Published in Now! Jakarta, January 2010

Young Madurese villagers wind through green courtyards on their way to the mosque.

Madura, Bandung & Bali

Idul Adha has always been my favourite time of year in Java because it celebrates ‘sacrifice’ and because I love the sight of goats tied to the railings of Jalan Thamrin office blocks.
In Bali, for the first time, goat vendors appeared on the by-pass with signs that read “DIJUAL: Kambing Qurban – MURAH”. One even had a few bikini-clad, Seminyak-Russian party girls tied up under a sign that read “DIJUAL: BULE QURBAN (LELAKI) MAHAL.”
I’m joking of course.
But a great festive spirit prevailed across the archipelago and particularly in Madura, the home of goat satay.

Bapak Amir Rabik setting out the Idul Adha feast on the verandah of his Omben, Madura home.

I travelled there at the invitation of my old friend and fellow Bali resident Bapak Amir Rabik, Consul General to Portugal and Honorary Consul for Spain, former consort to the Queen of Bamboo, Linda Garland, and father of Arief (star of last month’s Stranger in Paradise column in NOW BALI) and Karim, a successful London-based artist. Pak Amir is now married to beautiful North Sumatran performing artist Murni Surbakti, Ubud’s answer to Billie Holiday.
I have known Pak Amir since our fruit salad days in Legian-Kuta in the 1970s, when we all had a lot of fun. Over the years I have met his mother (now 95) and the other members of his extended family in his exquisite Ubud home, one of few Balinese homes to be featured in Architecture Digest (AD). The houses he designed for Sir Richard Branson in Antigua were also featured in the venerable AD.

Friday, 27th November 2009, Idul Adha:  to Omben Village, near Sampang, Madura
At dawn we leave the lovely Hotel Bumi (garden-lovers should see the Majapahit Era-inspired gardens now near completion there) and pass through suburbs alive with swelling crowds of East Javanese in smart Muslim dress.
Thousands of young families—packed tight on motor bikes—are crossing the new Suramadu bridge, heading home for the feast day. The middle of the bridge has become a ‘vantage point’ for mini buses to stop, so that day trippers can take photos of the wide grey featureless Madura Strait under the wide grey pollution-draped sky.

The central courtyard of a traditional Madurese home, near Omben.

The carved front door and façade of a traditional pavilion near Omben, Madura.

Once in Madura the mood quickly changes: festive in the urban sprawl becomes devotees on pushbike in rural bliss.
The rural villages on the way are clothed in luminescent greens: verdant gently-undulating landscapes reveal clumps of giant bamboo and ‘Toddy’ palms. The quaint clusters of compound houses are not unlike the Bali model—all have spacious airy central courtyards with wide verandahs and separate pavilion for ceremonies—and are set, jewel-like, in the idyllic landscape.
Omben,15 kilometers inland from Sampang, on the Island’s South Coast, is quite like an old Dutch hill station, with a spring-fed pool behind an old colonial style city hall.

•    •    •

Bird houses aloft in a Madurese rural home.

Madurese men are fancy dressers: they often wearing bright tropical-coloured sarongs with earth tone shirts. Generally a snazzy outfit is topped off with a peci hat which comes in a range of models from across the Muslim world. A common sight is men and boys criss-crossing communal villages on their way to the mosque or one of the many ‘smoking section’ pavilions that dot the village-scapes.
On arrival at Pak Amir’s house we are greeted warmly and led quickly to the inner chamber where Pak Amir’s 95 year old mother is sleeping off the effect of the morning Goat’s Hoof Curry (Sop Kikil). A feast is soon laid out for us on a red Persian carpet on the spacious front verandah.
Under the gaze of Saudi Kings, and in the shadow of an ancient mango tree, our very mixed group partake of an Idul Adha feast-meal commemorating an act of piety by Nabi Ibrahim (Abraham) some 2500 years ago.

The heavenly colonial-era Bumi Sangkuriang club.

28th November, 2009: To Bandung for the 50th Wedding Anniversary of my dear friends, Kristel and Tunggul Sirait
Bandung is famous for its colonial-era architecture, good music and fine food. This afternoon all come together at the lovely BUMI SANGKURIANG club as we are treated to an All Batak, All Singing, All Dancing, All Praying, All Eating love fest of the type unique to the fun-loving, family-oriented Bataks.
Tunggul Sirait, titular head of the Sirait clan of Tapanuli, former Rektor of Universitas Kristen Indonesia, Anggota DPR/MPR, Dosen I.T.B., and his German-born wife Kristel, the daughter of a Lutheran priest, have many, many fans and a huge extended family.

Photo of Kristel and Tunggul Sirait at their 1959 wedding in Germany tops the 50th anniversary cake.

Kristel and Tunggul Sirait do the honours

(left to right): Pintor, Intan, Tunggul, Kristel, Tiarma and Martua Sirait.

The Sirait Clan Junior Congo drummers perform at the wedding anniversary

(left to right): Bintang, Tiarma and Pintor Sirait do a version of “Thriller (from Manila)”

Today they are out in force—traditionally built Songket-clad Niangs (Sumatrans Mamasans); hip-hop grandchildren; designer children, suave nieces and nephews; Matinee Idol uncles—all singing their hearts out, doing a wild Watusi and praising the Lord for the wonder of the fifty years union of a classy fraulein who escaped the horror of Hitler and found her man on the other side of the world!. Halleluiah!
The finale of the fabulous evening is a ‘line dance drum spectacular’ by all of Ompung and Muti’s grandchildren (plus a few rings-ins): the young drummers—all dressed in Frank Sinatra style hats and mis-matching vests—woo the crowd with a virtuoso Asia-Africa performance.

3rd December 2009: An important book is launched at the fabulous ICON Asian Arts gallery in Seminyak, Bali
Finally! A good book on Javanese primitive furniture and objets dart. Tonight le tout Bali primitive antiques world gathered to celebrate Editions Didier Millet’s latest fine art book, “Javanese Antique Furniture and Folk Art – The David B. Smith and James Tirtoprodjo Collections”, written by Bruce Carpenter. Co-Host Susi Johnston and partner Bruno Piassa of ICON staged a great exhibition of selected pieces from the collection around which the expatriate hill tribe diaspora milled. Dr. Lawrence “Ring of Fire” Blair was particular decorative with his signature eye patch and a rainbow Parakeet on his shoulder.

Dr. Lawrence Blair and Parrot (left).

Other notable guests were jewellery czar John Hardy and czarina Cynthia, Tatie Waworuntu, Bruce Carpenter’s stunning model daughter Allegra and dashing son Avalon (now an events planner for the hip-hoppers), antiques dealer Michael Borneo (just out of Facebook exile) and author Jamie James flush from the foothills of the Himalayas where he has been researching for a story about the miracle aphrodisiac truffle.
With this event the ICON gallery, and EDM, breathed some heady culture into the steamy December night-air of Seminyak.

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