Sulawesi (Part 3 Tentena )
Tentena! Harvest Festival! Discovery 2!
A few days later, we headed for the little town of Tentena to see the harvest festival. We drove through rainforests, both tropical and highland, rice fields, along rivers and through old towns, which had barely changed through the decades. We stopped often to see small megalithic sites and climb among the hills and creeks, hoping something would grab our eyes. We stopped at dozens of roadside landslips and quarries without any sign of ancient intervention.
At the cusp of a hillside town, we slowed to navigate a road wash out. An old digger with bucket curled up in rest in the jungle green nearby. Road construction was frequent in this tropical climate. We had mostly experienced fine, mild equatorial mountain weather. Not here. Between Napu and Tentena the windy roads dropped back to sea level and the mountains cool breeze disappeared, it was 33 degrees with 100% humidity. The rain had relented scarcely a moment prior to our arrival.
Conversation had ceased as we sunk into the heat. We were still of high spirits from our find, but the energy was slumbering within, away from the unabating heat.
Looking out the open window of the motionless vehicle, I noticed something shining in the rocks. I asked the driver to stop. It was a small shard of pottery the size of my fingernail. Life energy turned on like a switch and in a moment, I had it in my hand. We inspected it and concluded it was of the same manufacture of the pottery under the megaliths.
Petrus nodded his head. It was a find.
The archaic diggers serving the mountain roads chewed up land slip stones from a dozen sites. We checked the frequency of pottery shards and soon had our source. Above us, in the precipitous slip, ought to be our find. We began the assent. The hillsides were covered in robust vines with hooked barbs, razor sharp thorned brushes and a prickly, mildly poisonous flowering shrub. As the mild poison was the lessor of the evils, we pushed into the shrub in as direct a route to the top as gravity allowed. The steepness of the hillside was set by loose stone soils’ natural angle of repose. We quickly discovered humans in close proximity to each other on steep slopes also shared a natural angle of repose, so we split up to prevent ourselves from avalanching to the bottom.
Within the hour, we had uncovered hundreds of square meters of smashed pottery, hundreds of pots, many sizes, shapes and patterns. It was quite a find. Possibly the largest in Indonesia. A landslip caused by the road cut at the bottom had exposed the site. At the top of the hill, a layer of sediment covered what appeared to be the source. It was vast.
It was also hot, we were late to our festival and didn’t want to cause further damage to the site so we photographed everything, recorded GPS positions of discovery 2 and left the site untouched.
Tentena forms a confluence of two main routes north and the only major road leading south through the island. Unfortunately, many travellers only utilise this as a night over when passing through and miss out on all it has to offer.
We were taken under the wing of our gently spoken friend, Ilona. She is thin and elegant with a natural softness of quiet, positive energy. Although she was a trained guide she offered the tour of her beautiful village at no charge as she offers to many. Her motive, it later became apparent, was to encourage tourism to her village and help her family and friends improve their English by conversing with passers-by. She welcomed us into her generous family and energetic community for a dinner gathering, a harvest festival, church service and more.
Her household was absorbed in the details of preparation for the night’s festival. The festival fell on the first full moon after the September equinox, similar to the rule of Easter always falling after the first full moon after the March equinox. We were treated as special guests to a harvest church service and witnessed the love and connectivity of the community first hand. I took the opportunity to ask the local pastor if the date of harvest was significant, being celestially diametrically opposite tenet of Easter. It was just coincidence, as it turned out.
In the spirit of the archaic harvest feast and the benevolent Christian ethos, the festival embraced open invitation to indulge on foods and drink prepared in the house, every house. It was quite a marvel. All manner of people came through the doors: family, friends, neighbours, other strangers, and us, to be welcomed to a table of smiling faces. We continued to other houses and were welcomed wholeheartedly. To remember the average income in Tentena is less than $10 a day was to be humbled by kindness.
Ilona’s family home was perched upon the outlet of Poso Lake. It was simple, beautiful and a hive of activity long into the night. They took delight in telling us of the lake gods of the mysterious past. We asked about the bones we stumbled upon in a cave. Like finding the bones in the jungle megaliths, it was an odd conversation for us, with people so accustomed to seeing human remains. To us, it is strange to peer under a ledge and see hominid femurs lying idle in a crevasse, like they have fallen behind the couch.
I sat with a traveller from Makassar who knew the area well and was interested in our trip.
“Are those bones ancient?” I asked.
“They could be. There was a race here long ago,” said the Makassarian. “They built canals and lived in caves and moved many stones. Many years ago, archaeologists found similar sites in New Guinea that are 40 thousand years old. I haven’t heard much since then. Now, I don’t know. It seems the age scientists assign to past cultures change about every 7 years.” Like the health benefits of Chocolate, wine and coffee I thought.
“Maybe I’ll ask someone who knows the history here well,” I said.
“Yes, you would have to know this area’s history in and out as there were many deaths here. They could be the bones of the first true Indonesians,” the traveller said. “They went through many tribal battles and people sometimes find their bones or it could be the bones of those killed by the Dutch. I hear rebels were sometimes rounded up in caves”.
“I don’t think it was the Indonesians killed by the Japanese in WWII. I believe that was further southeast. But it could be those who fought for freedom against communism that were killed a generation ago. That was a bad time for Indonesia.” He paused. “I very much doubt they are the bones of those killed by the Muslim extremist in early 2000s. But could be”
The conversation transitioned to the eel farms across the lake.
Maybe I wouldn’t ask. The blood that had spilled this land left no mark on the face of this village. I marvelled at the strong, yet humble community that leads a precession of untold historic adversity. We laughed, sang and talked into the night.
A huge thank you to Ilona and her wonderful family. They operate a small restaurant on the river bank with views to Lake Poso, with the best of local cuisine, a great stop for weary travelers:
[NEXT: Part 4, Toraja and more]
[NOTE: Although two Universities at Palu and Makassar confirmed the finds were novel, they were unable to commit resources to investigate the sites.]