Sunday, October 28, 2012


Claire Holt stayed in a pasanggrahan in Palopo and attended dances 15 km. to the south in a place called Ponrang, in the home of Luwu’s former royalty. Palopo holds caché for me not just because of Claire Holt’s adventures, but because iron was fetched from there to make the sacred Javanese kris. Holt mentions that between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, the Luwu kingdom used to be the mightiest in Celebes. After that Makassar rose in importance.

As luck would have it, we were to enter the former Luwu kingdom on the Islamic holiday of Idul Adha. the day when cows and goats are slaughtered by those who have means and the meat divided among the poor. The town of Palopo was more or less deserted. Not a shop or restaurant was open. By the time we arrived, we had already been driving for hours and breakfast had receded into the distant past. We spied a hotel and decided to see if we could find some lunch within.

The hotel was lovely and all the place settings were inviting. There was tremendous hustle and bustle in the kitchen and eventually we were told to simply eat from the remainders of the buffet. It was a feast day.

Eventually the owner came to sit down with us. She was Bugis, swathed in Islamic black, and was clearly very joyful. She explained that it was a happy day. Many animals had been slaughtered and the meat was being given to the poor whom she had found in advance and to whom she had given coupons.

In our turn, we explained our mission, saying that we hoped to find remainders of the old kingdom and also the iron mines. She had heard of the Luwu and knew that the modest little mosque next door was reputed to be the oldest in Indonesia. Beyond that, she said, there was not much interest among the people in the town for their history and culture. She knew nothing about the source of iron, but knew that there had been fine krisses made in the vicinity.

In fact, she had a kris that probably originated with Luwu royalty but she did not know how to care for it, and may perhaps have damaged it in her attempt. I suggested that she could learn from the Kraton in Yogya. She responded that the kris was just a material item and it did not interest her very much. She declared that was, in fact, not interested in the kris. She was interested in immortality and worshipping Allah. She would be willing to sell the kris.  Apparently a sale belonged to the category of matters of interest to her.

She would not let us pay for our meal and expressed joy that she had been given the opportunity to give food to travellers passing by. She would not touch the hand of Pak Tauhid and Mas Nashir when we bade her goodbye because she had set this boundary as a Muslim woman.

We left to visit the old palace – now – museum. I left with a feeling of deep regret that our hostess’s generosity did not extend to culture. I would have liked her to give her kris to the local museum.  And I would rather have paid for my meal.

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