Source/Author: H.B. Amstutz
A first hand view of the hardships and dangers of mission work among the Ibans
After our week in Kapit with the Chinese Pastor’s School, we started out on the morning of August 18 for Nanga Mujong, our newest school site, where the Rev. and Mrs. Lucius Mamoera are already settled in their comfortable little residence. There were eight missionaries in our party, a number of the Methodist Iban School children on their way home, our luggage (we white people always seem to have a tremendous amount compared to that of our primitive Iban friends), and the necessary boatmen, at least two to a boat. Thus we had to take the large mission longboat plus two other small ones, all propelled by outboard motors.
We had our lunch of rice and curry on a huge rock and sand bar at a bend of the Baleh River, some hour after leaving the Rejang River. At the Mission station called Nanga Mujong, the juncture of the Mujong and the Baleh Rivers, we ate some delicious durian fruit.
That night some of us stayed with the Mamoeras and the rest of the party were the guests of Penghulu Jinggot in his long-house a mile down the river above the swift-flowing Baleh River. After dusk our Iban missionaries, Burr Baughman, Lucius Mamoera and Djaleb Manoeroeng, conducted a Service of Worship in the Iban language, which was followed by an hour’s slide and filmstrip lecture. All around us sat the Iban people listening.
At five the next morning we got our belongings together, ate porridge and drank coffee before we were off for the major part of our long journey. Soon the rapids began to give trouble, for the river had fallen during the night and there was no longer sufficient depth at most of the rapids to allow us to use the motors to take our heavy laden longboats over them. This meant all men overboard, jumping into the very swift water, trying to walk on the rolling stones that seem to cover the river bed at the rapids, and at the same time pull our longboats through to the deep, quieter water beyond. After you have done this, say five times, in an hour, the unaccustomed hard work begins to tell on you, and you fearfully ask how many more rapids lie ahead before you are home.
By mid-afternoon we had left our third river, the Mujong, and had entered the Melinau. As we progressed we found the going much worse, so that we often had to take a long chain and rope of rotan to help pull the longboats through the rapids. Even the school girls (two of the chief’s daughters, aged 11 and 13, were with us) got out at the worst places and helped pull the boats. The sky had darkened and soon a heavy rain added to our troubles, drenching those of us who were sitting outside the little attap-roof shelters. The girls tried to comfort me by saying we had only two more rapids to cross and then we would be at their home—but as the two stretched into more than that number I said they obviously did not know where their home was, but they smiled and said, woman-like, “Oh, we meant two more bad rapids.” And, sure enough, soon we crossed the last one and there around the bend stood the longhouse of Penghulu Sibat on the bank high above the river.
Penghulu Sibat and his wife Dayang (a Malay word meaning “Princess”) had removed their bed mats from their large room and had it all ready for their guests. How wonderful it was finally to be out of the longboat and under shelter and in a warm room again! For it was really cold sitting in therain in wet clothes. This large room was filled with at least fifty women, girls, and little children, girls, and little children, who had come in to see us and to welcome us. Soon the rest of our party arrived; the large Mission longboat was longer and heavier and therefore took longer to get through the rapids and the men in it were nearly exhausted from the hard work. After a little polite visiting we set about to arrange things for the night, all of us missionaries, men and women, fixing up our mats in one end of the room, hanging our bed-nets and getting out fresh clothing to wear after we had had a quick bath in the cold river far down below. Dressing was a bit of a problem with no privacy, but one soon learned how to manage. In a surprisingly short time, Mrs. Baughman and one of the boatmen had steaming rice and other items of food ready, plus delicious coffee, and how good it all tasted!
Mrs. Henry V. Lacy and Mrs. Amstutz enjoyed it all greatly— special arrangements had been made for their convenience in the matter of a bathroom and sanitation—and the Iban women and girls made them so welcome that they felt veru much at home. All of us went to bed early that night, and as the rain fell on the shingles above us we slept well in spite of the usual noises of a longhouse at night: people talking, babies crying, pigs and their litters just below us every now and then setting up a terrific squealing, dogs howling, and then from about 5 a.m. onwards dozens of roosters crowing and announcing the new day that was still hidden in the rainy darkness. Every man awoke with many aches and pains, for our bodies had been badly bruised by the river the previous day but we all felt better than we had dared to hope.
Sunday morning we spent visiting with the people, examining the ways of living common in the longhouses, taking a look now and then at the clusters of skulls that hung from the rafters in three places, playing with the children, and when the sun came out, taking some photographs. In the afternoon we visited the site of our newest Iban school.
New School at Nanga Meluan
Penghulu Sibat and his people, including the residents of three other neighbouring longhouses, had some months earlier asked Mr. Baughman if they might have a school right there for their children, instead of having to send them far down the river to Kapit. Sibat said they would give the land for the building and a garden and a playground, and would cut the heavy timbers themselves, and make the iron-wood shingles, if the Mission could provide a teacher and help with the building and equipping of a school-room and living quarters for the teacher. Our Batak teacher, now working at Kapit, Mr. Manoeroeng, volunteered to go and work there, and so that problem was solved. At the same time an unassigned gift had come from the home Missionary Society of Switzerland, through the hands of Dr. F. Sigg, their president, and that money will help to complete the school. When we were taken to the site we found long hard-wood timbers already cut and squared, most of the roof and timbers ready, and the Penghulu said the other wood was cut in the jungle upriver and would soon be brought onto the site. They had engaged a local Iban ‘master-carpenter’ to cut the timbers, and then when all was ready the men from the four longhouses would assemble and erect the building.
Worship in a Longhouse
Sunday night we had a wonderful Service of Worship. A cross had been set up on a box and the boys and girls from the Methodist Iban School in Kapit sat nearby. Lacking a church bell, Mr. Baughman, in his strong baritone, led the students and others who knew them, in one hymn after another, and hearing the singing, most of the two to three hundred residents of the house assembled, making a large group seated around us on the floor. Following the lead of the Agrecultural Missions, Mr. Baughman had suggested to the people to get samples of earth from their padi (rice) fields and some of the seed, and then to present them for God’s blessing at this Service. Many did so but the great excitement of the evening came when one man brought a big fighting cock and another a squealing pig. The pig, evidently used to human beings, soon quieted down and so far as we could gather enjoyed the Service. The teacher who was coming to live there, Mr. Manoeroeng, preached a very vivid sermon telling the people how they must put away their superstitions and follow the way of Jesus. I was asked to give the benediction, after which Mr. Baughman, using a kerosene projector, showed slides and films. It was an evening that the missionaries present will long remember. Rain was again falling and this time very heavily, so that we began to worry about the possibility of returning home on the morrow, for these jungle rivers rise and fall very rapidly and if the river was too turbulent and high we would not be able to return to Kapit the next morning.
A Dangerous Return Journey
The next morning the river could be heard roaring down below us and we, going down for our morning ablutions, were amazed to find that it had risen between twelve and fifteen feet overnight, and was now a mad, rushing, swirling mass of brown water hurrying to the ocean far away. Our Iban boatmen said we would have to wait to let it subside some but when, after 8.30, it did not seem to show any signs of doing so they decided to risk it. Willing hands picked up our bags and the heavy motors, and carried them down the long, wet, slippery, log-ladders to the river’s edge and loaded the longboats. My wife and I were told to go with the chief in his boat, accompanied by an elderly Iban who sat in the prow. With a roar our motor started, and off we went down that raging torrent. What a trill that was! Soon we came to the first rapids, the huge stones of which were far below us, butwhich nevertheless made much commotion on the surface of the rushing river. After a hasty shouted consultation between the two Iban men the motor was run full speed and we went through safely. This same method was adopted at each rapid that was dangerous, sometimes using the motor, sometimes just trusting to their paddles to guide us through the safest place.
Half and hour down the Melinau we saw ahead at a bend a very tumultuous mass of waves and dashing spray several hundred yards long, and one could actually see how the surface of the river went down several feet as it dropped through the rapids.
Shooting the Rapids
Our boatmen surveyed the scene from a quiet place above and then decided to shoot the rapids on the opposite side. My heart came up to my mouth as we approached the mad waters and I realized that we were going over one of the largest dips. There must have been a huge rock down below, for the water fell away alarmingly as it went over. About ten feet of the front of our longboat was completely out of the water as we hung over the fall, and then with a splash that thoroughly soaked me and threw gallons of water into our boat, we hit the next crest and somehow came through, our motor roaring at high speed and the two boatmen working for dear life with their paddles. To the left of us, as we came into a calm spot on the side, we could hear and see the dashing waves often throwing the water and spray high into the air. I asked why we were stopping and Penghulu Sibat laconically said, “Many people have been drowned in these rapids and we must wait until the other two boats come through.” My heart sank as I thought of the other six missionaries, besides the Iban men and boys, who had come on this visit at my suggestion. I got my cine camera ready and we waited.
Suddenly around the bend we saw the large Mission long-boat coming fullspeed, their 22 hp. motor roaring above the sound of the dashing river waves, and going right through the longest and, evidently to our boatmen, the most dangerous part of the rapids. I heard our two men groan as they saw them. All I could do was to pray while I ground away with my camera. I shall never forget the sight of that heavily loaded longboat dashing through those waves and safely riding them out. The river was carrying much debris, and even whole trees, which made navigation by small light longboats extra dangerous. Had any of our three boats struck a log in those rapids it would have been all over, and if any had capsized most certainly some of us would have been lost, for not even a strong swimmer could have held his own in that mad torrent. It was with thankful hearts that we continued down the river. We were all safe, and apart from splashes and wet clothes, we were none the worse for the experience.
The remainder of the journey was uneventful, for after having passed this worst of the rapids, the others that were still to come seemed tame in comparison and we rode them out without any particular fear. Noon found us again at Nanga Mujong, where Lucius had half a dozen delicious durians for us; hot rice and sardines and coffee were soon ready. How we ate as we compared notes on our several experiences that morning! By 3 p.m. we were back in Kapit again, a total of five travelling hours as compared to the eleven or twelve that it took us to go up.
Now we know what our missionaries to the Iban people have to face as a part of their work among these people, and we also know what gallant, brave and loyal men our Iban hosts are. I am sure the Methodist Church will stand back of our work among these fine people—with our prayers, your interest, and your gifts, and before long, volunteers to assist our missionaries there.
The Malaysia Message
Vol. 54 No. 10