Equine Equator

Salted Fish and Instant Noodle

The Equine Equator Expedition is undertaken with two horses whose origin can be traced back to the very soil of the equatorial Indonesia. One horse is a KPI (Kuda Pacu Indonesia, or Indonesian Race Horse), a cross-breed between local Sandalwood mares and imported Thoroughbred stallions. The other is a purebred Sandelwood pony whose ancestors came from Sumba Island. These two companions are able to exchange roles as the riding horse and pack animal. By using a modern racing horse and an ‘antique’ local pony, I imagined myself riding an historical vehicle that spatially connecting me to all corners of the earth where the clop of horses hooves can still be heard, an temporally transporting me to the near future of the earth and simultaneously to the late age of prehistoric times when mankind’s ancestors began to lay foundation for their cultures.

On the day commemorating the Proclamation of Independence of the Republic of Indonesia, August 17, 2014, the first stage of the Equine Equator Expedition began. Departing from the Pamulang Horse Farm, our party consisted of one rider and two horses moved towards Bogor, on to Puncak and Parongpong, and was planned to end in Sumba Island. On the second day I met a horse groom who, the next day, joined the expedition after I paid him three months wages in advance. Along the journey, I tried to turn my thoughts to the times of the dawn of civilization, but my body was dragged along by the horses stepping through the black arterial asphalt road, with the noisy markets and crammed houses like so much fat choking the blood vessels full of tense and unconcerned motorised passangers.

My efforts in search of lost time, to connect to that long-distant past were continuously trampled down by the reality of a world too full of today’s problems.

With my journey guided by a kind of strong nationalism (one of my horse is coincidentally named Merah Putih or Red-White, the color of Indonesian flag), I was forced to notice that the best and most impressive structure that I could find along the way were in fact the legacies of foreigners from the West.The neighbourhood of scientists at the Bogor Agricultural Institute, the pretty tea plantations of Puncak, the Bosscha Observatory’s dome in Lembang, and the horse compounds at the headquarters of the Cavalry Detachment in Parongpong, all of this still bearing colonial fingerprints.The Indonesian people that I found along the way in general had yet to produce any impressive signs of their material wealth, that could be systematically shared around to enrich their knowledge and culture, and to improve the quality of life for all. Even their capacity to merely maintain and repair what was there seemed uneven and uninstitutionalized. But what made me want to continue the journey was that amongst the citizens that lived along the way, there were those sincerely tried to help me on my journey, treating me as a guest, even as a member of their family. Most of them were, of course, of advancing years, although it was not uncommon for young people to spontaneously offer me their hands. And children never fail to greet us with brimming enthusiasm which sometimes sent chill to our spine because those hysterical little fellows always swarmed from everywhere to squeeze and fondle the colts, ignoring that the animal might kick and bite. They were not people with impressive material wealth, but clearly they have in their limited possesion something that could help me to be grateful to whatever comes into my way.

In the rock miners neighbourhood in Mount Masigit, Padalarang, West Java, we spent a night and were introduced to a number of residents whose walls and floors had been constantly harassed by local earth tremors that are always lurking. We spoke about many things, including the kinds of nocturnal insects that live in the rocky hills which produce a high pitched sound I have never heard before. The local told me that the insect’s name is Caricangkas. My host, Ibu Yati, about sixty-five years old, could only speak Sundanese, while I have only memorised two words of Sundanese: atur nuhun (thank you). However, the language barrier didn’t prevent her from welcoming us and kindly serving a plate of humble instant noodle and broken salted fish which I swallowed with relish. It was the most delicious meal I have ever enjoyed till then.

She refused the money I offered, and I was forced to leave it behind so she would find it. The walls of her house were also rich with deep cracks from the stubborn tremors that she had trid to cover up with cheap decorations. Her desire to embellish and to give, a desire older than the idea of the nation state, this seemed to be strong within her. The sincerity and generosity of this old women who didn’t speak Indonesian made me aware that the kind of spiritual wealth she possessed, in addition to her imagination and hope, was what had illuminated the powers that had decorated the walls of those pre-historic cave-walls with all kinds of figures, and opened the way for human culture and civilisation to find their form.

On the tenth day, we arrived at the head quarters of the Cavalry Detachment in Parongpong. My human friend along the journey acknowledged that he could no longer continue. I had anticipated that my friends would step down, and I took our party to Parongpong for this reason. I had hoped that at the headquarters of the Cavalry Detachment I would be able to recondition the horses and invite some officers and soldiers to join the expedition. Unfortunately, the horse soldiers at Parongpong were not prepared yet for such expedition. I had no one else I could trust to accompany me, on top of this the condition of one of the horses was declining sharply, forcing me to end this equestrian expedition temporarily.

Since I returned from my first journey last August, I have been training the horses to prepare them for the next expedition. If there are no obstacles, and the peak of the rainy season is already passed, I will continue the expedition to Sumba, with or without human companion. The first expedition have taught me a lesson that is also learned by many long riders: to have faith in the better side of human nature.

Thanks to Elly Kent for the translation

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Originally published at arsuka.wordpress.com on November 28, 2014.

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