EXPLORING BORNEO: ADOLPHE COMBANAIRE TO THE COUNTRY OF HEADHUNTERS--AND GUTTA PERCHA.
Headhunters, orangutans, rajahs, tropical downpours. For modern tourists these are part of Borneo history and at the same time part of its myth. The island has "commonly been associated with mystery, danger, and excitement" (King 1995:xiii). These factors have attracted outsiders for centuries--along with the motivations of trade, colonialism, scientific enquiry and the search for adventure. One legacy of these historic quests and idees fixes has been not only the results of the expeditions themselves, but also the records made of them. As a result, the choice of Borneo travel writing available for English-speaking readers is considerable. (1) Other valuable publications, however, remain elusive or inaccessible to some because they await translation into English. One of these is Au Pays des Coupeurs de Tetes: A Trovers Borneo [To the Country of the Headhunters: Crossing Borneo] by the French scientist and explorer Adolphe Combanaire. Published in 1902, the book is an account of Combanaire's journey which began in 1899 at Kuching, Sarawak and then continued overland through Dutch territory to the southern coast of Borneo (see his Map Figure 1). While the expedition included Sarawak, most of his time was spent in what is now West and Central Kalimantan (Kalimantan Barat and Kalimantan Tengah). The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of Combanaire's book and to set his exploration in the context of globalization and change in late nineteenth century Borneo.
Global communications and Combanaire's objectives
Je m 'etais passione pour cette question I was passionate about this question Adolphe Combanaire (1902:28)
Despite its title, Combanaire's quest and his subsequent book were not primarily forged in an expedition with headhunters, although heads and headhunters feature in the text. Nor was he investigating the rich natural and cultural heritage of Borneo, although that too makes up much of the text. Combanaire's quest was in one sense more obscure but, in another sense, potentially more significant. It was a quest that could have brought him personal glory and, indeed, considerable benefit to France if he succeeded. Combanaire's aim was to find in Borneo sources of trees supplying gutta percha; seedlings that he could take to French territory in Southeast Asia--then Cochin China and Annam, or what is now southern and central Vietnam. When Combanaire began his mission, gutta percha had become for him, and indeed many other Europeans, something of an obsession: "He went to Borneo in quest of gutta-percha. Before him, danger. But gaily he says, 'Qu 'est-ce que je risque? Ma peau... Ca ne compte pas. En route'" wrote a reviewer at the time. (2)
Gutta percha was a latex collected from certain varieties of trees belonging to the Sapotaceae genus, in particular the Palaquium and, arguably, the Payena species found in Southeast Asia. The latex was first brought to European attention in 1843, and exports to Britain, Europe, the U.S and elsewhere soon followed. It was initially used in much the same way as plastics are today, to produce industrial and decorative products, soles of shoes and golf balls. Singapore was the center of the global trade in gutta percha and the trade would probably have continued to be of only moderate importance to the region and as a global commodity had it not been for one development that changed the trade, the supplying region, and the face of global communications. (3)
Submarine telegraphy was in the nascent stages of development at the time gutta percha was brought to European notice. Telegraph cables transmitted messages by electrical impulse and as such required insulation if they were to be laid across the seabed to provide an effective worldwide communications network. No suitable insulator had been found previously that could do this. Various types of rubbers, even paper, straw and hemp had been tried but all failed either as insulators, or because they lacked the tensile strength needed to produce a strong cable, or they lacked the durability needed to survive submarine conditions. Gutta percha did this, but not all types of gutta percha. While efforts were made to find sources for gutta percha elsewhere across the globe, this was never really successful and it was found only in what is now the Malay peninsula, Borneo, western Indonesia and the southern Philippines. Cables were extremely expensive, so no one wanted to risk using other insulation materials and only the best varieties of gutta percha were sought and elaborate testing methods were developed to ensure the best quality products were used. (4) Further adding to the problem of securing reliable supplies of sufficient quality was the fact that to obtain gutta percha, the trees had to be cut down, because the latex was slow to collect from trees and they could not be readily tapped as could rubber trees. This meant that, in the half century after the first international cable was laid using gutta percha (in 1851), it was estimated that 27 million trees may have been felled for use in the ensuing global network of cables. (5) As a result, there was great consternation within official and telegraphic worlds about the potential disappearance of gutta percha trees and the impact this might have on the cable business and global communications generally. Internationally, many papers were written on the topic, conferences discussed the problem, and representatives from several countries went on expeditions throughout the world in an attempt to find new sources of either gutta percha or of alternatives. Complicating the issue were the differing opinions about the varieties of gutta percha that were best suited to cable manufacture, where they could be found, and what they were or even how they should be identified. The arguments continued for decades. (6)
There were other complications. Britain was by far the most important cable producing country. By 1903, for example, one British cable company alone had produced just over 200,000 nautical miles of the approximately 230,000 nautical miles of international cables that had been laid. (7) The concern in some countries was that Britain dominated the gutta percha trade through its possession of Singapore. Not only was the potential supply of gutta percha at risk, the fear was that Britain might prevent future sales to other cable producing countries--such as France, which was also an important cable producing country. It must have been doubly infuriating to French cable companies and French officialdom that there were French colonies so very close to the sources of gutta percha--immediately adjacent, indeed, to the Malay peninsula where the very best quality gutta percha was found. Yet, due to the natural conditions, nothing was found in the French colonies. France had sent various envoys to different parts of its colonial outposts, including in Africa and the Caribbean. Other countries had done the same, including Germany and the U.S. (8)
In 1881, the French Minister of Posts and Telegraphs sent an engineer, M. Seligmann-Lui, on a mission to determine suitable varieties of trees that could produce gutta percha in French colonies in Southeast Asia (Seligmann-Lui 1883:5). In his report, Seligmann-Lui was not optimistic about the future of the supply of gutta percha and the telegraph industry: he wrote, "if measures are not taken quickly, the industry will soon lose a material that, up to now, it has not known how to replace" (Seligmann-Lui 1883:80). He sent several botanical specimens to Saigon (now Ho Chi Min City) but they were left in the cellars of the Government offices and died. (9) Further ill-fated efforts came after the French government sent an economic botanist, M. Serullas to Southeast Asia, to study and hunt for gutta percha. During several visits to the region, Serullas' efforts were stalled by fever and dysentery, lack of funding and a series of bureaucratic bunglings and disagreements. In the end, the test seedlings he collected were rejected, then accepted and then finally neglected and left to die, his efforts said to have been "wasted" (Obach 1897:114). (10) Other official French investigators went to the region with the same aim, but little real progress was made, notwithstanding the consensus that "We must at all costs stop being dependent on the English." (11) Frustration continued. In a commercial sense, French interest grew. In Singapore, two French owned companies were established in the 1890s which aimed to produce commercial grade gutta percha from leaves, one using a patented method very similar to one that Combanaire himself had already patented. Another French-owned company established itself in Sarawak utilizing a similar method of production (after being granted a monopoly by Rajah Charles Brooke). A French commercial and scientific interest in the demand for gutta percha was, therefore, well entrenched in the region. None of the factories mentioned above were long term successes, largely due to the quality of their product, lack of a reliable source of supply of raw material, and cost of transport. (12)
All these efforts had failed to progress the plantation supply of gutta percha on a commercial level--and had not brought the certainty of supply for international, or French, cable production. Nor, indeed, had they ameliorated for France its vulnerability to British gutta percha market superiority. It was a matter of national pride as much as a problem for diplomatic, commercial and communications certainty that could be resolved only if someone could find a way for France to limit its dependence upon the supply of gutta percha from foreign sources. Anyone who could find new sources of gutta percha, or establish sources that could be grown commercially, would indeed be praised internationally and nationally would be lauded as a great patriot.
It is in this context that Combanaire's expedition needs to be understood. Although born in France, Combanaire had spent several years working in the electrical (telegraphic) industry in Britain and the United States. In the 1890s he was a co-patentee of a process to purify gutta percha. (13) He had been on an expedition to Sumatra to try to find species of trees that might be transplanted in French territories to provide France with gutta percha and had studied the Singapore gutta percha market. (14) Combanaire was not alone in his mission, and it seems likely that he was encouraged by the French Consul in Singapore, le Comte de Jouffroy d'Abbans, who was himself very interested in gutta percha and who had also undertaken expeditions investigating it, invested in it and had written about the trade. (15) Combanaire's mission to Borneo was a kind of grail quest of potentially global importance, certainly national importance for France. Indeed, d'Abbans' paper about his own experience with gutta percha mentions Combanaire's efforts and described Combanaire as a "fanatique de la gutta... 'il les sentait, les flair ait, les palpait, les caressait..." that is, "a fanatic of the gutta... he stroked [the trees], smelled them, felt them, caressed them" (d'Abbans 1903:598). Combanaire could well have had in mind his colleague d'Abbans' exhortation "Oh! Messieurs, les joies de l'exploration en pays equatorial" (1903:598). It was with these hopes and great potential that Combanaire began his journey.
What follows is an outline of Combanaire's book, with annotations in the footnotes to provide background information related to the scenes described by Combanaire. In general, Combanaire does not give a name for most of the people he met; where he does so, these are provided here. It might also be noted that in general he used the term 'campong' [kampong] for most of the settlements he visited--as John Walker has suggested, many of these may have been longhouse settlements. (16) Again, most were not named in the book; where towns or settlements were named, this is noted in the summary below.
Au Pays des Coupeurs de Tetes: A Travers Borneo: The book and the expedition
Combanaire began with an Introduction which, despite the book's title, does not in fact mention headhunters (1993:11-13). Rather, he surveyed the significance of submarine telegraphy and the associated problem of gutta percha supply and his own experiences in trying to solve the types of problems set out above. The commonly held view, he noted, was that the best varieties came from Isonandra gutta. After two previous expeditions elsewhere in the region, and after examining the product sold in the market at Singapore, Combanaire felt he had discovered a better variety "which was not Isonandra" (1993:12). Although he did not as yet name it, he was searching for the variety known as Payena. He believed he would find these trees in Borneo because he thought this variety had largely been untouched by gutta collectors. (17) He left Singapore for Sarawak in May 1899, where, he informed his readers, he was unable to find any useful information as the matter was "a closely guarded secret." His only alternative was to go further into the center of Borneo (1993:12). Despite the difficult journey which lay ahead, he confessed that he had nothing prepared for his long exploration or for the fact that the risks ahead of him were enormous. Against that risk, he felt that if he did not act soon, it would be impossible for submarine cables to continue in production because of the potential disappearance of the prime material indispensable to their manufacture. His only choice was to "scorn the normal routes" and head inland; emboldened by the knowledge that his interests would be protected by the Consular corps in Singapore--that is, the French Consul, Jouffroy d'Abbans. (18)
Having explained the motives for his expedition, Combanaire began the story of his journey proper in Chapter 1, with an account of his preparations and visit to Sarawak. Having arrived in Kuching, he described the capital, its history under the Brookes and its main inhabitants (1993:15-19). He briefly listed the main official buildings, and the fact that there were no hotels in Kuching, only an extremely bad and expensive government rest house run by a Chinese. Designed to "accommodate officers returning from the interior or the few Europeans passing through the city," it might suit those who were not fussy about cleanliness or food (1993:19). On the river's edge were wharves used to load and unload boats; the Customs stores, covered market and a mosque (which he thought very busy). The commercial center consisted of "two main streets parallel to the river. The houses had only one floor, but in front of all the shops a gallery allows the buyer to circulate away from the sun and the rain." All the Chinese trade had been located in this area because of its proximity to the river (1993:20). The shops and warehouses stored sago flour, gutta percha, rubber and copra; while on mats out in the sun, were other products including gambier cubes, dried fish, pepper, coffee, nuts, squash seed, shark fins, and fruits and seeds of all colors (1993:19-20). He noted that Dayaks preferred freedom of movement in the forest to life in the city where they came to trade, but that it was Chinese who directed them to the places in the forest where they knew that there were still trees producing gutta percha whose price was constantly increasing, a conclusion which in part seems quite at odds with the generally accepted view that Chinese traders relied upon indigenous traders, to locate gutta percha and other forest produce (1993:23). He discussed the capture, trial and execution of Dayaks who were convicted of headhunting. He then went on to describe the executions. (19)
Very popular was 'le club,' the meeting place of all Europeans in Kuching which he described as having been arranged with "all the comfort that the English bring to countries where they seem to settle." Surrounded with a wide veranda where the dogs of each member had chains reserved for them, it included "billiards and reading tables and a portrait of the Rajah, photographs of Dayaks or prominent visitors are hung on the wall" (1993:21). He concluded that like the French, the English in distant lands were trying to work for the greatness of their homeland (1993:22). The Rajah was "the sovereign authority, without appeal" and the territory was divided into provinces administered by Residents, while the Supreme Council decided, as a last resort, serious disputes or cases likely to lead to the death penalty. Combanaire felt that the authority of Residents was "very effective on the coasts and near rivers but is less so in the interior" and "nonexistent in the mountain ranges separating Sarawak from Central Borneo." The regular army he said was made up of three hundred men--mainly Malays with some Dayak--commanded by two Europeans. If a large expedition were required then Dayaks were requisitioned from regions near those "to be punished" which was readily achieved since they were, he said, "happy to settle old accounts with their neighbors" (1993:23).
Combanaire wrote that he had decided to pay his respects to the Rajah, Charles Brooke, and explain the purpose of his visit, observing that Brooke put "coquetry into answering me in French." (20) He thought Brooke was better informed than his compatriots about both submarine telegraphy and Combanaire's role in cable manufacture, asking him for information about such issues, especially about gutta percha (1993:30). It is entirely plausible that Brooke knew of the general importance of gutta percha; it was well known in Sarawak and he would have received reports from the Sarawak Treasurer and Residents about the importance of gutta percha exports. (21) As part of an hour-long conversation, Combanaire revealed his plans for crossing the mountains separating Sarawak and Dutch Borneo. Brooke was shocked that Combanaire intended going unaccompanied and queried Combanaire's experience with "jungle life." (22) Brooke put at Combanaire's disposal an assistant, Ismail, to help him on his way, and Combanaire spent eight days buying utensils and provisions for his trip, before heading to Lundu with a letter of introduction to the Resident (1993:31).
In Chapter 2, Combanaire heads to Lundu, taking with him the supplies that he felt necessary, based on his previous trips in the tropics. These included cookware, eight suits (including two in gray cotton which he thought were more comfortable than khaki), six pairs of shoes, three of which were cloth. He had boxes of preserved beef, sardines, pea flour, pulses and tins of oxtail to make soup, along with biscuits and tins of butter. Also, a bag each of onions and potatoes, plus condensed milk, dried fish, fat, salt in bottles, tea, coffee and sugar. Other items of importance were a pharmacy kit, fever and bite medication, cinchona, (23) a shotgun, one large and one small revolver, and ammunition. He brought enough drinks to "satisfy the most difficult"--wine, beer, soda, cognac and liqueurs; coca, anisette and absinthe to "introduce my casual friends to the joys of aperitifs." On the advice of Ismail, he added tobacco and a basket of gin for the Dayaks; he also carried a large stock of Dutch cigars in hermetically sealed tin boxes to protect them from moisture (1993:34). The tobacco, gin and cigars and so on, were to prove of constant value in establishing good relations with those he met en route and for paying his crew for the duration of his journey.
They eventually arrive at the home of the Resident of Lundu (1993:43-45). The crew would return to Kuching the following day with Ismail remaining to help Combanaire recruit porters for his expedition. Combanaire took a walk around the town and came across a group of "Dayaks who came to sell gutta percha" to Chinese shopkeepers who were liberally distributing rice brandy, arrack to them. Other shopkeepers came to watch with envy, concluded Combanaire (1993:43). After seeing some buildings related to tobacco growing, he made some observations about its trade. He noted that tobacco was a valuable crop in the Netherlands Indies, along with "tea, sugar and cinchona," but that its cultivation required a constant supply of new land, as the forest had to be cut down, set on fire and then young plants transplanted from nurseries. After "harvest, which takes place after five to six months, the land is abandoned because one must wait up to fifteen years before using it again... enormous spaces [are] required for this cultivation." He concluded that the areas he subsequently went through in Borneo "would not lend themselves to this culture" (presumably because of the land clearances it would require; 1993:46). (24) The next day Ismail and a crew of porters arrived--twelve men and a boy. Combanaire realized he has too much for the men to carry and has to sacrifice some of his provisions and gives a basket of fifteen bottles of champagne to the Resident. (25) In his report to the Rajah for June 1899, the Resident of Lundu, H.R.A. Day, noted that:
On the 11th, a M. Combanaire arrived by boat en route for Pontianak. Having got coolies for him he left next morning for Sambas. (26)
No mention was made of the champagne.
His expedition barely begun, at the beginning of Chapter 3, Combanaire encountered the same problem reported by many Europeans in Borneo before him. On this, his first day of walking, he lost his footing and he concludes that his shoes, and his white suit will be severely tested, as he himself is as he sinks into mud up to his knees (1993:49). They encounter a group of Dayaks heading to Lundu to sell gutta percha, which Combanaire examined for quality and asked them for information on it, although he did not tell us what he learned from the encounter (1993:51). Continuing the journey, the group arrived at a small pepper plantation which Combanaire briefly summarized and concluded that "the pepper of Borneo is of first quality and rivals the best," adding that the war in Sumatra had limited pepper production there and, as a result, the price received by the local Chinese grower had doubled. (27) The next day, the group moved on and arrived at another important kampong. He provides the first reference to headhunters (1993:57):
One thing strikes me as I cross the long building: I see several severed heads grimacing at the end of rattans that attach them to the ceiling beams.
After staying the night, the group moved on, still trekking the mountains and yet to reach the Sambas area in Dutch Borneo (now West Kalimantan). Yet another group of gutta percha collectors was encountered, carrying the result of eight days work. Combanaire thought it a rather meagre amount and they head to the next kampong a few hours away, where, Combanaire reported, a dozen more heads (bare of skin) were hanging (1993:59). They move to the Sambas region where, having been told that they cannot continue their journey by river at this time of year, they decided to continue overland and all the men from Lundu would return and Combanaire would obtain a new group of men and a guide to continue (1993:62).
In Chapter 4, the journey continued by large canoe, led by a Malay who claimed to lead pangerans who came to the area. Combanaire explains that pangerans were the equivalent of civil servants, and that below them were the raden who acted as intermediaries with the local people. The Malay had also acted for two or three gold prospectors, usually an engineer acting for himself or a company; in the course of the conversation, he tells Combanaire he remembers having led a Swiss traveller a decade earlier (1993:71). The next day the river journey continued where they encountered a Chinese boat trader of the type, Combanaire observed, who brought back the resins (rubber and gutta percha) of the interior that were traded with "the natives" for gunpowder, unbeknownst to the Dutch authorities (1993:80). The night was spent in the house of a Chinese trader who lived near a "semblance of a wharf" on the river. He had been a coffee farmer whose lands were now overrun with grass, as changes in the market had meant that coffee was no longer a commercially viable product. Combanaire sympathized and went on to consider the vagaries of (in effect) the global economy, noting that overproduction, the economic revolution of recent years, "displacement of centers of cultivation" and the U.S. McKinley Bill had ruined tobacco prices (1993:81). (28)
The group moved on to Siluas but was told that the Pangeran was absent at a war in an area that Combanaire called Song-Kong, (29) about six day's march away (Figure 1). At Song-Kong the heads had been cut off six Chinese traders who had smuggled salt from Sarawak. (30) As a result, the Sultan of Sambas had ordered the local Pangeran (who was also the Sultan's brother) to gather a group of Dayaks and take revenge for the Chinese "salt thieves" (1993:83). Seven or eight hundred warriors were said to have gathered for the expedition, causing Combanaire to worry that these unsettled conditions would delay his trip. The local chief told Combanaire that he was worried that he was required to provide men for this expedition as they were needed to sow rice and this would hold back the harvest and they would not have enough to eat in the future (1993:83). Combanaire continued upriver, hoping to avoid being entangled in this dispute, when he encountered a Chinese trader at Siding who explained that the hostilities in fact had nothing to do with the killing of the Chinese (the "salt thieves"). Chinese had been killed before, so that was not the reason. Rather, the attack was being mounted because the people had refused to pay taxes to the Sultan of Sambas. The trader told him that he was, in fact, very happy about the situation as it has provided him with an unexpected influx of customers and he had sold out of just about everything his boat contained! The trader knew the Chinese who had been killed and did not like them or regret what had happened to them. They were competing with all the other shopkeepers as they took all the Song-Kong gutta percha and traded it in Sarawak which was bad for his own trade. At this, Combanaire observed "It was so funny that I could not help laughing." (31) Combanaire was, however, warned against continuing on his planned route, and told that he would have to divert towards the Sekayam river in the direction of Sarawak to avoid the hostilities (termed the Sekayang by Combanaire, see Figure 1). The next day a new group of men was hired. (32)
The expedition continues in Chapter 5 and Combanaire's party arrived at another, what he called large and important "kampong." It was a "dayak house...[of] at least twenty families" (1993:92-3). Combanaire discussed the local security problems as the kampong chief asked for news of the war, and "explains to me that only two [of his] men had left, with rifles, because he was afraid that his dangerous neighbors would take revenge on him if he provided a larger contingent" and confirmed to Combanaire what the Chinese had told him. Combanaire thought that this kampong was "less wretched than those I have seen before... several women are wearing, over the blue underpants [le calecon], which is the dayaks woman's usual garment, a row of dollars pierced and fastened to the belt... Little girls have a necklace of white pearls or garnet, with a half-dollar coin as a medallion" (1993:93). He arranged for a new crew of porters to head over the hills towards the Sekayam river (six hours away) and Sarawak to avoid the hostilities (1993:93).
Stopping at another kampong, Combanaire learnt that the Song-Kong men were not liked as they often crossed into the "territory to take rubber and gutta percha into Sarawak, and they had a history of hunting each other's heads," although in the previous few years they had sometimes gone together as friends to the Sadong (Sarawak) to sell their products and to bring back salt, tobacco "and even heads." Combanaire looked around for any heads, but he is told that they were hidden in case any of their comrades recognized the heads that were taken off their former enemies. Combanaire concluded, "I am now certain that I am entering a dangerous area that must be avoided as soon as possible" (1993:94-95). Combanaire had difficulty arranging a crew since the men he had did not want to go further as they did not feel safe, and replacements were difficult to find as many were away sowing rice (1993:96). He became uncertain for the first time in his expedition, observing, "I cannot wait to leave here, it seems that this cursed house will bring me bad luck." Frustrated by the difficulties in arranging a crew, Combanaire threatened those who would listen to him that if he did not have the canoes the next morning, he would set fire to the Kampong! (1993:97).
Then an unknown "troop" arrives and its leader demanded to know who he was and what he was doing in this country--Combanaire colorfully observed that the leader had a hypocritically ferocious eye, and wolf teeth scarcely concealed by betel [juice]. Combanaire barked back "You are hardly polite!" Advising Combanaire that he did not come to be polite, the commander identified himself as Ali, the First Officer of the king of Song-Kong and declared that Combanaire was a prisoner of his master. Although Combanaire responded by drawing his revolver (1993:99), common sense prevailed with both men lowering their weapons (Figure 3 below). It was eventually agreed that Combanaire (under armed watch) could remain the night in the kampong and that he and his crew would accompany Ali the next day (1993:100). They marched onwards the next day and Combanaire notes he was now in a region where "Malay will be spoken only [as an]...exception: it has given way to the dayak language" of which the several dialects were "very different from Malay; however, several very commonly used Malay words have, in fact become dayak [words]" (1993:104). Still, he wonders what might happen to him, "hostage against the Dutch, massacred in retaliation because I am a white man, or a third option, which one?" (1993:106). Moving on again the next day with his men and the guards, Combanaire observed one of the men carrying a handsome parang, complete with five tufts of hair of different colors. "A tuft per head cut with the parang," he was told, at which his captor, Ali, remarked, "Very pretty! All that is missing is the hair of a white man." Combanaire's response was to accuse Ali of being a coward, noting that Ali himself carried a rifle, not a parang. (33)
Combanaire finally arrived with his "captor" at the intended place of his arrest, a kampong of several hundred people which he thought was named Kinii, somewhere on Mt Sinejane where the Raden Sitea awaited him (Chapter 6, see Figure 1 for Mt Sinejane). (34) To meet the Raden, Combanaire puts on a fresh white suit, and carries his carefully protected French hunting knife, along with his revolver--thinking to himself that if he has to leave for the "great journey" he will take out as many others as possible, with the last "bullet for me!" (1993:110). Raden Sitea met Combanaire dressed in "a great ceremonial costume" with a black "toque" (cap) trimmed along the bottom with a wide silver braid. A matching braid formed a border along the bottom of the sleeves of his black jacket, which was "adorned with enormous silver buttons. On the breast, bandolier style, is a stiff sash, a golden yellow color, on which were two metal bird feathers, engraved with Arabic characters." Around him was a "circle [of] dayak chiefs" with their hair adorned with cloth of showy colors. Combanaire judged the Raden to be intelligent but certainly cruel. "I must present as perfectly calm," Combanaire told himself, chewing the betel served to him. He looked up to see a row of heads hanging from above. "I have seen others and all curiosity would seem inappropriate, but is a shame, because, if it were not for this funereal decoration, this would look like a quiet meeting where everyone vied with one another to be polite," he concluded (1993:111). Eventually Raden Sitea demanded to know who Combanaire was. He responded that he was sent by the powerful Rajah Brooke to seek compensation for the murders of his subjects (1993:115). When asked to show papers to prove his case (which of course he does not have), Combanaire says he did not carry them, as expecting only to meet Dayaks who of course could not read, such papers would be useless. Not certain this subterfuge was enough to convince the Raden, Combanaire decides something more is required and so he hands over his hunting knife, insisting it is a gift from Rajah Brooke, the steel of which is a symbol of the durability of his friendship - Raden Sitea looked at it "with the air of a connoisseur" (1993:113). The next morning the two returned to a discussion about the need to prevent attacks on each other's men--"Am I complaining that his [Rajah Brooke's] subjects in Batang Lupar kill my men?" asked Raden Sitea. (35) Combanaire retorted that this was in part because the Raden's men went there to get salt and oil, knowing that the Rajah guaranteed their safety, and it was precisely to resolve these matters that he was there. How funny life is, thought Combanaire, "I am an ambassador!" Yet, as he added, "By an unspoken agreement, like all people who esteem or fear each other, we postpone explanation that could, for the moment, be unpleasant... I take another cigar..." (1993:120).
Combanaire thought there was a "big difference between these Dayaks and those of the plains." They were taller, the women stronger and the children had less of the eye diseases and skin conditions common in most Dayaks. The dress was "neater than on the plain, only a few men are dressed in bark belts [loin cloths]...others wear trousers and light cloth jackets," which he thought necessary given the cold nights prevalent at that altitude. A factor which illustrated the "mood" of the people of Song-Kong was that they no longer used the Dayak word 'tompok' for kampong, but rather 'binetane' which equated to "a large house with a fortress" where warriors must be good guards. Along with the relative improvement in clothing, he found better utensils including oil lamps made of glass, similar to those used by the Chinese. The kampong also had rice mills (which he briefly describes), rather than the usual pestles which were used to remove the husk from the padi rice (1992:122-23).
Another meeting was held with Raden Sitea who told Combanaire that he had held his position for thirty years and had been collecting taxes (four dollars per family) for the Sultan of Sambas all that time. He liked the Sultan, whom he thought fair, who kept "barely a few florins out of the 2,000 he receives monthly from the Dutch government." The rest went to the hundreds of "sloths, hajis and so-called sons of rajah" who keep the taxes which the Dayaks cannot afford to pay, while for the few Malays who pay them, taxes were only two dollars. Some pangerans sought taxes of "six or even eight dollars a year!" The Sultan was surrounded by "a legion of parasites, who, in their turn, requisition, according to their fancy, the Dayaks, to plant and harvest their rice, build their houses that are immediately replaced by others, or to satisfy all the whims of the lazy...in exchange for all of these charges what do we receive? Nothing, not even the few drugs we need." Salt, "which is so necessary to us" was crushed with taxes and considered a delicacy and "when famine comes, it is as if we do not exist; but comes the rice harvest: complete Change! All the Malays are falling on us like a tiger from the trees onto a brood of birds! Is that fair?" So frustrated by all these abuses, the Raden had advised his men not to pay the tax, "and we will not pay it! If they come to force us, they will be well received... each of our kampongs can be turned into a fortress, and we have enough rifles and powder to defend ourselves. As long as I live, it will be so!" (1993:124-25). Combanaire queried why the Dutch tolerated such things. The Dutch, the Raden Sitea felt, had to spare the Malays (that is, allow them to act in this way) as they might wish to "launch them against us" in the future (1993:126). The Dutch were powerless against the Malays and were, in any case, more interested in taxes than in people losing their heads. The Raden said he did not like "my men cutting heads. But it's a tradition which is lost in the mists of time... it is a form of revenge against those who have massacred their parents or their friends, too bad for those who pay for the others! What I do not want is to kill to steal; I had the salt taken from the Chinese who have been slaughtered lately and demanded that it be shared among the families who have the most children." Although he would try to protect traders coming from Sarawak, that would be difficult to do in distant kampongs (1993:126). Raden Sitea "in order to change the conversation" then showed Combanaire a small bottle full of diamonds, offering Combanaire some, which he declined, thinking that this would have been going too far. Raden Sitea and Combanaire ended up "the best friends in the world" (1993:128).
That evening, celebrations were held, with dancing and an orchestra, a "warrior dance" of ceremonial headhunting to the shouts of a "delirious crowd." An "infernal racket" began, telling him that the festival had begun; an orchestra made up of brass and drums (kelintans and tawaks, which he describes). The music steadies and two young men enter, dressed in bark loin cloth, with a bamboo in their hand, saluting the Raden twice. They move to the center of the rectangle in front "at the call of the orchestra which beats with fury." The two perform a series of pirouettes, "as if the mats were burning their feet...the palm of the hand raised and widely opened as with the Javanese dancers." After a period of "incessantly accelerated movement," the dancers stop, "exhausted" (1993:130-31). Three young women dressed in sarongs enter, followed by three others with drums and they begin to move in a series of gestures similar to the men, "but more graceful." There were singers in the background, but Combanaire did not understand them as they spoke "pure Dayak." He was told they were singing about the great kampongs where white men sell the things that adorn women to make them more beautiful. The dances and songs then cease and the orchestra resumes; two sons of chiefs begin to dance, performing with wooden sabres, "the true warrior dance... who will pay with his head?" wrote Combanaire. Then, with an outburst from the brass of the orchestra, one of the dancers simulates a fall. His partner jumps, "fast as lightning... with one blow of his wooden sword he simulates slicing the head while miming the joy of having finally conquered so precious a trophy" while the orchestra, "which is raging, [is] scarcely heard amidst the shouts of the delirious crowd." The Raden congratulates the dancers, and Combanaire gives them cigars, beers, and a bottle of anisette (1993:130-33).
With his position seemingly resolved, the next day Combanaire decided to leave the kampong, explaining to Raden Sitea that he needed to head to Sarawak and the Lupar river to try to stop the customary massacres (Chapter 1). Combanaire made another of his many short descriptive diversions, about what the men were wearing--the "belts" (loin cloths made of tree bark "called Touhoup or Poudou, depending on the country") and he explained how these were made and worn (1993:135-6). Moving on with his group, en route they passed a carved barrier (representing human heads), put in place to protect against disease and hantu, and then descended into a valley where the men stopped to remove the leeches attached to their legs (1993:137-8). Combanaire reached the Sekayam river (which he had crossed before, this time having had to go around the hostilities) and spent the night at another kampong he thought made of up fifty families. It was agreed that his crew would return to the Song-Kong and a new group of men would be assigned to him (1993:142). Combanaire did not join the evening meal (concerned that "too many hands have touched the food") but joined the men afterwards to share mangosteen wine and a few bottles of arrack brought by Combanaire (1993:145). A ritualized performance began, allegedly involving biting into a "head" but this was interrupted by another performance, of an orchestra and dance troupe for "the dance of the heads" (1993:146-7). A troupe of women enter, dressed in dazzling sarongs, decorated at the waist with multiple rows of dollars, their hair adorned with green garlands "they certainly have been chosen from among the most beautiful women of the kampong" concluded Combanaire. The orchestra fell silent other than for a measured drum beat. The first dancer holds a severed head. Two of her followers each carry another head. The line ends with three other women who have plates and a jar. The line is broken by women on one side with heads, and on the other with plates loaded with food. There was a simulated feeding of the heads, "The vision is horrible!" wrote Combanaire. The dancers bent down and pretended to cut off the heads, then come together and chanted. "Thus perish the cowards! Honor to the brave men!" Two hundred voices repeated the cries. The orchestra and spectators reached a crescendo "as if taken by a sudden madness," and Combanaire was taken by the emotions of bravery evoked by their imprecations (1993:148).
The excitements and dangers of previous days behind him, Combanaire moved on to the next kampong, where he was surprised to meet a Chinese who worked as a trader between the Sadong and Kapuas region and lived with a group of Dayaks (Chapter 8). The trader told Combanaire he was formerly a coolie in Singapore but had come to Sarawak to try to make a fortune from trading in gutta percha and rubber. He claimed that the dozens of large Chinese traders [towkays] controlled the trade, so he branched out on his own to deal directly with the Dayaks. "He now employs several porters for his business" who were armed with flintlock muskets, "the sight of which inspired enough fear to have so far prevented him from being looted or killed." He carried salt from Sarawak, smuggled into the Landak river area (Dutch Borneo) and took back tobacco and "pottery" [heirloom jars, pusaka] (1993:151). The trader asked Combanaire not to tell the authorities in Sarawak about his trade or the fact that he lived with Dayaks (both of which were forbidden). The trader recruited porters for him and the journey continued and Combanaire reached close to the head of the Sadong river (1993:152-53). At another kampong, a chief explains that he paid no taxes, either to Sarawak or to the Dutch, and would leave the area if ever asked to pay. He wore a necklace composed of between 150 and 200 human molars (1993:160). Later, the group encountered a group of ten Dayaks loaded with gutta percha which they intend selling to Chinese of the upper Sadong river area. Combanaire inspected the gutta which, he noted, was not adulterated, and he congratulated the Dayaks on this. The chief's son explained to Combanaire that they were forced to collect only quality gutta as if they made too clumsy a mix, buyers would denounce them and the goods would be seized. The Chinese were anxious that the "natives give them gutta percha of good quality," so as not to prevent what they ship being sent to Singapore (1993:161). (36) Moving on, Combanaire struggled with the tracks and improvised bridges, humorously asking himself why ten Dayaks, loaded with thirty to forty kilos could confidently walk on bridges that infallibly collapsed when he is on them (1993:161).
At the next kampong the leader would not tell Combanaire whether he was from Sarawak or Dutch Borneo, although as Combanaire concluded "it is in reality a neutral zone where the difficulty of collecting taxes is doubled by the ease of moving the kampong to the other side of the border. In the interior of Borneo, the Dayaks imagine that all white men are of the same nationality; but in the region where I find myself, the difference in taxes makes them admit that there are at least two categories" (1993:167). The idea of a neutral zone, or an area where national boundaries were obscure, continued when Combanaire ventured on in the next chapter.
In Chapter 9, the group arrived at another kampong where they were greeted with suspicion in case Combanaire was an official of "the company" that is, the Dutch government. The leader of the kampong had never paid taxes to either Sarawak or the Dutch and had never had a European come there to force him to decide which he is (and pay tax accordingly). (37) Combanaire assured him that he was a doctor come to offer help if needed and treated some of the people (1993:172). The next day Combanaire headed off with a new group of men supplied by the kampong. Although Combanaire thought that nine would be sufficient, the kampong leader insisted that he take twelve, as a smaller group would risk being attacked. The men came armed with spears (1993:174). En route, one of the porters suggested ("only half smiling") to Combanaire that, given the means of attack at their disposal, it would be a pity not to raid twenty heads in some kampong if the opportunity arose. Before they arrived at the next kampong, Combanaire and his men were met by some of its inhabitants sowing rice. Their arrival was met with astonishment and suspicion before Combanaire, again, explained that he was been sent to look after the sick (1993:175). Continuing the observations about trade and agriculture that he made throughout the book, Combanaire goes on to explain rice cultivation in Borneo. The "Dayaks never sow it twice in a row at the same place, which means that huge spaces are indispensable for its cultivation... It is believed that they cut and burn the forest as much for pleasure as for necessity... it is very common to see large prepared sites, which will never be cultivated for lack of necessity. The best rice of Borneo cannot compare with the rice of Java, Rangoon or Indo-china" 1993:176).
The group was told that it could stay in the kampong, but only for the night, as the leader considered Combanaire's men to be enemies (1993:176). That night, the kampong leader warned that the nearby areas were not safe on either side of the border, as "all kampongs who refuse to pay taxes came into this neutral zone...where they find complete freedom." Unfortunately, since the "cultivable areas are limited" the kampongs in the area had "very negative views of the intruder who would [further] reduce the land they have for their rice... [as a result] massacres, initially isolated, are generalized and whole kampongs are exterminated" (1993:177). Combanaire's men became very hesitant about continuing, a situation made worse the following morning when the head of the porters declared that bad bird omens had been observed warning of certain death. Combanaire confirmed that this was so, because unless the leader resumed his place at the head of the column he will take out his shotgun (thereby fulfilling the prediction of the omen). The march continued with the leader at the front and Combanaire at the rear to "avoid possible defections" (1993:178). After further walking, Combanaire decided not to continue in the direction of the Lupar, to which the men refused to go in any case, but to return instead in the direction of Dutch Borneo, an area the men already knew, as they had been there collecting gutta percha and resin. The only drawback was that it was eight or ten days walk to the river (1993:181).
At the beginning of Chapter 10, Combanaire reflected that it was fortunate that he was travelling alone (rather than in a group of Europeans), which would have alerted suspicion and hostilities, because the Dayaks assumed that foreigners came only to disturb the peace, force them to pay taxes or to steal their women. He also felt his system of employing porters from kampong to kampong worked well (1993:183). He then notes that kampongs might be abandoned if the occupants had been frightened by hantu [spirits or ghosts], thus requiring them to settle down somewhere else. Each time this was done, the kampong was given a new name, as a result it "is more useful for the traveller to know approximately where it is situated, than the more or less exact name" (1993:184). (38)
That night Combanaire heard an ax ['cognee', a hatchet or woodman's ax] striking a tree and his men decided that it was gutta percha collectors working in the area. Eventually they found four Dayaks stripping branches from a gutta percha tree, part of a group of fifteen who had come from the Lupar mountain to collect gutta percha (1993:190). Tobacco and arrack being shared, it was agreed to go on and meet with the rest of men. At the meeting with the Lupar men it was agreed Combanaire and his group would camp nearby and more tobacco was shared to "cement the alliance" of the two groups. The Lupar chief, whose name was Kia, was from the Seram river in Sarawak (Figure 1). His group was searching for gutta percha, which was becoming more difficult to find in his own area. He had previously worked a type of rubber called srapat, but gutta percha paid better. Combanaire said Kia was astonished to find a European who knew gutta percha better than himself. This was "a little humiliating" for Kia, especially when he told him it was better to cut down a gutta percha tree in the morning, when the yield was better, and for the same reason to make his principal harvesting campaign in the two months after the wet season. Combanaire felt that Kia did not harbor any ill feeling at Combanaire's "evident superiority" and was helpful when Combanaire asked if he could learn from him how to increase the yield (1993:191-92). Of note is the fact that Kia must have spent much of his life travelling, collecting and trading across this region of Borneo for he told Combanaire that he also knew Sintang, "having been there in his youth to look for tobacco and pottery [pusaka]" (1993:195).
Kia told Combanaire that they had cut down some gutta trees loaded with fruit, which was of great interest to Combanaire as the spread of "guttifers" was not well understood and he was keen to find the seeds. He offered a reward if the men could locate such trees for him (1993:193). Combanaire showed the Lupar chief how to give his gutta percha a better appearance by adding the latex of several are shrubs into the latex mix to form a blend which would "mislead" the Chinese traders, a technique which convinced Kia he was "something of a wizard." (39) During discussions that followed, Kia said that many Dayaks from Dutch territory liked to trade their gutta percha in the Upper Lupar (Sarawak) because the Rajah's officials checked the weights used by Chinese traders to make sure they were accurate. Combanaire remained sceptical about the veracity of this claim, however, because most Dayaks could not read the Chinese characters marked on the weights. Combanaire thought that there were "Too many administrative wheels [that] separated a dayak, even a chief, from Rajah Brooke, so that he [the dayak] did not even know his exact name." However, the Rajah was known to be willing to "distribute free medicine when an epidemic struck a kampong." Kia also advised that because they had difficulty finding anywhere to grow rice, many kampongs in Sarawak were forced to cross over the border towards Badaou [marked on his Map, Figure 1] where "a Dutch official does his best to avoid [limit] any excuse for conflict with the neighboring kingdom" (1993:195). This was Nanga Badau, just over the border from Lubok Antu in Sarawak. It was one of several Dutch military outposts that had been established in the area in an attempt to deal with incursions by Sarawak Iban, especially in the late 1870s and the 1880s, although it was recorded to have been abandoned in the 1890s. (40)
One of the gutta percha collectors informed Combanaire that he had located a tree full of fruit and had brought him a handful of the seeds to see and later showed him the tree. Combanaire told his readers that he had often seen adult trees growing in the region, usually in isolation from each other, and had wondered how the seeds had spread to reproduce. He had never found a solution, other than the seeds falling from the sky, suddenly it occurred to him--it was bats--"it is surely to bats that we owe, in two or three years' time, the possibility of constructing undersea cables." (41) Combanaire then diverged onto the subject of submarine telegraphy, its origins and the problem of the merciless massacre of the millions of trees which supplied this product that played such an unrivalled role (1993:199-201). He observed that there were two varieties required for cable production; first, the variety including Dichopsis, Palaquium, and Isonandra (which were really all the same) (42) and, secondly, the 'Paienna' [Payena]. Unlike others, he believed that what should be grown were the Payena. (43)
In Chapter 11, Combanaire concluded that apart from a few bottles of liqueurs for his personal use, "all my provisions are now exhausted" (1993:215). He was now not far from Sintang, the important upriver trade center on the Kapuas (he was approximately half way along his trek, see Figure 1). He now had six porters (he started with twelve, his assessment of the diminishing state of his provisions is reflected in the number of porters he now needs; 1993:216). Combanaire arrived at "a little colony" of Chinese gold miners. He told them that he was Dutch, and in the area to study gutta percha (1993:223-4). The colony consisted of about fifteen Chinese, the head of which told Combanaire he had started out trading with the Dayaks until one of them revealed to him the presence of gold. The Chinese made advances to the Dayaks to collect the gold, this he said "provided the latter with all that is necessary for their existence" (1993:224). Combanaire asked him if he had a concession giving him a right to exploit the gold, "he swears to me" that he has obtained "this from the Sultan of Sintang, which, I am sure, is an impudent lie..." (1993:224). In the rest of the chapter, Combanaire described the nature of the gold extraction. The gold was shipped to China (1993:226).
By Chapter 12, Combanaire has reached a point on the Belitang river (or Blitang on his Map, Figure 1). Arriving at a Chinese house, he informed the inhabitants that he was a French trader from Sarawak. (44) The Chinese patriarch had two sons who had gone to Sintang for provisions. The man had made a fortune on the banks of the Kapuas, trading oil, sugar, tobacco, salt and fabrics and especially arrack, which he manufactured himself, all exchanged for forest products. He procured his trade goods from Sintang. Combanaire observed that Sintang was the market for all the products of Central Borneo, with a Dutch Assistant Resident and two hundred soldiers deployed there. From Sintang, goods were shipped downriver to Pontianak and thence to Singapore. Combanaire, realizing that he needed to re-supply his expedition, decided to do so from Sintang (1993:231). In the meantime, he studied the local Chinese shops, noting a steady "back and forth of Dayaks" exchanging gutta percha and resins for rice and arrack, or those with money buying tobacco, salt and oil. A Chinese man arrived from Sintang looking for live orangutans to ship to Pontianak and gave Combanaire an interesting description of the process involved in catching orangutans and agreed that he would let Combanaire know when the hunt was planned.
The trader had been involved in all the regional trades and gave Combanaire information that he thought "may be very useful to me." The trader had been to the headwaters of the Kapuas, trading with "men as wild as monkeys" who, he claimed, even had a tail at the end of their spine. When Combanaire assumed the man was joking, he assured him he was not. These were the Orang Mourong who were probably cannibals and who avoided human contact. The Chinese "who now seems to be telling me the truth" explained that he traded with them by attracting their attention by striking on a piece of wood and then leaving out batches of tobacco and salt. Sailing away in his boat as far as possible, he waited while the men left gold powder in return (referring to what we know as 'silent barter'). (45) He assured Combanaire he had seen the tail of one of the men, which Combanaire found so amusing he "cannot help but burst out laughing," which he later regretted when realizing that the Chinese trader was simply trying to be informative (1993:233-4).
The next day, more gutta percha and rubber traders arrived and Combanaire enjoyed following the phases of the market and was surprised at the high price paid to the Dayaks by the merchant (1993:235). The son of the Chinese trader returned from Sintang and after a long discussion with Combanaire about gutta percha, the son agreed to return to Sintang to fetch the European foods Combanaire missed (1993:236). As a side observation, Combanaire wrote "One thing, however, astonished me: the frightful contempt which all these people [the Chinese] have for the Dayaks whom they steal from without a shadow of scruple." The merchant explains how they exploit the Dayaks to obtain rice for food and for the manufacture of arrack... and "with a sigh that would soften a stone, he regrets the good old days: the day when a Dayak, who could not repay a Chinese usurer, pledged his wife, or one of his daughters, who did not regain her liberty until the extinction of the debt. It is fair to say that the Dutch put an end to this ignominy, which flourished in the northern region of Pontianak" (1993:236-37). Taking stock of his progress to date, Combanaire concluded that he had so far failed to identify reserves of the tree which he had been seeking [the Payena]; but that talking to the Chinese and to the Dayak collectors had given him an indication that the gutta percha he sought was located in the high-altitude region of the Pinoh river, a tributary of the Melawi river (see Figure 1). One of the Chinese merchant's sons undertook to bring back samples from Sintang so that he might confirm this idea (1993:238).
While the son departed with his long list of requirements, Combanaire considered the best way to reach the Pinoh. One way was overland, the other was via Sintang and downriver. The latter course of action he soon dismissed, noting that the Dutch refused authorization for foreigners and even for their compatriots to penetrate the interior. If the Assistant Resident of Sintang should learn of Combanaire's presence, he would be sent to Pontianak and then to Batavia. He decided, therefore, that it was best that "I am an anonymous person who travels Borneo" (1993:238). Worried that the Chinese son might reveal his presence to the Dutch, Combanaire threatened him with a reminder that it would be very unfortunate if the Dutch were to learn that they were doing excellent business by supplying the contraband powder [gunpowder] that could be used to kill whites, as well as Dayaks (1993:239). He then diverged onto a discussion on the relative merits of the Chinese and how they should be governed (such as in Singapore, French colonies, even the U.S, Mexico and Australia), observing that the Chinese regarded benevolence as a sign of stupidity or weakness; even while acknowledging that a lack of Chinese labor, for example, prevented Cochin China from producing twice as much rice as it was then producing (1993:240-42). He thought that the Chinese were too much influenced by "groups or secret societies to which they are forced to belong.... [but] it is not the same in countries [such] as Borneo, where, left to himself, he can develop without constraint" (1993:240).
The Chinese orangutan trader sent word that he would shortly be going on the hunt. Combanaire found the trader's preparations underway, this included the construction of three huge hardwood boxes, one of which had large iron bars - the cages for the orangutans. The trader had no doubt that the enterprise would be successful: the mood of the camp was agitated, a "kind of vigil of arms" with the Dayaks looking forward to showing their bravery (1993:243). A family of orangutans was forced into a restricted area and, stirred by ferocious cries from the Dayaks, they began to seek refuge away from the large tree where they had been cornered. There were ten orangutans in all, including females with cubs. About sixty men rushed in to attack, and the Chinese trader gave each of them a handful of finely chopped pepper. "The spectacle is unforgettable. With incredible assurance, the nearest Dayaks throw fine pepper dust in the face of one of the orangutans, the orangutan suddenly blinded, utters a frightful roar..." Combanaire describes more orangutans, including a female, being speared, one hurt so badly hurt that Combanaire shot it to end its suffering. He finds the whole incident very disturbing, conceding that he wanted to slap the Chinese who employed people in such ugly work. In the end, three adults and one smaller orangutan, were captured. While not doubting the bravery of the Dayaks, he returned to the kampong alone, "dissatisfied with myself and dissatisfied with others." (46)
The next day Combanaire set down some thoughts on the population of Borneo and the organization of Dutch and Sultanate rule. Dutch rule was limited, and sultans and rajahs were free to administer the natives as they pleased, and to tax their subjects (1993:248-9). The administration was established on a limited budget and the colonial staff performed well under the circumstances (1993:247-50). "In almost every district, the Dutch government has had the wisdom not to supress the ancient sultans and Malay rajas, whose rights pre-date the conquest, but leaving them only a semblance of independence." Apart from the main square kilometer of towns with public buildings, "sultans and rajahs are free to administer the natives as they please, and to tax their subjects. Most of them receive large monthly payments from the Indies government... they have the right to grant concessions or monopolies only after they have referred them" for approval by the Dutch. The Chinese were "the intermediaries between the Dutch authorities and their fellow citizens...they pay only four dollars annual tax." The army used by the Dutch was made up of only two thousand men, and in Borneo, he said, there was "not one soldier in a hundred who has seen a kampong dayak" (1993:248). The main sources of revenue for the island government were Customs duties, Chinese tax, the tax on salt and the opium and arrack farms: expenditure was much higher than revenue and trade to the port of Java was sacrificed to that of Singapore. Returning to a topic close to his heart, he added that the development of the country was "retarded by the absence of any submarine cable, the insufficiency of regular lines of steam shipping and the total lack of telegraph lines" (1993:249). He thought the government staff in Borneo "first class" and "superior to that of Java... senior officials of the Indies are really up to the delicate task entrusted to them" (1993:250).
Combanaire returns to the story of his journey. The Chinese trader's son's trip to Sintang was doubly successful. First, the intelligence he gathered, including samples of gutta percha, confirmed that the quality of gutta percha that Combanaire sought was to be found in the region of the Pinoh river. Combanaire decided to proceed there by heading overland, rather than by river through Sintang. The other success of the Chinese mission to Sintang was to procure supplies of wine, beer, cognac, gin, butter, sardines, potatoes, onions, marmalades, cigars and, something not asked for, a dozen boxes of mushrooms. He was now ready to return to "the unknown." Before leaving, he had a conversation with the elderly Chinese patriarch, and watching him, "curiosity incites me to ask him for an opium pipe. I am quickly fixed. It is disgusting and it makes me want to throw up" (1993:251). He left after another couple of days perfecting his preparations, with "fond memory which I still remember" (1993:252).
In Chapter 13, Combanaire continued his journey with a short trip down the Kapuas river, and then into the Sapouk [Sepauk] river (1993:254-55; Figure 1). Arriving at another kampong, Combanaire notices that the men and women "have tattoos above the wrists and below the knees, I notice some necklaces made of three or four large colored glass marbles, polished by long years of use" (1993:263). That night, conversation with the chief of the kampong tells Combanaire that "two subjects dominate the miserable existence of the Dayaks: money and food. The money is mainly spent on taxes," because they did not have enough rice to pay tax. In order to gain time to pay their tax, they had to offer three rifles as a deposit to be pledged with their Malaysian Raden. If the next harvest succeeded, all would be well, if not "they will not see their rifles again" (1993:263-4). Combanaire obtained the services of another group of men, one of whom, was a "comical" character Combanaire named "Auguste" (1993:268).
In Chapter 14, Combanaire explained that while the rest of the men would return to their home, Auguste has asked to remain with Combanaire, motivated by the fact that he needed to earn fifty dollars so that he could win the consent of the father of the girl he wished to marry (1993:274). Combanaire and Auguste arrived at the Pinoh river and camped near Batou-Barou (see Map, Figure 1), where the local Malay (a Muslim fasting at the beginning of Ramadan) assumed him to be a Dutch official (he was not corrected) and discussions took place about the local crocodile problem and gutta percha trees (1993:277-78). The Malay undertook to get some gutta samples for him from neighbors who were engaged in the trade (he does not say if these are Malay or Dayak). The next day, Combanaire observed a prahu passing down the river with a large cage containing orangutans. The Malay trader was on the way to Sintang to sell the three orangutans, hoping to get twenty dollars for them, which Combanaire felt was an amazingly insignificant amount given the risks involved. He learnt that at Sintang a medium sized orangutan could fetch five dollars, a large one ten or twelve dollars. Almost all of them were shipped to Pontianak for export, but they usually died of pneumonia once they left Borneo (1993:278-79). (47)
Two days later Combanaire confirmed, through the gutta percha samples he was given and from information obtained from two Dayak chiefs who brought him leaves, that the Payena, for which he had been searching, could be found in the mountainous areas around him. The Schwaner mountains (Pembagan mountains on Combanaire's Map, Figure 1) where he hoped to proceed were little inhabited and gutta percha collectors were rare. Leaving the boatmen, he headed back "into the unknown" with Auguste and five men (1993:279-80). After trekking onwards and staying at more (unnamed) kampongs, Combanaire commented that rice was becoming more scarce as he went from one kampong to another as the people struggled to keep up a sufficient supply for their needs (1993: 283, 289). They were told that they were heading into an area inhabited by the Orang Punan [Punan], the "terror of the dayaks of the surrounding lands," who did not plant rice but lived on fruit, herbs and a few animals of the forest. The Punan, he was told, were also believed to kill Dayaks, such as those searching for gutta or rubber, their only weapon was the blowgun (1993:290). (48) Undeterred, Combanaire pressed on.
Chapter 15 is the final one of Combanaire's book. He revealed that he was no longer overweight and could walk behind his men with the flippancy of a professional. For three months he had lived on his fat, for three months he lived on his blood, and he felt that now the hardest part of the journey had been achieved, which encouraged him. Presumably, this was because he believed he would find the Payena, which would solve the great dilemma of submarine cable communications (1993:293). Continuing onwards, Combanaire again faced the issue he had confronted at the very beginning of his trek: the men moved ahead easily while he hesitated and rather than risking the "gymnastics" they used, he jumped. On landing a violent pain at first convinced him that he had broken a leg, but this proved not to be the case. Still in pain later, however, he lost confidence in his physical abilities, taking sips of gin to encourage himself (1993:300) but the next day he was overjoyed to discover an area with legions of gutta percha trees of incomparable quality growing in a climate which Combanaire considered similar to that of Annam.
If I succeed in transporting seedlings from these trees, and if this produces a product little different from that which I have in my hands, the problem so much studied will finally be solved; in twenty years France will be able to build its submarine cables with gutta percha from its colonies!
Combanaire and his men spent the day collecting seeds and a hundred small seedlings which were carefully packed in soil in bamboo leaves so that they stay moist (1993:302).
The next day the men considered whether to return home the way they came or continue onwards and decided that they would continue with Combanaire until he reached a river to lead him home (the Pembuang, 1993:303), although all of their provisions had been consumed and they would have to live by what they can find in the forest (1993:304). Combanaire woke to find that his leg could not support him, his health has deteriorated and he rests while the others worked to clear a track ahead. Auguste killed a "toucan" [hornbill] which he used to make a soup for Combanaire, but this made him ill and when he slept, Combanaire was disturbed by nightmares (1993:305-7). Just when he was so near the completion of his mission, with his seeds and seedlings packed, it seems he might fail. "For weeks and months, I have been in this forest which is becoming odious to me" he wrote. "I had a beautiful dream, in which my thoughts rose very high...I wanted to carry the seedlings of my new gutta percha to our colonies in Indo China and give them as a gift... Well! Whatever may happen, if it were to be redone, I would do it again" (1993:308-9).
Auguste returned to camp with a dead macaque monkey with which he was going to make a broth. "So! Are we now reduced to eating monkeys?" (1993:309). Thinking that he had not long to live, Combanaire called the men and told them how his money and effects were to be shared among them. He instructed them to bury him there, with his face turned towards the direction of his country. "So, it's over! In a few days the forest will cover a few more bones, that's what will remain of me" (1993:311). While Combanaire believed himself close to death, the party in fact discovered a river nearby and the men prepared a bamboo raft on which the party floated to a kampong called Tombane (see Figure 1). There, Combanaire rested for ten days or perhaps a fortnight (he was not sure), feeling guilty that the Payena seedlings might have been neglected. From Tombane, Combanaire could travel to the coast and take a boat either to Banjarmasin or Pontianak (and then back to Singapore). He divided his money with his men and after a very emotional farewell to Auguste and the others, Combanaire began his departure from Borneo (1993:314):
I leave the best of myself here!... Two months later, when I returned to Singapore, the marvellous aspect of the harbor confirmed to me that I was finally returning to civilized life. On the buildings of the main quay, the flags of the consulates floated in the sky flooded with light. I saw only one, dominating them all! High up and right, seeming to call to the rescue... the Flag of France...!
Combanaire sailed from Pontianak to Singapore on the S.S. Van Fo Soon in March 1900. (49)
Conclusions: Combanaire in Retrospect
As a reviewer writing for The Saturday Review of Politics exclaimed more than a century ago, "We are bored by most books of travel--those hastily written egoistic records of the not very remarkable wanderings of the self-styled explorer. But Mr Adolphe Combanaire's volume is blithe; and his portrait betrays amiability and a sense of humour." (50)
Combanaire's work received additional attention when an abridged, serialised version of it appeared in the popular weekly French magazine Journal des Voyages. (51) For that publication, numerous illustrations were drawn by the magazine's long-time illustrator, Joseph Beuzon. These included cover images (for example, Figure 3), as well as other illustrations depicting key events in the book that would appeal to readers, including the orangutan hunt that he found so disturbing, and a drawing of Combanaire being hosted by Raden Sitea, complete with a collection of heads strung on the ceiling above him. The book, and its serialization in the Journal, were described as not so much a continuous narrative, written with the precision of a guide--but rather as a series of episodes with pictures taken on the spot. (52) At about the same time, another publication, Le Globe Trotter, also ran a review of Au Pays des Coupeurs de Tetes in which it published illustrations of the people Combanaire encountered. (53)
The range of reviews the book received suggests either a broad readership for his book, or that he or his publisher had a wide network that could be used to promote it. The scholarly Journal des Economistes Revue, for example, wastes little time in observing economic matters covered by his expedition and his account of it, but rather considers that "In the country of the head-hunters, this is a very frightening title that evokes in the mind only struggles or massacres and yet, the story of Mr. Combanaire is clear evidence that the Dayaks were not so fierce." (54) The review also outlines Combanaire's ethnographic considerations, as well as the aims and difficulties of his exploration for gutta percha. The reviewer in the Bulletin de la Societe de Geographie Commerciale pronounced the book a "diary full of humor and verve," but disagreed with Combanaire's views about the importance of climate and geographical location in explaining the differences in varieties of the trees, or in the relative qualities of the latex different trees produced. The review also notices that Combanaire did not specify the exact region in which he made his discovery of the Payena. (55)
Of course, the book is not called Au Pays de la Gutta Percha: A Trovers Borneo. That title might have had a sense of the exotic about it, but not quite the frisson of the eventual title. Clearly, either Combanaire or his publishers, or both, were looking for something with more impact. Headhunting remained a motif that fascinated European readers then (and arguably now, if one takes into account tourist promotions). Combanaire mentioned "heads" and headhunting throughout the book; several, but by no means all, of these references are mentioned above. Yet, he himself was never threatened by headhunters. Although risk and danger are explicit in the title, apart his temporary arrest by Ali on behalf of the Raden Sitea, the only real risk that Combanaire faced arose from his final misfortune in Chapter 15 when he fell and injured himself. While the book is not studied here as an example of the European stereotyping of headhunting, or indeed or exoticism more broadly, it could make an interesting case study for those wishing to pursue the topic. (56)
As an historical source, the most obvious feature of the book is how it reflects the nature of a global commodity chain at the time, and the challenges that shaped the operation and successes of it. Telegraph cable producers had specific requirements which were not readily met, in part because of the limited geographic region supplying gutta percha, and the non-sustainable manner in which it was collected. Disagreements and challenges raged within European circles about how to obtain the gutta percha they required. These challenges were part of what shaped Combanaire's quest and his expedition. The demand for gutta percha extended from manufacturing centers in Britain, France and so on, and this had an impact on collectors and traders in the deep hinterland of Borneo as extensive trade networks were established to exploit this demand from the external economy. At the same time, Combanaire's descriptions reveal the nature of relationships between different groups of the Borneo population, examples of which were outlined in the summary above. Chinese, Malay, Dayak and the Dutch (who in this hinterland area are more of a shadow than a pressing force). Each interacts with, but has no great loyalty to, the other. Conflicts and divisions occur even within groups. Dayak might hunt Dayak, for example, or Chinese traders feel satisfaction when other Chinese were attacked, as commercial competition was thereby reduced or removed. At times, the Chinese are portrayed as being exploitative of Dayak workers or traders, but at the same time Combanaire also expresses surprise at the prices some of the collectors obtained for their gutta percha. Yet both groups work together, with little or no interaction with distant outsiders or pangeran or Dutch officialdom. Power structures and trade networks were in some measure pragmatic and shaped by geography. (57) It is clear that all indigenous groups encountered in his exploration felt the constant pressure of the quest for rice, paying tax, the need for salt and gunpowder and the proscriptions associated with all of these issues. The influence of Brooke rule is also a constant backdrop in the many lives and trade networks he describes, even though it was located some distance away and over the border from many of these people.
While the Dutch attempted to control the movement of salt, firearms and gunpowder, especially over the border with Sarawak, many in the remote areas successfully avoided these obligations and restrictions, or took their gutta percha and other produce across to Sarawak where it was more freely traded. (58) In part this was because of the ambiguities about traditional or imposed national boundaries; no one quite knew where the borders were even if they cared about them. Such practices accord with reports found elsewhere in the historic record; and Combanaire is recording first hand his evidence for this. The search for land to grow rice, and avoiding tax was of course part of any local maneuvering, but Combanaire's records suggest that trade also contributed to hostilities and the movement of peoples. As Pringle and others have shown, Brooke and Dutch frustrations and efforts to control headhunting, smuggling and the like were met with defiance, with local leadership taking advantage of confused boundary lines and differing administrative policies either side of those borders (broadly if vaguely defined at the time). It was a source of aggravation between the two administrations for some decades. (59)
The other interest in Combanaire's descriptions are the trade networks themselves--for example, the Chinese gutta percha trader who left Singapore to come to Borneo only to find that he could not break through the domination of the towkays. Instead he was forced inland to create his own network relationships. The importance of Sintang was also emphasized, as an entrepot for the goods from the external economy (such as European foodstuffs and alcohol) and for export of forest produce such as gutta percha, resins, gold and so on. Sintang also emerges from Combanaire's book as a center for the live trade in orang-utans; Combanaire's response to which is quite different from that of other contemporary naturalists and adventurers. Sintang was an important point for the exchange of information about trade, such as when Combanaire's Chinese source found samples and information about gutta percha that assisted Combanaire in tracking down the Payena he had been unable to locate himself.
He presented many portraits of ethnological interest, some of which were touched on here and at the same time there are several humorous and ironic asides in the book. For example, when a police officer at Kuching asks why Combanaire has no servant, wondering who will take care of his effects and who will cook for him (1993:32):
"Hey! of course! me!" He burst out laughing, very amused. It annoys me, and I ask him, mocking: '"Would you like me to bring a hairdresser and a pedicure?"
He makes extensive use of exotic imagery. For example, when he describes a path obstructed with vines and thorny bamboos which the men have to cut through with their parangs--"I'm sure we will take two hours to go one kilometer down this wretched path" (1993:63). Later, he observes a large outcrop of rattan which he goes on to describe - then makes several, unsuccessful attempts to shoot crocodiles encountered along the river, but in the end, he decides to postpone this "fun sport" as they have wasted too much time already (1993:75-77). He spends the night kept awake by mosquitoes and the sounds of crocodiles snorting water from their blocked nostrils (1993:79). In a reflection of the extent of global trade networks, he describes having a local blacksmith make him axes produced from ingots of German iron; then continues his description of the walk that takes in large fruit bats, coconut eating black bears, Sarawak taxes, cicadas, forest paths, and being attacked by fever ants (1993:153-157). Later he describes a large troop of monkeys, trees that supply damar (resin), orchids, and tree frogs (the meal of snakes), before recounting how he fell six meters from a bridge into stagnant groundwater and was buried in silt up to his armpits. Hauled out by his men and missing a shoe, he is overcome by "a mad laughter" that was shared by his men. "Good humor is again the best of charms against ill fortune," he concludes (1993:185-187). In another exotic touch, he describes a venomous black cobra, but blithely asserts that a European soon becomes habituated to such reptilian perils and even venomous snakes are not worth the honor of a shotgun (1993:219). Huge spiders, and jumping squirrels, and a night when he is kept awake having to throw his shoes at rats who have come to gobble rice in a pot left in his room are part of this exotic study which add variety--and personality to his text (1993:258-60).
Towards the end of the book he describes preparing dinner, congratulating himself on cooking, using the "mainstays" of food in Borneo--rice, poultry and eggs (1993:294). He observes that the more he travels, the more he realizes that when a man travels to the wild or a half-civilized country, he should know how to do a little cooking, "the too general ignorance of this indispensable thing, for those Europeans who live far away, forcing them to use the services of infamous indigenous cooks" must be avoided and basic cooking skills should be part of the program of studies of institutions for new countries, for colonial officials or missionaries (1993:293-4). He had earlier described his pleasure at cooking bread in a makeshift oven using supplies the Chinese trader's son had gathered for him at Sintang (Chapter 12) and makes other asides about meal preparations frequently throughout the book. His recommendation that others learn to cook make sense, especially if they were otherwise reliant upon European supplies such as tinned or European goods, which, as in Combanaire's case, were all used well before the expedition finished. His practical advice, while unusual, reflected an earlier report written in 1841 by an American missionary who travelled in a similar area--from Pontianak to Sintang. He recommended that any future appointees coming to devote their lives to the area should be warned they were giving up most of the comforts of life, and be warned that as regards food, there was but little to be obtained in the interior of Borneo other than rice and poultry (which chimes with Combanaire's perspective, that rice poultry and eggs were the mainstays of food in Borneo 1993:294). (60) Combanaire also urged that in addition to training in cookery, any missionary, traveller or explorer should be schooled in local Malay language, and preferably be given specially prepared pamphlets or booklets outlining the requirements and background of the area he was to visit. Such practical approaches appear not only in the book itself, but again in 1903 when he made a presentation at the L'Ecole nationale superieure d'Agriculture coloniale (ENSAC), at Nogent-sur-Marne near Paris--about the problems of the supply of gutta percha (and French vulnerability to British domination of the trade), and his expedition to Borneo--urging that such skills and resources should be prerequisites for all those serving the cause of France in far off regions. (61)
Milium's summary of some of the key features of Borneo travel writing includes many features that ring true with Combanaire's work. These include that in time of danger or discomfort the writer remains calm (or his record of it is), he (or she) is knowledgeable and has a cool tone, the epitome of sangfroid. He avoids "direct humour" but relies rather on irony or self-deprecation. These characteristics come through in Au Pays; there are subtle humorous asides aimed largely at himself and underpinning all these emotions are the patriotic crescendos which appear to have motivated his original plans for the trip, and to afford him relief on his return to Singapore when he sees the flag of France hailing his return. Milium also points out that many explorers of this era were "nurtured by the spirit of nineteenth century science," which included the "love of classifying, catching, stuffing and preserving" (1994:55, 127). Combanaire, in contrast, was not concerned with classifying or preserving, he was prompted by a desire to find a solution that had been haunting the world of submarine telegraphy for decades, and, simultaneously, to serve French national interests. In this sense, he could be seen as "trying to find what no man has found before" (1993:314) which was another feature of nineteenth century explorations. His book describes this motivation and the process by which he sought his goal. In a way, this is the dramatic plot underpinning his narrative. Will he or will he not find the elusive gutta percha trees?
M. Combanaire is entertaining from first to last; and we hope that by now, he has realised the handsomest profits out of gutta-percha. (62)
It is clear from the book that Combanaire found what he was looking for--the Payena which he collected as one hundred seedlings which he took with him when he left Borneo (1993:302). The question remains how successfully they were raised, and how well they were received by commercial or official interests. As noted earlier, there were many arguments in scientific circles about the varieties of gutta percha. Earlier French efforts, for example by Serullas and S61igmann-Lui, had not ended well when samples sent to Saigon had either been left to die in the gardens, or rejected altogether as not being of the correct variety. Unfortunately, it appears that something similar happened to Combanaire's seedlings, notwithstanding his great passion for the question of gutta percha, his belief in the Payena and his arduous, albeit interesting journey to Borneo.
Part of the problem lay with his initial premise--that a Payena would prove suitable for telegraphy and for cultivation in Cochin China or Annam. Yet the Payena was a second-rate product from the point of view of submarine telegraphy and had been considered as such as early as 1878, although certainly it was still traded. (63) The Payena had been exhaustively tested and shifting it to a new location (from Borneo to Annam, for example) would not change its characteristics. While it was reasonably well regarded and was probably used as a blending addition to more preferred varieties, it was never endorsed as the best or main product sought by cable producers. It attracted lower prices than other types of gutta percha on the key Singapore market; and the most well-regarded expert had already presented evidence to establish why and how these varieties were less valuable to cable producers in 1897. (64) Combanaire would have had difficulty convincing a conservative cable industry to risk using a product that might cause failures in the very expensive cables they produced. Moreover, it was unlikely that French officials would endorse or invest in plantations of such trees as they too would not want to risk growing a product that might not be successful--it could be grown as an adjunct to the more important varieties (Palaquium or Isonandra), but probably no more than that. Their own expert who made so many efforts in the region, Eugene Serullas, thought that if Payena was in use, it was simply owing to a mistake on the part of collectors. (65) In essence, the premise of Combanaire's expedition was flawed, because even if the Payena could be grown successfully in the French Southeast Asian outposts, it was unlikely to be accepted for widespread production because the cable industry would at best make use of it as a supplementary, but not the main source of its insulation needs. In fact, when the Dutch had planted it in the early, experimental phases of their own gardens at Tjipetir, Java it was determined that it was only of medium grade and thousands of the plantings had to be removed. (66)
Some of the seedlings Combanaire gave to ENSAC--possibly at the time of his address to the College and Garden in 1903, referred to above. In 1905, Combanaire still seemingly maintained a passion for the issue--six years after he began his Borneo expedition. He reprised his concerns in an address to the Societe des Etudes Indo-Chinoises in Saigon about the future of cable telegraphy, the supply of gutta percha and how his hope had been that the tree from Borneo would be a source of wealth for "our colony" and a means for France to free itself from foreign markets. He said he had returned with one hundred young trees which he took to Tonkin, but realizing its unsuitability, he went to Annam and Cochin China where he planted the trees. At the time of his speech he knew that the plants at the Saigon botanic gardens were dead, claiming (somewhat unexpectedly, since he had always planned to take some there) that he had never envisaged that the trees would be successful in Cochin China. As for the plants in Annam, he still did not know what their fate was. This seems an extraordinary admission of disinterest after all his efforts--or was it a recognition of their unsuitability? (67) He then noted that he still believed that, while the "Borneo tree" would grow in parts of Annam, it was one that could only ever harvest enough to maintain existing, rather than to produce new cables. While he did not admit it, in all likelihood, this was based on the reality that the Payena were not of sufficient quality to fulfil the requirements of cable manufacture. At the end of the speech, he apologized to his "sympathetic" audience if he had allowed a "hint of bitterness" to creep into his long talk. (68)
This would seem a rather sad counterpoint to the good humor and energy that personified his expedition and the book he wrote about it.
However frustrated he might have been, Combanaire was not apparently a man to be kept down by disappointment. In subsequent years he sought guano in the Gulf of Siam, searched for gold, travelled the Mekong and, again, had his exploits covered in the Journal Des Voyages. (69) He served in the Great War and received many awards (including the Legion of Honour in 1902, from Consul d'Abbans). And he continued writing. (70)
Just as Combanaire moved on, so too did the production of telegraph cables continue--and the gutta percha trade that underpinned it, at least for the next few years. Eventually, two commercial sized plantations were established to obtain gutta percha, one by the Dutch administration at Java and one at Pahang by the main British cable manufacturer. They did not grow Payena. (11)
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1883 Report to Resident Hugh Low, Perak, September 25, 1883. "On the great loss of gutta resulting from the wasteful means of extraction employed by the Malays," Kew: Malaya, Gutta Percha, 1876-1904, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Archives, ff 160-162.
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Helen L. Godfrey
(1) Some have been brought together in anthologies by King who defines travel writing as at "its most basic... a factual account of a specific journey, a passage from one place to another. It should also comprise an attempt to stimulate the imagination, emotions, and sensations so that... the reader experiences the events," 1995: xiii; See also King 1999, and Milium 1994 for other anthologies of Borneo travel writing.
(2) "What do I risk? My life...that does not matter. Let the journey begin." Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 1902:566.
(3) For example: on its significance to global telegraphic communications see Godfrey 2018: Obach 1897-88; Seeligmann, Torrilhon, and Falconnet (hereafter Seeligmann et al.) 1910: Second Part, and Potter 1997. For the impact of the gutta percha trade: on the economic development of Johor; on piracy in the Malay peninsula and on the commerce and political framework of late nineteenth century Singapore; see Godfrey 2018: Chapter 4 and also Turnbull 1972:276ff also. Swettenham, 1955: Ch. V. For its impact on the Singapore and Sarawak rice trades, see Godfrey 2018: Ch. 4 and Ch. 7; for impact on Brooke maneuvering, Borneo security, political instability and border changes in Borneo, see Godfrey 2018: Ch. 8; for promotion of monetization, Iban migration and other socio-economic impact on nineteenth century Sarawak, see Godfrey 2013 and Godfrey 2018 Chapters 5-8, also Sandin 1994.
(4) Bright 1898:111.
(5) Tromp de Haas 1908:3, based on Obach 1897.
(6) See Godfrey 2018: Ch.3, also Seeligmann et. al. 1910: Second Part.
(7) Telcon 1903:22
(8) For example, for Germany see Schlechter 1900 and 1903, for the U.S. see Sherman 1901.
(9) India Rubber and Gutta Percha and Electrical Trades Journal (hereafter IRGPETJ), 8 November 1890:88.
(10) See IRGPETJ 8 April 1891:248-9.
(11) Laurent 1899:90; and see Lourme 1899--such studies and efforts were going on even while Combanaire was active; see also d'Abbans 1903.
(12) For an overview of European efforts to understand the supply of gutta percha and find alternative sources and methods of production to protect the future of submarine telegraphy, see Godfrey 2018: Chapter 3; also Obach 1897-98, and Seeligmann et. al. 1910: Second Part.
(13) Combanaire (Reprint) 1993:12. References to Combanaire Au Pays..., hereafter are from the 1993 reprint unless otherwise stated, since this edition is likely more readily available to most readers than the original. See also Combanaire and de la Fresnaye 1902:149.
(14) See Combanaire 1993: Introduction.
(15) d'Abbans 1903:586-603 (and see Combanaire in the Singapore Straits Times, 22 March 1902:2).
(16) I would like to thank J. H. Walker and another reviewer for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
(17) It is not recorded when the first exports of gutta percha were sent from Borneo, the Sarawak Gazette (hereafter SG) records, for example, that 50 pikuls were exported in 1848 (SG 1 May 1875). That is, the trade was long established in Borneo by the time Combanaire arrived, but the variety which interested him (Payena) had probably not been as heavily collected because it was less sought-after in the Singapore market.
(18) 1993:12-13. Quite how d'Abbans could ensure his salvation if he were lost or endangered in Borneo was perhaps something to which Combanaire did not give detailed thought.
(19) 1993:24-25. An illustration of an execution appeared on the front cover of Journal des Voyages, No. 315, 14 December 1902:25.
(20) 1993:30. He might not have expected Brooke to speak French so readily, not likely being aware that Brooke was something of a Francophile who, according to some, greatly admired Napoleon and often read the latest French fiction. Although it was also said he spoke French with an accent so atrocious that when passing through Paris on his various returns to England, no one could understand him (see Payne, 1960:128).
(21) Annual reports from the Treasurer, along with Resident's Reports, were usually printed in the Sarawak Gazette. These and Editorial commentary clearly embedded the trade in the life of Sarawak. See e.g. SG 1 June 1874; SG 16 April 1877:26 and SG 2 January 1892:15. Many editorials in the Gazette and Charles Brooke, expressed concern about the trade for its leading to the neglect of agriculture (see Walker 2005:445). Yet Brooke encouraged the trade in new areas such as the Baram (see Pringle 1970:269ft); and urged traders to take care when going on collecting expeditions as hostilities could lead to attacks which would threaten their valuable gutta percha trade (eg SG 1 May 1886: 72; SG 26 March 1878:21; SG 1 July 1898:147).The cover page of the 1 July 1874 issue noted that the scarcity of rice in Sarawak could be measured directly from the trade returns as having arisen when the high price achieved for gutta percha caused the farming of rice to be neglected in favor of the 'wealth so easily obtained in collecting [gutta percha] not only for rice but also for luxuries' (SG 1 July 1874). See Godfrey 2013; and 2018, Chapters 7-9.
(22) Combanaire 1993:31; that is, Brooke was surprised he was not accompanied by other Europeans or protective back-up.
(23) Cinchona - a genus of trees of the Rubiaceae family, the bark of which was used to produce quinine, for the prevention and treatment of malaria; see Burkill et al 1966 Vol.I:544ff.
(24) Such observations are typical of those he makes elsewhere in the book. Over several years he had developed a broad interest in economic exploitation of commodities in peripheral economies. He had, for instance, established a Chamber of Commerce in Lima, Peru when he lived there. See, for example, Proceedings of the Royal Geographic Society and Monthly Record of Geography 1882:566.
(26) SG 1 August 1899:262.
(27) 1993:52-3--again Combanaire is interested in the impact of external political and economic developments on the operation of commodity trades and traders in peripheral communities.
(28) Continuing his pattern of making observations linking the global to the local trade networks, he added that Java coffee was ruined by disease, then the same happened to Liberian coffee, and to Dutch Indies tea-growers. The Cuban war had turned out to be good for sugar growers but the Sumatra war was bad for pepper growers. The U.S.' McKinley Tariff Act of 1890, for example, placed a large tariff on tobacco leaf imported from Cuba, at great detriment to the trade of that country.
(29) Or Sonkong in Nieuwenhuis at his map available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2006629783
(30) Salt (and firearms, and gunpowder) were illegal imports from Sarawak into Dutch territory, which taxed salt and so did not wish to see it smuggled and attempted to control firearms and gunpowder sales for security reasons; see, for example, Eilenberg 2014:4.
(31) 1993:86-7; Combanaire notes that the Chinese trader helped himself to Combanaire's cigars; with "gin, decidedly to his taste," p.89.
(32) 1993:89; Combanaire's supplies must be getting smaller as he now has nine men.
(33) 1993:107; a dramatic touch in the book, whether he would have actually said that in the circumstances we cannot now know. The incident with the tufts of hair is the sort of flourish that he probably thought added to the exotic, dangerous headhunting imagery.
(34) Walker has suggested to me that 'Sitea' may have been Setia; meaning 'loyal.' The name and location of the kampong, Kinii, on Mt Sinejane is not mentioned until 1993:123.
(35) 1993:119, 120. Disputes between residents of the Lupar region of Sarawak and Dutch territory were infamous, longstanding and seemingly impossible for either governments to control, see Conclusions below.
(36) Combanaire does not expand upon this point, but it was widely considered within the trade that it was not uncommon to mix other products with gutta percha to make it appear to be of a better, more expensive variety (see e.g. Seeligman etal. 1910:330). It was curious that Combanaire should remark on this since later in the book he himself shows a collector, named Kia, exactly how to do this (1993:195).
(37) Such blurred borders, identities and allegiances, indeed ambiguous tax collecting was not unusual and continues to this day, see Eilenberg 2012.
(38) This may have been true, but the comment could be seen as a justification for Combanaire's general pattern of not giving names to kampongs in his book.
(39) That is, as noted earlier, he was instructing Kia how to adulterate the gutta to improve its appearance, the very thing he had earlier complemented a group of gutta percha collectors for not doing!
(40) See for example King 1976:101-103; Wadley 2001:633; Eilenberg 2012:94ff; the post was established in the context of incursions and border crossing including from the Batang Lupar (Sarawak) Iban, see Pringle 1970:27ff.
(41) 1993:197-98. See Agricultural Bulletin of the Straits and Federated Malay States, 1902:154 for dispersal of seeds by bats.
(42) This is accurate, while there was much confusion and renaming of gutta percha supplying trees, these three names were all used for the same variety of tree, see Obach 1897:9 and Seeligmann et. al. 1910:296ff.
(43) It is true that Payena produced a gutta percha sold in the market place, but how suited it was for cable production, was another matter entirely--see Conclusions below.
(44) 1993:230; note that throughout his expedition, Combanaire readily changes his alleged identity to suit the expectations and local allegiances of his contacts.
(45) That is, the practice "whereby goods for exchange were left at specific points [thereby] avoiding direct encounter," Kathirithamby-Wells 2014:37; also, Beech 1911:17-18, see Knapen 2001:146 who links the practice with the avoidance of epidemics such as smallpox.
(46) 1993:245-47. Combanaire's is an interesting account of the live orangutan trade, rather than (killing or taxidermy) for the museum trade for which we have more accounts; his reactions of distaste are also a counterpoint to other accounts of the trade. For example, the naturalist Alfred Wallace, who shot many orangutan, describes boiling their bones to prepare the skeletons, and problems in preserving the skins etc., Wallace 1869: Chapter IV; and Hornaday, 1885:440, who shot 43 on his expedition in Borneo, and gives even more grim descriptions of preparing their bodies for export, a process he describes as far more enjoyable than going to the opera (p. 370). Also. Beccari 1904:142ff, who discusses similar activities and collections.
(47) Here again Combanaire is interested in the local markets and trades.
(48) The comments portray a reputation different from that normally associated with the Punan--who were in fact often sought by gutta percha collectors as they were regarded as having the best knowledge of where to find local produce, especially gutta percha. See, for example, Godfrey 2018: Chapter 6; Eghenter 2001:751; Hoffman 1990: pp.89-118; Furness 1902:174-5 and SG 1 September 1882:73.
(49) According to the Straits Times, the main passengers were "H.H. the Sultan of Pontianak, Messrs. Egerton, Wood, and Combanaire,'" 2 March 1900:4.
(50) Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art 1902:566.
(51) Journal Des Voyages, 1902-03--these issues have been digitized by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France and are available at its website http://www.bnf.fr/en/collections_and_services/digital_libraries gallica.html.
(52) Combanaire, Journal Des Voyages 1903:466.
(53) Le Globe Trotter 1904:216-8.
(54) ' "Au pays des coupeurs de tetes ", c 'est Id un titre bien effrayant qui n'evoque a l'esprit que luttes ou massacres et cependant, du recit de M. Combanaire ressort avec evidence que les Dayaks n'etaient pas sifarouches.', in Journal des Economistes 1902:125.
(55) Bulletin de la Societe de Geographie Commerciale 1902: 454-55. That is, disagreeing with him that the Dichopsis, Palaquium and honandra were all the same plant, however, Combanaire was correct in this assertion. A review in the Annates de Geogaphie, on the other hand, was a short paragraph noting the goal of his trip and its stories about dayaks, plants and animals, etc--it added that it had been reported that some of his plant specimens had been planted in Cochin China and Annam; Annates de Geographie 1903:199.
(56) The incident with Ali (an image of which appears on one of the cover pages of the Journal Des Voyages) is seen at Figure 3. I do not attempt to deal here with the whole matter of European commentary on headhunting, which is an important but wide-ranging issue too large to be dealt with as a section of an article of this size or intent.
(57) See, for example, Rousseau 1989 and Somers Heidhues 2003.
(58) See, for example, Godfrey 2018: Chapter 6 and Eghenter 2001; Tagliacozzo 2005, 2008.
(59) Pringle 1970. covers these issues in detail. See also Eilenberg, 2012, 2014, also Tagliacozzo 2005, 2008; Wadley 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007; and Sellato 2005; Godfrey 2018: Chapter 5, and 'Gutta Percha Wars' in Chapter 8.
(60) Youngblood 1841:319, who also gives an interesting perspective of Sintang and its surrounds.
(61) Gazette de l'Electricien pp. 193-4.
(62) Saturday Review of Politics op. cit.
(63) Gamble 1907:111
(64) The Payena was marketed as, for example, Gutta Soondie or Gutta Sundek, and was quite well known in the market place as a good, but somewhat second-rate product, and priced accordingly; see Gamble 1907:118, listing it at $150 per pikul, compared with up to $500 per pikul for Palaquium Gutta. The expert was Obach (see 1897-98, he is still regarded as a key source on the trade and use of gutta percha). To be fair to Combanaire, Payena was sometimes discussed by others, for example, Octave Collet, who also went to the region, thought the Payena a good option: Straits Times 3 December 1902:3; also, the British expert, Leonard Wray in 1883, thought it viable, see Gamble 1907:91; Wray 1883.
(65) Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information 1891:230.
(66) Van Lennep 1922:5
(67) Combanaire 1908:36-39. In fact, it was reported in 1903 that thirty of his seedlings were planted in Annam at the Nha-Trang plantation at the Pasteur Institute, thirty at the Saigon Zoological Garden, and fifteen were sent to France to the Colonial Garden at Nogent-sur Marne (that is, a total of seventy-five by that account, any remainder was not mentioned); he Prix Courant 1903:38.
(68) Combanaire 1908:41, a large part of his address discusses the problem of telegraphy and the success of British and even German companies over that of French.
(69) Journal Des Voyages, No. 541, 4 April 1907.
(70) See Sellato 1993 for a short biography.
(71) Notwithstanding a number of small plantations of varying size in the region, the only commercial sized plantations of note were that at Tjipetir, Java and the one at Pahang on the Malay Peninsula established in 1915 by the British cable manufacturer, Telcon. Their total combined production, however, would not have sustained the requirements of submarine telegraphy had it continued to operate at levels seen in the nineteenth century. Technology change, including wirelss telegraphy, and alternative forms of insulation avoided that problem.
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|Author:||Godfrey, Helen L.|
|Publication:||Borneo Research Bulletin|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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