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By Harry De Windt
A large war—canoe was passed a short distance above Katibus, containing forty or fifty men of that tribe. They looked fine hardy fellows, and much broader made than any natives I had yet seen in Borneo, but were of far less pleasing countenance and more ferocious aspect than our friends the Kanowits, scarcely deigning to look at the launch as we passed them, but sweeping along down stream with a scowl on their ill—favoured features.
The bright sunny afternoon wore away rather monotonously, for not a living thing was to be seen, excepting occasionally a small Dyak habitation, with its small strip of clearing whereon the owners grew their “padi” or rice. At last, as the sun was setting like a ball of fire behind the distant mountains, we heard the faint sound of gongs, which announced that we were approaching Kapit.
The country around us now became wilder, and we entered a gorge, rocky and precipitous, but less wooded than any part of the Rejang we had as yet passed. The river here narrowed considerably, and the navigation became very dangerous, on account of the extreme swiftness of the current, which rushed by at a tremendous pace, carrying large snags, or pieces of timber, with it, a blow from one of which would have sent the little Ghita flying. The dreaded “Makun” rapid, in which so many have lost their lives, is not far above Kapit, and greatly increases the dangers of ascending this part of the river.
We now came in sight of a fleet of some 100 huge war canoes, each one containing about forty men, who on our appearance struck up a tremendous row on the gongs and drums, to give the Resident welcome. The sound of these, mingled with the roar of the water as it dashed through the ravine, had a strange and weird effect. These people had been living above Kapit and out of sight of the Government, eluding taxes, taking heads, and otherwise misbehaving themselves. A Government expedition was formed to remedy this state of affairs, the result being their total defeat, and the order to remove below Kapit–which they had now obeyed.
Having rounded the corner of the next reach, we arrived off the little wooden fort which protects the village of Kapit. The latter, however, can scarcely be called a village, having consisted, till quite recently, of but two large native houses. The tribes around, as I have said, having given great trouble of late years, it was decided to form a Government Station, and to that end a fine wooden fort (which at the time of our visit was but half finished) was commenced.
The country and climate around Kapit are quite different to other parts of Sarawak, the former being mountainous, rocky, and free from jungle, and the latter temperate and cool.
We landed and walked up to the Fort, which is situated in a first—rate position on one of the many hills overlooking the river. Although in a very unfinished state, it contained one room nearly completed, in which we managed to live very comfortably. We had scarcely arrived here half an hour ere our apartment was filled with some of the most extraordinary mortals I have ever beheld.
A number of tribes exist around Kapit, each of which (with the exception of the wild and homeless Ukit) had its representative here during our visit, for the station being in charge of a Eurasian, or half—caste, the advent of Europeans attracted many to the fort, some of whom had never before seen a white man.
The most powerful and civilised of these tribes are the Kayans, who extend from Rejang far into the dominions of the Sultan of Brunei, and, besides these, the Poonans, Pakatans, and Ukits, but the latter are generally supposed to be the wildest specimens of the human race yet met with in Borneo. This tribe (which is the only one living at the head of Rejang not tattooed) has been occasionally but seldom seen in these regions by Europeans, as they shrink from all intercourse with mankind, and fly at the approach of any but their own race. They are described as being of a much lighter colour than the Poonans, possess no dwellings, and are totally unclothed. The absurd reports of men with tails existing in Borneo may possibly be traced to the fact that these men are frequently likened to monkeys by their more civilised brethren, who look upon them with great contempt, and by whom they are much feared and avoided.
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