9. The Construction of Time 2: The Jaman Pertengahan.

The jaman pertengahan, the Middle Ages of Tanimbarese history, is the age of the ancestors, of a distinctively Tanimbarese way of life which embraces, as has been noted above, both the natural and the cultural orders. This ages was heralded by the coming of the nobleman Atuf with his sisters and his slaves from the island of Babar in the West, and made possible by the miraculous power of his lance which effected the severance of night and day, sea and land, male and female, and hence set into motion the dynamics of time, change and growth. [Read More]

Crab Girl

Introduction This is one of my favourite Tanimbarese stories. It is adapted from the ethnography of Petrus Drabbe, which I consulted in its Indonesian translation by Karel Mouw. Crab Girl Once a mother gave birth to eleven sons. Her twelfth child was a daughter, but when she came to be born, she was born in the form of a crab. One day, her brothers decided to set out on a long sea journey, as young men will, and they said to their mother, ‘Bring us our sister the crab, because we want to travel with her. [Read More]


The Tanimbar islands lie in the Arafura sea, to the East of Timor, a part of the arced chain islands that leads from Sumatra, through Java, Bali and Nusa Tenggara to meet with Irian Jaya. Tanimbar is almost due north of Darwin, Australia, and lies south of the provincial capital town Ambon. Administratively it is a part of Maluku Tenggara, or Southeast Maluku, which includes the islands of Aru, Kei – Tual on Kei being the administrative capital of the district – and the islands to the west of Tanimbar towards Timor: Damar, Babar, Kisar and Leti. [Read More]

Shit Baby

Introduction This story is translated and adapted from the collection Nangin Tanemprar: Cerita Rakyat Dari Indonesia published by the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Tanimbarese friends told me that they regarded this not as a story or a folk-tale, but instead as an incident from Tanimbarese history. Shit Baby Once there lived a husband and a wife. They had been married for four years, but had not yet borne a child. [Read More]


Why I set up this site… 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 in 1995, 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. [Read More]


Stealing With the Eyes In 2018, I published my Stealing With the Eyes: Imaginings and Incantations in Indonesia (Haus Publications). It is a memoir of anthropology, art, indigenous Tanimbarese beliefs and sickness, written with the hindsight of a quarter century. The book has had some great reviews here are a few: ‘A beautifully written evocation of a journey into the village communities of eastern Indonesia, and a remarkable meditation on the uneasy business of travelling to foreign lands in search of stories. [Read More]


Get in touch

If you want to get in touch, the best way of doing so is by using the contact form on Will Buckingham’s website.


In 1994, I travelled to Tanimbar to study the work of sculptors in the islands. On my return from Tanimbar, I wrote a lengthy academic report on art and Tanimbarese conceptions of time, history and change. This report went to my sponsors and funders, but ever since has languished in a bottom drawer, so I thought it worth reproducing here just in case anybody is interested. This online version of the report is a minimally edited version of the original report. [Read More]


There are a great many wonderful stories from the Tanimbar Islands. Perhaps the most famous of all these stories is that of Atuf, Tanimbar’s culture hero who speared the sun into a million pieces. This page has has a link to three of my favourite tales. Shit Baby A story about a childless couple, and their unexpected, but short-lived, happiness. Read the story here The Sacred Pool A tale told to me by a friend in the village of Lorulun, about two young lovers, a talking fish, and the origin of buffalo in the Tanimbar islands. [Read More]

The Sacred Pool

Introduction In Tanimbar, I was told that something around fifteen people a year are killed by buffalo. An English naturalist I had met in Saumlaki had insisted that they were peaceable, even shy, creatures, and that they did not attack unless provoked. Nevertheless, it paid to be circumspect whilst walking at night…. How Tanimbar came to be populated with buffalo in the first place remains, like many things, a mystery. [Read More]