From the railway station at Batavia the comfortless "dos-a-dos," colloquially known as the sado, a vehicle resembling an elementary Irish car, and drawn by a rat-like Timor pony transports us to the fashionable suburb of Weltevreden, away from the steamy port and fever-haunted commercial capital. The march of modern improvement scarcely affects old-world Java, where jolting sado and ponderous milord remain unchanged since the early days of colonisation, for time is a negligeable quantity in this lotus-eating land, too apathetic even to adopt those alleviations of tropical heat common to British India. The Java of the ancient world was considered "The Jewel of the East," and possesses many claims to her immemorial title, but the stolid Dutchman of to-day contents himself with the domestic arrangements which sufficed for his sturdy forefathers, scorning the mitigations of swinging punkah or electric fan. The word Batavia signifies "fair meadows," and these swampy fields of rank vegetation, exhaling a deadly miasma, were considered such an adequate defence against hostile attack, that forts were deemed unnecessary in a locality where 87,000 soldiers and sailors died in the Government Hospital during the space of twenty years. Batavia proper is a commonplace city of featureless streets, brick-walled canals, and ramshackle public buildings, but the residential town of Weltevreden, suggesting a glorified Holland, combines the quaint charm of the mother country with the Oriental grace and splendour of the tropics. The broad canals bordered by colossal cabbage-palms, the white bridges gay with the many coloured garb of the Malay population, the red-tiled roofs embowered in a wealth of verdure, and the pillared verandahs veiled with gorgeous creepers, tumbling in sheets of purple and scarlet from cornice to floor, compose a characteristic picture, wherein Dutch individuality triumphs over incongruous environment. Waving palms clash their fronds in the sea-breeze; avenues of feathery tamarind and bending waringen trees surround Weltevreden with depths of green shadow; the scarlet hybiscus flames amid tangled foliage, where the orange chalices of the flowering Amherstia glisten from sombre branches, and hang like fairy goblets from the interwoven roofs of tropical tunnels, pierced by broad red roads. On this Sunday afternoon of the waning year which introduces us to Weltevreden, family groups are gathered round tea tables canopied with flowers and palms, in the white porticos of the Dutch villas, and the startling déshabille adopted by Holland in the Netherlands India almost defies description. The ladies, with stockingless feet thrust into heelless slippers, and attired in the Malay sarong (two yards of painted cotton cloth), supplemented by a white dressing-jacket, display themselves in verandah, carriage, or street, in a garb only fit for the bath-room; while the men, lounging about in pyjamas, go barefoot with the utmost sangfroid. The sarong, as worn by the slender and graceful Malay, appears a modest and appropriate garb, but the grotesque effect of native attire on the broad-built Dutchwoman affords conclusive proof that neither personal vanity nor a sense of humour pertain to her stolid personality. Dutch Puritanism certainly undergoes startling transformations under the tropical skies, and the Netherlands India produces a modification of European ideas concerning what have been called "the minor moralities of life," unequalled in colonial experience. An identical exhibition fills the open corridors of the Hotel Nederlanden, built round a central court, and the general resort of the guests during the hot hours of the January days. Evening dress is reserved for State occasions, and though sarong and kabaja be discarded at the nine o'clock dinner, the blouse and skirt of morning wear in England suffices even at this late hour for the fair Hollander, who also concedes so far to the amenities of civilisation as sometimes to put on her stockings. So much of life in Java is spent in eating, sleeping, and bathing, that but a small residuum can be spared for those outside interests which easily drop away from the European when exiled to a colony beyond the beaten track of travel, and destitute of that external friction which counteracts the enervating influence of the tropics. Comfort is at a discount according to English ideas, but the arrangements of the Hotel Nederlanden, under a kindly and capable proprietor, render it an exception to the prevailing rule. Each guest is apportioned a little suite, consisting of bedroom, sitting-room, and a section of the verandah, fitted up with cane lounge, table, and rocking-chair. The bathrooms, with porcelain tank and tiles, leave nothing to be desired, and the "dipper-bath," infinitely cooler than the familiar tub, becomes an unfailing delight. Ominous prophecies have emphasised the rashness of coming to Java in the rainy season, but it has expended its force before January arrives, and though daily showers cool the air, and the sky is often overcast, no inconvenience is experienced. Lizards and mosquitoes are few, and in the marble-floored dining hall of cathedral proportions the absence of a punkah is generally unfelt, though the fact of a tropical climate is realised at the slightest exertion. The day begins at 6 a.m. with a cup of the Java coffee, which, at first unpalatable, reveals by degrees the hidden excellence of the beverage, brought cold in a stoppered cruet, the potent essence requiring a liberal admixture of boiling water. At 9 a.m. a solid but monotonous breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs, and cheese is customary, with the accompaniment of iced water, though tea and coffee are provided for the foreign traveller, unused to the cold comfort which commends itself to Dutch taste. The mid-day riz-tavel from beginning to end of a stay in Java, remains the terror of the English visitor. Each plate is heaped with a mound of rice, on which scraps of innumerable ingredients are placed—meat, fish, fowl, duck, prawns, curry, fried bananas, and nameless vegetables, together with chilis and chutneys, sembals, spices, and grated cocoanut, in bewildering profusion. The Dutch digestion triumphantly survives this severe test at the outset of the meal, and courageously proceeds to the complementary courses of beefsteak, fritters and cheese. Fortunately for those of less vigorous appetite, mine host of the Nederlanden, far in advance of his Javanese fraternity, kindly provides a simple "tiffin" as an alternative to this Gargantuan repast. Afternoon tea is served in the verandah, and at eight o'clock the Dutch contingent, having slept off the effects of the rice table, prepares with renewed energies to attack a heavy dinner. New Year's Eve is celebrated by a very bombardment of fireworks from the Chinese campong, and crowds hasten to the fine Roman Catholic church for Benediction, Te Deum, and an eloquent, though to me incomprehensible, Dutch sermon. Crisp muslins and uncovered heads for the women, and white linen garb for the men, are the rule in church, for the slatternly undress of sarong and pyjamas is happily inadmissible within the walls of the sanctuary, where the fair fresh faces and neat array compose a pleasing picture which imagination would fail to evolve from the burlesque ugliness of the slovenly déshabille wherewith the Dutch colonist disguises every claim to beauty or grace. On alluding to the shock experienced by this grotesque travesty of native garb, a Dutch officer asserts that there are in reality but few Dutch ladies in Java of pure racial stock, for one unhappy result of remoteness from European influence is shown by the gradual merging of the Dutch colonists into the Malay race by intermarriage. Exile to Java was made financially easy and attractive by the Dutch Government, but it was for the most part a permanent separation from the mother country, and a long term of years necessarily elapsed before the colonial planter could even return for a short visit to his native land. The overwhelming force of public opinion against mixed marriages, and the consequent degeneration of type, from a union which lowers one of the contracting parties without raising the other, beats but faintly against these remote shores, cut off from associations which mould and modify the crudities of individual thought in regions swept by the full tide of contemporary life. The idea of welding European and Asiatic elements into one race, as a defence against external aggression, possesses a superficial plausibility, but ages of historical experiment only confirm the unalterable truth of the poetic dictum that
East is East, and West is West, And never the two shall meet. Until they stand on either hand, At God's great Judgment Seat!
The sudden rise of an Oriental race to the position of a great world-power, and the apprehensions of coming struggles for supremacy in Eastern waters, present many future complications concerning Java, even if not weakened by the assimilation of her European colonists to an inferior race.
Neither landlord nor secretary of the Hotel Nederlanden spare time or trouble in arranging the programme of sight-seeing, and but for their kindly help, only a partial success would be possible, owing to the difficulties presented by the two unknown tongues of Dutch and Malay. Ignorance of the former involves separation from the world as revealed by newspapers, and though a smattering of "coolie Malay" is picked up with the aid of a handbook, and the "hundred words" mastered, sanguinely asserted to suffice for colloquial needs, there are many occasions when even the practice of this elementary language requires a more extensive vocabulary. At a New Year's fête given by the proprietor of the hotel to his numerous Malay employés, we make our first acquaintance with native music. Dancing girls, in mask and tinsel, gyrate to the weird strains of the Gamelon, an orchestra of tiny gongs, bamboo tubes, and metal pipes. Actors perform old-world dramas in dumb show, and conjurors in gaudy attire attract people of all ages to those time-honoured feats of legerdemain which once represented the sorcery of the mystic East. The simple Malay has not yet adopted the critical and unbelieving attitude which rubs the gilt off the gingerbread or the bloom off the plum, and his fervid faith in mythical heroes and necromantic exploits gives him the key to that kingdom of fancy often closed to a sadder if wiser world. The electric tram provides an excellent method of gaining a general idea of Batavia and Weltevreden; the winding route skirting canals and palm groves, campongs of basket-work huts, and gay passers, the native markets, with their wealth of many-coloured fruit. Stacks of golden bananas, olive-tinted dukus, rambutans like green chestnut-shells with scarlet prickles, amber star-fruit, brown salak, the "forbidden apple," bread-fruit, and durian offer an embarassing choice. Pineapples touch perfection on Java soil; cherimoya and mango, papaya and the various custard-fruits, the lovely but tasteless rose-apple, and the dark green equatorial orange of delicious flavour, afford a host of unfamiliar experiences. The winter months are the season of the peerless mangosteen, in beauty as well as in savour the queen of tropical fruits. The rose-lined purple globes, with the central ball of ivory whiteness in each fairy cup, suggest fugitive essences of strawberry and nectarine combined with orange to produce this equatorial marvel, also considered perfectly wholesome. The mangosteen, ripening just north or south of the Equator, according to the alternations of the wet and dry seasons, cannot be preserved long enough to reach the temperate zone, and though every year shows fresh varieties of tropical fruit successfully transported to European markets, the mangosteen remains unknown outside the narrow radius of the equatorial region to which the tree is indigenous. The flower markets blaze with many-coloured roses, tons of gardenias and a wealth of white heavy-scented flowers, such as tuberoses and Arabian jasmine. All the spices of the East, in fact, seem breathing from these mounds of blossom, as well as from gums and essences distilled from them in archaic fashion. Transparent sachets, filled with the scented petals of ylang-ylang, fill the air with intoxicating sweetness, and outside the busy passer, a frangipanni-tree, the native sumboya or "flower of the dead," just opening a white crowd of golden-hearted blossoms to the sun, adds another wave of perfume to the floral incense, steaming from earth to sky with prodigal exuberance.
Batavia possesses few objects of interest. The dismal green-shuttered Stadkirche, a relic of Dutch Calvinism; the earliest warehouse of the Netherlands Company, a commonplace lighthouse, and the gate of Peter Elberfeld's dwelling (now his tomb), with his spear-pierced skull above the lintel, as a reminder of the sentence pronounced on traitors to the Dutch Government, comprise the scanty catalogue. Antiquities and archæological remains fill a white museum of classical architecture on the Koenig's Plein, a huge parade ground, flanked by the Palace of the Governor-General. Gold and silver ornaments, gifts from tributary princes, shield and helmet, dagger, and kris, of varied stages in Malay civilisation, abound in these spacious halls, where every Javanese industry may be studied. Buddhist and Hindu temples have yielded up a treasury of images, censers, and accessories of worship, the excavations of ruined cities in Central Java, long overgrown with impenetrable jungle, opening a mine of archæological wealth in musical instruments, seals, coins, headgear, chairs and umbrellas of State. Golden pipes and betel-boxes show the perfection of the goldsmith's art, and metal statues vie with those of sculptured wood or stone. Here Captain Cook left his treasure trove from the Southern seas, and the Council Chamber of the Museum contains portraits and souvenirs of the great navigators who sailed into the uncharted ocean of geographical discovery, and in various stages of their adventurous careers anchored at Java, to display the wondrous trophies of unknown lands in the island then regarded as the farthest outpost of contemporary civilisation.
The toelatingskaart, or Javanese passport, formerly indispensable for insular travel beyond the radius of forty miles from Batavia, though not yet obsolete, proves practically needless, and is never once demanded during a six weeks' stay. The small addition contributed to the rich revenue by this useless official "permit," appears the sole reason for retaining it, now that vexatious restrictions are withdrawn. In the intervals of arranging an up-country tour from monotonous Weltevreden, destitute of any attraction beyond the white colonnades and verdant groves flanking sleepy canals and quaint bridges, the local industry of sarong stippling affords a curious interest. Every city in Java possesses a special type of this historic dress, represented on the walls of temples dating before the Christian era, and worn by the Malay races from time immemorial. This strip of cotton cloth, which forms the attire both of men and women, is twisted firmly round the body, and requires no girdle to secure it. Palm-fronds, birds, and animals, geometric patterns, religious emblems, fruits and flowers, are represented in bewildering confusion. The girls, with flower-decked hair and scanty garb, occupy a long, low shed, filled with rude frames for stretching the cloth, painted in soft-tinted dyes—brown, blue, and amber for the most part—with tapering funnels. These waxed cloths allow infinite scope for native imagination, only a small panel of formal design being obligatory, the remaining surface fancifully coloured at will in harmonious hues. No two sarongs are alike, and the painted battek, notwithstanding the simplicity of the cotton background, represents an amount of labour and finish which makes the archaic garment a costly, though almost indestructible production. The graceful slandang, a crossed scarf of the same material, only serves as a shoulder-strap, wherein the brown Malay baby sits contentedly, for the ugly white jacket of the Dutchwoman is now compulsory on the native. Every variety of battek, basket-work, mats, and quaint silver or brass ware, is brought by native peddlers to the broad verandahs of the hotel, the patient and gentle people content to spend long hours on the marble steps, dozing between their scanty bargains, or crimsoning their months with the stimulating morsel of betel-nut, said to allay the hunger, thirst, and exhaustion of the steaming tropics. The conquered race, cowed by ages of tyranny under native princes, possesses those mild and effeminate characteristics fostered by a languid and enervating climate. That the salient angles of the sturdy Dutch character, which accomplished so many feats of endurance in the earlier days of the colony, should undergo rapid disintegration by intermarriage with the native stock, must arouse regret in all who realise the claims to respect possessed by the fighting forefathers of Holland's tropical dependencies.
Educational matters were for centuries in abeyance, and until 1864 the Malays were forbidden to learn the language of their European rulers. Many dialects are found in Java's wide territory, but Low Malay has been declared the official tongue, and with the advance of public opinion, wider views prevail concerning the rights of the subject race. A good Roman Catholic priest, one of the most enlightened and liberal Dutchmen encountered in Java, asserts that in the schools of the Colonial Government, the Malay boy possesses a mathematical facility superior to that of the Dutch scholar, in spite of the advantage accruing from hereditary education.
At the sunset hour, Batavian life awakens from the long slumbers of the tropical afternoon, and as the golden light filters through the waving palms, the long Schul-Weg, beside the central canal, fills with saunterers, enjoying the delights of that brief spell, when peace and coolness fall on the world before the sudden twilight drops veil after veil of deepening gloom, merging into the "darkness which may be felt," for the twelve hours of the tropical night. Gathering clouds reveal but scanty glimpses of the moon in these January weeks, but through rifts in the sombre canopy, the Southern stars hang low in the dome of heaven, and shine like burning lamps, appearing almost within reach of an outstretched hand.