Semau Island (Pusmau)



Boa-Blingin (Welcome)

Semau island, locally known as Pusmau, is located some twenty miles off the Timor island harbour of Kupang. The square in the left picture shown the position of the area on the globe; if you click on this picture, you will see the image of Timor as seen from the Space Shuttle. Semau island is shown at the tip of Timor island on the lower left side of that picture. Part of Rote island can also be seen on the bottom of the picture.



Semau as seen from Kampsolo Beach

The picture below shown Pusmau on the horizon, as seen from the beach in Kupang, where the Helongs used to land. Back then (up to the mid-60s) -- when I was a kid growing up in the area,-- it was known as Pasar Pusmau or Pusmau's Market. The name came from the small market near by, where the Helongs used to stay and sold their products while they were in Kupang.

Semau islandRecently, the area is better known as Pasar Kampsolo or the market of Kampsolo, and the beach shown in the picture is better known as pantai Kampsolo or Kampsolo beach. This picture was taken while I was standing on the rock at the backyard of my brother's home. It was the home where we grew up together, where the sound of the waves pounding the beach became the lullaby all years long.




Corns, Water Melons, and Manggos...

Couting the corns while exchanging nostalgic stories Pusmau was famous for its corns, water melons and manggos. It was also the biggest supplier of fire woods and charcoals, for the cooking needs of people in Kupang back then when I was a kid. Yes, most of the people did not cook with the kerosene or electrical stoves at that time; this had always been a problem for the cooking need of people in Kupang, during the high wind seasons -- especially from the end of the year until the Chinese New Year -- when the people from Semau did not dare to set their sails.

The Helongs are believed to be the originals inhabitans of the Kupang area. However, the pressure from the most dominant inhabitants of West Timor -- the Atoni -- and the Dutch supported migration of people from the nearby island of Roti to Kupang had forced most of the Helong that occupied a small coastal strip at the western tip of the island to move to Semau islands. Currently, according to a Helong Pastor, Reverend David Laiskodat, the number of Helong speaking people is around 15,000 at most, including those that have migrated to other parts of Indonesia.









Wallace's story

Armada's Crew - Junaedi and his palUi-Assa is the town where the famous Alfred R. Wallace spent 4 nights during his search for birds while he visited Kupang back in 1859. Actually, his story about Ui-Assa was the reason why I had to squeez out sometime during my vacation to Kupang back in 1995, and asked my old pal Saul Adoe to give us a ride on one of his motorized "Armada" fishing boats to go to Ui-Assa. The picture in the right shown the boat crews, Junaedi and his pal. In the back ground you may see Kupang along the shore line.

In his book, The Malay Archipelago, Wallace wrote:"I stayed at the Here I come, Ui-Assa village of Oeassa, remarkable for its soap springs. One of these is in the middle of the village bubbling out from a little cone of mud to which to which the ground rises all round like volcano in miniature. The water has a soapy feel and produces a strong lather when any greese substance is washed in it. It contains alkali and iodine in such quantities to destroy all vegetation for some distance round. Close by the village is one of the finest springs I have ever seen, contained in several rocky basins communicating by narrow channels. These have been neatly walled where required and partly leveled, and form fine natural baths. The water is well tested and clear as crystal, and the basins are surrounded by a grove of lofty many-stemmed banyan trees, which keep them always cool and shady, and add greatly to the picturesque beauty of the sceene."












Banan tamlo, Ui-assa? ( How are you, Ui-assa? )

 Ui-Assa is the correct Helong's pronounciation, while Oeassa as used by Wallace The water is clear as crystal.... was considered by the Helongs as the Roti's pronounciation. Oe in Roti language and Oel or noel in Timor language both mean water. Most of the towns' name starting with Oe such as Oeba, Oesao, Oelekam, Noelmina or Noelbaki, are somehow related to water, either from the name of a spring or a creek or a river nearby.

During the visit, I totally forgot about the details of Wallace's naration. The only One, two, three....byuurrrrrr thing I remember was his impression about the best spring he had ever visited. After I came back to the United States and pull out his book again, I just realized that I missed to inquire about the soapy spring. That open up a possibility. If you are interested in geology, may be a visit and study the water condition will bring up some light about Wallace observation. On the other hand, if you are interested in linguistic, a comparison study on various dialect in Timor open up another possibility.






Watching the kids jumping and swimming, I realized that those kids were not born Is the focus okay? yet when I left my home town, Kupang. However, some of the elder people recognized us -- my brother and me, and we also recognized their faces and we exchanged a few old stories. But the more I think about Semau island and its people, the more I think about something that has to be done to preserve their culture. 

These are the people who has been squeezed out from their original land to a small island. A study of their past would help us understand the link, and most of these historical materials probably scattered around the world. Would not it be nice if someone from Ui-Assa or Semau island has a chance to dig on this?













Nodan Mamomamo ( Thank You )


On our way to the spring, I saw a little monument. It turned out that that 1991 National Youth Gathering was a monument to commemorating the National Youth Gathering back in 1991.

At that time I thought, may be another monument to commemorating Wallace's 1991 National Youth Gathering visit, where he almost lost his life on his way back to Kupang would have a historical value to Pusmau and her people. But may be it will take a little while, before people start to ponder its value, and its usefulness for Semau and her people.

It was after the sunset when we left Ui-Assa. The radio tower was seen protruding Good Bye Ui-Assathrough the leaf of coconut and palm trees. There were few little cottages that my brother told me were built for tourists. I really do not know, if Pusmau people really need tourism. But one thing is certain, Pusmau dialect, the Helong needs to be preserved.


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