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THE SHOM PEN
the coconuts that lay about. When purchasing these, they give a bag of rice for 530 nuts, which sell at Singapore for $15. Barter worth $1 is given for half a dozen bundles of rattan, which fetch about $12 in the same market. The trade of this island is mostly in canes, for very few more coconuts are produced than suffice for the wants of the inhabitants.
“The one beehive hut in the village was occupied by an old man named Awang, with his wife and child. A large charm hung in the centre of the house--a frame about 8 feet by 6 feet, covered with palm leaves, across the top a row of birds, and at the foot a line of wooden men, each supplied with a ration of fat pork.
"Our persistent inquiries about the Shom Pen seemed to amuse Awang excessively; but we were delighted to find we had arrived in their neighbourhood at last. The aborigines live a short distance in the interior, and often come down to the coast; as they would do on the morrow, when we should have an opportunity of meeting them, since notice had been sent that the traders were waiting to purchase their stock of rattan.
“The inland tribe is split into two main divisions. The larger inhabits the interior proper, and is still hostile (there was a man in the village with some ugly open wounds beneath the shoulderblades, who had been speared by them close to the houses a year ago); the members of the other division, who form small settlements near the coast villages, are known as “mawas Shom Pen” (quiet, or tame Shom Pen), and are on intimate terms with the Nicobarese, fearing equally with them the wilder natives. When the latter are out on the warpath, the friendlies come down to the shore, and, with the coast people, leave the district by canoe until it is safe to return.
“The village is surrounded by open scrub and jungle, in which large numbers of screw-pines flourish. The little scarlet-breasted Aethopyga was common here, and numbers of them were fitting about the crowns of the coco palms, searching the fruit-stalks and bases of the leaves for insects.
“Good paths ran through the jungle, and following one to the southward, we reached the shore of Casuarina Bay, so named from the long grove of dark-foliaged trees that extends right along the coast. All round the head of the bay white surf rolled on the flat sandy beach, but there was a fair landing-place within the point, protected by a reef, and free from breakers.
“Before returning to the village we shot a number of tupais, some sunbirds, and a serpent-eagle. The local dogs all wore a large coconut slung loosely about the neck. This heavy burdening would hardly meet with the approval of the S.P.C.A.; but it prevents the dogs from chasing sows and their litters, and is a most effective hobble, as it hangs right between the fore-legs.
"Darkness was approaching as we passed through the village, and the fowls were all retiring to rest in the branches of the trees -a return to early habits that they may indulge in with security in these islands, where no mammal more dangerous than the monkey exists.
“The boat soon came off to fetch us in answer to a hail, and we returned to the schooner, where, after a bath and a dinner, we settled down to an evening's work.”
"March 18.-Armed respectively with guns and camera, we struck inland, at sunrise, along a path running eastward through beautiful open forest. The ground was level, and our way lay for some time within sound of the breakers of Casuarina Bay. Picking up a bird now and again as we went along, we had proceeded some three or four miles when we heard the sound of voices in the bush. We stopped for a moment to listen, and then moved on. Presently the roof of a hut appeared between the trees. “Shom Pen!” we whispered, and, creeping down the path with the idea of getting among them before they could run, did they feel inclined, walked—oh, miserable swindle !—into a camp of Nicobarese rattan-gatherers; for the numerous bundles of canes hanging from the trees, and the heaps of scrapings, showed plainly what their occupation was.
“In a clearing about 30 yards across, surrounded by jungle, and standing in the shade of a few isolated trees, five huts stood along the bank of a little brook.