Archive for June, 2013

Review ‘Licht- und Schattenbilder aus dem Innern Javas’ by Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn

Posted in Books, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , on June 28, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Die Einführung des Christenthums auf Java

Based on the edition:

Licht- und Schattenbilder,


Erzählungen und Gespräche

über die

Einführung des Christenthums auf Java,


Über den Charakter, den Bildungsgrad, die Sitten und Gebräuche der Javanen

Full title:

‘Licht- und Schattenbilder aus dem Innern von Java. Über den Charakter, den Bildungsgrad, die Sitten und Gebräuche der Javanen; über die Einführung des Christenthums auf Java, die Freigebung der Arbeit und andere Fragen der Zeit. Erzählungen und Gespräche, gesammelt auf Reisen durch Berge und Wälder, durch die Wohnungen der Armen und Reichen, zwischen den Gebrüdern TAG und NACHT, mitgetheilt von Dr. F. Junghuhn.’

Amsterdam, 1858

The first edition was published 1854 in Amsterdam.

A Philosophical Dispute

In his 1854 written book Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn depicts a hike of two Westerners in the Javanese countryside. Arriving in Gnurag, a Javanese village at dusk, sitting outside in the nature there he is telling a conversation between the two whom he calls ‘Day’ and ‘Night’, who stands for two different philosophical positions. Day is a natural scientist (representing Junghuhn’s position following widely the concept of the European Enlightenment), while Night is a religious Christian. Their discussion is about the ‘truth’; Night starts it with a couple of conventional Christian theses.

Day is objecting and claiming that the whole religious doctrine of Christianity is an invention to keep certain people and the church in power, while they commited huge crimes and atrocities in the name of their religion.

Night proposes that the reason for European domination over the world and the fact that European civilization is the most advanced in the world (at the time) is based on the Christian religion, while Day points out that Christianity delayed science and progress in European societies, trying to keep the people under oppression and superstition, threatening and killing freethinkers and scientists like Galileo Galilei.

It’s very interesting to read that Junghuhn is arguing in a racist way when it comes to the question of European domination over the world. He let’s Day say that the Caucasian race has a better developed brain (a bigger head, according to the 19th century skull measurements) and that other races like ‘Negros’ and other Aborigines have more limited mental capacities. Lowest in world’s rank are for him the Australian Aborigines. In a later part of the book he elaborates these ideas.

He also explains the European, moderate climate with it’s four seasons as inspirational for humans (he doesn’t mention the idea that a sophisticated planning and organizing of provisions is a very condition for northern people to come over the long winters and that this promotes the capability of anticipation what the People of Southeast Asia lack so much). Besides, he says, Europe’s geography with it’s long coastlines, rivers and lakes were a reason to favour traders and explorers.

A Tiger’s Attack

Late at night the village is in alarm. A tiger, who a few days ago killed a villager, approaches again and killes a goat. Day and Night go together with the villagers and kill the tiger with guns and spears. After the animal is dead, the widow of the killed villager beats the corpse and bites it. Other village women and children follow her example and sting the dead body with knifes and machetes until it’s almost torn into peaces.

Junghuhn writes at this point, that the Javanese forests would swarm with tigers. That’s in contrast to what Friedrich Gerstäcker wrote in his book ‘Java‘ (1851); Gerstäcker mentioned that the Javanese tigers were already seldom and mostly hidden deep into the jungle. Maybe that’s because Gerstäcker travelled only the part between Batavia (Jakarta) and Bandung, what was the core of the Dutch colony, connected with the best road of the time, while Junghuhn travelled deep into Java, where things were probably different. The Javanese tiger is meanwhile extinct (since 2003).

An Unchristian Dream

This night Day dreams of a congregation of clergymen anywhere in a European country. They fear a loss of influence and make up a certain plot respectively conspiracy to deceive the people and to keep themselves in power. The ages old politics of the Christian churches, particularly the Catholic church, is revealed here as mere fraud.

In the second part of the dream Day has a talk to the ‘real’ Jesus of Nazareth (as he sees him). In this dream Jesus appears as a real human with the best intentions and is complaining about all the distortions and abuses which the Christian elities and clergymen made of his live story later on. Particularly the wonders like resurrection didn’t happen, as Jesus tells.


On the next day the both don’t find locals to carry their baggage. They have an official paper from the Dutch authorities with them which allows them to order the Javanese village headmen to grant them carriers for free, but they don’t want to use this mean. They always try to get servants whom they pay for their service. In any village they reach, the servants will go back to their home village and they have to find new ones from the village where they are now. In Gnurag now they fail and have to send a messenger to another, bigger village to ask for help. They have to stay at the place for an uncertain time until help arrives and use it to climb surrounding mountains.

On Gunung Amlong

While climbing Mount (Gunung) Amlong Day alias Junghuhn explains the nature and the different appearances of wildlife and vegetation on different altitudes on Java Island. On the mountainous island the altitudes grant life many different niches.

Animals who appear on their way get hunted and killed by the accompaning locals, regardless if they can eat them, use them for anything else – or not. It’s a habit. One of the Javanese shoots a deer with Day’s rifle. They mark the place to pick it up on their way back.

The Eternal Soul

Reaching the top of the mountain in about 4,000 feet altitude, they find a Javanese grave and come into a heavy thunderstorm. One of their Javanese accompanists got almost struck by lightning. After the thunderstorm they stay for another hour or two on the peak and watch the clouds wandering to the east. They have another discussion and Day says he would believe in the ‘eternal soul’. When explaining it he also says that the soul sticks to the material body, particularly the brain. What the eternal soul is remains unclear, but the great picture is that, after all the observations in the nature, Junghuhn’s conclusion is that all the natural laws make sense and that they come together in a harmony which is necessary because without the exact tuning the whole cosmos wouldn’t work. Further he says that the fact of human consciousness can only be explained by the conclusion that behind it there must be a bigger consciousness in the nature respectively universe, of what the human one is just a distant echo.

Junghuhn clearly points out that he is a theist, but not a conventional Christian or follower of one of the main religions or another, smaller, animist or whatever one. It’s rather a pantheism he has in mind.

He respects Jesus, Moses, Buddha and other meaningful religious people of the past, particularly, as he says, as longer ago they created their ideas. That’s because it was much more fundamentally a step forward to do so from a simpler level of human development.

Day’s (Junghuhn’s) Gospels

He points out 25 basic ideas of his understanding of the universe and religion. It’s basically scientifically, but it goes further beyond. One of the basic ideas is that the fact, that man is conscious about himself, can think and does exist without having made himself is an evidence for the existence of a greater mind or spirit in the universe, which he calls god. That’s an interesting idea, no more based on scientific positivism.

On Thoughts

He is also convinced that the human soul would survive death, because it’s not based on matter as thoughts aren’t represented by matter as well.

What are thoughts? Energy? They haven’t been measured yet. As Hoimar von Ditfurth (1921 – 1989) wrote, if one could shrink very small and enter a human brain and walk around in it like in a windmill or a factory, he wouldn’t suppose that this is a place where thoughts are created (Wir sind nicht nur von dieser Welt, 1970, Ditfurth is in his ideas and writings comparable with Carl Sagan).

Well, that’s another interesting idea. Nevertheless all thoughts are based on matter in the form of chemistry, in combination with electric impulses, evolving in the human brain. So, are ther thoughts without brain in the universe? Is there a greater, intelligent spirit inside the cosmos as a whole which created meaningfully the natural laws and the universe?

The Universe in Harmony

Junghuhn now becomes very optimistic and swarms much about the great harmony in god’s creation, that every part is so well done and fits so much to everything else. This part sounds very euphoric and represents typical 19th century thinking. Negative considerations are neglected in this view, for example the ‘social question’ of the time, the poverty, social injustice, deprivation, the political economy, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism. Junghuhn, by the way, was a clear proponent of colonialism, although he opposed the idea of converting the Javanese to Christianity.

He advocates very much a good education system for everybody, particularly in natural sciences, supported by the state.

That’s clearly a great idea, but how unrealistic that was shows us history. None of the ruling classes on Java and Indonesia wanted their people educated, until today, for then they would maybe question the social order itself. Particularly on Java we see how bad it run, that the whole system was all the time based on oppression and exploitation of the people, coming with a great deal of violence with the result of great poverty and, particularly in the newest time, a growing religious extremism which is very hostile against natural sciences and ideas as Junghuhn proposed. (See also the article on ‘Science and Religion in Indonesia‘)

On Morals

For Junghuhn a sane spirit can not live in an unhealthy body. He proposes very much physical education in various ways to empower particularly the youth physically and mentally.

He also argues very much in a moral way which does not seem so much different from the religious roots it’s coming from. For Junghuhn it’s all about the personal moral of the individual what decides everything. A wrongdoer in his view is punished very much and mainly by a bad consciousness which follows a bad deed. Rich and influencial people are mostly beyond critics and one shouldn’t be envious. In Junghuhn’s opinion they just should share some of their wealth with the poor, in a kind of direct way, when being in direct contact with needy people more or less.

A rich man is not more happy than a poor one, rather less, because the rich can generally not enjoy what they have because of the abundance of everything they are used to. Enjoyment comes only when one knows suffering absense of abundance.

Joy, by the way, plays an important role in Junghuhn’s ideas as the motivation for action.

In this view society is not mentioned. Neither is deprivation mentioned, as a result of severe poverty.

In this very liberal view people are completely self-responsible of their well-being. Living with a wrong moral leads to suffering. A sinner can change, when he really regrets his failure. Then he is forgiven and his life will (automatically?) change to the better. Victims are not mentioned here.

This concept and it’s implications is exactly one of the reasons why the European Enlightenment failed. The educated class of the 19th and 20th century ignored the ‘social question’ and didn’t care for the destructive forces in the capitalist system. They perfectly adapted to it and were integrated part of it. Junghuhn wasn’t any different in this point than the mainstream of the establishment of his time.

A Skip to Present Java

I would wonder what Junghuhn would say nowadays, exhumated and having a look on contemporary Java, with 140 million people living on the small island, verymost of them pauperized, living in dirty slums, being totally uneducated but therefore filled up with absurd religious doctrins.

I would wonder what Junghuhn would say about Indonesias history after colonialism, particularly the massacres of the early Suharto dictatorship and the following decades. Suhartos killers were never persecuted and they never showed any regret for their wrongdoing. On the contrary, many of them who killed ruthlessly are filled with content of what they have done and merely enjoyed it. Those people have absolutely no sense for moral implications. And they were promoted by the state, in cooperation with the western powers behind General Suharto. Until now the massacres of the Suharto time are still unatoned. None of the criminals has been persecuted. On the contrary, the same insider networks are still ruling the country.

I would also wonder what Junghuhn would say if he could see how the so much beloved nature turned under the socioeconomic system which is not worth being mentioned in his view of live. Wildlife and botany of Java are practically completely destroyed. One can nowadays only guess how it looked in the 1840s and 1850s, when Junghuhn explored the then still phantastic island and created the first really excellent map of whole Java.

Seen so, Junghuhn was very much a child of his time, but the destruction was already implemented in the exploitative colonial system with it’s social injustice and brutality. It was clearly to see and it was possible to predict (in general) how it would go on. Friedrich Gerstäcker mentioned in his 1851 book ‘Java‘ the abuse of Javanese labour for the road between Batavia and Bandung, where many of the local workers died for the ambition of the Governors project and the sake of the industries. No word about that in Junghuhn’s book – here it’s all about the individuals moral; structural violence doesn’t appear. The central destructive forces of a modern state and the socioeconomic system which sacrifices men, nature and all virtues and values for the only main purpose to acculumate abstract riches in the form of money, to make two Gulden out of one, is of no concern for Junghuhn.

I would also be curious to see Junghuhn’s reaction if he could see the contemporary kind of pleasure the Javanese (together with all the other Southeast Asian People) enjoy. Karaoke, for example. The crazy noise level everywhere and the low quality of the music. It’s no more the melodic Gamelan music, as Junghuhn enjoys it in Gnurag. Not to mention the immense traffic, all the noisy, dirty and stinking cars, busses, trucks and motorbikes. And the extremely low manners of the Javanese People. The mindless consumerism of the middle class. Nothing of what he writes in his personell gospel came true, instead there grew violence, poverty, deception, oppression, tyranny, wars and people were left in a state of ignorance and ideological blindness.

More Morals

Two other ideas of him stand remarkably in contrast to his own biography. First he dams suicide (denoted as ‘self-murder’) as a major sin. As a young man he tried to commit suicide himself, shooting a bullet into his head, but survived. That was because of a severe conflict with his father, who tried to force him into a way of live which would have made him, by all probability, completely unhappy.

Despite this conflict with his parents, particularly his father, he also claims that children are obliged to obey and to honour their parents by all means a life long, according to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Hiking towards Java’s South Coast

After the two hikers get finally their carriers (they need ten locals to carry all their baggage, Junghuhn always had a lot of technical equipment with him), Day and Night continue their hike over Java, approaching the southern coast. First they have to come over a mountain pass, where they see from upwards the next village. In the mid 19th century the villages on Java were about a half day-trip placed from each other. The slopes who are covered with Alang-Alang grass are burning. Junghuhn writes about the Javanese habit of burning the surrounding grasslands and forests as it happens still today in Southeast Asia. Here he writes it would serve the purpose to drive the tigers away. There are several fires and they have to be careful not to get burned.

Rural Java by Asienreisender

A painting from Java’s past. Image by Asienreisender, 2012

At the end of the day, short before they reach their destination, the village which they saw from the distance already, they have first to cross a smaller river. While they do that at a part where are several sandbanks and shallow water levels, they witness a huge landslide coming noisily down the river and have to withdraw quickly. Trees, bushes, big rocks and plenty of water are pouring down the slopes, devastating the surroundings with mud, soil, wood and rocks, queuing the water in the valley where a new lake occures. A lot of animals get killed, including some biggers ones. So, they have to camp there for a night, waiting for the next day and to see how they can come over it.

At night there sneak many predators, including tigers and panthers around the camp. They search for the cadavers of the by the mudflood killed animals. The campers keep them away by keeping campfires burning.

Next day the queued lake is mostly disappeared and they can continue their way to the south coast of Java. First they approach the coast on a steep cliff, some 400 feet above the sea and watch the heavy waves smashing at the coast, so hefty that they can feel the vibrations in the mountain under their feet.

They watch swallows who quickly enter and leave caves at the short moments when the waves are back. In times when the sea is less rough, Junghuhn explains, skilled villagers climb into the caves to take the swallows nests – a delicacy for wealthy Chinese. Nowadays, by the way, this has grown to become a big industry and swallows are bred in big concrete buildings for only the purpose to harvest their nests.

To reach the beaches of the southern coast they hike further west until the cliffs lower and they come down. There they find a ‘battlefield’ of dead giant turtles. It’s a place where five and more feet big turtles come seasonally to lay their eggs into the sand, where these are bred out by the warmth of the sun. Birds of prey are circling in the sky on the search for what other predators leave. Those are packs of wild dogs, panthers, tigers and even crocodiles who live still at any mouth of a river or creek and are, because of their armour, more dangerous than tigers. This evening they make up their sleeping places in some trees near the beach, building platforms on the branches. At dusk they watch the activities of the carnivores.

In a Javanese Village

Next day they reach another village. There Junghuhn describes a Javanese wedding party, the ceremonies, the dresses, the music, but does not go too much into details. He says that the customs on Java are different in the different parts of the island, in the Sundanese part, the Javanese or the Madeirean part of the islands and even more in local districts.

Remarkably, Junghuhn is annoyed by the noise level the partying Javanese produce. It’s the (Gamelan-) music, it’s the singing, the fireworks and the barking dogs. That’s the situation in 1854, when human noise pollution was rather exceptable and still ‘home-made’, so to say. Nowadays in urban spaces there is a non-stop heavy noise level of traffic, tools, machinery and entertainment electronics that one doesn’t get a break anymore. Additionally there are frequently announcements from loudspeakers promoting state propaganda, religious indoctrination or advertisments.

Anyway, Junghuhn wants to escape the noise and activity in the small place, but, as always, has difficulties to get carriers (coolies) for his extensive baggade (what contained, as already mentioned, of a lot of different instruments for scientific purposes and kitchen stuff they would need when camping in the wilderness). They try to urge the village headman to provide carriers, but he replies he couldn’t, because no one would leave the party now and they would have to wait until it ends, what would be in two more days (two days in the Orient can easily stretch out to a week). Not content with that they go through the village and ask men who hang idly around, but, as the headman predicted, none of them is willing to go with them. They offer them five Dutch Gulden, much more than they would get normally, but the locals are not interested in money.

That was so similar in other villages they visited before. Money meaned little for the Javanese of the time, for there was no developed market economy and not much to buy for money. Getting what in exchange for money they would have to go to one of the big cities like Surabaya, Semarang, Bandung or Batavia. Far away, not attractive and for what? What to buy there when they get anything they need and know in the surroundings of their villages, in exchange for other goods?

Javanese People and Development

Luckily they get support from another headman whom they sent a message days before. Some horsemen find them and now they continue their way riding on horses. On the way to the next destination there is another conversation between Day and Night, on the Javanese People this time. Night utters how unwilling to work and to organise the Javanese are, and that it were a pity that they are only used to obey to authorities (instead to follow reason). Junghuhn explains that with the climate and the riches of the country. In such a hot climate, where one can survive with little preparations for having enough food and shelter, it’s clearly natural to spend a great deal of time resting or just enjoying life. Besides, Junghuhn adds, he would prefer the mentality in the tropes to that in Europe, where people only would work for money, and would do more for other people than for themselves if they only get money for that. He doesn’t appreciate the western attitude to put a bag of money higher than loyalty to a certain ruler. He also says that people, as lower they are in their development and education, as more they are living with the nature, in an easy and basic state.

Then he praises the development colonialism brought to Java and that it would be an advancement for the Javanese that they got their local tyrants exchanged for the more advanced European rule. Partially, at least, because the Dutch followed the principle of ‘rule and share’ – means, they left local nobles in place but put themselves over them. He even claims that the personal rights of the locals were protected now under European law. Infrastructure, trade, communication, wealth and so on would have made great progress due to the colonial rule.

Well, that’s not covering the historical truth here. It’s widely known that the colonial rulers used the local people for forced labour on big infrastructure projects as well as in the new industries who were designed to supply the European markets. Friedrich Gerstäcker gives a few examples of how much the Javanese are exploited by forced labour (see: ‘Java‘ by Friedrich Gerstäcker).

Junghuhn himself witnessed the abuse of forced labour by Dutch authorities on Sumatra, and he mentioned and criticized it in detail in his book “Die Battaländer auf Sumatra”. For that reason the book was not allowed to be published in the Netherlands and the Dutch colonies; it was only published in Germany at the time.

It’s also so that western rule ‘developed’ the colonies in their way, means the invention of the capitalist system in which money is at the highest level of the social pyramid as an abstract purpose. To promote this system stands, by the way, in clear contradiction to what Junghuhn claimed before, criticising the western mentality of putting money over everything.

As brilliant as he was as a natural scientist, he didn’t realize (or didn’t want to realize) the destructive potentials of the capitalist system and the implications of the ‘social question’ of the time. He has that in common with a overwhelming number of other scientists of his time and until today, who mainly concern for their professions and careers, neglecting or ignoring the devastating nature of the socioeconomic system they pay service with their work.

The Materialist Approach

Day and Night now reach a mountain lake with a village on the other side of the lake. There they meet two more of their friends, Dawn and Dusk (Morgenroth and Abendroth). They continue to talk about philosophy, and both of the friends have their own concept.

Dusk tells his in an elaborate way. He sees all appearances as the expressions of natural laws. So, god is for him in every piece of matter and in every living being. God is in the tiger who kills a lamb, and god is in the lamb which is getting killed by the tiger. Dusk denies the free will of man. Man does what he has to do, driven by his nature, the idea of a ‘free will’ is for him just an illusion. He argues in a way which reminds to Laplace’s demon.

Pierre-Simon (Marquis de) Laplace (1749 – 1827) was a mathematician who claimed that everything in the universe is triggered by clear reasons of natural laws. If there were a counting machine (we would call it a megacomputer nowadays) and we could feed it with completely all data of the universe, this computer could tell us the future in all details until the end of times, if there is an end of times. For Laplace everything was determined; free will of man didn’t exist for him. The universe is explained as an all-embracing mechanical clockwork. There is no space in it for a soul and a free will, for the ability of decision-making. Dusk sees things similar, and illustrates it in detail with the reactions of atoms and molecules and their manyfold attributes.

A Practical Approach

Dawn therefore puts his ideas in short words. He starts with a short myth and comes to the conclusion that all these philosophic canvassings are futile and lead at the end to nothing. In fact it would be the task for mankind to learn natural laws and make more and more perfect use of them, to create at the end a perfect world. A perfect world is for Dawn a world in which man is independent from the struggle for survival but can produce anything what he needs by using chemistry. Then mankind would be maximal free to think, to reflect what he is. By making maximal use of the natural laws man would at the end be god. All other talking about god is useless.

A Visit of the Governor

At the end even the Dutch resident appears (no name is mentioned, Junghuhn calls him ‘Praktischman’. Maybe he referres to Pieter Merkus, the Dutch General Governour of the East Indian colonies of the Netherlands, whom Junghuhn knew personally and who sent him on his first great mission into the Batak countries on Sumatra 1840-42). They all are very welcoming to him and the discussion turns immediately into politics. They all agree that Dutch rule over Java is the best thing what could happen for all the involved parties as the Dutch themselves and the Javanese, because the locals would need somebody to push them somehow to work. Otherwise they would do nothing and learn nothing, and no development would happen. And without the Dutch the English or Americans would come for sure to colonize the ‘East Indies’ (Indonesian Islands). The resident even claims that he would run a school for Javanese in east Java. Nobody could tell the Dutch wouldn’t do what for the Javanese‘ education…

It’s the resident’s opinion as well that the Javanese don’t need to be converted to Christianity, and he utters a rather negative opinion about the Christian priests and vicars (Junghuhn calls them repeatedly ‘parsons’, what comes in German with a strong disparaging connotation). The Javanese wouldn’t need a convertion to the ten commitments, because they anyway respect them. It’s rather comon sense to do so everywhere in the world, no need for Christianity.

At the end it’s late at night and they all go to sleep, except Day. He strolls around the nightly village with the few, small fires around to keep the wild animals away. He walks to the lakeside, listens to the nightly voices of the jungle and reflects again the thoughts of his friends and his own. He is still fulfilled with the confession that there is a higher consciousness in nature and the universe and that man represents only a distant echo of it.


It’s remarkable that Junghuhn is focusing so much on Christianity. Of course, the Christian churches did a lot of harm to humanity. Lying, cheating, killing. Amen!

Nevertheless, their influence was alredyin decline in this time, particularly after the publication of Charles Darwins ‘The Origin of Species’ (1859). What is rather flashy is that the central and upcoming ideology of modernity isn’t mentioned a single time: Liberalism. That’s the doctrine which was already central and which led to the destruction of all the nature, (and still does, now under the newest edition as globalized ‘neoliberalism’) which Junghuhn loved so much. All the aspects on colonialism, a concept he supported without further explanation, clearly based on the exploitation of people, here above all the Javanese, and the nature for the mere purpose of profit. That is all silently granted by Junghuhn, no critics at all, no word about it. That’s strange. It’s thoroughly contradictory.

I again would wonder what he would say if he could see Java nowadays; the total destruction of it’s nature and the deprivation of the masses of Javanese People. While Junghuhn is raving about education and developing civilization the Javanese nowadays are dull beyond imagination and live mostly in dirt and slums. Radical Islam is on the rise, Christians are persecuted by Islamist radicals as well as other Muslims, who are not radical enough in the view of the fanatics. And the Christians on Java are still as dogmatic as they were in the 19th century, despite all scientific development.

Junghuhn was in a way a typical representant of the European Enlightenment, who didn’t realize that the developing sciences were not in the service for humanity but for profit. And that means exploitation, destruction and, again and again, war. In a socioeconomic system which is based on the blind forces of supply and demand on free markets there is no historical learning possible. There is another, secularly god ruling: The invisible hand.


The publication in the Netherlands triggered hefty indignations. The outcry was, of course, loudest from the clergy. After the first few outgoes the publisher stopped issuing the work. Junghuhn had to find another editor. Nevertheless, on the other hand a lot of people followed his ideas with sympathy and great interest. Until 1883 seven editions were published. In Germany the book was abolished in several states as in Austria and Saxony, for it’s ‘detraction’ of Christianity. Nevertheless, the newest edition in Germany dates back to 2008.

Junghuhn’s ‘Licht- und Schattenbilder aus dem Innern Java’s’ is still a book worth to be read. It’s lively depiction of Java’s nature, the Javanese People of the time and the philosophical disputes who are still widely interesting and by no way outdated makes it a balanced and thrilling work reaching over it’s time.


This is part of the illustrated article ‘Licht- und Schattenbilder aus dem Innern Java’s’ by Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn’. Read the whole article on ‘Licht- und Schattenbilder aus dem Innern Java’s’ by Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn.

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Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn

Posted in People with tags , , on June 24, 2013 by Thim Kwai

One of, if not the most paradigmatic explorer of the 19th century was Alexander von Humboldt, who thorougly explored and mapped parts of Europe and South America. Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn, although widely forgotten, represents a talent of the same size. Unlike Humboldt, who came from the rich background of a noble family and got from young years on all the support one can wish to develop great talents and could finance all his expeditions by his own fortune, Junghuhn was born into a simple family and was initially forced into a way of life he really didn’t want.

Severe struggles with his father shaped a strong character who never avoided conflicts with authorities when he was convinced it was necessary for a good reason.

Franz Junghuhn completely explored Java‘s geography, geology and botany. He created the first reliable map of whole Java and countless of particular maps of Javanese regions, including the Dieng Plateau. He was also the first who mapped the southern Batak territories on Sumatra. A breakthrough in botany was his successfull cultivation of Peruvian bark trees (quinine production) on Java.

Junghuhn’s writings are among the best of the worlds geographic literature and influenced many scientists. His main work “Java, seine Gestalt, Pflanzendecke und innere Bauart” (1857) contains an incredible variety of detailed information on Java’s nature.

Creating a great scientific work he died much too young in the age of 54 years. I suppose he would have done much more in his later years, particularly because he had many resources to do so in the last years of his life, which he lacked in earlier years.

His biography reads like a 19th century adventure novel.

This is just part of the richly illustrated article ‘Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn’. Read the whole article on Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn.

Keep yourself up-to-date

Check the list of recently published articles on a great variety of Southeast Asian themes. All of them are richly illustrated: Asienreisender

Movies: ‘The Killing Fields’

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Movies with tags , , , , , , on June 21, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The movie tells the (true) story of Sydney Schanberg, an American journalist (New York Times) and Dith Pran, a Cambodian collegue and local guide/translator working with/for Schanberg. They witness the last weeks of the pro American Lon Nol regime and the conquest of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge. Incredible atrocities occur. Phnom Penh gets three days after the conquest completely evacuated. More than two million people had to leave the megacity in an apocalyptic exodus.

While all the remaining Westerners gather in the French Embassy and manage to leave the country, Dith can not leave for he has no valid passport. As an educated man Dith has to expect his execution by the new rulers.

The hectical, thickening aggressive atmosphere is very well caught into the picture. The shown scences are very realistic and convincing.

Anyhow avoiding execution, a years long ordeal in the working camps of the Khmer Rouge starts for Dith Pran. He has continuously to claim that he were just a simple peasant, until he is finally able to escape the murderous regime over the border to Thailand.

The movie is also about a certain kind of friendship which evolved between Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran. Schanberg, above all, suffers a bad conscience for having put pressure on Dith remaining in Cambodia at a time when he could escape easily and then leaving Dith back in the hands of the savage Khmer Rouge. Back in the USA he doesn’t believe in Dith’s death, although he is cut off of all contact to him, and Dith is highly probable supposed to be executed by the communists. Dith was a very loyal worker for Schanberg, while Schanberg represents an ambitious, aggressive reporter who puts success over everything else.

A kind of real-life happy end occurs when Schanberg finally get’s message of Dith’s successful escape.

For the understanding of the film a certain knowledge of Cambodian History is required.

Click the link to read the whole and illustrated article ‘The Killing Fields‘.

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Movies: City of Ghosts

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Movies with tags , , , , , , on June 18, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The movie is a ‘film noir’, a thriller who was made mostly in Cambodia, partially in Thailand and the beginning in USA. The plot is not too interesting, but it’s nevertheless a thrilling movie. It’s particularly fascinating to watch for those who know Cambodia or are interested in the country, because much of the atmosphere of the country is caught in the picture, and that’s done very well. Parts of the movie play in Phnom Penh, others in Kep, the climax and final showdown is placed up on foggy Bokor Hill Station and in and around the old colonial Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino ruin. Matt Dillan, as the director, took time to show places in Cambodia as they really look. That gives the film a touch of a documentary as well. (…)

Click the link to read the whole and illustrated article on City of Ghosts.

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Kampot – Bokor – Kep / Cambodia by Asienreisender

Posted in Landscapes, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2013 by Thim Kwai

The province of Kampot in south Cambodia might be the most picturesque and versatile in the whole country. There is the coast of the South China Sea, the southern Elephant Mountains with Bokor National Park, the Teuk Chhou (a river, also: Prek Thom River), a number of limestone mountains and plains. East of Kampot follows the seaside resort of Kep and not far from that the border to Vietnam. Kampot town is situated at the banks of the Teuk Chhou River, five kilometers before it’s mouth reaches the Gulf of Thailand. It’s an upcoming place which develops rapidly these days, but is far not that evolved as many places in Laos since recently or in neighbouring Thailand, which is defenitely ways further in development than Cambodia is. But change is quick here these days. The place inhabits around 48,000 people. Quite a number of colonial buildings are left in Kampot, some restored meanwhile, others are still abandoned. The old French market building has been recently restored and houses now a number of shops, cafes and restaurants. The bigger fresh market is at the other end of town. The eastern bank of the Teuk Chhou River is paralleled meanwhile by a broad promenade with big, old casuarina trees and some figtrees. Most of the old buildings there are restored, including the old market as already mentioned, what was just six years ago still a rotten, dirty, half-abandoned place. Walking along the promenade one enjoys a great panorama view over the river towards the Elephant Mountains. The river provides a microclimate with a fresh breeze and, so far the wind is coming from southern directions (as normally between May and October, in south-west monsoon time), a smell of sea air. Following Kampot’s river banks a few kilometers downstream one passes the splitup of two arms of the river who form the first part of the river mouth. Bordering Kampot’s southern border a Cham fisher village is placed at the river banks. It’s surrounded by remains of mangrove forests. Mangrove forests stretch over parts of the coastlines of Kampot Province, so far they are not destroyed already. The local people are by a certain part Cham Muslims, but the majority is Khmer. Particularly in Kampot town the Khmer dominate in number. In business Chinese and Vietnamese have their place as well. The Cham People seem to live more in the surrounding countryside. This ist just a part of the article on Kampot – Bokor – Kep. Click the link to read all about Kampot – Bokor – Kep.

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Phnom Penh / Cambodia

Posted in Latest of Asienreisender, Places with tags , , , on June 9, 2013 by Thim Kwai

Jakarta, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Vientiane, Phnom Penh – they all have what in common. They are capitals and they are busy. Very busy. Traffic and pollution are enormous, living quality for the masses is poor. Therefore the prices are double as high compared to the countries provinces.

Phnom Penh’s first given impression is that the majority of the population consists of drivers and touts. You have not left the bus yet and there will be a group of tuk-tuk drivers waiting for you, just YOU, to go with them. From now on at every step, at every corner there will be lots of drivers asking you to go with them.

They are followed by the touts who want to sell other things of all kind, from food and accommodation to clothes, jewels and other luxuries. The only way to escape them is to lock up oneself in the hotel room.

Discovering a place is always be best done by walking. One can naturally stop and go and have a closer look whenever one wants. That’s not given in a big city as Phnom Penh is. Moving spontaneously on the roads means getting hit by rolling tin for sure. One also does not just cross a road. It’s a big thing to do so, the tin flood never stops on Phnom Penh’s roads.

By the way, the traffic clearly consists of less cars and more motorbikes here than in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta. That’s remarkable and the air pollution is far not that bad than in these other cities. That’s because Cambodia is a few years behind the other countries in it’s development. With it’s further progressing there will be more cars here as well. Many more cars.

As in all the Southeast Asian places there are barely usable sidewalks. What in western countries is a sidewalk, meaned for pedestrians to walk on, is here merely a multi-purpose stripe. Mostly abused for parking vehicles it’s also a place where food vendors are placed, workshops are expanded or masses of litter are piled up. Everything is on the move, it’s like in an ant heap. So, constantly circumnavigating obstacles is not only tiring but takes also most of the energy and awareness for what one has actually in mind. That is, in my case, to look around for the other street live and the peculiarities of the city.

This ist just a part of the article on Phnom Penh. Click the link to read all about Phnom Penh.

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Posted in Countries, Latest of Asienreisender with tags , , , , , on June 8, 2013 by Thim Kwai

According to official statistics are 85% to 90% of the Cambodian inhabitants ethnic Khmer. That would make Cambodia the ethnically most homogenous country in Southeast Asia. Minorities are Vietnamese (5%), Cham (3%), Chinese (ca. 1%) and some Thai, Laotians and a number of hill tribal people who are collectively called Khmer Loeu (formerly Moi). Critics claim that the official numbers of the minorities are given a too small.

The Khmer People live since the 2nd century in the areas where they still live today. Where they are exactly from is not completely known, but they can hardly deny some Indian roots in their physical appearance.

Vietnamese live since the late 17th century in Cambodia, more came in the 19th and 20th. Many were promoted by the French colonial authorities who prefered them in official positions. After the Vietnames occupation between 1979 and 1989 another Vietnamese immigration wave came to Cambodia. There are old conflicts between the Khmer and the Vietnamese, which sometimes errupted in anti-Vietnamese pogroms.

Chinese live since some 500 years in Cambodia particularly in the cities as traders and craftsmen. Until 1975 Chinese controlled the economy and the traffic system of the country, but they got persecuted by the Khmer Rouge and many of them killed, so far they couldn’t escape. Since the early 1990s Chinese came back and gained meanwhile again an important economic role.

The Cham People are of Malayan roots and Muslims. They live along the lower Mekong River. Between Kratie and Kampong Cham / Phnom Phen are many mosques to see along the road. Their old empire, a long-term rival of the Angkorean Khmer empire, was destroyed by the Vietnamese in 1471 and part of the Cham fled then into Cambodia. Traditionally they are cattle dealers, butchers and silk weavers. Butching, by the way, is for the Buddhist Khmer according to the Buddhist rules, not allowed.

The Khmer Loeu are old Tai People who live in the mountainous regions bordering Vietnam and Thailand. They live traditionally half-nomadic, grow rice and vegetables, cultivate a sustainable slash-and-burn agriculture, keep cattle and are animists. Their livestyles are very much under pressure now due to the loss of their natural surroundings (see the description on the Ratanakiri page).

The majority of the Cambodian people live in the plains, the mountainous areas are partially almost uninhabited. Only 20% of the population lives in the cities; that’s still an aftereffect of the Khmer Rouge politics, who evacuated the cities.

This is just part of the ‘People of Cambodia’ chapter of the whole article. Read the whole article on Cambodia.

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