Freitag, 5. Februar 2016

Reviewing the worlds oceans, several islands called Nassau can be found. Most citations refer to the "Nassau Island" New Providence in the Bahama Archipelago. Much lesser known is the Polynesian Nassau Island northeast of Samoa. For a third island-goup the name Nassau got lost during pass of time, but still is remembered and sometimes awakens, when nature catastrophes touch that area of Eastern Indic Ocean that is well known for marine earthquakes and volcanoe eruptions such as the Anak Cracatao in 1883 and the 2004-2010 Tsunamis

We refer here to the "PAGEH Island Group" of the Mentawai Archipelago that consists in the two bigger sister-islands "North Pagai and South Pagai", both historically named NASSAU ISLANDS by Dutch sailors on maps drawn in the 17th century between 1629 and 1680, meanwhile british sailors titeled them POGGY Islands, a name, which was felt in the German language as pejorative but still reflected in the German colloquial language of the penultimate turn of the century by using the translation "Smallpox Islands" (POCKEN INSELN).

Maybe this grafted attribute was understood as burdensome stigma against which german cartographers remained impotent, because the name-attributing dominance during 17th century was exercised by Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch or British ship-commanders, so that german explorers tried during the centuries to "drive away" the name Nassau Island from Pageh to another more "sympathic" or less stigmatized cartographical object in the Sunda Sea, an intent that we can observe in the case of the Nassau Island Panaitan, some 630 kilometers more south of Pageh. Maybe.

The actual names of the Nassau Islands, that besides the two bigger Pageh or Pagai-Islands include less 2 dozens of smallest islands, 6 of them generated new by the latest marine volcanoe eruption from 25th October 2010, are PULAU PAGAI UTARA in the north and PULAU PAGAI SELATAN in the south. Both islands are separated by the less than 1000 meters broad SIKAKAP STRAIT.

The Nassau Islands (Pageh-Inseln) North and South Pagai, now named Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatan, with the narrow Sikakap-Strait that separates them.
Source : Google Earth 

The complete Mentawai Archipelago consist latter in the islands Siberut and Sipora north of Pagai. The island group is located at a distance of 130 kilometers from the Sumatra western coast and administratively related to the Sumatera Barat department of Sumatra with capital Padang

The native inhabitants of the islands belong to the ethnic group of Mentawai People. Latest census (2011) give a number of 77.376 islanders that live mostly on the both northern islands, meanwhile the Nassau / Pagai  Islands, that are even more difficult to reach by seaway due to offshore coral reefs and strong waves, are nearly exclusively settled by indigenous people that conserved until the most actual present their amazing native culture, that was intensely investigated and described by a great number of ethnologists. Their latest publications wave appeared condensed between 1964 and 1999. The scientific, cultural descriptions of tribal life of Mentawai Indians sometimes subtile or suggestive imputed to these practizing cannibalism (Alfred Maas / B. Hagen / Felix von Luschan (1902) : Bei liebenswürdigen Wilden / 12 Schädel von den Mentawai Inseln - Wilhelm Süsserott / Berlin).

Toys for the Souls (Neth.: Speelgoed for de Zielen)
Catalogue book from 1980 by Reimar Schefold


The origins of the Nassau name attribution to Mentawai - Pageh

Following the Wikipedia Encyclopedia data, Pagai is known to Dutch sailors since the year 1600 meanwhile Portuguese registered the islands in 1606. The initial name was Nassau Island (Source Netherland Wikipedia).

To follow the appearance and disappearances of site names attributed by sailors during history, ancient sea charts serve as a relatively reliable basis. A famous collection of historic sea-charts is hold by the State Library of New South Wales in Australia and made available for Internet consultations : The Map Collection of Sir William Dixon (1870-1952). It includes seacharts of British and Netherland origin from 1584 until 1770. The first mentioning of an Nassau Island at the western coast of Sumatra can be found there on Nova totius terrarum orbis geographica ac hydrographica tabula drawn respectively published by the dutch cartographer Willem Janszoon Blaeu in Amsterdam in 1635. A nearly similar map edited by the contemporary engraver and cartographer Henricus Hondius from Amsterdam 5 years earlier in 1630 shows an island named DROMO approximately at the site of the later Nassau Islands, meanwhile the two northern islands had been titeled BALA and NUNTAON.

Seachart from 1630. The "Mentawais" are named here "Bala" (Nias or Siberut ?) "Nuntaon" (Siberut or Sipora ?) and "Dromo" (= Pageh / Pagai or Nassau Islands). The Engano Island is already named so as Isla del Engano.

Seachart from 1635. The "Mentawais" then where named "Eyland gebroke Bouck" (Nias, Siberut or Sipora ?), Isla de Naßou (Pageh/Pagai) with the southern neighbour Isla del Engano. The netherland name "gebroke bouck or boog" could mean "broken bow" (of a ship) and refer to a shipwreck along the coralreef-coastsides of one of the islands north of Nassau Island.

Nova totius terrarum orbis geographica ac hydrographica tabula (Willem Janszoon Blaeu 1635)

In fact, in contemporary sailors mythology appeared during these years of namegiving in 17th century the rumor of a VOC sailing ship found in front of the coast of Mentawai with no living person on board. This could have contributed to the attribution of "bad luck" to the dangerous reefs around the Mentawais, evenmore because "an epidemia" was interpreted as reason for the loss of life of crew and passengers. In this context the term "Poggy Island" might have been born in sailors language. It is not very implausible, that the following renaming of the "Eyland gebroken Boog" in "Goe Fortuyns Eylant" (Goede Fortuyn = Good Fortune) was made to counteract the supersticious sailor spirits respectively the generation of sailor´s yarn.

Seachart from 1639. The "Mentawais" now are drawn much more exact so that the name attribution corresponds nearly to the nowadays known islands : Verkens Eyland = Simeulue, P. Nyas = Pulau Nias, P. Mintawa = Pulau Batu, Goe Fortuyns Eyland = Siberut and Sipora (1 island remains missing on map), Isla Naßou = North and South Pagai and Isla Engano in it´s site

India quae Orientalis dicitur, et insula adiacentes (Henricus Hondius, Amsterdam, 1639) 

The name Nassau Island in it´s synonyms Nashou, Nahsau or Nahsow is maitained on dutch maps during the whole 17th century and repeated also on Planisphaerium terrestre sive terrarum orbis of Carel Allard from Amsterdam in 1696. The confusion of the Mentawai Nassau Islands with the near Panaitan Island in Sunda Strait by a german explorer on bord of a dutch fleet in 1646 is described more detailed in the article to Nassau-Panaitan. The basic naming relationship between Dutch or British expeditions with participation of residents from the ancient Nassau County in central west Germany would be the establishment of a geographical reference to that interrelation. In this context repeatedly emerged the suspicion, that the name "Nassau" as parody of the german word "Nashau" (nosebreak) was used to marker by that way unspoken sites on maps, where during an expedition conflicts had ocurred, but that presumption remains unproofed. Another interrelation of the Nassau-naming on maps could be the erroneus interpretation of the handwritten english word "narrow" (for sea-sound), when the "rr" is read as "ss". This case exists in the naming of the second narrow of Maghellan Strait that on other maps is named "Cape Naßou". A reason for having named the Pagai Islands "Nassau" by using the english term "narrow" could exist in the separation of both islands by the very narrow Sikakap-Strait. 

Map of the 1st and 2nd "narrow" of the Magellhan Strait. On older maps from 1625 and 1635 the peninsula south the "Second Narrow" is named "Cape Naßou" (see article: Bahia Nassau)

Chart of the Straits of Magellhan, Philip Carteret, 1765 

For the parallel islands naming the origin of the word "Pagai" is relevant. Here the most near meaning term could be derived from the german word "Pagaien" for indigenous paddles with broad vanes used to drive on and steer canoes. 

The term Mentawai has a certain phonetic similarity with the english notion "went away" for "having gone" or "wind away" for doldrums, wind calms or depressions that had great importance during sailing ship times. If doldrums are a typical or relevant phenomenon of the western Sumatra coast climates, so that the islands naming could derive from that background, has still to be verified.

The Mentawai Islanders

The islands, when discovered by Europeans, must have been settled by an indigenous tribe that spoke an autochtonous language that couldn´t be related with any other austral-indonesian language. Very probably with the intromission of Europeans began also a structural change of the endemic ethnia that during the past centuries maintained their traditional way of life and cosmology and integrated single individuals from abroad in their tribes. These persons might have been survivers of a shipwreck at the Mentawai coast or individual passengers or crew members that had been abandoned from ships when reaching coast after crossing the Indian Ocean or before returning to Europe after a ships stage in East Asian waters. Reasons for that latter supposition could have been "ship-justice" that practized abandoning of crew members or passengers as punishment following missteps. Other reasons might have been the "planned colony foundation aspect", that was attributed to the abandoned by "the Company". In case that they survived and generated progeny, decades later their offspring would serve as confident contact person inside the native tribes. Also persons that might have been considered as carriers of "infectios deseases" by the ship-medics might have been abandoned especifically on these islands.

The absence of trade posts or colonial administrations on the Mentawai Islands during 1600 - 1800 promoted the development, that the abandoned Europeans integrated in undisturbed nature-near living tribal structures, that remained dominant over european customs and techniques. The foreigners presence changed so far mostly the language by integrating spanish, pidgin-english, german, netherland or other languages words and probably also determined a new cosmology of their mythological universe.

Due to a target search or casual rediscovery during the 19th century the descendence of the europeans inside the native Mentawai people´s tribes was re-found. The foundation of trade posts and religious missions started with the principal purpose, to educated the offsping derived "from us". Argument for the religious interference was probably, that "our natives" had integrated completely inside animistic cultures so that the homelands dominance over them got lost. This situation could have led to a certain rejection of the "missionary measures" by the Mentawai People that lived until then undisturbed on "their islands". (See here: Problems of german missions on Pagai islands around 1902).

A cultural conflict derived from the informational facts, delivered from Mentawai Islands around 1902. In this margin certain descriptions about the native population have been delivered, that characterized them as warriors, intuitive hunters, headhunters and man-eaters. A probable generation long "process" might have been generated by that "informational facts" that had as consecuence primarily the secondment of explorers, naturalists and ethnologists with the task to study the so characterized natives. The relationships established by these explorers had as consecuence the transfer mostly of female tribe members to the european homeland with the objective to study more detailled the process information. So, during the years from 1900-1999 an extensive literature collection about the Mentawai Indians has been amounted in Europe (see: Mentawai Collection Museum Voelkerkunde Berlin).   

A worthful contribution in this context is the book LIA. The great ritual on the Mentawai Islands (Indonesia) edited by Reimar Schefold in 1988 in german, english and indonesian language. 

About two decades after the almost complete description of the original native Mentawai People´s culture the situation on the islands seem to have advanced, as follows from the study of the Wikipedia Encyclopedias informations. In appearance the inhabitants of the island archipelago are described as not obviously distinct from other Sumatra or Indonesian citizens, but their language seems to be developed autochtonous or endemic and can´t be related to any other austral-indonesian way of speech. This original characterization from last century might be disbanded during the last decades due to a numerous immigration and settlement on the islands. For Siberut, as example, where the progeny of the endemic Sakkudei (or Sakuddei) Indians live as original islanders, the population census shows the following increment data since 1849:

1849 -    7.090
1907 -  10.000
1930 -    9.268
1960 -  11.881
1971 -  14.732
1980 -  18.554
2016 -  30.000 

Same as on North and South Pagai, the literal Mentawai Nassau Islands, most human settlements on Siberut had been situated near or directly at the coastline, meanwhile the still traditional living parts of the population live dispersed in the jungle-covered, more elevated parts of the islands or along the small rivers. The original inhabitants live as hunters-gatherers and maintain permanent cultivations of sago and taro. Their housings still are constructed in traditional manners with material provided by nature. The strong "colonization pressure" on the island is visible by the successive extension of an route network of unpaved roads and the deforestation for later agricultural activity, that cuts the native rain forest and reduces the traditional living spaces. The growing road network makes possible the extension of settlements along the new ways and indicates, that the survival of nature near living spaces has rather low options, if not very soon nature conservation measures would stop that development promoted probably mainly by immigrants from Sumatra with heavy machinery. 

Road and roadside settlements with deforestation traces on the more elevated central heights of Pagai Selatan
Source : Google Earth 21st February 2016

Rural settlement on Pagai with more traditional house distribution pattern. The mostly undisturbed rainforest cover indicates that the settlement is indigenous. 
Source : Google Earth 21st February 2016

The greatest settlement on Pagai is Port Sikakap at the oriental entrance of the Sikakap Strait. The town is dispersed on both sides of the natural channel, on North and South Pagai. It is the principal harbour of the former Mentawai Nassau Islands and it´s foundation might date in the beginning of the last century (1902), when religious missionaries probably from Germany started their "cristianization" campaign over these islands. Actually the population under the aspect of religious affiliation is mixed islamic (muslim) - christian with a strong surviving part of animistic believes and traditions following people, the Mentawai People. These "nature-religions" are maintained and conserved due to the continued practizing of tight coexistence between humans and nature.

Port Sikakap at the eastern entrance of Sikakap Strait. The view is from South Pagai towards North Pagai. 

The Mosque of Port Sikakap on Pagai Utara seen from the harbour.

The christian church of Port Sikakap 
similar to the construction style of the Herrenhuth Brotherhood mission churches. The originary mission comes from the german-sorbian-moravian-czech town Herrnhut
Source : richbrenner / Google Panoramio

The Market of Port Sikakap.

Sabiret. A village at the southwestern coast of Pagai Selatan. The construction damages are attributed to ocean waves that followed reported tectonical movements of the ocean ground near the islands shore at 25.-27. October 2010.

A 2010 "nature phenomenon" had as consecuence the displacement of a greater number of habitants of settlements at the western shore of both islands that are reported as "hit by enormous, until 3 meter high waves generated by an earthquake or underwater volcanoe eruption with epicenter near the shore". Manipulations at alarm-buoy of the early warning system for earthquakes and the short distance from epicenter to shore are given as reasons by the BMKG, that the ocean waves hit the population without prevention possibilities. As most affected are named the villages Betu Monga, Peurogat and Beleerakso (Pagai Selatan) and Muntei Baru (Pagai Utara). 20.000 persons of 4.000 households from a total of 20 settlements had to move to other destinies (refugee camps) on the islands, as report Indonesian and international media. 435 fatal victims and 110 "still dissappeared" are registered (Source: Bayo Ismoyu (2010-10-30). "Indonesia Battles Desaster on Two Fronts" The Jakarta Globe. Retrieved 2013-10-11.). 

Wikipedia entry related to desaster on Pagai Islands 25.-27.October 2010

A reliable estimate over damage extent and causes based on remote analisis of satellite data 6 years after the desaster date is not possible, but so far can be annotated, that several indigenous villages along the west coast of South Pagai and near the shore seem to be architectonically undestroyed, but abandoned, and part of a earth surface damage at the upside documented site (Sabiret / Sabboiet) seems to be machine borne, as shown on the following Google Earth images:

Village 5.5 kms southeast of "Bulasat" / "Mapoipoimanga" at western coast of Pagai Selatan that seems to be intact but abandoned
Source : Google Earth

The Bay of Sabiret with the neighbour bay named Sabboiet (Wikimapia) that shows obvius machine borne surface damage
Source : Google Earth

Heavy construction machinery at Port Sikakap 
Source : richbrenner / Google Panoramio 

The extraordinary character of the Mentawai Islands, besides all other natural or cultural not-everydays-phenomena, is hold by the indigenous way of life of it´s originary habitants. The maintainance of their traditions, technical knowledges, emotional and sentimental customs, their spiritual universe and believes, their family and tribal life and maintenance of cohesion of their groups, teaching and learning systems, their constructions, chasing knowledge, kitchen receipts, clothing and body-painting habits
in its entirety constitute the real wealth of the Mentawai islands, a richness that should be bewared before all other daily exchangeable western cultural goods.

Contemporary credentials of indigenous native cultures of Mentawai exist mostly for the neighbour islands of the Mentawai-Nassaus. Actual photographic and video documents available in social media sources in Internet refer mostly to Siberut, but not or only very seldom to Pagai Utara or Selatan. But way of life of indians of Pagai and Siberut are so similar, that the here following documents might be taken as equivalent for both ethnic areas.

Source : Youtube - Indonesia bagus - kisah suku mentawai

Source : Vimeo - Mentawai, jungle knowledge keepers

Source :

Source : Vimeo / "As Worlds Divide"

Video: Sakkudei of Mentawai by Rudolf Kuzner

Video : Mentawai Tribe by Hermann Brandner

Teuraggaimanai, a kalabai-woman from Sakkudei-mentawai Indians from Siberut
Photography ca. 1992

Topoiogo, a rimata-Storyteller of the Sakkudei-mentawai Indians from Siberut
Photography ca. 1992

edition in progress

23rd february 2016

comments welcome to

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