<<  Tamkessi, Timor, 6-Aug-2013  >>

Mister Marcel in Tamkessi

Joining Tamkessi villagers for a majestic traditional show: sharp dress, dance, music and pig butchery

In the morning 5.8. I continued from Kefamenanu, a completely useless town where I overnighted, towards Tamkessi, another of “must see” traditional villages. It turned out to be yet another complicated ride. First I waited for the bus for 2,5 hours, then when it finally departed it went somewhere who knows where and on-boarded 20 villagers and returned back to the bus station where I had boarded it and waited there for another hour, and after we finally really departed in the right direction, 24 people cramped in the minivan size of a mid-size camper van, in 30 minutes we got flat tire (Posseidon, you really start to piss me off!) and in another 10 minutes another flat tire. I think I need not speak about the quality of local mass transport. After few hours in the sardine box with 24 other people we finally made it to the end of the road, from where I chartered a scooter ride to Tamkessi, as there is no proper road there. It was maybe 80km from “Kefa”, but the whole thing took 6 hours. Welcome to pleasures of travel in Indonesia!

While Boti was a tiny tiny village of maybe 30 people, Tamkessi is a huge village, located on a steep hill on side of a massive limestone rock. It’s multilayered, as the houses climb the hill, and it looks really impressive. The houses are nothing short of neolith, again all built from jungle material. And the village was full of local people. Soon I found out why: Sail Komodo was coming next day.
I would be one of very few visitors on Timor, if not for Sail Komodo 2013. It’s kind of sailing trip organized by the Indonesian government for promotion of tourism in this region and they are taking rich white people from Europe, Australia and USA across the Indonesian islands. The yachties sail on their own yachts, but the government organizes the route and the program. I learned about Sail Komodo 2013 when I was in Kupang and the main square near the port was dotted by Sail Komodo posters and billboards and there was some cultural program, including some traditional dancing and music organized there. Even with this “huge” sailing trip I was only 5-6 white people in Kupang, but the idea of organized tour coming to this village while I was there seemed completely unappealing to me, but, I was wrong. It turned out to be the best of all possible things that could happened. Here’s why. Tamkessi was expecting Sail Komodo people, and according to some villagers it was supposed to be 27 people and according to others 72, but anyway big group, and the government ordered and paid them to make a traditional tourist show. So all the villagers and kids from surrounding villages were supposed to participate in traditional dances, singing and music and even a feast. The great part of the story is that I arrived one day earlier, and I was the only visitor in the village, and so I could, completely uninterrupted, watch all the preparations and rehearsals of the dances without the crappy atmosphere of the tourist show, because no one was around. It was fascinating to witness all those preparations and people just having fun. Yes, it was obvious that for these people it was really fun and they were glad they had chance to practice their culture.

Few words about the “traditional village”, because I find it interesting.
Honestly, I didn’t expect too much from these “traditional villages”. Once something is mentioned in Lonel Planet, by definition it cannot be really and truly traditional, because Lonely Planet opens doors to what I would call “mainstream backpackers” (such as me, let’s be honest, I’m definitely not any extraordinary adventurer) and any place exposed to us simply loses its true authenticity, with few exceptions, like for example India, where the number of locals is so large that no stream of backpackers can really significantly influence it. And usually these traditional villages are cliché tourist attractions with people putting on traditional dress when visitors come and jump back to their jeans as soon as they leave. The closest thing to traditional village I have seen was in Vanuatu, which is still under-visited and the experience from there was really beautiful, although obviously, the people were not running around naked with bows and arrows.
So Tamkessi. Some people, especially members of the “royal” family still wear their traditional dress, but yes, most of the people wear T-shirts or shirts and jeans and flip flops. Yes, they do have mobile phones and some of them even use Facebook. And in the village they sold few types of candies and sugary drinks for kids and cigarettes for elders. But that’s it. Apart from these things, which are in reality marginal, they really live traditional life, like many many generations before them, maybe for thousands of years. Their one-room houses are made of grass, wood and palm trees, the whole family sleeps in the same room on rattan mats, fireplace is inside the house, there’s no chimney so the whole place is like a smoking room, food is simple and made from local harvest and butchered animals… Most of the people would be probably disappointed by finding traditional village full of people in T-shirts with mobile phones, but if you look better, it’s not these things that really matter, it’s their lifestyle that does. Quite shockingly, in the village few teenagers and even 2 elders could speak some extremely basic English. This was really surprising to me, because in Soe or Kupang no one spoke English (besides my guides: Andy, his wife and those few students in Kupang), and here, at this end of world few people could speak English (but as said, it was only very basics). But thanks to these people and my super-primitive Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian) I managed to get engaged into at least slightly meaningful conversation with the villagers and learn something about their lifestyle. But most of the time I spent playing with local kids without any need for language. They followed me everywhere I went, I was a big attraction for them. Actually I don’t know why, because this village is regularly visited by bule (white people), but probably only few of them stay for night. Soon I was “Mister Marsel” for the whole village… By the way, it’s interesting how intimate Indonesians are. When girls (usually teenagers) take photos with me, they usually touch me or rest their heads on my shoulder, like if we were good friends, kids on the buses happily sleep on my lap or on shoulder… The intimacy factor of body contact here in Indonesia is far beyond European or American standards, it’s very warming (although it still surprises me every time).

For the night I stayed at Zhylte’s house, one of those girls who could speak English and who was very nice. The traditional house was full inside, so I had to sleep outside on a wooden bench under the roof of the house. Everything would be fine, if I only didn’t leave my sleeping bag in Australia, because it was pretty cold at night. So I wore all my clothes and covered me with a thin cotton blanket which they gave me and rattled my teeth through the night. But actually, the cold was not the greatest danger of the night which I had to deal with. I had to deal with quite entertaining, if bit awkward situation with nice old man “Vincent”, who was one of those 2 elders who could speak some English, because as he told me, he used to be a teacher, but that had been many years ago and now he was a farmer. This nice Vincent got quite drunk (I also had a bit of local palm arak, but not too much as I didn’t really trust it) and suddenly, when I was getting ready to sleep and came along and started to ask me if he can sleep with me. WTF? I looked at him, and at the place where I was sleeping: even if what he meant was sleeping NEXT TO me, it would be a no-go, because the bench was wide enough for 2 people only in case they would be lovers. So I asked what does he mean “to sleep with me” but he was too drunk and so he just kept on asking “Sleep with me? Sleep single?”. I was bit afraid that it’s local custom to rape visitors at night :-) so I turned to Zhylte for helping me out with understanding Vincent’s intentions but she also seemed to be puzzled. As I didn’t really know what he meant by “sleeping with me” I didn’t want to insult him by telling him to leave me alone, but I after I explained to Zhylte that usually I don’t sleep with men, or even next to them I requested “sleep single” option and to my relief Vincent let me be and ventured somewhere else, possibly looking for some other male body to warm him up during the cold night :-)

In the morning the villagers started to prepare for the hour H, when Sail Komodo arrives and everybody, and I mean really everybody slipped into their traditional clothes. The only exception in normal clothes were bunch of men, who were preparing to… kill a pig. The poor pig was tied to a bamboo stick and squealing for mercy, but instead of mercy, four men grabbed it, put it on a huge rock and while the pig was squealing its lungs out one of them cut its throat and let the pig slowly slowly bleed until it lost its consciousness and finally died. I was watching the whole scene from 1 meter. In Slovakia they usually hit the pig with a huge hammer (back of axe) so that it loses its consciousness before they cut its throat, here the poor pigs die in full awareness and pain. Just in few minutes the pig turned into neatly laid out pieces of bacon, ribs, lungs, guts and everything else and the villagers started to prepare the feast for Sail Komodo people. As I was still hanging around, they gave me few pieces of freshly cooked bacon and meat and for breakfast I had, wait for it, delicious course of rice and blood with few pieces of mostly raw meat. Yummy!!!!!

From around 10:00 everyone was impatiently awaiting Sail Komodo, but those assholes came only at 13:30, so until then the villagers made few rounds of dancing and singing just for themselves. The atmosphere was really fabulous, it was like when Native Americans were waiting for encounter with Spaniards or Hawaiians for Captain Cook – everybody, including the king, was anxiously waiting, all lined up and with hands full of welcome gifts. And I was with them! That was the best part. I became part of the tribe. When the “expedition” finally arrived, they were the foreigners and I was Mister Marcel, member of the clan, infiltrated among them. Words cannot describe how amazing experience it was for me, to be on the side of the villagers for this occasion. And while the Sail Komodo people saw only opulent tourist show, I had the most authentic experience possible, with everything from seeing the people dance for themselves to the butchery of the pig. It was really funny, that instead of 27 or 72 only around 10 arrived and so the scale of the prepared show was totally mismatched for the group. There were so many parallel dancing and music groups that the Sail Komodo people who had to move around together in organized way saw only a tiny fraction out if it, while I was happily jumping from stone to stone to see it all and take great photos. The Sail Komodo people stayed for maybe 2 hours and most of them aet only very little of that pig which the villagers had killed for them (actually later they killed another pig, so they killed two) because none of them trusted half-cooked meat. The representative of the Indonesian government told me that I can join the feast, even if I wasn’t part of Sail Komodo, and so at the end I ate most of the prepared meat, being the only one who trusted that meat, since I saw it alive just few hours before :-) Two members of Sail Komodo turned out to be Czech retired couple who bought a yacht 4 years ago and since then they are sailing around the world. Now that’s the way how to spend your pension! They even published a book: Odhod Lana, Jana Honsova & Otakar Honsa.

I originally wanted to leave the village by noon, to catch a bus back from nearest village (which was 2 hours walking away ) connected to the civilization by normal road, but because the snobs from Sail Komodo arrived so late it was obvious that there was no more bus on that day. Luckily, the snobs offered me their helping hand and told me they can give me a ride to a village/port where they had anchored their ships, from where I can catch early morning bus to Kefamenanu. So I hopped on their minibus and believe it or not, while on my way to Tamkessi I was cramped in a local bus with 24 people, on my way from there I was in a bus which had police escort, so that all mortal beings would get the fuck out of the snobs’ way. This is how Indonesian government spends money. Who cares about hopelessly poor Indonesian children, let’s spend money on police escort for rich white men! They actually offered me that police will drive me wherever I want, because the government representative had the authority to order to the police to drive me anywhere, but I refused such non-sense and went with them to the port, from where I managed to get a ride back to Kefamenanu even still on that night (and actually, it WAS a policemen who gave me the ride, but he was going to Kefamenanu anyway, it was not a “taxi” ride for me).

Oh, what a 2 day! Fantastic experience. Thanks Sail Komodo for allowing me to see all of this without being part of your snobbish tour.

OK, I promise that next posts will be much shorter. I know nobody reads this anymore anyway…

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     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak