Equator

Equator ABC2/21
Sunday, 07 October 2007 - 7:30pm

Simon Reeve continues his epic journey in Asia and finds himself on a sun-kissed island in the far west of Indonesia, the world's largest archipelagic nation - a collection of perhaps 18,000 islands that are home to more than 220 million people speaking hundreds of languages. Children on the island have never seen a foreigner before, but locals welcome their visitors and invite Simon hunting.

On mainland Sumatra, he hears fears about bird flu and meets the matrilineal Minang people. Men live as guests in their wives' familial homes, and women propose marriage (Minang men call their daughters "iron butterflies"). In Kalimantan, conservationists warn that hundreds of orang-utans in Borneo - the only great apes living outside Africa - are killed each year as a result of illegal logging; a large tree can be worth $10,000.

In recent years, there have been regular mass-killings in Borneo of immigrants by the Dayak head-hunters. The immigrants have arrived from other Indonesian islands often due to a government policy of trans-migration. One of the men tells Simon why the killings happened and how his family were involved, then offers to adopt Simon. Not wanting to appear rude, Simon accepts, and the next day (following local customs) he gives his "father" a fine pair of trousers, is then blessed with chicken blood, presented with a short sword and adopted.

Three Christian schoolgirls were recently beheaded on the island of Sulawesi, which has a long history of violence between Muslims and Christians. Simon visits a camp of militant Muslims who refuse to answer any questions about their involvement in the fighting; Simon tries to break the ice by joining them for a game of football.

On Indonesia's beautiful Togean Islands, Simon stays in a village of "sea-gypsies" who live in stilt-houses. Expert divers, they take Simon fishing for octopus, and then let him win an underwater breath-holding contest. Simon and the crew then head back to the mainland to get a flight out of Indonesia, but are caught in floods that kill at least 220 locals.




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