In Search of my Moyang

by Ian Lett

A sub-woofer the size of a truck tyre pounded my leg like a shopping mall Chinese masseuse. Indo pop (Indonesian pop music) blared from the multiple speakers of the minivan-taxi, with massive guitar riffs washing over my fellow passengers. Seven school girls wearing hijabs sat opposite, managing to communicate to each other, despite the deafening music. The Manager of Tourism in Mentawai, Dr Dinul Harbi, sat next to me, as we travelled to his home outside the city of Padang, Sumatra. It was August 2008, and I had come to see the grave of my moyang (great grandfather) on the Indonesian islands of Mentawai.

I had met Dinul, or Edy as he preferred to be called, while walking along the Padang riverfront. “Hello. Are you Australian? I’ve come from Sikakap” he said cheerfully. I stopped, wondering who this well-dressed man with a gentle smile could be. Wearing patent leather shoes and a large gold ring, he stood out from the traders and travelers at the city’s main port. How had he guessed my nationality? Was it a coincidence that he had come from the tiny Mentawai village I was booked to sail to the next day?

My moyang (great grandfather), missionary August Lett

I revealed my intention to visit the grave of my moyang, missionary August Lett. Edy’s demeanour changed as he solemnly told me that it had been a misunderstanding that led to the killing of August Lett. The missionary had used the word ‘father’ in a way which was forbidden in the Mentawai culture. August was referring to the Holy Father, but the Mentawains thought that he was evoking the ‘spiritus’ of the late father of a local man. The misunderstanding led to August being stabbed multiple times while visiting a village in Mentawai’s South Pagai Island. He died many hours later, in the arms of his wife Dora.

Edy took my hand, and we walked along the river, hand in hand. It was a friendly gesture, but it felt strange to be holding the hand of a man I had met just moments earlier. An hour later we arrived at his house in a rural village where roosters crowed in the street, and where I met his wife and four children. Dishes of chilli-encrusted carp, rendang and nasi goreng were placed on the table in front of me. I was embarrassed to find that all this food was for me. The familiy waited while I ate, but I realised that the remaining food would be eaten by the family later. As I ate Edy wrote a letter of introduction to his uncle in Sikakap. His name, Mr Gunter, is also my second name. I knew I was in the right place.

Beef rendang

Jurgen’s story

by Jurgen Lett

A fertiliser silo exploded a few kilometers from my grandfather’s flower nursery. The family were picking flowers for the market when the blast knocked them all to the ground. Several lost consciousness. When they came to they found a huge boulder amongst the flowers. The glasshouses were destroyed. My mother, Martha Genaehr, was 18 years old.

The family belonged to the United Evangelical Mission (VEM) and several family members had worked as missionaries in China and Indonesia (former Dutch East Indies). They asked the church if they knew someone who could redesign the glasshouses. Ernst Lett arrived at the front door. Remarkably, he lived in the family home while the glasshouses were being designed and built. Ernst became part of the family, and later became friendly with Martha. While they were keen on each other, it was over ten years before they were married, mainly because they could not afford a wedding and setting up a house.

Ernst Lett, brick layer, master builder, architect, building inspector

Ernst was required to study architecture and learn a trade as part of his training as a Baumeister (master builder). He chose the trade of bricklayer, and here can be seen on the tools. Note the wooden clogs. He later worked as a building inspector for the City of Wuppertal, with an office in the town hall. Ernst was born in 1900 and this photo was taken in the 1920’s.

Martha was born in 1903 and had six sisters and five brothers. She worked as an au pair in Utrecht, Netherlands while she was single. All of Martha’s brothers played brass instruments and on Ernst’s birthday they stood outside his bedroom and play for him. Not wanting to miss out, Ernst jumped out of bed, climbed through the bedroom window and ran around the back of the house. He stood behind the brass quintet and played with them on his cornet, for his own birthday.

Cornet aka piston