Part 6 out of 6
nuts. The Malays pet and caress them, and talk to them as they do to
their buffaloes. Half a ton is considered a sufficient load for a
journey if it be metal or anything which goes into small compass, but
if the burden be bulky, from four to six hundred weight is enough.
Except where there are rivers or roads suitable for bullock-carts or
pack bullocks, they do nearly all the carrying trade of Perak, carrying
loads on "elephant tracks" through the jungle. An elephant always puts
his foot into the hole which another elephant's foot has made, so that
a frequented track is nothing but a series of pits filled with mud and
water. Trying to get along one of these I was altogether baffled, for
it had no verge. The jungle presented an impassable wall of dense
vegetation on either side, the undergrowth and trees being matted
together by the stout, interminable strands of the rattan and other
tenacious creepers, including a thorn-bearing one, known among the
Malays as "tigers' claws," from the curved hook of the thorn. I think I
made my way for about seven feet. This was a favorable specimen of a
jungle track, and I now understand how the Malays, by felling two or
three trees, so that they lay across similar and worse roads, were able
to delay the British troops at a given spot for a day at a time.
[*It is possible that this was an exaggeration, and that the real price
One might think that elephants roaming at large would render
cultivation impossible, but they have the greatest horror of anything
that looks like a fence, and though they are almost powerful enough to
break down a strong stockade, a slight fence of reeds usually keeps
them out of padi, cane, and maize plantations.
Malays are gradually coming into Perak. It is said that there has been
recently a large immigration from Selangor. The Malay population is
fifty-seven thousand nearly, with a large preponderance of males, but
fifty-eight thousand have crowded into the little strip of land called
Province Wellesley, which is altogether under British rule, and
sixty-seven thousand into Malacca, which has the same advantage. I
suppose that slavery and polygamy have had something to do with the
diminution of the population, as well as small-pox. Formerly large
armies of fighting men could be raised in these States. Islamism is
always antagonistic to national progress. It seems to petrify or
congeal national life, placing each individual in the position of a
member of a pure theocracy, rather than in that of a patriotic citizen
of a country, or member of a nationality. In these States law,
government and social customs have no existence apart from religion,
and, indeed, they grow out of it.
It is strange that a people converted from Arabia, and partly, no
doubt, civilized both from Arabia and Persia, should never have
constructed anything permanent. If they were swept away to-morrow not a
trace of them except their metal work would be to be found. Civilized
as they are, they don't leave any more impress on the country than a
Red Indian would. They have not been destroyed by great wars, or great
pestilences, or the ravages of drink, nor can it be said that they
perish mysteriously, as some peoples have done, by contact with
Europeans; yet it is evident that the dwindling process has been going
on for several generations.
I. L. B.
A Malay Interior--Malay Bird-Scaring--Rice Culture--Picturesque
Dismalness--A Bad Spell--An Alarm--Possibilities of Peril--Patience and
KWALA KANGSA, February 20.
Yesterday afternoon I had an expedition which I liked very much, though
it ended a little awkwardly owing to a late start. Captain Walker was
going on a shooting excursion to a lotus lake at some distance, and
invited me to join him. So we started after tiffin with two Malays,
crossed the Perak in a "dug-out," and walked for a mile over a sandy,
grassy shore, which there lies between the bright water and the forest,
then turned into the jungle, and waded through a stream which was up to
my knees as we went, and up to my waist as we returned. Then a
tremendous shower came on, and we were asked to climb into a large
Malay house, of which the floor was a perilously open gridiron. At
least three families were in it, and there were some very big men, but
the women hid themselves behind a screen of matting. It looked forlorn.
A young baboon was chained to the floor, and walked up and down
restlessly like a wild beast in a menagerie; there were many birds in
cages, and under the house was much rubbish, among which numerous fowls
were picking. There was much fishing-tackle on the walls, both men and
women being excessively fond of what I suppose may be called angling.
They brought us young cocoa-nuts, and the milk, drank as it always
ought to be, through one of the holes in the nut, was absolutely
Where the Malays are not sophisticated enough to have glass or china,
they use dried gourds for drinking-vessels. The cocoa-nut is an
invaluable product to them. Besides furnishing them with an
incomparable drink, it is the basis of the curries on which they live
so much, and its meat and milk enter into the composition of their
sweet dishes. I went to see the women behind their screen, and found
one of them engaged in making a dish which looked like something which
we used to call syllabub. It was composed of remarkably unbleached
sago, which they make from the sago-palm, boiled down with sugar to
nearly a jelly. It was on an earthenware plate, and the woman who was
preparing it mixed sugar with cocoa-nut milk, and whipping it with a
bunch of twigs to a slight froth, poured it over the jelly.
When the rain ceased we got through the timber belt into a forlorn
swamp of wet padi, where the water was a foot deep, and in some places
so unintelligibly hot that it was unpleasant to put one's feet into it.
It was truly a dismal swamp, and looked as if the padi were coming up
by accident among the reeds and weeds. Indeed, I should have thought
that it was a rice fallow, but for a number of grotesque scarecrows,
some mere bundles of tatters, but others wearing the aspect of big
birds, big dolls, or cats. I could not think how it was that these
things made spasmodic jerking movement, as there was not a breath of
air, and they were all soaked by the shower, till I saw that they were
attached by long strings to a little grass hut raised on poles, in
which a girl or boy sat "bird-scaring." The sparrows rob the
rice-fields, and so do the beautiful padi-birds, of which we saw great
The Malays are certainly not industrious; they have no need to be so,
and their cultivation is rude. They plow the rice-land with a plow
consisting of a pole eight feet long, with a fork protruding from one
end to act as a coulter, and a bar of wood inserted over this at an
oblique angle forms a guiding handle. This plow is drawn by the great
water buffalo. After plowing, the clods are broken by dragging a heavy
beam over them, and are harrowed by means of a beam set with iron
spikes The women do the sowing and planting. The harvest succeeds the
planting in four months. The rice ears are cut short off, sometimes by
a small sickle, and sometimes by an instrument which produces the
effect of shears. Threshing consists in beating the ears with thick
sticks to loosen the husks, after which the padi is carried in baskets
to platforms ten feet above the ground, and is allowed to fall on mats,
when the chaff is driven away by the wind. It is husked by a pestle,
and it requires some skill to avoid crushing the grain. All these
operations are performed by women.
The Perak Malays don't like working for other people, but some of them
cultivate sugar-cane and maize for sale. Even for clearing jungle-land
foreign labor has to be resorted to.
Ah, that swamp is a doleful region! One cannot tell where it ends and
where the jungle begins, and dark, heavy, ominous-looking clouds
generally concealed the forest-covered hills which are not far off. I
almost felt the redundancy of vegetation to be oppressive, and the
redundancy of insect and reptile life certainly was so; swarms of
living creatures leaped in and out of the water, bigger ones hidden
from view splashed heavily, and a few blackish, slug-like looking
reptiles, which drew blood, and hung on for an hour or two, attached
themselves to my ankles. I was amused when Captain Walker congratulated
himself on the absence of leeches, for these blood-suckers were at
least their next of kin. I fell down into the water twice from the
submerged ridge that I tried to walk upon, but there is no risk of cold
from a hot bath in a stove.
Then we came to a smothered, reedy, ditch-like stream, in which was an
old "dug-out" half full of water, in which we managed to stow
ourselves, and by careful balancing contrived to keep its edges just
above the water. Our impeded progress down this ditch startled myriads
of whirring, splashing creatures. The ditch opened into a reedy swamp
where hideous pink water buffaloes were wallowing and enjoying
themselves, but on the report of a gun they all plunged into deep water
and swam away, except for their big horns, looking more like
hippopotami than bovine quadrupeds. They are nearly as ugly as a
rhinoceros; all albino animals are ugly, and when these are wet their
hides are a bright salmon pink.
The swamp merged itself into a lotus lake, covered over much of its
extent with thousands of noble leaves and rose-pink blossoms. It
seemed almost sacrilege to tear and bruise and break them and push
rudely through them in our canoe. A sadder and lonelier scene could not
be. I have seldom been more powerfully affected by nature. The lake
lying in hot mist under dark clouds, with the swamp and jungle on one
side and an absolutely impenetrable wall of entangled trees and
trailers on the other, so dense and matted that before putting one's
feet on shore space would have to be cut for them with a parang, seemed
as if it must be a hundred miles from the abodes of men, and as if
nobody had ever been there before or ever would be there again. The
heavy mist lifted, showing mountains, range beyond range,
forest-covered, extending back into the heart of the peninsula; and
though the highest may be under five thousand feet in height, yet from
their shape, and from rising so near the sea-level, and from the woolly
mists which hung round their bases, and from something in the gray, sad
atmosphere, they looked fully ten thousand feet high.
Captain Walker climbed into a low tree which overhung the lake to look
out for teal and widgeon, which were perfectly innumerable, while the
Malays, never uttering a word, silently poled the boat over the dreary
lake in the dreary evening to put up the birds. There they went high
over our heads in long flights, and every time there was the report of
a gun there were screams and shrieks and squawks, and myriads of birds
rose out of their reedy covers, and fish splashed, and the smoke lay
heavily on the water, and then all was silent again. Any place more
solitary and apparently isolated could not be imagined--it was a most
pathetic scene. Hazy visions of the mere near which King Arthur lay
dying came before my eyes. If I had seen the solemn boat with "the
three fair queens," in "robes of samite, mystic, wonderful," I should
not have been surprised, nor would it have been odd if the lake had
changed into the Styx, across which I was being ferried, a cold,
colorless shade. To and fro, up and down, we poled over the tragic
waters till I actually felt a terror far beyond eeriness taking
possession of me.
It grew grayer and darker, and we went back for Captain Walker, who,
with the absorption of a true sportsman, had hardly noticed the falling
shadows. It was a relief to hear the human voice once more. It broke
the worst spell I was ever bound by. As he came out on the branch to
get into the canoe it gave way, and he fell into the water up to his
chin. Then the boat pole broke, so that when we got back to the padi it
was obvious that "the dark" was coming "at one stride," and I suggested
that, as we had two miles to walk and a river to cross at night, and we
should certainly be very late for dinner; Mr. Low might become uneasy
about us, as we were both strangers and unable to speak the language;
but Captain Walker thought differently.
There had been so much rain that it was heavy wading through the padi,
and it was quite dark when we reached the jungle, in which the rain had
made the footing very precarious, and in darkness we forded the swollen
stream, and stumbled along the shore of the Perak, where fireflies in
thousands were flashing among the bushes--a beautiful sight. When we
reached the bank of the river where we had left the canoe we found
several Malays, who laughed and seemed singularly pleased to see us,
and talked vociferously to our men, i.e., vociferously for Malays, who
are in the habit of speaking quietly. It was very difficult to get down
the steep, slippery bank, into a precarious canoe which I could not
see, and so thick was the darkness that I sat down in the water between
the two gridirons, and had to remain there during the crossing, which
took a long time, being against the stream.
When we landed, a Sikh sergeant met us, very much excited. He spoke
Malayan, and I guessed from a few words that I knew that there was a
hue and cry at the Residency. You know how all pleasure is at once
spoiled when, after you have been enjoying yourself very much, you find
that people at home have been restless and uneasy about you; and as it
is one of my traveling principles to avoid being a bother to people, I
was very sorry. We found a general state of perturbation. Major
Swinburne, who was leaning over the veranda, received us with some very
pungent objurgations, and told us that Mr. Low was out and very
anxious. I was covered with mire, and wet from head to foot, and
disappeared, but when we sat down to the long-delayed dinner I saw from
Mr. Low's silence and gloomy manner that he had been really much
annoyed; however, he recovered himself, and we had a very lively
evening of conversation and discussion, though I had a good deal of
pain from the inflamed bites of the bloodsuckers in the swamp. Malay
scouting parties had been sent in various directions. Rajah Dris was
away with one, and the Sikh police were all ready to do nobody knows
what, as there were no dogs. Major Swinburne said that his fears did
not travel farther than the river, which he thinks is dangerous to
cross at night in a "dug-out;" but Mr. Low had before him the
possibility of our having been assailed by bad characters, or of our
having encountered a tiger in the jungle, and of my having been carried
off from my inability to climb a tree!
Eblis is surely dying. He went to the roof, where the half-tamed
siamang was supporting him hour after hour as gently as a mother would
support a sick child. This wild ape has been very gentle and good to
Eblis ever since he became ill. I went out for a short time with Mr.
Low, and on returning he called Eblis, but the little thing was too
weak to come, and began to cry feebly, on which the wild ape took him
by one of his hands, put an arm round him, gently led him to a place
from which he could drop upon Mr. Low's chair, and then darted away,
but while daylight lasted was looking anxiously at Eblis, and at 6 A.M.
had so far conquered his timidity that he sat on the window-sill behind
Mr. Low, that he might watch his sick friend. The little bewitching
thing, which is much emaciated, clings to its master now the whole
time, unlike other animals, which hide themselves when they are ill,
puts out its feeble little arms to him with a look of unspeakable
affection on its poor, pinched face, and murmurs in a feeble voice ouf!
ouf! Mr. Low pours a few drops of milk down its throat every half hour,
and if he puts it down for a moment, it screams like a baby and
stretches out its thin hands.
It is very interesting and pleasant to see the relations which exist
between Mr. Low and the Malays. At this moment three Rajahs are lying
about on the veranda, and their numerous followers are clustered on and
about the stairs. He never raises his voice to a native, and they look
as if they like him, and from their laughter and cheeriness they must
be perfectly at ease with him. He is altogether devoted to the
interests of Perak, and fully carries out his instructions,* which
were, "to look upon Perak as a native State ultimately to be governed
by native Rajahs," whom he is to endeavor to educate and advise
"without interfering with the religion or custom of the country." He
obviously attempts to train and educate these men in the principles and
practice of good government, so that they shall be able to rule firmly
and justly. Perak is likely to become the most important State of the
Peninsula, and I earnestly hope that Mr. Low's wise and patient efforts
will bring forth good fruit, at all events in Rajah Dris.
[*See Appendix A.]
Mr. Low is only a little over fifty now, and when he first came the
Rajahs told him that they were "glad that the Queen had sent them an
_old_ gentleman!" He is excessively cautious, and, like most people who
have had dealings with Orientals, is possibly somewhat suspicious, but
his caution is combined with singular kindness of heart, and an almost
faulty generosity regarding his own concerns, as, for instance, he
refuses to send his servants to prison when they rob him, saying: "Poor
fellows! they know no better." He is just as patiently forbearing to
the apes. Mr. ----- told me that he had made a very clean and careful
copy of a dispatch to Lord Carnarvon, when Mahmoud dipped his fingers
in the ink and drew them over a whole page, and he only took him in his
arms and said: "Poor creature, you've given me a great deal of trouble,
but you know no better."
This is my last evening here, and I am so sorry. It is truly "the
wilds." There is rest. Then the apes are delightful companions, and
there are all sorts of beasts, and birds, and creeping things, from
elephants downward. The scenery and vegetation of the neighborhood are
beautiful, the quiet Malay life which passes before one in a series of
pictures is very interesting, and the sight of wise and righteous rule
carried on before one's eyes, with a total absence of humbug and
red-tapeism, and which never leaves out of sight the training of the
Malays to rule themselves, is always pleasing. I like Kwala Kangsa
better than any place that I have been at in Asia, and am
proportionately sorrier to leave it. Mr. Low would have sent me up the
Perak in the Dragon boat, and over the mountains into Kinta on
elephants, if I could have stayed; but I cannot live longer without
your letters, and they, alas! are at Colombo. Mr. Low kindly expresses
regret at my going, and says he has got quite used to my being here,
and added: "You never speak at the wrong time. When men are visiting me
they never know when to be quiet, but bother one in the middle of
business." This is most amusing, for it would be usually said: "Women
never know when to be quiet." Mr. Maxwell one day said, that when men
were with him he could "get nothing done for their clatter." I wished
to start at 4 A.M. to-morrow, to get the coolness before sunrise, but
there are so many tigers about just now in the jungle through which the
road passes, that it is not considered prudent for me to leave before
six, when they will have retired to their lairs.
I. L. B.
A Pleasant Canter--A Morning Hymn--The Pass of Bukit Berapit--The
"Wearing World" Again!--A Bad Spirit--Malay Demonology--"Running
Amuck"--An Amok-Runner's Career--The Supposed Origin of Amok--Jungle
Openings in Perak--Debt-Slavery--The Fate of Three Runaway
Slaves--Moslem Prayers--"Living Like Leeches"--Malay Proverbs--A
BRITISH RESIDENCY, TAIPENG, February 21.
I am once again on this breezy hill, watching the purple cloud-shadows
sail over the level expanse of tree-tops and mangroves, having
accomplished in about four hours the journey, which took nearly twelve
in going up. The sun was not up when I left the bungalow at Kwala
Kangsa this morning. I rode a capital pony, on Mr. Low's English
saddle, a Malay orderly on horseback escorting me, and the royal
elephant carried my luggage. It was absurd to see this huge beast lie
down merely to receive my little valise and canvas roll, with a small
accumulation of Malacca canes, mats, krises, tigers' teeth and claws,
and an elephant's tusk, the whole not weighing 100 lbs.
Mr. Low was already at his work, writing and nursing Eblis at the same
time, the wild ape sitting on a beam looking on. I left, wishing I were
coming instead of going, and had a delightful ride of eighteen miles.
The little horse walked very fast and cantered easily. How peaceful
Perak is now, to allow of a lady riding so far through the jungle with
only an unarmed Malay attendant! Major M'Nair writes: "The ordinary
native is a simple, courteous being, who joins with an intense love of
liberty a great affection for his simple home and its belongings," and
I quite believe him. Stories of amok running, "piracies," treachery,
revenge, poisoned krises, and assassinations, have been made very much
of, and any crime or slight disturbance in the native States throws the
Settlements into a panic. It must have been under the influence of one
of these that such a large sea and land force was sent to Perak three
years ago. Crime in the Malay districts in these States is so rare,
that were it not for the Chinese, a few policemen would be all the
force that would be needed. The "village system," the old Malay system
with its head man and village officials, though formerly abused, seems
under the new regime to work well, and by it the Malays have been long
accustomed to a species of self-government, and to the maintenance of
law and order. I notice that all the European officials who speak their
language and act righteously toward them like them very much, and this
says much in their favor.
I met with no adventures on the journey. I had a delightful canter of
several miles before the sun was above the tree-tops, the morning
mists, rose-flushed, rolled grandly away, and just as I reached the
beautiful pass of Bukit Berapit, the apes were hooting their morning
hymn, and the forests rang with the joyous trills and songs of birds.
"All Thy works praise Thee, O Lord!"
There were gorgeous butterflies. Among them I noticed one with the
upper part of its body and the upper side of its wings of jet black
velvet, and the lower half of its body and the under side of its wings
of peacock-blue velvet, spotted; another of the same "make," but with
gold instead of blue, and a third with the upper part of the body and
wings of black velvet with cerise spots, the lower part of the body
cerise, and the under side of the wings white with cerise spots. All
these measured fully five inches across their expanded wings. In one
opening only I counted thirty-seven varieties of these brilliant
creatures, not in hundreds but in thousands, mixed up with blue and
crimson dragon-flies and iridescent flies, all joyous in the sunshine.
The loud-tongued stream of crystal water was very full, and through the
deep greenery, and among the great, gray, granite boulders, it flung
its broad drifts of foam, rejoicing in its strength; and every green
thing leaned lovingly toward it or stooped to touch it, and all
exquisite things which love damp, all tender mosses and selaginellas,
all shade-loving ferns and aroids, flourish round it in perennial
beauty; while high above, in the sunshine, amid birds and butterflies,
the graceful areca palm struggles with the feathery bamboo for
precarious root-hold on rocky ledges, and spikes of rose-crimson
blossoms, and dark green fronds of bananas, and all the leafy wealth
born of moisture and sunshine, cling about it tenderly. And lower down
the great forest trees arch over it, and the sunbeams trickle through
them, and dance in many a quiet pool, turning the far-down sands to
gold, brightening majestic tree-ferns, and shining on the fragile
polypodium tamariscinum which clings tremblingly to the branches of the
graceful waringhan, on a beautiful lygodium which adorns the uncouth
trunk of an artocarpus, on glossy ginger-worts and trailing yams, on
climbers and epiphytes, and on gigantic lianas which, climbing to the
tops of the tallest trees, descend in vast festoons, many of them with
orange and scarlet flowers and fruitage, passing from tree to tree, and
interlacing the forest with a living network, while selaginellas and
lindsayas, and film ferns, and trichomanes radicans drape the rocks in
feathery green, along with mosses scarcely distinguishable from ferns.
Little rivulets flash out in foam among the dark foliage, and mingle
their musical warble with the deep bass of the torrent, and there are
twilight depths of leafy shade into which the sunshine never
penetrates, damp and cool, in which the music of the water is all too
sweet, and the loveliness too entrancing, creating that sadness hardly
"akin to pain" which is latent in all intense enjoyment.
Gunong Pondok, the limestone butte, twelve hundred feet in nearly
perpendicular height, showed all its brilliancy of color, and Gunong
Bubu, one of the highest mountains in Perak, reared his granite crest
above the forest. The lotus lake at Bukit Gantang was infinitely more
beautiful than under the grayer sky of Friday; a thousand rosy vases
were drinking in the sunshine, and ten thousand classic leaves were
spreading their blue-green shields below them; all nature smiled and
sang. I was loath to exchange my good horse for a gharrie, with a Kling
driver draped slightly in Turkey-red cotton sitting on the shafts, who,
statuesque as he was, had a far less human expression than Mahmoud and
Eblis. In the noonday the indigo-colored Hijan hills, with their
swollen waterfall coming down in a sheet of foam, looked cool, but as
we dashed through Taipeng I felt overpowered once more by what seems
the "wearing world," after beautiful, silent Kwala Kangsa, for there
are large shops with gaudy sign-boards, stalls in the streets, tribal
halls, buffalo-carts with buffaloes yoked singly, for the spread of
their huge horns is so great that they cannot be yoked in pairs; trains
of carts with cinnamon-colored, humped bullocks yoked in pairs standing
at shop doors, gharries with fiery Sumatra ponies dashing about, crowds
of Chinese coolies, busy and half-naked, filling the air with the din
of their ceaseless industry, and all the epitomized stir of a world
which toils, and strives, and thirsts for gain.
But I must give these coolies their due, for in some ways they show
more self-respect than the ordinary English laborer, inasmuch as in bad
times they don't become chargeable to anyone, and when the price of the
commodity which they produce falls, as that of tin has done, instead of
"striking" and abusing everybody all round, they accept the situation,
keep quiet, live more frugally, and work for lower wages till things
mend. But I don't intend to hold up the Taipeng Chinese as patterns of
the virtues in other respects, for they are not. They are turbulent;
and crime, growing chiefly out of their passion for gain, is very rife
among them. The first thing I heard on arriving here was that a Chinese
gang had waylaid a revenue officer in one of the narrow creeks, and
that his hacked and mutilated body had drifted down to Permatang this
Mr. Maxwell tells me that, as he returned from escorting me to Bukit
Gantang, he overtook a gharrie with a Malay woman in it, and
dismounting joined her husband who was walking, but did not speak to
the woman. to-day the man told him that his wife woke the following
night with a scream which was succeeded by a trance; and that, knowing
that a devil had entered into her, he sent for a pawan (a wise man or
sorcerer), who on arriving asked questions of the bad spirit, who
answered with the woman's tongue. "How did you come?" "With the tuan,"
i.e., Mr. Maxwell. "How did you come with him?" "On the tail of his
gray horse." "Where from?" "Changat-Jering." The husband said that
these Changat-Jering devils were very bad ones. The pawan then
exorcised the devil, and burned strong-smelling drugs under the woman's
nose, after which he came out of her, and she fell asleep, the "wise
man" receiving a fee.
I never heard of any country of such universal belief in devils,
familiars, omens, ghosts, sorceries, and witchcrafts. The Malays have
many queer notions about tigers, and usually only speak of them in
whispers, because they think that certain souls of human beings who
have departed this life have taken up their abode in these beasts, and
in some places, for this reason, they will not kill a tiger unless he
commits some specially bad aggression. They also believe that some men
are tigers by night and men by day!
The pelisit, the bad spirit which rode on the tail of Mr. Maxwell's
horse, is supposed to be the ghost of a woman who has died in
childbirth. In the form of a large bird uttering a harsh cry, it is
believed to haunt forests and burial-grounds and to afflict children.
The Malays have a bottle-imp, the polong, which will take no other
sustenance than the blood of its owner, but it rewards him by aiding
him in carrying out revengeful purposes. The harmless owl has strange
superstitions attaching to it, and is called the "specter bird;" you
may remember that the fear of encountering it was one of the reasons
why the Permatang Pasir men would not go with us through the jungle to
A vile fiend called the penangalan takes possession of the forms of
women, turns them into witches, and compels them to quit the greater
part of their bodies, and flyaway by night to gratify a vampire craving
for human blood. This is very like one of the ghoul stories in the
_Arabian Nights Entertainments_. Then they have a specter huntsman with
demon dogs who roams the forests, and a storm fiend who rides the
whirlwind, and spirits borrowed from Persia and Arabia. It almost seems
as if the severe monotheism to which they have been converted compels
them to create a gigantic demonology.
They have also many odd but harmless superstitions: For instance, that
certain people have the power of making themselves invulnerable by the
agency of spirits; that the regalia of the States are possessed of
supernatural powers; that the wearing of a tiger claw prevents disease;
that rude "Aeolian harps" hung up in trees will keep the forest goblins
from being troublesome; that charms and amulets worn or placed about a
house ward off many evils; that at dangerous rapids, such as those of
Jerom Pangong on the Perak river, the spirits must be propitiated by
offerings of betel-nut and bananas; that to insure good luck a betel-
chewer must invariably spit to the left; that it is unlucky either to
repair or pull down a house; that spirits can be propitiated and
diseases can be kept away by hanging up palm leaves and cages in the
neighborhood of kampongs, and many others. They also believe as firmly
as the Chinese do in auspicious and inauspicious days, spells, magic,
and a species of astrology. I hope that Mr. Maxwell will publish his
investigations into these subjects.
"Running amuck" (amok) is supposed by some to be the result of
"possession;" but now, at least, it is comparatively uncommon in these
States. A Malay is on some points excessively sensitive regarding his
honor, and to wipe out a stain upon it by assassinating the offender is
considered as correct and in accordance with etiquette as dueling
formerly was in our own country. In cases, however, in which the
offender is of higher rank than the injured man, the latter in despair
sometimes resorts to opium, and, rushing forth in a frenzy, slays all
he can lay hands upon. This indiscriminate slaying is the amok proper.
In certain cases, such as those arising out of jealousy, the desire for
vengeance gains absolute possession of a Malay. Mr. Newbold says that
he has seen letters regarding insults in which the writers say, "I
ardently long for his blood to clean my face," or "I ardently long for
his blood to wash out the pollution of the hog's flesh with which he
has smeared me!"
Considering how punctilious and courteous the Malays are, how rough
many of the best of us are, how brutal in manner many of us are, and
how inconsiderate our sailors are of the customs of foreign peoples,
especially in regard to the seclusion of their women, it is wonderful
that bloody revenge is not more common than it is.
"Amok" means a furious and reckless onset. When Mr. Birch was murdered,
the cry "amok! amok!" was raised, and the passion of murder seized on
all present. Only about a year ago one of the sons of the Rajah Muda
Yusuf, a youth of twenty, was suddenly seized with this monomania, drew
his kris, and rushing at people killed six, wounded two, and then
escaped into the jungle. Major M'Nair says that a Malay, in speaking of
amok, says: "My eyes got dark, and I ran on."
In Malacca Captain Shaw told me that "running amuck" was formerly very
common, and that on an expedition he made, one of his own attendants
was suddenly seized with the "amok" frenzy. He mentioned that he had
known of as many as forty people being injured by a single "amok"
runner. When the cry "amok! amok!" is raised, people fly to the right
and left for shelter, for after the blinded madman's kris has once
"drank blood," his fury becomes ungovernable, his sole desire is to
kill; he strikes here and there; men fall along his course; he stabs
fugitives in the back, his kris drips blood, he rushes on yet more
wildly, blood and murder in his course; there are shrieks and groans,
his bloodshot eyes start from their sockets, his frenzy gives him
unnatural strength; then all of a sudden he drops, shot through the
heart, or from sudden exhaustion, clutching his bloody kris even in the
act of rendering up his life.
As his desire is to kill everybody, so, as he rushes on, everybody's
desire is to kill him, and gashed from behind or wounded by shots, his
course is often red with his own blood. Under English rule the great
object of the police is to take the "amok" runner alive, and have him
tried like an ordinary criminal for murder; and if he can be brought to
bay, as he sometimes is, they succeed in pinning him to the wall by
means of such a stout two-pronged fork as I saw kept for the purpose in
Malacca. Usually, however the fate of the "amok" runner is a violent
death, and men feel no more scruple about killing him in his frenzy
than they would about killing a man-eating tiger. I hear that this form
of frenzy affects the Malays of all the islands of the Archipelago.
Some people attribute it to the excessive use of opium by unprepared
constitutions, and others to monomania arising from an unusual form of
digestive disturbance; but from it being peculiar to Malays, I rather
incline to Major M'Nair's view: "There can be no doubt that the amok
had its origin in the deed of some desperate Malay, that tradition
handed it down to his highly-sensitive successors, and the example was
followed and continues to be followed as the right thing to do by those
who are excited to frenzy by apprehension, or by some injury that they
regard as deadly, and only to be washed out in blood."
I have been interrupted by a visit from two disconsolate-looking
Ceylon planters, who have come "prospecting" for coffee. An
enterprising son of an Edinburgh "Bailie" has been trying
coffee-planting beyond the Perak, but he has got into difficulties with
his laborers, and is "getting out of it." This difficulty about labor
will possibly have to be solved by the introduction of coolies from
India, for the Malays won't work except for themselves; and the Chinese
not only prefer the excitement of mining, and the evening hubbub of the
mining towns, but in lonely places they are not always very manageable
by people unused to them.
Even for clearing the jungle foreign labor must be employed. Perak is a
healthy and splendid State, and while the low grounds are suited for
sugar, tapioca, and tobacco, the slopes of the hills will produce
coffee, cinchona, vanilla, tea, cloves, and nutmegs. It is a land of
promise, but at present of promise only! I understand that to start a
plantation a capital of from 2,500 pounds to 3,500 pounds would be
required. Jungle is cleared at the rate of 25s. per acre. The wages of
Javanese coolies are 1s. a day, and a hut which will hold fifty of them
can be put up for 5 pounds. Land can be had for three years free of
charge. It is then granted in perpetuity for a dollar an acre, and
there is a tax of 2-1/2 per cent. on exported produce. These
arrangements are not regarded as altogether satisfactory, and will
probably be improved upon. Tell some of our friends who have sons with
practical good sense, but more muscle than brains, that there are
openings in the jungles of Perak! Good sense, perseverance,
steadiness, and a degree of knowledge of planting, are, however,
The two "prospectors" look as if they had heard couleur de rose
reports, and had not "struck ile." Possibly they expected to find
hotels and macadamized roads. Roads must precede planting, I think,
unless there are available lands near the rivers.
I have mentioned slavery and debt-slavery more than once. The latter
is a great curse in Perak, and being a part of "Malay custom" which our
treaties bind us to respect, it is very difficult to deal with. In the
little States of Sungei Ujong and Selangor, with their handful of
Malays, it has been abolished with comparative ease. In Perak, with its
comparatively large Malay population, about four thousand are slaves,
and the case seems full of complications.
Undoubtedly the existence of slavery has been one cause of the decay of
the native States, and of the exodus of Malays into the British
settlements. Some people palliate the system, and speak of it as "a
mild form of domestic servitude;" but Mr. Birch, the late murdered
Resident, wrote of it in these strong terms: "I believe that the system
as practiced in Perak at the present time involves evils and cruelties
which are unknown to any but those who have actually lived in these
From the moment a man or woman becomes a debtor, he or she, if unable
to pay, may be taken up by the creditor, and may be treated as a slave,
being made to work in any way that the creditor chooses, the debtor's
earnings belonging to the creditor, who allows no credit toward the
reduction of the debt. To make the hardship greater, if a relative or
friend comes forward to pay the debt, the creditor has the right to
refuse payment, and to keep his slave, whose only hope of bettering
himself is in getting his owner to accept payment for him from a third
party, so that he may become the slave of the person who has ransomed
But there are worse evils still, for in cases where a married man
contracts a debt, his wife and existing children, those who may
hereafter be born, and their descendants, pass into slavery; and all,
male and female, are compelled as slaves to work for their master, who
in very many cases compels the women and girls to live a life of
degradation for his benefit, and even the wives of a creditor are well
satisfied to receive the earnings of these poor creatures. If a debt be
contracted by an unmarried man or woman, and he or she marry
afterwards, the person so taken in marriage and all the offspring
become slave debtors. The worst features of the system are seen where a
Rajah is the creditor, for he is the last man to be willing to receive
payment of a debt and free the debtor, for the number of his followers,
even if they are but women and girls, increases his consequence, and
debtors when once taken into a Rajah's household are looked upon as
being as much a part of his property as his cattle or elephants. Mr.
Swettenham, the Assistant Colonial Secretary of the Straits
Settlements, writes that "in Perak the cruelties exercised toward
debtors are even exclaimed at by Malays in the other States."* In
Selangor, where it is said that slavery has been quietly abolished,
only five years ago the second son of that quiet-looking Abdul Samat
killed three slave debtors for no other reason than that he willed it;
and when two girls and a boy, slave debtors of the Sultan's, ran away,
this same bloodthirsty son caught them, took the boy into a field, and
had him krissed. His wife, saying she was going to bathe in the Langat
river, told the two girls to follow her to a log which lay in the water
a few yards from her house, where they were seized, and a boy follower
of her husband took them successively by the hair and held their heads
under the water with his foot till they were dead, when their corpses
were left upon the slimy bank. The Sultan, to do him justice, was very
angry when his son went to him and said, "I have thrown away those
children who ran away."
[*For Mr. Swettenham's _Report on Slavery in the Native States_, see
In Perak it has been the custom to hunt and capture the Jakun women and
make them and their children slaves.
Instances of cruelty have greatly diminished since British influence
has entered Perak, and I should think that Mr. Low will ere long
mature a scheme for the emancipation of all persons held in bondage.* I
heard of a curious case this morning. The aunt of a Malay policeman in
Larut, passing near a village, met an acquaintance, and taking a stone
from the roadside sat down upon it while she stopped to talk, and on
getting up forgot to remove it. An hour later a village child tripped
over the stone and slightly cut its forehead. The placing the stone in
the pathway was traced to the woman, who was arrested and sentenced to
pay a fine of $25, and being unable to pay it she and her children
became slave-debtors to the father of the child which had been hurt. In
this case, though Captain Speedy lent the policeman money wherewith to
pay his aunt's fine, the creditor repeatedly refused to receive it,
preferring to exercise his prerogative of holding the family as his
[*Such a scheme is now under consideration. See Appendix C.]
Slavery and polygamy, the usual accompaniments of Islamism, go far to
account for the decay of these States.
I wish it were possible to know to what extent the Malays are a
"religious" people as Moslems. That they are bigots and have
successfully resisted all attempts to convert them to Christianity
there is no doubt, as well as that they are ignorant and grossly
superstitious. Their prayers, so far as I can hear anything about them,
consist mainly of reiterated confessions of belief in the Divine unity,
and of simple appeals for mercy now and at the last day.
The pilgrimage to Mecca is made not only once, but twice and thrice by
those who can afford it, and at much cost earthen jars containing water
from the holy well of Zem-zem, the well said to have been shown to
Hagar in the wilderness, are brought home by the pilgrims for
themselves and their friends for use in the hour of death, when Eblis,
the devil, is supposed to stand by offering a bowl of the purest water
with which to tempt the soul to abjure its faith in the unity of God.
One of the declarations most commonly used is, "There is no God but God
alone, whose covenant is truth and whose servant is victorious. There
is no God but God without a partner. His is the kingdom, to Him be
praise, and He over all things is Almighty." There is a grand ring of
Old Testament truth about these words, though of a melancholy half
The men who make the Mecca pilgrimage are not regarded by the English
who know them as a "holy lot"; in fact, they are said to lead idle
lives, and to "live like leeches on the toil of their fellow-men,"
inciting the people "to revolt or to make amok." Doubtless it adds to a
man's consequence for life to be privileged to wear the Arab costume
and to be styled Tuan hadji. Yet they may have been stirred to devotion
and contrition at the time as they circled the Kaabeh reciting such
special prayers as, "O God, I extend my hands to Thee, great is my
longing towards Thee. Oh accept Thou my supplications, remove my
hindrances, pity my humiliation, and mercifully grant me Thy pardon;"
and "O my God, verily I take refuge with Thee from idolatry, and
disobedience, and every hypocrisy, and from evil conversation, and evil
thoughts concerning property, and children, and family;" or, "O God, I
beg of Thee that faith which shall not fall away, and that certainty
which shall not perish, and the good aid of Thy prophet Mohammed--may
God bless and preserve him! O God, shade me with Thy shadow in that day
when there is no shade but Thy shadow, and cause me to drink from the
cup of Thy apostle Mohammed--may God bless him and preserve him! that
pleasant draught after which is no thirst to all eternity. O Lord of
honor and glory."*
[*I have preferred to give, instead of the translation of these prayers
which I obtained in Malacca, one introduced by Canon Tristram into a
delightful paper on Mecca in the _Sunday at Home_ for February, 1883.]
As I write, I look down upon Taipeng on "a people wholly given to
idolatry." This is emphatically "The dark Peninsula," though both
Protestants and Romanists have made attempts to win the Malays to
Christianity. It may be that the relentless crusade waged by the
Portuguese against Islamism has made the opposition to the Cross more
sullen and bigoted than it would otherwise have been. Christian
missionary effort is now chiefly among the Chinese, and by means of
admirable girls' schools in Singapore, Malacca, and Pinang.
In Taipeng five dialects of Chinese are spoken, and Chinamen constantly
communicate with each other in Malay, because they can't understand
each other's Chinese. They must spend large sums on opium, for the
right to sell it has been let for 4,000 pounds a year!
Mr. Maxwell tells me that the Malay proverbs are remarkably numerous
and interesting. To me the interest of them lies chiefly in their
resemblance to the ideas gathered up in the proverbs of ourselves and
[*Mr. Maxwell has since published a paper on Malay proverbs in the
Transactions of the Straits branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. I have
not been able to obtain it, but I understand that it contains a very
copious and valuable collection of Malay proverbial philosophy.]
Thus, "Out of the frying-pan into the fire" is, "Freed from the mouth
of the alligator to fall into the tiger's jaws." "It's an ill wind that
blows nobody good," is, "When the junk is wrecked the shark gets his
fill." "The creel tells the basket it is coarsely plaited" is
equivalent to "The kettle calling the pot black." "For dread of the
ghost to clasp the corpse," has a grim irony about it that I like.
Certain Scriptural proverbial phrases have their Malay counterparts.
Thus, the impossibility of the Ethiopian changing his skin or the
leopard his spots is represented by "Though you may feed a jungle-fowl
off a gold plate, it will make for the jungle all the same." "Casting
pearls before swine" by "What is the use of the peacock strutting in
the jungle?" "Can these stones become bread?" by "Can the earth become
grain?" "Neither can salt water yield sweet," by a very elaborate
axiom, "You may plant the bitter cucumber in a bed of sago, manure it
with honey, water it with molasses, and train it over sugar cane, but
it will be the bitter cucumber still," and "Clear water cannot be drawn
from a muddy fountain."
Some of their sayings are characteristic. In allusion to the sport of
cock-fighting, a coward is called "a duck with spurs." A treacherous
person is said to "sit like a cat, but leap like a tiger;" and of a
chatterer it is said, "The tortoise produces a myriad eggs and no one
knows it; the hen lays one and tells the whole word." "Grinding pepper
for a bird on the wing" is regarded as equivalent to "First catch you
hare before you cook it." "To plant sugar-cane on the lips" is to be
"All things to all men." Fatalism is expressed by a saying, "Even the
fish which inhabit the seventh depth of the sea sooner or later enter
the net." "Now it is wet, now it is fine," is a common way of saying
that a day of revenge is not far off. Secrecy is enjoined by the
cynical axiom, "If you have rice, hide it under the unhusked grain."
"The last degree of stinginess is not to disturb the mildew," is a neat
axiom; and "The plantain does not bear fruit twice," tells that the
Malays have an inkling that "There is a tide in the affairs of men,"
I have found it very interesting to be the guest of a man who studies
the Malays as sympathetically as Mr. Maxwell does. I hope he will not
get promotion too soon!*
[*As I copy this letter I hear that Mr. Maxwell has been removed to a
higher and more highly paid post, but that he leaves the Malays with
very sincere regret, and that they deeply deplore his loss, because they
not only liked but trusted him. During the time in which he was
Assistant Resident, and living in the midst of a large Chinese
population, it was necessary to be very firm, and at times almost
severely firm, but the Chinese have shown their appreciation of official
rectitude by presenting him with a gorgeous umbrella of red silk,
embroidered with gold, which they call "A ten-thousand-man umbrella,"
i.e., an offering from a community which is not only unanimous in making
it, but counts at least that number of persons.]
I. L. B.
"Gang Murders"--Malay Nicknames--A Persecuted Infant--The Last of the
MR. JUSTICE WOOD'S, THE PEAK, PINANG, February 24.
However kind and hospitable people are, the process of "breaking in" to
conventionalities again is always a severe one, and I never feel well
except in the quiet and freedom of the wilds, though in the abstract
nothing can be more healthy than the climate of this lofty Peak. The
mercury has been down at 68 degrees for two nights, and blankets have
been a comfort!
Shortly after finishing my last letter I left Taipeng with Mr. Maxwell,
calling on our way to the coast at Permatang, to inquire if there were
any scent of the murderers of the revenue officer, but there was none.
The inspector said that he had seen many murdered bodies, but never one
so frightfully mutilated. These Chinese "gang-murders" are nearly
always committed for gain, and the Chinese delight in cruel hackings
and purposeless mutilations. The Malay assassinations are nearly all
affairs of jealousy--a single stab and no more.
The last part of the drive on a road causewayed through the endless
mangrove swamp impresses the imagination strongly by its dolefulness.
Here are hundreds of square miles all along the coast nothing but swamp
and slime, loaded with rank and useless vegetation, which has not even
beauty to justify its existence, teeming with alligators, serpents, and
other vengeful creatures. There is a mournfulness in seeing the pointed
fruit of the mangrove drop down through the still air into the slime
beneath, with the rootlet already formed of that which never fails to
become a tree.
A Sikh guard of honor of fifty men in scarlet uniforms lined the way to
the boat as a farewell to Major Swinburne, whose feet they had embraced
and kissed with every Oriental demonstration of woe two hours before.
We asked him what his farewells were, and he says that he said, "You
are a lot of unmitigated scoundrels; half of you deserve hanging; but
keep out of scrapes if you can till I come back, that I may have the
pleasure of hanging you myself." He really likes them though, and
called after Captain Walker, who is to act as his substitute, "Now, old
man, don't knock those fellows about!" The chief dread of the "fellows"
is that they will be at the mercy of an interpreter under the new
regime. The Malays give sobriquets to all Europeans, founded upon their
physical or mental idiosyncrasies. Thus they call Major Swinburne "The
Mad One" and "The Outspoken One." Captain Walker they have already
dubbed "The Black Panther." They call Mr. Maxwell "The Cat-eyed One,"
and "The Tiger Cub."
Just before sailing I had the satisfaction of getting this telegram
from Kwala Kangsa: "Eblis is a little better this morning. He has eaten
two grasshoppers and has taken his milk without trouble, but he is very
[*Those of my readers who have become interested in this most bewitching
ape will be sorry to hear that, after recovering and thriving for a
considerable time, he died, to the great grief of his friends.]
We embarked at 5:30 P.M. along with a swarm of mosquitoes, and after a
beautiful night anchored at Georgetown at 2 A.M., but it was a
ludicrously uncomfortable voyage. An English would-be lady, i.e., a
"fine lady," a product of imperfect civilization with which I have
little sympathy, had demanded rather than asked for a passage in the
Kinta, and this involved not only a baby, but an ayah and man-servant.
The little cabin of the launch can hold two on two coaches, but the
lady, after appropriating one, filled up most of the other with bags
and impediments of various kinds. The floor was covered with luggage,
among which the ayah and infant slept, and the man sat inside on the
lowest rung of the ladder. Thus there were five human beings, a host of
mosquitoes, and a lamp in the stifling den, in which the mercury stood
all night at 88 degrees. Then a whole bottle of milk was spilt and
turned sour, a vial of brandy was broken and gave off its disgusting
fumes, and the infant screamed with a ferocious persistency, which
contrasted with the patient wistfulness of the sick Eblis and his
gentle murmur of "ouf! ouf!" Before we anchored the lady asked me to go
and wake the gentlemen and get a teaspoonful of brandy for her, at
which request, though made with all due gravity, they laughed so
tremendously that I was hardly able to go back to her with it. Major
Swinburne, who professes to be a woman and child hater, was quite
irrepressible, and whenever the infant cried outrageously, called to
his servant, "Wring that brat's neck," the servant, of course, knowing
not a word of English, and at 2 A.M., when there was chocolate on deck,
and the unfortunate baby was roaring and kicking, he called down to me,
"Will you come and drink some chocolate to King Herod's memory?" Mr.
Maxwell, who has four children, did not behave much better; and it was
a great exertion to me, by overdone courtesy and desperate attempts at
conversation, to keep the mother as far as possible from hearing what
was going on!
At 6 A.M., in the glory of the tropic sunrise, Mr. Maxwell and I landed
in Province Wellesley, under the magnificent casuarina trees which
droop in mournful grace over the sandy shore. The somberness of the
interminable groves of cocoa-palms on the one side of the Strait, the
brightness of the sun-kissed peaks on the other, and the deep shadows
on the amber water, were all beautiful. Truly in the tropics "the
outgoings of the morning rejoice."
We found Mrs. Isemonger away, no one knew where, so we broke open the
tea-chest, and got some breakfast, at the end of which she returned,
and we had a very pleasant morning. At noon a six-oared gig, which was
the last of the "Government facilities," took us over to Georgetown,
spending an hour in crossing against an unfavorable tide, under a
blazing sun. This was the last of the Malay Peninsula.
S.S. Malwa, February 25.--We sailed from Pinang in glorious sunshine at
an early hour this afternoon, and have exchanged the sparkling calms of
the Malacca Straits for the indolent roll of the Bay of Bengal. The
steamer's head points northwest. In the far distance the hills of the
Peninsula lie like mists upon a reddening sky. My tropic dream is
fading and the "Golden Chersonese" is already a memory.
I. L. B.
A policy of advice, and that alone, was contemplated by the Colonial
Office; but without its orders or even cognizance affairs were such
that the government of those Malayan States to which Residents have
been accredited has been from the first exercised by the Residents
themselves, mainly because neither in Perak, Selangor, or Sungei Ujong
has there ever been a ruler powerful enough to carry out such an
officer's advice, the Rajahs and other petty chiefs being able to set
him at defiance. Advice would be given that peace and order should be
preserved, justice administered without regard to the rank of the
criminal, the collection of revenue placed upon a satisfactory footing,
and good administration generally secured, but had any reigning prince
attempted to carry out these recommendations he would have been
overborne by the Rajahs, whose revenues depended on the very practices
which the Resident denounced, and by the piratical bands whose source
of livelihood was the weakness and mal-administration of the rulers.
The Pangkor Treaty contained the words that the Resident's advice
"_must be acted upon_," and consequently the Residents have taken the
direction of public affairs, organizing armed forces, imposing taxes,
taking into their own hands the collection of the revenues, receiving
all complaints, executing justice, punishing evil-doers, apprehending
criminals, and repressing armed gangs of robbers. These officers are,
in fact, far more the agents of the Governor of the Straits Settlements
than the advisers of the native princes, and though paid out of native
revenues are the virtual rulers of the country in all matters, except
those which relate to Malay religion and custom. As stated by Lord
Carnarvon, "Their special objects should be the maintenance of peace
and law, the initiation of a sound system of taxation, with the
consequent development of the general resources of the country, and the
supervision of the collection of the revenue so as to insure the
receipt of funds necessary to carry out the principal engagements of
the Government, and to pay for the cost of British officers and
whatever establishments may be found necessary to support them." Lord
Carnarvon in the same dispatch states: "Neither annexation nor the
government of the country by British officers in the name of the Sultan
[a measure very little removed from annexation] could be allowed;" and
elsewhere he says: "It should be our present policy to find and train
up some chief or chiefs of sufficient capacity and enlightenment to
appreciate the advantages of a civilized government, and to render some
effectual assistance in the government of the country."
The treaty of Pangkor provides "that the Resident's advice must be
asked and acted upon (in Perak) on all questions other than those
relating to Malay religion and custom, and that the collection and
control of all revenue and the general administration of the country
must be regulated under the advice of these Residents." It was on the
same terms that Residents were appointed at Selangor and Sungei Ujong.
Slavery in the Malay States.
Langat, 30th June, 1875.
Sir--When on board the Colonial steamer Pluto last week, accompanying
His Excellency the Governor in a tour to some of the native States, His
Excellency made inquiry of me with regard to the present state of
debt-slavery in the Peninsula.
This was a subject so large and important as hardly to admit of
thorough explanation in a conversation; I therefore asked His
Excellency's leave to report upon it.
I now beg to give you a detailed account of the circumstances of
debt-slavery as known to me personally.
In treating the question under its present condition--I mean under
Malay rule--it is necessary to consider the all-but slavery of the
debtors and the difficulty of making any arrangement between debtor and
creditor which while it frees the one will satisfy the other, and still
be in keeping with the "adat Malayu," as interpreted in these States.
The relative positions of debtor and creditor in the Western States,
more especially in Perak, involve evils which are, I believe, quite
unknown to Europeans, even those living so near as Singapore.
The evils to which I refer have hitherto been regarded as unavoidable,
and a part of the ordinary relations between Rajahs and subjects.
I may premise by saying that though the system of "debt-slavery," as
it has been called, exists to some extent in all the States, it is only
seen in its worst light where a Rajah or chief is the creditor and a
subject the debtor.
Few subjects in a Malay country are well off. The principal reason of
this is, that as soon as a man or woman is known to be in possession of
money, he or she would be robbed by the Rajah; or the money would be
borrowed with no intention of future payment, whether the subject
wished to lend or not.
Thus, when a Ryot (or subject) is in want of money, he goes to his
Rajah or chief to lend it him, because he alone can do so. Either money
or goods are then lent, and a certain time stipulated for payment. If
at the expiration of that time the money is not paid, it is usual to
await some time longer, say two or three, or even six months.
Should payment not then be made, the debtor, if a single man, is taken
into the creditor's house; he becomes one of his followers, and is
bound to execute any order or do any work the Rajah as creditor may
demand, until the debt is paid, however long a time that may be.
During this time the Rajah usually provides the debtor with food and
clothing, but if the creditor gives him money, that money is added to
Often, however, the Rajah gives nothing, and the debtor has to find
food and clothing as he can.
Should the debtor marry--and the Rajah will in all probability find him
a wife--then the debtor's wife, his children, his grandchildren, all
become equally bound with himself to the payment of this debt.
Should the debtor be originally married, then not only he, but his wife
and children, are taken into the Rajah's house, and are his to order
until the debt is paid.
Should the debtor be a woman, unmarried, or a widow, the same course is
taken, and whoever marries her becomes jointly responsible for the
debt; and this goes on through generations--the children and
grandchildren of the debtor being held in the same bondage by the
children and grandchildren of the creditor.
Should at any time the debtor succeed in raising the amount of the debt
and proffer it to the creditor, then it would be customary to accept
it. If, however, a large family were in bondage for the debt, one whose
numbers seemed to the Rajah to add to his dignity, then he would
probably refuse to accept payment, not absolutely, but would say
"wait," and the waiting might last for years.
Debtors once absorbed into the Rajah's household are looked upon as his
property, just as his bullocks or his goats, and those who alone would
have the power to interfere look on and say nothing, because they do
the same themselves.
In different States this debtor-bondage is carried to greater or less
extremities, but in Perak the cruelties exercised toward debtors are
even exclaimed against by Malays in other States.
Many chiefs in Perak have a following principally composed of young men
and girls, for the most part debtors.
The men are treated as I have already described--either food and
clothes are found for them or not; they are usually found--for the
Rajah's power and his pride consists in the number of arms-bearing
followers he has at his beck and call; men, too, are useful to him in
many other ways. Those who have grown old in their bondage, whether
men or women, either for very shame the Rajah provides for, or he
compels their children to support them.
The men either (1) follow because they like it (a very small percentage
indeed); or (2) they are debtors, or the children of debtors; or (3)
they are real slaves from Sumatra or Abyssinia, or the children of
The girls are treated differently; they are (1) either slaves or the
daughters of slaves; or (2) debtors, the daughters or granddaughters of
debtors; or (3) the Rajah has simply taken them from their houses into
his own house because he wanted them; or (4) they follow him for
In Perak some of the chiefs do not provide their girls with food or
clothing, but they tell them to get these necessaries of life as best
they can, i.e., by prostitution--for the labor of the debtor being the
property of the creditor, prostitution is in this case a necessity and
not a choice.
Each Rajah in his own district claims the privilege of fining, either
for a capital offence or for a trifling misdeed. Should, then, a man be
fined and not pay the fine, he and his family, if he has one, are at
once taken into this debt-bondage, not to work out the fine, but to
toil away their lives amid blows and upbraidings--the daughters driven
to prostitution, the sons to thieving, and even greater crimes.
This is no exaggerated statement, but the plain truth.
When the Rajah gives nothing, neither food nor clothes, or when he is a
passionate man, and threatens to kill one or other of his followers for
some trivial offence, or for no offence at all, it often happens that
one will seek refuge in flight. If caught, though, it may be said to be
the received custom to inflict only some slight punishment; yet that
would not deter a Rajah from punishing such an offence even with death
should it seem good to him.
Bond-debtors are handed about from one Rajah to another without a
thought of consulting them. If one runs away and is caught, it is at
great risk of being put to death, while probably no one would move a
finger to save him, his master excusing himself on the plea that it is
necessary to frighten others from running away also.
These Rajah-creditors would tell you smilingly that they knew by
Mohammedan law the creditors can take and sell all their debtor's
property for an overdue debt, and that then the debtor is free; but
they never act on that principle.
Many men and women, however, rarely incur debts, knowing well what lies
before them in case of non-payment.
Malays, by their laws, are allowed to buy and sell slaves, and if,
having for years lost sight of a slave, the owner finds him or her, he
takes the slave with his wife and family, if he has one, as his lawful
There is one other phase of debtor-bondage, and that a common one,
where the father or mother places one or more of their own children as
security with the creditor for a debt; thus in reality selling their
own flesh and blood into often a life-long bondage. If these children
die on the creditor's hands, the parents supply their places by others,
or the Rajah, should he wish it, can at any time after the debt is due,
take the whole family into his house.
Only the other day a man here, for a debt of $40, placed his daughter
in a Rajah's hands and ran away. Probably he will never return;
meanwhile the girl must obey her master in all things like the veriest
slave. Such a state of things as this is only brought about by the
custom which allows it.
Another common practice in the States, more especially in Perak, is to
capture, as you might wild beasts, the unoffending Jakun women, and
make them and their children slaves through generations.
In April I was in Ulu Selangor, and the headmen there complained that a
chief from Slim had a fortnight before caught 14 Jakuns and one Malay
in Ulu Selangor, had chained them and driven off to Slim. Arrived
there, the Malay was liberated and he returned.
Letters were written to Slim and Perak, but though we ascertained the
party had reached Slim, they did not remain there, and they have not
yet been discovered.
I have already stated that the Rajah looks to the number of his
following as the gauge of his power, and other Rajahs will respect and
fear him accordingly. Thus he tries to get men into his service in this
way, and is rather inclined to refuse payment should the debtor be so
fortunate as to raise the requisite amount of his debt.
Almost the only chance the debtor has of raising this amount is by
successful gambling. Of course it hardly ever happens that he is
successful; but, like all gamblers, he always thinks he will be, and
thus gambling becomes a mania with him, which he will gratify at all
costs, caring little by what means he gets money for play so long as he
does obtain it.
These are the general facts relating to the position of the
slave-debtor, and these things which I have described, seemingly so
difficult of belief, are done almost daily; looked upon by those who do
them as a right divine; by the victims as a fate from which there is no
To compel his followers to obey him implicitly, the Rajah treats them
with a severity which sometimes makes death the punishment of the
slightest offence to him. These followers he thus holds to do whatever
he bids them, even to the commission of the gravest crimes.
They again, having to provide themselves with food and clothes, and yet
having to work for him, are led to prey on the defenceless population,
from whom, in the name of their Rajah-master, they extort whatever
there is to get, and on whom they sometimes visit those cruelties which
they have themselves already experienced.
This system of debtor bondage influences, then, the whole population,
not slightly but deeply, in ways it is hardly possible to credit except
when seen in a constant intercourse with all classes of Malay society.
The question at issue seems to be; how to deprive the Rajah of this
great power--an unscrupulous instrument in unscrupulous hands--how to
free the debtors from their bondage, the women from lives of forced
prostitution, the unoffending population from the robberies and
murderous freaks of Rajahs and their bondsmen.*
[*Some of these remarks apply specially to Selangor, in which State
slavery is now abolished. I. L. B.]
In Perak it is different; the debtor-bondage is one of the chief
customs--one of the "pillars of the State"--an abuse jealously guarded
by the Perak Rajahs and Chiefs, and especially by those who make the
worst uses of it.
I have often discussed this question of debt-slavery with the Malays
themselves, but they say they see no way under the rule of their Rajahs
to put down this curse of their country, with all the evils that follow
in its train. I have, etc.
(Signed) Frank A. Swettenham, (Now Asst. Colonial Secretary
The Honorable the Secretary for Native States, Singapore,
From H.B.M.'s Resident, Perak, to Colonial Secretary, Straits
Settlements Residency, Kwala Kansa, December 14, 1878.
Sir--In reference to your letter of the 28th June last, directing, by
command of His Excellency the Governor, my particular attention to the
plan adopted in Selangor for the extinction of the claims against
slave-debtors, by a valuation of their services to their creditors
according to a fixed scale, and directing me to consider to His
Excellency with a view to its being afterward submitted for the
consideration of the Council of State:
1. I have the honor to state in reply that a copy of that letter and
its inclosure was supplied to the Assistant Resident of Perak, and its
contents communicated to the other magistrates, with instructions on
all occasions in which such cases should be brought before them, to
endeavor, with the consent of the creditors, to come to a settlement on
such a basis.
2. The Toh Puan Halimah, daughter of the exiled Laxamana of Perak, and
chief wife of the banished Mentri of the State, had invested most of
her private money in advances of this description, which, up to the
time of British interference, was the favorite form of security, and
she is now the largest claimant in the country for the repayment of her
money. Another, Wan Teh Sapiah, has also claims of a like nature on
several families, and both these ladies willingly undertook to accept
of liquidation by such an arrangement.
3. In the former case it has, I am sorry to say, fallen through, from
the impossibility of inducing the debtors to work regularly, and from
very many of them, who are living in entire freedom in different parts
of the country, declining to come into the arrangement, though
acknowledging their debts.
4. In many other cases the creditors from the first put forward the
certainty of the failure of such a system from the above-mentioned
cause; others have objected that they had no regular employment in
which to place their debtors; others, that they are utterly ruined by
the events of recent years, and that they would accede to the proposal
if fairly carried out on the other part, provided the Government would
advance money as the native Rajahs did to enable them to open mines or
gardens in which they could employ their debtors; nearly all have
declared themselves willing, and even anxious, to accept a just amount
in payment of their debts, several suggesting that the State might
conveniently undertake to do this, employing the labor in public works
until the debtor should be free.
5. I cannot undertake to say what may have been the practice in former
times, as to the treatment, in Perak, of this class of persons; but no
case of cruelty or any great hardship has been brought to my notice
since I came into the country. By far the larger number of the
slave-debtors live with their families apart and often at great
distances from their masters, enjoying all the fruits of their labor,
rendering occasional assistance to them when called upon to do so,
which, in the majority of cases, is of rare occurrence.
6. The circumstances of Perak would probably be found to differ from
those of Selangor, which I understand has a much smaller population;
was governed by an enlightened ruler under the advice of British
Residents, who succeeded in introducing the present regulation
immediately after the conquest of the district.
7. To introduce such a measure into Perak at the present time would, in
my opinion, have a very disturbing effect, and although I do not think
that it would lead to any extensive or organized armed resistance, I am
sure that it would so shake the confidence which has arisen between the
European officers and principal people that years would be required to
8. I confess that I am not able to devote all my sympathy to the weaker
class in this question. I concur with the principal natives that the
introduction of a measure which formed no part of the original contract
would practically amount to a confiscation of their property, the value
of the labor of this class of persons being scarcely more than nominal;
and I adhere to the opinion that the just and politic course is, as has
been done, to prohibit any extension or renewal of the practice either
of slave indebtedness or slavery; to secure good treatment for the
servile classes under penalty of enforced manumission; to reduce claims
when they come before the magistrates to the minimum which justice to
the creditor will permit; to await the increased means of freeing
themselves which must develop for the poorer classes upon the extensive
introduction of European capital into agricultural industries; and,
finally, to purchase at a rate which, in consequence of the notorious
discouragement with which every case is treated by the European
officers and the courts, and the pressure of other influences, will, in
time, be much diminished from what would probably be considered a fair
equivalent. I have, etc.,
(Signed) Hugh Low, Resident.
The Hon. the Colonial Secretary, Straits Settlements,
From H.B.M.'s Resident, Perak, to the Honorable the Colonial Secretary
Teluk Anson, April 26, 1882.
Sir--I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the
14th instant, calling upon me for information as to the progress made
toward the extinction of debt slavery in this State since 1879, for
transmission to Her Majesty's Secretary of State.
2. In reply I have the honor to report that the policy explained in my
letters to your predecessor, dated 28th May and 14th December, 1878,
has been steadily pursued in Perak; all slave debtors who have appealed
to the protection of the courts having their cases adjudicated upon on
the most liberal terms consistent with justice to the creditors, and a
considerable number have availed themselves of the facilities presented
to them and bought up the claims upon them.
3. Further and more intimate knowledge of the people has confirmed the
impression that whatever may have been the case in former times,
cruelty to slaves or slave debtors has been very rare since the
establishment of settled government, and in every instance in which
such has come to my knowledge or to that of the British officers,
manumission without compensation was carried out.
4. Three such cases have occurred in the families of two very high
officers of State, and these, with one other case, are all the
instances of cruelty which have been reported to me.
5. An attempt was made in 1879 to procure a census of the population
through the chiefs of the village communities. Each of these chiefs
recorded the name of every householder in his district with the number
of persons, distinguishing their sex and condition.
6. A total of 47,359 is thus arrived at for the free native Malay
population. Of these 14,875 were males above, and 9,313 below, 16 years
of age. The females numbered 14,761 and 8,410.
7. The number of slaves was returned as 1,670, of whom 775 were males
and 895 females. The slave debtors were respectively 728 and 652,
giving a total of 1,380; the two servile classes numbering, of both
sexes, 3,050. I fear, however, that these numbers do not include all
the bond population, as His Highness the Regent and one or two others
with extensive claims did not give in returns.
8. I regret to state that the attempt which, as reported in my letter
of the 14th December, was liberally made by the Toh Puan Halimah, chief
wife of the ex-Mentri of Perak, to facilitate the manumission of her
slaves and debtors by working off the just claims against them on fair
terms, was successful only to a very inconsiderable extent. The Malays
of Perak are, as a rule, so adverse to and so unaccustomed to steady
labor, and can so easily provide for their wants, that they altogether
decline, except for short periods, to perform services of any nature
even for high wages.
9. The opinion of those having claims upon the servile classes is now
pretty general in favor of manumission upon equitable terms, and
although a few old Conservative families in such districts as Kinta
would prefer to adhere to the former state of things, I have considered
that the time has arrived when a general measure having this end in
view may be taken into consideration in the hope of carrying it out
completely in the year 1883.
10. His Excellency the Governor may have observed in the minutes of the
March Session of the Council of State that the subject of manumission
of slaves and debtors was brought to the notice of His Highness, the
Regent by the Resident, and that a meeting of the Council was appointed
for the 15th May, for the purpose of considering the terms on which
such a measure should be based, and the manner in which it should be
11. My own idea is that a commission, consisting of one or two native
chiefs and the principal European officer of each district, should be
appointed to inquire, under written instructions, into the
circumstances of each case, and award, subject to the approval of the
Government, such compensation as may seem fair to both parties; that
the money necessary to pay the amounts awarded shall be advanced by the
Government; that the sum adjudged to be paid for manumission shall
remain in whole or in part, as may be determined in Council, a debt
from the freedman to the State, which he shall be bound to repay by a
deduction of a portion of his wages for labor on the public works of
the country, which he must continue until his debt is cleared off,
should he be unable or unwilling to raise the money by other means;
that male relatives shall take upon them the obligations incurred for
the freedom of female relations who may themselves be unable to pay;
and that, from the date of the completion of the measure, every person
in the State shall be absolutely free, and slavery and bond
indebtedness declared to be illegal institutions and forever abolished.
12. I have formerly stated it as the opinion of the best informed
natives that a sum varying from $60,000 to $80,000 would be sufficient
to meet the necessary expenditure, but I fear that the larger amount
would be insufficient, as it would be advisable to deal with an
institution involving so great a change in the habits of, and loss to
the people, with a certain measure of liberality. I have, etc.
(Signed) Hugh Low, Resident.
The Hon. the Colonial Secretary, etc., etc., etc.,