A French Introduced Me to My Own Land

When he was about my age, Francois-Robert Zacot went and lived in Badjo, Gorontalo, for several years.

I didn’t even know where Badjo is by the time he mentioned it to me, 1,5 year ago. That night, he was sitting next to me, watching Bedhoyo Dirodometo, a traditional Javanese (Mataram) dance performance in Taman Ismail Marzuki. I was there to make a report and busy with my cell phone, while he was watching the dance like a seven-year-old kid watching his favorite magician.

In the book program of the dance festival, Dirodo Meto was translated as “the angry elephant.” But the gamelan dan the dancers were moving so slowly (yes, I’m writing it as if I’m not a Javanese woman). When the dance ended, that man beside me made a long ovation and said, “Magnificent! Magnificent!”    

I forgot how it starts. At the break time, we talked while walking out of the theater. He was holding his Blackberry but didn’t know his pin number. He could speak Bahasa and said that he lived in some place in Indonesia, years ago (I think he mentioned Badjo, but I thought it was Labuan Badjo in Flores). He handed me his name card, I gave mine (or not?). And I went home.

The day after, I said to a friend, a journalist focusing on cultural issue, that I met a French  anthropogist (it’s stated in his name card). She asked, “Who? My favorite is Francois-Robert Zacot.” I looked at the name card, starred at my friend’s eyes, and said, “Then I met your idol.”

And so… 30 years ago, this man lived in Pulau Nain, North Manado, and Desa Torosiaje, Gorontalo for years. Along with his girlfriend, they live together with Badjo people. He wrote his observations into a book entitled Peuple nomade de la mer : les Badjos d'Indonésie. Published in Indonesia by Gramedia, Orang Bajo: Suku Pengembara Laut(Pengalaman Seorang Antropolog). The book which the royalty he never receives (he told me).  His observation was considered the pioneer research towards the Badjo people, and become the reference for another studies afterwards.

I met him several times after the dance performance, during his visit to Indonesia.
Last year, he went back to Jakarta, looking for a networking to start his project, The Badjo Network Program.
Thirty years gone by, yet he still devotes his life for Badjo people.  

“Why?” I asked him.
“Sometimes I think of doing another project. But then I realize…no…Badjo is more important. Badjo are deserve to be helped.”
“But why?”
“Because  they are unique. And when it’s unique, it belongs to the universe. Not to your country alone.”
It was like a punch on my chest.

By the time I write this, he is still struggling for the program, trying to keep it up from Paris.
It breaks my heart when I realize that things we do for goodness, non-profit, to preserve environment, won’t come easy in Indonesia.

I admire his sincere heart and the way he feed his curiousity.
One day, when we met, he suddenly said, “How about if we go to the bird market?”
“What for?” I hesitate.
“I want to know why people are so obsessed keeping birds in the cage. And then we will release all those birds from their cages!” he laughed.

He is one of those people we often ask about our own country, our own history. 
He is just like Harry Poeze who writes a long story of Tan Malaka, or Dr. Werner Kraus who could tell a lot about Raden Saleh.

Francois-Robert makes me feel like a tourist in the land I born. 
Urge me to jump out of my office for a quest. 
And I’m glad I could call him a friend.


About Badjo :


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