2016
07.15
THE ROCK AND A DOG

THE ROCK AND A DOG

SYNOPSIS:  About a trek to a sacred stone village.

Most of the roads in Timur seem to deteriorate to a point that normal cars simply can’t cope anymore.  But there are even villages that can’t be reached by motorbike.  The sacred village of Temkesi in the Kefa area, the former Kingdom of Biboki, is one of them.  With a 4WD we could have driven nearly up to it, but we hiked up to it — a 3 km hike which cost me a big headache as the sun was beating down on us.  Otherwise, it was not a difficult hike at all and a worthwhile one for sure given the beautiful scenery around us, the wild-running horses and the many cows and calves that greeted us with curious eyes along the path.

Way back when, as the story so often goes, when villagers from the coastal areas were driven away by newcomers, nine families went on their way from somewhere. They climbed up and up to this area where on one of the mountain ridges amidst the beautiful sweeping landscape below their feet, they reached two small mountain peaks.  They settled in what became nine new villages with nine new chiefs.  But they kept their community together through a central village where they used to gather to resolve conflicts, to celebrate, and to appease their spirits. 

As everyone back then, they were animists.  Today, they actually call themselves Christians.  But they are holding on to one of their most central beliefs:  The fate of the sacred stone will determine the fate of their entire community.

To protect the stone and the future of all of them, each village to this day, elects a family — that is at least a couple — that will reside in Temkesi, the village of the sacred stone nestled in the woods at the foot of the two sacred mountain peaks.  Among the nine families they then select the couple that will be the keeper of the stone and the sacred roundhouse that is used for important gatherings.

The keeper has to be a couple.  Today, this is Usboko and his wife Ustetu.  Should one of the two keepers die, a new family has to be elected from their village and a new election of the keeper among them has to be performed.  Temkesi still is the seat of annual festivals and rites of sacrifice; today, mainly at the beginning and at the end of the harvest season.

Once every seven or so years, selected members from each of the nine villages are climbing up on one of the mountain peaks — that one is restricted to only them to perform a sacrifice.  The other one can be climbed by anyone — but in this heat, I declined.

Temkesi is one of the best preserved villages anywhere around here.  There is no sign of modernity I could discern.  I did not even see a cell phone.  The area is rocky and irregular, sharp rocks have been used to create a treacherous prickly and poky road that leads up the last 100 meters to the gatekeeper’s hut.  There you stop and deliver some much appreciated betel nuts.  Gemri chatted with the family while I kept their teenage daughter occupied with my camera.   She had loads of fun taking pictures of me or anything else with it and then admiring the digital displays. 

This chief does not speak a lick of English and was a rather reserved man.  He was willing and happy to pose for pictures alone or with anyone else, but would without fail stiffen up for a stone-faced pose.  Only once did I catch him off guard when he was talking and laughing.  He and his wife were not the most hospitable chiefs I could imagine — we were not even offered the otherwise certain cup of tea — after all that hiking…  The village only has nine huts — one per family of the nine original villages.  It can be explored in five minutes in each direction, and less if you are a mountain goat that knows how to maneuver these poky stones a bit better than I.  After 1/2 hour, I really did not know anymore what to do in this village as I was not invited to see any of the huts inside.  What a contrast to chief Anin.

We said our goodbyes and started our 3 km hike back.  The only thing I can imagine is that one does decide to stay overnight and get to talk to some of the villagers a bit more.  But for that, some knowledge of Bahasa would come in handy, not to mention the local language…  But in those departments I fall flat.

A pile of stones to the side of the village was barely recognizable as a grave.  I would have missed it, had Gemri not pointed it out to me.  And a hole in the waist-high village stone wall was not the obvious opening for a gun to rest, in case the village was under siege.  It looked just like a little hole in the wall. 

It took a lot of imagination in Temkesi, to see beyond piles of rocks.  But the rounded huts and the integrity of the village was indeed remarkable and if you are in the area, should not be missed.

Good night.

3 comments so far

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  1. There will be so many unanswered questions about this trip but I am glad that you were able to get a glimpse of life there.

  2. Which one of those many rocks is the sacred rock? What does the keeper of the rock actually do to keep it? If one of the keeper couple dies, and a new keeper couple needs to be chosen, what happens to the rock during the interregnum?

    • The sacred rock is balanced on a post. It looks like a quite secure balance and I imagine only an earthquake will ever move it. It can be seen right behind me in the picture where I sit alone. The stone will not be touched by anyone. While a new keeper-couple is chosen the remaining people in the village are responsible and amongst them (on site) can quickly choose the new keepers. I imagine all of this being accompanied by rituals, slaughter, etc.