The Malay Archipelago

December 12, 2012

Wallace and Horses


Alfred Russel Wallace, OM, FRS (8 January 1823 — 7 November 1913) was a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist and biologist. He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution by natural selection and co-publishing a paper on the subject with Charles Darwin in 1858. Wallace did extensive fieldwork, first in the Amazon River basin and then in the Malay Archipelago, where he identified the Wallace Line that divides the Indonesian archipelago into two distinct parts, an western portion in which the animals are largely of Asian origin, and an eastern portion where the birds and mammals are more similar to those of Australia. He was considered the 19th century’s leading expert on the geographical distribution of animal species and is sometimes called the “father of biogeography”. Wallace was one of the leading evolutionary thinkers of the 19th century and made many other contributions to the development of evolutionary theory besides being co-discoverer of natural selection. These included the concept of warning colouration in animals, and the Wallace effect, a hypothesis on how natural selection could contribute to speciation by encouraging the development of barriers against hybridization. (From Wikipedia)


Below are some excerpts from “The Malay Archipelago”, Wallace’s most celebrated book, considered as one of the greatest scientific travel books ever written. It is praised both for its well-constructed survey description of the region in question, and for its scientific value to the professional naturalist. The excerpts are selected for mentioning “horse” in it. The illustrations are from other sources, mainly from The Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam. The white man in the photograph is not Wallace himself.


Queen Maya retreating on horsecart

Travelling in Java is very luxurious but very expensive, the only way being to hire or borrow a carriage, and then pay half a crown a mile for post-horses, which are changed at regular posts every six miles, and will carry you at the rate of ten miles an hour from one end of the island to the other. Bullock carts or coolies are required to carry all extra baggage. As this kind of travelling would not suit my means, I determined on making only a short journey to the district at the foot of Mount Arjuna, where I was told there were extensive forests, and where I hoped to be able to make some good collections. The country for many miles behind Sourabaya is perfectly flat and everywhere cultivated; being a delta or alluvial plain, watered by many branching streams. Immediately around the town the evident signs of wealth and of an industrious population were very pleasing; but as we went on, the constant succession of open fields skirted by rows of bamboos, with here and there the white buildings and a tall chimney of a sugar-mill, became monotonous. The roads run in straight lines for several miles at a stretch, and are bordered by rows of dusty tamarind-trees. At each mile there are little guardhouses, where a policeman is stationed; and there is a wooden gong, which by means of concerted signals may be made to convey information over the country with great rapidity. About every six or seven miles is the post-house, where the horses are changed as quickly as were those of the mail in the old coaching days in England. (Chapter 7; 105)

Kedungbadak Bogor 1880 JC Rappard


Met bagage en dragers op weg naar Tosari Bromo

On leaving Buitenzorg, I had coolies to carry my baggage and a horse for myself, both to be changed every six or seven miles. The road rose gradually, and after the first stage the hills closed in a little on each side, forming a broad valley; and the temperature was so cool and agreeable, and the country so interesting, that I preferred walking. Native villages imbedded in fruit trees, and pretty villas inhabited by planters or retired Dutch officials, gave this district a very pleasing and civilized aspect; but what most attracted my attention was the system of terrace-cultivation, which is here universally adopted, and which is, I should think, hardly equaled in the world. The slopes of the main valley, and of its branches, were everywhere cut in terraces up to a considerable height, and when they wound round the recesses of the hills produced all the effect of magnificent amphitheatres. Hundreds of square miles of country are thus terraced, and convey a striking idea of the industry of the people and the antiquity of their civilization. These terraces are extended year by year as the population increases, by the inhabitants of each village working in concert under the direction of their chiefs; and it is perhaps by this system of village culture alone, that such extensive terracing and irrigation has been rendered possible. It was probably introduced by the Brahmins from India, since in those Malay countries where there is no trace of a previous occupation by a civilized people, the terrace system is unknown. I first saw this mode of cultivation in Bali and Lombock, and, as I shall have to describe it in some detail there (see Chapter 10.), I need say no more about it in this place, except that, owing to the finer outlines and greater luxuriance of the country in West Java, it produces there the most striking and picturesque effect. The lower slopes of the mountains in Java possess such a delightful climate and luxuriant soil; living is so cheap and life and property are so secure, that a considerable number of Europeans who have been engaged in Government service, settle permanently in the country instead of returning to Europe. They are scattered everywhere throughout the more accessible parts of the island, and tend greatly to the gradual improvement of the native population, and to the continued peace and prosperity of the whole country. (Chapter 7; 115)

pangeran bali di atas punggung kuda 1910 - 1920 a



The next day I went to see Mr. S., another merchant to whom I had brought letters of introduction, and who lived about seven miles off. Mr. Carter kindly lent me a horse, and I was accompanied by a young Dutch gentleman residing at Ampanam, who offered to be my guide. We first passed through the town and suburbs along a straight road bordered by mud walls and a fine avenue of lofty trees; then through rice-fields, irrigated in the same manner as I had seen them at Bileling; and afterwards over sandy pastures near the sea, and occasionally along the beach itself. Mr. S. received us kindly, and offered me a residence at his house should I think the neighbourhood favourable for my pursuits. After an early breakfast we went out to explore, taking guns and insect nets. We reached some low hills which seemed to offer the most favourable ground, passing over swamps, sandy flats overgrown with coarse sedges, and through pastures and cultivated grounds, finding however very little in the way of either birds or insects. On our way we passed one or two human skeletons, enclosed within a small bamboo fence, with the clothes, pillow, mat, and betel-box of the unfortunate individual, who had been either murdered or executed. Returning to the house, we found a Balinese chief and his followers on a visit. Those of higher rank sat on chairs, the others squatted on the floor. The chief very coolly asked for beer and brandy, and helped himself and his followers, apparently more out of curiosity than anything else as regards the beer, for it seemed very distasteful to them, while they drank the brandy in tumblers with much relish. (Chapter 10; 152)

pangeran bali di atas punggung kuda 1910 - 1920


java stable boy and his pony

We rose at daybreak, but it was near an hour before the interpreter made his appearance. We then asked to have some coffee and to see the Pumbuckle, as we wanted a horse for Ali, who was lame, and wished to bid him adieu. The man looked puzzled at such unheard–of demands and vanished into the inner court, locking the door behind him and leaving us again to our meditations. An hour passed and no one came, so I ordered the horses to be saddled and the pack-horse to be loaded, and prepared to start. Just then the interpreter came up on horseback, and looked aghast at our preparations. “Where is the Pumbuckle?” we asked. “Gone to the Rajah’s,” said he. “We are going,” said I. “Oh! pray don’t,” said he; “wait a little; they are having a consultation, and some priests are coming to see you, and a chief is going off to Mataram to ask the permission of the Anak Agong for you to stay.” This settled the matter. More talk, more delay, and another eight or ten hours’ consultation were not to be endured; so we started at once, the poor interpreter almost weeping at our obstinacy and hurry, and assuring us “the Pumbuckle would be very sorry, and the Rajah would be very sorry, and if we would but wait all would be right.” I gave Ali my horse, and started on foot, but he afterwards mounted behind Mr. Ross’s groom, and we got home very well, though rather hot and tired. (Chapter 11; 165)

kuda dan perempuan muna sulawesi 1923


A few days afterwards our long-talked-of excursion to Gunong Sari took place. Our party was increased by the captain and supercargo of a Hamburg ship loading with rice for China. We were mounted on a very miscellaneous lot of Lombock ponies, which we had some difficulty in supplying with the necessary saddles, etc.; and most of us had to patch up our girths, bridles, or stirrup-leathers as best we could. We passed through Mataram, where we were joined by our friend Gusti Gadioca, mounted on a handsome black horse, and riding as all the natives do, without saddle or stirrups, using only a handsome saddlecloth and very ornamental bridle. (Chapter 11; 168)

De Radja van Amarasi te paard Timor



In the morning a great procession was formed to conduct the Rajah to the mountain. And the royal princes and relations of the Rajah mounted their black horses whose tails swept the ground; they used no saddle or stirrups, but sat upon a cloth of gay colours; the bits were of silver and the bridles of many-coloured cords. The less important people were on small strong horses of various colours, well suited to a mountain journey; and all (even the Rajah) were bare-legged to above the knee, wearing only the gay coloured cotton waist-cloth, a silk or cotton jacket, and a large handkerchief tastefully folded around the head. Everyone was attended by one or two servants bearing his sirih and betel boxes, who were also mounted on ponies; and great numbers more had gone on in advance or waited to bring up the rear. The men in authority were numbered by hundreds and their followers by thousands, and all the island wondered what great thing would come of it.

Hengst op de paardententoonstelling Lombok

For the first two days they went along good roads and through many villages which were swept clean, and where bright cloths were hung out at the windows; and all the people, when the Rajah came, squatted down upon the ground in respect, and every man riding got off his horse and squatted down also, and many joined the procession at every village. At the place where they stopped for the night, the people had placed stakes along each side of the roads in front of the houses. These were split crosswise at the top, and in the cleft were fastened little clay lamps, and between them were stuck the green leaves of palm-trees, which, dripping with the evening dew, gleamed prettily with the many twinkling lights. And few went to sleep that night until the morning hours, for every house held a knot of eager talkers, and much betel-nut was consumed, and endless were the conjectures what would come of it. (Chapter 12; 175)

pack horse in denpasar bali 1900



The Malay Archipelago in Indonesian Language is published by Komunitas Bambu (Kobam), 2009. The illustration of Wallace as a young naturalist below is made by Jason Chin.

young wallace by jason chin


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