After an enjoyable weekend spent in East Luwu regency, we travelled through North Luwu to the town of Palopo, South Sulawesi’s second largest city, located on the north-west shore of the Bone Gulf. Palopo is also the seat of an ancient kingdom, the Kadatuan Luwu, which scholars believe ruled much of the Bone Gulf coast line in the 14th century. In 1605 the ruler of Luwu became the first raja of South Sulawesi to embrace Islam, and the mosque in the centre of town is said to be the oldest mosque in the eastern archipelago. The mosque was located next door to our hotel in Palopo, and it certainly looked old.
The Istana Luwu was also close to our hotel. This palace is the home of the Datu Luwu, the 40th descendant of the mythical founder of the Luwu dynasty: Batara Guru. Datu Luwu still has many traditional followers, although he has no political power or role in the modern Republic of Indonesia. His palace is a quaint Dutch style mansion built in 1920, next to a large but dilapidated, wooden Bugis-style palace. This was set in a well-maintained garden, a pleasant place of quiet in the lively little town of Palopo.
My first duty on the Tuesday morning was to give a lecture to 500 students from the various universities of Palopo. The largest higher education institution in this town of around 203,000 is a private university, Universitas Cokroaminoto, named after a famous educationalist from the formative years of Indonesian freedom movement. Among my audience of very polite, attentive listeners were students from six other higher education institutes, including the local State Islamic Institute of Higher Education (IAIN Palopo). Despite the heat and lack of a working sound system in the lecture hall, the students were interested in my topic – Australia and Eastern Indonesia: Education Challenges in the 21st Century. Their questions were perceptive, and focused on study overseas; the importance of opening up the minds of young people to the outside world; and the increasingly felt impact of globalisation even in remote areas such as Luwu.
During my travels across eastern Indonesia I often reflect on the thirst for outside contact that greets me. I have met community leaders from some very isolated parts of eastern Indonesia who have asked me to send more Australians to visit their schools and colleges because they want to expose their young people to the “outside world”. These leaders say they are worried that their young folk could be easily misled by outsiders or preachers whose goals are not in accord with the values and goals of moderate Islam in Indonesia. As these isolated districts increasingly integrate with the outside world we should help ensure positive relationships and attitudes develop towards the rest of Indonesia, Australia and the global community. So it would be good for more Australians to visit these places.
From Palopo we drove for two hours through the mountains to Rantepao through amazingly beautiful countryside, with traditional Torajan houses around every corner (tongkonan, which have large boat-shaped, saddle-backed rooves). The road wound and twisted as if someone had decided to draw a random squiggle on a map. Rice fields in brilliant green glittered as we descended into lush valleys near the main town of the Regency of North Toraja, and the air was cool and fresh. Our destination, the Hotel Toraja Misiliana, was a collection of tongkonan- roofed buildings around a lush garden abundant with rambutan, langsat and coconut trees. I regretted we were only staying here for one night!
That evening we dined with some local Australian alumni. Our host was the owner of the Toraja Misiliana Hotel, Pak Yohan Tangke Salu, a graduate of Deakin University, and also a 2017 graduate of our Short Course in Sustainable Tourism for Regional Development. Yohan and his family own several businesses in Toraja, including a coffee shop, a coffee plantation, and transport, tourism and property interests.
At dinner we tried some typical Torajan food including chicken papi’ong - chicken mixed with coconut milk, steamed young banana stem and spices, cooked in bamboo tubes. We also enjoyed tamarillo juice, for which Toraja is renowned, and I came away from the dinner with a sample of Yohan’s plantation-grown coffee. Toraja is famous for its coffee – and rightly so!
The next morning was a highlight in my travels around eastern Indonesia. We visited an Australian-built school, State Junior High School (SMPN) number 3 Rantepao, about 30 minutes out of town on the edge of a lovely rice-paddy valley. The scenery was stunning, but the reception that the children accorded us was wonderful. As we arrived girls in traditional costume performed a welcome dance as boys beat a drum and shook bamboo sticks, occasionally emitting rhythmic yells. It was graceful, vigorous and natural. A small choir then began singing traditional songs in perfect harmony. I was touched and spoke to the school and said that it was wonderful to see the children so strongly maintaining their culture and traditions.
In the teachers common room the principal, Ibu Yosiah, gave a passionate speech about how grateful she and her staff were for the assistance from Australia in building this school. But she said now they needed more help, specifially computers, internet connections, books, anything that could help improve the education of her children.
I had anticipated this. Sitting next to me was the local education department’s Head of Junior High Schools towards whom I deflected Ibu Yosiah’s requests. He sympathised with Ibu Yosiah and talked about priorities and the fact that he had to service the needs of 74 junior high schools across the kabupaten on a very limited budget. Furthermore, the central government was currently rolling out a plan to implement computer-based examinations, yet very few schools had access to computers let alone internet connections.
I said our aid program was now focusing more on programs to upgrade teacher and school administration skills. I suggested that for purchasing educational equipment it might be worth seeking help from the local community – eg from local businesses and the parents association. I suggested that they think about organising fund-raising activities to purchase computers.
Later Putri told me she was determined to come back to Rantepao and bring a few boxes of school books for the school library. That suits me: I look forward to coming back to try more delicious Torajan food, to walking through idyllic traditional villages, and enjoying a relaxing time in a cool mountain environment!
The last day of our week away from Makassar was spent visiting a potential gold-mine: the Awak Mas gold deposit in the kabupaten of Luwu, which is set to be developed by the Australian-owned company PT Masmindo Dwi Area (see www.nusantararesources.com). We were looking forward to this visit as it was a bit off the beaten track.
Pak Amin from PT Masmindo met us at our hotel and took us on a 90 minute-drive south of Palopo to the Luwu Regency capital of Belopa. There we met Vice Governor Pak Amru Saher, who told me that the community in Luwu had long been waiting for the Awak Mas gold mine to start operations. They saw this gold mine, in the foothills of the Latimojong Mountains, as offering great employment prospects and opportunities for local businesses. The mine would also bring increased revenues for the local kabupaten government, once royalties started flowing to the central government.
Pak Amru said his people knew that PT Vale had brought benefits to East Luwu kabupaten (see my previous blog), and the people of his kabupaten wanted similar benefits as soon as possible. I repeated these points to the media later, saying that the Australian government supported good, responsible mining operations by our companies in Indonesia. We hoped that PT Masmindo and the Indonesian government could reach agreement to allow operations to begin as soon as possible, in accordance with local community wishes.
The drive from Belopa to the mine was a two–hour stomach-churning adventure. We drove in the company’s 4WD vehicles, through forest and rice fields, across crystal mountain streams and along the banks of a winding river that originates high up in the hills. Interestingly at the end of two hours along one of the roughest roads I have experienced in a long time, we got out of the car feeling quite invigorated, as if we had just done two hours at the gym!
The mine was delightful – construction has not yet started, so the views were still pristine. It was fascinating to hear from the geologists about the mineral prospects, the mine development plans and the opportunities that this mine will bring for the people of Luwu. One of the geologists, Pak Heru, had been living at this site for fourteen years! He obviously loves his job.
I have read that gold is produced when two neutron stars collide in one of the most cataclysmic explosions in the universe. Protons and neutrons are forced together into the densest of elements, requiring unimaginable amounts of energy, and then blasted out across the galaxy. Gold already billions of years old, made it to the earth’s surface in meteor bombardments hundreds of millions of years ago. The gold in the ring on your finger is old, and originated thousands of light years away.
NB you can see more photos of our Luwu Raya/Toraja trip here: https://twitter.com/i/moments/961854489341800449.