« PreviousContinue »
chief articles of commerce with the natives, who, unfortunately, have acquired a taste for arrack, brought from the Straits of Malacca by the small vessels which visit the islands for commercial purposes. The Nicobarians are infinitely more intelligent than the Andamans. M. de Röpstorff tells us that they are great linguists. The old men talk Portuguese, the middle-aged men English, the young men Burmese, the boys
Hindustani, and everybody speaks Malay.
This shows in whose hands the trade bas been for the last sixty or seventy years, and how it has changed.
M. de Röpstorff has a good opinion of the Nicobars. They consist of eight larger and nine smaller islands, and from their position are all tropical; but the temperature, though debilitating, is uniform. The rainfall is about 100 inches per annum ; but, as in the Andamans, it varies much in different years. Volcanic action has left its trace over the whole of the islands, and the washing down of the soil from the hills has formed swampy plains here and there. On this alluvium the writer whom we have just quoted describes mangroves as growing close to the sea, and on the land, elevated
above high water-mark, screw-pine groves abound. All around the islands, more or less, a coralline alluvium has formed, and fringing reefs of coral stretch far out into the sea. The Great Nicobar, the Little Nicobar, and the Katchall are of “brown coral formation,” but the other islands are of volcanic origin, and covered with a peculiar clay, full of minute shells, sharks' teeth, and whales' bones, proving that it must have been formed in the deep sea. The “brown coral formation ” of Rink supports a luxurious jungle down to the very edge of the sea, while the islands of clay on volcanic rocks are only covered with high, useless “lalang' grass, which is fringed towards the sea with jungle. The coralline alluvium is covered with cocoa-nut trees, but the interior of each of the southern islands is still a terra incognita. “The jungle is high, and difficult to get through, interwoven with rattan and thorny creepers; and though magnificent to look at, it is very unhealthy. Into it no ray of light penetrates through the massive foliage of the giant trees; and without light no flower thrives.” The colonisation of the Nicobars by the British has been more successful than the Danish attempts, in so far that proper stores, houses, &c., have been provided ; but almost every fresh arrival has to undergo that seasoning operation which takes the form of catching an obstinate and dangerous jungle fever. “If,” writes M. de Röpstorff, Government succeeds in making its little penal settlement healthy, settlers from Penang will not be wanting, and the place will soon thrive, for it lies in the highway of all the trade of Bengal. In this bay terrible hurricanes often meet the ships, and there is no harbour which could offer a better shelter than Nancowry. It is sheltered from all winds, and can be entered from the west or east. It could easily be provided with docks, as there are deep and sheltered bays. The cocoa-nuts which abound would offer the settlers something profitable to commence with, but the best profits would be from growing cotton and spices. The edible birds'-nests, which the Chinamen prize, would at once bring in a little revenue; and the guano in the subterranean caves of Katchall would be valuable for manure. There is not enough for exportation, but it would be useful for local purposes. The cotton grown at the Nicobars has been reported upon, and it appears that it is better than any Indian cotton.
Every fruit planted there has succeeded well, and we know from the Danish settlement that spices thrive well. Hill paddy (rice) gave a very good crop in 1872, when it was experimentally grown. Building materials are plentiful; and I think it is only a question of time when the Nicobars will become a flourishing colony, and though one of the latest, perhaps not the least jewel in Her Majesty's crown.” So little are the Nicobars known that it is only recently that the rumour has been verified that in the interior of the Great Nicobar there lives a tribe, not of Papuan or Negrito origin, as are the Nicobarians at large, but of Mongolian race.*
* Röpstorff : Geographical Magazine, Feb., 1875, p. 44, Feb., 1878, p. 39 ; Steen-Bille: “Corvetten Galatheas Jordomseiling” (1849) ; Rink: “Die Nikobarischen Inseln" (1847); Kurz: Journal of Botany (N.S.), Vol. IV., P. 321; Blyth : Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XV., p. 367; Rosen : “ Erendringer fra mit ophold paa de Nikobarske Oer” (1839); Birch : Calcutta Review, July, 1878; and Distant: Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 1876, p. 209, where will be found a complete bibliography of the literature of the group up to date.
The voyager who approaches Ceylon from Europe usually sights it near break of day. The north-east monsoon is blowing, and Adam's Peak, 7,420 feet high, towering majestically above the other lofty mountains of which it forms a part, is generally visible; but the fleecy clouds which frequently hang around the summit conceal the cap of the holy mount of the Buddhists from view, though at other times it may often be seen sixty miles from land, looking at that distance like a pillar of smoke. But the cautious mariner, as he nears the coast of this famous island, gives the north-west shores of it a wide berth, for they are beset with shoals, sandbanks, rocks, and reefs. Some of these, like Adam's Bridge and the Island of Rameseram, almost bridge over Palk’s Strait, which separates Ceylon from India. The west and south coasts are low, and fringed with cocoa-nut trees, which grow down to the water's edge, and impart to the island the beautiful appearance for which it is so justly celebrated. However, from Point de Galle (p. 164) to Trincomalee the shores are bold and precipitous. The ample vegetation which is characteristic of the coasts we have left is no longer found; a few dangerous rocks dot its shores, but the mariner may fearlessly approach this side of the island, though he will miss the “back waters" and inlets of the sea which on the south and west afforded so many useful harbours for small craft. The island is noted for its loveliness, and the numerous writers who have expatiated on its charms have in no degree exaggerated them. It would be impossible to do so; for though some of their data will not bear critical examination, in other respects they fail to come up to the reality. The eye of the voyager, wearied with the monotony of sea, tired of green waves and “barren foam,” lights with relief on the varied expanse of verdure spread out before him, and listens with something like pleasure to the unwonted boom of the surf breaking on the flat beach, and sending its spray up to the very roots of the cocoa-nut trees. Colombo being an open roadstead, vessels must anchor at a considerable distance from the shore; but if the ship cannot come to them, the Singhalese come to the ship. Canoes and boats soon surround her, and up her sides clamber their crews, until the deck is covered with black, wellproportioned, but withal rather naked coolies. In the harbour itself the various native craft surrounding the new arrival supply abundant material for observation. Here is a Singhalese vessel, ark-like in form, and roofed over with thatch, which intensifies its domestic appearance; alongside it a Coromandel dhoney and a Bombay petamar; while, crossing and re-crossing the harbour, are cargo-boats heaped with lading for the vessels, “their swarthy rowers stimulating each other by a monotonous kind of chant; and the traveller lands amidst all the stir and confusion of an active commerce-crowds of coolies and bullock-carts, and piles of merchandise, rice, coffee, oil, and cinnamon." Ashore, the spectacle, especially to one coming from a long voyage, is still more pleasing. The landing-place at Colombo is very unlike the wharves in most ports with which the mariner is acquainted. Tulip-trees grow around the jetty and on each side of the principal streets, affording not only an agreeable shade from the tropical sun, but giving a garden-like appearance to the place, “their green leaves