In the village, further down the coast, there is a guardhouse, and in it a hollowed-out tree trunk instead of a gong. The rumble of that drum can be heard very far: punk-tak, punk-tak. Slowly, without excitement. It’s nothing serious, just a fire. But who cares about the fire in the Malay village? Dry palm leaves started burning, as well as the bamboo sticks that support the hut, and between them, mats started curling from the heat. The fire in the village is fireworks, a joke. In fourteen days the natives built a new hut; and with less lice. No, fire is not a serious case for a guard. A serious case is called: amok.
When one meets the Malays, he thinks at first that they are never nervous. They are always smiling, always busy with something, and they are so patient that we can't understand it at all. In temperament they are quite opposite of the wild and insidious Papuans, who live farther east. But still every man gets nervous from time to time, every nation and every race does. They all know about misery, anger, pain and rage. It's just a matter of whether they show it like Papuans, let it half-erupt, like we do, or suppress it, like the Malays. They are commanded by the custom of smiling, but in their hearts they also suffer. They suppress anger, collect it and pile it up - until it breaks them.
For many years, pain can accumulate in a Malay, maybe even all his life. As a camel carries a burden, so he carries the burden of his feelings. As long as he can. Until it becomes too much. Until the patient camel breaks under the last straw. It can be a tiny insult, which clenches his jaw and makes him foam at the mouth. Amok! Amok! The gong in the guardhouse thunders wildly and quickly: Trrrr! Prrr! Yes! - "Run, who knows!"
The Malay word amok, which means "attack of uncontrolled anger", entered the English language as an expression to run amok, which means a sudden, unexpected attack of madness, or a situation that suddenly, inexplicably goes wrong.
There he is, already running: a small brown man with a sickle or a knife in his hand. He waves his weapon in a wide circle, with insane speed, but he hits accurately and deadly. The buffalo, grazing calmly, falls to its knees with its gut out; a woman, a dog, two men and one child are left dead in his trail. Amok! Amok! Where is the wooden pitchfork from the watchtower? A long pole with two prongs, with which he could be stopped. Where is it? And who would dare take it? From a distance they throw stones at him as he runs; now he stabs at the coconut palm, and will not separate from it, furious that there is no blood flowing from it. Amok! Amok! This kind of lunatic can kill many people. Until he collapses in spasms. Or until others reach for the rifle and shoot him down. Amok-runner can be killed by anyone.
Sometimes it's not just nerves and accumulated, repressed anger. Sometimes it is malaria tropica with forty and a half degrees and delirium. And sometimes, a mutual suggestion. So sit two, three in company, hungry, worried, limp. One says, "We're going to die." "We all have to die," another joins him. - "We will die" - "To die" - "We must die" - "To die" - "To die!" - To die!" Or to run. Running is better than dying!
From Surabaya to Flores I wanted to sail on the “De Clerk”. And then I didn’t have time, so I took the next steamer. So I missed the amok, a Malay from Timor who got crazy while sailing on the "De Clerk". That is why I am not recounting it from my experience, but recounting what a passenger from "De Clerk", a Dutch supervisor, whom I met on Flores, told me.
'At one o'clock in the afternoon we were attacked by that sailor in his twenties, a native of Timor, an almost weak boy. We sat on the back deck for lunch: the captain, the chief helmsman, the first officer and three passengers, and talked about the war. In general. The first machinist said that war was a crime because no one was allowed to kill their neighbor, and then the Timor man came out of the kitchen with his head thrown back, rolling his eyes and with a knife in his hand. The knife was red. We later saw that he had already stabbed a Javanese cook and a Malay passenger under the deck. He flew across the deck, and the assistant helmsman, not knowing exactly what had happened, wanted to grab him by the shoulder. Amok! The second helmsman is called Buteling. Or rather, he was. When he was later taken ashore, he was unconscious, with three terrible stab wounds to his chest. The Malay stabbed him with lightning speed. Like a snake. Captain Van der Meyden noticed this from the front, understood what it was about, and got up from his chair on time. But the Malay had already thrust a knife into his shoulder. The fourth officer, Clerq, pounced on him from the side and stumbled back with an open gash on his arm. Now the first machinist and the first officer started chasing after him. The machinist took an the iron bar and fell a little behind.
Amok Syndrome is also included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV TR).
So the first officer reached him alone, hit him in the lower back with his knee, knocked him down and waved his knife at him. But the Malay turned around, pulled the first officer's knife through his fist, and cut four of the officer’s fingers, through the tendons all the way to his wrist. He wont have much use of that hand in the future, the first officer. Now the chief machinist Bit Zegfeld, he is a strong fat man. One who spoke about war and said that one should not kill. He hit the Malay on the head with an iron rod and knocked him down. That blow would smash the ox's skull, but it only stunned the Malay, because he jerked his head at the last minute, so the rod only grazed him. The main thing is that they caught him and tied him up, and now he's in jail.
"Isn't he in a madhouse?" I asked. "He should be put there, because in this case he did what he did due to insanity, not because he wanted to commit a crime. He was suffering from malaria.” “But when he stabbed the cook, he was still conscious.""And why did he blow up in the first place?" "Because the cook had denied him a cup of coffee."
That was the last straw, under which the smile of that Malay from Timor turned into rage. A trifle thing. A cup of coffee. You wont give it to me? Amok! Amok! Two dead and four mortally wounded…
But who knows what kind of burden that last straw fell on?
Flores Island, Indonesia, 1929.