Mayams *8o. When a boat comes in, the load of shells is turned out on
the beach. Then each fisherman gets two buckets, these are made of the sheaths
of the nipa palm, and with a sharp knife manufactured for the purpose,
the shell is opened and the oyster is cut off within f of an inch from
the hinge of the shell. The oyster falls into one bucket, and the part
clinging near the hinge is scraped off and falls into the other bucket.
It is this little bit that contains the seed-pearls, if any, and they
are carefully extracted. The oysters are laid out on mats to dry in the
sun and sold in Labuan.
great number of the seed pearls are disposed of in the village at Batu
Batu. When the fisherman buys his few necessaries at the Chinaman's
shop he pulls out his little bundle of seed-pearls and pays in that
currency, the Chinaman making a good thing out of this transaction.
These seed-pearls are not much valued in Europe, but in China they are
used as ornaments or pounded into medicine and the shells being thin
and transparent are also a substitute for window glass.
are four principal banks of seed-pearl shells in the shallow part of
Padas Bay, in a ripe state for working operations, and there are some
more where the shells are still growing; these are forbidden ground
until such time, say another six or nine months, when they shall have
scene on the sand or mud banks in the bay is lively, men, women and
children up to their knees in water gathering the shells that are
imbedded. They seem very busy withal cheerful and chattering and seem
glad to see the Government boat with the British North Borneo Revenue
flag flying aft, picking its way among their boats. As we pass, the
women playfully throw a few shells into our boat for luck; further on
may be seen, on sticks fixed on the bank, some white flags to keep "
evil spirits" away.
collection of the Royalty on the seed-pearls exported was a somewhat
difficult nut to crack. The Regulations said that 5 per centum ad valorem was to be collected.
C. A. Francis, the energetic officer in charge of Batu Batu found that
the seed-pearls were so easily hidden away that the revenue therefore
amounted to very little. A tide-waiter was sent to his assistance, his
duty being to go about among the people, find out what pearls had been
procured, and to search them. The first month only brought in some $6
revenue, and as his pay was $12 a month, the result was disappointing.
He searched the fishermen but found little or nothing, all the while
knowing well that they had extracted many seed-pearls from the
bivalves. Little boys showing their bright teeth look iip with their
laughing eyes, the picture of innocence, and all the time concealed
little packets of seed-pearls between their toes, but native boys can
do anything with their toes from holding a nail straight with them
while hammering it into a plank to combing their hair. Of course the
natural bashfulness of Province Dent officials forbad a close
examination of the ladies, and the result was that this mode of
collecting the Revenue was a dead failure.
was now suggested that $2 should be charged on every boat, but this
plan was found to be impracticable as fifteen or twenty persons would
crowd into a large boat so as to evade the tax. At last the fishermen
themselves were consulted in the matter, and they voluntarily proposed
that a head tax should be levied on every man, woman, and child who
were employed in fishing on the banks. The old men said the young
people gathered the most shells as they could stand longer in the water
than they could, as it gave them cramp to be too long in the water, and
that it was quite fair that the young ones should be taxed.
The payment of %i per head per mensem was agreed to by all, and the first month i. e. December
1885 brought in a head tax of $81, whilst the month of January 1886
yielded a revenue of $95, and people pay this mode •f taxation
cheerfully and rapidly. 43