- Bantal Samatra. We waited for the police commander to arrive in a coffee shop north of a river. The village of Bantal was south of the river. The police commander insisted that we stay in his house. Men in the family gave us the front room and moved in with neighbors across the road. Little did we know then that we would become stranded in this friendly fishing village for two weeks, the guests of the policeman and his family.
16. The next stretch of road was supposed to be like the last stretch: beach, travelable at certain times. But after that was a very dangerous stretch. The best we could understand was that we’d have to climb and cross the top of 30-meter high cliffs with ocean and crocodiles below. The bicycles would have to be pulled up to the top with ropes, but we didn’t know how people got up. And we’d have to hire at least four men to get our bicycles and our things across. To top it all, the year before an Austrian traveler fell to his death along there. So we were persuaded to take a ship from Bantal to Benkulu.
The hitch was that no one knew when a ship would be going from Bantal to Benkula. A ship came by every other day, but no one knew until it got there where it was going. Most of the time it went back to Padang, but since we didn’t want to backtrack, we waited for one that would keep going south to Benkulu..
17. We stayed in the home of Bantal’s chief of police. The family was really very friendly and nice, but communication was very limited. (Three men in the village spoke a little English.) The food we were served was excellent: fresh deer meat and fabulous fish … cooked specially for us without chili peppers. But the only fruit we had was bananas, and vegetables were almost non-existent. So we enjoyed meat and hoped our systems could do without the other for a while.
We got anxious to move on. Immigration was always in the back of our minds, but the stop was good in that it gave us a chance to learn something of the life of Indonesian village people.
After a week and ½, we got up extra early each day because a ship (if it was coming) was supposed to come early in the morning. But a ½ week went by without the right ship. The last ship from Bantal to Benkulu was sometime in May, and this was late July. So we began to realize that we’d be lucky if one came sometime that month.
Up until our final week in Bantal we were secretly pleased every day our ship didn’t come. We were really quite tired when we got to Bantal, and it was good to get to rest. We spent most of the time reading. I went through four books, almost exhausting our traveling library.
And a good deal of time there was spent observing people and discussing them with each other. Not knowing much of the language was a handicap because we couldn’t ask questions or carry on really meaningful conversations. But we were able to see a lot during the two weeks.
Bantal was primarily a fishing village. As we sat on the porch early in the morning a procession of men passed by, each with his sail, paddle, and fishing equipment. Most of the men fished individually from small canoes. There were also nets around, big enough to require several men to handle them. As far as we could tell, all of the fish was consumed locally.
On the inland side of the village was a good-sized rice paddy area. Rice was, of course, women’s business. Men only got the ground ready for planting. Right then the fields weren’t planted. Our guess was that they harvested only one crop a year. One thing we wondered was what percent of their own rice the villagers grew. It took an awful lot of rice a year when it was eaten two or three times a day in the quantity that an Asian ate it.
Rice still had the husks. On hot, dry days mats were laid out in the sun, and unhusked rice was spread out on the mats. Then women and girls chose a mat, and more mats and mortars and pestles appeared. Pestles were heavy sticks, about five feet long for women, somewhat lighter and shorter for girls. Then the pounding started, with two people generally pounding in one mortar. Peggy tried some pounding. It was really backbreaking work! She never did get quite the right motion much to the amusement of everyone. It seemed to come naturally to them.
As the rice was pounded, the husks broke open and fell off. Then a cup or dipper full of rice was taken from the mortar and allowed to fall back in from a height of three or four feet. As it fell, the lighter chaff blew away. This process was repeated many times until there was nothing left but pure white rice.
So, the basic diet of these people was rice and fish. The first week we were there, the men in the family we lived with went hunting and brought back three or four deer. Most of the meat was sold at Rp. 100/kilo. One of the sons caught shrimp everyday, and crabs one day. There were lots of chickens, some goats, and a few cows around, but we didn’t see any of these being butchered.
Later we were fed lots of vegetables … mostly squash, which they cooked in a delicious sauce. But we were fairly sure most of these people ate practically no vegetables. Still there was no fruit except bananas. Milk was not drunk (except when the rich Americans bought one of the few available cans of condensed milk). The only drink besides water was coffee, which was so strong that Peggy could hardly stand it. And I’ve never liked coffee.
Peggy and Randy Ford