Monday, September 5, 2011

Wakatobi - Wow - So Many Events!

Posepaa Attraction, Honari Mosega Liya and Tamburu Liya

Having visited the fort (by accident) the day prior, I opted to stay on Anima for some much-needed “me” time. I got to practice yoga!!!
Posepaa means “kick” in the local tongue – in this unique traditional event, the men of Liya Toga pair off and have an all out kicking brawl, all in good fun, and completely without a notion of winner or loser. Posepaa, as well a being a kind of initiation ceremony for boys and a show for the girls, is also symbolic of kicking out the Dutch. The event took place on a cleared gravel field in front of the fort. It was opened by a small group of elders who performed a traditional war dance “honari mosega” with music. I really liked their “tompide” - an elongated buckler which could be aligned with the forearm or across it. Combined with the spear and the movements of the dance I could easily imagine how it could be put to effective use. After this, the old men and the referees went out into the field where they opened the event.
Village traditions.
The pairs of men, holding hands, squared off in two main groups – those from the lower part of the village and those from upper part. They seemed to place a lot of value on big sweeping high kicks, made all the more possible by the support from the partner. After a little bit of watching – which was a little difficult as whenever it got interesting, people ahead stood up and crowded around, one of the older men recruited me. After a little consultation with the ref, It was decided that it would be OK for me to have a little go. All pretty light hearted though! With my Wing Chun background it felt too unusual to do the big high kicks, so at first I used it as a bit of an experiment to see if I could apply the Wing Chun principal of reflecting the attack with a better structure, along the centerline. It seemed to be working OK, as I usually found my foot on their supporting leg and none of their attacks got through – however, I don't think any of us were really giving it anything more than 5%. After a little bit of them being consternated at my low kicks, I decided to try a few high ones – It was a lot easier with the supporting hand, and actually, I didn't need to raise my foot up very much, because they were all quite shorter than me and often crouching over. At one stage, I put my foot up to this man's face, but didn't push, because I didn't want to hurt him. He threw away his partners hand in anger and came at me with a volley of punches – but it was all in jest, and we all had a good laugh..
Rene fighting Posepaa style.
It was decided that the fighting was moving up a notch and that I shouldn't participate for fear of injury. I wanted to keep on going, so they swapped my partner with a younger man - Domi. Domi and I tried to get back in, and I tried to explain to them that I was conditioned and could control my blows. I slapped my forearms and hit my body which drew some delight from the crowd, but eventually the refs decided that it would be to bad for the Wakatobi tourism industry if anything bad happened. Oh well. I felt a little like the guy from ‘tfighiribes’ who tried to have a stick fight in Africa but was denied. 
Serious Posepaa
After this, there was a presentation of local cuisine and a failed political rally. I always feel uncomfortable eating in front of Muslims during Ramadan, so I opted to walk around with Domi and ask him questions about Posepaa, Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Wangi Wangi – just as well, or I wouldn’t have seen anything! We were scheming to organise a less public Posepaa group to maybe do some training, when I noticed a commotion down the road. Everyone in the village was watching a minivan trying to drive into Liya Togo with someone yelling through a megaphone on the top. It looked like some kind of political movement, so I asked Domi – is that the Reformisi? He instantly replied yes, but then tried to distract me – “lets have a look at the new village gate.. oops the police are arresting the protestors there, lets have a look at the cannon instead!”. I learnt that the protestors were ‘students’, ‘smart’ and ‘strong’, but that they had some problem with sail Wakatobi-Belitong – I never got to the bottom of what the problem was, and the protest failed utterly, as the respected old men of the village moved them on and all of the rally participants were busy tasting the lovely local cuisine, totally oblivious. One other yachty saw something, but his quick guide told him that someone was debating the result of the Posepaa competition (which is nonsensical because, to my knowledge, Posepaa is non competitive and there is no winners or losers). I remember reading on someone else’s blog there was some protest another year, possibly about the inequality in funding, maybe all us yacties getting free diesel, etc? It didn’t do anything whatsoever to marr the experience, but it does pique the curiosity in Indonesian politics. Back to Cerae:
Welcome Dinner at Patuna Resort
That night we were driven across the island to the Patuna Resort for a welcome dinner. We were a bit late and most of the other guests (government and police officials) had already eaten. We bumbled our way through and had a nice evening. Rene and I ended up sitting with a Dutch couple, Rob and Marjo from SV Taremaro. Coincidentally, Rene's Aunt, Jan from SV Yawarra 2, had just written to Marjo to tell her about us! They have been in contact for years over various radio nets and via email but have never actually met face to face. Rene offered to help them out by cleaning their hull and they gave us a lovely bottle of (gratefully received due to low stocks!) red wine in return. The opening party ended with some cultural performances with traditional and modern dance. Some of the yachties got up and said thank you speeches and we were all given a colourful scarf with Wakatobi printed upon it.
Not-so-traditional dance
'Underwater Wedding Harmony Ceremonial'
Here's the write-up from our tour package information sheet about this event. It sums it up well and you get a feel for it: 'In order to promote the underwater beauty of the Wakatobi as The Heart of the Global Coral Triangle, an Underwater Wedding will be held to welcome the Sail Wakatobi Belitong 2011 participants, who are also invited to participate in this event. During the Underwater Wedding more than 30 couples will bless their marriage in a large underwater ceremony surrounded by the beautiful coral landscapes of the Wakatobi, guaranteeing a very memorable and special occasion.'
As a related side-point, Rene edited the glossy tourism booklet we were given about Wakatobi to help them communicate the facts in English free of mistakes. He found it difficult to fix some parts as the ideas were quite deep. For example 'If you find that the heavenly beauty is in sight, all the potential was waiting and opened its heart, what are you waiting, we wait for your presence in the Wakatobi'.
Underwater wedding - above water.
So, the wedding. We went along simply to watch. We had no expectations and so had a fantastic day. Our volunteer guides pulled us through the large crowd, right up to the end of the jetty where the participants were gathering, wearing their wedding outfits, wetsuits and scuba gear. Rene dove right in, followed quickly by Penny. I was hesitant after my stinger experience the day before. I think Rene must be part seal or dolphin because he moves so naturally in the water – totally at ease and fearless. Wearing his wetsuit and snorkel, he free-dove down to the wedding (10 metres below) to get a better look and take photos for me. One of the sound guys gave Rene air from his octopus which Rene loved. The couples all descended and hovered in heart-shaped areas decorated with fake flowers. There was an underwater sound system and the whole event was broadcast live to the spectators above water.
Some of the local wedding participants.
The event wasn't organised as best as it could have been, so the yachties who'd put their name down to get married and attended the practice session (the day prior) missed out (initially). They went home disappointed but were invited back in the afternoon where they had a private wedding and free dive around the reef. We'd been forewarned that Indonesia is like this – that things can change at the last minute and then change back again. I'm glad they were invited back again because one couple had been looking forward to the event since Darwin as it coincided with their 30 year wedding anniversary.
Happy Wedding!
By marrying 24 couples simultaneously under water, this event officially broke the Guinness world record. I snorkelled over the end of the event and was astounded at the visibility of an amazing array of corals. The best part however was swimming over the billions of bubbles that rose up from the scuba divers below.
Underwater wedding coral garden. Beautiful!
The actual wedding underwater - so many bubbles!
Traditional Dance and Fashion Show
I couldn't attend the performance as we weren't informed about it until it was too late – I'd begun making up a huge pot of tomato relish (tomato's are about $1 per kilo here so I went a little crazy and bought 5 kilo's!) and didn't finish until midnight (I filled 8 jars with delicious relish!) – just before Rene returned home – full of stories about the fun night he'd had. Here they are: Rene:
Cerae dropped me off at lady bubbly. I talked a little with some of the yachties. I was talking about how I put my foot in it the other day, mentioning the Korupsi – people don’t really like to hear the bad things about their country from foreigners, and I think mentioning even the word Korupsi is bad form when police are standing by. Then the conversation shifted to talking about Indonesia coming out of a repressive dictatorship. Rob reckoned that Tito was good for Yugoslavia, and I couldn't tell, but maybe he was arguing that Indonesia may be one of those countries that needs such a dictatorship. We didn’t get to finish the conversation, but I’m not convinced that anyone needs it - half way through ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli now and I’m even less convinced! Derek, another Dutch speaker from Belgium says “religion will make you stupid and the state will make you poor”. These are the kinds of arguments that reappear regularly in the yachting fraternity!
The police have been very very nice to me here, so I can't really complain about Korupsi at all. During the event we talked a little. They were asking me if in Australia the police look after tourists in a similar way - apparently we can ask for them to walk around with us like bodyguards if we like. I thought about it and said - no, Australia isn’t like that, but if you have a problem, you can always ask the police to help, and if you have evidence someone is going to hurt you, then you can ask for a guard ( I think? Is that right Tom or Kelly?).
One guy I was talking to was from west Java, his wife was from east Java. He is posted out in the capital of the south Suluwesi province, and then was sent out here to look after us.
Just before the show got started properly, Lucy and her friend had a translation problem - they needed to know a general word for giving a gift to your Fiancee as a gesture during marriage - I couldn't think of the word, I don’t think we have an equivalent.
One of the other police guys I was talking to:
policeman: "wangi wangi women are beautiful, ya?"
me: "ya, perempuan ada Wangi Wangi - cantik, ya. Very beautiful!"
policeman: "If you like, after the show, you can pick one - (gesturing)"
me: (flashing my tatooed wedding ring) "but I'm a married man!"
policeman: "Oh, it's ok - only joke, only joke!"
Even if I wasn't married, I'm not sure it would have done any good - with my observational powers, I probably would have chosen a lady man!
However, after the show, the other policeman arranged for us all to dance with the dancers - I was trying quite hard to learn the traditional moves. The hand gestures were a little like the Sau Lim Tao in Wing Chun, so it felt nice to do - I couldn't really get the footwork though, or the rhythm. Despite this, my dancing parter seemed chuffed that I was actually giving it a fair go and gave me another Wakatobi scarf!
Then the latin music came on and one of the policemen and the woman off lady bubbly were doing a pretty good merenge sort of thing.
I was just freeforming it with some of the boys - started throwing in some b-boy moves and before I knew it I was having a lighthearted battle with this awesome asian breakdancing superstar. I could do one move that he couldn't, but he could do tonns others that I couldn't, and he had more feeling too - so I applauded his skill and captured a little on video before the battery ran out.
[Video] To be uploade when we have a decent connection!
Waha Village
Before this event, freshly printed T-shirts were dropped off at all the yachts with a Sail Wakatobi image and the slogan 'Clean The Ocean For Future Live' which we all had to then wear. We met at the W.I.C office at 2pm and waited for a short rainshower to pass before getting into minivans and bumping over to Waha village. We were sat down on plastic chairs and explained the rules of Saparaga. The men were invited to play with locals while the women could take photos and admire them. Apparently, the game is designed to show off your talent to the ladies! It is basically the same as hacky sack but with a rattan ball. 
Rene plays Saparaga.
I was led over to another area where I was to play a different game, Heba'ongko involving kicking and throwing pieces of coconut shell towards different targets. I was explained the rules and played with two soapy stars who were doing it all for the camera. Beginners luck had it that I won my first (and only) match. Penny got busy chatting to Mo, a young British woman who manages Patuno resort, is married to a local and speaks fluent Bahasa Indonesian. She interpreted for Penny that the elders of the village who were watching the coconut shell game were saying that it is so disappointing that the young people don't know how to play. They said it was sad that the only time their traditional game was played was for tourists while usually the local youths just play on their mobile phones. We were shown some local foods (mostly involving sugar!) and invited to taste some inside a building. Rene was so busy playing the games that I had to save him some sugary coconut drink and peanut slice. As the event concluded, the reporter from the local Wakatobi TV station asked Rene and I for an interview. 
Rene and I being interviewed by Wakatobi TV.
Back in the carpark at W.I.C, a bunch of us played Separaga with the rattan ball Rene had been given until it rolled into the deep gutter and was covered in green slime! The gutters and drains here are really deep compared to Australia. One poor woman from the yacht Lady Bubbly accidentally fell down this one and has been bed-ridden for days – too bruised and sore to move!
Yachties demonstrate how deep the drains are.
Later that night we were able to visit the Wakatobi TV building – it's a residential house with a tiny room for editing. They use software I'm very familiar with and broadcast their footage each night from 6pm till about 11pm. It reminded me a little of Bris31, the locally made TV station back home. We sat on the floor and watched the piece they'd put together for the underwater wedding. Rene organised to copy the footage of all the events onto a hard drive for us to edit and promote Wakatobi ourselves. A project we'll get to after this busy rally!
Tindoi/Tinodi Village
We were running a little late to this event as we hadn't had confirmation that it would be going ahead until just beforehand! Our minibus also carried the local Wakatobi TV camera man and reporter. We drove up to the highest point on Wangi Wangi island where a huge crowd of people had gathered at the school. Live traditional music was pumping! We all had front row seats to watch and also participate in the events. A group of young boys danced around the stage (large tarpaulin set up over the ground) wearing huge, colourul hats.
Local boys dancing.
Fantastic hats huh?
A long welcome speech in Bahasa Indonesian was interpreted in only a couple of sentences – basically, 'Welcome to the event'. Rene and Penny with their super language skills worked out that the speech was also about us sailors representing the beginning of a much bigger tourism sector that is coming to Wakatobi. The village was promised a better road too, as the village chief took the opportunity to put in some political promotion for his party. Village elders then took to the stage wearing traditional outfits and dancing for us. We were invited to take photos and then the men were asked to participate. Rene was first in – he really tried to mimic their moves and dance in the traditional fashion. Other yachties soon stepped out but tended to make up their own crazy dance moves, some of which prompted near-hysterical laughter.
Rene dances traditional style.
Two traditional games were played. The men were invited to play Hekansalu. The Kansulu (large seed of a fruit) is launched at a row of similar seeds using only the player's toes. It is competitive and I didn't quite grasp all of the rules but it looked fun.
Men playing Hekansalu.
The women (and men) were invited to play Hedaroji which I eventually realised is a bit like playing marbles but with seeds that bounce in unpredictable ways. As seems to be the fashion, I was invited to play before actually having seen enough of the game to understand the rules!
Cerae tries to play Hedaroji
It was fun anyway and I would have liked to have another go but soon we were ushered over to the food stalls where we learnt all about traditional foods. Most involved cooking rice in special ways and we bought a sample from each table. One way that especially intrigued me was rice cooked inside a piece of bamboo. It comes out delicious!
Delicious rice is cooking inside these bamboo pieces.
The local food displays.
As usual, we were mobbed for photos and had to smile with different groups of locals as they took turns posing with us. Rene had another dance with the elders and then had a go jamming with the musician's. It was all over too soon and we had to head back down the hill, our minds whirling with all that we'd just seen and done.
Rene jam's with the locals.
Bajao Village
We were really looking forward to this event as Rene had read somewhere (years ago) that these villagers (who live in huts above the sea) can see under water freely without having to use goggles. He asked around once we were there and found out that about 15 people (of many thousands) can actually do this. The remainder use these cool hand-made goggles. Rene ended up buying these ones.  
Rene with his Bajao goggles
To get to this village, we were taken by one of the local ferries. The operators use a combination of an outboard motor (for delicate manoeuvres, a large inboard engine (for steaming along fast) and a long pole (for steerage in shallow water and for fending off). We motored right over the reef in the shallow keel and over to the Bajao village. Approaching, we saw hundreds of kids and locals all crowded over/in large fishing boats, stilt houses and tiny wooden canoes. There were two wooden platforms constructed over larger canoes with plastic chairs set up. We sat upon this structure as the events began.
Village spectators filling every space available.

Village spectators afloat!
What we witnessed was pretty unique and I was enthralled through the entire ceremony. On a central platform just in front of our viewing ones were gathered dancers, musicians, locals and some news reporters. As the music began, the dancers began circling their platform as the lead dancer (who is the village healer) performed rituals. Apparently the aim of this annual ritual is to ask the spirits for good fortune and cure diseases. It culminated with the healer putting offerings of fruit, rice and Sopi into the water. A bunch of local kids all jumped from the large boat they'd been watching from to swim and race for the bunch of bananas that had been offered to the spirits along with much cheering from the crowd – I guess spirits don't have much need for food – it must be the thought that counts. We all were asked to dance along as the ceremony concluded – fun!!
Traditional Bajao village ceremony.
Bajao ceremony offering to the spirits.

After the healing ceremony, the musicians (who all look amazing, wizened, brown and beautiful in their traditional sarongs) boarded our platform and started their rhythmic song as two elderly men competed in the local kung fu dance. Rene (as usual) had a go too, to the delight of everyone (as usual!). 
Rene fighting in the Bajao tradition.
As the music slowed down, two men demonstrated the preparation of locally caught seafood. One man de-scaled, gutted and filleted a small fish with his bare hands while the other worked on a sea urchin. I was worried we'd be invited to eat this freshly prepared food but instead we were ushered into one of the stilt houses to look at pre-prepared, packaged local foods to purchase if we desired. After watching the fish-gutting process I wasn't feeling that peckish and instead started exploring the village. Bajao village is pretty cool.
Bajao village boats.
The houses are built on long stilts above the clear waters of Wangi Wangi island. We walked around, admiring the local scene in the hot sun, accompanied by copious polici on motorbikes (there seems to be a strong police presence at each event we're invited to). A local teacher, Ricardo, was quite critical of the Bajao village that we were seeing. He was upset by the amount of pollution (apparently Government programs to clean the area are failing) in addition to the social problems of debt, lack of education and modernisation. Inside these humble huts, the villagers use their mobile phones and watch HBO on satellite TV! The young people see images from America, bleach their hair, wear gangsta-esque clothing and ride about on motorbikes through the floating village! Ricardo wanted to show us the “real” village and we set out on a long walk to get there, along the way taking in the sights, sounds and smells.
Local Bajao kids swim around the block!
Bajao village street.
The real village turned out to not be attached to land like the one we were walking through. It was, for the moment, untouched and traditional. No electricity, running water or motorbikes! We looked out at the village from a bridge while Ricardo lamented that it was probably only a matter of time before a bridge would be built to connect the traditional village with the newer one and the culture would be lost.
The "real" Bajao village - isolated from the rest of the world.. for the moment.
Rene learnt some of the local dialect as we walked along. I was too busy soaking it all in and trying not to think about my bladder (there are no toilets in this village so I wasn't allowed to go!). It was a long, hot walk back and a bit of a wait for the ferry which had given up on waiting for us – but wow. What an experience. 
We're so glad that we stayed in Wakatobi to go to all of the events as they were all amazing and made the $500 we paid to enter the rally so so worth it. Sadly, there were only about 7 other yachts that got to attend the events with us as everyone else arrived early and left before it really all began! 
Some of the Wakatobi guides :)
Rene and I take some of the guides for a dinghy ride.


  1. What a fantastic trip you are having! We are with you all the way and so enjoying your descriptions. Thankyou for putting them up. The photos are brilliant too.
    Rog and Jan

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