A Brain Wash

Note: We own a plot of land abutting primary forest outside the town of Lubuk Sikaping in West Sumatra. I once had plans to open a jungle study centre for city kids, but then I’ve always had schemes and dreams.

I sit back against the bamboo wall of the shelter. That’s enough exercise for one day. I’m master of all I survey. This isn’t much, but I’ve hacked a few pathways and several gaps in the fence have been plugged and another opened in the hopes that passing fruit gatherers, who are more than welcome, will smooth areas of undergrowth I didn’t reach.

I quietly watch bursts of sunlight highlight and bring into focus the individual plants rising bedraggled above the dense carpet of grasses, creepers and ferns which still threaten to overwhelm the cocao and coffee trees which were once bushes, the two tall durian trees, the proud lone coconut palm, and the solitary banana stump.

It seems silent being alone, but as I listen to my body rhythms there is leaves rustle in the breeze, and gusts make them rattle. Bugs and butterflies, double-winged velvety blue, mellow yellow, ride the breezes and add their ambient background buzz to the whistles and warbles, chirrups, cheeps and chirps of unseen birds, some passing by, others claiming territorial rights in the neighbouring forest.

Then, operating on their time, the simulang (yellow-fronted gibbons) claim their patch of nearby forest and get down to their parley which echoes around the surrounding mountain ridges. What this means, I can only guess at. There is a call and response pattern, with a chorus of higher toned females I guess echoed by a solo voice, a bass an octave lower. I wonder at first if I’m listening to a harem paying court. I doubt that the troop is proclaiming territorial rights because this is a scheduled performance, early morning, mid-morning and towards sunset.

Today this seems to be a more serious gathering as another voice is heard. The (Steve) Reichian* repetitive sound swellings and fadings, underpinned by the lone bass who is, as usual, not quite in synch, is interrupted by another voice, a higher one. I surmise that a complaint is being made and the troop responds: the complainant mocks their opinions.

The bass leads more, and the troop give answers. They move along the ridge and I continue to listen as they complete their full agenda of monkey business and wander out of earshot.

The virtual silence is interrupted by a distant circular saw and is that a shotgun I hear? Seeking what I can only guess – a boar, a miniature deer? My stomach gurgles and I come to.

As I put on my sandals I notice a leech, replete on my left foot. Yesterday Our Kid asked me, “Have you ever seen a leech, Dad?”

I stroll back barefoot, smiling, to show him.

I am thoroughly a-mused today.
*Steve Reich was/is the pioneer of “Systems Music”, a term which has been used to describe sound continuums which evolve gradually, often over very long periods of time. The most striking feature … is repetitiveness or stasis. There is little or no variation of pitch, tempo, dynamics or timbre. Interestingly, in the early 70’s, Steve Reich studied Balinese music. It is easy, therefore, to make the connective assumption that much non-Western music draws its inspiration from the sounds of the living environment, and is a homage to Mother Nature herself.


About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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