Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Nomad & the Bugis Captain

Nomad is sailing with the Bugis Captain throughout the Nusa Tenggara islands in East Indonesia. Lombok, Gili Bola, Moyo, Satonda, Sumbawa, Gili Laba, Komodo, Kalong, Rinca, Kelor and Flores islands.

The first night when most people were already vast asleep I have my first long conversation with the old Bugis captain on the fore deck of the boat. He lights his unfiltered kretek cigarette and subtly enquires about my background and how come I speak his language a little. My answers seem satisfactory and he confides to me that he would like to be able to speak more ‘behasa ingris’. From sailing in the tourist industry he had noticed that the different people from all over the world seem to be able to speak this language. “Di kapal ini ada orang Perancis, German, Belanda, Poland, Australia, America, Ingris. Semua bisa bicara behasa ingris.”

He also seemed slightly frustrated that he needed Abdul, the English speaking guide from Lombok, to communicate with his passengers. He tells me that he only has an Indonesian-Arab dictionary and the English lessons his 3 children get in school are very poor. I tell him to just go and start talking with the passengers and listen closely to their conversations. He seemed encouraged by this reply and the next days I would see him make sometimes awkward attempts to mingle more and more with the other passengers, taking a seat among them on the main deck. Anyway he thought it was ‘bagus’ that I spoke his language. The next morning the crew (not the guide) seemed to be briefed about our nightly conversations and they all came to introduce themselves by name to the ‘gado-gado’ from Belanda . From now on I was called to the back of the boat to have extra snacks with the crew and was guaranteed extra servings of breakfast when I wanted.

The second night the captain and I spoke more about languages, culture and religion. His self declared frustration with his inability to speak English was slightly nuanced by the fact that he actually spoke more languages fluently than most of the well educated bilingual westerners on the boat. He tells me that in his ‘immigrant’ kampong on Sumbawa, beside the official Indonesian language, people already spoke 3 languages, such as the Bajau language ( Note: the Bajau are also a seafaring nomad people, not unlike the Bugis, with roots in Malaysian peninsular.). He was however unable to understand the native Sumbawa language as his roots lay in Makassar in South Sulawesi. He therefore found it particularly interesting that I had roots in North Sulawesi. He touches my arm and says “Adatnya lain, Manusia sama.” "Our ways may differ, but we are of one people."
One star spangled night the captain says he’s sorry he’s so quiet during the day, but tells me that it’s hard to muster energy during these first days of Ramadan. No drinking, no eating and no smoking. “Susah.” And it’s true once the sun goes down and the crew can indulge the volume of chatter and laughter on the bridge and in the back clearly goes up a notch. I was thinking how extra hard it must be to prepare and serve us food three times a day when you can’t eat or drink a thing yourself. But as history clearly tells us Bugis are a tough breed. He goes on to tell me this will be one of his last trips as he has now saved enough money to build a house in his kampong. It is easier than building a boat though he adds, specifying that it took his friend 4 years and 400 million rupiah to build the boat we we're on now.

At the end of the trip our guide Abdul told me that the captain wasn’t officially the captain at all. He used to be, but the young sailor in his early 20s was officially captain, as it was his father who had built and owned the boat. As the captain makes more money than the rest of the crew, in typical Indonesian fashion the closest to kin was made captain. When I say my goodbyes I tell my captain that I wish to give him 'kenang-kenangan'. He had mentioned that he liked the big multi-purpose beach towel I used and even though it had indeed been of great comfort and use during our boat trip I gladly gave it to him together with a carton of dates, the typical Ramadan food, and some packs of ‘Djarum Super’ kreteks. He happily accepted my 'kenang-kenangan' and carefully put them away immediately. “Terima kasih. Sampai bertemu lagi.” Thank you. Until we meet again.


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