Law requiring minerals to be processed domestically has some fearing job losses and worsening air pollution.
Two weeks ago we moved into a boarding house in a kampung in central Jakarta not so far from the one in which Melati was born. In its narrow alleyways, toddlers and “free-range” chickens rove past chain-smoking grandpas spritzing their caged birds. Gossping Bu-s (the Indonesian equivalent of Mrs.) congregate around tempeh hawkers balancing vats of simmering oil on rickety food carts.
Here, not ten minutes from five-star hotels and busy boulevards, we feel like we’re in a village.The other living option are sanitized high-rise apartments towering above shantytowns like our kampung. For now at least, kampung living just seems more fun.
It’s true that rats, which scramble in and out of the fetid drains lining both sides of our daily walkway, outsize the scrawny cats. But here we are grounded, literally, in this mess of a city we have chosen to live in.
To get out of the neighborhood and onto the main road, we use a footbridge over a muddy canal. Here, the other day, I saw three young guys neck deep in the murky water scrounging for plastics, metal, and glass—which they sell to scrap recyclers by the kilogram. These amphibious pemulungs store their finds on Styrofoam pallets tied to strings around their waists.
“We come through this canal once a week,” said one of the scrappers, a bright-eyed 24-year-old who greeted my curiosity with a smile.
“The other days, we collect from other waterways in the area,” he said. “I have been doing this for five years.”
Just downstream, a row of toilets leak excrement into the river. Across the water three middle-aged men laze with fishing rods in hand, waiting for a bite.
“Is there anything worth catching here?” I ask.
“Oh yea. Big ones!” one of the fisherman exclaims while gesturing between his pinky and elbow to demonstrate the size of fish he has caught here. “Tasty?” I inquire, with a glance to the block of toilets across the narrow canal. “Enak!” [delicious], he replies. “Same ones as you eat there”, he says with a nod towards the roadside seafood barbeque tent advertising pecel lele, or catfish.
Later in the morning, we shop for watermelon at a market a short ways upstream. On our way back, we join a small collection of people on another footbridge over the same river. A dead, bloated python is snagged on rocks near the water’s edge. It’s wrapped around itself, but seems to be at least a dozen feet long.
When I mention the python spotting to Billy, the thirty-something year-old single father who is the middle generation of the wonderful Indonesian family we live with, he’s unsurprised. “There’s small crocodiles and komodo dragons in there as well”, he says.
Last year, the river flooded, and the water entered the house where we’re staying. If it happens again this year (January is the heaviest monsoon month), we’ll stand vigil with long spears to ward off the riverine beasts.
Suranadi, West Lombok—Wind rustles the palm fronds lining the paddy field below. Across the valley, a rooster tentatively crows. Even for village Indonesia, the scene is oddly quiet. Not a bad spot for some enforced reflection.
And that is exactly what I’m in for, this Nyepi – the so-called ‘Day of Silence,’ the first day of the Saka calendar that determines the yearly Balinese ritual cycle. No cooking is allowed. No electricity is used. Everyone in Suranadi, including me, must stay at home. Religious policemen patrol the lanes to fine violators.
That’s okay with me. After living a year in chatty, clangorous Indonesia, I don’t mind this rare, calm day filled with nothing but sunshine and birdsong. As a young reporter launching a career in a new country and about to be married, of course I have anxieties to reflect upon.
Then too, this silence is all the more welcome after the day I spent yesterday: following giant, day-glow parade floats, amidst crushing crowds, in sunstroke-inducing heat to the din of gongs and cymbals. The float imagery is all fangs and claws and disemboweled guts, vaguely drawn from traditional Hindu iconography, with a sprinkling of more contemporary social commentary – an enormous diapered baby to represent over-population, a rat in a necktie to depict corrupt officialdom.
These demons, or Ogoh-ogohs, are not real monsters but rather reminders of the many distractions that keep us from self-reflection, explained one local Brahmin priest, Ide Bagus. And in that way, the Ogoh-ogoh parade and silence of Nyepi are paired like Halloween and All Saints’ Day—a purge of evil followed by a day of holiness.
None of this looks much like the Hinduism I saw growing up in South India which was chaste and vegetarian. But what would you expect from a country that considers Hindu cuisine to be pork sate.
Some Balinese themselves are bothered by this disjunction. At the edge of the parade route, a group of Hare Krishna devotees huddled around an altar where three tonsured Brahmins wafted incense with a peacock feather fan. Down the road, a thirty-year-old Hindu evangelist sold copies of the Bhagvad Gita. “Balinese Hindus today have lost their way,” he said. “They get drunk, they gamble, they eat meat and eggs.” An ex-cock-fighter, he mended his ways to bring himself “closer to the original text of the Vedas.”
But by-the-book Hinduism doesn’t get much traction in Indonesia. In fact, over the last twenty years, the eclecticism and gaudiness of the Ogoh-ogoh tradition has only gotten more lavish. This trend is unlikely to fade either as the artistes behind the effigies come from banjars or neighborhood Hindu youth groups.
As Brahmin Bagus put it, “art is for young people to make and old people to support;” making the month-long process of ogoh-ogoh building a religiously sanctioned riff on the meaning of evil and distraction. And the arts and craft exercise instills a good dose of religious pride, if not co-opting of Hinduism by the young.
On the day of parade, the uninitiated might mistake the event as a multi-kilometer mosh pit. Teenagers decked with heavy eye-liner and bleached blonde hair sport shirts that proclaim them ‘Hindu.’ In bold Helvetica, other shirts beg ‘God Please Blessing Me.’ Pre-teen gamelan players use soda straws to exaggerate their spiked hairdos, head banging as they clang cymbals and gongs. Even the closing burn of effigies is left to just neighborhood youth. At dusk, mothers in more traditional sarongs head home. The young are left to stare on alone as their Styrofoam creations evaporate into the plumes of fire.
Yet there is something truly edifying about the practice of making and purging the world of Ogoh-ogohs, as I learned when I sketched out my own personal demon to burn. The process of linking multiple issues together into one problematic creature to depict gave me a lot of clarity. It also offered the rare adult moment to draw. Burning the painting under the dark, star-lit night sky was a rapid tutorial in detachment.
This morning, I woke with more confidence and clarity about the world.
By afternoon, the religious police relaxed their monitoring. Kids ventured into the empty paddy field to fly kites in the frond-rustling wind. Mothers carried bundles of laundry to the temple spring. They are ready for the New Year to begin.
This piece was written March 12th. The Mataram Ogoh-ogoh parade was March 11th. My parents and I are traveling through the east Indonesia island of Lombok. These are updates from our trip in no particular order.
Nope, this is not a nouveau cusine version of the Tamil dosa flatbread.
It’s Bahasa Maluku for “sinner”.
I heard it a lot in the week and a half I spent on Seram Island. It applies for a lazy man, or for a man who has just given a woman a once over with his eyes.
Berdosa is the Indonesian action verb “to sin”. Su is malukan slang for already.
Perhaps this is common in all of Eastern Indonesia but Malukan street talk usually means words without suffixes. Their counterparts from the western end of the archipelago drop the s in sudah (already/over) when chatting with friends. Malukans say su.
Nunusaku mountain, says the seventy-four-year-old ex-Raja of Waraka. We’re sitting on his front porch, perched on damp velvet day sofas below a silver tinsel Christmas tree. Just a hundred meters off, the Banda Sea rolls soft waves ashore.
The Raja (Indonesian for king) is smoking the second of his three daily packs of cigarettes and telling the origin myth of all the tribes of Seram.
It starts as all good stories do, with a woman. Her name was Rapihainuele, which means Lady of the Moon, and she was the princess of Nunusaku.
She had thigh-length hair and many suitors.
Twelve captains in particular were absolutely smitten with the Moon Lady. And one day, while the king (her father) was out, they tried to impress her with their dancing skills.
Surrounding her in a loose circle, they twirled. Each put on a display more beautiful and flamboyant than the other so as to win over the princess’s heart.
Their toes kicked deep into the earth in passion. Dust flew in a rising storm around their beloved. So deep in their own frenzy were the captains that they did not realize that the footprint of their collective promenade had imprinted a lake, a pool of water deep enough to sink the princess.
When the king came home, he asked where his daughter was. And only then, did the astonished suitors realize that Rapihainuele was gone. She had disappeared below the surface of their frenzy, their display. She had drowned.
In embarrassment and fear of the king’s wrath, the captians fled, Each chose a different direction and found themselves starting tribes of their own in separate corners of Seram island.
The captain who became the founding king of Warakah followed a river down to the ocean and there set up this spot with where his descendants would one day retire to chain smoking before tinsel Christmas trees.
A visit to the current Raja’s is even stranger. Here, tall doorways are hung with golden curtains. The ancestral loincloth emblem graces the ceiling trim.
Be careful to not offend the royal court (pictured here in the village ceremony house. The head of the traditional police system is on the younger man on the right).
Robbers, adulterators and anyone else deemed to be in the wrong by the village court system gets lashed five times with a stingray tail.
The last person to receive punishment had slandered the king in 2011.
A Christmas note from Seram—one of the islands in East Indonesia’s Maluku or Spice Island cluster.
I spent two weeks here, directly north of Australia, where sago is the staple diet; the largest animal looks a short blue ostrich; And old men spend the evenings on the porch discussing pygmies in the forest.
Between my work as part of a video production team and patchy internet, I couldn’t get these blogs up till now. Though not “current,” I hope they prove entertaining.
Pictured above are local girls practicing a traditional fire dance for a Christmas performance.
Below are two of the three wise men from a local nativity scene.
Squatting in the path between tree groves, the man peers in at the song thrush he has just captured.
“Kerja untuk biar tidak tidur,” he explains with a half grin. Work that keeps me from falling asleep.
A farmer by trade, usually he works the slopes of Gunung Salak but December is the offseason. During this time, he catches wild birds and sells them in the local market.
Mist drifts down the mountain behind us. By motorbike the hullabaloo Bogor traffic is only a half hour ride, but from here it seems a world away. His seems a pretty tension-free way to make a living.
Another hour along a forested path, at the base of a 20-foot waterfall that creates its very own gusty weather is another man. He explained his job similar to the way the bird catcher does. A warung [food stall] owner, he carves stone amulets while waiting for customers to feed roasted corn, or instant noodles and coffee.
Santai [relaxed], Indonesians call this lifestyle. Tranquilo in Costa Rican Spanish. Just a step away from boredom, work to do to keep from falling asleep. A reason to justify sitting in the woods.
Agus’s soaring vision for the future goes beyond cap and trade. He urges Indonesian concession holders to see beyond mere carbon sequestration. “Water, biodiversity, ecotourism, these are things that can be capitalized. If we just focus on carbon, we ignore these other values.”
This gecko sat on our kitchen floor for a full 12 hours.
After a poke, it registered alive but perhaps too young to move.
A quick internet search revealed nothing about the age at which geckos start walking but it looked similar in size to a photograph of a ten-minute-old one raised in captivity.
*Cica is indonesian for gecko.