Saturday, February 28, 2009

Omi Bünde 100 Jahre

In memoriam

Photo from Bünde, June 1982.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Mentawai impressions: kids

Photos from Atabai, Siberut Island, West-Sumatra, January 2009.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mentawai art: part 1

Photo from a wall in Bilijo's uma in Ugai, Siberut, West-Sumatra, January 2009.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sleeping place for toddlers

Photo from Atabai, Siberut Island, West-Sumatra, January 2009.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


For Americans 'bathroom' commonly means 'a room containing a toilet'. This one does.

Photo from the Padang-Maura Siberut ferry, West Sumatra, January 2009.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Mentawai impressions: trekking

Leaving Butui, one of the better accessible settlements of the Mentawai on Siberut Island. The Mentawai people never wear shoes but wethe people who cannot walkneed such aids, and many more. A handrail along the slippery tree trunk, for instance, to facilitate access to the house and to leave it, especially at night when somebody had to follow the call of nature.
Tree trunks are very often laid on muddy trails, where the mud can get quite deep. Good balancing skills are required on them, especially on round, slippery bamboo. One plus: falling in the mud does not hurt!
Rivers cannot be followed all the time, and hills in between can be quite steep. They can be better walked uphill than downhill, for us with sticks as walking and balancing aids. Left lane for overtaking!!
Trees had been felled by the local people to grow bananas, and are now part of the trail.
Three of the 21 Mentawai porters we had hired to carry the food for eight days as well as luggage.
Mud walk. Here the 'normal' forest mud, greyish and odorless, but very sticky and difficult to walk with shoes.
Lunch break during a seven-hour trek. Food is always being shared, but most important is that everybody gets a portion of tobacco.
Cigarettes are fuel for the Mentawai people.
Mud walk, here in a sago area. This mud is less dense, has a reddish-brown colour and smells of fermented sago. As with the Inuit who have many different words for snow we try to figure out how many words the Mentawai have for mud. The generic word 'lati' has been one of the first Mentawai words we have learnt.
Beauty contest after a sago mud walk.
We sometimes face the dilemna between balancing on a tree trunk and going through the mud. As shown above, mud can get quite deep. Two persons were necessary to free our fellow traveler from the mud trap, and they had to be very careful not to slip and get stuck themselves.
The river between Atabai and Butui had swollen due to heavy rains and some passages could not be negociated without getting totally wet. Backpacks had to be passed over heads, and a 'bridge' made of round, slippery bamboo to be put across for the sikerei, who felt safer at balancing on it than at swimming.

Siberut Island, January 2009.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

That's what you eat

Photo of a mantis shrimp, Lembeh Strait, North-Sulawesi, December 2008.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

I want to be complete

Good luck!

Photo of a monster ad, Manila, January 2009.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Cash is king

Mastering the 2008/09 financial crisis:
cash is king!

Photo from Jibla, Yemen (at that time Yemen Arab Republic or North Yemen), August 1989.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Greetings from Mars

Photo from Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, December 2008.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Renante's brother

... but where is Renante?

Photo from Biga, Batangas, January 2009.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Smokey children

Photo from Smokey Mountain, Tondo, Manila, December 2007.

More smokey children...

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Exchanging news

Once you get something out of your backpack it needs to be shared with everybody. Curiosity is king. On the photo below Teo Tonem reads the German weekly 'Die Zeit' with the headline 'limits of compassion' ...
Atabai, Siberut, West-Sumatra, January 2009.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mentawai impressions: dancing

Rotek is preparing himself as lead dancer (photo above).

Dances are performed on the evening before our departure from Atabai to ensure that our trip will go well, and to take farewell of the sikerei who will accompany us. The sikerei have adorned themselves with a second loin cloth and the lead dancer is wearing a woven apron (from Sumatra, as weaving is unknown on Siberut). The first dance to be performed is a bird dance, the leaves the sikerei are wearing representing feathers. For the second dance, the sikerei ‘play’ chicks still clumsy at gathering food from the ground. The third dance involves larger and higher movements: the eagle dance. The mocked fight in the fourth dance is about two birds and one snake. In the funny last dance, the sikerei imitate monkeys.
Photo above: Bird dance in the uma under skulls of monkeys, deer and whatever has a skull. On the wall to the left are inprints of hands and feet signifying that a family member had died.
Photo above: Rotek in front of the skulls with his chiseled teeth.

Atabai, Siberut, West-Sumatra, January 2009.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

In touch with Mentawai spirits

Depiction of a monkey in a traditional Mentawai house.

Photo from Atabai, Siberut, West-Sumatra, January 2009.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Life and death on Siberut Island

As we arrive at Aman Lao Lao’s uma in Butui after a 7 hour trek from Atabai over tree trunks, across never-ending mud, and along a beautiful river canyon, the level of excitement in the house is too high to be solely due to our visit.

As a matter of fact, a child is going to be born…

'Assistance' is required, but it seems that a white presence is more a matter of involving us than of asking for help. The only thing we can offer is to boil water and to give clean cloth for the birth and the baby. The mother-to-be, only fifteen, has been in labor pains for nearly two days, and is exhausted from the pushing efforts.

The first ritual performed by Aman Lao Lao and the other sikerei is a dance around the young girl with bells and leaves to ward off the evil spirits, and some concoctions on her body to cool her down (see photo below).

A baby boy is born the next morning. Instead of the boiled water, normal water from the river is used to clean the newborn child. Immunity from the very first breath! The women of the house are very happy, relieved also, birth always being a hazard (see photos below).
A pig is slaughtered right after the birth to celebrate (see photo below).
Aman Lao Lao is reading from the inner organs and predicts that all will go well (see photo below).
The slaughter of the pig (see left bottom of the next photo) is only a four meters away from where the mother has given birth.

Relatives come to the house to share the food. The baby has not been named yet, and it will take five to six days before the naming ceremony starts. A chicken is slaughtered for that occasion; men gather and pick one of the chicken’s feathers. The person with the longest feather is the one naming the child. After this, the 'name giver' has to change his own name. As for the father of the child, he also has to change his name, the new one starting with 'Aman', meaning that the first child is alive. If the child dies, he will take a new name preceded by 'Teo' and will again be able to add Aman when a new child is born.

When somebody dies, an imprint of hands and/or feet is taken on a wall of the house, and painted or carved, as a reminder of his or her presence. Burial in the trees is no longer allowed.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mentawai impressions: hunting

Hunting, especially monkey hunting, takes place at the end of festivals. Before the men go to the monkey hunt, they sacrifice one of their domestic animals as a small offering to the monkey skulls already placed in the uma to retain the monkeys’ spirits. Monkeys are considered to be the domestic animals of the spirits, and the offerings to the dead monkeys are a way of bringing the living monkeys to allow their souls being reunited with their dead ancestors via the kill. The offerings also protect the hunters, who go far and are away for several days.
Animals are killed with bow and arrows, the arrows being anointed with a nerve poison, composed of four ingredients: bark from the raggi tree, leaves, roots, and a small green chili. The bark is taken of the branch with a knife, the leaves are chopped, the root and the chilli are ground. The ingredients are put together with a small brush (piece of wood with nails) and put together in a small, open basket made of rattan. This basket is pressed between two pieces of wood and the “juice” collected, put on the arrows with a feather and dried over the fire. The poison remains lethal for about 5 months. Therefore, a sikerei always ensures that his arrows are with him or in a safe place.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mentawai impressions: tattoos

Tattoos are an extension of clothing. When tattooed, you are never naked whatever might happen to you. They are applied at different stages of life on different body parts. They now start being applied when young people are around 15, if at all. Chin and back come first, then hands, chest, thighs and buttocks.
The flower close to the shoulder bone means that evil should bounce off the body like raindrops from a flower (see above).

Tattoos are applied by a tattoo master who will be paid in kind for his work. The color mix is made of soot and lime juice. A blade of grass is used to apply the mixture on the skin. A small piece of wood with a nail at its top is then used to introduce the mixture into the skin where the nail has opened it.

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