Road stopped abruptly at the foot of a wall rising to black rock pillars that frame the valley. Simanjuntak pointed to a distant 45-degree slope. “That’s the only earth around. The rest is solid rock.” He flashed a big can-do grin. “So we’re going to switchback up that ridge.”
How long before the road is completed? “If we had the money, ten more years,” Simanjuntak replied. How long with budget cutbacks? He shook his head. “Maybe 25.”
The most primitive people in the province are the Maskona tribe, who inhabit a region known as the Bird’s Head at the island’s western tip. Their land is impenetrable jungle karst pocked with sinkholes and ravines, separated from the coast by 7,000- to 10,000-foot peaks. Until a decade ago the Maskona fought brutal tribal wars, killed outsiders who trespassed on their lands, and lived in tree houses 40 feet above the jungle floor. Then Christian missionaries began to change traditional ways. The process is continuing.
The only way to reach the tribe is by air—and that’s how the missionaries came. I went in on a missionary resupply helicopter and landed among a cluster of thatch-roofed huts on the flank of a mountain the Maskona call Very High Stone. Some 500 tribesmen clustered around the chopper. John and Linda Price, Americans from the Christian Bible Church who are studying the tribal language, bade me welcome and led me to the bark-walled but that would be my quarters for the night.
What I hoped to learn was just how Indonesian these people had become. Maskona tribesmen crowded around apartment prague to tell me. They had obviously been reached by politics. Musa Rocomna, the wiry, tattooed tribal kepala (chief), wore a yellow Golkar cap. I asked Rocomna if he had heard about the Second World War. “I never even heard about the first one,” he replied.
A bright-eyed 16-year-old named Efradus served as spokesman for the group. “Eight years ago we didn’t know what country we were in,” he said. “We didn’t know Irian Jaya, electricity, movies, TV, or money.”
How had the government made its presence known? “They came three years ago and told us not to kill the missionaries,” Efradus recounted. I asked him who the president of Indonesia was. “Pak Suharto,” he answered promptly, using the short familiar form of bapak, the formal word for father. His smile lit up the hut. “He’s the big kepala!”
What is it that holds this extraordinarily diverse nation of Indonesia together? Over lunch in his office Emil Salim, the minister for population and environment, proposed the Five Principles, the Pancasila. I professed skepticism. “Consider Korea, China, Ger-many,” he explained. “Each is one people divided by nothing but ideology. Now think of us, who are so many different peoples, with so many disintegrating forces at work.
“Pancasila is like a star,” Salim contin¬ued. “It provides guidance. There are mil¬lions of stars in the sky, and 180 million Indonesians. What if they all wanted to follow a different star? Our nation is still very young. It’s constantly changing.