Fragrance in Travel Literature-Indonesia



Java, the garden of the East (1922 [c1897])
Scidmore, Eliza Ruhamah, 1856-1928



We found all the countless common fragrant flowers
that are so necessary to these esthetic, perfume-loving
people heaped for sale in the flower-market of the
passer, along with the oils and the gums and spices
that give out, and burn with, such delicious odors.
Short-stemmed roses and heaps of loose rose-petals
were laid on beds of green moss or in bits of palm-
leaf in a way to delight one's color-sense, and, with
the mounds of pale-green petals of the Jcananga, or
ylang-ylang-tree's blossoms, filled the whole air with
fragrance. We dried quantities of kananga flowers
for sachets, as they will crisp even in the damp air of
Java, and retain their spicy fragrance for years ; but
the exquisite white-and-gold " Bo-flowers," the sacred
sumboja or f rangipani (the Plumeria acutifolia of the bot-
anists), would not dry, but turned dark and mildewed
wherever one petal fell upon another. This lovely
blossom of Buddha is sticky and unpleasant to the
touch when pulled from the tree, and the stem exudes
a thick milk. After they have fallen to the ground
they may be handled more easily, and fallen flowers
retain the spotless, waxen perfection of their thick,
fleshy petals for even two days. One wonders that
the people do not more often wear these flowers of the
golden heart in their black hair ; but the sumboja is
a religious flower in Java, as in India, and in Bud-
dhist times was almost as much an attribute and sym-
bol of that great faith as the lotus. This Bo-flower
is still the favorite offering, together with the cham-
paka, or Arabian jasmine, in the Buddhist temples of
Burma and Ceylon, and is often laid before the few
images of that old religion now remaining in Java.

The fruit of fruits, the prize of the Indies and of all the
Malay equatorial regions, where the tree is indigenous,
is the mangosteen (Gardnia mangosteen), and the tour-
ist should avail himself of November and December as
the months for a tour in Java, if only to know the man-
gosteen in its perfection. The dark-purple apples hang
from the tall trees by woody stems, and the natives
bring the manggis to market tied together in bunches
of twenties like clusters of gigantic grapes. It is de-
light enough to the eye alone to cut the thick, fibrous
rind, bisect the perfect sphere at the equator line, and
see the round ball of " perfumed snow " resting intact
in its rose-lined cup. The five white segments sepa-
rate easily, and may be lifted whole with a fork, and
they melt on the tongue with a touch of tart and a
touch of sweet ; one moment a memory of the juiciest,
most fragrant apple, at another a remembrance of the
smoothest cream ice, the most exquisite and delicately
flavored fruit-acid known all the delights of nature's
laboratory condensed in that ball of neige parfume.

Our Malay servant would never accept our
name of " frangipani " when told to spread out or stir
the petals we tried to dry in the sun. He stoically
repeated the native "sumboja" after me each time,
very rightly resenting the baptism in honor of an
Italian marquis, who only compounded an essence
imitating the perfume of the West Indian red jasmine,
which breathes a little of the cloying sweetness of the
peerless sumboja. After but a few trials of its sylla-
bles, "sumboja" soon expressed to me more of the
fragrance, the sentiment and spirit, of the lovely
death-flower than ever could the word " frangipani."


After a half -hour of soft rain, accompanied by three
sharp thunder-claps, the climate had done its perfect
work ; every tree, bird, flower, and insect rejoiced, and
all nature literally sang. The warm red earth breathed
pleasant fragrance, every tree had its aroma, and the
perfumed flowers were overpowering with fresh sweet-
ness. Then the master led the house party for a long
walk, first through the oldest tea-gardens, where
every leaf on every plant was erect, shining, as if ready
for dress-parade, and more intensely, softly green than
ever after the daily shower-bath and wind toilet.

Many of these native officials
had constellations of stars and decorations pinned to
their breasts, and their finely cut features, noble mien,
and graceful manners declared them aristocrats and
the fine flower of an old race. Their wives, shy, slen-
der, graceful women in clinging sarongs and the dis-
figuring Dutch jacket, wore many clasps and buckles
and jeweled knobs of ear-rings. They seemed to have
inherited all the Hindu love of glittering, glowing
jewels, and the Buddhist love of flowers and perfumes,
each little starry-eyed, flower-like woman redolent of
rose or jasmine attar, and wearing some brilliant blos-
som in the knot of satin-black hair. The women had
thrust their pretty brown feet into gold-heeled mule
slippers, that clicked musically on the tiles as they
walked, while the children comfortably rubbed their
bare feet on the cool white floor.


The statue on the first circular
terrace at the right of the east staircase, and the se-
cluded image at the very summit, were always sur-
rounded with heaps of stemless flowers laid on moss
and plantain-leaves. Incense was burned to these
recha, and the people daubed them with the yellow
powder with which princes formerly painted, and even
humble bridegrooms now paint, themselves on festal
days, just as Burmese Buddhists daub gold-leaf on
their shrines, and, like the Cingalese Buddhists, heap
champak and tulse, jasmine, rose, and frangipani
flowers, before their altars. When questioned, the
people owned that the offerings at Boro Boedor were
in fulfilment of a vow or in thanksgiving for some
event in their lives a birth, death, marriage, unex-
pected good fortune, or recovery from illness.

Everywhere in Java we saw them collecting the
sap of the true sugar-palm and the toddy-palm, that
bear such gorgeous spathes of blossoms ; but it is only
in this region of Middle Java that sugar is made from
the cocoa-palm. Each tree yields daily about two
quarts of sap that reduce to three or four ounces of
sugar. The common palm-sugar of the passers looks
and tastes like other brown sugar, but this from cocoa-
palms has a delicious, nutty fragrance and flavor, as
unique as maple-sugar. We were not long in the land
before we learned to melt cocoa-palm sugar and pour
it on grated ripe cocoannt, thus achieving a sweet
supreme.


Language was useless at such a crisis, and sadly,
silently, I resigned myself to the rest of the ten
hours' empty ride. An hour later we reached Tjiawi,
near which the finest pineapples of the island are
grown ; and we bought them on the platform, great
fragrant, luscious globes of delight, regardless of the
almost prayerful requests made to us on arrival, that
we would not touch a pineapple in Java. We did a
tourist's whole duty to specialties of strange places
for that one day, buying the monster nanas in most
generous provision ; and we made up for all previous
denials and lost pineapple opportunities as we tore off
the ripe diamonds of pulp in streaming sections that
melted on the tongue ; nor did we feel any sinking at
heart nor dread of the future for such indulgence.

The creepers run from tree to tree, and writhe over
the ground like gray serpents ; ratans and climbing
palms one hundred feet in length are common, while
uncommon ones stretch to five hundred feet. There
is one creeper with a blossom like a magnified white
violet, and with all a wood-violet's fragrance; but
with only Dutch and botanical names on the labels,
one wanders ignorantly and protestingly in this para-
dise of strange things. The rarer orchids are grown
in matted sheds in the shade of tall trees ; and although
we saw them at the end of the dry season, and few
plants were in bloom, there was still an attractive
orchid-show.

To that portico were brought the
rarest flowers and fruits for our inspection, such
lilies and orchids and strangely fragrant things!
and we cut apart cacao-pods, and those "velvety,
cream-colored peaches" inclosing the nutmeg, and
dissected clove-buds with a zeal that amused the young
hostesses, to whom these had all been childhood toys.
The telephone and telegraph connect all parts of the
estate with virtually all parts of the world ; and with
the great news of Europe clicking in from Batavia, or
"helloed" over by some friend at Buitenzorg, one could
quite forget the distance from the older centers of
civilization, and wonder that all the world did not
make Java its playground and refuge of delight, and
every man essay the role of Java planter.

The semi- weekly passer of Tissak Malaya was then
beginning in a park, or open market-place, in front
of the passagrahan, and picturesque processions of
venders and buyers came straggling down the arched
avenues, and filled the shady quadrangle with a holi-
day hum. There were double panoramas and stages
of living pictures along each path in the passer en-
campment, that grew like magic; and the glowing
colors of the fruit-, the flower-, and the pepper-markets,
the bright sarongs and turbans, and, above all, the
cheerful chatter, were quite inspiring. We bought
everywhere fruits, and a queer three-story basket to
hold them; yards of jasmine garlands, bunches of
roses, and great double handfuls of the green, linden-
ish ylang-ylang flowers, pinned with a thorn in a
plantain-leaf cornucopia this last lot of perpetual
fragrance for three gulden cents only. Odd bottles
of home-made attars of rose and jasmine were sold as
cheaply, and gums in straw cases, ready for burning.


A journey to Java ([1914])
McMillan, Michael, 1853-


The whole way, in fact, was a suc-
cession of delightful pictures, and always there
was the same background of rice plantations,
sometimes flat, sometimes in terraces covered with
water glittering in the sunshine or glowing in
vivid shades of green, varying from the startingly
bright colour of the young shoots newly trans-
planted, to the darker, intenser emerald hue of the
crops giving promise of harvest. As for the
flowers! such a gorgeous array of scarlet, blue,
yellow, pink and white blossoms met the eye on
every hand and perfumed all the air, that it was
almost overpowering, while among the kanaris,
palms, and bamboos were some trees ablaze with
huge bright scarlet blossoms something like the
flame trees (Poinceana regia) of Singapore.

In the
two outer ones natives with short little paddles,
shaped like cricket bats, prepared to paddle us
across, while the centre canoe contained a man
with a long pole, who steered our course as with
the wand of a magician, and we slowly glided,
followed by the weird music of the anklungs,
over the glassy surface of the lake, to the opposite
shore, threading our course among the fishers and
waders and little canoes, in a dream-like ecstasy
of enjoyment that cannot be described, so en-
thralling was the witchery of the hour and scene.
Here on an eminence has been placed a summer-
house or cupola, from which extensive views of
lake and mountain can be seen. We stepped
from our raft and followed a winding and rather
precipitous path through what appeared to be an
enchanted garden, so gorgeous were the flowers
on every side, so heavy the scent of the perfumed
air. Growing here, in the utmost profusion
among tree ferns, were poinsettias with their
flaming blossoms, pink and white oleanders, and
the sweet tuberose, " the sweetest flower for
scent that blows " ; scarlet hibiscus with its deli-
cate tassels, the pale green flower of the ylang
ylang, and huge bushes of frangipanni, which the
natives call sumboja (Plumieria acutifolia). The
last-named is the flower of the dead for Javanese
and Malay alike. It is sometimes used as an
offering in the temples, but never for the adorn-
ment of the living. It is counted a sacred flower,
always associated with graves and burial rites and
dedicated to those who have passed into the realm
of shadows. Fit emblem of the transitoriness of
life; as the blossom is so delicate that its pure
whiteness becomes stained if only touched by the
finger or even by the fall of one petal on another.
The flowers last a little longer when they drop off
of their own accord; but even then, in a day at
most, they become brown and decayed, un-
pleasant to look at or handle. Near the bushes
of frangipanni was a curious water plant, the
flower shaped like an artichoke or half-opened lily
bud. Each separate petal was full of water that
spouted out of it when grasped by the fingers ; it
is often used by thirsty travellers when other
water cannot be obtained.


As we gained the summit of the hill, the tropical
flowers gave place to the more familiar ones of
the temperate zone, and pale blue convolvulus,
dahlias, lilies, fuschias, and a host of other
flowers, especially roses, surrounded us at the top.
The roses were most wonderful, crimson, white,
pink and cream in colour, climbers, standards,
and bush roses, and there were besides, great
clumps of maidenhair fern making a most effective
background for these flowers. How delicious
was the delicate perfume of the roses after the
heavy scent of the tropical flowers! They rilled
all the air with their sweetness.

The coffee tree belongs to the Genus Coffea, a
tree indigenous to Arabia and Abyssinia; it grows
wild in the province of Caffa in the latter country,
and possibly the name may owe its derivation to
this. The tree is an evergreen, and in its natural
condition attains a height of from 1 8 to 20 feet;
but in cultivation it is not allowed to exceed 8
or 10 feet, and is made to grow in a pyramidal
form, the lowest branches almost on the ground.
In its native home it bears a beautiful snow-white
flower, with a fragrant perfume, but the blossom
is short lived. The variety grown in Java has a
bright red flower, and the coffee plantations pre-
sent a delightful appearance when the trees are in
bloom. The fruit when ripe is not unlike a small
cherry, and is of a dark crimson colour. In each
fruit are two seeds embedded in pulp of a bluish or
else a yellowish colour, according to the kind of
plant. From these berries, after they have gone
through the processes of being freed from the
pulp, dried, sorted, and finally roasted and
ground, the coffee we drink is made.

The whole temple is in a very ruined condi-
tion, but many of the bas-reliefs are marvellously
perfect, especially one in the entrance to the in-
terior, on which Buddha is depicted seated under
a " Bo " tree, whose leaves have spread them-
selves out over his head, so as to form a pajong or
state umbrella; groups of worshippers are present-
ing him with offerings and incense, while Buddha
appears to be addressing to them words of wisdom.
The figures in this sculpture are executed with
wonderful skill and delicacy, and show little trace
of their long burial. We were also much in-
terested in another fine bas-relief, in which
Buddha appears as an infant in his mother's arms,
for it might easily have been a representation of
the Madonna and Child, as depicted by Italian
artists.

Right and left of the avenue are plots of ground
devoted to the culture of various kinds of trees
and plants, more than ten thousand species being
represented. One is reminded of that once
popular book " The Swiss Family Robinson,"
and that gifted family's experiences in the desert
island upon which they were wrecked, where they
found trees to supply all their wants. What had
seemed impossible in fiction was here in fact;
sausage trees with fruit shaped like that tasty
edible; soap trees whose fruit is used for washing
purposes by the natives; candle trees with what
looked like clusters of wax candles hanging on
the branches; bread fruit trees; the various palms
yielding sugar, sago, oil, dates, cocoanuts, etc.,
together with fragrant spice trees of clove and
cinnamon; all had their place in this wonderful
garden. In addition, the whole array of tropical
fruits, pines, melons, mangosteen, mangoes, etc.,
also flourish and abound. Hanging from the
trees are marvellous orchids which look like
butterflies or moths fluttering on the branches, as
you pass under them to the river which flows
through the grounds.

I also secured
some of the dried aromatic grass called Bintara,
which is dried and used for scenting linen and
garments. Then we had to make haste and pack
up to catch our train to Bandoeng; we were ex-
tremely sorry our stay at Garoet was so short. It
is a perfectly delightful place and there are many
interesting excursions to be made from it, but
time did not permit. The town itself is also
charming, with its many pretty villas and gardens
and lovely flowers.

Life in Java: with sketches of the Javanese (1864)
D'Almeida, W. Barrington (William Barrington)


As the road was now broader and
more even, we proceeded at a much more rapid
rate, passing through jungles of lofty umbrageous
forest trees, their sides and branches covered with
lovely parasites and creepers, under which, in some
parts, were coffee plantations, with husbandmen
tending and trimming them ; their white flowers,
something like those of the jessamine at a dis-
tance, impregnating the air with delicious perfume.

A short distance from this bench were twenty
mats, placed on the Sand Sea, on each of which
knelt a young priest, having before him a box of
myrrh, aloes, frankincense, and other spices, which
are sold for offerings. At right angles with this
row of mats was another row, with the same
number of priests, all kneeling in the Arab fashion,
their bodies partly resting on the calves of their
legs. They were all more advanced in years than the
others, probably the patriarchs of their respective
villages. Some of them even looked bent with
the " weight of years !" Behind each sat a payong
bearer, sheltering his master from the sun. The
sacerdotal dress consisted of a white gown, over
sarongs of batek, which were tied to the waist by
broad red belts. Over the shoulders hung two
bands of yellow silk, bound with scarlet, with
tassels and coins hanging from the ends. Round
the head was a large turban, ornamented with
gaudy silk scarfs. Before each priest were small
packets made of plantain leaves, containing in-
cense, chips of sandal -wood, and other preparations;
wooden censers, from which arose clouds of
aromatic perfumes ; and a basket of plaited rattan,
containing water, near which was a goupillon, made
of plantain leaves, with flowers fixed at the top.

Our path now lay between wild trees and shrubs.
One of these, the Jarah, has a berry from which
the natives extract a mynha, or oil. This oil is
used medicinally, and is also rubbed over
the wood-work of houses, for the purpose of
protecting it from the destructive white ants, to
which its strong scent acts as a powerful re-
sistant. A few coffee trees here and there
showed their sweet white flowers, and the wild
pine-apple and cane grew almost in our narrow
pathway.