lines on cheek and fore-
head. The food, too, is bad. Rice the fugitive
must have, or the loathsome dropsical swellings,
called basa^ soon cripple the strongest limbs ; but
a Malay cannot live on rice alone, and the sour
jungle fruits, and other vegetable growths, with


which he ekes out his scanty meals, wring his
weakened stomach with constant pangs and aches.
All these things Wan Bong now experienced, as he
daily shifted his camp, from one miserable halting-
place to another ; but a greater pain than all the
rest was soon to be added to his cup of bitterness.
He was an opium smoker, and his hoarded store of
the precious drug began to run very low. At last
the day came on which it was exhausted, and Wan
Bong was driven to desperation. For some twenty-
four hours he strove against the overpowering longing
for that subtle drug that leads the strongest will
captive, but the struggle was all in vain. When, at
length, the physical pain had become so intense that
Wan Bong could neither stand, nor sit, nor lie down
for more than a minute at a time, nor yet could still
the moans which the restless torture drew from him,
he despatched one of his boys to seek for the supply
of opium, which alone could assuage his sufferings.

The boy left him, and his two other companions,
in a patch of the high grass, which the Malays call
resam, that chanced to grow at the edge of the forest
near Batu Nering. He promised to return to him as
soon as the opium should have been procured. But
Che' Wan Ahman's people had anticipated that Wan
Bong would, sooner or later, be forced to purchase
opium, and no sooner had the messenger presented
himself at the shop of the Chinese trader, who sold
the drug, than he found himself bound hand and foot.
He was carried before Che' Wan Ahman's representa-
tive, and interrogated. He denied all knowledge of
Wan Bong's hiding-place ; but Malays have methods


of making people speak the truth on occasion. They
are grim, ghastly, blood-curdling methods, that need
not be here described in detail ; suffice it to say that
the boy spoke.

That evening, as the short twilight was going out
in the sky, and the flakes of scarlet-dyed clouds were
paling overhead, a body of men crept, with noiseless
feet, through the clump of long grass in which Wan
Bong was hiding. They saw him sitting on the
earth, bent double over his folded arms, rocking his body

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Online LibraryHugh Charles CliffordIn court & kampong; being tales & sketches of native life in the Malay peninsula → online text (page 8 of 17)