Pak Frengky is a voice on the phone.*
The first day I got to Ambon, I walked down some of the streets around the Hotel Jamilah and got my first chorus of the “Mistér! Mistér!” which would soon become a defining aspect of my time in Indonesia. I had longer conversations with a couple people. When I told a young man called Collin that I was heading to Aru, he became very excited and said that he was Aruese, and he must have my phone number. His father, who was in Jakarta at the moment, knew Aru very well, and could help me get around. With a bit of trepidation, I gave him the number, and a couple hours later received a call from his father, Frengky.
Frengky sounded like he was calling from very far away, over a bad connection. I imagined him floating inside an early Soviet space capsule, a couple of fried fish and a bungkus of fried rice floating with him, as he said how good it was that I would visit Aru, and that the Indonesian government had forgotten about it. Although he was in Jakarta, several relatives of his lived in Dobo; they would help me find my way around. At first, I thought this wouldn’t be necessary: the Maluku Province archaeology bureau had a regular guide in the Arus, to whom they offered to introduce me. However, this guide was also out of town, so after I flew in to Dobo I was only a bit uneasy when Frengky called to say his son Bruce would be at my hotel soon.
As it turned out, this worked out well. I hopped onto Bruce’s motor, and we sped off toward an office where I heard some American and Canadian linguists were working. I was hoping they could introduce me to the kepala desa (head of the village) of Kota Lama, and especially Ujir, my two primary interests. However, they, also, were in Jakarta, or Ambon, or somewhere that was not Dobo. The locals in the office suggested that the best way for me to gain access to the villages was by going to the police station and filling out the reams of officially required paperwork. Somehow, this did not seem like the most efficient way to go about things, and Bruce seemed to agree, because we ended up heading back toward the port, where we hired a speed: a long, narrow, outboard-powered fiberglass boat about 20 feet long and 5 feet wide, to take us to Kota Lama. This village was just across the bay from Dobo, on the much larger island of Wokam. It is the nearest major archaeological site, with an old church and a benteng, or fort.
Bruce’s cousins Richardo and Tino also came along. Richardo actually ended up being the main guide and the ambassador: he did most of the talking to village elders, translating my English and imperfect Bahasa Indonesia into the local dialect. Bruce was the “fixer:” in Dobo, he knew who to talk to about transportation. Tino was mostly along for the ride, although later on he helped with some of the reconnaissance. Their “Western” names are actually typical for Christian (especially Protestant) Maluku and Aru natives: as in many Pacific countries, missionaries have done a pretty thorough job of converting the locals not just to their religion, but to their naming scheme, so that along with the biblical names one would expect, more generally Western-sounding ones, like Stef, Gladys, Jen, Sonny, and Eric.
The speed putted out of the harbor, past larger, covered fishing boats, and smaller dugout canoes that haven’t changed much since before European contact. From the bay we could see the neighborhoods of Dobo, built on pilings over the water rather than on land. The weather was perfect–just enough clouds in the sky to soften the sun, a very light breeze, and no waves. In my pack I had a little GPS and a waterproof notebook, a waterproof camera, and a compass. I wasn’t sure how much I could accomplish, but would feel good to finally accomplish something other than waiting for planes and boats.
This story will continue in the next post.
*Apologies to Ann Cummins.