Ritual cannibalism and magic mushrooms – Tuk Tuk on Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
The guide to the village came in the form of a five foot two slip of a man, who finally showed me the old sacrificial stone slab down from the ancient circle of the king’s council, the judging place.
He’d become more animated since the conversation had turned to cannibalism and the abject brutality of the old tribal days of the Toba Batak.
‘An American missionary came to Sumatra in the nineteenth century. He tried to tell us the message of Jesus but he did not show respect. He didn’t try to learn our language, our customs. He did not go to the school or the council and show interest in understanding our ways. This is why my ancestors put that man under the knife and Christianity did not take hold.’
‘Jeepers.’ I said.
‘When they would take a prisoner from another tribe, or a criminal from ours, they would keep him locked up for weeks and fatten him up. Feed him until he’s juicy. They then bring him to the sacrificial table where they would beat him mercilessly before cutting him all over his body and rubbing salt and herbs into his wounds. When he was tenderised and marinated they would bleed him to gather the life’s blood for the tribe to drink, and then the liver would be removed. This would be offered to the king along with the nose, ears and the soles of the feet as they were seen as rich in tendi, the life and death soul attached to the body. The rites would finish with the rest of the body being dismembered and cooked for the whole tribe.’
‘Blimey.’ I said.
‘Yes, yum yum,’ he said smacking his lips and pointing his fingers towards his mouth ‘but we don’t eat people anymore. We don’t like the taste. A German missionary was next to try to bring Christianity to the Batak tribes of Sumatra. This one was different. He sat with the people, he learned their customs and understood their language. He showed us that Jesus was the true lord and that we needed to follow the teachings of the bible.’
‘Praaaaise Jesus.’ I said raising my hands.
‘He told our tribe that it makes Jesus cry when we eat the human flesh.’
‘Well, there’s always someone somewhere in a ridiculous hat trying to tell you what you should and shouldn’t eat.’ I said.
The man looked back at me po-faced.
My salty comments seemed to hold little currency with my new companion. Possibly a communication breakdown. I resorted to the lingua franca and greased his palm with 50 rupiah to be rewarded with a smile and a thank you before he scurried away back up into the village, no doubt to indulge himself in some unfathomable arcane delight handed down from his forefathers.
A soft errant wind wrapped the high hills beyond the peninsula with stirring white cotton cloud that framed the horizon looking back across the lake to Parapat. I recalled yesterday’s trip in from the coast. Mile after mile of palm groves and rubber tree plantations where once there stood a proud mighty rainforest where orangutans would slumber and the Sumatran rhino scuttle and charge. But no more.
The small Tuk Tuk village cafes offered trips to the skies and rockets to the moon, or ganja cookies and magic mushroom tea to you and me.
It had not escaped my attention on the plane into Medan, the bold red text on the customs card warning of the death penalty for drug trafficking or use. That said, this part of the island had more of a parochial feel concerning such matters, that some local tribe dictated such affairs under the auspices of the state, and there was little discretion over the availability of these pleasures.
That evening I drank the tea and went down to the lake to where I saw Ganesha oozing from the base of a strangler fig tree. Iridescent forms radiated across the lake and into the hills where large brooding specters thundered across the hillside. All reality filtered into a kaleidoscopic vortex of colour assaulting the senses, to the point where no dimension, object or form was its true self. Tunnels of light led to more conduits of freakishness, the very ground rising around my feet to snare me in place.
I returned to my traditional Batak cabin to spend the next three hours obsessing over my passport, wallet and bankcards as the realms of the absurd made manifold increases over my mind stew. By morning, I’d managed to somehow bind myself up so tightly in my bed sheets I’d lost the sensation in my left leg. I stumbled into the cool morning air on the porch just in time to see two harlequin butterflies open their wings and fly off, up into the trees above.