Tag Archives: Moluccas

Hearts and Minds

29 Oct

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We meet Cam and The Big O on a WWII amphibious landing craft in a coconut grove outside the island’s capital. They are surrounded by a curious semi-circle of locals, a nice complement to our own substantial entourage, who trail back through the tall palms and young bananas for several hundred yards of scrubby grass.

The Big O is a lovely kid. His compact frame decked out in stripy surf shorts, boxfresh T-shirt, mirrored aviators and oodles of sunscreen, he can work a look as well as his English idiom.

An idiom inherited, like his dreams of Miami Beach, from the time the US Navy came to town. A formative experience for The Big O, the highlight of his 23 years on the planet.

Formative, also, it appears, for much of the population of what is, fundamentally, a small, conservative and largely Muslim island. Continue reading

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The Last Soldier

27 Oct Wikimedia commons image of WWii japanese flag

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]In parts of Halmahera, they remember Teruo Nakamura as the good Japanese. You know.

The one who didn’t rape and kill and pillage. Didn’t enslave workers to dig pits for war gold, then bayonet them when the work was done. (When treasure hunters on Halmahera find an Indonesian corpse or two, they know they’re getting close.)

In fact, Teruo met his wartime girlfriend when other soldiers were trying to mutilate her, and he recognised the magic which prevented them…

But this story’s not really about Maria. Though she’s alive, still. 105 years old, her magic as strong as ever, living the quiet life in Western Halmahera.

It’s about Teruo. Teruo Nakamura, the man who fought the Second World War until 1974. Continue reading

That Rockstar Feeling

25 Oct

Z's face cropped against sea background

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We saw some amazing things from the roof of the slow boat the other day.

Flying fish. Not just the big, silvery ones, threading running stitch across the sea like giant needles. But little dark critters, gliding low, low over the wavelets like flocks of aquatic sparrows, slender wing-fins carrying them for as much as a hundred metres before they splash into water which seems –- well, quite the wrong element for them.

No dolphins or turtles, this time, though on every other boat journey around Maluku we’ve seen one or t’other.

But, here, just north of the equator, an entire pod of killer whales, soaring and playful as dolphins, their giant dorsal fins pincushioning the water, gigantic black and white shadows sliding under the boat, hissing mushroomy fountains of spray…

Photo opportunities aplenty (had one a camera). And our fellow passengers had their mobile phones out in force, shooting for an entire hour.

Their subject, gentle reader? Not the wildlife. Ten a penny here.

But us… Continue reading

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. Continue reading

The King of the District: Part 1

21 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false] Governor Hain’s people pick us up early. 9.30pm, not 10.

It’s a big, slick, maroon people-carrier, a Toyota, I think, not quite as pristine as his personal vehicle, but it stands out a mile among the motor-rickshaws, scooters and mikrolet on the streets of Tobelo, Halmahera.

They call him the King of North Halmahera, Hain. He’s run the top of the island for the last decade and now he’s heading into his third term. There are two books on him in print: one sixth of the population of the capital, or thereabouts, will turn out for his (long-planned) reelection party.

But we’re not here to talk politics. We’re here, sitting in the back of this big, slick car, trundling through the dark, to meet the Moro, the long-vanished ancestors of all nineteen tribes on Halmahera. Continue reading

In Which We Dive an Undersea Volcano

17 Oct tendrilly fan corals in scarlet and orange off halmahera, indonesia

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Indonesia is not, let us say, short on dive sites.

And, when you can snorkel with giant manta rays, turtles and jellyfish defanged by evolution off Pulau Derawan in Borneo and see pretty much all the Togian islands have to offer (bar the plane) without fronting up for cylinders and BCD, it makes sense for any traveler with more time than money to be a little picky about where they actually dive.

An active undersea volcano, fringed with bright corals, falls well into the “yep, I’ll dive that!” category. One of almost 50 newly catalogued dive sites off Halmahera in East Indonesia, it nestles just offshore from Galela, only a couple of hours by dive boat from Tobelo.

The pure black sand beach, glittering with shards of mother of pearl, fringed by coconut palms and encircled by rocky coves full of lobsters, submarine hot springs and coral means there’s plenty for snorkellers too.

But descending into the crater itself? Wow! Continue reading

One Man and His Dog: Death of a Serial Killer

7 Oct foaming waterfall illuminated in bright light, borneo

[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. Continue reading

Tales from the Moluccas #3: Ibilihi’s Nutmeg

4 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]We pick up Ibilihi from his home on a narrow strand of yellow beach, backed by jungle sprouting out of coral cliffs, where he lives with his second wife and her disabled child, on a four by six sleeping platform with a fanpalm roof and a lower shelf for food and guests.

Skulls of deer and wild pig accumulate under a palm with split coconut shells, a midden for future archaeologists like the scallop shell mound we saw on Mariquit in the Philippines. There’s some scrappy cassava, a couple of coconut palms, some banana, but essentially, Ibilihi likes to live off the land.

The walking, breathing epitome of dour, Ibilihi is from the Togutil tribal minority. He’ll be one of our guides to the jungle of Eastern Halmahera, where we are going in quest of those of his people who still live as nomads, hunting and gathering in the forests. Continue reading

Tales from the Moluccas #2: Happiness on the Riverbank

3 Oct light shining through clove trees on pulau ternate, maluku, indonesia

Lima in his football shorts on the stony banks of the river

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Lima has just discovered clothes. Three months ago, in fact. Compared to the itchy bark loincloths he used to wear, they’re remarkably comfortable. An excellent addition, he feels, to his eminently satisfactory life.

It would be hard not to warm to Lima. He’s 40ish, he thinks, or thereabouts, with a ready laugh, a happy soul and keen eyes below wiry brows and wrinkled forehead.

A hunter-gatherer from the Togutil tribe, one of four minorities scattered across the crumpled, riverine forest of Pulau Halmahera in Indonesia’s Spice Islands, Lima is, I think at first, the single happiest human being I have ever, ever met.

He wants, he tells me, for absolutely nothing, and desires nothing either. Continue reading

Tales from the Moluccas #1: MIA

1 Oct

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]In the village, they’re still a little mystified as to what happened to Jeff. He was a missionary, you see.

At least, he said he was. Spent years of his life tending his Togutil flock, only recently salvationed away from their nomadic, hunting-gathering life and corralled, more or (generally) less willingly, into government villages.

Then, one day, he just went, well, Missionarying In Action. Continue reading