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Adventure in the Sunda Seas

Date: 3 September 1938
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Nancy Jean Steele Bequest
Object Copyright: © Australian National Maritime Museum
Classification:Ephemera
Object Name: Newspaper clipping
Object No: ANMS0542[032]

User Terms

    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Abenteuer in den Sunda-See

    Primary title: Adventure in the Sunda Seas

    Translation
    • Berlin News Saturday, 3 September 1938 Adventure in the Sunda Seas Encounters on a journey in a collapsible boat by Oskar Speck 4th instalment The turtle cemetery The people of Lamalerap go out to catch whales in large boats, big enough to fit 12 to 15 natives, as far as Timor. Once they have spied a whale, a shark or a pigfish, they kill it with a harpoon. Each man in the boat receives a certain part of the fish killed. In general, they only kill fish sized up to ten metres, since larger animals would be too much of a danger to the boat and crew. But even with catches of under ten metres, they are sometimes forced to cut the line attached to the harpoon. Since the fish don’t always come up to the surface, they have to exercise an enormous amount of skill to hit the animals with the harpoon. It is therefore a popular game among children to practise harpooning, and even tiny boys, hardly old enough to stand up, throw their little bamboo spears after possible fish. Apart from fish, the main food for the population is corn. There is very little money in circulation: normally they barter pieces of dried fish for corn and other things. The names of the boats are interesting: they all contain a quote from the bible in Latin. The women on Lamalerap spend their spare time weaving cane, and cloths that are used as clothing, but also for wall hangings. After spending three days on Lamalerap I continued my journey. The weather was extremely stormy and the Timor wind, as it is known, caused me a lot of difficulty. My next crossing got me to the island of Rusa. The current was very strong here as well. I was beaten back a few times before I managed to reach Rusa. I landed on a beautiful white coral beach. There were no traces of a human habitat anywhere. After taking my boat up to the beach I went for a little look around. Everywhere I found the shells of giant turtles, bleached white by the weather. Unfortunately that meant the shell was totally useless. [Photograph of palm trees on an island with the caption:] A beautiful picture from this tropical paradise: the coast of the island of Bali After preparing my meal, which consisted mainly of condensed milk, I lay down to sleep. The sound of the surf provided its usual lullaby, and I was asleep after a few minutes. Around midnight I awoke. The noise of the surf had died down, the waves were washing quietly ashore across the coral. There was not a breath of wind, and the ocean was as flat as a mirror in front of my sleepy eyes. Yet I felt strangely disturbed. I tried to go back to sleep, but just could not manage it. I stood up eventually, in order to tire myself out by doing some gymnastics, as I had often done during nights of the full moon. The ghostly shadows my movements were throwing on the snowy white beach didn’t exactly settle my nerves in this overwhelming solitude, and so I sat down again before long. I watched many falling stars: they seemed to be extinguished by the ocean on the endless horizon. I must have fallen back to sleep in the middle of thinking some sentimental thoughts about home. When I woke up again, the moon was still up, but it had turned cold and I crawled back into my boat shivering. I went back to sleep quickly then and only woke when the sun was already up high in the sky and it was beginning to feel uncomfortable in the boat. To continue my journey then was out of the question. The current was strong against my course and I had to wait for the wind to die down before I could try to paddle around the island close to the shore. In the meantime I took a little stroll along the beach. Beautiful sea shells that would have fascinated any collector were lying around next to bleached bits of bone from large fish and giant turtles. All along the beach there were huge hollows in the sand from turtles laying eggs, and I even saw turtles waddling along the beach. I couldn’t get close to them, because they always heard my steps across the sand in time and with a few giant movements escaped into deeper water. After walking along the beach for about a kilometre, constantly on the lookout for crocodiles, I arrived at a small rise consisting of displaced coral. Inside this coral mound, there were a few grottoes, which no doubt had been washed out by the surf during high tide in the past. Inside these grottoes I discovered many shells of giant turtles, and not just like those I had found on the beach before, with their upper and lower sections separated. Here they were still together with the bleached bones still inside. It was a real turtle cemetery, proving beyond any doubt that these giant animals had chosen these spots to die in. A very strange feeling came over me in this animal cemetery. I was now absolutely convinced that the island of Rusa was uninhabited. Even the most primitive of natives would have taken the shells of these animals and used them for his own purposes. By now it was all spoilt by the weather, of course, and all I could take with me as a souvenir was a photograph. On the way back I had the opportunity to film two beautiful giant turtles mating. They were determined not to be disturbed and it was only when I placed my hand on the shell of one of the animals, the turtle family found it necessary to disappear quickly, splashing me with sand and water from head to toe. I was able to continue only that afternoon, and no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find any humans or any human dwellings anywhere on the island. Later I heard about the strange history of the island of Tabu from the Dutch official on Alor, whose administrative area includes the island of Rusa. On the highest point of the island there is a Buddha statue inside a grotto in the rock. No-one knows when it was taken there or who took it there. What is certain is that the natives from the surrounding islands set foot on Rusa only very rarely, don’t build any huts on it and never spend the night there. The island is taboo for them, since it is guarded by a god who has frequently shown examples of his power. They say, the statue guards a golden ring, and anyone who had tried to take the ring away thus far, had been killed. Adventurous people had tried again and again to break the spell, but the god’s power had proved stronger each time, and the ring had always found its way back. It is believed still to be there today. “When I go on holidays,” the official said finishing his story, “I shall take the ring with me.” But the laughter accompanying these words did not sound convincing. A ban on dancing in my honour A few days later I arrived on the island of Pantar. One of the largest villages along its coast is Kabir. It was market day when I arrived, and I would have rarely seen a more colourful picture of a market. Amongst the Arabs, who were the main traders there, were the large figures of the people from Pantar. They created a rather savage impression with their curly hair, and yet they are the most peaceful natives in the whole area. Shortly after my arrival, the old Rajah of Kabir paid me a visit. He had tied a few colourful scarves around his head and was chewing a large lump of stringy tobacco, so that it was hard to understand anything he said. He made sure I received a few Kelapa Muda (unripe coconuts, filled with fruit liquid).In the meantime, news of my arrival had made the rounds in the village. The four village gurus (teachers) had thrown on their festive garments and came marching up to greet me. An enormous crowd of people were fighting to see me and the boat, and I was able to breathe freely only after I had been taken to the house of the Captain of Kabir with the help of the gurus. Inside the Captain’s house a rattan chair was found for me and I was treated to coffee and biscuits. When it was time to make an entry in my passport, it turned out that the village Captain unfortunately was unable to read and write. So the main guru entered the arrival date in my passport and the Captain signed with a cross. Then I went for a little stroll in the village taking a look at the market, while being accompanied by the gurus and other village chiefs, trotting along behind me at a respectful distance. Unfortunately I probably ruined the whole market with my arrival, since the Captain had so much respect that he gave orders for no dancing during the night. That took the main attraction of the market away for the people of Pantar, with their love of festivities.. After I had gone to lie down in my boat to sleep, it had become deadly quiet. To be continued…
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