INDONESIA

HISTORY - PART 2

SOJOURN IN THE POLEMBANG RESIDENCY
 
           
 
The chief object of interest in the Passumah Lands is its volcano - the Dempo. Almost daily I explored some part of its vast extent, and when I left I could have profitably spent months more without exhausting its treasures. The village of Pau, in which I had my quarters, was 3500 feet above the sea. The first few hundred feet of the flanks of the mountain were appropriated by the villagers for their coffee gardens, and the few fields in which they now cultivate rice and roots. The coffee-trees, despite their being densely crowded, yielded large crops of a very superior kind of fruit; above these cultivated fields ran a broad belt of low forest consisting of a shrubbery of Fluggea microcarpa and the usual broad-leaved scitamineons plants, in whose damp shade balsams and white-flowered Gesneraceae and hairy-leaved Begonias flourished. About 4000 feet began the virgin forest, which for 2000 feet upwards displayed unrivalled luxuriance under which grew a tangled mass of shrubs and thorny climbers. Crashing through these, I one day nearly trampled on a fine new species of that curious family, the Rafflesiaceae; it smelt powerfully of putrid flesh, and was infested with a crowd of flies, which followed me all the way as I carried it home, and was besides overrun with ants, not withstanding the long hairs which protected its centre. In the deep shade at this elevation few flowers except from the combers and epiphytes on the trees, such as many species of Melastoma oftener more rich in colour of fruit than of flower, scarlet Aeschynanthes, and occasionally a gorgeous asclepiad. The varied forms and colours of foliage, however, greatly relieved the general want of flowers. From the broad leaves of the Ginger family and the tangled thickets of palms, to the graceful fronds of Alsophila, Cyathea and creeping Davallia, to the pandans and aroids which embrace the tree trunks and clothe the leafless coils of the lianes, there is a perpetual and refreshing variety. Here I found a curious species of Fieus, whose long stem-branches penetrated underground, where the figs were produced with their orifices only above the surface.
 
 
Nothing could be finer than many of the crowns of flowers of the giant trees that I was constantly felling. One of these, a species of Styrax (S. subpanieculatum), was a mass of blossom which scented the region of the mountain for days after I felled which scented the region of the mountain for days after I felled it, and often beguiled me aside to admire even its fading beauty.
 
At 4800 feet I gathered the first ericaceous plants, as climbing shrubs on the tops of the highest trees; and some 500 feet higher the ground was strewed with great blossoms four to five inches in diameter, from the Gordonia excelsa, a giant of the Terastraemaceae, or Tea family. At 6000 feet the region of troublesome and irritating rattans and of Pychosperma palms was passed, and I entered a forest of more slender trees, with still many grand fern-loaded specimens among them, especially belonging to the Myrtle family as their fallen corollas indicated. At 7000 feet, near the half-way camp I had erected, a patch of tall Pandan trees occurred on the sides of a gorge, but nowhere else on the mountain. Here, flitting over the fallen logs, I staled a pretty little brown hill-wren (Pnoepyga pusilla), which started on the slightest motion into a hole or crevice, and when at last wounded it took refuge in a burrow two yards long, whence it had to be dug out. This species was known before only from the Himalayas and Tenasserim till it was discovered in this island on the Padang mountains by Dr. Beccari; but my Dempo specimen was the first that had been seen in England. Besides herds of elephants, an occasional Siamang, and many tigers, mammalian life did show itself on the mountain. The long grey-beard lichens now covering the trees were an indication of the dampness of the atmosphere. Her a red-stemmed Begonia grew in the utmost luxuriance, intermingling with a white species of honeysuckle (much visited by a fine grey-haired humble-bee (Bombus sence), and which together formed a white flower dotted field that accompanied us for more than 700 feet at ascent. At 7700 feet there was a marked decrease in the amount of flowers and fruit that the half-tree, half-shrub vegetation produced, whose foliage, I remarked, was of a more or less crisp and brittle texture. At 8000 feet my eyes were gladdened by the sight of a most lovely orchid epiphytic on the trees, which is apparently the true Dendrobiom secundum; its colour, which could not fail to catch the eye of the most unobservant, was of the deepest purple or mauve-pink, and its bells, suspended by a double-curved petiole of a graceful form, hung in clusters of twelve to fourteen from the tip of the stems. It is impossible of course to describe the colour, but it was of the richest tint; the whole flower was of the same colour, save one bright orange spot in the throat of the labellum. For 200 feet upwards the trees were profusely spangled with them, and it was really worth an arduous climb to see and to gather them. It is surprising to how limited an area some plants are confined. I could find no specimens of this orchid above the narrow zone I have mentioned. At 8200 feet I first gathered the beautiful Rasp (Rubus lineatus), which I obtained on the Malawar mountains in Java at a considerably lower elevation. On the Java mountains, from 6500 to 7000 feet, the abundance of various kinds of Rasps formed a marked feature in the vegetation; here I was struck by their almost entire absence. On the Tengamus in the Lampongs at the same height I had met with no end of Nepenthaceae, and with a beautiful orchid of the genus Cymbidium, but there neither the one nor the other was seen; one small scrap of a pitcher was indeed brought to me from about 6500 feet, but, though I myself and my hunters searched everywhere, we could find no more. Here and there I now found small-leaved scraggy shrubs of a species of Rhododendron (R. maguijlorum) bearing bright scarlet flowers, and every further foot of ascent brought us among dwarfed trees, and leaner and more scraggy shrubs, while the most of stone and stem grew deeper and deeper. At 8600 feet I suddenly emerged on the edge of one of the many gorges which deeply grooved the side of the mountain, and stood clear of the tall forest.
 
During my progress through the lower zones few insects, but some very interesting forms of birds, had been noticed. Besides the species I have mentioned above, I shot a rare grass warbler (Saya albigularis), previously known only from Sumatra, by one example from Acheen, in the north of the island; and twittering in low bushes a little fly-catcher, not before taken in this island - Culicicaps ceylonensis. At 5000 feet, hopping about on fallen legs, dodging in the low bush tangle, a black chat-thrush (Brachyteryz atratus) with a bright white line over the eye, fell to my gun, which was not my luck in regard to the beautiful Paradise fly-catcher (Terpsyphone affinis) which I saw - a pure white bird with long black-shafted tail-feathers, named by the natives Tjabit Kapan which signifies the white cloth in which the dead are wrapped, as they believe that he by whom it is seen has not long to live.
 
At 8000 feet the tall forest suddenly ceased, and among my feet I found some splendid ericas of various species, the most conspicuous being that which the natives have named "Tree of the long age" (Kaya panjang umoor), a new species (Vaceiniurm forbesii), and one of the most handsome of its genus. It was first met with as a shrub, low and compact, but 500 feet higher it became a tree with a circumference of four feet. This, with the scarlet rhododendron already mentioned, and many species of ferns, monopolised the mountain up to 9000 feet, where I gathered, with perhaps more satisfaction still, a wee species of Gentian that expanded its blue flowers on the bare earthy banks.
 
Back to Indonesia History - Part 1
 

Reference: A Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago by Henry O. Forbes, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, New York, 1885

 
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