| 1000 AM local time, Wednesday, November 28 (0200 Nov. 28 UTC) 02 46 S 111 42
E. Temp. 80, Humidity 83%, Cloud Cover 100%. Kumai, Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Our guide up the river and around Kumai in general was Gilang Ramadhan
Albanjari. A native of Kumai, about thirty years of age, Gilang was a
thoughtful and considerate host and a very interesting person to have along.
He knows about the orangutans, but it was his savvy analysis of other aspects
of our experience of Borneo and Indonesia that was the more fascinating. He
speaks English, Arabic, and Indonesian, though he was only educated through
age 13. He's traveled around Indonesia, and is nobody's fool.
One night Paul, Francis, and I had a good time, over a bottle of bootleg
whiskey on the deck of the fuel dock, trying to figure out, with Gilang, how
he could corner the market on cruisers from his competitor, Harry. We argued
that the key to the whole thing was moorings. If he had, say, eight moorings,
which we figured he could put in for $100 each, we thought he could generate
a profit of over $3000 per year, a large sum around here, without doing much
work. He actually had a good thing going with the guy at the fuel dock, who
owned the riverfront property where the moorings would be located. The
moorings would lock in the cruisers for other services, such as fuel, water,
ice, laundry, etc., not to mention his guide service. He could get around the
alcohol laws by putting out the word to cruisers on their way here that they
needed to bring their own, which Gilang could then charge to keep cold at a
bar and serve, like they do in Oklahoma. Francis was ready to draw out the
method for making the moorings and show how Gilang could raise them every
year for inspection, since no diver would dive in the crocodile-infested
river, when Gilang resignedly pointed out the main obstacle to our plans. In
Indonesia, he said, the cost of paying off local officials, plus the army,
the navy, the police, and the harbor police, made it impossible for all but
the rich to set up anything this elaborate. But maybe we encouraged him to
give it a go, and I hope he does.
Gilang is a Muslim in the most populous Muslim country in the world. Yet he
pointed out to us that Islam is not native to Indonesia, and a more ancient,
indigenous belief system is so well established that Islam has been adapted
as necessary by most local practitioners to accommodate it. So the Islam of
Borneo is not quite the Islam of Saudi Arabia or Iran.
I asked his views on Osama bin Laden and the Muslim activists in Jakarta and
other hotspots of Indonesia. On the latter, he was rather skeptical of the
purity of their motivation. He believed there was money involved, and power
politics, and that recently graduated students, now unemployed, were being
cynically manipulated by politicians for their own reasons. It's hard to
remember this when you watch CNN and everything is seen as relating to the
US, but politics is local, so that even if there is a backdrop in some
quarters of international Muslim anti-Americanism, the main focus of these
groups is on their own fights, not on actions thousands of miles away.
On the subject of Osama, long before Kandahar fell, he predicted the Taliban
would cave, as it were, and Osama would flee to Kashmir. He believes Osama
committed a grave crime. Gilang was sophisticated enough that he didn't
blanch a bit when the Captain, in the most delicate way he could, suggested
that because of his field of work, where he not only depends on westerners
for an income, but spends a lot of time with them, his views might be
somewhat self-serving. What he said in response was that this was simply a
case of right and wrong, and that there could be no justification for killing
innocent people in an office building. (I found this attitude to be pretty
common; although we remind the reader here of Maverick's minimalist research
policy.) If America had to kill 10,000 or 20,000 Afghanis to make it clear
that this wasn't acceptable, then he thought it wasn't an unnecessarily harsh
a way to make a point, as regrettable as it may be.
Gilang told us a story that may provide an illustration about ancient
religious beliefs, but also about an Indonesian sense of justice, the
relationship between justice and individual rights, and in what way this idea
of justice may differ from our own. This story involves ethnic, not
religious, conflict, but perhaps we can see some parallels. I leave it to the
reader to sort out what these relationships might be, as this would take us
far beyond the Captain's mandate.
There was in Borneo a minority of people who were natives of Madura, another
Indonesian island, and had migrated here. Through their behavior, which
Gilang said mostly consisted of thefts, they had, over a period of time, made
themselves unwelcome among the Dayak, the aboriginal people of Borneo. At one
point, some Maduran teenagers raped a Dayak girl, and it set off a rather
severe response. The Madurans were attacked with swords and blowpipes by the
Dayak, and one thousand were killed. The Indonesian government finally
brought over a ship and took the rest of the Madurans off of Borneo.
Some of the Dayak ate the hearts of the dead, believing that this would give
to them the victim's power. It was also thought a good idea for those who had
never killed a human before to taste the blood of the fallen enemy, to help
ward off nightmares. Those who were killed were decapitated and their heads,
the ones that weren't taken home as trophies, were brought to a central
place. It was believed that, since these people did not die naturally, their
ghosts could haunt those who killed them. But by performing a rite in the
presence of these heads, the souls of the dead could be freed for the
afterlife, and this would eliminate the possibility that they could make
trouble for the living.
It sounds like a story from Herodotus, but it happened eight months ago,
about the time we left California, and Gilang, armed with sword and blowpipe,
was one of the Dayak warriors. Gilang is aware that Islam does not require
the practice described above, but it is part of a belief system ancient and
ingrained enough that the Islamic view must be trumped by the aboriginal. The
Captain admits that the story was foreign enough to his personal experience
that he searched his mind in vain to find the appropriate social response.
But as is true, we're told, about the fierce soldiers of Afghanistan, Gilang,
when not in combat mode, is as gentle a person as one could hope for to lead
one through the intricacies of local customs, whether they be those of the
man of the jungle, or the man of the city. Since it is unlikely in the
extreme that you would encounter him in battle, I recommend him without
reservation, should you make this trip. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org; and also by fax at
62(0)532-61223. Since he has to travel 500 km. to get his email, try
the fax as well and give him time to respond.
Next report from this location: Safe For Now