Indonesian Rantau

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  • Chapter 7: Tales of the Supernatural- "Of Holy Men, Dukun, and an Animist Enclave"

     

    By John Michael Gorrindo

    Indonesian Rantau

    Chapter 7:  Tales of the Supernatural- “Of Holy Men, Dukun, and an Animist Enclave”

    Riswan had grown to be a man I had come to depend on in important ways.  Luckily, he not only proved to be a most able advance man, but a provider of my food and lodging as well.  Of course, all this had been for a rightful price. 

    Our relationship had grown steadily over a period of months, and we had a friendship to show for it.  He was an immensely cautious, deliberate man, neither of which had been entries in my personal profile.  I had quickly consigned my trust to him, partially because I instinctually found him worthy of it, but mostly because I had no choice.  Ultimately, I respected his judgment, and that which I could respect, I could trust.  It so figured that the evolving nature of my Indonesian journey and the demands it threw in my lap called for some local expertise, and as if delivered to me vis-à-vis overnight express, that expertise came to me by providence in the man named Riswan.

    But Riswan tested me before giving me his own trust.  Maybe it was his Buginese blood, his upbringing, the nature of Bira’s harsh economic environment, or just his god-given disposition.  Most likely it was all of those reasons and more.  I didn’t mind, though, mainly because of his thoughtfulness and in particular, how he expressed it.  He could be warm and generous, but his throwback position in approaching people was business-like.  As a man who admired the no-nonsense, businessman’s approach to planning, executing, and assessing his life decisions, his interpersonal approach was to establish a clear line of communication and honestly set forth his hopes, intentions, and caveats surrounding any given proposition at hand that involved a relationship between yourself and him.  It didn’t matter what the nature of that relationship was- whether personal, business, or both.  He always negotiated the intricate waterways of human interaction with the same methodical care that was communicated point-blank, up-front, and with the utmost seriousness.

    To say Riswan had gravitas would be an understatement.  That he was so disciplined and consistent in his ways could be a weight one had to hoist in order to carry a relationship forward with him, but he was immensely fair and a man of his word.  This tended to make up for his lack of spontaneity that sometimes wearied and burdened me. 

    But Riswan had a way of working into my veins as a foreign yet compatible blood type my system couldn’t reject.  He was a calming influence that came along at a critical juncture in my life, and lord knows I needed calming.  His sudden appearance seemed fateful.  However confused and out-of-sorts I had found myself to be in middle age, my instincts for people and personalities had been keen enough to trust.  I knew I could easily follow Riswan’s lead, and that investing time in our relationship was possibly the single most important commitment I had to make while in Indonesia.
    Riswan was more philosophical than religious, but he certainly declared himself a Muslim.  But logic was the basis of his faith, not the other way around.  He believed the Muslim religion as manifest in the Al’Qoran provided the ultimate template for how to live one’s life down to the scintilla.  the Al’Qoran, according to Riswan, laid out the best path possible for a man or woman to follow in life. 

    For Riswan, the Muslim religion addressed the nuts and bolts of how to live best, both personally, and in relationship to family, society, and Allah.  It was because that path was so clearly logical to Riswan that he found it acceptable.  At least that is how he both characterized and rationalized his belief in the Islamic credo.

    But Riswan rarely visited the local Mosque, and I’m almost sure he didn’t pray five times daily.  He was no model Muslim in the Arabic, let alone Indonesian sense of the term.  Riswan may have been more rationally involved in his religion than devout, but he was still a man of passion, however tempered by his greater need to be balanced in his thinking and behavior. 

    That passion was for the capitalist way.  I always experienced Riswan as a man at once more secular than religious in his orientation.  The secular Riswan was a man driven by the entrepreneurial spirit.  It was difficult to know what came first- the chicken or the egg- but it seemed that Riswan’s historical success over twenty years of dealing with a western tourist clientele was due more to his natural admiration and affinity for peoples from business-oriented, wealth-driven cultures than the fact he wanted to immerse himself in their ethos and in so doing cater to them as would a sycophant.

    He would blithely tell me that his constant drive to make money and acquire land was in part motivated by the need to hedge against future hard times as Bira’s economy had historically been harsh on that account.  I simply didn’t believe it for a minute.  As an American, and a man obsessed with observation, I knew a passionate entrepreneur when I saw one.  A true entrepreneur is in love with creating new businesses from the ground up, and Riswan fit that profile to a “T.”  Therein lie Riswan’s passion and the key to what made him tick.

    Riswan held huge admiration for Chinese Indonesians, or as he always referred to them, “the Chinese.”  Outside of Dodo- another money-motivated personality- Riswan was the only Indonesian I had yet to meet who openly venerated the Chinese work ethic and their track record of economic success in Indonesia.  However much he emulated their acumen for generating and investing their wealth, Riswan’s casual reference to the Chinese as simply “the Chinese” rather than “Chinese Indonesians” led me to believe he saw them as foreigners.  If anything, he at least saw their business ways and work-oriented lifestyles as mainly foreign to Indonesia’s culture, and that was foreign enough to possibly consider them as aliens- a people with a very different approach to life who had come to Indonesia generations ago in order to make good in a land rich in economic potential.

    Sometimes I was not at ease with Riswan’s preoccupation with money.  I felt cultivated by him at times; solicited to encourage friends from America with much greater means than me to bring their money and invest it in Bira, allowing him to manage that investment as an honest, local agent. Perhaps I was being a bit reactive, but it didn’t go down well with me. 

    So too, his initial claims of being a local advocate for improving Bira’s educational institutions seemed terribly self-serving.  Specifically he agreed to help me advance my plans in becoming a volunteer teacher due to his support of local education.  My gut reaction was that he stood to profit from my status as long-term residence in his guest house. 

    His expressed caution at helping me gain a letter of sponsorship from the local department of education also seemed to serve as a ploy, overstating a case of how risky it was for an Indonesian to trust a foreigner and sponsor them.  My first impression was he wanted to convince me he was granting me huge favors in giving me assistance- my good intentions not withstanding- because by definition, an Indonesian took on a  potential liability by advancing sponsorship to any foreigner.

    Maybe he was ultimately right about the risks of sponsorship, but neither the tone nor degree to which his points were emphasized had the ring of truth.  Still, it could all be considered a test of my resolve, and just a means of carrying out that test.  And in Riswan’s way of thinking, it was probably a justifiable way of dealing with an unattached man, who, after all, had dropped into Indonesia as well as his guest house a perfect stranger.  There was plenty to be cautious about in these troubled terrorist times, and as he most appropriately suggested, “How do I know you aren’t going to be bringing narkoba (illegal drugs of any sort) into Bira?” 

    The reference here was to the widely publicized Schapelle Leigh Corby case; a sensational drug bust that had happened in Bali just prior to my arrival in Indonesia in the middle of June 2005.  Corby was a 27 year old Australian woman who upon arrival at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International airport, had been arrested for possession of over four kilograms of ganja which she had allegedly smuggled in, stashed in her surfboard’s protective traveling bag. 

    The incident had not only inflamed Indonesia’s worries about westerners smuggling illegal drugs into the country- an act possibly punishable by life imprisonment- but Australian popular opinion as well.  Cries for boycotting travel to Indonesia erupted all over the Australian continent. 

    Coming from California, where the smuggling of drugs over the Mexican border into the United States was so brazen and longstanding in tradition that it had taken on the playful nature of a “cat and mouse” game, I could only smirk at the stupidity of it all.  How truly jaded I was.

    But Riswan had forcefully made his point, and ploy or not, I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt and have the patience to see if we could move on to a higher ground.  My own logic told me I had nothing to lose and everything to gain in the process.  I may have been my own fool, but certainly wasn’t anybody else’s.  I would stay the course with Riswan and do my best to bring a spirit of trust and ethos of team work to our relationship.  Most fortunately, over due time we brought the best out of each other.

    One thing was clear- Riswan was a fount of information.  The primary interest I had brought with me to Indonesia were in the archipelago’s natural wonders and shamanic traditions.  Riswan was quite familiar with both there topics as they applied to Bira and the surrounding region.  I regret no having spent more time talking to him concerning these subjects.  My earlier-than-planned departure from Bira ultimately cut those conversations short.

    Concerning the local history of holy men, Riswan started with a story very close to home.  Overlooking both sides of Bira’s cape is its high point, a massive hill top set back on all  sides from the sea.  Its vistas were panoramic of the entire cape’s lands end, including the harbor, the resort town of Pantai Bira, the long stretch of beach along the west cape. and Liukang Island.  The hill’s steep western flank was covered by a thick carpet of lowland forest wherein lived bands of monkeys and reticulated pythons amongst other animals.  Standing atop the summit, one was treated to the sight of sea eagles gliding in long sweeping arcs along flight paths located above these forests, supported by the warm thermal updrafts rising up the hillside from the Flores Sea.

    Two neglected wooden structures, one painted red, the blue, had been built some decades previous on the flat area which crowned the vista’s highest point.  These unassuming structures combined to make the shrine dedicated to the famous local holy man, Puajanggo.  Puajanggo wore a long beard, hence the use of the root word “janggo,” which translates as “beard” in the local Konjo language.

    In general, Indonesia’s history is filled with stories of wandering holy men who gained a religious following due to their ascetic lifestyle, and alleged personal powers. Puajanggo was a local Biranese figure who followed in that tradition.  Like so many who had come before him, Puajanggo was an itinerant who wandered into and settled in an area from origins unknown.  His mysterious appearance was part of his mystique, as well as the fact that he had apparently appeared on earth from thin air, as it were, for he had no biological parents. 

    The legend of Puajanggo also tells of how he simply appeared in Bira one day-again out of nowhere- found inside the house of a Biranese family.  He was taken by locals to be a holy man, and the family in whose home Puajanggo had appeared allowed him to stay.   Puajanggo’s appeal seemed to come from the great fortune visited upon those who made the pilgrimage to come see him.  Pilgrims who brought him offerings of food and flowers were known to later gain substantial wealth and experience good health.  Puanjanggo was a living good luck charm.

    When Puajanggo died, his adopted family cut off his beard and kept it on display in their house.  One particular Indonesian Chinese family so venerated Puajanggo that they had built the hilltop shrine in his honor. thereafter making annual pilgrimages, bringing with them offerings of fruit, flowers, and incense.  Apparently after meeting Puajanggo, the family experienced great fortune and acquired substantial wealth.

    A steep gravel road was cut into the hill’s eastern flank, linking the hill top with the main road running just above the sea along the harbor side below.  It was constructed by Biranese labor under the order of occupying Japanese forces during World War II.  In fact, Riswan’s father was one of those local men forced to help in its construction.  Access to the shrine was by either walking or driving up this road, but the roads final stretch was so steep that vehicles were usually forced to stop and park, the passengers having to walk the rest of the way.  At the road’s main entrance near the sea was a split gate across whose two, tall concrete supports on either side of the road spanned a wrought iron arch within whose frame was spelled out “Pintu di Puajanggo.”

    Puajanggo  had not been forgotten, but his shrine was no longer treated by every visitor as a holy site.  Upon making my own pilgrimage to the summit shrine, I arrived to find a large family on a picnic outing, eating lunch on the small wooden floor space of one of the two shrine’s structures.  Pendopo style in design, this structure was likened to a small pavilion, stairs leading up from all four sides onto an elevated sitting area protected by a roof supported by four square corner posts. 

    Once they finished eating, the family tossed their leftovers, including paper wrappers and plastic water containers around the floor and off sides of the shrine onto the ground.  Litter was strewn all over the site, and the Indonesian reflex for trashing their land included holy sites as well.  This wasn’t the first nor last time I had experienced such violations.  Offerings of fruit, flowers, and incense were nowhere to be seen.  The lesser, secondary structure whose function I couldn’t figure had been defiled by graffiti.

    Riswan also told me stories about other local holy men whose personal powers might be considered more concrete.  Dato Tiro was such a man, and he could perform feats of magic.  In the “desa,” or small village of Makam in Bonotiro some twenty kilometers from Bira, it was said that Dato Tiro would walk along the local agricultural lands with the aid of a long staff.  Miraculously, water sprang forth and a spring was born at his feet. The local farmers were amazed and beholding as water could be scarce during certain times of year.

    Riswan may have prided in presenting himself as a man firmly rooted in the rational, but he most certainly believed in magic, extra-sensory perception, astral travel, soothsaying, and the supernatural.  That these phenomena had no rational explanation might provide grounds for dismissal by the skeptical bent of attitude product of the western mind set, but not so for Riswan.  What European colonialists had consistently disparaged as superstition was simply a documented fact of life amongst Bira’s peoples.  Again, Riswan’s logic as based on experience told him to have faith in the local traditions of the supernatural.  For him, this was a rational process of thought.

    As an example, Riswan never enters into making an important business decision without consulting his “dukun,” or Indonesian shaman.  In this case, we might better use the term “sheman” as his dukun is a woman.  His dukun lives in the village of Ulu Te Dong (Buffalo Head), which is the home of his wife, Irma.  This desa was about an hour’s travel away from Bira by local transport.  Unbeknownst to me I had met the woman and even taken her picture at Irma’s parents’ house-on-stilts one day as I had been invited there to take part in a Moslem ritual whereby the male elders of a family snip away locks of a new-born infant’s crop of hair, marking the child’s rite of passage into both the folds of village life and the Islamic community.

    As an outsider, and upon having just met many of Irma’s extended family and neighbors who dropped by to confer their own blessings on the infant and its greater family, I could not have guessed this woman possessed powers out of the ordinary.  My untrained, insensitive eye simply perceived her to be just one more unassuming member from the local community.  Nothing external was present to signal her uniqueness.

    Riswan owned Bira’s only large lorry, a massive yellow machine with a large flatbed with sideboards which he hired out to haul around water and building materials such as sand, stones, and bags of cement.  As owner of Bira’s only hauling operator, Riswan enjoyed a local monopoly as provider of such services.  This diversification of his income base was exemplary of his entrepreneurial  skills, and as tourism had declined in recent years he had invested in hauling as a sideline business.  But recently it appeared that his lorry had become his real bread and butter, clearly overtaking whatever income his guest house generated.
    Before purchasing the lorry, Riswan was sure to consult Irma’s neighbor. Ulu Te Dong’s dukun.  At that point in time, Riswan hadn’t yet seen the lorry he was to eventually purchase.  Primarily, he wanted the dukun’s advice as to the viability of creating his own hauling business.  He came to ask her specifically, “Is this business idea a good one?  Will it be a successful venture?” Secondly he wanted her to tell him if she could envision the right hauling vehicle to buy.

    Upon visiting the woman, Riswan was invited inside her family residence and once inside, asked to step through a curtained doorway into one of the house’s smaller rooms.  Riswan and his dukun sat together, alone on a small carpet covering the wooden-planked floor.  He explained the reason for his visit and set forth his questions. 

    She did confer blessing on his business plan.  She saw it as a future success for Riswan.  then she actually envisioned the right vehicle for the business, describing most accurately the lorry Riswan would eventually purchase.  I asked Riswan if maybe her description had created a power of suggestion, directing his attention towards buying a vehicle that matched her description, but he flatly denied it.  “No, she had actually seen the vehicle in her mind, and 90% of what she said about my lorry was true,” he maintained.  “And also, my hauling business has been very successful.  She predicted that as well.  Her power is to be able to see into the future.  Her power as dukun is to soothsay.”

    The woman’s life story was of greater interest.  She is a mother of three, and with her husband and children, lives an ordinary life under the humblest of circumstances.  Economically, she and her family rank among Indonesia’s poor.  and not being born a dukun, she gained her powers the hard way.  Some years ago she had become extremely ill for a prolonged period of time.  The illness was life-threatening, and it was not at all clear she would survive, let alone reclaim her health.  Her body was racked with pain and she spent much of her day in bed, delirious.

    At some point in time, she commenced fasting, deciding to only drink liquids.  After a long period of this self-sacrifice, she became inhabited by a spirit whose name she now, today , takes as her own.  She communed with and drew powers from this spirit who dwelled within her and eventually grew stronger and became healed.  In the process, she discovered she had become the possessor of special powers.  Not only could she foretell the future, but she had become polyglot as well;  speaking several languages most of which she had never heard. 

    Eventually she lost her ability to speak multiple languages, but her ability to soothsay remained intact.  The local villagers witnessed these changes in her, and began to call upon her for advice on matters of both business and health.  By this time, Irma and Riswan had married, and both visited her on occasion for advice themselves.

    The dukun is an age-old, pre-Islamic figure whose presence and function remains a fixture in most villages throughout Indonesia.  As with all shaman, the dukun has access to the invisible world around us, and mediates the natural and supernatural worlds for the community in which he or she lives.  As Islam gradually spread  across the archipelago, it incorporated this important figure into its religious equation, and Islamic holy men often assumed levels of influence through their own manifestations of dukun-like personal powers. The Indonesian dukun is often a practicing Muslim, but the animist roots remain deep, serving to confer the supernatural powers upon the dukun most directly.   The phenomena of the dukun is just one more living example of Indonesia’s multi-layered culture and religion.

    Riswan told me other tales as well, such as encountering and playing with a mermaid in the waters off of Bira’s cape while swimming with friends. (Could it have been an Indonesian Sea Cow?) He was fifteen years old at the time.  Because Riswan was such a serious, no-nonsense kind of man who sought security and comfort for his family in the most don-to-earth fashion, it was very difficult not to believe every story of the supernatural he told me,  and it was all in keeping with the ways of Indonesian culture, where the rational and irrational not only had equal standing, but were married together in a union that was believed to confer harmony, balance, and good fortune.

    It was now time to meet some real practitioners of adat, or traditional animist-influenced ritual, and my chance finally arrived.  Riswan asked me one morning to come along on a trip to nearby “Adat Tanah Ammatoa,” or the traditional land of the Ammatoa people.  He was accompanying a Spaniard named Julio, who was overseeing the development of a new hotel being built on top of the cliffs of the cape near Riswan’s Guest House.

    Julio’s motive for visiting the Ammatoa enclave was primarily for business reasons.  He wanted to negotiate an arrangement with the Ammatoa whereby they would perform rituals and ceremonies for Spanish tour groups staying at the new hotel once it opened.  the hotel’s investment group was coordinated by its lead investor, another Spaniard by the name of Amatore, and Julio carried out Amatore’s directives. 

    The investment group was all Spanish, and were currently working on the marketing phase of their hotel venture.  Soon a Spanish television production crew would be in Bira videotaping tourist objects in the greater area.  The tape would be broadcast in Spain to promote the new hotel whose grand opening was still several months off.  Not only natural but cultural attractions were
    seen as important in the marketing efforts.

    Riswan had also arranged for Julio to visit a retired educator, Abdul Hakim, at his home in Arah, a neighboring seaside village to Bira.  Hakim had in his possession many hard-to-find books, manuscripts, and articles detailing local culture.  Julio was prepared to purchase or borrow some of the materials, if possible, which would be edited into brochure or pamphlet literature to be made available to hotel guests.

    Riswan was doing this as a professional courtesy for Amatore and Julio, as he had an ongoing business relationship with them.  The Spaniards had contracted Riswan’s hauling services t bring in sand, rock, cement, wood, and other building materials for their hotel’s construction.  Without Riswan no easy arrangements could be made with the Ammatoa as he was trusted by the reclusive group having visited them several times as a tour guide.  Riswan could speak Konjo, the Ammatoa’s native language, and the tribal enclave did not allow for entrance into their sacred lands without an acceptable guide who could speak their language. 

    In effect, I was just along for the ride.  The hotel investors’ promotion proposals seemed untenable to me as I was predisposed to thinking the secretive Ammatoa would not allow outsiders to broadcast their sacred rites on television of all things.  My understanding was that the small tribe of animists shunned the use of modern communications within their own enclave.  Telephones, radios, and televisions were all banned from use by their own people.  But according to Riswan, there was a chance the Ammatoa would actually perform certain ceremonies that could be videotaped and later broadcast- but for a price of course.

    I had yet to understand the contradictions of the greater Indonesian culture let alone a small, reclusive animist group of whom I had next to no knowledge.  My preconceived notions of the Ammatoa’s “purity” were apparently romanticized and idealistic.  A more complex relationship was at play between the Ammatoa and the outside world.

    I was only aware of four animist groups in all of Sulawesi, though others may certainly exist.  the Bissu, or transvestite high priests of Pangkep, north of Makassar, were perhaps the most flamboyant.  As learned bearers of Buginese shamanism, one of their functions was to perform fertility dances at Buginese weddings, helping to insure that the newlyweds would produce healthy offspring. 

    The Torajans were a second group, and most well known, but they had been more-or-less mainstreamed by their conversion to Christianity.  The most mysterious and hard-to-contact group were the nomadic Wana, who numbered in the several thousands, wandering within the boundaries of the Morowaii Reserve, located on Sulawesi’s eastern peninsula, just east of Central Sulawesi (Sulawesi Tengah).  The Wana were hunter-gatherers who still used blowpipes and poison-tipped darts for hunting game.  The fourth and last group were the Ammatoa, whose ancestral land lie just outside of Kajang, a coastal town located on the Bay of Bone, some one hundred kilometers due north of Bira.

    Strictly speaking, animism as a religion was officially banned by the Indonesian government, but most ethnic groups throughout Indonesia still maintained some form of adat.  Adat is a multifaceted term and difficult to define.  Adat is used in Indonesia as a loose reference to pre-Islamic religious practices of the archipelago’s many ethnic groups, and can be synonymously thought of as ancestral worship.  Animism is often referred to as adat, but the two terms are not mutually exclusive. 

    Adat is a word whose origins are Arabic, and can be translated to mean “customary law.”  It exists in the oral and written cultures of every archipelago’s ethnic group, and is a body of customs and mythological lore as set down by the ancestors.  Outside of Papua, most of Indonesia’s tribal groups have been converted to Islam over the centuries, and have incorporated their adat, or traditional ways, within the framework of Islam, hence the predominance of syncretic religions in the archipelago. 

    Adat is often seen as being in conflict with Islam, by the reality is both have accommodated each other within the greater context of cultural change and evolution in Indonesia’s complex history.

    In this analysis, adat must be considered a general term, but animism is more specific.  Animism is a broadly defined concept and reality in the global, anthropological sense, but in Indonesia it carries a specific meaning.  As defined as an indigenous belief system, Indonesia’s brand of animism is specific to communities and the regions they occupy.  Spirits are believed to inhabit a region’s sky, land, its tress, rivers, rocks, and animals.  As such, animism is a local, not universal religion.  The powers of the spirits reside locally, and are contained within ethno-geographical boundaries.  Their powers and influence to which local peoples are subject do not extend beyond those boundaries. No claims are made as to local spirits having universal relevance.  The universal religions of Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism are transcendent of locality, and their adoption by local ethnic or island groups have helped provide for a belief system these groups could carry with them and find outside their locales in their travels.

    As such animism can be considered pantheistic or polytheistic.  When the Indonesian republic was formed, the guiding principles were set forth in the Panca Sila, a set of five, overarching precepts that were enumerated in terms of importance.  The Panca Sila- or “Five Pillars”- was the republic’s declared philosophical basis meant to bind together all of Indonesia’s island communities into one nation. 

    The fifth pillar declared that all the people’s of Indonesia would practice a religion which believed in one god.  One of the government’s earliest policies was that of unificasi (unification), and as part of that policy’s enforcement, government agencies made systematic attempts to force all Indonesian ethnic groups to adhere to the Panca Sila’s principles.  Religious practice that had incorporated adat or elements of animism into one of the five permitted religions (Balinese Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism) was acceptable, but groups within the republic’s boundaries whose religion remained purely animistic were pressured to adapt monotheism. 

    One tool of conversion was through the ongoing work of foreign missionaries, as well as Islamic organizations.  Animist groups also tended to live in remote areas, as are the Wana of the Morawaii Reserve, and attempts were made to settle them in order to force change upon their culture.  In the case of the Wana, forced settlement has yet to succeed.

    As for the Ammatoa, they have cleverly handled the government authorities  and their coercive  assimilation policies.  Nominally, they profess to being Islam, but there are no external signs of Islam within their enclave.  For instance, no mosques are present on their land.  Only recently have they allowed the government to provide them with schools, and the present younger generation is now being trained to read and write, a process that may forever charge the Ammatoa as their traditions have always been oral.  The effects of literacy will soon be realized.

    Traditionally subsistent farmers and keepers of livestock, the Ammatoans have also allowed themselves to become a tourist object, earning substantial revenues through tourism.  A lot of that tourism is “local,” as bus loads of Indonesians often come and tour “Tanah Toa.”  The Kepala Desa of the neighboring village coordinates these visits, and proceeds from the rental of black garments every visitor must wear before entering the gates into Tanah Toa are divided between the kepala’s offices and the Ammatoa’s village chief.

    The Ammatoa have so far managed to the keep the Indonesian government, its policies, and the rest of the world at arms length.  As Riswan, Julio, and I prepared for our visit, my mind reeled with a thousand questions; wondering what we would find within the enclave of Tanah Toa.

    Unruh, a childhood friend of Riswan‘s, dropped by the guesthouse early in the morning to pick up Riswan, Julio, and myself.  He owned a public transport van, and had chartered it to us for the day’s outing.  It was an unusually comfortable vehicle, but I noticed its tires were bald which set me to wondering if we’d suffer a flat on the back roads we’d be traveling.  Such worries don’t faze Indonesians.  If the expense cannot be spared to properly maintain a vehicle, they simply take their chances.  Life must go on despite safety hazards.

    Our first top was in the seaside village of Arah, whose town central occupied higher ground overlooking the Bay of Bone.  calling on Abdul Hakim, we were invited into the living room of his well-kempt, pleasant home.  he was now living on government pension as a retired educator.  Coincidentally, he had served for sometime as Kepala Sekolah of the very school  where I was now volunteering. 

    Riswan introduced him as Hadji, as he had already made his pilgrimage to Mecca many years past.  His living room walls were hung with several picture frames, some of them very large.  The largest glassed frame held an impressive color photo enlargement of the Grand Mosque of Medina, taken during Ramadan.  It was an aerial view that been captured with a large format camera.  The clarity and high resolution detail drew me in, and I studied the photo carefully, standing up close.  Great detail could be made out of the Kaaba stone itself, and thousands of bowing supplicants were pictured surrounding it within the Grand Mosque’s open courtyard.  The devout were so tightly squeezed that their mass appeared to create an intricate, abstract mandala spread uniformly around the courtyard grounds, with the Kaaba at the design’s center.  This was strikingly in keeping with Islamic code which forbids symbolic reference to living creatures to be used as part of any mosque design.  Other frames contained beautiful examples of Arabic calligraphy quoting scripture from the Al’Qoran.

    The living room also contained two large hutches containing both dinnerware and books.  Abdul was initially reserved, but soon warmed to our presence after tea and fried bananas were served us by a young women who appeared to be a housekeeper.  AS the conversation turned to the business at hand, Abdul, now near seventy years of age, would slowly rise from his chair every few minutes, and walk into an adjacent room, bringing back with him a book or manuscript pertaining to the subject of the current discussion.  As Julio was primarily interested in the pinisi, or fabled Bugis schooner, the first books Abdul set down on the coffee table had to do with the beautiful ship’s design, structural architecture, and history. 

    It was of no surprise that such books might be found in the possession of someone living in Arah, as the village was famed as the original home of the pinisi ship designers.  The pinisi was a mid-sized vessel fitted with oar-shaped, side-mounted rudders, and featured an elegantly concave curvature to its length reaching quite low to the water at  mid ship.  Traditionally only basic tools were used for ship construction, and a great deal of ritual and “superstition” ours involved as well, which prolonged the process.  Once the boat was completed and just prior to its maiden voyage, a goat whose forelegs are strung on the stern is sacrificed.  I had on several occasions seen the severed hoofs of a goat dangling by cord strung from the stern, close to the water when snorkeling up close to pinisi both in the waters off of Bira and nearby Liukang Island. 

    Arah was Bira’s sister-village according to Riswan, as the two had historically close ties.  It was Arah’s ship designers and ship wrights who drew only from their imaginations as no drawings were drafted, who worked directly with Bira’s skilled ship builders in Bira’s port waters to create the stock of vessels needed by the Bugis to ply the trade routes of the archipelago waters. Originally the pinisi, and its larger relative, the pelari, were all mast vessels.  Arah was also situated on a majestic span of coastline, huge rocks and limestone hills rising from its shores.  Cave systems were commonly found inside the coastal bedrock, some containing large pools of fresh water which had filtered down through the limestone, collecting in hollowed rock pockets.

    Julio, an otherwise guarded, business-like individual, expressed great delight at seeing these books on the pinisi and pelari.  He was a lucky man to have found what he wanted, and furthermore, he could purchase the book materials if he so desired.  As books were so very expensive and difficult to come by in South Sulawesi, I was amazed Abdul was offering some of his collection for sale.

    The conversation then turned to something of greater personal interest to me.  Abdul told us of an anthropologist from the University of Rochester who had lived with him for several months while researching materials for a book.  Professor Thomas Gibson was Abdul’s houseguest, and his resulting study of local history, culture, and language had produced the volume And the Sun Pursued the Moon- Symbolic Knowledge and Traditional Authority Among the Makassar.  Some of the research materials Gibson used seemed to be in Abdul’s possessions, including a reproduction of Paterioloanga ri Tu Biraya, or “Chronicle of the People of Bira.”  The chronicle was reminiscent of Homer’s Iliad, as it set down Buginese history in narrative verse.  Its pages contained the history of Bira stretching back to the fourteenth century.  Originally written in the Buginese language, it contained both the original Buginese verse and its English translation. 

    Each page was split into lengthwise halves, the original stanzas running down the left side, and its English translation in parallel on the right.  The lengthy, historical saga of the Bugis dealt with its kingdom’s origins, royal genealogy, periods of war and peace, with stories of the victors and vanquished, and details of social hierarchy, including the Buginese practices of slavery.

    Julio settled on the purchase of two manuscripts on Buginese boat building as well as a magazine article written for National Geographic, published in 1945.  The photo copy was entitled Sailors of the South Celebes, written by G.E.P. Collins.  It detailed the actual ship building culture in Bira during Collin’s visit to the area in the 1930’s.  He mentioned details such as the prevalence of tropical diseases plaguing Bira at the time, and his poor diet of eating only polished rice for weeks on end led to his contracting beriberi as well.  When the article was written some seventy-five years ago, one hundred eight ships were lined bow-to-bow along the Beach of Bira’s east cape, either in construction, repair, or beached for storage.  Those same beaches today are empty.  an entire way of life had vanished in the interim.  From slavery, to ship building, to tourism, a general outline of Bira’s history was beginning to take shape in my mind.

    After our fascinating visit, we bid our farewell to Abdul Hadji Hakim, who in parting invited us to visit him again.  We stepped aboard Unruh’s van, and he drove us back the way we had come in to Arah.  The land was dry, but covered with agricultural development, including large, plots of cashew trees, whose placement on the land looked completely natural.  There was no rank and file planting arrangement used.  Every kilometer or so we would pass a large horse-drawn cart carrying some load of harvested crop.

    Soon, we were at the crossroads back in Tanah Beru, and the van turned off onto another country road that would take us to Kijang and Tanah Toa.  The further we drove, the more remote the surroundings felt, and the rougher the road.  If it weren’t for the existence of the Ammatoa village, there would be little chance any of the tiny hamlets we passed through would ever have occasion to see foreigners.  The land was flat, and the stands of cashew trees grew ever denser.  Before the arrivals of the Bugis and other South Sulawesi peoples, this had all been wild, forested land.

    I didn’t know what to expect upon arriving in Tanah Toa.  Once we entered the general area we paid the obligatory visit to the offices of the Kepala Desa of the village annex to the Ammatoa village proper, wherein we had to report our presence, gain permission to enter the Ammatoa enclave, and rent the black clothing that all visitors were required to wear.  These included a black sarong, black buttoned-down shirt, waist sash, and large black head scarf.  The Ammatoa all wore black as well, and I had yet to understand the significance.

    Moreover, Riswan had the responsibility of helping negotiate and translate between the Kepala Desa and Julio, concerning terms of the authorization and payment for allowing in both video production crews and hopefully later, a monthly program of Ammatoa ritual dance and music performed exclusively for tour groups bussed in from Julio’s hotel in Bira.

    The Kepala Desa was a most handsome man, elegant in his immaculately pressed, kaki-colored government-issue uniform appropriate his station.  Wearing a crisp, black Soekarno-style cap, there was not a hair out of place on his well-groomed head, and he sported the most perfectly trimmed mustache on the planet.  As we had been asked to take a seat on some very comfortable sofa furniture inside the large reception area, I was taken aback by not only the Kepala’s elegant appearance, comportment and manner, but also the beauty of his offices, which were part of a larger structure made completely of rare local hardwoods.  It was a far cry from the customary cement buildings that so dominated Indonesian government office construction design.

    Riswan, advance man and spinmeister par excellent, set forth Julio’s proposition to the Kepala Desa, who sat legs crossed and in perfect posture, listening attentively; hand to his chin; his face composed by an intriguing half-smile of diplomatic politeness. After some back-and-forth negotiation and a few consults with Julio, the Kepala Desa demanded a 600,000 rupiah fee for video taping performances of dance and music rituals. 

    The Kepala could not promise the Ammatoa would stage a dukun-led meditation rite whereby village participants would, after sufficient meditation-induced hypnosis, be asked to touch red-hot iron rods baking in a wood fire they had all huddled around.  The magic produced by such an event was at once powerful, and a supernatural force not to be abused nor conjured on a frequent, or unnecessary  basis.   The Ammatoa village chief would ultimately have to consult the dukun and decide if such a ritual would be performed on any given day.  Clearly, there were times when the rite could not be performed, as negative consequences for the village and its people could follow.

    Negotiating price tags in Indonesia is popularly reported as being a game of give and take, but, again, I found this generalization to once again be false. The Kepala Desa refused to budge on his opening demand of 600,000, but offered the concession that tour group visits would be charged at a lower rate, and as more groups visited over time, that rate would be reduced as well.  Of course, he did not quote those reduced rates nor when they might be made available.  Julio was a little uneasy about the arrangements vagueness, but he had no choice but to accept it.  The Kepala Desa was in full command, and was every bit as shrewd as his dress and manner were elegant.  Besides, the cultural worth of what Julio had bargained for seemed all together priceless to me, and I got the sense Julio was so aware, however begrudging his attitude.  Nobody lost out on this deal.

    The negotiations now closed, we stood, shook hands with the Kepala Desa, and were fitted with the proper black clothing by an office assistant.  the only shirt available for me was four sizes too small, and I feared I would rip out the shoulder seams if I stretched out in any direction.  We left the offices and proceeded to walk a good kilometer up a nearby dirt road surrounded by tall trees on either side to the gated entrance into Tanah Toa, which was a large wooden station with narrow passing portals supported by a large span of roof to which was attached the painted sign “Selamat Datang Adat Tanah Ammatoa” (Welcome to the Traditional Land of the Ammatoa). 

    Once again, we were required to visit a Kepala Desa, but this time it would be in the home of the Ammatoan village chief.  Along the way, we passed several Ammatoan house  made of wood, and all built in the South Sulawesi house-on-stilts style of construction.  I could not help but notice the major stilt supports at the four corners and at those points mid-span  in between had been cut from massive tree branches, stripped of their bark.  They were organically curved in shape, with diameters of up to a foot.  Prior to our visit, Riswan had mentioned several times during our talks about the Ammatoa that the largest virgin trees were sacred to the tribe, and could not be cut down as local spirits inhabited them. 

    Any branch that might fall from the forest giants to the ground could be used, though.  I surmised that these housing supports could only come form such a source, as the Ammatoans traditionally used natural materials found within the boundaries of their territory, which was a substantial tract of forested lands in addition to fields of rice and other crops. The massive size of these branches indicated they had fallen from huge hardwoods, and I was hoping to be able to visit these virgins woods before our departure later in the afternoon.

    Upon reaching the village chief’s home, we took off our shoes, left them outside, and walked up a steep set of wooden stairs.  We crossed though the open doorway and entered the darkened main room, maybe six meters square.  The air smelled of smoke from a wood fire.  The walls were made of milled wooden planks and the flooring strips of split bamboo.  True to the prohibitions I had understood, no modern conveniences such as electricity or plumbing were present, let alone telephones or televisions.

    The village chief sat in a far corner, dressed in black, and with a man sitting to either side of him.  The chief and his cohorts seemed fully prepared to meet us.  Whereas the neighboring town’s kepala desa we had just met emphasized appearance and the protocol of etiquette, the Ammatoan chief generated a pure, unassuming aura. 

    And it was beatific.  His kind and gentle face was one I had never seen the likes of in Indonesia. Captivating eyes peered out at us through a squint produced from upward curved wrinkles, probably the result of years of smiles and laughter.  The twinkled with a special light of their own; a kind of love light that could only be produced from within by the heart and mind of a sage or prophet of love. 

    Instantly feeling welcomed, the body armor I usually carried with me slipped away in his presence, as would the shackles of a prisoner suddenly released from self-imposed indentured servitude.   He was at once cheerful, genial, and wise.  I felt him to be a spiritual leader of his people upon first impression.  Maybe that is what the Ammatoa looked for in a chief.  If this was true,  they had shown the wisdom to choose the right man for the job. The chief told us latter he was seventy, but he looked no older than fifty-five to my western eyes.

    Sitting to his right, his back propped-up against the partition wall separating the front room from the kitchen was a partially bearded village elder who claimed to be over one hundred years old, possibly as old as one hundred twenty all seemed to agree, but everyone had lost count, including the man himself.  To the chief’s left sat the most unique looking of the three; a man sporting a long clump of beard drooping from chin’s end; with a chubby, pock-marked face, and upon smiling revealed a mouth missing several front teeth.  Those teeth he did have were indelibly stained a rich crimson.  The discoloration could only mean one thing.

    Yes, I had heard so much about the use of betel nut, or buah pinang- the fruit seed of the areca palm, and finally I was face-to-face with an Indonesian betel nut man.  I was itching to ask if I could try some, but I needed to wait for the opportunity to present itself.

    The three men all knew Riswan, as he had already visited several times in previous years.  He sat smiling, not a customary affect of countenance for Riswan, and he began to fulfill his role as translator between the Ammatoans and Julio and I.  The three men sitting before us remarkably bore no common facial appearances whatsoever.  The chief resemble a mix of possibly Indochinese, Malay, and Mongolian blood; the centenarian’s long, narrow face was strikingly similar to pictures I had seen of elderly Vietnamese (such as Ho Chi Minh); the third reminded me of a Sumbanese priest I had seen in a Blair Brother’s video.

    After formal introductions and a little ice breaking conversation, a question and answer period followed.  I was the one to ask most of the questions, and the chief asked several himself.  Julio was at a disadvantage, as both his Indonesian and English were  quite poor. and Riswan did not know any Spanish. I queried the chief about Ammatoa history and origins.  His answers were vague and limited in informational content.  Most likely it was by design as the Ammatoa closely guarded their culture.  But it was hard to know how much the Ammatoa really knew in “fact” about their historical past as they had always been an oral culture.  Their self-knowledge was self-defined, and myth served just as well.  All of this was purely guesswork on my part. 

    The chief could tell me their oral history included genealogy stretching back twenty-one generations, but they had existed as a people prior to that as well.  I wanted to know about their creation myths as expressed in story telling, but Riswan had trouble understanding some of my questions and dismissed others as treading on sacred grounds.  He took license is censoring my inquiries.  I tried my best, but made little headway. 

    The symbolic significance of the Ammatoan’s  black dress code was partially explained, though.  Black represented the darkness of space, and it was from the this dark matrix of night the Ammatoans could best look upon this, their realm of origin.  As a people they had descended originally from the heavens to live on earth a human existence.  To wear a black sarong amounted in part to “wrapping oneself in a piece of heaven” while going about the daily toil of living on earth.

    While we talked, the chief’s wife laid prostrate in the kitchen space, peering out at us, her head propped up on a pillow.  Remarkably, her countenance radiated the same love light that beamed from the eyes and smile shared by her husband.  Later we would see their daughter, a woman as beautiful as any I had ever seen.  This trio had my unhesitating endorsement as the worlds’ first family!

    After several rounds of conversation, I sensed if I did not ask for betel nut, I would lose my opportunity for a taste.  The centenarian had his sirih box in plain view, and I dared to ask him if the ingredients for a chew were stashed inside.  He nodded, and I immediately followed with a special request for some,  he didn’t seem to mind my directness, and commenced preparations.

    Inside his metal sirih box was a glass jar of chalky lime, betel nuts, and several leaves taken from a variety of local pepper tree.  The leaves were long, green, and leathery.  he poured some o the lime powder down a metal tube about two centimeters in diameter and twenty five centimeters in length.  Following with a couple of crumpled leaves, he used a plunging rod to ram them down the tube which was closed off at the opposing end.  Once the leaves had been crushed on top of the lime at the far end of the tube, he slowly and methodically began to pulverize the mixture with the rod.

    Within a couple of minutes, the mixture was of chew consistency.  The plunger was then placed within the inner diameter of the tube’s other end, and pushed  flush up against the stop.  The rod was now used to push the pulverized chew along the full length of the tube until it emerged out the open end.

    He had not added any betel nut, so the chew’s color was a kaki green.  I plucked a portion of the chew off the end of the tube and Julio took the rest.  I shoved it down in between my lower lip and gum, chewing tobacco style.  Initially there wasn’t the burning sensation from the ground limestone that I knew was supposed to accompany the chewing.  Our group’s conversation resumed, but I was yet to be satisfied as the key ingredient of betel nut hadn’t been given me!

    Determined to get what I was after, I requested another chew, but with nut added this time.  The chubby faced man to the chief’s left now responded.  He stood and reaching above his head, grabbed a large green pod which he had apparently stored up on a ledge running along the top of the wall.  The pod was the whole arena fruit itself,   and was unique to anything I had ever seen. 

    Sitting down again, he produced a small knife and cut through the fruit’s tough, shell-like skin.  Digging through the fibrous innards, he reached the seed at the fruit’s center, and pried it out with the knife tip.  Finally, I gazed upon the real betel nut- fresh, brown, and round.  After slicing off a few cross-sectional slivers of the freshly-produced seed, he set down the knife and opened a long, black, draw string sack.  Reaching in, he pulled out his own stash kit, including plunging rod, plunging tube, and an ornately finished metal sirih box whose lid snapped open and shut.  Popping open the box, he took out some pepper leak and lime powder, and repeated the same process of preparation we had just seen a few minutes previous. 

    The chew produced was a deeply saturated magenta- a color that seemed to have appeared magically.  None of the ingredients had been reddish in color, so obviously the alkaloids in the lime had chemically combined with the betel hut to produce a wholly new substance.

    Julio and I again reached for the chew, and our fingers stained red upon contact.  Riswan then mentioned that the older man had not included any betel nut as many initiates to the chew became dizzy from its effects.  Alternately described as being a stimulant or mild narcotic- two diametrically opposing psychotropic states- betel nut is classified as a drug of some sort!  either way, I experienced no measurable effect.  But one hour later, the burning sensation caused by the lime’s alkaloid did settle in, and both Julio and I were left with gums raw and irritated.

    Betel nut is used in societies throughout the Indonesian archipelago, and on the island of Sumbawa, for instance, its use is a symbol of peace and unity.  Upon entering a village and paying respects to its chief, betel nut is often the gift or offering an outsider will appropriately bring as a symbol of peaceful intentions and good will.  To sit and share betel nut is a communal act and is a bonding rite. 

    Chewing produces the rich red saliva that when spit on the ground is not taken as vulgar or insulting, but is symbolic of returning blood back to the earth.  This last point is central to the Sumbanese belief system.

    But a lifetime of chewing betel nut can be physically damaging, at least to the mouth.  Aside from the permanent discoloration of a user’s teeth, the larger problem is tooth loss.  I recall Lauren Blair sharing his first betel nut chew, captured on film, with two high animist priests in Sumba.  The eldest priest spent much of his time having to pulverize betel chew down to paste consistency due to the loss of not just a few front teeth, but all his denture. The drug contained in the betel nut is made available to the body by the chemical reactivity with the lime, but the caustic lime eats away at the gums and eventually loosens the teeth in the process. 

    Such is the price of engaging in symbolic acts of peace and unity in Indonesia!

    Red saliva soon filled my mouth, forcing me to stand and make for the door in order to spit outside.  After a few more rounds , I had wished there had been a spittoon.   Julio and I then signed the village guest registry, which is still customary when visiting small villages in Indonesia.  We slipped some paper currency into its pages before closing it and returning the register to the chief.

    Our visit was officially ended, we were now free to walk about the Ammatoan village which consisted of 2,500 people, their homes, animals and fields, as well as a large forested area.  Taking photographs inside the chief’s home had been forbidden, but was allowed while walking the quiet, dirt roads that wend their way through the silent enclave.  Not a car, motorbike, nor bicycle were anywhere to be seen.  Out of courtesy one had to ask permission to take photographs of the Ammatoans themselves, and I soon discovered some were amenable to the request while others were not.

    While passing one house, I asked a man who stood looking down at us from his porch if  I could photograph his home, and he most warmly acceded, inviting us as well to join he and his family for a visit.  Once up on the wooden porch area, the man, bare-chested and wearing only a black sarong around his waist, sat and talked to Riswan in the Konjo language while I was given permission to take photographs of his wife who was busy dyeing a piece of cotton fabric black.  The Ammatoans grew some of their own cotton needed for weaving the basic fabrics needed for their one basic piece of clothing- the sarong. 

    The process for dyeing involved the use of a sea shell suspended on a line attached to a kind of whippet which arched over the head of the dyer who sat on the floor.  In this case, the dyer was a woman, maybe in her thirties, and she paid absolutely no mind to our intrusion, her attention focused strictly on her work.  The sea shell was under some tension as attached to the whippet line and holding it firmly in hand, she ran its smooth surface in long, straight lines along the length of the fabric she laid out flat on a smooth surface of wooden board in front of her. The shell was used both as a vessel to contain the dye, and a hand-held applicator through whose opening the dye leaked out and on to the fabric as it was run across the fabric under pressure.  The art of application was based on the primary skill of running long, straight, true lines along the fabric holding down the shell with the proper amount of pressure. 

    As she repeatedly pressed into the fabric edge and ran out her dyeing strokes in steady rhythm, the fabric gleamed a purplish black- a color blacker than black.  She was hard at work rendering a piece of heaven a family member could wrap around themselves.  A younger woman, whose beautiful thick hair was as black as the dyed fabric, stood in the doorway to the house, staring down at the other woman sitting before her dyeing, and appeared equally oblivious to our presence.

    As Julio, Riswan, and I walked about the Ammatoan village, the people we did see were shy, not prone to making eye contact, and resolutely went about their task at hand; whether it be chopping fire wood, pounding rice with long lengths of thick bamboo in rhythmic precision with a work partner, or carrying a loaded basket atop their head barefooted down a rocky village path.  We hiked down into a draw and over a bridge where a well had been dug.  Young women were drawing water from the well’s surface pool and using it to wash their hair.  Everyone we saw, of course, wore the ubiquitous black sarong, and nothing else.  I never did see one pair of shoes on anybody’s feet.

    The only verbal exchange I experienced on the walk around the village was with a young girl, maybe twelve years of age, who stood at the gate of the wooden fence surrounding her family’s house with a younger girl next to her side.

     I asked in Indonesian if I could take their picture.  She flatly said, “Tidak.” (no), but as I moved on, she called back to me, again in Indonesian, “Do you have a writing pen I could keep?” Delighted at the request, I turned back and gave her one I happened to have in the shorts I wore underneath my own black sarong, upon which she grabbed it out of my hand, turned and ran back up the stairs into her house-on-stilts.

     This small incident had large implications.  For one thing, the youngster could speak Indonesian, which is still a rarity amongst the Ammatoans.  Secondly, she most likely was becoming literate, again new to her generation.  The inroads the outside world was
    making into Ammatoa were beginning to be made manifest.  Indonesian public schools had quickly made their presence felt as this young girl and her Ammatoan generation were quickly learning to speak, read, and write the republic’s official language.

    Riswan told Julio and I that it was getting late and we needed to make our way back to the van and return to Bira.  I felt like protesting, but it was not my place to make a fuss.  Retracing our steps back to the main entrance, I pondered all that I had experienced in just three short hours of precious time.  What lie ahead for this animist enclave?  Would Indonesia’s central government whose policy of unification had forced assimilation and settlement upon many of Indonesia’s more remote tribal groups be able to mainstream the Ammatoans through the insidious means of education?  Could the tribe maintain their way of life once two or three generations of their people had become a product of not only their indigenous culture, but that of the inculcations of Indonesian education? 

    The Ammatoans had allowed tourists access to their lands, partially in concession to the Indonesian governments entreaties.  This served to profit both the government and the Ammatoans in a promotional and financial sense, and was a satisfactory enough concession to the government who ideally would probably rather have had the Ammatoans simply assimilate.  Jakarta had enough reason to allow the Ammatoans to lead a life separate from greater Indonesian society while still maintaining good relations and economic ties.  So far, the Ammatoans seemed at ease with the arrangement.

    The truth was I had no answers to any of my questions.  I could only draw upon the unsettling platitude that “time would tell.”

    Like so many romantic, wild-eyed dreamers before me, I had been drawn to Indonesia because of the existence of groups like the Ammatoa.  I knew that ancient ways of life were under threat all over the planet, and a great homogenization was moving forward all over the globe, reducing the world’s diversification of cultures, just as a great ecological destruction was diminishing the world’s biodiversity of flora and fauna.  These dissolutions amounted in my mind to being the major theme of our time.

    Yet I was in part sympathetic with Indonesia’s philosophical reasons for their attempts at securing itself as a unified nation after centuries of colonial exploitation of both its peoples and resources.  The substitute reality, or “new order” as Suharto was fond of calling it, was of course to be held up to scrutiny.  Would unification through assimilation, resettlement perhaps, and centrally controlled education really benefit the peoples of an archipelago who had suffered at the hands of slavery, the economics of the colonial cultivation system, and hegemony of stricter forms of Islam?  My mind struggled to convince me to answer “yes” if only because it seemed an improvement over the past;  but my gut answered “no.”

    In their efforts to keep assimilation at bay, the Ammatoans had made some concessions, but had maintained discipline in banning telecommunications, television, and motorized vehicles from their culture.  They also were great stewards of their forests, and while practicing agriculture to supply their own food, had not developed it through slash-and-burn methods, preserved their virgin woods, and kept their population in check.

    Ammatoan families produced two or three children whereas their counterparts in places such as nearby Bira were still producing flocks.  Riswan himself was one of ten siblings.  The Ammatoans possessed a keen sense of how to manage themselves, and their self-discipline seemed to be key to their surviving cultural integrity.  One could only admire their valiant resolve to maintain traditional identity as a people.

    Once back in Unruh’s van, I felt jerked from the realm of one world and thrown into the confines of another, however plainly familiar.  As we started to drive away, we spotted a lone Ammatoan elder walking along the side of the road,  He turned our way, and Unruh stopped to give him a ride.  The man was some distance away from the enclave boundaries, and clearly he availed himself of modern conveniences once on the outside.  This was also part of the Ammatoan scheme, who like the Amish sect in America would venture out and do business with the outside world, only to return once that business was done, leaving that more foreign world safely distant outside a protected enclave boundary.

    The Ammatoans knew how to play the game of give and take with that more foreign, outside world in order to preserve themselves, but they could be fiercely protective as well.  We passed a group of Ammatoan men working on repairing an eroded section of road that led up to their land. 

    This sight prompted Riswan to tell us a story of a past visit when such a group of road workers nearly attacked with machetes the van in which he was riding.  That day, the van driver was racing along the dirt road at a dangerous speed, suddenly coming upon the workers who were in the middle of the road.  The Ammatoans took the driver’s speed to be an act of aggression, and dropping their shovels, ran off to the roadside, grabbed their machetes and grouped for a frontal assault on the speeding vehicle.  The shocked driver screeched to a halt, his van fish tailing along the slick, graveled surface.  The machete-wielding Ammatoans rushed for the driver’s door, and made an attempt to throw it open, grab the driver, and pull him out.  Riswan had to quickly use his ability to speak Konjo and think quickly in order to save the driver’s life.

    He smiled as he retold the story in his inimitable, understated fashion, but I knew he was dead serious and telling the truth.  In part his story was a cautionary tale directed to our driver, Unruh.  Truly, speed kills in Tanah Toa!

    As it turned out, my initial concerns about taking a long drive into the wild remotes of South Sulawesi turned out to have a basis in reality, and not my paranoia.  The van’s tires didn’t turn out to be our mechanical troubles, but an electrically intermittent fuel pump was.  For the next hour we proceeded stop and go.  The van would stall, Unruh would jump out and jostle the fuel pump around as he reached under the van’s side where he could easily get at it, then try the ignition; and if the van started up, he’d jump back in, race the engine, and then put it into gear.  Within fifty or one hundred meters the pump would fail again, and Unruh would repeat the entire process.

    Riswan and I stayed calm- as did Unruh- but Julio grew increasingly impatient and worried. 

    As seems to happen so often in Indonesia, just when you think you’ve been bested by damnable fate, luck comes your way.  We were able to progress as far as a tiny hamlet  which had, of all things, a car repair shop.  Located next to a small warung which sold benzene, soft drinks, and packaged snacks, we asked the warung keeper to rouse the mechanic, and soon our man of the hour emerged from whence I do not know, as he wasn’t to be found in his shop.  The sun would soon be setting, and it seemed to be a race against time to repair the van.  The repairman laid down on his back on the graveled road and positioned himself under the side of the van.  He dismantled the fuel pump and attempted to first diagnose its problem and then repair it, but to no avail.

    By this time, a crowd of locals had crowded around the van.  One man was apparently drunk or mentally checked out, and while the mechanic was working with the fuel pumps wiring, he decided to reach inside the van and turn over the engine as Unruh has invitingly left the key in the ignition.  This delivered a huge electrical jolt to the mechanic, whose body lurched violently, and he punctured his leg on the van’s chassis.  Jumping out from under the van, he rushed at the mindless villager responsible, and began to forcefully push him, yelling with surprise, hurt, and anger.  It seemed a fight might ensue, but the hapless offender was docile and neither responded in word nor action.

    Unruh hailed a passing motorbike, and hopping on, sped off to Kajang, the area’s only large town.  apparently it was only a couple of kilometers away.  I asked Riswan if an auto parts store would be open at such an hour.  “It doesn’t matter,” he said.  “Unruh will simply find the owner if no one is at the shop, and the owner will oblige them.”  This reality was something quite foreign to American business protocol, and I had to be thankful at this point in our road adventure that I was in Indonesia.

    Meanwhile, Julio was clearly becoming beside himself.  Apparently he had some appointment scheduled for the evening back in Bira, and it was important enough that he deemed it justifiable to walk off down the road to Kajang, abandoning Riswan, Unruh, and me to come what may.  I took Julio’s actions as short-sighted, selfish, and possibly stupid.  Riswan’s cell phone was running low on battery charge, cellular signal was poor in the area, and if Julio couldn’t flag a ride to Bira on his own, we might not have been able to locate him in Kajang in order to rendezvous and provide him a ride home.

    Riswan, usually a model of restraint, was rankled.  “What kind of friend is that, to just leave us here in such a situation and walk away?’  he said with the taste of bitter in his mouth.  Well, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, but the man who looks our for only himself just gets up and goes! 

    Personally, I had no emotion invested in Julio’s poor decision, but my suspicions that he was motivated primarily by self-interest and to hell with others were flatly confirmed.  The abandonment also served to remove the benefit of doubt I had forced myself to confer on Julio’s plans for organizing tours for future hotel guests to Ammatoa.  The whole scheme took on a sordidness in my newly reclaimed good sense, and my thinking again turned negative as concerns foreign investors and their insensitivity towards Indonesian culture.

    Unruh managed to return about a half-hour later with a new fuel pump, but it wasn’t an identical match to the original part.  Still, the mechanic managed to Gerry-rig and wire it up correctly.  Unruh turned over the engine several times, and after fits and starts of coughing and sputtering, the fuel pump had finally been primed and the engine was running smoothly.  After two hours of work, we thanked and paid the mechanic, and resumed our ride home.  Driving into nearby Kajang, we stopped to buy some bottled water as we were all dehydrated by this point in time. 

    A curious incident occurred outside the warung where we bought the water; yet another example of coincidence that is remarkably Indonesian in character.  Riswan met a man there who told him he had seen Julio in town and that Julio had paid a motorbike rider to take him back to Bira.  People on the street in Indonesia are quick to notice anything and everything, and can quickly fill you in on any news you might need to know- if you are worthy of it.  Not only that, but they seem to anticipate your need to know, and even though you may be unbeknownst to them, they will often approach you when you do eventually appear, divine your connection to a previous, connected event in town, and give you news you many times don’t even have to ask for in order to receive!  I just shook my head in disbelief.

    The drive back to Bira was in the black of a moonless night, and of course, there were no white lines on the two lane road nor were there street lamps.  It all conspired to make the ride seem interminable, and I wondered if we would make it at all as we came had on with so many large trucks who which seemed to come straight for us until moving over just enough to allow us to squeeze by.

    The adventure ended with a whimper as we safely returned to Riswan’s Guest House around 10:00 PM, but not before dropping by Julio’s hotel to see if we could find him as there was the small matter at hand of having to pay Unruh for his services, and Julio had not only left us high and dry, but had not paid Unruh as well.  As we pulled up in front of Julio’s, his hotel at night took on more of an appearance of a fortified compound walled in by cement battlements.  Riswan proposed I pay Julio’s portion of the car fare if he wasn’t found to be on the premises.  I had been extraordinarily calm and accepting all day, but the prospects of having to cover Julio’s ass, if only for a day before being compensated angered me.

    “Like hell I’m going to pay for him!” I quickly snapped back, raising my voice both in pitch and volume inside the confines of the van.  It was the only time during my stay in Bira I had spoken to Riswan in such a tone, and it sent him scurrying towards a solicitous ground. 

    “Don’t get excited!  Keep calm.  We just need to make sure Unruh is paid now,” he defensively responded, panicked at my sudden eruption.

    The truth was I actually hadn’t all the money required to pay Unruh in full anyway.  My cash funds had dwindled down to almost nothing as Bira had no ATM machines and banks in Tanah Beru did not cash traveler cheques.  the next day I had planned to travel to Bulukumba, the nearest fair size city where I could access an ATM.

    Luckily, Julio was home, and he came out to pay Unruh.  He had made his appointment after all, but never really apologized for his behavior.  I couldn’t tell if he was saving face or just didn’t have the integrity to even be aware of his action’s consequence.

    Finally returning to my room after a late dinner Riswan’s wife Irma had so graciously given me at an hour that usually found her in bed fast asleep, I set my mind to wondering how an Ammatoan might have handled the situation with Julio.  If it had been the village chief, maybe he would have offered Julio some betel nut as a food faith gesture prelude to a spiritual review of the matter.  But if it had been one of the roadside workers, I think betel nut would have been replaced by a flying machete.