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from Jesselton for over a hundred miles, it is poorly constructed and indifferently equipped, the little tinpot engines frequently jumping the rails and landing in the river. A few years ago an attempt was made to open up the country by building a highway across the protectorate from coast to coast, but it was abandoned after perhaps sixty miles had been completed. It was known as the Sketchley Road, and it ran through a rank and unhealthy jungle, the home of miasma and pernicious fevers, every hundred yards of construction, it is said, having cost the life of a Chinese coolie. To-day the Sketchley Road is only a memory; it has been swallowed up by the voracious tropic vegetation.
The company has done nothing toward establishing a system of schools, as we have done in the Philippines, for it does not believe in educating the natives. Knowledge, the company officials argue, produces discontent. There are a few schools in North Borneo, but they are maintained by the Protestant and Roman Catholic missions and are attended mainly by Chinese. I doubt if they have been as much of an aid to proselytism as their founders expected.
Scattered along the coast and on the upper reaches of the rivers are numerous rubber, tobacco, coffee, sago, pepper, gambier, sugar, and cocoanut plantations, for in natural resources Borneo is enormously rich, though the difficulties presented by lack of labor and means of transportation have seriously hampered their develop ment. Just as school-teachers, clergymen, and others with no agricultural knowledge have attempted to engage in orange-growing in Florida and Cali
fornia, usually with disastrous results, so there are any number of persons at home in England who, though without experience and without capital, are convinced that they can make their fortunes growing rubber in Borneo. I was told a story-I do not vouch for its truth of a man who approached a London banker with a scheme for floating a Bornean rubber company.
"How many trees have you?" asked the banker.
"Oh," was the careless reply, "I have n't set out my trees yet."
"Where is your land situated?" "I have n't decided just where I shall buy my land."
"Then," demanded the banker, "what in Heaven's name have you?” "Three bags of seed," was the answer.
The greatest obstacle to the development of Borneo's enormous natural resources is the labor problem. To begin with, the natives flatly refuse to work for Europeans, preferring the indolence and ease of existence in their villages, where the labor is performed by the women. Indeed, in a land where the native has no need for clothing, where he can pick his food from the trees, and where a perfectly satisfactory dwelling can be built in a few hours from bamboo and nipa-leaves, there is no incentive for him to bestir himself. Hence the company has been forced, in order to provide labor for the plantations, to import large numbers of coolies from China. These coolies, whom the labor agents recruit by holding forth glittering promises of high wages, a delightful climate, unlimited opium, and other things dear to the Chinese heart, are employed under an indenture system, the duration of their contracts being limited
by law to three hundred days. But it is rare indeed that the coolie is able to return to China at the end of his time; the planters see to that. Almost as soon as he reaches the plantation where he is to be employed the laborer is given an advance, frequently amounting to thirty Singapore dollars, which he is encouraged to dissipate in opium and gambling, facilities for which are thoughtfully provided. This pernicious system of advances is general, the planters asserting that the Chinese will not work without them. Be that as it may, the advance has the effect, as it is intended to have, of chaining the laborer to the plantation under conditions approximating peonage. For the first advance is usually followed by a second, and that by a third, and to this debit column are added the charges made for food, for opium, for medical attendance, and for purchases made at the plantation store; so that, upon the expiration of his contract, the laborer almost invariably owes his employer a debt which he is quite unable to pay, and, as he cannot obtain employment on another plantation under those conditions, he is faced with the alternative of being shipped back to China penniless or signing another
The evils of this system are graphically described in a letter which I have received, since my return from British North Borneo, from a former official of the chartered company, who himself has held the post of assistant protector of labor, and therefore knows whereof he speaks.
One sees a large number of healthy, able-bodied Chinese coming into the country as laborers and, at the end of a year or two, instead of going back to
their homes with money in their pockets and healthy with outdoor work, they go back as broken beggars, pitifully saturated with disease or confirmed of them return home after a struggle of drug-fiends. It is really sad to see some four or five years to save money-a struggle not only against themselves and their acquired opium habit, but against the numerous parasites which always fatten on laborers.
During the term of his indenture the laborer is to all intents and purposes a prisoner, his only appeal against any injustices practised on the plantation being to the protector of labor, who is supposed to visit each estate once a month. In theory this system is admirable, but in practice it does not afford the laborer the protection which the Government intends, for it frequently happens that laborers who have been brutally mistreated have been coerced into silence by the plantation-managers by threats of what will happen to them if they dare to lay a complaint before the inspecting official. Moreover, many of the up-country plantations are so far removed from the European settlements on the coast that a manager can treat his laborers as he pleases, without fear of punishment or of public opinion. One of the most serious defects in the labor laws of British North Borneo is that trivial actions or omissions on the part of ignorant coolies, such as neglect of work, misconduct, or absence from the plantation without leave, are punishable by imprisonment. As a result, the illiterate coolie does not know where he stands. He knows that the estatemanager can haul him up before a magistrate whenever he likes, and he can never be sure that the most inno
cent mistake on his part will not bring him within the reach of the criminal law. Under the company's laws unruly laborers may also be punished by flogging. Though the law provides that a man shall not receive more than twelve lashes, it is scarcely necessary for me to point out that, in view of the remoteness from civilization of many of the plantations, this form of punishment is frequently characterized by grave abuse. It is no exaggeration, indeed, to assert that an inhuman manager can flog a coolie to death and, by intimidation of the witnesses, be reasonably certain of escaping punishment.
Although, as I have shown, the British North Borneo Company permits the existence of a condition not far removed from slavery, a far more serious indictment of the company's methods lies in its systematic debauchery of its laborers by encouraging them to indulge in opium-smoking and gambling for the purpose of swelling its revenues from these monopolies. When a coolie has spent all his earnings in the opium-dens and gambling-houses, he can usually realize a little more money for the same purpose by pawning his few poor belongings at one of the pawnshops, which are also controlled by the company. In other In other words, from the day a laborer lands in Borneo until the day he departs he is systematically fleeced of his earnings, which are diverted, through the channels provided by the opiumdens, the gambling-houses, and the pawnshops, into a stream which eventually empties into the company's treasury. The chartered company did not go to Borneo from any altruistic motives, mind you. It is not
animated by a desire to increase the well-being and contentment of the natives or of its imported laborers. It is there with one object in view and one alone-money. To quote from an address delivered by the chairman of the company at a North Borneo dinner in London: "They [the stockholders] have acted the parts of empire-makers, and yet they are filling their own pockets, for the golden rain is beginning to fall."
Let me tell you where this "golden rain" comes from. The two principal sources of revenue of the British North Borneo Company are derived from opium and gambling. Suppose that you come with me for a stroll down the Jalan Tiga in Sandakan and see the gambling-houses and opiumdens for yourself. The Jalan Tiga (literally "Number Two Street") is a moderately broad thoroughfare, perhaps a quarter of a mile in length, which is solidly lined on both sides. with gaming-houses, or, as they are called in called in Borneo, gambling-farms. Over every door in this street are signs in English, Chinese, and Malay announcing that games of chance are played within. From nightfall until sunrise these resorts are crowded to the doors with perspiring, half-naked brown or yellow patrons, for both the Malays and the Chinese are inveterate gamblers. The down-stairs rooms, which are frequented by the lower classes, are sprinkled with low tables covered with mats divided into four sections, each of which bears a number. A dice under a square brass cup is shaken on the table, and the cup slowly raised. Those players who have been fortunate enough to place
their bets on the square whose number corresponds to the number uppermost on the dice have their money doubled; the others see their earnings swept into the lap of the fat and greasy Chinese croupier who runs the table. The rooms up-stairs, which are usually handsomely decorated and luxuriously furnished, are reserved for the wealthier patrons, it being by no means unusual for a player to lose several thousand dollars in a single night. I was told that the monthly subsidy paid by the British North Borneo Company to the Sultan of Sulu, who comes over from his capital of Jolo, in the Philippines, to collect it, never leaves the country, as he invariably squanders it in a Sandakan gaminghouse. Gambling is a government monopoly, the company annually farming out the privilege to the highest bidder. In 1919, the last year for which I have the figures, the gambling rights for the entire protectorate were sold for approximately $144,000.
Crossing the Jalan Tiga at right angles, and running from the heart of the town down to the edge of the harbor, is the street of the prostitutes. It is easy to recognize the houses of ill-fame by their scarlet blinds and by the scarlet numbers over their doors. Should one stroll down the street during the day, one would find the sullen-eyed inmates seated in the doorways, brushing their long and lustrous blue-black hair or painting their faces with white and vermilion preparatory to the evening's entertainment. Probably four fifths of the joy-girls of Sandakan are Chinese; the others are importations from Nippon, quaint, dainty, doll-like little creatures with faces so heavily enameled that they would be cracked by
a smile. When a Chinese wants a wife, he visits a house of prostitution, selects one of the inmates, drives a hard bargain with the mistress of the establishment, and, the transaction concluded, curtly tells the girl to pack her belongings and accompany him to his home. I might add that the girls thus chosen invariably make excellent wives and remain faithful to their husbands.
Far from being veiled in secrecy, the opium-farms are operated as openly as pool-rooms in an American city. One finds a two-story wooden building containing several small, ill-lighted rooms which reek with the sickly, sweet fumes of the drug. The furniture consists of a number of “beds,” which are really not beds at all, but broad wooden tables, their tops, which are raised about three feet above the floor, providing space on which two smokers can recline. Each smoker is provided with a small lamp for heating his "pill" and a head-rest consisting of a small, rectangular block of wood. The number of patrons who may be accommodated at one time is strictly regulated by the Government, signs denoting the lawful capacity of the house being posted at the door, like those with which we are familiar on ferry-boats and in elevators. For example, the door of one farm I visited bore the notice: "Only fifteen beds. Room for thirty persons." Overcrowding is not permitted by the authorities, for, you see, the more farms there are, the greater the company's profits.
The opium itself is purchased by the British North Borneo Company from the Government of the Straits Settlements for $1.20 a tael (about one tenth of a pound troy) and, after
being adulterated with various other substances, is sold to certain "approved" concessionnaires, most of whom are Chinese, for $8.50 a tael, a profit of nearly four hundred per cent. even if the drug had not been adulterated. These concessionnaires, known as "opium farmers," either keep opium-dens themselves or sell the drug to any one wishing to buy it, just as a tobacconist sells cigarettes or cigars. The sale of the opium privilege in Sandakan alone, so I am reliably informed, nets the company something over $300,000 annually.
Now, iniquitous and deplorable as the opium traffic is, the Government of British North Borneo is not the only government engaged in it. But it is the only government, so far as I am aware, which actually encourages the use of the drug among its people by insisting that it shall be placed on sale in localities which might otherwise escape its malign influence. A planter who, actuated by moral scruples or a desire for greater efficiency, opposes the opening of an opium-farm on his plantation, might as well sell out and leave the country, for the company, which controls the labor market, will promptly retaliate for such interference with its revenues by cutting off his labor supply. It will inflict this penalty on the ground that, as the Chinese will manage to obtain opium anyway, the planter, in refusing to permit the establishment of an official opium-farm on his estate, is guilty of conniving at the sale of opium without a license!
The British North Borneo Company defends itself for engaging in the opium traffic by asserting that, as the Chinese will obtain the drug clandestinely if they cannot obtain it openly,
it is better for every one concerned that its sale should be under governmental control. The fact remains, however, that China, decadent though she may be and desperately in need of revenue, has succeeded, despite the powerful opposition of the Britishcontrolled opium ring, in putting a virtual end to the traffic within her borders, while another Oriental Government, that of Siam, is about to do the same. It is a curious commentary on European civilization that this vice, which the so-called "backward" races are engaged in energetically stamping out, should be not only permitted, but actively encouraged in a territory over which flies the flag of England. Its effects on the population of British North Borneo are summed up in this sentence in a letter recently received from a former high official of the chartered company: "Fifty per cent. of the thefts and robberies committed during the period that I was magistrate in that territory can be directly traced to opium and gambling."
Annually, at one of the great London hotels, there is held the North Borneo Dinner. At the speakers' table sits the chairman of the chartered company, flanked by cabinet ministers, archbishops, ambassadors, admirals, field-marshals. The speakers dwell on the services as empirebuilders of the officials of the company, and sketch in glowing terms the spread of civilization and progress in North Borneo under the Union Jack. But the heartiest applause invariably greets the announcement that the British North Borneo Company has declared another dividend. The dinner always concludes with the singing of "Land of Hope and Glory."