Ambon,“Queen of the East”, enroute to Haruku Island
Ambon Island is not anywhere in the Caribbean, or the Bahamas but it’s a paradise located in the Moluccan Province of Eastern Indonesia. In the past, the old Moluccan capital was famed for its spices when the Portuguese and later the Dutch merchants traded in the region. It was then popularly referred to as the “Queen of the East.”
It is a place where you could bask under the tropical sun on a white and clean sandy beach, caressed by warm crystal clear waters revealing a bed of colorful corals. But today, travelers from Japan, Europe and some other western countries are discovering Ambon as the place for “off the track” exploration. They come not in search of exotic spices, but to enjoy the pleasures of the enticing white sandy beaches and corals, and to taste the delicious and fresh seafood cuisine.
Ambon and its neighboring islands are listed in the international diving magazines as popular diving spots for underwater sports enthusiasts. In the months of March to April or, October to November when the seas are calmer, foreign and local tourists flock to these parts to explore the underwater world below its crystal clear waters.
Ambon is also the commercial and administrative hub of the Moluccas. It serves as the gateway to the eastern parts of Indonesia, being the main stopover point for many domestic flights ferrying local and foreign tourists. Ambon Island is inhabited by less than half a million people in a bustling city embedded with rows of modern banks, hotels, restaurants and cafes, and old shop houses and traditional markets.
A unique feature of Ambon town is the three-wheeled, human-power becaks” or tricycles. They are controlled by color codes to denote which becak gets to ply the routes on certain fixed schedules.
The local government has been aggressively promoting Ambon to international travelers. One visible indication is the growing number of boutique and business hotels offering a broad and attractive range of accommodations for travelers with prices ranging from US$10 – US$100 depending on location and facilities offered. The island city also offers a wide range of seafood restaurants, fast food eateries and a vibrant café culture especially among the young ambonese on the island.
One can fly directly from KL to Makassar (Airasia) and then connect directly to Ambon using local airlines (Lion air, Batik Air or Garuda Airlines). Once you arrive in Ambon airport, take a taxi or Grab (check the rates, sometimes local taxis offer lower prices than grab but as usual the prices of taxis also depends on your bargaining skills, the price is usually about Rp250,000 to RP300,000 one way 1.5 hours ride), to Tulehu jetty and take a ride in a small 6 person speed boat (20 mins) about RP20,000 per head to Haruku village on Haruku island.
On Haruku Island, environmental protection is a way of life for its 24,200 inhabitants. They do this through their unique and effective set of traditional laws called the “sasi” system which governs different aspects of Haruku society. Although the island is just a short hop from Ambon, the capital city of Eastern Indonesia’s Maluku region, its people have managed to wisely preserve the “sasi”.
This sixteenth century old “sasi” system does not only give guidance to conservation practises, but also to a whole broad spectrum of social issues including giving advice on women’s dress code appropriate for climbing trees to prohibition on washing dirty dishes and other utensils in the stream.
The practice of Sasi in Haruku reached international recognition in the protection of the Lompa fish (a kind of sardine fish). Each year around September or October, the customary council under the leadership of the Kewang, the customary chief organizes an annual celebrative event, “buka sasi” to lift the sasi on Lompa fish. For 3 days this unique and amazing event usually draws in more than 1,000 local and foreign visitors including academicians, media people, civil society organizations, individuals and even foreign diplomats.
Haruku Island is famed for growing canary nuts, named after the canary birds which feeds on these nuts. The “sasi” system was an appropriate system of laws which has helped Haruku society to maintain its natural food resources and consequently a variety of root crops found in abundance on the island. But the people still depend very much on fish as its chief food source helped them to sustain their livelihood from the land and the sea.
Haruku Island’s main products are nutmeg, cloves, kenari almond nuts and local fruits such as durians and mangosteens. Haruku is also rich in marine resources, such as yellowfin tuna, cekalang fish, lompa fish, octopus, squid and other marine life. Its forests and hills are still intact, fertile and there is clean water running from the water catchment areas in the forests and also from underground wells.
Tan Jo Hann
Tan Jo Hann is a community organiser and travels extensively all over Indonesia