What I have not known for the longest time, nor did it occur to me to ask, is where exactly in Sumatra did my grandmother and her children flee from? This recent trip back to Singapore served to uncover this little family secret of mine. During one of those lazy afternoons, when my father would be sitting in the living room watching dangdut (Indonesian pop/dance music) music videos, it finally occured to me to ask for the precise location of my paternal roots. I had thought that my father would be evasive with his answer, but instead he plainly said that he came from Pagaralam!
With this knowledge in hand, I did a little googling to find out more about this place. After all, there is a great possibility that my paternal grandfather remarried and that we would have family there. But that is besides the point. The information I found was strange, fascinating and adds a little bit more mystery to the mythology of my family's past.
The very first webpage that I found describes this area in Sumatra as such:
"One of the strangest, most remote and mysterious archaeological sites in all of Southeast Asia is found in the 70-kilometer-long Pasemah Highlands of the Bukit Barisan range in southern Sumatra. Located between Lahat and Pagaralam are 26 sites consisting of carved boulders, chamber tombs and terraced sanctuaries."
This little bit of information was enough to set me off on a 4 hour long Google expedition of Pagaralam. What I know now of the place can be summarized below:
- It is very remote, and a really tough journey from any international entry point on Sumatra. Check out this photo gallery of the region that I found.
- It resides underneath an active volcanoe called Gunung Dempo (see photo below). This volcanoe belongs to the same chain of seismic activity as Krakatoa and the one that caused the terrible Tsunami last year.
- It is the site of a strange pre-Hindu civilization relics and tombs that is the subject of much archeological speculation. These strange objects take me back to the childhood stories told to me by my grandmother and father. The stories often revolved around that of "invisible forest people" who would kidnap little children if they played hide and seek. And that these children would be fed noodles that made them invisible as well. Look at the photos below, I now know where those stories told to me are coming from.
I have long held the notion that one day this family history would make a great novel or script. Perhaps this blogpost is a start :)