Here's a highly recommended 16-minute long movie documentary of Joey L.'s (and his team) excursion into the land of the Mentawai. It starts with the 10-hour crowded cargo ferry ride from Sumatra across the strait to the islands of the Mentawai, approximately 150 kilometers off the Sumatran coast.
The excursion took 2 years to plan and prepare, and we are treated to a behind the scenes look at the photo shoots along with snippets of the Mentawai's life. The amount of gear that Joey and his team had to carry was quite significant. This is not a destination where you show up with a couple of cameras and flashes. They had to lug heavy lighting equipment, large reflectors and lightboxes, cameras, lenses, video equipment, generators, food and so forth.
The most visible Mentawai tribesmen in the documentary are Bajak Tarason and Bajak Tolkot, who seem to have a pessimistic view of the Menatawai's future. They address the interference of the Indonesian government in their ancient tribal customs, and of the Christian missionaries who seek to change their belief system.
It's Bajak Tolkot who invites the world to visit the Menatawai islands, to witness their way of life before it's too late. I really hope very few people take him on this invitation. I realize that an influx of tourists could bring a much needed infusion of prosperity to the Mentawai, but it would also accelerate the demise of their way of life, or turn them into performers; wearing their loin cloths and brandishing their arrows for the tourists' cameras.
In the documentary, I've seen young Mentawai wearing graphic t-shirts, including one of Donald Duck, posing next to a traditional Mentawai tribesmen. So the infiltration has already started, and not before too long, the baseball caps will appear as well. It's a shame that similar cultures and traditional ways of life can so swiftly disappear.
My thanks to Cathy Scholl for the heads-up on this movie.