Today I begin a new series of films following the adventures of two young Englishmen, Lawrence and Lorne Blair, as they travel through Indonesia in the 1970s.
The first episode opens briefly in Singapore, which is where the two young brothers Lorne and Lawrence Blair come across Alfred Russell Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago, one of the most influential, but now largely forgotten, scientific books of the 19th century, and they decide to retrace the journey that Wallace had made.
They begin, as Wallace did, in the port of Makassar (Ujungpandang) in what is identified in the documentary as being Celebes (modern-day Sulawesi). There they try to find a boat going East to the Aru Islands, but most of the boats these days go south or west to Java, which is where the main trade route lies.
They eventually do find a boat, however, the Sinar Surya (Sun-shaft), which is heading for the Aru Islands and ask to join it. The captain will only give them permission as far as the other side of the island where they can talk to the owner.
The boat is owned and run by the Bugi people, who have a reputation for being fierce, war-like, and industrious (their name is the source for the “Boogey” man), and they were known as gypsy pirates, who sailed their black-sailed boats, and terrorised traders and other pirates alike.
When they meet the owner he keeps them hanging around for no less than 3 months, and meanwhile they see some of the Bugi customs and ceremonies, like a wedding in which what they call transvestite priests of the old religion officiate (Bugis are supposedly Muslims). In fact Bugis recognise 5 genders, including feminine woman, feminine man, masculine woman, masculine man, and bissu, the priests, who embody both male and female energies.
Eventually they are allowed to continue their journey with departing Sinar Surya, and they travel as far as Bootan, where they manage to change the rotting mastpole. But by then the monsoon, which is providing the winds that drive thir boat is coming to an end, and they are alternatively caught between lulls and storms.
After some adventures involving deadly octopii, enormous pythons and Celebes apes they reach Bandar, which was the source of the nutmeg upon which the Dutch built an empire, and eventually they do in fact make it to Dobo in the Aru Islands, which is across the Wallace line and within the Australasian flora and fauna system.
They first go pearl diving, a rather dangerous activity with outdated equipment, and later manage to see the famed Bird of Paradise in the jungle interior, which is ostensably what they started out on the journey for. They are well-rewarded with the magnificent courtship dance of these rare birds.