Hiding in remote mountains of the Timorese mountains, indigenous tribes managed to evade colonial influences and declared peace during the Indonesian independence. Nowadays, the tribesmen are conflicted between traditional ideologies and the curiosity of modern life.
The drive to Boti felt like a poorly designed roller coaster ride. The gravel road was covered in muddy, red clay. Our guide, Jemri had his fun, steering swiftly through glossy puddles. As we looked to our sides to embrace the lush-green, lush hillsides, we recognized smiling faces peeking out between the foliage. This is the smile I knew from this archipelago and was craving back home.
The smiles of the waving children, hunting and playing in the bushes, became wider and wider the further we drove into this remote, hilly terrain. It took a good 20 minutes from the main road to the entrance of the inner village. The access to the village boasted a big sign that read: “Selamat Datang di Boti.” Welcome to Boti Village. We opened the gate and parked our car inside. Our guide yelled “Selamat Ahoit!” into the straw houses (called Lopo) and bushes. The tribal villagers replied, seemingly out of nowhere they screamed back to us.
We entered the village, through a romantic stone pathway and headed for the Kings porch, where we sat down and were greeted by his family members. Including his nephew, son (the crown prince) and wife. The king himself was busy feeding the livestock but introduced himself 5 minutes later with a big grin, similar to the one of his nephew. We gave the king our offering in the shape of betel nut and the ingredients required to chew it. These goods we purchased earlier this morning at the authentic and incredibly diverse Niki Niki market, which was very welcomed. The people in Boti speak very softly and have a very relaxed attitude. Combined with their long curly hair, I can’t help but make connections to the stereotype of laid-back Jamaican Rastafarians.
Our guide and the king had some small talk about the upcoming elections for governor (the tribes favorite being Victor Soandso). While sharing some betel nut with his fellow tribesmen, our guide Jemry casually told the king where we came from and what we were gonna do today. Then we were offered some coffee, banana chips, and popcorn all locally grown and processed. It was simple snack food, but it tasted very sophisticated. The food was as tasty as the soil and flora around us were fertile. The king spontaneously jumped out of his modest throne, went into his house and came back with a photo album. We were shown photos, which the villagers were able to take themselves after being given 20 cameras by an enthusiastic western organization. We also saw pictures of the Kings parents who apparently died at age 110 and 107. We were also shown another book written by an anthropologist about the Boti people, which featured a lot of details about the vast array of plants the Boti tribesmen use for medicine and food.
After some selfies with the King and his family, we went on to take a look around the village. We saw a praying hut, the fruit and vegetable garden, some more huts, the livestock, the tools used to process coconut oil and carry water and more. Then we were shown to the shops, where the tribe sells their crafts. We bought some bracelets and necklaces, then went back to the king, said goodbye and left a donation. As we left, we went to use the toilet, which to our surprise, were western toilets. They were in better condition than the ones we had in our hotel in Soe.
As we left, we realized it has been raining for about 20 minutes already. I was embracing the spicy and refreshing air that came with the abundant rain until I realized the road conditions ahead of us. As we started to struggle our way up the first couple of meters, a tribesman jumped in the car, who apparently serves as a living good luck charm to the Botis. He brings good luck to anyone in his vicinity. But his good luck was only enough for the first couple of hills. We needed serious manpower. As we struggled, the tribesman and we attempted to push the car up the mountain, which only worked for another hill. Then as we kept failing, more and more people came to help, seemingly out of nowhere. Someone brought a rope, and we attempted to pull the car. Even though many of them speak only one language and don’t have a formal primary education (which according to the Botis is the beginning of the end, if one wants to lead a joyful life), their ingenuity in a situation like this was impressive. They started mining dry rock from the embankment off the side of the road and throwing the dry gravel onto the wet, muddy road. It took quite a lot of effort, but with more than 20 helping hands and some universally understandable jokes it was more than bearable process.
Hill by Hill we made our way up the rugged, misty terrain. Until finally we didn’t need any more help. One after the other, our generous helpers walking back down to their homes. Before they left, we thanked them and shared some betel nuts. Another couple was doing a trip to boti, who skidded past us with their 4-Wheel-Drive SUV, even though they seemed comfortable they missed out on an incredibly genuine and inspiring experience. Although getting stuck in a foreign land without an internet connection, seems unfortunate from an outsiders perspective, it was the highlight of our trip to West Timor. Their way of life is admirable in many ways. Even though a betel nut habit is clearly not healthy, it is inspiring to see how physically and mentally healthy they seem.
You may want to visit our suggestions for roadtrips, if you are planning to go to Boti.
Also if you are curious about the three different traditional markets and their schedules.
TO BE CONTINUED