In Search Of Wallace – Part 7: East Java

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Continuing with my In Search Of Wallace series, last week I travelled to Surabaya in Indonesia to try to retrace Alfred Russel Wallace’s footsteps in East Java which he visited in the summer of 1861.

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In italics below are extracts from The Malay Archipelago in which he describes the area.

“The Dutch mail steamer brought me from Ternate to Sourabaya, the chief town and port in the eastern part of Java, and after a fortnight spent in packing up and sending off my last collections, I started on a short journey into the interior. Travelling in Java is very luxurious but very expensive, the only way being to hire or borrow a carriage, and then pay half a crown a mile for post-horses…”

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Mr Yudha, my driver for this trip. Oddly enough, I found travelling here expensive too. I had to rent a car with driver in order to visit all the places mentioned in Wallace’s book. Instead of half a crown, I paid Rupiah 1,155,000 for six hours rental which sounds a lot (USD 88) but is probably cheaper than Wallace’s cost in today’s equivalent value.

“As this kind of travelling world not suit my means, I determined on making only a short journey to the district at the foot of Mount Arjuna, where I was told there were extensive forests, and where I hoped to be able to make some good collections.”

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The extensive forests are mostly no more, replaced with paddy fields, housing and industrial estates. Gunung Arjuna is a dormant volcano (3,339m) connected by a saddle to its active neighbour, Gunung Welirang (3,156m).

“I stopped at Modjokerto, a small town about forty miles south of Sourabaya, and the nearest point on the high road to the district I wished to visit. I had a letter of introduction to Mr. Ball, an Englishman, long resident in Java and married to a Dutch lady; and he kindly invited me to stay with him until I could fix on a place to suit me. A Dutch Assistant Resident as well as a Regent or native Javanese prince lived here. The town was neat, and had a nice open grassy space like a village green, on which stood a magnificent fig-tree (allied to the Banyan of India, but more lofty), under whose shade a kind of market is continually held, and where the inhabitants meet together to lounge and chat.”

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Mojokerto today is still fairly neat though its narrow streets are clogged with cars and motorbikes.This colonial era house could perhaps have been home for the Dutch Assistant Resident, though not the same one that Wallace saw, since the date on the gable is 1912.
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This is probably the open grassy space that Wallace mentioned, now called Alun-Alun Mojokerto. The magnificent fig-tree has gone and is replaced with a monument bearing the text to Indonesia’s declaration of independence.

“The day after my arrival, Mr. Ball drove me over to the village of Modjo-agong. On our way we stayed to look at a fragment of the ruins of the ancient city of Modjo-pahit, consisting of two lofty brick masses, apparently the sides of a gateway.”

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Almost certainly, Wallace was referring to this famous gateway, known as Gapura Wringin Lawang and one of many Majapahit Empire archaeological remains in this area.

“The extreme perfection and beauty of the brickwork astonished me. The bricks are exceedingly fine and hard, with sharp angles and true surfaces. They are laid with great exactness, without visible mortar or cement, yet somehow fastened together so that the joints are hardly perceptible, and sometimes the two surfaces coalesce in a most incomprehensible manner. Such admirable brickwork I have never seen before or since. There was no sculpture here, but an abundance of bold projections and finely-worked mouldings.”

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This close up of a restored section of the gateway is an example of the fine brickwork which Wallace admired so much. Earthquakes and 155 years of exposure to the elements have taken their toll on the structure since Wallace’s day.

“Traces of buildings exist for many miles in every direction, and almost every road and pathway shows a foundation of brickwork beneath it–the paved roads of the old city.”

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Relief map at the museum with white markers showing the locations of Majapahit remains in the vicinity of Trowulan.

“It is much to be regretted that the Dutch Government does not take vigorous steps for the preservation of these ruins from the destroying agency of tropical vegetation; and for the collection of the fine sculptures which are everywhere scattered over the land.”

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There is now a museum (Majapahit Museum, Trowulan) where hundreds of statues, sculptures and other stone works are displayed. The museum was closed for renovation but an accommodating security guard allowed me to view the outdoor exhibits.

“In the house of the Waidono or district chief at Modjo- agong, I saw a beautiful figure carved in high relief out of a block of lava, and which had been found buried in the ground near the village. On my expressing a wish to obtain some such specimen, Mr. B. asked the chief for it, and much to my surprise he immediately gave it me. It represented the Hindu goddess Durga, called in Java, Lora Jonggrang (the exalted virgin).”

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According to The Alfred Russel Wallace Website this carving found its way into the Charterhouse School Museum in Godalming, Surrey, probably donated to the school by Wallace who live nearby. The carving was subsequently auctioned off by Charterhouse and somebody paid £2629 for it at Sotheby’s in 2002. Presumably it is now in private hands somewhere. If you would like your own deity sculpture there are a number of roadside studios close to Wringin Lawang where skilled craftsmen could probably knock you up a copy for a reasonable cost.

“The road to Wonosalem led through a magnificent forest in the depths of which we passed a fine ruin of what appeared to have been a royal tomb or mausoleum. It is formed entirely of stone, and elaborately carved. Near the base is a course of boldly projecting blocks, sculptured in high relief, with a series of scenes which are probably incidents in the life of the defunct. These are all beautifully executed, some of the figures of animals in particular, being easily recognisable and very accurate. The general design, as far as the ruined state of the upper part will permit of its being seen, is very good, effect being given by an immense number and variety of projecting or retreating courses of squared stones in place of mouldings. The size of this structure is about thirty feet square by twenty high, and as the traveller comes suddenly upon it on a small elevation by the roadside, overshadowed by gigantic trees, overrun with plants and creepers, and closely backed by the gloomy forest, he is struck by the solemnity and picturesque beauty of the scene, and is led to ponder on the strange law of progress, which looks so like retrogression, and which in so many distant parts of the world has exterminated or driven out a highly artistic and constructive race, to make room for one which, as far as we can judge, is very far its inferior.”

Here are some other historic sites which I visited in this area which Wallace may also have seen:

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Pendopo Agung (a recent construction but on an ancient sacred site).
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Bajang Ratu Temple.
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Candi Tikus.

“Wonosalem is situated about a thousand feet above the sea, but unfortunately it is at a distance from the forest, and is surrounded by coffee plantations, thickets of bamboo, and coarse grasses. It was too far to walk back daily to the forest, and in other directions I could find no collecting ground for insects. The place was, however, famous for peacocks, and my boy soon shot several of these magnificent birds, whose flesh we found to be tender, white, and delicate, and similar to that of a turkey.”

java-peacock

“The Java peacock is a different species from that of India, the neck being covered with scale-like green feathers, and the crest of a different form; but the eyed train is equally large and equally beautiful.”

This is a view of modern day Wonosalem. Not likely to find many wild peacocks here these days.

“After a week at Wonosalem, I returned to the foot of the mountain, to a village named Djapannan, which was surrounded by several patches of forest, and seemed altogether pretty well spited to my pursuits. The chief of the village had prepared two small bamboo rooms on one side of his own courtyard to accommodate me, and seemed inclined to assist me as much as he could.”

This is how Japanan looks today. Wallace might well have stayed right here, in the Village Head’s Office, though of course the compound has been modernised since.

“The weather was exceedingly hot and dry, no rain having fallen for several months, and there was, in consequence, a great scarcity of insects, and especially of beetles. I therefore devoted myself chiefly to obtaining a good set of the birds, and succeeded in making a tolerable collection. I also obtained here a specimen of the rare green jungle-fowl (Gallus furcatus), whose back and neck are beautifully scaled with bronzy feathers, and whose smooth-edged oval comb is of a violet purple colour, changing to green at the base. It is also remarkable in possessing a single large wattle beneath its throat, brightly coloured in three patches of red, yellow, and blue.”

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Gallus Furcatus

“The common jungle-cock (Gallus bankiva) was also obtained here. It is almost exactly like a common game-cock, but the voice is different, being much shorter and more abrupt; hence its native name is Bekeko.”

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Gallus Bankiva

Six different kinds of woodpeckers and four kingfishers were found here, the fine hornbill, Buceros lunatus, more than four feet long, and the pretty little lorikeet, Loriculus pusillus, scarcely more than as many inches.

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Javan Rhinoceros Hornbill
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Javan Parakeet

“In a month’s collecting at Wonosalem and Djapannan I accumulated ninety-eight species of birds, but a most miserable lot of insects. I then determined to leave East Java and try the more moist and luxuriant districts at the western extremity of the island. “

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I don’t know if it was there during Wallace’s time, but, if it was, he could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had travelled on further to Malang where there is an extensive bird market selling many beautiful species such as rainbow lorikeets, oriental bay owls, canaries, Indonesian songbirds and this kingfisher.

In Search of Wallace – Gading & Ayer Panas

In-Search-Of-Wallace

A few months ago I was reading The Malay Archipelago by famous British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. This work chronicles his eight years spent criss-crossing modern day Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea from 1852 – 1862 while collecting some 125,000 specimens of natural history, mainly birds, butterflies, moths, beetles and other insects but also mammals and reptiles. He financed his trip by selling specimens to museums and private collectors in an age when there was a strong demand for dried bugs and skinned birds and primates.

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His book not only records his scientific research and collecting work but is also a descriptive travelogue through one of the world’s most attractive regions, including a number of spectacular and remote islands and beaches.

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To give a theme to some of my travels this year I thought it would be fun to journey to a few of the more accessible places mentioned in his book, particularly as some of them, such as Sulawesi, have long been on my ‘must visit’ list.

Gading

To start off, I tried to retrace Wallace’s steps in Malacca, the only place on the Malay Peninsular that gets a mention in his book. This is how he described his first foray into the interior of Malacca State in 1854:

“ I engaged two Portuguese to accompany me into the interior; one as a cook, the other to shoot and skin birds, which is quite a trade in Malacca. I stayed a fortnight at a village called Gading, where I was accommodated in the house of some Christian converts, to whom I was recommended by the Jesuit missionaries. The house was a mere shed, but it was kept clean, and I made myself sufficiently comfortable. My hosts were forming a pepper and gambir plantation, and in the immediate neighbourhood were extensive tin-washings, employing over a thousand Chinese.”

My search ran into an immediate snag as there no longer appears to be a village called Gading though a Google search threw up a St. Martin De Porres Chapel, Gading with an address on Jalan Simpang Gading near Durian Tinggal. This may in the right vicinity as there are a number of former tin mining lakes nearby.

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I visited the small chapel where a friendly volunteer called Gregory was putting up decorations for Chinese New Year. He described himself as ‘Straits born,’ meaning mixed Peranakan race.

Of course it is impossible to find a ‘mere shed’ from 162 years ago  but it might have looked something like this place, located at Kesang Pajak, a few kilometres from the chapel:

Wallace describes how he was at once introduced to the rich ornithological treasures of Gading:

“ The very first time I fired my gun I brought down one of the most curious and beautiful of the Malacca birds, the blue-billed gaper (Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchus), called by the Malays the Rainbird.”

Rainbird
Source: Malayan Paradise Blogspot

A shame to kill such a lovely bird but, as already mentioned, that was how he made his living and it would have been the only way to study the bird up close. During his fortnight at Gading his hunter also shot a green gaper, woodpeckers, kingfishers, green and brown cuckoos, red-breasted doves and metallic honeysuckers.

Unfortunately I did not spot any exciting birdlife during my brief visit to Gading.

Ayer Panas

After recovering from a bout of malaria Wallace next went to stay at the Government bungalow at Ayer Panas as described in this excerpt:

“At Ayer-panas we had a comfortable house to stay in and plenty of room to dry and preserve our specimens. I was one afternoon walking along a favourite road through the forest when I saw a butterfly on the ground. It was large, handsome and quite new to me and I got close to it before it flew away. I then observed that it had been settling on the dung of some carnivorous animal. Thinking that it might return to the same spot, I next day took my net, and as I approached the place was delighted to see the same butterfly sitting on the same piece of dung, and succeeded in capturing it. It was an entirely new species of great beauty, and has been named by Mr. Hewitson – Nymphalis calydona. I never saw another specimen of it, and it was only after twelve years had elapsed that a second individual reached this country from the north-western part of Borneo.”

nymphalis calydonia

Kampung Ayer Panas still exists and is where Jasin Hot Spring is located. I could find no trace or record of the Government resthouse bungalow. In 1854 it would likely have been a rudimentary wooden construction and was probably eaten by termites long ago.

Most of the ‘forest’ mentioned by Wallace has now been turned over to oil palm plantations so the chances of finding his rare butterfly there today are, I would imagine, slim. I did see a beautiful blue kingfisher amidst the oil palms.

Next Instalment: Mt. Ophir.

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