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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Letter from Macassar, Celebes (S32: 1857)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter printed in the Zoologist issue of April 1857. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S032.htm

    [[p. 5559]] Mr. Alfred R. Wallace.--"Macassar, September 27, 1856. At length I am in Celebes! I have been here about three weeks, and as yet have not done much, except explored the nakedness of the land,--and it is indeed naked,--I have never seen a more uninteresting country than the neighbourhood of Macassar: for miles around there is nothing but flat land, which, for half the year, is covered with water, and the other half is an expanse of baked mud (its present state), with scarcely an apology for vegetation; scattered about it are numerous villages, which, from their being imbedded in fruit trees, have the appearance of woods and forests, but which, in fact, are little more productive to the insect collector than the paddy-fields themselves. Insects, in fact, in all this district there are absolutely none. I have got a bamboo-house near one of these villages, about two miles from the town, which does very well for my head-quarters: to get into the country is difficult, as it belongs to native princes, and there is no accommodation whatever for Europeans: there is, however, a patch or two of forest about six or eight miles off, and to it I have made several excursions, and got some birds and butterflies, but no beetles, which, at this season, seem altogether absent. I cannot help comparing the facilities of the collector on the Amazon with the difficulties here: whether at Parà, Santarem, Barra, Obidos or Ega, or any other town or village, you may always find good forest collecting-ground within a few minutes' or half-an-hour's walk of the place,--you can live in the town, and collect in the country round. In no place in the East that I have yet seen can this be done: miles of cultivated ground absolutely barren for the naturalist extend round every town and [[p. 5560]] village, and to get into the country with any amount of necessary luggage is most difficult and expensive: then, too, the necessaries of life, have all to be brought from the town, which renders living very dear; the only way of moving is by means of porters or small carriages, the cost of which is about ten times that of boat hire, and in many cases you must expose yourself to the risk of life and property, being beyond the sphere of any civilized government. However, I hope soon to make arrangements for a small house near the forest I have spoken of, where I can stay a week at a time, and then bring home and store my collections at my house near Macassar: already I can see that I shall get a pretty good collection of birds. Raptorial birds are abundant (the first place I have seen them so in the Archipelago); I have already seven species, one or two of which I have no doubt are new: of the forty species of birds I have already collected none are handsome, but several, I think, are new, among them a Cinnyris and a pigeon; the rare parrot, Prionitus platurus, is not uncommon here, though I have only obtained as yet only one specimen. Among my few butterflies are two Pieridæ, handsome and quite new, and two or three Danaidæ which I do not remember to have seen: I have as yet got no Papilios, but do not despair of soon obtaining some fine ones. The place where I hope to do best is Bontyne, about sixty miles from here: there is a road or path overland, but it would be very difficult to take all the luggage I require by that route, and by the sea, at the present time, owing to the wind being contrary, often takes from a fortnight to a month. In about January, however, the wind will be fair, and the trip is then only twenty-four hours, when I shall probably go there, as I am informed there is plenty of forest, and the highest mountains in the island are close by.

    "The people here have some peculiar practices. 'Amok,' or, as we say, 'running a-muck,' is common here; there was one last week: a debt of a few dollars was claimed by a man of one who could not pay it, so he murdered his creditor, and then, knowing he would be found out and punished, he 'run a-muck,' killed four persons and wounded four more, and died what the natives consider an honourable death! A friend here, seeing I had my mattrass on the floor of a bamboo-house, which is open beneath, told me it was very dangerous, as there were many bad people about, who might come at night and push their spears up through me from below, so he kindly lent me a sofa to sleep on, which, however, I never used, as it is too hot in this country.

"Alfred R. Wallace."

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