Early next morning we headed out - it had been raining heavily all night, and we set off in the rain. Roads were slippery even when walking on them, and I was rather scared and told Aka to slow down. But as the morning proceeded and we visited a kind farmers family who were illegally producing Arak, palm spirits, in their back garden with the help of a bamboo distillery construction, the sun came out and the roads dried in no time
. After buying some petrol out of clear bottles on a rack on the roadside from a local family we drove to the market in Manufui, which was held every Saturday. Most older local people were dressed in Ikat, handwoven and dyed cotton cloths with traditional patterns which were different for every village. Women were selling home grown vegetables and other food supplies, and there were also stalls selling cheap plastic household ware and clothes. Over the stalls and isles there was a plastic plane that was hanging so low that I permanently had to duck down, but seemed to be no problem for the size of the locals. But the market also had the function of a social gathering. Old men were sitting together and drinking palm wine and chewing betel nut together, and women were selling hot stew. Some locals were friendly and welcoming, but otheres were a bit scared of a foreigner walking around and taking pictures - they were not used to tourists coming here. Aka, however, broke the ice and just introduced me to some people as "Ibu Doctor Sonja, dari German". I thought that the title "Ibu" was generally used for a married woman, but later I found out that it's a title for an elder and respected woman or female teacher. Some local women came close to me and said I looked like Mother Mary, which was probably the only white woman they knew. Christianity was widely common among the villagers, which had been brought by Portuguese colonists. Before that time people had animist believes, which they still keep alongside the Christian religion
. We bought betel nut, small bags of lime powder, and some long and thin plant parts termed pepper, which were all to be chewed together, and divided them into small portions. It was the Adat, the tradition, to give a donation of betel nut to the elder when visiting a village.
At that time I was really hungry, but there were no restaurants around whatsoever. At a street shop where Aka regularly bought large amounts of cigarettes to be donated to villagers, he just asked the young and friendly couple owning the shop if they could fry us some noodles in their adjacent home - we would pay, of course. They had two small children, of which the older boy was very shy, but the small boy came to kiss our hands, which seems common over here. And as the noodles arrived, which were absolutely excellent, several pet dogs and cats came to sit next to us and beg for some scraps. I suggested they should open a restaurant here - they had a very nice patio facing the street, which was almost asking for being turned into a restaurant. I hope they will make this idea become reality.
Then we made our way towards Temkessi, an ancient traditional village. We passed by some schoolkids walking home, and the road got worse gradually. We got into the mountains, where there were wild cows and horses, large cactuses, and some views on the Oecussi enclave, which politically belongs to East Timor
. We and a small family traveling by motorcycle needed to get off our motorcycles and walk up a steep hill, and we were almost in New Temkessi village. As Old Temkessi was on top of a rocky hill and had no connection to facilities and transport, the government had built some wooden houses at the bottom of the hill for the people of Temkessi. In between the more modern houses, villagers had built their traditional houses with grass or palm leaf roofs. We met some betel nut chewing villagers who asked who I was and whether I was here to make business and buy some Ikat cloth. It was the first time Aka had ever taken anybody to New Temkessi. We then made our way to nearby Old Temkessi and climbed up a steep and rocky path. We arrived at a house called the first gate, which was built by the cleft between two very large rocks. Dogs were barking at us. A very old woman was sitting on the ground by the entrance and was accompanied by a woman who may have been her daughter. Aka explained to her that Ibu Sonja wanted to visit Temkessi village, and I made an offering of betel nut and some money to her, then she agreed on us proceeding. It was forbidden to take pictures of the first gate, as this lead to infertility according to local beliefs. We climbed up the steps through the stone cleft and arrived at the assembly house. It was a very large space with carved pillars and a traditional roof. The heads of families based around Temkessi would get together here for rituals and celebrations, but also to discuss issues, and to pay a tax which was usually a percentage of their harvest. In Old Temkessi village Maria Ufa was waiting for us with her sons. She rolled out a mat for me to sit on, and I paid my donation in betel nut and some money. She had tattoos on her wrinkly arms - I liked them and wanted to know how they were done. Apparently, the dye came from the soot from a lamp, and was applied with a knife. Aka told me that during the last weeks, Maria Ufa's husband had become very ill, and that he had gone to hospital one time he visited
. Then, a few days back, he deceased. During the next gathering, the heads of family would decide who will be in charge of looking after old Temkessi instead of him. We walked around the deserted village with its dramatic setting on the hilltop and surrounded by the two large rocks. The chief's house currently only consisted of stilts and floorboards, and was waiting to get a new roof. Roofs went old every 5 years and needed to be renewed. One of the rocks could be climbed by anybody, but the other rock was only climbed every 7 years by chosen young men from the village for a ritual. They need to carry a red goat and a white chicken up the hill, then hang the chicken up a tree and leave it there to dry out. They must kill the goat, barbecue it, and not come down before they have eaten all of it. This ritual is done to ask for a good harvest and to make things go their way. The ancestors are able to receive offerings, and if they are pleased, they will influence god to bring a good outcome for the living. I also asked Maria Ufa whether this used to be a head hunting village. She said that before the second world war, people from Temkessi used to fight with other villages, but these were territorial fights, and trophies were not in their interest. However, until 300 years ago, the region had been occupied by a king based around Kefamenanu, who forced people to sacrifice humans in regular rituals. However, inhabitants of Temkessi then managed to fight the king, so that he withdrew his reign over the village
. Aka added that there have always been conflicts between villagers, and that they last until today - there has never exactly been any fighting between East and West Timorese people, but fights have rather been carried out locally. Maybe it is in people's nature.
We left Maria Ufa, who was just getting some local visitors, and drove through some small villages. Aka knew lots of people along the way, of whom many were weaving Ikat. We visited a small clan who were showing me the whole process of spinning cotton, dyeing it with different plants applying their tying technique, and weaving it. Again we handed out betel nut and cigarettes. Some people wanted their picture taken and later receive a print-out. Chicken were sitting in baskets straight under the roof - they were their nest, and one of the chicken was just hatching some eggs. A lady gave me an egg that the non-hatching chicken had just laid. I had it for breakfast the next morning - It was rather small, and very tasty, much tastier than a factory egg I ate alongside for comparison.
On the way to the main road the street was suddenly blocked by many people standing on a segment under which a small stream was flowing. We were asking why they were standing there and blocking the road - apparently it was a tradition, and they were performing some ritual. After some very fresh and tasty Padang food (this may sound like a contradition, but it exists, yes), we visited some very kind people living on a small trail off the main road who were using Indigo to dye cotton for weaving Ikat. Under the roof, bundles of corn were hung upside down - they were drying the seeds so they cold use them for planting a new crop. A very old lady with blue hands from the Indigo received another bag of betel nut from us, and a younger woman with a baby decided she wanted to chew some now
. Though being offered many times, I had never chewed betel nut before, because I had heard it causes cancer, but now sitting under this traditional roof with this family I really wanted to try it. Aka warned me: "Yes, maybe you will get a very strong headache or pass out, but that's not a problem, you can just lay down over here". Yeah, sure. As the lady instructed, I put one slice of dried nut into my mouth and chewed it with a piece of pepper, then added some lime powder. "Not so much lime powder, it will destroy your teeth!" warned Aka. My spit didn't turn exactly red, but I could feel some sort of effect: Minutes ago I had felt very stressed and tense from the long and bumpy motorcycle ride, but now I was really relaxed and happy in myself and the world. The locals around me were positively surprised and now really respected me. Whilst I was permanently spitting out, the old grandmother showed me how she dyes her cotton with Indigo, which needs many repetitions until a dark blue colour is achieved. We had to continue our trip to reach Oelolok before darkness, so we continued and the kind family clan assembled to wave me goodbye.
In Oelolok there was a large traditional house that was built next to a government house, for the collaboration of the ancient royal family and the Indonesian government. There were also many Dutch colonial houses. However, the royal people were not there - apparently they were out for a meeting
. It was said they could tell you some old tales from their family clan, so it was a shame not to meet them, but Aka would make up for it back in Kefamenanu. We watched a gorgeous sunset over a paddyfield, and then drove to our nearby homestay. They were friends working for the police who had some guest rooms where they accommodated people regularly. After Aka and I had put up my mosquitonet and de-mosquitoed the house with the help of mosquito coils and his chain smoking, we had the glorious idea to get drunk on Arak with the rest of the house. We sent off a boy to buy one bottle of the first destillate and one of the third destillate in order to compare them, for educational purposes only, of course. The father could not join us for drinking, unfortunately, because it was Ramadan and he was the only Muslim in the house. He couldn't even swallow his own saliver during the day. We inquired from his wife, who was christian, that church started the next morning, Sunday, at 7:15 am. I liked both types of Arak - the third destillate tasted as if the 1st destillate had been mixed with stale lemonade. But after having one glass of each I soon went to sleep - it had been such a physically exhausting day with also so many new impressions to digest. The men kept the faith and finished the Arak.
Early next morning, after a lovely breakfast served by our hosts, including bespoke egg from the weaving village, we set off to witness a typical Timorese Catholic Sunday service
. People wore their best clothes - blouses and skirts for the women. There was also a small market where people sold vegetables to attendants of the big event. The church was full to burst, and some people were standing outside and watching through the open doors, whom I joined. The priest was giving a speech in Bahasa Indonesia, and when he finished, people started singing. It was a very beautiful melody that the locals sang with angelic voices. Some of them were singing harmonies different from the lead melody, or with different timing - they must have practiced it many times, and it was very touching to listen to it. After this service, there was scheduled a special childrens' service, and many well-dressed kids were arriving in front of the church. We continued, as we had a long drive to Betun ahead of us.
In Halilulik we took a break, and Aka told everybody who was staring at me who I was and where exactly we were planning to go, as he used to. I had the feeling that the whole of Timor knew about me. If I had been on my own, I certainly wouldn't have told them, but it was also assuring to see that the whole community, also people working for the police we met randomly, agreed on me visiting the area as a tourist. We set off to visit Manu Laen village on the way, which means "husband man" - when two people got married, they had the choice between living around the husband's family or around the wife's family, depending on the requirements that the parents set for the bond
. A traditional house had a stilted roof made from grass, under which there was a large gathering space, and a ladder leading into a wooden room, from which an old grandmother was looking at us puzzled and sleepily. Outside the house there was a stone on which animals were sacrificed. A man brought a monkey mask from the house, which he had made himself, and which he was very proud of. In former times, a mask like this would have been worn during ceremonial dances, but he only made it for pleasure. We took some pictures, handed out cigarettes, and headed onwards. We also stopped at a house in Uabau village, were some fine regional Ikat was presented by some local farmers. Apart from traditional patterns, there was an embroidment which displayed men sitting on chairs and smoking, with ashtrays on the table, which I found was very special. We were served some coffee, and some curious farmers joined us. They all carried different pipes around their neck or attached to their machettes, with which they could call their cows in the field. Every pipe generated a unique tone, and cows were able to recognize their owner and approach him.
We drove on and into the mountains. The road got worse and worse, and cheerful children and families were coming home from the Sunday service in Kotafoun. Aka had promised me to take me to somewhere that hasn't been visited by tourists, yet. Whenever we passed by a group of people, children would shout out "Ah-doo!" which is an expression of astonishment
. We arrived at the market in front of the church of Kotafoun. When I got off the motorcycle, curious people assembled around me, wondering what an alien person like me would do in their remote village. They were all very friendly and kind-natured people. Aka took me to the house of Father Balthasar, the priest of Kotafoun, who welcomed us in his office with sweet tea and small bananas. He told me he had a friend from Germany, whom he met during his travels. I asked him a few questions about his work - apparently, there were 12000 people living in greater Kotafoun, which Father Balthasar was looking after. Many of them came to church on Sundays, but a large number of people also came to him to be given absolution. It would have been interesting to know whether people around the area had a lot of problems or worries, and what they were about, but this is something a priest must keep to himself. I told him I could imagine it must be a nice job looking after a community that seems as friendly as Kotafoun. Father Balthasar and I exchanged addresses, and Aka and I continued our jouney all the way back on the bumpy roads.
Being on the back of the motorcycle for so long and going through all those potholes was really tough, and my neck really started to hurt. Every muscle of my body was tense, and blood seemed to have stopped flowing through my legs, which had been in the same position for hours. We stopped by the roadside and I made some silly gymnastics and star jumps to embarrass Aka in front of all the passing vehicles. We then drove to a huge suspension bridge over a wide river with light-blue water. Benenain Bridge was also called the crocodile bridge, because crocodiles were often sighted in the river. A few years back, the bridge had been completely destroyed in a flood, but was then rebuilt. We headed on to Betun, which was a small town with architecture like any other, but with a good vibe
. We ate at the Padang place, and the owner asked if I was one of three white girls who had been to the area a few weeks back. He was sure I looked exactly like one of them. "No", I said "that's only because I'm also white - we all look the same to you!" Aka explained to the restaurant owner, that in return it must have been hard for me to recognize my own guide when I came to Indonesia, because they all looked the same to me. We checked into a nice guesthouse with an indoor patio and drove to the small village of Kletek.
We drove past the wooden houses of Kletek, with kids and some pigs running around. On a square, we stopped. The elder lady greeted us - she recognised Aka, who had taken one Australian girl to this place before. First there was a tension in the air, and children stared at me in disbelief - what does this stranger want here? For a moment they thought I was the Australian girl. But Aka explained that Ibu Sonja wanted to pay the villagers a visit and learn about their way of life, and I was approven. "She looks like a doll", some children said. I was sat at the entrance of the elder woman's house, and payed my donation in fresh betel nut. Several kids had cameras on their phones and started taking pictures of me, and a friendly woman who was originally from Java and who married into the village joined me - she was happy not to be the only stranger in the village anymore
. Now the villagers said they noticed some clear differences between me and the Australian girl, and the kids were asking if they could keep me there as a doll. The elder woman, who had tattoed arms, offered me some betel nut according to the Adat, the tradition, and mashed some for herself with the help of two stones, as she was not able to. Aka was running around and taking pictures with my camera, as the old woman started talking to me. She was talking and talking in a tone that suggested she had something very important to tell, but when I called Aka and asked him to translate, it turned out she was only moaning about her back hurting. A woman gave me a dark brown ring from her finger as a present - it looked like it was crafted from horn, and I thanked her for her generosity. Then the villagers had the idea of climbing one of their palm trees and get me a coconut as a welcome present. The coconut juice was very refreshing, and when it was finished, I asked them to open it so I could eat the flesh. They said it was probably too old to eat, but I explained to them that in Europe, we get them like this in the shop and then eat the hard flesh, which made them burst out into laughter. I was seated in the main square and asked the villagers assembling around me questions about their life, while they were examining my very strange body. A girl played with my ponytail and wanted to know what my natural hair colour was, and a lady asked if the spots on my white skin where a heat rash or mosquito bites (they were a mix of both)
. I asked if there were any rituals or celebrations in the village, and they told me that there were two celebrations a year, one before and one after the harvest. It was accompanied with drumming and dancing in traditional dress, and one of the women from the village demonstrated some traditional drumming, and showed me a picture of her children in traditional dress on her phone. One of the traditional foods is Maize. They bury their dead in an assigned cemetery - they practise animist believes, but there is also a Catholic church in the village. Just next to where we were sitting together, there was a square where they would get together for celebrations, and to discuss serious issues. Suddenly there was a young man talking to me in English - his name was Benni, and he was a singer in a local Timorese sweet pop band. He asked me if I would like to support his music project, and I bought a video CD of him. I thanked the people of Kletek for their hospitality, and wished, them a good harvest, good health, and a long life. Now it was time to say goodbye, many hands were shaken, and children were running after our motorcycle as we drove off. We also visited another community around Kletek, which were very lovely and warm people with gentle smiles on their faces. "Oh, she already chewed betel nut, look at her red lips", the elder lady noticed when I handed over our last bag of betel nut. The sun already started going down, so we had to leave those extraordinary people and drive back to Betun. Back at the guest house I wanted to play my new video CD, which didn't work on the public device, so the owner allowed me to play it on his home computer
. He knew some of the artists on the video, and was an editor Timorese music videos himself. Some of the music clips on my CD featured people from Kletek dressed in Ikat dancing the traditional Tebe dance, for which people stand in circles, holding hands.
The next day was market day in Betun. During morning coffee we met two boys who were traveling around markets and selling plastic hooks to make hair buns, and they demonstrated them to us on a doll they brought. I bought two of them to make one bun on each side of the head, and Aka bought some for his daughters. At the market there was lots to see - vendors selling pancakes made from palm sago and coconut, sea salt, crabs from the sea, pre-tiedyed cotton for Ikat weaving, and pigs which had their legs tied. Many men were into cockfighting - it would sound a bit wrong to write that they were very proud to show me their... roosters, but that's what happened. When they saw my camera, they put the birds down to demonstrate how they fight with each other. In a real cockfight, knives are tied to the bird's legs, so that the first one to strike stabs the other. Men bet large amounts of money on the cocks, so it's the gambling aspect plus the maltreatment of animals that made the government decide to declare cockfights to be illegal.
After we had had a proper breakfast, it started raining heavily, and I was worried and considered changing our plans
. Aka had planned to take me back on a different route, which was even bumpier than the way we came, and which had suffered severe landslides in the past, so that it was not even possible to pass it by car. We asked some locals which was the better way to get back to the main road, and they suggested the road we came. So we put on our cagoules and set off in the pouring rain. On the way to the main road, we visited a small family in Kateri, which Aka had met once before when rainfall was so severe that it was not possible to pass through the village. They were a poor family living from weaving and farming. When Aka introduced me as Ibu Doctor Sonja, the lady thought I was a medical doctor. She explained to me that people were very poor around here and could often not afford a doctor, so I should come back one day with my medical kit and treat people. Still they were very hospitable people, and shared the betel nut I brought according to the tradition. The rain had faded down, and we continued. Soon we reached the main road, and the ride became a bit easier. We visited a friend of Aka's who had a shop along the road. His wife had been a member of parliament, but died of cancer a few years back. They sold all kinds of things in the shop, including skin whitening soap. "People are never happy with what they look like - European people buy skin tanning cream, and Indonesian people buy skin whitening products" I thought.
Back in Kefamenanu, Aka introduced me to his auntie Paula, who was a retired teacher and member of parliament, but who was still working with local kids in playgroups
. She spoke a little English, and we were chatting a bit over a bowl of Bakso, a traditional noodle and meat ball soup from the street stall. As we set off to visit the Manganese mines around Kefamenanu, Paula invited me to stay over at hers next time I came to the area. Dogs were barking at us as we approached the Manganese mines. Dozens of sacks full of dark brown pieces of Manganese with a metallic shine were standing by the roadside, waiting to be picked up. A man was just digging for Manganese in a hole, which was protected from the hot sun with some dried up tree branches. Sometimes people dug too deep and the sides would collaps, and often people were buried and died. Larger amounts of Manganese inhaled or swallowed caused serious health issues, which many people who collected Manganese, also children, had to deal with, mainly because they were poorly educated about health hazards. The money obtained for the Manganese had to be shared with the person owning the land - still they would get double as much per kilogram as the sulfur miners at Ijen craters, and they did not need to carry any heavy loads.
Back in Kefamenanu, I decided I didn't want to travel any further that day. We had seen so many things and had driven such a long distance on bad roads in the rain, and it was late in the afternoon. So we first visited Aka's family. They lived in a small house not far from the center, and as he entered the door, seven children ran to him, welcoming and climbing him. His wife was very friendly and spoke some English, so we talked for a bit. His daughters were trying out the hair bun hooks he gave them, and soon they would go out to practise some marching for school, for the parades of the oncoming independence day. Still, Aka wanted to show me some things around the area, and we drove to nearby Oenenu village, where Ikat patterns were curly and different from the other styles I had seen, and we visited a friendly family who were drying Yams on the ground of their garden, which was starting to go mouldy
. They were also working in Manganese mining, and a man showed me a curious carved stone they had found when digging in the ground, about 1 meter deep. It looked like it could have been used for making fire, as a hammer, or as a pestle. He reported they had found many of those stones in different sizes, together with carved stone figures, and first they were very scared and didn't know what this was all about. Their son was ill and throwing up all the time. I was asking whether he had eaten anything bad, but maybe it was a sign of Manganese poisoning, which the boy also helped to collect. Hati-Hati dengan Manganese, we advised them - careful.
We then drove back to Kefamenanu to visit the retired govenor and King of Isana Mr. Olis Taolin, who was a descendent of the royal family around Oelolok. As we hadn't met any of the members of the royal family in Oelolok, I would now have the chance to ask Mr. Taolin all the questions about the holiness of the number seven. He lived in a big and luxurious house, and was just watering his garden plants when we met him. He looked vital and strong, was 67 years old, and had the body language of a king. He did not seem to know any of the old tales of his family, only that his bloodline was crossed with Portuguese royals from Oecussi at some point, but he told me what a big role the number seven played in his own life. He himself was born on the seventh of July, and his father died on a Sunday, the seventh day of the week, age 77. He told me a curious event he had once encountered, and Aka translated. One day, Mr. Taolin went out of his house to meet his people, who had assembled at the village square. But suddenly, he lost control of himself, some spirits took over, and he passed out. In order to help him, his people took a handful of rice each and threw it at him seven times in small portions, and so broke the spell the spirits had on him
. When he regained consciousness, he wondered what happened. The answer was, that on the way from his house to the village square, he had passed the graves of the ancestors all by himself. He had done something that the ancestors had disagreed with, and so they taken posession of him. The lesson to be learned is that you must always act in agreement with the ancestors, and also never pass by their graves by yourself, only in company of someone else. Again, this shows how important it is to Timorese people to maintain a good relationship with the ancestors, and that there will be a negative outcome if they are upset. Mr. Taolin also told me about a ritual his wife used to perform seven days after the delivery of a child. She would put seven large stones in front of the house in which she had given birth, and walk on them step by step. On the last stone there would be put a coconut shell filled with water. When she arrived at the 7th stone walking backwards, she would kick the coconut shell. If it landed on the ground with the cavity facing upwards, the next child would be a girl, and if the cavity faced the ground, it would be a boy. For them, this prediction had always worked - they had many daughters, and only the last child was a boy, as the coconut oracle had told them. Mr. Taolin's youngest daughter came in and brought us some sweet tea. She was working for an NGO around Kefa that was dealing with agriculture, which was currently occupying my previous hotel. I wished Mr. Taolin all the best, and that he would get much older that 77, and we started looking for a new hotel for me. But then Aka had the idea that I could stay at his auntie - she had promised I could stay with her in the future, so why not now? She lived in a large and nicely decorated house with her daughter's family and a few employees helping them around the house. Paula was happy to accommodate me in her guest room and practise more English with me, and we invited her for dinner. She took us to a very nice "hot food place" together with her granddaughter, where we ate duck, rice and vegetables
. We were talking about Paula's trip to the Middle East and Europe, which sounded exciting. The next morning we were chatting over breakfast, and she even drove me to the place where to catch the bus to Niki-Niki. "See you again", she insisted when I left and returned her hospitality with a small donation to her charity that helps children.
With my heavy luggage, I went to Niki-Niki by bus and Aka followed. It was quite a rollercoaster ride with a local being heavily sick over parts of some other people. My body functions and nervous system slowly got back to normal at a small restaurant where we stored my bag, and I was happy to be back on the motorcycle on the way to the market in Oenlasi. People were used to occasional tourists visiting here, and some people offered me masks, carved containers and ikat for sale. Some boys and men were excited about lottery tickets with a small chance of winning cigarettes and some everyday haberdashery. We went on our way through the mountains to the isolated traditional village of Boti, passing by many smoke houses made from grass. Then we drove through a river bed and past women washing clothes, climbed up some very steep hills on the strong motorcycle until we reached the gates of Boti. A young boy guarding the gate greeted us with very polite and gentle, but also reserved gestures. When we entered Boti, I found it was a very special place
. It was dramatically set against a hill, and it was so quiet it almost took your breath away. The singing of birds and the rustling of trees in the wind was the only sound one could hear. We walked down the stairs towards the house of the chief, traditionally dressed men were sitting on the ground, and some older men were on the veranda of the chief's house. We went to greet the chief and his cousin, also shook hands with all the other old men around, and gave our offering of betel nut. It seemed like the men were gathering to discuss some serious business. We walked around to visit the men sitting around the village - everyone was quiet and very shy, and it felt wrong to take a picture. Women were sitting by an assembly house and spinning cotton, one of them greeted me kindly, but they very much kept to themselves. Behind that area there was a cooking area with lots of pots and crockery on racks. We went inside the chief's house to have some welcome coffee, dried bananas and cooked yams. I asked the chief's cousin a few questions, but she said it was the adat, the tradition, that only the chief was allowed to answer certain questions. So after a while we went out to the veranda where the men were still assembled, and Aka translated for me. I told the chief that I found that Boti was a very special and peaceful place, and that it must be a great place to live in. He was very friendly, but still reserved, avoiding looking at me. He replied, they liked it here very much, too, which is why they chose living here
. It was so quiet here, you couldn't hear any engines or street noises. I asked if their traditional weaving pattern was inspired by nature - one could almost think it resembles animals, maybe lizards. But he said it was just the pattern that was used by their ancestors, and this is why they use it today. They have to keep to the tradition. I asked what they do to the placenta of a woman after a child was born - in several villages around Timor, they would bury it in their house, as also my guide Aka did it, but in other places, such as Temkessi, they would hang it off a tree to dry. The chief replied that in Boti, people would hang the placenta off a tree - it's a specific tree called Pohon Kusambi, which is similar to a Tamarind tree. I asked them what they do to their dead. Now it was rather the other men who answered - some of them were very friendly, and they were talking about their culture with passion. They were proud to talk about their culture, and happy that I was interested. They buried their dead at a cemetery, and in the central village of Boti, animism was practised, no christian religion. I also asked if they had any celebrations around the year, and what they included. They answered that they celebrated before and after the harvests, and that it would include offerings to the ancestors, also dances. They also celebrate at a funeral, or when a house gets a new roof. And the dance would be the traditional sbo'ot dance accompanied with gong music. I was very curious to see this dance, and for a donation I requested that a dance would be held in the night, in which I was allowed to participate
. In the meantime, Aka and I were asked to rest at the visitor's accommodation until dinner, after which the dance would take place.
I sat outside our house made from palm stems and leaves and soaked up the peaceful atmosphere. When it got dark, a man came to bring us some petroleum lamps. He told us that today was the 9th day, which is the day to rest and socialise in Boti - the other 8 days are working days. This is why we had seen so many people gathering around the village on this day. We were called for dinner early, and inside the chief's house we were presented a small feast consisting of different dishes - different vegetables, rice, maize, crackers, a pork and leeks soup, bananas, and boiled water in coconut grails. It all tasted delicious! Then the gongs already started, and we headed to the square where the dancing would take place. Musicians were playing an array of gongs with different timing to create a melody and percussion at the same time, the sound best described as a primitive version of Gamelan. Soon women appeared with woven cloths over their shoulders, performing the traditional sbo'ot dance and moving their arms in turns like a bird moving its wings. Soon I was given a cloth and joined the dance - rather clumsy and tripping over small rocks. The women now started moving past each other in patterns, and I tried to follow. The music stopped and people were taking a break before a new dance started
. Later also male dancers with swords joined, and kids practising the dance. The repetitive tune soon got me and everyone else into a trance like state. I asked if I could have a go on the gongs - the timing was very difficult, hitting two different gongs in turns very rapidly, but at least at one point everybody joined in with me. I asked where they got the gongs from, but like everything in Boti, it has been passed on from generations ago. We kindly thanked the musicians and dancers for this amazing performance and sat down by the fire. The boy who let us into the village and his father were sitting there, and soon the chief and his cousin joined us. Now it was my opportunity to ask the chief more questions. He had been chief of Boti for 6 years now, and took over from his father who died when he himself was 40 years old. He said the villagers had been living peacefully for many generations and live of farming. They have a communal stock of foods which villagers contribute to, in order to help others out in case of poor harvests. Some of the rules for the villagers are that they have to wear traditional dress and no shoes - it's important that they all look the same, and married men tie their hair to a knot at the back of their head. They keep to the tradition which includes animal sacrifices, but this is done with high respect for the animal. Animal sacrifice can only be done in the morning, whereas the killing for meat can be done at any time of the day. It is also a tradition of Boti to welcome strangers in the village
. I asked if they could tell a tale from the ancestors of their village, now that we are sitting together by the fire, but nobody understood what I meant. "We have been living like this for generations and generations, farming and living together in peace" the chief repeated. "Are there no stories you tell to your children to teach them the ways of life?" I asked. "Sometimes children play being a cow and tie themselves to a tree", I was told by the chief's cousin. "And some children have toy cars made from two wheels and a stick. Sometimes a larger version of these toys is used to carry elderly villagers down the hill, because the truck isn't coming often." It was close to midnight, the coconut shell fire was extinguished, and we went to sleep.
The next morning we got up quite early, and had some morning tea with the chief. There were some gadgets around the tidy village I only noticed then - for example jugs for betel nut spittings, and a mechanical hand washing device. At first sight this village may have seemed primitive, but it was full of highly developed mechanical technology made from natural materials. There was one generator in the village, which was only put on when politicians came to the village for negotiations with the chief. As I had planned, I then learned how to fetch water with some women from the village. The water was carried in large bamboo tubes, which were sealed with a cob of maize
. It was a long way down into a rocky and hot valley, where the small stream is the only source of water the village has - they even built a small bathroom cell here where one can have a shower! The girls showed me how to fill the tube and carry it on my shoulder - it must have weighed about 10 kg - then we went for the climb up the hill. Back in the village, it was already time to say thanks and goodbye to the chief, and get the motorcycle ready to leave, because again, we had a long way ahead of us.
As we drove into greater Boti, people became less reserved, and it was like a tension falling off me. Whenever we stopped by a smoke house to take a picture, people came running at us - curious children, or adults who thought we had come to buy a cow or manganese. A friendly family proudly showed me their cow herd that was equipped with bamboo bells around their necks, and their self-made traditional guitars. At another smoke house with a breathtaking mountain view, a lady was selling delicious banana fritters by the roadside, and some curious farmers women joined us for a while. In another place, a woman was squashing maize in a large mortar, and men were digging a new well. There were many landslides in the area, and I needed to get off the motorcycle often so it could take a tiny dirt track.
We then visited the traditional village of None, where we got a hearty welcome
. This used to be a head hunting village until 3 generations ago, which makes the touristic appeal to it, and which is proudly explained to all visitors. First we were greeted by a man who is something like the tourism minister of None, and I went to meet his family while Aka drove him and his small son to the main fortress. We then drove through the greater village with its red earth and visited one of the smoke houses. Some cheerful kids were running as fast as the motorcycle. A friendly young woman with a child showed me her smoke house. After my eyes had got used to the darkness, I recognised a bed, a fireplace with kettle, and a bundle of maize hanging down from the ceiling. There is also an attic, in which maize is stored. The smoke may be a health hazard at first sight, but it preserves food from insects, and also keeps mosquitoes transmitting deadly diseases out. When a new baby is born, it needs to stay inside the smoke house for 40 days with his mother, and the placenta is buried in the house. We then proceeded to the main fortress which consists of coral rocks amids red earth, and has steep cliffs on three sides. From here, warriors of None were able to spot oncoming enemies. At one side of the cliff they would watch enemies in the valley, and then get together to make plans for an attack by a holy tree. There was an oracle which was able to tell whether attacking enemies coming from the Noth would be successful - a man had to hold a long stick against a tree towards the North with both arms, and if his hand did not reach the tree, the man would die. An egg would also tell the fate of the warriors: If there was blod in the egg, they would die. Men were only allowed to fight when they were over 40 years old. Whenever they killed one of the enemies, they would bring his head to the village, have a big celebration there, and keep the head for 4 days and 4 nights. Then the hunter would bring the head to the kings palace of Niki-Niki, where he would be rewarded by the king with a hero's title
. So the headhunters were the right arm of the king and helped him to get rid of enemies. All of this was presented by the tourism minister of None and my guide, and dozens of cheerful kids assembling at each place they were showing. I bought a small carved wood container, which was a human figure which you opened by taking off its head, which I found was a suitable souvenir. Tourists are not pressured into buying things in None, but money from visitors is their main income and encourages them to maintain their traditional life, minus the headhunting, of course.
After visiting all those different villages, it was time to head west towards Kupang. We had to leave the rented motorbike in Niki-Niki, but I really didn't feel like going on one of those horribly sickening bus rides again. So I had the idea to go on a truck, and Aka and I spent about an hour on the back of the truck taking in the hilly countryside around Soe. We stopped in between and bought fresh coconuts to drink for the driver and us, and also had some of the rice flour and coconut cakes that are typical around the area between Soe and Kupang. We also stopped before Kupang to have a look at the stunning Sasando instruments, which are developed from traditional instruments from the island Rote. They work like harps, but with the strings assembled around a stick of wood. We were played some songs via an amplifyer in order to cover up the sound of the busy high street. They first played some western songs in order to show the potential of the instrument, and then some traditional songs from Rote. A priest from Jakarta had come all the way here to buy a Sasando, for a price which I found quite reasonable for such a fine instrument, and probably equaled his return flight. The family had earned lots of cups and medals for their Sasandos in competitions. Now it was starting to get dark, and we tried to catch a bemo to Kupang
. The one that took us was already full, but we were put on the front seat and my backpack was just thrown on the roof and was not fixed whatsoever, but some guys hanging out the doors said they were watching it. They were playing some loud pop music, and the wind screen was so full of fluffy toys that it was almost impossible to see the road, but the driver must have known it somehow. Sponge bobs and Pooh bears were dangling around, an eye- and noseless pink teddybear sat above the glovebox fell onto Aka every time the van stopped, and some toys were wearing hats and scarves despite the tropical heat inside the packed bemo.
After checking into my hostel, we went off to print the pictures I took of all the villagers, so that Aka could hand them out copies next time he visited them. After that, we went to the night market in Kupang, where we chose some fresh fish to be barbecued for us. Then it was time to say goodbye to Aka, who was already half on his way to his next adventure. Exhausted, I crashed out on my bunkbed - five days had been spent on the back of a motorcycle, kilograms of betel nut had been donated, and so much was learned about the way of life of the tribal people of West Timor. Aka Nahak, based in Kefamenanu, speaks Dawan and Tetum, along with good English. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; mobile +62 (0)852 5346 3194.
After a quick recovery from the wild bus ride to Kefamenanu and a meal at the inevitable Padang food restaurant, I met my new guide for my tour of West Timor. Aka spoke several different local dialects and had been a guide since 1988. During the years of unrest he had guided NGO workers and miners, but for several years, travelers have been returning to the region. We agreed on a 4 day schedule, visiting several different villages all over West Timor and ending up in Kupang. He also organised a strong motorcycle to get us across all the broken roads, gravel and dirt tracks. "And some helmets", I insisted.