The Moving Finger
Excerpt from the court reporter's log, Leena Pagang et al vs MA Kavanagh, 31 August 2038. Ms FitzBrien "Leena, please tell us what you were doing the day the soldiers came." Ms Leena Pagang, witness (testimony translated for the court) "The men had cut some sago palms that morning, and then had gone hunting. They would be gone for several days. Most of the women were scraping pith from the felled trunks. A few of the women were weaving mats. I was netting fish by the river with my mother. We were being watchful, because we had heard shooting all day, and the soldiers mostly came on the river." Ms FitzBrien "On boats, you mean?" Ms Pagang "Yes. Motorboats." Ms FitzBrien "What happened then?" Ms Pagang "The shooting came close, then stopped. This scared us, because now the soldiers would be moving. We knew they would be American or Malay troops, because the Dayak guerillas always shot off their guns when they won, and the last sounds we heard were of American guns." Ms FitzBrien "You were afraid of American soldiers?" Ms Pagang "We feared all soldiers. We were less afraid of the Americans, because they never took away the young men to be soldiers." Ms FitzBrien "Please continue." Ms Pagang "We took our food back to the longhouse. We wanted to dry the sago, but we were afraid the smoke would bring the soldiers, so we decided to wait until it was dark. Later it began to rain, so we made fires to dry the sago, and also to cook. Near dusk we heard a motor on the river, and Old Man Baram said it was an American patrol boat." Josiah Piet, translator "I should explain at this point that I am paraphrasing and amplifying many of Leena's remarks, in the interests of clarity. Even so, Leena will be using many concepts and oddly sounding turns of phrase that defy clear translation. For instance, Old Man Baram was the headman of Leena's longhouse. This was not his true name - he is dead, and the Penan people do not pronounce the names of their dead for many years after the event. In the interim, they refer to the dead person by the name of the river nearest the place of his death. At the time of the headman's death, Leena's band lived near the Baram River; hence, she refers to the dead headman as 'Old Man Baram'. "The longhouse is a communal dwelling made up of a line of apartments all under one roof, and is common to most of the Dayak peoples of Borneo. Each family has its own apartment, called a lamin. There is a common verandah along the long side of the house, and the whole structure is raised on piles or stilts above ground level. The floor of a longhouse is an open mesh of wooden poles and laths, to aid in drainage, since the roofs often leak, and rains are frequent. When folk wish to sit comfortably, they spread out woven rattan mats on the floor. "Wherever possible, I will attempt to rephrase concepts for western understanding, where doing so will not sacrifice the accuracy of the meaning." Judge Chisum "Thank you, Mr Piet. Please proceed." Ms Pagang "Some of the women wanted to hide in the jungle, but the others said that if we ran away, the soldiers would take everything, and maybe set fire to the longhouse, so we stayed. My mother was one who wanted to hide. She put me in the loft where I used to sleep when I was small. My sister used to sleep there with me, before she got sick and went away from us. "The nails that hold the tin roof down over our loft had come loose in the wood, and some were missing, so it was easy for me to push the edge of the metal up and see out. My sister and I used to climb out through this hole at night and lie on the roof, talking, and watching the forest and the stars. "I could see the path that leads to the river. The soldiers were coming up the hill, and they were pushing one of our men in front of them. I could tell it was Magool, from the way he walked. Magool broke his foot when he was a boy, and always limped. He held his arms together in front of him, and when they came closer I could see his wrists were tied." Ms FitzBrien "How many soldiers were there, Leena?" Ms Pagang "There were five. One of them was helping another to walk. One was pushing Magool. The others were swinging their guns back and forth, watching the jungle. Magool was yelling that he was not a guerilla, that he was Penan and harmed no one, but they would not listen, and I don't think any of them could understand our speech. Then they came close to the house and I couldn't see them anymore. I heard them climb up the ladder onto the verandah, and there was a lot of shouting that I couldn't understand. People were moving around, and I heard some loud noises in our lamin below the loft. My mother was yelling at the soldiers, calling them beasts and ungap -" Mr Piet "An ungap is a malign spirit..." Ms Pagang "- and uncouth as well. I was afraid the soldiers would look into the loft, so I climbed out onto the roof, although I had grown almost too big for the hole, and scraped my back painfully on the metal edge. I dropped down to the roof of the verandah, but the palm leaves were so slick from the rain that I almost slipped off. I slid down a support post. There was one soldier on the verandah; he didn't see me, though some of my people did. I jumped down to the ground and hid beneath the house. "The soldiers began gathering all of the people of the house on the verandah - the women, the elders, and the children. Several paraffin lamps had been lit in the headman's lamin, casting light through the floor that trembled on the ground like a school of minnows in murky water. I peeked up through the spaces in the floor, and could see Old Man Baram and his wife, and Magool, and two soldiers. One of the soldiers had a cross on his helmet, so I knew he was a healer. He had rolled up the other soldier's sleeve and was taking his pulse. "The other soldier was paying no attention to the healer, but was talking to Old Man Baram in Malay. Old Man Baram knew only a little Malay, and the soldier apparently knew only a little as well, because they were having a hard time understanding each other. That is what I heard Old Man Baram tell his wife and Magool." Ms FitzBrien "Did you see the face of the soldier who was talking to the headman, Leena?" Ms Pagang "Yes, I did." Ms FitzBrien "Do you see that soldier in this courtroom today?" Ms Pagang "Yes, he is that man sitting over there." Ms FitzBrien "Let the record show that the witness has indicated Lt Michael A Kavanagh, United States Army Reserve. Please continue, Leena. What did the headman say?" Ms Pagang "Old Man Baram said that this soldier was the leader of the other soldiers. He wanted to know where the men and boys of the village were. He was accusing them of being Dayak guerillas. Old Man Baram was very unhappy, and was trying to explain that the men were hunting ...that the Penan do not hurt other humans, and would never join the guerillas. While he was saying this another soldier came into the lamin. He and the leader spoke for a while, and then he spat on the floor, and looked at Old Man Baram. The leader said something to this soldier, and the soldier moved aside and leaned against the wall." Ms FitzBrien "Did the leader look mad, or agitated?" Mr Esquibel "Objection. That's a leading question." Ms FitzBrien "I'll rephrase it, your honor. What was the leader's expression, Leena? How did he seem to you?" Ms Pagang "I don't know. I can't tell much about American faces, and the light kept shifting." Ms FitzBrien "What happened next?" Ms Pagang "The healer spoke sharply to the leader, and pushed on his shoulders until the leader sat down on the floor. The healer rubbed at the leader's arm with a white cloth, then stabbed his arm with a bright, metal-tipped dart. The leader never looked at the healer, but only stared at Old Man Baram. "The leader spoke, and Old Man Baram became very upset. The other soldier seized Old Man Baram's blowpipe from where it had leaned against the wall in the corner of the room. He shook it in his hand and shouted. The leader spoke in Malay, and Old Man Baram cried out. Then the soldier reached into his pocket, pulled out a dart, and threw it at Old Man Baram. Old Man Baram picked up the dart and said something to the leader, who stared back and said nothing. Old Man Baram rapidly told his wife and Magool that the soldiers had been attacked with poison darts in the night, and that the heads of the slain had been taken. He said that the soldier would not believe that the Penan had nothing to do with the killing. Magool cried out that any fool could see that this was an Iban dart, and not Penan. Old Man Baram said that the soldiers did not believe this." Ms FitzBrien "Your honor..." Judge Chisum "Mr Piet, please ask Ms Pagang if she would like to stop for a while. We can postpone this if she is too upset to continue." Mr Piet "Your honor, Leena insists she is able to continue." Judge Chisum "What is your opinion, Mr Piet." Mr Piet "I'm no psychologist, your honor, but I don't believe this is going to get any easier, now or later. Better to have it all now, if we can, than to put her through this a second time." Judge Chisum "I'm inclined to agree. Proceed, Ms FitzBrien." Ms FitzBrien "Leena? What happened next?" Ms Pagang "For a short while no one spoke. It was quiet, and I could hear that it had begun to rain very hard. Then the leader said something in a low voice, staring at our headman, but he did not speak in Malay. The other soldier made a sound and left the room. The healer spoke a few words. The leader frowned and said something to the healer, looking at him for the first time. The healer moved his shoulders and answered. The leader grunted, and looked back at Old Man Baram. "Old Man Baram started talking earnestly in Malay, waving his hands in the air. And then, outside on the veranda, a gun fired. There were screams, and more guns fired, and the whole house was screaming and thundering above my head. The healer ran to the door, but the leader just sat on the floor, staring at our headman. Old Man Baram cried out and started for the door, and the leader raised a gun and pointed it at him. "I ran away then, under the verandah, but I slipped and fell. I thought rain was leaking through the floor, because it was dripping in my face, but it was too warm, and it didn't taste like rain."