Buitenzorg to Garut, 13 April 1893

As the special train which was to take us to some interesting points in the interior of the country was set to depart at half past 6 o’clock, I made a very early morning tour of Buitenzorg. It only had begun to dawn; many of the winged singers were awake and sang their songs in the tree tops of the botanical garden. In the Chinese quarter its industrious inhabitants started their daily work. Across a splendid forest in which were many Malay villages and on across many rice paddies we entered a deep valley to arrive at the bathing place Soekaradja which was populated by a great number of bathing men and women who performed their ritual washings.

The European houses in this valley form their own quarter that like the European quarter in  Batavia is characterized by its niceness, cosiness and the splendor of its numerous gardens. From the barracks and the obelisk honoring a governor runs an alley of slim very tall trees — I guess they might be at least 14 m to 18 m — to the train station of Buitenzorg. To my great surprise I learned that these trees had reached this height within four years. This must be the fastest growing trees in the world!

Soon our train departed for Garoet. The railway leads from Buitenzorg in a southern direction and enters at Tjitjoeroeg station into the Preang residence where it turns east. The drive to the destination Garoet was very attractive. The landscape is lovely. The traveler imagines himself to be in a park with tropical vegetation with attractive views upon hills and mountain ranges but especially upon the spiky cones of many volcanoes of which there are so many in Java. In deeply cut valleys and gorges flow rivers and streams with almost vertically descending shores. We only detected them when we arrived at the edge of the shore. The railway director who accompanied me  as a polite Cicerone answered all my questions and was not a little proud about his mountain railway which extends trough the country in frequent turns and crosses over valleys and gorges with their watercourses on audacious bridges the highest of which leads over Tji Taroem.

Just beyond Buitenzorg the land in the valleys and on the mountainsides along the railway line is intensively cultivated. Here, sugar cane, coffee, tea, cinchona bark and especially rice is grown which is the main staple of the native population. The rice paddies are not adding to the beauty and variety of the landscape due to their monotonous impression upon the spectator. It merits to observe how skilfully the Javanese manage to transform the ground into terraces necessary for the irrigation of the fields. The land seems to be built up in stacked layers like upon a relief map.

Where too large distances from the villages or the composition of the soil have prevented the creation of fields, the train is driving through completely tropical jungle or over large areas that are covered with no other plant than the reed-like blady grass which displaces any other plant and stands so densely that it it nearly impenetrable for humans.

Who else than a specialist researching the flora of Java might describe the luxuriousness and beauty, the variety and strangeness of the plants adequately which this island favored by a constant stream of warm ocean air and rainfall to its low-lying tropical plain, its subtropical virgin mountain land in which the higher regions of the volcanic mountain ranges are covered with numerous European plants!

Tropical evergreen forests, palm trees — among them, the nipa palm (Nipa fructicans), whose leaves are used for the production of cigarettes (Rokos), while the juice provides brown sugar and palm wine — bamboo, pandanus ornament the plains covered by the alang savannah; yew-like pinewoods, oak and teak trees, flower rich Zingiberaceae, broad leaved Musaceae, furthermore tall fern trees covered in orchids and Lycopodia, overgrown by moss and ferns, fill  the jungles and gorges at medium altitude. Horsetails, blackberries,  pinewoods reminding of cypresses, bushes and herbs of a temperate zone rise just up to the green slopes of the craters on whose edges a strange flora is prospering.

Thus even the autochthonous plants of Java are numbered in the thousands of families of which only around 7000 have been cataloged botanically, a range of plants which can be used as food, condiments, woods, weaving material, medicine, all kinds of fruits, juices and resins supply the natives with all they need and which seems to be sufficient for the planters and merchants. And still the never resting long-term oriented and innovation seeking business sense of the Europeans has covered the Javanese areas with plant commodities for trade which make up now, despite being immigrants, justly the first rank of the agricultural products of Java. Africa sent coffee trees, South Asia sugar cane, tea, cinnamon, cotton, China rice, America cacao, cinchona, vanilla, tobacco — plants which are the most important export goods of Java.

At the station of the small town Tjiandjoer the seat of the native regent, I was received by him and the Dutch resident of Preang who was to accompany me on the coming tour. A native musical band squatting on the ground in the local manner played our anthem on the Gamelang which sounded quite nice in the soft accords of the tuned cymbals and the kettle-like instruments. As it had become well known that I collected ornithological objects, the natives brought a large number of living birds of which I selected some.

After a stop of ten minutes the train continued and only stopped again in Bandoeng. Here in the residency of Preang I was offered breakfast by the resident in his palace, an invitation I accepted gladly. A large crowd consisting mostly of natives but also of Europeans had assembled at the station. A four horse team, almost antediluvian wagon took us to the government building which was built in the Javanese style, of one story and was located in a very well tended clean garden.

Very funny did the Javanese escort look that was rushing around in front and behind the wagon. Local mayors and city councilors, they were our honor guard, wearing a mixtum compositum of Dutch and local clothing on very small Javanese ponies. The riders had yellow lacquered broad hats, Dutch blue coats with golden or yellow laces — of the kind our court band singers are wearing and probably in the possession of the gentlemen for quite some years,  a short sarong a police scimitar en bandoulière and white pants. The riders were barefoot and desperately held the stirrups together with their big toes. The horse-gear of many consisted solely of strings. As the small ponies often balked, many of the city fathers found themselves in critical situations which vividly exercised my laugh muscles but this did not irritate or offend the members of this motley crew at all as they themselves laughed out loud in such cases in a Homeric smile so that the drive ended in a common merry mood.

In the streets stood the densely packed natives, not all from the city but also from the surrounding areas and showed their respect by squatting and looking down upon the approach of the carriage. The natives never look at the face of the person they are greeting in this strange but very common way of greeting. Sometimes they even turn away from the person greeted and higher class Javanese, especially regents and officials complement the salute by clapping their hands above their front. I often observed that Javanese regents and even native princes, if they are spoken to by the governor general or by one of the residents,  will approach them only in a crouching manner and remain squatting or kneeling with their eyes cast down in front of the dignitary. As it was known in the areas that we were passing through that I used the special train and the locomotive was decorated with flags, the country-side population was squatting on command in the fields or villages when our trains was flying past which made a very strange impression.

Between Bandoeng and Garoet, the latter one we were now getting close to, the railway journey offered a special view upon the valley of Garoet. The train had now climbed still higher up the mountain, having passed over some high bridges and viaducts, until we could suddenly see, the luxurious, water rich valley of Garoet enclosed by mighty mountain peaks and volcanic cones. Everywhere there were rivers and stream meandering like silver threads in the gorgeous green in the evening sunshine. This valley offered an enchanting view with its rich water veins, common in all of Java.

In Garoet the reception was organized similarly as in Bandung: the antediluvian wagon with a dark colored coachman in a laced red coat with a lacquered top-hat who reminded me involuntarily about an actor in a monkey comedy; the wild riders (Banderium), the crowds and — even here a fast photographer!

I put up at a very clean and comfortable hotel consisting of multiple pavilions which was located in the middle of a garden in whose bushes and trees numerous singing birds were giving a funny concert every morning and evening.

After I had walked up and down the streets of the small city for a while and observed a couple of megabats that were all flying in the same direction to their resting places, it was time to eat. Then again a Wajang was performed in the house of the regent.

The regents are natives, most are descendants of earlier princes and thus of noble birth which carry the titles of Raden Adipatti (lieutenant colonel) or Raden (Mas) Tomenggung (major). These regents who command a whole army of officials are responsible for the political administration and the collection of taxes in their territory, the regency. They are subordinate to the Dutch resident whose wishes and orders they normally execute with utmost compliance. The office of regent can not be inherited; rather the regents are appointed on a case by case basis by the government. A practice that has proven its worth as a regent deemed not fully suitable by the government can simply be stripped of his office and the appointment given to another native nobleman. Of the 22 residencies into which all of Java is divided, 19 are regencies, in turn split into districts etc. Two of the residencies are the vassal states of Surakarta (Solo empire) und Djokjakarta (sultanate) that are independent in appearance only. These and the residency of Batavia are not organized as regencies.

As an exterior sign of dignity every regent carries a richly laced Dutch coat, a golden kris with the name of the ruler of the Netherlands an finally a richly gilt sun screen called Pajung that is carried by a servant behind the dignitary everywhere. In all of Java this sun screen fastened to a long staff serves as a sign of the most noble grandeur. Such a screen was following both the governor general as well as each resident and higher official and even I was not spared this honor. At every occasion as if it were my own shadow this golden roof was held behind and over my head. The grade of a rank is distinguished by larger or smaller amounts of gold as well as differences in colors on the screen.

The Wajang performance that the regent of Garoet had organized to honor us resembled the performance seen the day before in Buitenzorg completely with the only difference being that the pas and gestures of the dancers were even more grotesque and the performance took much longer so that the unhappy daughter of the king only acquired a groom after two hours.

Completely new was the dance which the regent performed personally at the end of the feast and which made me pull together my whole moral force in order not to burst out laughing. The regent, a rather old man, had wrapped a sky-blue band around his government uniform whose ends he was carrying with grace in his hands. He appeared in the company of a young Malay woman which was part of this court but whose actual social position I could not be determine. This lady of the court was wearing an airy dress suitable to the hot climate and started the dance by first singing the verses of a song in daring soprano and then started turning  rhythmically around her own axis. Now the regent developed his choreographic activities with his eyes chastely cast down by turning funnily around his partner and performing a grotesque dance which was a mix between a  pas of a prima ballerina and the comportment of a blackcock in full mating season. As soon as the dancer approached the lady with delicate jumps, she answered these with flight-like escape so that the dance turned into a danced game of catch which was not lacking in comic and original behavior.

When finally the power of the old man started to be exhausted, a lower civil servant approached by solemn bounces and poured the tired artist sparkling champaign. The regent continued to dance around the sparkling goblet for a while and then grasped and emptied with visible delight while the lady of the court who had received nothing dried her sweat upon her front with a corner of her scanty costume.

After this exquisite feast I returned to my hotel. Between the palm trees in the garden hundreds of fireflies were whirring through the mild tropical night.

Links

  • Location: Garut, Indonesia
  • ANNO – on 13.04.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is playing „Das Heiratsnest“, while the k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the opera „Der Freischütz“.

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