Story about People & Cultures in Eastern Indonesia

Exploring a New “Ultimate Soekarno Hatta” Airport

I guess some people might think nothing to explore at the airport except waiting for a delayed plane or just have some coffee as well as the free WiFi. At the same time, I bet perhaps many of you also enjoy being at the airport, my Western friend once told me that he feels different environment while eating or just have some coffee at the airport.

Every time I go to the airport, my mind tells me “NOTHING IS CHEAPER”. True, everything is so expensive from food to rent a car or motorcycle taxi (in my place) to the airport is probably three-times of normal cost or maybe I am just too sarcastic. Anyway, I am not going to talk about the expensive stuff but the most important one, a new international airport in Jakarta: “Terminal 3 Ultimate Soekarno-Hatta”.

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I arrived in Jakarta from Ternate on Sunday the 28th of July 2017 at 9:30am by Garuda Airlines. I was a bit surprised that the plane dropped us at this new airport. I thought it’s only for the international flights but eventually, a taxi driver told me it is including domestic. He added only Garuda Indonesia moved its operation to this airport early in May 2017. Garuda is the leading airline in Indonesia and it has “best service” on board.

It is astonishing to see this new airport. I like the design, the ceiling looks like diamonds, many artists work near the main gate, green garden in several places, cleaner restrooms, many shops to eat or drink, 24-hour free WiFi, electric plugs under the seats etc. Overall I think this airport is super-amazing; I am hoping that more airports in Indonesia like this one, especially in my area North Maluku.


Crazy Bamboo in Maluku

Do you believe that a piece of bamboo can be crazy and make 7 young men become overwhelmed? In Maluku there is a unique tradition called “bambu gila” or in local the language it is said “bulu gila”, in a direct English translation mean “crazy bamboo” or you might say a “mad bamboo”. This tradition is preserved by people in Maluku. The name of Maluku is given by the Arabic traders known as “jazirah al-mulk” or land of the kingdoms. I will explain deeper history about Maluku in another post. Nowadays, Maluku has divided into two provinces: North Maluku with the capital of Sofifi and Maluku with Ambon. Geographically this area located in the east of Sulawesi, west of Papua island and north part of Timor.

bambu gila 2
Crazy bamboo with the dancers

The mystical dance or crazy bamboo has been performed many years before religions have been introduced by the colonials and the Muslim merchants. This dance is very distinctive in Indonesia, even in Maluku area, you may not see easily unless there is a special event, such as Legu Gam festival in Ternate. The dance is often performed in Liang village, district of Salahatu and Mamala village, district of Leihitu, both in Maluku province. Other places are in Ternate and Jailolo within North Maluku province. I was born and live for years in North Maluku but cannot see they perform in many places.

Bambu Gila 1
Australian tourists want to try the bamboo’s power

The dancers of crazy bamboo or bulu gila consist of 7 young men hold a bamboo and a leader. The bamboo use for this dance has been selected and cut in a certain manner. The leader task is to read a mantra and lead the bamboo, beforehand he burn incense, chewing ginger then blow it to the bamboo and screams “gila” or “crazy”. Suddenly, the bamboo move with its own, the power of spirits mentioned by the leader in his mantra has moved to the bamboo. After the bamboo is going crazy, the seven men’s power become insufficient, even some are faint using their strength to control the bamboo. Finally, the bamboo is tamed by the leader using burning incense and traditional mantra.

Usually traditional instrument is played along with the performance. Based on some stories, in the past, this mystical power is used to do a heavy work such as build up ships. I know it seems odd right? Believed in a mystical power, however, not everything in this world can be explained scientifically, or perhaps let it be a story tale for people in Maluku to preserve our tradition.

Indonesia (under) Attack?

I first saw information about the bombing attack in Jakarta from our CCIP host family’s Facebook group. This information quickly spread through the news, including online news, and even generated worldwide attention, particularly on social media. I have seen numerous hashtags on Twitter: #JakartaAttack, #SarinahTragedi, #PrayForJKT, #KamiTidakTakut (we are not afraid). All mean to say that as Indonesians we are not afraid of terrorism attacks. The bombing attack in Jakarta affected the entire Indonesian archipelago, including my island in North Maluku, the eastern part of Indonesia. Recent news from a leading newspaper in North Maluku, said the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Mr. Robert O. Blake, was in high-security protection while visiting Ternate on January 16. More than 250 police officers were placed in several locations passed by Mr. Blake.

Inter-religious rallied against terorism in Jakarta (photo: Amilia Rosa)

What is actually happening in Indonesia? I am not a terrorism expert, however, in order to try to answer this question. I will give some facts that I personally experienced as an Indonesian from a religious and ethnic minority as well as living in remote areas in the eastern part of Indonesia. Indonesia is a multicultural country with about 206,000,000 people. The largest Muslim population in the world is located not in the Middle East, but in Indonesia. It is estimated 95% of the population is Muslim. This tragedy was not the first, Indonesia has experienced a lot of problems since becoming independent in August of 1945. Different problems from political issues, tribal conflicts, corruption, poverty, inequality of development between western and eastern Indonesia, and even access to education for low-income families.  Those issues also might be a universal matter within each country in the world. It is not an easy fix to deal with terrorism, moreover, it is a big responsibility of enormously diverse people, from Sabang (the most western part of Indonesia) to Merauke (the most eastern part of Indonesia). With more than 1,000 islands, 300 native groups, and 742 different languages/dialects, no one in Indonesia has ever met all the tribes or visited all the islands.

This latest bombing in Sarinah Mall, Jakarta it is not only Indonesia’s issue, it is a global tragedy. It probably means we still have a lot of work to do for humanity, and to show more care for marginalized members of society. People might blame one particular group or associate terrorism attacks with Muslim. But in my point of view, terrorism has no religion. I was born as a minority in Indonesia, grew up in the Muslim community, experienced inter-community conflict in my place and I am Christian, but I never blamed Muslim and I do not want to. If I place blame, it means I will start to hate my own family and close friends who are Muslim. Religions are unique colors which make our lives beautiful and are intended to create a peaceful life among people. Indonesia is a Muslim country but it is Indonesian Muslim which is distinctive from other parts of the world because our values based on diversity and relationship among different religions and ethnic. We may suffer for a while because of terrorist attacks but we will never be afraid of each other, or allow terrorism to separate our relationships along religious and ethnic lines.

War Traditions in the Eastern Indonesia

The Eastern of Indonesia areas consists of several main islands and hundred of small islands. The biggest island is Papua, Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), Maluku and North Maluku islands. These places are highly rich in natural resources, such as gold, nickel, copper, natural gas, oil, horticulture, fish products as well as tourism industry growing up recently. People in the Eastern part of Indonesia has unique native cultures and traditions, especially the war dance. In Papua it is famous with “tari perang” or “velabhea”, in Flores NTT, they called “tari caci”, and most of the areas of Maluku and North Maluku is known as “cakalele” dance.


Cakalele is a war dance usually performed by a group of men armed with machetes and wooden shields along with traditional music instruments. I assumed because of various tribes in these areas (including mine), sometimes they have conflict in the past and cakalele dance is being performed for years, however now the performance is to welcome guest or in traditional events such as wedding ceremony.

One of the famous war dance  or cakalele in Maluku province is called “ma’taenu”. A war dance from Pelauw, Haruku, Central Maluku district. This dance has a strong Muslim tradition in the people of Pelauw. Each year they perform ma’taenu, hundreds of men carrying their (very sharp) machetes and knives, they wear white clothes and walk into the road in villages to celebrate this event. When they are walking through the villages they slice out their body parts from the face, including tongue, until feet with their machetes but nobody is wounded. You can see on the YouTube video below. This is a documentary video published by an Indonesian television branch in Maluku. Many villagers who watching the ceremony often screaming due to the extreme performance and sometimes scary. Spoiler alert on this video! The video is in Indonesian language but you can skip to see the ma’taenu performance.

The ma’taenu dance has been performed for years. Prior to the ceremony, the men attend this event need to be purifying from their mistakes or sins from family members and relatives. One of the important element of this ceremony is the machetes or knives must be as sharp as possible to use during ma’taenu. The men will start walk from 06:30 am in the morning through villages road to the sacred places and will finish in a mosque to relieve the spiritual power. I inspired to write this story because this is one of the hundreds even thousands of unique cultures in Indonesia especially in my areas in Maluku/North Maluku. Thanks for reading! Any comment or question just write below this article.


Education and Educating People in Halmahera (part 2)

“Education is the movement from darkness to light” Allan Bloom

Education is the biggest social issue in North Maluku province, particularly in rural areas in Halmahera where the quality of education is substandard. In order to understand the education issue, it is necessary to learn about why education, who need to be involved and how we make a change. I understand claim about the education problem in Halmahera it is essential to conduct deeper research. However, as a person who experienced inter-community conflict and a volunteer in education, I considered this as an alternative perspective for better education in our place.

1. Why Education

Experienced inter-community conflict in Halmahera is a long traumatic moment remaining in our mind. Although the conflict has ended about twelve years ago. People lost their family because of the conflict, it is not an easy way to build the relationship with others. Indeed, education is the backbone to reunite and minimize tension amongst people from different religions or tribes sit together in the classroom. In the learning process, they will communicate and work together as a team. Make friends and build a mutual relationship with another person. Reconciliation has been made by government institutions and local nonprofit organizations in the post-conflict phase. Nevertheless, ongoing support is substantial to prevent future conflict. From 2005 – 2014 there were some incidents in Tobelo, North Halmahera almost create new conflict. Most of the cases caused by the young people.

Make friends and build a mutual relationship with another person. Reconciliation has been made by government institutions and local nonprofit organizations in the post-conflict phase. Nevertheless, ongoing support is substantial to prevent future conflict. From 2005 – 2014 there were some incidents in Tobelo, North Halmahera almost create new conflict. Most of the cases caused by the young people.

2. Who Need to be Involved

Term of education does not always refer to a formal school such as elementary, high school, colleges, and universities. For instance, religious institutions have major roles in influence people in Halmahera and education need to be the integrated part of it. Not only local government’s responsibility to support education, it is our responsibility; local nonprofit organizations, businessman, village leaders, employee, religious institution and the youth organizations.

3. How We Make a Change

I believed there is not one night’s work in dealing with education issues in Halmahera. Economy, social and culture sometimes be the obstacles. While I was a child in Tobelo I often heard parents say to their children in traditional language “O sakola me ho oyomo, o sakola ua me ho oyomo!” in English mean whether you study or not you still have plenty of food to eat. Now everything has changed, commodities prices for cloves, nutmegs and coconuts are down. Forest as natural resources has been converted into buildings or concession area. Local farmers are struggling to provide a good education for their children.

Through volunteer, we can help farmers, children, and the young people. They will get the benefit by sharing our professional experiences as a banker, teacher, civil servant, army or contribute in tutoring Math or English lessons if we realize and want to invest some time in the social matter.

Education is “the machine” to achieve the dream, but motivation is “the fuel” to make it happen. Volunteer in education, perhaps not popular among young people in Halmahera unlike becoming a political agent. But I am still here I will keep writing on the blog, keep posting on social media and volunteer even if I need to do it alone. One day they will understand!

Volunteer activity after work in Lelilef Sawai village

Education and Educating People in Halmahera (part 1)

People in North Maluku province are still the lack of access to education. It is not only my own opinion but also a data from the human development index published by the national Central Statistical Agency of Indonesia, recorded from 2007 – 2011. North Maluku is in the rank of 30th of 33 provinces in Indonesia. I do not see any significant change this year, higher education still not accessible by most young people and the local teachers are not interested in teaching in a remote area.

I never forget the days when we had inter-community conflict in North Maluku region. I was in the first year of Junior High School. My future seemed so dark because of an endless conflict everywhere in Halmahera. At that time, in our mind was only survived and I thought it would be the end of my life. I always to thank God because I am still alive, achieved higher education and more importantly have opportunities to contribute back to my community. Based on the experience during the conflict and my involvement in the volunteering activities, I believed education can recover the trauma of conflict. In the classroom, people will make friends with different religions and ethnic. Through this process, they will know each other and start to build trust.

Based on the experience during the conflict and my involvement in the volunteering activities, I believed education can recover the trauma of conflict. In the classroom, people will make friends with different religions and ethnic. Through this process, they will know each other and start to build trust.

House burned out in the inter-community conflict in Maluku. Photo copyrights

About two years ago, I established projects focus on free English course for children in the village called LEC (Lelilef English Course) teaching children from elementary to high school in the church because we do not have a building. I also initiated Weda Bay English (WBE) forum, focus teaching local employee so they are able to communicate with some of the supervisors who are expatriates.

The courses were ended in 2014 due to my busy work, furthermore, some of the children have graduated and continued their school outside of the village. I have been involved in the education field for six years, both at the local college and in the village. In my point of view, children and young people in Halmahera have great potential to develop, they are smart and always enthusiasm in learning.

I sometimes do not understand teachers in this place they have undeveloped thought, most are senior teachers. They do not want to teach in a remote area in Halmahera. In contrast, children in the remote area urgently need the teachers. I went to my mother’s village in Doi island in July 2013 (approx. 8 hours by small traditional boat from Tobelo town) there were only three teachers at the elementary school, including a school principal. I assumed, the teachers in that school are exhausted teach six classes at the same time. (continue to part 2)

The main transportation to reach islands in North Maluku. Photo is taken when visited Doi Island, Loloda

Find Hot Spring in Jailolo

Find hot spring 3
Gamtala hot spring, Bobanehena beach, and Worat – Worat village on Halmahera island.

Jailolo is an amazing place in the Western part of Halmahera island. I often visit this place particularly Sahu area because some of my family are living here. This area has no many places to visit, but still interesting for me to explore more.

I usually go to the Sahu area, a village called Worat – Worat. The road hasn’t been built by local government but it fits for people who like adventure activities. Unfortunately, – Worat, in and Taraudu are three neighboring villages in this area. These are major agriculture and horticulture in Sahu area.

Even though the main income of most parents come from farming they support their children to continue at higher education. Early in this year, in February, we had a tour with my family and a new friend from the Netherlands, Sarah. Sarah is a professional photographer who lives in Utrecht. She came in North Maluku for holiday with my old friend, Ony who lives in Key Islands

Gamtala Hotspring_WH
Gamtala Hot Spring

I have heard from my mother there is a good hot spring to visit in Jailolo area. I am so excited to see this place. We organized to visit Ibu area, about 1,5-hour drive from the central of Jailolo. While we were driving along the road, the sky was overcast so we decided to go back and continued to Gamtala hot spring.

The hot spring located in Gamtala village about 15 minutes drive from the city of Jailolo. It is a unique hot spring, this hot spring connected to small rivers and surrounded by mangrove trees. We also saw that a traditional boat took a group of the student through the mangrove area. There were three boats, and these boats owned by local village government. The boats are provided for visitors and the fee per person about RP. 50.000 ($5). We also moved to the other side at the same location, it was not really good and full of mud, probably the village government does not clean very often.

Bobanehena Beach
Bobanehena beach

We close our trip today with enjoyed sunset in Bobanehena beach which has incredible scenery, many islands opposite of this beach such as Ternate and Hiri islands. Unfortunately it was not possible to swim because it was low tide at that time.

Forest Tobelo Tribe in Halmahera (part 2 – end)

Forest Tobelo is usually still “nomad”, they move with their group where’s plenty of food, and there is a leader lead the group. They usually wear clothes from tree bark, but some of them have worn shirts and pants. For forest Tobelo who often have contact with outside world they usually send their representation and always men will attend the meeting. As I know forest Tobelo will not tell their place, except for someone they really trust.

Sometimes forest Tobelo has conflict with local people who live in villages. Many stories I heard both in Central and East Halmahera regencies during my travel and discussion with the local community about forest Tobelo killed a couple, son, and father, etc.

I know most of them are not civilized but they are not animals they are the human being who also love and care their belonging including protecting their family. They have been resided in the forest since long time ago when I was a student my lecture always said that we are the guest who comes in their lands so it is appropriate we respect their culture and recognize their existence by not enter their lands without permission.

Bokum and Nuhu, forest Tobelo from Akejira area were captured by police on March 1, 2015. They were suspected murders.

Early of this month March 1, 2015, Bokum and Nuhu, forest Tobelo from Akejira area has been captured by police in Woejerana village, Central Halmahera. Police officer arrested them based on homicides case in Waci village, South Maba about 180 km from their place in Akejira area.

This is a strange case because, in Waci, there is another forest Tobelo group “the Woesopen” inhibited and the Akejira group will not possibly pass their area, if they pass they will fight because of different groups. Until now there is no information that Bokum and Nuhu have been released or still in jail. I hope the police will be fair in threat people in North Maluku whether they are live in a city or even in the forest, they still have rights to live and socialize with other.

Forest Tobelo Tribe in Halmahera (part 1)

Forest Tobelo
Two groups of forest Tobelo; behind Waci village, Woesopen group and in Akejira, Akejira group.

Forest Tobelo is the indigenous people of Halmahera, North Maluku. They mostly live in the east of Halmahera island area. The origin history of forest Tobelo or in local language called as “togutil” / “O’Hongana Manyawa” still unknown. Forest Tobelo has been living in Halmahera island since a long time ago before the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch arrived in North Maluku for hunting clove and nutmeg, they went to the forest after the Dutch authority asked to pay tax. Presently some of them have been relocated to villages, the government provided houses (this group can be found near the river in the main road from Subaim to Buli, East Halmahera). However, still many of them live in forest hunting animals and traditionally cook their food.

There are many groups living in Halmahera forest, this information I got from a friend of mine who work in the forest. They speak Tobelo language and because of various groups of forest Tobelo, not all of them is friendly with the foreigner who come in their area, they could become aggressive particularly the isolated group who rarely have contact with the outside world.

My tip is please contact the specialist of forest Tobelo guide if you want to visit them in the forest and gather much information as needed before entering the forest. I think as long as we respect their culture, for instance, do not touch their belonging or enter their garden/house if they’re no allowed to do so, everything will be OK. Have a safe travel!

Forest Tobelo group in East of Halmahera

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