National Geographic : 1963 Nov
KODACHROME(,1 NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY Young Murut finds the world changing fast. His bamboo home in North Borneo shows a model airplane, a line of clothes-hitherto little worn by tribesmen-and pictures of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. climate-complete with blazing log fires in the cool evenings. Green golf links and Tudor style buildings bring a touch of England to the jungle here. But a short distance from the vacationers dwell the Sakais, an indigenous people of the Malay Peninsula. The plight of these long neglected jungle folk was revealed dramat ically during "the Emergency," as the bitter war against Communist terrorism is euphe mistically called. "Without the Emergency they might still have been forgotten," a welfare worker told me. "Many of them went over to work for the Communists as guides and porters." I met some of these ex-terrorist guides and porters in the highlands. I found them living in a six-month-old settlement, still clearing the jungle for cultivation around their neat 740 new homes. Once overworked and underpaid by landowners on highland tea plantations, today they are protected. Many have govern ment jobs. Their children go to school, some to universities. Already the Sakais have pro duced some brilliant young scholars. From the cool temperatures and rugged beauty of the highlands I went to the hot, flat Kinta Valley, greatest tin-bearing area in the world. The sun was dazzling on thousands of acres of white tin tailings where only patchy vegetation now grows. Here, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tin ore is dragged and pumped, washed and panned from the earth. Tin Dredges Rival Ocean-going Ships I scrambled aboard one of the huge tin dredges which work the wealthy valley and which are often as large as ocean-going ships. From the top deck I counted 15 others within a couple of miles. The bulk of Malaya's tin production is alluvial; many deep ore deposits in the mountains have been worked out. But Malaya produces yearly some 60,000 tons of the finest tin, more than a third of the world's production (pages 744-5). More than a third of the world's natural rubber, too, comes from this fertile, fingerlike projection of Asia, although the rubber tree is native to South America. Imported by way of London's Kew Gardens in 1877, the rubber tree soon flourished up and down Malaya. Then came the world boom in prices early in this century. Today 30 percent of the coun try's population is dependent upon the rub ber industry. Much of Malaya's tin and rubber finds its way to the world through the offshore island of Penang. I found its harbor at George Town jammed with small vessels from neighboring Sumatra and Thailand. Beyond rose the bulky shapes of visiting cruise ships, for Pe nang, a free port, is known to tourists for its charm. Yet Penang disappointed me at first. In the blistering heat of day, I looked in vain for the island's famous appeal. Sweating tourists crowded the bustling bazaars in search of duty-free bargains (page 743). Even the white sand beaches outside George Town seemed lackluster in the heat. Where was the dream world Penang of which I'd heard? I found it at last with dusk. Day only drives the real Penang into hiding. As the setting sun simmered on the sea, slim sampans and fat junks rose in silhouette off the palm-girt, surf-loud shore. Mists gathered on distant hills of the Malayan mainland.