I was on the island of Nias off the coast of Sumatra studying the folkways of the Indonesian people.
That's where the male maturity rites include a semi-suicidal leap over a wall of volcanic rocks. If the youth lands on his feet, he's eligible for a mate of his choice. If he falls, he gets all cut up by sharp stone fragments, and the girls will have nothing to do with him for another year.
Believe me, I was out there at 3:00A.M. practicing that leap until I could do it right. (Margaret Mead I was not.)
Great preparatons had been made for combination of three villages to meet for what we would call, I suppose, a "dance festival"--non-stop tribal dances for a 48-hour period. One group would dance while another ate and watched. No one slept. War dances, victory dances, cornoation dances, harvest dances, funeral dances. Courtship dances were delayed until the final hours of the festival lest some young couples get literally "carried away" and simply disappear!
Most music was by voices and drums, although one patriarch had a beat-up clarinet. Lots of chanting and wailing, both male and female.
One all-male dance was called the "Monkey Dance". About twenty men donned jackets with tufts of monkey fur all over them--short, long, black, brown, grey and white monkey fur. The chant--a low, gutteral muttering. The movements--slow, angular, warlike, with each mand brandishing a long knife.
I was on the edge of the circle when someone gave me a shove and I found myself in the group of participants! Not knowing the stpes, it wasn't long before I poked one guy right in the ribs. I thought he was going to take my head off right there! He stopped and glared at me for a long moment. Then he took me by the elbow and we became partners for a practice session. When we had finished, he bowed to me. I bowed to him.
Only, as I raised my eyes I saw two shrunken human heads at his belt!
Evidently I had made a hit by my willingness to tkae part in everything, as a few days later they chief entertained me in his home. He gravely showed me a piece of metal which I identified as a piston from the motor of a propellor-driven airplane.
Still later a young man who had befriended me took me secretly to a cave where beneath t?pa cloth covers we saw some curved timbers which looked as they had come from the ship-wrecked praw of a Chinese junk. Only, when I looked closely, I saw that these boards had been cut by a modern, mechanical saw.
I am convinced that unwittingly I had stumbled upon the answer to the riddle:
Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart, pioneer American aviatrix, who flew west across the Pacific in a single engine plane? And to Richard Halliburton, author of travel-adventure books, who sailed east across the Pacific in a new "Old" Chinese junk?
Curtiss H. Anderson