sign in a cave in Laos

12 February 2009

Saparua, Maluku - BT

Saparua: An Indonesian isle of harmony

Highly strung: Saparua's 'rumah adat' was built without using nails. The wood pillars, joists and rafters have been tied with natural string. Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, February 8, 2009

AS OUR speedboat approached the island of Saparua, I was surprised to see a new church with an extremely tall cross dominating the waterfront. The beach was lined with prahus boats and the cheerful locals waved as they hoisted the small triangular sail and set off across the bay.

On arrival, our boat was tied to the jetty and as soon as the waiting angkutan (bemo) drivers saw my white face they all tried to get my custom. They were out of luck as my transport had already been arranged by my companions.

It had taken one hour to make the crossing from Ambon to Saparua. Pulau Saparua is one of three islands forming the Lease group, situated to the east of Ambon in Maluku province, Indonesia.

The island Saparua is shaped like a distorted "H" and has roads covering each of the four peninsulas. Being part of the Spice Islands, the main products include nutmeg and cloves, as well as palm sugar and root products. Most people live as farmers or fishermen, unless they have jobs as government officers or teachers.

As we drove through the capital, also called Saparua, I was surprised to see many churches. Although Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, the Ambon area of Maluku is home to many Christians. It's common to see a mosque next door to a church. Around the island there are a few Christian shrines, and also murals painted on walls, some with the word amato, meaning "go safely", and others more amusingly with Happy Christmas as a permanent feature.

Our first stop was Pattimura's house. Pattimura was an Indonesian national hero from the early 19th century and the house has been turned into a simple museum. There is a locked room containing a display cabinet of Pattimura's clothes. The houses in this town are all bungalows, many of which have thatched roofs made from sago leaves.

Driving through the market was interesting as the traders were just sitting in the road with their wares laid out on the ground. There wasn't a lot on offer, a few piles of durian and other fruit, and some yellow fish I hadn't seen before. Dogs strolled by but made no attempt to grab anything.

Saparua is famous for its biscuits, mostly made from sago. Some were quite okay whereas others resembled a small wad of compacted sawdust.

Our next stop was Fort Duurstede. Today just the shell remains, sitting atop a coral hill. It was built in 1676 by the Dutch Governor of Amboina (Ambon) and was later conquered by the hero Pattimura. During this attack, all the Dutch soldiers were killed. Some canons remain, facing out to the bay and cows graze on the grass inside the fort. The stone-walled lockup still remains.

Driving along the southeastern coast, we went through Sirisori, which is divided into Christian and Muslim villages of Sirisori Kristen and Islam.

Just beyond is Ouw, a village famous for its pottery. The potteries are family run and at the one we visited, we were able to watch the lady quickly and skillfully make two pots. The husband was firing some pieces in the kiln.

One of the main items made are the bowls used for papeda, which is the glue-like sago pudding eaten with fish sauce. Some of the items for sale caught my eye, in particular the large vases with intricately carved flower designs.

Having an interest in caves, I wanted to see Ouw Cave. Steps lead down to the entrance, and inside I was surprised to see three locals sitting in the subterranean river, washing their clothes. They use this cave as a water supply, washroom and laundry. The cave is quite dark so the people use homemade kerosene lamps. The water entering the cave was crystal clear, and it was sad to see all the empty detergent and shampoo wrappers left strewn around the cave.

Back in Ouw, we stopped to look at the ruins of the fortress, and I could see at least four churches in one road. It was amazing that such a small village would have so many places of worship. And then just outside the village a new mosque and church were being constructed side by side.

We then went across to Tuhaha and to the oldest church at Noloth. It was built in 1860 and the roof is made of sago palm leaves and amazingly it survived the riots. It was interesting to see an original stone inscribed "bait Allah detahbiskan oleh R.Bossert 1860" (God's house consecrated by Bossert).

Near the church is the rumah adat, which was constructed without using nails. The wood pillars, joists and rafters have been tied with natural string and the sago sheets used for the roof are tied to bamboo supports.

We headed for Kulur on the western side of the island. On the way we stopped to look at Goa Puteri Tujuh. This cave has amazing clear water pools. There are seven, one for each princess. I couldn't believe how clear the water is, and again the locals use the cave for washing.

We went on to the end of Kulur, to Goa Mandi and Minum. The first cave is used for washing and has a concrete platform where the locals can sit. I was surprised to see fish swimming in the soapy water.

The drinking cave is very clean, steps lead to the middle of the pool. Mercy Indonesia has even built a water tank outside.

Booi is the last village on the southernwestern peninsula. The road ends before the village and then you have to walk in. The village is built on the hill slope leading down to the sea and concrete steps connect the different levels, giving it a terraced effect.

After a full day of sightseeing, we went back to the main town and had a delicious dinner of fresh fish. We were all tired and went to bed early as the next day we would have to be up at 5am to catch the ferry back to Ambon.

It had been a great day.

The Brunei Times

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