The locations

When one consults a map of Indonesia, one can see a tiny archipelago right at the southeast of the frontier, between imposing Australia and Papuasia. This is where the Aru Islands are located, a cluster of islands beyond everything: Beyond time, beyond tourist guides, and consequently beyond habitual pathways. Yet this small archipelago, measuring 6,500 km2, populated with barely 40,000 people of Melanesian origin mingled with other races (Arab, Malaysian, Chinese and even European), enjoys an exuberant natural environment. Although the forest is abundant in meat and many species hunted for their plumes, the rivers and seas provide the essential resources of the archipelago, such as industrial fishing, pearl cultivation, sea cucumber farms, shark fishing for their fins, collection of flying fish eggs... And at the far southeast of Aru, just before the sea becomes Australian territory, it is no surprise to find Balinese boats coming in by the dozen to find turtles laying eggs on the sacred islands of Enu-Karang.

Aru is worth a journey to discover its unique views of tortured coral lands ragged by the rivers which flowed from Papuasia during the Ice Age. Rivers then became arms of the sea making it difficult to distinguish them from true rivers. Travelling through Aru waters is like finding one’s way through an aquatic labyrinth surrounded by the forest. The villages are dispersed along these channels, sharing dialects and sometimes a common history.

One of these villages, Wakua, on the edge of the Manumbai channel, is THE ideal base camp from where to begin to discover the forest. Built on a hill, a church seems to watch over the village. Passing by the small island in front of Wakua, there is a perpetual flow of water coming from the river Banda Mi, an unfailing source of water. Even in the worst of draughts, the river offers the guarantee of life. Many boats stop there to supply themselves.
Wakua shelters a community of about 1200 people, who, once you gain their confidence, show a great enthusiasm to share their knowledge, their legends and their life in the forest. You can always find someone who will guide you here and there, in the neighbourhood or further into the forest, by day or by night. And at night, the muffled rustling, scuffling of wings, cracking branches can be heard... The forest seems dozy, soft, and almost inert. Yet, it is at night when the feasts take place, when tragedies of nature occur. In discrete silence, for fear of being exposed, one uncovers with a frontal light a forest seething with life: Spiders, moths, mantises, crickets, frogs, lizards, snakes, birds, bats, deer... sleeping or active, they are all found in the forest, moving slowly, with precaution, in the night. Moving like the night, quiet paces, soft, almost motionless...

Life in the Aru Islands is modest. It can be described in these words: Hunting, fishing and cultivating. The first two activities are a privilege for men only, whereas everyone participates in cultivating the land. Forest plots are therefore cleared, then burned before planting sweet potatoes, tapioca and other roots or tubers. The staple food, however, is sagu, the flour taken from the sago palm, totally insipid, yet providing the essential nourishment to the inhabitants of Aru.
No doubt a simple life, beautiful also, although already subjected to the rhythms of modernity: The hunters returning with their pirogues loaded with meat can distract themselves with a bit of TV, before going back to encounter the forest...

The authenticity of the village is even more unique when every little thing is explained with a story or a legend. The creation of the world itself is told at night beside the camp’s fire in the forest, far from the indiscreet ears of other villagers. To be in Wakua is like travelling to the end of time, an immersion into the origin of life which  flows like water through the channels which have formed the Aru islands: Slowly, to the rhythm of the tides and monsoons.


"mutiara, legend of a pearl" now in DVD!
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All you ever wanted to know about VilbrekPrOd third movie!

"Vanen, Plumes from Paradise", Best pedagogical documentary award, Festival du film ornithologique de Ménigoute (Press release (in French))

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