Tiger attack in Sumatra in 1879

By: gregmccann

Dec 10 2017

Category: Uncategorized

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Tiger attack in Sumatra in 1979

One afternoon, as I was returning from this forest with my men who had been felling trees, walking in line one behind the other as is their custom, a tiger suddenly slipped from the jungle bordering the road, and in a moment struck down a youth a few yards before me. I dared not fire for fear of striking the youth, but his father, who was walking just in front of him armed with a spear, dashed on it and gave it a right willing thrust, which, with the threatening group, made it quit its hold, when it sprang into the thick jungle. It was all the work of a moment; the stroke of its paw did not seem to be tremendous, but the claws of the brute had penetrated so deeply into the chest and shoulder of the youth that he survived scarcely a quarter of an hour after being carried into the village. Early next morning I was aroused by a great commotion, a loud screaming and scampering of feet, amid which I heard the word ” Matjan ” (tiger). Jumping up, I slid a cartridge into my Martini- Henry, and rushed out, to find every man brandishing a long spear in the one hand and a kriss in the other, all looking very scared.

The tiger of the previous day had come after his unburied quarry, as they firmly believed and asserted against my doubts that he would, and had actually ventured into the middle of the village, and within thirty feet of my door which stood next to the house containing the dead body. The clamour had frightened it off into the impenetrable jungle which closely hedged round the village, whither I could follow it only a very short way. As we re-entered the village the body of the youth was being brought out for burial amid terrible wailings of the women. It was sewed into a thick grass mat, on the top of which were spread flowers of the cocoa and pinang jjalms, and over which, as it was borne away, handfuls of yellowed rice were thrown.

The villagers fell in behind the body, each man with a spear over his shoulder, their tips glittering in the sun like a regiment of bayonets, for fear of another sudden attack. The grave was made deeper than usual, and well protected on the top, as they affirmed that the tiger would certainly try to scrape up the body. The lamentations of the women, which were terrible to hear as the body was taken away, continued till the return of the people from the funeral, and then entirely ceased. It is difficult to learn whether these were really bitter mournings, or merely the following of their custom. The event, however, cast a visible gloom over the village, and I felt relieved when it returned to its more ordinary ways. For several nights after the funeral the father of the youth, sitting by himself alone in his house, chanted from sundown till daybreak what they call the Tjeritu hari, or death dirge, a most plaintive lament; and to me it seemed the most saddening, woe-laden wail I had ever heard, rising and falling on the silent night like a wintry wind.

As expected, the tiger attempted to scrape up the body the night after its burial. Next night and for several others I watched the grave, but the tiger did not keep tryst with me; but when I was not there it never failed to come. I therefore assisted them to construct a snare to catch it on its first return. A fence was made at all such places as there was a possibility of approach to the grave, leaving on the cleared road a very conspicuous open gate, across which a thin cord was loosely drawn, connected with a green bamboo some thirty feet long bent by the strength of several men into a bow, at whose extremity a sharp spear was so arranged as to be shot athwart the entrance-gate, on the release of the bamboo by the tiger pressing with his breast on the twig-like cord in his way. Every night the trap was re-set for six days, without the tiger’s appearance. The seventh it was left unset as apparently useless; next morning it was found that the tiger had been within the enclosure, and I saw it faithfully set in the evening. The following morning I was awakened by a great chattering outside the Balai, and, starting up to learn the cause of the uproar, I was informed that the trap had shot in the night, and the spear had been broken off, but the tiger had not been found.

I was soon among the eager crowd, who had armed to beat the woods. It was evident from the blood on the spear-shaft that it was sorely wounded, and could not be far off”. We had little need, however, of gun or spear, for some thirty yards in the forest we found the warm body of the feline. Transfixed from side to side, it had cleared the high fence with one gigantic bound, and fallen dead where it lay. As soon as it was known that the body had been found, every man, woman and child hastened out of the village to see the carcase of their enemy, every individual, save the youngest children, bringing with him a knife or kriss. It was only with the very utmost difficulty that I could, by standing on the body and uttering the direst threats, prevent each of these blades from being thrust into the skin, which I wished to preserve. With what savage delight and revenge they did gloat over that carcass and run their weapons into its body when they could ! What blood there was about was all used up in dipping them in to insure bravery ; and all passed their krisses broadside over and over the body to absorb the potent emanation from this personification of power and boldness.

When the body was being skinned the relatives of many of those who had perished by tigers came and begged for a piece of the heart or brain, that they might revenge themselves by eating it— especially one old woman who had thus lost first her only son, and later had had her husband carried off before her eyes.

The graveyard of the village was laid out along the river, on each side of a moss-grown path, overshadowed by tall and aged trees. All about grew delicate ferns and shrubs sacred to the dead. Almost at the end of this tall avenue I came one day on a house of some dimensions, with a closed door, having a space in front cleared of vegetation, and kept neatly in order. By peering through an aperture I could see inside, surrounded by a close pavement of stones, a solitary gravestone. This was the resting-place of the Nene Poyang, or Forefather, who had established the village. When any great trouble overtakes the village, such as many deaths from tigers, or times of scarcity befall them, they assemble here, and killing a goat or a buffalo, they invoke the good offices of the spirit of their ancestor. If a man have a dispute with another and the matter be referred to his oath, it is over the stone of their ancestor here that he swears.

-from A Naturalist’s Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago 1878-1883, by Henry O. Forbes