The Lost Diaries - Book Two
Sarawak Sojourn - Service in the Brooke Raj, being volume 2 of Captain Arjun Khan's diaries.
We arrived in Sarawak in the midst of the northeast monsoon, and consequently I suffered much from sea-sickness. I was therefore most relieved when we finally put in to the Sarawak River four days later (after leaving Singapore), and even more so when we arrived at the town herself.
The arrival of the ‘Abang’ was much anticipated, and much of the town turned out to receive us, or perhaps just to see the ship and receive news from the outside world, especially of the Singapore gossip.
We were immediately met by the officials of the Sarawak Service, amongst whom were Dr F., the Principal Medical Officer of the Sarawak State, and conducted to meet with the Rajah himself.
The Rajah was pleased enough to meet Major Chard again, but I immediately thought that he had a strange aspect. It was a few moments before I realized that one of his eyes were in fact a glass eye. Discreet enquiries later revealed that he had lost the eye in a hunting accident, and had a glass eye intended for a stuffed tiger fitted in its place – all the more to frighten the natives! However, I doubt the last bit is true, for in my time here in Sarawak I noticed that the current Rajah was quite fond of his subjects, all in a paternal way, perhaps much like his late uncle was.
(Here follows an account of Kuching and its inhabitants.)
We were put straight to our duties the next week, for there was little settling in to be done, there being few things to be had at the local markets. The monsoon season meant that little could be done, and soon Major Chard asked for leave to travel up the river to see some of the interior.”
(Here follows an account of their journey inland, sighting of orang-utans, and the bird-nest collection.)
When we returned from the trip, sadder but perhaps much wiser in the ways of the jungle, we were greeted with the news of Dr Doomeira’s misfortune.
Dr Rodrigo El Doomeira was a Portuguese adventurer in the Sarawak Service, who was in charge of the antimony mines up the Sadong River. Now antimony, I was given to understand, was the main export of Sarawak, along with coal, and Dr Doomeira’s talents in obtaining abundant amounts of the ore made him famous in the territory. His talents were manifold, for he was said to be simultaneously a poet, a painter, an engineer and inventor of enormous genius, and a philosopher.
So when the usual shipment from Dr Doomeira failed to come down the Sadong River for two months in a row, an expedition was dispatched to investigate the cause. However, the expedition was met with attacks from Dyaks, who no doubt were rebels against the rule of the Rajah, and repelled. It was then believed that Dr Doomeira and his party must have fallen victims to these savages, and their heads now adorned the walls of their long-houses.
Seeing the gloom that came over Kuching from the loss of this great man, Major Chard volunteered to lead another expedition up the Sadong River, and swore to either find Dr Doomeira, or to avenge his murder. A small party was assembled, comprising of Major Chard, Captain Cavor, Mister Korzeniowski and his crew, and myself.
Major Chard's encounter with the Pontianak, a Malay demon
Major Chard purposed on visiting a durian plantation, for having tasted the fruit in Singapore, he had fallen in love with it, and was keen to try the local variety, which was said to have red flesh instead of the normal yellow one.
Having learnt that the spiky fruit of the durain tree fell only at night, Chard was keen to observe this curious phenomenon himself, and pursuaded us to bivouac at the plantation. Our Malay servant was most unwilling to join the enterprise, but a boot applied to his rear end soon stopped his complaints.
Around midnight we were alerted by a loud crying sound, which I thought was from some species of nocturnal bird. The servant, however, was much alarmed, and began to shiver and mumble to himself.
Soon the crying sound became softer, but our poor man became even more distraught, and despite our efforts to calm him down took to his heel and ran back towards the plantation house.
We followed him back, and curiously, as we drew closer to the house the crying sound grew louder, and as we stepped across the threshold of the house the crying stopped altogether.
It was not until the next morning that the servant regained his senses, and told us that we had encountered a feared ghost of the woods, called the Pontianak by the locals. The Pontianak, the ghost of a woman who died in labour, was said to stalk the trees and murder those who dared to remain there after dark, and her cries were said to become softer the closer she got to her intended victim. How anyone came to that knowledge I was unable to ascertain, but Major Chard gave up all plans to see a durian fall thereafter.
. . .