On a wind and a prayer

By: Southeast Asia Globe editorial - Posted on: February 20, 2015 | Culture & Life

As part of his modern re-telling of Sindbad the Sailor, photographer Beat Presser joined crews aboard the traditional pinisi cargo boats of the Indonesian archipelago

Photography by Beat Presser    Poetry by Erni Aladjai

Laden with cargos of fresh fruit, water, furniture, footballs and television sets, the masted pinisi boats of Indonesia travel from island to island, many plying waters of the archipelago that no other boats can reach.

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Lambo: Those who live, see the seas as passion A place of honor for a boat Here, the wind inhales dreams and scents of coral Panrelepi with all the knowledge of carpenters and windmasters They raise a great column Destiny has touched their hands Praised be the art carved on the body of a lambo The pure boat. The Bugis seaman. The Mandar seafarer. Three hundred and nine fish swim beside it Lambo, lambo, mystical lambo in the eyes of the fish Lambo Palari, gently hasten to your aim Two pilots to navigate the gentle flow At sea, neither a master nor a slave A tuna’s heart is a cure for anyone It staves away our languor, before we sail home without fishSail home without fish Lambo!Lambo!Lambo Palari!(Poem: Erni Aladjai Photo: Beat Presser)

“It is rough, dangerous, beautiful and full of mysteries,” says photographer Beat Presser, who has traversed the seas with the vessels’ crews.

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Labour of love: to this day, pinisi boats are built in Tanaberu, to the south of Sulawesi island, using traditional methods. Photo: Beat Presser

The resulting images come together to form the third part of Presser’s long-term project to create a modern version of the legend of Sindbad the Sailor from Arabian Nights by undertaking seven epic travels of his own.

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Manpower: pinisi boats are pushed and pulled from the shore and into the sea by manpower due to the shallow waters at Tanaberu. It takes up to a month to bring a boat into open waters. Photo: Beat Presser

The concept was born from his experiences in Madagascar, where he lived and worked for five years and began to wonder how the people of today journeyed to the African island.

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Slow and steady: during a typical working day the boats, which can weigh up to 300 tonnes, move approximately five metres towards the sea. Photo: Beat Presser

A fascination with modern life on board traditional boats led him to first photograph the dhows of the east African coast. He then launched a second project that told the stories of early ocean travel from places such as Indonesia to as far afield as Madagascar.

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Anchors aweigh: heavy winds and high seas make for an exciting voyage from Makassar to Kalimantan. Photo: Beat Presser

In the new book Surabaya Beat, published by Afterhours Books, the Swiss photographer uses monochrome imagery to show the reality, and beauty, of life on Indonesian waters, through high winds and heavy storms.

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Water world: fishermen living and working on rafts in the open sea a helmsman in a storm on the way to Balikpapan. Photo: Beat Presser

“I am a black-and-white photographer at heart – always was,” says Presser, who emphasises both the medium’s ability to abstract reality and also create a sense of timelessness.

The crew brings in an anchor after experiencing engine failure. Photo: Beat Presser
The crew brings in an anchor after experiencing engine failure. Photo: Beat Presser

“Some of the photographs could have been taken hundreds of years ago,” he adds.

A helmsman in a storm on the way to Balikpapan. Photo: Beat Presser
A helmsman in a storm on the way to Balikpapan. Photo: Beat Presser
Sandeq bannang pute meloq dicinggaq meloq dilango langoOn my white body is Kanduruang MameaThe woodsy tree that breathes me blessingsWhen the morning sun beamsWhen the wind blowsUssul, fortune’s abundance and a boat’s fleetnessOn my sharp body, the men of Bala, they touch meThey breathe all prayers and spellsPrayers before they cut down treesPrayers to soften the treesPrayers to ask acquiesce from the treesPrayer to bring woodThen I can become skilfulAs I chase fish – Maraqdia and TunaIn the season of flying fish, I am graceful and gracious across the seaPasandeq shows his humble expertiseFrom one outrigger to the next, seeking balanceIn the past, I sailed in search of spicesto Ternateto TidoreIbannang pute meloq dicinggaq meloq dilango lango (Poem: Erni Aladjai Photo: Beat Presser)
Sandeq bannang pute meloq dicinggaq meloq dilango lango On my white body is Kanduruang Mamea The woodsy tree that breathes me blessings When the morning sun beams When the wind blows Ussul, fortune’s abundance and a boat’s fleetness On my sharp body, the men of Bala, they touch me They breathe all prayers and spells Prayers before they cut down trees Prayers to soften the trees Prayers to ask acquiesce from the trees Prayer to bring wood Then I can become skilful As I chase fish – Maraqdia and Tuna In the season of flying fish, I am graceful and gracious across the sea Pasandeq shows his humble expertise From one outrigger to the next, seeking balance In the past, I sailed in search of spices to Ternate to Tidore Ibannang pute meloq dicinggaq meloq dilango lango (Poem: Erni Aladjai Photo: Beat Presser)
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Dawn breaks at a floating market north of Banjarmasin. Photo: Beat Presser
Loading and unloading merchandise at Surabaya Harbour, Java. Photo: Beat Presser
Loading and unloading merchandise at Surabaya Harbour, Java. Photo: Beat Presser
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Goods ready to be unloaded at Manado, to the north of Sulawesi. Photo: Beat Presser
A pinisi in early morning light at Bonerate. Photo: Beat Presser
A pinisi in early morning light at Bonerate. Photo: Beat Presser
Book release: Surabaya Beat, published by Afterhours Books in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, becomes available in March. The publication is a form of collaboration between Presser and some young, promising writers and poets from Indonesia. The book retails for about $70, with a pre-order special of $61. To find out more, visit afterhoursbookshop.com.
Book release: Surabaya Beat, published by Afterhours Books in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, becomes available in March. The publication is a form of collaboration between Presser and some young, promising writers and poets from Indonesia. The book retails for about $70, with a pre-order special of $61. To find out more, visit afterhoursbookshop.com.

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