I’m back in Makassar after spending four days in the highlands of Tana Toraja. The Torajans have unbelievably elaborate funeral ceremonies, costing tens of thousands of dollars, and they also have a buffalo cult.
One of the traditional Torajan dishes I ate poisoned me; I have diarrhoea and a fever. I popped a couple of Imodium for the overnight nine-hour coach journey, but the effect wore off an hour before we arrived. A very low point. I’m trying to plan a trip around the islands of Maluku, but, being ill, I am finding it difficult to do so.
Wallace liked Makassar for its neatness.
Macassar was the first Dutch town I had visited, and I found it prettier and cleaner than any I had yet seen in the East. The Dutch have some admirable local regulations. All European houses must be kept well white-washed, and every person must, at four in the afternoon, water the road in front of his house. The streets are kept clear of refuse, and covered drains carry away all impurities into large open sewers, into which the tide is admitted at high-water and allowed to flow out when it has ebbed, carrying all the sewage with it into the sea. The town consists chiefly of one long narrow street along the seaside, devoted to business, and principally occupied by the Dutch and Chinese merchants' offices and warehouses, and the native shops or bazaars. This extends northwards for more than a mile, gradually merging into native houses often of a most miserable description, but made to have a neat appearance by being all built up exactly to the straight line of the street, and being generally backed by fruit trees. This street is usually thronged with a native population of Bugis and Macassar men, who wear cotton trousers about twelve inches long, covering only from the hip to half-way down the thigh, and the universal Malay sarong, of gay checked colours, worn around the waist or across the shoulders in a variety of ways. Parallel to this street run two short ones which form the old Dutch town, and are enclosed by gates. These consist of private houses, and at their southern end is the fort, the church, and a road at right angles to the beach, containing the houses of the Governor and of the principal officials. Beyond the fort, again along the beach, is another long street of native huts and many country-houses of the tradesmen and merchants. All around extend the flat rice-fields, now bare and dry and forbidding, covered with dusty stubble and weeds. A few months back these were a mass of verdure, and their barren appearance at this season offered a striking contrast to the perpetual crops on the same kind of country in Lombock and Bali, where the seasons are exactly similar, but where an elaborate system of irrigation produces the effect of a perpetual spring.
Wallace stayed at the house of a local Dutch merchant, Mr Mesman, with whom he got on well. Mesman's plantations were, naturally, run by slaves. He also traded coffee and opium, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell.
Now Makassar is a city of between 1.6 million and 8 million inhabitants, depending on the source ( believe the former). It is low-rise and extends for many miles. The only thing of interest in the city is its food, and I cannot eat right now.
The zoology of Sulawesi puzzled Wallace. The island is right in the middle of the archipelago. Land lies not too distant on all sides. And yet Wallace found, among relatively low numbers of animals in general, a very high proportion of species unique to Sulawesi. And many of the animals with relatives elsewhere seemed to be as closely related to African species as to Asian or Australian. (It is the westernmost limit of the range of marsupials, however.)
Wallace had great success collecting butterflies at the Bantimurung waterfalls, near Makassar, where he stayed for four days. Even then the falls on the Maros river were a popular destination for visitors. Wallace wrote:
As soon as my scanty baggage had arrived and was duly deposited in the shed, I started off alone for the fall, which was about a quarter of a mile further on. The river is here about twenty yards wide, and issues from a chasm between two vertical walls of limestone, over a rounded mass of basaltic rock about forty feet high, forming two curves separated by a slight ledge. The water spreads beautifully over this surface in a thin sheet of foam, which curls and eddies in a succession of concentric cones until it falls into a fine deep pool below. Close to the very edge of the fall a narrow and very rugged path leads to the river above, and thence continues close under the precipice along the water's edge, or sometimes in the water, for a few hundred yards, after which the rocks recede a little, and leave a wooded bank on one side, along which the path is continued, until in about half a mile, a second and smaller fall is reached. Here the river seems to issue from a cavern, the rocks having fallen from above so as to block up the channel and bar further progress. The fall itself can only be reached by a path which ascends behind a huge slice of rock which has partly fallen away from the mountain, leaving a space two or three feet wide, but disclosing a dark chasm descending into the bowels of the mountain, and which, having visited several such, I had no great curiosity to explore." [I felt the same.]
The butterflies he found in Sulawesi were larger than their relatives in Asia, and more curved and pointed on the upper wing.
The area is now a small national park, a popular destination for trippers from Makassar. Visiting on a Saturday, I was expecting coachloads of visitors, and hundreds of stalls selling rubbish. The stalls were there, but the visitors, while plentiful, were not overwhelming; Sunday is the busy day. I was expecting the stalls to sell the mounted and framed butterflies that you see almost everywhere in southeast Asia, and so they did. Most of the butterflies, though, came from Ambon, Halmahera and Papua, which I took to be a sign that the local butterflies had been overfished. Those from Papua, Ornithoptera, I did not see while I was there; they are too rare. The Rajah Brooke birdwings were pinned with their wings at the wrong angle.
I went by minibus. That statement does not begin to do justice to the nature of the trip. To get to Bantimurung I took a rickshaw and three minibus trips (becak and bemo, respectively). The minibuses, ancient Mitsubishi Colts once again, are built for small people, usually full, and invariably filled with noise from the large speakers in the rear. The bass causes the shopping bags to vibrate. You never know where you are or how long it is going to take (two and a half hours to get there), and everything is in Indonesian, of course. You are stared at all the way. It is a small adventure in itself.
As soon as I got to the park I became the tourist object of most interest. People take a lot of photos, often surreptitiously with mobile phones. In the afternoon I was walking along a road and was stopped by a van of soldiers. They only wanted their pictures taken with me, both individually and as a group. It took a while, but when the Indonesian army requests something, it gets it.
I stopped at one of the butterfly stalls to take a photo and started chatting to one of the vendors, Asri. I later saw him at the butterfly museum – a moth-eaten collection of extraordinary butterflies from Indonesia, inaccurately labelled. He wanted to walk with me, and I said fine but I would not pay for a guide. No problem: and useful it was, as he pointed out all the butterflies around. Tourists were bathing under the waterfalls in numbers and floating down the rapids on inner tubes, but despite the mass of humanity, there were still butterflies in great number, and amazing ones too.
I didn’t get where I am today without learning how to bullshit, so Asri and I swapped tales of Vindula and Graphium, Papilio and Idea (Linnaeus named the first: Idea idea idea); Nymphalidae, Ornithoptera and Pieridae. I told him what I’d seen in Vietnam and Malaysia and he started to believe I knew something about butterflies. I don’t.
I took some photos of Graphium sarpedon milon feeding near the lower falls. I was excited to recognise (following the visit to the museum) a Graphium androcles on the way up; the top third is brown, the rest largely cream, with very long swallowtails to each wing.
There were smaller, also, pointy-tailed, Graphium rhesus, and some Vindula erota. Then a group of Pieridae (whites and yellows): Delias; Appias zarinda; and an orange sharp-winged Appias nero. .
Wallace found in the area a millipede of a 'dull lead colour". This may be it.
We walked up concrete steps to another set of waterfalls. I took note along the way of each species we saw – to no avail, as I lost the notebook while changing bemos on the way back.
Of the upper falls, Wallace wrote:
When the sun shone hottest, about noon, the moist beach of the pool below the upper fall presented a beautiful sight, being dotted with groups of gay butterflies--orange, yellow, white, blue, and green-- which on being disturbed rose into the air by hundreds, forming clouds of variegated colours.
It is still the same. I crouched immobile in the sun. The heat and humidity were high. While I took photos of other butterflies, a beautiful turquoise and black Graphium milon landed on my head, walked down my shoulders and then started to drink from the wet shirt on my back.
On the way back we saw an attractive black and white Ideopsis, much smaller than the great grey-with-black-spots Idea blanchardi that I had seen in the museum.
Back at the lower waterfalls I took photos of more Graphium milon, a Graphium deucalion and the glorious Papilio peranthus adamanthus. This has a wonderful blue-green flash in the middle, but this only shows when it is flying; it is very difficult to take pictures of a flying butterfly.
Also Papilio sataspes and the large, rounded, Papilio fuscus – described here by Wallace in 1865 - with small white flashes on the lower wing.
[It is not always easy to tell what Wallace actually saw, because the names have subsequently changed. So Wallace was pleased to see and capture “the rare little swallowtail Papilio rhesus”, north of Makassar. This is now Graphium rhesus, and the same applies to most of his Papiliones. Similarly, he found Tachyris zarinda, which I suppose is the same as Appias zarinda.]
I’m strongly against doing things that encourage a trade that should not be encouraged. The more you hand out sweets, pens or money to children, the more you encourage them to beg. You shouldn’t eat shark’s fin soup (as I did, to my regret, in Malaysia). And you shouldn’t buy birds of paradise or endangered butterflies.
But, hypocritically, I did. The drive to avoid social embarrassment trumps any morals. I felt I owed Asri something for his help along the walk. We walked down the road to his family’s house, and they showed me about a thousand butterflies, each wrapped in paper.
On the way to his house I saw a big spider [an orb-weaver of genus Nephila]. They eat animals as large as lizards. To take this photograph I had to cut through the web of another spider, and it took some doing: each thread was as strong as cotton thread. (The webs are enormous. You see a lot of them in Maluku. In parts of Melanesia they are collected on frames and used as fishnets.) There is a very small spider on the back of the thorax of the larger one – the boyfriend, probably. Nephila males are often a hundred times smaller than the females.
I realise that the male can't really be seen in the photo above, so here it a close-up of another photo.
The pinned and mounted butterflies sold in frames are often fake: a transplanted body with wings not its own. These were real, and I bought some of the butterflies that I had seen. My specimens: Papilio blumei; Papilio adamanthus; Graphium rhesus; Danaus vulgaris; Troides helena; Papilio fuscus; Dalia eperia; Graphium deucalion; Appias zarinda; Appias nero; Hebomoia glaucippe celebensis (described by Wallace 1863). What am I going to do with them?