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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Where the Strange Trails Go Down » CHAPTER IX PUPPET RULERS AND COMIC OPERA COURTS
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Hamangkoe Boewoenoe Senopati Sahadin Panoto Gomo Kalif Patelah Kandjeng VII, Ruler of the World, Spike of the Universe, and Sultan of Djokjakarta, is an old, old man, yet his brisk walk and upright carriage betrayed no trace of the worries which might be expected to beset one who is burdened with the responsibility of supporting three thousand wives and concubines. When one achieves a domestic establishment of such proportions, however, he doubtless shifts the responsibility for its administration, discipline and maintenance to subordinates, just as the commander of a division delegates his authority to the officers of his staff. The Sultan, who is now in his eighty-ninth year, is a worthy emulator of King Solomon, the lowest estimate which I heard crediting him with one hundred and eighty children. These are the official ones, as it were. How many unofficial ones he has, no one knows but himself. The youngest of his children, now five years old, was, I imagine, a good deal of a surprise, being sometimes referred to by disrespectful Europeans as "the Joke of Djokjakarta."

Djokjakarta, or Djokja, as it is commonly called, is set in the middle of a broad and fertile plain, at[190] the foot of the slumbering volcano of Merapi, whose occasional awakenings are marked by terrific earthquakes, which shake the city to its foundations and usually result in wide-spread destruction and loss of life. It is a city of broad, unpaved thoroughfares, shaded by rows of majestic waringins, and lined, in the European quarter, by handsome one-story houses, with white walls, green blinds and Doric porticos. There are two hotels in the city, one an excellently kept and comfortable establishment, as hotels go in Java; a score or so of large and moderately well-stocked European stores, and many small shops kept by Chinese; an imposing bank of stone and concrete; and one of the most beautiful race-courses that I have ever seen, the spring race meeting at Djokja being one of the most brilliant social events in Java. The busiest part of the city is the Chinese quarter, for, throughout the Insulinde, commerce, both retail and wholesale, is largely in the hands of these sober, shrewd, hard-working yellow men, of whom there are more than three hundred thousand in Java alone and double that number in the archipelago. Beyond the European and Chinese quarters, scattered among the palms which form a thick fringe about the town, are the kampongs of the Javanese themselves—clusters of bamboo-built huts, thatched with leaves or grass, encircled by low mud walls. Standing well back from the street, and separated from it by a splendid sweep of velvety lawn, is the Dutch residency, a dignified building whose classic lines reminded me of the manor houses built[191] by the Dutch patroons along the Hudson. A few hundred yards away stands Fort Vredenburg, a moated, bastioned, four-square fortification, garrisoned by half a thousand Dutch artillerymen, whose guns frown menacingly upon the native town and the palace of the Sultan. Though its walls would crumble before modern artillery in half an hour, it stands as a visible symbol of Dutch authority and as a warning to the disloyal that that authority is backed up by cannon.

Between Fort Vredenburg and the Sultan's palace stretches the broad aloun-aloun, its sandy, sun-baked expanse broken only by a splendid pair of waringin-trees, clipped to resemble royal payongs or parasols. In the old days those desiring audience with the sovereign were compelled to wait under these trees, frequently for days and occasionally for weeks, until "the Spike of the Universe" graciously condescended to receive them. Here also was the place of public execution. In the days before the white men came, public executions on the aloun-aloun provided pleasurable excitement for the inhabitants of Djokjakarta, who attended them in great numbers. The method employed was characteristic of Java: the condemned stood with his forehead against a wall, and the executioner drove the point of a kris between the vertebrae at the base of the neck, severing the spinal cord. But the gallows and the rope have superseded the wall and the kris in Djokjakarta, just as they have superseded the age-old custom of hurling criminals from the top of a high tower in Bokhara or of having the brains[192] of the condemned stamped out by an elephant, a method of execution which was long in vogue in Burmah.

But, though certain peculiarly barbarous customs which were practised under native rule have been abolished by the Dutch, I have no intention of suggesting that life in Djokjakarta has become colorless and tame. Au contraire! If you will take the trouble to cross the aloun-aloun to the gates of the palace, your attention will be attracted by a row of iron-barred cages built against the kraton wall. Should you be so fortunate as to find yourself in Djokjakarta on the eve of a religious festival or other holiday, each of these cages will be found to contain a full-grown tiger. For tiger-baiting remains one of the favorite amusements of the native princes. Nowhere else, so far as I am aware, save only in East Africa, where the Masai warriors encircle a lion and kill it with their spears, can you witness a sport which is its equal for peril and excitement.

On the day set for a tiger-baiting the aloun-aloun is jammed with spectators, their gorgeous sarongs and head-kains of batik forming a sea of color, while from a pavilion erected for the purpose the Sultan, surrounded by his glittering household and a selection of his favorite wives, views the dangerous sport in safety. In a cleared space before the royal pavilion several hundred half-naked Javanese, armed only with spears, stand shoulder to shoulder in a great circle, perhaps ten-score yards across, their spears pointing inward so as to form a steel fringe to the human [193]barricade. A cage containing a tiger, which has been trapped in the jungle for the occasion, is hauled forward to the circle's edge. At a signal from the Sultan the door of the cage is opened and the great striped cat, its yellow eyes glaring malevolently, its stiffened tail nervously sweeping the ground, slips forth on padded feet to crouch defiantly in the center of the extemporized arena. Occasionally, but very occasionally, the beast becomes intimidated at sight of the waiting spearmen and the breathless throng beyond them, but usually it is only a matter of seconds before things begin to happen. The long tail abruptly becomes rigid, the muscles bunch themselves like coiled springs beneath the tawny skin, the sullen snarling changes to a deep-throated roar, and the great beast launches itself against the levelled spears. Sometimes it tears its way through the ring of flesh and steel, leaving behind it a trail of dead or wounded spearmen, and creating consternation among the spectators, who scatter, panic-stricken, in every direction. But more often the spearmen drive it back, snarling and bleeding, whereupon, bewildered by the multitude of its enemies and maddened by the pain of its wounds, it hurls itself against another segment of the steel-fringed cordon. After a time, baffled in its attempts to escape, the tiger retreats to the center of the circle, where it crouches, snarling. Then, at another signal from the Sultan, the spearmen begin to close in. Smaller and smaller grows the circle, closer and closer come the remorseless[194] spear-points ... then a hoarse roar of fury, a spring too rapid for the eye to follow, a wild riot of brown bodies glistening with sweat ... spear-hafts rising and falling above a sea of turbaned heads as the blades are driven home ... again ... again ... again ... yet again ... into the great black-and-yellow carcass, which now lies inanimate upon the sand in a rapidly widening pool of crimson.

Like the palaces of most Asiatic rulers, the kraton of the Sultan of Djokjakarta is really a royal city in the heart of his capital. It consists of a vast congeries of palaces, barracks, stables, pagodas, temples, offices, courtyards, corridors, alleys and bazaars, containing upward of fifteen thousand inhabitants, the whole encircled by a high wall four miles in length. Everything that the sovereign can require, every necessity and luxury of life, every adjunct of pleasure, is assembled within the kraton. As the Sultan's world is practically bounded by his palace walls, the kraton is to all intents and purposes a little kingdom in itself, for there dwell within it, besides the officials of the household and the women of the harem, soldiers, priests, gold and silversmiths, tailors, weavers, makers of batik, civil engineers, architects, carpenters, stonemasons, manufacturers of musical instruments, stage furniture, and puppets, all supported by the court. The Sultan rarely leaves the kraton save on occasions of ceremony, when he appears in state, a thin, aristocratic-looking old man, somewhat taller than the average of[195] his subjects, wrapped in a sarong of cloth-of-gold, hung with jewels, shaded by a golden parasol, surrounded by an Arabian Nights court, and guarded—curious contrast!—by a squadron of exceedingly businesslike-looking Dutch cavalry in slouch hats and green denim uniforms.

The first impression which one receives upon entering the inner precincts of the kraton is of tawdriness and dilapidation. Half-naked soldiers of the royal body-guard, armed with ten-foot pikes and clad only in baggy, scarlet breeches and brimless caps of black leather, shaped like inverted flower-pots, lounge beside the gateway giving access to the Sultan's quarters or snore blissfully while stretched beneath the trees. The "Ruler of the World" receives his visitors—who, if they are foreigners, must always be accompanied by the Dutch Resident or a member of his staff—in the pringitan, or hall of audience, an immense, marble-floored chamber, supported by many marble columns. The pringitan is open on three sides, the fourth communicating with the royal apartments and the harem, to which Europeans are never admitted. At the rear of the pringitan are a number of ornate state beds, hung with scarlet and heavily gilded, evidently placed there for purposes of display, for they showed no evidences of having been slept in. Close by is a large glass case containing specimens of the taxidermist's art, including a number of badly moth-eaten birds of paradise. On the walls I noticed a steel-engraving of Napoleon crossing the[196] Alps, a number of English sporting prints depicting hunting and coaching scenes, and three villainous chromos of Queen Wilhelmina, Prince Henry of the Netherlands, and the Princess Juliana.

Thanks to the courtesy of the Resident, who had notified the authorities of the royal household of our visit in advance, we found that a series of Javanese dances had been arranged in our honor. Now Javanese dancing is about as exciting as German grand opera, and, like opera, one has to understand it to appreciate it. Personally, I should have preferred to wander about the kraton, but court etiquette demanded that I should sit upon a hard and exceedingly uncomfortable chair throughout a long and humid morning, with the thermometer registering one hundred and four degrees in the shade, and watch a number of anaemic and dissipated-looking youths, who composed the royal ballet, go through an interminable series of posturings and gestures to the monotonous music of a native orchestra.

Those who have gained their ideas of Javanese dancing from the performances of Ruth St. Denis and Florence O'Denishawn have disappointment in store for them when they go to Java. To tell the truth I found the dancers far less interesting than their audience, which consisted of several hundred women of the harem, clad in filmy, semi-transparent garments of the most beautiful colors, who watched the proceedings from the semi-obscurity of the pringitan. I cannot be certain, because the light was poor and their faces were[197] in the shadow, but I think that there were several extremely good-looking girls among them. There was one in particular that I remember—a slender, willowy thing with an apricot-colored skin and an oval, piquant face framed by masses of blue-black hair. Her orange sarong was so tightly wound about her that she might as well have been wearing a wet silk bathing-suit, so far as concealing her figure was concerned. Whenever she caught my eye she smiled mischievously. I should have liked to have seen more of her, but an unamiable-looking sentry armed with a large scimitar prevented.

By extraordinary good fortune we arrived in Djokjakarta on the eve of the celebration of a double royal wedding, two of the Sultan's grandsons marrying two of his granddaughters. Thanks to the cooperation of the Dutch Resident, Hawkinson was enabled to obtain a remarkable series of pictures of the highly spectacular marriage ceremonies, it being the first time, I believe, that a motion-picture camera had been permitted within the closely guarded precincts of the kraton.

The festivities, which occupied several days, consisted of receptions, fireworks, reviews, games, dances, and religious ceremonies, culminating in a most impressive and colorful pageant, when the two bridegrooms proceeded to the palace in state to claim their brides. Nowhere outside the pages of The Wizard of Oz could one find such amazing and fantastic costumes as those worn by the thousands of natives who took part in that procession. Every combination of colors was[198] used, every period of European and Asiatic history was represented. Some of the costumes looked as though they owed their inspiration to Bakst's designs for the Russian ballet—or perhaps Bakst obtained his ideas in Djokjakarta; others were strongly reminiscent of Louis XIV's era, of the courts of the great Indian princes, of the Ziegfeld Follies.

The procession was led by four peasant women bearing trays of vegetables and fruits, symbols of fecundity, I assumed. Behind them, sitting cross-legged in glass cages swung from poles, each borne by a score of sweating coolies in scarlet liveries, were the four chief messengers of the royal harem—former concubines of the Sultan who had once been noted for their influence and beauty. The cages—I can think of no better description—were of red lacquer, about four feet square, with glass sides, and, so far as I could see, entirely air-tight. They looked not unlike large goldfish aquariums. As they were passing us the procession halted for a few moments and the panting coolies lowered their burdens to the ground. Whereupon Hawkinson, who is no respecter of persons when the business of getting pictures is concerned, set up his camera within six feet of one of the cages and proceeded to take a "close-up" of the indignant but helpless occupant, who, unable to escape or even turn away, could only assume an indifference which she was evidently far from feeling.

Following the harem attendants marched a company of the royal body-guard, in scarlet cutaway coats like[199] those worn by the British grenadiers during the American Revolution, pipe-clayed cross-belts, white nankeen breeches, enormous cavalry boots, extending half-way up the thigh, and curious hats of black glazed leather, of a shape which was a cross between a fireman's helmet and the cap of a Norman man-at-arms. They were armed indiscriminately with long pikes and ancient flint-locks, and marched to the music of fife and drum. The leader of the band danced a sort of shimmy as he marched, at the same time tootling on a flute. He looked like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Perhaps the most curious feature of the procession was provided by the clowns, both men and women—an interesting survival of the court-jesters of the Middle Ages—powdered and painted like their fellows of the circus, and performing many of their stereotyped antics. One of them, wearing an enormous pair of black goggles, bestrode a sort of hobby-horse, made of papier-maché, and, when he saw that Hawkinson was taking his picture, cavorted and grimaced, to the huge delight of the onlookers. The female clowns, all of whom were burdened by excessive avoirdupois, wiggled their hips and shoulders as they marched in a sort of Oriental shimmy.

Following a gorgeous cavalcade of mounted princes of the blood, in uniforms of all colors, periods, and descriptions, their képis surmounted by towering ostrich plumes, came a long procession of the great dignitaries of the household—the royal betel-box bearer, the royal cuspidor-carrier, and others bearing on[200] scarlet cushions the royal toothpicks, the royal toothbrush, the royal toilet set, and the royal mirror, all of gold set with jewels. The mothers of the brides, painted like courtesans and hung with jewels, were borne by in sedan-chairs, in which they sat cross-legged on silken cushions. Then, after a dramatic pause, their approach heralded by a burst of barbaric music, came the brides themselves, each reclining in an enormous scarlet litter borne by fifty coolies. Beside them sat attendants who sprinkled them with perfumes and cooled them with fans of peacock-feathers. In accordance with an ancient Javanese custom, the faces, necks, arms, and breasts of the brides were stained with saffron to a brilliant yellow; their cheeks were as stiff with enamel as their garments were with jewels. Immediately behind the palanquins bearing the brides—one of whom looked to be about thirteen, the other a few years older—rode the bridegrooms; one, a sullen-looking fellow who, I was told, already had five wives and plainly showed it, astride a magnificent gray Arab; the other, who was still a boy, on a showy bay stallion, both animals being decked with flowers and caparisoned in trappings of scarlet leather trimmed with silver. The bridegrooms, naked to the waist, were, like their brides, dyed a vivid yellow; their sarongs were of cloth-of-gold and they were loaded with jeweled necklaces, bracelets, and anklets. Royal grooms in scarlet liveries led their prancing horses and other attendants, walking at their stirrups, bore over their heads golden payongs, the Javanese symbol of [201]royalty. Following them on foot was a great concourse of dignitaries and courtiers, clad in costumes of every color and description and walking under a forest of gorgeous parasols, the colors of which denoted the rank of those they shaded. The payongs of the Sultan, the Dutch Resident, and the royal princes are of gold, those of the princesses of the royal family are yellow, of the great nobles white, of the ministers and the higher officials of the country, red; of the lesser dignitaries, dark gray, and so on. This sea of swaying parasols, the gorgeous costumes of the dignitaries, the fantastic uniforms of the soldiery, the richly caparisoned horses, the gilded litters, the burnished weapons, the jewels of the women, the flaunting banners, and the rainbow-tinted batiks worn by the tens of thousands of native spectators combined to form a scene bewildering in its variety, dazzling in its brilliancy and kaleidoscopic in its coloring. Mr. Ziegfeld never produced so fantastic and colorful a spectacle. It would have been the envy and the despair of that prince of showmen, the late Phineas T. Barnum.

A dozen miles or so northwest of Djokjakarta, standing in the middle of a fertile plain which stretches away to the lower slopes of slumbering Merapi, are the ruins of Boro-Boedor, of all the Hindu temples of Java the largest and the most magnificent and one of the architectural marvels of the world. They can be reached from Djokjakarta by motor[202] in an hour. The road, which skirts the foothills of a volcanic mountain range, runs through a number of archways roofed with red tiles which in the rainy season afford convenient refuges from the sudden tropical showers and in the dry season opportunities to escape from the blinding glare of the sun. Leaving the main highway at Kalangan, a quaint hamlet with a picturesque and interesting market, we turned into a side road and wound for a few miles through cocoanut plantations, then the road ascended and, rounding the shoulder of a little hill, we saw, through the trees, a squat, pyramidal mass of reddish stone, broken, irregular and unimposing. It was Tjandi Boro-Boedor (the name means "shrine of the many Buddhas") considered by many authorities the most interesting Buddhist remains in existence. Though in magnitude it cannot compare with such great Buddhist monuments as those at Ajunta in India, and Angkor in Cambodia, yet in its beautiful symmetry and its wealth of carving it is superior to them all.

Strictly speaking, Boro-Boedor is not a temple but a hill, rising about one hundred and fifty feet above the plain, encased with terraces constructed of hewn lava-blocks and crowded with sculptures, which, if placed side by side, would extend for upwards of three miles. The lowest terrace now above ground forms a square, each side approximately five hundred feet long. About fifty feet higher there is another terrace of similar shape. Then follow four other terraces of more irregular contour, the structure being crowned[203] by a dome or cupola, fifty feet in diameter, surrounded by sixteen smaller bell-shaped cupolas, known as dagobas. The subjects of the bas-reliefs lining the lowest terrace are of the most varied description, forming a picture gallery of landscapes, agricultural and household episodes and incidents of the chase, mingled with mythological and religious scenes. It would seem, indeed, as though it had been the architect's intention to gradually wean the pilgrims from the physical to the spiritual, for as they began to ascend from stage to stage of the temple-hill they were insensibly drawn from material, every-day things to the realities of religion, so that by the time the dagoba at the top was reached they had passed through a course of religious instruction, as it were, and were ready, with enlightened eyes, to enter and behold the image of Buddha, symbolically left imperfect, as beyond the power of human art to realize or portray. From base to summit the whole hill is really a great picture-bible of the Buddhist creed.

The building of Boro-Boedor was probably begun in the ninth century, when King Asoka was distributing the supposed remains of Buddha throughout all the countries of the East in an endeavor to spread the faith. A portion of the remains was brought to Boro-Boedor, which had been the center of Buddhist influence in Java ever since 603, when the Indian ruler, Guzerat, settled in Middle Java with five thousand of his followers. In the sixteenth century, when a wave of Mohammedanism swept the island from end to[204] end, the Buddhist temples being destroyed by the fanatic followers of the Prophet and the priests slaughtered on their altars, the Buddhists, in order to save the famous shrine from desecration and destruction, buried it under many feet of earth. Thus the great monument remained, hidden and almost forgotten, for three hundred years, but during the brief period of British rule in Java, Sir Stamford Raffles ordered its excavation, the work being accomplished in less than two months. Since then the Dutch have taken further steps to restore and preserve it, though unfortunately the stone of which it is built was too soft to withstand the wear and tear of centuries, many of the bas-reliefs now being almost effaced. It remains, however, one of the greatest religious monuments of all time.

Conditions at Surakarta—usually called Solo for short—are the exact counterpart of those in Djokjakarta: the same puppet ruler, who is called Susuhunan instead of Sultan, the same semi-barbaric court life, the same fantastic costumes, a Dutch resident, a Dutch fort, and a Dutch garrison. But the kraton of the Susuhunan is far better kept than that of his fellow ruler at Djokjakarta, and shows more evidences of Europeanization. The troopers of the royal body-guard are smart, soldierly-looking fellows in well-cut uniforms of European pattern, to which a distinctly Eastern touch is lent, however, by their steel helmets, their brass-embossed leather shields, their scimitars, and their shoulder-guards of chain mail. The[205] royal stables, which contain several hundred fine Australian horses and a number of beautiful Sumbawan ponies, together with a score or more gilt carriages of state, are as immaculately kept as those of Buckingham Palace. In the palace garage I was shown a row of powerful Fiats, gleaming with fresh varnish and polished brass, and beside them, as among equals, a member of the well-known Ford family of Detroit, proudly bearing on its panels the ornate arms of the Susuhunan. I felt as though I had encountered an old friend who had married into royalty.

As though we had not seen enough dancing at Djokjakarta, I found that they had arranged another performance for us in the kraton at Surakarta. This time, however, the dancers were girls, most of them only ten or twelve years old and none of them more than half-way through their teens. They wore sarongs of the most exquisite colors—purple, heliotrope, violet, rose, geranium, cerise, lemon, sky-blue, burnt-orange—and they floated over the marble floor of the great hall like enormous butterflies. As a special mark of the Susuhunan's favor, the performance concluded with a spear dance by four princes of the royal house—blasé, decadent-looking youths, who spend their waking hours, so the Dutch official who acted as my cicerone told me, in dancing, opium-smoking, cock-fighting and gambling, virtually their only companions being the women of the harem. If the Dutch Government does not actively encourage dissipation and debauchery among the native princes, neither does it[206] take any steps to discourage it, the idea being, I imagine, that Holland's administrative problems in the Vorstenlanden would be greatly simplified were the reigning families to die out. The princes, who were armed with javelins and krises, performed for our benefit a Terpsichorean version of one of the tales of Javanese mythology. The dance was characterized by the utmost deliberation of movement, the dancers holding certain postures for several seconds at a time, reminding me, in their rigid self-consciousness, of the "living pictures" which were so popular in America twenty years ago.

All of the dancers, as I have already remarked, were of the blood royal and one, I was told, was in the direct line of succession. Judging from the vacuity of his expression, the Dutch have no reason to anticipate any difficulty in maintaining their mastery in Soerakarta when he comes to the throne. But the Dutch officials take no chances with the intrigue-loving native princes; they keep them under close surveillance at all times. It is one of the disadvantages of Christian governments ruling peoples of alien race and religion that methods of revolt are not always visible to the naked eye, and even the Dutch Intelligence Service in the Indies, efficient as it is, has no means of knowing what is going on in the forbidden quarters of the kratons. In Java, as in other Moslem lands, more than one bloody uprising has been planned in the safety and secrecy of the harem. Potential disloyalty is neutralized, therefore, by a discreet display of force.[207] Throughout the performance in the palace a Dutch trooper in field gray, bandoliers stuffed with cartridges festooned across his chest and a carbine tucked under his arm, paced slowly up and down—an ever-present symbol of Dutch power—watching the posturing princes with a sardonic eye. That is Holland's way of showing that, should disaffection show its head, she is ready to deal with it.


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