Tag Archives: spice islands

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

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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

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

When Travel Becomes Time Travel

23 Sep

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Tomorrow we embark for Pulau Halmahera, one of Indonesia’s Spice Islands, where we will travel back in time.

Our aim? To experience the nomadic hunter-gatherer life as it is still lived today, among unassimilated Togutil people.

And this is a journey almost as close to time travel as it is possible to get. A step right back into human history. Continue reading

Harvest Time in the Spice Islands

22 Sep Sun-drying cloves on blue tarpaulin by the roadside. Pulau Ternate, Maluku, Indonesia.

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Ever wondered where cloves come from?

Well. They come from many places now. But in the beginning, they came only from the Moluccas, the mysterious Spice Islands, a spattering of tiny volcanic islets which spawned unimaginable riches for their rulers and sparked the European powers’ race to the East.

It’s harvest time on Pulau Ternate, once the heart of an empire that stretched as far as Papua, Sulawesi and Mindanao in the Philippines, now just one more tiny volcanic peak breaking out of the Maluku Sea. So we jumped a bike up the slopes of the Gamalama volcano at the core of the island to see the cloves being harvested near the village of Air Tege Tege. Continue reading