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Komodo Dragon Island


Rudi Van Reijsen


Chapter One
Overcoming the antagonism of prahu-masters and carpenters, a malaria epidemic, dysentery, beri-beri, the author determinedly builds a Celebes prahu, a 50 ft Indonesian sailing boat modelled on the Portuguese caravel. After a six-months battle, twelve ceremonies attend the launch of the Bintang (Star) from Bira, as the author begins his last voyage through the Lesser Sunda Islands in 1937.

Chapter Two
Wandering from island to island, the author encounters volcanoes, poisonous snakes and learns the art of commanding a five man crew of local sailors and cook. On the north-east coast of Sumbawa he visits Bima and tells about the Sultan's Holy Horse. He buys bait - a goat, chicken and flying foxes - for the dragon-lizards he intends to meet on the island of Komodo.

Chapter Three
The author, always interested in geographical peculiarities, notices a highly unusual phenomenon in the middle of the sea! The long line of Lesser Sunda Islands separates the Flores Sea from the Indian Ocean, creating strong tidal streams in the narrow straits that separate Sumbawa from Komodo (Sapeh Strait) and Komodo from Rintja (Linta Strait). Twice a day these create a waterfall of 5 to 6 feet in the middle of the sea, between two rocky islets. The author then lands on Komodo and builds an observation platform on a tree from which hangs the bag of smelly dragon bait.

Chapter Four
First observations about the Komodo dragon lizards. Later he explores the island, looking for fresh water sources. He meets Sumbawa hunters who accept to trade fresh meat - for him, his crew and the dragons - for rice.

Chapter Five
The dragons' behaviour and habitats are described in detail. All are less than one-half the size mentioned by some reference books.

Chapter Six
A scratch from thorny bamboos on the author's leg is infected by swarms of flies. He sails to Flores to visit the hospital at Roeteng, in the west-central hills. While recovering, he reads in the papers about a Dutch expedition in southeast Komodo and a Swedish expedition in the southwest, both aimed at observing the giant lizards.

Chapter Seven
On Flores, the author meets Warner Bros director Gerald J. Marfleet and his assistant G. G. Weskin, takes them aboard the Bintang to Komodo, and leads them around. Marfleet takes many shots of the island, of the ship and of the dragon-lizards. Two years later, in Batavia, the author sees a Warner Bros movie which incorporates these scenes.

Chapter Eight
More travels on Komodo and examination of the site of the Swedish expedition, which appears to have been supplied with much heavy and unnecessary equipment.

Chapter Nine
The author describes a wedding ceremony on Komodo and similar ceremonies elsewhere in the islands. Tales of strange customs, about pregnancy and childbirth on the islands, the practices of Badjau fishermen (the "sea gypsies") and how to avoid wild boar and buffalo.

Chapter Ten
More wandering around Komodo and adjacent islands, where the author and his crew catch a shark by a very unusual method. While searching for fresh water sources, the author comes across the Swedish team's elaborate second settlement.

Chapter Eleven
Dr. Monno has built a small village, including a stadium where he observes the captured dragons. The author ironically demolishes Dr. Monno's assertions, printed in the Swedish and Javanese newspapers, about the dragons' extraordinary size and aggressiveness.

Chapter Twelve
A blow-by-blow account of a canoe trip around Komod, where the author, assisted by a foursome of experienced local sailors, describes the waterfall in the middle of the sea and survives an enormous maelstrom near Toro Mangi.

Chapter Thirteen
After his lucky escape from the whirlpool, the author is reminded of other experiences with whirlpools (including one described by Joseph Conrad). The author offers tips on wild fruit, fake turtle tracks, and how to erect shrines and make offerings to local gods.

Chapter Fourteen
After helping a local police inspector solve the "mystery of the trader's trousers", a real occurrence aboard a trading vessel, the author, in a Badjau canoe, visites Rintja and Padar to explore their dragon reserves.

Chapter Fifteen
Back on Komodo, the author feels the first symptoms of what later is to be diagnosed as Weil's disease. Disregarding his worsening condition, he carries on observing the dragons. He builds a kind of circus ring and makes a hundred photographs of young dragons jumping through a hoop to reach bait. He holds a "farewell party" with the dragons and finally sets sail for Flores to see a doctor.

Sanctified by a standard scientific work, a hoax grew into a myth.

The book, Komodo, Dragon Island by G.E.P Collins, is privately published by Editions Clepsydre, Belgium, and may be purchased from Rudi Van Reijsen (nephew of the author).

© Marfleet Family History 2004
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