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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

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.


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.


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.


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.


I’m pleased to report that the film’s post-production is now in full swing. Even more so than when I reported the same progression last year, the year before, and most probably the several years before that too. Ahem.

Jane and I have been in lock-down mode the past month working on a final cut (edit) of the film, eating excessive quantities of potato and kale and occasionally sleeping. We screened the film during this week and received really positive and helpful feedback – thanks to all those who came along.

Next leg of the film’s production involves sound / music design and a colour grade, which are all partly underway. At the same time there’s also some important work to be done on the cultural education program in Mentawai, so I’m en-route there now to meet up with Esmat and August. I’ll visit my friend Aman Masit Dere and the family there too. Exciting.

Will be back in Australia in a month’s time to finalise the film. Can’t wait to share it with you. Whilst we’re away in Mentawai / Sumatra keep an eye on Suku Mentawai or our Facebook and Instagram feeds for updates. Cheers!


The fundraiser event went really well. The day was a lot of fun and we managed to raise well in excess of what we’d hoped. Thank you for all the generous donations and support. Unbelievable.

Please click on over to for results, photographs and a wrap up of the day’s event. Thanks and stay tuned for some exciting developments regarding the film’s production. Moile-moile.


I find the fund-raising aspect of this project quite challenging and so it generally gets pushed aside in the hope that the task will just disappear, but of course it doesn’t. It grows. Until finally there comes a time such as this where opportunity and need wonderfully collide and action simply must be taken.

Fact of the matter is we need your help to finalise the Mentawai cultural education booklet and dictionary (design and printing), commence the program, and complete the As Worlds Divide film. The opportunity is that for these three months – January to March 2016 – Globalquest are willing to donate $2 for every $1 raised for the Suku Mentawai project, which is quite outstanding behaviour.

I’ve since been racking my brain for fundraising ideas that may offer you a little more bang for your requested buck, so to speak, and thought it might be enjoyable – and quite entertaining – to offer tickets to a celebratory social event in exchange for your generosity. Basically, for each $50 you donate to the cause you will also be purchasing an entry ticket to an afternoon/evening of live music, feasting, festivities, prizes, and – thanks to our major sponsor Pitstop Hill Mentawai – a chance to walk away with $2,000 cash! Hooray.

The bar – serving beer, wine, spirits and cocktails – will open from 12pm and the draw will commence from 1pm. It will be a great day out in the country. See flyer for all other relevant details:

There are limited tickets available so make your donation today to secure your chance to win. Ticket donations can be made either through the IEF donation form HERE (paypal-safe and includes credit card option) or by transferring directly into the IEF bank account:

Indigenous Education Foundation Limited
BSB: 033624
ACC: 253496

You should also know that all donations made via our Foundation are 100% tax-deductible and no money deducted for administration purposes, so don’t be shy now… double, triple, or even quadruple your chance to win!

It has been a long and slow journey, I know, but we’re almost there. No joke. Thank you all for making this possible.

*Please know that IEF has been fully accredited by the ACNC as a public benevolent institution and adheres to its stringent standard of financial accountability. For any enquires please contact us HERE


It has been a rather eventful few months in Mentawai, as is typically the case. Seemingly, there are no fewer surprises now than there were when this journey began nearly seven years ago… perhaps just more meaningful ones.

I’ve posted a few recent photographs and included brief descriptions. You may be particularly interested in the ‘chance’ encounter we had with the dinas pendidikan kebudayan, the cultural education department, in Padang.

Exciting times ahead. For now, take care and have a merry christmas.

Went back to the coconut-farming village where I first began living in 2009. It has changed quite substantially. The beach space is now occupied by a large resort and my friends have all moved to other villages or further into the forest, which is where I found brothers Sam and Carlo. Thrilled.

Cultural ceremonies and celebrations – song, dance and feasts – are still prominent throughout the Sarereiket regions of Mentawai. Pictured here is Aman Alangi Kunen and Aman Teu Marereiket.

Mentawai’s traditional tattoo culture remains strong here too. For many, the only thing lacking is a member of the community still capable of administering this ancient art – a sipatiti.

My close friend Aman Masit Dere has been ill for a number of years now and, once again, he took a turn for the worse. These lapses are becoming more and more frequent.

Sikerei (shaman) perform natural healing ceremonies but he continues to deteriorate. Whilst he remains in good spirits, giving all to protect his clan, he is slowly dying.

Masit Dere had soon stopped eating and became critically ill, so we brought him and his wife to the hospital in Padang for treatment. It went as well as could be, given the circumstances. Most important we were able to get the entire (first) two-month tuberculosis medicine, which has not yet been available to him (in this quantity) back in the islands – significantly restricting his attempts to defeat the disease.

The trip to the hospital in Padang was in fact fortuitous in more ways than one. Knowing very little about the Indonesian health system and even less about its hospital procedures, we managed – through a series of timely events and guiding encounters – to not only obtain the necessary treatment but to also find ourselves being accommodated in a building (unbeknownst to us) occupied by the cultural education department (West Sumatra). Learning of this, I revealed details about our cultural education project in Mentawai, which lead to an invitation to meet with the head of department the following day.

We discussed at length the value of cultural education and the importance and benefit of maintaining connection to native heritage. He was particularly interested in hearing about our work and all the research and documentation we’ve gathered over the years – some of which I was able to show.

The outcome of this meeting is that they, together with the Mentawai branch, are eager to work with us in developing an extra-curricular cultural education program to be implemented throughout the Mentawai Islands; which, if we can get this right, has potential to impact – not just a small group of natives – but tens of thousands of children and their families. This is great.

Plenty of work ahead but definitely a positive step in the right direction. Thanks for reading and please continue your support.


In 2008, before this journey began, I had lost track of where I was headed. I wanted to feel as though I belonged to a purpose but wasn’t sure where to turn. By the end of 2009 I had been living with the native Mentawai people for almost a year. Here I had found inspiration to make a documentary film, but exactly how I would interpret what had moved me to do so remained unclear.

Over the years this film has been chopped and changed in all sorts of ways. A number of times I’ve even thought (and written) that it really is close to completion. Throughout this creative battle though, the one thing the film has never actually been is good enough. All the same I could never walk away and so the journey just continued to evolve. Back and forth I’d go.

My hope was to share with the world what I had seen in these people – the confidence, generosity, purpose and freedom of those belonging to a culture that is both self-sustaining and their own – and to make it relevant and interesting. May sound fairly straightforward but has been quite the challenge, I must say.

I had also begun researching the impacts of loss of culture, as I’d become aware that this was quite a serious issue here too. This wasn’t to be part of the film though because it wasn’t what had inspired me. Instead I wanted to focus my story on the more sustainable aspects of their native lifestyle. If I could make a good film I’d be able to then rally enough support to help address these issues, is what I thought.

As the years went by I had teamed up with local members of the community to conduct survey activities and document the comparative behaviours between those still connected to native culture and those not. The findings were so significant that we’d also begun working on a preventative program (based on the wants and needs of the community) to address these problems. I was overwhelmed by how severe the impacts caused by loss of culture were and how important it was that I finish the film, yet I still hadn’t found the story!

I then realised that my attention – for some time – had not actually been on the development of the film. I had become immersed in this issue and in the research and development of the community’s cultural-based education program. It suddenly occurred to me that, for the first time since the arrival of this project, the film was no longer the number one priority. I felt quite relieved. Whereas for you this may have been the beginning of a year or two wondering why the hell the film-talk had essentially disappeared.

Throughout this period though we’ve been able to develop the Suku Mentawai education program; setup a Yayasan in Indonesia through which the program will run; and establish a public benevolent institution in Australia to help raise awareness and financial support, called the Indigenous Education Foundation. All of which I’d only thought possible pending a successful release of the film. Hmm, thankfully not.

So in response to the opening question, yes, there is still a film and – having realised what actually matters – also a story. Moving forward, you can expect to hear a lot more about the film’s progress as my main purpose for returning to Australia is to finalise its production. Plus also to develop partnerships and, hopefully, raise enough funding to give the native community a fair and reasonable opportunity to implement their Suku Mentawai program. All good things.

If you think you can be of any assistance in helping us achieve these goals, please contact. Thank you for your patience.


I’d like to introduce you to my friends, Aman Lappet, and his wife, Bai Lappet. They have played an integral role in my journey here over these past years. Both are profoundly wise, insightful, patient, and often childishly humorous, too.

Through being in their presence I’ve learnt an entirely new perspective on what it means to be ‘relaxed’, and the immense benefit this can provide to one’s health. They have helped me to see that, beneath the thick smog of evolution, the most fundamentally important aspects of human life still remain the same – irrespective of where you’re from.

I regard these elders, much like others around the world, as role models. People to look up to. To ask for direction. Advice. To listen to. And whilst their answers may at times seem too simple to be correct, it mustn’t be overlooked that to actually appreciate why may also be to understand the very wisdom they provide.

Basically, I wanted to share these photographs with you but also to give a little context alongside. As, for me, their portraits encapsulate and portray a sense of knowledge that has been passed through Mentawai generations for thousands of years. Also, if you hadn’t already gathered, I am quite fond of this couple.

We’re back to Siberut next month to continue work on the Suku Mentawai program, which you can follow here or through the Suku website. Thanks to those who have purchased a t-shirt or donated their support. You allow us to achieve. More to come.

© Copyright Roebeeh Productions 2017
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