Orang Sungei of the Kinabatangan
Published on: Saturday, August 21, 2021
By: British North Borneo Herald
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A resort along the Kinabatangan today.
AUGUST 3, 1938 

THEY are in a way funny people, these river folk (orang sungei) found in Kampong Kuamut (Kinabatangan). They are of whom undoubtedly the best types are to be not happy unless they have a boat or two to worry about. I remember that when I had to cross B.N.B. in December 1936, it was a difficult task to induce these fellows to leave behind their gobangs in the farthest ulu of Sungei Pinanga, in fact a reconnaissance trip was necessary in order to prove to them that the watershed towards Sungei Sepulut is actually 3,000 feet high, and to take boats thither would become rather a discomfort. 

Months later I heard of the troubles which the poor Inarad-Pinanga people, who were to bring the gobangs back, experienced on their return journey to Kampong Pinanga. One boat is reported to be still at Sinobang (ulu Pinanga). But no doubt a flood has by now brought it down as far as the rapids of Tudungin, where I believe its licence expired. 

In this right hand branch of Sungei Tabin I had similar difficulties with my coolies, who clung to their gobangs through one rapid after another. The endless succession of rapids gradually), reduced the coolies enthusiasm for their boats and finally, at a barrier which even their ardour could not surmount, they make a pangkalan - not too regretfully. 

From here we started out on foot and followed the river first, springing from one enormous boulder to another, balancing our way precariously over logs and respectfully encircling quiet pools (please don’t say the word buaya or you are lost!). 

We crossed and recrossed the river at the rapids and falls until we reached a turn in the river where jalan bukit became inevitable. After climbing up a hill and down again on the other side, we had a pleasant rest on a nice cool gravel bank under the shade of an overhanging tree. We plucked off our leeches, enjoyed some smokes and a talk and last, but not least, shot a deer which was carelessly crossing the river. 

It was almost midday and the weather promised to remain fine. There was no need for haste; moreover, it happened to be Sunday which was an excuse for a second pipe. It was one of those peaceful moments in a jungle man’s life; a moment when he feels absolutely happy, one of the few moments which live in his memory. 

At length, we continued our journey upstream, in that flaneur - like way which becomes inevitable during the hot mid-day hours, until in the distance we could hear the hollow rushing of a waterfall. 

The hardened jungle traveller in B.N.B. will agree that surprises are few. Day after day, week in, week out, you see the same monotonous river scenery, walk in the same type of swampy jungle or else climb one of those innumerable low hills only to be disappointed, when you reach the top, that nothing can be seen. 

I know of very few sudden changes of scenery. One the most easily accessible is the river bend in the upper Sepulut river where splendid Batu Pungul, a 60 ft. high, bare, lime-stone cliff, rises sheer from the river bank. But a combination of surprises awaited us in that right-hand branch of Sungei Tabin. 

As we approached the sound grew louder and louder. One more tanjong and we came face to face with a mighty cataract, a seventy-foot-high and fifty-foot broad solid rock wall, over which the still powerful river leaps in several cascades - rushing down, dashing itself to spray against the naked rocks, until it reached a great circular basin at the foot of the hills. 

It appeared possible to encircle the lake on the left and then to climb the waterfall. Accordingly, my men began to cut a path along the left shore. In the meantime, I climbed a rock on the right, took pictures and hammered at rock samples, as a geologist is supposed to do. 

Suddenly I heard a piercing cry, followed by a confused chorus: ular, ular sawa! dia gigit sama Moulud! luka besar! suda lari dalam ayer! bukan main besar dia! - and then: disana kapala, potong, potong lekas! lagi! lagi! ad inf. 

I was too far away to witness the incident. But when I reached the spot, I elicited the following remarkable facts: A giant python had suddenly emerged from the depth of the lake and rushed towards mandore Moulud, the man in the lead. Moulud, standing three feet above waterlevel, saw his danger and tried to climb the bank, but was bitten on the leg. 

The cries of the mandore and the shouts of his companions so frightened the snake that it released its grip immediately. But in spite of this the mandore was badly hurt, his ankle-bone having been laid bare. The python escaped into the water, was struck by a stone, swam with the current and stopped in a quiet pool, about ten yards broad. This pool was instantly surrounded and all its strategic points occupied by seven men, armed with parangs, stones and sticks. 

Such was the dramatic situation when I arrived on the scene and participated with rock sample and hammer as weapons. I had a Winchester with me, but had only two rounds left and these had to be spared for game and for elephants, who seemed to enjoy inspecting our camp at 2 a.m. as we had learned the previous night again. What had followed was a wild and thrilling hunt. 

The snake was invisible at first, but, with the help of long poles, the coolies succeeded in prodding it and the snake would now and again thrust up its nasty looking head. The rock sample and some common or garden rock boulders were put to an unexpected use, while sticks and poles thrashed and splashed in the water. 

The snake endeavoured to escape up stream, but then a man, an approved snake specialist indeed, sprang from his perch on a rock boulder into the water and slashed at the head with his parang just at the right moment, whilst another man struck at the middle portion of the body. The snake dived, hut a stream of blood betrayed its position. Then a man succeeded in securing the end of the tail, and amidst wild shouting everybody helped, either to pull the reptile on to the gravel bank, or to deal it further blows. 

And then as the climax, the mandore received the privilege of crushing the monster’s head with my honourable two-pound rock hammer which earlier had crushed so many igneous rocks in Switzerland, Sweden, Greenland and even granodiorite on Mount Kinabalu. 

With the help of the centimetre scale on the edge my com-pass and a rotan, we measured the python and obtained a length of 7.20 metres, i.e. roughly 22 feet. Unfortunately, the skin had been badly damaged by the many parang cuts. The coolies, however, managed to recover the bladder, which they later sold to some Chinese for a few dollars. 

That is another moment which I shall never forget, and which I photographed in all its detail the search for the bladder. Imagine seven men opening and vivisecting the still convulsing body and carefully sorting out the intestines. The question of the sex of the snake, of great moment to the natives on all such occasions, gave rise to heated discussions, as the body had been severely damaged during the struggle. 

At last, recalling dim memories of early zoological studies, I had to state authoritatively that it was a male, basta! (or in Malay: sudah! tidak guna chakap lagi!). 

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