Lewis the Lion could barely believe that he was arriving in yet another country on his worldwide journey: his 15th to be precise and this time he was landing on the spider-shaped island of Sulawesi in Indonesia.
After Helen had paid her US $25 on arrival for her visa into the country, he then happily met up with his friend Marion who he had last seen in Melbourne, Australia. She had some rather exciting news to share with him that really came out of the blue. Instead of the friends sitting down and planning their Indonesian adventure together at the airport as they had expected, they met up with a lovely lady from Borneo called Yulie who was of royal descent who invited them to a special royal ceremony the next day in another part of the island.
How exciting! It seemed a bit surreal and if he was honest his head felt as if it was in a bit of a spin as they were whisked away to buy some appropriate clothes for the next day.
Lewis the Lion discovered that there are many different islands that make up Indonesia, (17,000) some of the biggest ones being Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra and Papua and that each one has its own king or sultan. They are called sultans because Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country.
Before being chauffeur-driven from Makassar to their hotel in Parepare, they met some other very special guests back at the airport who shared the car with them: some of Yulie’s family who were royalty too, including an uncle who was a prince
and a cousin who was the young prince.
Lewis the Lion, for all he was king of the jungle, didn’t think he’d ever been so close to real royalty before as he saw the young prince’s big, diamond ring sparkling away in the night! The young prince was very generous too as he paid for the friends’ hotel room for two nights. How kind!
The alarm clock wasn’t the only thing that woke Lewis the Lion up the next morning but also the soothing sound of the Imam from the local mosque. He had arrived in the dead of night so it was a pleasant surprise to look out over the town and see the golden-domed mosque and the sea below.
Yulie made sure that Helen and Marion were wearing their new dresses for the ceremony.
Everybody looked very smartly dressed for the occasion and the young Prince Rendy even had a special ceremonial sword.
After breakfast the friends were then chauffeured to Sidrapt, about an hour and a half away.
They knew they had arrived as all of a sudden the car couldn’t move any further as it was blocked by a colourful sea of people. What happened next came as a complete surprise to Lewis the Lion as whilst he was admiring all the beautiful costumes of the people attending the ceremony, it appeared that he, Helen and Marion were the day’s main attraction.
People rushed up with mobile phones and cameras, snap-snapping away wanting to get their photos taken with the ‘new royalty’ in town. Westerners like Helen from England and Marion from France were clearly a huge novelty here and they certainly felt like royalty or celebrities for the day with the paparazzi all around them.
After shaking hands with many important people and dignitaries, they were ushered through under a bright cloth canopy to take their seat.
Lewis the Lion just loved the way he and his friends were greeted by these friendly people. Even though he didn’t speak their language, their body language spoke clearly of their warm welcome. After shaking their hand these VIPs would move their hand back towards their chest, showing you that they take you to their heart. How wonderful to make a stranger feel so welcome like that! On sitting down, they were immediately offered some water to drink and some salat fruit. It was the first time Lewis the Lion had ever tried this fruit and after peeling off the coarse skin, he thought the white segmented fruit beneath tasted a little like strawberries.
From their elegant seats draped in material, on the front row they could see men wearing special hats indicating their importance: members of the extended royal family or royal family members from other Indonesian islands. At the front were thrones and a ceremonial area draped in fine material gold and red with servants holding decorative umbrellas.
They were all awaiting the arrival of the most important guests of the day: the Sultan of South Sulawesi, together with his wife the Sultana and their entourage.
Just before they graced the reception with their royal presence, Lewis the Lion, Helen and Marion were invited to go and see the royal welcome. There were many people out on the streets excitedly waiting for the royal entrance with cameras and mobile phones in hand.
Horses with colourful bridles stood by the roadside, whilst dancers in bright yellow blouses and blue-checkered, bustled skirts led the procession.
They were quickly followed by percussion instruments beating a steady rhythm, whilst decorative umbrellas were held over the heads of the Sultan’s family.
Lewis the Lion knew that the Sultan and his wife had arrived as they walked underneath of a red cloth canopy, shielding them from the sun.
Girls in pretty green costumes with a Scottish tartan looking skirts lined the way for the royalty to take to their thrones.
It was now time for all the guests to take to their seats as prayers were read out for the Sultan and his wife.
Lewis the Lion hadn’t got a clue what was being said next in the ceremony but he was just happy to be there and admire all the bright costumes around him as there was a real sense of occasion. Eventually, he saw different groups of the elegantly dressed people parading around in front of the Sultan and Sultana before the ceremony seemed to be tied up quickly. It was then time for Helen, Marion and Lewis the Lion (who was safely in Helen’s bag at this point) were introduced to the King and Queen themselves. They seemed quite elderly so it was a huge privilege and honour to be introduced to them.
No sooner had they shaken hands with the Sultan and Sultana, then rather embarrassingly there was a lot of pushing and shoving as many of the guests wanted their photo taken with Helen and Marion and all in front of the Sultan and his wife! Lewis the Lion was only glad he was hidden in Helen’s bag at this point as he didn’t feel very comfortable with the situation and was only glad that he and his friends were celebrities for just one day.
There was then a mad dash for the buffet lunch where it seemed like the ‘survival of the fittest’ rule applied. Lewis the Lion reckons that there must have been between 250-300 people attending the ceremony and after he’d managed to get a plate of food, he and his friends decided to eat it outside and grab some fresh air, seeing as it was so hot in the main room with so many people. Yet again, he was bombarded by people wanting to have their photographs taken with him and the girls, this time not only with the guests but with the local villagers gathered outside too. He was already starting to feel a bit weary of being the star attraction, the centre of attention as he couldn’t even eat his meal in peace. Even though he willingly obliged to pose and smile for the photographs, he was only glad that this didn’t happen too often in his little lion life!
If he was honest, he was rather happy to make his escape into the cool air-conditioned car back to his hotel together with the girls, Yulie, Prince Rendy, Andy and her uncle, Prince
Along their way, they stopped the car to buy some traditional fruit from a stall by the roadside.
Here the seller chopped up two different types of mango so they could taste the difference. They were very sweet and juicy.
This is when Lewis the Lion saw a real pro in action as Yulie’s uncle negotiated a great deal on a bag of mangoes knocking the price down from 11,000 rupiahs to 6,000 rupiahs.
Indonesia is a country where you often need to barter or negotiate the price and it’s often better if you’ve done your research first so you have an idea of the right price. As a tourist, Lewis the Lion was only too aware of the fact that he was a target for being overcharged so it was just as well that his travelling friend, Marion was a mean negotiator too but he’ll tell you more about that in one of his next blogs.
The fun hadn’t quite ended for one day as Lewis the Lion was again treated like royalty that evening as this time he was welcomed to the state governor’s home, together with many of the guests who had attended the morning ceremony.
There was a line up again where everybody shook everybody else’s hands. What surprised Lewis the Lion was that here in Asia, women wanted their skin to look whiter and so wore whitener on their faces. That was the opposite of many Western men and women who liked to have the suntanned look, with bronzers, sunbeds and lotions. These Asians certainly seemed to notice Helen’s pale skin!
Lewis the Lion thought it was funny how people always wanted what someone else had: ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ mentality.
This time at the governor’s house there was more traditional singing and dancing by a group of performers on stage. Then the guests of honour arrived again, the Sultan and his wife. It seemed like there were more prayers being said from the main stage as different people stood up to take the microphone.
A rock group finished off the evening’s celebrations and the older members certainly seemed to make a swift get away as the music rang out loud through the night!
What a spectacular day it had been. Lewis the Lion couldn’t have dreamt this up! Yet again, he felt like the luckiest lion alive to have had such a wonderful opportunity to be welcomed by Indonesian royalty.
Would you like to be a celebrity for a day, like Lewis the Lion, Helen and Marion? Why or why not?