Fw: Spice Islands Festivities

Sun 1 Aug 2010 00:13
Position  04.31S  129.53E

Four days after leaving Darwin we arrived at Bandaneira, the capital of the tiny Banda Islands, previously known as the Spice Islands. Of all the places we have visited, this is possibly the most beautiful and certainly the most colourful, with the village only 200 metres away and Gunung Api volcano looming on the opposite shore. 

 Although we were accompanied on the trip from Darwin by two Indonesian patrol boats, nothing prepared us for the welcome on our arrival, which probably happened because this is an area that normally receives little or no tourism.  This is despite the fact that the landscape is Bali Haiish, there is a vibrant local culture, and many very visible remains of over 300 years of Dutch rule. The blissful lack of tourism (well blissful for us but not the local economy) is due to the fact that there is almost no transport to the Bandas, very little accommodation, and a sad recent history of sectarian violence against the local Christian population. We were quite shocked yesterday to meet one of the survivors of the 1999 massacre and to see the graves of his family.
Bandaneira is no stranger to atrocities, unfortunately, both from the Dutch East India Company, which in 1621 slaughtered the majority of the local population, then the Japanese in World War 2. Remarkably, the local people show no signs of bitterness and are wonderfully cheerful and welcoming.

The local authorities have gone to enormous trouble to entertain the 30 or so yachts in the Rally, including putting on numerous official functions, traditional boat races, music, dancing, feasts of delicious local food. There was even a hospital ship waiting in the harbour in case the Indonesian president should arrive! This meant that several operations were performed on local children with hare lips, something that would not have happened without our Rally.  The whole village is decorated with Sail Banda banners and the local children love calling out in their little bits of English. We are all picking up a reasonable amount of Bahasa Indonesia, and the locals are very happy to help with pronunciation. Luckily it is a pretty easy language to learn and almost identical to what is spoken in Malaysia.

Yesterday we joined up with friends on some American and English yachts and chartered a colourful fishing boat for a day  of snorkelling, diving and site seeing on nearby islands--all for less than ten dollars per person. The clarity of the water is the best we have seen anywhere in the world--with masses of different coloured corals and fish.The landscape reminds us a little of a tropical kind of Greece with some Turkish culture thrown in. We have used a local teacher as our guide and interpreter which has made our stay much more interesting and enjoyable. We've loved visiting the local plantations of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove trees--the reason for the Dutch colonial rule. The scent of clove cigarettes is everywhere, accompanied by the imams' calls to prayer.

The local Bintan beer is very cheap and very acceptable, especially when imbibed at dusk at the bar of the colonial Dutch hotel, watching all the boats coming and going from the nearby islands. Most of the islanders are Muslim, and non drinkers although there are still some Christians in the area.  After the sectarian troubles of the past everyone seems to live in harmony again, with most rivalry confined to the long korakora races we were lucky enough to witness.

Tomorrow we will do an overnight trip to Ambon, about 250 kilometres away,  where we are expecting several more days of festivals to be held in our honour. I suspect that by the time we reach Singapore we might be a bit danced out. John has just returned from the Port captain's office where there were at least nine officials behind desks to help him clear out for the next leg of the trip. If you like bureaucracy, Indonesia is certainly the place to come.

Pictures (courtesy of crew member Barry Costa)
1. Storyteller and korakora from different islands getting ready to race
2. One of the many troops of dancers  in traditional dress.
3. Crowds of locals enjoying the festivities as much as we were
4. Nutmegs in a plantation close to the boat
5. Jungle-covered Gunung Api, which used to erupt regularly and destroy the Dutch buildings. It
last erupted in 1988, killing several people
6. Baby with a chip- packet 'mobile'
7. Village looking down on a mosque