This is the largest island in the world, except one. Borneo is of a different shape from our Britain, but if you could join Britain and Ireland in one, both together would not be as large as Borneo. Yet how unlike is Borneo to Britain! Britain is a Christian island. Borneo is a heathen island. Yet Borneo is not an island of idols, as Ceylon is. All heathens do not worship idols. I will tell you who live in Borneo, and you will see why there are so few idols there.
Many people have come from Malacca, and settled in Borneo; so the island is full of Malays. These people have a cunning and cruel look, and no wonder;—for many of them are PIRATES! It is a common custom in Borneo to go out in a large boat,—to watch for smaller boats,—to seize them—to bind the men in chains, and to bring them home as slaves. There are no seas in the world so dangerous to sail in, as the seas near Borneo, not only on account of the rocks, but on account of the great number of pirates. What is the religion of Borneo? It is Mahomedanism. But the Malays do not follow the laws of Mahomet as the Turks do. They do not mind the hours of prayer, nor do they attend regularly at the mosque. This is not surprising, for they do not understand the Koran. Mahomet wrote in Arabic, and the Malays do not understand Arabic. Why do they not get the Koran translated? Mahomet did not wish the book to be translated. Why then do not the Malays learn Arabic? I wonder they do not, but I suppose they are too idle, and too careless. The boys go to school and learn to read and write their own easy language—the Malay; and they learn also to repeat whole chapters of the Koran, but without understanding a word. Still they think it a great advantage to know these chapters, because they imagine that by repeating them, they can drive away evil spirits.
The Malays observe Mahomet’s law against eating pork; but many of them drink wine, though Mahomet forbids it. However, they follow Mahomet in not having dancing at their feasts; indeed, their behavior at feasts is sober and orderly, for they amuse themselves chiefly by singing, and repeating poems. They have only two meals a day, and they live chiefly upon rice, which they eat, sitting cross-legged on the floor. They get tea from China, and drink many cups during the day, in the same way as the Chinese.
The ladies are treated like the ladies of Turkey, and shut up in their houses, to spend their time in folly and idleness.
The men scarcely work at all, but employ the slaves they have stolen at sea, to labor in their fields. Their houses are not better than barns, and not nearly as strong; for the sides and roof are generally made only of large leaves. They are built upon posts, as in Siam. It is well to be out of the reach of the leeches, crawling on the ground.
The Malays dress in loose clothes, trowsers, and jacket, and broad sash; the women are wrapped in a loose garment, and wear their glossy black hair flowing over their shoulders. The rich men dress magnificently, and quite cover their jackets with gold, while the ladies delight to sparkle with jewels.