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THE SHOM PEŃ
be of Negrito origin, but much interbred with Malays. Mr H. Lake * writes: “The true Jakun is of short stature, 5 feet 2 inches is a fair average height. They are much darker in colour than the Malay, and, as a rule, not so well set up. The hair, which in the pure Negrito curls closely, is here in most cases simply wavy, or even straight. They live in small communities, and subsist miserably on fruits, roots, etc. They seldom remain many weeks in the same spot, but wander from place to place, living under scanty shelters built on rickety poles at a considerable height from the ground. It is not uncommon to find a dozen in company, with a tame monkey or two, cats and dogs, living in perfect harmony under the same roof.”
We may therefore consider the Shom Peń to be the aborigines of the group, who, although everywhere else either exterminated or absorbed by settlers from outside, have in Great Nicobar found a refuge in the forest depths, and by long-standing hostility to the intruders, arising from some unknown cause, have preserved to a great extent their natural traits and existence, although somewhat degenerated, both on account of the less favourable circumstances in which they live and of the interbreeding that the smallness of their numbers compels.
Although the Shom Pen are by measurement as tall in the average as the coast people, to the eye they appear smaller, and they are less robust, with lean though bony figures (average chest measurements, 35.2 inches), sinewy rather than muscular.
Fourteen measurements of adult males gave a maximum height of 67inches, a minimum of 62} inches, and an average height of 64 inches. Of eight women measured, the tallest was 657 inches in height, and the smallest 578 inches, while the average stature of that number was found to be 60.8 inches.
The colour of the skin is a dark muddy-brown or bronze (several shades deeper than the coast natives), but it is liable to slight variation, and is generally a little paler in the women and girls, who resemble far more distinctly the coarse Malayan type than the men do.
* Jour. Royal Geog. Soc., 1899, p. 288.
The hair of the head is very luxuriant, and of all varieties between wavy and curly, but is not crisp or frizzly to any degree. No hair grows on the face, or on the body, save about the armpits, etc.
The outline of the face is an oblong rectangle, and the forehead is somewhat retreating, but occasionally high and rounded, though narrow; the supraciliary arch is prominent, but the eyebrows are light. The eyes, with black pupils, are both oblique and horizontal, and when the latter, are often accompanied by the Mongolian fold, which occurs most frequently among the women.
The nose is broad and flattened, with rounded tip and rather rounded nostrils, the plane of which is upward. It is generally of medium size and straight, but now and again has a pronounced bridge, or a slightly concave outline.
The cheekbones and zygomatic arch are prominent, and a degree of prognathism is prevalent. The teeth are large, irregular, and discoloured, and project outwards. The mouth is large, the lips thick, with the upper very curved from centre to ends; they are generally closed. The lower jaw is commonly large and heavy, and the chin is pointed, as the bones converge directly from the basal angle. The ears lie close to the head, and are hidden by the hair, but the lobes are much distorted with plugs of wood.
The huts in which the Shom Pen dwell, although always built on piles, show considerable differences, and vary from a well-built foor with a carefully constructed roof of palm leaf attap, to a rough platform often placed against the side of a tree and sheltered by two or three palm branches fastened to the corners.*
They are said to possess gardens enclosed in zigzag fences, where they cultivate bananas, yams, and other tubers. The
*“Those that are of a permanent character sometimes partake of the same bee-hive form which commonly marks the dwellings of the coast people, being in like manner raised on posts 6 or 8 feet above the ground.”—E. H. Man, Jour. Anthrop. Inst., vol. xv.
THE SHOM PEŃ
pandanus fruit they cook in a well-made vessel of sheets of bark, carefully protected with green leaves and luted with clay, in which we can, perhaps, see one of the origins of pottery; for it is quite admissible that, in course of time, the leaves should be discarded, more clay added, and at length the effect of fire on the latter having been observed, the bark also would be done away with, or only used as a mould for a clay vessel, from which more suitable shapes would finally be evolved.
The domestic animals are dogs, cats, chickens, and pigs, which are generally caught when young in the jungle, and apparently not permitted to attain any respectable size. All find a refuge in the houses, up to which a sort of inclined plane is arranged for their convenience.
Their manufactures are very few. They make canoes ; construct a spear out of a single piece of wood, baskets, both of rattan and palm spathe, and a rough cloth from the inner bark of a tree.*
The friendly Shom Pen are energetic collectors of rattan, which they trade with the Nicobarese, and so obtain garments, beads, knives, parangs, axes, and tobacco, which is smoked in the form of cigarettes. They are great consumers of betel-nut, in combination with lime and sireh.
Amongst these friendly families, the clothing worn is similar to that of the Nicobarese, with necklaces of beads, and they employ a large wooden ear-distender an inch and a half in diameter. † The sheets of bark cloth are used as pillows and coverings at night, and amongst the hostile aborigines it is said the women wear short petticoats of this material, while the men go entirely clothesless.
Amongst those met with, there was generally one man in each party, who, by virtue possibly of superior intelligence or knowledge of the coast language, seemed to have some slight authority over the remainder.
* Ficus brevicuspis.
+ A similar ornament is worn in Sumatra, and also among the Dyaks and Punans in Borneo ; vide Carl Bock's Headhunters, plates 10 and 21.