10. Excursion To Sonsorol City

An old school bus, completely rebuilt in shining bronze and chrome, plies back and forth along the only paved road in Sonsorol, from the Bazaar in Port Watson to the capital of the Republic, Sonsorol City. (That is, it does so when someone can be found to drive it.) The road passes through the Savannah, the most heavily populated and cultivated rural area on the island, farmed mostly by native Christian Sonsorolan families who cling to the "virtues" of hard work.

Life in the Republic flows at a slower and more conservative pace than in the Free Enclave. The older natives either cling to Dutch Reformed attitudes or else follow the Moro Way with all its subtlety, fine manners, aesthetic elitism and "magical superstition." The Republic lacks a police-force, but the people tend to conform to certain mores, at least in public, and within the context of a general Polynesian-style easy-going morality. The visitor should remember not to offend any sensibilities by overtly Watsonian behavior (such as public fucking).

Sonsorol City is even smaller and sleepier than Port Watson. The bus drops you off in a dusty street of ugly corrugated-iron-front shops along the river bank. At one end of Market Street lies a small but ultramodern Hospital, the only new building in the City. At the other end sits the "Calvinist Cathedral", actually a small and rather undistinguished Dutch-style church built in 1910 (the Rector is Dutch and liberal; he preaches "Tolstoy, Thoreau and Gandhi!")

West of the Cathedral lies the "Christian Quarter," a neighborhood of small tropical/colonial bungalows centered around Government House, the former colonial administration building in the Dutch-Indonesian "Batavian" style, with raised amsterdammish facade of pink coral and red-tile roof, were one can attend an occasional session of the Legislature, and listen to rants and harangues from every point of view from Protestant fundamentalism to mystical anarcho-monarchism. The Post Office, a public computer center, and an old hand-set printing press constitute the only regularly functioning State Organs, but the plaza in front of Govemment House is pleasantly shaded and popular with evening strollers and gossips.

Between Government House and the river lies the Moro Quarter, where the old Batavian villas are worth a walking tour. The Moro "aristocrats" number less than two hundred, and no longer enjoy any income or prerogative higher than other citizens--in fact, most of them refuse to work. and live off their Bank dividends, modest and penurious. Their lives center around the Sultan's "Palace," (actually a twelve-room villa), and the Sultan's Mosque, a large but simple Javanese-style kraton with covered courtyard, surrounded by adjacent villas, workshops and gardens.

Sultan Pak Harjanto Abdul-Rahman Moro IV (born 1945) may have renounced all power, but scarcely all activity. His fascination with both libertarian philosophy and traditional Sonsorolan mysticism has inspired him to create several closely-linked cultural and educational institutions which are centered around the Mosque. The Court Gamelan (a Javanese percussion orchestra imported in the late 19th century and extremely precious) finds its perforrners in the Palace Academy of Traditional Arts & Crafts. Connected with this are two schools for children, one for boys and one for girls, which teach music, dance, art and batikmaking, but generally ignore everything else. Sonsorolan children who want a modern education can attend the co-ed "Government School" or one of the Port Watson Academies. But here, all is archaic, refined, recherche', even a bit decadent and perverse The students suffer no traditional discipline, however: they're free to come and go as they like, so long as they fulfil their "contract" to study and perform at the weekly public concerts (every Friday starting around sundown and lasting sometimes till dawn) which constitute the central ritual of the Moro Way.

Along with the Palace Academy and the two childrens' schools, the Mosque also maintains a batik workshop, theater and dance classes for amateurs and afficionados, a library of works on Sonsorolan culture and history, and regular sessions of group meditation. Martial arts are also taught. Sonsorol City's one newspaper, the monthly Court Gazette, is also published here and printed on the old press at Government House.

The enrollment at these institutions consists of as many "settlers" as "natives". Some Watsonians have become citizens of the Republic in order to live and study in Sonsorol City. Traditional arts and especially music enjoy great esteem, particularly among the new generation of native-born settlers' children; perhaps they're rebelling against their parents' anarchism by this infatuation with gamelan and Ramayana, the wearing of sarongs and batik and flowers in their hair, the aping of old-fashioned Moro mannerisms, and a cult of piracy and sorcery.

The westerners in Sonsorol City live either around the Palace and Mosque, or else along the coast in the former Dutch neighborhood. At the head of "Dutchman's Beach" is The Old Colonial Club, now occupied by the City's only two real restaurants: one devoted to native cuisine (The Corsair's Cave), the other to French gourmet elegance (Chez Ravachol)--both are expensive. The Club also offers a game room with "the only pinball machines in all Oceania." Along the beach to the west lie the old Dutch villas, some in ruins, others inhabited by settler-communes of artists, musicians and other aesthetes with a taste for quiet life, or for hobnobbing at Court.

Aside from the cultural life of the Palace and Mosque, nothing much ever happens. Those who want "action" live in Port Watson-- those who prefer "non-action" in Sonsorol City--and those who like both drift back and forth from one to the other, as the mood strikes them.

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