Makin Lama…

24 October, Ujir

Here is a lesson in a common Indonesian verbal construction.

Makin lama, makin biasa: the longer I stay here, the more I get used to it. It’s been a week since we arrived; once again the mosque’s loudspeakers broadcast recitations of the Quran, and as it’s a day of rest, the village is almost quiet. Still there is no privacy in Ujir, but the constant attention stops just short of unbearable. I’m learning my way around the island, slowly. The two bules have become less of a curiosity for the villagers. I’m beginning to understand more of the local version of Bahasa Indonesia—like someone who learned English from a Midwesterner only to visit backwoods Louisiana. We’ve found decent sources of vegetables and eggs. The house is clean, and we’ve even managed to get electricity in the evenings from a neighbor with a generator.

Makin lama, makin jauh
: the longer I stay here, the more distant it becomes. We placed an order for a few supplies from Dobo, and a boat brought them back yesterday evening, but they might as well have come from Mars. A few chocolate biscuits and some light bulbs became precious luxuries. Often I can’t fathom how I’ll make it back to Jakarta, let alone Seattle! I have no idea what’s happening in the outside world—this isn’t the first or even the longest time I’ve been in that state, but somehow it feels different now. I’m sitting in a house typing on a computer, surrounded by people, but I have no idea if the world beyond Aru still exists. Maybe I’m writing a letter to the void.

Makin lama, makin rumit
: the longer I spend looking at the archaeology here, the more complex it becomes. I’ve recorded most of the data for a crude map of the ruins nearest to the present village. I got permission to cut some of the vegetation around them in order to get clear lines of sight, and that produced a map that seems reasonably accurate. In the course of doing this I found more ruins, so the task of mapping has become larger and more complex. A good map will have to wait for a better team and better instruments, but this one will do as a way to think things through.

Makin lama, makin banyak: with more time, I find more things to investigate. As I talk to people, I also learn about other sites around the island, and so the targets multiply. Yesterday I visited a site whose name means “settlement within stone walls.” It’s on the northeast coast of the island, almost completely overgrown and collapsed, but enough of the coral walls survive to show that something was there. What do I do with a site like that? Even a basic survey will require clearing a huge number of trees, so it’s not worth it unless the site will be excavated thoroughly. This is why I could work on Ujir for twenty years. Things keep popping up.

Makin lama, makin menarik
: with time it becomes more interesting. I won’t even talk about the archaeological potential of Wasir, a neighboring island that Ujir controls. The Ujir people have gardens (umaral in Bahasa Ujir) on Wasir, and go there for fishing and picnics sometimes. It used to be inhabited more continuously, and it still has ritual and spiritual significance for many families here. I will visit Wasir at some point during this trip, and document some archaeological material there, but the details on that will have to wait.

Makin lama, makin hati-hati: over time I become more cautious. One of the difficulties in blogging about archaeology is that I’m throwing all this information up on The Internet for everyone to see, although much of what I study is irreplaceable, historically important, and often sacred to the people who have traditional connections to it. So, although I really detest withholding information, I have to leave some things out, at least until I can get a better sense of what’s what. That said, I’ve discovered that I’m investigating not one but two islands, as Ujir and Wasir have had a strong connection since the days of their first inhabitants. We’re in mythical time and mythical space here; relating that to “scientific” time and space is one of my objectives.

Makin lama, makin malas: with more time I become more lazy. This is the last blog post I wrote in Ujir. Now I’m back in Dobo, but tomorrow I return to spend one more week in Ujir. The time that I should have been writing blog posts I’ve spent doing archaeology and other lazy things like that. The archaeology continues to be both fascinating and daunting. I’ll be back in touch with Teh Internet in about a week, when I’ll be able to tell a few stories.

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