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August 24, 2016

At Last, Aliís Grave

Tom McLaughlin

Kampung Jaie, Malaysian Borneo – I was a bit frustrated trying to get to this kampung. The Bomoh told us he could not meet us until September. I said we were going without him.


The Bomoh (witch doctor) said he was coming, then he said he wasn't and then he said he was. We were searching for the grave of Ali Wallace, the companion to Alfred Wallace, who, along with Darwin, postulated the Theory of Evolution. People in the world of the History of Science had been looking for him for years.


I wanted to get an early start because of the heat. My Canadian friend, who was driving, had to drop off his son at daycare so he couldn't come until 9 A.M. Then, he showed up at 8 A.M. and let his in-laws do the child daycare thing.


We discovered the Bomoh was sitting in a coffee shop about six tenths of a mile away. We got everyone in the car and moved out.


Forty-five minutes later, we arrived at the ferry which was to take us across the river. Only it wasn't running and would not make crossings until 11 A.M., two hours later. I quizzed a local and found out the river had to rise with the sea tide coming in.


The Bomoh said he had been yesterday and the same thing had happened. He sat down with my wife and had tea while I searched for a gun to shoot him. Why hadn't he told us before we left, or last night even?


After a slow, creeping two hours passed, the ferries began operation. They held about 18 cars and innumerable motor bikes. The width of the river was only about 165 feet. I could have easily swam across it. We got going again.


The road followed the north coast of Borneo in an easterly direction. There were banana trees lining the two-way artery. A few houses, some new, others dilapidated, were just back beyond the banana trees. Beyond that, for as far as the eye could see, were wetlands that met the South China Sea.


About 45 minutes or so later, we began to look for a road that entered into that area. We found a bent over sign that said Jaie, so we took the next left. We rode through high grass and came to a slight hill with a bridge over a creek. Then houses, new and old appeared followed by a small town.


We wended our way back to a sea crossing over small rivulets of water. The land was dry and grew some fruit trees. I could not understand how the land was so dry and stable being so close to the sea.


We pulled in next to a house and the Bomoh introduced us to everyone. The important players were Jonspot and Abdul, the grandchildren of Panglima Seman. We salamed them (two hand are extended to receive two hands and the head goes down over the clasp in recognition of respect) and sat down to listen.


My wife led the conversation. After the pleasantries of who was who, (she had to go into detail about me and Alex being white and all) we started on the description of Ali's box.


Jonspot had opened it when he was small, but his mother admonished him because she said it was haunted. He saw papers and pictures. One of the pictures was of Ali and a tall white man who we can assume was Alfred Wallace. However, the box and papers were buried under a slab of concrete, the foundation of a new house.


A pontoon is a four verse poem that rhymes. The first two lines do not mean anything, while that last lines hold the meaning. The fact that the first verse of the pontoon went "Apa kabar Weles serani" meant that Wallace had had a strong connection to the area, probably through Ali. I later got Jonspot under a tree and got him to sing it without the help of the Bomoh. He did. No hesitation or no thinking about it. I was satisfied that this was the place where Ali had ended up.


The grave was made of a very hard wood called Bilian or Ironwood. There was a rectangle of these followed by a foot and head wood in the center. Around this grave were other, more modern ones with Ali being a father written on a small metal plate.

I wanted to see the sea and to try to imagine the boats coming in from Kuching. It was then I noticed a 30 foot high and about six foot wide dike that protected the kampung from the sea. We walked along it with sea water on one side and dry land, suitable for farming, on the other. I have no idea when it was build, but Ali's house was over there in the water.

It had been a long search for Ali (nine years off and on) but I am still satisfied I have found him. Now more research before I publish my findings.

Remember, you read it in The Tentacle first!


…life is good. . . . .


Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
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