Empire of the East

Empire of the East by Norman Lewis

Book: Empire of the East by Norman Lewis Read Free Book Online
Authors: Norman Lewis
less energetic, the possessors of less ideas and initiative. The main and much publicized aim of transmigration was to relieve Java and Bali of the pressure of excess population. This has not happened. Perhaps because the more effective elements of the community have been given more breathing space, an increasing birth-rate in both islands has more than compensated for the number lost, and demographically speaking things are rather worse than at the start of the programme.
    The secondary aim was to guarantee national unity by the spread of Javanese culture through the islands. This so far has not happened. In fact the resentment provoked by what are generally viewed as government-sponsored Javanese colonies tends to diminish whatever ingredient of Indonesian patriotism may have previously existed. However many transmigrants are sent to East Timor, nothing is more certain than that only a permanent presence of the army will prevent it from declaring its independence.
    Once clear of the straggling remnants of Lame, the road collapsed. Inaccessible and unspoiled Aceh was now at an end, and we turned into the foothills of the Gayo Height, where the loggers had only recently done their worst and made a mess of the landscape — before dropping everything, we suspected, and scurrying away at the approach of Free Aceh Movement separatists. All the signs were of a panic-stricken withdrawal. Demolished trees lay abandoned everywhere. Branches and ferns were scattered over the road itself, which had only recently been cleared of the trees that had fallen across it. The largest bulldozer I have ever seen lay on its side where it had fallen into a gully. Apart from this recent disruption and the additional hazards involved in avoiding or removing fallen branches, we had learned in Lame that there was little to be hoped for of this road for another hundred miles until we joined the main north-south highway at Sidikalang.
    The Gayo people of these hills, and the villages where they had settled to enjoy life, came as a relief from the dismal hugger-mugger of the transmigration settlement. At the Lamainang market girls in blue and scarlet were bargaining excitedly for jungle fruit and several kinds of bats. A pet stall offered cockatoos, long-tailed mice and a small member of the tarsier family which surveyed the world with troubled eyes, as it climbed, baby attached to its underside, with gentle, sluggish movements up the pole on which it perched. Everyone’s existence in Lamainang was enlivened by a clear mountain river squeezing through this small town, which drew a happy attendance of people out for a stroll with nothing to do. They stood on the bridge for a moment to look down into the water as people like to do the world over, then moved on clearly the better for it. We followed their example. Below us, the black gondola-shaped boats were lined up, with their owners making small unnecessary adjustments to them, or playing cards or chatting with their friends. Laughing, kite-flying children ran up and down the street; a thin old man, trousers rolled up, dabbed in a pool with a net; a woman brought her duck, carried under her arm, for its daily excursion on the river. This was life as it had once been in most of Aceh.
    We were soon approaching the western boundary of the G. Leuser National Park, calculating that it could be hardly more than five miles away. The eight-thousand-square-kilometre reserve is the largest in South-east Asia, and it has been claimed that the richness and variety of its wildlife are unequalled elsewhere on earth. These opinions may have been founded upon a situation which has brusquely changed. The reserve was once recorded as containing many species of monkey, the Malayan Sun Bear, mouse and barking deer, tigers galore, elephants, tapirs, hundreds of species of birds, and thousands of insects, including a whole catalogue of butterflies to be found nowhere else. Tracts of it were said to remain unexplored, and if

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