New Straits Times, 1 Mar 1992: "Thanks for these reprints."

William O. Krohn: In Borneo Jungles. originally published 1927, reprint Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1991. 327 pages. $??

Carl Lumholz: Through Central Borneo. originally published 1920. reprint Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1991, with an introduction by Victor T. King. 467 pages. $??

review by Otto Steinmayer

I don't get to Borneo nearly as much as I wish---which is most of the time. Like another university-bound scholar I have to do most of my travelling "by map or card," or (he should have said) "by big, thick book."

    Luckily, Borneo attracted dozens of writers, and one can scurry up and down the whole island without getting up from the livingroom comfy-chair except to fetch a further cup of tea.

    The armchair and its stack of books has also become a time machine. Borneo has suffered great changes since WW2. Life there is not what it was back in the twenties, or even in the fifties. Much that existed we will never see again, nor know of outside the records of travellers.

    Some of the old days were tragic. Dayaks, of course, but even the scientist Lumholz and the doctor Krohn were ignorant of the nature of diseases like cholera and beri-beri, and the waste of life was truly pitiable. Yet the old ways had something to recommend them. Native peoples in those days enjoyed an exuberant relish in life that has been much depressed.

    Even people who know Borneo tend to think of it as a collection of discrete parts: Sarawak, Sabah, Brunei, and Kalimantan. English writers concentrated on the north. The remaining 7/10 of Borneo were under Dutch control from 1840 onwards, and we in the English-speaking sphere still think of Kalimantan as a mysterious place, since the older literature is in Dutch and German and largely of academic or administrative character, and current information in Indonesian is very difficult to get.

    It's fortunate, then, that Oxford has reprinted the books of two travellers to Kalimantan in the first quarter of this century who wrote in English. Readers who know Sarawak will find again that it is culturally one with the rest of the island, a point that Prof. King (who contributed the introduction to Lumholz) stresses in his own work.
Writers on Borneo fall into three groups. First there are those with a professional interest in Borneo, naturalists like Wallace and the many serious students of Borneo culture, or people like the Brookes, intimately connected with the country's life, who speak---in many senses---with authority.

    The third group includes the sensationalists, who are writing to give their readers the thrill of "darkest Borneo," and their books are full of Wild Men, severed heads and jungle crawlies. I confess it was one such piece of trash that first got me interested in Borneo, but they are best ignored.

    The middle group is the largest, and contains writers who visited, in brief, as tourists. They were not, however, casual travellers but intelligent and sympathetic observers. While they may not be the most systematic Borneologists, they record much that was never preserved elsewhere.

    Krohn was an American from Chicago, sent off in the mid-20s by the Field Museum to collect native artifacts in Kalimantan. He was not a scholar of S.E. Asia or anthropologist, rather, a forensic pathologist, and his scientific training made him pay attention to things around him.

    (I wish that Krohn had displayed his specialty somewhere in his travels. I have always wanted to bring a coroner along to the Sarawak Museum and get him to lecture to me on the skulls hanging on the first floor of the old building. One could learn a lot about the kind of people who were fated to become headhuntees.)
It's unclear how Krohn was tempermentally equipped for his travel apart from being a hearty lover of the exotic and of anecdotes. He is wide-eyed at details of daily life in the east. His story often wanders near the parody language of the travelogue, and occasionally plunges into the twee, as when he marvels how quietly "Mr. Pig" rides ship to market in a basket. (The bathetic truth, as Aldous Huxley on ship off Sabah about the same time discovered, was that the babi were stupefied with opium.)

    Krohn travelled first class all the way. Dutch government launch carried him up and down the Mahakam river. He stayed with controlleurs, and with the Sultan of Koetai in his palace with electric light and refrigerators.
Seen from above, Borneo kampong life is one long idyll. The natives are a beautiful, naked, "simple-minded group, free from the suspicion and envy that arises with a more complex social life and its attendant competitions." Which gives it away that Krohn never lived in a village.

    Though In Borneo Jungles covers much the same ground as other books on Borneo of the same era, it shouldn't be dismissed. Krohn speaks with knowledge and accuracy about Dayak material life and the articles he was sent out to gather. And he describes a grand Kayan festival mask-dance, perhaps the last ever performed.

    Nowadays government and commercial company teams mount their Borneo expeditions with helicopter or landcruiser and zip in and out of the ulu with despatch.

    Carl Lumholz was an anthropologist and professional "explorer" in the palmy days of the business, when whitemen slogged through the jungle with an immense amount of baggage and bearers to hump it. Lumholz does not spare us the tediums of real adventure. He found prices too high, the natives weak and unreliable, that people got sick, and the truth that on every rapid-choked Borneo river "it usually requires as many days to get up-stream as it takes hours to come down." Such experience proves the wisdom of recent forest travellers, who go in alone and unhurried with one backpack.

    The reader likewise should not hurry Through Central Borneo. Lumholz faced his problems with poise, reflected in his eventempered style and the many delights he found. His descriptions of the lovely Borneo landscape will make many of us long for the jungle, and though he often appears austere, his meetings with the Dayaks seem to be marked by a humane sympathy.

    Lumholz accomplished his purpose of collecting data on the plants, wildlife, and Dayak societies of the area. Sadly, after his return he died before he had the chance to work it up in scholarly form. TCB was the sole fruit of his journey, among the most learned of travel books.

    Lumholz was unusually sensitive to the character and manners of the people he met on his travels. His book makes clear the striking diversity of Dayak life in east and south Kalimantan. He found much in "primitive" ways he admired over the civilized. Lumholz foresaw that development would sweep these cultures away; how much remains of what he saw I cannot tell.

    IBJ and TCB are directed to Borneo enthusiasts, professional or amateur, who need no persuading to buy them and read them. What is there to be found is invaluable, especially in Lumholz's many photographs. Thanks, Oxford, for the reprints.