King of the District: Part 2

23 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Governor Hain’s clove cigarette fizzes hypnotically, dipped in the incense, and from the utter darkness the ancestral Moro talks the Tobelo language in an old, old woman’s voice, the men around me reechoing jo… jo… jo… hypnotically.

It’s like an alien plainsong.

He comes in goodness. We all have good hearts. He will do us no harm. The Moro’s name is Adolo, Adol before he was baptized. We are not to be afraid. He is Christian. There is only one god.

Hain speaks first, asking advice on the governance of the island. Then the professorial, black-clad man besides me.

I’m told he is a powerful magician who has flown from Jakarta to be here with a question about a sacred kris, though the snatches of dialogue I think I understand seem to deal with national issues.

When Hain draws on his cigarette, a dark shadow appears in outline on the opposite wall. Hooded.

Concerned about exactly what traditional ingredients are in this incense, I flick my hand experimentally to see if it leaves tracers. But it’s dark.

Alex, our guide, talks to the Moro next. He has a very old statue which has been in his family for generations. His pastor wants him to get rid of it, an anthropologist told him he could sell it for thousands of dollars, but, although he has put his grandfather’s magic behind him since he became Pentecostal, he thinks it should stay.

The Moro agrees it should stay.

Then me. I’m a little muzzy from the incense, numb from the foreign language plainsong, but definitely not hallucinating.

Now, when I wrote stories for magazines a decade ago, I habitually asked very unusual people — from transgender warriors to midget wrestlers — very unusual questions.

This is by far the weirdest Q&A I have ever done, and I am completely unprepared.

I ask the Moro about his family life. A short answer. Hain has asked him this on tape. We can listen later:

My wife’s name is Oktofina. My wife is 291 years old.

They call me King of the Land. But before I was baptized, they call me Kahulu. After they baptize me they call me Lukas.

I am 379 years old. I have five children. Three boys. Two girls. I have a grandchild. I have 29 grandchildren. And my great-grandchildren, eighteen. And great-great-grandchildren, nineteen.

I ask when he was baptized.

Before the Portuguese came.

Who baptized him?

We have been here since the beginning of time. We have had priests since the time of Jesus.

Now, a decade ago, the whole region of Maluku was riven by fratricidal religious conflict: churches, shops and stores burnt, folk hacked to pieces with machetes. Muslim on Christian and Christian on Muslim.

Some Moro are Christian, some Muslim, others animist. There are good Moro and bad Moro but they all, Adolo-Adol-Kahulu-Lukas says, live in harmony. The Moro have religion. But they do not fight over it.

What was life like for him? Does he have his ancestors with him?

He was happy, lived happily, like we do now. His children are all around him. And his ancestors, too.

I want to delve into what the place looked like, how he lived, what he wore, but we’re moving between three languages right now and, while I have no sense of how much time has passed, I want to get back to Z.

Does he ever act to protect people?

Sometimes. During the conflict times. During the Japanese times. Then he would protect. But only some, and only at some times.

Some of the Togutil, who live in the forest as nomadic hunter-gatherers, believe they are the true Moro. Are they right?

No! The Togutil are not true Moro. They fight one another and kill one another.

I heard this man asking about foreign countries. How does the Moro know about the foreign countries?

When I go to Belgium, Netherland, Denmark, he goes, because when I go, he comes with me.

I ask the original name of the island, before the Portuguese called it Halmahera.


I ask what the Moro think about the logging of the forests. The incense and clove tobacco in this close, dark room are giving me a slight, dull headache.

They advise on the forest. They advise me that nature gives life to us. If you finish the nature, you will get disaster. They said that if they manage well and they replant, logging does not matter. For economic improvement, that’s fine.

But they don’t agree if someone destroys the nature, or someone gets the benefit and do not provide it to the community.

The Moro is getting tired. The wheezing and coughing increases. One final question.

Any advice for me?

You are on a long journey. If you hit trouble, have faith in god.

The plainsong rumble continues. I find myself joining in the chorus of “jo… jo… jo…”.

I hope that Z is alright, out back with the chess-playing chaps and the cars. Indonesians love children and he adapts well, but we have been here a long time and it must be late…

Then, one by one, for this is not a ghost, a spirit or a magical creature, but a real, physical being whom church leaders, too, have met, we are invited forward to shake the Moro’s hand. Hobbling on our knees on the rattan mats, to take a trembling hand beneath a pallid shroud that feels small, warm and, well, very much alive.

A thump, thump, thump as of bare feet hitting stone hard. And the Moro is gone.

The flashlight goes on. The mains is still off.

He knows that you will write about this. And he tells you that you can. But you must write only what is said within this room.

Z has my notebook and pens. In the end, I pull out my Mac and stick it on my knees, cross-legged in the half-dark, for what is one of the more unusual transcripts of my life.

What advice have the Moro given you, personally?

This is for a leader. I have to hold this duty bearer, my power, I have to serve the people, they agree for me to be the leader for the next five years. And even they want me not to stop. Even they ask me to go to the next level. Maybe district, maybe province.

And how many Moro have you met?

I met three people before her. The first in 2000, before I came to politics. But she has passed away. A queen of Moro. Her name is Mayam Orachi. After that I met Johu Berhuano. Adolo is the third person I met, King of the Land. At the next meeting, I will meet one of the oldest Moro: 2000 years old, from the time before Jesus.

Do you have many facilitators, or only this one woman?

Only one facilitator. She is a special woman. The first time I met her, I knew she has connection with Moro. We asked her for her advice, on a place to meet. And she assists us, encourages us. We have met in three places before this.

Now, of the people in Halmahera who can meet the Moro, most meet them by entering trance, fitting and speaking in voices.

Mr Luobo, the old Togutil man we met on his hilltop in the forest, playing his little violin, said we could hear his jinn but would never see him: only he could see him. And when he got old, the jinn would call him to hand his power to his grandson in a ritual, and then his grandson would see him too.

A very few of those who can meet the Moro cross between our world and the Moro’s parallel world, disappearing to spend time with them. Hain is, most people say, the only one alive who can meet them physically, which, to put it mildly, adds to his mystique.

Did your father or grandfather ever meet the Moro?

No. Only me. For the first time, just before I entered politics.

Journalistic habits dying hard, I grab the standard profile, a perfectly conventional political bio, as it pans out.

I was born in Tobelo, in 1959, so I am 51 years old now. Before entering politics, I was a civil servant, and have been in politics for ten years.

I have one daughter and two sons, no grandchildren yet. My wife’s name is Joyce: she’s a priest, with the Evangelical Mission church, and I am Vice-Head of the Synod.

I am head of the district in North Halmahera, also head of the party at district level.

We talk more though I’m itching to regain Z. And, finally, we walk out by torchlight, the mains clicks back on, and I regain a yawning, tired but perfectly sunny child.

He interrogates me. Retains his rationalist perspective. But has the tact to keep it quiet until we return to base.

Me? It’s been a fascinating evening, a spiritual experience for many of those in the room, and something, I think, I will never forget…

Some days later, on our return from Morotai, we go to Hain’s reelection party (long in the planning). We watch the winners of the talent contest join hands and sing a peace song on a big traditional stage, in front of a crowd of five or six thousand, at least one in six of the population of the capital.

I think, then, that the unifying message of the Moro – that every single human being on this island with 600,000 people, 19 separate cultures, a simmering history of religious violence and shocking levels of intrapersonal violence among the Togutil in particular, is descended from one people who want them to make peace – is a good one, and a healthy one, to spread.

He’s an interesting man, is Hain Namotemo. And I wonder how far he will go, and, more especially, how much further he might have gone, given a bigger platform to grow from than this scattered and disparate island, stranded in the Maluku Sea.

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3 Responses to “King of the District: Part 2”

  1. Tracy Burns October 23, 2010 at 9:11 pm #

    WOW… not sure what else to say but wow.

  2. Terry October 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm #


    This was a fascinating account. I thoroughly enjoyed your style of writing and the mystique with which you wove your experience.



    • MummyT October 27, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

      Why, thank you, sir, more crazy stories coming up soon…

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