Motorbike helmet designs tend to cater mostly for male tastes since men form the majority of the motorbiking population. In Indonesia however, where there are thought to be over 80 million motorbikes on the roads, with millions of women riders, helmet designs are emerging to appeal to the vast female biker market.
Cute, cartoon character type designs seem to be particularly popular. I thought this design was quite good, based on the traditional Japanese kokeshi doll.
The Indonesian city of Makassar may not be that well known in the West these days but back in the 1800s it was literally a household name, or at least Macassar Oil was.
Macassar Oil was a product for strengthening and smoothing down hair and was popular with both ladies and gentlemen. The leading brand was Rowland’s Macassar Oil, marketed by a fashionable hairdresser called Alexander Rowland (1747-1823) and his son of the same name.
The son authored a book with the snappy title ‘An Historical, Philosophical, and Practical Essay on The Human Hair Combining a Full and Copious Description of its Growth – Analysis of its Various Properties – the Causes of its Varied Colours – Elucidation of the Different Disorders to Which it is Subject, and the Best Means of Eradicating those Diseases: Interspersed with Numerous Interesting Anecdotes.’
In his surprisingly interesting book he explained the origin of the name Macassar Oil:
The Macassar Oil is so denominated, because it is composed of vegetable ingredients produced from an exotic plantation, appertaining to the Island of Macassar.
He boasted that the Oil had gained the august patronage of the Princess of Wales, the Duke of Sussex and ‘His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias’.
Rowland’s book quoted a letter from a gentleman living in Macassar in 1809:
Macassar is the most beautiful of the Phillipine [sic] Isles. Its climate is delightfully pleasant, its natives harmless and peaceable, its soil luxuriant. Europe has derived, (through the meritorious exertions of Messrs, Rowland and Son) the benefits arising from the well-known produce of the Macassar Tree. I do not wonder that ignorant persons should doubt the virtues of the Macassar Oil, when they call in question the existence of such a place.
This tree’s scientific name is Schleichera oleosa and other common names include Kusum Tree and Ceylon Oak. The oil is extracted from its seeds.
The book contained a number of testimonials from grateful customers claiming the wondrous benefits of this follicular tonic, said to cure baldness, greying, scalp diseases, dandruff, ringworm and even headaches. One such testimonial read:
I have made use of Rowland’s Macassar Oil and it has produced so plentiful a crop that you have mistook my head of hair for a wig.
If Macassar Oil was so effective you have to wonder why it has all but disappeared from the market and why there are still so many bald headed people around. Could it be that some of the claims were exaggerated, or made up?
Personal hygiene was poor in those days. Bath night, and hair washing, was for many a once-a-week event. Ordinary homes did not have running water.Cold water had to be heated on a stove and poured into a copper bathtub, placed in the living room in front of the fireplace.
People would have slapped scented Macassar Oil on their hair to disguise the hair’s greasy appearance and to improve its odour, remembering that nearly all men smoked in those days.
One particularly dirty fellow who refused to wash following the death of his fiancée on their wedding day, was mentioned in Rowland’s book:
The truly eccentric character, the late Nathaniel Bentley, of Leadenhall Street, generally known by the name of “Dirty Dick”, was at one time distinguished for having his hair dressed in the extremity of fashion; but in his later days how altered! – his hair which was totally grey stood up “like the quills of the fretful porcupine,” forming at once a singular and almost frightful spectacle.
I used to frequent Dirty Dicks pub in nearby Bishopsgate many years ago which, inspired by Bentley’s filthy home, included decorations like cobwebs and dead cats.
To prevent the greasy Macassar Oil from ruining the furniture, people used to place removable and washable covers called antimacassars on the backs and arms of armchairs and sofas. I remember seeing antimacassars in people’s houses when I was young but not surprisingly they are out of fashion now except perhaps on trains in places like China, Vietnam and Japan.
Macassar Oil has made something of a comeback in Britain in recent years as beard oil due to the current popularity of going unshaven but this stuff is made mainly from coconut oil rather than Macassar Oil Tree.
Since I was in Makassar recently and I am in need of something to restore my sadly depleted hairline I thought I would see if I could find any Macassar Oil. Nearly every souvenir shop and supermarket sold locally made oil but it was of the medicated rubbing variety (minyak gosok cap tawon) for relief of aches and painsrather than for promoting lustrous locks. It seems that hair oil is no longer a famous local product. I guess I’ll just have to wear a hat!
I had been wanting to visit Sulawesi for a long time. When I was at school, aged around 11, I remember our teacher asked everyone to write a non-fiction essay on any topic we liked. Most of my classmates wrote about their pets or favourite football teams. I wrote about Celebes, which is how Sulawesi used to be spelt. Partly my odd choice was driven by practicalities. I had access to the volume of Encyclopaedia Brittanica which included the letter C, so here was my source of information in those days before the internet. But I was also attracted to the strange shape that Celebes made on the map, like some deformed sea creature or crocodile. I was also curious about the photos of strange houses with upturned gables. It wasn’t a great essay and I was probably told off for plagiarism but since that time Sulawesi has been on my ‘must visit’ list.
Fifty years later, I finally made it to the southern Sulawesi city of Makassar and the surrounding area. I would have preferred to visit Manado in the more scenic north and the central highlands where the Toraja people have their upturned houses and unusual burial customs but they will have to wait for another day.
Makassar is not really a tourist destination. It is a major port and most foreign visitors are seamen but there are a few sights worth seeing.
This Dutch-built fort sits in the heart of town. Behind its robust walls are a number of buildings which would look at home in Holland. One of them houses a museum called La Galigo, which sounds Iberian but is apparently named after an ancient book written in the local Bugis language. The fort has been well preserved but I felt that more could be done to turn it into a world class attraction.
For me it was interesting to compare this Dutch East India Company fort with the English East India Company fort that I visited last year in Bengkulu. The English one looked more solid and better designed for defence but the Dutch one looked more comfortable for its occupants. Since disease was a bigger killer than invaders, the Dutch were probably right to concentrate on comfort and hygiene.
Dutch Era Buildings
Makassar has seen enormous urban regeneration but a few buildings survive from colonial times including:
This striking monument commemorates the wresting of West Irian (Papua) from Dutch control in 1962 and its eventual integration into Indonesia.
There is no longer any actual beach on this stretch of waterfront in the centre of town but it is a popular place for locals to hang out, eat and watch the sunset.
Like all fish markets in this part of the world, a tolerance for strong smells and gory sights is required to visit this colourful and lively place, especially the fish-gutting section which is enough to put anyone off becoming a pescetarian. Everybody who works here is covered in fish scales.
My trishaw driver told me that this is the best place in Indonesia to see traditional wooden Bugis sailingschooners (prahus) being loaded and unloaded, though I do remember going to a similar place in Jakarta many years ago.
I was told these boats belong to people from Flores.
While these ones are the Sulawesi Bugis boats.
I passed a couple of street markets in Makassar.
This street was lined with kambing stalls and even though the goats were not tethered they obediently stayed in their stalls, oblivious to the fate which awaits them, poor things.
Similarly these chickens were patiently waiting to be bought.
This banana vendor appeared to have enough stock to last for a while.
Ukulele and tubers.
Benteng Somba Opu
Since I did not have time to visit the Toraja Highlands the next best thing was Benteng Somba Opu on the outskirts of Makassar where they have examples of the amazing Tongkonan traditional houses with the curved boat-like roofs.
There are also replicas of other stilted houses here and a museum.
Talking of Toraja, I noticed this Toraja Church decorated with tribal motifs. The steel towers, instead of bearing crosses, appear to be topped with a couple of parrots.
I noticed this yellow pagoda away in the distance from the roof of my hotel and set off on foot to find it. Forty minutes later I arrived, rather sweaty, just as a couple of volunteer staff were commencing their duties and they very kindly gave me a tour around.
This Buddhist temple is not quite complete but it has amazing altars, murals and displays on each of the eight floors of the pagoda, including one floor with a mini Angkor Wat model, very beautifully done at considerable expense.
Bantimurung National Park
As mentioned in my last post, this national park is famed for its myriad butterflies. Other attractions include a couple of caves and a very lively waterfall.
I have marked all these places on this map, as accurately as possible, in case you would like to visit any of them.
Last week, after a break of several months, I resumed my efforts to retrace Alfred Russel Wallace’s footsteps in the Malay Archipelago, this time by visiting the area around Makassar in southern Sulawesi. (I’ll use the old spellings of Macassar and Celebes for the purpose of this post.)
Wallace reached Macassar in August 1856 on board the schooner Alma, brimming with optimism. He wrote:
I left Lombock on the 30th of August, and reached Macassar in three days. It was with great satisfaction that I stepped on a shore which I had been vainly trying to reach since February, and where I expected to meet with so much that was new and interesting.
His first impressions of the town were positive:
Macassar was the first Dutch town I had visited, and I found it prettier and cleaner than any I had yet seen in the East. The Dutch have some admirable local regulations. All European houses must be kept well white-washed, and every person must, at four in the afternoon, water the road in front of his house. The streets are kept clear of refuse, and covered drains carry away all impurities into large open sewers, into which the tide is admitted at high-water and allowed to flow out when it has ebbed, carrying all the sewage with it into the sea.
Today Macassar is a city of around 1.5 million but in Wallace’s time it was a lot smaller:
The town consists chiefly of one long narrow street along the seaside, devoted to business, and principally occupied by the Dutch and Chinese merchants’ offices and warehouses, and the native shops or bazaars. This extends northwards for more than a mile, gradually merging into native houses often of a most miserable description, but made to have a neat appearance by being all built up exactly to the straight line of the street, and being generally backed by fruit trees. Parallel to this street run two short ones which form the old Dutch town, and are enclosed by gates. These consist of private houses, and at their southern end is the fort, the church, and a road at right angles to the beach, containing the houses of the Governor and of the principal officials. Beyond the fort, again along the beach, is another long street of native huts and many country-houses of the tradesmen and merchants.
The fort, called Fort Rotterdam, still survives and is one of the town’s top tourist attractions. This, together with the church, the adjacent vicarage, and a handful of other colonial-era buildings are all that remain of the old Dutch town.
There was no hotel in Macassar so Wallace stayed initially at the Dutch club, known as the Sociëteit De Harmonie, located close to the fort. The building still stands, though much altered in appearance, with a sign showing it has been used as an art centre.
Wallace’s initial optimism soon turned to disappointment and by September he was writing to a friend:
At length I am in Celebes! I have been here about three weeks, and as yet have not done much, except explored the nakedness of the land,–and it is indeed naked,–I have never seen a more uninteresting country than the neighbourhood of Macassar: for miles around there is nothing but flat land, which, for half the year, is covered with water, and the other half is an expanse of baked mud (its present state), with scarcely an apology for vegetation…. Insects, in fact, in all this district there are absolutely none.
Wallace wanted to widen his search:
Before I could move to any more promising district it was necessary to obtain permission from the Rajah of Goa, whose territories approach to within two miles of the town of Macassar. My friend Mr. Mesman kindly lent me a horse, and accompanied me on my visit to the Rajah, with whom he was great friends. We found his Majesty seated out of doors, watching the erection of a new house.
The Gowa Regency was abolished by the Dutch after Wallace’s visit but the area where Wallace and the Rajah may have met (Benteng Somba Opu) has been turned into a museum, with the remains of demolished fortress walls on display together with a number of replica traditional buildings from around Celebes.
Wallace didn’t think much of the local coffee:
Some wine was then brought us, and afterwards some detestable coffee and wretched sweetmeats, for it is a fact that I have never tasted good coffee where people grow it themselves.
In the interior of southern Celebes the villagers were unused to seeing foreigners:
Not a single person in the village could speak more than a few words of Malay, and hardly any of the people appeared to have seen a European before. One most disagreeable result of this was that I excited terror alike in man and beast. Wherever I went, dogs barked, children screamed, women ran away, and men stared as though I were some strange and terrible cannibal or monster. …… If I came suddenly upon a well where women were drawing water or children bathing, a sudden flight was the certain result; which things occurring day after day, were very unpleasant to a person who does not like to be disliked, and who had never been accustomed to be treated as an ogre.
Wallace had much better luck in searching for species at Maros, which he visited during a second trip to Celebes from July – November 1857:
After much inquiry I determined to visit the district of Maros, about thirty miles north of Macassar. …. Passing over an elevated tract forming the shoulder of one of the hills, a picturesque scene lay before us. We looked down into a little valley almost entirely surrounded by mountains, rising abruptly in huge precipices, and forming a succession of knolls and peaks aid domes of the most varied and fantastic shapes.
This area is now a national park called Bantimurung.
The rare and beautiful Butterflies of Celebes were the chief object of my search, and I found many species altogether new to me, but they were generally so active and shy as to render their capture a matter of great difficulty.
They are not easy to photograph either, as this blurry picture shows. I must invest in a good camera and super-dooper lens one of these days.
In these rocky forests dwell some of the finest butterflies in the world. Three species of Ornithoptera, measuring seven or eight inches across the wings, and beautifully marked with spots or masses of satiny yellow on a black ground, wheel through the thickets with a strong sailing flight. About the damp places are swarms of the beautiful blue-banded Papilios, miletus and telephus, the superb golden green P. macedon, and the rare little swallow-tail Papilio rhesus, of all of which, though very active, I succeeded in capturing fine series of specimens. I have rarely enjoyed myself more than during my residence here.
There is a rather tatty butterfly museum inside the national park containing some fine butterfly and moth specimens caught locally and elsewhere in Indonesia. Wallace’s name appears under a number of the specimens for having provided the original descriptions.
Wallace counted 250 species of butterfly at Bantimurung and dubbed the area the Kingdom of Butterflies. When a local university professor carried out a census in 2005 , only 125 species were identified. Given the number of stalls outside the national park selling butterflies I suppose we should be grateful there are any species left at all.
Wallace is still remembered at Bantimurung. He even gets a prominent mention on the National Park’s official website.
On my recent trip to Surabaya I stayed at the prestigious Hotel Majapahit, established in 1910 as the Oranje Hotel by Lucas Martin Sarkies, a member of the famous Sarkies clan of leading hoteliers.
The Sarkies brothers, (Aviet, Arshak, Martin and Tigran) were Armenian businessmen born in New Julfa, the Armenian quarter of Isfahan in Iran. They founded a hospitality empire in South East Asia at the end of the 19th century which included the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (Penang), Raffles (Singapore) and the Strand (Rangoon).
Lucas Martin Sarkies was the son of Martin Sarkies and continued the family tradition in Surabaya. He commissioned noted architect RAJ Bidwell to create a Dutch colonial art nouveau hotel with a budget of 500,000 guilders. Bidwell also designed Kuala Lumpur’s Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Singapore’s Raffles Hotel.
The Oranje soon became the place to stay in East Java and famous guests have included Charlie Chaplin, Joseph Conrad and now, Thrifty Traveller.
In 1930 a new art-deco style lobby was added and is where the hotel’s main lobby is now located.
The flag pole on the roof is where a celebrated incident took place at the end of World War Two as Dutch forces were attempting to re-establish control after the defeat of the Japanese. Leaders of the Indonesian independence movement ripped the blue strip off the Dutch flag, leaving just the red and white which became Indonesia’s national flag.
Apart from the Majapahit, I have also had the good fortune to visit the other surviving former Sarkies hotels, even if I could not afford to stay in any of them.
Raffles Hotel, Singapore. Continues to be the ultimate in colonial-era luxury. The Long Bar (home of the Singapore Sling) is the only outlet I’ve visited in the Raffles.
Eastern & Oriental Hotel, George Town, Penang. An advert for this hotel in 1906 boasted that it was ‘perfectly appointed, unrivalled situation,sea, lawn, excellent cuisine & wines, terms moderate’ . All still apply, except perhaps the bit about moderate terms. The Sarkies also ran an establishment next door called the Oriental Tiffin & Billiard Rooms, a great name which should be brought back.
The Strand, Rangoon – ‘the finest hostelry East of Suez”’ said the 1911 edition of the ‘Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma and Ceylon”. Still the top hotel in Yangon.
I enjoyed a quiet drink with my son at the Sarkies Bar at The Strand in 2010. The hotel’s website says that the bar ‘has played host to many a thirsty traveller, explorer and celebrity alike, and the names of Noël Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Orson Welles are worth a mention.’
The House of Sampoerna is considered to be the top tourist attraction in Surabaya according to TripAdvisor. It’s a cigarette museum and tells the rags-to-riches story of Liem Seeng Tee who arrived in Java from China as a boy in the early 20th century and, through hard work and good luck, ended up running one of Indonesia’s leading tobacco companies, now part of the Philip Morris group.
Sampoerna specialises in kretek cigarettes, a uniquely Indonesian product made by adding cloves to tobacco. Kretek, which by the way is an onomatopoetic termfor thecrackling sound of burning cloves, were originally marketed as a medicinal product as they were thought to be a cure for asthma, would you believe. Sadly that is not the case and we now know that kretek are as unhealthy as any other cigarette, even if they smell slightly better.
One day perhaps cigarettes will only be found in museums and future generations will wonder why cigarettes, which have killed more people than all the wars in the whole of human history put together, were allowed to be sold legally for so long.
That day is not likely to come soon for Indonesia because the whole country seems hopelessly hooked to smoking. It is estimated that two-thirds of adult males in Indonesia smoke. The addiction is getting worse as many boys now start their habit as young as age 7. The price for a packet of 20 is around US$1 so it’s cheaper to smoke than it is to eat.
Nice art-deco stained-glass windows advertising Sampoerna products.
Smoking has been estimated to kill 425,000 Indonesians annually. At least smoking is not popular among women – only 5% of Indonesian women smoke – so there must be a lot of widows.
Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Arthur Russel Wallace’s eight year odyssey though the Malay Archipelago was his discovery of what came to be known as the Wallace Line, a boundary separating the faunal species of southeast Asia from those of Australia and New Guinea.
Wallace found this demarcation to be most abrupt when he travelled across the 35 kilometre wide Straits of Lombok between the islands of Bali and Lombok.
Although these neighbouring islands share similar terrain and climate Wallace was surprised by the differences in fish, bird and mammal life:
“Neither of these physical differences corresponds with the remarkable change in natural productions which occurs at the Straits of Lombock, separating the island of that name from Bali, and which is at once so large in amount and of so fundamental a character, as to form an important feature in the zoological geography of our globe.
During the few days which I stayed on the north coast of Bali on my way to Lombock, I saw several birds highly characteristic of Javan ornithology. Among these were the yellow-headed weaver (Ploceus hypoxantha), the black grasshopper thrush (Copsychus amoenus), the rosy barbet (Megalaema rosea), the Malay oriole (Oriolus horsfieldi), the Java ground starling (Sturnopastor jalla), and the Javanese three-toed woodpecker (Chrysonotus tiga). On crossing over to Lombock, separated from Bali by a strait less than twenty miles wide, I naturally expected to meet with some of these birds again; but during a stay there of three months I never saw one of them, but found a totally different set of species, most of which were utterly unknown not only in Java, but also in Borneo, Sumatra, and Malacca. For example, among the commonest birds in Lombock were white cockatoos and three species of Meliphagidae or honeysuckers, belonging to family groups which are entirely absent from the western or Indo-Malayan region of the Archipelago.”
Wallace did not climb Mount Rinjani. You can read about my trip of a few years ago here.