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Gold, kampher and stones

The Greek geographer Ptolemeus, which worked in Alexandria, has said something in the 2nd century, which was probably related to Borneo., but there are not much other things that point to the island in such an early stage. Only centuries later many texts were found in China, because of the trade agreements.

Influences from India

The history of Indonesia has been influenced much from India. Around the start of the current era this cultural influence, including Pallawan writing and time, got to Borneo. The oldest known Indonesian writing, dating from around 400 BC, was found between the possessions of the principalty Martapura in Eastern Borneo. The seat of the kingdom of king Mulawarman was the current Muara Kaman, where the river Kedang Kepala mouths uin the Mahakam.
This area was, as well as other principalties on Sumatera, Jawa and somewhere else on Borneo, strongly influenced by Hinduism. Stone yupa, sacrifice-pillars with inscriptions in Pallawan-writing, whitnesses of the participation of Mulawarman at brahman rytes and animal sacrifices. In 1895 twelve stone plates with hinduist drawings were discovered in the cave Goa Kombeng, upstream along the Kedang Kepala. Furtermore, ruins and inscriptions in the neighborhood of Barito in Southern Kalimantan and statues from West Kalimantan point at hinduist influences.

Chinese on Borneo

The first written information about Borneo originated from Chinese trade reports. In the 7th century the Chinese and Borneo has close contacts. This means that it was almost sure that the Chinese exports reached Borneo a couple of hundred years earlier. The emphasis in the relation with China was trade. Sometimes representatives from Northwest Borneo travelled to China to express their submissiveness. Local rulers if the island knew the importance to favour the emperror, and trusted on the love for their kingdom in the Chinese Empire. This love depended on the internal political situation of China and the very inspired decretes which were sent by the emperor.

This was also related to the fees Borneo had to pay. If the foreign politics of China were strong, the rulers on the island had to be very strict with the fees; if internal affairs demanded more attention, the fees didn't have to be fullfilled anyway. About 1200 AD, when China spread it's rule overseas Borneo was known as Tanjung Pura, after the name of a trade centre along the Southwestern coast. During the Ming dynasty, a Chinese colony was founded in Northern Borneo. Even in the start of the 15th century, the ruler of Borneo, Maraja kali went to visit the emperor of China. He was flooded with even more precious gifts, and the stay in the Chinese court was something he liked. Maybe he fell for the refined Chinese kitchen, but fact is that he stayed in China and died there eventually.

Attack from Jawa

Meanwhile Borneo had changed dramatically. The mighty hinduist principalty of Majapahit in Eastern Jawa conquerred most parts of Indonesian in the 14th century, among them were the principalties of Kutai along the Mahakam and Banjarmasin. The rule of Majapahit also influenced other - smaller - principalties like Berau along the eastern coast, just above Kutai and Sukadana in the west, south of Pontianak.

Unusual exports

The Chinese merchants were in the first place only interested in luxury objects like gold and diamonds; usefull raw materials like ratten and guttapercha; nutritional products like pepper, skarkfins, tripang (seacucumber) and bird nests; incence; many different kinds of medicinal herbs. In trade the population of Borneo received silk fabrics and cloths and a big variety of porcelain and pottery. In the hinterlands, in the longhouses of the Dayak, antique Chinese vases are still displayed as most important symbol of status. This decorated vases should house the souls of the dragons which are painted on it. Later, Borneo also received fabrics from India, and products like tobacco, guns and salt from Jawa.
After the 19th century it became economically interesting to ship goods; ratten probably was the most important export product of Borneo at that time. In China, and elsewhere as well, ratten was used co tie up things. Nowadays better kinds of ratten are used for the construction of light chairs.
Until the end of the 19th century, when the rubber-tree was imported, the guttapercha was another wanted trade product. It's no more than thickened milk-juice frp, the Palaquiun- and Payena-trees. The Chinese used the rubber-like substance as glue, in special for waterproofing ships. It was also used in medicine. In 1845, the importance of the material as isolator was discovered, it was used by underseas telegraph-cables; it's consistent against seawater. It is still used in golf balls, electricity cables and other rubber-like products. But most of it is being replaced by thermoplast products.
Illipe-nuts (tengkawang), which grow in big amounts on trees on Borneo irregularly (every two to nine years), cause a big movement of wild pigs. These animals really love the oily nut. The population substracts baking oil from it. Englangd used to import the nut to make tallow, wax and smearing oil for steamengines of it, while the Spanish in Malina made candles of them. Now they are still used in cosmetics, as a replacement of cacao-butter.
Chinese cuisine has used hay fins and the protein-rich tripand from Borneo. Tripang is died sea cucumber: a lumb animal which most looks like a worm and is turned into a very good soup by ingenious cooks.

Even more precious than the previously named products however are the exclusife, famous, edible bird nests. The salangaan, a swallow, sticks it's nest, entirely made from seliva, against the walls of caves. The nests of the Collocaluia fuciphaga tast the best. They are beige and transparant. In fact they have to be eaten, just when they are finished. When impurities already have had the chance to mix with the saliva, the fine taste is already lost, just like the saliva-nests of the Collocalia maxima.
The rare aloe-wood, locally named gaharu, was the most expensife aromati which was imported to China. It was only found in the damages A. Malaccensis and still is one of the most expensife products in the world. Nowadays the good-smelling product is being exported to the Middle-East in small amounts, where funerals and marriages of the most rich people are enhanced with the sweet and subtile aroma.
Another aromatic product is the smelly raisin benzoe or benjamin, which is bought by the less fortunate. Another raisin, damar, found in Dipterocarpaceae-trees, was sometimes used as torch. This raisin is also exported as base for paint.

Medicine 'more loved than gold'

One of the most interesting exports were the horns of rhinocerosses, the helmet of the rhinoceros-bird and kampher; they were used in the Chinese farmacology for a long time. But the bezoar-stones were most known.
These oval stones were found in the gall blatter in specific kinds fo monkeys, and are very rare. The Chinese used them because they should have a very special value and they are now used as amulet in Southeastern Asia. The bezoar-stone, still very much demanded in medicine, is used in several different ways. In poudre, mixed with water, it enhances breast- and stomach complaints. In a towel around the belly-button or drenched in water it would raise your potence. Earlier, sjamans used the stones to call the 'spirit of the tiger', which should help them to ban the less strong spirit from the ill body. After the arrival of islam the stone was still appreciated. Some muslems believed that it was an heavenly universal antidote.
The Europeans were only interested in more worldly goods like gold, diamond and pepper. It caused big tumult when they found out how much was being paid for medicinal base products from Borneo. At the end of the 16th century the kampher from Borneo was 'more loved than gold' in India. Europeans were stunned by the fact that the Chinese were prepared to pay very much money for kampher of good quality. A pound of kampher reportedly brought in more than the price of two tons of rice. Kampher cristals were used to stimulate the heart and blood vessels, but also for insence and ointments. Nowadays kampher is used in branded medicine like Tiger Balsam. Outside the farmacy it is still used in moth balls, smoke-free gunpowder, varnished, cosmetics, soap and in the chemical industry. Also in the West the antiseptic and anesthetic value is known.
For high quality kampher you have to look among several older piecies of wood of the kamper laurate (Dryobalanops aromatics); this is the partial explaination of the high prices. Furthermore people believed that the thees had a mighty spirit, which had to favoured before the kampher oil could be harvested. This production was a social and religious event, surrounded by taboos, food restrictions and ritual exorcisms.

Rise of the Europeans

Before the Portuguese started to travel to Southeastern Asia somewhere in the 16th century, where was little known about Borneo, accept for some Chinese sources. Marco Polo probably sailed along the coast, but he didn't report anything about it at all. The Italian father Oderic of Pordenone, a true pioneer, lived on Jawa around 1320, and should have been on Borneo as well. He was the first to report about the weapons of the Jawanese in Western literature.
The by expansion branded golden century of Portugal, in it's neverending hunt for spices brought up the first information about Borneo. Around 1512, Malacca came in Portuguese hands. They ruled the long-sought direct trade route to the Moluccan Spice Islands. Tom'e Pires, which stayed in Malacca between 1512 and 1515, reported that Borneo consisted of many smaller islands, big and small islands, inhabited by Moorish (Muslems) and many pagans. Every year, several ships brought gold of low qulity and high quality kampher to Malacca, which were trad3ed there for beads. Several year later, another writer named the famous diamonds from Borneo,; he called them 'more pure than those from India'.

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