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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/August 1905/An Eclipse Observer's Experiences in Sumatra

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 67‎ | August 1905

THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

AUGUST, 1905.




AN ECLIPSE OBSERVER'S EXPERIENCES IN SUMATRA.
By Professor CHARLES DILLON PERRINE,

ASTRONOMER AT THE LICK OBSERVATORY, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA.

Total eclipses of the sun are often visible only from out-of-the way corners of the earth, necessitating long journeys from the fixed observatories to observe them. The path of totality of the Sumatra (1901) eclipse extended from the southern Indian Ocean near the African coast northeast across Mauritius, thence across central Sumatra and the neighboring islands, Borneo, Celebes and New Guinea. The most favorable location, astronomically speaking, was in Sumatra, where the duration of totality was longest and the sun, at the time of the eclipse, was near the zenith. These considerations led nearly all of the expeditions to choose points near Padang as sites for their observing stations.

The two observers[1] from the Lick Observatory, with four tons of instruments and supplies, sailed from San Francisco on February 19, going by way of Honolulu and Japan to Hong Kong, and thence to Singapore, Batavia and Padang. At Singapore we took a steamer of the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij for the 500 mile run to Batavia. On the 'Coen' Dutch customs prevailed. The early morning, from daylight to nine o'clock, sees the men promenading the decks or lounging about in pajamas and loose slippers. There is no rising call or call for breakfast. One rises when he pleases (usually early, to take advantage of the coolest part of the day), bathes and breakfasts at will. The ladies appear at breakfast attired in loose

 
PSM V67 D296 Lick observatory crocker eclipse station.png
The Lick Observatory—Crocker Eclipse Station.
 

'mother-hubbards' or in short sarong skirt and loose white sack—the costume of the early part of the day.

The low eastern shore of Sumatra and its fringe of small outlying islands are in view most of the time, presenting an almost unbroken line of green—the dark dense green of tropical vegetation. The cocoanut palms afford the only clue to the native villages which are hidden away in groves of these graceful trees. An occasional light-house projects its white shaft skyward from a sand-spit or submerged reef, a grateful relief to the eye from the green which one comes to associate with this part of the world, where even the oranges are green.

About 80 miles south of Singapore we crossed 'the line' and lost our compass-needle, for there is no southern Polaris.

Our time at Batavia was consumed in attending to the transfer of the instruments to the Padang steamer. Owing to the nature of the expedition, and to prevent delays, the handling of the eclipse freight was personally supervised at every change. The officials of the steamship companies were always most courteous in making room for the observers and the instruments on steamers already full, and in meeting our requirements at all points. This was nowhere more true than in Java. For example, during the two full days that the steamer which had the eclipse freight on board was waiting at Tandjong Priok to coal and come to the pier—no one knowing just when these events were to happen—the dock officers and coolies were waiting the entire time, under instructions from the agents of the steamship company, in order to make the transfer at the earliest possible moment.

The steamer for Padang went through the Straits of Sunda, where in 1883 occurred the great outburst of Krakatoa. Soon after entering the Straits we had our first glimpse, just a needle-like point above the horizon, of the torn and shattered remains of the volcano. All about us were evidences of that fearful catastrophe. In front of us was 'Dwars-in-den-weg' (Right in the way), a single island prior to the eruption, but now a group of several islands.

Many stories are heard of this outburst. One, told by a fellow passenger on the 'Prinses Sophie,' a Dutchman who had visited the region a few weeks after the occurrence, concerned a miraculous escape. A trading-ship was lying in the harbor of Telok Betong at the southern end of Sumatra. This town is at the head of a long bay or gulf and is seventy miles or more from Krakatoa. On the morning of the disruption, the captain of the ship was visiting a native prince at his home among the hills. The prince, who had been observing the phenomena on Krakatoa, warned the captain that it would be unsafe to return to his ship and persuaded him to stay. A few hours later the tidal wave came up the bay and carried the ship inland more than two miles from her moorings, over the town and over a hill eighty feet high.

Early on the morning of April 5, forty-five days after leaving San Francisco, we entered Koninginne Bay, a beautiful little indentation in the precipitous coast of Sumatra. Here is a safe harbor (Emmahaven) where ocean ships go alongside of stone docks. The railroad system of the island has its coast terminus at this point. The coal brought down from the mines in the interior is carried to the ships' bunkers in flat baskets by an endless chain of natives, while the ships are loading with coffee, rice, rattan, gutta-percha, hardwoods and spices of all sorts.

The city of Padang, about four miles north of Emmahaven, is reached by the railroad. Carriages from the two principal hotels were at the railway station, and after a circuitous drive through avenues of trees, our journey was temporarily ended at the Oranje Hotel, 'Het Grootste Hotel van Sumatra.'

My first business was to present my letters of introduction, and to call upon the governor. His Excellency, Governor Joekes, received us cordially and gave the necessary instructions to the heads of all departments who could in any way assist the expedition.

The old race-track (Patuoen Kuda) near the edge of the city was chosen as the site. Shelters for the instruments were built by the native carpenters out of bamboo and atap (palm thatch). A few small cartloads of these simple materials, which are supplied almost ready for use by a bountiful nature, sufficed to build everything. Shelters, sheds and fence (even to the hinges and fastenings of the gate) were constructed from them.

One orangdjaga (watchman) was employed to guard the small native house at the eclipse camp where the freight was stored and two more to watch the mounted instruments, only a furlong distant. The day after one had been employed to watch the instruments, he came with a frantic appeal for another, because he could not possibly stay alone. Upon questioning him I found that Patuoen Kuda was 'haunted' and that no native would stay there alone at night. A companion was found for him, after which the two were regularly found sound asleep in the midst of things. Their mere presence seemed to be effective, for nothing was missed during our stay.

Tbe advent of so many foreigners, composing the astronomical expeditions, excited great interest among the natives. At first the Malays were disturbed, for they thought the sole object of these foreigners, particularly the British and Americans, was to spy out their country. As the serious preparation for observation began they became less suspicions, but still scouted the idea of an eclipse, saying that 'if these men could foretell such an event, they would be half god.' The advent of a great comet shortly before the eclipse, and an epidemic in the native kampong, shook the little faith which the natives had acquired in the astronomers. There was a rumor that our camp was to be destroyed. I do not know that there was any real danger, but the police department was on the alert until after the eclipse was over.

The six weeks before the eclipse were busy ones. There were ten telescopes to be mounted and carefully adjusted. Frequent time observations had to be made, experiments were carried out to determine

PSM V67 D299 Intramercurial cameras with shutter open.png

Intramercurial Cameras (Shutter Open).

the best methods of developing plates in that climate, for all the observations were to be photographic. A succession of minor difficulties came up for solution.

Our day began at half past five, with a bath. After the Dutch breakfast of cold meat, bread and jam, we were taken to camp by a tram. At 'pocool stenga satoo' (12:30 o'clock) the tram came for us and we were soon drinking an iced 'lemonada' at the Oranje. After a short rest and riztafel (luncheon) we were on our way to work again. In the afternoon the Malay driver turned his pony out to graze at the station, and, finding a comfortable bit of shade, went to sleep until it was time to return to the hotel. This was usually about 6:30, when it became too dark to work. The inevitable 'mandee' (bath) was always the first luxury indulged in upon reaching the hotel in the evening. The 'badkamer' (bath room) was a large room of brick or cement, in a separate pavilion, lighted by a small, high grating in daytime and by a diminutive candle at night. The floor was of cement. It sloped to a drain at one side, which carried off the bath water. About half of the floor space was occupied by a

PSM V67 D300 Corona of may 18 1901 by a 40 ft camera and 4s exposure.png

The Corona of May 18, 1901, photographed with the 40-ft. Camera, Exposure, 4s.

 
PSM V67 D300 Corona of may 18 1901 by floyd camera with 2 and 8s exposure.png
Exposure, 2s. Exposure, 8s
The Corona of May 18, 1901, photographed with the Floyd Camera,

cistern two or three feet deep. The only furniture which the room contained was a chair and a small pail. The water was poured over the head, the bather standing on a small platform.

The principal work of preparation was accomplished nearly a week before the eclipse. The remaining time was devoted to arranging the final details and to training the assistants. As soon as it was known that help would be needed to make the observations, it was tendered in abundance by the Dutch residents. Fifteen, including several of the army officers, and the general manager of the government railways, were invited to assist. The observations with each instrument were very minutely planned. Every motion to be made by each observer was carefully considered and arranged beforehand, and numerous rehearsals enabled the operations of taking the photographs to be performed with certainty and great rapidity.

Although light clouds covered the sun during totality, the resulting observations were very successful and yielded much important information. Photographs were secured with three sets of cameras especially designed to record the inner, middle and outer corona. The large-scale photographs of the inner corona showed a peculiarly disturbed region, which later was found to have been at the time of the eclipse above a group of sun spots. The inference that there was a close connection was irresistible.

This eclipse was particularly favorable on account of the great duration of totality—six and one-half minutes—for the search for any planets between Mercury and the sun. Four cameras of long focus were especially designed for the search. They were capable of recording any such objects as faint as the ninth magnitude. The photographs were taken in duplicate to guard against defects. They covered a region 6° wide and 30° long, in the direction of the sun's equator, as the most probable orbit of such a planet would lie in that region. Although the search was not so complete as desired, owing to the clouds, our knowledge was considerably extended. In two thirds of this area, stars fainter than the eighth magnitude were photographed and in the remaining third, stars of sixth magnitude and brighter. All the objects on the plates were identified as known stars. It is practically certain from the observations, therefore, that there is no such planet as bright as fifth magnitude, and little probability of there being any as bright as eighth magnitude. A planet thirty miles in diameter in the region searched would appear as a star of the eighth magnitude. To account for the observed deviations of Mercury from its computed orbit would require over half a million bodies 30 miles in diameter and as dense as Mercury.

Another investigation undertaken concerned the nature of the coronal light. The bright coronal lines observed at previous eclipses showed that a small portion, at least, of the light was due to incandescent gases. But the great portion of the light gave a spectrum which appeared to be perfectly continuous. Some observers had noted a few dark lines in this continuous spectrum, indicating refracted sunlight, while others had failed to find any traces of such lines. By means of two spectrographs designed especially for the problem, and of a camera for photographing polarized light, observations were secured which satisfactorily explain the nature of this light. These observations showed no dark lines and very little polarization in the inner corona, whereas the dark lines and polarization were strongly marked in the outer corona. This seems to indicate that the light of the corona, out to a distance of nearly three hundred thousand miles from the sun's surface, is due to small particles of solid matter in a state of incandescence. This incandescent matter must also reflect light from the photosphere, but the reflected light is too weak, as compared with the inherent light, to show any of the dark lines seen in the spectrum of the sun's surface, or to give much evidence of polarization. The light from the outer corona, being chiefly reflected, gave the same spectrum as the sun's photosphere, and it was found to be very strongly polarized.

These results strengthen the belief that very finely divided solid or liquid matter exists in the region surrounding the sun (together with a very small proportion of gaseous matter); that close to the sun this matter is highly heated and shines principally by its own light; that further away it becomes cooler, and reflects more light than it emits.

On account of the clouds, the eclipse lost its great spectacular interest. Nothing of the corona was to be seen with the naked eye except a faint ring without any structure whatever. The photographs are, however, as sharp, and show as much detail in all except the extreme outer corona, as if the sky had been entirely clear.

With the passing of the shadow and its terrors for these superstitious orientals, confidence in the 'Zoneclips' people was fully restored, and it was difficult to get away from the island without a retinue of volunteer servants.

The U. S. S. 'General Alava' was at Padang during the eclipse preparations, and a number of entertainments were given in honor of her officers and the astronomers. I attended two of these functions, a reception given by the governor, and a farewell ball given by the American consul. The governor's reception was on a Sunday morning at his mansion, and dancing was indulged in for an hour or more. The ball was an evening function and elaborate entertainment was provided. Nice things were said in several languages, and healths were freely drunk. One of the toasts by a prominent Dutch official was to the 'shirt-sleeve astronomers.' These people who had so much cheap native labor, and who never needed to be in a hurry, were impressed by the methods of astronomers who rolled up their sleeves and did all kinds of manual labor themselves.

The traveler who sets foot in Netherlands India must, within three days of his landing, procure a permit to remain or travel in the country. No charge is made for issuing these 'toelatingskaarten,' but they are made out on government stamped paper, and a guilder and a half collected for the stamp. Upon arriving at a hotel the guest must give a complete account of himself and his movements in a register which is examined every few days by a government official—the resident or assistant resident. Through this means the movements of every traveler, Dutch or foreign, become known to the government. This elaborate and cumbersome system of espionage can not but discourage all except those having urgent business from visiting this interesting corner of the world.

Padang is the capital and principal city of Sumatra. Padang is the native word for plain. It was applied originally to the level stretch of sandy country in which the city is located. The oldest part of the city, the business section, lies along the north bank of a small river, where the native prahus with their cargoes of coffee, rice, spices, etc., from up and down the coast, lie securely sheltered by a high promontory (the Appenberg) across the river to the south. Only the barest ridge of sand, which has been raised by the surf, separates the city from the Indian Ocean. As the tropical seas are ordinarily calm, a murmur is all that usually finds its way to the ears of the inhabitants. To the east rise the steep, heavily wooded slopes of the Barisan range, a dense, greenish black chain from three to five thousand feet in altitude. A wild inhospitable region of tropical jungle it looks and is. In the early morning the sky is often clear, and the mountains free from clouds. At such times the symmetrical cone of the extinct Talang, further inland, is clearly visible. To the north the Singalang and Tandikat, and the Merapi with its plume of smoke, raise their green slopes against the sky.

In Padang are the home of the governor, the government officers, the headquarters of the army and the Staatsspoorweg or government railway. Here also are located the government warehouses, and a branch of the Java Bank, the government banking institution of the colonies. Padang is the center of the coffee trade of Sumatra. Most of the plantations, both government and private, are near the central portion of the island, the crops coming to this point for sale and shipment.

Although the city contains a population of over thirty thousand people, it is difficult to realize the fact; for, situated in a grove of cocoanut trees, it is almost entirely hidden from view. There are about 2,000 Europeans, practically all Dutch, and 5,000 Chinese; the PSM V67 D304 Views of padang 1.pngViews in Padang.
'Het Grootste Hotel van Sumatra.'
'The Men. . . frequently carry nothing
but their Dignity or a Dove-Cage.'
The Ships are coaled by an Endless
Chain of Malays.
PSM V67 D304 Views of padang 2.pngViews in Padang.
A Shelter for the Policemen, Padung.
A Karbow Cart in Padang.
remainder are Malays. Here we find the lean-fingered Chinese comprador in the commercial houses, and his cousins in all the trades. Throughout the Dutch possessions the Chinese are heartily disliked and are considered proper subjects of a very searching taxation. Our Chinese interpreter complained that he had to pay a yearly tax on his queue and that another tax prevented his cutting it off. Notwithstanding these measures, they thrive and grow wealthy.

The Oranje, which was our home for two months, like most of the hotels in Netherlands India, is built upon the pavilion plan. The main building contains the dining-room in the center, the out-door reception room in front, and some guest rooms flanking the dining-room. Nearly all the sleeping rooms are in the detached pavilions, and these are the most comfortable. Wide verandas, cut off from the adjoining apartments, are features of all the accommodations. The buildings have generally but one story and are raised above the ground three or four feet. They are usually constructed of brick and have cement floors or tiles in the sleeping rooms as well as in the outdoor apartments. With thick tile roofs and overhanging lives they are protected from the direct rays of the sun, but still they are not cool.

The furniture of the apartments is simple, but very comfortable. A huge, square bed with a canopy of mosquito netting forms the chief feature of the sleeping room. There are no bed covers. A good mattress with thin soft pillows for the head and two long, round, hard, cooling pillows complete the sleeping accommodations. There is an open rack on which to hang the clothes, a small table with its 'goode nacht' light and one or two chairs. The open-air apartment invariably contains a Dutch steamer chair—a most comfortable piece of furniture in a warm climate. A clothes line is stretched in front of each suite of rooms, and one must become accustomed to looking out from behind his wardrobe at his neighbors. Every few days all wearing apparel, particularly the woolens, must be hung in the sun to save them from mildew. Even with these precautions it is practically impossible to preserve shoes, gloves and leather goods from damage.

The call 'Spada' summons one of the numerous servants always near.

The meals at these Dutch hotels are much after the table d'hote system of Europe; one breakfasts when he pleases, but all guests are supposed to have the remaining two meals at the same hours. Before riztafel and dinner, 'spada' brings to the open lobby of the hotel a tray containing the ingredients for the piht, the national drink of the Indies, and leaves it for all guests who care to indulge. Holland gin and a little bitters compose this counterirritant to the climate.

Riztafel is a unique meal. As its name implies, it is composed chiefly of rice. An expanded soup-plate is placed before each guest, and from an immense bowl of steaming, boiled rice, he ladles out a liberal supply. After the rice-bearer follows a procession of barefooted servants with dishes containing chicken, boiled, stewed, fried and roasted; turkey, fried cocoanut, potatoes, gravies, a half dozen kinds of vegetables and lastly an elaborate assortment of condiments and preserves. The guest selects such of these as he wishes, and placing all on his mound of rice, mixes them thoroughly and the pièce de résistance is prepared.

The streets of Padang make no more pretensions to being straight than elsewhere in the Orient, but wind about in ways most confusing to the resident of a right-angled republic. The scenes are as unfamiliar as the sounds; the pedestrians and vehicles are jumbled together; there are no familiar lines of buildings anywhere; the canals are filled with native bathers, sousing their heads and rinsing their mouths in the yellow, turbid fluid.

The common beast of burden is the water-buffalo, or karbow—great shuffling creatures looking as docile as lambs. It is difficult to believe that many of the animals which we see on the streets have been wild

PSM V67 D306 A winding street of padang.png

'Padang's Streets wind about in Ways the Most Confusing.'

in the jungles within a few years. Right noble game they make too, ranking with the elephant and tiger in ferocity and danger. In the rivers one frequently sees what looks like the partly submerged branch of a tree, but which, upon closer inspection, proves to be the horns of several karbow enjoying a bath.

The streets are kept in excellent order for either foot or wheel. There is not a sidewalk in all Padang. The foreigner does not walk much nor far in such a climate, nor does the native if he is fortunate enough to have a fare in his pocket. The ordinary conveyances are two varieties of carts: the dos-a-dos (pronounced dos) with the seats back to back and holding four persons, and the tram with two short seats lengthwise behind the driver's seat. The latter is the more comfortable, if not crowded to its full capacity of five persons. Both varieties are two-wheeled and are drawn by a single diminutive pony of the most contrary disposition. Traveling by this means is cheap, the legal rate being one guilder (40 cents American) per hour. The legal rate is, however, seldom paid if a bargain is made beforehand. As four persons ride as cheaply as one, the Chinese and Malays ride in groups.

At frequent intervals throughout the city are small shelters to protect the policemen and pedestrians from the sudden rains. They are open on one side, and each contains a gong made of a hollow log with a skin stretched across, or sometimes a bell. In cases of fire or crime this gong is beaten to summon help. Many of these shelters contain benches, which are usually occupied in the daytime by some 'Orang Malay.' idly kicking his heels in the air, while his better half passes by with the burden on her head.

We frequently witnessed the operation of repairing worn places in the streets. This work was all done by native prisoners and most elaborately. At first we wondered where the representative of the law was, for no uniform was visible other than the brown one of the convict and the white band of the 'trusty.' Inquiry furnished a more than adequate explanation. The convicts in Sumatra were Javanese, and the hatred between the natives of the two islands is so bitter that there was no danger of prisoners getting away. A similar system was followed in the disposition of native soldiers. To prevent thieves being abroad at night all natives and Chinese were required to carry lights.

Cocoanut trees were plentiful in and around the eclipse camp, and the fruit often furnished a delicious bit of refreshment. No one drinks the milk of the ripened fruit; for this purpose the green nut is selected, before the formation of the meat has begun. One of the native boys

PSM V67 D307 A side street in padang.png

A Side Street in Padang. (Betel Tree in the Foreground.)

would tie a cord around his ankles, which enabled him to get a grip of the straight, branchless trunks. A single blow of the heavy knife which he carried in his belt would send the nut to the ground with a thud that was ample evidence of the danger of being hit by one. The large monkey also gathers the nuts with a skill that is marvelous. He is sent up the tree, with a rope attached to his collar. Selecting the ripe nut, he gets it between his hands and rolls it back and forth until the stem is twisted off, whereupon he throws it to the ground. Stories are not wanting of vicious beasts taking this opportunity of killing their keepers with well-aimed nuts. The cocoanut monkey is the enemy of the baby. If he finds one unguarded, he immediately sets about twisting its head as he would a cocoanut.

The dress and habits of the Dutch are well adapted to the climate. Early rising, usually about daylight, is the rule. After a bath and light breakfast, the serious work of the day is taken up and generally finished by midday, when the heat becomes oppressive. After riztafel all the tropical world goes to sleep. About 5 o'clock life begins to stir again, the more comfortable hour before sunset and the twilight being utilized for the promenade, for calls and for recreation.

During the early part of the day the costume is almost anything one cares to make it, if one is not engaged in official or other business. The gentlemen are usually seen at home or about the hotels in sarong trousers and loose white jackets, sometimes without slippers and usually without hose. This costume is not uncommon on the streets also during the early morning hours. White duck or drilling is usually worn for business. For the afternoon promenade and for evening functions, dark clothes are customary, and most uncomfortable.

The ladies have much the best of etiquette in this land. Their dress is at all times simple and comfortable. A short sarong skirt, reaching only to the ankles, a loose white jacket of some thin stuff, bare feet encased in slippers or sandals, compose the morning or home costume. Their evening dress much resembles that of their sisters in the temperate zones.

It is not until one has been ashore on the low plains that he fully realizes the character of the heavy tropical heat. The air is saturated practically all the time. With a nearly vertical noon-day sun at all times of the year, and with little wind, there is an oppressiveness during the day in these islands that is unknown in temperate climates. One marvels at the windows and doors, without glass and with large slats, and wonders if it is never cool. He soon finds the wisdom of it and courts all breezes, by night as well as by day. Here it is eternal summer, where clothes are not a necessity, but a nuisance, and where one envies the little brown babies the entire lack of raiment which they enjoy for the first few years of their existence.

One is early impressed with the amount of life: the land is overflowing with the human species and the jungles with the lower forms. Even the atmosphere is charged with it; a piece of paper waved through the air gathers the microscopical forms. A lamp is no sooner lighted than a perfect zoo appears. Great beetles three and four inches long go banging around in their crazy fashion, occasionally taking a header down the back of the unwary. The friendly yellow lizards with their queer little squeaks dart about the vails and ceilings catching flies and small bugs. I have counted a dozen of them in my apartments at one time.

Were the insect and reptile life as active as in the temperate regions, the lot of man would indeed be a hard one. The same conditions, however, which tend to keep the human species inactive, affect the pests also. Perhaps the greatest pest of this part of the world is the white ant, a bloated, bleached-out, repulsive little beast. He does not venture out into the light, but woe unto anything organic if it is left in a dark corner for any length of time. He comes from somewhere and immediately sets to work.

The natives of Sumatra are a wilder, freer race than their Javanese relatives, quicker of action, with keener eyes and bolder looks. At only a few points in the Island have they become subject to the Dutch, and nowhere to the extent that one finds in Java. Many of the Sumatranese are still independent. Friction still exists between them and the Dutch, but I was told that a white man could go almost anywhere unmolested.

Much trouble was experienced by the Dutch in the early part of their rule from the Hajjis. These natives, who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, exerted almost absolute control over the ignorant masses. There were but few of them, and the necessity for keeping them friendly was consequently great—and very expensive. The Dutch hit upon the idea of making many Hajjis.

The Dutch have been very successful in their management of the natives. They do not interfere with the mild form of Mohammedanism practised by the Malays nor do they allow any outside influence to be exerted. No missionaries are permitted to proselyte or teach among the natives, and the few who have found their way into the country are required to confine their efforts to the Chinese or other foreigners.

Almost the first glance shows the status of the sexes. The women are usually seen with large bundles on their heads and in their arms, stepping along briskly, while the men idle about with slouching gait, frequently carrying-nothing but their dignity or a dove cage.

The dress of the men usually consists of a pair of gaudily figured sarong trousers and a jacket, with a large square of sarong cloth twisted into a cap. A sarong is usually worn by the men as a sort of badge of caste. It is thrown over one shoulder or folded about the waist. They seem to be of no real use, but they can not be left aside. The dress of the women consists of two garments only, a sarong skirt and a long coat of figured calico. Small bundles and babies are carried in a sarong worn as a pouch under the left arm. The sarongs are all of brilliant colors and striking patterns, and few are really pretty.

Labor was very cheap, the watchman at the eclipse station being paid 15 guilders per month, equivalent to $6.00 of our money. Ordinary labor was to be had in plenty for three guilders per month, and many a family was supported on such an income.

The Malays have their own particular vices. Ordinarily they are not quarrelsome, but when aroused they can be fiends. Knives are the usual weapons, little crescent-shaped things no longer than the finger. This knife is held, as they hold all knives, between the tips of the fingers. The objective point is the abdomen. I tried to get a knife as a souvenir, but found it impossible, their sale having been prohibited, I was told. The most unique method of taking life is that often practised upon faithless husbands, who are given finely chopped tiger whiskers mixed with their food.

During our stay occurred the yearly celebration of the 'soldiers' of Hasan and Hosain. A motley crowd of natives of all ages, in all sorts of grotesque costumes, with faces painted and carrying banners and symbols, paraded the streets day and evening for a week. Their only attempt at music consisted of discordant sounds from tin pans, sticks, gongs and whistles, subdued, fortunately, by the climate. The object of this exhibition is a superstitious one. When the blowing of trumpets fails to bring their gods to life, the believers gather money, throw an image of some kind into the sea, and subside for another year.

The headland which juts out into the Indian Ocean just south of Padang commands an extensive view of the surrounding country. This Appenberg of the Dutch (or Boekit Munyeet of the Malays) is also interesting on account of its sacred monkeys. One Sunday when we had no pressing duties at the eclipse station, we paid a visit to the hill. The natives visit the hill and its monkeys to perform religious rites. On our way we passed one of their cave temples, with its group of worshippers. From the summit it was impossible to see anything of the city except a few of the warehouses along the river; all else was completely hidden in the great grove of cocoanut trees.

I had the privilege of seeing something of the coffee and spice industry through the courtesy of the American consul, who was extensively engaged in the export trade. He showed me through the 'peeling mill' where the hard outer husk of the coffee berry is removed by machinery (of American manufacture), and through his own and the government's warehouses. Much of the government coffee was very inferior, said to be due largely to the system of labor. The finer grades of coffee come from the private plantations. The coffee business is a monopoly, the government buying the product at a fixed price and then grading it for market. The price received by the government varies all the way from 15 to 60 guilders per picul, the average being about 40. The consul was very proud of the fact that he had sold the highest priced coffee which ever left Padang—90 guilders the picul, equivalent to about 27 cents of our money per pound. This coffee came to America.

The warehouses were redolent with the odors of all kinds of spices. Bales of cinnamon bark, piles of mace and nutmegs, bins of pepper and cloves attested the fitness of the early name for these islands. All of the spices must be sorted very carefully and many of them tested. For example, the bales of cinnamon bark contained a large portion that was absolutely worthless, put in knowingly by the natives who gathered it. This worthless bark can not be told by sight and so each piece must be tasted.

After the instruments had all been packed, and while waiting for the steamer, a short trip was made into the Padang Highlands, where the natives were seen at home in their peculiar horned houses.

This little-visited corner of the world offers an attractive field for the traveler who cares to go off the beaten paths. When the official calls had all been paid and the time came to say 'slamat' I left the island of Sumatra with many regrets.

  1. C. D. Perrine, astronomer in charge of the Wm. H. Crocker Eclipse Expedition, and R. H. Curtiss, chief assistant.