The last landfalls revisited - Savu and Jakarta November 2004

My journey retracing the landfalls of the Endeavour has always been a combination of intention and surprise but my visit to Indonesia, and most particularly Savu, has more than exceeded my expectations, what I had thought prior to this visit was possibly a postscript to the main journey has become the most significant stage todate. Cook’s visit to this low, hot, rocky island between Sumba and West Timor was brief, and though his and Joseph Banks’ accounts of Savu are some of the earliest and most detailed records of the island and its people, they were written largely from information provided by Mr Lange the German representative of the Dutch East India Company who was at that time on the Island. Even to this day the island has few outside visitors and the traditional culture is largely unknown to the outside world.

I was privileged to have unprecedented access into the Savunese way of life, in my all too short a stay witnessing death ceremonies, hearing songs recalling ancient oral traditions and learning how Jingitiu, its ancient Animist belief system links the people to the land. I was fortunate to get a number of insights into the practices of traditional medicine as well as into aspects of daily life such as the roles both the maternal and paternal lines of inheritance play in the social and economic structure of the community.

When planning this stage I had rightly assumed that without inside support I would achieve little of value, given language limitations and knowing that as an outsider it would be difficult to make meaningful contact. I therefore owe any success of my visit to Savu to Ina Tali, a talented young woman who was born on Savu and who had answered my plea for assistance. Ina Tali left the island while still a child and has had only infrequent contact with it for more than a decade. Now she is taking a deeper interest in the traditional ways of the island and the history of her own family; who come from one of the ancient governing centres around the old kingdom of Kuji Ratu. In the event, the most important aspect of this part of my journey was the realisation that through helping Ina Tali explore her own origins I was able to have a unique opportunity to document aspects of life on the island. From the moment she and her mother had the consideration to give me the local 'loving name' of Ama Guru to allow me to interect with a people who regard the use of first names disrespectful, I began to get a priviledged insight into the cultural practices and traditions.

After the other stages of my newEndeavour journey it was striking to be engaging with a people whose essential way of life and culture differs so little since the time of Cook's visit in 1770. However, while this way of life continues, traditional knowledge is being eroded. Even as I was visiting the skills of ‘singing recital of ancestral linage' was not being maintained so that important elements of traditional death ceremonies could not take place. Today the Savunese language is not encouraged in the Indonesian school system and the local brand of Lutheran Christianity is not particularly cogniscent of the importance of retaining traditional knowledge. Equally economic trends, access to electricity and the impact of radio and satellite TV are affecting the traditional way of life. It was therefore even more poingnant for me to be recording songs and traditions that may well be lost even to the coming generation. Songs it should be said that though I did not understand the words were so moving and had such dignity that they moved me to tears. It was something of an epiphany for me to realise that on this visit, instead of following the voyager’s footsteps, I was growing into their shoes. It was with great sorrow that after an intense and hugely rewarding week that I had to wish my new family, for that's what they felt like, goodby.

The visit to old Batavia at the heart of modern day Jakarta is perhaps today an even greater contrast with Savu than it was in Cook's own day. Today the buildings of Batavia are largely in ruins with little attempt to preserve aspects of the old dutch settlement. The remains of the old canal system are probably more squallid and filthy now than in 1770 when they undoubtedly contributed to the fevers and fluxes that decimated the Endeavour's complement of men and gentlemen. Some insight to the past still lives in the old port of Sunda Kelapa which today harbours traditional schooners that trade with Sumatra, while todays large ships go to the modern dockyards. At Sunda Kelapa it is still possible to see ships that belong to the age of sail being loaded and unloaded by steveadores without any sign of modern lift gear.