This is a small website offering resources for those with an interest in the Tanimbar Islands, a small archipelago in Maluku Tenggara, East Indonesia. The Tanimbar islands are made up of Yamdena, Larat, Sera, Fordata, Selaru and several other, smaller islands.


Image: Will Buckingham

The Tanimbar islands remain relatively little-known, and this site aims to provide some background to this part of the world. The site is designed and maintained by me, Dr. Will Buckingham, a writer and academic based currently in the UK. I carried out research in Tanimbar in 1994/1995, working at Pattimura University on a project funded by a Newcastle University Bartlett Travel Scholarship. I was in Tanimbar to study the work of sculptors, and on my return I wrote a lengthy report on art and Tanimbarese conceptions of time, history and change. This report has languished for some years in a bottom drawer, so I thought it worth reproducing here just in case anybody is interested.

The Old Songs

Perhaps the best way to explain why I think it was worth going to the trouble of putting this site together is to tell a story. Shortly before I left Tanimbar, one day during the rainy season, my friend Benny Fenyapwain knocked on my door. Under his arm he had a tape recorder and, on a fading tape, a recording of an old man from the village of Sifnana. This old man was a renowned singer, and whilst Benny played the tape he translated from Yamdenan, which I did not speak, into Indonesian, which I spoke well enough to get by. For my part, I jotted down a rough translation, which went something like this:

I alone sing the old songs
I alone know the old songs -
They say I am mad,
They no longer listen,
But what will happen to these songs when I am gone?
Who will sing these songs when I am dead?

When Benny turned off the tape, he told me that the old singer had died several years before, and all that remained was his fading voice on the tape. So this website is dedicated, in a way, to this old man. However partial and prone to error some of the stories collected here, I hope that they are worth retelling.

Stealing with the Eyes: Imaginings and Incantations in Indonesia

My travel memoir Stealing with the Eyes is published by Haus publishing. It has taken a long time to get there (a quarter of a century), but I’m glad to have eventually written substantial something about Tanimbar. Read more about the book here.