Life in the Forests of the Far East; or Travels in Northern Borneo


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Parties of two and three sometimes went away for months on an inland incursion, carrying nothing with them but salt wrapped up in their waist cloths, with which they seasoned the young shoots, and leaves, and palm cabbages, found in the forests; and when they returned home, they were as thin as scarecrows. It is this kind of catlike warfare which causes them to be formidable enemies both to the Chinese and the Malays, who never feel themselves safe from a Dayak. They have been known to keep watch in a well up to their chins in water, with a covering of a few leaves over their heads, to endeavor to cut off the first person who might come that way. At night they would drift down on a log, and cut the rattan cable of trading proas, while others of their party would keep watch on the bank, knowing well where the stream would take the boat ashore, and when aground they killed the men and plundered the goods.2

Many of the feuds [says Low] in which the Dyaks of Sarebas and Sakarran are now engaged, are quarrels which arose in the times of their ancestors; and the ostensible object in carrying on of which now is, that their balance of heads may be settled; for these people keep a regular account of the numbers slain on each side on every occasion; these memorandums have now, perhaps, become confused amongst the sea tribes, but amongst those of the hills, where fewer people are killed, add fighting is less frequent, the number to which each tribe is indebted to the other is regularly preserved. A hill chief once told me that he durst not travel into another country, which he wished to visit, as their people were the enemies of his tribe; when I asked him in surprise, having supposed that he was at peace with everyone except the people of Sakarran, he told me that in the time of his grandfather the people of the other tribe had killed four of his, and that in retaliation his tribe had killed three of the other, so that there was a balance of one in his favor, which had never been settled, nor had any hostilities been carried on for many years, yet all intercourse between the tribes had ceased, and they could only meet in a hostile character. . . .

The heads of their enemies are, amongst the sea tribes, preserved with the flesh and hair still adhering to the skull, and these trophies are not, as amongst the land tribes, the general property of the village, but the personal property of the individuals who capture them, though the honor of the tribe is augmented by their being in the village. The skull being freed from the brain, which is extracted by the occipital hole, the head is dried over a slow and smoking fire until all the animal juices have evaporated; they are preserved with the greatest care, and baskets full of them may be seen at any house in the villages of the sea tribes, and the family is of distinction according to the number of these disgusting and barbarous trophies in its possession; they are handed down from father to son as the most valuable property, and an accident which destroys them is considered the most lamentable calamity. An old and gray-headed chief was regretting to me one day the loss he had sustained in the destruction by fire of the heads collected by his ancestors. As I heard nothing of his property, which had been very considerable, I supposed that he had succeeded in saving it, until, on making inquiries, he told me that it had been all destroyed, but he would not have regretted it so much if he could have saved the trophies of the prowess of his fathers. It is said that the practice of head hunting, for which purpose alone their piratical expeditions are now undertaken, has been carried so far, that a Dyak cannot marry until he has at least once obtained a head. The chief of the Lundu village told me that such was the custom, but that in his tribe it had been dispensed with, as the difficulty of getting heads was so great under Mr. Brooke’s government, the wars being unfrequent, and cruising parties not being allowed to go out. The old gentleman seemed to think it a pity that a custom so calculated to inspire the men with courage should be set aside from motives of humanity, and is decidedly of opinion that "none but the brave deserve the fair."1

2St. John, S.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 1: 180.

1 Low, H., Sarawak: Its Inhabitants and Productions, 165–166, 206–207, 212–216.

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Chicago: Life in the Forests of the Far East; or Travels in Northern Borneo in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed July 22, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=K65DMLQQB9L6MT8.

MLA: . Life in the Forests of the Far East; or Travels in Northern Borneo, Vol. 1, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Jul. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=K65DMLQQB9L6MT8.

Harvard: , Life in the Forests of the Far East; or Travels in Northern Borneo. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 July 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=K65DMLQQB9L6MT8.