Industries Of Java
( Originally Published 1904 )
THE principal products of Java are rice, coffee, sugar, indigo, and tea. Rice is the most important, for it is the chief food of the people. We see women every-where hulling ,it. It grows on every hill and in every valley, and vast irrigation works have been constructed for it, making a large part of Java a network of canals, some as large as rivers and some as small as the tiniest brook. The people are everywhere working the fields.
Here they are planting rice, wading through the mud, and setting out, one by one, the stalks which have been raised in the plant beds. The next field may have men harvesting the crop, for rice will grow at almost any time of the year, and the fresh sprouts and ripe grain are to be seen side by side.
At the beginning of the rice harvest the natives have picnics and feasts in honor of the occasion. They erect little temples to the goddess of the harvest, and place offerings of eggs, fruit, and sugar cane within them. In many of the fields shelters are built high up on poles for the children or their parents to watch the crop and scare off the birds. Sometimes strings are stretched from these places to different parts of the fields, so that by pulling a string a boy in the shelter can frighten the rice birds a long distance away.
We see many children working in the rice fields. Little girls cut and plant the rice side by side with their parents. Water buffaloes are used for plowing, and we often see naked little brown boys and girls riding the cowlike beasts through the furrows or to water.
In the lowlands of central and eastern Java we spend some pleasant days on the great sugar plantations, which are usually owned by rich men from Holland. The planters have beautiful homes, and they live like lords on their estates, employing the natives to do the work. They have -sugar mills as fine as those of the Hawaiian Islands, and they cultivate their fields almost as well. The ground is trenched to a great depth. It is drained and irrigated and made just right for sugar. The cane grows luxuriantly, forming a thicket through which it is almost impossible to make one's way. The cane is full of juice, and so sweet that we enjoy sucking the stalks whenever we are thirsty rather than drink the water which is often none too clean.
In this same region are indigo farms and tobacco plantations. Tobacco is raised much as at home, save that it is dried in immense sheds put up in the fields. Indigo comes from a plant which looks- not unlike our ragweed, but which has a sap filled with coloring matter. The plants are raised in regular rows and their leaves, from which the best indigo comes, are picked off three times a year. The leaves are put into great vats of water. In a little while they begin to ferment, and after a time the coloring matter goes out of them into the water. This mixture is then drawn off and boiled in a certain way, so that what is left turns to a paste or powder, which is the indigo of commerce. Some-times powdered chalk is added to the juice, thus increasing the product.
Let us see something of the tea and coffee plantations. Java produces both of these articles in great quantities, and her tea plantations are among the largest of the world. We find some not far from Batavia. They are situated well up in the mountains, under the shadow of volcanoes long since dead. The tea plant is a small green bush of the same variety as the camellia, with leaves which look like those of the willow tree. The plants are raised from seeds in nurseries, and when they are eight or ten inches high, they are transplanted in ground prepared for the purpose. They must be hoed and weeded, and in about two years they begin to produce tea. They are not full grown until about six years, after which they will annually produce a pound of tea for many years. They have to be trimmed and well cared for. The leaves are picked several times a year they are carried to the factories and cured in such a way that they form the rolled leaves we buy in the stores.
We are interested in watching the pickers. Thousands of little brown women dressed in bright-colored sarongs, which leave the shoulders and arms bare, are moving about among the green tea bushes. Here they are bending over the plants, and there sitting down and pulling the leaves and laying them on the great square cloths in which later they will bundle them up and carry them on their heads to the factories. All are bareheaded and bare-footed. The sun gilds their skins, and their black hair shines like jet. They are of all ages, some young and some gray haired. They are not pretty, but all are good natured and very industrious.
Here comes a party of pickers with bundles of tea on their heads on their way to the factories. We follow them, and at last come to some immense one-story buildings with walls of woven bamboo and roofs of galvanized iron.
There are great stone courts about them upon which in flat baskets tea leaves are drying. There is tea drying on the stone floors inside the buildings, where are also great machines for rolling the leaves and preparing them for the markets. The leaves must first be wilted or withered. They are then put in rolling machines, and when they come out, each leaf looks like a little round worm. After this they are fermented and dried for the market.
Java coffee is noted all over the world. It brings high prices in our stores, and we buy vast quantities of it every year. It is to be found in many parts of the island, but it thrives best on the lower slopes of the mountains. We have seen coffee growing in Hawaii and the Philippines, and we find the trees here much the same as in other parts of the world. The variety which produces the best Java coffee is the descendant of plants which were originally brought here from Arabia. The trees are not large, and they seldom grow more than fifteen feet high. Their beans are noted for their fine flavor. Of late, however, owing to a disease, many of these trees have died out, and the Javanese have been raising Liberian coffee, a more hardy plant and less liable to the blight, as the disease is called. Its product has not the fine flavor of the Arabian coffee.
We enjoy our rides through the mountains. The roads are good, and the vegetation is so luxuriant that we pass between walls of green. There are palm trees and banana plants; there are immense forest trees and all sorts of winding vines which climb them and hang from their branches. The very plants seem to love one another. Some trees twist themselves about their fellows and grow up together. Even the dead branches are covered- with green. They are clothed with moss and orchids, the flowers of the air forming a winding sheet about the dead limbs. There are orchids everywhere, and such orchids ! Here one has wound itself about a branch like a necklace, there one squats like an opossum at the root of a limb, and farther out are masses of green with blossoms of many hues.
The forests are full of birds of bright colors. We see many monkeys, some big and some little. They jump from branch to branch, and from tree to tree. Some of them hang from the limbs by their long tails, and some squat in the forks of the trees or creep around the trunks, grinning and chattering at us as they do so.
Among the most interesting trees are those in the quinine plantations. The drug known as quinine comes from the cinchona tree ; it is especially valuable for malarial fevers and other diseases, and is used for this purpose all over the world.
The cinchona grew originally only in the Andes region of South America, and for many years the quinine of the world came from Bolivia and Peru. It was the product of the wild trees of the forests, the bark being gathered by Indians for the white merchants. Some years ago the Dutch government thought the tree might thrive in Java as well, and they sent men to South America for seed, which were planted in nurseries. They sprouted, and from them came the trees which are now found in many parts of Java. It was also found that the tree produced a bark quite as rich in quinine as the South American tree. To-day, about nine tenths of all the world's quinine comes from Java, and more is being produced every year.
It is on the mountain slopes about three thousand feet above the sea that the cinchona trees grow best. They are set out close together, but are thinned from year to year as they grow, the bark, root, and branches of the trees taken out being saved for quinine. At ten years the trees are full grown, and at this time the bark is re-moved. It is dried in the sun and then sent to the factories, where it is ground to a dust, boiled in kerosene and so treated with acids and other preparations that it comes out the frosted silver, flaky powder known as quinine, ready to be made into pills. It is then packed in tins and shipped to New York, Amsterdam, London, and the other great drug markets of the world. The quinine we use comes from Java. We have some now in our medicine cases, and when in the future a pill or capsule breaks and the bitter stuff touches our tongues, we shall remember that it tastes much like the red bark of this tree which we have found during our travels in Java.