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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke   30 November 1870


Novbr 30th /70

Dear Sir/

Altho’ three years have passed since I recd yr note accompanied by the 17 queries about expressions1—since then I have been a year in Europe or I should have sent a reply before—as I have never lost sight of observing the countenances of the people—more particularly the Dyaks of Sakarang and Saribus tribes—2 From Malays I think little originality can be expected as they are early tutored in conducting themselves in an orthodox Mahomedan Code— for instances—when seated on a mat receiving, or visiting a stranger, the feet are not to be shown—they are doubled up underneath—the hands clasped one on the other—not to show the palms—body slightly stooping & head inclined downwards—eyes looking down— in being surprised, they slowly move their heads to & fro with out expressing any remark— Their customs are brought from other parts more than derived from their fore fathers— I enclose a few answers to yr queries—and regret they are not more complete—

I have lately forwarded a female Maias to the Taunton Museum—3 I believe a perfect specimen— tho’ not large & found in the Rejang river some little distance from Si Munjau & Batang Lupar where Mr Wallace & Signor Brecari obtained their specimens4

If I can be of any service in obtaining a few natural specimens I shall be happy to do my best—

I am | Dear Sir | Yrs faithfully | C Brooke


Peculiarities of Dyaks

1. Astonishment is expressed by open eyes, general swinging of body & beating of hands on the Chest5 (this beating of Chest is particularly done by women, sometimes when pleased), calling out “Ake Indai”(oh! Mother.)

2. Shame has rather the effect of producing paleness, the same as anger. Natives say under such feelings they feel the blood drawn from their face.6 Red eyes are supposed to be a sign of fierceness or rage when they speak of the face as hot as fire— Young men show rage by blustering & talking loud, move their bodies and swing their arms about. I can’t say I have discovered perceptible blushes—

4. They show thought by contraction of muscle about the face with a solemn look as when interpreting dreams or omens by the sounds of good or bad birds.

5. When in low spirits, I could never see the corners of their eyes or mouths were altered— they feel acutely, and in most instances let their feelings have full play in grief, even to the enjoyment of it.

6. In good spirits, the eyes perceptibly lighten,7 and their expressions brighten; women put their hands before their mouths to hide them, when laughing.

7,8, 9 & 10. Dogged expression is fixity or rigidity of countenance & look of sternness (sneering or snarling is not often resorted to). Contempt is shown by a slight smile & in silence—8 disgust is expressed (particularly by Malays) by spitting out the word “Pōēh” or Po-he. Dyaks often utter a gutteral sound and say ‘Baka Jelū’ (like a beast). They also utter a sound like ‘Esh’, showing contempt, and the word ‘Cheh’ or ‘Eh’ from the throat expresses disbelief or equivalent to nonsense, humbug, &c. These sounds I think a stranger would find it impossible to pronounce as natives, as the ‘h’ is so thrown away from the mouth—

11. Extreme fear is plainly discernable by the general contortions of face, moving of hands, quivering of eyelids, downcast look & muscular irritability.

12. Laughter sometimes brings tears, the eyes nearly closed, they say they nearly make water from laughter, a common expression among the female sex.9

13. A man considering he could not do something or prevent anything being done, would not trouble himself & would say he was not clever or lucky.

14. Children protrude their lips when sulky—10 & put their fists in their mouths & stare as if in rage before generally crying.

15. The guilty, cunning or jealous show marks of their feelings in their countenances to quite as great an extent as Europeans.

16. The Dyak word for Silence is ‘Diau’—They do not ‘hiss’ to express it.

17. Affirmation & negation are not expressed by movements of head, a look from their expressive eyes & slight contraction of brow denotes negation, lifting the brow that of affirmation.11

To | Charles Darwin, Esqre | &c &c &c.

CD annotations

1.1 Altho’ … particularly 1.4] crossed blue crayon
1.4 the Dyaks … shown 1.7] crossed pencil
1.10 slowly … remark] scored blue crayon
1.11 I enclose … specimens 2.4] crossed blue crayon !alignleft!Enclosure:
2.3 Mother.)] ‘In surprise slowly move their heads to & fro and say nothing.’ ink
4.1 5. When … enjoyment of it. 4.3] crossed blue crayon
8.1 12. Laughter … sex. 8.2] crossed red & blue crayon
Top of enclosure: ‘36’ red crayon, circled red crayon


CD sent his list of queries on expression to Brooke in March 1867, with a letter that has not been found (see Correspondence vol. 15, letter to A. R. Wallace, 7 March [1867] and n. 2). For a list of CD’s queries (he sent slightly different versions over time), see Appendix IV; see also Expression, pp. 15–16.
During the nineteenth century, the term Dyak was often applied to any indigenous people of Borneo (Roth 1896, 1: 39–43). The Dyak people presently comprise Sarawak’s largest group of indigenous people, and include the Iban (formerly called Sea Dyaks; Kaur 2001). Roth 1896, 1: 38, listed the ‘Skerang Dyaks’ as living on the (Batang) Lupar River, and the ‘Sarebas’ people as living on the Sarebas and Rejang rivers. On the Saribas Iban, see D. Freeman 1981, pp. 5–10; the Skrang Iban are mentioned on p. 8.
‘Maias’ or ‘Mias’ is the Dyak word for orang-utan (R. B. Freeman and Gautrey 1972, p. 216). The Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (SANHS) was then based in Taunton, and in 1874 would move into Taunton Castle, Somerset ( Brooke sent several zoological specimens to the society (Simon Jones, SANHS, personal communication). Brooke was born in Somerset.
Alfred Russel Wallace referred to the Simunjon (or Simunjan) River as a small branch of the Sadong River; these lay south-south-west of the Batang-lupar, or Lupar River (see Wallace 1869a, 1: 46). The area is in the southern, or south-western portion of Sarawak. The Rejang (or Rajang) River to the east is the longest river of Sarawak (Columbia gazetteer of the world). Brooke also refers to the Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari.
CD cited Brooke for this information in Expression, p. 279.
CD quoted Brooke’s account in Expression, p. 318, n. 12.
See Expression, p. 213.
CD cited Brooke for this information in Expression, p. 255.
CD wrote: ‘I hear from the Rajah C. Brooke that it is a common expression with [Dyak women] to say “we nearly made tears from laughter’” (Expression, p. 209).
See Expression, p. 233.
CD cited Brooke for this information in Expression, p. 275; see also p. 277.


Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Freeman, Derek. 1981. Some reflections on the nature of Iban society. Canberra: Australian National University.

Kaur, Amarjit. 2001. Historical dictionary of Malaysia. 2d edition. Lanham, Md., and London: Scarecrow Press.

Roth, Henry Ling. 1896. The natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo. 2 vols. London: Truslove & Hanson.


Encloses a few answers to CD’s queries on expression. Continues to observe the expressions and habits of the Malays, Dyaks, and Saribus tribes [See Expression, pp. 21, 209].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 322, 322/1
Physical description
ALS 4pp †, encl 2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7386,” accessed on 19 April 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 18