Alex, a.k.a orang belanda gila botak (crazy bald Dutchman – as he’s more affectionately known to Sumatrans), was on his ~20th trip to Indonesia. His grandfather, a Dutch colonialist, was born in Padang in the late 1800s and on this particular trip Alex was searching for the house he grew up in using old photographs. Alex had attempted to visit the Mentawai tribal people a number of times in the past whilst traveling Sumatra, but was forced to abandon the idea due to tropical sickness, earthquakes and eventually a diving accident in Aceh that left him with partial paralysis. With a numbness that comes and goes like the tide, Alex battled the challenging swampy terrain with steely determination to experience Siberut like everyone else – his injury was never to get in the way of his affinity with Sumatra.
As a testament to his perseverance and having a fondness for body art, Alex chose to get a traditional hand-tapped sun tattoo from Aman Gresik of the Saibokolo Clan, the Sikerei (medicine man) we stayed with during the trip. Aman prepared the ink from ashes of the fire and punched it under the skin using a safety pin that had been carried from Padang for the task. Upon completion of the design and with the skin swollen concealing the ink, Aman handed Alex a handful of leaves with antiseptic properties to rub the area. For the Mentawai people, tattoos are made to please the soul and achieve perfect harmony with the spirits of the forest. For Alex, I’m sure the harmony now pleased was entirely within.