Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Where the River Flows, a White Giant sits

Bintan Island is a very old place. Before the west came a-conquering, it was a place saturated with magic, sultanates, pirates, the spices-trade, nature spirits and most of all, stories. I had spent many hours sitting on a wooden floor in a house on stilts, listening to Pak Rajah Hamza recounting the tales of old.
Very sadly however, Pak Raja is no longer with us. Neither are the pirates, the ruling Rajas, the spice-trade and much of the magic. But the stories, they still live strong. They are told and retold around the kerosene lamps in most fisher folk huts in Bintan.

When my friend Marc bought the piece of land by the ocean, with a river winding amid the coconut trees & lallang, he already knew some of the stories. He had lived in Indonesia for a long time and was sensitive to the beliefs of the local folk.

He was also concerned about the future of his fisher neighbours. Bintan was quickly industrialising and also becoming a tourist destination. With Singaporeans & the better heeled Indonesians flocking to her beaches & golf courses by the ferry & Kijang load.

So, in a very Marc fashion, he started a rustic River Spa on stilts over his river- Bintan's Only Floating Spa. To complement his newly launched guest house; to employ & train the local villagers and to provide this fast modernising island with a casual & relaxed place to just enjoy nature in her quiet, simple beauty.

The journey toward completing the spa becomes a story in itself. During the construction, workers began having vivid nightmares, equipment broke down, plans hiccupped themselves breathless and for the first time in 18 years in Indonesia, Marc caught malaria, the brain burning kind. In Bintan, when so many things go wrong all at once, you know that you've probably stepped on something's toes. Something unseen. And in this case, the toes belonged to the sandaled foot of the Lady Spirit of the river and her protective white giant.

If you don't believe in spirits, and most city folk don't, think about it this way. Nature needs to to be honoured and respected (or at least consulted) when we choose to disturb her with our building and constructing. Especially in a place where the belief of magic & spirits is strong. So Marc, when he got well enough, engaged a translator to talk to the river spirit.

In Indonesia, he is called a Dukun or shaman. And was told that in building of the spa, many ancient parts of the river were disturbed and have allowed others to come into Her Lady Spirit's area. This was causing things to go awry. And as any Dukun worth his salt, he gave Marc instructions on how to appease the spirits. A stone was placed over the entrance from which the other spirits came and Her Lady Spirit was given a shady spot of honour. Under a ketapang tree by the river where she and her white giant sit at watch and in peace. And she once again protects the river and the land around it and keeps it in harmony.

After hearing Marc's story I must admit I was a bit nervous about having a massage in this oddly controversial spa. But my massage-denied body talked me into it. And it was WONDERFUL. There is a certain bliss of having well-trained fingers teasing the knots from your tight body while listening to the birds chirp, the waves lap and the leaves rustle. Looking through the windows of this wooden spa villa on stilts. The sleepy river moves languidly toward the nearby sea and the trees dapple sunlight over the water, making you believe in magic. At least for a little while.

If you'd like to ask Marc for more stories to book a day at his marvelous River Spa, email dreams@mutiarabintan.com

No comments: