The Highlands Trilogy – return to the PNG Highlands after 25 years

“There skin is different…but their shit smells just like ours”

On of my all time favorite documentaries is First Contact (1983), first part of the The Highlands Trilogy by Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson.  The trilogy is set in the Papua New Guinea Highlands and shot over ten years, First Contact (1983), followed by Joe Leahy’s Neighbors (1989) and Black Harvest (1992).  In First Contact Australian miners recall the first trek into the New Guinea highlands and the first contact between white people and the estimated one million Papua New Guinea highlanders.

Almost 25 years after filming Black Harvest  (1992) Bob Connolly returned to the Papua New Guinea Highlands and caught up  with the key characters from his award winning  documentaries.  Watch via ABC Australia an introduction, then a fuller episode via Foreign Correspondent.  If you like what you read and see, let me know and I will send you a copy of the trilogy.

DER Documentary writes that First Contact: ” [is] the classic film of cultural confrontation that is as compelling today as when it was first released over 20 years ago.

When Columbus and Cortez ventured into the New World there was no camera to record the drama of this first encounter. But, in 1930, when the Leahy brothers penetrated the interior of New Guinea in search of gold, they carried a movie camera. Thus they captured on film their unexpected confrontation with thousands of Stone Age people who had no concept of human life beyond their valleys. This amazing footage forms the basis ofFirst Contact.

Continue reading The Highlands Trilogy – return to the PNG Highlands after 25 years

Singapore’s golden triangle: The money, the land and the labour

I am a big fan of Le Monde Diplomatique and a long time subscriber. In June  2016 I sent them a request for more articles on Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Low and behold in August this gem of an article about exploitation of the region surrounding Singapore appears.  It is heavy on the economics and does not discuss further issues of the very murkey and shady foundations of Singapores wealth bound up with the exploitation of its near neighbour Indonesia. But it does give a good feel for this region off Sumatra and the bottom of Peninsular Malaysia

Philippe Revelli from Le Monde Diplomatique, August 2016 writes:  

Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have an agreement. It’s less about economic cooperation than about mutual exploitation, and some do a lot better than others.

JPEG - 220.7 kb

Photograph by the author, taken at Johor Bahru in Malaysia, as part of a folio in 19 parts titled ‘Cabotage’ (

kilometre-long bridge links the island of Singapore and the city of Johor Bahru in Malaysia.  Near the bridge, café terraces on Meldrum Walk in the city’s Bandar district are crowded on Friday evenings. Many customers are Singaporeans here to let their hair down. The owners of the hotels, bars and restaurants are Malaysian, and much of their workforce is Indonesian, some undocumented. It’s a neat illustration of the division of labour between these countries under the guise of economic cooperation. Continue reading Singapore’s golden triangle: The money, the land and the labour

Islamic Conversion Theories in Indonesia : a literature review

I am an Indonesian history buff and sometime ago when a friend gave me their university database logon and password, after years out of uni, I went crazy downloading hundreds of journal articles on a myriad of topics related to Indonesian history, culture and politics. After the initial excitement of like being a kid in a candy shop I thought what was the use of locating, downloading then hoarding vast amounts of information without reading them. It would just become ‘cyber dust’ on my harddrive. I decided to focus on a few themes and download accordingly as well as take the time to read one to two new articles a day if possible.

After reading Anthony Johns’ article Sufism as a category in Indonesia literature and history I then decided I wanted to write something as a way to focus my reading. The result of receiving free materials also lead me to make my first online book purchases when I really wanted to follow leads from journal articles but was unable to locate free copies of the texts or was frustrated by google books snippet view. I wanted the whole book. I have a rich source of inspiration in the form of hundreds of articles, meaning new things to investigate as well as learn more Indonesian language along the way. Please enjoy, comments and critical remarks are welcome. Continue reading Islamic Conversion Theories in Indonesia : a literature review

Singapore First World Problems #1

We have been in Singapore for ten months. The six month expat grace period of always talking about, comparing and thinking about your previous home has passed. We are liking Singapore immensely, it offers a lot.

Homesickness, for my home city, or our previous posting, Kuala Lumpur, did not hit me in Singapore.  Over the years, except a few times, I have never really suffered homesickness. The only times homesickness has been acute has been when I took anti-malarial’s for a few weeks in Vanuatu, and when in Jakarta, I was bed ridden for four weeks recovering from a broken leg.  The most I get is a little nostalgic with cloudy overcast mornings when I get the urge to stay in bed, trying hard to deceive myself that it is cold outdoors and a good lie in is what is needed.  I say try hard because reality is that is usually 30+ degrees outside at 8am in the last three countries I have lived in.

The lack of homesickness in Singapore is the result of it being in so ‘oh so nice & familiar.’ We live in an awesome location, with friendly people, a forest, exotic birds, a great park for kids with Ent like trees, close to all amenities, huge pool & clubhouse and the sounds of frogs at night. Its also because of the fact that we came from Kuala Lumpur! I need to explain this. Continue reading Singapore First World Problems #1

Learning Javanese in Singapore via Suriname

I have been trying to learn Javanese, the language of the Central and Eastern provinces of the island of Java in Indonesia for a few year now. Not very successfully.  The Javanese language, because of the sheer number of Javanese people and their emigration throughout the archipelago, could be considered Indonesia’s second language and its influence is felt right across the archipelago. Some critics of the Indonesian experiment at nation building might mutter, ‘Its not really Indonesia, its Javanesia,’ as a broadside against Javanese imperialistic like domination over a myriad of smaller ethnic groups, but the fact remains, the Javanese and their language have seeped into every corner of the multiracial, multiethnic fabric of Indonesia.

Recently I have found some help via pop music from Suriname, the northern part of South America, wedged between Guyana and French Guiana to help me.  The how and why this can be so, could be the subject of a essay.  In the meantime enjoy some tunes from Suriname, sung in Bahasa Jawa, and I will leave you to do a little internet sleuthing to soothe your curiosity of how the Javanese ended up in Suriname.–4

Mother Dao – the Dutch coloniser’s lens in the NEI

Nitrate films preserved in the National Archives, filmed by Dutch cameraman Vincent Monnikedam from 1912 to 1933 in the Netherlands East Indies colonies. Compiling over 200 films it is a masterpiece, which shows how the Dutch ruled their colonies and the image they wanted of their social behavior through films. The songs and poems give the people of the NEI a voice through this facade, leading to a universe in the past, now lost to us.

Ilir Ilir – two versions a classic Javanese song

Ilir Ilir, is a well loved Javenese song.  In my experience this song is particularly well liked by Orang Muslim KTP, literally a Muslim who is a Muslim for identity card purposes only or nominally a Muslim via birth and/or cultural upbringing.

The majority of Javanese might publicly profess they are Muslims, but in fact they practice and believe a hybrid of Islam and traditional religions or Kejawen.  If they were able to freely express their religious opinions they would probably call themselves Orang Kejawen.

The real conflict in Indonesia, in my humble opinion, is not between Islam and the West but between more fundamentalist or modernist interpretations of Islam and the older traditions of Kejawen/Muslim KTP’s.  Let hope Indonesia stays a Kejawen friendly place.  If anything it makes for a more interesting country, plus they have better celebrations.  Especially when compared to bland mainstream conformist or state sanctioned religious beliefs or birthdays for long dead prophets. Give me a good fertility or celebration of the seasons anyday!  Lyrics below.  I can’t translate this song into English from Javanese & Arabic.  Here are two attempts: 1 & 2

1. Rich Band, from the OST Sang Pencerah, a film about Ahmad Dahlan, the founder of Muhammadiyah.

2. Jamiyah Sholawat Shawunggaling – nice voice but overall look like a bunch of bored village kids stuck in the kampung whose only creative outlets are the mosque or TV. 
Continue reading Ilir Ilir – two versions a classic Javanese song

500 years on: the fall of Malacca

We all know the Portuguese came and conquered Malacca in 1511; but did you know that they tried to take the Sultan’s magnificent bed back to Portugal?


In the port town of Belem, near Lisbon, a map of the ancient world etched on the ground near the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) has Malacca carefully noted on it. Or “Malaca”, as it’s spelt there. It’s only fitting that this European town on the other side of the world marks our little city/state because it was from Belem that seafaring Portuguese in the 15th and 16th century set off to explore and trade with India and the Orient during the Age Of Discovery – and Malacca’s role during that age was very much more than just a footnote in both Portugal and Malaysia’s history. Continue reading 500 years on: the fall of Malacca

You know you have been in Kuala Lumpur too long …

This list should really be called the ‘take the piss out of Malaysia’ list. About 90% are my originals with about 10% from various lists floating around the internet like cyberdust.  I have tried not to include things generically ‘third world’ like squat toilets or police corruption and bribery, which are really part of everyday life in many countries. But if you are straight from a relatively comfortable home country you may want to include things like this in your personal Malaysia list.  Lists by their nature are never complete and always evolving, changing so I would welcome some more positive and humorous additions.  Update: have now moved to Singapore so would welcome contribution from those unfortunate to have to live in KL and additions for a new Singapore list.Roti_canai__fish_curry

  1. When you regard Nasi Lemak (with extra sambal & belacan) or roti canai with fish curry as a normal breakfast option.
  2. When you regard drinking coffee or tea from a plastic bag with a straw as normal
  3. When you always leave your car engine on and air con blasting on high whilst parked waiting for someone.
  4. When you regularly tailgate the car in front of you by a distance of no less than 50cm at high speeds. Continue reading You know you have been in Kuala Lumpur too long …

Elite perceptions & Indonesian foreign policy [review]


Read other articles at the source Inside Indonesia

Caka Awal writes: I mixed feelings after reading this book. On the one hand, it gave me an in-depth understanding of the perceptions of some Indonesian elite on foreign policy. Daniel Novotny’s interviews with leading stakeholders responsible for Indonesian foreign policy-making – including former presidents, former and present cabinet ministers, diplomats, MPs, academics and journalists – reveal the ‘inside’ story of personal views and rationales of the interviewees. They also provide a clear description of threats and opportunities presented by the countries that are perceived as the most important to Indonesian foreign policy, namely the US and China. Continue reading Elite perceptions & Indonesian foreign policy [review]

The Battle Over Zomia: Scholars are enchanted by the notion of this anarchic region in Asia. But how real is it?

The Battle Over Zomia 1

A woman of the Akha people goes off to harvest coffee berries in northern Thailand.

The region of Zomia had not been mapped for very long when people started quarreling over it. Political scientists, historians, geographers, anthropologists, and especially Southeast Asianists. Even a few anarchists weighed in.

Much of the most recent debate has been spurred by the Yale University professor of political science and anthropology James C. Scott, who describes the region in his latest book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2009). In the preface, he anticipates the criticism that will come “bearing down” on him for his unorthodox take on the practices of the region’s hill peoples: “I’m the only one to blame for this book,” he writes. “I did it.” Continue reading The Battle Over Zomia: Scholars are enchanted by the notion of this anarchic region in Asia. But how real is it?

Malaysian Food – all eaten within 500m from home

Whilst compared to their large neighbour, the service in Malaysia is so so, and the people, are in general more rude and aggressive, and seem to be wracked by a multitude of neuroses and anxieties and racial/religious fears …. the FOOD is SUPERB!  A showcase of Malaysian food all within 500 metres from our place. enjoylah!