Smiling in Indonesia

A journey back to 'the Stone Ages'.

With a team of carriers Lütken and Grønkjær went on an expedition through one of the world’s biggest jungles. Weeks of travelling to get to the tribal people who live as the last of the world’s remaining cannibals.

Weeks of hiking through swamps and rain forest, up steep mountain slopes and down deep valleys, across decrepit “Indiana Jones bridges” and through roaring rivers in order to seek tribal people some of whom had never seen white people before.  

Out in the jungle a cultural exchange took place when the Danish duo took part in the every day lives of the locals and in return entertained with magic shows and Jodle Birger songs (Famous Danish Yodeller).  


A magic meeting in the jungle

It was mostly a joke, when we started talking about that our first journey together should go to the most impossible place to reach on the planet. We wondered if there would be any place on this planet, where it would be impossible to by a Coca-Cola, and the answer is yes! This destination was deep in the jungle of Irian Jaya in the western part of New Guinea in Indonesia.

Directly from the office chair and the magic stage at home in Denmark we left for our destination –  blue-eyed  -  with a team of eight carriers, a chef, a interpreter and a leader, who would guide us into one of the greatest and wildest jungles. We wanted to reach the small tribes, which we had heard of. They should still be living as we did thousands of  years ago and the word was that some of them would practice cannibalism.  

We crossed wild rivers, walked through swamps, rainforest, jungle, crossed Indiana Jones bridges, climbed steep mountains and descended the valleys bellow. The muscles in our legs cramped and our feet turned into big, bloody lumps filled with blisters. Even our blisters ended up with blisters!

Besides all the other belongings we carried Thomas' traveling guitar and Jespers magic suitcases. This didn't make things any easier.

After a few days traveling into the map-less wild with nights spend under the stars, we started to see little cozy cottages on the sides of the mountains. The tribes are usually at war with rivaling tribes about women or pigs, so they build their houses on the mountainside, so they are able to see if any strangers are approaching their community.     

Our first meeting with a true warrior was frightening for both parts. We had never seen anything like this. The men were small, dark and almost naked – only clothed in a hat of feathers, a tie of pearls and the legendary penis sheath, which covered their private parts.

Sometimes they wore teeth from wild boars in holes in their noses. In stead of a  penis sheath the women wore bast skirts around their waists. If we were startled to see them, they were equally frightened of us.  

One place some of the women ran into the jungle and hid there, because they had never before seen a white man, and they didn't want anything to do with this. When we had looked up and down each other for a few minutes, or first job in the village was to visit the chief in his cabin. To show our good intentions we had brought gifts. The carriers had provided us with extra sugar, salt and tobacco, which are three things, that are very important to them. Even though we didn't have a chance to communicate, this often made them open their homes to us. This meant that we could sleep in their cottages, wich had some rat issues! When we crawled into the sleeping bag the first night a big, fury rat ran over our legs. We both screamed and gave each other the illusion, that the rats had the size of big dogs, and had to recognize, that all we had to defend ourselves with, was our toothbrushes!  


Women breastfeed piglets

The cottages were separated, so that there were one for the men, one for the women, a kitchen-cottage and one for the pigs. Their pigs are their only commodity, which means they are extremely valuable. If the old sow wont feed the piglets, it is the job of the women to feed them, which meant that their breast weren't always the prettiest of sights.

Neither were their hands. A way to illustrate that a woman is mourning - if they have lost a child, a husband or another member of the family - it is costume to cut of a piece of their finger. To cut of the blood circulation to the finger, they first tie a bamboo string tightly around her finger, and afterward they begin whipping her on the body with a stick to remove the awareness of pain. Without any amnesia and only with the help of a rock they cut the finger of the woman. Often they will need to cut again and again.

Speaking of pigs and women, it is possible to buy yourself a wife for every five pigs you own. This says something about the value of things.


Povl Kjøller, balloon hats and penis sheaths

Some places they still have a tendency to eat other people. Sometimes because they need to triumph over the enemies that they have killed in combat. But on the bottom line they were full of laughter. When we put on our shiny silver jackets, they knew that this meant entertainment. They came from every corner to see magic, balloon animals and listen to songs from danish folk artists such as Jodle Birger and Povl Kjøller.

With our European eyes they were very primitive. In one way they didn't understand much of the magic tricks, but they seemed to think that it was obvious that you could change a yellow silk scarf into a red on. Something as magic as a silk scarf was bound to be able to change color as well! Something that did impress them was when we learned them to blow bobbles of soap. They blew and blew every time we gave them the chance.  

The most magical in their eyes was a thing, that we had brought from our world: A magic tool which usually is named a lighter! Imagine to be able to start a fire with just a small move with your thumb! For them starting a fire means working two pieces of wood, and therefore a lighter was a magic sight to them. Another big impression was the balloon animals. At first it could seem like an insult to make a balloon animal for a proud warrior, but when the men with a love for finery started using them as hats it quickly became a fashion. Every one wanted one, and they walked around with them for several days. When the balloons broke the warrior came back with tears in his eyes, humbly asking to get another one.     

The fact that they have a love for finery was also stated in their penis sheaths. Like we in the civilized world have different kind of pants to every occasion, these men had different kinds of sheaths: A regular one for daily use, a bigger one for war and a real party sheath, when they really wanted to dress up. This one had small pearls all over it and a little piece of fur in the end.  

Other travelers have often fought their way through wild territories with their suitcases stuffed with antibiotics to cure sick people, glass pearls to buy land or the bible to mission. We traveled with music and magic tricks in the hope to exchange smiles across borders and evolutionary steps. We don't travel just to get experiences, we travel just as well to give experiences to others.   

Thomas Lütken and Jesper Grønkjær in Indonesia (continued)

Jeep-ride in Bali

After the expedition in the jungle, we needed to get some strength back, both physically and mentally. The weeks with the cannibals had been tough on both our bodies and minds. 

We went towards Bali, which every one talked so fondly about. This might be a fantastic place, but when we came back from the jungle with our heads stuffed with new experiences from meeting the tribes in the jungle, we were not ready to cope with the touristy paradise, that Bali is. This was especially remarkable in the beginning of our journey, when we went from city to city with bars, massage-girls, pick-pockets, sunbathing on the beach, Australian windsurfers, Europeans with pale beer bellies and more like that. The first days went with covering our craving of junk food, booze and candy. Quite a contrast to the previous weeks, where we had eaten only fruits, vegetables, rice and soup. The reaction came immediately: Diarrhea and vomiting – the walls of our bungalow practically seemed painted in vomit from the times, that we didn't make it to the bucket. With our heads full (and our stomachs empty) we went around the island in a small jeep. We went to small nice villages, where it was easier to be ourselves and process the experiences from the jungle. During these road trips we had some amazing visits at temples, we saw local artists, rice fields, amazing waterfalls and of course we visited some schools. When we arrived at the schools, we quickly got a deal to perform there, which ended up with us and several hundreds of nice kids in uniforms in a classroom. In the beginning they were usually very sweet and polite, trying NOT to laugh at out gags as a way of showing respect. But soon they figured out that laughing was the whole point, and then there was just no stopping them. Every time a balloon flew from Jesper they laughed so hard, that the teachers covered their ears, and the passersby on the streets stopped to look.         

Furthermore we were audience at “the Sunday sports”, when we saw a legendary cock fight, where two cocks with sharp knifes bound to their feet fight for their lives, while men bet money and cheered along. Blood everywhere, the men cheering, money changing hands and beer getting drunk – it was almost like a 6th division soccer match in Denmark! 

The Smiling Fairytale Society