Monday, 28 August 2006


Indonesia 2006
We have been in Indonesia for a month now and its absolutely fascinating. Our arrival in Indonesia was into Kupang in West Timor where our papers were processed quickly, efficiently and with the minimum of extortion. Our tour guide there was superb (and we have his contact)
Leaving Kupang we sailed north to Lembata to join the Sail Indonesia fleet at Lewa Leba. Sail Indonesia is a Rally of 100 international yachts organized by Indonesian Tourism Ministry. The welcome was amazing. A big Festival for the local island people was in progress and much traditional dancing and singing ensued at the highest decibel rating imaginable. We ate in little back street restaurants and the food was superb and cheap. From here we set out to explore the small bays and villages along the north coast of Flores.
The reception everywhere we have been has far exceeded our wildest expectations. The
generosity and welcome of these people is humbling and I wonder if we Australians are as nice to these people in Australia. Whilst in Flores we took a day tour with a group of yachties over to the south side of the island. Flores has many active volcanoes and some very high mountain country with fabulous scenery.
From Flores we sailed north through several island groups where we encountered our first purely Moslem villages. With some trepidation we went ashore only to be greeted with the warmth and friendliness we had come to expect. The conflict however is that the Moslem villages are better laid out, cleaner with better houses and their children are much better behaved. We rode our bikes along one of the small roads for a few kilometers and were followed by children who took turns to ride the bikes too. Delightful! On our return to the village the head man invited us for tea and cake. Talk about the center of attention!
From here we sailed north to a small island called Pulassi. A couple of fishermen wearing balaclavas came alongside and immediately jumped aboard! Pirates you cry! Nope! They were just paying a friendly visit! Curious about everything. We were planning a BBQ Ausie style on the beach just before they arrived and after much hilarity as we tried to communicate in Bahassa…ours isn’t very good…we established that it was fine for us to go ashore and cook dinner. Quite a small crowd had gathered aboard by then, including a man and his wife and we took them all ashore with us in the inflatable....they were tickled! The BBQ was a huge success, we cooked Kangaroo...this took some explaining…and lamb sausages. After assuring them that there was no pork in them they happily tasted our food and were very approving. They slept in their fishing boat very close by all night and Huck played guitar and we played Pigram Brothers and Yothu Yindi to them much to their delight.
“Tana Beru” where a huge variety of timber boats are constructed right on the beach. The first thing to strike you as you sail into Indonesia is the number and variety of boats. Almost without exception these are constructed of timber and are often extravagant shapes and colors. Most are built of Teak with Ironwood keels from Kalimantan and called Pinece these vessels are used extensively for transport and cargo. The design hasn’t changed much since the 15century. These are the same vessels which Makassan traders used to cross to Australia to trade with the Aboriginals.
On the beach there would be 150 boats some up to120ft long, under construction and we were invited aboard some of the largest ones. Many are built for overseas clients and the World Wild Life Fund has 4 under construction there at the moment. We also took a driver and guide and went down to Bieru on the south coast for a run. The country is very stony and not very productive. The main industry is boat building and their timberwork is outstanding, a high standard finish being achieved with very limited use of electric tools and some pretty frightening electrical wiring!
“Makassar” conjured up images of minarets in the mist with wild eyed cutlass wielding pirates all steeped in the foggy aroma of a hundred different herbs and spices. Well this image is pretty correct except the pirates are not wielding the cutlass’s only carrying them for ceremonial purposes; the Mosques are all shapes and sizes with stainless steel tops slashing the foggy scented air and the call to prayer dominating 5 times a day. Often they are very out of tune but make up for it with their enthusiasm and decibel level. They must have the biggest speakers n the world here!.
The foggy scented air is filled with the smell of gutters, drains, food and smoke. However having said this I must say it is the most delightfully exotic history soaked destination in Indonesia so far. The people yet again are unimaginably friendly. Rickshaw drivers, taxi drivers, bemo drivers, street workers: just everyone can’t do enough to help and they all want to talk to us.
“Tana Toraja” in the north of south Sulewesie a visit for 4 days.This region is inhabited predominantly by Christians of Bugis decent and their ceremonies almost defy description. Funerals are held here during a “Season” between July and the end of October. When a person dies the family set about embalming and storing the body in the back of the house telling everyone that they have a headache! (this may be for years) When they can afford the funeral everyone gets together and pitches in to build temporary houses from bamboo and timber all elaborately decorated family stay here during the funeral ceremony which takes around 5 days. Temporary houses may take several months to build and involve many hundreds of volunteer workers We saw one under construction since June and the funeral will be held in Mid Sep. Costing many thousands of dollars to build just in materials the owner also feeds all the workers everyday. A buffalo had been slaughtered for lunch!. Last year a temporary house cost one family 1Billion RP (even at 6.5Rp to the Ausie dollar that is an impressive sum).
The family home is a special building called a tongkonan. They are so elaborate and often hundreds of years old,! Highly decorated with carving and motifs of the area, they made from timber with elaborate boat shaped roofs constructed using bamboo and covered in thatch. The front pole has usually a huge display of buffalo horns arranged up it and these are from sacrifices made at previous ceremonies.
We were lucky enough to attend a Funeral Ceremony for several hours. Firstly we were introduced to one of the family and presented a gift (carton of cigarettes). We were then shown to one of the temporary houses and supplied with sweet strong coffee and an assortment of nibbles. Soon 11 of the large buffalo were lead into the grounds (which are about the size of 2 basketball courts,) and paraded for the master of ceremonies, one of the family heads. The ground is surrounded on all sides by houses and rice barns or temporary houses and this one has 7 barns and 2 houses. The color is predominantly red with beading and flags flying everywhere. The buffalo are presented to the family by friends and relations according to a very old custom.
Buffalo in this country do no work at all. They are raised purely for ceremonies and are the most pampered animals imaginable. They wallow in mud during the day then they are bathed, scrubbed, feet washed, teeth cleaned and lead off home to sleep under the house! The most valuable one sold here for 100K Ausie Dollars. It was a rare white one with black spots. None at this funeral were white but they were nevertheless imposing creatures and very docile. The Torajan people believe the buffalo carry the spirit of the dead to their god and as the journey is long and arduous they need big strong healthy animals.The master of ceremonies then read out the fate of these creatures. One was auctioned on the spot for around A$1400 and the money went to the church from the family. Several were gifted to relations. One was donated to the Mosque (and remember these people are Christian) in the interests of “peace and cooperation”. Several were lead away for future sacrifice. Two beasts remained. With very little preamble the first was tied by one front leg to a stake in the ground. I though the animal was very obliging considering all the blood on the ground around the stake from previous sacrifices of both buffalo and pigs. Then like lightening a cutlass was slashed upward across the unsuspecting creature’s throat opening a huge gash. He was somewhat alarmed but was quickly subdued with a judicious tug on his nose ring! Our guide whispered “Black Magic” somewhat distressed he explained that sometimes a spell is put on the knife operator and the animal although wounded will not die! It took several more stabs at the by now exposed jugular for the animal to finally fall dying onto the bloody ground. The fate of the second beast was just the same except that it managed to tear the stake from the ground and make a short dash for freedom before also being bought up short by his nose and tethered to his fallen predecessor. We left shortly after this! We learned that approximately 100 buffalo and 500 pigs were available for slaughter at this funeral alone, although to our relief they were unlikely to all be sacrificed this time. About half of them would escape till a later date.
The huge quantity of meat is either cooked and distributed to guests or portioned and gifted to the assembled. All these deals including volunteer helpers are meticulously recorded for future payback by the dead persons family.
“Tombs and Hanging Graves
From this ceremony we went to Lemo about 6 km south of Rantepeo where there is a very extensive grave site. The tombs are hewn out of solid rock into the side of a vertical rock wall and are around 2m by 2m cubed. The cavern has a small opening and all the members of one household are buried here over generations. Above and around the doors which mark the entrances to the tombs are large niches carved in which are placed Tau Tau. These are figures carved to resemble the dead person and they are increasingly complicated as the carving ability of the Tana Torajan wood carvers has improved. The Torajans believe the dead need to take many things with them into the spirit world so they go to their graves very well provided for. In ancient times these people were also head hunters and several heads would be hunted for a noble person to take with him as slaves for his journey. I use the word “his” generally because the women are equally well provided for!
Lemo graves to a House Initiation Ceremony and we fought our way down a very crowded road to the site where a new tongkonan was being consecrated. Lavishly decorated in traditional style, with festive flags, beaded hangings and lucky ikats. (Locally woven cloths) it was quite a sight. The temporary houses and rice barns brim full of people, dead pigs everywhere and one huge sow neatly caged above ground in a bamboo contraption presiding over the carcasses of her fallen compatriots. The incongruity of pig meat being carried off slung over bamboo poles, carried by men weaving between beautifully dressed Torajan girls in ceremonial costume of bright canary yellow and hung with colorful beads, was striking. Soon there appeared out of the crowd two beautifully dressed women who performed a traditional dance to drum beat during which members of the crowd dash in to place money in the headband of the girls. I dashed in to do my bit! There must have been over 1000 people here. One very important house this one, 500 pigs must die!
We walked through rice paddies and along embankments towards an imposing limestone cliff to another cave gravesite. Tau Tau lined up in niches and skulls and bones of long dead Torajans raked into piles and draped with offerings, often cigarettes! This is a very old site and many of the coffins are almost rotted away.
“Baby Graves On up the hill to an amazing burial site, a tree, a member of the breadfruit family! Many Torajan people are still animists although the Indonesian government outlaws it and they are often listed as Hindu or Protestant! Here in this tree are the bones of many babies. Called Baby Trees, animists believe a baby with no teeth is without sin and therefore requires no funeral. It is in fact not really dead. The baby is placed in a fetal position within a hole carved out of the tree. The tree oozes milk like sap which it is believed will nourish the baby. A fragile frame of bamboo and grass is placed over the hole and the tree gradually grows over leaving only a scar. When the frame finally falls away the family is satisfied that the baby has returned to heaven. Candles are burned here every Thursday and small offerings are made. Quite moving!
Before the Torajans had the technology to dig rock tombs they hung heavy timber coffins from poles suspend high on cliff walls or inside caves. We visited Londa Caves next where we walked by lantern light through caverns full of decaying coffins and piles of bones and coffins containing several family members. Torajans believe those who house together should be buried together.
The countryside is pretty spectacular, a drive high into the mountains reveals terraced rice paddies family enclaves the size of a small village and spectacular views of Gunung Sesean 2150m not the highest mountain in Sulewesi but impressive enough.
“A fishing village floating in the Lake
Sengkang heading south and we stayed at a local hotel, less salubrious but very clean and welcoming. A fabulous traditional meal was served to us by the owner (a princess), and staff. Our object here was to visit a fisherman’s village floating on Lake Tempe. This we achieved by boarding two long narrow boats called long-tails for the long shafted propellers utilized. These are driven by a variety of engines but the technique employed to drive one is the same. The boat is pointed in the right direction by use of paddle then the propeller is lowered into the water and off you go!. There is no steering aside from the paddle, and no reverse. Only forward and more forward!. They go quite quickly and at the bends of the river the prop is lifted out to enable the operator to change the direction with the paddle again. They prove useful for crossing the myriad of floating nets, lines, ropes and other debris encountered during the half hour run to the village. The village comprises a number of floating houses built on bamboo poles anchored within a bamboo fence to keep out the floating water hyacinth. The lake, only about 2 m deep and fresh water, covers many thousands of acres and about 300 homes roam about out here. Property is defined by tall tepee shaped bamboo poles driven into the mud. These poles hold the water hyacinth in place and provide boundary markers as well as shelter for the fish. Fishermen only may fish within their boundary. There are some common areas but this is used mainly as thoroughfare or anchoring area for the houses. Fish and shrimp caught here are salted for market. We had some lake fish for dinner the night before and it was delicious, sweet white and quite firm. We were invited to take tea and fried bananas with a local fisherman’s wife and the interchange was as delightful as ever. They were fascinated by the idea that we also lived on the water and came all the way from Australia.
“We are in the Navy now!”
Makassar is a thriving city of one and a half million people. Taipan was docked alongside the wharf at the Indonesian Naval Base where we were treated as honored guests again. We paid A$7 per day for the privilege and this included power, water and 24 hr security. Pretty good deal!
Our guide for the tour to Tana Toraja was named Mustari. A and he was fantastic. We had he and his wife, and two small boys to dinner with is in the city one night and he insisted we visit his home for dinner another night. This meant a foray out into the suburbs, about half hour by taxi, and an hour return in the night by pety pety, (small public busses). Everyone again was super helpful and all want to try to talk with you. Another day we went shopping at two of the huge shopping malls. These are as big as anything in Perth and stock everything except cheese!
After a little over a week we managed to drag ourselves away from Makassa. The last boats to leave, Taipan, Silver Fern (Kiwis) and Tweed.(West Ausie) There is so much still to see.