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City trying to beat time

In his encyclopedic works about the Indies dating from 1724-26, the Dutch missionary François Valentijn compares the area around Palu with the friendly beauty of his home country. With some fantasy (think away the coconut trees and mountains) it's possible to follow the author when he it writing 'flat land with black clay ... a tremendously beautiful view on the fields, these are pleasant enough on themselves, full with all kinds of cattle: cows, buffalos, horses, sheep, goats and all kinds of wild animals. They all supply an abundance of rice, since the padi (rice fields) are usually processed with the help of these buffalos. It's truly a blessed country'. But, adds the preacher, 'the way of living here is a cursed Sodom'.

In the time of Valentijn, Palu was just one of the few prefectures in the Palu valley and along the coasts, inhabited by a population that was known as the Kaili. The original settlement from where these people spread, seems to be a village along the eastern coast of Teluk Palu.

A century after Valentijn, Spanish monk Navarette wrote about being shocked by the local male transvestites or bajasa which were taken as wife by respected members of the community. Navarette was also impressed by the natural wealth of this area; people lived from bananas and produced big volumes of coconut oil, of which the biggest part was send as tax to Makassar. He also told about the absence of the wet rice culture, which was only recently introduced in the area.

In the colonial period, Palu was not a big city, but now it's a fast growing provincial capital, starting point for a trip through the Kaili area. The city is located at the starting point of Teluk Palu and is split into two parts by Sungai Palu. Governmental buildings and the airport are to be found on the eastern bank; the city center and the most important shopping area are located in the western part. The pasar is flooded with hundreds, mostly Buginese, traders which sell fish, fabrics, tools and dozens of other products. This once was the center of the city, just north of the crossing of Jalan Gajah Mada and Jalan Teuku Umar. Here are still banks and shops, but the central pasar has been replaced to Jalan Sapiri. The east of the city has its own pasar now along Jalan Walter Monginsidi, the main road that runs towards the south, out of the city.

A visit to the museum in Jalan Sapiri, near the new pasar, gives you a common view on the provinces attractions. The building, designed to the common build of a lobo or ritual praying house, contains replicas of megaliths and giant stone drums from Lore, expositions of traditional art as well as objects for general use and weapons. Especially the collection of fabrics (mbesa) is special. There are several different types of tree bark fabrics, ikat cloth from Rongkong in South Sulawesi and from Galumpang, and patola-fabrics from India, still in use for weddings in noble families. There are also local kain Donggala, dark silk fabrics with extra design or ikat, sometimes with a double ikat design. This makes the Kaili area, outside the village of Tenganan on Bali, unique in Indonesia for using this difficult technique.

In Gedung Olah Seni (GONI) along Jalan Profesor Muhammed Yamin SH, in the eastern part of the city near the foreigner police, is the place where performances of local dances are held. Ask for more information at the local tourist office at Jalan Cut Mutia. The performances are often given in cooperation with art festivals. Youth groups, which represent the different sub districts, here display their presentation of traditional dances like the dero, in new choreography.

Memories of the past

Because Palu was in fact created by the Japanese in the Second World Wart, the city looks like it's looking for a way to display her modernity instead of the apathy which many of the old colonial Dutch cities still have. There is little that reminds of the past. For example the fact that the Dutch brought their cannon-loaded ships to the mouth of Sungai Palu to demand taxes and obedience. However, in Kampung Lere, west of Palu, you can find a tomb of Dato Karama, which is said to have brought Islam from Sumatra to the Palu valley and the northwestern coast. The mosque built by him in the 17th century is supposed to be the oldest in the province. It can be found along Jalan Kyai Haji Agus.

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