From Sumatra to East Timor and beyond, An Empire of the East is a fascinating look at a rapidly changing island nation
In An Empire of the East, renowned travel essayist Norman Lewis takes readers to Indonesia, where some thirteen thousand islands in the South Pacific are each colored with their own unique cultures and histories. With more than three hundred ethnic groups speaking two hundred fifty languages, the warmth and generosity of the island people is matched only by the country’s complicated political and social landscape. Lewis’s account tells of a country whose remarkable cultures—as well as its flora and fauna—are increasingly shaped by the waves of modernity and global tourism.
British travel writer Lewis ( A Dragon Apparent ) made a series of brief forays in 1991 into little-traveled areas of Sumatra, East Timor and Irian Jaya, parts of the 3000-mile-long Indonesian archipelago, where the government's drive toward a market economy and increased tourism is homogenizing, and at times decimating, 300 ethnic groups speaking 250 languages. He explored by helicopter, bus, dilapidated taxi and on foot, often guided by locals who knew only the rudiments of English, while his accommodations ranged from the offerings of hospitable tribes to old village inns of the vanished Dutch empire refurbished for the tourist trade. He watched an exercise in tribal war games; observed efforts to preserve Stone Age agricultural practices on ruined land; and visited a mountain of almost solid copper where an American mining company, by great engineering feats, built roads to its alpine top and disembowelled the mountain itself. And Lewis found a pervasive missionary presence everywhere. His observations are delivered with passion, high color and disturbing effect.