Crew Profile

Borobudur Temple: Images of Reconnection

“Walking up and seeing this massive temple just slowly rise out of the earth as you’re coming up the hill, and then to find out that it’s two million separate blocks of stone that were put together to hold this temple together, and you find out that it was made in the eighth century and that over the last forty years, there’s this massive effort to rebuild it. It was something that unlike anything I had ever seen before,” said Worldwide Voyage crewmember Nāʻālehu Anthony.

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“The panels of Borobudur are largely from the stories in the Holy Book of Buddha, and they reflect the living conditions of the time. We believe that the stories from the Holy Book depicted on the reliefs also reflect the actual conditions during the time of carving. We know that Nusantara is largely composed of sea or water, and we believe that boats are the means of connecting between the islands,” said Iskandar Siregar, the Head of the Conservation Service Section at Borobudur Temple.

“The ships are embedded in these long plates of all these different things, and they’re really documentation of what happened. In all of the carvings, there are these expressions of these different emotions. There’s these different interactions that are happening. What was so striking about it was that these people on the ships were still wrought with emotion. You could see the fear in some of the people’s eyes. You could see, in some cases, their elation. You could see their ability to almost be a reflection of the emotions that I’ve seen while sailing on board Hōkūleʻa. And this is in these stone carvings that are over one thousand years old. There’s still this emotion packed into these faces.

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“And the mast and the sails are clearly laid out. It doesn’t necessarily look like a canoe; it looks like a ship. But the pieces that are there are all intact. There’s a mast, there’s sails, there’s a keel, there’s a tiller or a stearing blade. They had taken those carvings and actually lifted plans for an actual ship to actually voyage somewhere. But it would be built in and around that idea that this is from this very old model, and for us that sounded a lot like what would have happened with Hōkūleʻa in the 1970s,” said Nā’ālehu.

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“The Samudra Raksa ship is very interesting. Inspired from the reliefs in Borobudur, it was manifested in the form of a ship replica named Samudra Raksa. From a long discussion during President Megawati’s time, there was a desire to give pride to the nation, that we were able to do that in the past and we can do this now too,” said Iskandar.

“Part of this rebuilding of the temple and wanting to build an actual ship rather than just stare at the one that’s a relief carving in the temple is the same thing that Hawaiians and Polynesians wanted to do back in the 70s with the creation of these canoes. That whatever the modern anthropological thought that had become our reflection for us, we needed to create it and recreate it for ourselves so that we knew the truth of what it was–and it was very clear that the intent for the building of the ship was the same thing. You have this group of people who maybe didn’t know all the answers and didn’t know if this was actually going to be possible. But they did it anyway, and they did it in a way and retraced a route that gave them, certainly pride. Probably more than that being this immense amount of realization that brought more than just that ship relief carving to life, but just that whole temple to life,” said Nāʻālehu.

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“We sailed the ship all the way to Madagascar and stopped at several ports. We had several meetings with those in the localities and we found similar cultures from the languages, the agriculture, and the food. We found many similarities,” said Iskandar.

“It’s well within the realm of knowledge that these guys went on these journeys, and they did it a thousand years before all these other things that make voyaging easier–we have this luxury of having that they didn’t have. And more importantly they had the wisdom and the skill to do so,” said Nāʻālehu.

“Borobudur is very important. It is a symbol of the greatness of our past. We should continue to preserve and maintain what our ancestors left us. We should reconstruct and renovate,” said Iskandar.

“There are those who see it as this life-work to make sure that this temple is in as good condition as it can be to pass it down for the next and the next. And that it’s not something that’s static that you’re done and you leave it and it goes down to the next, but it’s actually something that you have to engage in and that you have to mālama through time,” said Nāʻālehu.

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“I feel like I was born in Borobudur, even more so because this is a legacy from our ancestors, and I feel a calling to return. I often sit alone thinking, observing the reliefs or the carvings, and I often say quietly to myself our ancestors then were not like we are now. What I mean is that back then, things were not as advanced as it is now. Yet how were they able to carve like this? How did they do it? What were the tools they used? I am amazed at our ancestors who were already as smart to do these,” said Werdi, a master mason who is restoring Borobudur.

“We say that in the Pacific, we’re sailing in the wake of ancestors. All of these migratory paths had been well-traveled between all these Pacific Islands, but I feel like because of this story and because of this quick visit to this temple, we are also sailing in the wake of their ancestors, and that gives me comfort,” said Nā’ālehu.


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