EPS Review #13 - The Ring of Fire

by Lawrence Blair and Lorne Blair

Tom recommended Ring of Fire because he liked the TV series (available as DVDs on Amazon). The book is a large one full of excellent photographs, so you might think that, like other coffee table books or National Geographic, its text would be merely something to keep the pictures apart. But instead this is one of the most interesting travel books about Indonesia you are likely to read, the result of ten years wandering around the islands.

It starts off with Lawrence telling about how his house burned down with all his films and slides. Then he mentions some of his hippie theories about light and life (he teaches "psycho-anthropology" in, where else, Southern California). In fact, his time in Indonesia started at an Ashram with his mother.

The first episode is about a big funeral festival in Torajaland, and a mysterious calling of eels. The next is about sailing with the Bugis (the original Bogeymen) to the island where the Bird of Paradise lives, via the spice (nutmeg) island of Banda:

The wind was now blowing some fifteen feet above the surface, catching our sails and pushing us through a water so unruffled that only our bow-wave disturbed it. Often mentioned in sailing literature, this experience is like being drawn through the water by an angel, give the impression that the ship is no more under a mariner's control than the path of his destiny.

In Banda they also tried to night-film the "laweri" fish, with "... eyes as luminous as five-watt bulbs...Since its eyes continue to glow fiercely for days after it has died, the locals use them as bait for night-fishing. They were also used as bedside night-lights for Bandanese children afraid of the dark. How consoling, we thought, to awaken from a nightmare to the benevolent gaze of luminous eyeballs drifting in a drinking-glass next to one's bed." But they failed, though in describing the attempt they show that words can still have the edge on film

Next comes an episode about the tribes of West New Guinea. Boring old headhunters seem a letdown after the preceding chapters, but then Lawrence and Lorne, er, suck on their hostesses' breasts and (in their opinion) conclusively solve the mystery of Michael Rockefeller's death. They later return on the Lindblad Explorer with rich tourists, who are in no way pleased to find dead bodies all over the place, as a headhunting raid has just taken place.

The chapter on Komodo dragons is amusing: "...opened his mouth, and embalmed me with a rising miasma of suppuration."

We're not done yet! Next they go to Borneo, have a truly beautiful experience with the Punan in the interior (the pictures of the native girls playing water music with cupped hands are lovely), and get tattooed.

The last chapter ends with some real gee-whiz paranormal experiences. I love these guys. I was very sorry to hear Tom say he thinks one of them died later. I was hoping to spot them on a train one day.