Rambu Solo Ritual in Tana Toraja

By S. Kramer

Located about 350 km North of Makassar in South Sulawesi, Tana Toraja has attracted many local and foreign visitors for its natural beauty and unique cultural tradition. The preserved Austronesian culture of Torajan has been proposed to be listed as one of the United Nation’s world cultural heritage. For anthrophologists like Kelli Swazey, the Torajan culture has been such an intriguing object of research on the alternative view of life and death.

The Torajan Women

The Torajan Women

Torajan society takes a gradual transition period from life to death. The impact of death is ritualized socially in the family and community. In Torajan society, after a person has died, his or her dead body is preserved in the family home, dressed, and cared for as if they are still part of the living members of the family, until the family can hold a lavish Rambu Solo the funeral ritual. This means that the deceased person is still part of the living community. Rambu Solo ritual for the death shows the family identity and social status within the community as shown by how big the celebration is and how many water buffaloes or pigs the family will sacrifice in the ceremony.

Gathering for Rambu Solo Ritual at the Tongkonan

Gathering for Rambu Solo Ritual at the Tongkonan

Rambu Solo ritual begins with sacrificing water buffalo and pigs. Dances, music, and community celebration that take place at the family’s traditional house, called Tongkonan, can last for a few days or even a few weeks. The water buffalo, used as the status symbol of the deceased, is believed to carry his or her soul from here to the after-life or Puya. After the ritual of Rambu Solo, the deceased is considered to have joined the ancestral family.  The body is then brought and interred into its final resting place in the cave of the rock mountain.

In the ritual of Ma’nene, the death was taken from their coffin that is stored in the rocky cave of the mountain.  The Ma’nene ritual is usually held during the month of August or after the harvest season as a way of giving thanks to the ancestors. Family members and close relatives form a circle and open the coffin while keeping it off the ground, and dress the corps in a new set of clothes.

While in the area, you can also visit the beautiful area of  Ollon

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Around Historic Yogyakarta (part 2) : Dieng Plateau, the Abode of Gods.

By S. Kramer

About 3 hours drive from the city of Yogyakarta in central Java Indonesia, to the north via Magelang and Temanggung, and then turn west to Wonosobo, the scenic route will take us to the Dieng Mountain area. The view along the route passing Mt. Merapi with its rising smoke on top and Mt. Merbabu on the backdrop, followed by Mt. Sindoro and Sumbing soon after, is simply breathtaking. At Kledung pass, which is a valley between Mt. Sindoro and Mt. Sumbing, we can stop and visit a tea plantation and flower garden.

the mountain vegetations and waterfall

the mountain vegetations and waterfall

My childhood bus trip to my grandfather’s village at the foot of Dieng Mountain was one of the most memorable holiday trips I could remember. Just right below the coffee plantation surrounding my grandfather’s home is the Serayu River with its crystal clear frigid water. I used to play in this river and had a relaxing bath in Kali Anget (warm water) natural hot spring with my cousins.

When I took my family to visit Dieng Plateau, however, the experience was different. We learned more about the geological formation and volcanic activities of these complex volcanoes. Dieng Plateau is actually a collection of spatially and genetically related volcanic centers with their lava flows and pyroclastic rocks. The large depression of the plateau is about 14 km long and 6 km wide. The caldera was estimated to be older than 16,000 years. We have to exercise caution and stay in the safe accessible area when visiting Dieng extensive volcanic complex because it is an active volcano complex with mud pots and bubbling lava in many places. volcano1dcp_3615

Kawah si Banteng (the Buffalo Crater) is one of the largest among several cones in the caldera. On the east side, a sulfur field that vents gases and boiling mud pots is Kawah si Kidang (the Deer Crater ). We could access Kawah si Kidang and boiled some eggs in the mud pots.

cooking eggs in the bubbling mud

cooking eggs in the bubbling mud

The bubbling water temperature is around 80 degree Celsius at maximum. Telaga Warna (colour lake) is another accessible spot that we could visit. It is a lake with gas bubbles rising to the surface within a low relief cone. Another similar low relief cone type of lake, telaga Merdada is located near Dieng village. The steep cliff bordering the village might be the old caldera rim at the northeast part of the volcanoes complex. A good way to view the breathtaking sunrise is by climbing Kawah si Kunir before dawn.

Historically, the name Dieng came from Di Hyang which means the Abode of Gods because on this mountain area you can find the remnant of an 8th century Hindu Shiva temples called Arjuna. It consists of several small separate temples. According to history, there were once 400 temples on the plateau.

Arjuna temple

Arjuna temple

However, the many volcanic eruptions have destroyed most of them. Some eruptions were recorded in the year of 1375, 1786, 1826, 1827, and the most recent one was in 1979 phreatic eruptions on Sinila Crater spewing poisonous carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gases that killed many villagers at Sinila Crater. Now the government has tried to harvest the geothermal energy for electricity in the central and eastern part of the complex. A diorama museum displaying the history of Dieng was recently built for the visitors.

The volcanic ashes from the mountains give the area a fertile land for farming and horticulture. Potatoes and all kinds of vegetables are the common crops beside tobacco. The land is also suitable for coffee and tea plantations. Tambi tea plantation is one of them that you can visit on the way down the mountain. Visiting the local market in the town of Wonosobo is a good way to sample the rich local cuisines and delicacy like Mie Ongklok, Ketan Biru,  Widaran or Dendeng TV. Carica is a delicious fruit from the area, a kind of Papaya with a flavor of passion fruit. But if you miss your home made French fries, you can always try to visit Surya Restaurant in Wonosobo.

 

 

 

 

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Culinary Adventure around Indonesian Archipelago

Children in Maluku with ocean as their playground

by S. Kramer

With 27 provinces offering variety of unique cooking styles and taste preference, it will take some times to discover all the delicious Indonesian dishes. Indonesian people were well known as a seafaring nation and as ocean has been part of their lives and so is seafood and fish as part of their healthy diet.

catch of the day

 

 

Woku Balanga Fish Recipe from Menado, North Sulawesi

This fish dish is well known in the eastern part of Indonesia where fresh fish and seafood are easily harvested from the surrounding ocean

  • 8 pieces of shallot or onion, 3 candle nuts, 1 cm fresh or powdered turmeric, 2 cm of fresh ginger, grind into a paste and sautéed in a little olive oil until fragrant
  • Add a small stalk of lemon grass and 5 pieces of kefir lime leaves
  • Add 750 grams of fish chunks that has been marinated in salt and lemon juice
  • Add some water and cook until fish is tender
  • For garnish add sliced green tomatoes, sliced green onion, sliced green and red chilies and some chopped basil leaves.

    Fish Woku Balanga

Beef Rendang from Padang, West Sumatra

This famous beef stew dish of West Sumatra area is best cooked slowly until the sauce gets thickened.

  • Shallots, garlic, chili, star anise, tamarind, ginger, brown sugar, and salt ground to a paste and sautéed in a little oil till fragrant.
  • Add 500 grams of beef chunks and cook till brown
  • Add thick coconut milk and continue cooking until sauce thickened and beef becomes tender
  • Serve with hot white rice and salad.

    Beef Rendang from Padang West Sumatra

    Beef Rendang from Padang West Sumatra

 

Nasi Tumpeng from Yogyakarta, central Java

This celebration rice dish consists of yellow coconut rice decorated with various accompanying side dish such as fried chicken, potato  frikadel, shredded omelette, coconut serundeng, beef rendang, sautéed green beans, cucumber tomatoes and of course the shrimp crackers to go with. Usually served for special occasions like birthday or graduation,the yellow rice symbolizes well-wishes and success.

     Nasi Tumpeng  from Yogyakarta Central Java

Nasi Tumpeng Yogyakarta Central Java

 

 

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Exotic Native Indonesian Fruits

By S. Kramer

The geographical position of Indonesia on the equator gives the country a favorable climate for many varieties of plants to grow including flowers and fruits. The rainy season that starts around October and lasts till April are the harvest seasons for fruits. Some exotic fruits known to be native of Indonesia among others are:

    1. durian

      durian

      Durian (genus Durio) comprises of about 30 species including the cultivated ones. Known for century, durian was introduced the western world only about 600 years ago. Also known as the King of Fruit, durian is really controversial because of its distinct strong smell coming from the sulfur content. Some people describe the distinctive odor as sewage smells, rotten onion and turpentine. It grows all over Indonesia including Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, and Maluku islands. Naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who did extensive research on Indonesian flora and fauna during the 19th century, described the fruit as having a rich almond like custards.

    2. Manggis or purple Mangosteen (Garcinia Mangostana) originated from west Java and Maluku. It is known also the queen of fruits. It was introduced to England in 1855 and spread further to western hemisphere. It has a purple skin and white  flesh with sweet and sour tastes.

      manggis

      manggis

 

C. Salak (Salacca Zalacca) is also known as snake fruit due to the scaly brown outer skin. It was native to Sumatra and Java before it was brought further to other islands including Bali, Lombok, and Maluku. Salak has yellowish crunchy crumbly moist flesh like apple with sweet and sour taste with the hard seed inside.

salak

salak

D. Jambu air (Syzyggium samarangense) is also known as the Java apple. The varieties come in different colors from crimson red and deep purple to black and green. It has a high water content, almost like watermelon, and a refreshing taste like pear.

Jambu air

Jambu air

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Kepel

E. Kepel (Stelechocarpus burahol) is from central Java. The fruit is a symbol of Jogyakarta. Kepel also symbolizes unity as well as mental and spiritual integrity. It is highly valued by the Javanese Sultanate due to its health benefits as anti-contraceptive, oral deodorant, prevention of kidney inflammation and its ability to activate helpful bacterium in the digestion.

 

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Around Historic Yogyakarta (part1): Kota Gedhe

By S. Kramer

KOTA GEDE is small regency on the outskirt of Yogyakarta Central Java Indonesia. The name means the big city. The area was chosen by Sunan Kalijaga (an Islamic leader) as the site for Mataram, the first Javanese Islamic kingdom in the 16th century. It was a transition time from previously Hindu Buddhist kingdoms of Demak and Pajang to the Islamic era in Java. Historical remnant of Mataram can be seen in the old Javanese style houses and part of the city thick walls and motts around the city. The flourishing trades from the old settlement in the past that are still carried on by the present generations like silver craft, leather carving and weaving can still be found in many parts of Kotagedhe.

PAnembahan Senapati the first king of Mataram, coronated 1579 AD died 1601 AD

PAnembahan Senapati the first king of Mataram, coronated 1579 AD died 1601 AD

Mataram Kingdom Royal Cemetery entrance gate

Mataram Kingdom Royal Cemetery entrance gate

One interesting object to visit in Kotagedhe is the Royal Cemetery. The Hindu influence can still be seen on the architectural design of the Royal cemetery.  It is the burial site for the royal family members of Mataram, including the first king Panembahan Senapati, who died in 1601 AD.  The most unique part of this cemetery is the graveyard of Senapati’s son in-law, Ki Ageng Mangir. He was an opposition leader fighting against the king’s power but conquered and killed at the site when he came to pay respect to the king after being persuaded to marry the king’s daughter. His graveyard was half inside and half outside the wall.  Senapati’s  descendant, Sultan Agung, ascended to the throne and brought Java to its golden Era. To visit the Royal cemetery, visitors have to dress in Javanese traditional clothes and are not allowed to wear gold jewelries.

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Tesso Nilo National Park Sumatra(2): The Most Diverse Vascular Plants Collection in the World

By S. Kramer

The Flying Squad experience is only one of the many things that attract visitors to Tesso Nilo National Park. Other attractions in the nearby area include the 11th century Muara Takus Buddhist temple and the unique Bono tidal bore surfing at nearby Kampar River.  Bono is the high wave formed when the ocean tide meets the river stream flowing to the sea. The waves can reach up to 10 meters high. The local legend told that the seven consecutive waves of the Bono were the ghosts of seven male dragons. Similar waves are also found in Rokan Hilir which according to the local legend is the female dragon. Unfortunately, since the Bono comes only during certain times of the year (mostly around November and December) we did not get to witness this rare type of tidal bore.

The road to Tesso Nilo

The road to Tesso Nilo

After a days activity with the flying squad, we got invited by the local community to a performance of silat Pangean at the village courtyard in the evening. This is a kind of martial arts with some sacred rituals performed as a welcome ceremony to honor visitors. The performance was started with Maracik Limau ceremony. This was followed by a smooth gentle performance of martial arts. It is almost like dancing; nevertheless it can have a serious impact to the opponent.

 

 

 

Silat Pangean

Silat Pangean

On the third day of our visit, we did jungle trekking. We walked into the jungle for about 2.5 hrs and were introduced to the various types of vascular plant species that can be found in the forest. A vascular plant species is a land plant that has xylem and phloem tissues. Vascular plants include flowers, conifers, and ferns. Tesso Nilo has the highest diversity of these plants in the world. The guide also showed us the claw marks of a sun bear on a tree. At some point during our jungle walk we heard the noise of the bear quite close by. This stopped us for a while. Other animals living in the park are Sumatran tiger, Malayan tapir, midsize primates, deer, monitor lizard, snakes and butterflies. We found also a big type of snail on the forest floor. In the afternoon we went to see the traditional method of harvesting wild honey from the Sialang forest. The harvesting process was started with a ceremony of chanting from the man who will climb the tree where the beehive is located. The ceremony is to ask permission from the guardian spirits of the tree and forest. After the ceremony, the man climbed a few branches on the tree, then swung a long rope made of rattan root around the tree to climb further. On the way back we stopped by at the WWF nursery where they cultivate new saplings to be replanted in the forest.

Sialang forest

Sialang forest

Installing ladder for harvesting honey

Installing ladder for harvesting honey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The monsoon tropical rains and thunder came to the area that evening, keeping us indoors for the rest of the evening. I spent the evening writing in my journal, enjoying a hot ginger drink with fried banana and a dinner of typical Riau dish of  nasi lemak, patin asam pedas and vegetables. Nasi lemak is rice with coconut milk and patin asam pedas sour and spicy fish. No hope of stargazing for the night.

We left the lodge early in the morning soon after breakfast, bringing with us a souvenir of local sustainably harvested wild honey from Sialang purchased from Lubuk Kembang Bunga Village.

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Tesso Nilo National Park: the home of WWF Elephant Flying Squad (part 1)

By S. Kramer
Z_Sumatra_FlyingSQLocated in the Pelalawan Regency in Riau Province, Tesso Nilo was designated as national park by the Indonesian government in 2004 to protect the endangered elephant and Sumatran tiger’s population. Tesso Nilo is the home of about 150 wild elephants, about half of the whole elephant population in Sumatra. It is part of Bukit Tiga Puluh conservation area. The Flying Squad project was established by the WWF and the Dept. of Conservation of Riau Province to tackle the human-elephant conflict in the area by using a group of tamed elephants to push wild elephants back to the jungle, away from human populated area.
As we flew above the area of south Sumatra, we were presented with the view of neat green patches of palm plantation covering the vast expanded area of what used to be a dense rainforest, former home of Sumatran tiger, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans among others. Where do they have to live now?  The monotonous view of palm trees plantations, although appears beautiful, made us realize how serious the deforestation activities has been. No wonder that every year they experience forest fire in this area which also affected the neighboring countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
After a restful night in Pekanbaru the capital of Riau, we left for Tesso Nilo accompanied by local WWF staff. The uneventful road trip takes about 4 hours with the last leg of the trip going through the palm trees plantation on a dirt road. The encroachment problem in Tesso Nilo is apparently still ongoing. People came to claim a piece of land in the protected area and built their houses or open the forest for palm plantation. At some point of the trip, we past a short stretch of a paved road passing through a small village, and we were told that the big house was the home of the village chief who deserves to have a paved road.
IMG_1665IMG_1731When we arrived at the guest house in Tesso Nilo we were greeted by the staff who brought us a glass of cool ginger lime drink. Then, we joined the staff to cook brownies for the elephants. It consists of rice husks, chopped corn, and palm sugar, cooked in a big pot over a bonfire. The mix was then cooled down overnight and made into brownie balls.
After breakfast, we started the day with giving a bath ritual to all the squad members. There were 6 elephants altogether working as a group. One female elephant named Lisa was absent because she was heavily pregnant.  After the refreshing bath, they get their treats of brownie balls that we cooked the day before. It was rather a scary funny experience to hand feed the elephant since we have to put the food  into its big mouth while its trunk flying around free, ready to hit us anytime.
I got to ride on an old gentleman elephant called Rahman behind the Mahout (trainer).  We went through the forest area where the elephants roam overnight, passing small streams up and down the hills and valley and finally arrived on a waterhole where the elephants usually take a bath in the morning. The guide asked us if we want to bathe the elephant and I agreed immediately. The guide took the saddle, asked the elephant to kneel down and helped me to get back to its back again. Then he led the elephant into the water, brownish black from humus and organic materials leached by the rains from the peat soil. On top of the elephant’s back I could still keep myself dry until the elephant started to kneel down into the bottom of the river taking me into the refreshing black water. Then it was my turn to work scrubbing and cleaning the elephant’s back. After a half hour of refreshing spa, we got out of the water and continued our journey back to the lodge.
IMG_1797
 
On June 1st, we received news that Lisa gave birth to a healthy baby girl in front of CCTV camera.

– Continued…

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