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Nusawele remembered

Figure 1. Map of the islands of Maluku, Indonesia.

‘Where are you now, opa?’

The recognised young voice came out of the pitch darkness and penetrated his sleep. There was no-one there, but the voice had been clear. The tall tropical trees on this small hillock sighed in the night breeze. He smiled. The wee electronic ‘Samsung’ was also awake.

‘I am with Ibu Mey and Pak Eki, staying in Pak Tude’s house in the village of Langkuba on the small island of Sehu’, he replied into the darkness.

‘Oh. Where is Sehu?’

‘It is on the other side of the world from Scotland, in Maluku, Indonesia, just west of Taliabu which is near the island of Mangole; it is not so very far from Sulawesi and the Banggai Islands. Buru, Ambon and Seram are Islands to the south and east. (Figure 1).’

There was a pause.

The old man was glad to hear from the youngster. Her voice was always welcome. For him it was the sound of the future. Social media made communication to and from almost anywhere in the world so immediate and flexible. The one wee snag to it all, though, was that sometimes the youngster forgot that nine hours of time zones lay between where she was in Scotland and where opa had been fast asleep.

In the darkness he heard the distant hiss of rain falling. It was not heavy, and as it approached, the pulsation of its layers grew clearer. Drops were now falling on the dry atap roof above his head, almost individually heard, as they contacted the old brown leaves. And then they became the more familiar pitter-patter and rushing sound as the breeze blew them onto the sloping wetness of their predecessors. Coalescing, the water began to run off the roof and tumble into the rain-made gutter on the ground outside, making puddles, sploshing into them.

Sometimes the youngster forgot that nine hours of time zones lay between where she was in Scotland and where opa had been fast asleep

His travels this year had first taken him on the two, long night-flights, over lands and oceans, to the island of Ambon. In the past it had been the starting point for many journeys to the tropical rain forests of north Seram. In the old days the transport from Ambon to Seram had been by small wooden passenger ferry. It took about 18 hours to reach the village of Wahai on the north coast of that island (Figure 2). The young school-teacher, Ibu Fien, her husband ‘Pak Ulis, and several of the other Nusawele people would meet him on the Air Besar [Big River] quay. Conversation-filled, the walk to Melinani village did not take long. The climb up the hill to the plateau, where the gravel-based runway was being built for small passenger aircraft, was the tiring bit. Mentally re-living that effort was itself soporific. The Maluku Islands had long been sought by spice traders of Asia and South-east Asia looking for Ternate, Tidore and the other islands growing cenke (Syzygium aromaticum), the much sought-after cloves (Figure 3). Seram grew cloves too and had been re-mapped in the sixteenth century by the ‘new-comers’, the Portuguese, then two centuries later again by the Dutch. Other spices, such as pala (nutmeg - Myristics fragrans) were to be found further south, on the nearby Banda Islands.

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