It was a struggle to follow the trail of the anoa in the dense and virgin Rampi forests. The steep climbs and sudden descents would make any hardy hunter want to give up.
CLEAR skies and beautiful scenery visible from the airplane window were a pleasant start to the journey to meet the anoa hunters of North Luwu Regency, South Sulawesi. The Sabang Merauke Air flight took Tempofrom Masamba to the village of Onondowa in Rampi subdistrict, in the middle of last January. The 450-kilometer journey from Makassar to Masamba had been a 10-hour bus trip.
Approaching noon, the 16-seat plane took off from Andi Jemma airport. The hilly, isolated region of Rampi spread out before our eyes. The rising line of hills surrounds the six villages of this subdistrict : Leboni, Sulaku, Onondowa, Dodolo, Rampi, and Tedeboe. The villages are named in order of their altitude—with the lowest at about 200 meters and the highest at more than 2,000 meters above sea level. Our trip took only 15 minutes.
The next morning, under clear skies, I set out on foot with four villagers—Haeruddin (40), Emi (28), Yon Abbas (26), and Ambo (24)—and headed towards the hunting grounds. As we left the village paths, we passed through cocoa and coffee plantations. After we had crossed a 30-meter-wide river, the challenge began in earnest. The path began to climb uphill and was slippery. Luckily, we could use the roots of trees as footholds and something to grasp.
Moments later we came out of the shade of the forest and were greeted by a savannah. From here we could see the ascending path we were to follow. Walking through the level grasslands should have been pleasant, but the blazing sun made it even more difficult. We had to stop several times to catch our breath while gulping down some drinks to quench our thirst.
The next descending path was slippery and steep. Although I used a walking stick, I still fell several times. Then, we finally reached river that was three meters wide. On the other side of the river, Ambo and Emi who arrived first, had lit a fire with a pot hanging over it. Our stomachs were grumbling; it was 2:30 pm, long past lunch-time. Rice, instant noodles and grilled dried fish tasted like a feast.
The lunch break had refreshed us for the four ti five hour trek toward our night accommodations. Crossing rivers several times had made our feet wet so it was no longer comfortable to wear our shoes. But changing into mountain sandals also presented a dilemma. We would be easy targets for blood-sucking leeches.
The day grew dark as we arrived at our destination. After our four fellow travelers put up the tent, some went in search of firewood, others cleared and leveled the camping area, and someone began cooking. We ended our first day sitting around the campfire, chatting and drinking hot coffee. From time to time laughter would break the still of the night.
In the early morning, we continued on our journey. As on the previous day, we faced very steep climbs. Because the ground was still wet, I slipped and almost fell into a ravine. Haeruddin, alias Papa Sukri, quickly caught my hand. When we reached the summit., we came upon a sad landscape full of dead tree trunks left by fires.
For almost the entire day we walked across various terrains. At times we would be climbing when the path suddenly turned sharply downhill. Many times there were just level fields. As late afternoon approached, it started to rain, turning the skies dark. These conditions caused Emi and Ambo, the guides on this trip, to lose their way. They spent time debating which was the right way. Haeruddin, the most senior member of our group, chose to remain silent. All I could do was surrender and follow their steps seemingly without direction through the dark, wet forest. Several times I fell because the path was slippery I got my foot caught in the roots.
A glimmer of hope emerged when light appeared in the distance. I tried to step carefully, trying to ignore the pain in my foot which was swollen from my fall. As time passed, the light was more clearly visible. We had not been mistaken: it was the tent of hunters from Onondowa and Sulaku villages. The sense of relief we all sharedwas palpable.
After I had cleaned myself up, I entered the tent and was introduced to the hunters: Sera Kae, 29 years old, who was the punggawa, or team leader, and the other members, Deri Tandu, also 29, and Laribu Kumpi, 40 years old.
For the next three days, I roamed about following in the footsteps of the anoa hunters. To reach all of the locations in the region of the Rampi forest, we had to cover rough terrain—resembling the route we had covered over the previous two days. It was even more difficult.
Nevertheless, we reached Tokudi. According to the stories of the Rampi people, this location was one of the hiding places of Abdul QaharMuzakkar when he led the Darul Islam/ Indonesian Islamic Army rebellion. “In 1953, many people of rampi took refuge in Central Sulawesi, because the followers of Qahar forced us to become Moslems if we did not want to be beheaded,” explained 53-year-old Paulus Sigi, head of the Rampi regional traditional institution, knows as Tokoi Tongko. The people returned to rampi after Qahar died on February 3, 1965.
The terrain grew more difficult, over steep mountain peaks, then into valleys. Luckily, a lot of rattan was available for us to hold on to as it was wrapped around the trees. We also had to climb down a cliff, next to a waterfall. The damp, moss-covered rocks made it very slippery under our feet.
We walked for almost two hours with wet feet, before stopping to cook and eat lunch. It felt like we had just swallowed our food when Sera again presented us with a climb that made me want to give up. It was such a steep precipice. Sera took my hand to keep me from slipping and falling into the ravine.
When we arrived at the summit, dozens of monkeys ran around climbing the trees to get a glimpse of our arrival. Rain forced us to stop and pitch a tent. Once the tent was up, we headed for kana, the place where the anoa gather to drink in the Tokudi region. Once again it took an extra effort to get thre, climbing down a very steep and slippery ravine. I was exhausted, cold, lonely—and ready ti give up. “What if the swelling in my foot gets worse? What if I can’t walk any further?” I Said. Sera in all sincerity said, “I’m ready to carry you to the village.” And so I pushed on.
After failing to catch any anoa in Kana, we decided to return to Onondowa. All we had left was a few spoonfuls of sugar and rice, and it would take us three to four days more to walk through the forests to reach the village. As there was no other choice, we just ate plain rice. Sometimes we looked for umbu (young rattan) to cook as a vegetable. “Actually, I’m tired of eating umbu, but there is nothing else,” said Papa Sukri.
After wandering through the habitat of the anoa and following in the footsteps of the hunters of eight days, we arrived safely in Onondowa village. The exhaustion we felt instantly dissipated. (by Irmawati, Majalah Tempo English Edition, March 19-25, 2012. Outreach)