This is to all our Indonesian readers. My book about life in Indonesia (hilarious, as one fan mail said) is now available across the country and almost in every bookshop. So don’t hesitate to buy and read it. Waiting for your feedback!
On our way back to the city we finally hear what has made Kalimantan so scary to the rest of Indonesians. Namely, if you say dayak to an Indonesian, he immediately remembers the year 2001, the year this traditional Kalimantan tribe committed a real genocide. Although conflicts between the emigrated Madurans and native Dayaks had been going on for years, and there had been fatalities on both sides, it were the local tribes who’d finally come out from the jungle and according to their old tradition cut the heads of their enemies off. Neo-headhunting, as the revival of the old culture is called here.
The locals tell scary stories. Although the official documents tell that there were about half a thousand people killed, then the number the locals talk about is about six times bigger. According to them all Maduran children, women, the young and the old had lost their heads, which later had been found in a hotel room belonging to one Maduran. If we ask why the police didn’t get involved, they say that the conflict lasted for three days and they too were scared. Namely, the Dayak tribe who was responsible for the event is connected with black powers.
The chief of the tribe is told to be from South Kalimantan and everybody knows he’s the evil himself and there’s nobody who could be saved from his desire of revenge. With his weapon that reminds of a boomerang and that’s invisible can destroy anybody, because whenever it’s sent into the air it cuts off heads and then turns back to its owner. You can also be sure that there’s no Dayak who’d mistake in the origin of his victim because thanks to the black magic ceremonies carried out before help to tell the difference between a Maduran and any other person from Kalimantan. Everybody knows who were between the carnages but nobody dares to arrest the run-away tribe elder.
This is what can happen on an island where the colonialists, following the transmigration program, have sent strangers among the natives, the strangers then cut the forest, dig gold and finally call locals primitive forest people.
We get back to the town and our only aim is to be alone, at least for a while, and enjoy the beauty of it, without explaining of our nationality or posing for another photo. We found ourselves a refugee hotel, which owner is a gay man, a lawyer by his profession, in a pink pajama. We open a bottle of local wine and delve into the darkest corner one could find here. For the extension of the evening, early in the morning, at 5am, our host takes us for a ride on his motor boat along the river.
All river edges are full of houses that combine a kind of a village. With the raising sun in the background we can see the silhouettes of mosques between the floating houses. In contrast we can see families in their back yards brushing their teeth with the river water, some of them are foamy all over. We can also see how the son of the family goes along the little bridges and reaches a little house, and from the half-open door we can see him defecating into the river. Her sister is taking water from the river just by him and cleansing her teeth. If this river had seemed a little dirty a few hundred kilometers towards the source, then now the view is a bit eerie.
A river of fruits. Just catch it if you can.
But on the river there are other things happening, too. Besides washing and defecating one can do some shopping on the river as well. So, early in the morning there are ladies with food products in their boats. Next to them there are even bigger ladies with bigger boats who are there to buy in large amounts and are now looking for the best offerer. The boats are passing each other and the wholesale prices are told. The last one is looking around indifferently and shows the way to row. There are no deals made during the whole time. Only Terje’s trying to catch oranges and sweets while hanging over the edge of the boat.
„Ibu, ibuu..“ she yells and watches how the boats filled with goods are sailing past her. “But I don’t know how to do it, not yet,” she waves her hands to get her orange. Until Terje makes her choice and makes the women around her laugh, because she’s not buying ten kilos or even one kilo, but invests minutes to select the one and only fruit, the boat man and the seller try to keep the boats in line.
Ten more minutes and the morning river market is finished, the boats start going home. Now there’s some yelling and a few oars rise from the water and splash into it. Namely it is now the wholesale buyers make their decisions and best deals and the sweetest goods find their new homes at this very last moment.
But we’re sailing towards a quai, ask for a coffee, lay down and with our legs over the edge of the boat and our heads still a bit dizzy from the wine, get going back home.
Ravel of whistles, balloons, alcohol and pagan games – what kind of festival is this? This, my dears, is a jungle christian funeral.
Even if in jungle, this monkey is tied by his leg.
We had to go to Konut because this is the only place to see traditional Kalimantan houses. However, a common name for Indonesian culture seems to be revival. Because every time they have decided to modernize everything and teach the people of the forest live like civilized souls they’ve understood the importance of a tourist trap they’d miss and started rebuilding everything as thoroughly as possible. Dance, music, patterns and buildings have now become objects that have to remind the forgotten culture and carry it on in history. In Konut there’s one of the houses that have survived the different policies and has now, after renovation, been made suitable for living.
If one kid runs, full house of 20 families is immediately awake.
Me, the most interesting object.
It takes 16 uncoordinated men to carry one coffin.
Spending our first night in this traditional house and hearing all the steps made in flats around us we make a quick decision and leave Kalimantan villages and stardom behind us. We have only one dream: to be invisible and to be in silence.
Thrilling blood – notes on Kalimantan cock fighting
Everyone who’s ever had to do with the literary classics of academic anthropology will remember Clifford Greetz’s article about cock fighting on Bali. Greetz wrote that cock fighting isn’t simply a fight between two roosters, it could also be considered as a competition between men. Not only the two roosters have a big role, what also matter are the pride, virility, honour and status of the owners.
Namely, the men subconsciously identify themselves with their rooster. It is almost like a surrogate of its owner’s personality, a symbolic expression of his ego. As cock has two meanings in English, I’m not sure whether we should say that the rooster is a separately operating penis, but it’s definitely a symbol of masculinity. There are people who think that Geertz was exaggerating. There are those who think that Geertz took too Freudian measures to get under the skin of the poor Balians. And there are those who think that Geertz invented the whole story just to get fame. But one thing is sure – cock fighting has always had its special place in different societies throughout the world.
And when I was hanging there, in Kalimantan woods, leaning on the cock fighting fence, I could feel that there was a kind of power common to wild men living there. And should there be any bigger ceremony held in Kalimantan woods – weddings, funerals, or the holy bone purifying ceremonies – there are handfuls of colourful feathers, scarlet blood and money, money, money flown into the air.
So, praise the cock (no, no way!) and for this matter have wonderful Easter holidays!Tomboys or female-to-male transgenders are also part of the local Kalimantan community. This of course doesn’t eliminate discrimination on different levels. But this is how they live, with other men they place bets on roosters and are active in the spheres and circuits originally common to men.
Expert knowledge – how to tie the knife
While in Central Kalimantan, we surely wanted to go deep into the jungle. We only needed someone to guide us. But things turned out hilarious.
An Estonian guidebook would suggest us to wear fully covering clothes and shoes. A local only whistles on that.
The next morning we get up at 5 am to be at the agreed place at the agreed time so that we wouldn’t disappoint the workers who’ve agreed to take us with them. A woman always has to prove herself twice. We put on heavy pants we’ve got from the Christians, Terje’s wearing rubber boots she’s bought for going to the forest, I take my bandana and put a knife on my belt. Like two scouts we’re ready to face the forest.
The clock’s ticking but there’s nobody. There’s nobody waiting for us at the agreed time at the agreed place and our neighbour tells the men left hours ago. Nevertheless, half an hour later there’s a young man with a huge smile knocking on our door.
“This is the missis-man,” I already see Terje’s asquint eyes.
The young man tears his smile even wider, it’s just like his teeth would like to jump out his mouth, and then shouts happily: “Would missises like to have breakfast before we go?” We understand that they’ve chosen to send the bit more naive guy to accompany us. Ok, we’ll eat.
„Would missises like noodles or rice?”
„Whatever you like and are used with. Rice is good enough.”
„With or without egg?“
„Really, we don’t care, everything’s fine.”
„Would missises like fried or yellow rice?“
„Seriously, whatever. We eat what’s out there to have.“
„Do missises prefer fish or chicken?”
Terje becomes angry for a second, takes the boy by his collar and decides to go to the market with him. Maybe it’ll be quicker that way. But the missis-talk doesn’t go anywhere.
According to Terje, the conversation went on like that:
„Is missis happy to ride a motorbike?” he asks while driving.
„Yes, missis is happy.“
„Is misses happy to look at potatoes?“ he asks at the market.
„Yes, missis is happy, but could we hurry up.“
„But does missis know how to boil a potato?“
Finally I saw them coming back. The guy was carrying a huge cardboard box he then puts in the middle of the table. I open the box and start counting: 10 packages of instant noodles, 8 eggs, a kilo of donuts and a bag full of Coca-Cola products. The young man takes the box and it seems he’s going somewhere.
„This is how you’re going to the jungle? With a box full of instant noodles. Come on, put them into a back bag, it’s easier that way.”
The young man takes the box and presses it into his back bag. Soon his friend, wearing flip-flops arrives and takes the bag with sodas. This is how we get going towards the jungle, the boys wearing flip-flops and carrying the week’s food, we dressed as if we’re going to a nuclear war, absolutely ready for the journey.
Half of the jungle that we pass is of orderly planted gum trees that people come and cut one by one, they place a bamboo bowl under it, and a few days later they collect the produce, dry it and a huge smelly rubber lump is sold to the industry. The other half is ancient, there the young man looks for the natural medicines we’ve asked for. Be it with the malaria and kidney pills as it may, we collect a huge amount of dark red roots that, according to the boy, “make you happy when you’re already married.” The latter is an Indonesian metaphor for saying “when you’re already having sex”, because basically you shouldn’t do it if you’re not married. Having got our afrodisiacs and having our future victims chosen we continue our journey.
An hour later we’re at a water fall we can finally lay down and remind ourselves that we’re alone in the nature and with the nature. Soon the boys set up a fire and start cooking our ten packs of instant noodles. And although our young man had left an impression of a sissy in the town then in the jungle he’s like a fish in the water and can surprise the city girls with his knowledge of biology again and again.
I’ve never experienced a culture more collective and with so little room for privacy as up there in Central Kalimantan. Also I’ve never felt so much like an exotic cage animal whose every move has to be surveyed. Somehow I even started to understand, what might have lie behind the notorious diaries of the great anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski.
For us it’s clear – we’ve got our social side that we share with others, and the private one nobody has a right to put their noses into. There was nothing weird when as a child I saw my grandfather on a wide meadow thinking his own thought, and my mother never criticized when I slammed the door to my room so that I could be alone in my own world. This is how we’ve been raised – you have to appreciate another person’s privacy. And we all know how good it’s to be on you own for a while.
But Kalimantan… is a different world.
Here a person is a social product and thus for everybody to share. We’ve written before how people irresponsibly get involved in other people’s business, but Kalimantan experience made me jot down some rather furious lines into my (personal) notebook. For a starter, they always have to pose with a bule (the “white person”) – at every occasion in at least three different positions. You need to greet a bule like a celebrity, get as much information from her and then irresponsibly shake a leg. So, feeling tens of eyes and cameras directed to me as if I was a dice roller, sharing a roof with a noisy family in the hot-spot of the village and constantly pressing down the bitter taste in my throat when somebody’s daily dose of curiosity was like a brutal attack into my privacy, a moment on my own in the starlit jungle sky seemed like an utmost wish.
Tiptoeing I crept from the village noise into a dark parkway. Soon I noticed Berit, who had escaped with a similar intention, sitting on the stairs, surrounded by seven men.
„You want to be on your own? You wish!” she shouted while I was disappearing into the sounds of the jungle night (and they are amazing).
As you might have guessed, it took less than a minute when I heard steps behind me.
„Where are you going?!”
A classical start. With no problems they start a conversation that doesn’t go any further than the necessity of elementary politeness – small-talk. And it happens about 140 times a day, on average.
My humble wish (“Sorry, could I be alone for a minute?”) was followed by about a 10-minute-long intensive explanation of what I really wanted. Reluctantly the man finally stepped a few steps back but … he still wasn’t satisfied! After the next, more thorough explanation he finally sadly went back to the others.
„Heh, she told she wanted to be alone” he tried to explain the other dudes surrounding Berit, who then all started laughing. Alone??!!
I’ve never seen a culture more collective and with so little room for privacy. Also I’ve never felt like an exotic cage animal whose every move has to be surveyed with a magnifier.
Maybe their opinion of public-private could be explained when looking the traditional houses of Dayaks. usually there was about 200 people living under one roof. Every family had their own room but most of the life happened on the grounds commonly shared. But as the walls between rooms were rather thin it was heard what was going on in the other family. In other words – what we understand as ‘private’ doesn’t exist here.
This is how my personal notebook became Malinowski’s diary – my piece of privacy. Following the Orion drifting in the dark sky and sharing my inner pain with my notebook I felt a kind of telepathy with the great anthropologist of the century. Bronislaw Malinowsky, whose rather angry diaries, which were published after his death, caused some real confusion in anthropology.
It didn’t take even three minutes when the same guy came to check upon me – what’s this bule doing there on her own?!
The longer we go into the deepness of central Kalimantan on our own and the more we struggle with Indonesian language with the help of dictionary, the more we notice the weird parallels between the language and behaviour. The most noticeable is the absence of aberrance in narratives, should it be then in a story or in life itself.
What they think you want to know
Namely, an Indonesian almost never answers to what you’ve asked, but answers to what they think you’ve asked. For example if there are two white woman on a motorbike looking for plastic melting place it’s illogical enough not to direct them there. So they ask instead: “You’re looking for a gas station, yes?”. Explaining once again what we want, the answerer comes up with another possible version: “Tyre repair?”. No, dude, we are really looking for a plastic melter, no matter how weird it sounds.
Or, there’s a shop keeper from across the street, who had brought us ice coffee every morning for three months, and who was puzzled for a long time when once we had asked for a regular and a coffee with milk instead of usual ice coffees:
„One regular, one with milk.“
„And two ice coffees?“
„No, one black and hot, the other with milk, and hot.”
„And both hot, without ice?”
Once we fought with a rice merchant on wheels because after we’d twice bought rice from her she started knocking on our gate every morning at 7 so that we could buy once again. “Granny, we’ll tell when we want to buy. You don’t have to wake us up each freakin’ morning.”
And then we heard her mumble on her own: “Don’t want, don’t want. They buy twice and now all of the sudden they don’t want.”
In indonesia you can be sure that once you’ve done something then the neighbouring ladies will tell for years how the girl from Estonia always gave candy to the neighbourhood children.
Language serves models
Bu as much the life of an Indonesian is fixed, his use of language is fixed. The words with what you can almost never do away with are already, still and not yet. So you can simply guess from the used language the hopes and predestinations of an Indonesian.
Both, in the streets of a village and in official documents a person who’s single is marked as “not married yet.”
„Are you married already?” They ask from a young person or “You’re not married yet?” they ask from one who’s over thirty.
„No, not yet.” or “Yes, already.” can be the only right answers.
Or, when looking at the power struggle of religions on Kalimantan where the Muslims and Christians are racing to civilize Kaharingas, it’s usual to hear a conversation like this:
„Still a Kaharingan?“
„No, a Christian already.”
Since both language and tradition are very fixed and support each other it is possible that there is an absolute clash of interests between an Estonian and Indonesian because there are no similar bases for a conversation. How my playful language learning becomes a failed chaos can be described with the following case:
Impossible game of Alias
Indonesians have a habit of sending messages that consist of consonants only because that way typing takes less time. Considering how often they communicate like this it’s reasonable, but I as a poor language learner can’t understand those mini texts and I’d like to send a text message to a friend like that: “Please type in all the letters, otherwise I can’t understand the message.” Only… I don’t know how they say “letter” in Indonesian. I grab the man standing next to me from his sleeve and explain in the local language:
„I’d like to send a friend of mine a text but I don’t know one word I have to use. Can you help me? Tell me, what does a word consist of?”
„You want to borrow my phone?”
„No, no, I’m looking for a word I don’t know. Tell me… Sentences consist of words, words consist of… what?”
„Which word do you mean?“
„I’m looking for the word at the moment and you have to guess what I’m talking about and then tell the word. What does the alphabet consist of?”
„A, b, c, d, …“
„No, no. What is it? This B. Or this A?”
„After A there’s B.”
„See, an Indonesian sends me a message and I can’t understand because there’s only „km bs mngrti“. They don’t spell the whole word, what’s missing?”
„Hehe, they write like that because it’s quicker that way.”
Conversations like that can go on for hours. Using your own logic while explaining something for an Indonesian you never seem to reach the goal because the thinking structures seem to be fundamentally different. Just like the traditional everyday life is organized, Indonesian language is organized too: in narrative development and always expectedly, which is why everything that is different from the norm, should it then be in everyday life or in language structures, is unacceptable.
Every morning, night and day there’s a village man walking towards us and asking whether we’ve washed ourselves already. Should you shake your head, he gives you the look as if you were the dirtiest person in the village.
Peeing, pooing, washing - the river takes everything away (well, at least to the next raft full of people)
The clean ones have just washed themselves in the river. By the river there are four or five floating rafts built, where are all kinds of washing acts are carried out on them.
A girl with soapy face brushes her teeth using the river water. An old lady sitting on the next bench washes shirts. Children, wearing clothes, jump in the river and leave marks of shampoo here and there. Men wash themselves through trunks. And this little house with plastic walls on the raft, appears to be a toilet which lets all the fecal matter flow into the river. We walk down the hill and see how an elderly lady sits on the hole and lights on a cigarette to improve her digestive system, while there are children swimming carefree on the other side of the loo wall.
„But the water flows and takes everything away,” they laugh when they see how surprised we are watching how the soapy-shitty water reaches the washers on the next raft. But at least we’ve taken our shower today and we can look at the village man without feeling ashamed.
A big family with an unstable floor, one chicken leg to share for dinner and no toilet must collect 20 000 euros in 40 days to….wash the bones of their ancestors!
Having spent the whole day observing rooster slaughter, rolled dices, collected money and given it out, and played the village fools it was time to find ourselves a place to sleep. The night was ticking its first hours and we become interested in a house which seems to have a big tree growing in the living room, at least this is what we see when looking through the windows. Guessing what it was we creep in. Namely, the house has been turned into a sacred house and its inhabitants are those who are going to wash the bones of their ancestors. We take the chance by its hand and ask the bit drunk host offer us a place to stay. Although the christened people of the village tell us to be aware of the drunk Dayaks we bring our bags in and find ourselves lying on the floor in the back corner of the house.
Village house. I suddenly remember the fairy tale of a wolf and three piglets.
The house itself is of a kind that would be the first to fly away in the story of the three piglets. It’s standing on docks, and the boards let through light, wind and rain. The food is made on coal and there’s no such a thing as a toilet, not even behind the house, they suggest we’d solve our problems somewhere in an indefinite place in the middle of the field.
Food isn’t the best there, too. Mother throws three plates on the floor, a group of about ten chews a chicken leg and slurps the broth. In a financial situation like that it’s difficult to hear the whole truth about bone washing and the festival.
Namely, the ceremony is a month away, because the real cleaning of the skeletons of the ancestors and cutting off the bulls’ heads is the last link in the whole chain. Before there are 37 days of pagan fairs with cock fights, gambling and loads of alcohol. This is done to collect money for the real ceremony, because the poor family, who’s sharing the chicken leg at the moment, has to pay for the whole party.
With Jesus, quotations of Quoran and Popstars all stuck on the wall, the family of minimal funds has to get the whole village drunk and partying.
The drunk man brings out contracts, signed by the cultural chief of the village and starts reading the budget:
1000 kg pork = 35 million
200 kg chicken = 10 million
2 bulls = 30 million
All together 190 million rupees, about 20 000 euros. The family has to earn this money in 37 days and then use it in two days to feed the bellies of the whole village. After this the life will go on as it is today, sharing one chicken bone.
We listen to the host patiently, but the alcohol reaches his head and his friends become annoying. The questions start repeating, local women receive smarmy and slimy blandishmets and the articulation is reaching the ultimate blurriness. Suddenly they all stand up to dance around the holy tree carried into the house and some 10-year-old boys light their cigarets. No matter how holy the house is, we’ve got our cultural experience and we’re lucky to leave it the next morning.
It looked weird in the first place to see a tree inside a house but then I remembered Christmas..
The grandest ceremonies here in Kalimantan are said to be those of funerals. The village we arrive in should welcome us with 17 skeletons, dug out and washed by people. Or as Terje put it: “it’s a village where men should be waiting for us, bones in their mouths dancing umba-mumba.” As you might have guessed from the way I’m writing it, everything didn’t go the way a western eye hungry for exoticism was hoping for.
We take a look around in the place where the sacred ceremony should be carried out. The village boys sit on the fences, fags between their lips with their eyes a bit hazy already. Little stands with coca-cola, sweet pastries and other warung stuff, prices higher than we’d agree to pay even if we were in a street bar of a big city on Java. With our mouths dripping we look at the drinks we can’t afford and soon see a 100 00 rupee note (8 euros, you could live for days with that) slip on a table from the golden hands, dark voice in the background: “Give the girls what they want.”
A hand of golden power - something you don't expect to find from deep in the jungle, the supposed homed of supposed cannibals.
It doesn’t take long before the event we’d before called a sacred ceremony turns into a “festival” now as it really reminds us of a village version of Õllesummer (a beer festival held in Estonia). It’s far from bone washing, it’s a big gambling den. In the middle of the square under the plastic roofs there are fields of luck. Groups of men around the number tables betting money. One especially thin man, tattooed like a Dayak, places really peacefully a hundred rupees note here and another there. Another man next to him takes a pile of one hundred thousands notes with a slack hand and throws it in the middle of the table. Before long I hear a lady with dark pink lips shouting: “Let the bule roll, let the bule roll!”.
Namely, meanwhile Terje has been turned into an attraction and everybody wants to see a white woman playing in the gambling den in a jungle village bringing happiness to one and unhappiness to the other. Soon I was dressed as a clown too and being a bit confused I gave money out to the winners. Sticky and dirty notes were scratching my hands and left behind a smelly aroma.
The traditional tattoo celebrating manhood
The system was more difficult than it was first theoretically explained. The simple rules were enhanced with local things, for example a note folded in two could mean half a sum and a blue bottle cap on the table could mean a loan from a friend. But as long as we were smiling nobody seemed to mind if a hundred thousand note ended up in wrong hands.
Next to the gambling hell there was a cock fight, not less like a hell, carried out in its bloodiest way. Namely, every rooster got a butcher’s knife round its heel with what it then had to kill the oponent. The rooster owners kept the knives in special boxes, we could see them sparkle in the sunshine, then the owners took the knives and one by one they tied those on their potential winners. The roosters were fluffed, the bets were made and a few minutes later one rooster was lying on the ground, blood dripping from its neck, the other rooster, a bit dopy, was wandering on the square. The dead rooster found its end on top of a pile of garbage or tied on a tree, hanging up-side down. Nevertheless big sums were circling in high speed, from a pair of golden hands to another and amusing the villagers.
Roosters of war
So, there we were, in the middle of the festival, oh, sorry! in the middle of a funeral ceremony, and we’d unexpectedly become into showpieces ourselves. And the man who we’d expected to dance a jungle dance with bones in his mouth now took out his phone, took a photo and posted it on his Facebook wall.
There we were, somewhere in the deep inland of the third biggest island in the world, we were looking for a shade that would cover us from the fervent sun and fending off the dazzled looks each local gave to us. A sight of two bules with rucksacks wandering in the middle of a village and asking for directions to Dirunglinkin isn’t a sight one could have every day. They first shook their heads but then start discussing where they’d find bikes for us. But we don’t want to give up just like that, we’ve planned to hitch hike, although here, in the middle of a forest, it seems quite impossible. We’re lucky if there were a couple of bikes passing us in every 15 minutes.
Finally a car was approaching us along the pot holed road. Of course it stopped, and although in the cabin there was enough room only for two people, the two sweaty bules were pressed into it, next to the driver and the lady in pink (her lips flaming red).
Ibu Mama David Sayur
After we’d in the daze accepted the invitation of the lady and little by little driven further inland along the bumpy road we were suddenly awoken by a weird squeaky noise. The deafening sound had a hallucinating effect, I had shivers all over my body when we’d passed it once again. It was whistling and hooting as if it was trying to make me a subject to a greater power that wasn’t of natural nature, vice versa, it seemed to be bearing all the distress and misery of the humankind, all their weaknesses and threats.
This is how gold is washed.
It appeared that the most colourful ibu (woman/mother) of the area had the hottest vegetable shop in the village. This was the baggage they had when they’d picked us up. When ibu had let us into her spacious house she was already rushing between the shelves and with her red lips and golden jewellery dashing she gave orders to muscular topless men.
It’s not very likely to see a naked body on Java. The most daring bet the Javanese young make is that the loser has to ride across the city topless, in day time. Of course it’s something only men can do. The meaning of body is different from its meaning somewhere in the West. And on Kalimantan body has a different meaning from that on Java. But those sweaty bodies here were carrying avocados and potatoes until they comfortably lie down and smoke watching the TV. And when there were no more cigarettes to smoke they sat on the coolest bikes and rode to a shop a few hundred meters away to get a new package. The reasons are both practical and emotional – riding a motorbike breeze cools your body, but you can also say “see, how cool bike I’ve got for myself!”
Besides that we now find ourselves facing a double language barrier – those young guys talk to each other not in Indonesian language but in the local Dayak language, which again is different from the Dayak language spoken about a hundred kilometers away. This tribe here is called Dayak siang murak, and all together there are about 86 000 of them on Kalimantan. It’s interesting that KUMAN means food in the local language but in Indonesian language it means bacteria. You can only imagine how the linguists of the old days were giggling when affirming the word.
But as life on Kalimantan is good, as one of the most colourful ibu mama David Sayur (that is the woman’s name according to her first born son and field of occupation), there are more and more people coming from Java.
„What’s here to worry about! On Kalimantan here are no scary volcanoes, earthquakes nor tsunamis. It’s safe here and money moves here, too. We’ve got better mobile phones!”
But maybe if about forty years ago the hot topic for those wanting to get rich quickly was forestry, then now it’s GOLD. It soon appears that the driver of the colourful ibu is her quiet husband. And her husband is one of those local men who’s fed by the simple scheme: You go into the forest, dig a hole, look for gold. If you find it, it’s yours. You sell it. You get 350 000 rupees (about 40 euros) for a gram. A while later you’re picking out a new bike from a catalogue.
But all those juridical things? Bureaucracy? State fee? Tax?
„Eh, what? There’s nothing. We’ve got a few men, we go into the forest and dig.”
The size and difficult passability of Kalimantan are its happiness and damnation. If already the two vagabonds were quite hazed by the journey here, then why should an office clerk leave his good pay and come here in the middle of mosquitoes and the flaming sun! Still the most important in the jungle is the law of the jungle, the right of the strongest, or at least the local adat (tradition in translation, it’s something like a social unwritten law “like things have always been and like they are”).
And the gold washing wheels are squeaking and dollar numbers glowing in the eyes of the businessmen 24/7.
Being blinded by the idea of finding ancient tribes deep in the forest, we never came to think if there were any forests at all
- problems of logging in Indonesia.
We took our bags to head towards the North, as if somewhere in Kalimantan there can be found a touch of shamanism, mysticism, cannibals and other characters from fairy tales, it should be in the northern part of Central Kalimantan. But the closer we get to our final destination, the bigger grins can be spotted on the faces of the locals: “To the forest? Deep inside the forest? But the forest is gone!” What exactly did they mean by the disappeared forest, we saw soon with our own eyes through the bus window.
Since the 70s the largest parts of the forests were sold to president Suharto and his relatives, their private companies and other “good friends”, who, during a few decades, managed with the help of illegal loggers to cut down at least half of it. Indonesian lungs are now taking their last breaths. And even if for the next 10 years logging is forbidden, illegal logging is still an issue and the results visible with your own eyes.
Trees that used to be tens and tens of meters high have now left some parched branches behind, which in the middle of empty fields only remind us of an ancient forests once used to be there, living in harmony with the humanity. Dayaks, whose home has always been hidden in the jungle, are now escaping to the last remaining parts with the hope of not having to move to the villages in the end, where javanese immigrants have settled down to smell the scents of money from even closer and offer their wives some shiny jewellery. Here money is so much stronger than the nature.
While in Estonia constructing a sentence is limited to just me-you, then the traditional politeness of Indonesia is making my head spin as each time I meet someone I need to take a moment of deep breath before deciding how I am supposed to turn to him.
In the beginning at school I learned straight away that the polite version of me is saya and when being polite and turning to somebody you have to use anda, at the same time between friends I is aku and you kamu. I was happy with that knowledge for four months, until Terje came and re-enlighted me: I for a friend is aku, the polite version is saya; you for a friend is kamu and the polite version is anda. Having learned that we could carelessly start going to Kalimantan, without any fears to be embarrassed before a deferential Indonesian.
Hitch hiking along the long roads we developed our language skills. With the young men who’d picked us up we first were polite (used anda) and used saya for ourselves, but by the end of the journey we’d started using a bit more friendly language. What made things difficult was that they used neither, they talked to us as if we were children or couldn’t speak at all, they took everything into pieces while talking to us: “… If Amur and Cece wish we can make a stop to drink coffee… Are Amur and Cece hungry?” the gentleman looked at us, but it seemed as if he was talking about somebody else.
When we finally were On Kalimantan we sent our host Father Abraham a message and used anda, we got a bridling correction: “You should never tell anda to an older person, you have to use either ibu (mother) or pak (father).” For the third time in the five months I’ve lived in Indonesia I try to learn how to turn to somebody and diligently try to pronounce the polite words while talking to Abraham, at the same time I feel utterly uncomfortable. “Has father Abraham already travelled to central Kalimantan? At what time is father Abraham free to visit the minister? Does father Abraham mind if…” And soon I find out that while using plural while talking about several people I shouldn’t use kalian, I should instead list people just like that.
No matter how ridiculous it seems to me, we’ve finished this topic and cleared the system, we think. Reaching Labuhan village we’ve got to try our new knowledge out. So there we sit, on the couch, me, Terje and the holy man Romansya, about twenty people sitting and paying attention to each of our words, we start with the polite things: “We are so happy that father Romansya agreed to welcome us…”
Romansya then looks at us, he seems to be a bit puzzled, then he rises his eyebrows and says: “Father Romansya? That’s me…” not really understanding why we started talking in third person singular. So, try to get it how to speak to somebody.