2016
07.14

CHIEF’S SON – ACTING CHIEF

SYNOPSIS:  How a Jakarta TV Crew blessed me with a full scale event at the warrior village None (Nooh-nay). 

At the most crucial event — the warriors got ready for a war dance — my old, trusty SLR Nikon froze!  My heart almost stopped.  I took out the battery, switched it on and off and tried every trick under the sun, but the camera refused to take another picture.  I had my small emergency Canon camera in the car, but that was one kilometer away.  The dance would start in less than 15 minutes.  I begged a local boy with a motorbike to take me to the car and back and of course, got a ride.  I made it back in time.  🙂

Finally, the many years of abuse — this camera traipsed with me through sandy Dogon Country in Mali, inhaled the dust of Egypt and Iran, and finally last night, endured the cold, wet and rainy countryside of Fatumnasi.  I hope it did not give up the ghost for good.  This would be devastating news.

But what am I talking about?!

I was in None, one of many warrior villages the old kingdoms once had.   But this one is the only one which proudly keeps alive its traditions by re-enacting history regularly in festivals, dances, stories and songs.  No event was scheduled and I had expected to see the various stations of the village and perhaps a villager peeking out of one of their huts.  That’s what you usually get.  Of course, you always meet the chief and his wife to leave your donations of betel nuts, cigarettes and money.  But the chief’s wife was alone in the hut — the chief and many villagers were busy at the central village compound with a TV crew, we were told.  That sounded promising…

But before rushing to the center of town, we spent some time with Helena, the chief’s wife and one of the last living midwives around.  The Indonesian government is now requiring women to deliver their babies in the local hospitals.  The ancient craft of midwifery most likely will die out.  Helena had a full head of gray hair and a very red mouth.  What looked like lipstick was actually the red juice of the betel nuts which men and women around here chew when available, as a mild stimulant.

We arrived in the center of town just at the right moment.  After much preparation in the morning, the villagers had only finished their first station demonstrating to the TV crew the sequence of events of ancient times.  For the next two hours we followed the Jakarta crew recording this sequence.  They came fully equipped with all modern gadgetry including a drone they would start occasionally to record events from above and that made a very annoying sound.  Oh well…

In the past, when a king had a problem he would send a messenger to town asking the warriors to prepare for war.  The warriors would gather in their meeting hall, a circular, thatched hut, and be briefed about the conflict and discuss it.

Then, they would retreat to a spot which held a sacred pole at which they would discuss the problem further and ask the ancestors for guidance.  Two rituals followed.  First, they would mark a raw egg with four quarters representing the different parts of the kingdom.  Then they would crack the egg open.  If blood would be found in the quarter that symbolized the conflict area, signs were not good.  They would either have to call off the war campaign altogether, postpone it, or prepare to die.

But if that quarter was clean, they would proceed to the next step.  An ancient stick would be held by the chief to touch the ancestral pole.  If the ancestors agreed with the planned battle, they would make this step easy.  If they objected, they would prevent the chief from touching the pole. 

If this step was successful, the warriors would move to the final oracle place, sacrifice an animal such as a chicken or a pig, and study its guts.  The blood would trickle into a sacred area and the arrangement of the guts would give the final clue to the success or the failure of the anticipated battles. 

Traditionally, warriors would cut off the heads of their enemies in battle, return with the heads and prepare them for shipment to the king.  Over a low fire they would dry the skulls — trophies of their success and proof of their worth.  Upon delivery to the king, they would receive their rewards.

In addition to these stations, the villagers also demonstrated various kids’ games and folk dances, all filmed from above by the TV crew.  A gamelan ensemble made up of an exclusively female group and a dance ensemble made up of an exclusively male crew culminated in the final event:  the re-enactment of the dance of the warriors.  And that’s when my camera failed…

I could not have gotten any luckier with my timing of visiting None today.  It must have been one of the miracles Ganesh pulls off for me, once in a while. 

Thanks, Ganesh!

2 comments so far

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  1. Wonderful pictures once more that enhance your marvelous story. We are so far removed from this type of life that you have stepped into – an unforgettable experience for you, I am sure.

  2. Great pictures! How prescient of you to have a spare camera ready!

    Did those warriors enact that lovely ritual of slicing off the enemy’s heads and then drying them over the fire?
    Who were all those warriors fighting against?

    Did you read about the betel nuts leading to a huge increase in oral cancer among Asians who consume them?