A CHAPTER OF ACCIDENTS.
A severe Bout of Malaria in the Wilds - The "Seamy Side" of Exploration - Unfortunate Shooting of the Chief's Dog - Filipino Credulity - Stories of the Buquils and their Bearded Women - Expedition Planned - Succession of contretemps - Start for the Buquil Country - Scenes on the Way - A Negrito Mother's Method of Giving Drink to Her Baby - Exhausting Marches Amid Striking Scenery - The Worst Over - A Bolt from the Blue - Negritos in a Fury - Violent Scenes at a Negrito Council of War - They Decide on Reprisals - Further Progress Barred in Consequence - Return to Florida Blanca.
As I mentioned before, this was the unhealthy season in the Philippines, and Vic assured me that these lower mountains were even more unhealthy than the flat country. I myself soon arrived at a similar conclusion, as a regular epidemic of malaria now set in among my pigmy friends, the Negritos, and the old chief told us that his favourite son was dying with it; next my neighbour and his wife were prostrated with it, and when they had slightly recovered, they left their hut and returned to Florida Blanca. Vic himself was next laid up with it, and seemed to think he was going to die. When I was at work in the evening he would shiver and groan under a blanket by my side; this, coming night after night, was rather depressing for me, all alone as I was. At other times he would imagine we were hunting the wary and elusive pitta, and would start up crying, "Ah! el tinkalu, it is there! por Deos, shoot, my English, shoot!" or he would imagine we were after butterflies, and would cry out, "Caramba, mariposa azul muy grande, muy bueno, bueno!" I was forced to do all the cooking for both of us, though it was quite pathetic to see poor Vic's efforts to come to my assistance, and his indignation that his "English" should do such work for him. At one time I half expected that he would die, but with careful nursing and doctoring I gradually brought him round.
During all the time that he was ill. I did but little collecting, and no sooner was Vic on the road to recovery than I myself was seized with it, and Vic repaid the compliment by nursing me in turn. It was a most depressing illness, especially as I was living on the poorest fare in a close and dirty hut. When you are ill in civilization, with nurses and doctors and a good bed, you feel that you are in good hands, and confidence does much to help recovery. But it is a different matter being sick in the wilds, without any of these luxuries, and you wonder what will happen if it gets serious. Then you long for home and its luxuries, with a very great longing, and cordially detest the spot you are in, with all those wretched birds and butterflies! It is Eke a long nightmare, but as you get better you forget all this, and the jaundiced feeling soon wears off, and you start off collecting again as keen as ever. One day a small skinny brown dog somehow managed to climb up the bamboo step into my hut during Vic's temporary absence, and I suddenly awoke to find it helping itself to the contents of a plate that Vic had placed by my side. I was far too ill to do more than frighten it away. This happened a second time before I was strong enough to move, but the third time I was well enough to seize my small collecting gun (which was loaded with very small cartridges), and when it was about thirty yards away I fired at it, simply intending to frighten it, as at that distance these small cartridges would hardly have killed a small bird. It stopped suddenly and, after spinning round a few times yelping, it turned over on its back. Even then I thought it was shamming, but on going up to it I found it was dead, with only one No. 8 shot in its spleen. On Vic's return he was much alarmed, as he said the dog belonged to the Negrito chief, who was very fond of it, and would be very angry with me if he knew. So we hid the body in the middle of a clump of bamboo about a quarter of a mile away from the hut. But the following day the sky was thick with a kind of turkey buzzard, which had evidently smelt the dog's corpse from some distance, and they were soon quarrelling over the remains. Vic worked himself up into a state of panic, saying that it would be discovered by the Negritos, but a few days later I sent him over to the Negrito chief's hut to get me some rice, and the chief mentioned that his chief wife had lost her dog, which she was very fond of, and that he thought that I must have killed it. Vic in reply said that that could never be, as in the country that I came from the people were so fond of dogs that they were very kind to them, and treated them like their own fathers. The chief then said that a pig must have killed it, and so the incident ended.
About this time Vic asked my permission to return to Florida Blanca for a few days, as he had heard that his wife had run away with another man, and he offered to send his brother to take his place. His brother could also speak English a little, and was assistant schoolmaster to the American. He proved, however, an arrant coward, and, like most Filipinos, lived in great fear of the Negritos. When out with me in the forest he would start, if he heard a twig snap or a bamboo creak, and look fearfully about him for a Negrito. He told me that the Negritos will kill and rob you if they think there is no chance of being found out, and he mentioned a case of an old Filipino being killed and robbed by these same Negritos a few months previously. I managed to string together the following absurd story from his broken English. He said that if you heard a twig break in the forest once or even twice you were safe enough, but if a twig snapped a third time, and you did not call out that you saw the Negrito, you would get an arrow into you. He said that once when he heard the stick "break three time" (to use his own words), he called out "Ah! I see you Negrite, and the Negrite he no shoot, but came out like amigo (friend)." His English was too limited for me to point out the many weak and absurd points of the story, as, for instance, why the Negrito should make the twigs break exactly three times, and why he should not shoot because he thinks he is seen. I only mention this anecdote to illustrate the credulity of the Filipinos. The next day, when we were out collecting in the morning, I suddenly saw him start when a bamboo snapped, so I called out, "Buenos diaz, Señor Negrite." This was too much for my man, who ran off home and refused to follow me in the forest that afternoon, and when I returned that evening he was nowhere to be seen, and I found out later that he had returned to Florida Blanca. In consequence I was forced to do all my own cooking, which was not pleasant, as I had to do it all in the hot sun, and this brought on a return of my fever.
At last, one morning, as I was endeavouring to light a fire to cook my breakfast, and muttering unpleasant things about Vic and his brother, I suddenly looked up and Vic stood before me like a. silent ghost. I say like a ghost, because he looked like one, thin and gaunt as he still was from fever. He, too, had had a return of the fever and had not yet recovered, but sooner than that "his English" should be alone, he had dragged himself over in the cool of the night. The next day his wife and two children arrived. She had been on a visit to her mother in another village, which accounted for Vic's thinking she had run away. They occupied the hut of my late neighbour, and before many days had gone they were all bad with fever. It was easy to see that the woman hated me, and imagined I was the cause of her having to come and live in these lonely and unhealthy mountains. Vic told me that there had been so much sickness in Florida Blanca that there was no quinine left in the place. My own stock was getting low, and Vic and his family, as well as myself, used it daily. I had cured the old Negrito chief with it, and he was very grateful to me, and presented me with some very fine arrows in return.
For some time past I had heard rumours of an extraordinary tribe of Negritos who lived further back in the mountains, and were named Buquils, and whose women were reported to have beards. Vic, whom I always found to be most truthful in everything, and who rarely exaggerated, declared it was true, and furthermore told me that these Buquils had long smooth hair, which proved that they could not have been Negritos. Besides, I learnt that they were quite a tall people. Nowhere in the whole world is there such a diversity of races as in the Philippines, and so it would be quite impossible even to guess what they were. Vic had once seen some of them himself when they came on a visit to the lower mountains. Though I thought the story, as to the women having beards, a fable, I determined to visit them before I left these mountains, and the old Negrito chief, who also told me that the women really did have beards, offered to lend me some of his people to carry my things. But one day Vic heard that his father was dying, and when I tried to cheer him up he sobbed in a mixture of broken Spanish and English, "One thousand señoritas can get, one thousand children can get, but lose one father more cannot get." On this account I had to return to Florida Blanca, and besides we were all very bad with constant attacks of fever, and in this village we could at all events get bread, milk and eggs to recuperate us. The American had left for a long holiday, so I managed to hire a small house where I could sort my collections before returning to Manila, where I intended catching a steamer for the south Philippines.
One day the village priest (a Filipino) called on me, and in course of conversation we spoke about these Buquils. He was most emphatic that it was true about the women having beards, and he also told me that no Englishman, American or Spaniard had ever penetrated so far back in the mountains as to reach their villages. When he had left I thought it over, and decided to go and see them for myself, though I was still suffering from fever. Vic, whose father had recovered from his illness, declared his willingness to accompany me; in fact I knew that he would never allow me to go without him. He was quite miserable at the idea of our parting, which was close at hand. As luck would have it, the day before we decided to start, Vic was down with fever again, and the following day I was seized with it. Never before or since have I been amongst so much fever as I was in this district. In any case I had made up my mind to see these Buquils, but we had now lost two days, and there was only just enough time left to get there and back and to journey back to Manila and catch my steamer. The day after my attack we started for the mountains once more at about two p.m., my fever being still too bad for me to start earlier. It had been very dry lately, with not a drop of rain and hardly a cloud to be seen, but just as we were starting it came on to rain in torrents and this meant that the rainy season had set in. It seemed as if the very elements were against us, and even Vic seemed struck with our various difficulties. I was sick and feverish, and my head felt like a lump of lead, as I plodded mechanically along in the rain through the tall wet grass. I felt no keenness to see these people at the time, fever removes all that, but I had so got it into my head before the fever that I must go at all hazards, that I felt somehow as if I was obeying someone else. We passed my old residence a short way off, and I stayed the night at the Negrito chief's hut, which I reached long after dark. He seemed very glad to see me again, and turned out most of his family and relations to make room for me. My troubles were not yet ended, as the two Filipinos whom I had engaged to carry my food and bedding could not start till late, and consequently lost their way, and were discovered in the forest by some Negritos, who went in search of them about 2a.m. Meanwhile I had to lie on the hard ground in my wet clothes, and as I got very cold a fresh attack of fever resulted. I had intended to start off again about four a.m., but it was fully four hours later before we were well on our way. I managed to eat a little before I left, our rice and other food being cooked in bamboo (the regular method of cooking amongst the Negritos). I here noticed for the first time the method employed by the Negrito mothers for giving their babies water; they fill their own mouths with water from a bamboo, and the child drinks from its mother's mouth. In the early morning thousands of metallic green and cream-coloured pigeons and large green doves came to feed on the golden yellow fruit of a species of fig tree (FICUS), which grew on the edge of the forest near the chief's hut. They made a tremendous noise, fluttering and squeaking as they fought over the tempting looking fruit.
We took five Negritos to carry the rice and my baggage - two men, two women, and a boy. The women, though not much more than girls, were apportioned the heaviest loads; the men saw to that, and looked indignant when I made them reduce the girls' loads. As we continued on our journey, I noticed that our five Negrito carriers were joined by several others all well armed with bows and extra large bundles of arrows, and on my asking Vic the reason, he told me that these Buquils we were going to visit were very treacherous, and our Negritos would never venture amongst them unless in a strong body. As we went along the narrow track in single file some of the Negritos would suddenly break forth into song or shouting, and as they would yell (as if in answer to each other) all along the line, I could not help envying them the extreme health and happiness which the very sound of it seemed to express; my own head meanwhile feeling as if about to split. I shall never forget that walk up and down the steepest tracks, where in some places a slip would have meant a fall far down into a gorge below. If Vic was to be believed, I was the first white man to try that track, and I would not like to recommend it to any others. Deep ravines, that if one could only have spanned with a bridge one could have crossed in five minutes or less, took us fully an hour to go down and up again, and I could never have got down some of them except for being able to hang on to bushes, trees and long grass. Whenever we passed a Negrito hut we took a short rest.
My Negritos, however, wanted to make it a long one, as they seemed to be very fond of yarning, and when I insisted on their hurrying on, Vic got frightened and declared they might clear out and leave us, which would certainly have been a misfortune. At length we arrived at a chief's hut, where we had arranged to spend the night. It was situated at the top of a tall, grassy peak, from which I got a wonderful view of the surrounding country: steep wooded gorges and precipices surrounded us on all sides, and in the distance the flat country from whence we had come, and far far away the sea looked like glistening silver. The flat country presented an extraordinary contrast to the rugged mountains which surrounded me. It was so wonderfully flat, not the smallest hill to be seen anywhere, except where the lonely isolated peak of Mount Aryat arose in the distance, and far away one could just see a long chain of lofty mountains. The effect of the shadows of the distant clouds on the flat country was very curious. Early the next morning, at sunrise, the view looked very different, though just as beautiful. The chief seemed very friendly. He was a brother of my old friend, with whom I had stayed the previous night. This chief, however, was very different to his brother, being very dignified, but he had a very good and kind face, whilst my old friend was a "typical comic opera" kind of character. From what I could understand these two and another brother ruled over this tribe of Negritos between them, each being chief of a third of the tribe Soon after my arrival I turned in, as I was very tired and feverish and had had no sleep the previous night. The Negritos, as usual, were very merry and made a great noise for so small a people. I never saw such people for laughter whenever anything amused them, which is very often; they were a great contrast in this respect to the Filipinos. This natural gaiety helps to explain their many and varied dances, one of which consists in their running round after each other in a circle.
I felt very much better next morning, and we started off very early, our numbers being increased by the chief and many of his men, so that I now found myself escorted by quite an army. I took note round here of the methods used by the Negritos in climbing tall, thick trees to get fruit and birds-nests. They had long bamboo poles lashed together, which run up to one of the highest branches fully one hundred feet from the ground. They often fastened them to the branch of a smaller tree, and thence slanting upwards to the top of a tall tree, perhaps as much as sixty feet and more away from the smaller tree. These Negritos axe splendid climbers, but it seemed wonderful for even a Negrito to trust himself on one of these bamboos stretching like a thread from tree to tree so far from the ground. I shall never forget the scramble we now had into the deepest gorge of all, and how we followed the bed of a dried-up stream, which in the rainy season must be a series of cascades and waterfalls, since we had to scramble all the way over large slippery boulders covered with ferns and BEGONIAS. We at length came to a tempting-looking river full of large pools of clear water, into which I longed to plunge. The banks were extremely beautiful, being overhung by the forest, and the rocky cliffs were half hidden by large fleshy-leaved climbers and many other beautiful tropical plants. It was one of those indescribably beautiful spots that one so often encounters in the tropical wilds, and which it is impossible to paint in words. A troop of monkeys were disporting themselves on a tree overhanging the river. Vic was most anxious for me to allow him to shoot one, but I have only shot one monkey in my life, and it is to be the last, and I always try and prevent others from doing so. We waded the river in a shallow place, and climbed up the steep hill on the other side. We had gone a good distance over hills covered with tall grass, and I was now looking forward to a bit of decent walking, as hitherto it had been nearly all miserable scrambling work, and the Negritos told Vic that the worst was now over. But we were approaching a hut, overhanging a rocky cliff, when we heard the sound of angry voices and wailing above us, and we soon perceived four Negritos (three men and a woman) approaching us. I thought the old woman was mad; she was making more noise than all the others put together, shouting and screaming in her fury. At first I thought they might be hostile Negritos who resented our intrusion, but they belonged to the tribe of the chief who was with me, and they were soon talking to him in loud, excited voices. Our own party soon got excited, too, and, as may be imagined, I was longing to find out the cause of all this excitement. Vic soon told me the reason. It appeared that on the previous day a large party of our Negritos had gone into the territory of the Buquils in order to get various kinds of forest produce (as they had often done in the past), and had been treacherously attacked by these Buquils, and many of them killed. One of these was the brother of a sub-chief, who now approached us, and who was, I believe, the husband of the frenzied woman. It was a very excitable scene that followed. I suppose one might call it a council of war. It was a mystery to me where all the Negritos came from and how they found us out; but they came in ones and twos till there was a huge concourse of them present, all gathered round their chief and squatting on the ground. About the only one who behaved sensibly was my friend the chief. He spoke in a slow and dignified manner, but the rest worked themselves up into a furious rage, and twanged their bowstrings, and jumped about and fitted arrows to their bows, and pointed them at inoffensive "papaya" trees, whilst two little boys shot small arrows into the green and yellow fruit, seeming to catch the fever from their elders. One man actually danced a kind of war-dance on his own account, strutting about with his bow and arrow pointed, and getting into all sorts of grotesque attitudes, moving about with his legs stiffened, and pulling the most hideous faces, till I was forced to laugh. But it seemed to be no laughing matter for the Negritos. The old woman beat them all; she did not want anyone to get in a word edgeways, but screamed and yelled, almost foaming at the mouth, till I almost expected to see her fall down in a fit. I never before witnessed such a display of fury.
Vic kept me well advised as to the progress of the proceedings, and it was eventually settled that each of the three brother chiefs were to gather together three hundred fighting men, making nine hundred altogether, and these in a few days' time were to go up and avenge the deaths of their fellow tribesmen. From the enthusiasm displayed amongst the little men, this was evidently carried unanimously, but I noticed two young men sitting aloof from the rest of the crowd and looking rather sullen and frightened, and as they did not join in the general warlike demonstrations, it was evidently their first fight. Here, however, I made Vic interrupt in order to draw attention to myself. What Vic translated to me was to the effect that it was out of the question for us to go on into the enemy's country, which we should have reached in another two hours' walk. If we did they would certainly kill us all by shooting arrows into us from the long grass (in other words, we should fall into an ambush), and, in fact, since they had killed some of this tribe they would kill anyone that came into their country. By killing these men they had declared war. This was the sum total of Vic's translation, and I saw at once that it was out of the question for me to go on, as no Negrito would go with me, and I could not go alone. In any case I should have been killed. Vic told me that very few of these Buquils ever leave their mountain valleys, and so most of them had never seen a Filipino, much less a white man. And so I met with a very great disappointment, and was forced to leave without proving whether or no the story of these bearded women was a myth. Lately I heard a rumour that an American had visited them and proved the story true. My disappointment may well be imagined. I had come over the worst track I had ever travelled on in spite of rain and fever, but I at once saw that all my labours were in vain and that I could not surmount this last difficulty. But I was lucky in one way. The chief told Vic that if we had gone yesterday we should all have been killed, as without knowing anything about it, we should have got there just after the fight. So for once fever had done me a good turn, a "providencia," I think Vic called it, as I should have reached my destination the previous day if I had not been delayed by fever. Out of curiosity to see what the chief would say, I told Vic to tell him that I would help him with my gun, but the chief was ungrateful and contemptuous, saying that they would shoot me before I could see to shoot them. Vic thought I was serious, and said he would not go with me, and begged me not to go, saying, in a mixture of English and Spanish, "What will your father, your sister, and your brother say to me when Buquil arrow make you dead?" Needless to say I was not keen on stalking Buquils who were waiting for me with steel arrows in long grass, and, besides, if I went with the gallant little nine hundred, I should miss my steamer. I never heard the result of that fight, much as I should like to have known it. After the meeting had dispersed, we returned to the river and rested. I bathed and took a swim in a big, deep pool under a huge tree, which was one mass of beautiful white flowers. I have never enjoyed a swim more. Vic also took a wash, and to my great surprise one of the Negritos proceeded to copy him, and as Vic soaped himself the Negrito tried to do the same thing with a stone, with which he succeeded in getting rid of a great deal of dirt. It surprised and amused the other Negritos, both men and women, who jeered and roared with laughter at the unusual spectacle of a Negrito washing himself.
I signed to them to give our boy carrier a wash, as he seemed the noisiest of the party, and two men got hold of him to duck him, but he seemed so terrified that I stopped them. The youngster evidently hated me for the fright he had received, as later on when I made him a present of a silver ten-cent piece to make up for his fright - this is a very handsome present for a Negrito - he threw it on the ground and stamped his foot in anger. The Negritos shot several fish and large prawns with a special kind of long pointed arrow; these we ate with our rice by the river side before returning. The night I stayed with my old friend, the comic chief, I found him actually in tears and much cut up at the idea of his two sons having to take part in the fight. I suppose it was compulsory for them to fight, but it appeared rather odd to me that a chief should object to his sons taking part in a fight, as the Negritos are considered very plucky fighters. The chief sent four Negritos to carry my things down to Florida Blanca. The following day I started back to Manila, where I caught my steamer for the southern Philippines. Vic was much distressed at my departure and shed many tears as I said good-bye to him, his grief being such that even a handsome tip could not assuage it.