Borneo, the third largest island in the world. It is a remote island, a land of adventures, and the inheritor of pirate kingdoms and Arabian sultanates. Like veins in a living and changing body, the rivers of Borneo run to the beat of this chaotic jungle spreading in all directions. This continues until they are stopped by the emphatic hand of man and progress. Banjarmasin is located in one of these open arteries taking the form of a vast swampy region where the waters from the rivers and the sea meet and hug again. It is the largest city in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island.
This is a piece of land totally carved by channels and rivers of various sizes. Some of them tiny and mysterious, sailed by vendors who cover their faces in home-made rice make-up. They dress with hundred-colors outfits on their primitive canoes, carrying tropical and wild-shaped fruits.
An old lady calls one of these saleswomen from her floating house. The house is a jigsaw made of enormous logs, that miraculously hold up one another. The whole hows sways up and down to the movement of the river. A channel vendor slowly approaches with her canoe. She gives her customer some fruit in exchange for a few coins and goes on with her business journey. A journey of petty money but perhaps enough for a decent life.
Banjarmasin channels wake up at six in the morning with the sound of the neighbors who have their morning bath in the surrounding water. The banks are crowded with cute-looking girl teens wrapped in colorful sarongs. They practice the delicate art of washing themselves without displaying any body parts in a rather permissive Islam atmosphere. Sweet and captivating faces, shiny-skinned bodies contrast with old and decrepit dwellings and with the disorder of waste that surrounds everything.
Parents bathe with their children in front of their houses just to kill time and enjoy their spare time. It’s the same spare time that kills them of boredom. It is a paradoxical situation: the spare time that the economy provides them with, is also the source of many shortages as well.
Eventually so much energy and joy overwhelms us and suddenly we arrive in the surroundings where a huge marsh dresses up with the color of the floating plants. Dusk is settling in.The light dims and the green is highlighted by the quiet mood of stealthy and vague waters.
Late in the afternoon, coming from everywhere, children reign in the city of water. They jump from bridges, from their own houses or from their neighbors house getting hold of the boats that sail down, being taxied to their friends’ place. They splash around, playing imaginary sea battles and affectionately smile to the casual foreigner who sails down the channels watching them in astonishment.
Parents bathe with their children in front of their houses just to kill time and enjoy their spare time. It’s the same spare time that kills them of boredom. It is a paradoxical situation: the spare time that the economy provides them with is also the source of many of their shortages as well.
Banjarmasin fishermen throw their nets. Father and son go out together to gather food from the water. This is the place where life’s economic and material precariousness meet, making humans more human. This is the island whose heart beats suffocating, the ancient lung of the world that man has uprooted to manufacture furniture and extract palm oil.
The Earth is suffocating. Without making any radical changes to the way we exploit our resources, we may one day find ourselves in our acclimatized rooms yearning for a blow of fresh air from the shadows of those giant trees of yesteryear, dreaming of Kalimantan.