New Year’s under house arrest: Nyepi in Lombok
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...
Word of the Day: Suberdosa
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...
Where Dances Kill
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...
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...
Catching Birds to Keep From Falling Asleep
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...
Jakarta Post article: Indonesia’s for-profit... →
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.
TEDx comes to the southside: Jakarta Post piece →
Handspun batik, Twitter and fighting illegal logging were among the disparate topics that shared a stage over six hours at South Jakarta’s first TEDx conference.
Durga Puja, the biggest festival in West Bengal, is mythologically the time of year when the mother Goddess Durga visits her ancestral home and triumphs over the forces of evil. Tearing up the streets and tapping into the electricity grid, communities in Kolkata build pandals—structures that house Durga and her god-children during their ten day visit. As communities vie for the best pandal...
Married in Green
Last week, one of the video-editors from my office got married. It was a very green affair. Yes, they did use ceramic plates but what I’m referring to is the color, the shade you might associate with the Javanese Queen of the South Sea, Nyi Roro Kidul. Swimmers and surfers that brave the rough surf of Indian Ocean along Java’s south coast are advised not to wear green. Legend has it that the...
Our neighborhood Corpse Lily
“Cewek atau cowok,” someone in the crowd yells out to the kneeling biologist. “Is it male or female?” Arms on the ground, the biologist faces her rear-end to us and focuses on guiding a dentist mirror along the innards of the newly bloomed Rafflesia. She wrinkles her nose and squints. This Saturday the Bogor Botanical garden announced the blooming of one of its Rafflesias—a once-in-fifty-year...
A piece we wrote on the Bajaus in Wakatobi for Al...
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/10/20121027184859926.html Here is Melati conducting interviews for this piece in the village of Sampela on our trip to Sulawesi in August.
Java, where the flowers are only temporarily yours
Earlier this week, a man up the street died. He was a well-connected banker, judging from the rows of flower-bedecked styro-foam boards given in condolence. Among the well wishers were branches of HSBC and members of the Indonesian government banking system. A canopy tent was set up, stretching out of the family home and across the street. Java is the most populous island in the world. In the...
Live New Yorker cartoon moment
Today, on the way to work, I saw a little girl in a long checkered dress and a black headscarf. She was wearing a fine-featured, traditional Javanese dance mask usually associated with Arjuna of the epic tale, Mahabarat. As I passed her on the quiet side-street leading to my office, she lifted her head to the golden SUV in front of her and stomped. It was like a New Yorker cartoon without a...
Faced with Fundamentalism
On the heels of a weekend of protests to the Innocence of Muslims video across the globe, Indonesian Fundamentalist group, Islamic Peoples’ Forum (FUI) and Islam Defenders’ Front (FPI) launched their own demo in Jakarta Monday. The hundreds’ strong procession—started at a busy roundabout in front of Plaza Indonesia, informally considered ground zero for protests in the Indonesian capital, and...
A sparsely populated island ringed by white sand beach, Hoga is a remote tropical paradise. Most people live on the nearby island of Kaledupa or in the Bajau fishing community of Sampela. This includes an old man with a blue hulled boat. We call him Pak, Indonesian short form for the honorific, Bapak— a term used for all older men. Most days, Pak wears a worn collared t-shirt...
Feasting with Royalty: Our Photo Essay in Jakarta...
Indonesians Royals Gather
Slow, Sweet Living
On the small island of Hoga off Kaledupa, we share a beach shack with an adventurous Moluccan couple that we met on the last leg of our journey. Karina is from Kalimantan, Putra from Aceh. They met and fell in love in Aceh, where Karina worked for the Peace Brigade. Dating was tough, they say with a laugh, in a place governed by Sharia law where even holding hands in public will land you in jail,...
Stepping off the lonely planet We land on a pile of parrot fish poop Where sea gypsies hunt tuna by sail And rooming comes with malukkans Kalimantan aceh A wooden bungalow once owned by buton royalty That’s southeast Sulawesi with forts Not the Himalayan ‘dom With ethnically cleansed gross national happiness. An old man poles us into bay, a grandchild in constant tow, Standing,...
A captain with a unique way of steering the boat from Wangi Wangi to Kaledupa.
After an overnight ferry ride from Bau-Bau, we arrive on the island of Wangi Wangi—the “W” in the acronym WaKaToBi. We strut across a Phinisi boat being unloaded onto the dock. From Wangi Wangi, we launch in yet another (smaller) boat from a Bajau village on the final leg of our journey to the island of Kaledupa.
Sailing into endless shades of blue
Laden with fresh fruits and vegetables, we board the small ferry in Bau-Bau port bound for Wangi Wangi. Our assigned sleeping places are on the lower deck—135 and 136 marked on the front of the plywood platforms. The noxious fumes coming from there give us a free head buzz. Motorbikes and cardboard encased refrigerators line the walls, creating a narrow walkway thru which passengers shimmy....
The buoy drop and rescue.
Three fourths down the strait between Pulau Muna and Buton, enroute to the first island in the string of coral bound paradises that collectively are called Wakatobi, the boat stops in Raha. We are greeted with the half-covered bulb of Raha’s new port mosque glinting in the sun and pre-teen food vendors jumping the three foot gap between the harbor and our nearing boat. The dangerous leap is all...
At the Kendari gate in Jakarta airport the landscape is already distinctly un-Javanese. In the faces of our fellow passengers on homeward bound journey, eyes are set further apart than those of Western Indonesians. Hair frizzes. We wake in the morning to a view of Kendari harbor from Hotel Cendrawasih—named for a bird species from the easternmost islands of Indonesia. A bird that has been...
Our newest journey begins on a Kendari-bound afternoon flight from Jakarta hardly a quarter full. We jet a time zone eastward through an orange sunset and land at a small terminal building surrounded by darkness. Kendari, the largest town in southeast Sulawesi, is a thirty-minute taxi ride away. To jog your memory, our last travels documented here took us around north and south Sulawesi. In...
Melati also reports on Toraja's 'Compost Master' →
Since it culminates in excreta (of luwak, or civet cats), how apt that the life cycle of the world’s most expensive coffee should also begin with quality manure.
Melati writes in Jakarta Post on Coffee Beans and... →
For gourmet coffee connoisseurs worldwide, the highest of high-end coffee beans come from the hindmost low-end of a civet cat.
White buffalo in Pasar Bolu, Rantepao. Allegedly sold for as much as 400 million rupiah (43,000 USD), these animals are the most highly prized sacrifices at Torajan funerals. Here, our peripatetic friend Rod Davis, inspects one specimen with his fisheye lensed GOPRO camera. The man has since motorbiked on to Northern Sulawesi
Late for a Torajan funeral, we arrive to blood-soaked mud at the foot of a tongkonan (traditional arched roof house). Ten ritually slaughtered water buffalo lie on the ground. Loud gurgles rise from their slit throats, the sound of lungs still trying to draw air. One floor up sit the coffins of the couple being feted finally, eight months after they passed on. According to Torajan beliefs,...
To answer our many questions about motifs on family homes at Ke’te Kesu, Heru turned us over to a chain smoker with a toothless grin and leopard print shorts. The unlikely looking elder turned out to be Tinting, an honored local casket carver, who had been written up in a government tourist brochure as “a national treasure.” To our many questions, he sagely gave few answers. The motifs...
We rise to strong Torajan coffee in the land famous for funerals. We’re primed for our introduction this morning to the ritual buffalo slayings that accompany funerals here. But first to old, broken tombs. Heru, a young local photographer, meets us at 8 am with his side-kick donning a legalize marijuania t-shirt. They have already rented us a motorbike, so we’re off (still buzzing on the...
Think you work hard? Check out this team of brothers we found in the Torajan hills pounding away on an axe head. Their father holds the axe head with long-handled pliers. After the brothers temporarily exhaust themselves, the father heats the axe head in the forge and the sons return to their synchronistic smiting. They produce eight to ten axe heads a day that sell for about ten bucks a piece...
Hello Sir. May I take your picture?
During this trip in Sulawesi, and occasional jaunts in Java before that, Brian has repeatedly proved to be a magnet for Indonesian school girls. “Excuse me Sir, can I take your picture;” “Can I ask about your country?” At Borobodur, two brave middle schoolers even asked him to sign their school uniforms. At first, I thought the popularity was mistaken. They must have found Brian a ringer for...
We head north along the seaside in Makassar to Fort Rotterdam, a Dutch fort, and apparently the best preserved example of Dutch architecture in Indonesia. It looks like it’s just had a new paint job—all tan and red. No crumbling buildings here. We have to go to the outer wall to feel its four centuries of existence. Walking along this outer wall, we find a class is in session taught by a...
Onwards to Makassar
First Southern word of the day Kuah cumi — simple Bahasa Makassar for blanched squid in a spiced, black, squid ink broth. The local South Sulawesi delicacy is surprisingly tasty.
Mikrolets: North Sulawesi’s public mini vans that look much like Jakarta’s sky blue angkotans. Pay 2000 rupiah (30 US cents) and climb in: you’ll find yourself in a party on wheels. Whether Indonesian folk, American pop or miscellaneous rock, the Minahasan mikrolet seems to be defined by its sub-woofer system. To accentuate the ride, some drivers even sport tiger stripped plush coverings or...
Amazing Grace in Tomohon. A quick stop back...
Hunting Tuna off Sulawesi
The fishermen gather in light rain that gets heavier, taking shelter under the overhang of a rusted shed. We wait in the dark on the beach of Bunaken island for the rest of the crew to arrive. It’s one in the morning and Bartolo, stocky and cheery (even at this early hour), sits cross-legged in the sand sorting his hooks from a yellow pouch. Another fisherman, wearing a traditional woven bamboo...
Word of the Day
Mata Sapi: Cow eyes. Bahasa Bunaken for an egg done sunnyside up. Learned this today when we walked into this island town of 2000 close to lunchtime. The scorching hot streets were empty save for kids. Their entire schedule seems to consist of games, riding bikes, and selling home-fried donuts to one another. After a short stroll on the beach, we manage to find the mothers. Gathered under a...
Diversity on Bunaken
“Situated in the very midst of an Archipelago, hemmed in on every side by islands teeming with varied forms of life, its productions have yet a surprising amount of individuality…Poor in the actual number of species, it is yet wonderfully rich in peculiar forms, many of which are singular and beautiful…absolutely unique upon the globe.” Alfred Wallace writing on diverse Sulawesi, The Malay...
Minahasa Meat and Greet
March 26—A friend of ours told us that the Minahasa people of North Sulawesi eat everything but stone. And we found evidence of this fact our first day here, forty kilometers south of our touchdown in Manado. By 7 am, the market in the mountain town of Tomohon has been bustling for hours. Preparation and sales happen simultaneously. In the vegetable sellers section, women peel the outer layers...
Gondblong: local flying lizard. Stands pretty much upright: arms and legs spread quite far apart, head higher than most lizards. Has two dewlaps, one under its chin and the other from either side of its tummy. Yellow flaps of skin flash out when it takes flight and flops onto another tree or when it wishes to camouflage in a hanging banana bunch. Back on a tree trunk, it folds its flaps and blends...