National Geographic : 1940 Jul
Behind the News in Singapore Malays call him, which means 'living saint.' " Sight-seers in Singapore point their cameras at the snake charmer's cobra, at smiling girls who sit on balconies and play guitars, at heathen temples, and at monkeys loose in the Botanical Gardens. Some monkeys here have to work. They pick mangoes and coconuts for the Malays. Working Monkeys Take Orders Now comes a botanist who has trained two or three of these berok (coconut or pigtailed) monkeys to help him collect specimens from tall trees. Read the Straits Government's Gardens Department Report for 1938 and you find the whole astonishing story. Not only do these intelligent monkeys work high up in treetops, collecting and throwing down desired herbarium specimens, but they also understand certain orders spoken in Malay. One knows the meanings of 18 words. "Indeed, to work with a clever berok," says one writer, "is like fishing in the treetops . . . This monkey offers the ablest assistance the student of trees can have in the high forest." He quits work only to come down for a drink of water! Malays hold odd beliefs about monkeys. Roland Braddell, Singapore lawyer-author, says he once saw a crowd waiting at police court to hear a monkey testify in a murder case! It seems a pet monkey was the only living creature found at the scene of a murder, and the police casually took it away to keep it from starving. But villagers got the idea a pawang, or witch doctor, had persuaded the monkey to tell the story of the crime-and the crowd was there to hear it. What a surprise ending Poe or Maupas sant would use here! A suspect under arrest is terrified when he hears the monkey has already talked. Hysterically, when brought before the judge-and even before the charge is read--he cries, "I'm guilty! Guilty! The monkey saw it all. It's telling the truth!" Not a breath of air stirred in the deadly wet heat of an equatorial Sunday morning. All in tropic white uniforms, His Majesty's offi cers took the pews held for them in Singa pore's Cathedral. With his aides came the Governor General, and the Chief Justice; and there were pews labeled for the staffs of British banks and trading houses. "From the crafts and assault of the Devil," came words from The Litany. "From battle . from conspiracy and rebellion." Rebel lion of an Indian regiment once killed many in Singapore; tablets on the Cathedral walls carry their names. In the public pew by me were Americans. They had started from California on a round the-world cruise, but war in Europe was turn ing them back at Singapore. They heard the clergyman reading: "Preserve all who travel by land, by water, or by air." This Church of England has long arms. Wherever British colonists build a fort, they also build a house of prayer (page 93). Long ago the East India Company founded Singa pore's great Cathedral; it is unique, because it was built with convict labor. Motorcars and Pagan Gods Yet few Christians live in Singapore. Most of its 600,000 are heathen. They take over the Christian's radio, airplanes, motorcars; his mo tion pictures and his many ways of playing with bats and balls-even his latest dance steps. But for the most part they keep their graven images and their own pagan gods. Astonishing Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple is called the finest in all Malaya (page 87). Life-size cow figures, some with wreaths about their necks, lie around on top its walls. Over the gate to its compound rises a high tower, tapering upward, set with life-size sculptures of men, women, and beasts. In amazement you count literally hundreds of these bizarre figures, all in colors. You see a girl holding a green parrot on her wrist; other girls hold what look like torches and fly swatters. A blue-garbed woman has her left foot in her lap; a blue man has four hands. You see a mustached man with wings, and girls with wings, and soldiers in what seem to be British uniforms and caps, carrying rifles; people playing harps and violins, and flutes; nude men with spears and tridents and green parasols. One turbaned figure aims a pistol at street crowds below. This curious ensemble looks like an outdoor waxworks. Hindu spectators scream with excitement when their co-religionists cross a pit of red-hot coals in the annual fire-walking ceremony at this Sri Mariamman Temple. Incredibly fantastic is this feat. Both sexes participate. Some run barefooted over the fire, their arms upraised; some walk calmly. Heat from the pit is so intense that to endure it men who rake the embers with 10-foot poles have to splash water on their bodies. Once across, most actors dip their feet into a bath of mud and goat's milk. Others, overwrought, fall in a faint and are carried out.