Poised on a cliff, our accommodation was in harmony with the purpose of our visit: the architect has designed it to resemble a phinisi! From our room we could hear the small fishing boats leaving as early as 4am but it wasn’t until 6am that I rose to view them returning and, from the vantage of our hotel balcony, captured this shot of them off-loading their catch.
Once the fish had been taken away to be sold or dried, the nets were checked for damage. By the time we were ready to breakfast, the only testament to the fishermen’s activity were these nets left to dry in the heat of the morning sun.
I was a little surprised to find these small east coast villages, (in what is, to all intents and purposes, the last bastion of unspoiled, traditional Sulawesi) bristling with satellite antennas and noisily polluted by scooters and motorbikes. However, on reflection, I realised that these people are not bound to remain motionless in an ever-changing world. Even though they would like to preserve the essentials of their culture and inheritance (the social structure, philosophy, traditional houses, handicrafts and arts) their way of life is bound to change– but their traditions are sure to provide a strong basis for progress and development.
Bira’s petrol station offers a range of fuel.
Filling up our vehicle with a funnel takes a little longer than at a bowser– but requires a lot more skill!
Curiosity led us to visit Ara, a nearby village which is home to many of the Konjo boat builders working for Haji Baso. The road to the village from Bira was narrow but good, and the white sand beach, Mandala Ria, is simply beautiful. Here there were many traditional Buginese-style timber houses perched on stilts and built of merbau, a durable hardwood.
Soon after our arrival we were spotted by the local school children who, unable to contain their curiosity, started following us through their village. They looked beautiful in their school uniforms and were happy to pose for photos.
This made us decide to visit their school and the kids were exited and proud to show off their classrooms and the school grounds.
The wife of Haji Saka (Lamima’s foreman) accompanied us on the impromptu tour and we met all the teaching staff. They showed us some schoolbooks and were proud to show-off work done by their students who, of course, all tried to fit into the staff room to be close to the action!
We also visited the skilful furniture makers in Ara with a following of school kids not far behind.
Once again, much jostling for position and posing for our cameras took place.
Later, I was invited to take tea with Haji Saka’s wife who laid out a feast with cakes and nibbles.
Down on the beach near the village of Ara we came across this man in an outrigger canoe, inspecting his seaweed farm. I was intriqued to hear of the cultivation method which, seemingly, is as simple (and innovative) as tying seaweed to plastic drink bottles and then letting nature take it course!
Before leaving we decided, as a token of our appreciation, to organise a beach barbecue for all the workers and their families. Haji Baso embraced this idea, but insisted that he organise it himself.
And so it was that on our last evening, on the beach next to Lamima, a feast awaited us – the women in the community had come together and prepared an array of exquisite local dishes.
On arrival I was promptly handed a plate filled with freshly cooked tiger prawns, a quantity I couldn’t possibly cope with, especially when I wanted to taste the other exotic dishes too. And so I shared with those around me – a gesture which led the women to take me into their fold.
Throughout our stay the people of Bira had been the most gracious of hosts and this last night was no exception. The men (as in many cultures) were seated together while, in another group we women chatted while the children were left to their own devices. Even though our conversation was hindered by the language barrier, we shared lots of laughter and banter.
After the meal a guitar appeared and I encouraged Dominique to sing, leading to several others taking the cue and joining in while the guitar was passed from player to player.
Later, at the close of the evening, as we walked away across the powdery sand, the lilt of their voices was still in my ears, music to accompany my memory of standing that first day on Lamima’s newly-laid deck, looking out to sea and dreaming, as I believe she does, of setting sail.