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Walking with spirits

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Some people in Ambon told us we should not visit Ceram. It was the island of their ancestral spirits. Better not disturb them.

We went anyway.

When we arrived in the little harbour of Masohi, we were welcomed like a royal couple and soon half the town knew we had arrived. We checked into a guesthouse and spent the afternoon trying to find someone who spoke English, knew the jungle of Ceram and was willing to go with us. At the end of the day we were so famous, somebody came to our guesthouse to inform us John had arrived home from work. We spoke to John. He worked at the government office and suggested a 4-day hike across Ceram, from Sawai in the north to Tehoru, in the south. The hike would take us through the Manusela National Park. He was willing to sent one of his employees, Jack, with us.

Jack, we found out, had never been there. But he spoke English. So Anky joined us. He worked in our guesthouse and came from a Naulu village. He knew little English, but he knew the way, he said. The night before we left, I had a disturbing dream. I awoke in the absolute knowledge we should not go into the jungle. Somebody or something had warned me that it was dangerous to go there. Moreover, somebody in the guesthouse told us that in south-Ceram, 2 men had been decapitated just last year, for ritual purposes (initiating a new house). .

We went anyway.

We took the bus to Sawai and there we rented a boat that took us to Alakamat, a Naulu village in the north. The chief of the village took us to a nearby logging camp where we registered with the police and arranged a lift in a 4-wheel drive to a logging camp further along the track, where we arrived after a 2 hour camel trophy drive. We spent the night in the camp, sharing dinner with the workers and answering all sorts of questions mainly about our abnormal marital status: not married but living together

The next day we slid a couple of kilometer along the muddy track to the beginning of the path into the jungle. Almost immediately after we had left the logging track, the jungle closed in on us and we were immerged in this strange world of water, lush green trees and plants, sounds of birds and insects. It was beautiful and unreal and slightly scary. The path went up and down hills, through little rivers; it was muddy and rough and difficult to walk. When we arrived in Kanikeh, we were exhausted and decided to stay for the night. We shared our rice and noodles with the family of the chief who in turn shared their cassave and sago.

In the morning we hired another guide to take us to the next village, since Anky was not so sure he knew where he was going. I could understand that. We had to cross many rivers and at some point we had to cut ourselves a way through the leaves. The first river crossings, we took off our shoes and socks, but after the 10th crossing we gave up and just walked on. At midday we stopped in Salumena, a village in which we did not want to stay for long. The atmosphere was grim and many of the men seemed drunk. We hired another guide for the trip to the next village. It was a nice old man, walking twice as hard as we, while carrying my backpack. After many river crossings, following overgrown paths, we arrived in Manusela, where we stayed for the night, again invited by the chief and his family. They talked about the church (devoted Christians thanks to the missionaries) they were building bit by bit. Each bag of cement had to be carried in, a 10 hour walk to the next shop, across a mountain. That trip we would have to make the next day, but without the bags of cement it should be easy.

That was an understatement The first 3 hours we climbed 1500 meters and thought we made it to the top, but that was just the easy part. The other side of the mountain was very wet, misty and slippery. My admiration for the jungle people guiding us, grew. Our own bodies felt immensely incompetent and unwieldy. And after 7 hours of sliding, balancing on rocks and logs, falling down and getting up, we stopped at the first hut we saw. It was empty because, so our guides said “ the owners were celebrating the finished building of a new house.” We spent a special night in that hut. Our companions sang songs, we shared cigarettes and stories. I did not sleep. I listened to the sound of the drums beating far away and thought about the rituals.

The next morning we walked the last part to Hatumete, had tea with the chief and waited 7 hours for a boat that took us to Tahoru. It took us another day to get back to Masohi, where we went straight to the doctor. We both had infected wounds. My friend developed a high fever and a dangerously swollen leg and stayed like that for days until he finally was given the right antibiotics. It took another week till he was fit enough to travel again.

And I remembered my dream and the spirits and was not so sure anymore; perhaps we should have left them alone.


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Frank says

18-04-2007 | 1:04

This is what's great about Toovs! An almost fairy like story with pictures to match.
Having read this I can't wait to go there. (it's just that we're a little short on cash right now)

Lex says

18-04-2007 | 7:00

Thanks Karin! Great TOOV!

Karin says

18-04-2007 | 17:32

Frank, before you go, please read the following article:

Scroll till you see this article: Naulu tribal sacrifice: a legal challenge to the government.

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Added on:
17 April 2007
Ceram hiking jungle Karin
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