Buginese people the sea gypsies.

mapI’m in north Lombok, 60 km away from the ferry for Sumbawa Island. The road takes me from the mountains directly to the sea. In the mountains it was just cold enough to feel fresh and enjoy the ride, but after half an hour I can feel the sun, my helmet becomes a small sauna. I am super glad that the adventure continues and I will pass to another island but in the same time I feel that I didn’t stay long enough in Lombok, I didn’t see anything in the central or south part, I didn’t climb Rinjani Volcano (3,726 m), well I will have to come back one day, I suppose. Finally in the port, quick shopping, pineapple (4 pineapples – 1 euro, it’s so cheap that I could eat pineapple all day), water, now to Sumbawa, captain.

3 pineapples, 1 liter of water and 4 hours later I step for the first time on Sumbawa land. A spanish girl with a Lonely Planet in her hands and a confused look approaches me, she wants to go to Flores as quick/cheap as possible but doesn’t know how. I tell her that there is no such thing as quick in Indonesia, well maybe if you travel by plane but even then… Anyway we find out that with every ferry comes a bus that goes to Flores (around 20 hours), so she just needs to wait for the next ferry and hopefully if there is an empty seat on the bus they will take her. The port police invite us to stay in their tent and wait for the bus. My “plan” was to drive another 2 hours today until sunset, but spending some time with police doesn’t sound bad, let`s hear what stories they have. The discussion is not so much about them, it is more about us. When they hear about my trip, they say that I am crazy, that Sumbawa is full of mafia and they come with the gun and steal everything from you. I just smile, what can I do, I got used to this, it’s like a syndrome or something, everyone is afraid about their neighbours living to the east, in Central Java they advised me to take care in East Java, then in Bali everyone was afraid about Lombok. Actually this is true also in Europe, all the western Europeans consider Eastern Europe more dangerous. The night falls and I start to regret that I stayed with the police. I feel like in a prison, because they kindly asked me not to exit the police perimeter. I go for a shower, watch an episode of Ramayana soap opera with a police man and go to sleep. I don’t take any photo with them, I don’t like them.

4 am in the morning, I wake up and in 20 minutes I am on the motor, I don’t want to spend a minute more here. After 10 minutes I remember why I don’t like to drive during the night. My Honda doesn’t have a battery, so basically that means if I accelerate, the motor will produce more electricity and the front light will shine better so I can see better, but that also means that I go faster. After not even an hour I stop for the sunrise.

I need to put food in my belly and also to feed my Honda. Apparently she is more lucky than me, I find a petrol station relatively quick, but nothing to eat. We are in the last week of Ramadan, so it’s forbidden to eat between 4:30am and 7:00pm, you can’t even smoke or drink water. It seems that in Java, Bali and Lombok muslims are more relaxed, but in Sumbawa everywhere I stop and ask for food, people throw me a certain look. Lucky me I still have an pineapple and some coffee from Lombok. I sweat talk a girl to give me some hot water and sugar, to prepare the coffee and I eat the pineapple. Half full, always try to think positive, I take the road to the east, maybe I’ll be more lucky in the next town. Comparing with Lombok, the road is different, 1-2 km stretches of road with no turns, the sun seems more powerful and the vegetation is more burned.

4:30 pm, I don’t know when the day passed, I just know that I stopped several times to eat, today was my fruit day, pineapple, melon, bananas and corn, couldn’t find anything else to eat. Maybe because of the heat, or because of the food I am in a state of I completely don’t care, I know that I need to sleep somewhere, but I don’t look for anything, I just drive. A few minutes before sunset I spot a village (Teluk Santong) near the sea. The houses look strange it’s like they are built on water. Curious by nature, I turn back, to have a look, in fact they are built on some pylons above the water. I don’t have time to take the camera out of the bag when I hear the first “Hello mister”. I turn back and… meet Aswar, a 10 years old kid with a big smile on his face, driving a scooter bigger than himself. It seems that I am lucky again, Aswar’s uncle is the head of the village. In less than half an hour, Honda is sleeping in their yard and I have a new family. And now the craziness begins, all their relatives come to their house to see me and invite me to eat, play badminton, drink beer… a long night, but somehow I survive.

From far away Teluk Santong seemed a forgotten small village in the middle of nowhere, but from inside it’s very alive. The locals are the Buginese people, also recognized as sea gypsies. Their parents and grandparents originated from South Sulawesi and spent all their life on small boats. I spend an entire afternoon chatting with an old man, I am curious to find more about their life on the boats and how come they got stuck here. The stories are unbelievable, they really used to live on the boats, he tells me that when he was young he saw land maybe 1-2 days a month, maximum. There is no reason why they settled here, they just settled. One thing that I noticed is that they don’t have any time reference, they have no idea how old they are, or when they came here, this is true also for the young people. In a way time doesn’t exist for them, why should they be stressed about the passing time, they just live their life, it’s not like knowing that you are 30 or 44 makes you more happy.

A lot of this people work or are students in Mataram (Lombok), Makkasar (Sulawesi) or Ambon (Maluku). They came back to the village only for the end of Ramadan, to celebrate with the entire family, and they bring with them an air of modern life to the dusty streets of this old village. The celebration of the end of Ramadan isn’t something super fancy, there is a morning prayer at the mosque and then all day the families visit each other and eat a lot.

On the third day we go with the boats for a barbecue and swimming to a nearby island. We leave with 2 boats, one for the girls and one for the boys, Indonesian style.


Thanks everybody for making me feel welcome, thanks for the good food, hot coffee, cold beer and for the kid size bed. Thanks Aswar for your smiles and energy and I hope you’ll get a photo camera soon and play more. The last photo of this post is taken by Aswar, he showed interest in photography so I teach him basic techniques and lend him my camera from time to time.

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7 thoughts on “Buginese people the sea gypsies.

  1. Mas,i enjoy your stories,every worda,sentences and all photos taken are amazing….thats my dream havent been come true,to travel around indonesia,not as tourist,but just layman who want to explore the forgotten sides of indonesia…2 thumbs up for u,mas!!

  2. I love your journey through places in my own homeland. Somehow I feel ashamed for not knowing directly about the people who live in this archipelago. Hope to follow your steps! Until then, best of luck & have a great adventure 😀

  3. Thank you so much for your coming to my village. I like your post and picture about Teluk Santong. My names Boy Sandy i’m from Teluk Santong. Can you give me your instagram acoount? I hope you come again to Teluk Santong, because many place is beautiful you must explore in Teluk Santong. You can see on my instagram @boysandy2005 or my email melpost.boysandy@gmail.com

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