Mentawai – Siberut Island – August 2015
I’m sitting on the side of the Uma my legs in the void. The night is full of the sounds of the jungle. I can still smell the smoke from the bonfire we had earlier.
I’m watching my feet, the earth is turning around me. My head is so heavy and the fever makes me feel cold in this Tropical environment. My stomach is painful, ready to return its content.
This is the second time that I’m visiting my friends from the jungle. The Flower Men. They live in
Mentawai on the Island of Siberut. They make clothes out of plants and flowers. They build Uma’s, their traditional house, from jungle trees. They eat the produce of their hunt. They occasionally exchange their craft work against cigarettes and other products from our world. This is a peaceful people living in Harmony with their environment.
It’s about 2 or 3 am, I’m in the middle of the jungle, far from everything I know.
I’m doubled over in pain and scared.Sarul our guide is awake. He is coming to me. My look is focused on my feet again, I can see the pigs wandering in the mud under me. Sarul is next to me. He starts to sing in Mentawai, it’s like a whisper. He massages my foot and then the other, still incanting.I’m in pain and suddenly, without a warning I release the content of my stomach on the ground. Sarul take my hands still singing.
I open my eyes and cross Sarul’s look. I brake the contact between us, stand up and go to the river.
The night is full of stars, the moon is not full but gives me enough light to see clearly everything around me. I’m walking on this track surrounded by tall grass. I let my hands touch them while I walk. I arrive at the river. I kneel down on the riverbank and wash my face. The storm inside me is gone. I feel in harmony with my surroundings. I feel peaceful inside.
I come back to the Uma. Sarul is where I left him. He has a wide smile when he sees me. I sit next to him and he starts to talk in English about his Mentawai life when he was a Flower Man before he left for the village to become a guide. For him it was important to show to people that the Mentawai existed.
In the 1970’s, the Indonesian government has started to burn their cultural symbols, traditional meeting houses and villages and they were forced to abandon their forest. It has been called the “Relocation of the aliened people”. In 1981, the main Island, Siberut, has been declared a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. From this time the Mentawai came back to their land. Today times are still troubled by illegal logging activities. Sarul by becoming a guide wanted to share with people from the world Mentawai lifestyle and tradition because he believes that the more souls think of them the more power it gives to them to survive. After all they are animist.