Meet the Bandanese
I cannot begin to describe how much I adore the Banda Islands. Bama and I have recently spent the second half of September happily marooned on this tiny archipelago in the seas of eastern Indonesia. Both of us consider it one of the most beautiful places we have ever been to, and while I mull over exactly how to write about its incredible history and the wonders we saw, I will introduce Banda with photos of its people.
Generally I find it much easier to take pictures of scenery, architecture, food – things that are unlikely to say ‘no’ if you point your camera at them. But Banda is the kind of place that makes you feel completely at ease, and like the rest of Indonesia, people are more than willing to have their picture taken.
I was also nudged along by several of my favourite bloggers: Jeff Bell’s photo essay on the people of Flores and Sulawesi, Madhu’s Faces of Jodhpur, and Alison and Don’s stunning portraits from Asia, Oceania and the Americas all inspired me in a big way.
Bu Rosani serves up the best fruit smoothies, nasi campur (mixed rice) and fresh tomato sambal in the main town of Banda Neira. She runs her own restaurant, Rumah Makan Nusantara, with her husband and children just a few doors down from the ferry pier. We came every day for a meal and a mango, avocado or banana smoothie – each one so luscious it was like ice cream. By the end of our two weeks, Bu Rosani was sliding us plates of homemade cake for dessert.
On Sunday mornings, local residents come out in droves to sweep the streets of Banda Neira. When these three women saw my camera they waved me over and asked to have a photo. I showed them the result on the display screen and smiled, saying, “cantik semua!” (everyone is beautiful). This had them roaring with laughter – I hope it made their day.
The kids of Banda Neira playing barefoot (without parental supervision) in a small park in front of the old church. Their counterparts in Hong Kong could never get that kind of freedom, and I am sure that most do not enjoy a childhood as natural as this.
Bang Uci was our boat captain on the two day trips we took to Banda’s outer islands. While the other guests were busy snorkelling off Pulau Ai, Bama and I stayed on the boat and listened to Bang Uci’s stories. He told us about his home village of Selamon on the big island of Banda Besar, and some of the local legends. When Bang Uci was a student, he would sometimes commute to high school in Banda Neira in a dugout canoe because the motor boat was often late. Luckily he capsized only once.
One morning the National Geographic Orion expedition cruise ship was docked in Banda Neira – a short stopover on a three-week voyage from Singapore to West Papua. The young women in the preceding two photos were preparing to greet the passengers outside the old Dutch governor’s residence, and many were rehearsing the ‘nutmeg dance’ with their baskets.
We were in Banda on Idul Adha, the annual Muslim ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’. The guesthouse owner suggested us to get up early so we could photograph the Bandanese in traditional dress going to morning prayers. I love the juxtaposition you get when Indonesians ride their motorbikes in ceremonial clothing.
Two boys strike a pose after being let out early from the main mosque. Now where have I seen that hand gesture before? It’s not really the Hawaiian ‘shaka’…
Walking down one of the main streets in Banda Neira lined with old colonial houses. What made this photo so special was the single head turned back towards the camera. You can also see two Dutch cannon lying abandoned on the ground.
A delicate balancing act – kids on wheels in front of Banda Neira’s local museum (known as Rumah Budaya, literally ‘Culture House’).
Indonesians have such beautiful smiles – these kids loved the camera attention!
Abba, local entrepreneur and the owner of our guesthouse, posing at the custom-made wrought iron gate of his new hotel Cilu Bintang Estate. He tells us it was opened only six months before our arrival in Banda. ◊