Painting/animation by Mel Mepham
I was initially drawn to the Mentawai Archipelago by the lure of perfect waves peeling against picturesque beaches, rimmed by lush, tropical rainforest - although I was quick to discover that there is so much more to this special place than surfing.
I ended up staying for quite a few years and working on a range of things, from surf-guiding on charter boats and resorts to programme design with Surfaid International, punctuated by periods of vagabonding about the simple villages and hidden reefs.
One of the first places I was lucky enough to stay was deep in the rainforests of Siberut Island, where I was introduced to the local community, as well as some of its animal inhabitants. I'll never forget as a wide-eyed 22 year-old, watching in fear as one of the village women's Malarial fever became so intense and convulsive, that the Sikerei (shamans) were called for from the neighbouring village.
Longhaired, loin-clothed silhouettes arrived late into the night, paddling up-river in a dugout canoe under the warm moonlight. Bells jingled and their reassuring mantras bounced off the water. The chanting continued as they made their way to the sick lady's hut to sing, dance and heal.
I tried over my time in the different villages to learn about the culture, language and environment, and I hope that this video respects all three. My intentions by making it are to give a digital voice to the obvious and resonating protest in Mentawai.
The people of Mentawai, especially those of the traditional persuasion are easily the most welcoming, humbling and richest of communities I have come across in my travels. I believe they (like many indigenous cultures) represent a time and a world that demands respect for the natural environment, community and balanced spirituality. Theirs is a paradigm long forsaken by the modern trappings of big cities and belligerent profit margins.
Information is not always easy to obtain, but to my knowledge many areas within Mentawai have in 2014, managed to deter the palm oil companies, whilst other villages are still in negotiations. Other villages still have relinquished traditional titles of the land, and have consequently been locked into development concessions that render the land in question 'State owned'.
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