The police chief: “Authorization for passage on a pinisi? Unheard of!”


Photography: The police chief: “Authorization for passage on a pinisi? Unheard of!”

Two years later: marooned again! First Ramadan brought the Pinisi fleet to a standstill, now it’s the road traffic. After driving or taking the bus home to their families for the festivities, captains and crew are now stuck in traffic jams on their way back to the port. To make matters worse, a storm is raging off the coast of Sulawesi with waves 5 to 6 metres high. And a local oil mogul has withheld diesel shipments to create an artificial shortage and drive up the price. So 50 to 60 Pinisis are now stuck in Bitung harbour in northern Sulawesi for want of fuel.

At least we have the required papers for a Pinisi voyage now and know how to obtain authorization. Back in September of 2012, my journey got bogged down in red tape in Makassar. The agency on whose ship I later caught a ride to Balipapan in Kalimantan were being sticklers about the rules and regulations anyway. That’s how I first got the institutional run-around, being sent from office to office, stamp to stamp, queue to queue, all over Makassar. The chief of police asks me dumbfounded: “Authorization for passage on a pinisi? Unheard of!” Scratches his head and waves us over to the office next door. Aco Ridwan has agreed to escort me on my odyssey. When Robert Wilson staged I La Galigo in Makassar at the beginning of the year 2000, Aco took part in the production as a dancer. Sureq Galigo, one of the oldest and most extensive epics in world literature, is the creation myth of the Bugis and humanity. Aco and I talk about Einstein on the Beach and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat whilst chasing down a form we need called a Surat Tanda Melapor.

Three days later we’ve got it, our stamped Surat Tanda Melapor. Now it only needs to be signed by the agent and the captain and certified by the Coast Guard. Why this whole rigmarole? According to the chief of police, more and more goods and people are being smuggled by criminal gangs into Australia. If I happened to be on such a contraband-carrying ship, without even knowing it, and got picked up by the Coast Guard without my official Surat Tanda Melapor, I’d end up in jail along with everyone else!