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Man Quits His Life To Live With An Indonesian Tribe Who Eat Bats And Monkeys For Three Years

A man decided to quit the concrete jungle for the real-life jungle as he went to live with an Indonesian tribe so that he could document the experience for his documentary. 

Norwegian engineer and filmmaker Audun Amundsen decided to live with the Mentawai tribe when he was 24-years-old, planning to stay out there for a month back in 2004 as he had an itch for travel that needed to be scratched.

Whilst travelling through Padang in West Sumatra, he decided to travel “off the beaten track” and found something as far from his own culture and ways as possible.

He told Daily Mail: “I got to hear that these traditional people were living in the jungle on Siberut Island and I was like ‘wow that’s really interesting, I want to see that’.

“I went to this island – a 12-hour trip on a shabby wooden boat from Padang – and spent a week trying to convince someone to take me upriver to where I’d heard the tribe live. On this island, there would be no possibility to communicate with the rest of the world. It was really far away – no access to Google Maps or Facebook.

“When I got there, this guy comes walking towards me and it was a pretty exciting moment. Luckily he was smiling and we couldn’t really communicate that much but we became friends.”

Looking back on this time, the ex-oil rigger described himself as a “naive and young backpacker”.

Luckily, Auden managed to befriend the first tribesperson he came across. He was a Mentawai shaman called Aman Paksa and in return for the tribe’s hospitality, he would need to help with the daily chores and life around the bush house.

When the end of the month arrived, Auden continued his travels elsewhere and took his flight back home.

Credit: Audun Amundsen

However, when he returned home to Norway, he couldn’t shake the “magic of the jungle” from his head. He had no job and was living in an abandoned factory and then made a decision, he would return to the tribe and document his experience.

As Auden was unemployed, he would need funding and fortunately, he was granted the money from the Norweigan cultural department.

Despite having no qualifications or experience in filmmaking, the adventurer wasn’t fazed and before setting off on his travels once again, decided to learn anything he could about videography, directing the people and so on.

Before leaving for Indonesia, Auden suffered from some health-related setbacks. After having a stroke and heart surgery, he eventually managed to gather his strength to be fit enough to go overseas.

In 2009 he returned to the tribe and this time stayed there for a whole three-year stay – although he didn’t know it at the time – and there was little on the daily agenda apart from making arrows or canoes or hunting for food such as monkeys, bats and shrimp.

Upon arrival, Auden had to travel upriver once reaching the Siberut Island and in particular, he was looking for his old friend Aman. He desperately needed to be welcomed back with open arms once again, otherwise, it would be a wasted journey.

Auden said: “After a week I finally found Aman Paksa. He was still there and he was well. He had a new son, he also had a watch. Already I saw that things were starting to change in this short period I had been away.”

As he didn’t know how long he would be staying with the tribe this time, he joked to Aman that he could possibly end up staying a year. In response, Aman said: “Sure, if you can.”

Credit: Audun Amundsen

Unlike his previous time with the tribe, Auden was prepared. He had brought solar panels, a camera to document his life there and a much larger Indonesian vocabulary.

Thankfully, he had also packed some western medicine. This proved useful when he came down with a mystery eye infection that caused his eyes to turn red and his eyelids to almost fuse shot.

When reflecting on his time in the “lost world”, Auden said it was like a “timeless and long meditation” where he “simply lost track of linear time”.

He described his daily routine to MailOnline Travel: “We would wake up by ourselves before sunrise when the fog still surrounded the trees. As the sun warmed the jungle we would sit on the porch, relax, chat and drink a hot drink.

“Then we would feed the semi-wild pigs with sagu (extracted starch from sago palm). After that, we were free to plan whatever project we wanted. Projects could be to hunt monkeys, bats, or river shrimps. Making equipment, canoes, arrows, baskets and so on.

“Usually, we took a small rest midday, and then we would always have something social going on. Houses are open, and visitors often came by or we would go to visit someone for gossip and news.

“When darkness came, we sat inside around an oil lamp. I read a lot of books when I was there. Sometimes we made handiwork like knitting baskets. Days were filled with a slowvariety, but somehow time just moved on without notice.”

Credit: Audun Amundsen

During his time with the tribe, Auden learnt their unwritten language and yet still, he yearned for someone who could relate to him and who had lived his way of life to talk to. Although he picked up on their language, he noted that much of how the tribe communicated was through body language.

However, unlike his first time at the tribe, there had been a jump in modernity. Soon, western clothes were being adopted, plastic objects replaced plant-made goods and the hunger for money began. Traditionally, chicken and pig were methods of payment.

Perhaps because of this, Auden’s fairytale lost its magic as he noted that the Mentawai tribe were becoming increasingly curious about the outside world on the periphery of the forest.

Before he knew it, Auden was watching the tribespeople travel by boats instead of paddles, hunting with guns instead of arrows and using chainsaws instead of handsaws.

Although it was “difficult” to watch these changes happen, the adventurer accepted that it was the tribespeoples’ choice to taste a new and different way of life.

At this moment in time, Auden’s documentary Newtopia is only available for download in Norway. However, further distribution is being sought and any proceeds made will be donated to the Mentawai community.

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