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THE MENTAWAI SPIRIT

Although impossible to convey here the depths of what an indigenous people lose when displaced from their land and culture, I’d like to share with you a few observations alongside a series of photographs captured by friend and photographer, Chris Hopkins.

The aesthetic contrast between the resettled and non-resettled peoples in Mentawai was what first grabbed my attention – in particular, the state of the environment they lived in and the way they cared for and interacted with it.

The Sikerei (shaman) had explained to me how sacred the land was to them and that they decorated themselves with leaves, flowers, colours, tattoos etc. to entice good, happy spirits to remain in and around their bodies; which, whilst awfully enchanting, did seem a rather fanciful motive to beautify oneself. Where were these spirits and what did they look like?

After many years living between both resettled and non-resettled indigenous Mentawai people, I gradually came to recognise those from the remote forest regions by the way they held themselves – their relaxed persona, cheeky grin, warm look in their eyes, and often VERY lengthy handshakes. The ‘spirit’ in these people was very much alive. Whereas, comparatively, for those who’d lost touch with their culture, land, and in many ways their identity, the glow – at best – was fading away.

These spirits acknowledged by indigenous Mentawai – be your interpretation metaphoric or otherwise – permeate throughout these tribes-people, their culture and the surrounding forests, as though they are the forest, and the forest them. Beyond aesthetics, it now appears to me that the leaves, flowers and other forest totems they adorn themselves with is not at all a fanciful notion, but in fact a recognition of their health, wellbeing and wholeness that is only apparent because of this relationship. Their connection to indigenous culture and the land is what shields them from poverty, and their right to teach and learn about it should never be repressed.

Further information about the Mentawai and their initiative to prevent the devastating loss of their culture and spirit at the following link – Indigenous Education Foundation (IEF).

AS WORLDS DIVIDE FILM LAUNCH AND #WAFSAC CAMPAIGN

Thank you to everyone who attended the As Worlds Divide film premiere event last Friday, the 24th of March. The level of support and generosity for Suku Mentawai and the ‘watch a film, save a culture’ #wafsac campaign was truly inspiring. Together, we raised $20,000 for their cultural and environmental-based indigenous education program (CEEP).


We’d also like to extend our thanks to the Indigenous Education Foundation (IEF) and their team of volunteers for their support in making it such a wonderful evening. This was highlighted by their commitment to bring the stars of the film, Director of Suku Mentawai’s CEEP, Esmat Wandra Sakulok, and Manager, August Tonggiat, out from the Mentawai Islands. A real privilege and honour to have them at the launch and here in Australia.


Moving forward and the #wafsac campaign is now underway, with 27 individuals already offering to host their own screening of the film in their home, office or club. Through this, we’ve raised an additional $4,500 in donations and expanded our team of project ambassadors to over 250 members.

Our hope and aim is to build this community to 5000 in time for the global premiere and launch of our 30-day online campaign later this year. For more information about upcoming screenings and how you can be involved in this exciting initiative, visit: www.iefprograms.org/wafsac



Once again, thank you to our key partners, event sponsors and also to photojournalist, Chris Hopkins, who is donating all profits from the sales of his Mentawai portrait series (exhibited on the night) to Mentawai’s CEEP. A limited number of these prints are still available online at www.iefprograms.org/photography


Further announcements to come, but in the meantime please enjoy a selection of photographs taken at the event by Matt Hannon, Lewi Haskins, and Juzzy Kane. Huge thanks to all involved.














FILM PREMIERE – DON’T MISS OUT ON TICKETS

For those of you wanting to attend the As Worlds Divide film premiere this Friday but who are planning to purhase tickets at the door, we’d advise you pre-book so as to avoid missing out. There are only 46 tickets left (capacity of 320) and, given the rate they are selling this week, there is a strong possibility there won’t be any available on the night. If this relates to you, please book at www.asworldsdivide.eventbrite.com.au

Thank you and look forward to sharing a great evening with you all.

AS WORLDS DIVIDE PREMIERE, TICKETS ON SALE

We’re proud to announce that tickets to the premiere of our feature documentary film, As Worlds Divide, are now on sale.

This event will take place at Deakin Edge, Federation Square on March 24th and will also celebrate the launch of our new charity, Indigenous Education Foundation (IEF), ‘watch a film, save a culture’ #wafsac campaign and a cultural / photographic exhibition.

For further details and to purchase your tickets, please visit www.asworldsdivide.eventbrite.com.au

All proceeds from this event go directly toward Mentawai’s indigenous educational solution, so by simply attending and learning about the threats to their culture you’ll actively be helping to save it.

For those wishing to send an invitation to friends via email, please download a PDF copy here.

We look forward to sharing this film and their story with you. Thank you for your support and contribution. See you there!

WE’RE PREMIERING THE FILM, SAVE THE DATE!

We’re elated to announce that our feature documentary film, As Worlds Divide, will be premiering at Deakin Edge, Federation Square (Melbourne CBD) on the evening of March 24, this year.

Further details about this exciting event will be made available very soon, but for now please SAVE THE DATE! (and prepare travel plans).

This film project began over 9 years ago… a bewildering thought. Thanks again for your support along the way and truly hope to see you all there.

PREPARING OUR FILM’S RELEASE CAMPAIGN

These past few months we have been busy researching and developing a strategy to release our feature documentary film, As Worlds Divide. Our primary objective is to utilise the film’s release to help fund the 10-year implementation of Suku Mentawai’s Cultural and Environmental Education Program (CEEP) – and thus prevent the loss of their precious Indigenous knowledge.

Last Tuesday we gathered a team of friends and volunteers to discuss the campaign strategy and content, and to screen the film. The response was extremely positive and the first phase of our campaign is underway. All going well, As Worlds Divide will be launched mid to late March… this year.

As part this strategy we’d like to offer you, our supporters, an opportunity to host your own ‘preview’ screening of the film in the lead up to its launch. The purpose of this is to grow our team of project ambassadors, broaden our network, and unite our community to push this campaign globally.

For this to succeed, we need you – the friends, family and supporters who have been a part of this project over the past 8 years – to now step forward, take action. If you are willing to host a small screening or help spread the word by forwarding our campaign content on to your contacts in March/April, please register your details via this link.

Big things to come. It’d be truly great to have you all involved. Thank you.

MENTAWAI TEETH SHARPENING RITUAL

It has been quite an extraordinary month here in Mentawai, and one particular reason for this was baring witness to a ritual I’d presumed had long been extinct: the sharpening, or chiseling of human teeth.

There are various theories pertaining to the actual purpose for this act and, depending on the region you make your enquiry, perhaps all have some element of truth. For example, here (in Sarereiket, Siberut), it appears they do consider this a form of beautification; with the term ‘makolou tubum’ used as a compliment to the new modification – insinuating that that person’s physical appearance is most fitting.

I’ve heard of more practical reasons too, such as the ease of breaking down solid foods to enable babies a means to digest, which also seems plausible.

Interestingly though, the purpose I found most commonly referred to during this particular event was that their sharpened teeth actually last much longer! An abstract alternative to the (costly) dental products and services available in the West, it seems.

Whatever the case, it was a truly fascinating procedure to observe and so I made a point of filming a few key moments, hoping to give you a sense of the experience. This can be viewed here:

Australian photojournalist Chris Hopkins was also present and has provided us a couple of his beautiful black-n-white ‘b-roll’ images to further enrich the post (featured above). His final selection and series of Indigenous Mentawai photos will be available to the public early next year during the lead up to the launch of our film, so keep an eye out.

In other news, we met with the head of Mentawai Government and select departments to present Suku Mentawai’s Cultural and Environmental Education Program (CEEP) and a responsible, ecotourism strategy to help them sustain it. The response was even greater than expected, making this film and your support even more crucial! Please read the latest update at sukumentawai.org/government-support

I’ve now returned to Australia and we’re busy building the film’s release strategy/campaign, which is coming together well. We plan to launch this campaign early next year, which is exciting, but there is a lot to do to achieve this and so I’ll leave it there for now. Thanks again.

FILM OUTREACH STRATEGY

I have been a little inactive here these past few months, but for good reason. Having finally finalised the film’s production – yes, very happy – it has provided some much-needed time to catch up on the happenings of the Foundation; namely, identifying weaknesses and planning steps to strengthen and move forward.

One key component of this planning is the film’s outreach strategy – the manner in which we deliver As Worlds Divide to you and others around the globe. If done right, there is enormous opportunity to achieve the project’s goals by way of a very simple exchange. We offer you a unique film experience and, in return, the Mentawai implement their Suku Mentawai program and prevent the loss of their Indigenous culture. It really is that simple… for you, the audience.

We are extremely excited to share the film and release campaign with you, but before doing so there are a couple of important steps we need to take. On that note, if any readers have had experience and/or hold expertise in outreach campaigning and are interested in being a part of our team, please make contact.

In other news, we’re back to Mentawai next month working with the community on a strategy to enable them a means to continue funding their cultural education program well into the future. More on this as it unfolds. As always, thanks for your patience and support.

FINAL STAGES OF PRODUCTION

Yes, the journey of this film production has been notably slow and, for those following along, seemingly uneventful at times. Almost eight years now and we’re still yet to see a film. C’mon Rob.

Contrary to popular perception – and perhaps direct sightings – I will say we’ve continued chipping away at this quite incessantly. And what is particularly pleasing about the act of persistence is that, eventually, a glimmer of light starts to appear through the tunnel. Either that or the mountain comes crumbling down and quickly crushes you. Whichever the case, the moment just before the collapse is indeed quite nice.

Here we are in the studio recording a few Foley pieces and prepping for the final sound mix, which is currently underway:


The role of this film is to raise awareness and enough funding to afford the community time and resources to implement their Suku Mentawai cultural education program and develop a sustainable system that will enable them to continue benefiting from it well into the future. Therefore, the film’s outreach/release campaign is vitally important and must be carefully considered. This is also underway.

At this stage I‘m unable to specify a date for the film’s premiere or release, but hope to do so in the not too distant, so stay tuned. Thanks to everyone who has given their support through IEF. Without your generosity and belief this film would not be possible.

SUKU MENTAWAI UPDATE

I’m really enjoying being back in Mentawai. In particular, trekking about the forest with my good friend Aman Masit Dere. He hasn’t been this energetic in years. The medicines are working and his health slowly recovering. It’s so pleasing.

Sadly this outcome is not common here for people suffering from tuberculosis. Most others that I’ve met while passing through the remote government settlements are slowly losing their battle. I feel compelled to take all of them down to the health clinic or to the hospital on the mainland, but it’s just not feasible. Nor is it sustainable.

Instead, I try and offer support by explaining their illness and the role of western medicine in a way they seem to comprehend. I tell them “there are two types of diseases: Mentawai ones, which can be treated using Mentawai medicine and healing ceremonies; and foreign ones, which require foreign medicines. Tuberculosis is a foreign disease. Please, you must trust the medicines and instructions they give you.”

My pleas are heartfelt – but not without shame. I’m asking for their trust when I know distribution of the product I’m trying to sell is not reliable. Their response is always the same: “I’m still waiting for the health clinic to send more medicines to the village.” It’s heart breaking. TB requires a 6-month treatment, at minimum, and missing even one day of the meds not only voids the entire course, but allows the bacterium to become resistant to the medication; which, if spread, would likely devastate their community.

I do visit the health clinic in the port town, repeatedly. I show them photos of people dying in the remote settlements and plead with them to send medicines more regularly. They nod with some degree of enthusiasm but very little seems to change. Clearly the TB program needs strengthening here, but the challenge is finding a member of the community or health department who is willing to take charge and action. It’s a tricky (and complex) situation.

On a lighter note – which was my intended purpose for this piece, sorry – our work with Suku Mentawai and the Cultural and Environmental Education Program (CEEP) has been progressing particularly well over recent weeks. For all the details and photos check out our update – Cultural research, education and a Mentawai dictionary – on the Suku Mentawai website.

Heading home to Australia now to finalise the film’s production. More on this shortly. Have a lovely day. Thanks.

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