The Pagan Tribes of Borneo
by Charles Hose and William McDougall
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If a name has been approved, the image, together with the knife used in killing the pig or chicken, is wrapped up in the small mat; the bundle, which, as well as the ceremony, is called PUSA, is thrust behind the rafters of the gallery opposite the door of the child's room, to remain there as a memento of the naming.

When the naming is accomplished a general feast begins, the parents of the newly named children contributing the chief part of the good things; and a number of specially invited guests may participate.

The name so given at this ceremony is borne until the child becomes a parent; when he resigns it in favour of the name given to his child with the title Taman (= father) prefixed (or Tinan in the case of a woman).

Among the Kayans of the upper Rejang the naming ceremonies differ widely from those described above, and are even more elaborate. The following description was given us by Laki Bo, a Kayan PENGHULU.[170] A child is named sometime between its third month and the end of its second year, the date depending partly on the father's capacity to afford the expenses incidental to the ceremony. The father and his friends obtain specimens of all the edible animals and fish, and after drying them over the fire, set them up in his room in attitudes as lifelike as possible. He procures also the leaves of a species of banana tree which bears very large horn-like fruit, known as PUTI ORAN; and having procured the services of a female DAYONG, who has a reputation for skill in naming, he calls all the friends and relatives of the family to the feast. The DAYONG enters the room where the child is, bearing a fowl's egg, while gongs and drums are beaten and guns discharged. She strokes the child from forehead to navel with the egg, calling out some name at each stroke, until she feels that she has found a suitable name. The whole company then pretends to fall asleep; and presently some go out into the gallery. The DAYONG then calls upon sixteen of the women to enter the room; they enter led by a woman who, pretending to be a fowl, clucks and crows, and says, "Why are you all asleep here? It has been daylight for a long time. Don't you hear me crowing? Wake up, wake up." The child, which has been kept in its parents' cubicle during this first part of the ceremony, is then brought into the large room, and a fowl and small pig are slaughtered and their entrails examined. If these yield favourable omens, the DAYONG begins to chant, invoking the protection of good spirits for the child. Then sixteen men and sixteen women, whose parents are still living, are sent to fetch water for the use of the child and its mother. The feasting then begins, some person eating on behalf of the child, if it is too young to partake of the feast. Eight days later the DAYONG again invokes the protection of the beneficent spirits, and the child is taken out into the gallery and shown to all the household. Some near relative makes a cross upon its right foot with a piece of charcoal, and the child is taken to the door of each room to receive some small present from each roomhold. The child must then return to its parents' room and remain there eight days. After the next harvest a similar feast of pigs' flesh and dried animals is made, and the name is confirmed. But if in the meantime the child has been ill, or any other untoward event has happened, a new name is given to it. In this case it would be usual to choose the well-tried name of some prosperous uncle or aunt. Again the child must be confined to its parents' room for eight days following the feast; and after that time it is free to go where it will, or rather wherever children are allowed to go.

From five or six years onwards the boy more and more accompanies the men in their excursions on the river and in the jungle, and is taught to make himself useful on these occasions, and also on the PADI farm, where he helps in scaring pests and in other odd jobs. But he still has much leisure, which is chiefly devoted to playing with his fellows. Among the principal boys' games the following deserve mention: — Spinning of peg-tops of hard wood, usually thrown overhand, but sometimes underhand, in a manner very similar to that of English boys, each boy in turn striving to strike the tops of the others with his own; this game is played about the time of PADI harvest. Simple kites are flown. A roughly made bow with unfeathered arrow is a somewhat rare toy. Most of the out-door games are of the nature of practice for the chase and war, and of trials of strength and of endurance of pain. Wrestling is perhaps the most popular sport with the older boys and with men. Each grips his antagonist's waist-cloth at its lower edge behind, and strives to lay him on his back (Pl. 169). Throwing mock spears at the domestic pigs or goats, and thrusting a spear through a bounding hoop, afford practice for sport and war. Running games like prisoner's base, and diving and swimming games, are also played. All these boys' games are but little organised, and the competitive motive is not very strongly operative; there are few set rules, and but little scope for, training in leadership and subordination is afforded by them.

In the house less active games are played. In one of the most popular of these a number of children squat in a ring upon the floor; one takes a glowing ember from a hearth, and passes it on to his neighbour, who in turn passes it on as quickly as possible. In this way it goes round and round the ring until the last spark of fire goes out. He or she who holds it at that moment is then dubbed ABAN LALU or BALU DOH (=widower Lalu or widow Doh).

Pets, in the form of birds and the smaller mammals, especially hornbills, parrokeets, squirrels, porcupines, are kept in wicker cages.

About the age of ten years the Kayan boy begins to wear a waist-cloth — his first garment — his sister having assumed the apron some two or three years earlier; we are not aware of any ceremony connected with this. From this time onward the boy begins to accompany his father on the longer excursions of the men, especially on the long expeditions in search of jungle produce; and on these occasions he is expected to take an active part in the labours of the party. Participation in such expeditions affords, perhaps, the most important part of his education. There is little or no attempt made to impart instruction to the children, whether moral or other, but they fall naturally under the spell of custom and public opinion; and they absorb the lore, legends, myths, and traditions of their tribe, while listening to their elders as they discuss the affairs of the household and of their neighbours in the long evening talks. They learn also the prohibitions and tabus by being constantly checked; a sharp word generally suffices to secure obedience. Punishments are almost unknown, especially physical punishments; though in extreme cases of disobedience the child's ear may be tweaked, while it is asked if it is deaf. A sound scolding also is not infrequent, and an incorrigible offender, especially if his conduct has been offensive to persons outside his family, may be haled before the chief, who rates him soundly, and who may, in a more serious case, award compensation to be paid by the delinquent's father. But in the main the Spencerian method of training is followed. A parent warns his child of the ill effects that may be expected from the line of behaviour he is taking, and when those effects are realised, he says, "Well, what did I tell you?" and adds a grunt of withering contempt.

The growth of the children in wisdom and morality is aided also by the hearing from the lips of their elders wise saws and ancient maxims that embody the experience of their forefathers, many of which are possibly of Malay origin. A few of these seem worthy of citation here: —

"Never mind a drop or two so long as you don't spill the whole."

"Better white bones than white eyes" (which means — that death is preferable to shame).

"If you haven't a rattan do the best you can with a creeper."

It is difficult to say exactly at what age puberty begins with the youths. The girls mostly begin their courses in the fourteenth or fifteenth year. By this time the girl of the better class has the lobes of her ears distended to form loops, which allow her heavy ear-rings to reach to her collar-bone or even lower, and she is far advanced towards completion of her tatu on thighs, feet, hands, and forearms (see Chap. XII.). The process is begun at about the tenth year, and is continued from time to time, only a small area being covered at each bout, owing to the pain of the operation and the ensuing inflammation and discomfort.

The boys begin at about fifteen years, or rather earlier, to assert their independence, by clubbing together with those of their own age, and taking up their sleeping quarters with the bachelors in the gallery. At an earlier age the children have picked up a number of songs and spontaneously sing them in groups, but now they begin to develop their powers of musical. expression by practising with the KELURI, Jew's harp, drum and TAWAK.

Of these instruments the first is the most used, especially by the youths. It is a rude form of the bagpipes. The KELURI consists of a dried gourd which has the shape of an oval flask with a long neck (Fig. 85). The closed ends of a bundle of six narrow bamboo pipes are inserted in the body of the gourd through a hole cut in its wall, and are fixed hermetically with wax. Their free ends are open, and each pipe has a small lateral hole or stop at a carefully determined distance from the open end. The artist blows through the neck of the gourd, and the air enters the base of each pipe by an oblong aperture which is filled by a vibrating tongue or reed; this is formed by shaving away the wall of the bamboo till it is very thin, and then cutting through it round three sides of the oblong; it is weighted with a piece of wax. The holes are stopped by the fingers, 3ach pipe emitting its note only when its hole is stopped. The physical principles involved are obscure to us. Varieties of this instrument are made by all the tribes of Borneo as well as by many other peoples of the far East (Pl. 70).

The bamboo harp is similar to that made and used by the Punans (see Fig. 86); the SAPEH is a two-stringed instrument of the banjo order; the strings are thin strips of rattan; the whole stem and body are carved out of a single block of hard wood (see Pl. 170 and Fig. 20).

Some of the girls learn to execute a solo dance, which consists largely in slow graceful movements of the arms and hands (Pl. 170). The bigger boys are taught to take part in the dance in which the return from the warpath is dramatically represented. This is a musical march rather than a dance. A party of young men in full war-dress form up in single line; the leader, and perhaps two or three others, play the battle march on the KELURI. The line advances slowly up the gallery, each man turning half about at every third step, the even numbers turning to the one hand, the odd to the other hand, alternately, and all stamping together as they complete the turn at each third step. The turning to right and left symbolises the alert guarding of the heads which are supposed to be carried by the victorious warriors.

A more violent display of warlike feeling is given in the war-dance which is executed by one or two warriors only. The youth, in full panoply of war, and brandishing a PARANG and shield, goes through the movements of a single combat with some fanciful exaggeration (Pl. 171). He crouches beneath his shield, and springs violently hither and thither, emitting piercing yells of defiance and rage, cutting and striking at his imaginary foe or his partner in the dance. But it is characteristic of the Kayans that neither in this dance nor in actual practice in fencing do they attempt to strike one another. The boy, besides watching these martial displays, is instructed in the arts of striking, parrying, and shielding by the older men, who strike at him with a stick but arrest the blow before it goes home. And we have found it impossible to introduce among them a more realistic mode of playful fencing. The ground of this reluctance actually to strike one another in fencing is probably their strong feeling for symbolism and the prevailing tendency to believe that the symbolical art brings about that which it symbolises. In part also it is due to the fact that to draw the blood of any member of the household is LALI and involves the penalty of a fine.[171]

The youth goes through no elaborate rite of initiation to manhood; and, to the best of our knowledge, there exists no body of secret knowledge or of tradition or rites shared in only by the adult men, to participation in which he might be admitted in the course of such a rite. The only rite that is required to qualify him for taking his place as a full-fledged member of the community is the second occasion on which he strikes at the heads taken in battle. We have seen that he performs this ceremonial act for the first time when still of tender age. The age at which he repeats it depends in part upon the occurrence of an opportunity; it commonly falls between his eighth and fifteenth year. If in a house there is a number of big lads who have not performed this rite, owing to no heads having been taken for some years, a head may be borrowed for the purpose from a friendly household; and in this case the borrowed head is brought into the house with all the pomp and ceremony of successful war.

As the returning war-party approaches the village, the boys who are to take part in the rite are marshalled before the house by a master of the ceremonies. He kills a fowl and thrusts a sharpened stake right through it, so that the point projects from its beak, and slashes the carcase into three pieces, one for the adults of the house, one for the boys, and one for the infants. He then takes a short bamboo knife, and a bunch of ISANG leaves, and, after making a short address to the boys, ties a band of ISANG round the wrist of each of them, and, diluting the blood of the fowl with water, smears some of the mixture on each boy's wrist-band. He puts a handful of rice on a burning log and gives a grain of it to each of the boys to eat.

Some old man of the house goes down to the river to meet the returning war-party and brings up the head (or one of the heads) and holds it out, while the master of ceremonies, holding the portion of the fowl's carcase assigned to the boys, leads up each boy in turn to strike at the head with a sword. The boys then go down to the river; and, while they bathe, a bunch of ISANG with which the head has been decorated is waved over them. During the feasting which follows the boys may eat only twice a day. No youth may join a war-party until he has taken part in this rite. The boys are with few or no exceptions keen to go out to war and therefore they like to go through this ceremony at the earliest permissible opportunity.

When the youth begins to feel strongly the attraction of the other sex, he finds opportunities of paying visits, with a few companions, in friendly houses. It is then said in his own house that he has gone "to seek tobacco," a phrase which is well understood to mean that he has gone to seek female companionship.[172]

We must not pass over without mention a peculiar mutilation which is practised by most of the Kayan youths as they approach manhood, namely, the transverse perforation of the GLANS PENIS and the insertion of a short rod of polished bone or hard wood.

A youth of average presentability will usually succeed in becoming the accepted lover of some girl in his own or another house (cp. Chap. V.); and though he may engage himself in this way with two or three girls in turn before deciding to "settle down," he is usually not much over twenty years of age when he becomes accepted as the future husband of a girl some years his junior. A Kayan youth who has rendered pregnant a girl with whom he has kept company can be relied upon to acknowledge his responsibility and to marry her before her time comes. In general it may be said that the rite of marriage does not mark so complete a change in the recognised relations of the young couple as with ourselves, except perhaps in those parts of this country where "handfasting" is recognised as customary and regular. A time is appointed for the wedding, generally shortly after the completion of the padi-harvest; but this date is liable to be repeatedly postponed to the following year by the occurrence of various events which are regarded as of evil omen and as foretelling the early death of one of the couple if they should persist in going through the ceremony. Such omens are hardly ever disregarded; not even if the girl is far advanced in pregnancy.[173] In the latter case the girl does not incur the odium that attaches to the production of bastard offspring (see Chap. XX.); she is treated as a married woman would be, and her child is regarded as legitimate.

We describe in the following paragraphs the wedding of the son of an influential Kayan chief to the daughter of the chief of another house of the same village, such as we have had occasion to assist at. The weddings of couples of less exalted station are correspondingly less elaborate in all particulars.

When the appointed time draws near, the bridegroom sends a trusted friend (his "best man") to open negotiations with the bride's parents. The emissary carries with him a number of presents whose value accords with the status and wealth of the bridegroom's parents. For some time the fiction is maintained that the object of his visit is not even suspected by the family, who make enquiries into the nature of his business. After some fencing he comes to the point and asks on behalf of his friend for a definite date at which he may marry the daughter. The parents raise objections and difficulties of all sorts, and perhaps nothing is settled until a second or third visit. If the parents accept the proposal, the best man hands to them five sets each of sixteen beads, the beads of each set being of uniform shape and colour, namely (1) small yellow beads (UTEH); (2) black beads (MEDAK); (3) a set known as HABARANI which may not be worn by the bride before the naming of her first child; (4) light blue beads (KRUTANG); (5) dark blue beads (TOBI). Each of these sets of beads is held to ensure to the bride the enjoyment of some moral good. The girl also sends a string of beads to her lover by the hand of his best man, and at last the date is fixed, due regard being paid to the phases of the moon; new moon is considered the most favourable time of the month. The importance ascribed to the phase of the moon seems to arise from the fact that the shape of the half-moon suggests the state of pregnancy. Tally is kept by both parties of the date agreed upon. On two long strips of rattan an equal number of knots is tied. Each party keeps one of these tallies (often it is carried tied below the knee) and cuts off one knot each morning; when the last knot alone remains, the appointed day is at hand.

The parties on both sides invite the attendance of their friends and relatives, who crowd the gallery of the bride's house. Early in the morning the bridegroom arrives with his best man and a party of young friends in full war-dress; they land from a boat even though they have come but a few yards by water. They march up to the house, some of them carrying large brass gongs; ascending the ladder, they lay the gongs down the gallery from the head of the ladder towards the door of the bride's room at such intervals that the bride can step from one to another. It is understood that these gongs become the property of the bride and her parents. Others of the bridegroom's band carry other articles of value, and when the party reaches the door of the bride's room, they parley with her parents and friends who are gathered in the room, displaying and offering these objects to the defenders of the room as inducements to admit them. They strive also to push open the door. Presently the men of the defending party make a sortie from the room fully armed, and repel the attackers with much show of violence, but without bloodshed. After this sham fight has been repeated, perhaps several times, the bridegroom and his supporters are at last admitted to the room, and they rush in, only to find, perhaps, that the coy maiden has slipped away through the small door which generally gives access to a neighbouring room. The impatient bridegroom cannot obtain information as to her whereabouts, and so he and his men sit down in the room and accept the proffered cigarettes. Presently the bride relents and returns to her parents' room accompanied by a bevy of her girl friends. But the bridegroom takes no notice of her entry. The inevitable pig meanwhile has been laid in the gallery, together with a few gifts for the DAYONG who is to read its liver. Here the final steps of the bargaining are conducted by the friends of the bridegroom. (It is impossible to say in each case how far this bargaining is genuine and how far the terms of the bargain have been arranged beforehand.) More gongs are added to the row upon the floor, chiefly by the friends invited by the bridegroom, who thus make their wedding gifts, perhaps until the row extends to the door of the bride's room. The pig is then killed and its liver examined; and, if necessary, this is repeated with another and another pig, until one whose liver permits of favourable interpretation is found. (A series of bad livers would lead to postponement.) The DAYONG then sprinkles pig's blood and water from a gong upon all the assembly, invoking the blessing of the gods upon the young couple, asking for them long life and many children. Then the bride and bridegroom walk up and down the row of gongs eight times, stepping only upon the metal. In some cases the bridegroom descends to his boat at the landing-stage on each of these eight excursions, thus showing that he is free to come and go as he pleases and has no entanglements. In this degenerate age the ceremony terminates with this act, but for the feasting and speech-making which fill up the evening hours. But in the old days, as we are credibly informed by those who have been eye-witnesses, the bride descended with the groom and his party to his boat and was then carried off at full speed, pursued by several boat-loads of her friends. The fleeing party would then check the pursuit by throwing out on to the bank every article of value still remaining among them; each article in turn would be snapped up by the pursuers, who then, having thus resisted to the last and extorted the highest possible price from the bridegroom, would allow the happy pair to console each other in peace for the many trials they had had to endure.

It may seem difficult to reconcile the form of the marriage ceremony (involving as it does a blending of symbolical capture with actual purchase) with the fact that, in accordance with the custom almost universally followed among Kayans, the bridegroom becomes a member of the room of his father-in-law and remains there for some years before carrying off his wife to his own house. But we think this latter practice, which in some quarters has been regarded as a survival from a matriarchal organisation of society, is a recently introduced custom, which has come rapidly into favour as a means by which the bridegroom and his friends avoid a part of the expense involved in the older form of marriage. For the residence for a period of years of the young couple in the house and room of the wife's parents is made a part of the marriage contract. If the bride is the only child of a chief, her husband may remain permanently in her home and succeed her father as chief. But in most cases the couple migrates to the husband's house after a few years, generally on the occasion of the building of a new house or on the death of his father, both of which events afford him the opportunity of becoming head of a room and thus taking rank as, and assuming the full responsibilities of, a PATER FAMILIAS.

The marriage ceremonies of the Kenyahs and Klemantans are similar but less elaborate. But the Sea Dayak ceremony is different. A feast is made in the house of the girl's parents. The bridegroom makes no considerable gifts to the parents of the bride, though he is generally expected to become a member of their household for the first few years of his married life. The principal feature of the ceremony is the splitting open of a PINANG (the seed of the areca palm) during the feast, in the presence of the young couple and their relatives. The two halves are examined for signs of decay or imperfection; and if there are none, the marriage is regarded as approved. A live fowl is waved over the couple by the chief of the house as he says, "Make them prosperous, make them happy, give them long life, make them wealthy, etc. etc." The phrases conform to a conventional pattern, but each orator modifies and adapts them freely. The words seemed to be addressed to the fowl, and it seems impossible to discover in the Iban mind any conception of a higher power behind or beyond the fowl, though we may suspect that in a vague way the live fowl symbolises or represents Life in general or the power behind Nature (Pl. 173).

Few or no Kayans can state their age without going through some preliminary calculations, and even then their statements are apt to be vague and uncertain. A Kayan mother can generally work out the age of each of her children on request. She puts down in a row bits of leaf or stick, one for each year, working back from the present, and recalling each year by the name of the place where the PADI crop of that year was raised. When she reaches back to, the year of the birth of any one of her children, she says that the child was born about or before or soon after this particular harvest, and by counting the pieces of stuff laid down she then arrives at the child's age.

An elderly man can generally make no more accurate statement regarding his age than that at the time of the great eclipse he had just begun to wear a waist-cloth, or that when the great guns were heard (I.E. the sound of the eruption of Krakatoa) he was just beginning "to look for tobacco."

We mention here a statement commonly made by Kayans, which, if true, is of some interest as reporting a curious exception to a world-wide custom commonly regarded as directly determined by the difference of nature between the sexes, the report, namely, that among the Kalabits the initiative in all love-making is taken by the women. We have no detailed information in regard to their courtship and marriage procedures.


The Nomad Hunters

In almost all parts of Borneo there are to be found hidden in the remotest recesses of the jungles small bands of homeless nomad hunters. All these closely resemble one another in physical characters and in mode of life; but differences of language mark them as belonging to several groups, of which the Punans, the Ukits, the Sians, the Bukitans, the Lugats, and the Lisums are the best known. Hitherto we have designated all these groups by the name Punan, which properly belongs to the largest group only. These groups inhabit different areas, though there is considerable overlapping; and it seems probable that they are merely local varieties of one stock, and that their differences are mainly the results of geographical separation and of intercourse with, and probably some mingling of blood with, the settled tribes of the regions inhabited by the several groups. For their languages seem to be closely allied; but in each region the nomads seem to have adopted many words from their settled neighbours, with whom they trade; and instances are known to us in which the men of the settled tribes have married women of the nomads and have adopted their mode of life, and others in which children of nomad women, married into Kenyah, Kayan, or other villages, have gone back to their mothers' people.

The Punans proper are found in the central highlands wandering through the upper parts of the basins of all the large rivers; here and there they range into the lowlands, and in rare instances they even reach the coast. The Ukits, on the other hand, confine themselves to the interior, and are found chiefly in the upper parts of the basins of the Kotei, the Rejang, the Kapuas, and Banjermasin rivers. The Bukitans inhabit chiefly the upper basins of the rivers of Sarawak. Although these nomads wander perpetually in the forests, moving their camp every few weeks or months, any one group attaches itself to a particular area, partly because they become familiar with its natural resources, partly because they establish friendly relations with the villagers of the region, with whom they barter jungle-produce to the advantage of both parties. The settled tribesmen of any region find this trade so profitable that they regard the harmless nomads with friendly feelings, learn their language, and avoid and reprobate any harsh treatment of them that might drive them to leave their district. In fact they look upon them with a certain sense of proprietorship and are jealous of their intercourse with other tribes; the nomads, in fact, rank high among the many natural products of the jungle that render any particular region attractive to the tribesmen.

Of all these nomad groups the Punans are the most numerous and we have seen more of them than of any others. We therefore describe their peculiar mode of life; but it may be understood that what we say of them holds good in the main of the other groups of nomads with but little modification.

From the point of view of physical development the Punans are among the finest of the peoples of Borneo. They resemble the Kenyahs more closely than any other tribe; that is to say, they are of very pale yellow colour, of short stature with long body and short legs, but otherwise well proportioned and very sturdily built with well-rounded limbs and large muscular development. Their heads are subbrachycephalic and inclining to be square; their features are more regular than those of most other tribes; their most distinctive physical characters are a relatively well-developed nasal bridge, nostrils directed so much forward that one seems to look right into their heads through them, and the slight greenish tinge and fine silky texture of their pale yellow skins. The greenish tinge may be noticed in all nomad Punans, and it is possible that the ruddier darker tint of the agricultural peoples is largely or wholly due to their greater exposure to the sun; for the Punan fears the broad daylight and rarely or never leaves the deep shade of the jungle.

In fineness of texture of the skin they surpass all the other tribes, and they seldom or never suffer from the disfiguring scaly affections of the skin so common among the others.

The Punans are more uniform as regards their physical characters than the other peoples; there are no distinctions of upper and lower social strata as among the other tribes, and thus the mixture of blood, which in the Kayan and Kenyah communities results from the adoption of war captives into the lower class, does not occur with them; and they present none of the wide diversities of type such as are common in the other tribes, especially between the upper and lower social classes. They correspond, in fact, to the relatively pure bred upper classes of the other tribes, and present the same high standard of physical development and vigour. It is not improbable that the severer conditions of their mode of life contribute to maintain this high standard.

The facial expression and the bodily attitudes of the Punans are also characteristic. When gathered in friendly talk with strangers, even those whom they have every reason to trust, they prefer to remain squatting on their heels, rather than to sit down on a mat; and the tension of their muscles, combined with the still alert watchfulness of their faces, conveys the impression that they are ready to leap up and flee away or to struggle for their lives at any moment. It is doubtless this alertness of facial expression and bodily attitude that gives the Punan something of the air of an untameable wild animal.

In spite of his distrustful expression the Punan is a likeable person, rich in good qualities and innocent of vices. He never slays or attacks men of other tribes wantonly; he never seeks or takes a head, for his customs do not demand it; and he never goes upon the warpath, except when occasionally he joins a war-party of some other tribe in order to facilitate the avenging of blood. But he will defend himself and his family pluckily, if he is attacked and has no choice of flight; and, if any one has killed one of his relatives, he will seek an opportunity of planting a poisoned dart in his body. In a case of this kind all the Punans of a large area will aid one another in obtaining certain information as to the identity of the offender; and any one of them will avenge the injury to his people, if the opportunity presents itself. They do not avenge themselves indiscriminately on all or any member of the offender's village or family, but they will postpone their vengeance for years, if the actual offender cannot be reached more promptly. It seems worth while to recount a particular instance of Punan vengeance. The Punans of the Tinjar basin were claimed by a Sebop chief; that is to say, the chief, Jangan by name, regarded them as under his protection and as therefore under an obligation to trade with him and his people only. But the Pokun people in the basin of a neighbouring river, the Balaga, a tributary of the Rejang, also claimed similar rights over the Punans of the district. One of these Pokuns, a man of the upper class, being angered by the adhesion of the Punans to the chief Jangan and by their refusal to trade with him, cut down one of them during an altercation in the jungle, leaving him dead on the spot. The companions of the murdered man retired, and all the Punans deserted the neighbourhood of the Pokuns. Some four years later the Pokun community migrated to the Tinjar; and shortly afterwards the murderer, thinking the whole matter was forgotten, set out through the jungle with a small party to seek to trade with another group of Punans. While on the march he was struck in the cheek (the favourite spot for the aim of the Punan marksman) by a poisoned dart from an unseen assailant and died within ten minutes. His companions, remembering the incident of four years before, suspected the Punans, but saw no trace of any.

The Punans confessed the act of vengeance to Jangan, and he communicated the facts to the Resident of the Baram district (C. H.), who happened to be in the neighbourhood at the time. The Pokuns wished to take vengeance on the Punans, and they would undoubtedly have turned out in force to hunt down and kill all the Punan men they could find, but that the Resident forbade them to take action, and enforced his command by threatening to burn down their houses in their absence. It is only fair to add that the Pokun chief recognised the justice of this prohibition and showed no resentment.

That the Punans will not allow the slaying of any one of their number to go unavenged on the person of the slayer is well known to all the people of the country, and this knowledge does much to give them immunity from attack.

The Punans cultivate no crops and have no domestic animals. They live entirely upon the wild produce of the jungle, vegetable and animal. Of the former, sago and a form of vegetable tallow found in the seed of a tree (SHOREA) are the most important. Animals of all kinds are eaten, and are secured principally by the aid of the blow-pipe and poisoned darts, in the use of which the Punans are very expert. The Punan dwelling is merely a rude low shelter of palm leaves, supported on sticks to form a sloping roof which keeps off the rain but very imperfectly, and leaves the interior open on every side.[174]

A Punan community consists generally of some twenty to thirty adult men and women, and, about the same number of children. One of the older men is recognised as the leader or chief. He has little formally defined authority, but rather the authority only that is naturally accorded to age and experience and to the fuller knowledge of the tribal history and traditions that comes with age. His sway is a very mild one; he dispenses no substantial punishments; public opinion and tradition seem to be the sole and sufficient sanctions of conduct among these Arcadian bands of gentle wary wanderers. Decisions as to the movements of the band are arrived at by open discussion, in which the leader will exercise an influence proportioned to his reputation for knowledge and judgment. He is mainly responsible for the reading of the omens, and has charge of the few and simple household gods — if that lofty title may be given to the wooden image of a crocodile and the bundle of charms attached to it which are always to be seen in a Punan camp.

If, in case of disagreement, one or more of the members of a band refuses to accept the judgment of the leader and of the majority, he, or they, will withdraw from the community together with wife and children, to form a band which, though in the main independent of the parent group, will usually remain in its near neighbourhood and maintain some intercourse. Fighting between Punans, whether of the same or of different communities, is very rare; the only instances known to us are a few in which Punans have been incited by men of other tribes to join in an attack on their fellows.

The members of the band are for the most part the near relatives of the leader, brothers and sons and nephews with their wives and children. Each man has usually one wife. We know of no instances of polygyny amongst them; though we know of cases in which a Punan woman has become the second wife of a man of some other tribe. On the other hand, polyandry occurs, generally in cases in which a woman married to an elderly man has no children by him. They desire many children, and large families are the rule; a family with as many as eight or nine children is no rarity.

Marriage is for life, though separation by the advice and direction of the chief, or by desertion of the man to another community, occurs. Sexual restraint is probably maintained at about the same level as among the other peoples, the women being more strictly chaste after than before marriage. The ceremony of marriage is less elaborate than among the settled tribes. A young man will become the lover of a girl generally of some other group than his own, and when she becomes pregnant the marriage is celebrated. There is little or no formal arrangement of marriages by the elders on behalf of the young people.

The ceremony of marriage consists merely in a feast in which all, or most of, the members of the two communities take part. Speeches are made, and the leaders exhort the young couple to industry and to obedience to themselves, making specific mention of the principal duties of either sex, such as collecting camphor and procuring animal food for the man, the preparing of sago, cooking, and tending the children for the woman.

After the ceremony, the husband joins the wife's community and generally remains a member of it; unlike the Kayans, among whom a husband, though he may live for some years with his wife's people, eventually brings her to his father's village. No definite payment is made to the parents of the bride, but some small gift, perhaps two or three pounds of tobacco, is usually presented to them by the bridegroom.

Adverse omens may cause the postponement of a marriage; but beyond this there seems to be no regular method of obtaining or seeking divine sanction for the marriage; an offering of cooked food may be made to Bali-Penyalong, by placing it on a stake beneath the image of the crocodile (which seems to serve as an altar) with some dedicatory words — for like the other peoples the Punans are voluble in speech, both in human intercourse and in appealing to the supernatural powers. On such occasions the words uttered usually take in part the form of a prayer for protection from danger.

Those who are accustomed to all the complex comforts and resources of civilisation, and to whom all these resources hardly suffice to make tolerable the responsibility and labour of the rearing of a family, can hardly fail to be filled with wonder at the thought of these gentle savages bearing and rearing large families of healthy well-mannered children in the damp jungle, without so much as a permanent shelter above their heads. The rude shelter of boughs and leaves, which is their only house, is perhaps made a little more private than usual for the benefit of the labouring woman. The pregnant woman goes on with her work up to the moment of labour and resumes it almost immediately afterwards. She at once becomes responsible for the care of the infant. The only special treatment after childbirth is to sit with the back close to a fire, so as to heat it as much as can be borne. The delivery is sometimes aided by tightly binding the body above the gravid uterus in order, it would seem, to prevent any retrogression of the process. While the mother goes about her work in camp, the infant is usually suspended in a sling of bark-cloth from a bent sapling or branch, an arrangement which enables the mother to rock and so soothe the child by means of an occasional push. When travelling or working in the jungle the mother carries the infant slung upon her back, either in a bark-cloth or a specially constructed cradle of plaited rattan such as is used by the Kayans. The infant is suckled from one to two years, and then takes to the ordinary diet of boiled wild sago, varied with other animal and vegetable products of the jungle.

The children begin to help in the family work at a very early age. They are disciplined largely by frequent warnings against dangers, actual and suppositious, of which they remain acutely conscious throughout life. This discipline no doubt contributes largely to induce the air and the attitude of timid alertness which are so characteristic of the Punan. Harmony and mutual help are the rule within the family circle, as well as throughout the larger community; the men generally treat their wives and children with all kindness, and the women perform their duties cheerfully and faithfully.

The religious beliefs and practices of the Punans are similar to those of the Kayans, but are less elaborated. They observe a simpler system of omens, of which the behaviour and calls of lizards and grasshoppers and of the civet cat (ARCTOGALE) are the chief. They pray to Bali Penyalong, who seems to be the principal object of their trust. This being is probably conceived anthropomorphically, but his human qualities are not so clearly marked as in the case of the gods of the settled tribes. They make no images in human form, and we do not know that Bali Penyalong is supposed by them to have a wife. The only image used in rites is the wooden image of the crocodile, which is carried from place to place with every change of camp. In communicating with the omen-creatures, fire and the frayed sticks are used in much the same way as by the Kayans. Their rites involve no animal sacrifices, and they do not look for guidance or answer to prayer in the entrails of animals. It seems probable that the Punans in each region have absorbed some of their religious and superstitious notions from the settled tribes of the same region; for in each region the Punan beliefs are different, showing more or less affinity to those of the settled tribes. It is an obscure question whether all their religious belief has been thus absorbed from more cultured neighbours, or whether the Punans represent in this and other respects the perpetuation (perhaps with some degeneration or impoverishment) of a more primitive culture once common to the ancestors of all, or the greater part of, the tribes of Borneo.[175] The fact that the principal divinity recognised by them bears the same name (Bali Penyalong) as the chief god of the Kenyahs is compatible with either view.

Beside Bali Penyalong the Punans are aware of the existence of other divinities, which, however, are very obscurely conceived and seldom approached with prayer or rite. As regards the land of shades and the journey thither, Punan beliefs are closely similar to those of Kenyahs and some of the Klemantans. Their account of the journey of the dead includes the passage of a river guarded by a great fish and a hornbill (see Chap. XIV.). But they practice no burial and no funeral rites. As soon as a man dies in any camp, the whole community moves on to a new camp, leaving his body under one of their rude shelters, covered only with a few leaves and branches.

Their view of the life after death seems to involve no system of retribution and to be wellnigh devoid of moral significance. Their religious beliefs probably influence their conduct less strongly than do those of the Kayans; for among the latter such beliefs certainly make strongly for social conduct, I.E. for obedience to the chiefs and for observance of custom and public opinion; but in the Punan community the conditions of life are so simple and so nearly in harmony with the impulses of the natural man that temptations to wrong-doing are few and weak; external sanctions of conduct, therefore, are but little needed and but little operative.

Danger assails the Punan on every side and at all times, hence alertness, energy, and courage are the prime virtues; courage is rated highest, and a woman looks especially for courage in her husband. But though courageous and active, Punans are not pugnacious; as was said above, they rarely or never fight against one another, and the nomadic groups of each region maintain friendly relations with one another. Within each group harmony and mutual helpfulness is the rule; each shares with all members of the group whatever food, whether vegetable or animal, he may procure by skill or good fortune. On returning to camp with a piece of game, a Punan throws it down in the midst and it is treated as common property. If he has slain a large pig or deer, too heavy for him to bring in unaided, he returns to camp and modestly keeps silence over his achievement until some question as to his luck is put to him; then he remarks that he has left some small piece of game in the jungle, a mere trifle. Three or four men will then set out and, following the path he has marked by bending down twigs on his way back to camp, will find the game and bring it in. If a present of tobacco is made to one member of a group of Punans, the whole mass is divided by one of them into as many heaps as there are members of the band present; and then each of them, men and women alike, takes one heap for his or her own use, the one who divided the mass taking the heap left by the rest.

In spite of their shyness and timidity, they respond readily to kind treatment. They are never seen on the rivers, as they have no boats and cannot easily be persuaded to venture a trip in a boat. It is possible to make many expeditions through the jungle without getting any glimpse of them. One of us (C. H.) had lived in the Baram district six years before succeeding in seeing a single Punan. The history of his first meeting with Punans may serve to illustrate their timidity, caution, and good feeling. On making a long hunting trip on the slopes of Mount Dulit, he took with him a Sebop who was familiar with Punans and their language. For some days no trace of them was seen; but one morning freshly made footprints were observed round about the camp. The following night a cleft stick was set up at some twenty paces from the camp with a large cake of tobacco in the cleft, and on the stick a mark was carved which would be understood by the Punans as implying that they were at liberty to take the tobacco. This is a method of opening communications and trade with them well known to the Klemantans. In the morning the tobacco had disappeared, and fresh foot prints showed that its disappearance was due to human agency. The following night this procedure was repeated, and in the course of the day Punan shouts were heard, coming from a distance of some hundreds of yards. The interpreter was sent out with instructions to parley and, if possible, to persuade the Punans to come into camp. Presently he returned with two shy but curious strangers, who squatted at some distance and were gradually encouraged to come to close quarters. After staying a few minutes and accepting presents of tobacco and cloth, they made off. On the following day they returned with eight male companions, bringing a monkey, a hornbill, and a rare bird, all killed with their poisoned darts; and they enquired how much rubber they should bring in return for the tobacco. They were told that no return was expected, but, understanding that animals of all sorts were being collected, they attached themselves to the party, lent their unmatched skill to adding to the collections, and brought in many rare specimens that now repose safely in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. They soon gained confidence and took up their sleeping quarters under the raised floor of the rough hut; and, when after some weeks the time for parting came, they voluntarily took a prominent part in carrying down the collections to the boats, and went away well satisfied with the simple presents they received.

Punans never build boats or travel on the water of their own initiative and agency. In fact they dislike to come out from the shade of the forest on to a cleared space or the stony bed of the river. They are very conservative in spite of their intercourse with more advanced tribes, and they harbour many irrational prejudices. They entertain a particular aversion to the crocodile, an aversion strongly tinged with awe. They will not kill it or any one of their omen-beasts. They are very shy of whatever is unfamiliar. Many of them will not eat salt or rice when opportunity offers.

The medicine men or DAYONGS of the Punans are distinguished for their knowledge and skill, and are in much request among the other tribes for the catching of souls and the extraction of pains and disease. They are therefore fairly numerous; but, as among the other peoples, the calling is a highly specialised one, though not one which occupies a man's whole time or excuses him from the usual labours of his community. Their methods do not differ widely from those of the Kayan and Kenyah DAYONGS.

The Punan has great faith in charms, especially for bringing good luck in hunting. He usually carries, tied to his quiver, a bundle of small objects which have forcibly attracted his attention for any reason, E.G. a large quartz crystal, a strangely shaped tusk or tooth or pebble, etc., and this bundle of charms is dipped in the blood of the animals that fall to his blow-pipe.

As regards dress and weapons the Punan differs little from his neighbours. A scanty waist-cloth of home-made bark-cloth, or equally scanty skirt for the woman, strings of small beads round wrists or ankles or both, numbers of slender bands of plaited palm-fibre below the knees and about the wrists, and sometimes a strip of cloth round the head, make up his costume for all occasions.

All his belongings are such as can easily be transported. He carries a sword, a small knife, a blow-pipe with spear-blade attached, and a small axe with long narrow blade for working camphor out of the heart of the camphor-tree. Besides these essential tools and weapons, which he constantly carries, the family possesses sago-mallets and sieves, dishes and spoons or spatulas of hard wood, and tongs of bamboo for eating sago,[176] a few iron pots,[177] large baskets for carrying on the back, a few mats of plaited rattan, and small bamboo boxes.

These are the sum of the worldly goods of a Punan family, and it would, we suppose, be difficult to find another people who combine so great a poverty in material possessions with so high a level of contentment and decent orderly active living.

Although his material possessions are so few, the Punan is not capable of fashioning all of them by his own independent efforts. All his metal tools he obtains from the Kayans (or other tribes) who are his patrons. But everything else he makes with his own hands. The long blow-pipe of polished hard-wood, which is his favourite weapon, he makes by the same methods and as well as the Kayans. But the iron rod which he uses in the process of boring the wood he cannot make. This illustrates his intimate dependence on other tribes, and seems to imply that the blow-pipe, at least in the highly finished form in which it is now used, cannot have been an independent achievement of the Punans. They are especially skilful in the plaiting of rattan strips to make baskets, mats, and sieves. They do little wood-carving, but carve some pretty handles for knives and decorative pieces for the sword-sheaths from the bones of the gibbon and deer. They are expert also in making bamboo pipes with which to imitate the calls of the deer and of some of the birds.

Hunting, tracking, and trapping game are the principal and favourite pursuits of the men; they display much ingenuity in these pursuits and attain a wonderful skill in the interpretation of the signs of the jungle. For example, a Punan is generally able to read from the tracks left in the jungle by the passage of a party of men, the number of the party, and much other information about it. They are expert scouts, and, when their neighbourhood is invaded by any party whose intentions are not clearly pacific, they will follow them for many days, keeping them under close observation while remaining completely hidden.

The Punan has few recreations. His highest artistic achievement is in song. His principal musical instrument is a simple harp made from a length of thick bamboo (Fig. 86); from the surface of this six longitudinal strips are detached throughout the length of a section of twenty inches or more, but retain at both ends their natural attachments. Each strip is raised from the surface by a pair of small wooden bridges, and is tuned by adjusting the interval between these. The only other musical instrument is a very simple "harmonica." A series of strips of hard-wood, slightly hollowed and adjusted in length, are laid across the shins of the operator, who beats upon them with two sticks. But the finest songs are sung without accompaniment and are of the nature of dramatic recitals in the manner of a somewhat monotonous and melancholy recitative. To hear a wild Punan, standing in the midst of a solemn circle lit only by a few torches which hardly seem to avail to keep back the vast darkness of the sleeping jungle, recite with dramatic gesture the adventures of a departing soul on its way to the land of shades, is an experience which makes a deep impression, one not devoid of aesthetic quality.

In dancing, the Punan attains only a very modest level. The men dance upon a narrow plank (for the good reason that they have nothing else to dance upon); and the exhibition is one of skilful balancing on this restricted base while executing a variety of turning movements and postures. The women dance in groups with very restricted movements of the feet, and some monotonous swaying movements of the arms and body. The men also imitate the movements of monkeys and of the hornbill and the various strange sounds made by the latter.

The most striking evidence of the low cultural standing of the Punan is the fact that he cannot count beyond three (the words are JA, DUA, TELO); all larger numbers are for him merely many (PINA). Yet, although in culture he stands far below all the settled agricultural tribes, there is no sufficient reason for assuming him to be innately inferior to them in any considerable degree, whether morally or intellectually. Any such assumption is rendered untenable by the fact that many Punans have quickly assimilated the mode of life and general culture of the other tribes; and there can be no doubt, we think, that many of the tribes that we have classed as Klemantan and Kenyah are very closely related to the Punans, and may properly be regarded as Punans that have adopted Kayan or Malay culture some generations ago.


Moral and Intellectual Peculiarities

In this chapter we propose to bring together a number of observations which have found no place in foregoing chapters but which will throw further light on the moral and intellectual status of the pagan tribes.

We have seen that among the Kayans the immediate sanction of all actions and of judgments of approval and disapproval is custom, and that the sanction of custom is generally supported by the fear of the TOH and of the harm they may inflict upon the whole house. The principle of collective or communal responsibility of the household, which is thus recognised in face of the spiritual powers, as well as in face of other communities, gives every man an interest in the good behaviour of his fellows, and at the same time develops in him the sense of obligation towards his community. The small size of each community, its separation and clear demarcation by its residence under a single roof, its subordination to a single chief, and its perpetual conflict and rivalry with other neighbouring communities of similar constitution, all these circumstances also make strongly for the development in each of its members of a strong collective consciousness, that is to say, of a clear consciousness of the community and of his place within it and a strong sentiment of attachment to it. The attachment of each individual to his community is also greatly strengthened by the fact that it is hardly possible for him to leave it, even if he would. For he could not hope to maintain himself alone, or as the head of an isolated family, against the hostile forces, natural and human, that would threaten him; and it would be very difficult for him to gain admittance to any other community.

It is only when we consider these facts that we can understand how smoothly the internal life of the community generally runs, how few serious offences are committed, how few are the quarrels, and how few the instances of insubordination towards the chief, and how tact and good sense can rule the house without inflicting any other punishment than fines and compensatory payments.

And yet, when all these circumstances have been taken into account, the orderly behaviour of a Kayan community must be in part regarded as evidence of the native superiority of character or disposition of the Kayans. For though the Sea Dayaks, Klemantans, and Muruts, live under very similar conditions, they do not attain the same high level of social or moral conduct. Among the Muruts there is much drunkenness and consequent disorder, and the same is true in a less degree of the Sea Dayaks; among them and some of the Klemantan tribes quarrels within the house are of frequent occurrence, generally over disputed ownership of land, crops, fruit-trees, or other property. And these quarrels are not easily composed by the chiefs. Such quarrels not infrequently lead to the splitting of a community, or to the migration of the whole house with the exception of one troublesome member and his family, who are left in inglorious isolation in the old house.

But the higher level of conduct of the Kayans is in most respects rivalled by that of the Kenyahs, and some importance must therefore be attributed to the one prominent feature of their social organisation which is peculiar to these two peoples, namely a clearly marked stratification into three social strata between which but little intermarriage takes place. This stratification undoubtedly makes for a higher level of conduct throughout the communities in which it obtains; for the members of the higher or chiefly class are brought up with a keen sense of their responsibility towards the community, and their example and authority do much to maintain the standards of conduct of the middle and lower classes.

We have said that almost all offences are punished by fines only. Of the few offences which are felt to require a heavier punishment, the one most seriously regarded is incest. For this offence, which is held to bring grave peril to the whole house, especially the danger of starvation through failure of the PADI crop, two punishments have been customary. If the guilt of the culprits is perfectly clear, they are taken to some open spot on the river-bank at some distance from the house. There they are thrown together upon the ground and a sharpened bamboo stake is driven through their bodies, so that they remain pinned to the earth. The bamboo, taking root and growing luxuriantly on this spot, remains as a warning to all who pass by; and, needless to say, the spot is looked on with horror and shunned by all men. The other method of punishment is to shut up the offenders in a strong wicker cage and to throw them into the river. This method is resorted to as a substitute for the former one, owing to the difficulty of getting any one to play the part of executioner and to drive in the stake, for this involves the shedding of the blood of the community.

The kind of incest most commonly committed is the connection of a man with an adopted daughter, and (possibly on account of this frequency) this is the kind which is most strongly reprobated. It is obvious also that this form of incest requires a specially strong check in any community in which the adoption of children is a common practice. For, in the absence of severe penalties for this form of incest, a man might be tempted to adopt female children in order to use them as concubines. We find support for this view of the ground of the especially severe censure on incest of this form in the fact that intercourse between a youth and his sister-by-adoption (or VICE VERSA) is not regarded as incest, and the relation is not regarded as any bar to marriage. We know of at least one instance of marriage between two young Kenyahs brought up together as adopted brother and sister.[178] Of other forms of incest the more common (though, it should be said, incest of any form is very infrequent) are those involving father and daughter, brother and sister, and brother and half-sister.

The punishment of the incestuous couple does not suffice to ward off the danger brought by them upon the community. The household must be purified with the blood of pigs and fowls; the animals used are the property of the offenders or of their family; and in this way a fine is imposed.

When any calamity threatens or falls upon a house, especially a great rising of the river which threatens to sweep away the house or the tombs of the household, the Kayans are led to suspect that incestuous intercourse in their own or in neighbouring houses has taken place; and they look round for evidences of it, and sometimes detect a case which otherwise would have remained hidden. It seems probable that there is some intimate relation between this belief and the second of the two modes of punishment described above; but we have no direct evidence of such connection.[179]

All the other peoples also, except the Punans, punish incest with death. Among the Sea Dayaks the most common form of incest is that between a youth and his aunt, and this is regarded at least as seriously as any other form. It must be remembered that, owing to the frequency of divorce and remarriage among the Sea Dayaks, a youth may find himself in the position of step-son to half a dozen or more divorced step-mothers, some of them perhaps of his own age, and that each of them may have several sisters, all of whom are reckoned as his aunts; therefore he must walk warily in his amorous adventures.

Sexual perversion of any form is, we think, extremely rare among the pagan tribes of Borneo. We have never heard of any case of homosexuality on good authority, and we have never heard any reference made to it; and that constitutes, to our thinking, strong evidence that vice of that kind is unknown among most of the tribes. It is not unknown, though not common, among the Malays and Chinese, and, if cases occur sporadically among the pagans, they are presumably due to infection from those quarters.


Kayans, as we have seen, have no scruple in shedding the blood of their enemies, but they very seldom or never go to war with other Kayans; and the shedding of Kayan blood by Kayans is of rare occurrence. To shed human blood, even that of an enemy, in the house is against custom. Nevertheless murder of Kayan by Kayan, even by members of the same house, is not unknown. In a wanton case, where two or more men have deliberately attacked another and slain him, or one has killed another by stealth, the culprit (or culprits) would usually be made to pay very heavy compensation to relatives, the amount being greater the higher the social status and the greater the wealth of the culprit; the amount may equal, in fact, the whole of his property and more besides; and he might, in order to raise the amount, have to sell himself into slavery to another, slavery being their only equivalent to imprisonment. The relatives would probably desire to kill the murderers; but the chief would generally restrain them and would find his task rendered easier by the fact that, if they insist on taking the murderer's life, they would forfeit their right to compensation.[180] The amount of the compensation to be paid would not depend upon the social standing of the murdered man, but the fine paid to the house or chief would be heavier in proportion to his rank. But we have knowledge of cases in which chiefs have, with the approval of the house, had a murderer put to the sword. The murderer who has paid compensation has, however, by no means set himself right with the household; they continue to look askance at him. Set fights or duels between men of the same house are very rare. If a Kayan of one house kills one of another, his chief would see that he paid a proper compensation to the relatives, as well as a fine to his own house. If a man killed his own slave, he would be liable to no punishment unless the act were committed in the house; but public opinion would strongly disapprove.

'Running AMOK' is not unknown among Kayans, though it is very rare. If a man in this condition of blind fury kills any one, he is cut down and killed, unless he is in the house; in which case he would be knocked senseless with clubs, carried out of the house into the jungle, and there slain.

Drunkenness during an act of criminal violence is regarded as a mitigating circumstance, and the fines and compensation imposed would be of smaller amount than in a case of similar crime deliberately committed.

Suicide is strongly reprobated, and, as we have seen, the shades of those who die by their own hands are believed to lead a miserable and lonely existence in a distressful country, Tan Tekkan, in which they wander picking up mere scraps of food in the jungle. Nevertheless, suicides occur among Kayans of both sexes. The commonest occasion is the enforced separation of lovers, rather than the despair of rejected lovers. We have known of two instances of Kayan youths who, having formed attachments during a long stay in a distant house and who then, finding themselves under the necessity of returning home with their chief and unable to arrange marriage with their fair ones, have committed suicide. The method most commonly adopted is to go off alone into the jungle and there to stab a knife into the carotid artery. The body of a suicide is generally buried without ceremony on the spot where it is found. Suicides of women are rarer than those of men; desertion by a lover is the commonest cause.

Dishonesty in the form of pilfering or open robbery by violence are of very rare occurrence. Yet temptations to both are not lacking. Fruittrees on the river-bank, even at some distance from any village, are generally private property, and though they offer a great temptation to passing crews when their fruit is ripe, the rights of the proprietor are usually respected or compensation voluntarily paid. Theft within the house or village is practically unknown. Even before the European governments were established, Malay and Chinese traders occasionally penetrated with boat-loads of goods far into the interior; and now such enterprises are regularly and frequently undertaken. Occasionally a trader establishes himself in a village for months together, driving a profitable trade in hardware, cloth, tobacco, etc. These traders usually travel in a small boat with a company or crew of only two or three men, and they are practically defenceless against any small party of the natives who might choose to rob or murder them. Such traders have now and again been robbed, and sometimes also murdered, by roving bands of Sea Dayaks, but we know of no such act committed by Kayans or Kenyahs. The trader puts himself under the protection of a chief and then feels his life and property to be safe.

It would not be true to say that the Kayans or any of the other peoples are always strictly truthful. They are given to exaggeration in describing any event, and their accounts are apt to be strongly biassed in their own favour. Nevertheless, deliberate lying is a thing to be ashamed of, and a man who gets himself a reputation as a liar is regarded with small favour by his fellows.

The Kayans, as we have said elsewhere, are not coarse of speech, and both men and women are strictly modest in respect to the display of the body. Though the costume of both sexes is so scanty, the proprieties are observed. The Kayan man never exposes his GENITALIA even when bathing in the company of his fellows, but, if necessary, uses his hands as a screen. The bearing of the women is habitually modest, and though their single garment might be supposed to afford insufficient protection, they wear it with an habitual skill that compensates for the scantiness of its dimensions; they bathe naked in the river before the house, but they slip off their aprons and glide into the water deftly and swiftly; and on emerging they resume their garments with equal skill, so that they cannot be said to expose themselves unclothed. The same is true of most of the other tribes, with the exception of the men of Kenyah and Klemantan communities that inhabit the central highlands; these, when hauling their boats through the rapids, will divest themselves of all clothing, or will sit naked round a fire while their waist-cloths are being dried, without the least embarrassment.

There is no Kayan word known to us that could properly be translated as justice or just, injustice or unjust. Yet it is obvious that they view just conduct with approval and unjust with disapproval; and they express their feelings and moral judgments by saying laconically of any particular decision by a chief, TEKAP or NUSI TEKAP. But the word TEKAP is of more general application than our word 'just,' and might be applied to any situation which evokes a judgment of moral approval; for example, on witnessing any breach of custom or infringement of tabu a Kayan would say NUSI TEKAP; TEKAP, in short, is applicable to whatever is as it ought to be.

Specialised terms for moral qualities of character and conduct are, however, not lacking. A just and wise chief would be said to be TENANG; but this word implies less purely a moral quality than our word justice and more of intellectual capacity or knowledge or accuracy; the word is more especially applied as a term to describe the quality of a political speech which meets with approval. The word HAMAN means skilful, or clever, or cunning, in the older sense of capable both physically and intellectually. A man who fights pluckily is said to be MAKANG, and the same word is applied to any daring or dashing feat, such as crossing the river when it is dangerously swollen. To disregard omens would be MAKANG also; it seems, therefore, to have the flavour of the word rash or foolhardy.

SAIOH means good in the sense of kindly, pleasantly toned, or agreeable. JAAK is bad in the sense of a bad crop or an unfortunate occurrence, or a sore foot, I.E. it conveys no moral flavour. Morally bad is expressed by SALA; this is used in the same sense in Malay and may well be a recently-adopted word. In general the language seems to be very poor in terms expressive of disapproval, adverse judgments being generally expressed by putting nusi, the negative or primitive particle, before the corresponding word of positive import; thus a cowardly act or man would be denounced as NUSI MAKANG.

We think it is true to say that, although they thus distinguish the principal qualities of character and conduct with appropriate adjectival terms, they have no substantival terms for the virtues and vices, and that they have not fully accomplished the processes of abstraction implied by the appropriate use of such highly abstract substantives.

As regards the influence of their religious beliefs on the moral conduct of the Kayans, we have seen that the fear of the TOH serves as a constant check on the breach of customs, which customs are in the main salutary and essential for the maintenance of social order; this fear does at the least serve to develop in the people the power of selfcontrol and the habit of deliberation before action. The part which the major spirits or gods are supposed to play in bringing or fending off the major calamities remains extremely vague and incapable of definition; in the main, faithful observation of the omens, of rites, and of custom generally, seems to secure the favour of the gods, and in some way their protection; and thus the gods make for morality. Except in regard to that part of conduct which is accurately prescribed by custom and tradition, their influence seems to be negligible, and the high standard of the Kayans in neighbourliness, in mutual help and consideration, in honesty and forbearance, seems to be maintained without the direct support of their religious beliefs.

The high moral level attained by individuals among the Kayans and Kenyahs, and less frequently by Klemantans, is, we think, best exemplified by the enlightened and public-spirited conduct of some of the principal chiefs. It might have been expected that the leading chiefs of warlike and conquering peoples like the Kayans and Kenyahs, which, until the advent of the European governments, had never encountered any resistance which they could not break down by armed force, would have been wholly devoted to conquest and rapine; and that a chief who had acquired a high prestige and found himself able to secure the adhesion in war of a number of other chiefs and their followers would have been inspired with the barbarous ideals of an Alexander, a Napoleon, a Chaka, or a Cetewayo. But though some of them have shown tendencies of this kind, there have been notable exceptions who have recognised that chronic hostility, distrust, and warfare, which had always been characteristic of the relations between the various tribes and villages, were an unmixed evil. Such men have used their influence consistently and tactfully and energetically to establish peaceful relations between the tribes. Unlike some savage chieftains of warrior tribes in other parts of the world, such as some of those produced by the Bantu race, or those who established the great confederation of the Iroquois tribes, they have not sought merely to bring about the combination of all the communities of their own stock in order to dominate over or to exterminate all other tribes. They have rather pursued a policy of reconcilement and conciliation, aiming at establishing relations of friendship and confidence between the communities of all languages and races. One such powerful Kenyah chief of the Baram district, Laki Avit, had earned a high reputation for such statesmanship before the district was incorporated in the Raj of Sarawak. His policy was to bring about intermarriages between the families of the chiefs and upper-class people of the various tribes. Tama Bulan (see Pl. 27), the leading Kenyah chief of the same district at a later time, spared no efforts to bring about friendly meetings between chiefs of different tribes, for the purpose of making peace and of promoting intercourse and mutual understanding.[181] It should be added that these peacemaking ceremonies are generally of lasting effect; the oaths then taken are respected even by succeeding generations. Tama Kuling, who a decade ago was the most influential of the Batang Kayan chiefs, had also spontaneously pursued a similar policy.[182]

It has been said of many savage peoples that they recognise no natural death, but believe that all deaths not due to violence are due to black magic. No such statement can be made of the Kayans; few, if any, deaths are ascribed by them to the efforts of sorcerers. Natural death is recognised as inevitable in old age, and disease is vaguely conceived as the effect of natural causes; though as to what those natural causes are they have no definite ideas. This attitude is shown by their readiness to make use of European drugs and of remedies for external application. Quinine for fever, and sulphate of copper for the treatment of yaws, are most in demand. Cholera and smallpox are the great epidemic diseases which have ravaged large areas of Borneo from time to time. The Kayans recognise that both these diseases spread up river from village to village, and that to abstain from intercourse with all villages lower down river and to prevent any one coming up river contributes to their immunity. With this object the people of a tributary stream will fell trees across its mouth or lower reaches so as to block it completely to the passage of boats, or, as a less drastic measure, will stretch a rope of rattan from bank to bank as a sign that no one may enter (Pl. 183). Such a sign is generally respected by the inhabitants of other parts of the river-basin. They are aware also of the risk of infection that attends the handling of a corpse of one who has died of epidemic disease, and they attempt to minimise it by throwing a rope around it and dragging it to the graveyard, and there burying it in a shallow grave in the earth, without touching it with the hands.[183]

The Kayans have some slight knowledge of the medicinal properties of some herbs, and make general use of them. They administer as an aperient a decoction of the leaves of a certain plant, called OROBONG, which they cultivate for the purpose on their farms. The root of the ginger plant is used both internally and for external application. A variety of vegetable products are used in preparing liniments; the basis most in request for these is the fat of the python and of other snakes, but wild pig's fat is used as a more easily obtainable substitute.

There is a small common squirrel (SCIURUS EXILIS), the testicles of which are strikingly large in proportion to his body. These organs are dried and reduced to powder, and this powder, mixed with pig's fat, is rubbed over the back and loins in cases of impotence.[184]

Kayan mothers treat colic in their children by chewing the dried root of a creeper (known as PADO TANA) with betel nut, and spitting out the juice on the belly of the patient.

Some of the coastwise Klemantans make use of a bitter decoction of a certain creeper as a remedy for jungle fever. It is asserted by Kayans and others that the Punans make use of the poison of the IPOH tree (the poison used on their darts) as an internal remedy for fever. It is said also (probably with truth, we think) that the Punans also apply the IPOH poison to snake-bites and to festering wounds.[185]


Broken limbs are bound round with neat splints made of thin slips of bamboo tied in parallel series. Little effort is made to bring the broken ends of the bones into their proper positions or to reduce dislocations. Abscesses are not usually opened with the knife, but are rather encouraged to point, and are then opened by pressure. A cold poultice of chopped leaves is applied to a bad boil or superficial abscess, and it is protected from blows and friction by a small cage of slips of rattan. Festering wounds are dressed with the chewed leaves or the juice of the tobacco plant, or are washed with a solution of common salt. But a clean wound is merely bound up with a rag; or, if there is much haemorrhage, wood ashes are first applied. They practise no more efficient methods for arresting haemorrhage.

Headache is treated by tugging the hair of the scalp in small bundles in systematic order. Massage of the muscles is practised for the relief of pain, and massage is applied to the abdomen in cases of obstinate constipation; in certain cases they claim to break up hard lumps in the belly by squeezing them with the hands. Bodily aches and fatigue are relieved by pulling and bending the parts of the limbs until all the joints crack in turn.

Cupping is perhaps the most frequently practised surgical operation. Severe internal bruising from falls or heavy blows is the usual occasion. The operation is performed by scratching the skin with the point of a knife, and then applying the mouth of a bamboo cup previously heated over the fire. The cup is a piece of bamboo some five or six inches in length and an inch or rather more in diameter. Its edge is thinned and smoothed. Several of these may be simultaneously applied in a case of extensive bruising. Since this operation, like tatuing, involves the shedding of blood, some small offering, such as a few beads, must be made to the patient by the operator.

The Kayans have distinct numerals up to ten (JI, DUA, TELO, PAT, LIMER, NAM, TUSU, SAYA, PITAN, PULU). Those from eleven to nineteen are formed by prefixing PULU ( = ten) to the names of the digits; and those from twenty to twenty-nine by prefixing DUA PULU ( = two twenty); and so on up to JI ATOR ( = one hundred). Two hundred is DUA ATOR, three hundred is TELO ATOR, and so on up to MIBU ( = one thousand). All or most of the other tribes (except the Punans) have a similar system of numerals, though the numbers beyond the first ten are little used. In counting any objects that cannot be held in the hand or placed in a row, the Kayan (and most of the other peoples) bends down one finger for each object told off or enumerated, beginning with the little finger of the right hand, passing at six to that of the left hand, and then to the big toe of the right foot, and lastly to that of the left foot. When all the names or objects have been mentioned, he holds the toe reached until he or some one else has told off the number; if the number was, say, seventeen, he would keep hold of the second toe of the left foot until he had counted up the number implied by that toe, either by means of counting or by adding up five and five and five and two; unless the count ends on the little toe of the left foot, when he knows at once that the number is twenty. If a larger number than twenty is to be counted, as when, for example, a chief has to pay in tax for each door of his house, he calls in the aid of several men, who sit before him. One of these tells off his fingers and toes as the chief utters the names of the heads of the rooms; and when twenty have been counted in this way, a second man begins on his fingers, while the first continues to hold on to all his toes. A third and a fourth man may be used in the same way to complete the count; and when it is completed, the total is found by reckoning each man as two tens, and adding the number of fingers and toes held down by the last man. The reckoning of the tens is done by addition rather than multiplication. Both multiplication and division are almost unknown operations.

When a chief is getting ready to pay in the door tax of two dollars a door, he does not count the doors and then multiply the number by two: he simply lays down two dollars for each door and pays in the lot, generally without knowing the sum total of the dollars. If a chief were told to pay in the tax for half his doors only, he would not know how to carry out the instruction. Subtraction is accomplished only in the most concrete manner, E.G. if a man wished to take away eight from twenty-five, he would count out twenty-five of the objects in question, or of bits of leaf or stick, then push away eight and count up the remainder. A dodge sometimes adopted, especially by the Kenyah, for counting the persons present, is to take a fern-leaf with many fronds, tear off a half of each frond, handing each piece to one of the men, until every man present affirms that he has a piece, and then to count the number of torn fronds remaining on the stalk.

It will thus be seen that the arithmetical operations of the Kayans are of an extremely concrete character; those of the other tribes are similar (with the exception again of the Punans, who do not count beyond three); though many of the Klemantans get confused over simple counting and reckoning, which the Kayans accomplish successfully.

Tama Bulan, the Kenyah chief whom we have had occasion to mention in several connections, obtained and learnt the use of an abacus from a Chinaman, and used it effectively. This deficiency in arithmetic is, however, no evidence of innate intellectual inferiority, and there seems to be no good reason to doubt that most of the people could be taught to use figures as readily as the average European; those children who have entered the schools seem to pick up arithmetic with normal rapidity.

The Sea Dayaks sometimes deposit sums of money with the Government officers, and they know accurately the number of dollars paid in; but when they withdraw the deposit, they generally expect to receive the identical dollars paid in by them.


The Kayans use two principal standards of length, namely, the BUKA and the BUHAK. The former is the length of the span from finger-tip to tip of outstretched arms; the latter is the length of the span from tip of the thumb to tip of the first finger of the same hand. In buying a pig, for example, the price is determined by the number of BUHAK required to encircle its body just behind the forelegs. The half BUKA is also in general use, especially in measuring rattans cut for sale, the required length of which is two and a half BUKA. In order to express the half, they have adopted the Malay word STINGAH, having no word of their own.

Distances between villages are always expressed in terms of the average time taken by a boat in ascending the stream from one to the other. Distances by land are expressed still more vaguely; for example, the distance between the heads of two streams might be expressed by saying that, if you bathe in one, your hair would still be wet when you reach the other (which means about one hour); or a longer distance, by saying that if you started at the usual time from one of the places you would reach the other when the sun is as high as the hawk (which means a journey from sunrise to about 10 A.M.), or when the sun is overhead (I.E. noon), or when it is declining (about 3 P.M.), or when the sun is put out (sunset), or when it is dark.

In order to describe the size of a solid object such as a fish, a Kayan would compare its thickness with that of some part of his body, the forearm, the calf of the leg, the thigh, or head, or the waist. In describing the thickness of the subcutaneous fat of a pig, he would mention one, two, three, or even four fingers.

Cosmological and Geographical Notions

The more intelligent Kayans can give a fairly good general description of the geographical features and relations of the district in which they live. In order to do this a Kayan will map out the principal features on a smooth surface by placing pieces of stick to represent the rivers and their tributaries, and pieces of leaf to represent the hills and mountains; he will pay special attention to the relations of the sources of the various streams. In this way a Kayan chief of the Baram would construct a tolerably accurate map of the whole Baram district, putting in Bruni and USUN APO and the heads of the Rejang, Batang Kayan, Tutong, and Balait rivers. He knows that all the rivers run to the sea, though few Kayans have seen the sea or, indeed, been outside the basin of their own river. To have been to another river, or to have seen the sea, is a just ground of pride. He does not know that Borneo is an island, though he knows that the white men and the Chinese come from over the sea; he will confidently assert that the sea is many times larger than the Baram river, even ten times as large. They seem to regard the sea as a big river of which their main river is a tributary.

Ibans sometimes speak of AIROPA (meaning Europe), which they take to mean the river Ropa, as the home of the white man; and all the tribesmen are apt to think of foreigners as living on the banks of rivers in forest-covered country much like their own.

Although the Kayans do not observe the stars and their movements for practical purposes, they are familiar with the principal constellations, and have fanciful names for them, and relate mythical stories about the personages they are supposed to represent (Chap. XVII.).[186] They seem to have paid no special attention to the planets. Inconsistently with the star myths, the stars are regarded as small holes in the floor of another and brighter world, and it is said that these holes have been made by the roots of plants which have penetrated through the soil of that world.

The sky is regarded as a dome which meets the earth on every hand, and this limiting zone is spoken of as the edge of the sky; but they have no notion how far away this edge may be; they recognise that, no matter how many days one travels in any one direction, one never gets appreciably nearer to it, and they conclude, therefore, that it must be very distant. They understand that the clouds are very much less distant than the sky, and that they merely float about the earth. Neither sun nor moon seems to be regarded as animated.

Two total eclipses of the sun have occurred in Borneo in the last half-century. These, of course, caused much excitement and some consternation.[187] The former of them serves as a fixed date in relation to which other events are dated.

The traditional lore of the Kayans provides answers of a kind to many of the deep questions that the spirit of enquiry proposes whenever man has made provision against the most urgent needs of his animal nature. Yet the keener intelligences among them do not rest satisfied with these conventional answers; rather, they ponder some of the deepest questions and discuss them with one another from time to time. One question we have heard debated is — Why do not the dead return? Or rather, Why do they become visible only in dreams and even then so seldom? The meeting of dead friends in dreams generally leaves the Kayan doubtful whether he has really seen his friend; and he will try to obtain evidence of the reality of the REVENANT by prayer and by looking for a favourable answer in the liver of a pig, the entrails of a fowl, or in the behaviour of the omen birds. They argue that persons who have been much attached to their relatives and friends would surely return to visit them frequently if such return were at all possible.

The relation of the sky to the earth remains also an open and disputed question. One of us well remembers how, when staying in a Kenyah house, he was approached by a group of youths who evidently were debating some knotty problem, and how they very seriously propounded the following question: — If a dart were shot straight up into the air and went on and on, what would become of it? Would it come up against the sky and be stopped by it?

The whereabouts of the home of the white men, and how long is spent on the journey thither, are questions often raised. Tama Bulan once raised the question of the motion of the sun, and having been told that really the earth revolves and that the sun only appears to move round it, he argued that this could hardly be, since we see the sun move every day. For a long time he said nothing more on this topic to us, but it continued to occupy his mind; for some years later he recurred to it and announced that he now accepted the once incredible doctrine, because he had inquired concerning it of every European he had been able to meet, and all had given him the same answer.

The methods of argument of the Kayans are characteristic and worthy of a short description. As we have said, they are great talkers and orators. They are by no means an impulsive people; far less so than the Kenyahs or the Sea Dayaks. Although they are not a vivacious or talkative people in general intercourse, every undertaking of any importance is carefully discussed in all its aspects, often at what we should consider unnecessary length, before the first step is taken; and in such discussions each man likes to have his say, and each is heard out patiently by his fellows. They have a strong belief in the efficacy of words; this is illustrated by the copious flood of words which they pour out whenever they perform any religious or other rite.

In arguing or persuading, or even threatening, they rely largely on indirect appeals, on analogy, simile, and metaphor, flavoured with a good deal of humour of a rather heavy kind. Or they may convey a strong hint by describing a professed dream in which the circumstances under discussion are symbolised.

The following incident illustrates this mode of speech. Two Kayans quarrelled over the sale of a pig. The current price was a dollar a BUHAK (I.E. the span from finger-tip to thumb-tip, see vol. ii. p. 212). The buyer had insisted on measuring it by spans from thumb to tip of second finger, whereas the customary span is to the tip of the index finger. The case was brought before the chief, who of course might have contented himself, but not perhaps the purchaser, by authoritatively laying down the law of custom. He, therefore, being a man of tact and experience, thrust out his second finger and pointed it at the purchaser of the pig, saying, "Suppose any one pointed at you like that, instead of with the index finger; you would all laugh at him." All the people sitting round laughed, and the purchaser went away convinced of the propriety of using the index finger in measuring a pig.

To illustrate the way in which a chief may exert influence in matters in which he has no footing for the exercise of formal authority, we cite the following bit of history. It is an ancient custom of the Kayans to have in the house a very large LAMPIT (the mat made of parallel strips of rattan), the common property of the household, which is spread on the occasion of the reception of visitors to serve as a common scat for guests and hosts. The Kayans of the Baram, under the individualising influences of trade and increasing stocks of private property, neglected to renew these communal mats; and thus the good old custom was in danger of dying out. This was observed with regret by an influential chief, who, therefore, found an opportunity to relate in public the following story. "A party of Kayans," he said, "once came over from the Batang Kayan to visit their relatives in the Baram. The latter dilated upon the benefits of the Rajah's government, peace, trade, and the possibility of fine dress for themselves and their wives and of many other desirable acquisitions, all for the small annual payment of two dollars a door. The visitors looked about them and confessed that they still had to be content with bark clothing, bamboo cups, and wooden dishes; 'but,' they added, 'if you come to our house you will at least find on the floor a good LAMPIT on which we can all sit together.' " The story quickly went the round of the Kayan villages in the Baram, with the result that large LAMPITS quickly came back into general use and the good old custom was preserved.

The Kayans have a keen sense of humour and fun. As with ourselves, the most frequent occasions of laughter are the small mishaps that happen to one's companions or to oneself; and practical jokes are perpetrated and appreciated. For example, at the time when the wild pigs were dying in large numbers, a boat-load of Kayans working up-river encountered a succession of pigs' carcases floating down, most of them in a state of decomposition and swollen with gases. A practical joker at the bow conceived the notion of prodding the carcases with his spear and thus liberating the foul-smelling gases for the benefit of those who sat in the stern of the boat, to their great disgust and the amusement of those on the forward benches. Again — a Klemantan example — a chewer of betel-nut and lime sometimes prepares several quids wrapped carefully in SIRIH leaf, and sets them aside till they are required. On one occasion, while the crew of a boat landed to cook their dinner, a youngster carefully opened such a quid and substituted a piece of filth for the betel-nut. When the victim of the joke spat out the morsel, spluttering with disgust and anger, the crew was moved to loud laughter, which they tried in vain to suppress out of consideration for the feelings of the victim; for no one likes to be laughed at.

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