A Bronze Age Odyssey
Text copyright © 2015 J.S. Wright All Rights Reserved
Dedicated to my loving wife Jhell,
& my amazing young son Philippe.
Throughout human history, our sun has been venerated as an eternal life force.
‘Radiant and suspended in the tropical sky just a finger above the far horizon, the golden orb of the Mother Spirit threw down her beckoning path over the shimmering sea. Children and fathers played tag games along the beach at the edge of the phosphorescent surf. Slowly, the smouldering sun sank out of sight, suffusing violet shades across the twilight waters and crowning the mountain with gold. Smoke wafted up into the still air bearing the rich smells of native cooking.’ – Chapter2 Hope
Table of Contents
The advanced bronze age on the tropical island
of Sulawesi about 2,500 years ago…
A cultural clash between the Malay and Javanese peoples threaten the very existance of the small Likupang tribe. As they struggle to survive, the tribe is propelled towards an unforeseen and remarkable future.
Part One unfolds the profound friction between Likupang and a neighbouring tribe. Love and the desire for sex, family, security and status challenge the men and the women of the tribe compelling them to change and develop. But in doing so, are they planting the seeds that will grow into a future conflict?
Part Two follows the powerful emotions of love and desire as they are unleashed. Can the tensions between the two tribes be resolved, before passions and forces beyond their control thrust them all into devastating violence? The tribe’s need to survive drives them to take drastic actions that were to have historic consequences.
The Likupang family tribe are an intelligent and feeling people, immersed in an intensely physical world which is both beautiful and harsh.This holistic novel is narrated from both male and female perspectives, weaving together the many strands of passion: yearning, lust, love, joy and sex, together with fear, loss, hate, moral conviction, rage and lethal struggle.
The drama is set against the realistic backdrop of the exotic, coastal forests of the tropical Pacific islands and within the working lives of a fishing and hunting society 2,500 years ago. Tribal beliefs and culture, the use of bronze, the impact of the natural environment, and the pursuit of honey hunting all play integral roles in an epic story of adventure, mysteries, discoveries, consequences, romance, action and strife.
The legend of the Likupang tribe, and their land and sea journeys are based on geographical and scientific facts, plus the available historical evidence. The accounts of the natural environment are completely as it would have been, and the human-made artifacts in the story are based on genuine examples from the time.
Ancient tribal societies struggled with issues such as the abduction of girls, rape, forced marriage, abuse, intimidation and the murder of those who stand up against such practises. Indeed, these problems still profoundly exist in some present day societies. The moral boundaries between different cultural practises are often complicated and blurred.
Amongst the famous quotations of Napoleon Bonaparte are: “If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.” and also: “There are only two powers in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”
Indeed, the sun was idolised in a great many cultures, including those in the tropical Pacific. The Spirit of the Sun explores the passions that underlie the complex interplay between the two powers of cruel coercion and the human spirit.
A map of the equatorial Pacific island of Sulawesi, sometimes called Celebes.
Places in northern Sulawesi, and the two principal mountains.
On the island of Sulawesi there are over 400 granite megaliths, which date from 3000 BC to 1300 AD. The original purpose of the megaliths is unknown.
A ceremonial bronze axe head, found in Sulawesi,
which is dated approx 500 BC (about 2,500 years old). How it was used is unknown.
A small traditional fishing boat, and fisherman, of Indonesia.
The boat’s bercadik design has remained unchanged for thousands of years.
At night, the pulse of the pounding surf disturbed the steady neep-neep rasping call of the crickets and the sounds of the roaring fire, which was eating its way through the pile of coconut husks on the beach. Light from the dancing flames cast a wavering yellowish hue onto the bamboo houses of the small fishing village.
Two men sat on a fallen tree trunk with their bare backs gently roasting in the heat of the blaze behind them. The men were deep in thought, as they gazed at their two large shadows thrown out across the sandy beach.
Wayan spoke to his friend of many years..
“Rukma.. Hanya anda dan saya bertemu dengan mereka.”
In their Malay dialect this meant..
“Rukma.. Only you and I will meet them.”
The messenger from the Bahoi tribe along the coast had called for a meeting between their two senior men and themselves; the two senior men from the Likupang tribe. Wayan and Rukma had a sense of foreboding about this summit between the two tribes.
After a pause, Rukma replied gravely..
“There’s too much distrust to do it on foot – it’s too easy for an ambush… Using a boat is the best way.”
Wayan thoughtfully nodded his head in agreement..
“My sons want to go with us, but that would show the Bahoi tribesmen that we don’t trust them – that we’re afraid of them. In the boats everyone can see who’s coming to the meeting, and the others must stay in the village and keep a lookout… They need to be ready.”
The fire crackled, gave out a few sharp snaps, collapsed a little, and then the other noises of the tropical night returned. Neither man said anything for a while, until Rukma sighed with a heavy decision..
“We have our answer for them… They’ll want Sukma, but she’s too young. No matter who they offer for marriage, the answer is ‘No’.”
“My good friend, we feel the same about our daughter too. We love her…” Wayan could feel his voice straining as his emotions rose to the surface.. “Even if she was older, we couldn’t let Melati join a tribe like theirs. I will say ‘No’ as well… But we must try to keep the peace.”
“Apabila sedang rasul yang akan datang kembali?” -
“When is the messenger coming back?” whispered Endah.
Wayan had tried to slip silently back into his house without waking anyone, but his wife wasn’t asleep – she was restlessly waiting for him. He crouched down as quietly as he could onto the edge of their creaking bed, before whispering back..
“Dalam dua hari.” – “In two days.”
“Have you told Rukma?”
“Yes.. They’ve decided the same about Sukma.”
“Did they ask Sukma?”
Endah moved over, as Wayan lay beside her on the bed..
“No.. Just like we didn’t ask Melati.. They’re too young to understand – we don’t want to frighten them.”
His wife whispered hopefully..
“Maybe they are not going to ask for both girls.. Or maybe it’s not about marriage at all?”
“The messenger wouldn’t say what they wanted to talk about – but we understand their Javanese customs well enough.. Even if they were only asking for one girl – it would be wrong… And what else would they want?”
After a few moments, she replied, quietly trying to find an answer – some way to make things better..
“Please be careful not to anger them.. Maybe, if they have a good young man he can visit us and introduce himself properly, so the family get to know him.. and if he will wait until they are older – and Melati or Sukma like him – then maybe they could marry here, in our village – maybe that would be alright.. But what about Agung and Harta?”
The beeswax candle had almost burnt down, and in its fluttering light Wayan could see his wife’s expressively kind face; her features over their years together having mellowed from the wild woman he courted in his youth. She had been his inspiration, his lover and forever his muse. He smiled and kissed her lightly..
“We cannot decide all these things – we should see what the young people want when they are ready… I know you hope Agung will marry Melati, but he’s shy..”
Wayan paused, seeing his wife’s expression, and then continued..
“It’s true, Agung is a good man… Sukma and Harta argue all the time – but they’re young.”
Neither spoke for a few moments, and then he added..
“I will try to find a way when we meet the Bahoi seniors.”
Endah closed her eyes. The candle-light spluttered out. The room fell into darkness, and now the noises of the night seemed to permeate the strong but thin bamboo walls. She turned away from him and he knew she was crying. He put his arm around her. After a while, she seemed calm..
“Tomorrow, I can do some batik decorating with the girls on the cloth they’ve been weaving – that will keep them busy, so you can talk with Praba and the others.. I’ll ask Kusama to arrange something to keep the small children busy.”
“That’s a good idea. We’ll do that.. Now let’s try and get some sleep – the sun is coming up soon.”
Wayan had roused himself as the first rooster crowed. Whilst his wife was asleep he had slipped out of their house, even before the perennially reliable sun had risen. His mind was spilling over with so many thoughts that he had hardly slept. In this crisp new dawn, he was the first person up and about in their small, native village.
He was bare-chested and, as usual, he wore just the knee-length kathok trousers. Today, on his feet he had pulled the moccasin-like kasuts made from pig-skin, but often he went bare foot. Even though Wayan was of an advanced age with thick greying hair he had a slim but strong build, quite tall with darkly tanned skin, and still with a strong vitality which had been encouraged by the physical livelihood and good food.
Like Rukma, across his back were the extensive tattooed markings of the Kima tribe from whence they came. Their break to found their own small tribe meant that now they didn’t fully adhere to their old customs; their sons only bore much smaller markings of the Mother and Life spirits when they achieved manhood.
In recent years Wayan had let a grey-flecked moustache creep around the corners of his mouth, which was now almost joining up with the short beard that was sprouting from his strong chin. Set in a longish face, his twinkling brown eyes were surrounded by the well-lived wrinkles of work and laughter. In the past few days, his features were also beginning to show the tell-tale evidence of restless deliberation and worry.
As quietly as possible, Wayan closed behind him the hefty door made of ramin hardwood. He took the few steps across their nippa-leaf covered porch, and looked up at the dark blue sky which was now losing its spread of stars. It was getting lighter and the melodious birds were heralding the all-powerful empress of the sky. Soon, the equatorial sun would quietly explode over the low hills in the east.
Standing there, still dozy, he listened for some moments to the dawn chorus of birdsong around him. Then he took in a deep breath of ocean air, smelt its fresh saltiness, and stretched.
It was going to be a clear, hot day. He could see no clouds, and there was hardly any wind. The monsoon rains had yet to arrive. The sky’s rich blueness was brightening and between the two large islands, which stood at the entrance to the broad seawater bay, he could now see the ocean horizon.
He loved this truly beautiful and bountiful place they called home.
Around the village grew elegant coconut trees, their long thin trunks topped by splendid sprays of dark green leaves which surrounded the large clusters of glossy nuts. His people call the coconut ‘pohon kehidupan’ or ‘the tree of life’. Under the coconut trees proliferated multi-coloured flowering and fruiting shrubs, and on the sandy soil sprawled vines with trumpet-shaped pink flowers. Nippa palms grew in abundance in the brackish waters inland of the mangrove swamps, which flanked the white sandy beach in front of their village.
His people believed that the spirits of the plants and animals lived for a reason, not always known to them, but that in some way they all depended on each other. The Malay had handed down the knowledge they had learned over countless years, from one generation to the next. His generation were the guardians of this knowledge and he must pass this on to his own family.
Wayan appreciated that the multitude of different birds and all the other animals needed the forest’s plants in some way; for food or for shelter. Even the dark and muddy mangroves, haunted with evil spirits, were important as nurseries for the young fish that will grow to populate the bay waters and the coral reefs, providing them with plentiful big fish to catch. The plants gave his family food and building materials. Some plants had uses for dyes, for medicines and even for poisons.
It is the dry season now, when the sun rules supreme, but soon will come the long, lush, wet season, when the heavy rains will water all the plants that give everything life. Sun, the Mother Spirit and the Life Spirit, Water. All year round they can have as much fresh water as they need from the clear streams running off the mountains.
The events of the past few days had made Wayan reflect deeply on all these things. Walking down onto the white beach, he took slow thoughtful strides along beside the soothing surf as it softly licked the shifting sand. The first bright sun rays were now peering over the hills on the eastern horizon, and Wayan had reached the spot where he and Rukma had talked last night. The big fire had died down, leaving a large black stain on the white sand, darker than a bruise on the fairest skin of a newborn child.
Squatting down again on the coconut trunk, he thought of the many happy years the family had shared here in this place. There had been difficult times too, but he tried not to think of the babies and young children that had got ill and died, and how he had nearly lost Endah when his youngest was born. The struggles the family had when the children were so young made their surviving children now even more loved and special.
Everyone in Likupang tried to help each other. That’s how it had to be he thought.. ‘We are all part of the same family and we had to depend on each other.’ Anyway, it was more important to remember the good times and to be thankful for their blessings.
He looked back at his griya house, and thanked the forest spirits for their gift of bamboo. His people say that the ‘bamboo wood is as light as a bird feather yet as strong as a clam shell’. They used the flexible and durable wood for so many things; the giant bamboo grew in large stands, just inland from the village. He remembered how the growing family made all of the nine griya-style native bamboo buildings in the village, each with their nippa palm roofs, yellow and umber coloured in the warm light of the morning sun.
He remembered when he had picked up that bent old tree branch, and pushed it into the sandy soil. “This is where we can build it!” he had told Endah. It was the first house in the village. He chuckled to himself – Likupang – that’s what everyone called the village now, but it started as liku pang which meant ‘bent branch’. They would say.. ‘Put it over there, where the liku pang is.’ Even when the branch had long gone, they would say.. ‘Put it at the place of the liku pang.’ When his friend Rukma and his lady wife Kasuma had joined them in Likupang, there were no other tribes nearby and they lived in peace.
Wayan was thankful for all these blessings, but since the Javanese Bahoi tribe had settled further along the bay, the other side of those mangrove swamps, they threatened his family’s happiness and their future together. Angrily, he cursed the other tribe.. ‘Those snakes and crocodiles were threatening everything!’
Wayan’s eldest son, Praba, knew how his father always took personal responsibly for the family’s well being. Seeing him sat alone on the beach, Praba walked over..
“Please father – come and lie down. Puteri is making your favourite stew.”
Praba’s wife was in the covered kitchen at the side of their house. The sweet smell of smouldering coconut husks and bubbling stew wafted across from the open hearth as she prepared their early morning meal or sarapan. His son coaxed him into their porch, and onto their creaking wooden couch. Most of the couch was brightly lit by the early morning sun, but the angled long shadow from the porch roof shaded his upper body and eyes.
Untung, a willowy boy of just six years, who was Praba and Puteri’s oldest child and his oldest grandson, appeared smiling beside him holding a fabric pillow with plant fibre filling. This offering Wayan accepted, hugging and tickling the giver. Untung laughed joyously at his grandfather’s antics and tugged the goaty beard.
Praba rolled a large log over close to the couch, and sat on it. Wayan smiled, watching the ease with which his son moved the heavy object.
“Everyone asks why I don’t fix this old couch – but if I did it wouldn’t be as comfortable…”
Praba added jokingly..
“Bandy stopped it moving with some twine – but I cut it off!”
Wayan laughed. That, he thought, summed up his two oldest sons.. ‘Praba was strong and Bandri was clever.’ Ever since they were kids he had seen this. Praba was older by several years, but by the time they were old enough to argue, Bandri could outwit, dodge and outrun his bigger brother. Praba was strong-willed and sometimes obstinate, whereas Bandri was clever and somehow did things easily. He loved all three of his sons, but Wayan was always struck by the unassuming masculine charm of Bandri, his sensitivity and his interest in the world around him. Secretly, he could not help but feel that his middle son was his most precious; Endah knew he felt this way, but he kept it from everyone else.
In play, Untung grabbed hold of his father’s leg, whereupon Praba picked him up and flipped him onto his own back, pretending to be a buffalo. Father and son made silly wild buffalo noises and gallivanted around the kitchen pretending to crash into things, knocking over a few pots in the process. Puteri scolded them, telling him to get out of her way, then looked across at Wayan with a grin on her face. Praba was a family man, who teased his young kids and revelled in the childish games they liked to play again and again. It was such a striking contrast to the impressive tribesman that Praba had also become, with his muscular frame and strong set features. All of Wayan’s three sons had inherited his thick black wavy hair – Praba’s unruly thatch was brushed back frequently by his wife, who preferred it that way.
Puteri had a matronly beauty, with well groomed straight black hair usually clipped back around her particularly lustrous cheeks and bright eyes that quickly showed her feelings and the strong-willed personality within. She was not afraid to disagree with her husband, although for the most part they had a harmonious and loving relationship. Puteri treated Wayan now as her regular guest for the early morning sarapan, since Endah had the tendency to lie-in until the sun was well risen.
Wayan’s thoughts returned to Melati, his youngest daughter who was such a sweet child, shy and thoughtful. He was so worried now about Melati and Rukma’s daughter Sukma. He felt sure that the Javanese Bahoi tribe wanted them for ‘marriage’ to their tribesmen. If Likupang resisted such a proposal then the Bahoi tribe might try to take them by force. He was determined.. ‘If they tried to abduct the girls then we would fight and lots of them would die!’
Interrupting Wayan’s thoughts, Praba remarked..
“I expect they’ve reached our Kima tribe by now.”
Many years ago, he and Rukma had survived that long walk from the troubles, and now their two fastest runners were hoping to find their nearest relatives – hoping they may have good men willing to help Likupang. If all went well, the earliest their men could return would be in two days, but more likely three or four. Wayan feared that their Malay Kima relatives had moved towards Manado or even further south, many days away. He and Rukma must make sure that any meeting with the Bahoi seniors was delayed long enough for the others to return.
“It’s a long way my son.. They know if they can’t find them at Kima, they should come back as soon as they can.”
As he said this, again he thought about moving the whole family south beyond Manado and abandoning their home here at Likupang, but that would be fraught with danger.. ‘If we tried walking everyone through the forests, the tribe could easily be tracked and ambushed – at least here we can defend ourselves. But we can’t take the family by sea around the coast in just the small fishing boats, and the bigger boat won’t be ready for a long time.’
The stew arrived, and very good it was too. It cheered him up and the topic of conversation changed. He was exhausted. The lack of sleep and worry were taking its toll, and after he ate the stew, Wayan fell asleep. His family made sure that he wasn’t disturbed.
Endah and the two girls spread out their flax and banana-fibre fabric on the flat wooden table in her porch. She explained..
“After we have practised on this, we can decorate the big sarong as a present for Ayu.”
Melati and Sukma’s eyes glistened in expectation, especially since they both adored Sukma’s older sister.
“What we need are ideas for a pattern?”
“Birds.. – yes Birds!” chirped Sukma.
“What about flowers? – Ayu loves flowers.” Melati said with quiet enthusiasm.
“We could try both if you like on this material – and see what happens.”
Endah showed them how she melted a pot of beeswax, and then dribbled it over the fabric to make a simple pattern. She stepped back and watched as the girls tried different ways of dabbing and rubbing in the wax as they made up designs.
“Now the wax has gone hard, we can dye the material. But the waxed bits won’t get any colour… Like this..”
They soaked the fabric in a shallow wooden barrel with rich blue plant dye, leaving it to take up the colour. In fun, the girls splashed some of the dye at each other. Harmless blue splodges landed on their pretty, laughing faces and down their simple sarongs.
Inwardly, Endah sighed deeply. The girls were both so young and vibrant. She loved them both; her youngest daughter and her daughter’s best friend. She felt as if they were both her own flesh and blood. When she looked at them now she thought of her own childhood.
When she and Wayan raised their family here they choose to abandon or change some of the customs of their founding Malay tribes near Manado. She and Kasuma had stretched earlobe piercings in which rings were displayed; these decorations were ornate wooden hoops but later heavier precious bronze rings were used as a sign of prosperity. But they didn’t want such ‘deformations’ for their daughters. The Likupang tribe believed in the purity and chastity of the female body, until they were married. Likupang girls and especially those approaching puberty wore sarongs that wrapped around most of the body – their tribe had chosen to decorate the female body with batik garments and hair ornaments.
Melati and Sukma had a bouncing energy and moved in the entrancing way that only happy young girls do. She had seen this with her older daughter Joyah, although after the birth of two children she had lost much of the coquettishness that she possessed earlier. Sukma’s beautiful older sister, Ayu, had kept a sort of kittenish way about her, but then she was in the full bloom of love having recently married their middle son.
Melati was in her pubescent years, and Sukma was younger still. Endah watched as they peered down into the barrel, trying to see the fabric soak up the dye. She smiled as they kept removing the falling trusses of glossy black hair from their innocent faces, with absent-minded flicks of their slim wrists.
Endah thought again about the Javanese tribe, feeling a deep revulsion that anybody could think girls were eligible for ‘marriage’ at such a childish and immature age. She couldn’t believe the women in the Bahoi tribe would think that – just the men!
Nobody in her village thought such young people were ready for marriage. As far as she knew, no Malay tribes behaved as if they were. Malay traditions expected that the couple who wanted to get married asked both parents first, and then the tribal leaders were consulted before the community marriage blessing. Sometimes, in Malay tribes the men wanted to take second brides, but as far as she was concerned that wasn’t going to happen in their tribe.
She loathed the common practise in many Javanese tribes of using women and girls as property to be bartered with or stolen; where second or a third ‘brides’ were often seen as a mark of status – and brides may be taken in combat. She had heard how girls were forced and suffered. Some Javanese ‘brides’ were very young and she knew that undeveloped young girls can die in childbirth. Mutually agreed marriage, because of love and respect, could be rare or non-existent in some tribes. She despised their Javanese customs. She hated the Javanese!
After some time they took the material out of the dye and carefully put it in hot water that was heated up to melt the wax. Then the girls did their best to rinse and scrape it clean of any remaining wax, to produce the sometimes unexpected but always enhancing batik decoration.
The girls bubbled with anticipation..
“Please, please.. Now can we do Ayu’s sarong?”
In his work shed, the big man with long slovenly hair was working hard. The matted black hair half-obscured his brooding features as he concentrated on the task in hand.
He had already painstakingly carved out the thin knife blade from fine-grained hardwood and sanded it smooth. Now he was carefully pressing this model into a smooth bed of compressed, damp, fine sand, which had been sprinkled with finely ground, sun-bleached coral.
After this he still had much to do – a fastidious list of tasks…
Next he was to add some fine sprue channels into the sand bed, using bamboo strips that ran from the model to the wooden surround.
Next the top wooden surround was to be added. On top of the model he needed to sprinkle on more finely ground coral, and then more fine, damp sand, tamping it down with a mallet until it was flat and level with the top edge of the surround. Then a wooden cover was to be fitted onto the top surround, and then clamped to the bottom surround.
Next, after a little delicate tamping and tapping to ensure the model was truly settled into the sand mould, he needed to carefully separate the top and bottom surrounds, taking care not to damage the indentations, and then remove the wooden model and sprue strips.
Next, with extreme care, he was to clamp the two halves together again, and then strategically stand the mould on end, so that the hole at the top was ready to receive the molten metal. The top hole was to form part of the knife handle. The entire mould he must carefully fix in position on the ground, ready for the next stage.
Next, he needed to use his great strength and energy to pump the bellows vigorously, as he stoked the roaring fire with charcoal and coconut husks. It had to be fiercely hot enough to smelt the rocky, green-tinted ore into molten copper. The other metal impurities in this ore will contribute to the intensely hot and luminous, yellow liquid. When ready he needed to pick up the heavy, glowing, granite crucible with a pair of tongs, and speedily pour the flaming, lava-like liquid into the mould. The little sprue channels will allow the air to escape, so that the molten metal will completely fill the space inside the mould, and then solidify into the precious bronze metal.
Next, after it had cooled, he could take the mould apart, revealing the cast bronze blade, which then will need some trimming and scraping clean.
Finally, he could firmly secure a carved hardwood handle onto the blade, which needed to be polished and keenly sharpened.
On the young man’s left shoulder blade were the manhood markings of his Mother and Life spirits. The tattoo which had been given to him using a sharp shell and charred plant roots, showed a part circle emerging from an ornate graphic symbol representing the seas, rivers, the rains and the blood within us. As he worked, the tattoo moved over the rippling muscles beneath and glistening perspiration trickled down from his almost hairless muscled chest. His height and physique had been inherited from his father Rukma, but it was also impressive due to the rigorous physical lifestyle of a tribesman and plenty of excellent food.
Sukma and Ayu’s older brother, Agung, was greatly respected as a skilled bronze smith in Likupang. He was going to make two knives from this same model.
When Wayan woke the sun was directly overhead at mid-day. The sandy ground was brightly lit, punctuated by the sharp black shadows which were cast exactly below every object. There was no wind, and the air was so clear that it might have vanished altogether. From the shade of the porch, he looked out across the crisp white beach and the deep-turquoise bay towards the distant islands. He never tired of this stunning view, and on such an astounding day it was breathtakingly beautiful.
His deep sleep had rejuvenated him, although waking at this time of day disorientated him for a short while.
Joyah smiled warmly at him..
“Did you sleep well father?”
She was cradling her baby daughter and had been quietly sitting in the porch waiting for when he awoke.
“Yes.. Feel much better.” he mumbled as he sat up on the couch, and then enquired..
“How is she now?”
The little girl, Murni, had been sickly.
“A bit better today, but she still has a fever.”
Wayan put his little finger under the baby’s chin.
“Very hot.” he muttered.. “Kusama knows best what to do. I think she uses fruit and honey – but ask her which fruit to use.”
Joyah smiled broadly again. Joyah smiled readily and often, seeing most usually the better side of a situation. She had a rounder face than her younger sister. Joyah beamed and her eyes sparkled when she was happy. But on the occasion she was upset she had a temper, although her mood was likely to pass as easily as it arrived. He couldn’t help but still think of her as the most frivolous of his children, and so Wayan was still pleasantly surprised at how nurturing a mother Joyah had become, most usually in the company of Puteri as they shared their care for the young children.
With her free hand, Joyah poured out calamansi flavoured water into a bamboo mug for him. As he drank, his thirst reminded him that he had not drunk anything since last evening. He told himself that he must not dwell on the past so much but get on with the future, and in this spirit he got off the couch to join Puteri in the covered kitchen, offering his services to help with the meal she was making.
A little later, Praba, Rukma and Ayu were also making themselves comfortable on the various seats that were arranged around the bamboo table, in the shade of the porch. The two large muscular men seemed even bulkier compared to the graceful young woman who was sitting down between them.
Today, Ayu’s silky long hair was held in a simple bunch, revealing her neat untanned ears above her slender smooth neck. The three men gave her unspoken but respectful care, especially since Bandri was away from the village; they had taken it upon themselves to ensure her safety. However, despite her radiant loveliness, she showed no sign of assumption or pretention, but rather an air of youthful confidence. Wayan could not help but smile warmly at her, not only because she had married his dearest son, but also through his natural appreciation of feminine beauty.
As the father of her husband, Wayan contented himself with admiring her nose. It may seem strange he sometimes thought to himself, but he did so like her lovely nose. He always thought Ayu’s was the most perfect nose he had ever seen – just slightly and smoothly curved upwards and placed so well between those amazing eyes. It never seemed to wrinkle but just changed its shape a little to compliment her expression. He thought it was more likely she had been blessed with her nose from Kasuma’s side of the family, because Rukma had a big nose!
“Agung and Harta are watching out.” smiled Rukma.
Wayan knew that his kindly face was wrinkled in amusement as he thought about the contrast between their two young sons; Rukma’s hulking, taciturn, deep-thinking son and his own youngest son who was ungainly, adolescent and opinionated. However, he knew that they would make a good team since Agung was the one person Harta would never argue with – the rebellious youth would listen and do as he was instructed.
“Kusama and Endah are looking after the children.” Ayu informed him.
Wayan felt a surge of deep gratitude for his family. He was fresh from a sound sleep and buoyed up by a renewed energy..
“Rukma and I are going to meet them in one boat.” He pointed out across the river, where their three small fishing boats were pulled up out of the water, across the bay and out beyond the mangrove swamps.
“Out there..” he added. “Far enough out, so that we can see that they’re also coming in one boat.”
Rukma added more explanation..
“A clear morning like today would be best.. We have quite a good plan now – but we’ll wait until Bandri and Andhika are back.”
“Maybe Dri will be back today.”
In Ayu’s voice Wayan sensed the anxiety for her husband and also the hope for his return. She was trying to disguise her feelings but her expressive eyes looked at him momentarily. He smiled and offered some reassurance, saying..
“They could be back today, but I expect tomorrow.”
“But if they are not back before the Bahoi man comes, what do we tell him?” said Joyah, her voice also showing the strain as she thought about her husband and her brother somewhere in the vast forest between here and Kima.
“We tell him that you two will meet them – in the boats – but we need an excuse. It may not be true what we tell them, but as long as it delays the meeting.. We could tell them that one of you got bitten by a snake or something – not badly, but just that you need a few days to recover?”
Wayan did not like dishonesty and deception like this, but on this occasion he realised that this sort of thinking was necessary..
“Something like that – yes, I think we could say something like that.”
Ayu walked beside Rukma her father the short distance back to his house, where she was staying until her husband’s return. She looked up at his so very familiar and fondly loved face, realising that she had always felt happy and secure in his presence. Yet she also knew there were dangers that he had kept from her, which she was not expected to ask about.
Over the past few seasons, she had noticed that the men in Likupang were huddling together in meetings more often, and now they always wore their weapons, even around the village. Her darling husband now had several bows, of different sizes. One of the bows he laughingly called his ‘busur gembira’ – ‘happy bow’, which he carried most of the time. She knew he hid another bow in the kitchen, and the biggest bow he kept in the house.
“Why so many bows?” she had asked him.
“For hunting.” he told her, smiling easily.. “The small bow is good for shooting birds, but you need a bigger bow to shoot pig or buffalo.. Anyway, all the other men have just as many bows.”
Ayu knew her special man was not very keen on killing big animals like buffalo, at least not like his brothers were. He loved the animal spirits too much to kill them for sport.
She had learned he was a thoughtful man when he courted her – giving her little gifts, like pots of scented honey wrapped in her favourite flowers. He was calm and kindly, but somehow frighteningly deep; always thinking and watching things. This mysterious side of him used to worry her, and even scare her. She used to avoid him, and can even remember hiding from him. He wanted to know everything about her, asking her so many things. He told her things, and shared his feelings with her. She didn’t understand him then as he looked at her with those thinking eyes of his, until she shared her feelings with him. She understands him better now, trusting herself to drown in the sincerity and depth of those eyes. She loves those eyes of his. He loved her with his eyes when they were getting married, and after, when she shared his bed. She had been afraid, but he was afraid of hurting her.
Somewhere in the forest now, those eyes were with him, looking and thinking. She’s thinking about him now, wanting him to be with her – missing him so much.
Ayu looked again at her dear soft father, big and strong, who was carrying his favourite bow across his shoulders with the clutch of arrows dangling from his waist. Until recently, he used to wear his bow only when he went hunting.
That evening, Bandri and Andhika arrived back after their three day journey.
Harta had heard the whistles from the men as they approached, and ran to get Ayu and Joyah. The two young men were evidently fatigued but happy to be back. As they stepped over the low smooth walls into the village, their wives greeted them with cries and hugs of delight, and then their backs were slapped in greeting by the other men.
“The Kima tribe has moved back down to Manado somewhere.” Andhika panted as Wayan joined them. He was wiping the sweat off his glistening forehead with the back his hand as he spoke. The stubble on Andhika’s familiar face had grown into a small beard on his chin which, despite his relative youthfulness, gave him an interestingly wise countenance. Andhika had joined Likupang from a different Malay tribe than Kima, even further south, and he had more body tattoos but these were almost hidden under the combination of perspiration and dust. He had been scratched by the vegetation or sucked by leeches during the journey, and his lean body showed smeared traces of his own blood, whilst his curls of black hair were now dangling in short damp stringlets.
Wayan grasped Andhika’s offered wet hand in welcome..
“Did you meet any of our tribe?”
The breathing of the two men was returning to normal after the exertion of the long run, and Bandri started to explain in more detail..
“Father, we found the village but it was deserted.. There’s a Javanese village near Kima at the headland. We were lucky that we saw them, without them seeing us – two men went by us, speaking in their dialect. We followed them.” pausing briefly, and then adding..
“We came back as soon as we could – to get here before the meeting.. Has a time been arranged?”
His son’s manner of speaking was quite factual, even positive and assured. Bandri’s intelligent and warm eyes looked right into his own, in an unspoken bond between them. Each time he looked at his son he noticed those small flecks of green colour in Bandri’s brown eyes, which were set so well in his strikingly handsome face. Apart from some soft stubble, it was a youthfully smooth face and a strong but open face, which Wayan thought betrayed the dreamer in him and also that meditative determination that he could never quite define. Looking at him now, dusty, bloodied but fervently alive, he saw more than the best of Endah and himself.
Pleased and relieved to have his dear son back, Wayan did not dwell on the disappointing news about their Kima relatives..
“Not yet. You’re in good time my son.” and hugged him.. “You need a rest and a hearty meal.”
Over the meal of barbequed brush turkey, they described their journey in more detail. They had been travelling by day and night, sleeping for only the few hours when there was no moonlight. Wayan knew they had travelled a distance that would have taken over three times longer if they had been walking. Even if they decided to walk the whole family back towards Manado, they would need to find a safer, even longer route inland, away from the Javanese villages on the coast.
After the evening meal with the families, the six men of the village met around the big fire of coconut leaf-stalks at their favoured spot by the open beach shelter, where the sand rose up onto the firmer pebbled soil between the beach itself and the village. It had become Likupang’s frequent venue for meetings and social gatherings. A place not far from the mouth of the river and yet close to the village so that the men could keep watch over their families, helped at night by the light of the fire. Some of the men were sitting with their backs to the fire, looking towards the village and keeping their night vision sharp.
“We need to find out more about the people in Bahoi.” Bandri was saying.
“They have five or six men, and older boys too – we’ve seen them around. We know what the men look like.” stated Praba, as if it was a well-known fact.
“We need to find out their names and more about what each of them is like.” Bandri elaborated.. “We can tell them our names, so it could help to build more trust. If we want to live in peace with them, we can only do it by understanding them.”
“They have never wanted to talk to us before.. They have their Javanese customs.. So the peoples have kept apart from each other.” Rukma told them. “We can try to ask their names, but they might not tell us.”
“There are more Javanese villages in this area now, so we will try and find out more about them at the meeting.” decided Wayan, having thought about the wise insight offered by his young son.
“They watch us.. Harta found their footprints on the hill again today.” Andhika muttered.
“I’m sure they are sending men to look over our village – looking at the women and girls. They watch us men, so they know where we are.” Praba’s voice betrayed suppressed anger.. “It makes us worry all the time about what they’re planning – so we always have to keep on our guard.”
“We go up on that hill so often it’s difficult to tell who left the footprints. We should brush out any footprints to see if there are any new ones next time.” suggested Bandri.
Praba looked at his brother in annoyance..
“We do that already.”
Bandri continued regardless of his older brother’s comment..
“We could rig some thin twine or something, to see if it gets broken. Even if they see the twine, it would be alright since they will realise that we’re aware of them, and they might keep away.”
“Cut down the hiding places on the hill.” muttered Agung.
“We’ve cut down the undergrowth around the village – past the stream – so they can’t get too close.” said Andhika.. “We should do the same on the hill.”
“Andhy’s right.” Agung said to reinforce his point.
Wayan decided to interrupt this recurring debate about the hill on the other side of the river, that over-looked the village..
“Talk about the hill another time.. We need to talk about tomorrow. We need to decide what happens, before tomorrow morning when their man comes back.”
Rukma followed on..
“If it’s clear and calm, then in the afternoon Wayan and I could go out and meet them.”
Praba sucked his lip thoughtfully..
“If it’s needed, I’ll go out in a boat.”
Nobody disagreed with this, partly because he was the elder son, but also because he was the fastest boats man amongst them.
Wayan instructed the younger men..
“We need good men in the village too, just in case they try to draw us away deliberately during the meeting. We need the families all in the two strong houses close together.”
“We can soak the roofs with water to make sure they can’t be set alight.” suggested Andhika, and the others nodded in agreement.
Earlier, the younger men had decided that they should request something of their seniors. Praba now spoke for them..
“Fathers.. We think you need to take some extra protection when you meet their seniors.. Please take some weapons in case they try to surprise you.”
Wayan looked at Rukma, and then replied honestly..
“If they see we have weapons, they’ll not trust us.”
“But we do not trust them, and you need to protect yourselves.” insisted Praba.. “You can hide small bows, and even take poison for the arrows.”
“We will keep our boat away from theirs.” Rukma said quietly.
“There’s a chance that they will threaten you, or they have a plan that we haven’t thought about. You may need something to defend yourselves.” Bandri informed them.. “Agung has made two small knives that fit into these hats.”
So far, Agung had been sitting almost passively with his face mostly covered by his straggling long hair, but now he and Bandri together offered their fathers each a nippa fisherman’s hat. This common headwear is used to ward off the glare of the sun, but inside each of the broad conical hats was a well hidden, small, bronze-bladed knife. The two knives had come from the same model and the short blades were less than the length of a man’s hand. As the hats and knives were passed around and inspected with appreciation, Bandri quietly continued..
“Sitting in the boats you can’t threaten them with these knives, and they can’t see them.. But if they get too close, then you have some protection.”
Wayan looked around the expressions of all the men at the meeting. After a pause he replied..
“I understand.. We will also hide small bows in the boat.”
The other men muttered their appreciation of his decision.
The night was clear as the waning moon slowly rose amongst the stars. A glinting aura lay over the bay, as Praba and Agung remained on lookout and the rest retired for the night.
The messenger from Bahoi reappeared the next morning, as arranged. He was standing outside the low stone walls around the group of buildings that was Likupang. It was not intended that the walls were territorial, but rather a deterrent to potentially dangerous snakes or crocodiles that might make their way into the village, especially at night. However, the man treated the walls as a boundary. As Wayan looked at the messenger he thought.. ‘I wish those walls kept away all the snakes and crocodiles from Bahoi.’
He was about the same age as Praba; not young, but not yet middle-aged. The man had a swarthy build and taller than average height, with a short beard, below a heavy set face. His shoulders bore the Javanese healed skin scars of manhood, three scars on each shoulder. The tribesman carried a large bow over one shoulder with a clutch of arrows at his back. He was confident and determined; evidently trusted by his seniors.
He was met by Praba and Bandri, whilst the other men held back as agreed.
He spoke with a Javanese dialect, which was understandable to the Malay men..
“Seng luweh tuwo kita takon yen sampeyan bisa ketemu dina iki ?” – “Our seniors ask if you can meet today?”
“Please sit with us, and drink a little?” offered Bandri immediately, although he could sense the disquiet from his older brother at this break from tribal protocol.
The three men were about the same height, although all of different builds, each masculine in their own way. The two Malay men had light stubble, and less body hair. All three had thick black hair, which partly covered their ears. Each wore just kathok knee-length native garb. The two Malay men were deliberately unarmed for this meeting, although all the other men in Likupang were armed. There was an awkward pause as the men stood either side of the low wall about two paces apart, and then the man replied..
“It is for our seniors to talk first.”
“Our seniors will talk with yours.” stated Praba, maintaining a more usually accepted manner between tribes.
“My name is Bandri. What is your name?”
The Bahoi tribesman looked coldly at the young man who had asked him the question in Javanese. Bandri calmly and pleasantly looked back at him. There was an unpleasant pause, until the man said his name, as if it were an irrelevance for the Malay men to know..
Bandri nodded his head, in appreciation, but before he could respond, Praba said..
“The sea is calm today. The meeting can be in boats.”
“How many boats for the two seniors?” the man called Yuwa asked.
“One boat for your two seniors and one boat for our two. Half-way between the villages, out where both villages can see, with no other men.” said Praba.
The man repeated the arrangement to make sure that he understood, and paused a while looking at both men, saying finally..
“That is agreed. When the sun has passed the zenith.” raising his arm to indicate the angle at mid afternoon, and then said formally in Malay the farewell expression..
“Kami ingin anda setiap suku berkat.” – “We wish your tribe every blessing.”
Bandri replied in the Javanese dialect..
“Kita pengin taler panjenengan saben berkah.” – “We wish your tribe every blessing.”
The Bahoi tribesman and the two Likupang tribesmen nodded formally at each other. The messenger stepped back a pace and turned to leave when Bandri said quietly, but clearly in the Javanese dialect.
“Sugeng enjang, Yuwa.” – “Good morning, Yuwa.”
The swarthy mature man stopped, looked back briefly to give a slight nod of his head towards the slim young man, and then walked into the forest.
After the man had gone, Praba showed his annoyance..
“You were too friendly Bandy.. Now they’ll think we’re weak!”
“It doesn’t make us weaker by knowing his name.” replied his younger brother.
After a mid-day meal, as the sun was descending from its zenith, Wayan and Rukma prepared their chosen boat.
Two small bows and their bamboo arrows had been hidden in the hull of the small fishing boat, screened carefully from view by thin peelings of the niaouli paper bark tree. The precisely shaped arrow heads had been carefully dipped in a sticky mixture of Antiaris seed juice and viper venom; if an arrow embeds itself to dose the victim with its poison, the outcome will be seizure of the nerves and muscles, including the heart. These preparations were done by the men, out of sight of the women and children.
Both men had supplies of fresh water and wild honeycomb to maintain their stamina. They wore loose fitting fabric fisherman’s tops, since the afternoon tropical sun can be malicious on the bare skin, especially on the open water.
With practised ease, both men pushed the small boat with its bamboo outriggers through the modest surf. Wayan leapt into the bow, and Rukma jumping into the stern a moment later. Once they had paddled just beyond the surf line, they checked and donned their fisherman’s hats.
The whole village watched them from the beach, wishing for their safe journey, many murmuring prays to the spirits of the sea. Emotional calls of love and kisses were exchanged, until the families were shepherded into the houses, and the two seniors set off across the bay to meet those from the Bahoi tribe.
“Take your time and save your strength.” Rukma advised his good friend.
Many years of paddling had made it an almost sub-conscious activity for Wayan, and so he made the effort to relax. The blades were almost lazily pulled through the gorgeous green water. Even so, the men were both proficient boats men and they made easy progress out beyond the line of mangrove swamps towards the middle of the expansive bay.
Looking back, they could see Praba standing by his boat and the other men on the porches of the two houses near the beach. And now they could see another boat coming from the direction of Bahoi, still too far away to make out its occupants. Gradually the two boats drew closer together. The buildings of both villages could now be seen in the far distance.
As the other boat drew closer, Wayan and Rukma saw that both of their seniors had distinctly large beards. They were not wearing hats or fisherman’s tops. Both had wavy hair, and were possibly father and son. They had seen both these men at a distance before. The big one had a barrel-like chest, looked immensely strong and was the eldest. The taller one was also muscular and perhaps a little older than Yuwa, the messenger.
“That’s the big one and that tall one.” said Rukma quietly, and then added..
“My Javanese is a bit better – I’ll start the talking if you like?”
As they quietly waited for the other boat to come within talking distance, the two men from Likupang shuffled around a little in their seats to check they were comfortable. Wayan removed his hat and pulled off his fisherman’s top to lay them down in the bottom of the boat. Rukma watched his friend without comment.
The two small boats with their four occupants were now just a few paces apart, stationary in the middle of the vast waters of the blue bay. Rukma and Wayan had decided to follow Bandri’s example and try to exchange names early in the conversation.
“Jenengku Rukma lan iki Wayan.” – “My name is Rukma and this is Wayan.”
“It is good to have a meeting.” said the big man, which was the usual greeting when tribes met, but he did not volunteer their names.
“It is good to meet you.” said Rukma, returning the customary greeting.
“We share the fishing in the bay and the hunting in the forests.” the big man said in a formal way.
Wayan said nothing and sat calmly watching the other two carefully as their boat stayed parallel to their own, about five paces distant and gently rocking in the mild swell. The taller, younger man was directly opposite him. Both pairs of men were studying each other, assessing each other’s character and intention.
The older big-chested man had a thick black beard which was now greying, as was his hair and chest hair. Even though he was of advancing years he still looked sturdy and determined. His stolid face had many wrinkles where it was free of hair. When he greeted them he had appeared to smile, but it was difficult to gauge his demeanour since his smile seemed half-hearted, possibly because he was attempting to hide his teeth which were in a poor state of health.
The other man betrayed little emotion and had said nothing, but looked keenly at the two men from Likupang with his dark-brown, almost black eyes. Like his father he had a strong jawed, roundish face with a broad nose. The son’s facial hair was jet black as was his chest hair.
No-one made an overt movement, apart from holding their paddles to gently maintain their position in the water. Apart from the banal words of greeting, it seemed as if there was no noise apart from the placid slapping of the water against the boat hulls and outriggers.
Rukma replied to the last statement..
“We are both blessed with many fish and good forests.”
It appeared the big man had decided now to progress the conversation..
“This is my son.. One day he will be the leader of our people.”
Rukma decided to say nothing in reply, and waited.
“I have another good young son, who is fit and strong.. He also wishes to find a bride.” the big man said.
Both Rukma and Wayan had expected something like this, but still their hearts sank with the cold realisation that their fears had come true.
Rukma paused, and then decided to say..
“Every man hopes to find a good wife.”
“Kita bisa kurban ningkahan antarane lanang apik lan Badhak wadon apik.” – “We can offer marriage between our good males and your good females…” the big man pronounced, and added moments later..
“They will be people with much good fortune.”
To the Malay men, using the words ‘lanang’ and ‘wadon’ as ‘male’ and ‘female’ made the conversation sound as if they were describing a transaction of property, and filled them with renewed disgust at the traditional Javanese approach to this most loving and spiritual of unions. There was a short silence, until Rukma stated calmly..
“We have no unmarried women of a good age.”
“Ana telung badhak wadon enom lare.” – “There are three childless young females.” the big man stated blandly.
The stark frankness of the statement was chilling to both Malay men. Wayan remembered his wife’s advice and tried to hold his temper, but now decided to speak..
“All the young women are married. The girls who are not married are very young.”
The big man said nothing for a short while, and then said..
“We have strong males, and you have unmarried females.. It can be a good match.”
Wayan could contain himself no longer, especially at the dreadful idea of their sweet, young daughters being considered a possible match for such mature men. The tall mature man sitting in the boat opposite was becoming uglier to him with every passing moment. Looking directly at the man who had not yet spoken in the boat opposite, Wayan said quietly but clearly..
“The unmarried females are not going to marry anybody for many years.”And then, continued.. “They are much too young for you.”
The man opposite at that point raised himself up to his full height, and stood in the boat. His body hardly moved, even though the small boat was floating on the unpredictable waves of the bay waters. It appeared to be a display of his physical presence and athletic ability. He glared down haughtily upon the seated Wayan.
After a couple of moments, before Rukma could restrain him, Wayan stood up deliberately and with surprising ease for a man of his years.
Standing, both balancing skilfully in the small boats, they looked at each other and their eyes met. They were about the same height and build, although Wayan was many years older. In dignity and wisdom, Wayan was more than a match and his look at the other man was armed with conviction. The bearded man could not withstand the penetrating gaze, broke off the exchange and sat down again in his boat, apparently subdued. Wayan sat down silently. Neither had uttered a word.
For long moments there was an awkward and unpleasant silence.
Rukma, who had been quietly observing with increasing concern, finally interrupted the silence with the Javanese expression between friendly tribes..
“Kita pengin taler panjenengan saben berkah.” – “We wish your tribe every blessing.”
The big man stopped looking at Wayan and fixed his eyes on Rukma. No verbal response came from either of the Bahoi men, and so Rukma added..
“We respect tribes have different customs, and we ask you to respect the customs of our tribe.”
The angered look on the big man’s face slowly resolved itself and finally he nodded his head in Rukma’s direction, saying..
“Kita pengin taler panjenengan saben berkah.”
Almost immediately after this exchange, the senior tribesmen from Bahoi turned their boat about and started the return journey towards their village.
On the journey back to Likupang the two men relived the short meeting in their minds, wishing that somehow it could have gone better. They could have found out more about the Bahoi tribe, but at the time their emotions were strained and now it seemed like the meeting was finished too quickly. Neither spoke for a while, even though the other boat was well out of earshot, until Rukma said..
“They must have been watching the village to know about my daughters and Melati.”
“He called them ‘childless young females’.. How disgusting to speak like that!” fumed Wayan.
“My friend.. It’s the way so many Javanese men think.. For them women and girls are for sex and getting strong sons, and those sons can get more ‘females’.. For them it’s simple – that’s your status and success in life.”
Rukma’s calm assessment was still hard to comprehend for Wayan..
“If they have ever loved a son or a daughter, surely they would understand why we said ‘No’ to them?”
“I don’t know.. Last dry season, I saw that tall one fishing in a boat with a girl – I thought it was probably his daughter.”
Wayan stopped paddling and turned to look at his friend, who almost apologetically opened his hands to show his own disbelief at the situation, as he tried to explain..
“We just don’t know enough about them. Maybe it wasn’t his daughter, then why would he be on his own with her?”, and then he added “Unless it was a bride?”
Wayan cursed under his breath at this revelation and turned back to paddle again, and in exasperation asked for his trusted friend’s advice..
“What do we tell them in Likupang?”
“We tell them exactly what happened.” Rukma replied thoughtfully as he continued to paddle.. “But I think it’s best that we forget about you and he standing up in the boats.”
“I think you’re right, we shouldn’t mention it – our wives will both worry about it.” confirmed Wayan, and then he added sardonically..
“It was my fault – I should have asked him what his name was instead.”
Rukma laughed, and slapped his friend on the back. Wayan laughed a little too, yet inwardly he regretted not handling it better. Somehow he should have focused on finding out more about them as Bandri advised, and he prayed that their sons will know better how to deal with the Javanese tribesmen.
Now they were getting closer to Likupang, where they could see Praba, Bandri and Agung waiting for them on the beach.
“It’s good that you didn’t need the weapons.” smiled Bandri, as the three men waded in waist high to meet the boat in the surf.
“It was better to be prepared.” said Wayan. “They were not friendly, but there were no threats.”
“Tell us fathers. – What did they want?” said Praba.
“They were looking for brides.” said Rukma. “We told them the girls were too young for marriage.. We said ‘No’ and they went away.”
Wayan and Rukma had gotten out of the boat. Agung hauled it up the sand, saying..
“Good!.. And keep away.”
Now the women and children were coming down the beach to join them.
“We’ll tell you more later.” said Rukma.
In the late afternoon warmth, Rukma and Kusama joined Wayan and Endah for a meal on their porch. Every word that had been exchanged in the meeting had been examined and dissected. For the parents it was so very important to understand what the intentions were of the Bahoi tribesmen, and whether their daughters might be in continuing danger. Indeed, they needed to know whether any of the family could be in danger as they looked after the girls.
“So when they left, you are sure the oldest senior gave his blessings to our village?” asked Kusama.
“Yes.. His son never said a word, as if his father made all the decisions.” Rukma replied.
“Do you think we can trust the word of the father?” Endah asked yet again.
“Dear wife.. We have to hope so, but I don’t trust his son at all.”
The men gathered around the beach fire in the evening, this time drinking the alcoholic todi. There was some relief that no physical conflict had ensued from the refusal of the offer from the Bahoi tribe.
“You see – they must have been looking over our village!” Praba fumed.
Bandri was concerned..
“I want to know how he said ‘three childless young females’.. Maybe it was a problem with dialect or something?”
“Ana telung badhak wadon enom lare.” said Rukma, and then added.. “We both heard it clearly.. They could only mean Ayu, Sukma and Melati.”
“But we didn’t use any names for the girls. We said the unmarried women were very young girls.” explained Wayan.
Bandri hoped sincerely that the Bahoi tribe would respect that the only ‘childless’ young woman of marriageable age was now married. He knew how lucky he was and could easily understand why men looked at his wife. Thinking out loud, he quietly remarked..
“It’s difficult to understand why they think such young girls would be good mothers – even if they survive childbirth.. Women need to be ready to have children – even having children straight after marriage can be too soon.”, and then he surmised.. “They’re only thinking about girls for sex and status – they’re not respecting them as people.”
The others had all heard him, but were not saying anything for a while as they thought about what he had said, until Praba spoke with barely suppressed anger..
“You already told them that the girls were very young, didn’t you?”
“We made that clear.” said Wayan.
“Then they said that their ‘strong males’ can be a good match for our ‘unmarried females’!” Praba seethed.
Wayan and Rukma nodded.
“It’s disgusting!” Agung growled, and then added “Little Sukma and Melati?” He got up, took a few paces down the beach, picked up a large stone and flung it forcefully out to sea.
While he was away from the other men, Andhika said under his breath..
“Agung’s the reason they keep away.”
“They keep away because we all work together.” Bandri calmly insisted.
“We must not let this worry destroy our happy family here.” Wayan stated.. “Rukma asked them to respect our customs, and their senior leader wished our tribe every blessing – so we must try and get on with our lives peacefully.”
“If we can trust his Javanese word?!” fumed Praba.
Nine days later.
The sunrise over the eastern hills was bright and watery, after the rainstorm over the past days. The skies were now clearing again and the wind was easing, although the sound of the surf was still strong enough to drown out the dawn chorus. Wayan emerged onto his porch, having slept well.
‘A beautiful day’, he thought.
As he ambled past the house of his middle son, he caught the faint sounds of a young woman’s soft giggling. It brought back intensely warm memories of his early married days, and injected a happy spring into his step as he walked briskly onto the beach to wet his bare feet in the surging foam.
The tide was at its lowest and some scattered pieces of jetsam lay on the damp sand: coconut husks, coral pieces, shells, some leaves, seaweed, wood of various sizes and shapes. Also, he saw a couple of shiny sea sponges which had come adrift from their holdfasts on the sea floor. Smiling, he picked them up and walked up to Puteri’s kitchen where he could smell native coffee on the brew, as she prepared their sarapan.
“What are those, Grampa?” Untung asked.
“Ah well, that’s a question!.. I think they’re plants from the sea.”
“But your uncle Bandri thinks they’re made from small animals.” Puteri said, as she poured out Wayan’s steaming black drink.
“Can I see?” the boy held out his hands.. “What’s inside?”
Wayan broke open the stiff, dark, glossy and wet object..
“You see, it looks a bit like coconut husk inside.”
“Why have you got it, Grampa?”
“This…” and he got up to find a soft brown bath sponge.. “is what we use it for!”
“Eeeeah – it’s all slimy.”
“But when it dries out, and then we wash it out – we get a bath sponge!”
“And does the soap come from the sea?”
Wayan thwacked his hand down on the table..
“Aaah – Bandri’s soap!.. Well, that is ‘something else’!”
Wayan and Puteri laughed..
“That!.. I don’t think I should tell you what that’s made out of?” Wayan smiled enigmatically at his grandson.
“Because, you might not use it again!”
Puteri handed Wayan one of the waxy soapy lumps, and he passed it down to Untung..
“Will you still use it, if I tell you?” Wayan gave the boy a broad smile, and his grandson nodded hesitantly.
“It’s made by boiling sea water and honeycomb and ‘pig fat’!, and..” Wayan sniffed the brownish lump, “And calamansi juice, I think.”
Untung stared at the odd shaped lump in his hands..
“It comes from pigs!?”
His mother laughed..
“And from bees!”
“But honey comes from bees?” said Untung.
“And so it does.” said Wayan ashe scooped a dollop of the sweet smooth syrup into his coffee using a wooden utensil, and stirred.
Next, Wayan stuck his finger into the bamboo pot of golden forest honey, sucked his sticky finger, and then offered the pot to Untung. Puteri frowned, but said nothing. Grandfather and grandson smacked their lips, enjoying the fragrant smoothness that ran sweetly over their tongues.
Wayan was happy and relaxed. He thought to himself.. ‘This morning would be a good time to collect some forest honey. The little bees will be easy to spot on a sunny day like this and we need some more honeycomb before the heavy rains set in.’
From the kitchen beside his house, casually he picked up the fire stones, some twine, some dry fibres and kindling, and then dropped them into a small rattan backpack. Endah was still asleep, so he opted not to wake her. After putting on his nippa hat, he walked the short distance to the edge of the village, stepped over the low wall and into the surrounding forest.
Just under the spreading branches of the old Acacia tree at the edge of the forest proper, he paused. There were several paths he could choose. Along the coast southwards ran the dappled, green-gladed sandy path. A little off to the right of the sandy path, underneath arching denser vegetation, wound a route up towards the mountains. To his right, past the village ran the paths north, along the coast past Bahoi, and then eventually across and down to Manado. There was also a sloping smaller path, between the others, that zig-zagged up towards an area of woodland that had plenty of fallen and rotting tree trunks.
After a short while he was in dense vegetation with multi-coloured flowers arrayed amongst the verdant foliage in the old woodland. It was full of humid fragrances, birdsong and the murmuring of innumerable bees.
Some of the bees were black and as tiny as ants, some of the bees were quite small honeybees with furry brown striped abdomens, and some were very big wild honeybees which had furry black and white or fawn-yellow stripes on their abdomens.
On the flowers were plenty of the visiting bees. He watched closely the smaller honeybees with brown striped bodies. He watched as they landed, clung on and stuck their heads into the flowers and then flew over to another flower. After a while he saw a couple of the insects fly off back to their home, somewhere nearby. Following them, it wasn’t long before he found the entrance to a nest in the hollow of a large Acacia tree.
“You’re not a rotten tree.” he mused, almost silently to himself.
A little later he found what he was looking for; a honeybee colony in an old rotten tree trunk.
“Aaah.. just right.” he smiled, talking as if to the busy bees flying in and out of the entrance.
Putting his equipment down, he gathered some damp green leaves and handfuls of dryish sticks. On his knees now, he rolled up the kindling and sticks inside the leaves, binding the package together with the twine. Next, by clicking the fire stones together, he expertly got a flame going in the dry fibres, which he passed onto the kindling in the middle of the leaves. Soon, masses of whitish smoke was pouring out of the bundle, which he placed between him and the entrance to the bee house. The buzzing sounds grew to fever pitch as more and more incredibly fast moving dots in the air were panicked by the thick smoke, which wafted up and out through the trees.
Contentedly, he pulled Agung’s short knife from its hiding place in his nippa hat. After appreciatively gazing at the distinctively designed tool, he carefully and steadily chipped away the soft wood around the entrance. The forest was busily living as the birds, insects and other animals called and clattered in the background. The bees buzzed harmlessly around him in the pleasant smelling clouds emanating from the smoker.
After some time, the bunch of quite long combs were uncovered, hanging parallel to each other from the top of the wooden cavity. As ever, he watched in fascination at the hoards of bees covering the combs, as they wiggled, buzzed and moved busily around.
He directed more smoke into the cavity, so that nearly every bee abandoned their treasure trove. Kneeling, he could now reach his hand in and slowly pull off the first delicate waxen comb. He glanced at the familiar but amazing hexagon structure, before putting it in the backpack. Then, he reached in for the second comb, which he could feel was heavier and full of the golden honey. He inspected the beautiful honeycomb, where the top of each little cell had been capped by the bees using fresh cream-coloured wax…
Pain stabbed him in the back of the neck!
Dropping the honeycomb, he instinctively put his hand up to feel what had happened. His fingers fumbled into something sticking out of his neck – thin and wooden. It was intensely and overwhelmingly painful. He twisted his arms around in agony to try and get at the thing – with a sudden shock realising it was an arrow! Immediately then, another arrow stabbed brutely deep into his side. Groaning, his face contorted with the numbing pain. His eyes were blurring and closing as the poison racing in his blood took its effect on the nerves and muscles. He swung round as yet another arrow buried itself in his leg.
His soul screamed to get rid of the arrows – to get rid of the poison. Pulling out the arrows was so difficult, and excruciating pain coursed across his shoulders. His chest felt as if it was being crushed, and he struggled to breath.
Trying to get to his feet, unsure of his footing, he fell down again unsteadily onto one knee. Another arrow struck somewhere, but he could do nothing about it and tried desperately to see where the attacker was. His fading eyesight saw no-one in the leafy forest around him.
A cold clarity hit him – soon, very soon he will leave this world. He will leave his family – he must help them but he can’t. In despair his soul cried out! He pleaded to the Mother Spirit, raising his face and eyes to the piercing sun, and struggled again to stand, but teetered forwards onto his hands and knees. The mists were closing in, yet momentarily he was aware of someone standing over him, before his thoughts clouded over and he slipped into eternal unconsciousness.
Nearly eight moons later.
Shading his eyes from the glaring sun, Bandri scanned the trees further up the mountain, and then called to his younger brother..
“Harta.. Melihat di sana!” – “Harta.. Look up there!”
His brother scrambled up the little ravine to join him.
There were two towering trees with dark crescent shapes hanging amongst their branches. Clambering higher up the slope, they were soon walking under the first tree. Bandri studied the shape high above and then the tree’s branches below it. He gazed up at the next tree and decided that it was probably easier to climb..
“Yang ini saya fikir.” – “This one I think.”
He dropped his bow, shrugged the coconut coir rope off his shoulder, and then carefully put the rattan backpack on the forest floor. Bending over, he retrieved the few items they had carried up the foothills of Tongkoko.
They had set out early this morning but now the bright tropical sun was higher in the sky. The heat was starting to build. He felt the sensation of beads of perspiration trickling down his bare back.
There was a peaceful tranquility here in the dappled shade of the small clearing. Tree nymph butterflies danced around the blue pea vine flowers in the sparse undergrowth. Somewhere nearby, a male bird of paradise was calling for a mate.
He turned to look for Harta. His brother had stopped and was looking back the way they had come. Harta had chosen a fallen trunk as a seat in the shade of the Acacia trees. Bandri joined him, and chose the patch of ferns in front of the trunk, draping his legs amongst the soft leaves, his arms spread apart over the mossy log. The light breeze rising up the escarpment cooled their bare chests.
The view was magnificent.
They were high enough up to see over the tops of the forest trees on the lower slopes. Coloured blooms were dotted amongst the thick dark green canopy, which made a continuous carpet down to the coast. To Bandri it seemed as if he could step out and walk on the tops of the trees back to his nippa and bamboo house by the beach. Beyond the green carpet was the turquoise band of the sea and above that the incandescent sun was burning away the morning mist. Away to the left, the high mountainous peak of Klabat was still shrouded in wispy white clouds.
Bandri focused his eyes on Bangka Island, always liking to study its outline near the horizon. Today, in the hazy distance it reminded him of a whale in the act of breaking the surface of the sea. The whale was a motionless deep green monster. The central peak resembled the fin on the back of the monster. At one end he could see a plume of steaming, malodorous fumes from the hot springs he remembered playing in when he was a just a small boy. He imagined the fumes as the animal breathing out, just before sucking in another deep breath to plunge back into the depths of the unending ocean.
Sometimes, he wondered whether there was an end to the ocean, but it looked like it was endless. He could remember when the family had paddled all the way out to the biggest island, and when they climbed to the highest point, they could see no other land out there. He could remember standing there with his father, and wistfully took in a deep breath. He remembered. There was nothing as far as the eye could see; as far as the line between the restless blue water and the open sky above.
“I can see the Bahoi village from here.” Harta had hatred in his voice.
Just then they felt a slight tremor beneath them, which stopped almost as soon as it had started. Bandri muttered..
“Tongkoko mempunyai gatal.” – “Tongkoko has an itch.”
They were used to the occasional shaking of the ground, and Harta rather liked being referred to like a mountain. He smiled at the joke.
Bandri was determined to look bravely into the future. He wanted the best for the family, and offered his young brother some advice..
“Try not to think about them – it’s just good to get into the mountains.”
Not yet content with this encouragement, he added..
“Look how beautiful the world is… We’ll have a good day – and a good season – I’m sure we can.”
After a while they resumed their work, looking around for some suitable leaves and a few dry sticks. Bandri tutored his younger brother, as they pushed some kindling between the sticks and then wrapped the long green leaves around the outside. He delved some twine out of the deep pocket of his knee-length kathok, and then bound his large bundle together. Likewise, Harta bound his bundle.
Kneeling down against the slight breeze they crouched over and clicked together their fire stones to generate tiny sparks beside a clump of dry fibres. After a few attempts some fibrous strands glowed and they blew gently to encourage the flames.
When Bandri was satisfied that the little ball of fire would not go out, he moved it carefully next to the kindling in the bundle. In a short while the flame had caught hold of the sticks and was trying to burn the leaves, which produced billowing dense clouds of white and grey smoke.
Harta had followed his example, and soon had another smoker of his own.
Together they moved upwind of the tree to help direct the smoke up towards the large ominous shape hanging from the branch high above. They made a low whistling sound, as they kept their eyes on the jostling crescent, which was now becoming more animated.
In an instant, the dark crescent shape exploded into life.
A loud buzzing noise and a dark haze of agitated bees filled the air.
Each bee was as big as child’s finger and there were thousands upon thousands of them; perhaps fifty thousand bees. They tried to dodge the smoke and hang on to their comb, but gave up and took off again angrily as if looking for someone to punish. Bandri had learnt to respect the power of these wild honeybees, and expertly kept the smoke between them and the angry bees.
With one hand Bandri held the smoking bundle and with the other arm he threw the rope up, aiming for the large branch above, part way towards the mass of excitement. The weighted end looped over the branch and descended towards him. Deftly he threw a knot around the end so that he could secure the rope to the branch, pulled it tight, then tugged it to test it was secure. Kicking off his kasuts, he gripped the rope firmly, put both feet on the broad trunk and pulled himself upwards, one hand over the other, climbing steadily and assuredly, with the smoker wedged in his backpack.
Once his brother had climbed onto the branch above, Harta pulled himself up the rope.
Half way up the Acacia’s trunk forked into two. Using this convenient toehold Bandri levered his body so that he could reach a branch higher up, then lifted himself and hooked one leg over the same branch, pulling up the rest of his body afterwards. Hugging the trunk he stood upright on the branch. The soles of his feet gripped the rough corrugated bark as he pulled himself further up.
The frenetic buzzing was subsiding a little. The bees had mostly vacated their comb by now – they had been tricked into thinking that a forest fire was about to consume their home. Before they abandoned it they did their best to drink some of their honey to give them strength to escape the oncoming flames. As long as the honey hunter was careful he should not be stung.
When level with the comb he blithely and slowly swung himself on top of the branch that supported the large crescent comb of wax, honey and brood that belonged to the wild honeybees. This was accomplished with such athletic prowess that there was no discernible impact on the branch and the bees appeared unaware of his presence. He was now laying face-down along the branch which grew at a slight upward angle. The comb hanging underneath the branch was nearly the length of his body which lay above.
Harta watched with admiration from the branch below, holding his smoker.
Grasping the branch with his knees Bandri carefully slipped off the backpack; it was important to avoid sudden movements which might provoke the bees. From a sheath he withdrew a long knife which had a burnished bronze blade and a carved wooden handle, to which was attached a plaited noose. He diligently wrapped the noose around his right wrist, since he was worried about dropping this precious tool. With his left arm he guided the rattan pack under the upper part of the waxen cream-coloured comb.
Steadily he started to slice off a portion of wide honey-bearing comb which flopped into the open pack. Gradually he removed more slices, working inwards towards the trunk of the tree. Pale golden, runny honey oozed out from each incision. Syrupy golden rain dripped to the forest floor far below; falling onto the green leaves of ferns, white fungal fruiting toadstools and thick brown leaf litter.
Some bees were returning intent on revenge and defense of their colony. Bandri felt a sharp pain on his right arm, and then another. This forced him to brandish the smoker, whilst clinging on desperately. His defense was sufficient to drive his attackers off, at least for the meantime.
Harta called up to his brother on the smoke shrouded branch above..
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine – coming down soon.”
He paused briefly to rest and to lick honey off the back of his knife wielding hand. The smooth delicious sweetness gave him evident pleasure and he pushed a sizeable chunk of honey-filled wax into his mouth. As he chewed, he cut off some brood comb laden with young bees, until his pack was full enough.
It was time to make a retreat and after securing his knife he edged his way back along the branch. Bracing his legs against the crook of the branch where it met the trunk, the heavy backpack was hauled up onto his shoulders. Coming down was more challenging than going up. The heavy burden hampered his ability to find good purchases for his feet and twice he had to save himself.
His young brother was already on the ground, and witnessed the descent. Once Bandri reached the rope the final drop to ground level was easier.
“Why didn’t you throw the comb down?” Harta asked when Bandri was within talking distance.
“It would have made a mess on the ground – damaged the honeycomb.” panted his older brother.
The exercise had made Bandri’s whole body glisten with sweat, and his thick black hair was shiny and wet. With the pack on the ground he stood and stretched, enjoying the breeze that came up the mountain.
“If we had more rope I could have lowered the pack – it would have been easier.. Perhaps I could have thrown it down for you to catch – but I wanted some perfect honeycomb.”
Bandri felt deep pleasure at his accomplishment, and also gratitude to his providers. He looked up, acknowledging the wild honeybees with the simple gesture of closing his eyelids for two moments. Part of the comb above was still intact and, as he watched, the large bees were returning to cover their shrunken home with their bodies once again, already starting to rebuild their colony.
“Remember, we should pay our respects to the bees.” he told his young brother.
Bandri winced. The stings on the back of his arm were getting more painful now, but he was grateful since it could have been worse. They gathered their belongings. Both the backpack and his body were covered in patches of sweet honey – some bees were now searching and hovering around to land on his moist skin. His smoker was nearly exhausted now, so Bandri waved it around to try and keep the glowing embers alive.
Beginning the trek back down towards the coast, they edged further along the hot and humid slopes, shortly casting away the dead smokers.
Penetrating into denser vegetation they progressed slowly, breathing in the dank but clean jungle smells. They were alive to the sounds of wildlife just out of sight – a clattering of bird and insect calls occasionally interrupted by the movements of larger creatures. The shrill wee-oo-wee calls of ornate lorikeet birds vied with the grunts and squeaks from a gang of macaque monkeys. Gentle gusts rustled foliage and nudged giant bamboo stalks to rub against each other – creaking and cracking. Scented jasmine flowers of reddish-yellow and cream, decorated their vines which scrambled over other flowering shrubs, and tangled in the spaces between the splayed buttress roots of hefty fig trees and the tall rainbow gum trees with their multi-coloured bark and clusters of fuzzy yellow-white flowers. From the trees, the woody stems of long lianas trailed, with their leaves reaching the brighter light high in the living canopy above.
After following a narrow track, evidently frequented by wild pigs and other large animals, they came to a small gorge formed by a silvery stream flowing off the mountain. Wading ankle-deep in the crystal clear water they followed its path, picking their way around the rounded and sometimes slippery boulders with their bare feet. From the eroded banks of the gulley Bandri could see that the little babbling stream could become a deep torrent in the rainy season. A tangle of trunks and vines rose up on both sides, interlaced with the greens of mosses and ferns, interrupted by fancy-flowered orchids, all sharing the lessening sunlight which filtered down from the overhanging roof of wood and translucent green leaves. Making good progress down through this natural gallery they came upon the top of a waterfall, where the flow bent over the rocky lip before cascading down into a plunge pool.
Bandri picked up a brown coconut husk that had been softened by lying in the stream, and then wedged the husk in a convenient fork of the serpentine rooting branches of a banyan tree. Then the two young men picked their way down to the rocky banks of the pattering water pool below, where at last they put their packs down and rested for a short while.
Bandri selected a fist-sized stone, and with casual force he flung it hard at the husk above. With a satisfying thud the stone hit the husk clean out of the fork.
Harta clambered up to replace the husk, came back down and had a go – his stone ricocheting off the hard grey bark of the fig tree. Another two goes and he succeeded in knocking off the husk.
“Good – but keep going until you do it first time!”
Stepping under the waterfall, Bandri rejoiced at the cooling affect on his body and the cleansing of his skin from the sticky bits of bark and other debris. The smudges of honey gradually dissolved. Catching the fresh falling mountain water in his mouth he quenched his thirst, and removed his kathok to rinse – then threw the kathok over a low hanging branch to drip in the sun. The bright water danced over his slim, muscular frame as he took time to enjoy this freedom.
“I’ve done it first time – twice now!”
“Now shoot it with your bow.”
Harta pulled out an arrow from the clutch of about twenty he had tied to his waist. Bandri turned away to get on with another task, smiling to himself and saying..
“You’ll need to make a new arrow – for every one you miss!”
Harta shrugged and pulled an insolent face behind his brother’s back.
Nearby a group of wild banana plants grew. After breaking off a few of the large glossy leaves Bandri returned to the stream bank to lay them out on a flattish bare rock. As he opened the backpack a single bee escaped and flew off. With care he fished the comb pieces out of the pack, sorting them into two piles.
Finding a few dead bees stuck in the wax and honey mixture at the bottom, he scooped the bodies out then dipped his hand in the flowing stream for them to be gently washed away to a watery grave.
Bandri heard another curse “Tuhan!” as an arrow missed its target to get lost forever in the jungle.
One of the piles was a neat arrangement of perfectly intact honeycombs placed in the centre of a cross of two oval banana leaves. The other was a mixed pile of brood and slightly squashed honeycomb, some of which he ate as he worked. With care he wrapped the leaves around the first pile which was then bound neatly with twine in two directions. After rinsing his empty pack in the pool, he lined it with fresh leaves. He put the second pile into the pack and then added a few more leaves. The parcel was carefully placed in last and the pack fastened.
Finally he pulled on his damp kathok.
Harta had used up all his arrows, and was trying to retrieve any unbroken ones from the soft husk now pinned into the fork of the tree.
“How many did you lose?” Bandri asked innocently, with a glint in his eye.
“Three – but lots are broken!”, his young brother said with frustration and annoyance as he tried to pull them out of the smooth hard tree bark.
Grinning, Bandri slapped his young brother on the back..
“Not bad young man – I used to lose a lot more!”
At last, Harta had his shower under the waterfall.
Bandri splashed some more water on his right arm, sat down and waited patiently, thinking. Harta was not the irrational and argumentative kid brother anymore. The girls teased him mercilessly, but he could take a joke, and not take it personally. Harta just laughed it off – he was growing up. He thought Sukma kept teasing his brother because she was testing him, and she was testing herself to see if she liked him. Sukma was too young to know what she was doing; it just pleased her to see Harta’s surly face contorted in annoyance.
It seemed that Harta had taken a mutual liking to Andhika, who had volunteered to become his mentor. Harta wanted now to join the men. His young brother’s height was now beginning to pass Bandri’s own shoulders. Harta was shooting up fast, so fast that sometimes he seemed awkward – but soon he would be as tall as his older brothers. Their younger brother’s confidence and courage was strong, as was his sense of justice.
They pulled on their packs and set off again.
Bandri had been taught by his father to watch where he put his feet and to avoid particular plants. He was raised in this verdant landscape and knew the wildlife well. Although he felt at home in the forest he was well aware there could also be dangers, especially if you were a lone traveller.
Their route wound down beside the stream; where Bandri pointed out other wild honeybee colonies, and also where there were colonies of smaller honeybees that lived in hollows. Perhaps he may come this way again. Today, he had chosen to go a little further away and higher up, where the air seemed less humid, and where the smoke was less likely to draw attention.
Following the stream he knew it would meet a familiar path, underneath the over-arching forest vegetation, gently downwards and out under the spreading branches of the old Acacia tree. From there they walked more quickly towards the cluster of griya houses and other wooden structures beside the lazy river which flowed out through the sandy beach into the lapping sea.
“Harta – I think Praba wants you now.”
Bandri pointed in the direction of the river bank where their oldest brother was working.
“Terima kasih!” – “Thank you!” Harta said in a colloquial manner, and then jogged off to his next assignment.
Turning from her washing, Ayu’s deep brown eyes glimpsed him walking towards her between the coconut trees. Her lips parted a little then changed into a warm welcoming smile. Dropping the wet clothes she lightly ran towards him.
Bandri cherished the elegant way she moved. He stood still and let her come to him, opening his arms to accept her embrace, and then wrapped them around her. The touch of her cool wet hands on his warm back, and the freshness of her impact against his body exhilarated him.
“Cantik mata …Suka hidung…Lancar bawah..”
They stood hugging each other making intimate greetings. He bent his head down to plant kisses onto the beauty of her upturned face; kissing the smoothness of her cheeks, the gentle curve of her lovely nose and her eyelids, which she closed as his kisses chose their destination. She turned around coyly in his arms, whilst his hands appreciated her figure. He kissed the nape of her neck, swaying her gently as she clung on to his right arm.
Feeling the slight swellings on his arm she was alarmed to see the red patches on the cinnamon brown of his skin.
“Apa yang berlaku di sini?” – “What has happened here?” Her voice was soft, but laden with concern.
To distract her fussing, he took off his backpack and laid it on the ground to one side. From the top of the pack he lifted out the parcel and placed it into her hands, with a little smile, but saying nothing and watching her face.
She cupped both hands to accept the slightly sticky and weighty green package. It took a moment or two for her expression to change from worry into a knowing radiate happiness. Tipping her body forward she leant into him in tearful appreciation and thanks, holding the gift as if it was a baby.
With his arm around her shoulders the young couple ambled back towards the porch of their griya house to sit on the log that was shaped like a bench. Between them she placed the parcel and he watched as her nimble fingers undid the twine binding and peeled back the green leaves. The gold and cream honeycomb unfurled before her. Gazing at it for a brief moment, she suddenly threw herself into his arms which caught him off balance so that he nearly fell, laughing, backwards onto the ground.
Daintily she picked up a choice piece of honeycomb and went to put it in his mouth, but he insisted that she eat first. Taking the honeycomb he placed it on her proffered pink tongue and she managed to close her mouth with just a small dribble of syrupy gold on the smoothness of her chin. Ayu was lost in the thoughtfulness of the gesture; the unexpected gift of fresh forest honeycomb tasted exquisite..
“Terima kasih, itu lazat.. indah..mmma..” – “Thank you, it’s delicious.. lovely..mmma..” Her soft voice was pitched in an unselfconscious, teasing manner, as she removed the glistening gold on her chin.
He watched her mouth and her lips. They had been married nearly a year, yet he yearned for her more each day. He watched her as she arched her back and used her forefinger to lift off a drip of golden honey on the fabric of her sarong. The honey was put between her lips, full brown, smiling lips – lips that showed pink around the sucked finger.
It was nearly mid-day. The overhead, burning sun bore down. In the shade of the porch the bamboo door to their house was open. Inside the cool shadiness of the room he could see their inviting amber-coloured bamboo couch.
The tropical heat of the mid-day sun had driven them into the shade. During the mid-day tidur siang or siesta they made gentle love in the shared warmth of the room, cooled slightly by the sea breeze floating through the small gaps above the bamboo walls. The breeze funnelled under the nippa eves and wafted over them as they lay in each other’s arms, simmering down from their exertions. Their bodies glistened.
Lying there, they quietly exchanged confidences and thoughts.
Ayu was a little worried about something. She thought that he would have carried the backpack down the tree, since the honeycomb he had given her was so perfect and not crushed by being dropped onto the ground..
“Dri.. You didn’t really need to carry it down from the tree – you didn’t have enough rope. You could have fallen.” she said softly.
Bandri smiled – her ability to shorten his name into some tone or affectation amused him. Sometimes it was ‘Dri’ or ‘Band’, or even just the slightest ‘B’ as if she was about to say ‘butterfly’.
“Anda adalah saya semangat.” – “You are my passion.” he replied.
“Semangat – and you are mine!.. So I will make some more twine with Sukma – so you can lower the pack to the ground?”, and she tweaked his nose.
“Aawh.. Alright – we need plenty of twine and rope anyway and the nets need mending.. I can ask Joyah to help with beating the husks – I think they have been soaking long enough.” Bandri had conceded.
“Did Harta help you get the honey?”
“Yes, I sent him to help Praba – he’s trying to get the decking finished on the boat before the rains come.”
Ayu hugged him tightly, kissing him lightly on his neck..
“Yesterday, when we visited your father’s spirit by the bee houses – I was thinking that a whole rainy season had gone by, and now everything is dry again.”
He became thoughtful and turned on his side a little more, facing her and looking closely into her eyes, as she said softly..
“It means that we’ve been married longer than that.. and I wanted to tell you this.. That you will always have me.. Because I love you.”
They cuddled some more, and then Ayu suggested..
“Before you go to Bitung, let’s ask everyone to join us for a meal tonight?”
“We can get a pig from your brother – he’s got one ready.. He’s better at killing it.”
Agung had several enclosures for pigs and brush-turkeys. Bandri preferred that the bloody business of stabbing the animal in the neck was done by someone else, since he could not help feeling sorry for the poor beast as it squealed and struggled. A roasted pig or panggang was usually the centrepiece of a village feast.
The unusually large bercadik style of boat they were building was intended for several purposes. They wanted to bring copper ore back around the coast from a place called Bitung – instead of needing to perform the exhausting task of carrying the heavy rock overland. They may also be able to catch bigger fish in deeper waters. But, the most important reason for building this big boat was that they thought it would be the safest way to transport the family to another location around the coast, south of Manado; the danger from the nearby Javanese tribes meant that the Likupang tribe may need to leave their home and settle again, near other Malay tribes.
The boat was taking shape under an open shelter a short distance from the river. The hull was over fifteen paces long, and was propped up on a cradle of stones and wood, laid on top of the sloping sandy river bed, out of reach of the highest tides or the flood water coming down the river in the wet season. The design was based on the best hull shape from the village’s three small outrigged fishing boats. The big boat was to have a lower enclosed deck and an upper deck to add strength and sufficient ‘cargo’ space. Two masts were to rise from the keel through the deck, and square rigged sails could be supported on each mast. Forward of the steering oars was to be a cabin for shelter. So far, only the hull was complete.
Wooden pegs held the planks to the frame of the hull – the pegs would swell tight in the water. The seasoned wood on the hull had also been rubbed thoroughly with plant resin and beeswax. Important joints were reinforced with pegs and bound with coconut rope. The cleaned coconut husk pith or sennit was hammered together or ‘corked’ with beeswax between wooden joints as a water-proofing technique.
The work was going well, although they were slowed by the need to cut and shape hardwood for the main structural beams. The bronze skewer for making holes, the axe head and the knife blades needed frequent sharpening. If the bronze tools were applied with too much force they tended to bend.
That afternoon, Bandri joined Praba, Andhika and Harta who were working on this, the largest boat that they had ever attempted to build. The men were lashing bamboo outriggers on each side, which were fixed to long cross beams running under the deck.
“The boat will be too heavy to move.” Bandri calmly observed.
The comment was enough to divert the other three workers from their current focus. Praba, who was standing at one end of the boat, put his shoulder up against the hull and gave it a shove. Nothing happened. The others joined him and pushed – the boat moved down the slope just a very short way and stuck fast.
“It will be alright if everyone in the village pushes.” insisted Praba.
“We can lever it forward – and how about using ropes to pull it?” Andhika had worked on big boats before, but not one this big.. “But it is going to get heavier.”
Praba wasn’t convinced..
“If we move it now the hull might not be strong enough – it will leak.”
“When it gets heavier, the hull could be damaged too.” countered Bandri.. “How do you know if it will float straight in the water? If we get it in the water now we can see what happens – then build on more wood so it floats straight.”
Harta joined in.. “We can give it a try.”, wanting to contribute to this conversation between his elders. Praba gave him a disparaging look, partly because he was backing Bandri’s idea.
Andhika put his hand encouragingly on the youth’s shoulder..
“If we push it in the river now, we can fix the decking and the rest when it’s floating.”
Rukma and Agung were consulted. They placidly listened to more debate between the others until Rukma finally said..
“The tide’s rising.. we can push it in now.”
Agung nodded in agreement.
Harta was sent off to gather people to the event, while the others cleared the structure of tools and obstacles, readied some rolling logs, then found some stout struts of wood to help lever the boat forward.
It was not long before people started appearing, chattering excitedly, whilst the children ran around getting in the way. Time was taken trying to ensure that the very youngest children were standing or sitting well back from the scene, with Kusama and Endah taking charge of the juvenile audience.
“Make sure the children never go near the water!” Rukma reminded them.. “We have to keep a lookout for crocodiles.”
The socially intricate task of allocating pushing positions for the women and older children along each beam of the stern outriggers was organised. The three youngest women; Ayu, Sukma and Melati were ready to push on one side. Joyah and Puteri were to push on the other side. Seven year old Untung, was allowed to help push with his mother, but then Praba intervened since his wife was pregnant and so Puteri swapped places with Kusama. At that point Joyah announced she was pregnant too! There was a pause in events as everyone congratulated Joyah and Andhika. Promising that she would ‘be careful’, Joyah insisted that she still wanted to push.
Agung took a position at the stern of the hull, flanked by two other large strong men – Praba and Rukma. Meanwhile Andhika and Bandri were ready to lever the hull forward on its keel supports, and Harta was allocated the task of positioning the logs for the keel to roll over.
At Andhika’s call “Satu..Dua…Otot!”, almost drowned out by the sound of the children yelling joyous encouragement, the heaving, pushing and levering began.
Slowly at first the boat shifted, then faltered, then shifted some more, until the bow was just touching the edge of the rising water. Now a different problem presented itself, since the leading edge of the keel was starting to dig into the fine wet sand. Anyhow, a break was needed.
Drinks and refreshments were brought down to the scene, which turned into an impromptu party with offerings of various and often bizarre ideas of how to get the boat into the river. Meanwhile children climbed and crawled over the stranded half-finished vessel, to be frequently removed before coming to too much harm. It was tempting to leave the boat where it was until tomorrow, but with everybody here and the tide not quite full, a last attempt was to be made.
A couple of the kids had been enjoying themselves bouncing up and down on one of the coconut tree trunks that leant right over close to the beach. Puteri, looking after the children, helped to bounce them up and down and as she did this she noticed that across the river there was another trunk leaning over, which gave her an idea..
“Look over the river.. You could put a rope over that tree trunk, and jerk it into the water?”
After more debate, a plan was hatched..
“We’ll give it a try.” Rukma said.. “But we must keep everyone away from the river – nobody should be splashing around in the water.”
As much rope as could be gathered and knotted together was tied to the prow of the boat, and then the other end carried across the rising river in a small fishing boat. Next, the older children were paddled across. Whilst the children and Harta enthusiastically bounced the trunk, Agung and Bandri alternately heaved and pulled down on the far end, wrapping the slack around a convenient stump; thus yanking the rope tighter and tighter.
Now everyone else went back to pushing the big boat, in concert with the team across the river. This time the jerking and pushing was enough to free the hull and nudge it further into the water – until at long last it slid right in and was launched. There was relief all round… and it floated, a little to one side, but it floated effortlessly – as if it weighed hardly anything at all.
Celebrations spontaneously began.
The pig was not happy, even though the tipsy men dragging it were very happy. Its screams were ear-piercing as it was hauled by its ears through the middle of the village followed by a gaggle of children eager to see what was going to happen next. Joyah and Puteri appeared, pulling away the children and scolding Praba and Andhika for their crude joking references to shafts and anuses.
Down on the white sandy beach in the late afternoon sun, it was decided that Harta should join in as the jovial men jostled around the grunting and panting animal, which was gathered its strength for another burst at freedom from its oppressors. Praba and Andika were already sharpening the bamboo stake, and the task of holding down the pig was being randomly swapped around, giving each of them time to swig the alcoholic todi from various containers.
Harta and Rukma were just changing places, when the animal felt the weight holding it down lift itself briefly – it made its bid for freedom, shooting out from under them at top speed. At first it scuttled downhill towards the sea. Realising it needed to change direction it then slipped and swerved back up the beach towards the village, dodging past the still surprised, laughing and shouting men.
Now the chase was on, as the poor terrified beast desperately looked for hiding places, staying for a brief while until it was flushed out by its pursuers. Young children were crying whilst the older ones joined in the thrill of the event, and the women were trying their best to understand and manage the whole affair. Then the pig darted inside Andhika’s house to the dismay of Joyah who swept up her youngest child in her arms and screamed instructions at her husband who was trying to corner the pig somewhere inside. Praba was beside himself with glee and high spirits, running around the outside of the house jibing and yelling encouragement at his friend through the bamboo walls – and so Joyah unleashed some of her fury onto her annoying brother.
At last Andhika appeared, dishevelled but triumphant at the door towing the hapless noisy victim.
Once again on the beach, Bandri and Praba held the wriggling and sobbing creature, and the sharp point of the stake was placed strategically to one-side of the neck directed at its pounding heart. Agung swung his heavy mallet onto the blunt end of the spear, driving the point deep into the chest. Bright red hot blood spurted from the wound as the stricken animal writhed and gave out gurgling squeals, then briefly appearing to be paralyzed, before bucking and throwing its legs around as it entered its death throes. Meanwhile Andhika instructed Harta on how to hold the wooden vessel so that he could best catch the gushing blood, spilling out to stain dark red the whiteness of the sand.
As the oldest of the boys, this was Harta’s initiation into the acceptance of him as a young man amongst the other men in this small community. As he held the half-filled vessel of warm blood, each of the men dipped in a hand and patted him around the naked shoulders, and then he in turn was told to scoop out some blood to put his bloodied hand on each of their bare chests.
Two of the women were watching this ritual from a distance with mixed feelings of both sadness and pride. Kasuma and Endah had witnessed the blooding and now they would gather the plant roots they needed. They would rub the charcoaled root into the perfect skin of the youth and then, with a sharp edge of a shell, scratch out carefully the marks of manhood over his left shoulder blade. Harta was being proclaimed a man with a man’s rites; the privileges of being considered a man and attending their meetings, and if necessary the responsibility of defending the tribe by fighting and maybe dying.
Leaving the dead body on the sand, the men jogged down into the waiting sea – splashing and washing clean their bodies, the redness of the blood dissolving into the vastness of the sea.
Agung and Bandri built up a hearty fire on the flat dry part of the beach above the high tide mark, choosing an area near the open beach shelter that was skirted by the ground-hugging, pink-flowering plants that sprawled over the sandy soil.
Andhika, and Harta as his apprentice, had disembowelled the dead pig then scraped off the bristly hairs using a keenly sharpened blade. As Harta steadied the cleaned out carcass, Andhika impaled it rigidly onto a strong giant bamboo pole and fixed it well to prevent it slipping. A short length of bamboo was jammed though a hole in one end of the pole to act as a handle. Harta was left to wash the skin thoroughly in sea water until the flames of the fire had died down, whilst Andhika hammered in two stout forked branches either side of the fireplace, so that they could then hoist the prepared pig just above the hot glowing embers. Slowly the handle was to be turned by Harta or by one of the older children he was given charge over – roasting the whole pig was to last well into the evening.
After Praba and Puteri had washed clean the innards of their contents, they carried the intestines, stomach, heart and all other parts over to Kusama and Endah whose cooking experience and status allowed them to delegate preparation tasks for the forthcoming feast. Katuk and other native vegetables, along with spices such as cinnamon and wild lemon grass were to be stewed with the diced organs, or skewered onto long bamboo splinters. The children variously helped or hindered the culinary operation. Melati and Sukma decorated tables and porches with flowers and fruits, chatting and sharing confidences with each other and with Ayu, who they orbited around.
Radiant and suspended in the tropical sky just a finger above the far horizon, the golden orb of the Mother Spirit threw down her beckoning path over the shimmering sea. Children and fathers played tag games along the beach at the edge of the phosphorescent surf. Slowly, the smouldering sun sank out of sight, suffusing violet shades across the twilight waters and crowning the mountain with gold. Smoke wafted up into the still air bearing the rich smells of native cooking.
Ayu helped her father prepare several torches which Rukma pushed into the sand. She readied beeswax candles, melting their waxen bases and pushing them upright onto sea shells, placing these lit offerings next to the women preparing vegetables and scraping the soft white linings of young coconuts. Wild banana and rambutan were being peeled by Joyah’s youngest daughter Murni, who sat on a rattan mat close by her mother’s feet.
The girls brought kumquat, coconut and calamansi juice down to the beach-side shelter, and the drinks together with sizable quantities of honey and brood comb were laid out on the large shared table to tempt thirsty and peckish citizens. The village mingled, played, talked, joked, drank, drummed, danced, cooked, ate and relaxed as the waxing moon rose higher into the star-laden sky.
Around the warm light of the fire the singing began. Praba was in his element. He had a strong clear baritone voice, loosened by todi. From memory, he led the assembly into a string of native songs, with Andhika and Rukma providing the bass backing..
Tak tong tong galamai jaguang
Tagunda-gunda ka cambuang basi
Jan suko duduak bamanuang
Urang pamanuang jauah rasaki
Jan suko duduak bamanuang
Urang pamanuang jauah rasaki…
meaning that ‘If we do nothing but just daydream all of the time, we get nothing.’
The family delighted in the crystal clear voice of Melati, who was repeatedly called on to thrill the audience. Usually Melati was quite shy, but when she was obliged to sing she soon lost herself happily in the melody that seemed to be borne within her. When she felt too exposed, she would drag Ayu and Sukma to sing with her.
One by one, in twos or threes or more, everyone was called on at some time to contribute. The children were encouraged to join in, and even little Murni was given an appreciative audience. Bandri enjoyed and admired the musical talents of his big brother and younger sister, but was self-conscious of his own singing voice, which he felt was rather poor. Under duress Bandri joined in, although with enough todi drink even he could abandon himself to the song.
Melati loved the melodies.
She could sit, oblivious to the world around her, humming and singing quietly to herself, or tapping out the rhythm on lengths of bamboo as she imagined new variations on the traditional songs. Rukma had once made a bamboo whistle as a gift for her, and now she has several bamboo musical instruments.
She and Sukma look after Musang, a male pet civit they had kept since it was a cub. The other children also loved Musang. The grey and black, furry cat-like animal is well used to being handled, and runs to Melati, jumping into her arms as she crouches to give Musang his favourite treat – wild bananas. This is what she had been doing today – feeding Musang in his cage and singing to him, while Sukma cleaned out his bedding. This was when she heard Harta calling for everyone to come and push the boat into the river.
Melati lived with her mother and Harta in a house next to Bandri. Her big brother Praba lived nearby with Puteri and their family. Since her father’s death Melati had spent even more time with Musang, playing with the lively cute animal, and of course with Sukma her best friend.
She looked after her mother more now since Endah needed help with many things. Her mother was often ill these days.
Her mother had said something yesterday. It was making Melati very quiet and pensive. Endah seemed to say many strange things these days, but what she said seemed very certain and sincere.
Her mother had held onto Melati hand..
“Dear daughter – you are growing up so fast… Have you been thinking who you would like to marry?”
Melati had never, until that moment, ever thought about it. She had never thought of boys or men as someone who you got married to – they were just other bigger people – often ugly and smelly bigger people. Harta wasn’t ugly but he was her brother and often annoyed her. Bandri wasn’t ugly but he was her brother too, and anyway was married to dear Ayu. The only unmarried man in her village was Agung.
Somehow she had worked out what men and women did to have babies. She trusted Ayu to help her with these questions, and she knew why her body was changing. She felt her body changing. Melati wrapped her sarong carefully to try and disguise her small but growing breasts, and her boyish hips were changing too. Just now she was not interested in having anything to do with boys or men.
Melati hadn’t replied to the question, so her mother had said..
“Your father and me want you to be happy – with a good man to look after you.”
Her mother often talked as if her husband was still alive – but Melati had come to accept this, and still said nothing. She just waited to hear what her mother was going to say, which was..
“Agung would be a good husband for you…”
Her mother was saying something else but Melati was not sure what it was. That her mother wanted her to marry was a surprise, but that she wanted her to marry Agung was a shock.
She had been preoccupied with these thoughts ever since, yet still too bewildered to share these thoughts with her two best friends, who both were Agung’s sisters.
Melati had been looking at Agung today as they launched the boat. All this evening she had been looking across at the big man. He had an inner depth to him. He wasn’t boring or ugly but he was enormous, unwashed and scary. Agung frightened her.
Attached to his waist, was the large sheath that held the big yellow machete. Even on an evening like this, he wore his giant bow with the arrows, and carried that big spear around with him.
Late in the evening, he had seen her looking at him. She felt sure of this, since he looked across at her, smiled for a moment, and then looked somewhere else beyond her. He paid her hardly any attention, as if she was of no importance to him. He just got up and walked past, without speaking to her, off down the beach towards the river.
As the night wore on, the younger children fell asleep by their mothers. The older ones stayed up until their mothers retired for the night. Rukma took it on himself to chaperone the families to their houses.
Ayu, Melati and Sukma mostly kept each other’s company, on the periphery of the group of singing and drinking men. Rukma returned to the beach and escorted them to Ayu and Bandri’s house, where they could sleep together.
Praba, Andhika and Harta settled down to sleep on the porches outside the houses, being too drunk to be allowed inside. Each of them had consumed copious quantities of todi that evening.
Rukma then went back down to the beach to rejoin Agung and Bandri.
“We could wait until the morning.” suggested Bandri.. “Better in the day light – and the others will have sobered up.”
Agung seemed determined however..
“It will be in the river before morning – then feed again another night.”
Bandri was still uncertain..
“It’s a big crocodile.”
Rukma joined them with another torch in one hand and a couple more mangrove wood spears in the other. Over his shoulder was a large bow with a full clutch of arrows at his waist..
“I see what you mean!” he exclaimed, and almost silently made a curse under his breath.
In the bright moonlight, on the long slope of the beach where the river ran into the sea, they were all staring at the long sinuous bulk of a salt water crocodile, waddling along with apparent impunity – ambling ever closer to the village. Its enormous scaly body and thick long tail were making deep curving tracks in the sand. The moonlit creature was magnificently defined and awe inspiring, whilst the shadows of its tracks appeared behind it almost like a giant plaited rope on the glistening beach.
“Ia adalah luar biasa!” – “It’s incredible.” murmured Bandri as he admired the sheer evil beauty of the carnivore.
Rukma found it repugnant – these sinister spirits were a constant threat to all fishing families.
“Incredibly dangerous!” he told them gruffly.. “It’s a male – marking out his territory. It’s bold enough to walk into the village anytime.. Nobody’s safe from it – especially the children.”
The abhorrent idea of any of the children or his dear sisters being preyed on as food by this loathsome animal crystallised Agung’s decision, as he snarled in anger at the beast..
“Kill it tonight!”
Rukma and Bandri glanced at each other, and the younger man raised his eyebrows in acceptance of the proposition.
“We wait until it’s far from the river then all three use bows at the same time – aim for the sides. Watch out for the jaws and the tail can break your legs!.. Wait for my signal.” Rukma instructed, and then almost as a joke, he added.. “And don’t shoot each other!”
As an apex predator this adult crocodile was many years old and not used to threats – other than from males of its own type. As the three human attackers nervously spaced out around the monstrous reptile, it appeared to regard them more seriously, possibly as potential prey. The stalking men crouched lower to minimise their visual impact as they closed in, each then pushing their spears into the sand and loading their bows. The immense jaws opened a chink, revealing the rows of teeth, some of them catching the moonlight as shining white daggers. A guttural growl vibrated as a chilling warning – it knew they were the enemy.
Checking each of them were at angles to lessen the chance of an accident, Rukma uttered the signal..
“Pergi!” – “Go!”
As three large arrows struck the scaly hide, the animal jolted into action. Raising itself clear off the ground, its hissing jaws whipped around for a target to grapple – running at Rukma, biting savagely with horrifying intent. As Rukma backed off, Agung and Bandri had their second arrows loaded – releasing at close range into the sides of the belly and the neck. The arrows thunked into the animal’s armoured flesh, piercing yet appearing to have no impact, apart from enraging it still further and diverting its attention.
Grabbing his spear, Agung drove the point hard into the writhing animal’s flank – holding on to the shaft as he pushed it further in. The great snapping jaws reached for his bare legs, just missing, then suddenly the huge powerful body rolled and the spear shaft broke cleanly. Agung jumped clear of the thrashing tail, as Bandri struck from the opposite side, this time the spear lodging in the scaly folds of the neck – attracting the attention of the lethal jaws. Bandri held on grimly, trying to push and angle the spear more effectively into the throat and possibly the heart. As the clamping jaws swung around the athletic young man hopped a deadly dance as he pressed home the attack – until this second spear fractured.
The desperate battle raged on at breakneck speed. The growling, hissing demon was rolling again, and now Agung used the gleaming machete, aiming for the upper belly. With two hands he powered it deep into the exposed underside, wrenching it back out then stabbing again in a different place, seeking its heart. Blood, black in the moonlight, spurted into the air as the behemoth’s demonic utterances screamed in the ears of the three men. The great tail hammered down on the beach as the dying crocodile rolled groggily onto its stomach. Rukma thrust mightily with a third spear – deep into the chest through the lower neck.
For a moment, the clawed legs paddled frantically as the heavy body collapsed, spasming, until it lay still. The contest was over. On the moonlit beach, to each panting man the whole thing now seemed surreal, as they stood vigorously alive around the giant corpse.
It was morning, and people were emerging from their houses.
The two girls stayed a respectable distance away, although the younger children were daring each other to touch the mountainous corpse, which was half-way up the beach from the river. Women were nervously discussing it, and the men were pretending to joke about it.
It had the remains of arrows and two broken spears sticking out of its scaly armour. The dried, dark red stains of blood were around its neck and stomach, and on the kicked up sand all around it.
The salt water crocodile was gigantic; over five paces long from the tip of its grisly nose to the end of its whip-like demon tail, all covered in rugged grey scales. Rows of blackish-grey gnarled scales ran the length of its back and down along the hard muscular bends. Underneath, paler-grey scales concealed the bloated belly. The grimace of protruding long, white carnivorous teeth hid even more stout teeth inside the huge laughing jaws, set under the broad log-like skull, with its nostrils and watching eye sockets. Folds of scaly reptilian flesh joined the heavy head to the thick neck and massive body. Its four squat legs, with their gruesomely clawed feet, were splayed out. It had been incredibly powerful but now it was dead, motionless on the sand.
“What happened?” Sukma asked her father.
“It was killed last night.” Rukma explained gently.. “It was getting too close to the village.”
“Who killed it?” Melati asked quietly, almost as if the crocodile was asleep, and might hear her. She was studying its hideous body, trying to see if it was still breathing. Maybe the monster would wake up, suddenly.
“Agung.” Rukma said, with an element of pride.. “And the other men.”
Melati thought again about last night, when he had walked past her down the beach. Had he seen it then? Somehow, she found the thought shocking, and pushed it away in her mind.
“My big brother!” Sukma chirped with delight and amazement, and then continued.. “Some were ‘very’ drunk last night.”
“Harta had lots to drink.” said Melati with disgust.. “He was being sick.”
“Yes.” Rukma gave a little laugh.. “Yes.. he was too drunk to see it.”
Ayu joined the three of them, looking at the dead crocodile..
“It’s horrible isn’t it?” and made a shudder.. “But we love Agu for looking after us.” and then smiled, putting her arms around the two girls. Sukma grinned in total agreement, whilst Melati smiled as warmly as she could.
Rukma thought that now it would be helpful to give them some further explanation..
“That’s one of the reasons we have a big fire here at night – so we can see any salt crocodiles that wander over from the mangroves into the river. The small ones are not so dangerous, but as they get bigger they get bolder, walking up the beaches – looking for bigger prey.”
Seeing that they were listening carefully, he continued the explanation..
“They can move very fast, and can jump out of the water to grab animals.. and people, even big people… So we don’t walk by the river, and we stop children from playing near the water. This one has been hanging around the river for a while – and they swim in the sea too.”
“That’s why we have to be careful where we swim.” Ayu said helpfully, trying to be light-hearted, so as not to frighten the younger girls.
“Yes.. Listen to what Ayu says.” Rukma said as gently as he could.. “Swimming is only allowed in places we know are safe. And remember to look after the younger children. Make sure they don’t play near the river… or by the water.”
After Melati and Sukma had walked back to the village together, Ayu asked her father..
“When we were pushing the big boat into the river, do you think it was watching?”
By late-morning, the revellers of the night before were pulling themselves together. Bandri was standing, looking at the half-finished boat which was moored alongside the river bank. Harta saw the opportunity to ask his older brother a question..
“Last night I heard Rukma saying something about why father was killed?”
Harta was hoping Bandri would tell him anything he knew. He respected that the conversation had been between his elders and was not intended for his ears, but the possibility of finding out had agonised him. Indeed, the frustration had induced him to drink so much todi, that he had been throwing-up most of the night.
Bandri turned to look at his young brother; looking him in the eyes and feeling a deep brotherly sympathy. He saw now, not so much a kid brother, but a very young man in front of him who was filled with suppressed anger at the unresolved outrage of his father’s murder. Putting his hand on Harta’s shoulder he bade him to sit down with him..
“It was just something that happened at the meeting with the men from Bahoi. Father got angry – and Rukma had a lot to drink last night…”
“He must have had a reason Bandri – he was so kind – he wouldn’t have got angry without a reason. What happened?”
“When they met with the men who wanted Melati and Sukma – it didn’t go well… Rukma and father didn’t like them.. The man who wanted to marry was much older – and the girls were much too young.. It got father angry and the man probably felt insulted – then they went away.”
“Rukma should have been the one to insult him – he’s too soft!”
“Don’t say that Harta! You don’t know what the situation was. He was angry too but he was trying to be careful not to annoy them.. Of course he cares for Sukma – his own daughter!.. Our father was killed many days after that meeting – but it could have had something to do with it.”
“Did Rukma tell you what the man looked like – or his name?”
“He didn’t know the name, just that he was quite tall and strong looking, with a thick beard – but maybe it wasn’t him – father was on his own when it happened – it could have been anybody who attacked him.”
“Look at the way they have taunted us since? When Praba and me saw those two men from Bahoi on the path by the mangroves – I saw the look on their faces!” Harta moaned with anguish.. “If we know it was that man – we should kill him!”
The cracking sound of frustration in Harta’s voice affected Bandri’s composure and he had to turn his head away, feeling tears coming to his own eyes.
“But Harta, we don’t know it was him!”
Bandri thought it best to try and change the direction of the conversation – away from the gnawing doubts that plagued their minds. After a pause Bandri continued more calmly..
“They’re from Java. We need to try and understand them better – they have different customs. It’s difficult but we need to try and keep the peace between the villages or other people could get hurt too – we have to protect the women and children.. If we kill one of them – they’ll start killing people here.”
As he said this he felt again the anger in the pit of his stomach and an anxiety for the safety of Ayu and the girls. He didn’t want to imagine what could happen to his beautiful young wife if another tribe attacked them. They just tried their best to protect the women, girls and children – if another tribe attacked then they would have to kill as many of them as they could. He hated that his family lived in fear just because of cowardly men with no respect.
Now the two brothers sat without speaking – just looking across the river in the general direction of Bahoi. Seeing the two of them crouched together on the log, Praba joined them – sitting on the ground opposite his brothers..
“I think I know what you two are talking about – be careful not to upset mother – it’s taken a long time but she seems to be getting over it. She really enjoyed herself last night – seeing all her family so happy.”
“Her hair has gone grey – it’s almost white. She’s changed since father was killed, she doesn’t know what she’s doing now – I know she misses him more than she says.” Tears were falling from Harta’s cheeks.. “It’s killing her too.”
Harta’s head was down, his eyes staring somewhere near his feet. His brothers shared an understanding look and just accepted the comments, waiting as his sadness was unloaded into the air.
Whenever Praba was not fishing he had poured a lot of his energy into building the boat. He was determined to follow his father’s lead in looking after the family.
“Working on the boat helps a lot – it helps me forget about last year –and it’s what we agreed would help us get stronger. If we can get more bronze we can make better weapons and tools – and help defend ourselves so that sort of thing never happens again… It’s what father would have wanted.”
Praba continued, turning to point as he spoke..
“Look what we have done – it’s better than any boat they’ve got… I was thinking how we can put oars through holes under the handrail over there – it will be easier to use them…”
Now that the boat was floating new possibilities could be seen. The discussion in time moved Harta and Bandri to break away from their thoughts, and to becoming engaged again in the practical issues of shaping wooden fittings for the mooring ropes.
Bandri sought out his friend Agung. After waking up on the porch, he had retired back to his own house, from where he had yet to emerge.
Putting his head around the door of Agung’s house, he saw the big man sat polishing a small bronze item of some sort. Bandri gave a short greeting..
“Baik pagi” meaning “Good morning”.
His friend seemed surprised – looking up to reply “Pagi” in a good humoured tone, then wrapped the item in the cloth and left it on his seat as he got up.
This sparked Bandri’s curiosity since he had never seen Agung behave quite this way before – as if he was trying to hide something. Casually letting himself in, he came and stood close to the seat where the wrapped item lay – smiling at the large man in front of him.
Agung’s ruggedly handsome face with a whispy short beard was part-covered by the unkempt long black hair. His features were relaxed as he gazed down at his friend. After pushing some hair away from his inscrutable eyes, he blinked and his brown eyes warmed up. He smiled a little awkwardly and spoke in a deep but friendly tone..
“You want to see – it’s alright, but it’s just an idea..”
He picked up the wrapped item and put it in Bandri’s hand..
“.. But don’t tell the others – but maybe Ayu.”
Unwrapping revealed a tiny bronze figure of a bird with wings spread out, well detailed and polished.
“It’s wonderful Agung! – How did you make the mould?”
“It needed tidying up when it came out of the mould – I wanted to try and get the shape on both sides.”
“It’s the best piece of bronze I’ve ever seen – it’s really good! The loop at the back – is that for a necklace?”
“Maybe – I was thinking it could be a brooch for a sarong.”
Agung handed him the parts of the mould he had used..
“I cut the model out of a block of beeswax.” he stated in a matter of fact manner.
Bandri looked up at Agung in surprise. His friend pointed to where there were the small sprue channels in the broken fragments of the mould..
“The wax melts out when you heat it up – then I poured in the metal.”
The artistic intelligence needed to make such an item impressed Bandri, but he tried to avoid being too generous with his praise, since he understood that his good friend would have felt uncomfortable.
“I was watching Ayu and the girls do their batik when they melt the beeswax, and it gave me the idea for the mould.” he explained.
Agung had got over his temporary embarrassment. Bandri learned he had made it as a gift for a lady. Respecting his friends privacy he did not press him further, and the talk turned to the journey they were planning tomorrow so that they could get more ore for smelting. When Bandri left for a mid-day break, he had been sworn to secrecy about the brooch – except that of course he could tell Ayu – but that she should tell no-one else!
The first thing Ayu said to him was..
“Bandy, you could do with a wash!”
The accumulation of sea water, sand, smoke, wood-chips and even a little blood since this time yesterday had yet to be removed.
He nodded in agreement, and then told her..
“Hey, your brother seems to have a soft spot for a girl!”
Ayu grinned widely.
Bandri made sure he added..
“But you must promise not to tell anyone else… you will promise?”
Ayu did a little jump up and down..
“Yes, yes, but who is she?”
“It’s a mystery – he didn’t tell me.”
“It will be good for him – my dear big brother has been on his own for too long – a nice girl is what he needs – he might tell me her name.”
“Just give him time – you’ll know when he’s ready… Anyway I might find out tomorrow when we go to Bitung – last time he went missing for some time – he might have met someone, but he never said anything.”
He told her about the brooch and they speculated for a while longer, but when he reached out for a hug he was reminded..
“You still need your bath – or I’m not coming near you!”
After collecting plenty of fresh water from the stream, Bandri rummaged through some waxen soapy lumps. After choosing a satisfactory lump he then picked up one of the sponges. In their simple bamboo cubicle beside the kitchen, he kicked off his single item of clothing, the kathok, and used an empty coconut shell to repeatedly tip water over himself and lather-up the sponge, with his back to the kitchen where Ayu prepared their mid-day meal.
She paused to watch her husband – being able to see much of his nakedness as he took his make-shift shower. They were used to each other’s intimacies, but just looking at him like this always excited her. He had an unusual grace for a man; powerfully muscled shoulders tapering to compact buttocks and strong, straight legs. His back and legs were darkly tanned while his middle was less so. Apart from the mat of black hair on his head she could see just a thin fuzz of hair on his lower legs, and his chest had a sparse covering of hair. She liked feeling the soft stubble on his chin.
Again she remembered how it was his eyes that she had fallen in love with first – they always seemed to demand her attention when he looked directly at her. She thought about how this had frightened her then, but when she was able to hold his gaze she knew that she wanted to be his.
The next morning in the first light as the roosters crowed, Bandri and Agung prepared for their trip to Bitung.
Only two of them were to go so that there were enough men left for safeguarding the village, especially since there was a worry that the young women and girls could be targets for abduction. At other times, the men had agreed to organize themselves so that only two of them went fishing at the same time, or left the village for hunting game, getting building materials or collecting fruit and honey. The village had only two bronze knives at present, one bronze axe head, a skewer and a bronze machete – each of these items could double as a tool or a weapon, and each was always possessed by one of the men.
Agung was to carry the machete, a large bow and a clutch of good arrows, whilst Bandri chose to carry a spear and a smaller bow with arrows more suitable for shooting small game. Both had prepared strong rattan backpacks, containing some provisions and a few items for the journey, but the packs were mainly for carrying the heavy ore back home to the village. Harta was assigned the task of keeping a lookout at a high vantage point north of the river, from where he could run back to the village if needed. Bandri called in at his mother’s house to make sure his young brother was well awake and knew what to do.
Praba and Andhika were being roused by Agung, so that they knew their planned route to Bitung which was to follow the coast eastwards until about mid-morning, and then to go cross-country. As they carried their loads homeward they intended to take a longer journey to avoid the roughest terrain.
Bandri returned to find Rukma and Kusama had arrived and were already lighting a fire in his outside kitchen in readiness for cooking the sarapan – they would stay with Ayu while he was away. The light was brightening as the sun started to break the eastern horizon, and the morning calls of roosters were accompanied by the crackle of flames in the hearth. Sweet smelling wood smoke lazily crawled into the cool air.
“We have plenty of crocodile steak to eat, while you’re away.” Rukma quipped.. “So no-one will need to go hunting or fishing, until you get back.”
“Thank you.” Bandri said simply, being unable to express his emotions too intensely towards Rukma, although he felt all the gratitude in the world to Ayu’s father. Rukma put his hand on his shoulder, and for a brief time they clasped hands. They used to avoid eye contact, but at some point this didn’t seem to matter anymore. Their relationship had become like father and son.
Bandri picked up a long, flat pebble from a small pile in their kitchen and with a soft, white pumice stone scratched some white marks on the pebble’s smooth, granite-grey surface. It was just a little note for Ayu. Some symbols they had invented to leave little messages for each other – almost a game really..
meaning ‘se-ma-n-ga-t’ – ‘passion’
Smiling, he put the pebble on their log that was shaped like a bench.
Looking up briefly, he scanned across the beach, the placid surf line, and beyond to the islands sitting on the horizon across the bay. After a pause he turned, then slipped quietly into the house to say goodbye to Ayu, closing the door behind him.
The early morning light glowed through the gaps above the bamboo walls of the room. Ayu was lying on their low bed – her bare shoulders just visible above the batik bed sheet. She appeared to be sleeping, with her head turned away from him and long black hair partly covering her sultry features.
Noiselessly he knelt down on the floor beside the bed and looked at the form of his wife in her relaxed posture, studying the outline moving slightly up and down as she breathed. After some moments he carefully lifted the edge of the sheet to see the curve of her hips, and then slowly put his head underneath the material, not yet touching but so close to her smooth skin that the delicate warm smells treated his senses, reviving the intimate memory of their passion during the night. The amber light under the thin fabric offered a rich vision of her naked body; a vision of radiant, shapely, sensuous skin. She hardly moved or made a sound as he kissed and tasted her, gradually and gently, rising up the listless length of her legs – enjoying her and loving her. Upon her snug stomach he laid an ear, listening to the little movements inside and her hurried heart beat. Then he kissed and licked upwards to reach her firm brown breasts, coaxing their shy dark nipples, and then some more until his head emerged onto the honey-coloured skin of her neck, pausing as his lips sensed the intense pulse under her chin and the depth of her breathing. Softly he pulled back the tresses of her scented hair to nuzzle the exposed ear… and only now did she turn her head to kiss him longingly, silently, and wrapping her arms around his neck.
When their lips fell apart she whispered..
“Menjaga dalam perjalanan anda cinta saya… i akan berada di sini untuk anda.” – “Take care on your journey my love … I will be here for you.”
Before he could speak she put a finger over his lips..
“Ssssh, Sukma’s asleep over there…”
And, with a small purse of her lips, she indicated in the direction of their bamboo couch. Bandri turned his head and in the dimly lit corner of the room he could make out the still shape of Ayu’s younger sister, dressed in a sarong stretched out on the couch, with a pillow under her pretty face and her eyelids closed. Ayu whispered close to his ear..
“She will stay here with mother and father until you get back – she was still sleepy this morning.”
He turned his head back, stupefied and wordless… then raised his eyebrows in understanding. Very quietly the couple kissed and hugged until he got to his feet and stepped to the door, looking back before slowly opening, slipping out, and closing it.
He stood thinking for a few moments, then, standing on tiptoe he reached and put his right hand inside through the small gap above the bamboo door, and pushed across the top wooden bolt.
The two men made brisk progress along the familiar coastal path as it weaved between the forest and the mangrove or nippa swamps. Sometimes their route took them close by or onto sandy beaches. At times they encountered small river estuaries emptying into the bay, and waded across the soft silt or traversing along to a point where they could jump across without sinking into the mud. As they approached, flocks of teal duck made their brrtt-brrtt alarm calls, flying up and circling the mud flats.
Each was alive to the wildlife and the sounds that abounded in the forest and swamps. Pygmy kingfishers with bright red beaks sat on branches over small streams. Green-backed kingfishers flashed along the river estuaries and purple bearded bee-eaters were hunting in the forests. Bees buzzed from flower to flower, and a host of other insects hunted their food and tried to avoid being fed on by others.
By the beaches, flamboyantly colourful maleo birds that were nesting on the hot sandy soil flew up, leaving large eggs buried under the sand. The eggs were often collected by travellers to provide a good meal, but this morning however, such easy pickings were overlooked as the two men swept past – their strong young legs propelling them onwards towards their goal.
They were comfortable in each other’s company and neither found much need to talk. They were pre-occupied with the private thoughts of the females in their lives, the sheer enjoyment of the physical exertion and their absorption in the lush environment. Out here in the wild they were kings, tribesmen at the peak of physical condition, knowledgeable and familiar with their surroundings.
About mid-morning they came to a steep cliff running down into the sea, and so had to head back into the forest for a distance, until they could clamber up a wooded slope, with Agung using the machete to clear their path. The tropical heat was beginning to assert itself. Perspiration glistened off their skin as the extra exercise raised their temperatures. As they crested the top of the hill they opted to stop for a breather and some fluid refreshment. In their backpacks they each had pig-skin water containers that had been filled at the last freshwater stream.
As they drank, Agung said simply..
“There’s a pond with very clean water not far from here.”
His companion merely raised his head a little in acknowledgement of his remark but said nothing.
“We can fill our containers again there – it’s not far from there to the path across the hills.” Agung informed him.
After a pause, Agung expanded his viewpoint on the pond..
“We’re making good time.. It’s not far out of our way… and it’s a good place.”
“Yes, that’s fine – let’s fill our containers there.”
Bandri had responded finally since his normally taciturn friend was evidently interested in this pond. He recalled that it was somewhere near here that his friend had got waylaid on the last trip. Bandri queried his friend..
“Isn’t there a small fishing village near here at Pantai?”
“Two houses and one boat.”
Bandri encouraged his friend to talk..
“I’ve never met the people…?”
“Just one family – the man is ill, and his son does the fishing now.”
“Just two of them…?”
“His wife works hard with a few crops, and gets fruit and so on. The girls do a lot, looking after their parents, helping with the fishing and everything, they have even been fixing the house – as well as making and washing clothes, and they sing well. They’re two sisters – just a year apart in age, I don’t know which is the oldest, they look like sisters but they look quite different…”
At this point Agung’s unusually full explanation tailed off as he saw the glint in his friend’s eye.
“Which one is the bird for?”
The tone of Bandri’s direct question had a hint of humour which released smiles and chuckling from both of them.
Agung reached into his pack and retrieved a roughly made small wooden box. Untying the binding he opened it to take out not one, but two small cloth wrapped items. Bandri unwrapped the first to find the bronze bird, and then to his astonishment, unwrapped the second to find an equally well-crafted small gleaming bronze figure of a leaping dolphin, also complete with a loop at the back.
Neither knew what to say – apart from nervous laughter.
Bandri was in awe. He was adjusting to a new reality about his dear friend. Agung was baffled at his own feelings right now, after all, how could he be expected to know which girl he should give a gift to – so why not both?
Agung had met the girls at the small pond when they came to collect water, whilst he was already there washing his feet! He was as surprised to see them as they were to see him – they were frightened and he was embarrassed. Somehow his awkward and profuse apologies allayed their fears, and the three of them talked, and then talked some more. When they all realised that family and friends would be wondering where they were, they bade each other goodbye.
Nothing had been the same for him since. The memory of the meeting was an abiding emotion that had awakened something deep inside his soul. He knew their names were Lela and Lyana but was uncertain which girl had what name, which girl was older and which was younger, indeed which girl was which, but just that they had both kindled a flame in his being.
Agung’s explanation to his friend was more practical..
“One had a clasp in her hair made from wood – I think she is Lela, and the other had a seashell clasp, she is called Lyana.”
“Oh that’s fine – that could be helpful – but your sisters keep swapping their ornaments – what if Lela and Lyana share their clasps?”
“Their sarongs were different and I think Lyana was the one with longer hair, and they both looked beautiful – when I see them again I will know their names… I have been thinking that I would like a wife. You have Ayu, and you two are so happy together – I can see that.”
“Yes, yes that is true – Ayu is a wonderful wife, I was very lucky to meet your sister – and you and your family too… Agung, can I tell you something?”
“Tell me what?”
“I hope we can meet Lela and Lyana today, but perhaps it’s not a good idea to ask one of them to marry you today – I mean – I’m sure they are lovely girls but I think you need to get to know them better first – so that you will learn which girl you like the best – and they will learn too what they feel – I mean which one is most interested in you too.”
Agung listened quietly, if a little uneasily, to the advice of his trusted friend, and rocked his head slowly up and down as he sat hunched on the ground, and then said after some moments had passed..
“But it’s alright to meet them today? – and you will come too?”
“Of course, I’m looking forward to meeting them. But before we go into Pantai we should put the machete in the sheath.”
“We should wash ourselves a bit.”
“Yes – but not in the pond!”
As the two men walked slowly out from the forest into the cultivated clearing beside the two bamboo buildings, a boy younger than Harta appeared from the first building. When the boy saw them he froze briefly, then ran back into the house, and appeared again shortly with a tall man with greyish hair who stood up straight, although a little stiffly, holding a large bow, his son holding the quiver of arrows. They noticed the Javanese scars on his shoulders. The man looked keenly at Bandri and Agung – his eyes coming to rest on the biggest man.
The two men had stopped near the edge of the clearing.
Bandri removed the bow from across his shoulder, and put it deliberately on the ground, along with his spear. Agung did the same with his bow. At Bandri’s prompt the machete in its sheath was untied from the belt around Agung’s waist, and the impressive implement was also placed on the ground. Quivers of arrows and backpacks were put on the ground too. They walked slowly away from their equipment, but not yet into the cultivated paddock, with its neat rows of bushes and vegetables. The two men stood still. Bandri dipped his head slowly, quickly followed by Agung. The tall man was looking more relaxed, yet still wary.
Just then two young women in plain sarongs hurriedly appeared to stand close to the man. They both had long, thickly-ungroomed black hair. The man turned and was clearly trying to tell them to stay out of sight. A woman appeared and there was a long conversation, with frequent looks in the direction of Agung – who was nervously looking at the proceedings. Eventually, the boy was sent to speak to the two newcomers..
“Kula rama ngandika sampeyan bisa teka ing.” – “My father says you can come in.”
Bandri and Agung recognised the Javanese dialect; they both understood Javanese to some extent, although neither was fluent, and so the differences to the Malay dialect meant that there could be room for misunderstanding. The bare-footed boy was simply dressed in a scruffy kathok, and had rampant, black wavy hair that hung around his sun-tanned features. Dark blackish-brown irises around the black pupils in the bright whites of his eyes looked intensely into their faces, darting from Bandri to Agung and then back to Bandri. The boy turned, and they followed him towards his family. As they approached the two young women went into the house.
The tall man stood motionless, studying the two newcomers intensely, his leanly muscled grey-haired chest taking long deep breaths, as if in readiness for some physical exertion. His longish face looked gaunt, which somehow seemed accentuated by his quite thin nose and wrinkled but intelligent eyes. The woman was of average height and solidly built, and dressed in a sarong that had seen better days. She stayed firmly at his side, although part of her body was screened by the corner of their native house. Her face showed no warmth either towards the two young men, but rather an intense coldness as she glared stolidly at their approach.
The man signalled that they could come into the open porch in front of the house, where there were five crudely made wooden seats close to a family table.
Since no words had yet been spoken Bandri took the initiative..
“Hari yang baik, nama saya Bandri dan ini adalah kawan saya Agung.”- “Good day, my name is Bandri and this is my friend Agung.”
“Kula Eko, iki bojoku Lestari .”- “I am Eko, this is my wife Lestari.”
Helped by the indication of his hand they understood the introduction, but there was an awkward pause.
“Agung is the brother of my wife.”
“My daughters tell me you are from Likupang?”
“Yes sir, we are on the way to Bitung” Bandri continued the conversation.
Agung stood a pace or two behind him just outside the porch, his body and head still although his eyes were glancing around, nervously hoping to catch sight of Lela and Lyana. He worried that they did not want to see him – maybe coming here was not a good idea.
“Why do you go to Bitung?” the man demanded. The tone of his voice was unsettling and wary.
“Sir, we are going to find metal ore….” after a pause “Agung is a smelter of the ore, and makes metal tools for us – we are building a boat.”
“My son has seen the big boat you are building – he can see it in the distance when he is fishing.”
After this exchange, the man bade them to sit down. He turned to his son and told him to bring in the backpacks and the men’s equipment to put inside the porch.
The man was as tall as Agung, although quite thin. When he sat down he did so steadily with his hand holding the edge of the table. His wife who had been carefully observing the men, made a move as if to help her husband but he briefly moved his hand, and instead she moved a seat back for Bandri to sit down.
The woman turned to look at Agung. He felt her eyes coldly inspecting him. He nervously dipped his head for a moment, and when he raised it again he saw a change in her expression. She was motioning him to sit on a large wooden stool facing the table – through a narrow path it offered a glimpse of a small pebbled and white sand beach. Between the vegetation on each side of the path he could just see beyond to the jade blue waters of the bay, and across to Bangka Island on the far horizon.
However, there was no appearance of Lela and Lyana.
The boy did two trips to collect each of the packs, and then a slightly longer trip to collect their weapons, coming back with his arms full and nearly dropping most of the load on the floor. His mother told him to be careful and reached out to try and stop the machete in its sheath from hitting the floor, catching it with surprising nimbleness by the handle just before it landed. Lifting it she was taken by its weight and looked at Agung – who had yet to utter any words.
“Can my husband see this?”
Awkwardly, as if surprised by the question, he nodded first and then added..
“Ya.. sudah tentu.” – “Yes.. of course.”
Her husband received the implement from her, and pulled it from its sheath. With admiration he turned the gleaming slightly curved blade in front of him, with his wife looking over his shoulder. He made a couple of slow arching movements in the air with it, gave a thin smile, and then laid it with care on the table.
“A very good tool – who made it?”
Bandri opened a hand and indicated in Agung’s direction.
Eko’s wife reached over to point to the blade where there were a series of markings running along the thicker unsharpened edge, asking..
“What are these?”
Eko looked at Agung.
“The marks were made by Bandri – he made up the signs. They mean – Kampong Likupang.” For the last two words Agung leaned over and carefully pointed out the phonetic symbols that his friend had created to decorate the implement.
The woman motioned to her son and quietly told him something, whereupon he disappeared into the house. She returned to sit beside her husband, looking at him first, before saying clearly in a louder voice..
“You must be thirsty – we will get you some drinks.”
As they waited the four of them conversed in general terms about smelting ore into bronze until, after what seemed a very long time to Agung, the two daughters appeared with vessels of liquids and some drinking mugs made from bamboo nodes. They silently walked behind Agung’s seat, the one on his left placing down a mug and the other on his right filling it, then coming around Bandri’s side and doing the same, then likewise for their parents, then walking quickly back into the house, with discernible but quiet giggles and hushing noises.
The indignant looking boy sitting on the other seat was not served and got up to chase after his sisters. Naturally, the guests had watched the two women with great interest.
They noticed that both now had long combed, cascading black hair that obscured their faces as they leant forward but their smiles were evident, showing rows of pearl-white teeth. They were about the same proportions as each other – although this was difficult to see since the smarter sarongs they had just changed into were tied generously around them, and were puffed up and fully covered all but their dark smooth fore-arms. It was evident that their feminine hands were used to hard work.
Bandri thought they were about the same age and height as Ayu. He looked at his friend who he knew was excited, but was pretending unsuccessfully to be more interested in the bamboo mug in front of him.
The man and his wife had been watching their guests; especially Agung who they clearly knew was interested in their daughters. It seemed as if the man had decided to engage his guests in a more general conversation. Talking in a more confidential tone, he leant forward..
“I am sorry to ask you so many questions – perhaps you will understand that we are on our own here. Some strangers cannot be trusted.”
Waiting for a short time he continued..
“We are just worried – Lestari and myself – especially for the girls. It is why we moved here some years ago – we used to live near Bitung.”
“There are many different people in Bitung.” Bandri commented, not knowing what the issue might be but thinking that something serious might have happened.
The man called Eko had changed from an austere to a more sombre self who perhaps was going to tell them more but was holding back..
“When you told me you were going to Bitung it was very worrying for us. Please promise that you will not tell anyone in Bitung about us here.”
“I promise – we promise.” Agung volunteered, and then added.. “If we can we do something to help?”
“You seem a kind man – my daughters speak kindly of you, and I think I trust you – but now I cannot tell you more. Just be wary when you go to Bitung.”
As he spoke Lestari left her seat and joined her daughters in the kitchen behind the house. After his wife had left them Eko added..
“Some tribesmen do not have the same respect for women that you do.”
Apologetically, Eko then quietly said.. “Excuse me.” and stiffly rose to his feet to walk slowly around to the kitchen, leaving the two men sat there, saying nothing to each other, nor looking at each other – each in their own private world. It seemed then that they could hear the waves hitting the beach beyond for the first time since they arrived. They were reminded that the world around them was vast and sometimes unknowable.
Not too long later, both Lela and Lyana appeared with plates of food and more drinks, which had the immediate effect of alerting the men to a new atmosphere. Neither of their parents reappeared. Their brother appeared to have been given the task of looking after them too, and was asking if they needed anything.
Both women had changed their hairstyles, one holding her hair back with a carved wooden clasp tied with twine, and the other using an ornate seashell also bound to the hair with twine. They did look very similar, both having pleasant oval faces and smiling eyes, yet slightly different from each other in the curves of their noses and in other small ways.
Bandri asked the young women if they could join them, and after some encouragement from Agung, they demurely took the seats vacated by their parents.
The four of them sat self-consciously aware of the newness of the situation, and saying nothing, until one of the ladies said with a self-controlled, clear voice..
“Agung told us your name is Bandy.”
Wondering how this had happened – maybe by mistake or design on Agung’s part – Bandri attempted to correct the error..
“Well yes – are you Lela?”
Agung then introduced everybody..
“Lyana and Lela, this is my good friend Bandri from Likupang.”
Lyana reassured them, with clear confidence..
“Our parents are not hungry this morning, and want you to eat and refresh yourselves for your long journey.”
The conversation gently continued on from the introductions. The men told them about Likupang and what happened with the launching of the boat, and then in great detail the story of the pig getting inside the house – their recounting bringing enjoyment and laughter to all at the table. The boy, whose name they learnt was Raharjo, was keenly listening and by now had taken the remaining seat.
As they talked Bandri observed how closely the two sisters were studying Agung and occasionally glancing at each other as if silently communicating their opinion of him. This was new territory for his friend and Bandri was still bemused as to how Agung had found himself in this circumstance, and worried now about what would happen when he produced the gifts. Bandri could easily understand why they would be so keenly interested in Agung, but wouldn’t there be some competition for his attention?
Bandri thought they were both attractive, but he considered himself just an observer in this matter. Lela seemed quite shy and also had more delicate features with a cute nose and dimpled cheeks when she smiled. Like their younger brother, they had striking dark-brown irises that were almost black which were set within the bright whites of their eyes, and quite brown, healthy complexions.
Lyana asked if they could look at the machete which was still lying on the table where Eko had placed it. The heavy metal object was then carefully held using both hands by each sister in turn – each of them observing their honeyed reflections in the polished bronze blade. Having missed the earlier explanation, they asked about the inscription, and so this was explained. Lela looked at Bandri and asked quietly..
“Can you make marks for other names?”
“I can try – would you like some symbols for your name?”
When all three nodded in affirmation, Bandri asked Raharjo if he could find some big smooth grey pebbles from the beach and something white to make marks with. Eagerly the boy went to his task, returning a short time later with a few large pebbles and a piece of bleached white staghorn coral.
Choosing a smooth flattish pebble, Bandri scratched two whitish symbols to represent “Le-la”, and handed it over the table to the lady he now knew as Lela. She received it with joy and thanks, showing it excitedly to her sister. By now he had marked a second suitable pebble with three symbols for “Ly-an-a” and passed this across the table.
The young women were transformed into joyous girls, each comparing the symbols for their names, holding the smooth rocks as precious treasure. Agung picked up the largest pebble and wrote the symbols for “Pa-n-tai”, and after checking the inscription with his friend to make a small adjustment, he gave it to the girls, adding to their wonder.
Now Raharjo wanted his name, but the only pebble left was too small.
Bandri looked across at the happy conversation between Agung, Lela and Lyana. Taking this opportunity he got up to walk with the boy to try and find a smooth long pebble for his name. As he left the table he noticed that, around the corner of the house from their kitchen, Eko and Lestari were passively listening to the events unfold in their porch.
Lestari looked across at him briefly with tears in her eyes, yet smiling.
On the beach the man and the boy at last found a suitable pebble for his name, and as he held it Raharjo was full of questions for his new friend. Bandri answered as many as he could, or thought he should, then asked the boy a few in return.
Bandri learned that Eko had been getting weaker for about a year, and now had a lot of pain especially when he walked – he didn’t eat much and they worried a lot about him. Raharjo was very young when they came to Pantai and he couldn’t remember where they were before. Despite his tender years, the boy felt he needed to do everything he could to look after his family.
“Do you collect honey for your sick father?” asked Bandri.
“I haven’t collected it from the big bees – but I get some sour honey from the little black bees that don’t sting.. Father used to bring some smooth honey home from the big bees before he got ill, but I’m afraid of being stung.”
“The little stingless bees make honey that we put in cooking – and we use it for putting on red skin and cuts.. I like to eat it too – but the best honey is from the big bees.” enthused Bandri.
The boy grinned up at him..
“I like the little bee honey too – except they fly up my nose and everywhere.” The boy laughed, and then added wistfully..
“I want to get smooth honey for father, because he likes it best.”
“We can get some smooth honey from the big bees now if you like? – I saw a bee house when we were coming near to your place.”
“Yes – yes, can you show me how to get some honey for father?”
They returned to the porch, where the three were still happily chatting – now about hair clips. Agung was getting a lesson on how to thread twine though the hair and knot it around the end of a clasp without being able to look at what you were doing. He was listening with rapt attention as if it was some instruction on metalworking.
He could see that Eko and Lestari were still in their kitchen, but now she was attending to some cleaning whilst he was lying back on a bamboo couch, still listening in to the conversation going on just around the corner.
Along with Raharjo, he approached Lestari and asked her if it would be alright to show her son how to collect some honey from a colony nearby.
“That would be a good thing – my husband I think will eat some honeycomb.”
She went to talk with him, coming back after their quiet conversation to thank him, and giving permission for them to go now to look for honey.
Bandri went back into the porch and announced that he and Raharjo were just going to collect some honey, and that they shouldn’t be very long. Bandri casually picked up the machete and put it into the sheath.
Agung looked at his friend, alarmed at the prospect of having to cope on his own, but accepted the situation with good grace.
Walking back into the forest they soon came to the old tree trunk lying on the ground that Bandri had noticed earlier. From a small hole underneath the rotting log could be seen small honeybees darting into and out of the entrance.
Bandri pulled the boy away from standing directly in front of the entrance, so as not to block the path of the bees as they carried on with their business.
“You can get close, but don’t get right in front of the entrance to the nest – then they won’t bother you.”
“They are so fast! – They just come out and wait a little bit by the hole, then shoot straight out….and there – another one coming straight back to the hole and it goes right inside…how do they do that?”
“I don’t know how they find their way back to the same hole – but it’s wonderful isn’t it? … Where do you think they go in the forest?”
“Are they going to get honey?”
“The honey is in the honeycomb inside – I don’t think they’re getting honey from the forest, but they make it when they get back.”
The boy listened keenly, and Bandri continued..
“If you look at the flowers you see the bees all over them – they land on a flower and then go to another flower…so I think they are getting their food from the flowers.”
“But the flowers don’t have honey in them.”
“When I looked at the flowers they were landing on, I was looking for the honey – but you’re right they don’t have any honey – but there are other things inside the flower, like little yellow dust and sometimes you can see some liquid – so I think that’s what they are feeding on – look at that one coming back – can you see the yellow blob – that’s the yellow dust stuck to its legs.”
“So they make the honey with the liquid and yellow dust?”
Bandri was impressed by the boy’s alertness and curiosity.
He explained how they were going to get at the honeycomb inside, and that they needed to get some green leaves and sticks. Whilst Raharjo did this he cleared away the vegetation in front of the entrance with the machete carefully so as not to disturb the bees. Once the smoker was ready, he demonstrated how to light it using the fire stones he had brought with him.
With the smoker well under way so that they were encased in a cloud of pleasant wood-smelling white smoke, and the agitated bees taking avoiding action, he started to cut into the log with the machete to open up the entrance. The soft wood gave way easily and soon a hole was made big enough to put a hand through.
After looking up into the hole, Bandri opened it up some more until the colony inside was clearly in view.
“There are masses of them running and wiggling all over!” Raharjo said in wonderment.
“They cover their honeycomb with their bodies as they make their honey – and you will see some of the comb has got the young bees inside – but we need to get some more smoke in there and then they will fly away.”
The two immersed themselves in the activity, happily enveloped in pleasant smelling wood smoke and buzzing bees. After the bees had mostly vacated the hole, Bandri reached in slowly to gently prise off the closest honey-filled comb. He lifted it out, giving it to the boy who inspected it then put it into the container they had brought with them.
One by one the combs were taken out. Bandri showed him that the fourth, fifth and sixth combs had the eggs and developing bees inside. Once all nine combs were collected, they gathered up their equipment and were ready to set off back to the house.
Just before they left the still buzzing honeybees, Bandri told Raharjo..
“We just need to say thank you to the bees for giving us their honey.”
When Bandri and Raharjo arrived everyone else was sitting in the porch and the conversation was still going strong.
Bandri was taken aback to see the shiny bronze bird on a length of twine around the neck of the mother, Lestari – and even more so to see the gleaming dolphin hanging as a pendant on Eko’s hairy chest!
As the seated group burst into laughter he realised the joke was on him.
It appears that what had been his greatest fear had somehow been unfounded. Ever since he saw the two ornaments he foresaw a social calamity – as Agung blundered into offending both girls and their parents, by offering tokens of his love to both women at the same time! He wished he had witnessed the scene but now he would have to be content with Agung’s explanation – after they continued their journey.
The pendants were taken off and given back to their rightful owners. The young women put them over their heads to dangle on the fabric of their sarongs, and then they were taken off again so that he and Raharjo could see what they looked like on their fine plaited coconut twine, and then swapped so that Lela and Lyana could appreciate each of them again.
Bandri also noticed that the hair clasps had been swapped again. However, he might have lost track of the ornament placements.
The honey was received with much appreciation, and the convivial talk continued for some time. But it was now after mid-day and mindful of the need to continue their journey – and also not to overstay their welcome – Bandri suggested that they should really be on their way – mentioning that they could visit again on the way back. With the prospect of seeing the young women again soon, Agung also thanked everyone for their welcome, and agreed that they should be going.
Laden with more food for their journey, the two were escorted by Lela, Lyana and Raharjo as far as the little pond – which Bandri did agree was very clean and clear. After everybody said many ‘Selamat tinggal’ – ‘Good byes’ and ‘Jumpa lagi’ – ‘See you agains’ and ‘Terima kasih’ – ‘Thank yous’ the two men walked away along a winding narrow path, soon to emerge from behind a rock onto a path they knew from earlier trips to Bitung.
Once they were well away from Pantai, Bandri said positively..
“You seemed to be getting on well with the girls – and with Eko and Listeri.. Did everything go well when we went for the honey?”
“Biasanya tidak” – “Not usually.”
Bandri recognised one of his friend’s favourite phrases which often left him puzzled, and so he asked..
“But they really liked the bronze gifts, didn’t they?”
“I think so.”
After a short while, Bandri’s desire to find out what had happened with the gifts got the better of him..
“Tell me then – when we went to collect honey – how did you give the bird and the dolphin to the girls?”
Agung didn’t answer straight away, and looked a little uncomfortable..
“I wasn’t sure what I should say – I was on my own.. Do you know how difficult it was?.. And it was confusing with the Javanese – but I really wanted to give the animals to the girls.”
Bandri felt worried now..
“What did you tell them?” he asked, but suddenly he felt guilty at interrogating his friend.. “Sorry, it’s your affair – I shouldn’t ask.”
At this point in their travels they came upon a flattish sandy area close to the shore with a few smooth boulders embedded in the ground. Agung slowed up and stopped with a sigh, then sat himself down on a convenient boulder. Bandri followed his example and chose a nearby rocky seat.
“It’s just that after I put the box on the table, and they took out the little animals – they looked at me so much that I didn’t know what I really said.. I was embarrassed. I wanted them not to think that I liked them so much – just that the gifts were not so important – not like I was asking them to marry me.. But maybe there was a misunderstanding…”
“Yes – but I still don’t understand what you’re worried about?”
“It’s just that maybe I told them that I made gifts like that – for other girls as well..!”
Ayu was still asleep when Bandri had slipped out of bed this morning – but he would come back before leaving. Her parents and Sukma had arrived, and the two sisters had drifted back off to sleep.
Bandri had come back, kissed her goodbye, and left. The room was still. Dust motes hung in the shafts of warm sunlight beaming through the gaps above the bamboo walls. She looked across at her sister. Sukma stirred in her sleep, turned over, and was still again.
Ayu lay still under the batik bed sheet and breathed in long deep breaths of reflection. She wanted to relive his kisses goodbye, to relive his kisses onto her legs that slowly woke her, and his kisses into her very being. She remembered Sukma and could have stopped him. She should have, she would have – but as long as he was quiet, as long as she was quiet, and the room was quiet? She trusted him, loved him and surrendered to him.
She had watched the top wooden bolt being slid across. She had felt an emptiness grow, as she listened to the faint sounds of his farewell to her parents and then some more distant talk with her brother and then nothing – just the audible stillness of the room.
She knew the journey could take many days. Until they came back she could not know if her husband and brother were safe, or in harm’s way.
“It’s remarkable.. They’ve been hidden there all that time.” mused Bandri, as they sat on the granite boulders embedded in the ground, and talked.
“They had what they needed.” remarked his friend.
“The land changes here – the cliff and the way the pond appears when you don’t expect it.” pondered Bandri.. “It’s like there’s a crack in the rocks. The path along the coast goes past Pantai – so nobody goes there.”
“There’s more Javanese villages now along the coast – most of them are coming up from from Bitung.” observed Bandri, and then he tried to add positively.. “They’re lucky that the Bahoi tribesmen haven’t found them.”
“Where else could they go?” Agung muttered.. “Bangka?”
Bandri took this to mean that since the Javanese tribes were settling all around this area, Eko and Listeri had little choice where they could hide their young daughters, since that seemed to be the reason they had chosen to live on their own in Pantai.
“Bangka Island’s quite big.” said Bandri.. “I don’t think anyone lives there yet.”
“Do we move Likupang to Bangka?” Agung had dropped into a sullen mood as he thought about the encroachment of the barbaric tribes from Java and the threat they posed to Likupang and the family at Pantai.. “And after Bangka where do we go?”
Agung didn’t wait for a reply and continued solemnly..
“If Bahoi saw us move to Bangka they could still follow – and we couldn’t get ore from Bitung.. We have to make bronze.”
Bandri sighed deeply..
“It’s better we try to understand the Javanese – some of them are good – like Eko’s family. If only the rest of them could understand respect for girls.”
Agung sniffed in contempt..
“Most of them are just pigs!”
Bandri tried to lighten the topic a little..
“Eko and Listeri must be strong people to bring up a family on their own like that.”
“Yes.” grunted Agung.
“We’ll see them again on the way back.”
His friend nodded slowly, and Bandri knew that this would certainly happen.
“If we move Likupang it’s probably best to join with our Malay people in Manado.” Bandri was voicing his thoughts out loud as they thought again about the future for Likupang.. “We can’t use the path by the coast and going through the forests is too dangerous for the children.. And for mother, she’s too weak now – she wouldn’t make it.”
“Javanese can track you in the forest.” muttered Agung.
“If the big boat is strong enough – Bahoi can’t stop us in their small boats. We could take it round the coast – in the dry season, when the winds and currents are alright.”
Eventually, their thoughts returned to the journey to Bitung that lay ahead of them.
At the feet of Bandri and Agung the sandy surface was flat and smooth – smooth enough to draw a rough map. They needed to think again about their route, now that it was well past mid-day and there was no way they could make it to Bitung by nightfall.
Scraping a stick in the sand, Bandri outlined the rough shape of the coastline, including the two islands outside the bay, and the long island near Bitung in the south. Likupang was marked with a large grey pebble beside the river. Right now they were beside the bay – marked with a cross – not that far from home. With the machete Agung scratched a large cross for Bitung.
Looking southward they could see the summits of Tongkoko, and further away the conical peak of Klabat – these were drawn in too. For good measure Bandri added the approximate positions of the rising and setting sun.
“The choice is going straight between Tongkoko and Klabat – or around Tongkoko by the sea.” offered Agung.
“The quickest route is straight – even though it’s hilly in places – unless we stick to the valley which will be longer…We’ll have to sleep somewhere – probably best on a hill, where it’s cooler… then we can think again for the trip back home with the full packs.” Bandri concluded, with an agreeing shrug from his friend.
They felt more of an urgency now to get to Bitung, collect ore, and get back as soon as they could. Eko’s warning about tribesmen in the Bitung region did not make them fear for their own safety, but for the safety of those in Pantai and Likupang. Groups of men sometimes explored along the coast, or travelled for other reasons, maybe as they themselves were doing. Most settlements were fishing villages. There were fewer people inland.
As they made their way through the forest southwards, heading between the two mountains, they occasionally talked about the big boat and how it should be able to transport large amounts of ore back to Likupang, so that men did not need to leave the village so often. They could even take the women and children with them if the boat was good enough.
Making their way through the sometimes dense forest was hardly ever easy. Midges, mosquitoes and other biting nuisances were an occupational hazard. The inner forest was more humid, especially in the valleys where there was less breeze. There were fewer open paths than by the coast, and diversions were often necessary. They noticed the beauty of the forest less, focused as they were on their progress through it. As the light was fading they were less than half way to Bitung, still in the foothills between the two mountains. They hoped for a clear moonlit night so that they may be able to push on, but the moon was yet to rise. Now was the time for a break, some food and maybe some sleep.
Beside a streamlet cascading down one of the many hills they had encountered, they made a rough encampment. Perspiration dried. Any blood-sucking leeches were removed. They had been wearing moccasin-like kasut and their feet were used to rough treatment, but they were bloodied and hurting – cooling them in the mountain water they rested. The constant neep-neep high-pitched rasp of crickets accompanied the patter of water on rock and the warbling croaking of frogs. The sounds of the forest around them could seem like a disconnected cacophony, but the men’s hearing were well-attuned and they could distinguish the many different animals such as the faint whooshing of the fruit bats from the flying noises of the smaller insect eating bats.
Avoiding ant nests or other disturbances, they sat and ate. The cold pork from home and the barbequed fish from Pantai was dipped in honey, to be followed by wild fruit and more energy rejuvenating honeycomb for dessert. This was washed down with stream water. After breaking off some suitable twigs, they chewed them to help clean out their teeth. The coconut net hammocks were strung up between convenient trunks, and they dozed lightly in the mild night air.
After a while Agung stirred, feeling that there was a faint untoward noise and presence in the tree above his friends sleeping form. Looking hard in the dim light he saw something moving..
“Bangun!” – “Wake up!” he shouted, reaching over the edge of his hammock to grab the nearest thing to chuck at Bandri – which happened to be a sizable log. Within a moment or two both men were on their feet and Agung was pulling his startled companion back from the tree. They both watched in disbelief as an enormous python stealthily made its way down the trunk and over the freshly vacated hammock. The reticulated python was a respected forest spirit and its sleek muscular body had a sinister beauty. They watched warily as the long patterned creature, heavy and thicker than a man’s thigh, coiled and slithered its way back into the undergrowth.
“That has to be the biggest I’ve seen.” mumbled Bandri in his stupor.. “Longer than your crocodile.”
“She could smell you.” Agung grunted.
The stars multiplied above and between the trees, to be outshone by the three-quarter moon climbing above the horizon, casting moon-shadows in its milky light. As the light improved Bandri considered getting underway again, but he was wary of travelling through the forest at night..
“Do you think there’s enough light to travel?”
Agung was unsure too..
“There’s a lot of shadow.. You could step on a snake – some of the bad ones come out at night.”
Bandri chuckled at his friend’s dry sense of humour, conscious that Agung had probably saved him from being a meal for the giant python, but the nagging worry of leaving Ayu and the others made him restless. Bandri felt full of energy and couldn’t sleep..
“What if we stick to the path in the valley?”
There was an outcrop of rock near their brief encampment.
“If we get to the top of those rocks, we can get a better view of the land – maybe there’s a clear path we can follow?” suggested Bandri.
From their packs they dug out the simple pig-skin leg coverings, which were tied on so that their ankles were also given some protection. They scrambled up the rough cliff that projected above the trees.
The moonlit sight before them was awe inspiring. Across the valley the mountainous volcanic bulk of Klabat rose up in the ghostly light, like a massive octopus with the ridges curving out like tentacles, silhouetted against the black star-studded sky. The bright moon was above and behind them casting their own drawn-out shadows down the rocky slope in front of them, as it descended into the winding valley floor. Behind them, the mass of Tongkoko reared up and spread out into the dark shadows. The air was pleasantly cool and still, containing the sounds and scents of a million plants and animals. The perpetual neep-neep calls of the crickets dominated the soundscape. The dark outlines of bats flapped and swooped in the night air. Against the dark shadows of vegetation fireflies turned off and on again. There were no lights or sounds of human habitation. In this landscape they appeared to be the only people alive.
As they stood together, they both felt the rocky ground shake a little and then cease..
“Tongkoko is snoring again.” commented Bandri, and then added shortly..
“If we take it steadily down this rock slope until we get to the bottom of the valley then turn left, we should be able to find our way.”
Agung was concerned..
“There are so many shadows – we need trees and things to hold onto.”
The two ended up agreeing to work their way down the left edge of the slope which seemed better lit, and where they may be able to steady their descent with scrubby vegetation. Slipping and grasping, working sideways, one leg down at a time, they descended into the forest trees that covered the lower slopes.
The light was dimmer amongst the trees, so a torch was assembled and lit which threw a warm flickering light onto the surrounding vegetation. Hacking a way through the shrubbery and vines took time. They were alert to the likelihood of encountering potentially dangerous tree snakes, tarantulas or other animals that hunt their small prey at night. The flames and the noise the two men made helped to drive such animals away. They were careful where they placed their feet.
Eventually, they found the river in the valley floor. Turning left they followed its path between Tongkoko and Klabat.
After several hours the moonlight started to fade. There would be a few hours of darkness before dawn. Now would be the time to sleep before a fresh start at sunrise. A raised place was chosen, just away from the river. The area was surveyed for obvious holes that might harbour snakes, scorpions or other threats. Hammocks were fixed and climbed into. They had made some more progress and so the ore fields of Bitung might be reached in the morning.
It was late in the morning when they eventually crested the last hill. Their muscled physiques were drenched in sweat. On the descending slopes before them were the barren exposed ore fields.
Beyond the ore fields was the mining and fishing town of Bitung. From their vantage point could be seen several quite large boats, close by the shore, in the narrow strait between the mainland and the green island of Palua, the band of seawater a glittering deep turquoise.
The blue sky smoked with heat haze and the hot tropical sun beat down upon it all like the bronzesmith’s hammer. In the mirage of wavering air, the ore fields on the slopes of the Tongkoko volcano seemed to tremble to the blows.
The green-tinted ore could be found on the rocky, rutted and ravined southern slopes of the volcano. Lumps might be found directly on the ground, or more likely in exposed gullies that had been washed out by heavy rains. There were some miners from the town who worked together in teams to dig and gouge out an area that appeared rich in ore. Around the ore-fields there were a few rough native houses and shelters for mine workers and smelters.
The two men knew that they would have to do the best they could to find sufficient good quality ore, just for their own backpacks. The weight of ore they could carry may be enough for smelting into perhaps one or two knife blades. They had nothing to trade for ready-smelted bronze, so until their boat was ready, they needed to carry as much ore back home as they could.
Bandri indicated towards the region they had found most productive on the last trip..
“Shall we try over there first?”
Apart from a few small pieces, it appeared the area had been picked clean.
More luck came when they climbed down into a small canyon, and then into an eroded gulley at the bottom. They picked away at the walls of the gulley, which yielded some sizable pieces of quite green ore.
Bandri held up an oblong shiny yellow nugget, about the size of his little finger..
“It’s only small – but it’s heavy.” he added, then passed it to his friend.
Agung weighed it in his hand and scratched it with the tip of the machete..
“It’s quite soft – I’ve never seen it before, but it’s not bronze.. It’s something else.”
Bandri looked at it again..
“It’s like a piece of honey..”
He put it in the deep pocket of his kathok..
“Something for Ayu.”
They found no more good quality ore at that site.
Their packs were only half full. The sun was immediately overhead on a cloudless day. Heat and fatigue were beginning to tell. They needed shelter and a break.
Carrying their now heavy packs they walked across the gravelly slope to a small wooded valley. As they drew closer, they could see a few native houses beside a stream. No-one appeared to be around. In the shade, beside the stream they rested. They drank the stream water and ate vegetables, fruit and honeycomb, all of which had been gathered on their trip to Bitung that morning.
“Can you help us?” said a quiet voice.
Looking up they saw a frail-looking elderly woman, standing nearby. Her presence had come as a surprise, for neither of them had noticed her before. It seems she had quietly walked over to them from the houses not far away. She was looking distressed.
Both of them stood up, and tried to speak at the same time words like..
“Sorry – we didn’t know – what is it? – are you alright?…”
“We want to find my grand-daughter – this morning – my son is looking for her… and our neighbours are looking.”
“Where did she go? – Where are they looking?” The questions seemed the best that Bandri could offer at this unexpected turn of events.
“Men took her.”
The words hung in the air, as both of them thought about it. Neither of the friends wanted to accept into their consciousness the possible implications of the simple short statement.
“We think men from Bitung – this morning – we don’t know who they were.”
The two friends listened quietly as she spoke in Javanese, trying to understand the trauma her family had been going through. Her grand-daughter was not yet a woman, but still a young girl. She had been washing the clothes near their house when her mother heard the screams, and witnessed the abduction by four men. Her husband had been working on the ore fields, and there were few other people in their little village. It happened so quickly. As they listened each re-lived a fear – Sukma was a similar age, and Melati not much older. They knew that some tribesmen acted to satisfy their base cravings, and just took what they wanted.
The explanation exhausted the old woman, who was persuaded to sit and eat. The friends needed to step away from her to talk quietly together..
“This is so bad – the poor girl – but what can we do?”
“It’s just the thing Eko warned us about – there could be a lot of them, and we probably can’t do much – or nothing maybe.”
“We are strangers here…we wouldn’t be able to recognise any of them …we have to look after Likupang – and Pantai – we have to get back.”
“We can’t just leave her – we should try and help if we can – we need to find out more – but we need to be careful. If we can’t help at least we tried – then we get back home.”
After further deliberation they decided to try and follow where the girl’s father, mother and neighbours had gone in pursuit of the abductors. The lone old lady described her family members and gave them several names to try and remember. The affair had happened early that morning. Leaving their backpacks in the woman’s house, they set off in the direction of the town.
Neither had gone down into the town of Bitung before.
The two young men walked quickly down the tracks towards the town, which took them past another village. They made enquiries but no further information was forthcoming. The locals seemed alarmed at their arrival, and only two older men were visible. Dogs barked. They had seen dogs before, although they didn’t have any at Likupang.
“I don’t like the noise they make – but we could get some dogs to warn us of strangers?” said Agung.
“It would alright if we looked after them well – these dogs are so scrawny – they look like they have some disease.” said his friend.. “Maybe we could breed some teal ducks at the edge of the village – they should make a loud noise.”
“And we could eat them.”
The curved slopes of the Tongkoko volcano provided a pleasant backdrop for the town, strung along the seafront, but mostly built close to the deep water natural harbour where a few large boats were moored. Seen from a distance it looked peaceful and pleasant. The town of Bitung however was more populated, noisy and bustling than any place they had experienced. Smoky smelting works lined one street and odorous fish handlers lined another. Poky alleyways led off to more houses and marketplaces, mostly made out of coconut lumber. People were engaged in conversation, argument, bartering and trade. So many men, women and children in some way seemed busy. Stray dogs led in the shade or trotted about. Human and animal smells filled the air: smoke, fish, cooking, rotting matter and sewage – foul and fetid in the heat.
They were strangers in this place; two Malay men where everyone else appeared to be Javanese. The inhabitants were wary of them, and there seemed to be a slim chance that they would find the girl or her parents in such a place. They were surrounded by a potentially antagonistic populace, and they needed to be careful.
By now they had reached the seafront.
The big boats moored close to the shore interested them, being similar in some ways to the boat they were building. Surveying the structures of each, they contrasted and compared the evident features – the distraction occupying them for a short while. They were being watched.
“Nggabungake kita kanggo ngombe?” –“Join us for a drink?” in Javanese.
Three men were sitting on their fishing nets as they mended them. Beside them were containers of todi, from which they were drinking. The three men summoned the two strangers. Bandri and Agung understood the invitation, partly because the men were waving their hands to beckon them over. Being sociable, the invitation was accepted. Besides, the fishermen might be able to help.
Over todi they introduced each other. One of them called Tirto was darkly sunburned, old and lean, whilst the others, Bambang and Wira, were middle aged men wearing broad conical nippa hats to protect them from the burning sun.
“Are you sailors?” asked the man called Bambang, who Bandri noticed was quite dark skinned and had a scar across his right cheek which looked like a wound from a knife – maybe something that he had sustained in his youth.
“We are fishermen, but we are building a bigger boat now.” offered Bandri.
“We were looking at the rigging of that big boat over there.” he added, pointing in the direction of the largest two-masted ship moored not far away.
“Where are you from?” asked Bambang.
“A place called Likupang – on the other side of Tongkoko.”
The three men seemed to accept this information, and then Tirto said..
“I used to sail on a big boat like that – we travelled a long way north one time to a big island.”
The other two men from Bitung smiled knowingly, and the old man then added..
“The winds blew us there.”
“He’s full of stories – but we don’t believe all of them!” laughed Bambang.
“The current goes north too.” said Wira, waving his hand in the general direction.. “If you get too far away you won’t get back.”
Bandri saw that Wira’s hand had two fingers missing. He thought that the way the three men spoke with other showed that they knew each other very well. Indeed, they had probably all lived a tough life. He was enjoying this encounter.
“It’s true I tell you!” Tirto replied earnestly.. “With a rigging like that you can sail against the wind if you know how – we got back but it took many days.”
Bandri was intrigued by the prospect of discovering new lands..
“What island did you find?”
Tirto described several islands, some small with just a few trees surrounded by dangerous coral reefs, one big mountainous island where they had been able to stay for a time to replenish their stocks, and a fascinating account of an island with a magical apparition..
“We saw an immense fountain of water, fire and smoke with rocks in the sea a long way off, which made a giant breathing sound – very loud – like banua… banua-wuhu ..it was…kuwoso lan ayu!”
Hearing his wife’s name in Javanese, but not properly understanding the context Bandri asked..
“Tirto, please what do you mean – kuwoso lan ayu?”
In a Malay dialect Tirto explained..
“perkasa dan cantik” – “mighty and beautiful” and then added.. “We called the place Banua – some of us called it Banua Wuhu.”
The two friends were enthralled by the tale of the ancient seaman. For a brief time, they forgot the reason they were there as he recounted his adventures.
Bambang was a local fisherman and wanted to find out more about the two men from Likupang..
“Why do you come to Bitung?”
Bandri told them about the abduction of the girl.
“I am glad to only have sons – if I had daughters I feel I would not be able to leave home – some tribes around here get women this way. Maybe they will keep the girl locked up and force her to marry.”
Bambang’s words formed the impression that it was a common problem in the Bitung region. Wira was more pessimistic..
“If you call it marriage! – It’s rape, and then what will the girl do when she’s pregnant and she has a child? – It’s difficult to leave then.”
The discussion had become sad and angry. Wira continued..
“What is worse is that they will take fresh young girls, even if they already have women – because the women they have already hate them! … Some girls have killed themselves – some say they killed the girls!”
Bandri and Agung felt the anger simmering towards the tribesmen that so destroyed happiness, love and lives.
“It’s so bad that they have not learned to respect women.” Agung said, thinking again of Eko’s words.
Bandri found himself saying..
“The bad people have to be taught respect.”
Tirto, the older man had been listening and now offered some words of advice..
“I can hear you all – you are right, but be careful. There are many of them and they may be vengeful – but in the end, if enough good people keep together, the bad people can be defeated – you may not get this girl back but you can try and stop other girls being taken.”
Bandri had grown a liking for the old man, feeling that he was wise and thoughtful.
The three local men and the two men from Likupang talked about what they might be able to do to help find the girl, and maybe help organise some protection in the future for the vulnerable villages.
However, for Bandri and Agung they wanted now, more than ever, to be heading back home as soon as possible. It was mid afternoon. They should leave now. They could keep a lookout, on the way back up to the village in the ore fields. Sadly they explained to the others why they must leave.
Tirta told them..
“You have done more than can be expected – you should look after your own families.”
“We will ask around, and see if we can help find the girl – you two should go home.” assured Wira.
In a depressed mood they walked rapidly back through the town. Now they thought or imagined that some of the noises in the town could be the cries of abused and imprisoned girls, but they felt powerless to help them.
They arrived back at the small village, and found that the old lady was now accompanied by several neighbours who had returned. Nobody had traced the girl so far. Bandri related their own experience of looking for the girl, and gave them the names of the three fishermen who wanted to help. A neighbour knew Wira, and promised to meet the fishermen – if more people could help look for the girl there may be some hope.
Bandri and Agung retrieved their packs from the woman’s house. They saw that their packs were now full with ore.
“Please accept our thanks for your time – this is all we can do for you.” the old lady told them.
The light was fading. Soon it would be dark, and the moon would not rise for a while. The two men were tired by the day’s events. They were in the valley between the mountains, and were making steady progress as they carried their very heavy packs. But there was still a long hard journey ahead of them.
“I really need a break now.” Bandri finally said.
With Agung’s help he off-loaded the pack on his back, then propped up his friend’s pack as he shrugged the thick straps off his broad shoulders.
“We need to get some dinner while there’s still light – I’ll see if I can shoot something.”
Taking his small bow Bandri started to look quietly around, whilst Agung prepared a fire.
Since he was a small boy he had been taught how to do this. With stealth and so very little noise, he placed one foot in front of another choosing with delicate balance exactly how he placed his feet on the crowded forest floor. There was plenty of game in the jungles and forests, but seeing it and shooting it needed experience. The hunter needed to be part of the forest, to move like the forest; if the branches or leaves moved or waved – he moved or waved as a branch or a leaf, present but invisible – stalking. This time he selected a guinea fowl. The bow was primed smoothly and slowly aimed, as part of the forest – then the small arrow released.
Agung was not surprised when his friend returned in short measure with their main course. He was left to pluck and prepare, whilst the side dishes were sought. There were fruit and vegetables in this virgin rainforest, although knowledge was needed to know which was edible and which to avoid.
Bandri’s keen eyes had also spotted a small honeybee house. At this time of day the bees were not foraging, so he had not seen bees flying into or out of their hollow. Instead he had been looking in likely places for a colony, and noticed a couple of guard bees at a tiny entrance in a clay bank. Returning to their campsite with the side dishes, he saw that Agung now had the fire going strong, and that the bird was already plucked and cut in halves ready for cooking. Bandri picked up some flaming sticks and the machete, and disappeared again into the forest for the fresh dessert.
The guinea fowl was roasting on sticks over the hot embers.
“I hope they find her – the old man was right, wasn’t he? – we have to look after our own.”
“I think so.. We couldn’t stay and get involved, but it made me understand what Eko was talking about – something like that could have happened to make them leave Bitung.” Bandri said quietly.. “They’re vulnerable at Pantai on their own – with two young women?”
“I’ve been thinking that all the time.” his friend replied with a heartfelt sigh.
Bandri wanted to suggest something..
“If you want, we could ask the whole family to join us in Likupang?”
After seeing the expression on his friend’s face he added..
“I’m not saying they should marry you – unless they – or one of them – or you want to of course.. It’s just that they would be safer.”
Agung was hesitant but thoughtful, trying to contemplate how the world could work..
“Maybe they want to be on their own at Pantai?… What do you think they’ll say at home?”
“It’s fine with me.. But we would need to ask them at Pantai – and everyone at home.”
Bandri was watching his friend, sensing his thoughts and couldn’t resist adding..
“Don’t worry if Praba makes fun about bringing in two women for yourself – he might be jealous.”
Bandri watched his friend in amusement as he squirmed awkwardly, even in the middle of a forest with no-one else around – just the two of them.
After their evening meal they slept until the moon was high in the sky.
Following the valley bottom, they make further slow progress, the great weight of their packs necessitating frequent stops. The dense wall of trees on both sides hid the mountainous milky-white octopi of Klabut and Tongkoko.
When darkness fell they set up camp again and slept until dawn.
In the first light Bandri climbed a tall tree. They were directly between the peaks of Tongkoko and Klabat. Since they are taking the flattest and longer route it meant that they were about half-way home.
“If we make the same pace today we might be close to Pantai when the light goes.” Bandri estimated.
This was a test of endurance. Steadfastly, the two friends hauled their loads across the geography of this densely forested tropical land.
Mid-day was roasting. They rested, drank, ate and recuperated in the shade.
As the light faded, they had broken the back of the journey home.
Another evening encampment and then they will push on in the moonlight.
Bandri was optimistic..
“The moon is bigger and brighter tonight.” then he continued..
“If we keep following the river it goes in a big loop here.” said Bandri. “I’m wondering if we can cut across through the trees and save us some time?”
“I think that would be alright in daylight.”
“Look how bright the moon is.”
“I don’t know.” Agung was unhappy about trying it, although he really wanted to get to Pantai as soon as they could.
Bandri scratched out a little map in the mud at the side of the river..
“There’s the river..” drawing a U shape “..and we could cut across the top.”
“Alright – but we need our leg covers on.”
Leaving the river they stepped into the trees.
They found themselves in a flat, poorly lit wood, where the trees were uniformly upright. The views of the mountains on either side were blocked out by the vegetation and neither could they see the position of the moon, although the starry sky directly above was just visible between the tree tops.
“If we go straight across we will meet the river.” Bandri sounded confident.
The two beat their way in the chosen direction, skirting around trees and thick shrubs.
The wooded area carried on and on.
“We’ve gone this way before!” declared Agung.
“Tuhan – Kami telah pergi pusingan dalam bulatan!” – “God – We’ve gone round in a circle!” cursed Bandri in confession.
The maze of trees confused them. The poor light made every direction the same. There was no wind, no noise of a river, nothing to guide them. Bandri in particular was frustrated by the lost time and blamed himself for persuading his friend to go along with his ideas.
“We have to get our bearings – I need to climb high enough up a tree.”
All the trees seemed similar – upright with no branches near to the ground. Bandri chose a tree. Putting down the backpack and equipment, he started to climb but hesitated..
“I’ll have to take these off.” he said, removing the leg covers and kasuts.
Agung watched uneasily.
Hugging the smooth trunk, he shinnied up until he could reach some handholds, and then clambered further up. Agung looked up in admiration – few people could climb like this man. The moving outline went higher and higher, getting smaller and smaller, and then finally the outline started getting bigger again as he descended.
High up in the tree, Bandri had been able to see out through the thinner branches at the top of the canopy. The ghostly-pale moonlight lit up the valley, highlighting the mountainous octopus of the volcano across the other side, with its hilly tentacles winding down towards bottom where the river wound its way through the forest.
“I can see where we went wrong – the river is just over there!”
As he let himself slip back down the trunk Agung said..
“Put your covers on.” holding out the leg covers and kasuts.
In his haste Bandri stepped, with his bare feet, back onto the forest floor ground which was strewn with leaf-litter and fallen branches. He picked up a branch to wedge it against the trunk to indicate the direction, and put on his backpack. He accepted the gift of the kasuts and bent over to tie them on.
He felt a sharp scratch on his left ankle.
Turning he saw a dark green snake, a green pit viper – dark green and twisting in the dim light, holding onto his ankle – then releasing itself to slither back into the leaf litter. For a moment he said nothing, trying to understand what had happened.
“I’ve been bitten – I’m sorry.”
As he stood on his right leg they looked for the bite, but it was difficult to see in the darkness. Agung bent right over and saw tiny spots of blood – immediately putting his mouth over the skin and sucking hard, spitting it out, and sucking again, spitting, sucking, spitting… then looked his friend in the face..
“How do you feel?”
Bandri looked down at the concerned face of his closest friend. He was angry with himself – no pain – but angry at his failure to think, failure to listen, failure to look after Ayu…
Agung was saying..
“Maybe it didn’t leave any poison.”
But now there was pain, a numbing pain, and a sinking feeling..
“It did – it’s hurting now.”
As he said this he could feel a taste like lemon grass in his mouth, and his lips were tingling. He was afraid for what was going to happen next, but he knew that he needed to recover for Agung, for Ayu, for the others. He needed to know how. He was sweaty, confused, unsure.
Agung was putting honeycomb in his mouth so that he could suck and chew on its sweetness. His friend picked him up with his backpack, as if he was a child, and carried him in the direction shown by the branch. He carried him directly, swiftly and with care, taking off his pack and putting him down on the bank so that the ankle could bathe in the running water.
Bandri’s head lay against the slab of Agung’s chest as his friend did his best to keep him alive, splashing the cooling water on his body and massaging his chest.
The tentacle of a giant white octopus was wrapping around him, squeezing his chest as he struggled to breathe. Bandri sees Ayu out of reach, held by another swaying tentacle. Sukma, Melati and his mother are being swept up too by the tentacles of the monstrous octopus.
The octopus was killing him – the octopus is going to kill them!
He’s angry, angry with himself, angry with the octopus.
He hates this abomination – hates the octopus.
He reaches out and fights back against the pressure on his chest.
He fights back – he must kill the octopus and breathe.
The sun was peering between the trees on the eastern ridge of the valley, and Bandri lay with his legs in the river. He was watching smoke waft from between some trees nearby, betraying where a honey hunter was at work. In a while Agung appeared with a make-shift leafy container, dripping with forest honey.
The smooth palatable sweetness countered the dry sourness still lingering from the night before. Bandri knew he owed his life to his friend. He looked up and knew not what to say. They looked at each other. That was enough.
“How’s your leg?”
“I think the swelling has stopped – but I’m not sure if I can walk on it.”
“Just rest – I expect you need a good meal.”
Agung picked up the small bow, and the clutch of small arrows. He walked into the trees, but returned almost immediately. He dropped the bow and arrows beside Bandri, smiled at him, then picked up the big bow and flung the long clutch with its arrows over his shoulder.
As he waited, he tried to wiggle his toes. They hurt, but they wiggled. He rubbed some more honey over the blister that had developed on his ankle.
Massaging his left leg, he felt something in the pocket of his kathok. Remembering the shiny yellow little rock, he took it out to have another look. It was heavy in the palm of his hand. About the length and thickness of his little finger, it was quite smooth with a few small craters. He washed it in the river. The water ran right off. It seemed dry but slippery.
He knew bronze was a shiny copper-yellow colour when it was polished, but bronze turned browner when it was left. This rock was all the same shiny yellow – it looked like it was always polished. It will be a suitable gift for Ayu.
Idly he dipped the nugget in the honey, and held it up to the light. The drops of honey clung to the nugget – as if the nugget was melting. The colours were the same – it was a great golden drop of honey in the sunlight.
He sucked the nugget, and then dipped it into the honey again.
The panggang of wild pig tasted good. There was plenty left over to hack into pieces for later in their journey.
“You need to take the ore out – it will be too heavy.”
Bandri was struggling to put on his backpack, but gave up in pain..
“Alright – but I’ll keep the best rock.. We’re close to Pantai – we should make it before dark.”
“We can hide the ore here – I can pick it up again later.”
They looked around. There was a loose pile of small boulders near the river. Agung pulled most of them to one side, leaving a deep depression in the ground. The precious ore in Bandri’s pack was packed into the hole, and then covered with small stones. Then they both scanned the forest and mountains around them, making a mental note of any landmarks so that they would be able to find the place again, when either of them came back for the buried ore.
“We need to mark the place well.” said Bandri. Remembering the maze in the woods he added.. “It could be difficult to find again.”
Close by a large granite boulder had a distinctive shape. Agung heaved and rolled it over onto the small boulders.
“It looks like a head.” Bandri observed.
Agung ran his fingers over the holes where the eyes appeared to be..
“Someone has chipped at it to make it a head.”
They looked at it, puzzled.
Bandri said thoughtfully..
“No-one’s here now – I wonder what happened to them?”
A short while later, using a crutch made from a branch, Bandri hobbled upright with his lighter pack, and took a few steps in pain, saying..
“We might get to Pantai before dark.”
The light was fading.
At last they passed the clear pond near Pantai. Nobody was about. Bandri was limping slowly. Agung walked beside him, carrying Bandri’s pack under one arm, and steadying his friend with the other arm.
When they got near to the houses, Agung gave a call..
“Sesiapa ada?” – “Anybody there?”
Raharjo came out first, followed by Lela and Lyana.
The boy ran straight to Bandri, and tried to help him “What’s happened?” he asked with concern in his voice.
“It’s alright – I’ll be alright.”
The girls followed their brother.
“He has a snake bite – can he rest here?”
“Of course – of course – come in.”
Lela ran back into the house.
As Bandri was led into the porch Lyana put the seats in a line for him to lie down, then went to get some coconut packing to make him more comfortable.
Lela came out and talked to her sister quietly, then went back inside.
Bandri sensed that there was something wrong – not just his leg. Agung watched Lyana quietly.
“How are you all?” said Bandri.
“Father is very sick – he can’t move.”
“He took to his bed yesterday.” Lyana explained. “He’s been getting worse for days – he can talk, but he’s very weak….our mother is with him now.”
Bandri was sitting up now.
Lyana put her hand on Agung’s arm..
“He’s been waiting for your return – he says he hopes to speak with you both.”
In a short while Listeri came out of the house. Her face was drawn and tired..
“You have heard I think – my husband would like to speak with you.”
The two men are shown into the house, where Eko is lying on a low bed. Apart from the twilight seeping through the door and above the walls, there is just a single flame in a half coconut shell. Eko props himself up on an elbow, but cannot move further. Lela supports his shoulders with a pillow so that Eko can hold out his hand in greeting, shaking both men’s hands as they kneel down beside his bed. Bandri takes a little time to bend his leg, but finds a comfortable position.
“Lela tells me that you have a snake bite?” Eko’s voice was clear and concerned.
“It was a long walk – it’s getting much better now.” Bandri continued “How are you sir?”
Eko waved his hand dismissively..
“I can’t walk today, but I am alright… Tell me, how was Bitung?”
In the half-light Bandri was unsure of Agung’s expression, but thought it best not to tell them about the missing girl..
“We found the ore we needed – the snake bite happened when we were carrying it back …if it was not for Agung I would not have got back.”
Realising he had just made his friend awkward, he continued..
“Bitung is getting a big town – there are so many people.”
Eko then said to Lyana, Lela and Raharjo..
“Why are you waiting around? – Can’t you see they are hungry and thirsty?”
With his children out of the room he turned to them again..
“Listeri and I have been talking since we met you – I am not well – you understand I think.. that I am afraid for my family.”
Eko studied their faces..
“I think you know what I am afraid of?”
Bandri and Agung glanced at each other; not being able to look him in the eyes. They were both aware also that Listeri was looking at them intently.
The two friends nodded their understanding.
“Do you want to know why we came to Pantai?” Eko said quietly, continuing after a pause..
“We had another daughter, older than Lyana – Raharjo was just a baby then – he doesn’t know about her…We never knew really what happened to her – she was taken away by some tribesmen…”
At this point his voice was cracking and he stopped. Nothing was said by anybody for a while, until Eko recovered his composure..
“She was found later – we think she killed herself….We moved away from Bitung – you understand we were afraid for our other daughters .”
The room was stuffy and pregnant with emotion.
“We are sorry to tell you this – there is nothing anyone can do about what has happened – but we wanted you both to know – in confidence.” The last two words telling them that they should not share this circumstance with anyone else.
After what seemed a long period, Bandri spoke first..
“We are so sorry – if there is something we can do, please tell us.”
“There is something you can do… if it is possible?” Eko’s voice was faltering and his wife handed him a drink in a bamboo mug..
“I cannot protect my family anymore… I think you like my daughters..” Eko was now looking at Agung.. “And we like you – both of you – myself and my wife, and my daughters and my son.”
The pause seemed a long time and Bandri offered..
“Sir, if both of you wish it – we would like to ask your family to join us at Likupang.”
Agung nodded his upper body slowly in reverent affirmation.
Eko reached out and held Bandri’s hand, holding it tightly..
“We would like that – we thank you both.. But first you must ask your family in Likupang.”
The conversation continued for some time.
It was arranged that Bandri would stay at Pantai to recover while Agung was to go back home to explain the situation. He would then come back to Pantai with another leader from Likupang, so that Eko and Listeri would know if their family was welcome. Until that visit by the leaders of Likupang, the parents explained that since they were a Javanese family they would not assume their acceptance by the Malay Likupang tribe.
The young women and Raharjo had worked hard to prepare and present the best meal they could for their guests. The door between the porch and the room Eko lay in was jammed wide open, so that the sick father was included in the conversation. Eko was always attended by at least one of his family.
Eko had fully regained his austere persona, tinged with sardonic humour. He pointed to the dolphin brooch that Lyana was now wearing..
“Agung – tell me how many women you have given gifts like this?”
Bandri nearly choked on his mouthful of barbequed seabass, as Agung tried his best to explain.
Agung was at the table, with Lela sat quietly beside him. He felt a small feminine hand being slipped into his, out of sight of the others. The internal effect this contact had on him was seismic – as moving as the touch of Lyana’s hand on his arm earlier. The young women were just letting him know their feelings.
In the morning Agung set off back to Likupang.
Bandri and he had talked last night about what would be best to say to the family. On the walk home, he pondered the best way of explaining everything when he arrived at their village.
It seemed as if the very ground was ringing at every step he took. He was in an excited emotional turmoil. He struggled to make sense of what was happening. He was confused.
He understood his life until the day he washed his feet in the pond. His life seemed certain until the day he had met Lyana and Lela. Until then the only women he had taken much notice of were his mother and his two sisters – they had been the priceless women in his life. Apart from Ayu and Sukma, other young women had always made him feel unsettled and awkward.
Men were different – they didn’t worry him – he knew where he was with men. He knew Praba and Andhika. He thought he knew how everyone in the village expected him to behave. How could he tell them about Pantai? It seemed to make sense when he was talking to Bandri, but now he was confused again.
He was sure that there was going to be a lot of fuss when he turned up on his own. He decided to just tell everyone that Bandri was alright and staying with friends. This would give him time to talk with Ayu, so he could explain everything. She was the most important and the first person to learn about what had happened to Bandri. Also, he trusted her to help him in his confusion.
Ayu, Melati and Sukma were weaving fabric on the porch. Being busy seemed the best way to cope, as they waited for Bandri and Agung’s return.
They heard the commotion, and then Harta ran towards them shouting..
The sisters looked at each other as Sukma asked her..
“Di mana Bandri?” – “Where’s Bandri?”
Ayu was feeling the same question, and murmured..
“I don’t know.”
They ran towards the commotion at the edge of the village, as people reached the oncoming figure of Agung, a serious expression on the face of the tall muscular figure as he strode along the flat sandy path, lit with the bright morning sun.
People looked at her as she ran, and Ayu could hear the questions..
“Di mana Bandri?” – “Where’s Bandri?”
Agung was looking for her – ignoring the others and holding his great arms out for her. She reached him and he was saying..
“He’s alright – Bandri is fine – he’s staying with friends…He’s alright – there’s nothing to worry about.”
Now she was in tears of relief and hugging her dear great brother.
Now more questions were coming. Agung was determined to follow his plan..
“Bandri is fine – he hurt his leg – he is staying with some friends…”
“I will tell Ayu all this first.”
“What’s wrong with his leg?”… “When is he coming back?”
“Bandri is fine – he’s coming soon…”
“Which friends?”… “What’s wrong with his leg?”…
“I will tell Ayu all this first.”
After the questioning had calmed down, at last Agung was left alone with Ayu at her house. Meanwhile Praba and the rest of Bandri’s family would have to wait their turn for the all important details of where Bandri was, and what had happened to him. Praba was not happy that his mother had been apparently shunned, and that he had not been given the respect that was due him. Of course Ayu was important, but so were his blood family.
Ayu looked at her brother. She sensed that he wanted to tell her many things, but just needed somewhere to start.
“Agu – tell me about Dri’s leg?”
“We were coming back from Bitung – carrying the ore, when it happened – but he’s going to be alright.”
“What happened Agu?”
“He got a snake bite.”
Ayu felt her heart stop for a moment..
“On the ankle – but it’s alright – we bathed it in a river – the swelling is going down now. It was difficult for him to walk all the way back – he’s staying with friends at Pantai.”
“Pantai? – is that a fishing village?”
“Do you know them – at Pantai?”
Ayu detected from her brother’s demeanour that there was much more to find out. She had recovered her composure and her eyes were glinting..
“Dri told me about the lovely bronze bird..?”
She was sat close to him, and then leant in to tweak his midriff.
“Aah Tuhan…Ayu..” – “Aah God…Ayu..”
Only she knew how to tickle him like that – the light touch of her fingers instantly moved the large muscled torso.
“Tell me then?” she said, threatening him with her fingers.
“Ayu..terdapat dua – dua wanita..”- “Ayu..there are two – two women..” he confessed.
“Duaaa!?…” and she tweaked him a second time..
“Tell me – tell me everything Agu.”
In the porch outside Praba was waiting with Endah. Everyone else was waiting too in porches or shelters, since the late morning sun was usually hot.
Ayu eventually opened the door and Endah slowly got up off her seat. Ayu invited her in, followed by Praba.
“Dri is quite alright – there is no need to worry.” Ayu said in good humour.
“Why did we have to wait to find out?”
Praba was trying to suppress his anger.
“We’re very sorry you were waiting – it was a long time – but there is some good news.”
Praba was soothed a little, but still annoyed.
“There is a good family who would like to join us in Likupang.”
Endah had been waiting patiently. Since her husband’s death she had become a pale shadow of her former self. Her children had all been trying to coax her out of a deep depression. Praba in particular was very protective of her. The others could see that she wanted to say something.
“Do we know the family?” said Endah quietly.
Ayu replied softly..
“Perhaps you know them Endah – they are from Pantai?”
Ayu had placed her hand gently on Endah’s.
“Is the family by the sea?”
Endah raised her hand weakly to point in the general direction of the sea.
“Yes – a family of five – a fishing family.”
“Are they from Java?”
“Agu tells me they are a good family.”
Praba asked intensely..
“Are they Javanese?”
“Agu tells me they were from Bitung – there is the mother and father, two daughters and a son.”
Praba was still unsettled.
“They are taking good care of Bandri.” Ayu said.
Endah is confused..
“Where did Bandri go?”
People have noticed that she often forgets things now.
“He went with Agung on a walk – he’s coming back soon.”
Ayu did not want to tell her that he had been bitten by a snake – she glanced at Praba as she spoke so that he would understand that she could tell him more later. Praba appreciated Ayu’s gentleness. As she caught his eyes he was reminded of how fortunate his brother was.
“That’s good – are you going on a walk?” asked Endah.
“Bandri will be here soon with you.”
Endah seemed happy with this explanation, and then she took Agung’s hand and smiled at him. Agung accepted her hand and sat placidly with her.
Ayu took this opportunity to stand up to speak with Praba quietly way from Endah’s hearing..
“Agung couldn’t explain it to everyone straight away – he wanted us to discuss it first to see what you thought – then our family will need to be asked.”
Praba was amenable to this. Ayu had thought it best not to explain the link between Agung and the two women – at least not yet. She had told her brother to keep his silence about this, and let her do the talking.
“Agu wanted to ask if you would like to visit the family – or maybe you can call a village meeting so we can talk about it?”
She said this loud enough so that Agung was included, and he nodded in agreement.
Melati had spent most of the time with Ayu and Sukma while Agung and Bandri had been away. The chatter between the three friends was often about the two absent and dearly loved men.
Melati told them how her father had been very fond of honey hunting, and so he had chosen the name Bandri because it reminded him of the ‘buzzing’ sound the bees make – so his son was sure to love the bees too. Ayu said she had found a new name for her husband – ‘Nnnndriii’.
The large pebble message left by Bandri was kept carefully on a small shelf attached to the house wall, as they weaved their fabric on the porch. They talked about the symbols on the pebble, and the symbols on Agung’s machete. Melati was learning much more about the big man.
Ayu and Sukma related funny stories about Agung when he was a boy, and how he had always looked after his two sisters and his parents. Melati was beginning to think differently about Agung now. How could he be frightening? Indeed she was beginning to wonder if the feelings she had about him might be those of ‘love’, but it was just that she hadn’t realised it. But even with her closest friends she was too unsure and shy to tell them what her mother had said to her, or how she was feeling about their big brother.
Melati had frozen for a moment when Harta had shouted “Agung’s back!” Ayu and Sukma didn’t seem to notice the expression on her face, and had run off to see what had happened to Bandri. Of course, she wanted to find out about Bandri too, so she nervously followed everyone else as they went to meet Agung.
After all the fuss had died down, she had learned about the family of five at Pantai that might join the village.
That evening Melati looked again at Agung from a distance. She quietly watched and listened as he talked to the others. Sometimes he looked at her, and she quickly averted her eyes, then she looked at him again. She felt now that he wasn’t frightening.
Maybe the feelings she felt were those of love?
The following morning a delegation from Likupang was assembled. Agung and Ayu were to go in one boat. Praba and Joyah were to go in another boat.
The selection of Joyah as a representative was the result of a long debate at the village meeting. Likupang needed to be protected, and so it was decided that no more than two men could go. Earlier, Andhika had taken a boat along the front of the mangrove swamps, to view Bahoi from distance, where the village seemed normally peaceful, with some men beside their fishing nets. During the visit to Pantai, the Likupang families would stay close together in the strongest houses, and Harta would keep a lookout.
Ayu had not told Agung’s secret to anyone in their village; she had thought it best to meet the family first. Mostly Ayu longed to see her beloved husband after his five days absence.
Each of the small fishing boats had bamboo outriggers on both sides for stability. They had been pulled down the beach so that they were now on the edge of the surf line, where each of the women was helped to board. Ayu and Joyah sat down in the bows, and picked up one of the paddles. Each wore a nippa fisherman’s hat to shield against the glare of the sun. Ayu had tucked her long hair up and it was held in a bunch hidden inside the large wide-brimmed hat.
The men gave each boat a shove so that they launched bow-first into the small waves breaking onto the sand. Agung and Praba with practised skill jumped into the sterns, and powerfully paddled their boats through the surf into the calmer water beyond. Behind them on the beach stood most of the villagers, many of whom gave a prayer to the spirit of the sea to keep them safe.
Ayu gleefully enjoyed the thrilling experience of sitting at the bow of the boat as it was propelled through the spraying surf, and then as it shot out onto the shimmering green and blue flecked surface of the sea. Agung was adept and strong. The little boat seemed to skim over the gentle waves. She held the paddle and had put in a few strokes to help them through the surf, but it would not be possible to keep up with the powerful athlete behind her. She turned to smile at him and put the paddle down inside the boat.
She relaxed to absorb the moment. The other boat was keeping pace alongside. She looked across at Joyah who had also shipped her paddle, and was smiling back at her.
Praba loved the sea. He loved being a fisherman. She watched as he plunged in his paddle to grasp the water, pulled the handle back and gave it a little flick at the end of the stroke to keep the boat straight. Somewhere in this fluid movement he bent his body and then powerfully jerked it upright, adding continuous forward momentum. The paddle was lifted, brought forward, and plunged with hardly a splash. With years of practise, he made it look so easy. After several strokes on one side he swapped to the other side to ease the effort.
They were going east along the coast, just clear of the surf. Looking down Ayu could glimpse fish of different sizes and colour, some darting away as their boat approached. The flexing shadow of their boat moved over the turquoise-yellow of the sandy seabed, then over shifting green sea grass or outcrops of darker rock and coloured coral. The bright morning sun bounced off the ruffled water’s surface, radiating warmth onto her face and arms, even though they were being chilled by the salty freshness as they slid through the air.
The bodice of her best batik sarong filled with the sea breeze – the fabric trying to balloon from its restraints around her waist. The pleasing air current flowed under the fabric and breathed across the freed surface of her breasts.
She looked out across the brilliant turquoise bay towards the two islands, with the horizon behind. The sky was blue. The air was blue, as if she could hold it in her hand. Blue.
The pod of dolphins that frequented the bay was visible some way off – two or three at a time breaking the surface and puffing for air, as they herded and surrounded a shoal of fish. Occasionally, a shining deep blue dolphin leapt free of the surface, twisted in mid-air and splashed down on its side into a puff of spray to drive their panicked prey into shallow water.
She could see her own fluctuating reflection looking back at her from the glassy smoothness of the clear liquid flowing past on one side of the small craft. Draping her hand over the side, she felt the friendly caress as her fingers clawed the coolness of the water. Scooping her hand and lifting, the silvery liquid spilled out into crystal drops, each droplet landing onto the pristine surface with individual splashes, each making circles of tiny ripples which disappeared behind as their boat ploughed onwards. Idly, she tasted her wet fingers, enjoying the strange but expected saltiness.
Now they had travelled past their beach, and were alongside mangrove swamps with their muddy inlets lined by the aerial roots arching up to support the dark green trees above. The tide was rising and the little breathing roots poking up through the mud, were being washed over and submerged. White-faced herons hunched amongst the mangrove branches and looked down into the teaming waters for fish. Alarmed by the passage of the boats, a group of herons broke into their bouncing flight with high-pitched rank-oooooooooh calls.
There was so much wonder and so much beauty. She closed her eyes for a few moments and prayed, then opened her eyes again. The beauty was still there.
After a while they were approaching a cliff that jutted out into the sea. The boat was slowing down and her brother was beckoning to Praba to bring his boat closer so they could talk. As the two small boats gently bobbed in the waves Agung said..
“Past this cliff is a beach – we go in there.”
“They know who Agung is – he could land first… then your boat can come in just after.” suggested Ayu.
Before Praba could say anything Joyah offered..
“I think that’s a good idea – it would be better if he does the introductions.”
They set off again, more gently this time, in line ahead. Ayu looked around at her brother. His torso was glistening with perspiration. He looked nervous.
She leaned back a little and smiled, saying..
“Thank you..”, and then added “Just relax now..”
The family had brought Eko out to enjoy the fresh air on the porch. Bandri had his leg propped up to help the swelling go down. They were deeply engaged in a long conversation about snakes, and how best to keep them away from the houses. Now they were discussing the Krait snakes which had a habit of entering homes, particularly at night; so poisonous that if an adult got bitten, they would usually die. Although they were not normally aggressive, Kraits bite if disturbed or handled, and so innocent children were potential victims. The Krait snake was a parent’s worst nightmare.
Lyana and Lela were harvesting some vegetables in the garden behind the house, whilst Listeri was in the kitchen.
Raharjo was collecting some flat pebbles on the beach for the names of the snakes. He saw the boats approaching, recognised Agung and ran to greet them.
As he helped to pull the first boat onto the sand, Raharjo gazed with an open mouth at the lady seated in the bow. She smiled and looked him in the eyes, stunning him motionless, until she spoke..
“Are you Raharjo?”
Still unable to say anything he nodded quickly, and smiled back.
Agung steadied her hand as she stepped gracefully with her bare feet onto the dry white sand. Raharjo was now leading the way, walking backwards much of the time, but had still not been able to say anything.
Listeri saw the visitors approaching up the beach, went into the porch and touched her husband’s shoulder. Eko looked up and followed his wife’s gaze, and then Bandri stopped in mid-sentence to follow their wordless gaze.
Bandri had forgotten to foresee the impact Ayu could have – on himself as well as the others. The sun was behind her as she glided towards them. The swirling patterns on the simple sarong complimented her elegant moving figure, as the sun shone though the fabric around her body. Her shaded bare neck and face was crowned by the native hat which accentuated the poise of the exotic visage below. Behind this apparition, was the bodyguard figure of Agung, followed by Joyah and Praba.
Bandri was still adjusting to this joyous sight, when Ayu gave him a gorgeous welcoming smile which sent him stumbling to his feet.
Apparently unaware of the impression she was making, she stepped onto the porch, smiling first at Listeri and Eko, and then removing her hat so that she could kiss her husband on the cheek. Agung reached out to receive the hat, as her hair fell free in cascades around her shoulders.
Seeing that Eko was unable to stand up, Ayu bent her knees to hold the hand he had reached out for her. A seat was provided by Raharjo who had now recovered from his surprise.
Bandri now took charge of the introductions..
“Eko – please meet Ayu.”
“Thank you for visiting us.”
Eko welcomed her, but politely avoided looking at her for too long by welcoming the other strangers..
“Thank you all for visiting us at our small place – please take a seat after your journey.”
As Joyah and Praba stepped onto the porch, Bandri introduced them. At that moment, he felt rather glad that the two young women had not yet appeared.
Everyone had been found a seat, except for Raharjo who stood beside Bandri. A conversation had begun about Bandri’s leg and how well it was healing, when Lyana and Lela appeared carrying newly dug root vegetables. Ayu stood up, prompting the others to stand.
There was a perceptible pause in events as the women looked at each other, thinking thoughts unfathomable to the men. Insofar as may be known, Lyana and Lela were conscious of their dirty hands and less than perfect attire, whereas Ayu was assessing their suitability for her brother. Agung was petrified, and everyone else was still adjusting when Ayu took the initiative, leaning forward to kiss each of them on the cheeks.
Bandri completed the introductions for everyone.
Raharjo provided seating for everyone. He received hats, a machete, and two bows with their clutches of arrows for safe keeping. He ran to the pond twice for drinking water. Unnoticed by the assembly he then slipped away.
Lyana and Lela had made their excuses, withdrawing from the visitors to wash and put on their best sarongs.
Listeri started preparations for a meal.
Eko, Bandri, Praba and Joyah together started discussing the practical issues of how the family may be moved into the Likupang village, whilst Ayu had quietly indicated to Agung to join her as she went to help Listeri in the kitchen.
The big man patiently and obediently peeled and chopped vegetables, which kept him busy and out of the way of the delicate negotiations. Ayu chatted with Listeri about spices and native recipes, as they pulled apart cloves, ground pepper and chopped lemon grass.
Bandri was looking for an opportunity to talk privately with Ayu, Praba and Joyah, or any one of them – whilst they wished privately to talk with him. In polite time Bandri made an excuse that he needed to exercise his leg with a short walk, whilst Praba helped steady him, so leaving Joyah to talk with Eko.
“My leg is alright – but we needed to have a talk.” said Bandri once they were sufficient distance from the others.
“What is going on with the two girls?… and what is wrong with Eko?”
“Maybe Eko is dying – I don’t know how long he has to live – he is worried for the safety of his family.”
“Bandri – you know we need more men at Likupang – we have trouble defending the girls – What will happen if the tribesmen from Bahio see all these young women?”
“The boy, Raharjo will be a good man…”
“He is young!”
“He would be a good companion for Harta.”
“Maybe…Bandri, are you forgetting that this family is Javanese?!”
“They are good people – they respect their women – you can see that. They left Bitung because of the bad customs of the tribesmen down there… We can understand each other.”
“They are still Javanese.”
“Praba, what do you think could happen to the girls if they stay here?”
After a few moments he said..
“I don’t know.”
“I will tell you what will happen – I think Agung will come here to stay – he likes the girls a lot – he likes the family.”
Praba stopped walking. He stared at his brother – the seriousness of the situation was clear to him..
“Brother we have to talk frankly – you know the girls are wanted because they’re not married….More – they’re wanted because they are young – without children, healthy, pretty … beautiful even – the Java tribes will be after them!”
Bandri took a deep breath. He knew the words to be true in the world in which they lived.
“Likupang has three wanted girls already – and this will add two more!” emphasised Praba.
“Melati and Sukma are too young to marry.”
“Yes brother – I agree…but that doesn’t stop them being wanted!…and who will marry Lyana and Lela?… so they have children soon?”
“Agung will decide this.” Bandri thought he needed to make this firm statement, and then added..
“He’s getting to know the women better, and he’ll decide – we need to give him time.”
“Bandri – I am the oldest brother, and I have a duty to look after the village. He’ll need to decide soon if he wants to marry….If we accept this family then we have to think about another thing – men could take a second wife.”
Praba continued after he could see that his younger brother had understood his words..
“As the oldest brother – it would be my duty to take a second wife.”
After a few moments Bandri said..
“Last night I stayed in the second house here with Raharjo… Agung could stay here for a while – I can paddle back today…It will give him a chance to get to know them better.”
Just then Lyana and Lela returned onto the porch.
Bandri could see they wore the same sarongs as on his first visit, but this time the fabric was wrapped more closely around their figures, tight enough to show they were women but loose enough to show they were ladies. On the shoulders were attached the shiny bronze brooches – the dolphin on the left shoulder of Lyana, and the bird on the right shoulder of Lela. The hair of each sister was immaculately groomed and held back from their faces. Indeed, their youthful feminine attractiveness was there for all to see.
Joyah and Ayu met the young women and were obviously complimenting them. The brothers watched as each of the sisters took a little walk along the porch, right to the end, where they demurely turned to walk back to the appreciative feminine remarks from Joyah and Ayu about the style of their sarongs. From the kitchen Agung was able to see the brief show, as each lady reached the end and turned to go back.
Although it was subtly done, Bandri perceived that the display by the young women was mainly for the benefit of the quiet awestruck man in the kitchen. Bandri turned to look at his older brother who had also witnessed the show. Praba was quiet and sucking his lip in contemplation.
The meal was ready.
Eko was propped up in his seat, with his wife on one side and Bandri on the other. Next to Bandri sat Ayu and then the two sisters, Joyah, Praba and Agung – all crowded around the table in the porch.
“Where’s Raharjo?” asked Eko.
Until that moment, everybody had been so involved that the absence of the boy had not been noticed. Listeri went to look around the house, and in a short while returned with her son who was squashed in between his two sisters.
This was a problematic moment since the customs at the start of such a meal may be quite different, depending on the tribal background. It had already been agreed that Agung would stay with the family in the short term. Bandri had volunteered to come to Pantai on occasion, to maintain the link between the two families. No commitment had yet been established that Eko’s family would be accepted into Likupang – such a commitment would be decided later. The delicate negotiations had reached a compromise agreement.
The Javanese spiritual customs differed from Malay ones. Eko and Bandri had talked about such things, and so they wanted to avoid a dispute about such matters.
“Kami mengucapkan terima kasih kepada tetamu untuk melawat kami.” – “We thank our guests for visiting us.” announced Eko..
“Anda adalah dialu-alukan di meja kami – Mungkin semua nenek moyang kami gembira dengan kami.” – “You are welcome at our table – May all our ancestors be happy with us.”
The tension eased, and Bandri replied..
“Mungkin semua nenek moyang kami gembira dengan kami.”
It was now mid-afternoon and the guests from Likupang were preparing to leave. Agung had hugged his dear sister goodbye, thanked the others from Likupang, and then stayed on the porch with Eko.
Joyah was sitting in their boat, whilst Praba was preparing to launch it. Ayu and Bandri were standing beside their boat saying goodbye to Listeri and her two daughters.
Just at this point Raharjo stepped timidly up to the lady from Likupang. As the others watched, he held up a large Triton seashell as a gift. Inside the furled opening of the heavy ornate seashell were two freshly gathered golden honeycombs, carefully placed in side by side. It was a gift from the boy to the lady and gentleman from Likupang; a simple and beautiful gift from the land, sea and air.
Ayu was stunned motionless for a few moments. She reverently crouched down and accepted the gift with both hands, then slowly kissed the boy on the cheek, with tears in her eyes.
The two boats were gently stationary in the swell, just beyond the cliff that jutted into the sea. Praba had decided that the four of them needed a conference before they got back to Likupang.
“This is a serious problem..” Praba told them..
“Agung is the man the tribesmen from Bahoi fear most – we need more men in Likupang to defend everyone.”
“Praba – you saw that he was not going to leave the girls at Pantai… and I think you saw that they want him there too.” Bandri said, although he knew that his brother was also right.
“You saw how the boy gave that lovely gift to Ayu – he did that himself – I don’t think his parents told him to do it.” said Joyah.
“We have to try and understand Agu – he has just fallen in love, but he’s not sure how to handle his feelings..” said Ayu “We have to give him this time – I think everybody wants him back…”
Ayu was trying to hold back her tears and not to be emotional. Bandri reached over to offer some comfort.
“We must have more men somehow..” Praba said solemnly.. “I’ll ask Andhy if there are some men in his tribe that might come to us – but we have spent too long away from the others. We need to get back as soon as we can.”
Praba was looking at Bandri now.
“My arms are alright – I’ll try and keep up with you.”
They set off for Likupang at a good speed.
Everyone was on the beach.
Andhika had seen the boats arriving from the porch of his house, where half of the village had been waiting since the morning. He had called across to Rukma in the next house where the other half had been waiting. The two men had spent a long day keeping a lookout, with bows and other weapons ready in case they were needed. At long last the families could leave the houses and gather together to welcome the boats home.
The wind had picked up and the waves were breaking more vigorously onto the beach, casting white spray into the air.
The children ran down into the edge of the late afternoon surf, happy and shouting with abandonment after their confinement. The rest followed them down the beach looking in the direction of the boats, realising that Bandri had replaced Agung.
Rukma waded in waist deep to welcome his daughter back. He steadied the boat and pushed it up onto the sand, where he helped her to step out into the crowd..
“The family is looking after Agu – he’s very happy.”
Bandri lifted himself out of the boat and was greeted firstly by a smiling Melati who gave him a long hug, and then Sukma. He looked down into their innocent pretty faces, feeling relieved and protective. Sukma seemed to be hugging him for a long time with her ear pressed to his chest, so he put his hands on her shoulders and gently pushed her away..
“I’m happy to see you dear sister – and you too Sukma.”
After greetings from Endah and the others, Bandri and Ayu left Praba and Joyah to explain in detail what had happened during the visit. The two held hands and walked up the beach to their house, which was waiting to welcome them. Ayu’s arm was wrapped around the gift from Raharjo; the ornate seashell with its golden cargo was cradled under her breast.
Bandri went to the stream and collected fresh cool mountain water. He carried it inside their house, and then closed the door.
Ayu gazed at the two intricate crescent shaped honeycombs that had been placed into the pearl pink opening of the beautiful shell. She put it carefully into the fine coconut storage hammock that hung from the rafters. The solid blunt spines of the shell held it safely in the fine mesh of the hammock. It swung gently in its cot with the honeycombs uppermost.
Ayu turned to look at her dear Bandri. They stood together in the warmth and amber light of the peaceful room, holding each other close and sharing kisses, kisses long and tender, kisses to make up for all those missed over the last six days.
Each was infinitely aware of the closeness of the other. All that separated their upper bodies was the thin fabric of her sarong. Locked together they swayed gently on their bare feet, standing on the dimpled floor of smooth pebbles and compacted fine sand. Savouring the silence, neither felt the need to speak. Each waited for the other as they held each other upright. They waited and breathed in the closeness of the other – this special person in their existence.
Their bodies reached a consensus. He scooped her up in his arms, and stood briefly in the middle of the room. Her head collapsed onto his shoulder and her eyes told him what she wanted. Stepping to the lustrous bamboo bed, he laid her carefully down. Her arms released their hold from his neck and she lay still, watching him.
Dipping a coconut shell into the fresh clear water, he gently trickled it into her open mouth. She tasted and swallowed the welcome thirst quenching liquid. A little more he trickled around her neck, cooling, dribbling and tickling. She smiled with abandon, her eyes glistening. Dipping again, he trickled water onto the bodice of her best batik sarong. The liquid soaked into the fabric pulling it down closer to the skin, and the swirling pattern began to wrap around the two mounds. Dipping and pouring, he moistened the material which gently outlined her firm young breasts. The cool water ran around and slipped through the bamboo slats, onto the sandy floor which greedily soaked it up.
He bent down, kissing the honey-coloured skin of her neck under her upturned chin, and then he kissed slowly down to the tiny pool of water caught between the smooth tendons meeting at the top of her breast. He sipped from the trembling liquid.
His lips ran over the wet fabric, pausing when he reached the crest of a mound where a tiny nipple slightly pushes up the patterned fabric. She softly ran her fingers through his hair as he teased her, and then he explored again to find more sensitive secrets.
Now he untied the knot at her waist which had secured the sarong around her body, carefully lifting the material and unwrapping her. Her nubile nakedness lay beside him, naked as the day she was born.
Slowly she loosened, lifted and carefully pulled off his kathok, freeing his arousal. She dipped the shell and poured the stimulating water over him, washing him, teasing him and kissing him.
They lay together nude; just as nature intended.
He admired her, lightly running the tips of his fingers over her consenting skin, and bending to kiss for the hundredth or thousandth time the many favourite places. From each place another place beckoned. Now a closed eyelid or the corner of her mouth, to be beckoned by the arched skin under her ear, and then her neck, as she raised her shoulder vainly in defence of that ticklish spot, as he kissed a favourite perfect imperfection – the single small freckle on the nape of her neck.
Down her body, he kissed and caressed her – he wanted her to be his like this forever. Roaming freely he devoured her. He devoured the smooth firmness of her breasts surrendered just to him, pleasing her shy nipples. His fingers explored the toned curves of her blissful body, tracing over her flawless skin, the modest cluster of soft hairs, and reaching around to gently grasp her, pulling her even closer. Her warm thighs clasped him as he devoured the intimate softness of her femininity. Abandoning herself to his passion she felt within her being the building of secretive sensations. She closed her eyes as if such intimate emotions must be kept safely away from the world around her, and sounds seeped out from her soul as the waves of sensation surfed through her body.
She too explored him and loved him, with the touch of her fingers, with the softness of her lips, and with the warmth and moisture of her tongue. They shared such sensual indulgences. She yearned to be filled with her lovers passion and he to obtain her totally, as much as love can allow.
Entwining their limbs, she was now below him, opening to him, and surrendering to him. She gasped, murmuring.. “Make it last a long time.” as he looked down into her dark brown intoxicating eyes, and felt the yielding sensation of her moist warm flesh tightly enveloping his erection. He was inside her, with feelings so intense that he must hold still, inside her, for a few moments to deliciously overcome the urge, to prolong the intensity of the feeling, to relish the pleasure and the joy. He relished the pleasure of unsheathing himself, then the joy of sheathing himself into her again, then the pleasure and the joy, and again the pleasure and the joy…
The bamboo bed gave out pleasing little creaks, as the young couple make love on top of it, moving a little as they moved, yielding a little as she yielded, witnessing their love and the muffled sounds of their ecstasies.
She lay with her head on his chest. Their bodies glowed under a veneer of perspiration.
The incandescent tropical sun was setting. Through the gaps over the walls yellow sunbeams were thrown above the lovers.
He remembered something. His left hand reached out and felt the crumpled material of his kathok on the floor. It was still in the pocket.
Fumbling around he delved into the deep pocket and pulled out the nugget. He rinsed it in the vessel of water beside the bed, and then held it up to catch a beam of light..
“A little ‘something’ for you.”
She opened her eyes, and looked up..
“It’s lovely B – thank you … what is it?” she murmured as she took its surprising weight in her hand.
“I don’t know – it’s not bronze – but something else…”
He had an idea. Her head slipped off his chest and he gently left her lying on the bed as she looked at the shiny yellow rock. Getting to his feet he stepped unclothed to the hanging seashell, and carefully prised out a honeycomb, returning to lie down beside her. She watched. He had mischief in his eyes.
He offered the comb to her mouth as she lay naked on the bed. Smiling and with a giggle she took a modest bite, breaking open the honey-filled waxen cells. Golden sticky syrup spilt out and dripped. Honey drops landed on her chin, neck and breast as he brought the comb to his mouth for a bite, with more dribbles and giggles. She put the nugget down on her flat stomach, and it settled into the subtle depression of her belly button. She held the comb and fed them its energy. He picked up the nugget and held it under the dripping comb, turning it around a little as the honey clung to the yellow rock, then held it up above them in the beam of sunlight. There it was; a golden translucent shining drop of honey. She gasped at its beauty, and then giggled as he put the tiny phallus between her lips to suck. She closed her lips on the slender honeyed gift, rehearsing their intimacy. The sweetness of the honey drops fused with the faint saltiness of love and perspiration as skin was kissed and licked. She yearned again the pushing apart of her flesh as she accepted him into her very being. The bamboo bed creaked again with pleasure and joy. She willed him to impregnate her. The nugget jostled beside them on the polished bamboo wood, and then rolled over the edge and fell to the floor.
After landing on the beach Praba had sought out Andhika. The two broke off from the rest, talking as they walked over to the half-finished boat.
“Andhy – we’ve got a problem.”
“What’s happened to Agung?”
“He’s with the family.”
“Are they really Javanese?”
“Yes – Javanese – what will happen if Bahoi find out!? – the family has two girls – he likes them – a lot!”
“The tribesmen at Bahoi won’t like that.. What are the girls like?”
“Young, pretty, shapely.. they’re attractive alright!.. It’s easy to see why he wants to stay – but I don’t know if they really like him – maybe they’re just playing around with him – just wanting a big man to protect them.. They’ve been on their own for a long time… They could want Javanese men?”
“What about the Javanese father?”
“He can’t walk – he’s dying.”
Andhika looked at Praba with concern..
“So there’s just the girls, the mother and the boy?!”
“Yes.. If Javanese tribesmen found them, the family would be taken in.”
“Praba – you know what that could mean for the girls!?”
“That’s what Bandri says – but we have to think of our families first.”
“If Bahoi realise that Agung isn’t here anymore, but after young Javanese women, there could be trouble.” worried Andhika.. “I don’t think they’ll stay away – we know what happened when they wanted Mel and Sukma.”
“I told Bandri that – if we have more young women the Bahoi men will see them in the village – they keep an eye on us I’m sure.”
“At least we’d have Agung back – we need him..”
“I know we do.” admitted Praba.. “But I’ll tell you something else – my mother thinks Agung will be a good match for Mel – but she’s still so young.. Do you think he’ll wait around when he has two pretty women available for him?”
“Does Mel know this?”
“I’m not sure.. maybe – but I don’t think Agung’s interested now.” Praba sucked his lip, and then, after thinking for a few monents he pushed up his eyebrows and slowly shook his head in worry..
“Agung’s going to stay with the Javanese family for a while.. But we have to think of our village. What if my mother sees a Javanese family coming into Likupang – it could kill her?”
Andhika thought about telling him that Endah was getting confused about a lot of things these days, and maybe she wouldn’t notice. But he decided that this was too sensitive a topic, since he knew how protective Praba was of his sick mother.
“Andhy – we need to try and find some more good men for the village – we have families to protect – we’ll ask Rukma too…We need to think about asking our Malay tribes for any good men they can send.”
Praba’s desperation was evident to his friend, and he felt desperate too..
“But my tribe has moved away – I think they’re many days walk away – further than Manado – that means being away from the village.. When I came to Likupang we didn’t have children, and the Bahoi village wasn’t there. Now the Javanese are there, I’m worried about leaving for that long – especially now that Agung’s gone.”
“There must be other Malay tribes somewhere near Manado.” insisted Praba.
“That’s a long way Praba – the Malay are moving because there are more Javanese tribes coming around here.” Andhika shook his head sadly.. “I don’t know if we could find any men who would be ready to leave their own families – and risk coming that far to help us here.. The big boat is still the safest way.”
“I wish the boat was ready – but it isn’t!” Praba gasped with frustration and worry.
“Alright my good friend..” Andhika sighed, trying to find an answer.. “We need to find out what’s happening at Bahoi – so we can plan what’s the best thing to do…We need to know how many men they have and what they’re doing – we need to get close enough to see what’s going on there.”
Praba settled on a decision..
“Alright.. We need to decide who goes to have a look at Bahoi.”
Joyah had done her diplomatic best to explain to the rest of the family what had happened during the visit to Pantai. Harta knew that something important had happened and was asking lots of questions. Rukma, Kusama, Melati and Sukma listened quietly, thinking their own thoughts and let Harta ask his questions – some of which echoed their own thoughts.
The small impromptu meeting was still taking place in the beach shelter as the sun was beginning to set. The younger children were playing on the sand nearby.
Puteri had understood the main point that Agung was staying at Pantai and thought it was better to take Endah gently away from the questions and answers that followed.
“Is Agung staying at Pantai because of the women?” Harta’s question was direct, and Joyah tried to give a constructive answer.
“I think he wants to help them.” she answered.
“Are the girls pretty?” Harta persisted.
“Well – yes I think they are.” she admitted honestly.
“Does Agung like them?” Harta asked again.. “Is that why he’s staying there?”
Melati took a deep breath, and suddenly was listening very carefully.
Joyah didn’t answer straight away, but her hesitation seemed to confirm Harta’s question..
“The family seems very good – yes I think he likes the girls and all the family.”
Melati realised that there was a connection between Agung and two girls she had never met. The air around her seemed suddenly awash with noise that she didn’t want to hear. Her body took involuntary shallow rapid breathes. Unnoticed by the others, she turned away and walked quickly back to her house to lie on her bed, hiding her face as she felt tears welling up.
At the beach shelter, Harta had noticed that Bandri was not around to explain what had happened, when he probably knew more than anybody about what was going on..
“Where’s Bandri – he should be telling us all about what happened?”
Sukma found herself saying..
“Harta.. He has not been with Ayu for many days.”
The adults turned to look at her in wonderment at the apparent maturity of her statement. Sukma felt the gaze of the adults, was embarrassed, and looked for her best friend Melati who had been standing just behind her. Melati was not there – she was going to her house. Sukma ran after her.
“What’s wrong with them?” shrugged Harta.
“I don’t know – I’ll just go and see if they’re alright.” said a concerned Kusama who then followed quickly after Sukma.
That evening, the Likupang community was in a reflective mood.
The two young girls and Kusama had been talking tearfully together for much of the evening, until Kusama sent Rukma to bring Ayu over to their house so that she could try to help the weeping girls and maybe console them. Bandri and Rukma decided that it would be wiser to steer clear of whatever the issues were, and just let their spouses try to sort it out. Eventually tears were dried and smiles returned.
Now in the light of the beeswax candles, Bandri, Ayu, Rukma, Kusama, Melati and Sukma ate together on the porch outside Rukma’s house.
“It’s good to hear our son is happy at Pantai, but I’m worried.” Rukma was echoing the feelings all of them had.. “I hope that it all works out for the best – but we need to have him here with us in Likupang – he needs us too from what you say…Kusama or myself need to go to Pantai soon to see how he’s getting on.”
“I’ll go to Pantai as soon as possible – it’s probably better to go by boat and then it will be easier for Kusama, Melati or Sukma – or any of you – to come with me.” offered Bandri.. “But I don’t think more than one man should go – Praba is really worried that we need to look after the village here.”
“I agree.” nodded Rukma.
“You should go first Kusama.” said Melati.
“I want to go and see Agu.” said Sukma ernestly, looking at Bandri.. “When you go by boat can I go with you?”
“Dear Suk…” said her father “Perhaps if your mother goes too, that would be alright – what do you think my dear?”
“I think that will be alright – as long as the sea is calm and we can go straight there by boat. I want to see what this family is like – and I really want to see what these women are like…I hope our son is not making a big mistake. He’s innocent in the ways of women.”
Rukma added to his wife’s concerns..
“He’s trying to understand two girls from Java who have been on their own with this family since they were young – they haven’t had a chance to meet other men for years. We don’t know if they’re going to be suitable for him – really if he’s wanting to marry one of them – which one?.. This would be a big problem – trying to keep everyone happy!”
The expression on his wife’s face told him that he should say no more, especially since Sukma and Melati were present..
“This is something we can talk about later dear.”
“I was only at Pantai for a while, but the women seem very pleasant – they really seemed to like Agu.” said Ayu said.. “I know Agu really likes them but he’s still confused… maybe after a few days he will understand them better – and know what he wants.”
“There’s something else we have been thinking about.” said Kusama, eager to change the subject.. “Everybody keeps saying that we need men to look after the village – but the women could do some things to help – we understand what the problem is.. The women could use bows too if they’re needed.”
Seeing the expressions around the table Rukma explained a little more..
“Perhaps it would help give people something to think about – rather than just worry about Bahoi all the time. The women could practise on the beach with some targets. It could give them more peace of mind, knowing that they could help protect the families.”
“I’ll do it.” said Melati.
“And me too.” said Sukma enthusiastically.. “It’s not fair that only the boys are shown how to use bows.”
“Perhaps we can try tomorrow?” Ayu said looking at her husband with a twinkle in her eye. Melati and Sukma looked excited at the prospect.
“It’s a good idea I think – but maybe not tomorrow – but soon.. Praba and Andhy have decided that we need to have a look at Bahoi tomorrow.” Bandri looked at Rukma.. “Who do you think should go?”
“Your leg still needs to recover – anyway you’re needed here. Harta is keen to go – I expect he is already planning it now with Praba. Do you think he’s ready?”
“He needs an older man with him. He’s got plenty of energy – and really wants to see what Bahoi is like.” Bandri was thoughtful.. “Just maybe it would be better for him to go with Andhika.. If my two brothers went together they could get too angry with the people at Bahoi – maybe they would get too close and make a mistake.”
Rukma raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement of Bandri’s concern..
“I understand what you’re saying. In the morning, if we both say the same it would make sense – that Andhy goes with Harta. And that we need Praba here with us to look after the village.”
It was so difficult saying goodbye to Ayu and Bandri knowing that they were short of men to defend Likupang. Agung thought of dear Sukma and his parents. He felt guilty that he wasn’t at ‘home’. But how could he leave Pantai? If only this family wasn’t Javanese!?
But he was in a state of excited turmoil. He felt as if he was in another world. A world inhabited by two beautiful young women who he liked very much indeed, and who seemed to like him too. But still, the newness and delicate sensuality of his circumstances unsettled him, and even scared him.
A bed was made up for him in the second house, which he was to share with Raharjo. He was served first at the evening meal, despite his protestations. The women were busy around him cooking and cleaning, whilst he was told to relax – which is just what he couldn’t do. This attention made him feel embarrassed and, still shy of being left on his own with Lyana and Lela, he made the excuse of needing an early night’s sleep when Eko and Listeri retired for the night.
He lay on his bed wide awake, listening to the sound of the surf not far away and trying to adapt to this new world. The moonlight filtered into the room, and he seemed to spend much of the night staring up at the bamboo rafters, unable to sleep. By the morning he had decided to focus on being busy.
He volunteered to fix the leak in the house roof with coconut leaf slats. First he and Raharjo made up plenty of slats then he climbed up to pull off the old ones.
“You are letting light into our world.” commented Eko from his bed below.
During the day much of the roof was replaced. He balanced on a bamboo ladder whilst slats where handed up to him by Lyana, Lela and their brother. At each handing up of a slat by a woman, who gave him a warm smile as they looked up at him, he became more used to smiling back. By the end of the day he found himself smiling more naturally and unselfconsciously. Looking down into their sultry and friendly faces for short periods of time from a safe distance seemed to make it easier.
He tried not to look down below their faces, since their lithesome supple shapes both excited him and made him quiver with uncertainty. He did not want them to think he was looking at their bodies, and, he did not feel he had the right to look at them in this way. Although, as they walked away he allowed himself to glance at their movement, especially the way their hips moved. Beneath their full length sarongs, he saw both possessed lovely feminine figures, but he could also sense some differences between each of their beguiling bodies. Lyana’s body was stronger than her sister’s. Lela was slimmer and moved with even more lightness.
Later in the afternoon he accompanied them to collect water from the very pond where they first met. Through the languid waters, the sandy bottom was clearly visible. At one angle, they discovered their reflections, his own body seeming so large behind their smiling images – until they dipped in the wooden buckets, whereupon smooth ripples arced out over the roundish pond.
“Father tells us not to bathe in the pond.” Lyana’s voice glinted with secrecy, and her sister gave a suppressed giggle.
“It could be dangerous if tribesmen found you here.” he told them, remembering how he had discovered this place.
Lyana smiled at him with twinkling eyes..
“Yes.. We should bathe with our clothes on.”
Lela immediately trotted quickly back to the house in embarrassment, leaving the two of them to carry the buckets. As they walked back to the house, Agung’s stimulated imagination prevented him from talking to Lyana, although he glowed with intense pleasure, warmed by the intimacy of the comment.
Later, the three of them collected the long fruit from the Tamarind tree that grew beside the house, savouring the sweet chewy flesh and then playing childish games with the stones. By the time of the evening meal, he was more at ease in their company.
He was also appreciating the subtle personality differences between the two sisters, but the differences just made each of them more interesting and intoxicating for him. It seemed that they were so assimilated in each other’s company, that somehow they were different parts of the same personality. They were not competing for his attention, but happily sat on each side of him in the evening, as they chatted about all the small important things that make up life, such as the best vegetables to grow, which fish are the best to barbeque, and other best ways of enjoying life.
The full moon hung overhead, beaming brightly in the black night sky. The moonlight illuminated the sheltered white beach at Pantai. The flowers let out a night-time fragrance and glowed white, as they reflected the aura of the hypnotic moon above. It was a beautiful time and place, balmy and bewitching.
Raharjo and his sisters were playing a tag game. A simple family game they often played. The boy had started by running round and round his sisters as they held hands – then they tried to ‘catch’ him – by getting close enough to touch him. The rules were more complicated but that seemed the essence. Agung was initiated into the game, as the rules were changed with apparent randomness. They could touch him anywhere or each other anywhere. But he, being a full grown man, could only touch them on the middle of their backs – something which was harder to do than it might seem.
It was simple, innocent, fantastic fun, their laughter mixing with the night-time sounds of crickets, the quiet lapping of the waves and the occassional nocturnal calls of wildlife from the forests. The wise gaze of the moon looked down upon them. There was no sense of time; they played silly games on the beach for hours on end. He wanted to stay in this world forever, but at some moment, perhaps when the moon was close to the horizon, they decided that perhaps they ought to retire to their respective beds.
This night he felt secure in his feelings for the two grown up girls, yet almost unbelieving that their feelings could possibly be the same for him. Anyway, how could he possibly go to Likupang in the company of these two beautiful creatures – what would everybody else think?
It was first light in the morning.
Resistance had been futile.
He had tried to resist, but the persuasive powers of Lyana and Lela were overwhelming. They were going to give him a haircut.
He was sat on a chair from the porch, and instructed to stay still.
As always, he wore his kathok.
First his hair was to be washed.
Hair and body were doused in fresh pond water, and then home-made soapy lather was massaged into his long unruly hair. They took it in turns to lather up the water and then the massaging – the act of such physical contact was so personal that more smiles than words were being exchanged. Lyana took the lead, seeming to be more confident to do the massaging, perhaps because she was the older sister.
After rinsing, drying and combing came the cutting.
The adroit manipulation of sharpened seashells lopped off stray locks of black hair, whilst the customer patiently watched the circling felicitous hairdressers. He watched them from close quarters at multiple angles, sometimes through nearly closed eyelids as his hair was trimmed from over his face. He smiled back at their reassuring smiles, showing their lovely white teeth between their generous lips. He marvelled at the quickness and certainty of their movement. They touched him but he did not touch them. He breathed in and absorbed their scent and their closeness.
More rinsing, drying and combing, and with final touches to the soft stubble of his beard they pronounced the grooming complete.
Meanwhile in Likupang, the day after the visit to Pantai, an early morning meeting had been convened. A map had been scratched in the sand near the beach shelter.
The men and a few of the women stood around it, talking.
Two large stones had been used to mark Likupang and Bahoi to the northwest. Between the two villages the low ridge of hills and higher ground had been roughly scratched in, and also the islands of mangroves in the bay were shown. Pantai, where Agung was, had been marked with a cross.
“If Andhy and Harta are going then using a boat could be best.” said Praba “…as long as they can get through the channel – there are a lot of roots.”
“They would not expect people to come through the mangroves, and so there is less chance their tribesmen will see us.” said Bandri.
“Why?” asked Melati.
“Crocodiles and snakes.” Bandri replied with a kind blandness, and then with raised eyebrows he added “And evil spirits.”
“Why not use the path next to the mangroves – isn’t it the shortest?” Joyah asked.
“They could but there is more cover if they use the boats – anyway there is a good chance that they keep a lookout along there – that why we put Harta up on top of that hill across the river.” explained Praba pointing over the river.
“There’s a tall tree just here…” Harta was saying pointing to the high ground on the map nearer to Bahoi.. “You can see Bahoi well from there.”
“Harta!” Bandri glared at him.. “I hope you haven’t been that close before?!”
“It’s an old strangler fig.. You can climb up inside it – they can’t see you… Don’t you think they get up on that hill overlooking our village – they could be up there now wondering where the big scary man is with long hair?”
“You have – haven’t you?!”
Harta gave him a shrug.
The others gave Harta stern looks.
Praba was firm with his youngest brother..
“Harta – you must not do that – not unless we agree with it first – do you understand?!”
He gave his young brother a quick, hard stinging cuff on the ear that nearly knocked him off his feet.
“Alright!” Harta whined, his eyes watering and rubbing his ear.. “Alright – I’m sorry.”
“We do need a lookout on that hill.” said Bandri as if nothing had happened, pointing up just across the river.
Sukma had been quietly listening and wanted to help..
“If Harta is going then I could keep a lookout on the hill?”
“Oh Suk…” Ayu put her arm around her.. “That’s a good offer, but we are needed to look after the young children.” She guided her and Melati away from the gathering as the men looked at each other seriously.
“It’s such a pity that the girls cannot have more freedom.” commented Bandri sadly.. “Maybe in the future they will have.”
“Maybe – but not now.” said Praba firmly.. “Can you ask Ayu to explain to Sukma why the girls have to stay in the village.”
“I hope Ayu can do it without scaring her.” muttered Bandri.
“We could go the longer way inland.” said Harta hopefully, as he pondered the prospect of wading through the mangrove swamp full of crocodiles and snakes.
Andhika put his hand on the young man’s shoulder..
“They would be more likely to see us.. And it means we would be away from the village for ‘longer’… Anyway the tide is rising so it’s a good time to try using a boat – as long as we’re not too long we could get back while it’s still high water.”
“Andhy makes good sense.” concluded Rukma.. “I can be lookout on the hill.”
Harta sat in the stern and Andhika in the bow of the smallest of the three boats. Both carried bows with plenty of arrows and had knives strapped to their waists. Two stout spears were put in the boat since they may also come in useful for punting the boat through the shallow waters of the mangrove swamps, and warding off crocodiles. Both wore fisherman’s hats and had paddles.
After Rukma had signalled the all clear from the hill, they slipped out from the river. Bandri and Praba ensured that the rest of the village stayed close together near the two strongest houses, and prepared for the wait until the others returned.
As they paddled towards the mangrove swamps, Andhika briefed the younger man again about the salt crocodiles in particular..
“Look out all the time for crocodiles….” explaining the type of water they frequented, where they rested, and only to put his feet in shallow water where there was no wider channel. How a crocodile stalked its prey and how, after grabbing its prey, it will drag it under and roll its body viciously. After he had given him the benefit of all this native knowledge he added..
“The water snakes are not dangerous, unless you cuddle them.”
Harta had been cogitating on the information he had been given..
“Do crocodiles try and grab the outriggers?”
Andhika gave a little laugh..
“As Agung would say – ‘Not usually’!”
“What if you get grabbed by a crocodile?” Harta asked as casually as he could.
Andhika turned to look at him, raised his eyebrows and blew out his cheeks in a scary gesture, and jabbed his fingers in the air..
“Hold your breath… And try poking its eyes – It might let go!”
Before they turned left into the narrow drainage channel between the mangrove on the mainland and the low-lying mangrove swamps in the bay, they prepared their poisoned arrows. Each had small pig-skin pouches containing the freshly prepared poisonous sticky syrup. The tips of a few strong bamboo arrows were dipped and turned to get a good covering, and then the readied arrows were put in a couple of pouches hung inside the hull of the small boat.
“Andhy.. Where’s the best place to hit a crocodile?” enquired Harta, adding.. “..with an arrow?”
Andhika didn’t turn round as he paddled..
“If it’s in the muddy water, it depends on what you can see – but I would try for the neck – the scales are a bit thinner on the sides and bottom.”
Often progress through the channel was difficult since the outriggers snagged on the breathing roots near the surface. At times, they needed to get out of the boat and lift it over the congested areas, stumbling around in the slippery black muddy water, sometimes over their waists, as they felt for the tangled roots using their bare feet somewhere within the living, squelching ooze. They were low down and enveloped by the leech infested swamp, haunted by the thoughts of evil spirits lurking in its depths. Smothered in the grey-black, stale-smelling mud they at least had some protection from the mist of midges and mosquitoes, and they better blended in with their surroundings. They became used to the putrid smell and the cacophony of sounds from frogs, birds and other wildlife, as they allowed themselves to become immersed and hidden within the swamp. They spoke only when they needed to and then very quietly.
After some time they came to a wider channel, and could see out into the bay again. Here they saw several crocodiles, a couple of grey-scaled and watchful salt water monsters resting on a bank, and at least one resting just under the water, although there could be more. Andhika reminded the youth..
“The crocodiles you can’t see are the most dangerous.”
This would be the half way point – beyond this they were transgressing into Bahoi territory. After they paddled strongly over the channel, they again entered much shallower water, where Andhika told Harta to stop for a while so they could rest and talk quietly.
“From now on no talking unless it’s absolutely needed.” he explained.. “We have to be careful not to suddenly come out of the channel where they could see us – so we take as much time as we need – keep quiet and listen very carefully – keep looking about you to see any clues that they may be around.. Let’s eat to build up our strength.”
They refreshed themselves with fresh water, honeycomb and some fruit they had brought along – boosting their stamina.
It was difficult getting themselves along the obstructed channel close to the Bahoi village. Andhika signalled that they should leave the boat and go by foot. They took their bows and half of the arrows; leaving the rest in the boat, along with their spears and hats. The boat was pushed out of sight under some large aerial roots. This area was a congested tangle of roots and branches, through which they nimbly and stealthily weaved their camouflaged bodies.
By late morning they could see ahead the inlet across which the Bahoi village was situated. They smeared more mud on their faces and upper bodies then carefully chose a screened place where they could look across to the village. They were close enough to see the men, women and children, but not close enough to distinguish facial features. They needed to watch for as long as they could since people could be in houses, or out of sight for much of the time.
The village was about the same size as Likupang. In many ways the houses were similar, but two of the houses were taller with another level, and had steps leading to the top floor. They were mostly interested in the men they could see. How many were there? How old were they? What were they doing? But they also watched the boys, women and girls.
They silently watched and studied the village until early afternoon, making a mental note of all they could see. Harta was exhilarated by the danger of being so close to the world of their ‘enemy’. Andhika needed to pull him back more than once from getting any closer.
Finally, Andhika signalled that they should return since the tide was dropping now and he feared they would have trouble getting back. He was right. By the time they broke back out onto the channel near Likupang the sun was dipping below the horizon and they were struggling along in the fading twilight.
They were met on the beach by a relieved Rukma, who had spent all day on the hill.
The two mud-caked and fatigued spies rinsed themselves off in the night-time surf, and then joined the others at the fire by the beach shelter. They were well-received, fed and watered.
Harta was bursting with his observations, so Andhika let him lead, checking him where he thought he was mistaken, as they relayed their day to the others with the warmth of the fire on their backs. The men all faced the quiet village.
“Two of them had beards – one of them looked really strong – they’re the ones aren’t they?!” Harta declared.. “That tall one with the beard!” he continued accusingly.
The others understood what he meant and quietly nodded.
“I counted four men and three boys, three women and two girls – and two babies.” Andhika calmly related.. “I think there were three grown men, and two older boys – but we don’t know if they were all in the village – some could be out fishing or in the forest.”
Having cooled down now, following his mentor’s example Harta gave more detail.. “The older boys were about my age and the two girls looked about Sukma’s age – one was a bit older I think.. Another thing – there were two bigger houses with another floor on top.”
“I expect those are for the seniors.” commented Rukma.
Bandri and the others silently pondered a little on this observation. What would it be like if Rukma and Praba had such houses to mark their status? In Likupang nobody attempted to have such differences, and the idea of Rukma behaving like that seemed unbelievable.
“How many boats could you see?”
“Two.” replied Harta immediately and Andhika nodded.
“That’s a worry – you would think they’d have more boats – maybe people were out fishing – and some could be in the forest.” said Praba.. “The problem is they have more men and boys than us and not many women – so they could be wanting more girls.”
Bandri turned to them..
“If we know there are more of them than us, then perhaps the best thing is to try and talk to them to reach an understanding.”
Harta was animated..
“Bandri – they killed our father!”
“Alright Harta – calm down.” Rukma intervened “We have to think carefully what the best thing is to do – we don’t want to fight between ourselves.”
“If we get Agung back first, and also Eko and his family…”
“That’s going to make it worse.”
“Let him speak Harta.” said Andhika.
Bandri explained his reasoning..
“We all want Agung back – we need him back – and I know he wants to be back here with his family…But he can’t leave the family at Pantai – and I’m telling you they’re a good family – Eko and his son respect women.”
“They’re Javanese!” sighed Praba.
“Brother, they were Javanese – but you saw what happened at the meal – they want to be part of us here – the thing you’re worried about is having more young women here that the tribesmen from Bahoi will want.”
“Alright – that’s true.”
“What is there to stop some of the Javanese tribesmen discovering the family at Pantai – with only Agung to defend them?.. Even he would not be able to stop three or four attacking that place – and he would not give up until they killed him.” Bandri’s matter of fact statement impacted on the others, and sent a cold shiver even through his own body.
Rukma said quietly and seriously..
“We must get my son here as soon as possible – with the family from Pantai….even if it means that the young women have to stay out of sight until we have a better plan.”
“Alright – I hear you – but if they come here it has to be done carefully – we don’t want Bahoi to find out.” conceded Praba.. “By boat I think.”
“If the family join us we need to think about the best way to do it?” Andhika concluded, looking around at the serious faces.. “We must talk it through with our wives to see what they think – this is not something we should do without everybody being in agreement.”
As Rukma walked back with Bandri to their houses after the meeting, he put his large hand on the younger man’s shoulder..
“Once they have talked it over I think everyone will see sense.”
Bandri replied in affirmation..
“Your family miss Agung don’t they?.. All the women were in tears last night… I didn’t realise that Mel would react like that – she misses him too.”
Rukma raised his eyebrows in mutual agreement, and then said seriously..
“I did mean what I said about the young women staying out of sight. They will need to stay in a house until we think of something.”
Bandri and Ayu sat in front of their porch, enjoying the gorgeous full moon as it climbed into the sky. The moonlight glimmered off the calm waters of the bay, highlighting the hills and features of the surrounding land.
The village seemed totally at peace, yet Bandri knew that he and the other men still had to be on their guard. If another tribe did want to attack, it could be a suitable night for it. He wished and prayed for a time that he could truly relax and enjoy such a special evening.
Ayu was thinking about her brother..
“I wonder how he’s getting on?”
“He’ll manage alright.”
“It’s amazing that we didn’t know about that family.” she mused.. “All that time they were just up the coast.”
“Until Agung found them.”
“So it needed my brother to wash his feet for us to find out?”
“We knew there was somebody there – but it was well hidden.”
She chided him..
“Well – you should be more curious!”
He chuckled and looked at Ayu as she gazed upwards at the face of the moon, then followed her eyes to study again the pitted circles, lines and shapes so clearly visible tonight. On one edge of the glowing circle he could see little projections and what seemed like shadows – the edge that would be away from where the sun would rise. Each time he had seen the waxing moon over the previous days, he had looked in particular at the edge of the shadow that appeared to cross over the circle, but now thinking that it was not just a circle but a ball. It had to be a ball – a very big ball with mountains, maybe like Tongkoko and Klabat.
He thought out loud..
“The moon is a ball – isn’t it?”
The calm observation made Ayu blink as she looked again at it.
“I think so.”
He told her why he thought so.
“How does the moon stay up there?… The mountains must be very heavy.”
“I don’t know.”
“So what is the sun?”
“It’s a big ball of fire or something.” he speculated, and then added.. “It must light up the moon before it rises in the morning… I don’t know how the sun stays up there.”
“Why doesn’t the fire burn out?”
“I don’t know… Maybe it will one day?”
Ayu cuddled him..
“No it won’t… It never will.”
They were silent for a few moments as they continued to gaze upwards. She turned to kiss him on the cheek before saying blithely..
“Maybe there are people on the moon – looking down at us?.. They could be saying.. ‘How does that stay down there?’”
His ears felt somehow exposed. The last time Agung had short hair was when he was a child. It was a beautiful morning. His heart was full of love for the girls who had deprived him of the straggling hair that protected him from the sun, and which he often hid behind if he didn’t want to get involved in the long discussions at Likupang.
Happily, he was collecting some dry coconut stalks for the cooking fire.
Lyana was harvesting mung beans in the cultivated plot behind the house, whilst Lela and Listeri were in the house looking after Eko.
He heard screams from behind the house.
As he ran round the corner of the house in the direction of the screams, Lyana came running into him – behind her were two men who stopped short when they saw him.
Everything happened fast.
A split moment of indecision as all three sized up the situation.
Agung’s hand went to the handle of his machete. The men stayed about five paces away.
They were both muscular and hairy chested. One held a spear and the other had a large bow. Both had knives in scabbards at their waists.
He thought they might rush him.
Agung suddenly remembered the spear Eko kept in an alcove at that corner of the house – he reached out, found it and thrust it into the ground in front of him, in readiness – then pulled out the machete – looking directly at them…
Lyana stood behind him.
“Tetep ana!” – “Stay there!” in Javanese.
Eko’s deep voice called from the house and through a partly opened shutter the front part of a bow loaded with an arrow poked out.
The men stayed there.
“Sijine mudhun senjata.” – “Put down your weapons.”
The older, taller one with a thick black beard did not move. The younger man with black stubble hesitated, and dropped his spear on the ground.
Agung put the machete in its sheath.
The one with the beard spoke coldly..
“Kita nedya ora gawe piala.” – “We mean no harm.” in Javanese.
“Banjur apa kowe nyerang kita?” – “Then why do you attack us?”
“Kowe saka ngendi?” – “Where are you from?” demanded the bearded man.
“Saka kene – nanging sampeyan ora.” – “From here – but you are not.” Eko added “Kowe saka ngendi?” – “Where are you from?”
“Bitung – lan saka kene.” – “Bitung – and from here.” came the reply. To Agung it sounded like a threat.
The two men stepped back a couple of paces leaving the spear on the ground, and then walked towards the trees. As he watched, before they disappeared from view, Agung thought he saw another man that joined them in the forest.
It was a brief but shocking encounter.
Lyana clung to him and looked up gratefully at her saviour. Instinctively, he put an arm around her and kissed her briefly on the forehead. He was still pumped up – thinking about the men and what should be done next.
Raharjo had been getting water. As he returned to the house he caught sight of the backs of three men walking in the direction of Likupang.
Running back to the house he found his sisters distressed.
His mother who was in urgent conversation with Agung, turned to him..
“I’m so glad to see you son – I didn’t know where you were…Two men just tried to attack us here, but Agung stopped them.”
Agung pointed to the forest and explained..
“If Eko had not spoken to them they could have attacked – but they have gone away into the trees.”
“I saw three men just now walking towards Likupang – was it the same men?”
“Did you see their faces?”
“No – only their backs – one was tall – he was carrying a big bow, and a knife. Another one was well-built with a knife. And I think one was an older boy – he had a small bow…I followed them until I thought they weren’t coming back here.”
“They need to know at Likupang that these men are coming.” said Agung seriously as he thought about his family there, and tried to weigh up the danger of leaving the people here if he left.
“Let me go – I can get to Likupang and tell them – if I go in the boat.” Raharjo said with conviction.
The others discussed this for a short while, and then Eko gave him permission.
Raharjo was just going down to the boat with a few items given to him for the trip when he saw a boat approaching the Pantai beach..
“Bandri is coming!” he told them as he ran back to the house.
As Agung helped his friend land the boat, Bandri was saying..
“What happened to your hair?”
and Agung was saying..
“Quick – men from Bitung have just tried to take Lyana – now they are on their way to Likupang – we have to warn them!”
“I came to tell you – everyone’s agreed this family can join – we all need to get back.”
“There’s only two boats – we can’t leave the girls here.”
“I can take one in this boat – you can go in the other boat.”
Raharjo was listening..
“I can stay here with mother and father – there’s a good place to hide if we need to.”
“Are you sure? – we’ll come back as soon as we can.”
Bandri studied the boys’ expression, seeing clarity and determination.
Nodding to his friend he made the decision..
“Agung will take Lyana and I will take Lela – then we’ll come back for you all.”
As they ran back up to the house to put the plan into action Agung gave his friend more details of what had happened.
“When did you get your haircut?”
“First thing this morning – why?”
“The people at Bahoi think you have long hair – these men saw you with short hair…We don’t want the Bahoi tribesmen to see the family joining Likupang – we need to disguise you and the girls – if we can?”
Harta was fed up. He was bored.
He was thinking.. ‘As usual his brothers had put him on lookout duty.’
All he had to relieve the boredom was to listen out for the whistle from the village. The men had decided that, occasionally one of them would blow a single whistle note, and the lookout needed to respond with a whistle, or with a flash of sunlight reflected off a polished bronze knife blade.
He looked down with pride at the knife he had been entrusted with, turning it over in his hand, forgetting for a while his duty. There were a few places on the hill that he needed to move between so that he could see down the most likely land approaches, and also out to sea. If the lookout needed to alert the village then there were several agreed whistle signals. He wished he could whistle as loud and clearly as Praba, who didn’t even need to put his fingers in his mouth.
Today, he had been reminded that he also needed to look out for Bandri’s return by boat, since he was to come back with one or two passengers, probably later that afternoon.
Finally he looked up, and saw the two boats in the middle distance. He couldn’t make out who was in the boats. All four people wore fisherman’s hats and they were all paddling hard.
Suddenly he trembled. He must make the whistle signal – one long whistle and four short whistles. He put his fingers in his mouth, but his mouth had gone dry, and hardly any sound came out. He licked his lips and tried again – some sound came out, but just not loud enough.
The boats were rapidly drawing closer. It looked like there were four men in the boats; two of them were dressed in loose-fitting fishermen’s garb – the type that some fishermen use to protect them from the glare of the sun as they sit on the sea, whilst waiting for a bite. He didn’t know who these men were – they could be attacking the village!
Harta gave up on the whistling, and ran at top speed down the hill, waded as quickly as he could across the river at the fording point, and alerted the others.
As the boats drew nearer to the beach Praba and the others could see it was Bandri and Agung plus two others – Lyana and Lela.
When they hit the beach Bandri was calling out..
“Quick get the women into a house – and Agung into a house!”
“Why – what’s wrong?”
“You’ll see why later – there are three men from Bitung coming here soon – we need to be ready.”
Breathing hard after the paddling, Bandri got out of the boat, briefly telling Harta and the other men what had happened at Pantai. Harta was sent back to his lookout position.
If the men were heading to Bahoi the main path would take them past Likupang – unless they deliberately chose to avoid the village. Carrying bows and quivers of arrows, Bandri and Rukma selected positions to hide and wait, Rukma behind the wide trunk of the old Acacia, whilst Bandri quickly scaled the grand old tree to where the thick branches spread out, using the toeholds in its hard greyish bark that he had carved out years ago. They were scanning the sandy coastal path along which the men would be likely to arrive. From his position, Bandri could see further along the paths, and could also see any signal from Harta, and he could even see Praba by the low wall at the edge of the village.
The brothers wanted to see if Rukma could identify the tall bearded man as the same one he and their father had met in the boats last dry season.
They didn’t have long to wait. Bandri could see three men in the distance on the sandy coastal path. The three stopped someway short of their village, talked for a while, and then took an alternative smaller path that could take them around the village. Bandri and Rukma jogged back to Praba to inform him that they were going to try and get closer to the three men on the other path, by working their way into the forest nearby – which they knew well.
The three walked quietly and quickly along the forest path. Hidden from view, Bandri and Rukma studied them as they passed close by their position in the undergrowth. They continued in the direction of Bahoi.
Bandri and Ayu’s house was close to the beach. From the porch Melati and Ayu had seen the two boats arriving. They had watched as Praba met the boats, and they had heard Bandri shouting..
“Quick get the women into a house – and Agung into a house!”
Ayu had recognised the sisters and so beckoned them to come to her. Lyana and Lela had run up the beach onto the porch next to Melati and then immediately these two strangers, who Melati could now see were young women, had been shown straight into the house. That was it, there had been no introductions.
Melati had looked up at the panting animated Agung in the porch as he took off his hat, showing his short hair. She had dreaded seeing him with the two women she had heard about, and now she was scared by the sudden events unfolding in front of her. She listened as Agung explained to Ayu about some men who were coming, and then he had asked them to join the other two women in the house, whilst he stayed hidden on the porch outside.
Melati remembered Ayu briefly hugging her as she trembled on the porch, and saying in her ear..
“Don’t worry… I think you will like them.”
Melati had looked at her friend to see calm reassurance in those dark brown, knowing eyes looking back at her. Then, Ayu had closed her eyelids and gently pushed her forehead against her own for a moment, sharing her anxiety. The gesture had spoken more than words ever could. Only then had she felt strong enough to meet the new women.
That afternoon Bandri and Harta paddled two boats to Pantai.
Eko was helped and lifted into one boat, along with as many household items from their house as could be managed, leaving just enough room for Bandri at the rear. Harta, Raharjo and Listeri were in the other boat with further personal items.
Eko’s family had said goodbye to their old home.
When they arrived in Likupang, Eko was carried considerately on a bamboo stretcher into Agung’s house, where the rest of his family were now sheltered.
Rukma took Harta aside, and smiling kindly at him, gave him a bamboo whistle.
That evening many things had to be discussed. After consulting Praba, Bandri took it on himself to explain to Eko’s family about the difficult problems that Likupang faced with the neighbouring tribe, and why it was so important that the new Javanese family should not be noticed by watching tribesmen from Bahoi. And now, as most people crowded into Agung’s house, Bandri was trying to explain to everyone why Agung needed to be hidden..
“Bahoi think he has long hair – from a distance that’s how you can recognise Agung – and they didn’t see his back. Those men didn’t know it was Agung – they’re going to tell all that to Bahoi… If they see him with short hair here, and there’s no one at Pantai they will know that the family has joined us… Also, they only saw Lyana, and they heard Eko’s voice but didn’t see him.”
Harta was still puzzled..
“But if they saw him with long hair at Pantai, would we still have to hide him?”
“Maybe – but right now they don’t know – so maybe we could use that to our advantage?”
“How?” Agung had returned to his taciturn self.
Ayu had a suggestion..
“Agu could wear some hair – if one of the women gave him some!”
“Apa?!” – “What?!” Agung grunted.
“That’s not a bad idea my friend..” Bandri smiled “Just for a while around the village until we think of a better idea.”
“Lela and I could cut out hair shorter, and Agung could have long hair.” offered Lyana.
Agung’s expression softened a little.
“And we could wear kathok and fisherman tops to make us look more like men.” added Lela.
“Alright – that sounds helpful.” Praba said in disbelieving frustration.. “Lyana and Lela must stay inside, until we have a better plan.. Now we need to think about who is staying in which house.”
“I’m sure that was the same man.” Rukma confirmed again.
This conversation was being held at night in the beach shelter. Apart from Eko who was in Agung’s house, only the men of the village were here. This meeting was not for women or children.
“So it looks like he has gone to Bitung – his tribe must be from there.” Praba was shaking his head as he tried to control his anger.. “And you say that there are tribes down there that always get women by just taking them like that.”
“I don’t know if they always do that.” said Bandri attempting to maintain a reasonable discussion.. “But people from Bitung say it happens a lot down there – so if his tribe is like that – that’s what they could try and do here.”
“The young girl in Bitung was taken by four men.” Agung told them emphatically.. “These people don’t care about anybody else – they’re animals – like pigs!”
“They behave like dogs..” said Praba in disgust, as if competing with Agung to insult the Javanese tribesmen.. “Just because they want sex they do anything they can to have sex with anyone they can take it from – they breed like stray dogs!”
“They tried to take Lyana!” Agung gushed with angry indignation.. “If they saw Lela they would have taken her… He was arrogant – ignorant! – a pig! – Worse!”
He could feel again the anger coursing through his veins. The other men had not seen the big man like this before. As he stood Agung pulled out the machete, the gleam of which they could see in the dim light. He made ferocious sweeping actions in the air as he spoke..
“I can see his face now… If they had gone at me – what I would do! – Worse than pigs!”
The seething rage in his voice was clear to the others, who all shared his emotion. Apart from a rubbing of foreheads and a wringing of hands, nobody moved or said anything for a while.
Agung finally sat down again and pushed the machete back in its sheath.
Rukma had been listening and watching carefully, as the younger men blew off steam..
“We need to calm down and think clearly.” he tried to persuade them.. “We do not want to start a war with Bahoi… If that happened people in Likupang would suffer. People here would die – even children.. They would try to kill all the men and boys – maybe the women too.”
Rukma’s solemn words had wisedom, and the others all knew it. The anger seemed to subside.
“It’s very bad..” Bandri finally said quietly..
“..but there are some things that might help.. When I was bringing Eko back in the boat he was telling me more about what happened at Pantai when the men attacked.”
The others quietly listened as he continued..
“Listeri, Lela and Eko were in the house when they heard Lyana’s screams. Eko couldn’t get up but he could see the men. It was Listeri who was holding the bow.”
“That was a big bow – and the arrow was pulled far back?” Agung said in surprise.
“That’s what I mean..” continued Bandri.. “Eko told me that when they were younger Listeri used to hunt with him – she’s very good with the bow – and she’s stronger than she looks.. And there’s something else..”
The others listened more carefully..
“They’ve needed to look after themselves at Pantai – Eko and Listeri have taught their children to use bows too – he says they’re all good at it.”
“Lela and Lyana were good at paddling too.” said Agung.
“They’re stronger than they look.” Bandri continued.. “Harta – what were Listeri and Raharjo like at paddling?”
“Alright – they were good.”
“They looked good at it to me.” Bandri said.. “They’re not helpless women you understand… When the sisters said they will cut their hair off and wear clothes to make themselves look like men from a distance – I think they were serious.”
“What about Agung’s hair?” Praba gave him a condescending look that Bandri ignored.
“Alright it’s dark now and even if they had someone on the hill, they couldn’t see Agung’s short hair – but what about tomorrow?…Do we want them to know this early what has happened?”
“He’s got a point.” Andhika was looking at Praba, but thought he should not say anything else since Agung might not be in the mood to take the topic further. Bandri also was watching his friend, and tried to steer the subject away from his hairstyle.
“It’s difficult to believe that everybody in Bahoi is that bad…” Bandri was trying to think of some way of improving the situation.
Praba cut in..
“Brother – sometimes you think this world is too good a place.. You think that tribesmen like that have good sides to them?.. They don’t deserve to be in this world – when they die they don’t deserve to be in the next world!”
“We’re all angry – but if we war with them we’ll suffer too – and so will our families.” Bandri tried to hold on to his feelings.. “I’m just saying that if there were any in the Bahoi tribe that were not like that – we could try and work with them somehow.”
“But how could we find out?” Andhika said with a tone of resignation.
Bandri continued, as the others were quiet..
“I was wondering why that third young man didn’t try and get Lyana?… If they all saw this girl on her own – maybe they talked about what they were going to do.. But he didn’t join in – maybe he decided not to take the girl.”
The others let him talk, not having any other reason to stop him…
“Maybe he was new to the tribe – maybe he had just been brought into the tribe?”
“If they’re bringing in new men..” said Rukma decisively.. “Then we have to bring in new men.”
The almost silent sound of an arrow, then the slicing thud as it burrowed itself deep in the coconut packing.
“That’s good!” Praba muttered.
“That’s Bandri.” Harta said confidently.
Another arrow flew out from Agung’s covered work shed. The archer was hidden from view. This arrow was much less forceful and clipped the edge of the target.
Several more arrows followed, with a wide variety of results. Two were almost as accurate as the first, although less powerful. Two others just went the distance but were off target. One smaller arrow hit the target dead centre, another nearly centre, whilst another small arrow didn’t make it very far and was way off target.
The target was strung up on a pole at the top of the beach. It was about chest height and twenty five paces from the shed. Praba and Harta were watching safely from the beach shelter off to one side.
Bandri walked out of the shed and across to the beach shelter. As he did so more arrows flew out, some less accurate than others. He smiled at his two brothers..
“What do you think, brothers?”
“Who shot the first one?” Praba asked.
“Listeri – and there’s another.” Bandri grinned as an arrow plunged forcefully into the centre of the target.
“Stay there.” He went back into the work shed, and a short while later he returned to the beach shelter followed by Ayu, Melati and Sukma.
“Ready!” he called.
In rapid succession two large arrows and two smaller arrows were launched; all of them hit the target. Two were dead centre and the others fairly close; one of the big arrows again with considerable force.
They all looked at each other, grinning in wonderment.
“Listeri has offered to tutor the women..” Ayu said smiling sweetly at Praba.. “..if that helps.. The men could have more time to work on the boat and go fishing if the women can help look after the village.”
“We want to learn too.” Sukma gushed excitedly. “Can Lyana and Lela teach us?”
Bandri looked at Praba and raised his eyebrows as if asking a question.
“It’s just for a while – until we have a better plan?” Bandri was trying to persuade Agung, but the brooding man sat quietly unconvinced. Just then Ayu, Melati, Sukma, Lyana and Lela came giggling into the room from their target practise in the adjoining work shed.
The atmosphere changed dramatically.
“It’s a great idea, Agu.” Ayu enthused as she stroked the back of his head.. “It will be fun – like dressing up when we were kids.”
“Melati and me are going to help Ayu.” chirped Sukma, excitedly dancing around her big brother. Melati smiled warmly at him.
Agung’s demeanour had changed.
Lyana was smiling broadly at him as Lela laughed and lifted up her sister’s luxuriant hair showing him there was plenty for a wig.
“You wanted to take my hair off.” he complained with a wry smile.. “And now you want to put it back on!”
“And they can be boys!” Ayu grinned, and then added “What do you think?” as she rolled up Lela’s hair. The three of them posed in front of him.
The big man smiled.. “What can I think?”
Ayu, Melati and Sukma nimbly took each long strand of black shiny hair and sewed one end into a fabric cap which was made to fit Agung’s head. Gradually the wig took shape.
There were frequent visitors to Bandri and Ayu’s porch.
“It’s going to look too neat.” grumbled Harta negatively.. “They might think he’s a woman!”
“Don’t let him hear you say that!” advised Andhika.
“It has to be neat when we’re making it, Harta!” Melati told her annoying brother, and then challenged him..
“You couldn’t do it?!”
His sister offered him the tiny needle made from a fish rib and what appeared to be a strand of hair held between her forefinger and thumb. Harta took the needle and tried to take the strand of hair, grasping hopelessly at thin air.
“Huh!?” uttered the baffled youth who had fallen into the trap.
Sukma burst into sniggers as Melati meanly poked her tongue out at him. Even Ayu burst into laughter.
Faced with the three of them in fits of merriment, Harta shrugged.
Laughing loudly too, Andhika slapped him hard on the back.
Agung’s house had two sizable rooms and the attached large work shed, from which was the entrance door to the first room. From the first room there was a door into another ‘tandas’ – ‘privacy’ room at the back. One side of the work shed had no wall; the large covered area had served Agung as a multi-purpose smelting and carpenter’s space, porch, kitchen and now even a bedroom. Between the two living rooms he had never bothered installing a door into the doorframe. The arrangement had been fine for him, but it was less than ideal now.
Eko and Listeri had been hosted in the room furthest away from the entrance, whilst Lyana and Lela were to live in the first room. Agung had taken up residence in the work shed, where Raharjo also had a bunk bed. So far neither Agung nor the girls had left the house in daylight, in case they were seen by any of the Bahoi tribesmen.
This day, Agung occupied himself with making and fixing a door between the two rooms so that the parents and the daughters had a little more comfort, but also still allowed the daughters to easily help Listeri look after Eko, who was confined to lying on a bed. Later Agung intended to put another door through from the parent’s room into the ‘tandas’ room.
Eko was watching the young man hard at work making the new door between the living rooms. After a while Eko beckoned Agung to come over and sit beside him on the chair next to his bed.
“Agung – you are a thoughtful man… Listeri and I want to thank you and your family for all you are doing for us.”
“It’s good to have you here with us, sir.”
“Listeri tells me you are sleeping in your work shed?”
“That’s good for me – we can make another house soon.”
“I hear you are making another sacrifice..” Eko said with a smile.. “They are asking you to wear a wig – but I understand why… It’s a clever idea. Also my daughters can be safer if the tribesmen from Bitung do not see them as girls.”
“Lyana’s hair will grow again..” Eko mused as Lyana walked through the new doorway into the room.. “What do you think of her hair now?”
Lyana’s hair was now much shorter – similar to the length and style of Harta’s. It revealed her shapely neck. Eko was watched the young man closely.
Agung looked up at her, meeting her eyes which caused a spontaneous reaction in him. Even with her short hair, he was very aware of her sexuality and how attractive he found her. He could not find the words to answer her father, and for a few moments became the shy man Eko remembered when they first met. Eko had his answer.
Lela still had her long groomed but rampant hair. She came into the room soon after her older sister. Agung automatically looked up at her, and Lela instantly smiled at him. Her smile Agung had discovered was different to that of her older sister. Lela’s feminine smile was more modest, as was she, and in some ways he found her even more lovely – he wanted to keep looking at her but remembered not to. Instead he looked uncomfortably again at her father, who was watching him with amusement.
Eko spoke to his daughters, allowing Agung to regain his composure.
“Lyana, I think you need something to hide your neck.”
“Yes father, we are working on a fisherman’s top to try and give it a higher neck – and Bandri has found a kathok that fits me.”
The girls seemed to find whatever they had come into the room for, and went back through the doorway into the other room.
“I have not really thanked you for saving Lyana.” Eko put his hand up to stop Agung’s interruption..
“Yes – Listeri’s bow helped – but without you she would have been taken away, and maybe Lela too… I can see that you are committed to my daughters.”
He waited as Agung nodded solemnly, then Eko asked a specific question..
“Do you want both my daughters?”
Eko’s quiet, clear question took Agung by surprise, and made his mind race. He knew it was the most important question he had ever been asked. He felt his heart beating as he tried hard to give an answer, an answer that was worthy of the question.
“Sir – I believe they should decide if they want me.”
“I respect that answer Agung, and you are right – they will decide … But this is between me and you only – I just need to know how you feel.. If you cannot tell me yet, I will understand – but I fear that my time in this world is not long… I want to know if my daughters can be looked after well – if they can marry trustworthy men, who will love them and care for them – good men..” at this point he hesitated, then added “..or a good man.”
Agung understood. Eko had used the Malay dialect carefully.
“Can you tell me if you want both my daughters?”
Agung was trying to imagine a future without either Lyana or Lela, and he could not. He did not want to imagine them apart – he knew them only as part of each other. Admittedly he had kissed Lyana on her forehead for a fleeting moment, and touched them both in the middle of their backs! But he had never seen them without their sarongs or touched them intimately. Both of them he desired physically. But beyond all of this, their natures filled his heart with joy. He knew. He yearned for both of them in every way. He did want both of them, if they would have him, although he realised that this could be much too much to ask!
“Sir – if they want me… yes, I want them.”
Two days later, most of the village were crowded into the two rooms of Agung’s house. Both young women now had short hair, and both were dressed in fishermen tops and kathoks. The transformation was striking, but perhaps not totally convincing.
Eko was commentating..
“They still need to dust their legs and arms with mud or something.”
Listeri looked disapprovingly at her husband..
“Something – but not mud – and something on their necks just here.”
Kusama was encouraging..
“At a distance they will look much more like older boys now.”
Praba was watching closely, sucking his lip. He was not convinced yet..
“There is still something about the outline – they look too… smooth..”
Puteri interrupted her husband..
“What he means is that..” she picked up some spare fabric and quickly folded it up..
“..maybe a little padding might help here ..” tucking it under the fabric on one of Lela’s shoulders.
Joyah joined in..
“..and maybe here.”
Lyana tousled her sister’s hair a little, saying..
“Is that more like a boy?”
Praba gazed at Lela, and she smiled modestly in his direction. His appreciation of her youthful beauty needed little stimulating, but her coyness as she looked at him generated a tingle of excitement. A profound thought was taking hold, as he realised how desirable he found her. Forgetting himself, Praba voiced his thoughts..
“They’ll see her smile.”
Joyah and Puteri glowered at him.
The chattering visitors had left Agung’s house now. Listeri stayed with her husband in their room, whilst the young women dressed as boys were in the next room, adjacent to the work shed. Raharjo had just gone off with Harta. Agung was just about to walk out into his work shed, thinking that Lyana and Lela were now going to change their clothes.
“Agung” Lyana said softly.. “You haven’t said anything about our outfits… What do you think?”
He had been quietly standing at the back of the room, feeling that he should not say anything. He was just happy to watch and keep his thoughts to himself. He turned back into the room to look at them both. Lyana was standing there gently smiling at him with her head on one side, and Lela stood quietly just behind her with slightly raised eyebrows as if asking a question.
His heart skipped a beat – they wanted his opinion. How could he tell them what he really thought? To him they looked wonderful whatever they were wearing. Then he knew for certain – he had told Eko the truth. His mouth suddenly seemed dry. He swallowed and couldn’t help giving a little cough, as he struggled to find words.
“Are you alright?” Lyana asked stepping closer, putting a hand soothingly against his throat. She was looking into his eyes.
“Yes… yes, fine – thank you.”
“I want to thank you..” She paused and moved her hand tenderly to the side of his neck.. “..for saving me from those men.”
Before he said anything in reply she gently pulled his head down towards her. He had instantly yielded to the slightest pressure from her fingers. She kissed him slowly on his unsuspecting lips.
Lela came closer and put her hand on his arm. Just after the mesmerised man was released from the kiss, Lela kissed him delicately on his cheek and said quietly..
“Thank you for looking after us.”
When he raised his head, he realised that naturally, somehow, he had put an arm lightly around both of them. He was not sure what had happened, but in his splendid stupor he managed to remember Lyana’s question.
“I like your outfits… very much.”
Not knowing what else to say, blinking as blinded by a bright light, he hesitantly backed through the door way, and gently closed the door.
After the meeting in Agung’s house Melati and Sukma had gone to look after Musang in his cage. They sat quietly chatting to one another as Musang lay in Sukma’s lap.
“Sssh, look…” whispered Sukma “..my brother’s just come out – maybe he’s going to try on the wig.”
Through the small gaps in the cage wall they could see across to Agung’s work shed. If they kept still and talked very quietly, they knew he probably could not see them watching.
Melati whispered softly..
“He’s just standing there – doing nothing… What’s wrong with him?”
Agung was standing looking at the door for some time, as if in a trance.
“There you are – now he’s looking at the wig.” Sukma sniggered, and then continued in frustration..
“He’s taking a long time – go on, put it on!”
Agung still appeared to be thinking about the wig. At last, he looked quickly about to see if anyone was around, and then finally put it on.
Melati and Sukma desperately stifled their joyous giggles.
He appeared to get it on back to front at first, although it looked quite effective after he pulled it about a bit. Stroking the hair down around his face he was evidently still uncertain, so he pulled out the machete and tried to peer at himself in its partial reflection.
The two girls now had tears of pent-up laughter rolling down their cheeks, and were tightly holding their hands over their mouths, fearing he would hear them.
At length he ventured out into the open. Slowly he walked, head held upright, right past Musang’s cage down towards the other men working on the half-finished boat.
Raharjo had stayed close by his parents and sisters for the first couple of days in Likupang. But he was keen to get out of the house and look around the village. Having spent so much time on his own or just in the company of his family in Pantai, it was exciting to be in a new extended family at Likupang.
The closest boy to his own age was Harta, with whom he had been able to strike up a friendship.
Bandri had taken great pains to explain to Harta, before they went in the boats to collect Raharjo, Listeri and Eko that although they had Javanese dialects, they were good people. Although wary of Raharjo at first, Harta now seemed happy to have a new friend who was eager to learn all he had to tell, even though the different dialects meant they sometimes misunderstood each other.
The two of them paced quickly around the village, as Harta gave him a detailed guided tour. Now they were on the beach where the two of them were skipping stones out to sea in friendly competition.
Harta was explaining about how he was often told to be lookout on the hill, which he pointed out to his friend.
“They often tell me to do things like that – I get told to do a lot of things – but I want to decide for myself what I want to do.”
“My father tells me what to do – but I always ask him if I can do things.” said Raharjo.
“Does your father let you do things on your own?”
“Lots of things – like fishing, hunting with my bow…”
“My brothers won’t let me do stuff like that on my own.”
“But I want to ask father first – he tells me what I can do.”
Harta said nothing, and skipped stones with more force.
“I ask my mother and my sisters too.” said Raharjo earnestly.
“My brothers think they know everything.” complained Harta.
Raharjo was quiet and thoughtful for a few moments, then said..
“Bandri knows a lot.”
Harta shrugged “Bandri thinks he knows everything…”
“Bandri doesn’t know everything… but he knows a lot.” said Raharjo with conviction.
“Praba thinks he knows everything… Agung thinks he knows everything… ”
“Agung doesn’t know everything… but he knows a lot.”
“They think they know everything… They should ask me – I know a lot more than they think.”
“But they ask all the time.” the younger boy insisted.
Harta was getting annoyed at the new boy who thought he knew the other men in the village better than him..
“How can you say that?!”
Raharjo realised he had just upset his new friend, and was quiet for some moments, then tried to explain…
“When I came to Likupang I asked my father if I could walk around and learn about the village – and he told me that he thought it was alright, but I should ask Agung…”
Harta carried on skipping stones.
“… I asked Agung and he said that he wasn’t sure, and I should ask Bandri… then when Bandri came into the house I asked him… and Bandri said it was fine with him, but first he should ask Praba…”
Harta stopped skipping stones. Perplexed, he listened to Raharjo as he continued his explanation..
“… after Bandri had asked Praba he told me that it was alright, but first I should ask my father… I said I had… so Bandri said that it was fine… but then he said the best person to ask about the village was you.”
All of Likupang still mourned Wayan, especially after the manner of his death, but Harta in particular could never forget or forgive what had happened – every single day he thought about his beloved father and the cowardly pig that had cold-bloodedly murdered him. His brothers had told him that they couldn’t prove that the tall bearded man had killed their father, but still Harta yearned for vengeance and he hated the Bahoi tribe that protected the murderer. His brothers had explained to him many times of the dangers of trying to kill the Bahoi man, but that didn’t stop him wanting revenge.
The new boy from Pantai had lifted his spirits, and he had almost forgotten now that Raharjo used to be Javanese. He thought the grown up girls from Pantai were astonishing; very pleasant to look at and think about. He was a red-blooded youth and they were exciting. When he was on his bed before he went to sleep, he thought about both Javanese sisters a lot, especially Lela. But they were older than him and they were with Agung – the man Harta would never consider annoying.
Apart from Lyana and Lela, he thought there were just no suitable girls in his village. Sukma was too young and too silly – besides she was always with his sister Melati. ‘They both poke fun at me all the time.’ he thought dismissively, even though he was one of the men now!
He had greatly enjoyed the adventure of spying on the Bahoi village. When he was watching their village for all that time he kept finding himself looking at one of the girls. She was mending a fishing net in the shade of a tree. Sometimes the girl would get up from her crouched position and walk into the bottom floor of one of the tall houses to get something, then come out a little later and go back to her task. When her long hair fell down onto her face she flicked it idly away with her fingers, sometimes pushing the offending locks back behind an ear. She wore a simple sarong, frayed at the hems, which flapped in the gusts of wind blowing in from the bay. It was difficult to tell, but she looked a little older than Sukma but younger than Melati, and attractive in some mysterious way.
Harta liked the way this strange girl walked and moved. He knew nothing more about her, but remembered her vividly – she seemed magical. But he felt afraid for her – ‘What was her life like in a place like Bahoi?’ He wondered what she would be like if he met her – ‘Perhaps she wouldn’t trust him or speak to him, or perhaps she might?’ He just couldn’t stop thinking about the Bahoi girl. He wondered if there was a way to get close enough to the Bahoi village on his own – so he could see her again.
Rukma had noticed that young Harta needed more challenge and so he and Andhika coached him in some more strenuous activities. One of these was dealing with any venomous snakes in the vicinity of the village such as cobras, vipers and banded kraits.
“We use the forked sticks to help clear the bushes.” explained Rukma.. “So if you get a snake on the ground you can pin it down behind the head.”
“If it’s in the bush or under a rock – don’t try and touch it.” warned Andhika, although he was also concentrating hard on the task in hand.. “It can twist and strike you – better to get it on the ground – where you have more control – even Bandy didn’t want to be bitten!”
“We could just kill the snake when its pinned down.” smiled Rukma as Andhika succeeded in finally catching the hissing and coiling well-camouflaged reddish-brown pit viper.
Harta was keen and excited.
“What’s the best way to kill it!?”
“If you’ve got the machete – then chop its head off!” grinned the perspiring Andhika, standing up whilst he held the stick in place.
“Or whack it with something!?”
“Be careful, young man.” Rukma intervened with a serious tone.. “Treat them with respect and you’ll live to catch another one – if you’ve got the right stick you can break its neck without going near it.. But before killing – we’re just going to try and milk it.”
Into Andhika’s open hand, Rukma put the long handle of the venom pot, which was a small bamboo container with some raw bush turkey skin stretched over the top. Andhika tapped the pot gently near the pointed upturned snout of the angry snake.
“He’s trying to get the snake to bite the skin.” commented Rukma.. “There – look what’s happening as it’s chewing at the skin – a big snake like this has a lot of poison.”
“The black cobra spits poison at you!” declared Andhika.. “It’s more difficult to catch than this one.” After a short while, he added.. “I think this beauty has given us quite a bit.” and handed the venom pot back to Rukma, who exchanged it for Agung’s machete.
With a swift deliberate blow Andhika decapitated the viper, whose patterned body kept moving even as he picked it up and handed the length over to his student.
Andhika nudged the head on the ground with the machete and the mouth opened wide, briefly showing its two long, backwards-curved fangs with drops of yellow poison, before snapping shut again. Standing up straight, he passed the machete to Harta, saying..
“Now, let’s see what other snakes we can find.”
A couple of days had passed since the garment fitting when Lyana asked Agung to come into their room from his work shed, where he was cutting some new timber. Only Lyana was in the room, since Lela was looking after Eko in the adjoining bedroom.
“What do you think of our tops now?” Lyana asked, turning around in front of him so that he could inspect the modifications.
There was definitely some improvement in the design which somehow disguised the female form underneath, although he was not sure what had been done to create this effect. He smiled at her and shook his head..
“I have no idea how you have done that.” he said happily.
“Do you want to know the secret?” Her eyes were gleaming.
Pulling undone a slip knot, she slipped off the top completely in front of his surprised eyes to reveal that she had material bound around her breasts in the form of an undergarment. The material was not tightly bound, but covered and held her well formed breasts sufficiently to disguise them when the padded top was worn. Her shapely bare shoulders and arms were exposed, as was her gloriously smooth midriff, with a tantalising sight of an enthralling navel. Instantly, a prolonged pulse of excitement was transmitted through his body.
As his eyes took in the delicious outline in front of him, Lyana smiled warmly at him as she felt his eyes running over her skin. In the heat of the moment he reached out his hands, and gently, but decisively, pulled her to him and kissed her. It was a mutually spontaneous loving act of passionate affection. The third time he had kissed her, but the first one in which he knew what was happening – a long, passionate, although fumbling kiss.
The sound of the door opening caused them to spring apart. Lela entered. Of course, she saw that something had happened and turned to go back out, but Lyana rushed to her and caught her gently by the arm..
“Sis, please wait… I was just showing Agung our secret – how we look like boys now.” Lyana was nervously giggling, and seemed afraid of Lela’s reaction.
Lela stayed and closed the door between the rooms, but kept her back turned to him as the two sisters talked quietly – too quietly for him to hear. Agung was embarrassed and, getting distressed at the situation, went to leave the room but hesitated not wanting to abandon either of them, or seeming to be rude..
“Sorry… it was my..” he started to say, when Lyana interrupted him..
“It’s alright Agung.. It was me – Lela understands… Don’t you Lela?”
Agung’s heart was hurting. He loved them both, and suddenly he seemed to have hurt them both. He felt there was some conflict now between them – the first he had seen. He was crestfallen.
The young women recognised his demeanour and came to him, trying to cheer him up. Lyana said with renewed enthusiasm..
“See – Lela has the same top!..”
As if in fun, Lyana pulled the corner of her sister’s garment off her shoulder, showing part of the undergarment, her feminine bare shoulder and slender upper arm. Lela seemed to consent to the display, laughing, and then modestly pulled back her top.
For a brief moment Lela’s eyes looked into his soul, before she blinked and dipped them again. He was unsure what her eyes had said, but it seemed like she had cast him adrift at sea, leaving him at the mercy of the waves.
He forced an awkward smile, saying something like..
“I like your tops… it was a good idea.” He could not remember what exactly he had said at that point, but both sisters had smiled their response.
Lela then turned to attend to something.
As he left through the door into his work shed, Lyana held his arm and puckered her lips briefly towards him to blow him a kiss. Her eyes reassured him that he had her affection.
“You can’t leave him alone – can you?!” Lela told her sister after she had closed the door, and knew they couldn’t be heard.
“Sis… It’s alright – he wants me too.” Lyana tried to sooth her sister.. “You know how I feel about him.. Especially after he saved me.. And you like him too, don’t you?”
“Not like you do – ever since we met him you have talked about nothing else. If he wants you then let him show it… You shouldn’t be so obvious!”
“Yes, you were! – taking off your top like that.”
“Alright… I’m sorry Sis..” Lyana hugged her younger sister..
“He’s shy still… I just wanted to let him know it’s alright – it’s safe here – I trust him. Nobody else saw.”
“Mother could have come in.”
“She’s showing the women how to use the bow on the beach.”
Lela was softening, and returned the hug..
“Ly, you will always be my big sister… you know don’t you?..”
“Know what Sis?”
“If you want Agung, then you should have him… Don’t worry about me – I’m not sure I want to get married anyway.”
“Sis.. but I do worry about you – I always will. I never want to be away from you..” Lyana hugged her sister tighter.
“I love you too… we will always be together won’t we?” Lela mumbled emotionally.
The two sobbed in each other’s arms.
After a while, Lyana said softly..
“Likupang is a good place, don’t you think?”
“They have been very kind to us – and mother and father.. Raj is happy too.”
“As long as we are both in the same village – it would be alright do you think – I mean if I did marry him? – as long as you are near?”
Lela said nothing for some moments, then slowly nodded and quietly said..
Lyana knew that her sister was trying to accept something that was not really acceptable, since she felt that Lela also had a special place for Agung in her heart..
“Oh Sis, I’m sorry – it’s just me being selfish.. I was trying to think if there was someone in the village you liked – a man?”
“I don’t have to be with a man!” Lela said in annoyance.
“Don’t forget Sis.. You liked Bandri didn’t you?”
“Don’t be silly Ly – look at Ayu – he’s not interested – he’s married!” Lela changed the tone of her voice.. “And don’t tell me I like Praba again!”
They giggled conspiratorially.
“How about Harta?” Lyana giggled.
Lela mused out loud..
“He’s quite good looking I suppose.” then she burst into giggles again.. “But maybe a bit too young!”
“You’re not going to be able to teach him anything!” Lyana teased.
“You don’t know anything either!” Lela countered, giggling.
“I can imagine.”
“Imagine what?” Lela said in a snooty manner, pretending that she could not guess what her sister was thinking about.
“Agung – he’s so strong.. you know?.. His muscles are wonderful.” Lyana pretended to swoon.. “He’s a real man who can look after you.”
“He’s big.” Lela said doubtfully.
“What’s wrong with that?” Lyana teased, with a glint in her eye.
The modifications to the fishermen’s tops were complete.
Praba and the others were quite impressed by the effect and, when combined with strategic make-up, at a casual glance the two young women would now pass as older boys. The immediate worry of the Bahio tribesmen seeing the girls had dissipated somewhat, and they were now able to move about within the village.
Some wild teal ducks had been netted, and bamboo pens were made to keep them at a couple of places on the edge of the village. They did make quite an alarm noise when they were caught, but after they became more domesticated they made different bbbrrrp-bbbrrrp noises when people approached, because they wanted feeding.
“It doesn’t matter if they say brrtt-brrtt or bbbrrrp-bbbrrrp – as long as they help to warn us of strangers.” Bandri commented with a grin.
It appeared that Endah had accepted the new Javanese family quite well. Listeri and the girls tutored the other women in the use of the bow, which was taken up enthusiastically by Ayu and Sukma. Melati was less keen, but joined in quietly. Listeri, Kusama, Joyah and Puteri seemed to get on well. The feeling that the women could also defend the village, if needed, lifted the spirits of everyone.
The relief was palpable within the community, and some aspects of life returned to normal. One or two men were able to resume fishing, and hunting locally in the forest was taken up again. Work on the boat was progressing. Village life seemed invigorated by the new arrivals.
What’s more, Agung had maintained his use of the wig when he was out and about, despite some sticky moments which could be overlooked. In himself, Agung was bursting with life. He had started to build a new house in the village, and it was understood by everyone that he needed to have better accommodation than his work shed. He was gaining confidence in his feelings for Lyana, who he now believed was genuinely interested in him, but he could no longer believe that Lela wanted him. He told himself that he was fortunate to be given the affections of one of the girls, and that he would be greedy to expect this from both of them. However, his feelings for Lela were undiminished, and indeed, he yearned for her even more.
Likupang life seemed to have fallen into a routine. For Harta this was painfully boring and yet he also realised that this meant he might be able to slip away from the village for a good part of the day without being noticed. He knew his brothers wouldn’t let him go on his own, especially anywhere near the Bahoi village, so he had devised a plan of action. First he needed to build up a stock of goodwill and so put in lots of energetic time helping with the big boat, without being asked. Indeed, his family were also impressed by the efforts he was making to look after his mother.
“Harta.. The lower boat deck is just about finished now.” his big brother commented with satisfaction.. “You’ve worked really well on it.”
“Tomorrow I’d like to do something different.” Harta said happily.. “Maybe some fishing.”
Praba carried on corking the hull..
“You’ve earned a break, brother.”
At first light the next day he prepared the morning sarapan for Melati and his mother. It looked like the day was going to be hot and clear. As his sister came out onto the porch, Harta was happy and casual..
“I’ve already eaten – I’m going fishing today.”
Melati looked at her brother with a curious but innocent expression..
“Have you asked?”
Picking up some fishing gear and his bow, he answered with a smile..
“Praba says it’s alright.”
His sister smiled her acceptance at him, before going back into the house to help their mother. Harta picked up some more gear from their kitchen and carried it all down to the smallest fishing boat. Now paddling the boat out and around the edge of the mangroves he headed northwards. ‘That was easy enough.’ he thought to himself as he slipped out of sight of the village.
Instead of stopping at the fishing spot commonly used by the village he kept paddling, until he paused and rested while preparing his poisoned arrows. Recently he had collected a lot of snake poison which he had mixed with Antiaris seed juice. Using some arrows with very sharp stone points bound tightly into the shaft, he made sure the poisonous thick syrup was well soaked into the binding and behind the ‘V’ of the tip – if the arrow penetrated a crocodile’s scaly skin, he wanted to make sure the poison was not wiped off in the process. The tip of the needle-sharp point itself he carefully wiped clean of the black sticky poison, in case he accidentally scratched himself. Straightening each feathered flight with his thumb and fingers, he placed the arrows strategically in the pouch hung inside the hull.
After scanning the glittering blue bay waters and seeing no other boats, Harta started his journey into the dark muddy channel between the arching mangrove roots of the swamp. Many times in his mind’s eye he had rehearsed the route he would take and this was the part he found most daunting – paddling his small boat along a winding waterway that he knew was frequented by the loathsome salt crocodiles. There was always the uneasy idea that some lurking monster would decide to attack the hull or the bamboo outriggers, tipping him into its deadly jaws. He had timed this journey to coincide with high tide which allowed him to make quick progress right into the swamp and on through the nippa palms until he was able to see dry land again, not much further ahead. From his days of surveying the landscape from his lookout duties on the hill, and from earlier incursions, he recognised that he was now over half-way towards Bahoi. Concealing the boat in a dense cluster of palms near the main channel, he prepared for the second stage of his expedition.
It was still very early morning but in the depths of the swamp it was already building into a viscous heat; his body needed liquids and energy – especially for what lay ahead. He downed plenty of freshwater and honeycomb. He was going to take his smaller bow, the pig-skin purse of poison, and the straightest, sharpest arrows he could make, two daggers and a spear. Leaving the second spear, a big bow and the crocodile arrows in the boat, he donned a small rattan backpack containing: fire stones, twine, a water container, a pack of honeycomb, the bamboo whistle, and a sharp stone edge.
On dry land he came to the small coastal path, but this would be too obvious and dangerous to use if he wanted to sneak up close to Bahoi. After waiting still in the vegetation for a short while, listening and watching, Harta silently crossed the path up into higher, densely wooded land – taking care to leave no trail.
By early-morning he had reached the tall strangler fig tree, and slipped his agile body though a narrow gap in the sprawling trunk. The original tree which the fig’s tendrils had smothered in its wooden embrace had long since rotted away, leaving a hollow centre housing all kinds of plant and animal life. Watching out for venomous creatures he climbed carefully upwards. Leaving his back pack and other gear in a cranny, he kept climbing. High up, through a small gap he now had a view across the inlet towards the Bahoi village. It was not as close as Andhika and he had been, but it provided an overview of all the houses and activity going on.
He had been here before, but this time he was planning something different. In addition to watching the inhabitants, he was trying to memorise the entire layout of the village – including the best entrance and exit points. He wondered what his older brothers would be telling him now? Was he crazy? Alone in the tree right now he felt the need for some brotherly guidance, and started a mental dialogue to help him focus.
‘I’m going over the river by that fallen tree – then through those rushes above the path.’
‘Watch out for crocodiles and snakes, little brother!’
‘Can I take my spear?’
‘Hide it and your backpack before you get to the village.’
It was nearly mid-day and the overhead sun scorched down. Harta was now hidden in the partial shade of some loose bushy vegetation over which scrambled a white jasmine vine, between three large granite boulders that jutted out at odd angles in the higher ground just back from the beach next to the Bahoi village. This was where they kept their fishing boats between some slanting coconut trees. He had used every stalking technique he had been taught, and he felt as if he had just invented a couple more. His heart was pounding and his mind was racing – he was exhilarated. Now he was close enough to see people clearly and even hear conversations!
Harta’s Javanese was improving since Eko’s family had joined Likupang, so he understood most of what was being said. A solidly built, youngish man of average height with thick black hair was talking..
“Kepengin iku rampung sadurunge nemu maneh.” – “He wants it finished before he gets back.”
Harta thought the woman was quite young and quite pretty. She had thick black hair about shoulder length, and was crouched on the ground working on a coconut twine fishing net. In an exasperated voice she replied to the man watching her.
“Brother – he expects everything done before he gets back.”
The man who had been leaning against a tree, stepped over to one of the boats and bent over to look inside..
“I’ll find a piece of wood.”
He walked towards the village buildings which were about thirty paces away. He shouted back, apparently as an afterthought..
“Aissa will help – I’ll get her.”
Harta watched silently, as the woman carried on working and the man disappeared from sight behind a house. He looked around his position – he dare not get any closer. For some reason, only now did he feel fear – perhaps it was the act of overhearing private conversations that made the people in Bahoi seem real. Indeed, it suddenly dawned on him that if he was discovered the outcome would be disastrous – putting his family back in Likupang in great danger. He had betrayed their trust in him. He felt a cold sweat break over his body as he realised how difficult it would be to leave undetected.
His thoughts were dramatically interrupted by the appearance of the girl he had seen before – the girl he had been thinking about so often and for so long. There she was walking in the same tattered sarong in an almost absent minded, carefree manner from the village towards the woman, her long hair falling idly around her shoulders. The day seemed airless and baking hot. She was older than Sukma – he could tell from the sweet swell of her breasts and the way she walked. As she knelt down on the sand in the shade of the trees, beside the fishing net, the woman told her..
“Your brother wants these nets mended and the hole in that boat fixed – before he gets back.”
The girl put her hand lightly on the young woman’s leg..
“My brother demands too much from you.. Father lets him get away with it.”
To Harta, her voice sounded musical. He watched her intensely, studying her expressions and mannerisms – seeing the way she turned her eyes and raised her eyebrows under the hair that fell partly over them. Her nose and mouth were uniquely pleasant, of a shape and manner he had never seen before, but yet of an indefinable rightness and familiarity. To Harta, she was a girl of mystery and magic. Right now, his earlier thoughts of danger were submerged. He just watched this new person named ‘Aissa’ that, unbeknown to her, was so affecting his life. She was so close and yet so far; there was so much he could never know about her – maybe she was already a bride or promised in marriage?
The woman and the girl continued mending the nets together. Occasionally they chatted quietly to each other, but so quietly that Harta could make no sense of most of the conversation. Time slipped by, and he started to think about how long it would take to get back home, even though he wished he could stay. However, these thoughts were instantly overcome by the arrival of two men; the solidly built, youngish man and the tallish one with a black beard – the man hated by everyone in Likupang!
Harta’s instant thought was for his bow and poisoned arrows. With consumate efficiency borne from years of practise, his hands smoothly and silently reached for the poison purse to dip an arrow head, then nicked the back of the arrow onto the bowstring, pulling it back as it was raised. This close he would be sure of a hit – the choice was where on the body? At this point he had to think – ‘What would happen if he released the arrow?!’
The man was now standing with his back to Harta, next to the fishing net which was being repaired. He dropped a short length of wood on the ground..
“When you’ve finished that – use this for the boat.”
The girl looked up at him..
“The net will take both of us the rest of the day.. Can’t you fix the boat, big brother?”
The man glared down at his young sister’s impudence and an argument ensued, but Harta was unable to comprehend what took place for many moments.
Harta had lowered his bow.. ‘It was madness!’ He would be murdering this man in cold blood – in front of his sister! They would surely catch him and kill him – and then kill his family in Likupang! Rukma had said that! Why didn’t he listen?! Harta shook with horror, blinking back the sweat that ran into his eyes and agonising at his own stupidity. Fighting the demons in his soul he came to terms with the reality of the situation – trying to compose himself by breathing deliberately and deeply. He put the arrow back in its quiver and knew that when possible, he must leave.
Once he had regained his composure he was able to observe that the two men were now inspecting the boat and appeared to be sizing the wood to plug a small hole. Using a long bronze knife, they tried shaving the wood and tapping it into the hole, but it didn’t seem to fit. The bearded man got a smaller short-bladed knife from his waist band, and started whittling away at the wood until it fitted and they could bang it satisfactorily into the hole, after which the two men returned to the village, leaving the girl and woman on their own again. The woman continued to mend the net with her head down, saying in a mournful tone..
“Be careful Aissa.. If I spoke to him like that he’d beat me.”
Getting lightly to her feet, the girl nonchalantly replied..
“He’s too scared of father.”
Happily, she performed a skipping walk that took her much closer to Harta’s hiding place, casually reaching up to break off a stem of the jasmine vine that tumbled down over the boulders. Meanwhile, small furry honeybees buzzed harmlessly around the blooming jasmine vine collecting sweet nectar and yellow dust. The act of pulling the stem to break it caused some of the riper jasmine flowers to fall down around her and land as white snowflakes on her black hair. Now in the shade of the vine, she smelt a perfumed flower and turned to pull off another stem. Then she froze.
Harta was retreating further behind the vegetation and now was motionless hoping that she wouldn’t notice him – but she did! In that desperate moment as they stared at each other, he put his forefinger to his lips, silently pleading with her to stay quiet, and his other trembling hand happened to shake the jasmine vine causing more white flowers to fall. She breathed in and started to open her mouth as if to scream, but hesitated as the delicate flowers gently floated down between them.
Slowly her lips pursed together and her eyes quizzed him as if to say.. ‘Who are you?!’
Her response made him almost weep with relief and he tried to mouth his name ‘Harta’ only to receive an even more puzzled look of utter disbelief. Her eyes scanned his form, outlined in the dappled shade against the grey granite boulder behind him – then her eyes returned to stare again at his face. She had seen his weapons, but seemed to assess that he was no threat to her.
She turned her head away briefly to look at her companion still seated on the ground mending the net, and then glanced towards the village before looking back at him. After another lengthy moment, she whispered urgently..
“Pindhah!” – “Go!”
Understanding her meaning, he quickly nodded. Slipping sideways, he backed out between two of the boulders and they lost sight of each other. Now he was back in the rushes above the path. Making as much haste as he dared, he retraced his route back to the crossing of the river behind the fallen tree, all the time expecting pursuit or a hail of arrows – but nothing happened.
Back at the base of the strangler fig he paused for breath in the undergrowth, listening. As his heartbeat gradually returned to normal, he was tempted to climb the tree to look back at the village, and to look back at Aissa, but that would be tempting the generosity of the spirits – they had already granted him and his family the blessing of an escape.
He started picking his way back towards his boat hidden in the nippa palms, reflecting on what had occurred. Now he felt that truely it was Aissa that had granted the blessing. She could easily have called out – yet she chose to set free an armed stranger. If her brother found out what had happened then she may suffer too. He hoped she would keep their secret, or at least not tell her brother. He cursed himself for recklessly endangering his family.
Anxiety gnawed at him. The encounter was seared into his consciousness. Also fresh in his mind was the layout of the Bahoi village and its surrounds. When he got back to Likupang he was determined to find a piece of fabric on which to draw a map.
It was late afternoon when he reached the boat and started to paddle out of the channel. The water level was lower and the passage more difficult. Several grey grinning crocodiles lurked on the mudflats and a couple slid into the dark waters as he passed. Gritting his teeth, he kept up a steady careful stroke. He eyed the outriggers on each side as they trailed through the water, half-expecting at any time the bamboo to be clamped in monstrous jaws, and then he glanced at his ready bow and poisoned arrows, and then again he eyed the outriggers. He kept thinking.. ‘Where are they?’ Eventually, he arrived at the widening exit to the broad bay waters as the sun was nearing the horizon. Before setting off back to Likupang he turned the boat around, looking back into the channel where a large crocodile was still visible on a mud bank. He wanted to know something.
Picking up his big bow Harta loaded and took aim, releasing a large stone-tipped poisoned arrow which flew straight and true, lodging in the side of the neck. The beast immediately rose on its squat legs and made for the water, but by now he had sent another arrow on its way which struck the sweeping tail just as it entered the brown waters of the channel. He loaded his third arrow but there was nothing to aim at. The water surface was hardly disturbed. He waited. There was a ripple on the surface, then a scaly tail broke out and slapped back in. A short while later a thrashing started. At first it looked like one crocodile rolling and twisting, then he saw at least two scaly tails break the surface and the foaming waters grew darker. In his revulsion, he launched his third arrow into the middle of the mayhem.
As Harta rounded the mangroves and approached Likupang he saw his mother standing on the beach near the water’s edge, silently waiting. Behind her Melati and his brothers were having a debate. They all stared at him. He had no fish – they had trusted him and he had deceived them. He felt that he deserved any and every punishment that they chose to give him. He will confess to his deceit – but only that he had gone to climb the strangler fig tree to look at Bahoi from a safe distance. Leaving all his gear in the boat, Harta stepped out onto the pebbled beach at low tide with the setting sun behind him, and walked meekly towards his family.
Raharjo was an inquisitive and energetic boy, keen to learn from everyone. In particular he had a respect for Bandri, who had made time for him ever since they had first met. Likewise, Bandri enjoyed the company of the bright and sincere young boy.
The boy wanted to learn more about honeybees, especially the big wild honeybees that made their large crescent homes under the branches of trees, and so the two went together for a honey gathering trip close to the village, where Bandri had noticed colonies before. One of the colonies had built their home quite close to the ground, and the bees were clearly visible from a neighbouring rocky outcrop. As long as they were extremely careful, it was possible to get close enough to see the bees going about their everyday business without them being disturbed.
Raharjo had heard how these bees could be very dangerous if lots of them attacked. Bandri knew the dangers, especially if they did not make smokers. Under Bandri’s guidance the boy kept low to the ground and quietly skirted around the area so that they could crawl up the rock and peer over the top at the colony, thus lessening the chance that the bees would be put on the defensive. They talked quietly as they watched..
“Watch the bees on the outside – see what happens when a bee flies in to join them.” Bandri whispered.
The two waited for a while, looking at the many thousands of closely packed jostling black and orange striped bees that covered the large crescent bee home. A busy humming sound emanated from the dense mass.
“Some of the bees that fly in then start wiggling, and some of them seem to go right inside under the other bees.” Raharjo said.
Bandri looked at the boy with respect, since this observation had taken him years to see.
“How many bees are there?” asked Raharjo.
“I don’t know, but there are lots more than you can see on the outside because there are many other bees underneath – and then underneath them is the comb with honey in the top part and young bees at the bottom part.”
“When can we get some honey?”
“Soon – but I thought you would like to look at the bees first.”
“Bandri.. After you told me about the flowers, I looked at a lot of flowers – and I saw the yellow dust… What is the dust for?.. I mean is it just for the bees that are collecting it?”
The question was a good one. It was a good question because Bandri felt there had to be an important reason for the flowers to make the dust… and not just to give it away to the bees. It was also a good question because he didn’t know the answer. As he lay there he remembered Ayu telling him in fun that ‘he should be more curious!’
The boy was quietly waiting for the answer.
After a pause Bandri chuckled and looked at the boy..
“Raharjo… I don’t know – but we’ll try and find out.”
Ayu was doing a simple daily task. Using a long bamboo bristled broom she was sweeping leaves and other debris out of the house. She found it pleasing to see the neat pattern left behind on the sandy pebbled floor, and was amused by her mild preoccupation of trying not to walk on and disturb the newly swept floor.
Something in her body made her pause. Standing up straight she breathed in and tipped her head a little to one side as if listening to herself. She felt it was true. For a number of days she had been wondering. She had felt tingling in her nipples and her breasts seemed more sensitive, but then again it could be her imagination. The regular reminder of her womanhood hadn’t happened recently. Now she felt something in her body that she had never felt before, accompanied by a feeling of nervous anticipation.
She looked out through the door, across the open porch, down to the beach, the surf and the beautiful bay, breathing in the fresh sea air. Her eyes retraced their journey, looking back inside the room at the ornate sea shell in its cot and then their bamboo bed. She smiled wistfully. Her bare feet walked across the patterned floor and she knelt down by the bed. Her fingers felt for and found the golden gift. She smiled lovingly.
Ayu put a hand protectively on her still small belly, and loved what was happening inside her. Excitedly, she waited for the father to return.
They walked back along the path into the village. The man and the boy occasionally stopped to examine the various flowers along the way.
“See… nearly all of them have the dust.” observed the boy.
“I have seen bees on most of them… you can see the dust stuck to the bees then they put it on their legs to go back to the nest.” said Bandri.. “To get that much dust they visit lots of flowers.”
“But they don’t take all the dust from the flowers.” said Raharjo.
Bandri was gradually becoming used to the insights provided by his young companion..
“Yes.. I see what you mean.”
As they entered the village they stepped over the low walls and then Raharjo excitedly ran to show his parents the honey stolen from the wild bees. Bandri walked towards his house.
On their porch he embraced her from behind and kissed the single freckle in the smooth curve where her neck joined her shoulder. She pulled his hand down low over her belly and bent her head back towards him..
“Only you..” she whispered.. “Jus lelaki anda telah membuat bayi yang di dalam.” – “Your man juice has made a baby inside.”
He breathed in deeply, somehow shocked by her powerful intimacy and its meaning, marvelling at what she was telling him.
The strong sun had reached its zenith and was falling now towards the horizon. Agung and Lyana walked along the beach. They walked apart. From a distance she could be viewed as a male. They tried to act casually and not to look at each other. Not even speaking. They knew others may be watching them, but they hoped not. As they reached nearly to the end of the sandy stretch they stopped. Here the beach became pebbly. Nearby was a dense clump of small fig trees.
Agung’s heart was pounding. He was excited, but was trying to pretend that they were just idly browsing the beach together. At this moment he was glad that the kathok garment he was wearing was his looser one. He turned around as if admiring the view, but looked to see if anyone was watching. He could see no one looking in their direction, and so he slipped out of view behind the fig trees. Lyana followed him.
In the shade of the trees they could only be seen by someone on the beach, or out at sea. He pulled off the convincing wig, and they stood breathing more quickly than the exercise had required. Now at last they were on their own together. He beckoned her into a space between the trees, where no-one could see them from the beach.
“Did anybody see us?” he asked nervously.
“I don’t think so… but we should get back soon”
They spoke in whispers as if someone might hear, although the closest person would have been well out of earshot. They moved closer now. Very close. She looked up at him, and then put her hands slowly on his chest and he put his arms around her gently. He took his time to bend his head down to kiss her, wanting not to fumble but to kiss properly. She understood and wanted the same.
Time stood still for them as they learned this new skill, kissing; exploring each others lips and tongues: how they felt, how they moved, how they tasted. They were engrossed in such tender, passionate blissfulness.
Her aromatic fragrance and soft warmth melted his shyness. She accepted his firm embrace, allowing him to hold her pressed up against him. Their lips fell apart, and they looked closely into each other’s faces, breathing in each other’s breaths, intensely aware of this other person who was changing their life forever. They kissed some more.
His considerate masculinity was everything she hoped it would be. Her hands slipped around to hold his back, and felt at long last the size and toned shapes of his muscled shoulders. Against her hot belly she could feel his masculinity. This close, he was frightening and exciting at the same time. His breathing was strong and intense, and she could tell he was getting even more aroused. The padded top got in the way and she wanted to take it off, but she knew better.
They were getting used to the idea, but the world seemed to have changed in some way. They would keep the secret for a while. Until they could enjoy the secret no longer, it would be just for the two of them.
Bandri sat, relaxed now on their porch, looking at the clouds appearing in the east. The rains could be coming soon.
“Jus lelaki?” – “Man juice?” he chuckled to himself, and moved his head slightly from side to side. Man juice made babies did it? They had a few names for the milky liquid men produced, but now he liked this one. They had not wanted children straight after getting married and just wanted to enjoy being together. They enjoyed making love together. But babies would change her, and change them. He had learned to hold back his urge until they both were happy enough, then he could withdraw and share his ‘jus’ on her blissful belly, or he loved her in other ways. But now they had wanted to have children, and for a while they had been loving freely and totally. To have new life with her was everything he could hope for and he was wondering what their future would be like together.
Life was abundant all around him. He could see the very pregnant Puteri sorting out a squabble between the young children. Ayu was shooing away some escaped chickens and their chicks pecking around their kitchen, while the rooster strutted nearby. He could see in the bushes brightly coloured male sunbirds and their females. All the birds were at it too; males and females.
Looking up at the coconut trees he could see birds and of course the bees and other insects around the flowers and nuts. He could see the long spikes of small flowers, and the progressively larger coconuts hanging from the spikes. When the big nuts fall they would make ‘baby trees’ and so life goes on.
He got up from the log that was shaped like a bench, and climbed easily up the nearest coconut tree, taking his knife with him. Up amongst the long splayed out leaves he looked at the tiny yellowish flowers on the spikes; they made ‘dust’ as well. He kept pondering about what this dust was for.
From his hidden vantage point he noticed Agung and Lyana walking at the further end of the beach. The two were lost from view behind the fig trees. He smiled to himself. Sex was everywhere it seemed.
Cutting off a long flower spike he climbed back down to the ground and brought the spike onto the bench. He could see that one by one the little flowers turned gradually into coconuts. He cut open some flowers and young coconuts. It was the bits in the centre of the flower that turned into baby coconuts, but not the bits of the flower that made the dust or ‘jus’..!
“Ayu… What are the flowers for?”
She stopped what she was doing and looked at her husband, with a puzzled and amused expression, sensing that he was teasing her..
“Let me see..” she picked up a nearby pink trumpet-shaped Ipomoea flower and twirled it around beside her head..
“Because they’re pretty.. Because the birds and the bees like them?…” She was watching his happy, grinning face and guessed he had something else in his mind..
“Alright.. Because they make fruit… and seeds..” She was now looking at the spike of coconuts in his hands..
Now he was chuckling gleefully.
“Alright – I’m curious….. Well, I’m waiting..?”
She came and tickled him..
“Tell me then…?”
Bandri lay under their batik bed sheet, watching her.
He was waiting for her to finish combing her hair, after their shower together. She had quickly wrapped herself in a sarong, held up by simply tucking an end into the top. Her shoulders were bare. Her eyelids were closed, as she sensed the sweeps of the wooden comb through the cascades of black hair, slightly bending her head one way and then another. Her lips parted a little as the comb caught, and then her sultry features relaxed into serenity again.
It was their favourite time of day. The sun was setting and the bamboo walls were awash with the honeyed sunlight flooding through the gaps. The room glowed with gorgeous warmth.
He marvelled at how nature or the spirits had ever created this creature he shared his life with; this thoughtful, clever, fun loving, exotic creature. She was beautiful, for the way she thought. She was beautiful, for the sparkle in her eyes when she loved. She was beautiful, for the way she cared, even if she was sad. She was beautiful, deep down. She is beautiful.
Now she tucked the comb into the hammock next to the sea shell. She knew his eyes were on her. He would be looking closely at her, looking at her belly. It was only this day that they had learned she was pregnant, but he would be looking.
Pulling out the end of the sarong, she paused for a moment, and then just let it fall away from her body. It floated to the floor. He looked at her. She waited without moving, then with courage she slowly turned around. She was slim and shapely, elegant, not boastful or proud, but just sharing herself with him. Her nymphean naked figure was bathed in the dappled amber light of the room.
Nipples of black pearl crowned the brown skin of her firm breasts, which were carried high under her slender neck and trim shoulders. As she turned, the curves of her gentle hips became two, ever so smooth and flawless mounds below her slim back. In the low light he could see, between the firmness of her cheeks, the small diamond of her sex, where her lovely long legs began. Perhaps her tummy was showing just a little. Her girlish body was changing now, but he loved her all the more.
Inside her was their baby made with his juice. He loved her all the more because she chose him to be the father. She chose him, to be the one who changed her body, to make a new life inside her, to be the father when she gives birth.
She tip-toed coyly to the bed, lifted the sheet and lay beside him, then almost immediately climbed on top of him. Her weight was not heavy but pressed preciously down on him. He let her hold him down. She smiled down at him with mischief in her eyes. She kissed him softly and lightly, pulling back when he lifted his head as he tried to kiss her more passionately. Her body was lying perfectly on top of his, skin next to skin, intoxicatingly erotic and arousing.
Kissing him delicately she started on his neck, then his chest, then she kissed down his body, treating him the way he treated her. He looked into her eyes, and they told him to stay where he was. She was in control. He was to surrender. Her hands gently pushed his hands away onto the side of the bed.
Descending, she knelt under the light fabric, between his legs which had been spread apart. Slowly she had kissed down and reached his most sensitive skin, the most sensitive parts of a man, the parts only she shared.
Her gently moving form was hidden by the fabric. He closed his eyes. How did she know how to do this to him? She was so intimate, so gentle, so caring. Her lips and tongue ruled over him. His hands gripped the sides of the bed as he trembled. He was at her mercy, pleading with her not to stop.
Tremors ran though his body. She had brought him to the edge, but now she lightly kissed him, sensing the way his manhood seemed to have a life of its own, and then she kissed the source of his juice. Kissing, licking and possessing him, she made love to him. Carefully and rhythmically, she brought him to the edge and beyond. Under the thin fabric which preserved her modesty, she nurtured his eruption indulging in the warm, erupting, potent juice.
She had released him from his unceasing urge, until the next time. His breathing was diminishing and through glazed eyes he looked down at her as she pulled the bed sheet back. She smiled up at him with triumphant coyness and moved the tip of a forefinger daintily around in a drop of slippery juice..
“So… your dust is in here?”
He burst into laughter.
Early the next morning Raharjo turned up on their porch, enthusiastically carrying several different flower specimens..
“These all make dust too… But what are the bits in the middle for?”
A cultural clash between the Malay and Javanese peoples threaten the very existance of the small Likupang tribe. As they struggle to survive, the tribe is propelled towards an unforeseen and remarkable future. Part One unfolds the profound friction between Likupang and a neighbouring tribe. Love and the desire for sex, family, security and status challenge the men and the women of the tribe compelling them to change and develop. But in doing so, are they planting the seeds that will grow into a future conflict? Part Two follows the powerful emotions of love and desire as they are unleashed. Can the tensions between the two tribes be resolved, before passions and forces beyond their control thrust them all into devastating violence? The tribeâ€™s need to survive drives them to take drastic actions that were to have historic consequences. The Likupang family tribe are an intelligent and feeling people, immersed in an intensely physical world which is both beautiful and harsh.This holistic novel is narrated from both male and female perspectives, weaving together the many strands of passion: yearning, lust, love, joy and sex, together with fear, loss, hate, moral conviction, rage and lethal struggle. The drama is set against the realistic backdrop of the exotic, coastal forests of the tropical Pacific islands and within the working lives of a fishing and hunting society 2,500 years ago. Tribal beliefs and culture, the use of bronze, the impact of the natural environment, and the pursuit of honey hunting all play integral roles in an epic story of adventure, mysteries, discoveries, consequences, romance, action and strife. The legend of the Likupang tribe, and their land and sea journeys are based on geographical and scientific facts, plus the available historical evidence. The accounts of the natural environment are completely as it would have been, and the human-made artifacts in the story are based on genuine examples from the time. Ancient tribal societies struggled with issues such as the abduction of girls, rape, forced marriage, abuse, intimidation and the murder of those who stand up against such practises. Indeed, these problems still profoundly exist in some present day societies. The moral boundaries between different cultural practises are often complicated and blurred. Amongst the famous quotations of Napoleon Bonaparte are: â€œIf I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.â€ and also: â€œThere are only two powers in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.â€ Indeed, the sun was idolised in a great many cultures, including those in the tropical Pacific. The Spirit of the Sun explores the passions that underlie the complex interplay between the two powers of cruel coercion and the human spirit.