National Geographic : 1930 Feb
AMONG THE HILL TRIBES OF SUMATRA BY W. ROBERT MOORE AUTHOR OF "THROUGH JAVA IN PURSUIT OF COLOR," IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE "T ONDERLIJK!" exclaimed a Genial Dutch resident of Ba S tavia, floundering for descrip tive adjectives, as he waxed enthusiastic and almost inarticulate over Sumatra. "You must see the Padangsche Bovevn landen (Padang Highlands) and Toha Meer." Following his advice, we sailed at noon time from Tandjoeng Priok, the harbor of Batavia, on a small west-coast Sumatran steamer named after a certain somebody who has helped make Holland's colonial history. Besides a few business men and half a dozen travelers, it carried a deck ful of Javanese men and women laborers for the Sumatran tea, rubber, and tobacco estates. A noisy group crowded the pier to wish farewell to friends who lined the steamer rail. With shouts and excited gestures pill-box hats were tossed out toward the departing steamer, but a surge from the propellers sent them bobbing back toward the dock-and we were off for Padang. The first European to include Sumatra in his travel itinerary, so an early histor ical chronicle testifies, was none other than that Venetian prince of wanderers, Marco Polo.* Other early records direct atten tion to the visit of Ludovico di Varthema, of Bologna, who halted his caravels on the Sumatran coast during a Far Eastern cruise in I505. In 1599, Cornelius Houtman, after lo cating the new Indian trade route for the Dutch around the Cape of Good Hope, ventured out to north Sumatra, where he lost his life at the hands of the Achinese. He had taken the initial step in one of the Netherlands' most expensive and hard fought colonial enterprises. Sumatra, the bounteous but unfriendly spice land of these early voyagers, is only slightly smaller than the aggregate areas of our nine New England and Middle Atlantic States and, longitudinally speak ing, is at the world's end from Washing ton, D. C. It is furthermore some thir * See "The World's Greatest Overland Ex plorer," by J. R . Hildebrand, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for November, 1928. teen times larger than its Netherlands guardian, but has a somewhat smaller population (see, also, map, page 189). Sprawling at an angle across the Equa tor, with the tropical sunshine and mon soon rains spilling over its rich volcanic soil, Sumatra is generously favored by in dulgent Nature. As yet, however, its man ifold agricultural and mineral resources have been exploited to only a small frac tion of those of her sister island, Java.* SILENT KRAKATAU REVIVES TRAGIC MEMORIES By eventime the Java Sea had slipped astern and our steamer nosed westward through the placid waters of the island studded Sunda Strait and into a flaming golden sunset. Off to port lay the island of Krakatau, bathed in evening splendor, silent for the time and innocent in ap pearance. Yet Krakatau evokes the mem ory of the overwhelming tragedy wrought by its violent eruption in the summer of 1883, when thousands of lives were swal lowed up by the devastating tidal wave that swept the shores of the surrounding regions. At that time half of the island disappeared beneath the sea, and the fine volcanic ash thrown into the upper air currents continued to color the sunsets with purple-red hues for nearly two years. In the early months of 1928 the vol cano again awakened, rumbled and hurled rock and boiling mud, together with heavy clouds of steam, from an under-water fis sure to a height of hundreds of feet. Re peated disturbances have followed. People living in the once-destroyed regions are justly nervous over its renewed activity. Observers are, therefore, carefully fol lowing its temperamental movements in order to broadcast a warning should it show signs of increasing activity. As we moved on, the orange-red sunlight flared higher on the clouds and gradually died out behind the Sumatran hills, taking with it the gold-tinged purples on the is land peaks. Krakatau became quite sullen. * See "Through Java in Pursuit of Color," by W. Robert Moore, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for September, 1929.