KASAMA Vol. 19 No. 1 / January-February-March 2005 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Wanderings among south sea savages and in Borneo and the Philippines

In letters he sent home to his family in England, H. Wilfrid Walker described his travels and the native peoples he met on his journeys. We are reprinting the photographs and the two chapters in his book that tell of his journey in the Philippines which we think took place sometime between 1901 and 1904. This is the second of a three-part series.




Meetings with the Negritos - Friendliness and Mirth of the Little People - Negritos may properly be called Pigmies - Their Appearance, Dress, Ornaments and Weapons - An Ingenious Pig-arrow - Extraordinary Fish-traps - Their Rude Barbaric Chanting - Their Chief and His House - Cure of a Malarial Fever and its Embarrassing Results - "Agriculture in the Tropics" - A Hairbreadth Escape - Filipino Blowpipes - A Pigmy Hawk in Pigmy-land - The Elusive Pitta - Names of the Birds - A Moth as Scent Producer - Flying Lizards and other kinds - A "Tigre" Scare by Night - Enforced Seclusion of Female Hornbill.

I early made the acquaintance of the little Negritos, the aborigines of these mountains, and during my wanderings I would often stumble across their huts in small clearings in the forest. They never seemed to have any villages, and I hardly ever saw more than one hut in one place, and they were nearly always miserable bamboo hovels. As for the little people themselves, they seemed perfectly harmless, and from the first treated me with the greatest friendliness, and would often pay me a visit at my hut, sometimes bringing me rice and "papayas" or a large hornbill, which had been shot with their steel-pointed arrows. They were quite naked except for a very small strip of cloth. Their skin was of a very dark brown colour, their hair frizzly, and the nose flat. They were by far the smallest race of people I had ever seen, and they might quite properly be termed pigmies. I certainly never came across a Negrito man over four feet six inches, if as tall, and the women were a great deal smaller, coming as a rule only up to the men's shoulders; the elderly women looked like small children with old faces. Both sexes generally had their bodies covered with various patterns cut in their skins, a kind of tattooing it might be called, but the skin was very much raised. Many of them had the backs of their heads in the centre shaved in a curious manner, like a very broad parting. I did not see them wearing many ornaments, but the men had tight-fitting fibre bracelets on their arms and legs, and the women sometimes wore necklaces of seeds, berries and beads; they would also sometimes wear curiously carved bamboo combs in their hair. The men used spears and bows and arrows; these latter they were rarely without. Their arrows were often works of art, very fine and neat patterns being burnt on the bamboo shafts. The feathers on the heads were large, and the steel points were very neatly bound on with rattan. These steel points were often cruel-looking things, having many fishhook-like barbs set at different angles, so that if they once entered a man's body it would be impossible to extract them again. A very clever invention was an arrow made for shooting deer and pig. The steel point was comparatively small, and it was fitted very lightly to a small piece of wood, which was also lightly placed in the end of the arrow. Attached at one end to the arrow-head was a long piece of stout native cord, which was wound round the shaft, the other end being fastened to the main shaft. When the arrow was shot into a pig, for instance, the steel head soon fell apart from the small bit of wood, which in its turn would also drop off from the main shaft. The thick cord would then gradually become unwound, and together with the shaft would trail on the ground till at length it would be caught fast in the bamboos or other thick growth, and the pig would then be at the mercy of its pursuers. The steel head, being barbed, could not be pulled out in the pig's struggles to break loose. I had one of these arrows presented to me by the chief of these Negritos, but, as a rule, they are very hard to get as the Negritos value them very highly. An American officer I met in Manila told me that he had been quartered for some time in a district where there were many Negritos, and though he had offered large rewards for one of these arrows he was not successful in getting one. The women manufacture enormous baskets, which I often saw them carrying on their backs when I met them in the forest. I was much struck with the cleverness of some of their fish-traps; these were long cone-like objects tapering to a point, the insides being lined with the extraordinary barb-covered stems of a rattan or climbing palm, and the thorns or barbs placed (pointing inwards) in such a way that the fish could get in easily but not out.

These Negritos were splendid marksmen with their bows and arrows, and during my stay amongst them I became quite an adept in that art; their old chief used to take a great delight in teaching me, and my first efforts were met with hearty roars of laughter. They were certainly the merriest and yet the dirtiest people I have ever met. Whenever I met them they were always smiling. When, as happened on more than one occasion, I lost my way in the forest and had at length stumbled upon one of their dwellings, I made signs to let them understand that I wanted them to show me the way back. This they cheerfully did, and led the way singing in their peculiar manner; it was a most wild and abandoned and barbaric kind of music, if it could really be called music at all. It consisted chiefly of shouting and yelling in different scales, as if the singers were overflowing with joy at the mere idea of being alive. I would often hear them singing, or yelling like children, in the deep recesses of the forest. In fact the contentment and happiness of these little people was quite extraordinary, and I had a great affection for them. They would do almost anything for me, and their chief and I soon became great friends. He was a most amusing old fellow, and nearly always seemed to be laughing.

Yet they were also the dirtiest people I had ever seen, and never washed themselves: consequently they were thick with dirt, which even their dark skins could not hide. They grew a little rice and tobacco, and the old chief always kept me well supplied with rice, which seemed of very fair quality. He also kept a few chickens and would often send me a present of some eggs, which were very acceptable. In return I would give him an old shirt or two, which he was very proud of. By the time I left, these shirts were almost the colour of his skin, and he evidently did not wish to follow my advice as to washing them. His house was a very large one for a Negrito's, and far better built than any others that I saw. When the maize which grew round my hut was ripe, the Filipino owner got several men and women up from Florida Blanca to help him to harvest it, and many of them slept underneath my hut. At nights I would generally have quite a crowd round me watching me skin my birds, and although I did not understand a word of their Pampanga dialect, their exclamations of surprise and delight when a bird was finished were quite complimentary. Poor Vic had to endure a running fire of questions as to what I was going to do with my birds and butterflies, but to judge by the way he lectured on me, he no doubt enjoyed it, and possibly told them some wonderful yarns about "My English," as he called me.

One day a man at work in the maize had a bad attack of "calenturas" (malarial fever). I gave him some quinine and Epsom salts and this treatment evidently had a good effect, as the next day I was, besieged by a regular crowd of Filipinos of both sexes, who wished to consult me as to their various ills, and Vic was called in to act as interpreter. A good many of them, both men and women, took off nearly all their clothes to show me bruises and sores that they had, and I was in despair as to what treatment to recommend. At last when one old woman had parted with most of her little clothing to show me some sores, I told Vic to tell her that she had better get a good wash in the river (as she was the reverse of clean) This prescription raised a laugh, but the old lady was furious, and my medical advice was not again asked for.

After the maize was cut, the owner started to sow a fresh crop without even taking out the old stalks, which had been cut off a few inches from the ground. This was the way he did it. He made holes in the ground with a hoe in one hand, and in the other hand he held a roasted cob of corn, which he kept chewing from time to time. His wife followed him, dropping a grain into each hole and filling in the soil with her feet. It would have made a good picture under the heading of "Agriculture in the Tropics"! Vic told me that they got four crops a year, so one can hardly wonder at their taking things easily. A rough bamboo fence separated the maize from a copse of bamboo jungle and forest, in which I was one day collecting with Vic, when I attempted to jump over a very low part of the fence. Vic, however, called out to me to stop, and it was lucky he did so, as otherwise the consequences would have been terrible for me. Just hidden by a few thin creepers, there had been arranged there a very neat little pig-trap, consisting of a dozen or more sharp bamboo spears firmly planted in the ground, and leaning at a slight angle towards the fence. Except for Vic's timely warning I should have been stuck through and through, as the bamboo points would stand a heavy weight without breaking, and if I had escaped being killed, I should certainly have been crippled for life. I naturally felt very angry with my neighbour for not having asked Vic to tell me about this, as the previous day when out alone I had climbed to the top of this fence and then jumped down into the creepers below; luckily I had not then noticed this low part further down.

Many of the Filipinos are very good shots with their blowpipes, and Vic possessed one. It was about nine feet in length, and possessed a sight made of a lump of wax at one end. Like the bows of the Negritos, it was made out of the trunk of a very beautiful fan-palm (Livistona sp.). Two pieces of the palm-wood are hollowed out and then stuck together in a wonderfully clever fashion, so that the joins barely show. Vic was fairly good with it when shooting at birds a short distance away. His ammunition consisted of round clay pellets, which he fashioned to the right size by help of a hole in a small tin plate, which he always carried with him.

Birds were fairly plentiful in these mountain forests, and I was glad to get one of the interesting racquet-tailed parrots of the genus Prioniturus, that are only found in the Philippines and Celebes. It was curious that up here amongst the pigmy Negritos I should get a pigmy hawk. It was by far the smallest hawk I had ever seen, being not much larger than a sparrow. Several species of very beautiful honey-suckers, full of metallic colours, used to frequent the bright red flowers of a creeper that generally clambered up the trees overhanging the streams, and these flowers proved very popular with many butterflies, especially the giant gold and black Ornithopteras and various rare papilios of great beauty. There was one bird I was most anxious to get, and though I saw it once I had to leave Luzon without it. It was a pitta, a kind of ground thrush. Thrushes of this genus are amongst the most brilliant of all birds, and in my own collections I possess a great number of different species that I have collected in other countries. This one that I was so anxious to get was locally called "Tinkalu." Amongst both Filipinos and Negritos it has the reputation of being the cleverest of all birds, and, as Vic expressed it, "like a man." It hops away into the thickest undergrowth and hides at the least sound. Certainly no bird has ever given me such a lot of worry and trouble. Many a weary hour did I spend going through swamps and rivers, bamboo and thorny palms, dripping with perspiration and tormented by swarms of mosquitos and sand-flies, and all to no purpose!

Thanks to Vic, I soon picked up most of the local names of the various birds, which were often given on account of the sounds they made. The large hornbill was named "Gasalo," the smaller kind "Talactic," the large pigeon "Buabu," a bee-eater "Patirictiric," and other names were "Pipit," "Culiaun," "Alibasbas," "Quilaquilbunduc," "Papalacul," "Batala," "Batubatu," "Culasisi."

Some of the spiders here were of great size, and in these mountain forests their webs were a great nuisance. These webs were often of a yellow glutinous substance, which stained my clothes, and when they caught me in the face, as they often did, it was the reverse of pleasant.

Mosquitos and sandflies were very numerous and ants were in great force, so that one evening when I discovered that they were hard at work amongst all my bird skins, it took me up to 5 a.m. to separate them before I could get to bed.

I discovered a diurnal moth that possessed a most powerful and delicious scent. Vic, who had never noticed it before, was delighted, and proposed my catching them in quantities and turning them into scent. Whilst on the subject of scent, I might mention that in these forests I would often come across a good-sized tree which was called Ilang-ilang. It was covered with plain-looking green flowers, which possessed a wonderful fragrance. I learnt that the Filipinos collected the flowers, which were sent to Manila and made into scent, but that they generally cut down the tree in order to get the flowers.

I saw here for the first time the curious flying lizards. Their partly transparent wings were generally of very bright colours; they fly fully twenty yards from one tree to another, and quickly run up the trees out of reach. Another quaint lizard, was what is generally known as the gecko. It is said to be poisonous in the Philippines, and is generally found on trees or bamboos and often in houses. In comparison to the size of this lizard the volume of its voice was enormous. I generally heard it at night. First would come a preliminary gurgling chuckle; then a pause (between the chuckle and what follows it). Then comes loud and clear, "Tuck-oo-o," then a slight pause, then "Tuck-oo-o" again repeated six or seven times at regular intervals; at other times it sounds like "Chuck it." When it was calling inside a hollow bamboo, the noise made was extraordinary. There were a great number of bamboos in the surrounding country, and they were continually snapping with loud reports, which I would often imagine to be the reports of a rifle until I got used to them. Wild pig were very plentiful, and at night they would often grub up the ground a few yards from my hut. One night I was skinning a bird, with Vic looking on, when we heard some animal growling close by, and Vic without any warning seized my gun (which I always kept loaded with buckshot) and fired into the darkness. He said that it was a "tigre," and called out excitedly that he had killed it, but although we hunted about with a light for some time, we saw no signs of it. No doubt it was some animal of the cat family. Vic, as in fact all Filipinos, had a mortal dread of snakes, and he would never venture out at night without a torch made of lighted bamboo, as he said they were very plentiful at night. The large hornbills ("Gasalo") were very hard to stalk, and as they generally frequented the tallest trees they were out of shot. They usually flew about in flocks, and made a most extraordinary noise, rather like a whole farmyard full of turkeys, guinea fowls and dogs. The whirring noise they made with their wings was not unlike the shunting of a locomotive. I had often before heard of the curious habit of the male in plastering up the female with mud in the hollow of a tree, leaving only a small hole through which he fed her until the single egg was hatched and the young one was ready to fly. Vic knew this, and further informed me that the smaller species, named here "Talactic," had the same custom of plastering up the female.

Many evenings, when I had finished my work, I would get Vic to teach me the Pampanga, dialect, and wrote down a large vocabulary of words, and when some years afterwards I compared them word for word with other dialects and languages throughout the Malay Archipelago, I found that, with a few exceptions, there was not the slightest affinity between them.

PART THREE will be printed in the next issue of Kasama


The photos 'A Negrito Family' and 'Negrito Girls (showing shaved heads at back)' are reproduced from H. Wilfred Walker's book "Wanderings Among South Sea Savages".

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