From an interview:
I had the traveling fever you could call it. The only purpose I saw in life was to travel around until I find some fence. I did have a diploma, I had gone to the university. I was kind to my father – he insisted that I should have an education, so I started out with the engineering degree.
J: Where were you born?
S: I was born in Christiania, as it was called at that time. It is now called Oslo. And my father was from Bergen, which is the opposite side of the country.
J: And you had your education in Norway?
J: And that was what?
S: I didn’t know what I was interested in – everything and nothing. My father asked, “What do you want to study?” “Well,” I said, “Engineering, philosophy, jurisprudence, whatever.”
J: What did you study?
S: I had a mathematics professor who said, “The aim of the future is to build things that will save humanity. We are sinking down in the poor man’s world. We have to build things. Engineer everything.” So I started engineering just to be what I thought was the right thing. And after two years I was terribly upset and tired about engineering, I thought it was worth nothing and entered the services and became an officer in the Norwegian coast artillery.
And so in a (?) guard when we watched for airplanes coming in our Norway and we saw the stars moving on the firmament and thought they were airplanes. And then I came back to school and I made excellent marks and finished engineering. The reason I got such good marks was that just before my last finals I wrote a scathing article about the professors and how they talk and how they should talk. And so they said, “Why didn’t you wait until you had taken the examination? What if we give you bad grades?” Of course they did the opposite. They were so afraid of hurting me or showing partisanship that they leaned backward and gave me much better marks than I deserved, so I came out of school with very good marks.
Then I thought, “Now I can travel.” And I first got a job in East India, in what is now called Indonesia.
S: No, Borneo. Through Jakarta and the Java Sea and ..
J: Who controlled that? That was the Dutch?
S: At that time, yes.
J: What did you do there?
S: I was working for irrigation, to bring rice fields to bloom for these poor people there. And also sugar for the sugar plantations. And we had to be just and see that the poor people on the rice fields got enough water. The sugar people tried to bribe us to give them more water, they had a big plantation.
J: Where did the water come from?
S: That came from rivers, in Borneo we had a river called the Amand River. And once, I thought, “Bryn, what about a little adventure going up into Dayakland and finding out about the sources of the…”
J: Dayakland? That dangerous country?
S: It certainly was. A few years earlier, a Dutch man and twelve envalets that went in there – they all disappeared. And they thought that their shrunken heads would be a decoration on some Dayak chief’s bed. So we went in there, thinking nothing of that. We were so stupid, we didn’t even think of the danger. And when we came in there things went rather well and the controller said, “Oh, I have to go back, you have to come back with me, Bryn.” “Oh no. I haven’t even seen the sources of the Amend River. I came here to see the Amend River’s sources. I have to go on on my own.” “I’ll give you my Malay policemen.” “Oh no, the Malay is in the dark, that means they’re enemies – they won’t help me.” “I’ll give you one policeman.” “No. No.” “I insist.” So again we want a policeman, so we walked up to the next village. Three Dayak carriers and a policeman with a gun behind us, together with one of the carriers.
Suddenly I heard, “Pip pip” behind me. I looked around, saw nothing. I rushed back, still nothing. And finally, the one guard, who had been along with the Malay came smiling, with a gun, gave the gun to me and said, “Malay no like us, he gone back.” He was of course killed. And so I went on.
And then we came to the next village. The other Dayaks refused to go close to it. I had to go on alone. I looked, and I saw all these grim figures standing there with crooked foreheads. I looked, “Have I no friends here?” Suddenly I saw an old man wink. That was a medicine man. I went right over to him and explained how a rainmaker was made – explaining it in my mixture of English, Malay and things, but he understood my thought, he seemed almost to read it, because he called to two people and explained something. His mouth went like a machine gun -akk kkaak aakk kkaak. He went out and came to me afterwards with a very presentable rainmaker and he explained to the chief first how this worked. I explained it to the chief without him understanding a word but I used the same signs as the medicine man. So he came to understand.
And so the night came and I was invited to eat with them. Then I was to sleep alone in a kind of hotel, and that has a ceiling, and a bed of woven palm leaves but no walls. I heard the jungle animals cry and scream and it was very comfortable and I went right to sleep, deep sleep. Suddenly I was up onto the ceiling, and looked down at myself lying on the bed. And the me over the ceiling said, “Get up, get up! Don’t you see this big Dayak chief is coming with this crooked sword.” The man on the bed was also conscious but he wasn’t motivated. “Ya, I’ll get up, it isn’t that much of a hurry.” Suddenly my consciousness from above clicked into my consciousness from below and up I went and carried my gun under my arm, and walked out. After this experience, I felt very happy meeting the Dayak man, I felt this was more interesting than the Dayak. And so I bowed and said in my best English or Norwegian or whatever, “What gives me the honor of your company?” He couldn’t have understood a word, but he immediately, “aakk baakk aka kk.” From that I felt the definite feeling he said, “I came to protect you against wild animals, wild men or whatever.” I said, “Oh no, that is not necessary, thank you very much but this gun is so made that it goes off automatically at anyone who approaches me at night.” He looked down at the gun, like that. So he must have understood, I think. He bowed and went back.
I sat down on the bed and thought – can I go to sleep again? Will he come back again? While I sat there, there was a rustling in the leaves, and I looked, and there was the medicine man. And he just motioned me to come. So we climbed up the ladder to the community house, and there were little cubicles around the walls and one was empty. He put me in there on the mattress, and he put himself along the door as a mat, that people had to tread on it to get in. And so I slept beautifully there for the night.
All these young Dayaks were naked, and in the morning a naked girl came over to me. I felt – what do I do now? And then the medicine man nodded Tumpong(?) that is your girl. And I thought, this looks very dangerous, what is there to get now? So I stroked the girl’s forehead hair and walked her back to her parents.
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