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The Head-Hunter
When the war between Spain and George Dewey was over, I went to the Philippine
Islands. There I remained as bushwhacker correspondent for my paper until its managing
editor notified me that an eight-hundred- word cablegram describing the grief of a pet
carabao over the death of an infant Moro was not considered by the office to be war
news. So I resigned, and came home.
On board the trading-vessel that brought me back I pondered much upon the strange
things I had sensed in the weird archipelago of the yellow-brown people. The
manoeuvres and skirmishings of the petty war interested me not: I was spellbound by the
outlandish and unreadable countenance of that race that had turned its expressionless
gaze upon us out of an unguessable past.
Particularly during my stay in Mindanao had I been fascinated and attracted by that
delightfully original tribe of heathen known as the head-hunters. Those grim, flinty,
relentless little men, never seen, but chilling the warmest noonday by the subtle terror of
their concealed presence, paralleling the trail of their prey through unmapped forests,
across perilous mountain-tops, adown bottomless chasms, into uninhabitable jungles,
always near with the invisible hand of death uplifted, betraying their pursuit only by such
signs as a beast or a bird or a gliding serpent might make-a twig crackling in the awful,
sweat-soaked night, a drench of dew showering from the screening foliage of a giant tree,
a whisper at even from the rushes of a water-level-a hint of death for every mile and
every hour-they amused me greatly, those little fellows of one idea.
When you think of it, their method is beautifully and almost hilariously effective and
You have your hut in which you live and carry out the destiny that was decreed for you.
Spiked to the jamb of your bamboo doorway is a basket made of green withes, plaited.
From time to time, as vanity or ennui or love or jealousy or ambition may move you, you
creep forth with your snickersnee and take up the silent trail. Back from it you come,
triumphant, bearing the severed, gory head of your victim, which you deposit with
pardonable pride in the basket at the side of your door. It may be the head of your enemy,
your friend, or a stranger, according as competition, jealousy, or simple sportiveness has
been your incentive to labor.
In any case, your reward is certain. The village men, in passing, stop to congratulate you,
as your neighbor on weaker planes of life stops to admire and praise the begonias in your
front yard. Your particular brown maid lingers, with fluttering bosom, casting soft tiger's
eyes at the evidence of your love for her. You chew betel-nut and listen, content, to the
intermittent soft drip from the ends of the severed neck arteries. And you show your teeth
and grunt like a water-buffalo--which is as near as you can come to laughing-at the
thought that the cold, acephalous body of your door ornament is being spotted by
wheeling vultures in the Mindanaoan wilds.