W. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport) Adams.

The Eastern archipelago. A description of the scenery, animal and vegetable life, people, and physical wonders of the islands of the eastern seas online

. (page 19 of 34)
Online LibraryW. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport) AdamsThe Eastern archipelago. A description of the scenery, animal and vegetable life, people, and physical wonders of the islands of the eastern seas → online text (page 19 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with vanilla or other spices.

Here is a glimpse of a cacao-garden in Amboyna :

" Large flocks of small birds, much like our blackbird,


hover about, alighting only on the tops of the tallest
trees. As evening comes on, small green parrots utter
their shrill, deafening screams as they dart to and fro
through the thick foliage. In these tropical lands,
when the sun sets it is high time for the hunter to
forsake his fascinating sport and hurry home. There
is no long, fading twilight, but darkness presses closely
on the footsteps of retreating day, and at once it is
night. In the evening a full moon sheds broad, oscil-
lating bands of silver light through the large, polished
leaves of the bananas around our dwelling, as they
slowly wave to and fro in the cool, refreshing breeze.
Then the low cooing of doves comes up out of the
dark forest, and the tree-toads pipe out their long,
shrill notes."


The naturalist to whom we have already been in-
debted for many pleasant facts, has put on record a
graphic account of a visit he paid to the rajah, or
native prince, of Hitu (or Hitoo). We propose to avail
ourselves of it, because it cannot fail to convey to the
reader's mind a real and living picture of the insular
scenery and native manners and customs.

The way to the rajah's residence passed through
vegetation which would be strange enough to the eyes
of a European. The crests of the hills were occupied
with cocoa (or cacao) gardens. Afterwards the road
on either side was lined with rows of pine-apples,* a
third exotic from Tropical America, which flourishes so
vigorously in every part of the Archipelago that one
can hardly believe it is not an indigenous plant. But
the native names all indicate its origin. The Malaya

* Ananassa sativa


and Javanese call it nanas, which is merely a corrup-
tion of the Portuguese ananassa. In Celebes it is
sometimes called pandang, a corruption of pandanus
(the screw-pine), from the marked similarity of the
two fruits. In the Philippines it is known by the
name of pina, the Spanish for pine - cone, which
has the same derivation as our English pine-apple.
Pina is also the name of a very strong, durable cloth,
which the natives of the Philippine Islands manufac-
ture from the fibres of its leaves.* It is strange that
the Malays have never turned them to similarly use-
ful account. The fruit of the Amboynese pine-apple
is not equal to that grown in the West Indies or Brazil.

Our traveller was hospitably received by the rajah,
and a private chamber was assigned to him. Large
numbers of children quickly gathered, and were sent
out to search for lizards. They quickly returned with
a number of real " flying dragons;" not, indeed, the
monsters which figure in heraldry and fiction, but the
small lizards called Draco volans, each provided with
a broad fold in the skin along either side of the body,
similar to the membranous expansion of the " flying
squirrel," and designed for a similar purpose, that is,
not for flight, but to act as a parachute to sustain the
animal in the air while taking long leaps from branch
to branch. If man be ever to achieve the mystery of
aerial locomotion for short distances, must he not take
a hint from the structure of these so-called winged
dragons ?

" As the tide receded," says Mr. Bickmore, " shells

* Excellent twine for rope is obtained from the leaves of several species of
Bromelia (to which genus the pine-apple belongs). The inhabitants of the San
Francisco valley in Brazil make their fishing-nets with the fibres of the Caroa, or
Bromelia variegata.


began to come in "- for it was soon discovered that the
stranger had a mania for collecting natural curiosities
" at first the more common species, and rarer ones as
the ebbing ceased. My mode of trading with these
people was exceedingly simple, my stock of Malay
being very limited. A small table was placed on the
verandah in front of the rajah's house, and I took a seat
behind it. The natives then severally came up and
placed their shells in a row on the table, and I placed
opposite each shell, or each lot of shells, whatever I
was willing to give for them; and then, pointing first
to the money and next to the shells, remarked, Ini
atau itu, ' This or that,' leaving them to make their
own choice. In this way all disputing was avoided,
and the purchasing went on rapidly. Whenever one
man had a rare shell, and the sum I offered did not
meet his expectations, another would be sure to accept
it if no more was given; then the first would change
his mind, and thus I never failed to obtain both speci-
mens. It was a pleasure that no one but a naturalist
can appreciate, to see such rare and beautiful shells
coming in alive, spotted cyprseas, marble cones, long
Fusi, and Murices, some spiny, and some richly orna-
mented with varices resembling compound leaves."

At sunset the rajah and his guest rambled along the
curving shore of the great bay. Before them stretched
the green hills of Ceram ; or, as the rajah called it, Ceram
tuna biza, " the great land of Ceram," for to him,
indeed, it seemed a mighty continent, and not merely
a pulo, or island. Magnitude, after all, is simply a
question of comparison; a blade of grass to an ant
bulks as largely as a conifer to a man. Behind the high,
jagged peaks of the " great land" slowly sank the



setting sun, and his last golden and purple shafts
quivered like luminous arrows as they fell upon the
wavy surface of the crystal bay ; and the broad, deeply-
fringed leaves of the cocoa-nut palms on the beach,
seemed to change into ruby and emerald and amethyst
in the glow of the wondrous light. It was a scene
never to be forgotten; a scene every detail of which
was engraved deeply on the spectator's memory. Its
silence rendered it all the more impressive; and that
silence was felt the more powerfully because sometimes
broken by a dull, heavy boom from a small Moham-
medan mosque, picturesquely situated on a narrow
headland, and reflected on every side in the purpling
sea. This was the roll of a large drum summoning
the faithful to assemble in thank-offering to the Prophet
at the close of so glorious a day.

While wandering through the island in company
with the rajah, our traveller met with two specimens
of an enormous hermit-crab the Birgus latro which
forms a link, or transitional form, between the long-
tailed and short-tailed crabs. It feeds upon cocoa-nuts,
and is said to climb the palm-trees in order to procure
them ; but Mr. Darwin, who examined its habits
attentively, asserts that it lives upon those that spon-
taneously fall from the tree. To extract its food from
the hard case in which it is enclosed, it shows an
ingenuity which rises above the standard of ordinary
animal instinct. First of all, it must be remarked that
its front pair of legs are terminated by very strong,
heavy pincers ; the last pair by pincers which are weak
and narrow. After having selected a nut fit for its
dinner, the crab begins operations by tearing off the
dry husk until the end of the shell is laid bare on


which the three eye-holes are situated. Then upon
one of these it hammers and hammers, until an open-
ing is made ; whereupon it turns round, and by means
of a dexterous use of its hind-pincers extracts the oily,
fattening food within.

The Birgus latro inhabits deep burrows, in which it
accumulates immense quantities of picked fibres of
cocoa-nut husks, to serve as a bed. Its habits are
diurnal ; but every night it pays (so it is said) a visit
to the sea for the purpose, probably, of moistening its
branchiae. Living on such choice and succulent food,
it is necessarily excellent food in its turn in fact, an
Oriental luxury; and the mass of fat under the tail of a
large crab will yield when melted as much as a quart of

limpid oil.*


Three islands, called the " Uliassers," lie to the east
of Amboyna. That which lies nearest is Haruku
(Dutch, Haroekoe) ; also known to the natives as Oma,
or Buwang-bessi that is, " Ejecting iron." Next in
order comes Saparua, or Sapurba ("the Source") a
name given to it by the Malay and Javanese merchants
who resorted thither, centuries agone, to purchase
cloves; and away to the eastward lies Nusalaut, or
"Sea Island" the island nearest the open sea. The
islanders are distinguished from the Amboynese by
their strange custom of clipping the hair short all over
the head, except a narrow band across the forehead,
which hangs down like a fringe, and gives them a
"remarkably clownish appearance."

Mr. Bickmore crossed from Amboyna to Saparua in
a large prau, rowed by eighteen natives ; one of whom,

Hartwig, "The Sea and its Living Wonders," p. 211.


as coxswain or captain, steered with a large paddle,
while two others accompanied the movements of the
rowers with melancholy music. The instrument em-
ployed was a huge tifa, or drum, that emitted a dull,
heavy sound, such as would be produced by beating a
hollow log ; and two Chinese gongs, quite perfect in
their exceeding discord. The tifa is beaten with a
piece of wood held lightly in the right hand, while the
left hand raises the note by pressing against the edge
of the vibrating skin. Of course, the sounds thus
created must be unpleasantly monotonous ; nor was
their monotony much relieved by the harsh notes of the
two gongs, which were struck alternately.*

The Uliassers, or Uliasserians (which name is cor-
rect?), are very partial to the betel-nut, which, as some
of our readers may know, is the fruit of a tall and
shapely palm the Areca catechu. While the trunk
of this palm is seldom more than six or eight inches
thick, it rises fully thirty to forty feet from the ground,
exclusive of the capital of green foliage that gracefully
crowns its slender column. All the palms are graceful,
but the areca is of all the gracefullest, and might almost
be taken as the standard of beauty in the Vegetable
World. Its range is extensive, including all Hindustan,
the Archipelago, and the Philippines. Its Malay name
is Penang ; and Pulo Penang means simply Betel-nut
Island. Its flowers are distinguished by their delight-
ful fragrance ; and the inhabitants of Borneo make
great use of them on festive occasions. They are also
regarded as a necessary ingredient in magical charms
and compounds, and in all medicines.

The fruit, of the size of a hen's egg, is of a warm.

* Bickmore, " Travels In the Eastern Archipelago," pp. 179, 180.
(637) W


reddish yellow colour, with a thick fibrous rind en-
closing the seed. The seed, known as areca or betel
nut, may be about as large as a nutmeg, but conical
in shape, flattened at the base, brownish externally,
and mottled internally like a nutmeg. When intended
for use, it is cut up into narrow pieces, which, with the
addition of a little lime, are rolled up in leaves of the
betel-pepper. The pellet is chewed, and it is hot and
pungent; it tinges the saliva red, stains the teeth, and,
notwithstanding its undoubted aromatic and astringent
properties, produces intoxication, it is said, when the
practice of chewing it is begun. But its effects are
probably quite as much due to the ingredients taken
with it the leaf of the siri, or betel-pepper, and a
piece of tobacco. " The leaf of the tobacco," we are
told, " is cut so fine that it exactly resembles the ' fine
cut' of civilized lands ; and long threads of the fibrous,
oakum-like substance are always seen hanging out of
the mouths of the natives, and completing their dis-
gusting appearance. This revolting habit prevails not
only among the men, but also among the women ; and
whenever a number come together to gossip, as in other
countries, a box containing the necessary articles is
always seen near by, and a tall, urn-shaped spittoon of
brass is either in the midst of the circle or passing from
one to another, that each may free her mouth from
surplus saliva. Whenever one native calls on another,
or a stranger is received from abroad, invariably the
first article that is offered him is the siri-box."


The three Uliassers closely resemble one another :
each is surrounded by a coral reef, and overgrown with


groves of feathery palms. An equally close resemblance
may be discerned between the inhabitants of each
island ; their habits and manners are identical. Their
war-costume is remarkable for its simplicity: the war-
rior presents himself in almost absolute nakedness,
brandishing in his right hand a large cleaver or sword
(frequently made of wood), and carrying on his left
arm a kind of shield, four feet long and about as many
inches wide in the middle. A crown composed of
sticks covered with hen-feathers adorns his head; and
from his shoulders and elbows hang strips of bright
red calico, producing a very comical effect.

Dancing appears to be their favourite pastime. The
dance of the males has a military character about it ;
the performers arranging themselves in two lines, and
advancing and retiring, with much springing and leap-
ing, and many rotatory movements and considerable
brandishing of swords. The dance of the females has
a certain likeness to that of their lords ; but their dress
is happily more elaborate. They attire themselves in a
bright red sarong and a low kabaya or bodice, over
which is one of lace, glittering with silver spangles.
Their long black hair is combed backwards, and fast-
ened in a knot behind with numerous long, flexible
pins of silver, which vibrate in harmonj^ with the
dancer's motions.

Thus attired, they form in two rows, and begin their
minuri, or dance ; slowly twisting their body to the
right and left, and simultaneously moving the out-
stretched arms and open hands in circles in opposite
directions, just as one does in swimming. At times
they change the weight of the body from the heel to
the toe, and the toe to the heel ; but otherwise the


feet are not called into requisition. During the dance
they chant a low, monotonous strain, accompanied by
a tifa and several small gongs, which are suspended by
a cord to a framework of gabu-gabu; that is, the dried
midribs of palm-leaves. The gongs increase regularly
in size, from one of five or six inches in diameter to
one of twelve or fifteen inches. Each has a round
central boss, or knob, which the performer strikes with
a small stick, bringing forth a sound not unlike the
tinkling of a small bell.

And here we may take our leave of the Uliasser
Islands, which form a romantic and interesting group,
but do not differ from the Moluccas generally in their
physical or zoological characteristics.


The largest of the Moluccas is the island of Ceram,
which lies in a direct line to the east of Bouru, and
in point of size is second only to Celebes in this part
of the Archipelago. It stretches from lat. 2 47' to
3 50' S., and long. 127 51' to 123 56' E. ; or
162 geographical miles in length and 40 in breadth.
Its entire area is estimated at 10,500 square miles, or
nearly twice the size of Yorkshire.

The interior of the island, which the natives call
Sirang, is not well known, the Dutch residents having
devoted more attention to commercial profit than geo-
graphical research; but it may be regarded as forming
a series of mountain-chains from 6000 to 8000, and
even 9000 feet in height, which traverse a table-land
of considerable elevation, and pour down into the sea,
especially from the south, a number of large rivers and
rapid streams. Exposed to sea-breezes, which cool the


air and supply abundant moisture, well-watered, broken
up into sheltered valleys, and lying within the Tropics,
it is necessarily clothed with a rich and various vege-
tation, and its forests are full of magnificent timber.
Its landscapes, so far as they are known, seem to offer
inexhaustible sources of inspiration to the artist, and
might well be celebrated in the enthusiastic strains of
some descriptive poet. It has been said that the two
great features of all beautiful scenery are wood and
water ; and these are met with everywhere in Ceram :
and not only the shadows of mighty forests and the
gleam of many rivers, but the rugged and romantic
outlines of rock and crag enter into the glowing pic-
ture, as well as the verdant glade, the dark and savage
glen, and the deep " bowery hollows" of sequestered

One of the chief natural productions of Ceram is


which is not only more plentiful here than in any of
the adjoining islands, but attains to greater perfec-
tion. It grows to the height of one hundred feet ;
and a single tree will sometimes yield 1200 pounds of
starch, instead of 400 pounds, as at Amboyna. This
tree in its early stage is very slow of growth ; but
when it has once formed its stem, it shoots upwards
rapidly, and assumes its crown of far-spreading foliage
and colossal efflorescence. Before the flowers ripen
into fruit the tree must be felled ; as otherwise the
farina which man uses for his food would be ex-

The sago, which forms so important an article of
commerce, is prepared from the soft inner portion of


the trunk ; the latter being cut into pieces about two
feet long, which are then split in half, and the soi't
substance is scooped out and pounded in water till the
starchy matter separates, when it is drained off with
the water, allowed to settle, and afterwards purified by
washing. The substance thus obtained is sago-meal ;
but before being exported to the European markets, it
is made into pearl-sago by a Chinese process chiefly
carried on at Singapore. The rough meal is subjected
to repeated washings and strainings ; then spread out
to dry, and broken into small pieces; which, when
sufficiently hard, are pounded and sifted until they are
tolerably uniform in size. Small quantities, finally,
are placed in a large bag, which is suspended from the
ceiling, and shaken backwards and forwards for about
toil minutes, until the sago becomes pearled or granu-
lated ; after which it is thoroughly dried, and packed
for exportation.

The word sagus comes from the Papuan sagu, or
sago, signifying "bread;" which is applied to two
similar species of palms, called by our botanists Sagus
Icevis and Sagus Rumphii. The former of these,
known also as the Spineless Sago-Palm, generally
grows from twenty-five to fifty feet high ; the latter,
the Prickly Sago-Palm, is a smaller tree, and differs
somewhat in its foliage.

The sago-palm is a sociable tree, growing in large
forests, and particularly affecting moist and even
swampy localities. The mouldering trunks are clothed
with mushrooms of fine flavour ; and in the pith
fatten the whitish grubs of a large beetle the Cossus
saguarius which the natives regard as a great deli-
cacy when roasted.



We shall gain the clearest idea of the character of
the scenery in Ceram by accompanying Mr. Wallace
on a trip into the interior, which he was enabled to
accomplish through the courtesy of the Dutch officials.

From the village of Makariki, at the head of the
Bay of Arnabay, a native path strikes across the island
to the north coast.

At first it runs through a dense tangled under-
growth, and traverses several streams ; then it comes
to the bank of the Ruatan one of the largest rivers
in Ceram which, as it is both deep and rapid, offers
a somewhat formidable obstruction. No canoes are
at hand, and the traveller must ford it, carrying his
clothes upon his head, or keeping them out of the
water as best he can.

This difficulty overcome, we again enter the forest,
the path being choked with dead trees and rotten
leaves, or overgrown in the more open parts with
thickly matted vegetation. Following up the bank of
a stream, which flows with crystal clearness over a
wide gravelly bed, we strike into a mountain-glen
reminding us of the gorges in the Scottish Highlands
green with the foliage of hanging woods, and musical
with the murmur of falling waters. Through the glen
winds the obstinate stream, with so many meanders that
we are compelled to cross and recross it fully thirty times
in the course of a few miles ; and we are glad when at
last we leave it behind us, and begin the ascent of the
mountain-country of the interior. All the way the
paucity of animal life has been remarkable. The only
birds that have cheered us by their occasional presence


are the Amboyna lory and the Molucca hornbill : even
the Insect World has been scantily represented except
by butterflies.

The virgin forest is, after all, a melancholy wilder-
ness, and deficient in the charms which render so
graceful and impressive our English woodlands. Where
is the song of birds? Where the gleam of wild flowers?
Where the soft, elastic sward, with its pleasant fresh-
ness and delicious odours ? We cross from shore to
shore in Ceram, and seem to pass through a monotonous
desert, broken only by the shadows of the mountain-
ravines and the sparkle of the mazy streams. The
forest-growth, however, is luxuriant; and the moun-
tain-sides are covered with large patches of sago-palms,
where the soil is constantly supplied with moisture by
the rains, and by the abundant rills trickling from the
higher grounds.

'A curious species of cuscus is found in the forest;
Mr. Wallace names it Cuscus ornatus. We have
already described this genus of opossum-like animals,
with their small heads, large eyes, dense woolly fur,
and long prehensile tail They live in trees, feeding
on leaves and fruits, and moving about with much
caution and apparent lethargy. The particular species
to which we here refer is distinguished only by the
character and arrangement of the spots which diversify
its thick warm coat.

The small flying opossum, JBelideus arid, is also a
native of Ceram. It is about the size of a rat, and of
a light brown colour on the upper part of the body,
blending into white on the under surface. The tail
is nearly of the same hue as the body, except the tip,
which is of a dark brown. Though exactly resem-


bling a flying squirrel in appearance, it belongs to the
marsupials. Its name Ariel, referring to the " tricksy
spirit" in Shakespeare's " Tempest/' was doubtlessly
suggested by the extreme grace and lightness of its

Then there is the little shrew, Sorex myosurus,
which may have been accidentally introduced from
Sumatra or Java. It feeds upon worms, insects, and
larvae, which its long flexible nose enables it to root
out among the densest herbage. Its habitation is a
kind of underground tunnel, where it finds not only a
home but a "hunting-ground." It is impatient of
hunger, and wholly unable to endure a long fast. A
pugnacious animal, it is constantly engaged in hostili-
ties with its own kith and kin ; and in these hostilities
it makes effective use of the two rows of bristling teeth
which arm its jaws.

Among the birds, a foremost place must be given to
the cassowary, which inhabits the island of Cerani
only. A stout and strong bird, it stands five to six
feet in height, and its body is clothed with long,
coarse, black, hair-like feathers. Its head is sur-
mounted by a large horny helmet. The skin of the
head and upper part of the neck is naked, of a deep
blue and fiery red tint, with drooping wattles or
caruncles like those of the turkey-cock. It is much
inferior in size to the ostrich ; and its wings consist
simply of five long bristles, or horny spines, without
any plumes, so that they are equally useless for
running as for flying. It frequents the vast forest-
depths of Ceram, feeding on fruit, eggs of birds,
insects or Crustacea, and is said to be as voracious as
the ostrich. It runs with exceeding swiftness ; strik-


ing out first one and then another of its stalwart legs,
and throwing its body violently forward with a bound-
ing motion exceeding the speed of the horse.


The female lays from three to five large and beauti-
fully shagreened green eggs upon a couch of leaves,
the male and female sitting upon them alternately for
about a month.

It was in the Moluccas that Mr. Wallace discovered
some curious and highly interesting cases of " mimicry "
among birds. The reader will wonder what we mean

Online LibraryW. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport) AdamsThe Eastern archipelago. A description of the scenery, animal and vegetable life, people, and physical wonders of the islands of the eastern seas → online text (page 19 of 34)