Tag Archives: tribes

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

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 #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

From Hunter-Gatherers to Human Zoo

8 Aug View from a low-flying prop plane over Mulu National Park and the Mulu River. Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Leaving Mulu National Park on a little propeller plane, with rivers unspieling below us, a scattered handful of logging tracks carving their way across the hilltops, and merciful expanses of untouched forest before the gridded tracts of oil palms, it’s easy to see how remote the interior of Borneo once was.

In the days when the Brooke dynasty ruled Sarawak — even during the heady couple of years when Sarawak had an airforce (two seaplanes, one of which broke soon after arrival) — the trip would have taken weeks, if not months.

And nomadic tribes like the Penan could live their life untouched, as they had for untold centuries. Continue reading

The Big Race

29 Jul

Men from the Kayan tribal minority of Borneo carry a 32-man war canoe down to the Balui River.[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Watching two women’s eights, one women’s sixteen, and a mighty war canoe paddled by thirty-two men powering their way up the Balui River in the interior of Borneo, with a cox yelling instructions through a megaphone, has to count as one of the most surreal experiences of our travels so far.

Training for the Sarawak Regatta is Sunday’s big event in the tribal communities of Malaysian Borneo. And, for all its Oxford & Cambridge veneer, this river race dates back to the very different days of 1872.

And one of the earliest peace treaties between the warring head-hunters of the interior. Continue reading

The City Slicker

26 Jul

[tweetmeme source=”@mummy_t” only_single=false]Asun and Mimi sit in a cafe off the waterfront in Belaga, a town of 2500 souls and the major trading hub of great swathes of Sarawak rainforest, a hundred and fifty-odd miles upriver from the coast of Malaysian Borneo.

“Chinese wedding?! No!!!” Asun exclaims. “Chinese wedding, one day, you have one table, cost 350 ringgit.”

Mimi chimes in. “And you need many tables. Big family. I have ten brothers and sisters, so…”

“We had a Kayan wedding,” says Asun. “With a Kayan wedding, all you need to do is buy a pig, and everyone from the longhouse eats. One pig! Three hundred ringgit…” Continue reading

The Good Life?

18 Jun

Four year old Hmong girl holds a handbag, Luang Namtha province, Northern Laos.

The handbag is for pleasure. The bracelet for good health.

This is Sing’s eldest daughter, showing off her handbag outside the house her father built.

Her name means “Be Loved”. Be Loved’s younger sister is called “Be Happy” and the baby’s name means “General”. Appropriately since, like many youngest children, she isn’t shy about asserting her needs.

Sing chose his daughters’ names before he was married — late for Laos, at twenty-eight. His wife and he were working in business administration in Vientiane, the capital, when mutual friends set them up on a blind date. On their second date, five years ago, they married.

Their eldest is four and a bit. You do the maths. Continue reading

Babysitting, Hmong Style

12 Jun

Close-up of Hmong little girl carrying her baby brother on her back.

Babysitting, Hmong style.

It’s not easy being a woman in the Hmong tribal minority of northern Vietnam. Or a girl, for that matter.

This little girl is six, and had been carrying her eighteen-month old little brother in a sling on her back for most of the day.

The forlorn look? Continue reading