The Dutch East Indies
( Originally Published 1904 )
TODAY we begin our travels through the vast possessions belonging to Holland in this part of the world. They are known as the Dutch East Indies and include not only the greater part of Borneo and the western half of New Guinea, but almost the whole of the Malay Archipelago. They have a territory greater than the combined areas of our Atlantic states added to Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and North and South Dakota.
Many of the islands are principalities in themselves. Sumatra is longer than the distance from New York to Chicago, and Java is longer than the distance from Philadelphia to Cleveland. The Moluccas have more territory than Ohio, Celebes (sel'e-bez) more than Missouri, Java more than New York, Dutch New Guinea almost as much as California, and Dutch Borneo more than any European country except Russia.
The most of this vast territory, with the exception of Java, is wild and unexplored. The islands are of about the same character as those parts of New Guinea and Borneo which we have seen. There are few roads, they are inhabited by savages, and we shall be able to visit only their coasts. Our chief travels will be confined to Java, the most important of all the islands where the Dutch capital is situated, and where the people are almost as civilized as our Filipinos.
Banjermassin, in Dutch Borneo where we are now, is built almost entirely upon the water. It lies on a branch of the Barito River, the most of its houses standing upon piles so that the water flows beneath them when the river is high. The Barito is filled with craft of all description : great barges, steam tugs, little canoes, bamboo rafts, and floating houses. It has about forty thousand people, and is a place of considerable trade. It lies in the heart of a country rich in gold, diamonds, and coal.
During our stay we call upon the officials. They. are Dutchmen who have been sent out from Holland to govern the territory. Many of them speak English, and they tell us much concerning the country. They say that the people are not unlike those we saw in the north and that they are ruled, as far as possible, through the native chiefs with themselves, and other Dutchmen as advisers, and that this is the custom throughout the whole archipelago. The Dutch territory includes most of the island, but it is wild and almost unexplored.
After a day or so at Banjermassin our steamer goes on to Celebes, an odd-shaped island larger than any of the Philippines. Our first stop is at Makassar on the southwestern end. It is a thriving port with a good harbor. It has many snow-white buildings, the homes of the Dutch, and a vast number of bamboo huts shaded by bananas and cocoanut trees, the homes of the natives. The streets are filled with brown-skinned people, the men wearing about their waists bright-colored cloths which fall almost to their feet, and the women tight skirts and loose jackets of the same stuff. There are many Chinese and Arabs and a few Europeans. The natives remind us of our Filipino cousins, and we are told that many of them are Mohammedans.
We visit the sugar plantations and rice fields near the city, and make a few short trips out into the country, finding the vegetation not unlike that of the parts of Borneo we have just left. Taking ship again, we go around the upper end of the island to Menado to visit the coffee plantations which are an important feature of this part of Celebes, and thence on east to the Moluccas, where Magellan's ships, after leaving the Philippines, loaded up with spices for their long home voyage.
Spices still grow in the Moluccas, and we stop at Amboina (amboi'na), one of these islands, to visit the clove and nutmeg plantations.
Clove trees are of a beautiful green, many of them thirty or forty feet high. Some of them are covered with blossoms which range in color from the green buds to the bright red flowers of full bloom. The cloves are the blossoms which are picked when they are red. They are cured by smoking them over a slow wood fire. This turns them brown or black, and they are then ready for use. They are next packed up in bales and boxes and shipped to all parts of the world to be used in pickles and other such things.
Clove trees are planted and cultivated. They begin to bear when they are six years old, after which they will yield up to about seventy years, each tree giving about six pounds of cloves every year.
Nutmegs grow upon trees not unlike our pear trees, but more beautiful. They have bright yellow blossoms and their fruit is more like a peach in color, although it is shaped somewhat like a pear. It is of the size of an apricot. As it ripens the pulp which is very thick splits open and shows the nutmeg or kernel surrounded by a network of crimson mace within. In preparing the fruit for the market, the pulpy outside is thrown away and the nuts are dried slowly in ovens. The mace is taken off and marketed as one spice, while the kernel itself forms another, the nutmeg of commerce. About a million and a half pounds of nutmegs and several hundred thousand pounds of mace are exported from the East Indies every year.
The nutmeg tree has its first fruit when it is ten years old, and after this it continues to bear a long time. A good tree annually produces about three pounds of nutmegs and one pound of mace. Raising nutmegs is carried on in the different islands of Malaysia, and the business is said to be profitable.
New Guinea is very near the Moluccas, .and we have here not only Malayans and Indonesians such as in the Philippines, but also many frizzly haired and dark-skinned Papuans. We are getting outside the region of the Malays, and if we should sail directly south from where we are now, we should strike the coast of northern Australia not far from Port Darwin, which we visited on our trip round that continent. For this reason the Moluccas have many things similar to both New Guinea and Australia. It has pouch-bearing animals. There are cassowaries, parrots of many colors, birds of paradise, and kingfishers, one variety of which has a bright red bill and brilliant blue feathers.
Leaving the Moluccas, we sail on to New Guinea, merely touching the great island before again turning westward. The Dutch possessions in New Guinea are far larger than those of the English or Germans, but the country is so wild that we do not attempt to explore it. We buy a few spears and some bows and arrows of the natives for trophies, and also several red parrots and some skins of the birds of paradise, and then steam out toward the west on our long voyage to Java.
Our course is a little to the southward. We enter the channel between Wetter Island and the island of Timor (te-mor'), and sail along the coast of the latter, examining the shores through our glasses. Timor is about three times as large as Puerto Rico. It is a volcanic island, as we can see from the ragged, rough mountains. The captain tells us that the people are almost all savages, and that it does not pay him to stop there to trade. Timor is about equally divided between the Portuguese and Dutch.
A little farther westward we pass Flores, a volcanic island as long as the distance from Philadelphia to Boston. Our steamer does not stop, for the most of the trading there is in native sailing vessels. The chief exports are a peculiar kind of bird's nests, tortoise shell, wax, sandal-wood, and cinnamon. The nests are found in caves ; they are lined and stuck together with the saliva of the birds. They are all shipped to China, where the natives boil them and make from them a clear soup of which they are very fond.
Still farther west we coast Sumbawa (soom-ba'wa), noted for its volcanoes. The word " Sumbawa " means the land of fire, and this island seems well named, for we can see the steam rising in great clouds from some of its peaks. The crater of Mount Tambora is more than seven miles wide, and so large that a good-sized city might be dropped into it without touching the edges. The crater was caused by an eruption in 1815 when the whole top of the mountain, a mass higher and thicker than Mount Washington, was blown into the air. Before that time Tambora was thirteen thousand feet high. This eruption tore off about eight thousand feet, making so great an explosion that it was heard in Sumatra, a thousand miles away, and also on Ternate, nine hundred miles off in another direction.
Our captain tells us that when the eruption of Tambora occurred, the ocean for miles about was covered with floating timber. Ashes so coated the water that ships could hardly make their way through them, and they so filled the air that it was pitch dark in the daytime for hours after the explosion occurred. At the same time the whirl-wind, lashed the sea to a foam ; they tore up the largest trees by the roots and carried pen, horses, and cattle for miles through the air. A town lying at the foot of Tambora was swallowed up, for the shore sank, and the sea came in and covered the earth to a depth of eight feet, and there it is to this day.