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Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo A Record of Intimate Association with the Natives of the Bornean Jungles

Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo
A Record of Intimate Association with the Natives of the Bornean Jungles
Title: Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo A Record of Intimate Association with the Natives of the Bornean Jungles
Release Date: 2018-05-23
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks ofBorneo, by Edwin Herbert Gomes

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Title: Seventeen Years Among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo

A Record of Intimate Association with the Natives of the Bornean Jungles

Author: Edwin Herbert Gomes

Release Date: May 23, 2018 [eBook #57201]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8



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Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellingsof Europe.

By S. Baring-Gould, M.A., Authorof “Family Names and their Story,”“The Tragedy of the Cæsars,” “CuriousMyths of the Middle Ages,” &c.With 54 Illustrations and Diagrams.Demy 8vo., 12s. 6d. net.

Seventeen Years Among the SeaDyaks of Borneo.

A Record of Intimate Associationwith the Natives of the Bornean Jungles.By Edwin H. Gomes, M.A.,Author of “The Sea Dyaks of Borneo,”&c. With an Introduction by theRev. John Perham, formerly Archdeaconof Singapore. With 40 Illustrationsand a Map. Demy 8vo., 16s.

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A Dyak Girl Dressed in all her Finery to Attend a Feast

She has in her hair a comb decorated with silver filigree work. Round her neck is a necklace ofbeads. The rings round her body are made of hoops of cane, round which little brass rings arearranged close together so that none of the cane is visible. These hoops are worn next to the bodyabove the waist, and over the petticoat below. The silver coins fastened to this brass corset, andworn as belts round it, are the silver coins of the country. The petticoat is a broad strip of cloth,sewn together at the ends and having an opening at the top and bottom. It is fastened at thewaist with a piece of string.


Seventeen Years Among
The Sea Dyaks of Borneo





38 Great Russell Street





With the establishment of Rajah Brooke’s governmentin Sarawak, the different races of its nativepopulation gradually became known to Englishpeople, and at length the Dyakland of Borneo has founda definite place and shape in the English mind, muchas the Zululand of Africa has done. The Sea Dyak soonappeared in print; travellers mentioned him, sometimesonly as a simple savage; men who have spent sometime in the country, like the late Sir Hugh Low andthe late Sir Spenser St. John, described something ofhis life; missionary reports had him in their pages;European residents and civil administrators and otherswrote of him in various papers and periodicals. Butmost, if not all, of these accounts were unavoidablybrief, partial, and sketchy, for it did not comewithin the scope of their purpose to set forth a full andsystematic statement of all things Dyak. Mr. Ling Rothcollected all the notes about Dyaks he could find, fromvarious sources, and published his harvest of accumulationsin two large volumes. It is a monument of industriouscollecting; but his work is that of the scissorsrather than of the pen, a compilation rather than awriting; and in the extracts, being the productions ofvarious writers at different periods, we see much overlappingand repetition, and some confusion; and, necessarily,such a book was too bulky to obtain a generalcirculation. More recently Miss Eda Green has given[viii]to English readers a little book about Borneo, wonderfulin its general accuracy, and vivid in its descriptions;but it is meant especially for missionary circles and missionaryreading—in fact, it was written expressly for theBorneo Mission Association, whose objects it has donemuch to promote. But it is a book about the Missionrather than about the Dyaks, and it does not profess togive a complete account of the entire field of Sea Dyaklife.

This is Mr. Gomes’s object, and he attains it. His bookis not a mere personal narrative of life in Sarawak. Wehave in it a very full, systematic, and comprehensive descriptionof Sea Dyak life—its works, thoughts, sentiments,superstitions, customs, religion, beliefs, and ideals. Ourattention is not directed to the magnificent beauties ofBornean tropical scenery and luxuriant flora, nor to thewonders of the insect life with which the land simplyabounds. Mr. Gomes sees Dyaks, and Dyaks only, in hismind. The “brown humanity” of the country, not itsnatural history, occupies his attention. He knows thathumanity intimately, and writes from the storehousewhich he has accumulated in long years of experience andobservation. And he puts all within manageable compassand volume. His book is, I believe, the first whichcontains a complete picture of Sea Dyak life in all itsphases, yet in moderate dimensions. And from my ownexperience of some twenty years in Sarawak, I cantestify to the truthfulness of every page.

Possibly it is sometimes thought that the missionaryis not the best man to write about the people to whomhe appeals; that he may be easily biassed in one directionor another, and may think too ill or too well of them,and may allow his judgment to be overcoloured by hisreligious purpose. A little experience among the peopleof any race, especially where the language is not well[ix]known, may easily result in limited views and imperfectconceptions. But when his residence has extended overmany years, and he knows the language as well as hisown; when he has had constant opportunities of observingtheir tone and conduct in every relation of life,and of hearing how they talk and think on every imaginablesubject, and of seeing how they behave at home aswell as abroad—how they bear themselves, not only toan occasional white man whom they meet, but alsoto each other in social dealings—when he thus livesin close touch with them at every point, he cannot butobtain a thorough understanding of the realities of theirlives.

And the Sea Dyaks are generally a very communicativepeople. They will willingly give information aboutevery belief and custom, and will quietly discuss everypractice and every event, good or bad; and it needs onlya little patience and sympathy to enable one to get aninsight into the working of their minds, and to realizethe true character of their actions in the struggles, thecomedies, or the tragedies of their lives.

Mr. Gomes is thus able to make the Sea Dyak livebefore us in genuine colours. We can see this duskyson of the jungle in his beliefs and fears, which are many,in his work and in his play, in his ugly faults and amiablevirtues, in his weaknesses and in his abilities. And Ithink that everyone who reads his pages will feel thathenceforth he knows the Sea Dyak of Sarawak betterthan he ever knew him before, and will come to the conclusionthat, in spite of his faults, he is a very likeableman.

The Sea Dyaks, then, are worth knowing. They constitutea very valuable element in the population ofSarawak, not only from their numbers, but also fromtheir force of character. They are active, hardworking,[x]industrious, ready to earn an honest penny when theyhave the chance; and in their domestic relations areamiable and hospitable towards strangers, and whentreated with civility and sympathy, all their good pointscome to the surface. They work hard at rice-planting,which, it is true, is of a very primitive sort, but it is thebest they know, and as good as that practised by theirMohammedan neighbours, the Malays. If some simplesystem of irrigation could be introduced among them,especially in lowland cultivation, this, their main industry,would be far more productive than it is, and itwould be a real boon to the country at large. They haveadventured upon the cultivation of other products whenthe way has been made clear to them, which is an evidenceof their capacity for progress. They penetrate andtraverse far-off jungles in search of indiarubber andgutta-percha to add to their earnings. An increasingnumber of them are keen upon book-learning, as Mr.Gomes points out. They form the Rajah’s soldiers andguards, and are capable of useful service in subordinatepositions as officers. And thus these people, who wereonce only known as fighters, pirates, and head-takers,are now a real influence in the evolution of a bettercivilization and a more fruitful era to come in those lands.The civilizing, Christianizing force no doubt worksslowly; but there it is, and, comparing present withpast, we can see it. A large influx of white people ofthe usual colonist class would doubtless be too strongfor them, and would push them out of the way; butwith a favourable chance, which they now have, of workingout a salvation for themselves, I think the Sea Dyakshave a better future before them than Mr. Gomes appearsto anticipate.

It is interesting to watch the process of a gradualenlightening going on among such a race when brought[xi]into contact with higher civilization and better religion.Mr. Gomes mentions some instances of its expression.Perhaps I may add an illustrative instance which occurredin my own experiences, many years ago. One night Iwas at anchor with a Dyak crew on the Saribas River,waiting for the turn of the tide. About 3 a.m. I wasawakened by a frightened cry from one of the crew:“Antu! antu!” (A spirit, a spirit!). Thinking myselflucky at last in a chance of actually seeing one of thoseinvisible beings whom Dyaks dread so much, I pushedmy head from under the mosquito-curtain, and lookedout, and beheld a comet brightly shining not far abovethe

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