KAMPONG LAMBE, Indonesia — A Tokyo surgeon this week set off from Indonesia on a 100-day voyage to trace one of the paths believed taken by ancestors of the Japanese some 3,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Departing from Kampong Lambe, a small fishing hamlet on Sulawesi Island, on Monday, Yoshiharu Sekino is leading a 10-man team in two handmade sailboats from Southeast Asia along the Black Current. He plans to arrive in Naha, Okinawa, around July 20.
Four Japanese, including Sekino and two of his students, and six Mandar fishermen from a local tribe are taking part in the trip — five people for each boat.
The Black Current route is one of three paths considered to have brought seafaring people from the so-called Sunda Land area, which now includes Indonesia and Malaysia, to the Japanese archipelago.
Sekino, 60, who is also a professor of anthropology at Musashino Art University, has already explored the two other routes.
From July 2004 to August 2005, he traveled along the northern route from Siberia via Sakhalin Island to Hokkaido.
Then from October 2005 to March 2008 he took the continental route from the Himalayas via China and the Korean Peninsula to Kyushu.
“I want to explore the origins of our ancestors, whose inheritance can still be found in different places along the routes by the way they used,” said Sekino.
“So far, in all of my journeys, I only used my hands and feet as a means of propulsion, but for this trip, it will be the first time for me to create tools by using natural materials with my own hands,” he said.
“I want to experience just what our ancestors thought and did,” he added.
Interacting with local people is also one of Sekino’s objectives during his travels.
He said he was surprised last week by an 80-year-old man who, while making a boat rope, sang a Japanese song and told of how Japanese soldiers entered his village during World War II.
Sekino will take DNA samples of people he encounters on his trip to investigate their mitochondria DNA as part of efforts to trace ancestors of the Japanese.
Sekino’s hunger to explore dates back to his time as a law student at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University, where he set up an explorers’ club and covered the entire length of the Amazon to study the lives of indigenous peoples.
During his Amazon travels, he became acutely aware of the shortage of medical services for indigenous people. So, after graduating, he entered Yokohama City University and became a surgeon with a view to helping local people in the places he visits.
People in Kampong Lambe who saw him off Monday were among those who have received his assistance.
Before leaving for Indonesia, Sekino collected iron-bearing sand from a beach and cut down red pine trees in a forest to make charcoal. Using a clay furnace, he forged iron to fashion tools required to build a wooden boat.
Upon his arrival in Indonesia last year, he first explored a jungle near the West Sulawesi village of Karosa to find trees suitable for building a traditional Mandar sailing vessel called a “pakur.”
Finally, he found two “benuang” (Octomeles sumatrana) trees, which, with the assistance of 10 villagers, he cut down using an ax.
The trunks were then transported along a river for three days to the village of Muhajir, where villagers built a rough form of a boat.
The sails for the boats were made of palmyra palm leaves, which were woven in the traditional way used by Mandar sailors a half century ago.
“Each palm-made sail can be used for three months assuming no rainfall, but for this journey, each schooner is carrying three reserve palm-made sails and a plastic one in case of an emergency,” said Aziz Salam, a lecturer at the Fishery Technology Faculty of the Gorontalo Public University in Gorontalo Province.
The 37-year-old Salam, who obtained his doctorate at Ehime University and has extensively researched traditional boats, is following Sekino’s vessels in a power boat to study the journey.
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