Apr 102019

On this date in 1815 the eruption of Mount Tambora, one of the most powerful in recorded history, reached its peak. With a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 7, it is the most recently known VEI-7 event and the only unambiguously confirmed VEI-7 eruption since the Lake Taupo eruption in about 180 CE. By comparison, the explosion of Krakatoa in 1883 (https://www.bookofdaystales.com/krakatoa/ ) which produced the loudest explosion ever recorded, was a mere VEI-6 event. Indonesia has its moments.

Mount Tambora experienced several centuries of dormancy before 1815, caused by the gradual cooling of hydrous magma in its closed magma chamber. Inside the chamber at depths between 1.5 and 4.5 kilometers (0.93 and 2.80 mi), the exsolution of a high-pressure fluid magma formed during cooling and crystallization of the magma. An over-pressurization of the chamber of about 4,000–5,000 bar (58,000–73,000 psi) was generated, with the temperature ranging from 700–850 °C (1,292–1,562 °F). In 1812, the volcano began to rumble and generated a dark cloud.

On 5th April 1815, a very large eruption occurred, followed by thunderous detonation sounds heard in Makassar on Sulawesi 380 kilometers (240 mi) away, Batavia (now Jakarta) on Java 1,260 kilometers (780 mi) away, and Ternate on the Molucca Islands 1,400 kilometers (870 mi) away. On the morning of 6th April, volcanic ash began to fall in East Java with faint detonation sounds lasting until 10th April. What was first thought to be the sound of firing guns was heard on 10th April on Sumatra, more than 2,600 kilometers (1,600 mi) away.

At about 7 pm on 10th April, the eruptions intensified. Three columns of flame rose up and merged. The whole mountain was turned into a flowing mass of fire. Pumice stones of up to 20 centimeters (7.9 in) in diameter started to rain down around 8 pm, followed by ash at around 9–10 pm. Pyroclastic flows cascaded down the mountain to the sea on all sides of the peninsula, wiping out the village of Tambora. Loud explosions were heard until the next evening. The ash veil spread as far as West Java and South Sulawesi. A nitrous odor was noticeable in Batavia, and heavy tephra-tinged rain fell, finally receding between 11th and 17th April.

An estimated 41 cubic kilometers (9.8 cu mi) of pyroclastic trachyandesite were ejected, weighing about 10 billion tonnes. This left a caldera measuring 6–7 kilometers (3.7–4.3 mi) across and 600–700 meters (2,000–2,300 ft) deep. The density of fallen ash in Makassar was 636 kg/m3 (1,072 lb/cu yd). Before the explosion, Mount Tambora’s peak elevation was about 4,300 meters (14,100 ft), making it one of the tallest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago. After the explosion, its peak elevation had dropped to only 2,851 meters (9,354 ft), about two-thirds of its previous height. The 1815 Tambora eruption is the largest observed eruption in recorded history. The explosion was heard 2,600 kilometers (1,600 mi) away, and ash fell at least 1,300 kilometers (810 mi) away.

All vegetation on the island was destroyed. Uprooted trees, mixed with pumice ash, washed into the sea and formed rafts up to 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) across. Between 1st and 3rd October the British ships Fairlie and James Sibbald encountered extensive pumice rafts about 3,600 kilometers (2,200 mi) west of Tambora. Clouds of thick ash still covered the summit on 23rd April. Explosions ceased on 15th  July, although smoke emissions were observed as late as 23rd August. Flames and rumbling aftershocks were reported in August 1819, four years after the event.

A moderate-sized tsunami struck the shores of various islands in the Indonesian archipelago on 10th April, with a height of up to 4 meters (13 ft) in Sanggar around 10 pm. A tsunami of 1–2 meters (3 ft 3 in–6 ft 7 in) in height was reported in Besuki, East Java, before midnight, and one of 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) in height in the Molucca Islands. The total death toll has been estimated to be around 4,600.

The eruption column reached the stratosphere at an altitude of more than 43 kilometers (141,000 ft). The coarser ash particles settled out one to two weeks after the eruptions, but the finer ash particles stayed in the atmosphere from a few months to a few years at altitudes of 10–30 kilometers (33,000–98,000 ft). Longitudinal winds spread these fine particles around the globe, creating optical phenomena. Prolonged and brilliantly colored sunsets and twilights were seen frequently in London between 28th June and 2nd July, and 3rd September and 7th October 1815. The glow of the twilight sky typically appeared orange or red near the horizon and purple or pink above.

During the northern hemisphere summer of 1816, global temperatures cooled by 0.53 °C (0.95 °F). This very significant cooling directly or indirectly caused 90,000 deaths. The eruption of Mount Tambora was the most significant cause of this climate anomaly. While there were other eruptions in 1815, Tambora eclipsed all others by at least one order of magnitude (VEI-7 is ten times stronger than VEI-6).

In the spring and summer of 1815, a persistent “dry fog” was observed in the northeastern United States. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the “fog”. It was identified as a stratospheric sulfate aerosol veil. In summer 1816, countries in the Northern Hemisphere suffered extreme weather conditions, dubbed the “Year Without a Summer”. Average global temperatures decreased by about 0.4 to 0.7 °C (0.7 to 1.3 °F), enough to cause significant agricultural problems around the globe. On 4th June 1816, frosts were reported in the upper elevations of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and northern New York. On 6th June 1816, snow fell in Albany, New York, and Dennysville, Maine. Such conditions occurred for at least three months and ruined most agricultural crops in North America. Canada experienced extreme cold during that summer. Snow 30 cm (12 in) deep accumulated near Quebec City from 6th to 10th June 1816.

Sumbawa’s cuisine contains numerous dishes that are common to Indonesia but with their own twist. Babingka cake can be found throughout the region, but Sumbawa’s is a little simpler than others. It is made with ketan flour, a flour made from glutinous rice.



250 gm ketan flour
100 gm grated coconut
250 ml coconut milk
100 gm brown sugar
25 ml white sugar


Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Line a greased 8” x 10” baking tin with baker’s parchment.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. Pour into the baking tin, and bake until golden (about 40 minutes).

Cool in the tin a few minutes, then turn on to a wire rack and let cool completely. Cut into squares.

Apr 072018

Today is the birthday (1506) of Francis Xavier, S.J. (born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta) co-founder of the Society of Jesus, companion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who took vows of poverty and chastity at Montmartre, Paris in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Portuguese empire of the time, and was influential in Christian evangelizing, most notably in India.

Xavier was born in the royal castle of Xavier, in the kingdom of Navarre. He was the youngest son of Juan de Jasso y Atondo, seneschal of Xavier castle, who came from a prosperous farming family and had received a doctorate in law at the University of Bologna, and later became privy counsellor and finance minister to King John III of Navarre (Jean d’Albret). Francis’s mother was Doña María de Azpilcueta y Aznárez, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. He was thus related to the great theologian and philosopher Martín de Azpilcueta.

In 1512, Ferdinand, king of Aragon and regent of Castile, invaded Navarre, initiating a war that lasted over 18 years. Three years later, Francis’ father died when Francis was only 9 years old. In 1516, Francis’ brothers participated in a failed Navarrese-French attempt to expel the Spanish invaders from the kingdom. The Spanish governor, cardinal Cisneros, confiscated the family lands, demolished the outer wall, the gates, and two towers of the family castle, and filled in the moat. In addition, the height of the keep was reduced by half. Only the family residence inside the castle was left. In 1525, Francis went to study in Paris at the Collège Sainte-Barbe, University of Paris, where he spent the next 11 years. In the early days he acquired some reputation as an athlete.

In 1529, Francis shared lodgings with his friend Pierre Favre. A new student, Ignatius of Loyola, came to room with them. At 38, Ignatius was much older than Pierre and Francis, who were both 23 at the time. Ignatius convinced Pierre to become a priest, but was unable convince Francis, who had aspirations of worldly advancement. At first Francis regarded the new lodger as a joke and was sarcastic about his efforts to convert students.  When Pierre left their lodgings to visit his family and Ignatius was alone with Francis, he was able to slowly break down Francis’ resistance. In 1530 Francis received the degree of Master of Arts, and afterwards taught Aristotelian philosophy at Beauvais College, University of Paris.

On 15 August 1534, seven students met in a crypt beneath the Church of Saint Denis (now Saint Pierre de Montmartre), in Montmartre outside Paris. They were Francis, Ignatius of Loyola, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laínez, Nicolás Bobadilla from Spain, Peter Faber from Savoy, and Simão Rodrigues from Portugal. They made private vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, and also vowed to go to the Holy Land to convert Muslims. Francis began his study of theology in 1534 and was ordained on 24th June 1537. In 1539, after long discussions, Ignatius drew up a formula for a new religious order, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).  Ignatius’ plan for the order was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540.

In 1540 king John III of Portugal had Pedro Mascarenhas, Portuguese ambassador to the Vatican, request Jesuit missionaries to spread the faith in his new Indian possessions, where the king believed that Christian values were eroding among the Portuguese. After successive appeals to the Pope asking for missionaries for the East Indies under the Padroado agreement, John III was encouraged by Diogo de Gouveia, rector of the Collège Sainte-Barbe, to recruit the newly graduated students who had established the Society of Jesus. Loyola promptly appointed Nicholas Bobadilla and Simão Rodrigues. At the last moment, however, Bobadilla became seriously ill. With some hesitance and uneasiness, Ignatius asked Francis to go in Bobadilla’s place. Thus, Xavier accidentally began his life as the first Jesuit missionary. Leaving Rome on 15th March 1540, in the Ambassador’s train, Francis took with him a breviary, a catechism, and De Institutione bene vivendi by Croatian humanist Marko Marulić, a Latin book that had become popular in the Counter-Reformation. According to a 1549 letter of F. Balthasar Gago in Goa, it was the only book that Francis read or studied. Francis reached Lisbon in June 1540 and four days after his arrival, he and Rodrigues were summoned to a private audience with the king and queen.

Xavier devoted much of his life to missions in Asia, mainly in four centers: Malacca, Amboina and Ternate, Japan, and China. His growing information about new places indicated to him that he should go to what he understood were centers of influence for the whole region. China loomed large from his days in India. Japan was particularly attractive because of its culture. For him, these areas were interconnected and could not be evangelized separately.

Xavier left Lisbon on 7th April 1541, his 35th birthday, along with two other Jesuits and the new viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa, on board the Santiago. As he departed, he was given a brief from the pope appointing him apostolic nuncio to the East. From August until March 1542 he remained in Portuguese Mozambique, and arrived in Goa, then capital of Portuguese India on 6th May 1542. Following quickly on the great voyages of discovery, the Portuguese had established themselves at Goa 30 years earlier. Francis primary mission, as ordered by John III, was to restore Christianity among the Portuguese settlers. According to Teotonio R. DeSouza, recent critical accounts indicate that apart from the posted civil servants, “the great majority of those who were dispatched as ‘discoverers’ were the riff-raff of Portuguese society, picked up from Portuguese jails.” Nor did the soldiers, sailors, or merchants come to do missionary work, and Imperial policy permitted the outflow of disaffected nobility. Many of the arrivals formed liaisons with local women and adopted Indian culture. Missionaries often wrote against the “scandalous and undisciplined” behavior of their fellow Christians.

The Christian population had churches, clergy, and a bishop, but there were few preachers and no priests beyond the walls of Goa. Xavier decided that he must begin by instructing the Portuguese themselves, and gave much of his time to the teaching of children. The first five months he spent in preaching and ministering to the sick in the hospitals. After that, he walked through the streets ringing a bell to summon the children and servants to catechism. He was invited to head Saint Paul’s College, a pioneer seminary for the education of secular priests, which became the first Jesuit headquarters in Asia.

Xavier soon learned that along the Pearl Fishery Coast, which extends from Cape Comorin on the southern tip of India to the island of Mannar, off Ceylon (Sri Lanka), there was a group of clans called Paravas. Many of them had been baptized ten years before, merely to please the Portuguese, who had helped them against the Moors, but remained uninstructed in the faith. Accompanied by several native clerics from the seminary at Goa, he set sail for Cape Comorin in October 1542. He taught those who had already been baptized and preached to those who weren’t. His efforts with the high-caste Brahmins were unavailing.

He devoted almost 3 years to the work of preaching to the people of southern India and Ceylon, converting many. He built nearly 40 churches along the coast, including St. Stephen’s Church, Kombuthurai, mentioned in his letters dated 1544. During this time, he was able to visit the tomb of Thomas the Apostle in Mylapore (now part of Madras (Chennai) then in Portuguese India). He set his sights eastward in 1545 and planned a missionary journey to Makassar on the island of Celebes (in today’s Indonesia). As the first Jesuit in India, Francis had difficulty achieving much success in his missionary trips. His successors, such as de Nobili, Matteo Ricci, and Beschi, attempted to convert the noblemen first as a means to influence more people, while Xavier had initially interacted most with the lower classes (later though, in Japan, he changed tack by paying tribute to the Emperor and seeking an audience with him).

In the spring of 1545 Xavier started for Portuguese Malacca. He labored there for the last months of that year. About January 1546, he left Malacca for the Maluku Islands, where the Portuguese had some settlements. For a year and a half he preached the Gospel there. He went first to Ambon Island, where he stayed until mid-June. He then visited other Maluku Islands, including Ternate, Baranura, and Morotai. Shortly after Easter 1547, he returned to Ambon Island; a few months later he returned to Malacca.

In Malacca in December 1547, Xavier met a Japanese man named Anjirō. Anjirō had heard of Francis in 1545 and had travelled from Kagoshima to Malacca to meet him. Having been charged with murder, Anjirō had fled Japan. He told Francis extensively about his former life and the customs and culture of his homeland. Anjirō became the first Japanese Christian and adopted the name of ‘Paulo de Santa Fe’. He later helped Xavier as a mediator and interpreter for the mission to Japan that now seemed much more possible. In January 1548 Francis returned to Goa to attend to his responsibilities as superior of the mission there. The next 15 months were occupied with various journeys and administrative measures. He left Goa on 15 April 1549, stopped at Malacca, and visited Canton. He was accompanied by Anjiro, two other Japanese men, father Cosme de Torrès, and brother João Fernandes. He had taken with him presents for the “King of Japan” since he was intending to introduce himself as the Apostolic Nuncio.

Europeans had already come to Japan: the Portuguese had landed in 1543 on the island of Tanegashima, where they introduced the first firearms to Japan. From Amboina, he wrote to his companions in Europe: “I asked a Portuguese merchant, … who had been for many days in Anjirō’s country of Japan, to give me … some information on that land and its people from what he had seen and heard …. All the Portuguese merchants coming from Japan tell me that if I go there I shall do great service for God our Lord, more than with the pagans of India, for they are a very reasonable people.”

Xavier reached Japan on 27th July 1549, with Anjiro and three other Jesuits, but he was not permitted to enter any port his ship arrived at until 15 August, when he went ashore at Kagoshima, the principal port of Satsuma Province on the island of Kyūshū. As a representative of the Portuguese king, he was received in a friendly manner. Shimazu Takahisa (1514–1571), daimyō of Satsuma, gave a friendly reception to Francis on 29th September 1549, but in the following year he forbade the conversion of his subjects to Christianity under penalty of death. Christians in Kagoshima could not be given any catechism in the following years.

He was hosted by Anjirō’s family until October 1550. From October to December 1550, he resided in Yamaguchi. Shortly before Christmas, he left for Kyoto but failed to meet with the Emperor. He returned to Yamaguchi in March 1551, where he was permitted to preach by the daimyo of the province. However, lacking fluency in the Japanese language, he had to limit himself to reading aloud the translation of a catechism. Francis was the first Jesuit to go to Japan as a missionary. He brought with him paintings of the Madonna and the Madonna and Child. These paintings were used to help teach the Japanese about Christianity. There was a huge language barrier as Japanese was unlike other languages the missionaries had previously encountered. For a long time Francis struggled to learn the language.

Having learned that evangelical poverty did not have the appeal in Japan that it had in Europe and in India, he decided to change his approach. Hearing after a time that a Portuguese ship had arrived at a port in the province of Bungo in Kyushu and that the prince there would like to see him, Xavier now set out southward. The Jesuit, in a fine cassock, surplice, and stole, was attended by thirty gentlemen and as many servants, all in their best clothes. Five of them bore valuable articles on cushions, including a portrait of Our Lady and a pair of velvet slippers, these not gifts for the prince, but solemn offerings to Xavier, to impress the onlookers with his eminence. Handsomely dressed, with his companions acting as attendants, he presented himself before Oshindono, the ruler of Nagate, and as a representative of the great kingdom of Portugal offered him the letters and presents, a musical instrument, a watch, and other attractive objects which had been given him by the authorities in India for the emperor.

For 45 years the Jesuits were the only missionaries in Asia, but the Franciscans also began proselytising in Asia as well. Christian missionaries were later forced into exile, along with their assistants. Some were able to stay behind, however Christianity was then kept underground so as to not be persecuted. The Japanese people were not easily converted. Many of the people were Buddhist or Shinto, and did not find concepts such as Purgatory and Hell appealing, especially since Catholic faith confined their dead ancestors to Hell.

Xavier was welcomed by the Shingon monks since he used the word Dainichi for the Christian God, attempting to adapt the concept to local traditions. As Xavier learned more about the religious nuances of the word, he changed to Deusu from the Latin and Portuguese Deus. The monks later realized that Xavier was preaching a rival religion and grew more aggressive towards his attempts at conversion. With the passage of time, his sojourn in Japan could be considered somewhat fruitful in that he established churches in Hirado, Yamaguchi, and Bungo. Xavier worked for more than two years in Japan and saw his successor-Jesuits established. He then decided to return to India. Historians debate the exact path he returned by, but from evidence attributed to the captain of his ship, he may have travelled through Tanegeshima and Minato, and avoided Kagoshima because of the hostility of the daimyo.]During his trip, a tempest forced him to stop on an island near Guangzhou, China where he met Diogo Pereira, a rich merchant and an old friend from Cochin. Pereira showed him a letter from Portuguese prisoners in Guangzhou, asking for a Portuguese ambassador to speak to the Chinese Emperor on their behalf. Later during the voyage, he stopped at Malacca on 27th December 1551, and was back in Goa by January 1552.

On 17th April he set sail with Diogo Pereira on the Santa Cruz for China. He planned to introduce himself as Apostolic Nuncio and Pereira as ambassador of the king of Portugal. But then he realized that he had forgotten his testimonial letters as an Apostolic Nuncio. Back in Malacca, he was confronted by the capitão Álvaro de Ataíde da Gama who now had total control over the harbor. The capitão refused to recognize his title of Nuncio, asked Pereira to resign from his title of ambassador, named a new crew for the ship, and demanded the gifts for the Chinese Emperor be left in Malacca. In late August 1552, the Santa Cruz reached the Chinese island of Shangchuan, 14 km away from the southern coast of mainland China, near Taishan, Guangdong, 200 km south-west of what later became Hong Kong. At this time, he was accompanied only by a Jesuit student, Álvaro Ferreira, a Chinese man called António, and a Malabar servant called Christopher. Around mid-November he sent a letter saying that a man had agreed to take him to the mainland in exchange for a large sum of money. Having sent back Álvaro Ferreira, he remained alone with António. He died in Shangchuan from a fever on 3rd December 1552, while he was waiting for a boat that would take him to mainland China. His relics are preserved in a number of shrines in Asia.

It may seem odd for me as an ordained Christian minister to express my disapproval of Xavier’s, or any missionary’s work, and I could get in trouble for doing so with my superiors. But I am going to do it anyway. The Catholic Church (and others) used conversion to Christianity as one of many vehicles of colonial subjugation of conquered peoples. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Americas. Asia, thank God (literally), was more resilient. Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto religions etc. were much more widespread than local religious traditions in other places, and were supported by rich and powerful rulers. These rulers knew quite well that stripping away centuries-old faiths that had been their own partners in control of the masses would weaken their control, and so they resisted mightily. I also disapprove because the foundation of Christianity is love, and if a Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim preaches love in the name of a religion that is not named Christianity, it amounts to the same thing, and should be left alone.

For Xavier I have chosen the Navarrese dish, porrusalda (literally, “leek broth”) for several reasons. First, it would have been well known to Xavier. Second, in basic form it is a Lenten dish bespeaking humility and simplicity, as befits a Jesuit. Third, I love leeks. It is really a form of leek and potato soup, but with some twists. The leeks should be the dominant flavor, and many other things can be added besides potatoes. Nowadays, carrots are a usual addition, as was pumpkin at one time. You can also add salt cod or meat – as you desire. It’s all up to you as long as the leek flavor predominates.  It is traditional to use water as the cooking liquid, but you can also use vegetable stock.



3 large leeks
400 gm peeled and diced potatoes
200 gm peeled and diced carrots
2 or 3 spring onions, sliced
olive oil


Sauté the onions and leeks in a little olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot until they are soft. Add water (or broth) to cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and add the potatoes and carrots. Continue to simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked (another 15 minutes). Add more olive oil to taste and check the seasoning.

Some cooks mash the potatoes before serving to give the soup more body. You can also add a dollop of cream.

Dec 132016


Today is Nusantara Day in Indonesia. It is not an official holiday but it is an important anniversary because on this date in 1957 the official boundary of the Indonesian archipelago was declared in the Deklarasi Djoeanda which eventually led to the recognition of the principles of the Nusantara in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982. The point is that in no sense is the nation of Indonesia a unitary state except politically. Geographically, culturally, and linguistically it is a highly diverse and hard to define entity. The concept of Nusantara is an important binding element for Indonesia in the modern age, with long roots. In my experience, foreigners (especially non-Asians) have only the vaguest idea of what (or where) Indonesia is as a nation. They just know that it is “over there” somewhere, and would be hard put to name the constituent islands or talk intelligently about its history.

Nusantara is a preferred contemporary Indonesian term for the Indonesian archipelago.  It originated in Old Javanese (strictly speaking in Kawi) and literally means “outer islands.” It comes from the terminology of the Majapahit Empire which peaked in the 14th century, centered on the island of Java. The original meaning of Nusantara was rather different from the modern meaning, however; the term was appropriated and redefined in the 20th century.


The word Nusantara was taken from an oath by Gajah Mada in 1336, as recorded in the Pararaton (Book of Kings) and Nagarakretagama. Gajah Mada was a powerful military leader and prime minister of Majapahit who was credited with bringing the empire to its peak of glory. Gajah Mada delivered an oath called Sumpah Palapa, in which he vowed not to eat any food containing spices until he had conquered all of Nusantara under the glory of Majapahit.

Today, Indonesian historians believe that though the word Nusantara was coined by Gajah Mada for the first time in 1336, the idea is older. In 1275, Kertanegara of Singhasari used the term Cakravala Mandala Dvipantara for roughly the same region. Dvipantara is a Sanskrit word for the “islands in between,” the slight synonymy with Nusantara lies in that both dvipa and nusa mean “island.” Kertanegara envisioned the union of Southeast Asian maritime kingdoms under Singhasari as a bulwark against the rise of the expansionist Mongol Yuan dynasty in mainland China.

According to the Majapahit concept of state, the monarch had the power over three areas:

  1. Negara Agung, or the Grand State, the core kingdom. The traditional or initial area of Majapahit on Java during its formation before entering the imperial phase. This included the capital city and the surrounding areas where the king effectively exercised his government.
  2. Mancanegara, areas surrounding Negara Agung — traditionally refer to Majapahit provinces in East and Central Java. This area covered the eastern half of Java, with all its provinces ruled by the Bhres (dukes), the king’s close relatives. These areas were directly influenced by Javanese Majapahit court culture, and obliged to pay annual tributes.
  3. Nusantara, areas which did not reflect Javanese culture, but were included as colonies and had to pay annual tribute. They enjoyed substantial autonomy and internal freedom, and Majapahit did not necessarily station their officials or military officers here. However, any challenges to Majapahit oversight might draw severe response. These areas included the vassal kingdoms and colonies in Malay peninsula, Borneo, Lesser Sunda Islands, Sulawesi and Maluku.

The name disappeared subsequently until the 20th century. In 1920, Ernest Francois Eugene Douwes Dekker (1879–1950), who was also known as Setiabudi, introduced a new name for a proposed independent country that would be the successor state of colonial Dutch East Indies — which unlike the name “Indonesia” — did not contain any words etymologically inherited from the name of India or the Indies. His new proposed name was Nusantara. This is the first instance of the term Nusantara appearing after it had been written used in the Pararaton manuscript.

The definition of Nusantara introduced by Setiabudi was different from the 14th century definition of the term. During the Majapahit era, Nusantara described vassal areas to be conquered. Setiabudi didn’t want this aggressive connotation, so he re-defined Nusantara as all the Indonesian regions from Sabang as far as Merauke. These days, in Indonesian, Nusantara is synonymous with Indonesian archipelago or the national territory of Indonesia, and in this sense the term Nusantara excludes Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines.


Finding a dish suitable for all of Indonesia is difficult given that the nation-state covers a multitude of different cultures and languages. Nonetheless I think nasi goreng fits the bill – sort of.  Nasi goreng translates literally as “fried rice” but it is distinguished from other Asian fried rice recipes by its aromatic, earthy and smoky flavor, owing to generous amounts of caramelized sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) (sweet soy sauce) and ground powdered shrimp paste (terasi), and the taste is stronger and spicier than Chinese fried rice. That said, nasi goreng is hardly a uniform dish throughout Indonesia even though it is often spoken of as the national dish.


In most parts of Indonesia, nasi goreng is cooked with ample amounts of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) that creates a golden brownish color and the flavor is mildly sweet. However, in other places such as Eastern Indonesia (Sulawesi and Maluku), the sweet soy sauce is replaced by bottled tomato and hot chile sauce, creating reddish-colored nasi goreng. This variant is called nasi goreng merah (red fried rice) or nasi goreng Makassar after the South Sulawesi capital. Some variants of nasi goreng, such as salted fish or teri Medan (Medan’s anchovy) nasi goreng, do not use sauces at all creating a lighter color similar to Chinese fried rice or Japanese chahan.

The most common nasi goreng usually incorporates chicken and egg, however, some variants are named after their additional ingredients, such as nasi goreng kambing (with goat meat), nasi goreng pete/petai (with green stinky bean), nasi goreng jamur (with mushroom), nasi goreng sapi (with beef), nasi goreng udang (with shrimp), nasi goreng seafood (with seafood, such as squid, fish and shrimp), nasi goreng ikan asin (with salted fish), nasi goreng teri medan (with Medan’s anchovy), etc. Other specific nasi goreng recipes include nasi goreng kampung and nasi goreng Jawa (Javanese fried rice). While nasi goreng amplop is fried rice “enveloped” inside thin omelette skin, almost identical to Malaysian nasi goreng pattaya.

Aug 262015


The loudest explosion in history occurred on this date in 1883 when Krakatoa, in present-day Indonesia between Java and Sumatra, erupted. The volcano blew up and the following day collapsed in four gigantic explosions that were heard 3,000 miles away, with shock waves registering on barometers around the world. The energy of those eruptions has been estimated to have been 10,000 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Thousands of people were killed in the surrounding area from the eruptions, but the biggest death toll was from vast tsunamis unleashed by the volcano’s collapse. All told, an estimated 36,000 people were killed, although recent figures put the number at over 100,000 dead.


As sulphur dioxide and dust shot 50 miles high into the stratosphere, they cast a blanket around the world that cooled the Earth and plunged weather patterns into chaos. The dust also turned skies into fantastic colors, with scarlet sunsets and vivid afterglows. In London, the evening sky in November 1883 turned such an intense red that people thought there was a huge fire and called out fire engines.


In Norway, blood red sunsets are thought to have inspired Edvard Munch’s surreal sky in The Scream, as he wrote at the time: ‘clouds like blood and tongues of fire hung above the blue-black fjord and the city.’


The dusty atmosphere also made the sun and moon turn blue or green, and in 1884 another phenomenon, the Bishop’s ring, appeared, as bluish-white, bronze and brown, circles enveloped the sun.


I’d like to focus on the recipe of the day because it is so apposite: tumpeng. Tumpeng is a cone-shaped rice dish made to resemble a volcano and served with various side dishes (vegetables and meat). The cone shape of rice is made by using a cone-shaped woven bamboo container. The rice itself could be plain steamed rice, uduk rice (cooked with coconut milk), or yellow rice (uduk rice colored with kunyit (turmeric)). The cone shaped rice is erected on a tampah (a rounded woven bamboo container) topped with banana leaf, and surrounded by assorted Indonesian dishes. In 2013, the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy promoted tumpeng as one among 30 Indonesian culinary icons, and finally elevated its status to the official national dish of Indonesia in 2014, describing it as “the dish that binds the diversity of Indonesian various culinary traditions.”


People in Java, Bali and Madura usually make Tumpeng to celebrate an important event, but it is universal throughout Indonesia. Tumpeng dates back to ancient Indonesian tradition revering mountains and volcanoes as the abode of hyangs, the spirit of ancestors and gods, celebrated at the rice harvest. Generally now, Tumpeng is a symbol of gratitude, served at gratitude ceremonies (syukuran or slametan). After the people pray, the top of Tumpeng is cut off and delivered to the most important person. He or she may be the group leader, the oldest person, or an honored guest. Then, all people at the ceremony enjoy the tumpeng together. Tumpeng, expresses gratitude to God as well as appreciation of togetherness and harmony.

The cone shaped rice is surrounded by assorted Indonesian dishes, such as urap vegetables, ayam goreng (fried chicken), ayam bakar (grilled chicken), empal gepuk (sweet and spicy fried beef), abon sapi (beef floss), semur (beef stew in sweet soy sauce), teri kacang (anchovy with peanuts), fried prawn, telur pindang (boiled marble egg), shredded omelette, tempe orek (sweet and dry fried tempeh), perkedel kentang (mashed potato fritters), perkedel jagung (corn fritters), sambal goreng ati (liver in chilli sauce), or anything you wish.

Traditionally there should be a balance between vegetables, egg, meat and seafood. The composition of a traditional Javanese tumpeng is complex because the elements must balance one another according to Javanese belief. Traditional Javanese tumpeng will usually involve urap vegetables, tempeh, ayam goreng, teri kacang, fried shrimp, telur pindang, empal gepuk and sambal. In reality you can serve whatever you want these days from vegan to fish, but a balance is important.


There is a philosophical meaning to every part of a traditional tumpeng plate. According to folklore in Java and Bali, the cone-shaped tumpeng is a mystic symbol of life and ecosystems, and also symbolizes the glory of God as the Creator of nature. The various side dishes and vegetables represent the life and harmony of  nature. A traditional and complete tumpeng platter should contains at least one meat to represent land animals, fish to represent sea creatures, an egg dish to represent winged animals, and vegetables for the plant kingdom. Usually tumpeng is served with spinach as spinach is a traditional symbol of prosperity in Javanese agricultural society.


There are several variants of tumpeng, served at different ceremonies.

Tumpeng Robyong – This kind of tumpeng is usually served at the traditional Javanese siraman (bridal shower). Tumpeng is placed on a bakul bamboo rice container and on top of the tumpeng is placed egg, shrimp paste, shallots and red chilli.

Tumpeng Nujuh Bulan – This kind of tumpeng is served in the seventh month of pregnancy prenatal ceremony. The tumpeng is made of plain white rice. The main tumpeng is surrounded by six smaller tumpeng, to create a total of seven tumpengs all erected on tampah covered with banana leaf.

Tumpeng Pungkur – Used in the ceremony for the death of a virgin or unmarried male or female. It is made from white rice surrounded only with vegetables dishes. The tumpeng later must be cut vertical in to two parts evenly and placed one against another.

Tumpeng Putih – White tumpeng, uses white rice since white color symbolize holiness in Javanese culture. This kind of tumpeng is employed in sacred ceremonies.

Tumpeng Nasi Kuning – Yellow tumpeng, the color yellow represents a heap of gold, wealth, abundance and high moral character. This kind of tumpeng is eaten at cheerful, happy festivities such as the celebration of birth, engagement, marriage, Eid, Christmas etc.

Tumpeng Nasi Uduk – Also called tumpeng tasyakuran. Uduk rice (rice cooked in coconut milk) is used in theMaulud Nabi ceremony, a ceremony celebrating the birthday of prophet Muhammad.



May 202015


On this date in 2002 East Timor or Timor-Leste, officially the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, a country in Maritime Southeast Asia became an independent nation. It consists of the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco, and Oecusse, an exclave on the northwestern side of the island, within Indonesian West Timor. East Timor was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century, and was known as Portuguese Timor until Portugal’s decolonization of the country. In late 1975, East Timor declared its independence but later that year was invaded and occupied by Indonesia and was declared Indonesia’s 27th province the following year. In 1999, following the United Nations-sponsored act of self-determination, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory, and East Timor became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century on May 20, 2002.

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Descendants of at least three waves of migration are believed still to live in East Timor. The first were related to the principal Australoid indigenous groups of New Guinea and Australia, and arrived more than 40,000 years ago. Around 3,000 BCE, Austronesians migrated to Timor, and are thought to be associated with the development of agriculture on the island. Thirdly, Proto-Malays arrived from south China and north Indochina. Before European colonialism, Timor was included in Chinese and Indian trading networks, and in the 14th century was an exporter of aromatic sandalwood, slaves, honey, and wax. It was the relative abundance of sandalwood in Timor that attracted European explorers to the island in the early 16th century. During that time, European explorers reported that the island had a number of small chiefdoms or princedoms.

The Portuguese established outposts in Timor and Maluku. Effective European occupation of a small part of the territory began in 1769, when the city of Dili was founded and the colony of Portuguese Timor declared. A definitive border between the Dutch-colonized western half of the island and the Portuguese-colonized eastern half of the island was established by the Permanent Court of Arbitration of 1914, and it remains the international boundary between the successor states East Timor and Indonesia. For the Portuguese, East Timor remained little more than a neglected trading post until the late nineteenth century, with minimal investment in infrastructure, health, and education. Sandalwood remained the main export crop with coffee exports becoming significant in the mid-nineteenth century. As was often the case, Portuguese rule was generally neglectful but exploitative where it existed.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a faltering home economy prompted the Portuguese to extract greater wealth from its colonies, which was met with East Timorese resistance. During World War II, the Japanese occupied Dili, and the mountainous interior became the scene of a guerrilla campaign, known as the Battle of Timor. Waged by Allied forces and East Timorese volunteers against the Japanese, the struggle resulted in the deaths of between 40,000 and 70,000 East Timorese. The Japanese eventually drove the last of the Australian and Allied forces out. However, following the end of World War II and Japanese surrender, Portuguese control was reinstated.


Following the 1974 Portuguese revolution, Portugal effectively abandoned its colony on Timor and civil war between East Timorese political parties broke out in 1975. The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Frente Revolucionária de Timor-Leste Independente, Fretilin) resisted a Timorese Democratic Union (União Democrática Timorense, UDT) coup attempt, and unilaterally declared independence on November 28, 1975. Fearing a communist state within the Indonesian archipelago, the Indonesian military, with western support (notably the U.S.), launched an invasion of East Timor in December 1975. Indonesia declared East Timor its 27th province on 17 July 1976. The UN Security Council opposed the invasion and the territory’s nominal status in the UN remained as “non-self-governing territory under Portuguese administration”.

Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor was marked by violence and brutality. A detailed statistical report prepared for the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor cited a minimum of 102,800 conflict-related deaths in the period 1974–1999, namely, approximately 18,600 killings and 84,200 “excess” deaths from hunger and illness. The East Timorese guerrilla force (Forças Armadas da Libertação Nacional de Timor-Leste, Falintil) fought a campaign against the Indonesian forces from 1975 to 1999.[citation needed] The invasion was supported by the United States.

The 1991 Dili Massacre was a turning point for the independence cause internationally, and an East Timor solidarity movement grew in Portugal, Australia, and other western countries. Following the resignation of Indonesian President Suharto, a UN-sponsored agreement between Indonesia and Portugal allowed for a UN-supervised popular referendum in August 1999. A clear vote for independence was met with a punitive campaign of violence by East Timorese pro-integration militia with the support of elements of the Indonesian military. With Indonesian permission, an Australian-led international peacekeeping force was deployed until order was restored. In late 1999, the administration of East Timor was taken over by the UN through the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The INTERFET deployment ended in February 2000 with the transfer of military command to the UN. By May 2002, over 205,000 refugees had returned, and East Timorese independence was formalized on 20 May 2002 with Xanana Gusmão sworn in as the country’s first President. East Timor became a member of the UN in 2002.


The following year, Gusmão declined another presidential term and in the build-up to the April 2007 presidential elections there were renewed outbreaks of violence. José Ramos-Horta was elected President in the May 2007 election. Ramos-Horta was critically injured in an attempted assassination in February 2008. Prime Minister Gusmão also faced gunfire separately but escaped unharmed. Australian reinforcements were immediately sent to help keep order. In 2006, the United Nations sent in security forces to restore order when unrest and factional fighting forced 15 percent of the population (155,000 people) to flee their homes. In March 2011, the UN handed-off operational control of the police force to the East Timor authorities. The United Nations ended its peacekeeping mission on December 31, 2012.


The food in East Timor is divided into two categories vegetarian and non vegetarian. As agriculture is the main occupation in East Timor the staple food is rice as it is cultivated widely in this country. Apart from rice the other food items cultivated include sweet potatoes, maize, cassava, taro, beans, cabbage, spinach, onions and cowpeas. The second category of food consists of poultry, pigs and goats with almost every house in East Timor having some domesticated animals. Fish is also very important.

Cooking styles are an amalgam of SE Asian and European influences. Favorite dishes include:

Budu- A sauce of tomato, mint, lime, and Spanish onion.

Ikan sabuko- A Spanish mackerel in tamarind marinade with basil and capsicum.

Tapai- A fermented rice dish. It is sweet, sour, and slightly alcoholic.

Caril – A mild chicken curry with a roasted capsicum and coconut paste.

Feijoada – A common dish of former Portuguese colonies, it is made with pork, cannellini beans and chorizo.

Here is batar daan, made with corn, mung beans, and winter squash. It makes a great side dish for ikan sabuko (pictured).


Batar Daan


1 lb fresh corn
½ lb dried mung beans
2 lb winter squash or pumpkin, peeled and diced
4 cups water
2 onions, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


Soak the mung beans overnight. Drain them, place in a pot, cover with water and simmer until soft. In my experience there is no telling how long this will take – sometimes and hour or more.

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat in a deep, heavy skillet until softened.

Add the water, squash, beans, and corn, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, around 25 minutes. During this time the liquid should mostly reduce and thicken.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice.