National Geographic : 1971 Jan
Java-Eden in Transition of a rice storehouse an old woman squatted on the ground, winnowing dirt in a flat round basket, trying to separate the few grains of spilled rice it might contain. We regained the north shore road and fol lowed it eastward. Tamarinds flanked a well paved highway which ran along a narrow plain between the clear, still water of Madura Strait and the stately procession of peaks. As we traveled, the green of the land began to change. Tones of yellow appeared. An af ternoon passed without rain, and for the first time we saw stream beds less than full. In such country a peasant has little chance. There's not enough water for intensive agri culture. Crops that will grow on unterraced mountainsides-copra, teak, tea, coffee, rub ber-require great acreages. Here the small man works for the big man, or he fishes. Dusk Brings All a Moment of Peace Before reaching Java's east end, on Bali Strait, the road turns inland to pass through a relatively empty jungle-covered region. Few people pass this way after dark, for then the wild pigs, tigers, and leopards that live in the forest may make the route dangerous. We drove down out of the jungle slopes, through stands of coconuts (the east coast is copra country) and out onto a shore facing the beaches of Bali, little more than a mile away.* In Banjuwangi, the only town on the coast, we found lodgings in an antique hotel offering more character than comfort. Dusk was an hour away. I went to the port to watch the evening scene. Low, lateen rigged boats sailed into the harbor past men wading waist deep, feeling for clams with their feet. The small catches made during the long day at sea were unloaded upon rickety docks amid laughter and bantering talk. Night came quickly. The waders went away. Aboard the boats corn-husk cigarettes glowed in the gloom. Ashore, a few lamps flickered-a very few; oil is not cheap, and night is a time for sleeping, or for talking comfortably with friends, or for singing songs that retell the old truths. *See "Bali by the Back Roads," by Donna K. and Gilbert M. Grosvenor, GEOGRAPHIC, November 1969. In this moment of ease, poised between the disappointments of the day and the perils of dream-haunted sleep, the deeply divided peo ple of Java revert to their most serene simi larities. All down the lovely length of this troubled island tens of millions of people the Badui in their hills, betjak boys in their slums, peasants in their kampongs, and, here at land's end, fishermen in their villages would eat and rest in peace. Separately but simultaneously, all of them would savor for a while the most basic form of human solace: freedom from torment and terror. They have never really asked for more, these docile and accommodating people. Whatever their religion or politics, they are trusting and kind. Then why the orgiastic massacres that stain their recent history? Per haps because, forced by the crowding and nature of their land to live in intensely close contact with others, they learn to make con cessions beyond those required in less con stricted cultures; perhaps they tolerate be yond the human limits of tolerance, and then go partly mad. Amok is an Indonesian word. Faith Holds Meaning Where Figures Don't But when these limits are not exceeded and, with luck, they need never be again the patience and fortitude of the Javanese enable them to live peaceably under circum stances that would shrivel a Western soul. Economists and politicians, and the wiser heads in Djakarta, concede that grave prob lems face Indonesia in general and Java in par ticular, with its dependence on foreign aid, its present inability to feed itself, its growing population, its delicate balance of political power. Said one pessimistic pundit, "I look at the arithmetic, and I don't see much hope." The Javanese are more interested in hope than arithmetic. For them, hope is faith. And faith can confound figures. No one moved on the waterfront now. I walked along the shore toward the waiting car. A voice spoke softly from a dark doorway: "Slamat djalan, mas-May your journey be blessed, brother." "Terima kasih, mas," I thanked him. And added in English, "It has been." [ Work-tempered muscles are the tools of his trade. A sinewy laborer prepares to weigh a load of coconut chips, destined for use as cattle feed, at a plant in Banjuwangi in East Java. He earns about 25 cents a day for toting the 180-pound bags. The Javanese use oil extracted from the dried coconut meat for cooking and making soap; most copra, however, is exported. EKTACHROME© N.G.S .