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unmolested. The taking of Balambangan has been generally imputed to the
treacherous disposition and innate love of plunder among the Sulus,
as well as to their fear that it would destroy the trade of Sulu by
injuring all that of the archipelago. But there are strong reasons
for believing that this dark deed owed its origin in part to the
influence of the Spaniards and Dutch, who looked with much distrust
upon the growth of the rival establishment. Such was the jealousy
of the Spaniards, that the governor of the Philippines peremptorily
required that Balambangan should be evacuated. The Sulus boast of the
deed, and admit that they received assistance from both Zamboanga and
Ternate, the two nearest Spanish and Dutch ports. These nations had
great reasons to fear the establishment of a power like that of the
East India Company, in a spot so favorably situated to secure the
trade of the surrounding islands, possessing fine harbors, and in
every way adapted to become a great commercial depot. Had it been
held by the East India Company but for a few years, it must have
become what Singapore is now.

The original planner of this settlement is said to have been Lord
Pigot; but the merit of carrying it forward was undoubtedly due to
Dalrymple, whose enterprising mind saw the advantage of the situation,
and whose energy was capable of carrying the project successfully

Since the capture of Balambangan, there has been no event in the
history of Sulu that has made any of the reigns of the Sultans
memorable, although fifteen have since ascended the throne.

Sulu has from all the accounts very much changed in its character
as well as population since the arrival of the Spaniards, and the
establishment of their authority in the Philippines. Before that
event, some accounts state that the trade with the Chinese was
of great extent, and that from four to five hundred junks arrived
annually from Cambojia, with which Sulu principally traded. At that
time the population is said to have equalled in density that of the
thickly-settled parts of China.

The government has also undergone a change; for the Sultan, who
among other Malay races is usually despotic, is here a mere cipher,
and the government has become an oligarchy. This change has probably
been brought about by the increase of the privileged class of Datus,
all of whom were entitled to a seat in the Ruma Bechara until about
the year 1810, when the great inconvenience of so large a council
was felt, and it became impossible to control it without great
difficulty and trouble on the part of the Sultan. The Ruma Bechara
was then reduced until it contained but six of the principal Datus,
who assumed the power of controlling the state. The Ruma Bechara,
however, in consequence of the complaints of many powerful Datus,
was enlarged; but the more powerful, and those who have the largest
numerical force of slaves, still rule over its deliberations. The whole
power, within the last thirty years, has been usurped by one or two
Datus, who now have monopolized the little foreign trade that comes
to these islands. The Sultan has the right to appoint his successor,
and generally names him while living. In default of this, the choice
devolves upon the Ruma Bechara, who elect by a majority.

[Piracies] From a more frequent intercourse with Europeans and the
discovery of new routes through these seas, the opportunities of
committing depredations have become less frequent, and the fear of
detection greater. By this latter motive they are more swayed than
by any thing else, and if the Sulus have ever been bold and daring
robbers on the high seas, they have very much changed.

Many statements have been made and published relative to the piracies
committed in these seas, which in some cases exceed, and in others
fall short, of the reality. Most of the piratical establishments are
under the rule, or sail under the auspices of the Sultan and Ruma
Bechara of Sulu, who are more or less intimately connected with
them. The share of the booty that belongs to the Sultan and Ruma
Bechara is twenty-five per cent. on all captures, whilst the Datus
receive a high price for the advance they make of guns and powder,
and for the services of their slaves.

The following are the piratical establishments of Sulu, obtained
from the most authentic sources, published as well as verbal. The
first among these is the port of Soung, at which we anchored, in
the island of Sulu; not so much from the number of men available
here for this pursuit, as the facility of disposing of the goods. By
the Spaniards they are denominated Illanun or Lanuns pirates. [273]
There are other rendezvous on Pulo Toolyan, at Bohol, Tonho, Pilas,
Tawi Tawi, Sumlout, Pantutaran, Parodasan, Palawan, and Basilan,
and Tantoli on Celebes. These are the most noted, but there are many
minor places, where half a dozen prahus are fitted out. Those of Sulu,
and those who go under the name of the Lanuns, have prahus of larger
size, and better fitted. They are from twenty to thirty tons burden,
and are propelled by both sails and oars. They draw but little water,
are fast sailers, and well adapted for navigating through these
dangerous seas. These pirates are supposed to possess in the whole
about two hundred prahus, which usually are manned with from forty to
fifty pirates; the number therefore engaged in this business, may be
estimated at ten thousand. They are armed with muskets, blunderbusses,
krises, hatchets, and spears, and at times the vessels have one or two
large guns mounted. They infest the Macassar Strait, the Celebes Sea,
and the Sulu Sea. Soung is the only place where they can dispose of
their plunder to advantage, and obtain the necessary outfits. It may
be called the principal resort of these pirates, where well-directed
measures would result in effectually suppressing the crime.

Besides the pirates of Sulu, the commerce of the eastern islands is
vexed with other piratical establishments. In the neighboring seas,
there are the Malay pirates, who have of late years become exceedingly
troublesome. Their prahus are of much smaller size than those of Sulu,
being from ten to twelve tons burden, but in proportion they are much
better manned, and thus are enabled to ply with more efficiency their
oars or paddles. These prahus frequent the shores of Malacca Straits,
Cape Roumania, the Carimon Isles, and the neighboring straits, and
at times they visit the Rhio Straits. Some of the most noted, I was
informed, were fitted out from Johore, in the very neighborhood of
the English authorities at Singapore; they generally have their haunts
on the small islands on the coast, from which they make short cruises.

They are noted for their arrangements for preventing themselves
from receiving injury, in the desperate defences that are sometimes
made against them. These small prahus have usually swivels mounted,
which, although not of great calibre, are capable of throwing a shot
beyond the range of small-arms. It is said that they seldom attempt
an attack unless the sea is calm, which enables them to approach their
victims with more assurance of success, on account of the facility with
which they are enabled to manage their boats. The frequent calms which
occur in these seas between the land and sea breezes, afford them many
opportunities of putting their villanous plans in operation; and the
many inlets and islets, with which they are well acquainted, afford
places of refuge and ambush, and for concealing their booty. They
are generally found in small flotillas of from six to twenty prahus,
and when they have succeeded in disabling a vessel at long shot, the
sound of the gong is the signal for boarding, which, if successful,
results in a massacre more or less bloody, according to the obstinacy
of the resistance they have met with.

In the winter months, the Malacca Straits are most infested with them;
and during the summer, the neighborhood of Singapore, Point Rumania,
and the channels in the vicinity. In the spring, from February to
May, they are engaged in procuring their supplies, in fishing, and
refitting their prahus for the coming year.

[Suppression of pirates.] I have frequently heard plans proposed
for the suppression of these pirates, particularly of those in the
neighborhood of the settlements under British rule. The European
authorities are much to blame for the quiescent manner in which they
have so long borne these depredations, and many complaints are made
that Englishmen, on being transplanted to India, lose that feeling of
horror for deeds of blood, such as are constantly occurring at their
very doors, which they would experience in England. There are, however,
many difficulties to overcome before operations against the pirates
can be effective. The greatest of these is the desire of the English
to secure the good-will of the chiefs of the tribes by whom they are
surrounded. They thus wink at their piracies on the vessels of other
nations, or take no steps to alleviate the evils of slavery. Indeed
the language that one hears from many intelligent men who have
long resided in that part of the world is, that in no country where
civilization exists does slavery exhibit so debasing a form as in her
Indian possessions. Another difficulty consists in the want of minute
knowledge of the coasts, inlets, and hiding-places of the pirates, and
this must continue to exist until proper surveys are made. This done,
it would be necessary to employ vessels that could pursue the pirates
everywhere, for which purpose steamers naturally suggest themselves.

What will appear most extraordinary is, that the very princes who
are enjoying the stipend for the purchase of the site whereon the
English authority is established, are believed to be the most active
in equipping the prahus for these piratical expeditions; yet no notice
is taken of them, although it would be so easy to control them by
withholding payment until they had cleared themselves from suspicion,
or by establishing residents in their chief towns.

[The Bajows.] Another, and a very different race of natives who
frequent the Sulu Archipelago, must not be passed by without
notice. These are the Bajow divers or fishermen, to whom Sulu is
indebted for procuring the submarine treasures with which her seas
are stored. They are also very frequently employed in the bêche de
mer or trepang fisheries among the islands to the south. The Bajows
generally look upon Macassar as their principal place of resort. They
were at one time believed to be derived from Johore, on the Malayan
peninsula; at another, to be Buguese; but they speak the Sulu dialect,
and are certainly derived from some of the neighboring islands. The
name of Bajows, in their tongue, means fishermen. From all accounts,
they are allowed to pursue their avocations in peace, and are not
unfrequently employed by the piratical datus, and made to labor for
them. They resort to their fishing-grounds in fleets of between one
and two hundred sail, having their wives and children with them,
and in consequence of the tyranny of the Sulus, endeavor to place
themselves under the protection of the flag of Holland, by which
nation this useful class of people is encouraged. The Sulu Seas are
comparatively little frequented by them, as they are unable to dispose
of the produce of their fisheries for want of a market, and fear the
exactions of the Datus. Their prahus are about five tons each. The
Bajows at some islands are stationary, but are for the most part
constantly changing their ground. The Spanish authorities in the
Philippines encourage them, it is said, to frequent their islands,
as without them they would derive little benefit from the banks in
the neighboring seas, where quantities of pearl-oysters are known
to exist, which produce pearls of the finest kind. The Bajows are
inoffensive and very industrious, and in faith Mahomedans.

The climate of Sulu during our short stay, though warm, was
agreeable. The time of our visit was in the dry season, which lasts
from October till April, and alternates with the wet one, from May
till September. June and July are the windy months, when strong
breezes blow from the westward. In the latter part of August and
September, strong gales are felt from the south, while in December
and January the winds are found to come from the northward; but light
winds usually prevail from the southwest during the wet season, and
from the opposite quarter, the dry, following closely the order of the
monsoons in the China seas. As to the temperature, the climate is very
equable, the thermometer seldom rising above 90° or falling below 70°.

Diseases are few, and those that prevail arise from the manner in
which the natives live. They are from that cause an unhealthy-looking
race. The small-pox has at various times raged with great violence
throughout the group, and they speak of it with great dread. Few of
the natives appeared to be marked with it, which may have been owing,
perhaps, to their escaping this disorder for some years. Vaccination
has not yet been introduced among them, nor have they practiced

Notwithstanding Soung was once the Mecca of the East, its people
have but little zeal for the Mahomedan faith. It was thought at once
time that they had almost forgotten its tenets, in consequence of
the neglect of all their religious abservances. The precepts which
they seem to regard most are that of abstaining from swine's flesh,
and that of being circumcised. Although polygamy is not interdicted,
few even of the datus have more than one wife.

Soung Road offers good anchorage; and supplies of all kinds may be
had in abundance. Beef is cheap, and vegetables and fruits at all
seasons plenty.

Our observations placed the town in latitude 6° 01' N., longitude 120°
55' 51'' E.

Having concluded the treaty and other business that had taken me to
Sulu, we took our departure for the Straits of Balabac, the western
entrance into this sea, with a fine breeze to the eastward. By
noon we had reached the group of Pangootaaraang, consisting of five
small islands. All of these are low, covered with trees, and without
lagoons. They presented a great contrast to Sulu, which was seen behind
us in the distance. The absence of the swell of the ocean in sailing
through this sea is striking, and gives the idea of navigating an
extensive bay, on whose luxuriant islands no surf breaks. There are,
however, sources of danger that incite the navigator to watchfulness
and constant anxiety; the hidden shoals and reefs, and the sweep of
the tide, which leave him no control over his vessel.

[Cagayan Sulu.] Through the night, which was exceedingly dark, we
sounded every twenty minutes, but found no bottom; and at daylight
on the 7th, we made the islands of Cagayan Sulu, in latitude 7° 03'
30'' N., longitude 118° 37' E. The tide or current was passing the
islands to the west-southwest, three quarters of a mile per hour;
we had soundings of seventy-five fathoms. Cagayan Sulu has a pleasant
appearance from the sea, and may be termed a high island. It is less
covered with undergrowth and mangrove-bushes than the neighboring
islands, and the reefs are comparatively small. It has fallen off in
importance; and by comparing former accounts with those I received,
and from its present aspect, it would seem that it has decreased
both in population and products. Its caves formerly supplied a large
quantity of edible birds' nests; large numbers of cattle were to be
found upon it; and its cultivation was carried on to some extent. These
articles of commerce are not so much attended to at the present time,
and the bêche de mer and tortoise-shell, formerly brought hither,
are now carried to other places. There is a small anchorage on the
west side, but we did not visit it. There are no dangers near these
small islands that may not be guarded against. Our survey extended
only to their size and situation, as I deemed it my duty to devote
all the remainder of the time I had to spare to the Balabac Straits.

[Balabac straits.] After the night set in, we continued sounding
every ten minutes, and occasionally got bottom in from thirty to
seventy fathoms. At midnight, the water shoaled to twenty fathoms,
when I dropped the anchor until daylight. We shortly afterwards had
a change of wind, and a heavy squall passed over us.

In the morning we had no shoal ground near us, and the bank on which
we had anchored was found to be of small size; it is probable that
we had dropped the anchor on the shoalest place. Vessels have nothing
to fear in this respect.

At 9:00 a.m. of the 8th, we made the Mangsee Islands ahead of us, and
likewise Balabac to the north, and Balambagan to the south. Several
sand-banks and extensive reefs were also seen between them. On seeing
the ground on which we had to operate, of which the published charts
give no idea whatever, I determined to proceed, and take a central
position with the ship under the Mangsee Islands; but in order not to
lose time, I hoisted out and dropped two boats, under Lieutenant Perry,
to survey the first sand-bank we came to, which lies a few miles to
the eastward of these islands, with orders to effect this duty and join
me at the anchorage, or find a shelter under the lee of the islands.

At half-past two p.m. we anchored near the reef, in thirty-six fathoms
water. I thought myself fortunate in getting bottom, as the reefs on
closing with them seemed to indicate but little appearance of it.

The rest of the day was spent in preparing the boats for our
operations. I now felt the want of the tender. Although in the absence
of this vessel, great exposure was necessary to effect this survey,
I found both officers and men cheerful and willing. The parties were
organized, - the first to proceed to the north, towards Balabac Island,
to survey the intermediate shoals and reefs, under Lieutenant Emmons
and Mr. Totten; the second to the south, under Lieutenants Perry and
Budd; and Mr. Hammersly for the survey of the shoals of Balambangan and
Banguey, and their reefs. The examination of the Mangsee Islands, and
the reefs adjacent, with the astronomical and magnetic observations,
etc., devolved on myself and those who remained on board the ship.

The weather was watched with anxiety, and turned out disagreeable,
heavy showers and strong winds prevailing; notwithstanding, the
boats were despatched, after being as well protected against it as
possible. We flattered ourselves that these extensive reefs would
produce a fine harvest of shells; but, although every exertion
was made in the search, we did not add as many to our collections
as we anticipated. Some land-shells, however, were found that we
little expected to meet with, for many of the trees were covered
with them, and on cutting them down, large quantities were easily
obtained. Mr. Peale shot several birds, among which was a Nicobar
pigeon; some interesting plants and corals were also added. On the
island a large quantity of drift-wood was found, which with that
which is growing affords ample supplies of fuel for ships. No fresh
water is to be had, except by digging, the island being but a few
feet above high-water mark.

Although the time was somewhat unfavorable, Lieutenant Emmons and
party executed their orders within the time designated, and met with no
other obstructions than the inclemency of the weather. This was not,
however, the case with Lieutenant Perry, who, near a small beach on
the island of Balambangan, encountered some Sulus, who were disposed
to attack him. The natives, no doubt, were under the impression that
the boats were from some shipwrecked vessel. They were all well armed,
and apparently prepared to take advantage of the party if possible;
but, by the prudence and forbearance of this officer, collision was
avoided, and his party saved from an attack.

[Balambangan.] The island of Balambangan was through the
instrumentality of Mr. Dalrymple, as heretofore stated, obtained
from the Sulus for a settlement and place of deposit, by the East
India Company, who took possession of it in 1773. Its situation off
the northern end of Borneo, near the fertile district of that island,
its central position, and its two fine ports, offered great advantages
for commerce, and for its becoming a great entrepot for the riches
of this archipelago. Troops, and stores of all kinds, were sent
from India; numbers of Chinese and Malays were induced to settle;
and Mr. Herbert, one of the council of Bencoolen, was appointed
governor. It had been supposed to be a healthy place, as the island
was elevated, and therefore probably free from malaria; but in 1775
the native troops from India became much reduced from sickness, and
the post consequently much weakened. This, with the absence of the
cruisers from the harbor, afforded a favorable opportunity for its
capture; and the wealth that it was supposed to contain created an
inducement that proved too great for the hordes of marauding pirates
to resist. Choosing their time, they rushed upon the sentries, put
them to death, took possession of the guns, and turned them against
the garrison, only a few of whom made their escape on board of a small
vessel. The booty in goods and valuables was said to have been very
large, amounting to nearly four hundred thousand pounds sterling.

Although Borneo offers many inducements to commercial enterprise,
the policy of the Dutch Company has shut themselves out, as well
as others, by interdicting communication. In consequence, except
through indirect channels, there has been no information obtained of
the singular and unknown inhabitants of its interior. This, however,
is not long destined to be the case.

Mr. Brooke, an English gentleman of fortune, has, since our passage
through these seas, from philanthropic motives, made an agreement
with the rajah of Sarawack, on the northern and western side of
Borneo, to cede to him the administration of that portion of the
island. This arrangement it is believed the British government will
confirm, in which event Sarawack will at once obtain an importance
among the foreign colonies, in the Eastern seas, second only to that
of Singapore.

The principal inducement that has influenced Mr. Brooke in this
undertaking is the interest he feels in the benighted people of the
interior, who are known under the name of Dyack, and of whom some
extraordinary accounts have been given.

A few of these, which I have procured from reputable sources, I will
now relate, in order that it may be seen among what kind of people
this gentleman has undertaken to introduce the arts of civilization.

[The Dyacks.] The Dyacks are, by all accounts, a fine race, and
much the most numerous of any inhabiting Borneo. They are almost
exclusively confined to the interior, where they enjoy a fine climate,
and all the spontaneous productions of the tropics. They are believed
to be the aborigines of the island. The name of Dyack seems to be
more particularly applied to those who live in the southern section
of Borneo. To the north they are called Idaan or Tirun, and those so
termed are best known to the Sulus, or the inhabitants of that part of
the coast of Borneo over which the Sulus rule. In personal appearance,
the Dyacks are slender, have higher foreheads than the Malays, and are
a finer and much better-looking people. Their hair is long, straight,
and coarse, though it is generally cropped short round the head. The
females are spoken of as being fair and handsome, and many of those
who have been made slaves are to be seen among the Malays.

In manners the Dyacks are described as simple and mild, yet they are
characterized by some of the most uncommon and revolting customs of
barbarians. Their government is very simple; the elders in each village
for the most part rule; but they are said to have chiefs that do not
differ from the Malay rajahs. They wear no clothing except the maro,
and many of them are tattooed, with a variety of figures, over their
body. They live in houses built of wood, that are generally of large
size, and frequently contain as many as one hundred persons. These
houses are usually built on piles, divided into compartments, and
have a kind of veranda in front, which serves as a communication
between the several families. The patriarch, or elder, resides in
the middle. The houses are entered by ladders, and have doors, but
no windows. The villages are protected by a sort of breastwork.

Although this people are to be found throughout all Borneo, and even
within a few miles of the coast, yet they do not occupy any part of

Online LibraryTomás de ComynThe Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes → online text (page 46 of 54)