Sejarah Sumatra (Marsden)/Bab 13

Dari Wikibuku bahasa Indonesia, sumber buku teks bebas
Loncat ke navigasi Loncat ke pencarian



The foregoing system of the adat, or customs of the country, being digested chiefly for the use of the natives, or of persons well acquainted with their manners in general, and being designed, not for an illustration of the customs, but simply as a standard of right, the fewest and concisest terms possible have been made use of, and many parts must necessarily be obscure to the bulk of readers. I shall therefore revert to those particulars that may require explanation, and endeavour to throw a light upon the spirit and operation of such of their laws especially as seem most to clash with our ideas of distributive justice. This comment is the more requisite as it appears that some of their regulations, which were judged to be inconsistent with the prosperity of the people, were altered and amended through the more enlightened reason of the persons who acted as the representatives of the English company; and it may be proper to recall the idea of the original institutions.


The plaintiff and defendant usually plead their own cause, but if circumstances render them unequal to it they are allowed to pinjam mulut (borrow a mouth). Their advocate may be a proattin, or other person indifferently; nor is there any stated compensation for the assistance, though if the cause be gained a gratuity is generally given, and too apt to be rapaciously exacted by these chiefs from their clients, when their conduct is not attentively watched. The proattin also, who is security for the damages, receives privately some consideration; but none is openly allowed of. A refusal on his part to become security for his dependant or client is held to justify the latter in renouncing his civil dependence and choosing another patron.


Evidence is used among these people in a manner very different from the forms of our courts of justice. They rarely admit it on both sides of the question; nor does the witness first make a general oath to speak the truth, and nothing but the truth. When a fact is to be established, either on the part of the plaintiff or of the defendant, he is asked if he can produce any evidence to the truth of what he asserts. On answering in the affirmative he is directed to mention the person. This witness must not be a relation, a party concerned, nor even belong to the same dusun. He must be a responsible man, having a family, and a determinate place of residence. Thus qualified, his evidence may be admitted. They have a settled rule in respect to the party that is to produce evidence. For instance; A. sues B. for a debt: B. denies the debt: A. is now to bring evidence to the debt, or, on failure thereof, it remains with B. to clear himself of the debt by swearing himself not indebted. Had B. acknowledged that such a debt had formerly subsisted but was since paid, it would be incumbent on B. to prove the payment by evidence, or on failure it would rest with A. to confirm the debt's being still due, by his oath. This is an invariable mode, observed in all cases of property.


As their manner of giving evidence differs from ours so also does the nature of an oath among them differ from our idea of it. In many cases it is requisite that they should swear to what it is not possible in the nature of things they should know to be true. A. sues B. for a debt due from the father or grandfather of B. to the father or grandfather of A. The original parties are dead and no witness of the transaction survives. How is the matter to be decided? It remains with B. to make oath that his father or grandfather never was indebted to those of A.; or that if he was indebted the debt had been paid. This, among us, would be esteemed a very strange method of deciding causes; but among these people something of the kind is absolutely necessary. As they have no sort of written accounts, nor anything like records or registers among them, it would be utterly impossible for the plaintiff to establish the debt by a positive proof in a multitude of cases; and were the suit to be dismissed at once, as with us, for want of such proof, numbers of innocent persons would lose the debts really due to them through the knavery of the persons indebted, who would scarce ever fail to deny a debt. On the side of the defendant again; if he was not permitted to clear himself of the debt by oath, but that it rested with the plaintiff only to establish the fact by a single oath, there would be a set of unprincipled fellows daily swearing debts against persons who never were indebted to any of their generation. In such suits, and there are many of them, it requires no small discernment to discover, by the attendant circumstances, where the truth lies; but this may be done in most instances by a person who is used to their manners and has a personal knowledge of the parties concerned. But what they mean by their oath, in those cases where it is impossible they should be acquainted with the facts they design to prove, is no more than this; that they are so convinced of the truth of the matter as to be willing to subject themselves to the paju sumpah (destructive consequences of perjury) if what they assert is believed by them to be false. The form of words used is nearly as follows: "If what I now declare, namely" (here the fact is recited) "is truly and really so, may I be freed and clear from my oath: if what I assert is wittingly false, may my oath be the cause of my destruction." But it may be easily supposed that, where the punishment for a false oath rests altogether with the invisible powers, where no direct infamy, no corporal punishment is annexed to the perjury, there cannot fail to be many who would makan sumpah (swallow an oath), and willingly incur the guilt, in order to acquire a little of their neighbour's property.

Although an oath, as being an appeal to the superior powers, is supposed to come within their cognizance alone, and that it is contrary to the spirit of the customs of these people to punish a perjury by human means, even if it were clearly detected; yet, so far prevalent is the opinion of their interposition in human affairs that it is very seldom any man of substance, or who has a family that he fears may suffer by it, will venture to forswear himself; nor are there wanting apparent examples to confirm them in this notion. Any accident that happens to a man who has been known to take a false oath, or to his children or grandchildren, is carefully recorded in memory, and attributed to this sole cause. The dupati of Gunong Selong and his family have afforded an instance that is often quoted among the Rejangs, and has evidently had great weight. It was notorious that he had, about the year 1770, taken in the most solemn manner a false oath. He had at that time five sons grown up to manhood. One of them, soon after, in a scuffle with some bugis (country soldiers) was wounded and died. The dupati the next year lost his life in the issue of a disturbance he had raised in the district. Two of the sons died afterwards, within a week of each other. Mas Kaddah, the fourth, is blind; and Treman, the fifth, lame. All this is attributed to, and firmly believed to be the consequence of, the father's perjury.


In administering an oath, if the matter litigated respects the property of the grandfather, all the collateral branches of the family descended from him are understood to be included in its operation: if the father's effects only are concerned, or the transaction happened in his lifetime, his descendants are included: if the affair regards only the present parties and originated with them, they and their immediate descendants only are comprehended in the consequences of the oath; and if any single one of these descendants refuses to join in the oath it vitiates the whole; that is, it has the same effect as if the party himself refused to swear; a case that not unfrequently occurs. It may be observed that the spirit of this custom tends to the requiring a weight of evidence and an increase of the importance of the oath in proportion as the distance of time renders the fact to be established less capable of proof in the ordinary way.

Sometimes the difficulty of the case alone will induce the court to insist on administering the oath to the relations of the parties, although they are nowise concerned in the transaction. I recollect an instance where three people were prosecuted for a theft. There was no positive proof against them, yet the circumstances were so strong that it appeared proper to put them to the test of one of these collateral oaths. They were all willing, and two of them swore. When it came to the turn of the third he could not persuade his relations to join with him, and he was accordingly brought in for the whole amount of the goods stolen, and penalties annexed.

These customs bear a strong resemblance to the rules of proof established among our ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons, who were likewise obliged, in the case of oaths taken for the purpose of exculpation, to produce a certain number of compurgators; but, as these might be any indifferent persons, who would take upon them to bear testimony to the truth of what their neighbour swore, from an opinion of his veracity, there seems to be more refinement and more knowledge of human nature in the Sumatran practice. The idea of devoting to destruction, by a wilful perjury, not himself only, but all, even the remotest branches, of a family which constitutes his greatest pride, and of which the deceased heads are regarded with the veneration that was paid to the dii lares of the ancients, has doubtless restrained many a man from taking a false oath, who without much compunction would suffer thirty or a hundred compurgators of the former description to take their chance of that fate. Their strongest prejudices are here converted to the most beneficial purposes.


The place of greatest solemnity for administering an oath is the krammat or burying-ground of their ancestors, and several superstitious ceremonies are observed on the occasion. The people near the sea-coast, in general, by long intercourse with the Malays, have an idea of the Koran, and usually employ this in swearing, which the priests do not fail to make them pay for; but the inland people keep, laid up in their houses, certain old reliques, called in the Rejang language pesakko, and in Malayan, sactian, which they produce when an oath is to be taken. The person who has lost his cause, and with whom it commonly rests to bind his adversary by an oath, often desires two or three days' time to get ready these his swearing apparatus, called on such occasions sumpahan, of which some are looked upon as more sacred and of greater efficacy than others. They consist of an old rusty kris, a broken gun barrel, or any ancient trumpery, to which chance or caprice has annexed an idea of extraordinary virtue. These they generally dip in water, which the person who swears drinks off, after having pronounced the form of words before mentioned.* The pangeran of Sungei-lamo has by him certain copper bullets which had been steeped in water drunk by the Sungei­etam chiefs, when they bound themselves never to molest his districts: which they have only done since as often as they could venture it with safety, from the relaxation of our government. But these were political oaths. The most ordinary sumpahan is a kris, and on the blade of this they sometimes drop lime-juice, which occasions a stain on the lips of the person performing the ceremony; a circumstance that may not improbably be supposed to make an impression on a weak and guilty mind. Such would fancy that the external stain conveyed to the beholders an image of the internal. At Manna the sumpahan most respected is a gun barrel. When produced to be sworn on it is carried to the spot in state, under an umbrella, and wrapped in silk. This parade has an advantageous effect by influencing the mind of the party with a high idea of the importance and solemnity of the business. In England the familiarity of the object and the summary method of administering oaths are well known to diminish their weight, and to render them too often nugatory. They sometimes swear by the earth, laying their hands upon it and wishing that it may never produce aught for their nourishment if they speak falsely. In all these ceremonies they burn on the spot a little gum benzoin--Et acerra thuris plena, positusque carbo in cespite vivo.

(*Footnote. The form of taking an oath among the people of Madagascar very nearly resembles the ceremonies used by the Sumatrans. There is a strong similarity in the articles they swear on and in the circumstance of their drinking the consecrated water.)

It is a striking circumstance that practices which boast so little of reason in their foundation, which are in fact so whimsical and childish, should yet be common to nations the most remote in situation, climate, language, complexion, character, and everything that can distinguish one race of people from another. Formed of like materials, and furnished with like original sentiments, the uncivilized tribes of Europe and of India trembled from the same apprehensions, excited by similar ideas, at a time when they were ignorant, or even denied the possibility of each other's existence. Mutual wrong and animosity, attended with disputes and accusations, are not by nature confined to either description of people. Each, in doubtful litigations, might seek to prove their innocence by braving, on the justice of their cause, those objects which inspired amongst their countrymen the greatest terror. The Sumatran, impressed with an idea of invisible powers, but not of his own immortality, regards with awe the supposed instruments of their agency, and swears on krises, bullets, and gun barrels; weapons of personal destruction. The German Christian of the seventh century, more indifferent to the perils of this life, but not less superstitious, swore on bits of rotten wood and rusty nails, which he was taught to revere as possessing efficacy to secure him from eternal perdition.


When a man dies his effects, in common course, descend to his male children in equal shares; but if one among them is remarkable for his abilities above the rest, though not the eldest, he usually obtains the largest proportion, and becomes the head of the tungguan or house; the others voluntarily yielding him the superiority. A pangeran of Manna left several children; none of them succeeded to the title, but a name of distinction was given to one of the younger, who was looked upon as chief of the family after the father's decease. Upon asking the eldest how it happened that the name of distinction passed over him and was conferred on his younger brother, he answered with great naivete, "because I am accounted weak and silly." If no male children are left and a daughter only remains they contrive to get her married by the mode of ambel anak, and thus the tungguan of the father continues. An equal distribution of property among children is more natural and conformable to justice than vesting the whole in the eldest son, as prevails throughout most part of Europe; but where wealth consists in landed estate the latter mode, beside favouring the pride of family, is attended with fewest inconveniences. The property of the Sumatrans being personal merely, this reason does not operate with them. Land is so abundant in proportion to the population that they scarcely consider it as the subject of right any more than the elements of air and water; excepting so far as in speculation the prince lays claim to the whole. The ground however on which a man plants or builds, with the consent of his neighbours, becomes a species of nominal property, and is transferable; but as it costs him nothing beside his labour it is only the produce which is esteemed of value, and the compensation he receives is for this alone. A temporary usufruct is accordingly all that they attend to, and the price, in case of sale, is generally ascertained by the coconut, durian, and other fruit-trees that have been planted on it; the buildings being for the most part but little durable. Whilst any of those subsist the descendants of the planter may claim the ground, though it has been for years abandoned. If they are cut down he may recover damages; but if they have disappeared in the course of nature the land reverts to the public.

They have a custom of keeping by them a sum of money as a resource against extremity of distress, and which common exigencies do not call forth. This is a refined antidote against despair, because, whilst it remains possible to avoid encroaching on that treasure, their affairs are not at the worst, and the idea of the little hoard serves to buoy up their spirits and encourage them to struggle with wretchedness. It usually therefore continues inviolate and descends to the heir, or is lost to him by the sudden exit of the parent. From their apprehension of dishonesty and insecurity of their houses their money is for the most part concealed in the ground, the cavity of an old beam, or other secret place; and a man on his death-bed has commonly some important discovery of this nature to make to his assembled relations.


The practice of outlawing an individual of a family by the head of it (called lepas or buang dangan surat, to let loose, or cast out with a writing) has its foundation in the custom which obliges all the branches to be responsible for the debts contracted by any one of the kindred. When an extravagant and unprincipled spendthrift is running a career that appears likely to involve his family in ruinous consequences, they have the right of dissolving the connexion and clearing themselves of further responsibility by this public act, which, as the writ expresses it, sends forth the outcast, as a deer into the woods, no longer to be considered as enjoying the privileges of society. This character is what they term risau, though it is sometimes applied to persons not absolutely outlawed, but of debauched and irregular manners.

In the Saxon law we find a strong resemblance to this custom; the kindred of a murderer being exempt from the feud if they abandoned him to his fate. They bound themselves in this case neither to converse with him nor to furnish him with meat or other necessaries. This is precisely the Sumatran outlawry, in which it is always particularly specified (beside what relates to common debts) that if the outlaw kills a person the relations shall not pay the compensation, nor claim it if he is killed. But the writ must have been issued before the event, and they cannot free themselves by a subsequent process, as it would seem the Saxons might. If an outlaw commits murder the friends of the deceased may take personal revenge on him, and are not liable to be called to an account for it; but if such be killed, otherwise than in satisfaction for murder, although his family have no claim, the prince of the country is entitled to a certain compensation, all outlaws being nominally his property, like other wild animals.


It seems strange to those who are accustomed to the severity of penal laws, which in most instances inflict punishment exceeding by many degrees the measure of the offence, how a society can exist in which the greatest of all crimes is, agreeably to established custom, expiated by the payment of a certain sum of money; a sum not proportioned to the rank and ability of the murderer, nor to the premeditation, or other aggravating circumstances of the fact, but regulated only by the quality of the person murdered. The practice had doubtless its source in the imbecility of government, which, being unable to enforce the law of retaliation, the most obvious rule of punishment, had recourse to a milder scheme of retribution as being preferable to absolute indemnity. The latter it was competent to carry into execution because the guilty persons readily submit to a penalty which effectually relieves them from the burden of anxiety for the consequences of their action. Instances occur in the history of all states, particularly those which suffer from internal weakness, of iniquities going unpunished, owing to the rigour of the pains denounced against them by the law, which defeats its own purpose. The original mode of avenging a murder was probably by the arm of the person nearest in consanguinity, or friendship, to the deceased; but this was evidently destructive of the public tranquillity, because thereby the wrong became progressive, each act of satisfaction, or justice, as it was called, being the source of a new revenge, till the feud became general in the community; and some method would naturally be suggested to put a stop to such confusion. The most direct step is to vest in the magistrate or the law the rights of the injured party, and to arm them with a vindictive power; which principle the policy of more civilized societies has refined to that of making examples in terrorem, with a view of preventing future, not of revenging past crimes. But this requires a firmness of authority to which the Sumatran governments are strangers. They are without coercive power, and the submission of the people is little other than voluntary; especially of the men of influence, who are held in subjection rather by the sense of general utility planted in the breast of mankind, attachment to their family and connexions, and veneration for the spot in which their ancestors were interred, than by the apprehension of any superior authority. These considerations however they would readily forego, renounce their fealty, and quit their country, if in any case they were in danger of paying with life the forfeit of their crimes; to lesser punishments those ties induce them to submit; and to strengthen this hold their customs wisely enjoin that every the remotest branch of the family shall be responsible for the payment of their adjudged and other debts; and in cases of murder the bangun, or compensation, may be levied on the inhabitants of the village the culprit belonged to, if it happens that neither he nor any of his relations can be found.

The equality of punishment, which allows to the rich man the faculty of committing, with small inconvenience, crimes that bring utter destruction on the poor man and his family, and which is in fact the greatest inequality, originates certainly from the interested design of those through whose influence the regulation came to be adopted. Its view was to establish a subordination of persons. In Europe the absolute distinction between rich and poor, though too sensibly felt, is not insisted upon in speculation, but rather denied or explained away in general reasoning. Among the Sumatrans it is coolly acknowledged, and a man without property, family, or connexions never, in the partiality of self-love, considers his own life as being of equal value with that of a man of substance. A maxim, though not the practice, of their law, says, "that he who is able to pay the bangun for murder must satisfy the relations of the deceased; he who is unable, must suffer death." But the avarice of the relations prefers selling the body of the delinquent for what his slavery will fetch them (for such is the effect of imposing a penalty that cannot be paid) to the satisfaction of seeing the murder revenged by the public execution of a culprit of that mean description. Capital punishments are therefore almost totally out of use among them; and it is only par la loi du plus fort that the Europeans take the liberty of hanging a notorious criminal now and then, whom however their own chiefs always condemn, and formally sentence.


Corporal punishment of any kind is rare. The chain, and a sort of stocks, made of the pinang tree, are adopted from us; the word pasong, now commonly used to denote the latter, originally signifying and being still frequently applied to confinement in general. A kind of cage made use of in the country is probably their own invention. "How do you secure a prisoner (a man was asked) without employing a chain or our stocks?" "We pen him up," said he, "as we would a bear!" The cage is made of bamboos laid horizontally in a square, piled alternately, secured by timbers at the corners, and strongly covered in at top. To lead a runaway they fasten a rattan round his neck, and, passing it through a bamboo somewhat longer than his arms, they bring his hands together and make them fast to the bamboo, in a state rather of constraint than of pain, which I believe never is wantonly or unnecessarily inflicted. If the offender is of a desperate character they bind him hands and feet and sling him on a pole. When they would convey a person from accident or otherwise unable to walk they make a palanquin by splitting a large bamboo near the middle of its length, where they contrive to keep it open so that the cavity forms a bed, the ends being preserved whole, to rest upon their shoulders.

The custom of exacting the bangun for murder seems only designed with a view of making a compensation to the injured family, and not of punishing the offender. The word signifies awaking or raising up, and the deceased is supposed to be replaced, or raised again to his family, in the payment of a sum proportioned to his rank, or equivalent to his or her personal value. The price of a female slave is generally more than that of a male, and therefore, I heard a chief say, is the bangun of a woman more than that of a man. It is upon this principle that their laws take no cognizance of the distinction between a wilful murder and what we term manslaughter. The loss is the same to the family, and therefore the compensations are alike. A dupati of Laye, in an ill hour, stepped unwarily across the mouth of a cannon at the instant it was fired off for a salute, and was killed by the explosion, upon which his relations immediately sued the sergeant of the country-guard, who applied the match, for the recovery of the bangun; but they were cast, and upon these grounds: that the dupati was instrumental in his own death, and that the Company's servants, being amenable to other laws for their crimes, were not, by established custom, subject to the bangun or other penalties inflicted by the native chiefs, for accidents resulting from the execution of their duty. The tippong bumi, expiation, or purification of the earth from the stain it has received, was however gratuitously paid. No plea was set up that the action was unpremeditated, and the event chance-medley.

The introduction of this custom is beyond the extent of Sumatran tradition, and has no connexion with, or dependence on, Mahometanism, being established amongst the most inland people from time immemorial. In early ages it was by no means confined to that part of the world. The bangun is perfectly the same as the compensation for murder in the rude institutions of our Saxon ancestors and other northern nations. It is the eric of Ireland, and the apoinon of the Greeks. In the compartments of the shield of Achilles Homer describes the adjudgment of a fine for homicide. It would seem then to be a natural step in the advances from anarchy to settled government, and that it can only take place in such societies as have already a strong idea of the value of personal property, who esteem its possession of the next importance to that of life, and place it in competition with the strongest passion that seizes the human soul.

The compensation is so regularly established among the Sumatrans that any other satisfaction is seldom demanded. In the first heat of resentment retaliation is sometimes attempted, but the spirit soon evaporates, and application is usually made, upon the immediate discovery of the fact, to the chiefs of the country for the exertion of their influence to oblige the criminal to pay the bangun. His death is then not thought of unless he is unable, and his family unwilling, to raise the established sum. Instances, it is true, occur in which the prosecutor, knowing the European law in such case, will, from motives of revenge, urge to the Resident the propriety of executing the offender rather than receive the money; but if the latter is ready to pay it it is contrary to their laws to proceed further. The degree of satisfaction that attends the payment of the bangun is generally considered as absolute to the parties concerned; they receive it as full compensation, and pretend to no farther claim upon the murderer and his family. Slight provocations however have been sometimes known to renew the feud, and there are not wanting instances of a son's revenging his father's murder and willingly refunding the bangun. When in an affray there happen to be several persons killed on both sides, the business of justice is only to state the reciprocal losses, in the form of an account current, and order the balance to be discharged, if the numbers be unequal. The following is a relation of the circumstances of one of these bloody feuds, which happened whilst I was in the island, but which become every year more rare where the influence of our government extends.


Raddin Siban was the head of a tribe in the district of Manna, of which Pangeran Raja-Kalippah was the official chief; though by the customs of the country he had no right of sovereignty over him. The pangeran's not allowing him what he thought an adequate share of fines, and other advantages annexed to his rank, was the foundation of a jealousy and ill will between them, which an event that happened a few years since raised to the highest pitch of family feud. Lessut, a younger brother of the pangeran, had a wife who was very handsome, and whom Raddin Siban had endeavoured to procure, whilst a virgin, for HIS younger brother, who was in love with her: but the pangeran had contrived to circumvent him, and obtained the girl for Lessut. However it seems the lady herself had conceived a violent liking for the brother of Raddin Siban, who found means to enjoy her after she was married, or was violently suspected so to have done. The consequence was that Lessut killed him to revenge the dishonour of his bed. Upon this the families were presently up in arms, but the English Resident interfering preserved the peace of the country, and settled the affair agreeably to the customs of the place by bangun and fine. But this did not prove sufficient to extinguish the fury which raged in the hearts of Raddin Siban's family, whose relation was murdered. It only served to delay the revenge until a proper opportunity offered of gratifying it. The people of the country being called together on a particular occasion, the two inimical families were assembled, at the same time, in Manna bazaar. Two younger brothers (they had been five in all) of Raddin Siban, going to the cockpit, saw Raja Muda the next brother of the pangeran, and Lessut his younger brother, in the open part of a house which they passed. They quickly returned, drew their krises, and attacked the pangeran's brothers, calling to them, if they were men, to defend themselves. The challenge was instantly accepted, Lessut, the unfortunate husband, fell; but the aggressors were both killed by Raja Muda, who was himself much wounded. The affair was almost over before the scuffle was perceived. The bodies were lying on the ground, and Raja Muda was supporting himself against a tree which stood near the spot, when Raddin Siban, who was in a house on the opposite side of the bazaar at the time the affray happened, being made acquainted with the circumstances, came over the way, with his lance in his hand. He passed on the contrary side of the tree, and did not see Raja Muda, but began to stab with his weapon the dead body of Lessut, in excess of rage, on seeing the bloody remains of his two brothers. Just then, Raja Muda, who was half dead, but had his kris in his hand, still unseen by Raddin Siban, crawled a step or two and thrust the weapon into his side, saying "Matti kau"--"die thou!" Raddin Siban spoke not a word, but put his hand on the wound and walked across to the house from whence he came, at the door of which he dropped down and expired. Such was the catastrophe. Raja Muda survived his wounds, but being much deformed by them lives a melancholy example of the effects of these barbarous feuds.


In cases of theft the swearing a robbery against a person suspected is of no effect, and justly, for were it otherwise nothing would be more common than the prosecution of innocent persons. The proper proofs are either seizure of the person in the fact before witnesses, or discovery of the goods stolen in possession of one who can give no satisfactory account how he came by them. As it frequently happens that a man finds part only of what he had lost it remains with him, when the robbery is proved, to ascertain the whole amount, by oath, which in that point is held sufficient.


The law which renders all the members of a family reciprocally bound for the security of each others' debts forms a strong connexion among them, and occasions the elder branches to be particularly watchful of the conduct of those for whose imprudence they must be answerable.

When a debtor is unable to pay what he owes, and has no relation or friends capable of doing it for him, or when the children of a deceased person do not find property enough to discharge the debts of their parent, they are forced to the state which is called mengiring, which simply means to follow or be dependent on, but here implies the becoming a species of bond-slaves to the creditor, who allows them subsistence and clothing but does not appropriate the produce of their labour to the diminution of their debt. Their condition is better than that of pure slavery in this, that the creditor cannot strike them, and they can change their masters by prevailing on another person to pay their debt and accept of their labour on the same terms. Of course they may obtain their liberty if they can by any means procure a sum equal to their debt; whereas a slave, though possessing ever so large property, has not the right of purchasing his liberty. If however the creditor shall demand formally the amount of his debt from a person mengiring, at three several times, allowing a certain number of days between each demand, and the latter is not able to persuade anyone to redeem him, he becomes, by the custom of the country, a pure slave, upon the creditor's giving notice to the chief of the transaction. This is the resource he has against the laziness or untoward behaviour of his debtor, who might otherwise, in the state of mengiring, be only a burden to him. If the children of a deceased debtor are too young to be of service the charge of their maintenance is added to the debt. This opens a door for many iniquitous practices, and it is in the rigorous and frequently perverted exertion of these rights which a creditor has over his debtor that the chiefs are enabled to oppress the lower class of people, and from which abuses the English Residents find it necessary to be the most watchful to restrain them. In some cases one half of the produce of the labour is applied to the reduction of the debt, and this situation of the insolvent debtor is termed be-blah. Meranggau is the condition of a married woman who remains as a pledge for a debt in the house of the creditor of her husband. If any attempt should be made upon her person the proof of it annuls the debt; but should she bring an accusation of that nature, and be unable to prove it to the satisfaction of the court, and the man takes an oath in support of his innocence, the debt must be immediately paid by the family, or the woman be disposed of as a slave.

When a man of one district or country has a debt owing to him from the inhabitant of a neighbouring country, of which he cannot recover payment, an usual resource is to seize on one or more of his children and carry them off; which they call andak. The daughter of a Rejang dupati was carried off in this manner by the Labun people. Not hearing for some time from her father, she sent him cuttings of her hair and nails, by which she intimated a resolution of destroying herself if not soon released.


The right of slavery is established in Sumatra, as it is throughout the East, and has been all over the world; yet but few instances occur of the country people actually having slaves; though they are common enough in the Malayan, or sea-port towns. Their domestics and labourers are either dependant relations, or the orang mengiring above described, who are usually called debtors, but should be distinguished by the term of insolvent debtors. The simple manners of the people require that their servants should live, in a great measure, on a footing of equality with the rest of the family, which is inconsistent with the authority necessary to be maintained over slaves who have no principle to restrain them but that of personal fear,* and know that their civil condition cannot be altered for the worse.

(*Footnote. I do not mean to assert that all men in the condition of slaves are devoid of principle: I have experienced the contrary, and found in them affection and strict honesty: but that there does not result from their situation as slaves any principle of moral rectitude; whereas every other condition of society has annexed to it ideas of duty and mutual obligation arising from a sense of general utility. That sublime species of morality derived from the injunctions of religion it is almost universally their fate to be likewise strangers to, because slavery is found inconsistent with the spirit of the gospel, not merely as inculcating philanthropy but inspiring a principle of equality amongst mankind.)

There is this advantage also, that when a debtor absconds they have recourse to his relations for the amount of his debt, who, if unable to pay it, must mengiring in his room; whereas when a slave makes his escape the law can give no redress, and his value is lost to the owner. These people moreover are from habit backward to strike, and the state of slavery unhappily requires the frequent infliction of punishment in that mode. A slave cannot possess independently any property; yet it rarely happens that a master is found mean and sordid enough to despoil them of the fruits of their industry; and their liberty is generally granted them when in a condition to purchase it, though they cannot demand it of right. It is nothing uncommon for those belonging to the Europeans to possess slaves of their own, and to acquire considerable substance. Their condition is here for the most part less unhappy than that of persons in other situations of life. I am far from wishing to diminish the horror that should ever accompany the general idea of a state which, whilst it degrades the species, I am convinced is not necessary among mankind; but I cannot help remarking, as an extraordinary fact, that if there is one class of people eminently happy above all others upon earth it is the body of Caffres, or negro slaves belonging to the India Company at Bencoolen. They are well clothed and fed, and supplied with a proper allowance of liquor; their work is by no means severe; the persons appointed as their immediate overseers are chosen for their merit from amongst themselves; they have no occasion of care or anxiety for the past or future, and are naturally of a lively and open temper. The contemplation of the effects which such advantages produce must afford the highest gratification to a benevolent mind. They are usually seen laughing or singing whilst at work, and the intervals allowed them are mostly employed in dancing to their rude instrumental music, which frequently begins at sunset and ceases only with the daylight that recalls them to their labour. Since they were first carried thither, from different parts of Africa and Madagascar, to the present hour, not so much as the rumour of disturbance or discontent has ever been known to proceed from them. They hold the natives of the island in contempt, have a degree of antipathy towards them, and enjoy any mischief they can do them; and these in their turn regard the Caffres as devils half humanized.

The practice said to prevail elsewhere of men selling themselves for slaves is repugnant to the customs of the Sumatrans, as it seems to reason. It is an absurdity to barter anything valuable, much more civil existence, for a sum which, by the very act of receiving, becomes again the property of the buyer. Yet if a man runs in debt without a prospect of paying, he does virtually the same thing, and this in cases of distress is not uncommon, in order to relieve, perhaps, a beloved wife, or favourite child, from similar bondage. A man has even been known to apply in confidence to a friend to sell him to a third person, concealing from the purchaser the nature of the transaction till the money was appropriated.

Ignorant stragglers are often picked up in the country by lawless knaves in power and sold beyond the hills. These have sometimes procured their liberty again, and prosecuting their kidnappers have recovered large damages. In the district of Allas a custom prevails by which, if a man has been sold to the hill people, however unfairly, he is restricted on his return from associating with his countrymen as their equal unless he brings with him a sum of money and pays a fine for his re-enfranchisement to his kalippah or chief. This regulation has taken its rise from an idea of contamination among the people, and from art and avarice among the chiefs.