Tag Archives: spirits

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

Souls Growing Skywards with the Trees

5 Sep Trees silhouetted against twilit sky. Baby graves, Pana, Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, indonesia.

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At Pana, the cave graves were easy to find, half of them broken open, looming out of a granite slab in the oncoming dusk and framed by dark bamboo.

The baby graves? Well, as the beautiful kids who gave us directions and made us sign the guestbook said, they were in a “big tree”.

“These holes in the trunk,” I wondered to Z. But they seemed so natural, gnarled by age into natural knots.

So, no, we decided. They must be the bundles high up in the branches with the ferns shooting out of them, basket coffins transformed into a proliferation of life. Continue reading

Spirits of the Forest

18 Jun

Lichens form webs of green, pink and orange on the bark of a tropical tree. Nam Ha protected area, Luang Namtha, Northern Laos.

Tropical lichens spin their symbiotic web on a mature tree.

The sheer complexity of the ecosystem in protected, mature forest, from lichens spinning their symbiotic webs across old bark to the chaos wild pigs wreak on stands of giant bamboo, gives you a whole new perspective on the world and your infinitesimal place within it.

And when your guides are animists, who whole-heartedly believe in the spirits of the forest, the experience is deeper. When hiking in Europe you might lay a stone upon a cairn, as a good luck sign and mark of your travels. In the Nam Ha protected region of northern Laos you lay an offering of leaves at a sacred place. Continue reading