indonesia corners

indonesia corners

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Mystery of Prehistoric Megaliths

Far remote in the dawn of human history, there was a period when people used to erect huge stone monuments, which today is called the megalithic era. The monuments were intended either to commemorate the dead, to praise the Creator of the universe or to call for the local gods in providing their blessings.

Megaliths are specifically defined as monolith erected monuments which include menhir and obelisk. The term of megaliths, in general, may include Stonehenge in Great Britain, the obelisk in Egypt, dolmen (offering stony altar) and sarcophagus for the burial of noted persons.

Menhirs can be found in various parts of the world and sometimes it is difficult to explain how and why ancient, prehistoric people managed to construct such a huge stony monument weighing up to 250 tons. 

A speculative explanation points out to giants who possibly lived before the Floods more than 30,000 years ago, the only individuals capable to manage such heavy stones. However such reasoning is unjustifiable as there are some which are just 8,000 years old or less.

Indonesia inherits the remains from the megalithic era shown by numerous menhirs found spread out throughout the archipelago. The origin of menhir in Indonesia as in everywhere else is still a mystery. A certain theory asserts that megalithic tradition came from Central Asia following several waves of migration southward to various parts of Indonesia and westward to Europe starting from 2,500 BC up to  800 BC.

Menhirs erected for the purpose of animism ritual activities found in Batusangkar and Limapuluh Koto Regency, West Sumatera, taking the forms of swords, horny beasts or human heads of around 4,500 years old.

The stony monuments found in Tunjungmuli village, Purbalingga regency, Central Java are believed to be used as offering altars. Some menhirs in the form of wrapped dead body were found just recently which is supposed to be used for rituals to expel bad omen.

Toraja area, in South Sulawesi, preserves around 100 menhirs, some of which are huge measuring not less than 8 meters height. The ancient Torajanese erected those stony monuments right in front of the noble person’s burial place.

Menhirs in Sumba which stand together with dolmens and sarcophagus,  the noble families’ graves, were erected for the purpose of rituals to preserve the harmonious interaction of the immaterial and material worlds.

Menhirs in Flores had been intended for various purposes such as for declaring wars, opening the forest for agricultural cultivation and for praising local gods. Unfortunately, only a few menhirs are preserved and today treated as anthropological remains.

Menhir has lost its function as a sacred place, and merely becomes an anthropological remain, except in Nias island, offshore of North Sumatra. Until today  Nias people still preserve the megalithic rituals and even erect new menhirs for those purposes.  UNESCO plans to enlist Nias in World Heritage because of its “living megalith culture”.

In this island, most menhirs were constructed in the form human bodies complete with their phallus or stand-alone big phallus of 2 to 3 meters height symbolizing the human fertility. Dolmens erected near those menhirs were used for offering altars.  

All menhirs were erected in purpose at around 500 meters above the sea level to avoid the possible damage from tsunamis which from time to time swept the Nias coastal area for thousand-year period.

Who were really these megalith people? Was there any relationship between Indonesian prehistoric cave people and megalith people? Were they the same or different people? Why were menhirs erected in different places around the world separated by such long distances such as Europe-Indonesian archipelago-Easter Island far away in the eastern part of Pacific?

Could it be that Nias people are the clue to open the mystery? Too many questions are unanswered and too many happenings still remain mystery.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Prehistoric Cave Paintings and the Lost East of Eden

Indonesia is not only rich in traditional and contemporary cultures but also in olden cultures reflected by many temples erected from around 500 AD. There are even numerous prehistoric remains such as megalithic and cave paintings discovered spread out throughout the archipelago.

The worldwide prehistoric era is still tightly covered by mystery. The civilizations seem to emerge out of sudden rising those of Sumerian, Babylonian and ancient Egypt around 10,000 BC. Before that time barely any information handed down to us except some artifacts in the form of cave paintings from prehistoric cave-dwelling people.

These artifacts survive for a very long time from the period as old as 35,000 years ago such as prehistoric paintings in Lascaux and Chauvet caves, France and 25,000 years ago in Western Cape, South Africa, and Santa Barbara, California, all measured by means of the radiocarbon date.

Indonesia seems also to be inhabited by numerous prehistoric people among other in Maros (Sulawesi) with the age estimated between 30,000 to 10,000 years, in Tewet (Kutai Regency, Kalimantan), more than 10,000 years, in Seram, Kei Islands, and Papua.

In Kalimantan, around 1,000 caves have been inventoried spread out throughout East Kalimantan province of which several caves are for burial rich of ceramics and 20 caves ornamented with prehistoric paintings. The paintings in those caves were made of the same non-organic materials, namely hematite, manganese dioxide and dust of karsts as a binder.

The models, techniques, and materials used for paintings are the same as the ones found in Australia. Some experts hold a chronological human ancestor distribution theory stipulating that early Aboriginal-resembled tribe lived from as far as Kalimantan in the west spread out throughout southern Moluccas archipelago down to Papua and Australia in the east.

The most dominant prehistoric cave paintings in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Seram, Kei Islands, and West Papua are palm hands, both left and right. One of the paintings, “tree of life”, has attracted the attention of the expert worldwide. Aside from palm hands, others are paintings of animals, birds, and fish. As it was difficult for prehistoric people to gather materials to draw paintings, we can conclude that those paintings should have been drawn on special purpose.

The prehistoric tribes living in Maros cave painted the picture of anoas (dwarf buffaloes), horny-pigs or megapode birds with the hope that they could easily catch those animals during their hunting season. Inside the cave, the experts also found stone tools including ax, arrows and human bones.

That the prehistoric people could do any artistic works, it indicated that they had started to settle in a certain place, contrary to nomadic people, which had to wander here and there and had no time to express their feelings or to commemorate something with paintings.

Maros paintings have survived thousands of years but only a few years after discovered by locals, the paintings began to suffer from destruction. 

As more and more people come to the site, it is the obligation of the local government to take the necessary steps to protect the cave and its contents properly.

Like Maros, Tewet cave paintings in Kutai, Kalimantan, need serious attention of the local government to conserve them. The destruction of the nearby forest might also change the humidity of the weather and in turn, might disturb the condition of the paintings.

It is interesting to note that some western authors claim that Indonesia was the East of Eden, a “paradise” that has been lost submerged below the sea level during a series of big floods to become a large archipelago as we know it today. The cave paintings discovered in numerous areas throughout the archipelago may support such postulate.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SEA GAMES XXVI: the ASEAN Unity in Diversity

The SEA Games XXVI was joyfully closed with an extravagance musical and dance performances by the Indonesian and Myanmar contingents, respectively, as the current and succeeding host for 2013. The SEA Games was participated by all ASEAN member countries competing for 542 gold medals distributed in 43 games.

This biennial Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), first held in 1977, was the continuation of Southeast Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games. The participants are the ASEAN member countries, a geopolitical and economic organization of 11 countries with a total population of around 600 million. ASEAN as a whole rank as the ninth largest economy in the world. Its combined nominal GDP [2010] had grown to US$1.8 trillion.

The ASEAN was established aiming to include the acceleration of economic growth, social progress, cultural development among its members, the protection of regional peace and stability, and to provide opportunities for member countries to discuss differences peacefully.

Indonesia became the overall champion in this event grabbing 182 gold, 151 silver, and 142 bronze medals. It was the 11th overall championships for Indonesia in 16 Games since it has taken part in the events. Indonesia as the host of the Games chose Palembang, South Sumatra, as the focal point of the event complimented by Jakarta and its surrounding areas for some specific games.

Such decision was made mainly to enhance the regions’ capacity building and stimulate their social-economic developments. It required big extra efforts and funds to build the infrastructure and venues for the games for a relatively short time. Being lack of venues, some national and foreign trainers and referees were lodged in a first-class liner and a warship which both capable to accommodate 4,000 persons.

Some foreign media criticized that this time the SEA Games was hurt by local squads as there are too many local games which are not widely known as those held in Asian and Olympic Games. They suggested that it would be better if the SEA Games concentrated on the games that might be used as the stepping stone for the Asian and Olympic Games. Comparing to those of 24th SEA Games held in Thailand, however, the number of games competed in this event was the same [43 games].

Notwithstanding, the SEA Games events should have their specific nuance of the sports taking more local contents reflecting the richness and diversity of the region. This is exactly the underlying objective of the SEA Games and not the number of medals that may be gained by whoever the host country. The event should hold the spirit of the ASEAN unity under their inherent diversities and pluralities.

With its outstanding success it is hoped that, albeit the Indonesian’s disappointment on losing the gold medal for their dear soccer team, Indonesia will make more progress toward the bigger international sports events.

Lest to forget, albeit being shadowed by some conflicts raised between member countries, the success of such sports events will certainly contribute to the enhancement of the political stability and preservation of peace in the region.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yacht Sailing throughout Archipelago

Indonesia is a maritime country but ironically its maritime potency is not fully exploited yet. The central and regional governments try their best to make use of all its resources, be it fishery or maritime tourism among other yacht sailings. Recently, the yacht sailing was held under the name of Wakatobi-Belitung Yacht Sailing, the international racing between Wakatobi,  at the coast of southeast Sulawesi, and Belitung island.

The current yacht sailing was the continuation of the sailing started from Darwin on July 23 which took stop over at Wakatobi. The sailing was participated by around 200 yachters, 61 of which came from 17 countries among others Canada, USA, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and Italy. 

From Darwin the yachters sailed to around 21 places in  the country taking two routes,  one team via Kupang and the other team Saumlaki, with the final destination to Belitung. The yachters were supposed to be able to create the best sailing passage to the final destination. 

Both teams arrived in Labuan Bajo after five to six weeks and then sailed via Bali where the sailing ended at Kalayang Beach, Belitung one month later. In order to disseminate the maritime tourism, a series of events under the theme “Clean Ocean for the Future”, were held before the arrival of the yachters. Several events were organized such as a seminar on Marine Tourism,  East Belitung Fair, and various kinds of sports: beach volleyball, diving competitions, jet-ski attraction, underwater photography and underwater chess competition.

On top of the Wakatobi-Belitung sailing, the same events already took place a long time ago. The first group of yacht sailing events was held aiming to call for more Australian yachters and tourists to visit Indonesia especially Bali. This yacht sailing, under the name of "Visit Indonesia Fremantle-Bali International Yacht Race" covering the distance of around 2,600 kilometers, was held irregularly from 1981 to 1997. After no activity for 14 years, the event restarted in April  2011.

The second group started in 1986 is an annual event under the umbrella program of Ambon and Darwin cities and are supported by Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Darwin Cruising Yacht Association and local government of Northern Territory, Australia. It is hoped that all yacht sailing events will be held annually with the aim to strengthen the Indonesian position as a maritime country, to boost foreign tourist visits and maximally develop maritime resources. 

We all wish for the best!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Raja Ampat, a New Promising Underwater Tourism

With its 17,000 islands spread out across its territorial water, Indonesia possesses high potential underwater activities and tourism surrounding some of the islands. On top of the already famous Bunaken underwater tourism in North Sulawesi, one of the newcomers with promising development is Raja Ampat.

Raja Ampat, a newly developed paradise, is located in a remote area far from modern lives. It consists of four islands namely Waigeo, Misool, Salawati, and Batanta and some other islets around the seawater at the north coast off-shore of Kepala Burung (literally means Bird Head) of West Papua.

The name of Raja Ampat (four kings) is related to the local myth that in the dawn of time the region was reigned by four kings resided in four main islands who born out of seven primordial eggs. It is interesting to note that the numbers may be correlated to the four pillars and seven heavens frequently mentioned in many myths and religions around the world. 

Its underwater beauty attracts experts to make research on marine fauna and flora. In 2001, those from International Conservation and National Oceanography Institute have examined more than 550 kinds of coral reefs, 1,000 kinds of coral fishes, 700 kinds of mollusks.

The spectacular thing marking the uniqueness of this area is the fact that more than 75% of all coral reefs in the world can be found here. For scuba diving, it is nice because the seawater is clean and warm while marine fauna and flora are lots.

This is the reason why the area is considered as one of the top ten sites in the world for scuba diving. Various kinds of fishes are nice to examine, and besides, there are a lot of tamed manta rays searching around their pray inside the seawater.

From the prehistoric point of view, pictorial signs and sketches of human hands inside the caves of some islets can be found here. It is estimated that the sketches and signs have been 50,000 years old. These inheritances can be the early indication to trace the human circulation around islands scattered across the Pacific Ocean.

To conserve the unique of coral reefs and marine mammals such as dugongs and dolphins, in 1993 the government has issued a decree stipulating that seawater covering the area of 60 thousand hectares around small islets of Mansuar, Yeben, and Batang Pele became the protected one.

Despite its beauty, there are some hindrances the tourists have to face when visiting the site. The first one is related to transportation, board, and lodging. For the visitors coming from Jakarta, they have to take six-hour flight with the destination to Sorong after a transit in Bali.  

From Sorong, there are some travel bureaus which can offer you various boats and routes to sail around the sea water or to land at a certain island and examine the vegetation of the island. However, you have to make sure that the boat can withstand the big waves.

The second problem is for board and lodging if you want to have a comfortable one. For this you can take Sorido Bay Resort or Kri Eco Resort, a traditional resort constructed on poles above the seawater. There are also some motels in Saonek, Mansuar and Yenwaupnor islets. Or if you like to have an outdoor life and want to be more economical you can construct a tent on shore of an island. The best time to go there is on October and November when the seawater is relatively calm. 

Welcome to Raja Ampat, one among the best underwater paradises in the world. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Once a Year Massive People Exodus

Indonesia is a unique country having a tradition for people to ask for pardon to each other on the celebration of Eid-al-Fitr, the Moslem’s most venerated day, especially from the younger to the elders. As most of the big cities residents originated from the hinterland, they have to travel back to their native hometowns or villages as most of their parents and relatives live there. Under such tradition, a massive exodus takes place once a year from big cities to the countrysides.

The following figures talk by themselves. Most people started moving out since the third day before the D-day. The statistic indicates that around 27 million people made an exodus to their home town in 2009 and the number increases by 10 percent annually. The final figure for this year is not yet available, but we can estimate that more than 30 million people had moved around. The people movements within and crossing out of Java were around 16 million categorized by the modes of transportation: land transport 5,5; ferry 3,3; railway 3,1; airplane 2,5 and marine 1,6 million.

During the peak season, the travelers increased their journey-hours up to three to four times of the normal time. The government has taken extraordinary efforts to improve the transport infrastructure to minimize road congestion. Some roads’ sections had been widened by adding the number of lanes, cutting the elevation to flatten out some climbs, putting in operation some additional bridges parallel to the existing ones. The number of police personnel on duties was increased spread out in various regional districts to handle the traffics. In addition, the government took the responsibility to keep enough fuel stocks to meet the fuel demand hike during the season.

Even though the potential train passengers increased significantly, to increase the passenger convenience the railway management "bravely" imposed for long distance routes a stringent regulation limiting the number of passengers in accordance with the seats available. For that reason, the number of intercity buses was increased to around 35,000, some of which to handle travelers who were not able to get the train tickets.

It is common to see motorcycle drivers bringing with them the whole family including small children. As the travel distance they took might reach 500 to 1000 km, the police forbade such practice and in certain routes parallel to the coast motorcycle passengers with children were asked to bring their motorcycle in the boat provided by the government for free. In addition, the police in cooperating with gas stations and mosques provided some modest rest points along the roads for motorcycle passengers.

Under such massive exodus, human casualties due to traffic accidents could not be avoided. The number of casualties prior and after Eid-Fitr increased to around 4400 this year as compared to 2,400 last year, of which 630 died 1,070 heavily injured and 2,700 lightly injured. With the aim to reduce the accident and monitor the flow of the vehicles, the government had set 230 CCTVs in various critical points.

This year Eid-al-Fitr celebration fell on August 31 which was determined based on the traditional lunar astronomical observation as against the astronomical computation. This arose controversy as the government stipulated the date only in the last minutes. Million of people had already prepared to celebrate the venerated day on August 30 in concordance with the public holiday stated in the calendar by cooking big meals for the visiting relatives or ordering meals through catering enterprises for groups who organized a big gathering.

After Eid-al-Fitr prayer people are used to enjoying the big meal together with the whole family. Following the government stipulation, however, as fasting continued for another day most festive meals were untouched and became rotten. In addition, the lengthy deliberation that the government held to get the final conclusion made people difficult to conduct “tarawih”, a night prayer performed during the fasting period, as the date was finally stipulated only late in the evening.

Whatever method the government would take to determine the date of Eid-al-Fitr, it should be the most pragmatic one. Most people still rely on whatever the government decision and the long delay of such a decision would cause widespread confusion across the country as millions of families and business people should be ready to promptly change their plans.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Isles for Sale

Indonesia is an archipelagic state consisting of more than 17,000 islands spread out along the equator at 5,000 kilometers long and 1,800 kilometers wide. Many of those are small isles which some traditionally become private properties handed down from generation to generation.

Some private property companies who economically manage those isles have bought them from locals. Matter becomes worse as those companies, with or without the local government cooperation, resell those isles to foreigners.  

This might happen as Law No. 27/ 2007 (article 13) allowing local governments to manage the isles under their jurisdiction is easily misinterpreted. Some people or companies deduce it too far as though they might have rights to sell the isles as stipulated in the article.

Even long before the law was stipulated, in some areas several isles had been sold already. As early as the 1960s an isle and small coastal area in Lembata was sold by East Flores regent to a foreigner who converted it into a nice resort. Most locals were happy, albeit the prohibition for them to enter as they might have a chance to be hired as the resort employees. 

Since 2002, the isle sales become common transactions in Batam, converted proprietorship of Petong, Abang, and Segayang to some foreigners. Some isles in Mentawai, West Sumatra were sold online for around 3 million dollars each. However, the local government hurriedly denied the sales saying that it was only a joint-venture exploiting the isles’ touristic potentials.

Similar online transactions offered seven isles in Karimun Jawa, off the coast of Central Java, followed by the sale of two isles in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, which was then converted to become an exclusive resort. Other sales to mention are Tatawa in East Nusa Tenggara; Panjang and Meriah in West Nusa Tenggara; Bengkoang, Galeang, Kembang, Kumbang, Katang, Small and Big Krakals in Central Java.

On top of the Isles’ sale for resort or private proprietorship, some foreigners bought certain isles including Galang Baru in Riau Province for the use of, whether it was legal or not, dumping dangerous chemical waste. Other sales were Penempan, Pengalap, Tanjungrame, Segayang and Galang and Sebaik isles for sand mining, the products of which were exported for Singapore's coastal reclamation which is now totally put in halt. 


Some foreigners keep eyes on the management of national parks. Komodo National Park, for example, which is under the management and jurisdiction of East Nusa Tenggara government, most of the shares are now at the hand of foreigners. To make things worse, a foreigner had bought and managed exclusively Bidadari Isle inside the Park sea waters and local fishermen who live there for many generations get no more access to the sea waters around the area.

Another trick to get easily the ownership of isles or coastal areas is to marry local people. A certain rich foreigner married a local woman from Anambas isle in Natuna and established an exclusive nice resort under the name of his wife.

As such transactions have created a lot of problems, many locals people raised complaints to the government. Early this year, the Association of Indigenous People of Rempang-Galang Island filed their lawsuit to Constitutional Court against Batam mayor, ex-governor of Riau, and head of Regional Land Affairs Body for selling or renting 180 isles to foreigners.

The Constitutional Court had paid serious attention to the affair and identified the weakness of the law. Following the judicial review, the Court dropped the article 13 of the Law No. 27/2007 which was put into effect on June 16, 2011.

The isles are no longer for sale but tourists are welcome to come in.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Doing Business with Monkey, not Monkey Business

Indonesia is an archipelagic country which innumerable coconut trees cover its thousands of islands. Those palm trees yield various kinds of products mainly palm oil. The height of the tree makes it hard to harvest the mature coconuts.

In certain areas where coconut trees are plentiful, such as in West Sumatra, the tree owners are enjoying their lives because they can domesticate a certain type of monkey to pick the coconuts for them.  

 This kind of monkey, a pig-tailed macaque, is trained to climb and pick up coconuts and taught to select the mature coconuts. One monkey is able to pick up around 800 coconuts a day and the monkey owner usually receives 10% of the outputs.

However, such kind of business cannot be done extensively as only a handful of people can train a monkey to do such a job. The training is done gradually, starting from finding a couple of coconuts at the lowest part of the coconut tree and urges the monkey to pick them up one by one.

Then the trainer binds the coconuts at the higher place and lets the monkey climb higher to pick the coconuts. The training is continued until the coconuts are bound at the top of the tree. Then it is taught to differentiate the mature from the immature coconuts allowing it to pick up only the mature ones. After one or two-month training, the monkey is ready to do the job.

Special attention to the health and daily staple diet of the monkey should be given especially when it works hard a day long. Maintaining good relation and communication between the owner and the animal will make it easy to obey the order.

The young animal of one year old is not strong enough to be trained to do the job. The best age is 4 years old when the animal’s muscles are strong enough and its teeth are fully grown up to do the job well. A trained animal is sold at three times of the price of an untrained animal which is Rp 600,000.

People in Java employ animals more for fun than for doing business. The animals are trained to dance, ride on miniature bicycles bringing umbrellas or behave like a clown accompanied by music instruments played by the owner and his assistants. The performance is usually held around the marginal areas from one place to another.

The performances of the trained monkey are widely known in the whole island of Java. In the olden days, the monkey dancing might attract a lot of people that make the owners get much money.

There is a region where many people are specialized to catch wild monkeys and train them to dance. After 5 months, when the trained monkeys are able to perform entertaining actions they sell them at least one million rupiahs. 

The Primate Research Center found that more than 50% of trained monkeys were infected with the simian foamy virus (SFV) or herpes B which can spread among human being. For preventive action, the audiences should be prevented for direct contact with those animals.

Please do business with the monkey, not monkey business!