Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/121

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LIFE AMONG THE BATTAS OF SUMATRA.

children, till they have households of their own, take their meals with their parents. At meals the whole family sit around the rice-pots. They formerly used leaves for plates, but they now generally have European plates. As a rule, they eat immediately from the hand, which is previously washed in a vessel of water kept ready for the purpose. The nice point in eating consists in not allowing the fingertips to touch the lips, but in letting the rice drop from the fingers into the hollow of the hand just before it is given to the mouth.

The Batta men do not always begin their day with breakfast. In the busy season of rice-culture they often have a couple of hours' work to do in the rice-field. If the man is wealthy enough to have a buffalo, he has to drive him all around and over the field between the rows, so as to destroy the weeds by treading them down into the soft mud. It is most convenient to do this early in the morning, as the buffaloes are driven from the yard to the pasture. If the man has no buffalo, he has to dig at the weeds laboriously with his hoe. The buffalo is the principal domestic animal of the Battas, and is kept chiefly for treading out the rice-fields. The value of the animal is regulated by the length of his horns, and this is measured by comparison of the length of his owner's arm from the forefinger. If the horns are long enough to reach to the arm-pits on the other side, the animal corresponds with the Batta equivalent for "thorough-bred."

The sugar-palm affords the common drink of the people, which they call tunak, and of which a single tree, if properly taken care of, will furnish a considerable daily supply for months at a time. Flavored and made stronger by the addition of bitter roots, it is greatly enjoyed by the many, though despised by a few, and may be indulged in to a considerable excess without making drunk. It has become a burning question, among those who have been converted to Mohammedanism, whether the drinking of tunak is allowable under their law, and the favorite beverage may yet become the occasion of a religious schism.

The Battas attribute all serious sickness to the work of evil spirits, begu; and, as they know by experience that persons who go down from the highlands and remain for a considerable length of time on the coast or in the flat country are liable to be attacked by a virulent fever after their return, they have come to consider the begu of the sea, the begu laut, a particularly malignant and dangerous spirit.

A woman who had been visiting her relatives in the flat country was attacked and brought low with one of these fevers. Her husband did not hesitate long, for she was a valuable help and had cost half his estate in purchase-fees, but sent immediately for the most famous datu, or medicine-man, in the region. An honorarium regulated by the value at which the wife was held was paid the doctor, and an equal sum was promised him in case of recovery. Incantations and external means were tried for a few days with no beneficial results, and then