Colin F. Jones
THE CONFLICT IN VIETNAM: Part 6
In the War environment where large-scale demolitions are required field engineer units carry them out. These soldiers are called Sappers, who also build bridges, roads, airfields, and are involved in water supply.
Among their many duties is that which requires them to destroy, vehicles, armament and buildings to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy. The simplest way of cause is with the use of explosives.
The blowing of bridges is one of the Sappers main functions. The Sapper in fact, it could be said, destroys pretty much all that he also constructs.
Explosives are basically divided into two types, low explosives and high explosives. Low explosives are normally chemical substances that burn very rapidly when ignited.
The definition in fact of an explosion is ‘rapid burning’. As the low explosive burns it produces a large volume of gas, which expands rapidly and attempts to remove any obstacle in its path. Low explosive does not require air to enable it to burn and has high oxygen content.
Cordite used as propellant charges for Artillery shells and rifle bullets are examples of low explosives.
High Explosive (HE) is an unstable chemical substance that can be detonated by shock, heat or friction. Detonation is instantaneous, the entire explosive ingredients turning into gas, the process carrying through the explosive as a shock wave.
A good example of both these types of explosive is demonstrated in the action of an Artillery shell fired from a gun. The shell is propelled from the gun by a low explosive charge of cordite. When it contacts the target, the HE built into the shell is detonated by a fuse that causes the casing to shatter and fragment.
Ordinance Corps companies supplied the explosives to the units serving in the field, normally by road convoy.
Basic explosives in use include CE-TNT, GUNCOTTON, 808, PE 2, 852, 8.75 grenade and Bangalore torpedo.
The Bangalore torpedo is a prepared charge designed for breaching wire obstacles. It consists of a light steel tube 1 1\2 inches in diameter, which is filled with High Explosive. The tube comes in six-foot sections, each section weighing about 14 pounds. Each section has a male and female end, fitted with spring clip joints to enable sections to be married together. A detachable bullet nose is supplied with the weapon, which fits into the female end of the leading section to assist with the movement of the torpedo along the ground. The male end section is fitted and contains a built in primer used in conjunction with the detonating cord and double initiating set.
The 7.5 Grenade was originally used as an anti tank device but is no longer in service as such, but is used as a demolition device. The grenade has an explosive effect of one pound of HE.
852 Plastic is coloured light yellow and is packed in 8 ounce cartridges. It is used under water but is not regarded as suitable for tunnelling 808 and PE 2 are also plastic HE.
To demolish a field gun one only needs to load a round into the muzzle and a second one complete with propellant charge loaded into the breech. Firing the gun with a long lanyard will then destroy the gun.
Vital to the troops operating in the jungle is communications, not only among the members of the unit but with the company commander and all of his platoons. Company radio sets, the rear link set, (AN/RPC 10), established on the battalion net was operated by signallers from the signal platoon.
The forward control set worked the company net to the platoons and to any attached support group and was operated by the orderlies at company headquarters, who always retained a spare set.
The AN/RPC 10 had a set VHF frequency range, with six channels 1-6, from 38 to 54 megacycles. It weighed about 26lb complete with battery. In open country it had an effective range of about 5 miles and about 3 miles in restricted country. The aerial was rather sensitive in that one had to be careful to avoid contact with trees and other foliage.
On the radio net, different units had identifying call signs that were fixed as standard within a regiment or battalion.
Company headquarters carry sufficient line stores, including a switchboard to enable the company commander to keep in touch with his platoons. Sometimes an orderly would be used to carry messages from the company commander to the platoons when radio or line contact was not possible or if the message was too long to be practical over a radio.
Sometimes a platoon commander is issued with illuminating rockets or signal cartridges to be used as a pre-arranged signal, for example to signal a withdrawal or even an attack.
For security it was essential that a message was thought out tougher before being sent. Names were never used, nor nicknames, only official voice codes. Positions of friendly troops are given only in grid reference code and descriptions of places were never given with code words or grid codes, avoiding any connective possibility.
The forward troops are vital in passing on information to company headquarters, information regarding the enemy, positions of friendly troops and geographic situation.
Plans made by a commander in the field can only be based on the information he receives. The more accurate the information the more there is the chance to succeed.
The forward units are the ‘eyes’ of the commander keeping him constantly informed. In particular, in the jungle Topographical information is very important because maps and aerial photographs often are inaccurate since it is difficult to obtain realisable information of this kind in dense jungle areas.
Information must flow up and down, from the units in the field to the highest command. Everyone involved must be aware of what is happening.
The enemy has many means of gathering information; interception of signal communications, which indicates the need for strict adherence to correct voice procedure.
Careless talk, letters, disposal of waste matter and translation of captured documents are other methods. Aggressive patrolling, field craft, concealment, deception and instruction of these methods are especial deterrents. Alerting troops to the fact that local inhabitants are often used as informers or agents is another essential ingredient to minimise leakage of information.
It is difficult to navigate in the jungle, particularly at night or in fog or mist. Patrols must keep direction and record in some way the distances they have travelled in order to maintain knowledge of where they are. To this end the map and compass is used and also aerial photography maps.
Often where these materials are not available or are impractical a rough sketch copied from a map or aerial photograph are used. Keeping two prominent features in view or using a series of easily recognisable landmarks, each being visible from the previous one is another satisfactory method; the stars and the moon also, where their movements are understood.
Committing to memory routes observed on maps and aerial photographs can be additional aids. Recall of the path taken will ensure a safe return by the same trail, particularly if landmarks are noted or markers are left to indicate the way.
A watch can be used to find direction from the sun the hands determining cardinal points of the compass, but this is often inaccurate. The counting of paces will indicate the distance travelled, the pace counters previously determining the average length of their paces.
No map is completely accurate, for even as the map is made the terrain is changing and artificial features such as houses, bridges and so on are being constructed either by nature or man.
The destructive interference of warfare also changes the landscape. The map though remains probably the most reliable way to navigate using a compass and protractor. All soldiers are taught to use them efficiently and also to read aerial photographs.
Planning is essential beforehand. Maps are studied carefully, the type of terrain is accessed and the route is roughly drawn on the map itself. From this information a navigation data sheet is drawn up showing all the grid references, estimated distances, time and prominent features.
Primarily it is the aim of the patrol to kill the enemy using all of the weaponry at its disposal. Weather in full retreat or in attack, fire and movement will be necessary.
In a defensive position it is essential that every soldier is familiar with his surroundings. In this role, range cards that record reference points can be created and weapons can be fixed or located in the most favourable positions.
In attack it is a little different because the ground will on most occasions be unfamiliar to him and he will be advancing into more unfamiliar terrain. Ranges will not be accurate, enemy positions will be concealed, thus targets will be allusive and difficult to locate. Even in desperate situations patrol commanders need to be able to control fire. The situation has to be understood and fire controlled accordingly.
Normally the gun group of a patrol (equipped with the GPMGM60) seek out high ground or a position where they can give covering fire to the riflemen. The gun group consists of the gunner, a rifleman and the 2IC, of the patrol.
The commander must be able to indicate targets and estimate the range of those targets. He must control which weapons are used and what type of fire to bring down upon the enemy force. To do this, he must be expert in finding the most advantageous position for himself, and this might often draw enemy fire.
The most important part of an attack is the movement of the attacking troops towards the target. This requires supporting fire to cover the advance, those who thrusting forward use every undulation, stump, log and tree in weaving rapid advance to gain the objective.
Cover is not necessarily protection, though many lives have been saved by the mere concealment of blades of grass where no other protection was available.
An ‘eye’ for the ground is developed by constant, repetitious training, based on the fire positions of the enemy, obstacles, and availability of cover. Gullies and creek beds provide excellent cover, but often the enemy booby trap or mine the most obvious places and even have ambushes set.
Movement over ‘dead ground’, ground invisible to the enemy should not be overlooked, but sometimes the enemy have such areas covered by mortars or rockets.
Lying low and calling in air strikes or artillery support where the enemy seem to be strong or fighting from strong bunker complexes is a life saving procedure, sweeping forward when the bombardment ceases. However artillery bombardments can be delayed for lengthy periods, as they wait for air clearance before being able to fire in support.
At night enemy fire is normally unaided, but often machine guns are fired from fixed lines and small arms night sighting equipment. Fighting in the jungle is not a lot different to fighting at night, but fighting in the jungle at night is extremely hazardous.
At night hearing is more useful than sight and noise must be kept to an absolute minimum, patrols working in closer formation to allow control. A great deal of thought is spent in preparation prior to patrolling, particularly as a patrol remains out overnight quite frequently. Equipment and arms are tested before a patrol leaves base with much attention paid to the elimination of any object that might reflect light. Dog tags or ID discs, which are metal and worn suspended around the neck are black in colour and are attached in such a way that they can’t ‘jingle’ on movement.
A system of signals is used to communicate, whispers only used when words are absolutely necessary. Movement along skylines are avoided and open areas where the moon might provide silhouetted targets to the enemy.
Patrolling is a deadly game of hide-and-seek, and the patrol must remain active and aggressive Planning is very thorough as also is the briefing of the men. Time must be allotted for this, all information available being accurately recorded, studied and speedily distributed.
Patrolling in jungle environments is met with limited visual reconnaissance and observation, such conditions favouring guerrilla activity, infiltration, surprise attack and penetration. The task of patrolling is hazardous and exacting, added strain being placed on the soldiers due to the possibility of enemy being concealed close to the patrol.
This places enormous mental and physical strain on the members of the patrol, thus a high standard of fitness and mental confidence must be maintained.
It is unlikely that a ‘sixth sense’ exists in man, the natural pathfinder being a person capable of using the ‘five senses’, with aid of intelligence and experience.
Modern people have to a great extent lost the natural ability to use the senses adequately due to becoming a rival to nature rather than an associate. Soldiers operating in the jungle need to learn, or reinstate themselves with nature. This is easier for some than for others.
Most people have the tendency to look ‘at ‘ the jungle rather than ‘into’ it. They see the trees but not the elements within their shadows or depths.
The military forces do not teach a lot of the following, although possibly it is taught to Special Units. Much of it is derived from my own experience and studies so if some of my observations seem a little extreme please understand that, as a man raised in the Rain forests and bushland of Australia, I have lived much of my life close to nature.
Observation reveals volumes of information, often from the minutest forms. A soldier must be trained to ‘see’ when he looks.
He requires first the understanding that being imperfect as a human being, his structure is ‘unbalanced’. Few people for example, have two legs of the same length and this will cause them to ‘veer’ from their path or straight line.
A soldier’s tendency to ‘veer’ can be examined in several simple ways. Walking a distance blindfolded over wet sand or some other surface that leaves his footprints behind will indicate his ‘line of veer’. This can also be studied on the parade ground, with two observers positioned at the beginning and end of a straight line.
An erect posture will have the effect of decreasing his ‘veer’, while the head bent forward will increase the deviation. The head has a great influence on the ‘direction of veer’ – hold it to the right, one veers to the right. Hold it to the left one will veer left.
The eyes of the soldier are vital to maintain observation and to accurately describe and calculate targets and distances.
Though most men have two eyes, only one of them is the ‘dominant eye’. For example when a soldier lines up two aligned aiming posts with both of his eyes open, only one of his eyes actually aligns the posts. A sentry at night who sees an object and, in staring at it, makes it appear to move, (e.g. a stump), he must close one eye. If the object still appears to move, then it will most likely be moving. If the movement stops then it is not moving.
To test for the dominant eye one can hold a pencil up at arms length aligned on another object and look at it with both eyes open. Sighting (with both eyes open) to align the pencil, one can close an eye, (the left eye) and if the pencil remains in line with the object then the right eye is the dominant one. If it does not remain in line then the left eye is the dominant one.
The loads he carries, such as his backpack and weapons influence soldiers’ balance. A pack that is improperly aligned will cause deviation as will it if it is packed heavier on one side than the other. A rifle carried in the right hand can cause him to deviate to the right.
It is noticeable that untrained soldiers will deviate around an obstacle in the same direction almost every time. Perhaps more noticeable is that given a choice right or left, most people will take the right trail. I have found that I tend to go left, thus often in choosing a direction some one may have followed experience has taught me that I will be more often correct if I take the direction opposite to my natural tendency.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but it is rare that a soldier will find such a situation in the jungle. It is difficult then to reach a destination since irregular calculations must be made to establish the shortest distance.
The American Indians considered that a friend leaves an ‘open’ trail while an enemy hides his. But a clever enemy will be aware of such an observation, thus even ‘open’ trails, must not be considered ‘wrong’ trails to follow, without careful study.
Obviously through jungle a trail can be marked, breaking twigs, marking trees etc. to show the way. This however also leaves sign for the enemy to follow. More intricate marking systems can be used, known only to the friendly forces, but even these must have consistency and therefore can be read by an observant enemy.
Sound is an essential sense to be considered. Sound travels through air, water and the ground. The difficulty in detecting sound is in establishing the distance to its source. Much training and experience is needed to overcome this difficulty.
The echo of a rifle shot can indicate distance of sound in the jungle, though sound over water is likely to be further away than it seems since sound travels further over water than it does over land.
Smell is a vital instinct in the jungle, one being able to ‘nose out’ camps and nearby villages such smells becoming quite familiar. Many soldiers in Vietnam could smell the enemy, the odour of the VC being quite distinctive.
Smells and sounds are carried by the wind indicating direction but often confusing distance. Experience teachers the soldier that objects appear much closer than they really are when looking up or down a hill or when looking out of shadow into bright sunlight at a target.
In clear air distances seem shorter; over water or flat paddy or sand when the light is poor, targets appear to be further away. If the target is camouflaged or at the end of a long narrow trail the target will also look further away.
Observation conducted over undulating terrain will make the target look further away also.
When contact is made with the enemy, the initial contact will be very brief. But in that fleeting instance important observations can be made.
If the face and weapons can be clearly seen (eyes, lips etc.) then he is probably not more than 50 yards away. At 100 yards his eyes will be mere dots.
From an observation point in good light, the uniforms of soldiers can be distinguished at 200 yards. At 300 yards only faces will be seen.
It is possible to distinguish colour at 500 yards but since the VC wear black it is unlikely that they would be seen at this distance, sound and movement being the likely provider of indication of their presence.
As distance is vital information to any military force, lack of knowledge in the many ways of estimating distance would be unacceptable.
One of the oldest methods known to man is to extend the right arm in front of you holding the forefinger upright. Align it with one eye on the point end of a distant object and without moving the finger, observe with the other eye and see how far along the object has moved. The distance to the object will be ten times the amount of feet it has moved. To estimate height, simply tilt the head sideways.
The moon is a source of light but can also give direction and time. The moon itself does not give of light, but reflects the light of the sun. The bright side of the moon, then, always faces the sun indicating the sun’s direction. When the moon is a crescent, an imaginary line through the two ‘tips’ will always indicate north and south, well close enough to it.
If you imagine a perpendicular half way along this line, it will point through the sunlit side to the suns position regardless of where the sun is.
Knowing the true time of sunrise and sunset will allow a soldier to work out pretty accurate directions from the moon. The moons cycle allows the moon to be used to calculate time, no matter where the moon happens to be.
The full moon is always opposite the sun. As the sun sets the moon rises reaching its vertex (highest point) midnight. It sets as the sun rises.
The moon’s first quarter reaches its highest point sunset. The last quarter is three weeks old and rises at midnight reaching its highest point at sunrise.
Each night the moon will rise and set 50 minutes later. From a narrow crescent margin to a full half moon crescent takes slightly more than a 7-day week. It becomes a full moon about 7 days later.
In a further 7 days plus, it will become an old ‘waning’ half moon completing its full cycle about 29.5 days.
It is not difficult to commit to memory the simple list of numbers produced by the moons cycle. Zero days -New moon; seven days – First quarter Fifteen days – Full moon; Twenty two days – last quarter, Thirty days – New moon.
Providing a soldier knows a previous age/date of the moon he should be able to work out the age of the moon on any date thereafter. For each year of 12 months following the known date (which represents 7) he adds 11 days (7+11=18). For each month following, including the known month, he can add one more day. If the final number were greater than 30 then he would subtract 30. Using this method the soldier can also predict the amount of light at a given time on a particular day.
The sun is nature’s compass and the varying lengths of shadows the indicators. The direction of the sun varies different in parts of the world, but is possible to establish its direction using the blade of a bayonet or knife.
By holding a blade vertically on a thumb nail against a background of some other light material, (a piece of paper) and rotating it slowly will produce the merest shadow which will indicate the direction of the sun.
Charts and tables are available giving the suns directions, but it is possible to do without them. The watch method of finding direction though sometimes handy, is not an accurate method, thus is better avoided.
The stars have long been the tools of navigators and remain accurate guides to direction. Ancient navigators divided them into groups called constellations.
Not only can stars be recognised by their patterns but also by their colours. The movement of planets differ from those of stars, thus is often better to ignore planets. Normally is not difficult to distinguish stars from planets.
At sea level stars appear to twinkle but planets don’t. Also all planets are ‘overhead’ within 30 % north and south of the equator.
Mars is a ruddy colour while Venus, which is always near the sun, is very bright. Venus is never more than three hours (45deg) from the sun and is always seen before and after sunrise and before and after sunset near the Southern Cross.
LIVING OF THE LAND
The terrain of South East Asia is mostly tropical and hilly covered with primary rain forest. This hampers movement the mountainous areas and river valleys making difficult and more often impossible to move equipment and vehicles. Fortunately Vietnam has many well-constructed roads, but these in fact can be difficult to use, as the jungle often is so close that ambushes are likely.
Distance is a major factor and must always be considered when deploying troops and planning operations, since time is the most essential ingredient.
Communications are often difficult. In primary jungle infantry are able to cover only about 1,000 yards in any one hour this being reduced secondary jungle to about 800 yards.
The British troops Malaysia were taught how to live of the land In the event that it was necessary to do so. Mostly this information was limited to officers and NCOs but the information was available to any soldier interested knowing about it.
This was a subject pretty well never taught in the Australian army, but units in Malaysia were able to gain some experience.
It would not be possible to list all the hundreds of plants that Exist in the jungle that are edible therefore life sustaining. Many of them are difficult to identify, so mostly the common plants were referred to in instructions on living off the land in a tropical environment.
It is not good policy to consider the food eaten by birds to be edible by humans, by observation, however, the food rats and monkeys might eat can be consumed by man.
The best places to seek food are where the sun is able to penetrate, along the edges of clearings, along creeks and riverbanks etc.
Bamboo shoots are quite nourishing to eat and Bamboo can be found all over South East Asia.
Other foods consist of wild durian, jungle cabbage, wild raspberries, rubber nuts, lilies, pandanus, wild passionfruit, wild ginger, acacia, ferns, palms and coco-yam taro.
There are guidelines for avoiding poison plants. One avoids all unknown fruits and tubers for a start and if one is doubt one applies a small portion of the food to the inside of the lower lip, discomfort will be indicated pretty quickly.
One should consider anything red to be dangerous; this applies particularly to the jungle. Mushrooms and, of course, toadstools must be avoided, and it is unwise to suck water direct from a water vine as the bark may irritate the lips.
One should never touch and taste any plant that has milky sap, nor should plants or fruit be carried close to the bare skin because irritations and rashes may occur.
Some poison plants to be avoided in the SEA (South East Asian) environment were the appropriately named Strychnine plant, the seed of which contains deadly strychnine, The wide spread nettle tree, which grows close to ponds is poisonous to the touch causing burning sensation.
The Rengas tree caused many problems for soldiers operating Malaysia and caused rash on contact with the water off the tree, and from the bark and timber of the tree. Along the mangrove swamps and coastal areas the sap of Milky Mangrove caused blindness and blistering.
Many of the jungle streams and rivers contain fish and it doesn’t take an expert to fashion a hook from bamboo rattan. A thorn can be used. Lines can be made from rattan thin vines can be used. Threads taken from a uniform and plaited together can be a useful way of making a line. Nets and traps can be made with a little thought. A sweat rag the ‘ready made’ mosquito net, makes a good net. Scoops can be made out of thin pliable sticks slivers of bamboo and rattan woven together.
Bamboo is most useful and can be split to the base and splayed out, with thin vine woven onto it to keep its shape. Spears can also be made from bamboo, pronged spears being the best for fishing, although catching fish this way is very difficult particularly if the fish are small.
A dam of leaves twigs can form a trap to catch a fish. The trap must be baited with some rotten meat a small bag of cooked rice will do the trick. The bait is placed where the fish cannot get to from outside the trap, the trap being placed across the stream and anchored with the gap left where the water flows deepest and slowest.
Another method of catching fish is by poisoning. Many plants with milky sap should provide the ingredient, vine. Some experiment might be required to find one that works. The sap can be extracted by beating with a stone or with some other suitable implement.
A bundle soaked in the stuff and the plant itself with the sap released can be dangled in the water and results should be obtained within about ten minutes for small fish and a little longer for larger ones.
A trap should be set up down stream to catch the stunned fish as they float with the flow of the water. The poison does not affect the edibility of the fish.
It is also often possible to drive fish into the shallows where with a bit of luck they may be caught by hand, but this is normally the last resort.
Prawns and other water based animals can also be caught and of course birds and animals including domestic animals. Trapping animals is not an easy task, though most regions have abundant animal life.
Mostly one needs to identify the spoor dropped by those using the runs and paths and their characteristics need to be studied at length to enable the correct type of trap to be used. Then of cause the trap has to be made.
Baited traps are necessary to catch ground-feeding birds but of course the type of bait must be discovered and the birds feeding habits known. Water holes are probably the best place to set traps for both birds and animals but waterways are not always available, though the jungle this is unlikely.
Frogs, reptiles and insects also offer a source of food, turtles and tortoises can be eaten and some reptiles as well. All food should be cooked where possible and cleanliness as much as possible observed.
All fruits should be peeled and only cook enough food for one meal since cooked food ‘goes off’ quickly developing fungoid growth. Boiling is by far the least wasteful way of cooking though roasting and baking clay can be a good substitute.
If matches or lighter are not available lighting a fire is a more difficult undertaking than one may first think. However there are ways of doing it. Flint and steel is one way. This requires very dry tinder such as leaves dried the sun fibres from bark. The thinnest, softest fibres are best thoroughly dried the sun.
The fire thong is a relatively quick way to produce fire. To carry out this method one half-piece of bamboo split down the middle is required and a length of dry rattan. The bamboo has a conical hole drilled through from the inside, of the apex just breaking through on the outside. A shallow groove is cut round the outside to act as a guide for drawing the rattan over the hole. The bamboo is wedged firmly and the rattan is set in the groove and pulled backwards and forwards across the hole. This motion wares away the bamboo and the dust produced is forced through to the inside of the hole, forming a pad, which becomes very hot and eventually produces a spark.
A third method of lighting a fire is with the use of the Bow and Drill. The bow is made from a sapling and strong string is required. From hard wood a drill shaped like a dowel pointed at one end is made and two blocks are made from softer wood. Each block must have a hole into which will fit the drill. The drill is twisted into the bowstring, placing the pointed end on the lower block, which we rest on a firm surface, while the upper block is held firmly on top of the drill. With a sawing motion the bow is drawn forwards and backwards so that the drill wares away the soft wood of the lower block. As smoke begins to appear the motion is speeded up until the pad of dust worn strings of the lower block begin to glow. This is difficult but not impossible to do with only one man.
With a little thought one man can set up for himself to enable a fire to be produced.
It might be the case that string must be made in the absence of bootlaces and other suitable articles useful to be used as string. String can be made from bracken fern. The long hard stems with the outer shell being black need to be collected. When the stem is snapped the inner stem that the string is made from should be light brown without any tinge of green. The outer stem is snapped at intervals to allow it to be peeled off and the inner stem to be pulled out.
This is the string and is strong enough to tie roofs over shelters and make traps. Stripping bamboo until narrow slivers remain can make bowstrings. These can then be whittled down from inside until only the outer bark is left, which is the string. The inside of many types of bark can also be used as string.
LOCAL INDIANS; ABORIGINALS
Many Asians are superstitious and have strict rules of conduct. Aboriginals often are even more sensitive and are more easily offended. Natives often would be willing to supply food as their code of conduct dictates where strangers are concerned but they are, as I have stated easily offended.
Malays for example do not like touching dogs being touched by others who have touched such animals. Thus would be taken offensively if you touched a dog then offered your hand to shake the hand of a Malayan.
One should never display politeness to a woman before the man since women hold inferior positions in society and the gesture could be taken as an insult to the man and an attempt to woo the woman.
If an Aboriginal visits your camp you may not have to accost him in the first instance. He should, though, be invited into your premises.
The offer of a cigarette and a seat to them is ‘courtesy to visitors’ and they are reluctant to make conversation before finishing their smoke. This is a custom followed because they are hunters, who travel the hills and rivers thus need periodic rest as a result.
When visiting their dwellings, one needs to be careful also. Any smouldering wood seen inside their huts is their ‘fire place’. They never distribute any dirty stuff into the fire to burn. They would for example become quite furious if you were to throw a scorpion into their fireplace to be burnt. This, according to their superstitious fear, would bring sickness upon their families. Such an act could result in the whole hearth being dismantled and replaced by a new one. It might even cause the family to be evicted.
Housing pillars are considered to be haunted and care should be taken that water is not poured upon them, since this would mean that the family would get sick under the spell of the ghost.
For a period after the house is built they will not allow the shaving of hair or moustache, for their belief has been that water will leak through the roof.
A tree with two or three trunks growing from it is also considered to be haunted. These trees when found are got rid of and any fruit they may have will not be eaten, nor will the wood be used for fuel.
When one enters an Aboriginal hut, perhaps to borrow one of his utensils such as a pan for cooking, it is essential that he be first asked for what purpose the pot is used because the Aboriginal will have several pots used for different purposes.
They will become annoyed if one uses a particular pot for the wrong purpose. Their habit is to share what they see others have to eat, particularly if one has little food with him.
They immediately cast their eyes upon one having something to eat because they expect to have a share regardless of how much food is available.
It is best, when giving them food or some other gift, to give it to the Chief who will ensure that everyone gets a share.
They are very particular about reaping crops. Only the owner himself must reap the first ears of corn, when harvest time arrives.
In the event that many families have combined to plant the crop, the Chief will normally start off the reaping by being first to begin, followed by the others after proper ceremony, usually consisting of a sumptuous meal of meat.
When the crop is reaped and brought back to the huts, it is thrashed about to allow the others to collect the fallen corn from the flower. By this they expect to yield a good harvest the following season.
Pieces of cloth, sometimes lanterns, hanging in front of an Aboriginal hut indicates that someone is very sick or dead inside. One must never enter without invitation, though one should wait until the occupant comes out to find out what you want. They believe that the sick person, seeing a stranger, those other than the people living the hut, would die of fear.
Aboriginals, such as those I saw in the Cameron Highlands (Malaysia), often hunt game with blowpipes as well as with bows and arrows.
If meat is offered to eat, one must never use salt, for the Aborigines consider this to be a bad omen that will render their blowpipes ineffective for hunting thereafter. When they are out hunting they do not like to be spoken to nor interfered with.
Talk, they believe, will completely baffle them and their search for game. If he carries his game home a bag cover, should never be opened by anyone other than his wife and young children.
Winning the affection of children is often one of the surest ways to gain friendship and support of Aboriginals.
They have many ways of killing animals and some after killing them will cook them outside their huts. Others might do their cooking in the home. Food taken inside the hut is shared only once and will not be shared again even if others join the party. Anything remaining such as bones must not be left lying on the floor, and the food must be finished before one leaves the hut, particularly if it is crocodile meat.
It is not wise to scoff at their primitive healing methods; one needs to realise that these people live isolation seldom having contact with the outside world and people of other races. Their methods of healing are spiritual and should be respected.
However the giving of medicines is a good way to indicate concern for them, which time results trust and mutual respect. Breaking wind is a humorous act to the Aboriginal, thus their laughter when such a thing occurs should be seen in this light as well.
If a rolled cigarette is offered to you by a woman, regardless of her age she indicates that she is love with you, that if the cigarette is accepted then marriage has been accepted. She would then join you that night and the news would be conveyed to the Chief within few days. The offer of a cigarette by you has the same indications that you wish to marry her.
When buying goods from the Aboriginal one should never display more than a small amount of money otherwise they will always ask for more than you offer. An Aboriginal having a quantity of money also arouses suspicion, so that the enemy may question him.
So it is evident that when operating in Asian environments it is essential to try to understand the local customs and speak their language. In Borneo, the Aboriginals are called Dyaks. They live mostly in Sarawak but there are many in Brunei as well. They live long houses, which have corridors running down the middle with doors off both sides to the living quarters of each family. The men are short, warrior and muscular, and are tattooed, often over most their bodies. The women are very attractive and wear nothing on the top half of their bodies.
There are two different Dyaks one being the Sea Dyak. Even the influence of the British has not effected their belief in voodoo and superstition, and they still are known to headhunt. They use blowguns with poisoned darts similar to the Indians of the Cameron Highlands.
©Copyright 2004 by Colin F. Jones