Opening of the Banda Festival

During the past week or so, the cultural festival has started in full swing. The men are training to row the kora kora and the youth organization got together to create trashbags that are hung all over Banda to keep the waste to a minimum.

The opening of the festival took place at Istana mini, the former residence of the Governor when Banda was still an important trade hub. And guess who opened the festival? The current Governor of Maluku, whose mother is from Banda. He was welcomed by a performence of the Cakalele dance. After the speech he initiated the tobelo, a widely known Moluccan dance, which was an impressive sight when all the Bandanese joined. He remembered me from the summer, so that was pretty neat.

This was not the only performance of the Cakalele by the adat village Namasawar, as they also performed two dances on top of Fort Belgica. Besides this traditional artform, Banda has been adorned by the works of Muhammad Fadli, a contemporary photographer working on a project called The Banda Journal, and the artist Nookie Alwi, whose family has a long history with Banda.

The festival is also an opportunity for a wide variety of workshops, from cooking classes with local products, to sketching, photography and writing. Of course I had to pop in the cooking workshop to sample some of the goodies before going back to work.

And yes, work is also being done. By now I almost finishedmy sketches of the surrounding buildings at Fort Nassau, and I have talked to the people who live there. There are mixed feelings,as they appreciate the restoration but are sad that a whole block of residents will be displaced in oder to reconstruct the waterway.

Last but not least, I accompanied the senator for Maluku yesterday on her visit to the communities on Hatta island and Lonthor on Banda Besar. It was interesting to sit in and listen to the programs that are in place to help the fisherman and nutmeg farmers, and to see a highplaced official like herself go down to the communities to explain how they can apply for these subsidies.

As pictures say more than a thousand words, I hope you enjoyed this visual update. All pictures are made by me, if you want to use them please contact me first.


Back in Banda!

I am very lucky to be back on this beautiful island. This time to attend the cultural festival, do a final survey of Fort Nassau and gather the last impressions of the reinterpretations of the heritage by various stakeholders.

As soon as I arrived I was welcomed by Opy, my oldest friend on Banda, who prepared a room for me to stay this month. Besides her, many friends on Banda are asking me to join for meals, which are delicious and always eaten in good company. It is great to be back!

After an interview at the Nutneg tree hotel (see lunch above and beautiful reading room below) I joined to see the preparations at the Chinese temple. It is a significant historical site in Banda that is in a dreadful state. The Chinese community in Banda either left or became Catholic, making this site a relic of the past. 

However, it is an important remnant that reminds us of the multi cultural and poly religious trading community that still us present in the mixed etnic Bandanese society. People from all around came here for the nutmeg, but as I was reminded today in tbe interview, the beauty of Banda is that people adopted the Bandanese culture as their own. 

The hope is that this cultural festival, which will bring many VIPs to Banda, can be used to raise awareness for preservation projects such as this Chinese temple. 

Re-organization of the local museum

As I mentioned in one of my very first posts, when I arrived in Banda Neira I had the idea to organize a workshop with the local history students to revamp the local museum, the Rumah Budaya. This museum houses the private collection of Des Alwi, who was born in Banda and was adopted by the nationalist Mohammad Hatta during his exile in Banda Neira. Des Alwi became an important diplomat for Indonesia, but never forget his place of origin. He used his extensive network to rescue Banda from decay, and he turned the house in which he was born into a museum. It is owned by his children and grandchildren, one of which, Mita Alwi, helped with the reorganization. 

At the moment this is the only place in Banda Islands archipelago were there is an attempt to tell the entire rich history of Banda to tourists. It is therefore regrettable that the exhibition did not show any chronological or thematic organization. In return for all the kindness that the Bandanese people have shown me during the last few months, I wanted to help and reorganize the collection into a story that will be a little more easier to understand for visitors who are not guided by a tour guide. 

Together with the history teacher, we already made a thematic sketch at the start of June, but due to all the festivities and my visa problems we had not been able to execute our ideas. As I will be leaving Banda Neira in a month, I asked the students when they would have time during this month to help and move all the objects in the museum. The answer was: this weekend, because there will be a lot of other activities that will prevent them during any other week. So, in two days, I drew maps of the rooms, categorized the objects per theme, and then drew a plan for a new exhibit. 

The first day, 24 (!) students came to the museum to help. With the help of colored post-its and the floor plans, all the furniture and objects were moved within a day. The next day a smaller group of 10 selected students returned to help; cleaning the museum, hanging the last paintings and moving the last pieces. I am super excited about the result, however, I was a little anxious whether the efforts of the last week would be appreciated. As it is, several people have approached me to say that they really like the new set-up, as it makes it easier to tell the story of Banda when they tour tourists through the museum. Therefore, mission accomplished!

However, there is still plenty of work to be done. The building is in a pretty bad condition, with parts of the ceiling already collapsing. Besides that, there is a severe lack of lighting, it needs a few fans in order for tourists not to roast during their visit, and all the labels should be renewed. One remaining task is to work with the local students to write a short paragraph to introduce the theme of the room, which will be translated in English and Dutch. Besides that, I will keep my ears peeled for any funds that might be able to rescue this important information center on Banda Neira.

While writing this, I have moved from Banda Neira to Banda Besar, the largest island of the archipelago. So next week more about this island and its rich history!

PS: due to a bad internet connection on Banda Besar, this blog is a few days later than planned.

Fruitful week for research in Banda Neira

Despite a lingering skin infection due to the many insect bites, Ayu and I managed to meet many people this week and gathering some interesting stories. Banda Neira has several administrative villages, which combined form several adat villages, meaning they belong to the same traditional group. As this is not complicated enough, the administrative villages are divided into neighborhoods, and one of these is called Varhouvent. This name originates from one of the main Dutch characters in the story of Banda, as it was Admiraal Verhoeven who ordered his soldiers to construct Fort Nassau despite the objections of the local people.

Ayu and I set out to discover why this village still carries the name of one of the first colonizers of Banda. The bumped into a gathering that was playing bingo, and this seemed like the easiest way to mingle in the local neighborhood and ask them informally who would know the history behind the name of their kampong. Playing bingo was harder than you think, because not only the numbers are called in Indonesian, but it is done in a melodic way. So I had to listen very carefully, and luckily I got a little help from my neighbor. I did not win though.. 😉 After the bingo, we were pointed to the house of an elderly man who holds the wisdom. He told us that next to this village, another part was called Coen (after Jan Pieterszoon Coen) but that name was changed. There is no clear reason why they did not change the name Verhoeven after independence, and now they keep it for history’s sake.

The next day I accompanied Prof. Tim Kaartinen and his wife on their tour. First we stopped by the office of Ekoran. Together with Okalatar they are the only two Bandanese from Banda Ely on the Kei Islands, and with Timo they are probably the only three people at that moment in the Banda archipelago that could speak Bahasa Banda. Afterwards, Okalatar took us to visit several sacred ancestral places, one which is in an old nutmeg drying house and another was located besides the road. These sites are regarded as people, you have to ask permission to approach them and the Bandanese mark them with flowers and empty bottles of medicinal oil. These bottles of oil were previously used on sick people, and then left at the keramat to connect the medicinal powers of the sacred place with the body of the sick person. 

After we said goodbye to the professor and his wife, and all the other tourists that left the island by plane. Chris (the Canadian tourist) and I were again the only bule (white people) in town. Ayu and I proceeded with our quest for knowledge, and had an amazing interview with the gatekeeper of the house were Hatta and Sjahrir first lived during their exile. In the back of their house they thought Indonesian history to the local children, something that was not taught at the Dutch schools at the moment. The next day we were able to locate a pacar tree, which leaves are used for the adornment of the bride before the wedding (see my previous blog about malam pacar). Besides this, we learned that the leaves can be used to treat coughs and a concoction is drank by women after they just gave birth. The function of the drink it to release the bad blood and increase healing process of the woman.

Then, last but not least, today it has children’s day! Activities were organized at Istana Mini, the small palace where the Dutch Governor used to live. I was asked to be the jury for the drawing competition, and it was very interesting to see the similarities and differences of what children chose to draw here. Hardly any animals were drawn, the recurring subjects were: house and flowers (similar), mountain and sea, and most interestingly very detailed drawings of boats. The winning drawing is below, made by an 7 (?) year old and it is amazing to see the detail of the korakora boat, the speedboat, the fact that he draw depth (to indicate land and sea) and the detailed drawing of the coconut tree. Absolutely amazing, I could not have done a better job! Besides the competition there were games like zaklopen (racing in a bag), dancing while holding a balloon between two kids and many more fun games. 

Next week Ayu and I will stay a few days on Banda Besar, so keep tuned!

Another stay in Ambon

In order to keep a legal status in this country, I had to return once more to Ambon to visit the immigration office. Well, not once more because this extension will expire on the 13th of August, so I will have to return one more time before I fly back to the United States.

But before we returned, we had time for one last interview. On Facebook I had seen that a small education event had occurred on the other side of Banda Neira. The photo showed an older gentleman releasing baby turtles to the sea together with small children. When we located this man he told us that these children saw the baby turtle nestle 5 days before, and that they left the eggs alone. However, when the baby turtles hatched they took them to their home to play with. He and other volunteers of the protected marine park then gathered the kids and told them about their ancestral knowledge: that if you help one turtle to find his/her way to the sea, it would come back and bring all his friends. Besides this he told us that the turtles also come to the beach when the moon shines bright and is circled by cloud, the “umbrella moon”. Believe it or not, but it was this exact phenomenon that Ayu and I noticed 2 days earlier during the wedding night, a strange but beautiful moon with a circle around it. Next time we know this is the time to spot turtles laying their eggs!

This time around our visit to Ambon was much more productive and fun than the previous times. It started off good with a visit to Natseba beach, the place to eat rujak. They say you have not been to Ambon if you have not been here. Besides this, Ayu and I visited the Rumphius library, which is owned by the Catholic church and holds many old manuscripts. Amazingly, they offered to copy these books for me, for a small fee, so now I am in the proud possession of several old Dutch texts. This is great, because besides typing out all my notes I will have something to read when there is another rainday (like today..) 

We also met with Usman Thalib, a historian of Banda who teaches at the Pattimura university in Ambon. He provided us with some interesting insights and many references to legal texts that might come in use when writing about DOB/KEK (see one of my first blogs in Banda). After our meeting he and his wife invited us to come along to an Islamic gathering the next day at the house of the Senator. We gratefully accepted, the next day I was dressed up appropriately (I had left my batik and hjiabs in Banda) and we went to the event (where we stayed over 6 hours..) When we arrived there, I was asked to prepare a little speech in Indonesian. Everyone said it went well, even though I feel my Indonesian is not the best when standing on a stage in front of 70+ people… Haha. The night before we left Ambon we went to a traditional Japanese style karaoke booth with friends, a fun and sad farewell. 

Now I still have some space to reminisce, because as I said previously too much happened in Kei to tell everything. One of the major events that I did not yet touch upon was our visit to the Raj (king) of Banda Eli. Banda Eli was founded by refugees from Banda Besar that fled from the Banda archipelago during the ruthless regime of Jan Pieterszoon Coen. They promised never to return to settle on Banda, a promise that is still honored by the current population of this village. As the Banda Islands were re-populated with imported slaves and colonists, the local culture changed into the form that we can experience nowadays. However, in Banda Eli and Banda Elat on the Kei Islands, they continued to speak their own language, Bahasa Banda, and continued to sing the old ancestral songs and make traditional pottery. Due to the high waves, I was unable to visit the village but we did meet the king of the village in the port-city Tual where he has a second home. 

Now why this story now? This is because we met a long-term Canadian traveller, Chris, at Kei and he told me he was planning to visit Banda Eli. Of course, I was disappointed that I could not visit the village myself, and asked him to see if he could take some pictures of the pottery for me. When we arrived back in Banda, he already travelled to Banda Eli and was waiting for us in Banda Neira. With a piece of pottery for me! So I am overjoyed to see a sample of it here, and I am wondering now if I should tkae it back to the USA or donate it to the museum (which strangely enough does not have any samples of the original Bandanese pottery). If you are interested in reading more about the Kei Islands or how to get there, take a look at Chris’ blog:

Another suprise when we returned to Banda Neira, was that professor Timo Kaartinen from Finland is currently visiting Banda for the first time in his life. He spend years of fieldwork in Banda Eli, is a close friend of the Raj, and most of what I know about Banda Eli is through his work. Very exciting to meet him, and I hope we can continue our conversations during the next few days.

Ps: my apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos.

Idul Fitri in Kei and Banda

Too many events have happened since my last post, so I will try to keep it brief and only select some of the most interesting stories! Before returning to Banda, Ayu and I had time to explore Kei a little bit. During one of these days we were alerted by a fellow tourists that nearby our homestay (run by a Dutchman) there are rock paintings. Of course my heart as an archaeologist began beating rapidly and luckily the kepala desa of the village was able to arrange a boat for us to go and see them. The legend of this site is that there were once 2 dragons, and that the Dutch took one of them to the NEtherlands so the other died and became a large white rock outcrop. On the “bones” of this dragon there would appear pictures when major events in the world happened. When I return to the United States I will surely try to locate if there is any study conducted on these paintings, which the local people would very much like to know about. 

Despite the amazing people and beautiful island of Kei, we could not wait to return to the beautiful island Banda Neira where our friends were waiting for us. The harbor was packed, everyone was waiting to receive relatives that came on the boat for the festivities of the end of Ramadan or trying to sell Bandanese delicacies to the passengers that would continue their journey on the boat to Ambon. After freshening up at my home in Banda, we started on our mission to greet all the people that had invited us over for tea during these days. 

A little background story for those not quite familiar with Islam and to describe the local practices here. For Muslims, Ramadan is considered a holy month during which Muslims are encouraged to truly reflect on their deeds in order to become a better person. Fasting is a way to learn to empathize better with those less fortunate, those that do not have clean drinking water or those that are hungry. The end of Ramadan is called Idul Fitri, which lasts a week during which everyone is encouraged to visit friends, family, neighbors and the like to exchange well wishes for the rest of the year and to share cookies. During this week lots of sweet dishes are eaten and sweet drinks like Coca Cola or Fanta are being served. The first day of Idul Fitri is extra special, on this day people meet their family and apologize for their wrong doings. Ayu and I spend this day at her family in Kei, and it was a very emotional and touching moment. 

As Ramadan is the month to teach self-control (not only in food and drinking, but also in performing good deeds and controlling negative emotions), the week after it ended people celebrate massively. In Banda this means that every day there is some event somewhere, including hatam, a celebration for a child for finishing their Quran lessons, hadji, an event to pray for the safe journey of someone who will go on pelgrim to Mecca, and of course weddings! Especially the latter one has taken up much of my attention, as the son of our neighbors got married on the 5th and the preparations for this day started at least 1.5 week before the day. Everyone in the family helps with the preparations, and as they are family of my hosts I was considered to be part of the family as well. Very special to be able to observe all the different stages of preparation, and to be included in the wedding party.

In Banda there are 3 different events to celebrate a marriage. The first is malam pacar, when the bride is the center of attention to be prepared for the wedding day. It is a sort of bachelorette party, where the female relatives of both sides dress up and go the house of the bride who is wearing a beautiful wedding gown and sitting on the wedding stage. Then one by one the woman are invited to place some natural paint, made from the pacar leaf, on her finger- and toe nails. This is a typical Bandanese tradition, and a beautiful example of the use of nature in cultural practices. After this, they “kiss” the bride for the photo and make a respectful gesture to the mother and mother-in-law. When it was my turn I followed the steps, but of course made a huge blunder: my lips touched the bride and left a red mark on her cheek! Luckily it was quickly restored, but in the future I know I have to be extra careful when wearing the traditional make-up. (which is completely over the top, btw). After this the women return to the home of the groom, where there is dancing called joget. 

The next morning the actual ceremony took place, for which all the female relatives are made up by a make-up artist. Everyone said I looked like Barbie, and truly I did look like a plastic doll. It is interesting to experience that the perception of beauty differs in such a way. The female and male relatives then walk from the groom’s house to the house of the bride, where the ceremony takes places. During the ceremony the groom’s family promises to accept the bride in their family and vice versa. After the ceremony everyone returns to their home, to return to the house of the bride in the evening for the reception. The bride will be wearing a different dress for each of these events, as well as the guests and female relatives. Quite the event!

Besides all the festivities, Ayu and I have found some time to conduct a few interviews. One of them was with the head of the fishermen, who explained about the unique way of fishing in Banda. Regretfully this is not a good season for fish, but he promised me to go fishing in October when I hope to return to attend the cultural festival. Besides him, we talked to two Isra’s: one from Ambon who is a enthusiastic hobbyist historian, and one that was chosen to represent Banda in the development of the KEK program (see previous blog). Lastly we traced down the owner of the building which stands in the middle of Fort Nassau, who told us he has been involved in the efforts to make Banda DOB for several years. Based on the feedback I received from my professors before I started my fieldwork, I am starting to reconsider the angle of my research. These efforts to give Banda autonomy has roots in heritage preservation, the will to be able to preserve Banda the way that Bandanese want, which is truly empowering. Again, food for further thoughts.

Visa issues and Kei Islands

The past week in Ambon was overshadowed by the big dark clouds of Indonesian bureaucracy: despite the hard efforts of many good people I have not been able to extend my visa ahead of time. However, as I said last week: we need to take things as them come and just go with the flow. 
Therefore the week was filled with meeting and stress. As we needed to wait for my visa sponsor to return from Jakarta, we could not take the boat back to Banda. We sold our tickets for the boat to three Bandanese girls, whom we met at their family house on the other side of Ambon. After the customary set of selfies (this is a recurring phenomenon when we visit local people) we met with their nenek, grandmother. She is a lovely lady, who married when she was 14 (!) and gave birth to 12 children, 8 of which are still alive. She held my hand and kept blessing me, such a kind-hearted woman.

Now the trouble with missing this specific boat is that there would be no transportation back to Banda for two weeks. This is a small drama, as it means that we will miss the end of Ramadan, an occasion where everyone is living towards for the past month. However, Ayu and I concocted a plan B: to take the plane from Ambon to the Kei Islands, from where there will be a boat to Banda! It will depart on the first day of Idul Fitri, but the festivities in Banda take three days. Moreover, Ayu has family in Kei and this offers her an opportunity to be with them on this important religious holiday.

Now, before you think this means a break from research, we have not been idle at all. The thing is that I have always wanted to visit Kei, since I started my research about the Banda Islands. On the island Kei Besar there are 2 villages called Banda Eli and Banda Elat, villages that were founded by the Bandanese that fled the Banda Islands during the time that Jan Pieterszoon Coen used ruthless methods to gain control over the islands. One episode especially made them leave their homeland, which was the massacre of 1621 when the Bandanese noblemen were executed for “plotting against the Dutch”. The Bandanese that founded the two villages on Kei made their descendants promise never to return to Banda, and so they never did.

Before delving into the adventures in Kei, I want to mention a few meetings we had in Ambon. First of all, I was invited to join the students specializing in Religion and Culture for their excursion for the class Archaeology and Culture to the museum in Ambon. During this tour Marlon, fellow archaeologist at the office of Balai Arkeologi Ambon, and I had interesting conversation about the displays of traditional boats, which include the Bandanese “korakora” boats. He mentioned that in Kei there are still traditional boatmakers and provided me with a name to contact there. The students were very enthusiastic and it was an honor to join their program. 

On Saturday, Marlon introduced us to Stanley, the founder of the non-profit organization Heka Leka which aims to increase the educational quality in the Moluccas. He has a plan to create an online platform that will work similarly like Wikipedia, but which would focus on gathering knowledge about the history and culture of the Moluccas. This would involve civilian journalism and in effect it would create a movement among the young generation to engage them to learn about their own heritage. Of course I fully agree with this plan, as I strongly believe in active local engagement and that the act of writing history by local agents can empower them. Stanley therefore invited me to tag along to the provincial office of Education and Culture, where we met the director to discuss this initiative. 

After this meeting, we had a dinner together with the director of Balai Arkeologi, Pak Husni at a nice restaurant in Ambon city. He has been elementary in getting my visa, and extremely generous with his time and energy to support my research. The dinner was one of firsts, as it was my first time eating frog and bapeda, a sort nutritious glue made of sago. 

When Stanley heard we would visit Kei, he put us in contact with a PhD student there, Stef, who organized a welcome gathering in Kei at the evening that Ayu and I arrived. During this evening we were happily surprised by the generosity of this group of young men, who introduced us to the prince of Banda Eli and drove us around town until we found a good place to stay. 

The next day we visited Ayu’s mother and her sister, who helped me to prepare to meet the king that afternoon. My eyebrows, make-up and hijab were done according to Indonesian style, and off we went to the house of the Raja. The interview with the king, the head of the village and the adat leader, was very enlightening and they provided me with a written document of their ancestral knowledge. This meeting was sure worth the travel, and I am glad we got the chance to meet these knowledgeable men. 

The next day (today) Stef and his friend James, took us all the way to the village of the boatmakers. Here we met Andreas, the kepala desa and member of the boatmaker family Welafabu. He told us that all boats are female, and therefore the boats are taken care of as they take good care of their women. He showed us the traditional tools, and mentioned that the practice of boat-making is restricted to 4 families. The traditions are continued from father to son, and the next generation is always eager to get involved: it runs through their veins. While walking around town we noticed these monuments with old canons on top, which are erected at the moment a new Raja (king) takes his position as it claims his right to the throne. It is considered a sign of power. Another interesting example of re-interpretation of an historical object into a contemporary narrative.