The steamer's first halt on the wild eastern coast of Celebes is the gold-mining settlement of Todok, where the Company's rustic offices of palm-thatched bamboo border an enchanting bay, with a string of green islets studding the shoaling blue and purple of the gleaming depths. Two passengers disembark for the ebony plantations on the slopes of a volcanic range, declaring itself by a slight earthquake rocking the atap shanty, where the ship's officer who tallies the cargo, offers hospitality until the fierce heat modifies sufficiently for a stroll.
A dusty and shadeless road leads up into the wooded hills which bound the prospect, but the campong, largely consisting of recently-constructed dwellings, occupied by alien employés in the service of the Gold Syndicate, offers no inducements for exploration, and until the launch returns, a shadowy palm-grove by the wayside makes a welcome retreat from the dust and glare, the creaking of innumerable bullock-waggons, and the shouts of crew and coolies, disputing over the loading of a raft.
The arrival at Gorontalo in the radiant dawn provides a more interesting experience. The river which forms the beautiful harbour, rushes through a profound ravine of the forest-clad mountains, which descend sharply to the water's edge. The scene resembles a Norwegian fiord, translated into tropical terms of climate and vegetation. A narrow track climbs the ledges of a cliff behind the brown fishing campong of Liato, but a rude wharf on the opposite side affords a less picturesque though safer landing, for the swirling currents of the swift stream require more careful navigation than the amphibious boatman, unembarrassed by clothing, is wont to bestow on craft or passenger. The spirit of enterprise is also in abeyance, scotched if not killed by the struggles of the memorable pilgrimage through the Minahasa. The quiet haven in the shadow of the guardian hills looks an ideal haunt of peace. A Dutch battleship lies at anchor, and the red sails of a wide-winged prau make broken reflections in the rippling clearness of the green water. A wooden bridge crosses the river at the narrow end of the funnel-shaped harbour, connecting it with the town in the steaming valley, the usual medley of open tokos and atap huts, supplemented by two dubious hotels, a green aloon-aloon, and a few stone houses denoting the presence of the European element. The original inhabitants of Gorontalo are of Alfoer race—dark, glum, and forbidding. How this ancient stock, indigenous to some of the southern islands in the Malay Archipelago, wandered from thence to distant Celebes has not been satisfactorily accounted for. The records of savage tribes depend on oral tradition, but the outlines of an oft-told tale become blurred and dim during the lapse of ages, when the mental calibre of the racial type lacks normal acumen. The graces of life are ignored by the Alfoer woman, her mouth invariably distorted by the red lump of betel-nut, accommodated with difficulty, and rendering silence imperative. Her bowed shoulders become deformed with the heavy loads perpetually borne, for the rising trade of Gorontalo supplies the men with more congenial employment than the field work, which frequently becomes the woman's province. A straight road between crowding palms crosses a wide rice-plain, opening out of the cleft carved by the mountain river, and leads to the curious Lake of Limbotto, a green mass of luxuriant water-weeds, the dense vegetation solidifying into floating islands of verdure, intersected by narrow channels, only navigable to a native bloto skilfully handled, for Nature alternately builds up and disperses these flowery oases, blocking up old water-ways and opening new ones with bewildering confusion. Buffaloes wallow between the tangled clumps of pink lotus and purple iris, and wild ducks nest in the waving sedges, or darken the air in a sudden flight down the long lake. A noisy market flanks the water, and bronze figures, in red turbans row gaily-clad women, laden with purchases, to some distant campong, reached through the mazes of verdure. The country passer, a shifting scene of gaudy colouring, contains greater elements of interest than commercial Gorontalo, where the native campong loses individuality in gaining the prosaic adjuncts of a trading centre. The lovely harbour dreams in the moonlight as we steam slowly out of the widening estuary to pick up cargo in the great bay of Tomini, which sweeps in a mighty curve round half the Eastern coast of Celebes. The conical island of Oena-Oena rises sheer from the waves, the red peak of a lofty volcano composing the apex of a green pyramid, formed by a forest of palms. Until six years ago no anchorage for ships was possible at this forest-clad isle, but a volcanic eruption deepened the bay, and a thriving trade in copra was initiated, for the whole surface of Oena-Oena is clothed with a dense mass of drooping cocoanut trees. Scattered dwellings nestle in the thick woods, but no regular campong exists in this thinly-peopled spot, a vernal Eden set in the purple sea. The heat of the day, though intense, is everywhere tempered by the interlacing canopies of the feathery fronds, until sunset fuses them into the vivid transparency of green fire, and a fluttering zephyr stirs the whispering foliage. The shy brown people, who at first hide in their atap huts at the approach of strangers, venture out to see the last of the departing steamer, which forms the sole link between barbarism and civilisation, and a month must elapse before any contact with the outside world can vary the seclusion of this lonely spot, a dreamland vision of repose. At Posso, the next port on Celebes, we land a Dutch officer, bound for the important barracks on a hill above the straggling campong, after a successful expedition against the tree-dwellers, cannibals, and slave-traders of the interior, still sunk in barbarism. An olive-green river, infested with crocodiles, flows sluggishly through rank vegetation into the sea below the dilapidated huts of the depressing native town. This forlorn outpost of military duty involves exile from civilisation, and the risk of occasional raids from the wild tribes of the surrounding hills.
At Parigi, canopied by spreading palms, the atap houses, with bamboo rafters strengthening the fragile walls, stand in neglected gardens, overgrown with a tangle of flower and foliage. The low tide makes the dangerous bloto a necessity, though the hollowed tree, top heavy and water-logged, is in imminent peril of capsizing every minute of the long course between ship and shore. Objections to a boat upsetting in shallow water being beyond Malay comprehension, the only way of accomplishing the transit in safety is by a summary command that two brown boys should immediately jump overboard to lighten the rocking craft. Nothing loth, they swim to shore in our wake, rolling over in the sand to dry themselves like Newfoundland dogs, and with less embarrassment on the score of clothing. A native Queen or Maharanee rules Parigi from her bamboo palace in the deepest recesses of the adjacent palm-forest, but she is invisible to her subjects, and dwells in the seclusion of purdah, possibly a relic of Indian origin. Her nominal authority proves insufficient to keep the peace between the native population and the Dutch, for Parigi has been for months in a state of insurrection and unrest. Only a year ago a raid was made on the Eurasian merchant's office wherein I take shelter from the noonday sun, and two white men were attacked by a band who rushed down from the mountains and cut off their heads. The ringleader of the assassins is now imprisoned for life in the gaol of Batavia, no capital punishment being permitted in the Netherlands India. An immense cargo of copra and rattan fills a fleet of boats and rafts. The great stacks of cane cause no annoyance, but the sickening smell of copra (the dried and shredded cocoanut used for oil) pervades the ship, and an occasional cockroach of crab-like dimensions clatters across the deck in his coat of mail from a hiding place in the unsavoury cargo. The philosophic Hollander accepts these horrors of the tropics with undisturbed composure, but happily for the peace of the English passenger, the Malay "room-boy" welcomes a new idea, and becomes gradually inspired with the ardour of the chase. Ominous clouds darken over the Bay of Tomini as we embark once more on the rolling waters, having completed the circuit of the vast island, possessing a coast-line of 2,500 miles. Blue peaks and waving palms recede into the mists of falling night. We are once more afloat on a sleeping sea, the restful monotony of wind and wave enabling indelible impressions of each varying scene to sink deeply into mind and memory, and preventing the too rapid succession of travelling experiences.