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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Life in the Malay Archipelago
By Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913)
 
From ‘The Malay Archipelago’

A Visit to the Chief (Orang Kaya) of a Borneo Village

IN the evening the orang kaya came in full dress (a spangled velvet jacket, but no trousers), and invited me over to his house, where he gave me a seat of honor under a canopy of white calico and colored handkerchiefs. The great veranda was crowded with people; and large plates of rice, with cooked and fresh eggs, were placed on the ground as presents for me. A very old man then dressed himself in bright-colored clothes and many ornaments, and sitting at the door, murmured a long prayer or invocation, sprinkling rice from a basin he held in his hand, while several large gongs were loudly beaten, and a salute of muskets fired off. A large jar of rice wine, very sour, but with an agreeable flavor, was then handed round, and I asked to see some of their dances. These were, like most savage performances, very dull and ungraceful affairs; the men dressing themselves absurdly like women, and the girls making themselves as stiff and ridiculous as possible. All the time six or eight large Chinese gongs were being beaten by the vigorous arms of as many young men; producing such a deafening discord that I was glad to escape to the round-house, where I slept very comfortably, with half a dozen smoke-dried human skulls suspended over my head.  1
 
The Durion

  THE BANKS of the Saráwak River are everywhere covered with fruit-trees, which supply the Dyaks with a great deal of their food. The mangosteen, lansat, rambutan, jack, jambou, and blimbing, are all abundant; but most abundant and most esteemed is the durion,—a fruit about which very little is known in England, but which both by natives and Europeans in the Malay Archipelago is reckoned superior to all others. The old traveler Linschott, writing in 1599, says, “It is of such an excellent taste that it surpasses in flavor all the other fruits of the world, according to those who have tasted it.” And Doctor Paludanus adds, “This fruit is of a hot and humid nature. To those not used to it, it seems at first to smell like rotten onions, but immediately they have tasted it they prefer it to all other food. The natives give it honorable titles, exalt it, and make verses on it.” When brought into a house the smell is often so offensive that some persons can never bear to taste it. This was my own case when I first tried it in Malacca; but in Borneo I found a ripe fruit on the ground, and eating it out of doors, I at once became a confirmed durion eater.
  2
  The durion grows on a large and lofty forest-tree, somewhat resembling an elm in its general character, but with a more smooth and scaly bark. The fruit is round or slightly oval, about the size of a large cocoanut, of a green color, and covered all over with short stout spines, the bases of which touch each other, and are consequently somewhat hexagonal, while the points are very strong and sharp. It is so completely armed that if the stalk is broken off, it is a difficult matter to lift one from the ground. The outer rind is so thick and tough that from whatever height it may fall, it is never broken. From the base to the apex five very faint lines may be traced, over which the spines arch a little; these are the sutures of the carpels, and show where the fruit may be divided with a heavy knife and a strong hand. The five cells are satiny-white within, and are each filled with an oval mass of cream-colored pulp, imbedded in which are two or three seeds about the size of chestnuts. This pulp is the eatable part, and its consistence and flavor are indescribable. A rich butter-like custard highly flavored with almonds gives the best general idea of it; but intermingled with it come wafts of flavor that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce, brown sherry, and other incongruities. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp, which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid, nor sweet, nor juicy, yet one feels the want of none of these qualities, for it is perfect as it is. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat durions is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience.  3
  When the fruit is ripe it falls of itself; and the only way to eat durions in perfection is to get them as they fall, and the smell is then less overpowering. When unripe, it makes a very good vegetable if cooked, and it is also eaten by the Dyaks raw. In a good fruit season large quantities are preserved salted, in jars and bamboos, and kept the year round; when it acquires a most disgusting odor to Europeans, but the Dyaks appreciate it highly as a relish with their rice. There are in the forest two varieties of wild durions with much smaller fruits, one of them orange-colored inside; and these are probably the origin of the large and fine durions, which are never found wild. It would not, perhaps, be correct to say that the durion is the best of all fruits, because it cannot supply the place of the subacid juicy kinds, such as the orange, grape, mango, and mangosteen, whose refreshing and cooling qualities are so wholesome and grateful; but as producing a food of the most exquisite flavor it is unsurpassed. If I had to fix on two only as representing the perfection of the two classes, I should certainly choose the durion and the orange as the king and queen of fruits.  4
  The durion is however sometimes dangerous. When the fruit begins to ripen, it falls daily and almost hourly, and accidents not unfrequently happen to persons walking or working under the trees. When the durion strikes a man in its fall, it produces a dreadful wound, the strong spines tearing open the flesh, while the blow itself is very heavy; but from this very circumstance death rarely ensues, the copious effusion of blood preventing the inflammation which might otherwise take place. A Dyak chief informed me that he had been struck down by a durion falling on his head, which he thought would certainly have caused his death, yet he recovered in a very short time.  5
  Poets and moralists, judging from our English trees and fruits, have thought that small fruits always grew on lofty trees, so that their fall should be harmless to man, while the large ones trailed on the ground. Two of the largest and heaviest fruits known, however,—the Brazil-nut fruit (Bertholletia) and durion,—grow on lofty forest-trees, from which they fall as soon as they are ripe, and often wound or kill the native inhabitants. From this we may learn two things: first, not to draw general conclusions from a very partial view of nature; and secondly, that trees and fruits, no less than the varied productions of the animal kingdom, do not appear to be organized with exclusive reference to the use and convenience of man.  6
 
Cat’s-Cradle in Borneo

  I AM inclined to rank the Dyaks above the Malays in mental capacity, while in moral character they are undoubtedly superior to them. They are simple and honest, and become the prey of the Malay and Chinese traders, who cheat and plunder them continually. They are more lively, more talkative, less secretive, and less suspicious, than the Malay, and are therefore pleasanter companions. The Malay boys have little inclination for active sports and games, which form quite a feature in the life of the Dyak youths; who, besides outdoor games of skill and strength, possess a variety of indoor amusements. One wet day in a Dyak house, when a number of boys and young men were about me, I thought to amuse them with something new, and showed them how to make “cat’s-cradle” with a piece of string. Greatly to my surprise, they knew all about it, and more than I did; for after Charles and I had gone through all the changes we could make, one of the boys took it off my hand, and made several new figures which quite puzzled me. They then showed me a number of other tricks with pieces of string, which seemed a favorite amusement with them.
  7
 
The Trial of a Thief in Java

  ONE morning as I was preparing and arranging my specimens, I was told there was to be a trial; and presently four or five men came in and squatted down on a mat under the audience-shed in the court. The chief then came in with his clerk, and sat down opposite them. Each spoke in turn, telling his own tale; and then I found out that those who first entered were the prisoner, accuser, policemen, and witness, and that the prisoner was indicated solely by having a loose piece of cord twined round his wrists, but not tied. It was a case of robbery; and after the evidence was given and a few questions had been asked by the chief, the accused said a few words, and then sentence was pronounced, which was a fine. The parties then got up and walked away together, seeming quite friendly; and throughout there was nothing in the manner of any one present indicating passion or ill-feeling,—a very good illustration of the Malayan type of character.
  8
 
Architecture in the Celebes

  MY house, like all bamboo structures in this country, was a leaning one, the strong westerly winds of the wet season having set all its posts out of the perpendicular to such a degree as to make me think it might some day possibly go over altogether. It is a remarkable thing that the natives of Celebes have not discovered the use of diagonal struts in strengthening buildings. I doubt if there is a native house in the country, two years old, and at all exposed to the wind, which stands upright; and no wonder, as they merely consist of posts and joists all placed upright or horizontal, and fastened rudely together with rattans. They may be seen in every stage of the process of tumbling down, from the first slight inclination to such a dangerous slope that it becomes a notice to quit to the occupiers.
  9
  The mechanical geniuses of the country have only discovered two ways of remedying the evil. One is, after it has commenced, to tie the house to a post in the ground on the windward side by a rattan or bamboo cable. The other is a preventive; but how they ever found it out and did not discover the true way is a mystery. This plan is to build the house in the usual way, but instead of having all the principal supports of straight posts, to have two or three of them chosen as crooked as possible. I had often noticed these crooked posts in houses, but imputed it to the scarcity of good straight timber; till one day I met some men carrying home a post shaped something like a dog’s hind leg, and inquired of my native boy what they were going to do with such a piece of wood. “To make a post for a house,” said he. “But why don’t they get a straight one? there are plenty here,” said I. “Oh,” replied he, “they prefer some like that in a house, because then it won’t fall;” evidently imputing the effect to some occult property of crooked timber. A little consideration and a diagram will, however, show that the effect imputed to the crooked post may be really produced by it. A true square changes its figure readily into a rhomboid or oblique figure; but when one or two of the uprights are bent or sloping, and placed so as to oppose each other, the effect of a strut is produced, though in a rude and clumsy manner.  10
 
 
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