One Man and His Dog: Death of a Serial Killer

7 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]It happened during the second gold rush they had, here in Eastern Halmahera, in Indonesia’s Wild East, back in the 90s.

When parties of twenty or thirty men from the villages on the coast, with their brushed-sand streets and corrugated iron mosques, would head upriver, panning for gold, like the San Francisco 49ers.

These guys? Well, they weren’t local, or they wouldn’t have made the mistake they made. Because to the Togutil people who still hunt and gather in the forest here, their dogs are almost as important as their children.

When other Togutil go to visit Togutil, they never bring their dogs. If they fought, there’d be trouble. Big trouble…

Dogs hunt down deer and wild boar. They guard both home and children. They breed unfettered and hoover up a diet of scraps: banana leaves thin and yellow from bamboo cooking, cassava peelings, the guts of animals they have helped to catch…

But they’re more than that. They’re part of the family. Far more than the scarlet parrots which adorn many a Togutil home.

But these seven guys didn’t know that. They were from Sulawesi, the big K to Halmahera’s little K, the sprawling island to the west, the nation’s mining capital. And they were here to make their fortune, not bother with the primitives.

Gold ingot via Wikimedia Commons

Gold nugget via Wikimedia Commons.

In the north of Sulawesi, folk will eat anything. Two legs, four legs, six legs, no legs: from bats to snakes to lizards, they’ll guzzle without a qualm.

And, yes, dogs too. (They call it RW back there.)

The brothers, Gala-gala and Goyo-goyo, nomadic Togutil, more hunters than gatherers, terrified even the folk around them.

Very tall and immensely strong, in muscles and, at least as importantly, magic, they’d approach strangers with a display that probably predates the war dances here: slashing down trees with their parangs, leaping higher and higher to cut the highest branches, making great leaps horizontally too.

The trick? Jump higher than them. Jump further than them. Cut more than them. And then, just then, they won’t come and kill you in the night.

They’d built little bamboo and fanpalm lean-tos as an overnight shelter, not far from where the treasure-hunters were panning the river for ingots. And when the dog came to the miners, begging for scraps, they were away in the forest, hunting.

Being from the north, the miners, well, they didn’t miss the opportunity.

They killed the dog.

They butchered it.

Then they ate it.

In the Togutil norm, the code of the people, killing a dog, like shitting in a river, can be punishable with death.

So Gala-gala and Goyo-Goyo didn’t wait.

In fact, they couldn’t wait.

They were in that white heat of rage which people unused to the kind of every-day accommodations one makes in towns, cities, even villages, let alone this grotesque provocation, unfamiliar with any law other than the norm, slip into from utter calm in less time than it takes a toddler to throw a tantrum.

They came to them. Right there, in the broad daylight. In their bark-leather loincloths and magic rattan bands, with spears, bows, arrows and parangs.

And they massacred them. Just the two brothers.

They killed all seven men.

Now, the nation of Indonesia is a patchwork of islands, stitched together from the old Dutch possessions. There are plenty of islands where the Dutch never ventured to enforce any law at all.

As, in fact, with much of Halmahera, an island larger than all Hawaii State, where nineteen separate cultures nestle in its crumpled innards and along its rocky coasts.

So in the badlands, tribal norms still function. And the national courts look leniently on folk who knew neither national law nor nation.

One example? In the code of the Tobaru tribe of Western Halmahera, the sultan of Ternate’s soldiers since time immemorial, the punishment for adultery is for the cheated partner to kill both the straying partner and their friend.

So when a woman caught her husband and his girlfriend in the act, and hacked them to death with a machete, she served six months.

Gala-gala and Goyo-goyo?

They learnt for the first time about both guns and the rule of national law when armed police came out in force to track them down.

They served six years, in Ternate prison, in the city, on the little island.

Long enough for Gala-gala, at least, to learn that slaughter isn’t necessarily wise.


storm incoming over calm sea between sulawesi and maluku

Not a good learner.

There was a Togutil couple, in Buli, where the mining is. To this day, nobody knows why, though one of their teenage sons watched the whole thing from hiding.

The best guess is they broke the norm.

Anywise. He killed them, Gala-gala did. Both of them.

The son?

Well. It’s not easy to take vengeance on a man like Gala-gala. Not with his physical prowess and powerful magic. Not on a man who has already killed nine people: seven of them healthy, well-armed men.

But when some folk from a timber company asked him to guide them in the forest, the son (his name, they say, is Matthius) asked his brother to come too. And between them, they formulated a kind of plan.

Gala-gala, you see, didn’t know them.

Though they knew him. Everybody did.

They found him, in the forest. They hired him, as a porter.

Offered him sugar and clove tobacco to carry a heavy – very heavy – sack of rice.

And bided their time in quiet terror, waiting for a chance, as they tread, barefoot, with the timber company officials in their jungle gear, along the forest’s narrow trails and river beds.

Then they see their opportunity. A big, heavy tree trunk blocks the way. Gala-gala, burdened with his large and heavy sack of rice, will have to bend down extra-low to get under it.

He bends. They scramble over the top. Commando-style, like lightning.

And as he emerges, bent more than double under his burden, they slit his throat. Just like you’d kill a chicken.

And here, in that fine mist of arterial blood, Gala-gala’s story, were this not Halmahera, would have ended.

foaming waterfall illuminated in bright light, borneo

But no.

He opened his eyes.

He stood up.

He started walking. Like something else, though. Not entirely human. Both more than and less than human.

So they killed him again.

And this time they did it properly. They cut off his hands and legs, and put them in the river to float away.

Without his limbs, Gala-gala’s corpse, or whatever it was, stayed dead.

The timber company guys?

Well, when the brothers came clean and told the story of what had happened to their porter, they decided that some things are best left alone. The forest was a safer place for them. And, y’know, no police report, no crime.

They turned, as one might, a blind eye. And, as one might not, carried on their explorations with the avenging brothers.

Meanwhile, down the river, one of Gala-gala’s brothers was fishing.

And when the large, strong, well-muscled leg came floating down the river, not yet too grey nor bloated, barely nibbled, he recognized it at once.

There was, of course, no question in his mind, or anybody’s, who would have done the deed. (The seven miners? Well, they were from Sulawesi.)

Fortunately, he didn’t know the brothers by sight.

So when he comes to Matthius, he explains that he’s looking for Matthius. Matthius thinks on his feet and denies he’s ever met himself.

“But he’s a strong man,” he says. “Very big, very powerful magic. Can jump very, very high, leap very, very far… Strong magic. Not a man you want to fight with…”

The brother hears this. And, since they killed the mighty Gala-gala, he figures it might be true.

So he runs to Goyo-Goyo, now living peaceably in a village, resettled, as one might say, successfully into a community. Says, we have to kill the brothers.

And Goyo-goyo?

To his eternal credit, he puts the brakes on. Stops the cycle.

He tells his brother about police and guns, about courts and prison, a world with not only walls but bars, a place where you cannot see the sky, a place in the city, a world away from here. They put you there, he says, and you cannot get out.

They think again. They let it lie. And, right now, at least, they live in peace.

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