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  • Jana Broto

Our time in Boti

Photo by: Seof Neolaka ©

We drove up through the jagged Karsk mountains that make up the central part of the Indonesian Island of Timor – the dry season having left the vegetation brown and wilted under the unremitting glare of the equatorial sun. We were headed to the village of Boti, high up in the mountains in central Timor adjacent to the protected area of Gunung Mutis.

A Ceremonial Welcome

Ann McBride Norton, Photovoices First Director, Founder and Senior Advisor, and her husband, Ed Norton, a conservationist working in Indonesia, are given a traditional Boti welcome and presented with gifts of “Ikat” scarves in the village of Boti.

Photo by: Photovoices Staff ©

Entering Boti we found the ritual platforms in the King’s compound covered with thatched roofs surrounded by huge old-growth trees and lush vegetation, in stark contrast to the bleak surrounding countryside. We were greeted with ceremonial gifts of Boti Ikat, an intricately hand woven cloth of rich natural dyes and geometric patterns used by the people as sarongs. A welcoming chant by the village priests echoed of a distant millennium. As part of the ceremonial greeting, the men in our group were given the dubious honor of chewing betel nut – which through constant use turns teeth a deep red.

The King Grants Permission for Photovoices

Photovoices Indonesia Coordinator Saraswati becomes an honorary member of the Boti village royal family. Photo by: Pah Neolaka ©

We had all wondered whether the King – dedicated to preserving traditions — would grant his approval for the Photovoices project and the introduction of the modern camera to record Boti culture, religion and daily life. In our opening remarks, we made clear that we would certainly understand if he would say no.

Somewhat to our surprise, the King enthusiastically embraced Photovoices as a way for the people of Boti to tell their own story. In accepting the Photovoices concept the King said, “television cameras have come here, people from a newspaper and magazine have come here to try to tell the story of Boti but only people who live here really understand our lives from inside. Having cameras will allow our people here to say for themselves what Boti is all about.”

Sad Farewell to Boti

At the final photographic exhibition and closing ceremony in Boti, Saraswati’s voice broke with emotion as she gave her farewell speech and then everyone there-–all of us with Photovoices, the King and Queen and the villagers gathered around-–found our eyes were filled with tears as we said goodbye.

Boti Life.

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