About
In late 2011, epidemiologist, writer and adventurer Elizabeth Pisani granted herself a sabbatical from the day job and set off to rediscover Indonesia, a country she has wandered, loved and been baffled by for decades. She was on the road and the high seas for a year, covering dozens of islands in 27 provinces. This site records photos and musings from that journey and beyond. See more about the project


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Equal Opportunity Kitsch

For the last few weeks, I’ve been in Maluku, formerly known as the Moluccas, famous for spices and inter-religious carnage. The hideous religious riots of 1999-2002 have left a deep scar on this part of the country. Whole communities were uprooted and there was a shift between islands as people who formerly lived perfectly happily with neighbours of another faith consolidated into single-faith blocks.

Needless to say, this makes me furious. I have never understood how people can grow to hate someone else because of who they choose to pray to, any more than I can understand hatred based on who people choose to sleep with. In the spirit of conciliation, therefore, I’m posting evidence that all religions in Maluku are equally adept at really kitsch religious art.

The Moslems in Banda Neira give us these Id-ul-Fitri wishes, complete with Arab style mosque and a Reggae Che Guevarra.

Che meets Bob Marley meets The Prophet in Maluku

At the Chinese cemetery, also in Banda Neira, we have a breastfeeding lion standing guard over the graves.

Chinese graveyard in Banda Neira, kampung Merdeka

Further south in Saumlaki, in the Tanombar islands, virtually every house has some icon or other to offer to the competition. This Jesus Sneezed fresco caught my eye.

Catholic kitsch in Saumlaki, Tanimbar

I am sad to say that the Protestants have done less to defend their title to kitsch, and I have little to offer on that score. At the risk of being accused of bias, I do think Maluku’s Catholics have made a more than adequate contribution that perhaps makes up for the slackness of the other Christians. This larger-than-lifesized statue commemorating the first Catholic baptisms of head-hunting “savages” in Tanimbar takes some beating.

More Catholic Kitsch. Baptism of the headhunting natives, Tanimbar, Indonesia


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Graffiti, Catholic style

The Blessed Virgin Mary on a hill going out of Boawae, in Flores, made me homesick for the near-identical BVM outside the Priest’s House in Castletownshend, the prettiest village in Ireland. (I wonder idly where they are produced. There’s a smaller but otherwise also identical version in the garden of the guest house I’m staying in.) As I walked up to photograph her, this graffiti outside the dorm rooms caught my eye. I wasn’t sure whether to be shocked that it was there at all, or to be shocked by how tame it is…