Mysterious Border Crossing of the Lombok Straits
What do Alfred Russel Wallace, the 19th century British naturalist and explorer, and the fishermen of neighboring Bali and Lombok Islands have in common? The answer lies in the importance of the Lombok Straits that forms the border between these two islands and its impact on their lives.
With over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the largest archipelago on the planet. Every island has a distinctive character and culture and traveling from one island to another is almost like crossing the border into another country. Crossing the relatively narrow Lombok Straits between Bali and Lombok is indeed crossing an important border. One obvious reason is because the religion of Bali is mainly Hindu while Lombok is Sasak Muslim. Another more obscure and historical reason is because the Lombok Straits is also the location of the famous Wallace Line.
Named after Mr. Wallace, who was also a geographer, anthropologist, biologist and colleague of Charles Darwin, the demarcation bearing his name is a mysterious border that separates plant and animal species into two distinctly different groups. West of the line in Bali the native plants, birds, insects, reptiles and mammals are of Asian origin while east of the Wallace line on Lombok entirely different species of Australasian origin exist!
Unaware of Wallace’s legacy, the fishermen of the Pondok Perasi community in Lombok’s capital Mataram depend on the abundance of fish in the Lombok Straits to provide for their families. Sometimes, for days at a time, the fishermen will be out on the straits to fish for tuna. Some will stay out at sea and some will crossover to Bali and stay at a sister village, also named Pondok Perasi. The fishermen from the Balinese Pondok Perasi village do the same and that’s the reason why one of the few Balinese Hindu temples on Lombok, Pura Segara, is located in Lombok’s Pondok Perasi community.
But the once abundant bounty of Lombok Straits has been less and less generous to the fishermen. Fish stocks have diminished and more and more fishermen have been forced to take up other jobs to make ends meet. They are struggling to survive financially, something that Alfred Russel Wallace also experienced in his life. Despite his important discoveries, he often struggled to finance his travels and research or even to earn a regular income. This is hard to believe when today Wallace is considered the best-known scholar in his field and his scientific and literary masterpiece, The Malay Archipelago, published in 1869, is still much cited and today remains a modern resource about the Indonesian Islands.
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