Flying dragon (Draco volans)

There are some pretty remarkable creatures here in Kalimantan. Take this little lizard. Only 20cm long – including tail – he (it’s a male) has at least three amazing attributes:

1. That spectacular flap of yellow skin on his neck (known as a ‘dewlap’). He extends and retracts it at will, looking rather like hoisting a sail on a yacht. Apparently the females find it irresistibly attractive (and who could blame them?)

2. Colour changing. This photo of THE SAME LIZARD was taken about ten seconds after the one above. See any differences?

3. He can FLY! If I’m not mistaken, he’s a ‘Common flying lizard’ (Draco volans), whose Latin name means ‘flying dragon). He can glide 10 metres or more between trees, using wing-like extensions between front and back legs, formed out of folds of skin supported by special ribs (called ‘patagia’).

Here’s a couple more photos of the remarkable ‘Flying dragon’:

Photographed yesterday at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan, in a tree right beside the main Information Centre.

Play, pray, or chase the buffalo?

Last year we visited villages in the Krayan district of North Kalimantan, a remote highland area close to the border with Sabah (Malaysia). We were fortunate to be invited to a Dayak Lundayeh wedding ceremony in the village of Terang Baru, near Long Bawan. These days the villagers are devout adherents of Protestant Christianity, but they continue to observe many of the unique cultural practices of their ancestors.

A lot of the rituals of the wedding entailed the exchange of gifts between the bride’s and groom’s families – in addition to giving countless practical household gifts to the happy couple. There were hand-plaited baskets, hats and sleeping mats, crockery, cooking pots and furniture, food and clothing.

But the biggest – and most valuable – gift was that of a large kerbau (buffalo), which the groom handed over to his new wife. Everyone from the village was there, watching the exchange with great interest – none more so than a young boy and girl who were enthralled by the buffalo.

As the traditional part of the ceremony was concluding, and the congregation prepared for Christian prayers, the buffalo was led away to pasture – with the two children following in close pursuit. You can imagine the excited conversation between them:

“Hurry up, let’s follow the buffalo and see where it goes!”

She: “Hang on, the prayers have started. We’d better stop.”

He: “Do we REALLY have to stop? The buffalo’s getting away!”

“OK then, let’s pray. The buffalo will just have to wait till we’ve finished!”

Karen, along with her colleague Paulus Kadok from Yayasan Mahakam Lestari, has written a wonderful article about the ‘Bridewealth of the Dayak Lundayeh‘, which was published late last year in Garland Magazine. Do have a look; it’s a really interesting read. Nice photographs, too…



Nutuk Beham at Kedang Ipil village

Kedang Ipil village sits beside a small tributary of the Mahakam River, in the district of Long Bangun, about six hours’ by road from where we are living in Balikpapan. The name means ‘River where merbau trees grow’ (Intsia bijuga). Until 20 years ago when the road arrived, that river was the only way to reach the village. But nowadays the river is no longer navigable, due to damage caused by the nearby palm oil plantations and coal mining.

We previously visited Kedang Ipil last October, when (amongst many other experiences) we learnt how to make gula aren palm sugar. It’s a really interesting and friendly Kutai village. Muslim, Protestant and Catholic, united by their Kutai cultural identity, and their shared observance of traditional celebrations and rituals.

When we heard that the Nutuk Beham harvest festival was to be held there from (13-15 April), we scrambled to attend.

Nutuk Beham is the local (Kutai) name for a dessert dish made from glutinous rice (‘sticky rice’, or ketan or pulut in Indonesia), flavoured with coconut and palm sugar. The central activity of the Kedang Ipil harvest festival is the production of nutuk beham – in truly industrial quantities.

If you want to make nutuk beham in the style of Kedang Ipil village, you’ll need:

  • one river,
  • tonnes (50 x 40kg bags) of freshly harvested glutinous rice (beras ketan),
  • 200+ coconuts,
  • 10’s of kilos of gula aren – locally made sugar from the sap of the Arenga pinnata palm. (I forget exactly how much they used – but the more the better!)
  • 30 very large cooking woks,
  • several tonnes of firewood,
  • around 40 hardwood staves, 1.5 – 2 metres long, for grinding the rice – and heaps of other equipment,
  • a village…, and
  • 72 hours of non-stop cooperative effort. Gotong royong!

Only beras ketan (glutinous rice or ‘sticky rice’ – Oryza sativa var. glutinosa) can used to make nutuk beham. And it must be grown in ladang gunung (slash and burn fields in the forested hillsides). Irrigated padi rice is not to be used.

Each ladang farmer is expected to provide one 40kg bag of beras ketam for the harvest festival.

The harvested rice is threshed to separate the rice seeds from the stalks and other unwanted material.

Until fairly recently this was all done manually, but these days a threshing machine (mesin perontok) like this is usually employed. This one, set up on the road at Sedulang village, on the way to Kedang Ipil, has been in use for more than ten years, and is shared amongst farmers of the village.

The tarpaulin that they have set up on covers the road, so it’s just as well that this road (which is the main access road to Kedang Ipil) doesn’t get a lot of traffic. When a car or truck does come along, Pak Ari and Pak Muttakin have to move the tarp.

The thresher does a remarkably good job of separating out the grain. The grain is sun-dried for up to three days (depending on the weather), and then bagged. The stalks and chaff are discarded, because not even the goats will eat it.

The weighty bags of beras ketan which are to be used to make nutuk beham are delivered to the central location where the festival is to be held. Here’s Pak Ari simultaneously grinning and grimacing under the load.

The full bags of rice are immersed in the river for three days to soften the grains. A specially built platform was constructed in the river so that the bags could safely suspended and thoroughly immersed. It looks a bit like an oyster farm.

There’s a steep ladder/staircase going down the river bank to the platform, but this year (as a smart innovation!) they’ve incorporated a little hand-pulled elevator to transport the heavy bags of rice down to the platform and then back up again after soaking.

It requires five or six men to pull on the rope to bring the full bags of soggy rice back up to the top – but it’s still much easier than lugging them up the steep stairs.

Retrieved from the river, the rice is then cooked dry in one of a number of large woks (kwali or wajan). Firepits were dug in three parallel rows to house the cooking fires, and women tended the woks placed on top. I counted up to 25 woks in use at any one time, and the cooking continued, day and night, for the entire three days that we were there.

Young men put 2kg of rice fresh from the river, into each wok, along with a half litre of water. The rice is quite dark coloured when it is soggy. Then the women stir the rice with a long wooden paddle (dedeh), almost continuously so that it does not burn. The process is complete when the rice has turned a light golden colour and become a bit toasty. This takes between 30 minutes and one hour – depending on the heat of the fire below.

The toasted rice is then spread out on a platform to cool down, before being bagged again.

The next step is to pound and roughly ground the soaked and toasted beras ketan. A purpose-made building was used for this. It was about 40 metres long, about 8 metres wide, raised on wooden foundations about 2.5 metres above the ground, and fully covered by a wood-and-tarpaulin roof (though open at the sides).

Seating lined the edge of the floor, which was covered with very large woven fibre mats. Evenly spaced along the length of the floor were five large ‘mortars’ (lesung) – each one a metre-long slab of hardwood with a bowl carved out of it. The ‘pestles’ (halu) were also made of hardwood (the best ones were made from kayu ulin (Eusideroxylon zwageri) or bangkirai (Shorea laevis)).

As 1.5kg of freshly roasted rice was placed into the mortar, a group would assemble and take turns to rhythmically pound the rice in the bowl. Both men and women participated, but men predominated. After several minutes of energetic thumping, the rice was removed and replaced with a fresh batch.

This process continued, without interruption, for the entire three days that we were there, with fresh pestle-wielders regularly replacing the ones who tired out. As we discovered, it’s hard and very hot work.

Beneath the floor, immediately under each of the mortars, a log was suspended, hanging vertically. Each pounding of the mortar above would strike a blow on the end of the log below, making a lound ‘klokk‘ sound. With the rapid pounding on the five separate mortars each producing a different tone, the combined effect was quite musical at times, resembling the sound of an acoustic, oddly syncopated gamelan orchestra.

It was curiously hypnotic, and we could still hear them klokk-ing away throughout the nights, even from the house we slept in, several hundred metres away.

The pounding process produced more chaff, husks and dust from the rice, which was then winnowed to leave only the quality grain.

Much of the winnowing was done in the time-honoured method by hand (as demonstrated by Ibu Utau), but a much quicker method involves the used of a (still hand-powered) turbine, known as a tampah lewang.

The winnowing doesn’t remove all of the heavier waste material – immature seeds, blackened seeds, and even a few little stones. So the rice is spread out on large mats, and laboriously picked over by teams of women who removed any remaining, unwanted bits.

On the morning of the final day of the Festival, the nutuk beham was finally prepared. Interestingly, only men of the village were involved in these last stages. A couple of kilograms of the prepared beras ketan is placed in a wok, and few hundred millilitres of boiling water is poured in.

Two or three men then start to work the mixture with stout wooden ladles. They add generous amounts of grated coconut, and then gula aren palm sugar.

The mixture is stirred and shaped until it forms a smooth sticky ball. And then it’s (almost) ready to eat.

The last step is the reciting of prayers in thanks for the year’s harvest. Four elders of the village (both Christian and Muslim) said the prayers, in the Mamang language which predates the Kutai language now commonly spoken here. Only a few residents of Kedang Ipil are still able to speak the Mamang language – among them Pak Tajudin Noor, Pak Ganak and Pak Jondon.

Generous servings of nutuk beham were served up on plates to feed the hundreds of people in attendance – who had been waiting and working for three full days for this moment.

Everyone dined, in shifts, with the most prominent guests (including the Bupati of Kutai Kartanegara Bapak Edi Damansyah) served first.

Elders of Kedang Ipil village, resplendent in batik cloth featuring Kalimantan motifs.

In conjunction with the making of Nutuk Beham, there were welcoming ceremonies, dance performances and speeches – but that could be the subject for a separate blog post…


Produce of Pasar Klandasan, Balikpapan

Photos of produce for sale at the Pasar Klandasan, Balikpapan. Plus one cat photo.

No people, no story, no captions. Just some shapes and colours and lighting and composition that I liked.

By rights, each image should come with an accompanying smell, because the pasar is filled with aromas of the products being sold. But unfortunately we don’t (yet) have the technology to communicate scent…


















Vendors of Pasar Klandasan, Balikpapan

There are three ‘traditional’ markets along the waterfront of central Balikpapan. Of these, the most long-established is the Pasar Klandasan (‘Klandasan Market’). It sells a fairly comprehensive range of fresh produce and non-perishable goods, it’s cheap, it’s open long hours, and it’s close to Karen’s workplace. For these reasons, it’s the one that we know the best.

The merchants of Pasar Klandasan, each with their own little stall/shop beside an alley of the big market area, are uniformly good humoured, calm and polite.

They run their small-scale businesses with patience and quiet dignity. And they like to have a chat and a good laugh to pass time between customers.

It’s not an easy way to make a living. Many of the stalls are open before dawn, and they work long hours.

Mbak Etma sells a range of dried spices and herbs, as well as peeled cloves of bawang putih (garlic) and bawang merah (red onions or shallots).

Most of the vendors lease their stall space from the actual owner, paying as much as Rp15,000,000 per year (approximately AU$1500) in rent for a lock-up stall in a good location inside the pasar. But even outside locations are expensive, and with mangoes at Rp10,000/kilo, they still need to sell a lot of produce to make a profit.

We bought a metal colander and a few plastic containers from Ibu Haji Parsini. It would be easy to completely outfit a kitchen from her compact little stall.

There was a major fire in central Balikpapan on 5 January, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of homes before the flames were extinguished. 67-year old Ibu Parsini was one of those who lost everything in the blaze.

The eggs on sale in the Pasar Klandasan come over from Surabaya (East Java) by boat. There’s chicken eggs, duck and quail.

Unlike a supermarket, there are a number of different varieties of banana on sale. But most commonly available are pisang susu (‘milk bananas’) and pisang Ambon hijau (green Ambon bananas).

Ibu Janah prepares bunches of bananas to be hung on display.

Vendors of fresh produce (especially meat, fish and leafy vegetables) have extra difficulties because, with no refrigeration at the Pasar, they have to carefully manage their own wholesale purchases so as to minimise spoilage and waste of unsold produce.

A lot of the fruit on sale is shipped in from other islands. But pineapples, dragon fruit, durian, salak, mangosteen and rambutan (amongst others) are usually locally grown.

Apples, pears, grapes are ‘imported’ from Java.

It’s quiet in the middle of the day at the Pasar, and Ibu was resting at the back of her little shop when we arrived. She was very willing to be photographed in front of her stall, once she had donned her jilbab.

Despite the absence of refrigeration, the produce is always fresh, the ‘wet areas’ of the market are clean and devoid of flies etc. There are no bad smells (other than the occasional cigarette…) Nearly all of our produce shopping is done at this market, and we’ve not had a day of illness.

In contrast, in the supermarkets of Balikpapan, of which there are now a number, the vegetables in particular are often so old, limp and unappetising-looking as to be unsaleable.

We got talking with Ibu Eka and Ibu Ferra, who have adjacent stalls near the main entrance to the market. They are both originally from South Sulawesi, though they didn’t meet until they had moved to Balikpapan. Like many people from Sulawesi (and other islands) they have moved here because the economy is relatively stronger.

It turns out that Ibu Eka’s kampung (home village) is at Danau Tempe, which by coincidence we may visit in June. She asked us to say ‘hello’ to her kampung.


Monyet biasa?

Monyet biasa (‘Ordinary monkeys’), a.k.a. Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), this morning at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan.

Common perhaps, but anything but ordinary.

Mungkin sering terlihat, tapi masih monyet luar biasa.

Anzac Day in Balikpapan

This morning we attended the Anzac Day dawn service at Pasir Ridge here in Balikpapan. And it was every bit as interesting as we had expected it to be. The event did however involve some measure of culture shock, as we listened to the unaccustomed tones of Australian voices in Balikpapan, and (a recording of) a Scottish pipe band playing ‘Waltzing Matilda‘ and ‘Along the road to Gundagai’… repeatedly.

The Anzac Day dawn service is a well-established annual event here, one of only four locations in Indonesia where the day is officially commemorated. Balikpapan is also home to a well-maintained Australian War Memorial (the Tugu Australia) which sits in the middle of a roundabout down on Jalan Jenderal Sudirman.

Balikpapan was the site, on 1 July 1945, of the last major land operation of the Second World War, and the Australian Army’s largest ever amphibious landing. 21,000 Australian troops, supported by artillery and Dutch, British and American air and naval forces, overwhelmed the Japanese occupying force of just 3,900 soldiers. By that time, the Japanese had occupied the island of Borneo for three years.

However many historians, and even many military leaders at the time, have said that the operation served no worthwhile strategic purpose. The oil refineries, port facilities and most of the military fortifications had already been destroyed by months of artillery and aerial bombardment (comprising some 23,000 shells). The Japanese forces in Indonesia were already close to collapse, and (as it happened) the end of the war was only six weeks away.

Nonetheless, 229 Australians died in the ‘Battle of Balikpapan’, and 634 were wounded. Pasir Ridge, where today’s service was held, was the site of some of the fiercest fighting.

Around 1800 Japanese soldiers were also killed in the battle (nearly half of their total number), and just 63 were taken prisoner. Near the site of the Australian memorials on Pasir Ridge is an unmarked and unremarkable mound of earth, where a number of Japanese casualties were buried in a mass grave.

Despite the early hour, we were keen to attend the commemoration. In part this was because my father was here on that day, almost 73 years ago. He was on board the landing ship HMAS Kanimbla – though happily he was was not sent ashore, and his ship returned to Moratai the next day.

The (hopefully not apocryphal) story goes that General Blamey addressed the soldiers of the 2/9th Battalion aboard the Kanimbla, en route to Balikpapan, trying to gee them up in preparation for the imminent massive battle. “I know that the 2/9th will want to be in the thick of it!” he proclaimed. At which point one of the ‘Diggers’ interjected loudly: “Pig’s arse! Aren’t you coming with us?!”

All up, around 100 people attended the dawn service at Pasir Ridge, which is on land now held by the oil company Chevron Indonesia. There were, amongst others: representatives of provincial and city governments, Chevron, senior staff (including military personnel) from the Australian Embassy, officers and rank-and-file from the Indonesian military (TNI), veterans and war widows, as well as a number of Australian expats resident in Indonesia.

It was a nicely inter-cultural, Indonesian-Australian event, with all speeches and prayers delivered in both Bahasa Indonesia and (Australian) English language.

Adjacent flagpoles flew the Indonesian flag (the ‘Merah putih’) and the Australian flag – at half mast. In front of the flagpoles, an Indonesian honour guard stood at attention throughout the service.

About a dozen large wreaths, each marked with the words “Lest we forget” were laid, by both Indonesian and Australians, on a memorial formed from parts of a wrecked Australian tank.

As is traditional, the service concluded with (a recording of) The Last Post, a minute of silence, and Reveille. The Australian flag was raised from the half mast position up to the level of the adjacent Indonesian flag.

And then (of course!) there was an extended block of time set aside for group photographs, with almost every possible permutation of people assembled and photographed in front of the tank memorial. 

Yes, including us! (Seen here with Fleur Davies, Matthew Campbell and Richard Swaby from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta).


Then the ceremony was over, and we all decamped, boarding the two provided buses to take us down the hill to the Novotel Hotel for a buffet breakfast and warm conversation. But no beer and two-up…

Thanks to the Organising Committee for our invitation to attend, and for planning and hosting such a memorable and professionally-run event. Lest we forget.

For more on the Battle of Balikpapan:


Fishing at Pantai Ngandong

I’ve previously written about the beauty and tourist attractions of Pantai Ngandong, located on the south coast of Central Java, in the Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta (the ‘Special Region of Yogyakarta).

But besides tourism there is also an active fishing industry in Ngandong, with around 15 small vessels venturing out daily. At the eastern end of the beach is a safe channel out past Pulau Watulawang to the ocean, deep enough to avoid the large surf coming in from the Indian Ocean.

The wooden can usually only comfortably accommodate two fishermen, along with their nets, lines and room for the catch. Nowadays they are propelled by outboard motor – mostly Suzukis or Yamahas. Unless the tide is too low, they head out at first light each morning, starting about 5:30 a.m.

We didn’t get the opportunity to go out with them, as they said the sea was too rough and could not ensure our safety at the times we wanted to go. But we could watch the boats from the shore, as the little craft set their nets only a kilometre or so out to sea.

The fishermen returned about six hours after setting out and, after unloading the catch and eating lunch, most of them went out again in the afternoons.

The wooden boats are heavy, and the sandy beach is quite steep. They hit the beach at speed when they return, so as to get as far as possible up the slope.

A team of helpers arrive to assist in carrying the boats up beyond the high tide line. (These helpers are later rewarded with the gift of some small fish from the catch).

The catch is transferred from the boat to plastic trays to be carried up the fishermen’s cooperative, located just above the beach. The boats that we examined had managed to catch up to 20 fish of various sizes and varieties.

The most valuable are worth as much as Rp100,000 (AU$10) per kilo. These are the sidat (eels). I think the large ones may be Common Pike Eels – Muraenesox bagio.

In the co-op, the fish are sorted and weighed. Both the co-op staff and the fishermen watch the scales with great interest.

The ikan patin (varieties of catfish), and ikan kakap sell for around Rp.50,000 per kilo.

The name of the fisherman, the varieties of fish caught, and the total weights, are carefully recorded into an exercise book. The fishermen are paid later, according to the prices achieved at the market.

The fish are then packed into ice-filled containers and dispatched to market at the regional centre of Wonosari. First ‘The iceman cometh’… and then ‘the fish goeth’.