Ring of Fire: An Indonesian Odyssey, Lawrence Blair and Lorne Blair, © 1988
For a glimpse into the Indonesia most of us will never see, one need only delve into this gripping and graphic account of the adventures of the Blair brothers as they take you along on their 10-year odyssey through some of Indonesia’s remote and rarely visited islands. Though my trip took me only to Java and Bali (where the authors eventually built a home), I was glad I’d read this book before I went. It gave me a much broader view of where the little bit I was able to see fit into the complex, diverse land we call Indonesia.
The purpose of the brothers’ explorations was the production of a video series, like the book entitled Ring of Fire, and much of the narrative details the lengths to which they went to become acquainted with and gain the trust of native populations. Their accounts are detailed and leavened by a welcome sense of humor. Speaking of the Torajan people of Sulawesi, they write:
Girls are given names like ‘Slippery Eel’ or ‘Downy Bird’s Nest’ ,and boys get names such as ‘Tall Bamboo’ or ‘Twelve Times’. We were taken aback to learn that the late king’s additional name of Lasso Rinding means ‘Granite Penis’—a title he apparently did nothing to dishonour. When we asked Ranteallo how many times his father had been married, he replied rather confusingly: ‘Marriages, only five. But wives! Ah! Very many!’
When the king had died peacefully in bed in 1968 he had been left exactly as he was for the first six months to make sure he wasn’t simply astral-travelling. … Only then was his black cat (a participant in many of the rites) ceremonially informed of his death, and his body reorientated towards the southwest—the ‘land of souls’—initiating a whole symphony of rituals which only now were coming to a head.
A fascinating book for both traveler and non-traveler alike.
In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos, Richard Lloyd Parry, ©2005
In the late 1990’s, journalist Richard Lloyd Parry, a correspondent for a British newspaper, was in Indonesia when much of the region descended into chaos as the regime of Suharto began to collapse. Parry found the violence in Java unnerving, and after moving on to Bali experienced recurring nightmares. He wrote:
The map which I had bought in Tokyo did not help much. Indonesia sprawled across its folds, a swirl of islands shrinking and thinning from west to east: plump Sumatra, compact Java … I had travelled a good deal, but never to a country of which I knew so little. … This is a book about violence, and about being afraid.
Parry details the violence in Java, Borneo, and East Timor. Definitely not a book for the faint of heart, In the Time of Madness gives the reader a historical perspective and an appreciation of how much the country has progressed since those very dark days.