Sun, 13 Mar 2005


Short story: Toley guides the 'Walanda'

Marianne Katoppo

The mountain was one of many that seemed to rise almost directly out of the intensely blue sea. This island, which some compared to an orchid and others to a spider, had many such mountain ranges covered with dense forests.

The coastland was long and narrow, and was where most of the people lived. The forests also had their inhabitants, but it was better not to speak of them and best not to encounter them -- they were ferocious headhunters.

"Savages!" snorted the coastal dwellers who, after all, boasted at least one town and therefore aspired to being civilized.

The town lay along a beautiful bay, a natural harbor not too far from the mountain. Only a few days ago, it had still been full of ships, fine Portuguese vessels worthy of Prince Henry the Navigator himself. Now it was conspicuously empty.

For the Walanda* had come, landing on the other side of the peninsula, where there was another harbor. They were intent on driving the Portuguese out of this tropical paradise and claiming it for themselves.

So the Portuguese took their priests, their nuns, their statues of saints, their soldiers, their caskets of gold, their nutmegs and their cloves, loaded them onto their fine Portuguese vessels, and off they sailed to the north -- toward the cluster of islands that was still safe from the iconoclastic Walanda, the islands that bore the name of the Spanish King and were still firmly a part of the Spanish-Portuguese Empire.

An Empire which was crumbling all over the archipelago as indeed it was -- or so the fleeing Portuguese were led to believe -- crumbling all over Europe.

There were stories of the glorious Silver Armada being lost at sea, of the galleons loaded with silver and gold for the Empire's coffers having been sunk ignominiously, and of disastrous defeats on land.

And the Walanda, who came from one of the smallest and bleakest northern provinces of the Empire, had done this. At least they took the credit for it. Even for the sudden storm that sunk the Silver Armada.

God was on their side, they said.

So the Portuguese fled, and the Walanda installed themselves in the one and only town on the island, appropriating the buildings and the possessions of the enemy. The local townsfolk, who were friendly by nature, regarded all this with some confusion, but with no special feelings otherwise. They had not disliked the Portuguese, but so far had not had any reason to dislike the Walanda either.

They communicated after a fashion in Malay, the lingua franca of the islands. The Walanda being good traders, they had learned this language along the way. And so it was that the Walanda learned that there was actually one Portuguese who had failed to escape. He lived in a small village near the top of the mountain. There had been no time to warn him.

The head Walanda jumped to his feet when he heard this and roared, "Bring him in!"

The townspeople looked at each other.

The lesser Walanda -- who were to be dispatched to capture the sole enemy -- looked at the mountain.

After having been assured that the Portuguese did not leave behind a small army to guard him, it was decided that four Walandas would go up to the village and bring him down. For that, they needed a guide.

The townsfolk suddenly remembered all kinds of errands and chores that they absolutely had to finish right away, and took their leave. Except for one, Toley**.

"I'll take you up the mountain," he said cheerfully. Mind you, it is a long way and a steep climb, so it's best we leave tomorrow morning, early. At first light."


So here they were, sprawled on the slope of the mountain, four Walanda and one Toley. The Walanda were huffing and puffing and redder in the face than ever, exhausted from the long climb.

Toley, who was used to darting up and down this mountain pass, regarded them with a mixture of pity and contempt. Was this the best they could do? He could have easily covered the distance in one third of the time. They had started at first light. Now it was noon.

They were only halfway up, but the Walandas were near collapse, so they had called for a break.

"Serves you right from being so fat and wearing such strange clothes," Toley thought to himself as he observed the short puffed pants, the double shirt and the leggings all made of strange thick materials the likes of which Toley had never seen before.

And the gear they were carrying! Metal helmets, long metal spears, and a variety of other things Toley did not know what to make of.

At one point they had looked at Toley, but he had simply grinned and darted quickly ahead.

No way they were going to make him carry any of their stuff! He was a guide, not a beast of burden.

The Walanda were conferring among themselves.

"Do you think we'll get there before dark?" And more importantly, "Do you think he will be dangerous?"

They turned to Toley. "Is it still far?"

His face assumed a very serious expression. "Not far, but ... You are slow."

"We are not used to this! There are no mountains in Holland!" the youngest Walanda burst out.

At that moment, a bird called. "To-to-sik! To-to-sik!

"What's that?" the four Walanda asked in unison, looking fearful.

"Oh, just a bird," Toley said, looking very pleased. The totosik was the little cousin of the legendary Manguni, the great owl who was said to be the messenger of the ancestors, and whose call was always a good omen.

Playfully, he imitated the bird's call, "To-to-sik!"


Toley shrugged,"It does not believe me," he said laughingly. "Shall we go on?"

At that moment, a small party of village people appeared from around the bend higher up the mountain. There were men, women and children. They were unarmed and carrying a lot of things, mainly household utensils. Pots, pans, flasks, chairs, and even a beautiful silk mattress, all rolled up and carried by two men.

The Walanda jumped to their feet, albeit a little unsteadily, and the leader called, "Halt!"

The group stopped, a little uneasily, but unafraid.

Toley stepped forward and exchanged a few words with one of the men. Then he turned to the leading Walanda, who was still trying to decide what he ought to do or say.

"They are the people who used to work for the Portuguese," he explained. "These are some of his things which he gave to them before he left, and they are taking them to the village where they originally come from, over there," he pointed to another mountain.

"He left?" Sweat was dripping from the Walanda's face, plastering his strangely colored hair -- yellow! -- to his scalp. "He left." Resignation. Then his equally strangely colored eyes -- blue! -- lit up. Joy and relief. "Well, then, we needn't go on, do we? We'll turn right around and...

"Tuan!" Toley said quickly, briefly surprised at himself for using the hated word -- which he had vowed he would never never utter. "Going down is far more difficult than coming up. It will be sundown before we are at the foot of the mountain again, and then it's still a long way to Wenang***. Let's go on to the village, it's not far now. You can rest, spend the night at the house of the Portuguese."

The Walanda eyed the beautiful silk mattress wistfully.

Toley hastened to say, "There are many more silk mattresses at the house. These people only took the smallest to keep a memento of the Portuguese, for he was a very kind man."

Now the Walanda's gaze fell on some of the flasks the people were carrying.

"He gave these things to them," Toley babbled. "There are many more at the house. They did not steal them."

One of the children was clutching something in her hand. The Walanda bent over for a closer look. The little girl looked up at him and smiled, unafraid, holding out her hand so that he could see.

Some sort of necklace, silver beads. A rosary.

The Walanda stood up, silenced by a sudden memory of an old grandmother in a rocking chair, holding a rosary. Long ago. When he was no older than this little girl. He patted her head. "Off you go, then!"

The group of villagers moved on. So did Toley and the Walanda. In opposite directions.


Later that night, when they were comfortably settled in the Portuguese house, which was indeed very comfortable, the leading Walanda asked Toley, "When did he leave?"

Toley looked at the waning moon and said, "When the moon was full. And one day suddenly."

The Walanda had landed at the other side of the peninsula at full moon, and it had taken them three days to reach Wenang.

"Someone must have warned him," the Walanda said.

"Yes," Toley agreed.


His thoughts went back to the encounter on the mountain track. Ah, if he had not been able to persuade the Walanda to carry on toward the village!

He knew that, as soon as they had disappeared from sight, the villagers stopped to unroll the beautiful silk mattress, and out stepped the Portuguese, half-suffocated, but otherwise alive and well.

They were taking him to their village on the other mountain to protect him from the Walanda. For, as Toley had said, he was a very kind man and the people loved him.


A bird called in the distance. "To-to-sik! To-to-sik!" This time Toley didn't bother to reply. After all, this time it was a real bird.

* the Minahasan word for "Dutchmen" ** means simply, "man", in Minahasan *** Manado during the colonial era

-- Jakarta, March 2005

This short story is based on a 17th-century family history passed down through the generations by word-of-mouth.