Project Canterbury

History of a Mission in Borneo:
Being Extracts from the Diary and Letters of the Rev. W. Crossland

From Mission Life, Vol. V (1874), pages 213-219.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Doctor Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia




Of St. Augustine's College, Missionary to the Dayaks, 1862-1873.

NO. V.

SADU UNDUP, February 10, 1868.--I never remember so hard a four months as the last. Above forty families without rice, and my big house alone open to them. I ever try to practise what I preach, so I e'en had to stint myself to feed others. Add to this, rice rose from nine to eleven and twelve cents a quantang, and though this is not a great rise, yet, from the large quantity consumed by my big family, it has made a very considerable difference. I shall breathe a little more freely now, as the padi is fast ripening, and a week or so more will see the people harvesting. My schoolboys have gone home for the Chinese New Year; which makes my house a degree quieter, and allows me to sit down and write.

I had a curious case not long since. A man from Banting came to ask for medicine for his brother, who, he said, was unable to move his lower limbs, and that part of his thighs were falling off in pieces. [213/214] I inquired particularly as to whether he had ever received any blow to the spine; or had a fall? No. Then what was the commencement? It came of itself. Afterwards, I found out the man had been trimming or lopping a tree on his farm, called "rara," and hereby hangs a tale. This rara tree is an antu tree, and, generally speaking, nothing will grow under or near it. It is forbidden amongst the Dyaks to cut down this tree, unless they first take a hatchet, which they carefully warp round with cotton; they then strike as hard as they can, and leave the axe in; then they call upon the antu, either to leave the tree, or give them the sign that he does not wish the tree to be cut down; then they go home. Next day they visit the tree, and if they find the axe lying on the ground they know the tree is inhabited, and don't attempt to cut it down; if the axe still remains in, they can, without danger, cut the tree down.

I say it is not antu, but strychnine, which exists in the sap to large percentage. Now so long as the sap is running, no axe could long remain in, but must necessarily be cast out by the action of heat, and the expansion of the gutta exuding. If the axe remains in, it only proves that the tree is not lively, but ready to die. The gutta, falling on the flesh, is taken up by the absorbents, and so impregnates and poisons the whole body.

February 13.--I came home yesterday afternoon, after spending the evening with the Rajah. He has promised to give three prizes to my school on his return from England: one for the most proficient boy, of fifteen dollars, a second of ten, a third of five. I asked if Dyak boys might compete, and he replied yes, any boy who has been regular at school; so I shall try hard to get the boys on, that they may have a chance. One boy, if he perseveres, will, I think, stand a fair chance. But I must own the Chinese lads are famous workers, and have very good memories.

August 6, 1868.--I have opened a school for Chinese boys, under Government patronage. The Government pay all expenses, and allow me a Chinese teacher; so I hope ere long to begin to learn colloquial Chinese. The great difficulty is to get books; I cannot get any here. The tribe I have are Rays, a who here are the gold-diggers. I have five boys at present, and may soon have more. "For two years" is the agreement, and then, if they wish to become Christians, I have the consent of their parents to baptize them. It is worse than useless to accept children for baptism at once; the parents are heathen, and cannot be an example for good, and until they are sixteen or eighteen they are not capable of judging for themselves. I have found the lads so far very diligent, and they act as a stimulant to my old Dyak boys, who feel ashamed to be beaten by Chinese. My hours are from 9 till 11, reading and writing; the [214/215] dinsang (Chinese teacher) from 1 till 4; then in the evening my own boys come up to read and write. My boy Quat is still here. At Sarawak his father came and wanted to take the lad away. At last Quat came to me, put his arms round my neck, crying, and saying, "I don't want to leave you, Tuan;" so I gave his father two dollars, which seemed to be what he wanted more than the boy; he went away satisfied.

Undup, December 9, 1868.--Horror of snakes is very natural; but it soon rubs off when one sees them as often as we do. Last month my cook went home about 7 P.M., and killed a snake, some three yards long, at his house, 400 yards from here. The lads brought the dead snake to my house, trailing it along the ground. We put it on an open platform outside the house, about seven feet from the ground. Next morning some women were under my house, when one called out, "Oh! there's a snake in the cotton mill;" one of the boys took a sword and dispatched it. It was evidently the companion of the female killed the night before, and had followed its poor friend by scenting the trail, and so suffered with it. Two nights ago I heard a row amongst the ducks; in the morning I found one was gone, leaving five young ducklings about ten days old. I was very sure it could not be a weasel which had taken it, and began to fear someone was making free with my things; by chance, looking into a deep drain, which lets of the surplus water from the pond, I saw the trail of an enormous boa at the bottom. I should say the body cannot be much less than fifteen inches in circumference, its length I cannot say. We shall have to keep our ears and eyes open. It's no joke attacking such large ones; they go at a speed which seems incredible, and make such sudden turns to attack, that, if you follow up too closely, you run a great chance of being embraced. These big ones are not poisonous. My lads have lately been all eager to catch two bears, that have been making free with the fruit, but it's no use. They have put snares here, and snares there, but Bruin takes good care not to put his foot into them, and one roar of his is enough to make the stoutest heart fail--and the sight of his claws makes them all run. This is the first time I have known them come so close to us. As for other beasts, there is not much fear of them, save the mischief they do.

The rice farm, this year, so far promises well; I only hope we shall have a good harvest; if not, my purse will suffer. Out of sixty families, forty are now almost destitute; do what I will I find it difficulty to satisfy all.

My Chinese school gets on very fairly, but I cannot say I make much progress in the language, owing to the fact that I cannot get vocabulary or dictionary. The Rajah has promised to order all for me from Singapore.

[216] December 28.--Christmas is gone. I had fourteen communicants in the morning, and in the evening I baptized one young man. I killed one decent-sized pig for breakfast at 12 P.M., and several fowls, and there was no waste, all eaten up.

April 12, 1869.--Easter Sunday I baptized four men. My Chinese boys numbered thirteen on the Chinese New Year--now I have only ten. The old boys are doing very well, the now ones making fair progress.

July 17, 1869.--My school is increasing; now I have fourteen Chinese and two Dyaks. We all live under one roof. The greatest difficulty is to make the boys understand what they read, because I do not know Chinese--we have to talk in Malay or Dyak, of which they know very little. I have sent to Singapore to try to get Chinese books.

February 16, 1870.--For the last ten months we have had a very severe affliction of small-pox; I have had very little rest, inoculating and taking care of the sick. My own houses of sixty families have lost sixteen, and there is scarce a women to be seen with any ornaments on. The women here, as soon as a friend or relation dies, take off all their finery of brass and coloured cane, and put on black cane round the waist. To add to the difficulty, the people were nearly starving. Within the last week we seem to be somewhat better, having no fresh cases. The people behaved remarkably well, and attended to their sick with as much care as civilised people. You may think this is a superfluous statement, but wait till I have told you how our neighbours treat their people.

The Sakarang Dyaks behaved disgracefully. No sooner was any one taken ill, than off they set, and ran into the jungle, leaving the sick to live or die. Sometimes they carried the sick into the jungle and left them there. One young man I heard of was carried to the edge of the graveyard, and left there with his mother to take care of him. He died; his mother called to the people of her house to come and bury him; but not one would perform the friendly office; she was obliged to pay people from another house to bury her son. I thought for some time that there was no one who had any medicine, but I found at last that there is an old man I know well, who professes to have a charm which causes the pox to subside. At this present time he is driving a thriving trade on the credulous. I inoculated his grandchildren, yet he had this charm. There is nothing like assurance and utter deceit for making way among this people. These medicine-men look wise, chew some leaves, colour them, spit on the people who are sick, rub them up and down, tie a piece of string round the neck, fasten a stone, bone or piece of stick to it, finally ask a high price for the charm, and so get on, and are sent for from [216/217] all parts. To be able to do this they must have a lot of dreams, in which the antu tells them of a drug or plant, or stone, bone, pig's, dog's, or deer's tooth, which is in a certain place, and possesses certain properties. Having first caught their hare, they skin it. They get the tooth, etc., narrate their dream, which is the best part of their charm. To be a manang is something very different, and requires an amount of practice and subtlety almost unheard of. But once a manang, you can do anything, and command a high price. Has any one a pain in their body--the manang will soon show you how to extract the cause. He passes his fingers over the spot, and by pinches extracts the most wonderful things: porcupines' quills, fish-bones, teeth, stones, pieces of wood. You see the things, and might see them before extracted; but the manang is too sharp. During the last month I have inoculated about five hundred, just as I might have vaccinated in England; it does not suit the people far away. They like to have the Malays, who practise pretty well upon the people, and make a fine thing of it. Had I asked Malay prices, I should have made 180 dollars during the month, and that is double my pay as a Missionary; as it is, I simply ask a fowl or small quantity of rice as an acknowledgement. You may think the people cannot pay; so I thought, till I found out how exorbitantly the Malays charge, and how readily the people pay them.

I expect, as soon as the rice is got in, which will take two months more, that people will begin to build new houses. Some talk of going up the country, but I don't think they will at present, as everything is in a very unsettled state, and enemies crop up at times very unexpectedly. I broke up my school a month ago, not being able to buy decent rice for the boys, and having so much to do with the sick. Now that things are better I rather miss the boys.

February 19.--I came home at midday, having spent two night up the country. It took us a day to get up the country, as we had to call at the houses by the river-side to see sick patients. Next morning we went further up the river to a house, and found all the inoculated in good condition. We returned down the river, and then struck across country to a house in the woods amongst the hills. There were only four families, seven children. They entertained us most hospitably. Before going into the house, we went down to a clear stream and had a bathe. Then we climbed up, found all the mats nearly arranged, pinang box all ready, sugar-cane, and cucumbers. I attacked the cucumbers and ate two; my boys set to at both. They asked if we would have some pig for breakfast; we said yes. When the people catch a pig they chop it up small--skin and small bones with the flesh; then they rub it with salt, and put it away in a jar. When fresh done it is very good, but old it is "smelly." I went [217/218] into the room to have a look at the pig; finding it fresh I got them to cut up cucumbers and cucumber-leaves, and mix all in a stew with half-a-dozen eggs. They wanted to kill a fowl, but we said, "No; fowls we get every day, but pig is a treat." When breakfast was announced we all went in, and, squatting down, had a basin of rice and one of stew each. We set to work in native fashion--fingers being made before forks. While sitting there I saw the old woman clean two tree-frogs, and put them into a pot to boil. They asked me if we ever ate them. I replied no, but that our neighbours the French did. They wanted me to taste, but I declined, although they said the frogs were sweeter than fowl. When we had finished eating we washed our fingers, and had a draught of water. The natives very seldom drink water whilst eating. We got back to the house where we had slept the preceding night at 4 P.M. Early this morning we left in our small canoe, and got home by 1 P.M. Sleeping in a Dyak house is almost like sleeping in the open air, but what is most unpleasant are the cribs of the bachelors, which are all too short for me; I have to sleep quite crooked, which make me feel stiff in the morning. Then four hours' pull in the boat on a hot day, and breakfast after, made me go to sleep like a top this afternoon.

The Chinese teacher has returned from Murop, and says the boys will not be back for another month, as their parents are afraid of the small-pox. My cook's child died two days ago at Murop, and the wife has gone up there. Poor little woman! she will be very sad at the loss of her baby--she had a narrow escape herself.

The wild pigs are exceedingly numerous this year, all over this part of the country. To day, a very large one was caught in a snare, so it has set all the people making snares, and going out pig-hunting, which is by no means easy work.

February 21.--The weather is, I hope, improving, although we still have very heavy night rains; but rainy nights and hot days are just what the pady wants.

I have been waiting a month for ataps for the roofing of my church, and may have to wait another month before I get them, as the Chinese are ordered to build a new bazaar, and there is a great demand for ataps. The inside work I cannot proceed with, as the heat and rain would spoil all the work, and I should have a great loss. The boys, without any expressed wish on my part, have for some time come to prayers and Sunday service: I can hear their little voices joining in the prayers and hymns.

May 10.--I have just got back part of my boys; they have been away three months. The small-pox, I am glad to say, seems passing over; only a case now and again up the country. We have had a very severe visitation. In one house of forty-two fifteen died. Of [218/219] the six hundred I inoculated about sixty died. It was a very anxious time to me, and I am thankful that it was not worse. There is to be a war expedition at the new moon. The Rajah has given orders that only half of our tribe are to go, the rest are to stay and guard the country. The people have made a new war-boat. It is eighteen yards long and will easily carry twenty people. It was cut out of a log, and therefore is all of a piece. As a rule they are not pretty to look at, but are safe boats, and live well in the surf. I fear this expedition will be a bloody one, for nearly all the tribes have lost friends by the enemy, who are a plucky set, but foolishly seem to seek their own destruction.

This year the people have many of them brought me eight measures of pady as a present; formerly they used to bring two. Of course it is not all of them, but a sufficient number to make me feel they are kindly disposed towards me. My boys are always a source of work. I have evening service daily to teach the people what is their duty in time of trouble. I have written out a prayer for those who have gone on the war expedition. The small boys come to the service; yesterday evening, after it was over, I told them why they ought to come. They behave remarkable well for small boys; I feel sure they will in time all become Christians. It is now the fashion for the small fry to speak of me as Ayah, or uncle. Their name for me is "Ayah Tuan." Indeed I should not be surprised if the rising generation were to go even so far as to call me Akki, or grandfather. It is really nothing but respect for me which induces their parents to teach them to say so.

Project Canterbury