The printed copies of Where Australia Collides with Asia have finally arrived and there is nothing more exciting than holding the final result of many years of work in your hand. Unfortunately this feeling of euphoria is usually followed by the nagging thought as to whether it is any good. However, as always, it is the discerning reader who will decide.
Where Australia Collides with Asia follows the epic voyages of natural history of Continent Australia, Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.
The voyage of Continent Australia after it breaks away from Antarctica 50 million years ago with its raft of Gondwanaland flora and fauna and begins its journey north towards the equator.
The voyage of Joseph Banks on the Endeavour who with Daniel Solander became the first trained naturalists to describe the unique flora and fauna of Continent Australia that had evolved during its 30 million years of isolation.
The voyage of Charles Darwin on the Beagle, who after his observations in South America and the Galapagos Islands, sat on the banks of the Coxs River in New South Wales and tried to rationalize his belief in the idea of biblical creation and understand the origin of species.
The voyage of Alfred Russel Wallace, who realized that the Lombok Strait in Indonesia represents the biogeographical boundary between the fauna of Asia and those of Australasia. On the Asian side are elephants, tigers, primates and specific birds. On the Australasian side are marsupials such as the possum-like cuscus and the Aru wallaby, as well as birds specific to Australia such as white cockatoos, brush turkeys and the spectacular Birds of Paradise.
It was tectonic plate movement that brought these disparate worlds together and it was Alfred Russel Wallace’s ‘Letter from Ternate’ that forced Charles Darwin to finally publish his landmark work ‘On the Origin of Species’.
Available on order from your favorite bookshop or online retailer for A$34.95
What Burnet achieves in his wonderfully illustrated and narrated book is to relate the important role the Indonesian archipelago has played in the intellectual history of the West. In their seperate voyages Banks, Darwin and Wallace discovered the astounding diversity of the southern hemisphere’s natural world, and it was through their observations that the enlightenment truly came of age. Western thought found it could not reconcile the static divine word of the Bible with the diverse and ever-evolving scientific reality of the natural world.
… Ian Burnet’s very perceptive use of quotes from their public writings and private diaries allow us to see through their eyes the world they found and understand the intellectual problems it raised for them. Moreover in the case of Darwin and Wallace, we enter into their very troubled worlds as they tried to explain the diversity of life they found.
… Like the geology of the earth we live on, and like British society that founded modern Australia this wonderfully enlightening and delightful book is many layered
— The Indonesia Institute, Dr. Ron Witton
Where Australia Collides with Asia will be launched at the Canberra Writers Festival on Saturday August 26 at 2pm at the National Library of Australia, when Ian Burnet will be in conversation with Sally Burdon of the Asia Bookroom (a free event).
Today, July 31, 2017, is the 350 year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Breda which ended the second Anglo-Dutch war. Included in the Treaty was an agreement to exchange the Dutch claim to the island of Manhattan for the English claim to the island of Run which is now part of Indonesia.
The following is an article by Jewel Topsfield, the Indonesia correspondent for Fairfax Media, published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age.
Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that way Istanbul (Not Constantinople), 1953
Run, a tiny island in Indonesia, is about three kilometres long and one kilometre wide. Photo: Jefri Tarigan
Not many will have heard of the object of their feud – Run – a coconut-fringed island about three kilometres long and one kilometre wide. But everyone knows the island for which Run was eventually swapped.
On July 31, 1667 the Dutch and the English signed the Treaty of Breda. As part of the agreement, the swampy island of Manhattan in New Amsterdam – which the Dutch had “bought” from the Native Americans – was exchanged for the island of Run.
The island was famed for its nutmeg which is still farmed by locals. Photo: Jefri Tarigan
Ian Burnet, the author of East Indies, describes it as “the real estate deal of the millennium”.
At the time the Dutch were adamant they were the victors. “Few would have believed a small trading village on the island of Manhattan was destined to become the modern metropolis of New York,” writes Burnet.
Historian John Keay believes Run is to British imperial history what Runnymede, where King John signed the Magna Carta, is to British constitutional history.
Today Run has a population of about 2050 and is desperate for infrastructure. Photo: Jefri Tarigan
“Every overseas empire had to begin somewhere,” he wrote in The Honourable Company. “There might, for instance, be a case for locating the genesis of the British Empire in the West Indies, Virginia or New England. But there is a less obvious and much stronger candidate. The seed from which grew the most extensive empire the world has ever seen was sown on Pulo [island] Run in the Banda Islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago.”
A farmer harvests nutmeg on the tiny island of Run. Photo: Jefri Tarigan
In 2017, Run is almost as inaccessible and isolated as it was 350 years ago. The trip is still epic. Theoretically a Cessna Grand Caravan flies twice a week from Ambon to Banda Neira, an island near Run. But a plane part is missing that has to be sourced from Jakarta, or Papua, or the United States.
When Fairfax Media photographer Jefri Tarigan finally catches the ferry, an expected 12-hour voyage blows out to 17 hours in the monsoonal swell. Run is another two-hour boat trip from Banda Neira.
Dried nutmeg in Run. Most islanders still farm nutmeg and cloves as well as fish for tuna. Photo: Jefri Tarigan
The fragrant reason for Run’s fame – the tropical tree Myristica fragrans – is still ubiquitous on the island. Its seed is the source of nutmeg; its aril, or seed covering, the source of mace.
The islanders sprinkle nutmeg in their coffee and make candied sweets, soup and a treacly jam from the fruit. They export the flower, used to make cosmetics for Europeans and to preserve corpses.
But the golden era, when nutmeg was worth more than gold, is long over. Up until the 19th century, the Banda (or Spice) Islands were the only place in the world that Myristica fragrans flourished. The coveted Run – one of the 11 small volcanic islands – must have seemed like heaven.
“What we need most is electricity and health practitioners”, Says Burhan Lohor. Photo: Jefri Tarigan
There is little the salt-and-pepper-haired civil servant Burhan Lohor doesn’t know about the history of Run, so named, he says, because the English ran here from Banda Neira to escape the Dutch.
“There was nothing in New Amsterdam, nothing to be proud about, it was an uninhabited island. Banda was famous among European nations.”
The first Britons to visit Run, in 1603, would “willingly have sailed around the world several times” for nutmeg, writes Keay in The Honourable Company.
It could be bought for a pittance in the Banda Islands but when sold in Europe its value went up about 32,000 per cent.
English East India Company officer Nathaniel Courthope took possession of the island in 1616 when the islanders signed a contract accepting King James I of England as their sovereign.
“Not without pride would James I come to be styled ‘King of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Puloway (Pulo Ai) and Puloroon (Pulo Run). The last named, thought one of its visitors, could be as valuable to His Majesty as Scotland,” writes Keay.
The Breda Treaty ended the Second Anglo-Dutch war. The British relinquishment of Run gave the Dutch control over the Banda Islands and a global spice monopoly.
“It is important to know this event in history because it demonstrates how colonialism was carried out by Western nations in the New World,” says Indonesian historian Bonnie Triyana. “England, the Netherlands, the Portuguese and Spain were in competition to find new colonies driven by their desire for wealth. They arbitrarily treated what they found as mere commodities. These processes in history shape our situation today.”
Over the next 70-odd years the Dutch East India Company would become the most powerful trading company the world had ever seen.
But East Indies author Burnet says over time the prices fetched for spices – once the ultimate prestige item in Europe – began to decline. “The advent of tobacco, tea, coffee and other stimulants reduced the social status of spices,” he says.
When the British recaptured the Banda Islands during the Napoleonic wars they transplanted nutmeg seedlings to places such as Bengkulu in Sumatra and Penang. The price of nutmeg in Run plummeted and the Banda Islands ceased to be of much value to the Dutch.
And as for Manhattan? Well the rest, as they say, is history.
Today Run has a population of about 2050. Most islanders still farm nutmeg and cloves as well as fish for tuna. After the colonial era nutmeg farms were owned by the government. In 1982 the locals took over a state-owned enterprise called Praja Karya and distributed nutmeg trees equally among all the families on the island.
But the island is desperate for infrastructure: “What we need the most is electricity and health practitioners,” Burhan says.
Run has one medical clinic with no doctor and insufficient medicine: “People complain that every time they are sick and go to the clinic they are always given three pills – the yellow one, the blue one and the white one.”
A doctor is an often treacherous 2½-hour boat trip away in Banda Neira – too far for an emergency caesarean or heart attack.
Burhan says islanders turn to traditional medicine, using leaves, roots from their garden and herbs. Toothache is treated with the sap from a tree known locally as Akar Olaola. “God willing, the pain will be gone.”
Electricity is only available between 6pm and 11.30pm, none of it provided by the government. Three years ago a Run native – now a successful Jakartan businessman – provided a diesel generator to supply the homes for five hours every night.
“After that you sleep in the dark all night long on Run Island,” Burhan says. “So if you come from Manhattan to Run you’ll see a huge difference.”
Some tourists do come to Run despite the isolation – mostly westerners and journalists. One famous visitor was Indonesian artistic director Jay Subyakto, who was making the documentary Banda, The Dark Forgotten Trail, which is partially filmed on Run.
“It is very ironic. Run Island does not exist on the map,” Subyakto says. “People hardly know where it is and Run Island is now neglected.”
When Subyakto tells people about the first genocide in Banda Neira their eyes glaze over. But they boggle when he tells them Run was swapped for Manhattan.
“Why do we always marvel about anything to do with the West? In the context of Run Island, they should be ashamed they don’t know history.”
Subyakto says Indonesia has been blessed with natural resources such as nutmeg, cloves, oil, gold, coal and palm oil that is sought after by other countries. “But in the end we were colonised or cheated by trade contracts and politics. Until today, our people never enjoy the blessings of our rich natural resources. I think we never learn from history and therefore we made Banda, The Dark Forgotten Trail.”
The documentary will premiere on July 31, to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Breda.
But the Run islanders who appear in the film won’t be able to watch it on the island. There is no movie theatre in Run nor is there Wi-Fi. “Even our phone connection is bad, let alone internet connection,” Burhan says.
“Honestly, there is a feeling of pride that our island was chosen to be exchanged with another place. However, there is also regret that years after the exchange took place there is a huge difference between Run and New Amsterdam today. It’s like heaven and earth … but now the situation is in reverse”.
News Update. East Indies is now out in a paperback edition and available on order from your favorite bookstore or your favorite online retailer for A$29.95.
Malacca after its capture by the United Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1642
In 1497 Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope, his small Portuguese fleet reached India and they became the first Europeans to sail the Eastern Seas. Over the next 100 years the Portuguese spread their trading network in search of spices, sandalwood, silks, gold, silver, porcelains and other oriental goods. This trading network extended from Goa in India as far east as the Moluccas and Timor in Indonesia, and as far north as China and Japan.
The Portuguese Galleon Madre de Deus contained 425 tonnes of pepper, 45 tonnes of cloves, 35 tonnes of cinnamon, 3 tonnes of mace and 3 tonnes of nutmeg when captured by English pirates in 1592 and valued at half the English Treasury.
In 1595 and 1601 respectively, the first Dutch and English trading expeditions rounded the Cape of Good Hope and the trading monopoly of the Portuguese Crown was being challenged by the United Dutch East India Company (VOC) and then the English East India Company, the world’s first joint stock and multinational trading companies.
VOC East Indiamen loading spices and other goods off Batavia before returning in convoy to Holland, 1649
In the chapters on Banda, Rhun and Ambon, East Indies documents the events leading up to the Dutch and English signing the 1667 Treaty of Breda and 2017 marks the 350th anniversary of this Treaty. Named after the Dutch city where it was signed on 31 July 1667, it ended the Second Anglo-Dutch war (1665–1667) during which England and the Netherlands had fought over maritime hegemony and world trade. Through the signing of the Treaty of Breda, the Dutch accepted English rule over what is now New York (New Amsterdam), while the English accepted Dutch rule over the valuable nutmeg island of Rhun, in what turned out to be the real estate deal of the millenium.
The final page of the Treaty of Breda signed on July 31, 1667
The struggle for trade supremacy between the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the English ranged across the Eastern Seas and in the settlements of Goa, Malacca, Ambon, Macao, Canton, Nagasaki, Batavia, Macassar and Johor. Until by the end of the 19th century the Portuguese had almost vanished from the Eastern Seas, and the Dutch and the English East India Companies had been transformed from trading companies into colonial powers ruling over millions of people and vast territories in Indonesia, India and Malaya.
After the British East India Company defeated the Nawab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, they gave themselves a monopoly over the production of opium and saltpetre (the prime ingredient for gunpowder).
East Indies follows the trade winds, the trade routes and the port cities across the East Indies and the Orient. Beginning in Malacca which was one of the world’s largest trading ports in the 16th century, it describes the founding of Batavia (Jakarta) in the 17th century and concludes with the founding of Singapore and Hong Kong which became some of the world’s largest trading ports in the 19th century.
The British East India company controlled the production and packaging of opium in India for shipment to China. Here Chinese smugglers are collecting British opium off vessels anchored near Hong Kong in 1824
Singapore, founded in 1819, became the key port for the transhipment of Asian trade goods as shown in this painting of Keppel Harbour
Here is one of the book reviews for East Indies:
When you read ‘East Indies’ by Ian Burnet you can almost smell exotic spices over salt spray and the wet wood of the ships that transported the goods back to Europe.
Following from his previous book, ‘Spice Islands’ in which Ian documented the the history of the spice trade in the Maluku and Banda Islands in Indonesia, where two very important and highly sought spices – cloves and nutmeg – originated, ‘East Indies’ looks at the impact of the European explorers and traders.
Ian has once again researched his topic thoroughly, and ‘East Indies’ is beautifully illustrated, filled with gorgeous maps and pictures evoking the age of sail.
— Melanie Ryan — Limelight Book Reviews
East Indies has been listed in the top ten books on Asian History by the History Club:
Visible Cities: Canton, Nagasaki, Batavia and the Coming of the Americans by Leonard Blusse
Regionalism and Globalization in East Asia: Politics, Security and Economic Development by Mark Beeson
China and Maritime Europe 1500–1800: Trade, Settlement, Diplomacy and Missions by John E. Wills Jnr
In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia by Ronald Spector
The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan by Adam Clulow
East Indies: The 200 year struggle between the Portuguese Crown, The Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas by Ian Burnet
Being ‘Dutch’ in the Indies: A History of Creolization and Empire, 1500–1920 by Ulbe Bosma and Remco Raben
South East Asia in the Age of Commerce (2 volumes) by Anthony Reid
Pacific Histories: Ocean, Land, People by David Armitage (editor) and Alison Bashford (editor)
Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty 1405-1433 by Edward L Dreyer.
To read the complete synopsis of East Indies and all the book reviews please follow this link
With the 350 year anniversary of the 1667 Treaty of Breda coming up on July 31 there was a lot of interest in Beatrice Glow’s historical art installation the Rhunhattan Tearoom that was posted last month.
Beatrice Glow and photographer Alexandre Girardeau visited the Banda islands in April this year to research, to film on the islands, and create a video.
The Dutch East India Company – Fort Belgica on Banda Island (Photo by Alexandre Girardeau)
RHUNHATTAN: A Tale of Two Islands explores a pivotal moment during the birth of globalization when the Dutch and the British were locked in a stalemate during the Spice Wars. In 1667, the two countries “exchanged” Manhattan for Rhun, a nutmeg-rich island in present-day Indonesia’s Banda Island Archipelago, thereby leaving the Dutch with a monopoly over the lucrative nutmeg trade. For both the Bandanese and the Lenape people (Native peoples of Manhattan), the consequences were devastating as both suffered forced removal from their homelands. This exchange set in motion an unstoppable wave of colonization and inequalities that continue to shape our present.
Please follow the link below to view their work and the video A Tale of Two Islands including the poem by Rudi Fofid which tells of the sorrow of Banda after the Banda Massacre committed by the Dutch East India Company in 1621. Those of us who have visited these remote islands with SeaTrek Sailing Adventures will recognise the features and forts on Banda, Rhun and Ambon.
This year on 31 July 2017 we will record the 350 year anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Breda in 1667 which ended the second Anglo-Dutch war. In one of the clauses in this document the Dutch exchanged the island of Manhattan for the nutmeg growing island of Rhun in what was to become the Dutch East Indies and therefore gained a complete monopoly over the nutmeg trade.
The nutmeg fruit showing the nut with its bright red outer covering of mace (Ian Burnet)
This was not just the real estate deal of the century but probably of the millenium. Who would have believed that Manhattan would become the ‘capital of the world’ and the valuable nutmeg island of Rhun would sink into obscurity?
The last page of the Treaty of Breda, 1667 (Dutch Nationaal Archief)
The United Dutch East India Company (VOC) had captured the fort on the main Banda island from the Portuguese in 1605, which meant that when English East India Company ships arrived, they could only trade for nutmegs on the outer islands of Run and Ai.
Nathaniel Courthope anchored the English East India Company vessels Swan and Defense off the tiny island of Rhun in 1616 and because of the islanders antipathy to the Dutch, he was able to get them to sign their allegiance to King James I of England, in a document similar to the one posted below. This was the very first English colony and King James I was able to declare himself, ‘King of England, Scotland and Puloo Run’.
The document prepared by King James I allowing Asian potentates to submit to his rule. 1619 (British Library)
The Ombak Putih anchored where the Swan and the Defence would have anchored off the island of Rhun in 1616. (Ian Burnet)
On the other side of the world Dutch colonists acquired rights to the island of Manhattan in 1625 in exchange for sixty guilders of trade goods and named it Nieuw Amsterdam. In 1664 the English captured Nieuw Amsterdam and renamed it New York, leading to the exchange of these two islands under the Treaty of Breda in 1667.
In September 2015 the conceptual artist Beatrice Glow created what she described as the Rhunhattan Tearoom in the Sunroom Project Space, of the Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center, Bronx, New York. The exhibition consisted of acrylic and decal collage on ceramics, ink on paper and terracotta infused with the scents of colonial commerce such as cloves and nutmeg.
The Rhunhatten Tearoom in the Sunroom Project Space, New York. (Beatrice Glow)
Nutmeg decorated ceramic ware and maps of the Nutmeg Islands (Beatrice Glow)
Detail of the ceramic ware and a map of the island of Rhun (Beatrice Glow)
Detail of the ceramic ware and Fort Hollandia (Beatrice Glow)
During her residency at the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University , Beatrice Glow investigated the social history of plants via spice routes and botanical expeditions, focusing on the historical relationship between two islands on opposite sites of the world: Mannahatta and Rhun. The islands, which were traded by the British and Dutch during the 17th century spice wars, are connected by both a botanical and colonial legacy. For more information on her work please follow this link:
The East Indies Exploration: Culture, Sea and Spice 2017 voyage on the Ombak Putih will reach the islands of Rhun and Banda to explore the spice plantations and the old colonial forts and buildings found there. For details of the voyage please go to:
‘The Forgotten Islands’ lie in Indonesian waters to the north and east of Timor on this map. In September our vessel the Ombak Putih will be visiting Kisar Island on our East Indies Exploration 2017 voyage with SeaTrek.
Just 10km wide, Kisar is a roughly square-shaped, dry and rocky coral island with a strange topography. It has been tectonically uplifted in stages which has left a terraced coral landscape around its margins. The highest terrace stands about 130-140 metres above sea level. This outer ring of hills is segmented by steep clefts providing access to the interior where the majority of the islanders live. The inland part of the island is hilly, the highest elevation being 240m-high Gunung Taitulu/Daitilu located in the northern half of the island. A number of lagoon-like depressions separate this central region from the outer ring of terraced hills.
A cliff terrace behind the port of Nama on the west coast (Photo by Hans-Peter Grumpe)
The Dutch East India Company (VOC) first established a small defensive garrison on the island in 1665 and the mixed-race European-Kisarese community on Kisar today is actually descended from sixteen European soldiers who served on the island during the late 1700’s (Engelenhoven 2016). Under the command of distant Ambon, their presence on Kisar remained purely symbolic and when Dutch interest waned the residual occupants of the garrison remained on the island, marrying local women of both Dutch and Kisar descent.
The remains of the VOC Fort Delfshaven
VOC Insignia found on The Forgotten Islands (Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory)
The mixed-race children of the Dutch soldiers would become the first in a long line of Eurasians who would become known as the ‘Mestees of Kisar’. These families tended to intermarry in order to retain much of their Dutch heritage and many of the island’s inhabitants today have surnames that relate back to these early Dutch soldiers such as Bellmin-Belder, Caffin, Coenradi, Joostenz, Lander, Lerrick, Peelman, Ruff, Schilling, van Delsen, and Wouthuysen. Some hold the name Bakker and they are the decendants of the first Christian leader of Kisar named Pakar.
The German physical anthropologist Ernst Rodenwaldt studied this community in detail and published his book Die Mestizen auf Kisar in 1927, which documents the history of these families and remains a valued heritage document for the ‘Mestees of Kisar’.
Die Mestizen auf Kisar (Photo – Geert Snoeijer)
In 1918 the famous Dutch artist W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp visited Kisar and produced this drawing of its terrain and showing its large sheep or goat population.
In 1838 the British Government of New South Wales established Port Essington on the Cobourg Peninsula in the now Northern Territory. Anxious to develop British trade across the East Indies, the trade representative George Windsor Earl sailed from Port Essington on an exploratory trading voyage to Timor and the South Eastern Islands that very same year.
His first view of the south coast of Kisar on 20 July 1838 was positive: It certainly presented a most picturesque appearance: the summit of every hill was crowned with a village of neat thatched houses, shaded by large trees; each village being surrounded by a wall formed of stones piled on one another to the height of about 8 feet. The steep sides of the hills exhibited numerous herds of buffaloes, goats, and sheep; while between the hills we occasionally had a glimpse of the interior, which appeared to be in a high state of cultivation. The fertile hills were richly planted with rice, sugarcane, yams, sweet potatoes, tobacco, cotton and numerous vegetables, while the chief fruits were mangoes, breadfruit, melons, oranges, lemons and plantains.
George Windsor Earl was here to obtain provisions for the newly established outpost at Port Essington. The Kisarese were keen to trade and within 48 hours the British sailed with 20 bullocks, 120 sheep, 60 pigs, a number of fowls, 3 tons of yams, with fruit, cocoa-nuts, plantains, etc., all of which had been purchased by goods which cost at Sydney less than £50 Sterling. However Port Essington failed to attract settlers and almost ten years later the settlement was deemed unsustainable. Before its closure in 1849, British scientist Thomas Huxley wrote that Port Essington was “most wretched, the climate the most unhealthy, the human beings the most uncomfortable and houses in a condition most decayed and rotten”.
The photographic exhibition held by Geert Snoeijer in Jakarta
As the descendants of Dutch soldiers stationed on the island, the mestizos considered themselves superior to the endemic population and tended to inter-marry. Consequently they retained numerous physical characteristics, such as skin colour, hair type, hair colour, and eye colour, which distinguished them from the native population. In early 2017 a photographic exhibition by Geert Snoeijer was held in Jakarta entitled ‘The Forsaken Children of the Compagnie’.
Carola Joostenz – photo by Geert Snoeijer
Anna Siane Kaipatty-Lerrick – photo by Geert Snoeijer
Cornelis Wouthuysen – Photo by Geert Snoeijer
The ‘Mestees of Kisar’ are proud of their heritage and after Indonesian Independence in 1945, the invitation by the Dutch Government to come to the Netherlands confirmed their Dutch identity. Nevertheless, because they stressed their Indonesian identity, most of them did not want to leave the island.
My thanks to Randall Rutledge who contributed to this blogpost.
David Richardson contributed significant material to this blogpost and has an extensive study of the history and culture of Kisar on the Asian Textiles website:
SeaTrek Sailing Adventures depart from Maumere in Flores on September 22 for a 12 day voyage around the outer islands of the Indonesian archipelago to finish in Ambon on October 3, 2017
A map showing the Ombak Putih and our 12 day voyage from Maumere on Flores along the island chain that leads to the Banda Islands and our final destination at Ambon.
After we visit the whaling village of Lamalera on the island of Lembata, one of the highlights of our voyage will be a visit to the island of Alor and our dawn arrival as we sail up the narrow and beautiful bay towards the town of Kalabahi.
The island of Alor and Kalabahi Bay
This is a view looking down the beautiful Kalabahi Bay towards the volcano that guards its entrance.
Alor has much cultural diversity as there are eight languages and at least 25 dialects spoken by its different tribes and from the town of Kalabahi we travel across the island to the traditional village of Lembur Barat.
Greeted by the village elders, we will be able to visit their homes, and be introduced to their traditional culture including dance, bronze moko drums and ikat weaving.
At the centre of the village is a circular platform with a stone altar known as a mesbah on which are displayed some of the heirloom bronze moko drums kept by the village. In this photo the community line up behind the altar in preparation for the dance.
In the lego-lego dance the elders hold each other arm in arm as they begin a dancing circle around the central stone altar. They are then slowly joined by each successive generation of younger and younger people, and each group joining the dancing circle represents the unity and togetherness of the community.
The rythm for the dance is created by the rattle of the bangles on the women’s feet as they stamp their feet in unison.
The male warriors perform a traditional war dance
Large bronze drums originally arrived in Indonesia after being manufactured using the ‘lost wax’ method by the Dongson culture of North Vietnam. These drums were manufactured over a period of almost one thousand years from 600 BCE until 300 CE and were traded across South-East Asia. The origins of the Moko drum are less well known but they may have come originally from China and then were manufactured in Java. They are smaller than the Dongson drums, are waisted and obviously could be held and played as an instrument.
They became a very important part of the culture of Alor and have become symbolic of the island where the Moko drums remain an important status symbol. They are particularly important in their ritual value and are still generally required as part of the bridal dowry, though the short supply of moko today means that moko must often be borrowed or mortgaged for this purpose. Here examples of these heirloom drums are displayed on the central stone altar.
Detail of a Moko drum
Traditional woven textiles on display in the village
Training the next generation of warrior dancers.
Details of the voyage can be found on the SeaTrek website at