The festivities on Debut Island (part of the Kei group) started on Tuesday 28 July with a splash – quite literally!
We had been asked to stay on the water in our dinghies as a “sail past” of traditional boats had been arranged.
So there we were, in the middle of the harbour, in dinghies of all shapes, sizes and conditions, with a load of virtual strangers from the UK, France, Germany, Holland, all over the USA, Canada, Mexico, Turkey, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Some of the people we hadn’t yet met and it felt slightly odd introducing ourselves to each other, rafted up in our dinghies in Debut Harbour with the wind and waves increasing by the minute.
As the traditional boats sailed passed us with drums beating and cymbals crashing, we were bobbing up and down with waves splashing from every direction and getting wetter and wetter!
Salt water never dries completely so most of us remained pretty soggy all day.
It was an amazing welcome. Hoards of local people jostled to have a good view of us (and the proceedings), and the welcoming party, dressed in every kind of uniform with an abundance of gold braid and other adornments, lined up looking very serious.
The local headman called on the ancestors of the village to protect us and welcomed us and then a few speeches were made – the Indonesian ones very long and thankfully, the English translation a good bit shorter.
There were beautiful fan dances and a group of ladies in traditional dress singing in harmony and then we all had to shake hands with each of the dignitaries – a great long line of them.
I began to feel a bit like the Queen and found myself murmuring “Have you come far?”.
One of the American ladies very charmingly introduced herself to each of them in her genteel southern drawl “Hello my name is ….”.
We all walked a few metres to the traditional centre of the village where once again the ancestors were called upon to protect us during our stay. We were then led back to the Quay where chairs covered in red velvet awaited us and beautiful little boxes with two kinds of cake and a drink were put out for each of us.
After more speeches we were led through the streets to the sound of drums and traditional bamboo flute (looked a little like a small recorder) with the local people accompanying us, to the local school.
We were treated to some beautiful singing from each of the classes and we sang a few songs to them (with actions) including “heads, shoulders, knees and toes” which they sang back to us in Indonesian.
After many farewells and waves goodbye we piled into little buses to go to another village.
Again, we were welcomed by dancers, this time young men who used what looked like bunches of raffia attached to sticks rather than the beautiful and colourful fans the young women dancers had used to great effect.
The village square/soccer field was the venue for more dancing performed by school children – the girls on one side doing the sedate and delicate dance with fans and the boys leaping around doing a warlike dance with bows and arrows!
Stalls were set up around the perimeter of the field and delicious, cheap food was on sale. It was great to try fish, vegetables and even nuts that we hadn’t had before.
There was also a bar serving soft drinks and beer with waiters dressed up in beautiful purple and gold costumes.
At dusk we went back to the school for more dancing and singing displays, speeches and an amazing dinner made for us by the local people.
What a spread! Fresh fish, crabs, red peanut rice, all kinds of vegetables, egg dishes, chicken dishes – just amazing!
All the attention reminded me of our 60th birthday visit to Assam, NE India, where our party of 20 people were taken here, there and everywhere and hordes of people wanted to welcome us, chat, stare, perform and feed us.
You feel very honoured to have all the attention but as one of our fellow rally participants said
“It’s overwhelming. I’m just Jon – not a celebrity or anyone special, just Jon.”
The evening ended with almost everyone joining in the dancing – I had the honour of being invited to dance with the Vice Regent who was as wide as he was long. I wasn’t sure if he expected me to curtsy or not afterwards!
In the end, a handshake and a bob of the head was enough to preserve dignity on both sides.
We were all exhausted by the end of the evening and very glad to go back to our boats and fall into bed after a long but amazing day!