Island Etiquette: The Protocols of a Village Visit

In the same way that you wouldn’t dream of entering someone’s house without ringing the doorbell, our tour leaders here at SeaTrek would never contemplate bringing a group of guests to a remote island village without first getting the thumbs up from the ‘Kepala Desa’ (the head of the village). It’s very important to establish a relationship with the people that we’re going to be meeting and reassure them that we will be respectful of their privacy.

 When we’re researching and exploring new places to add to our itineraries, our tour leaders will go ashore along with a member of the crew (the captain perhaps) and speak to the villagers and arrange to meet the village head. Some of these island hamlets are tiny, inhabited by just a handful of families, and these people rarely get to see and meet outsiders, so of course we’re going to be the objects of great intrigue and excitement, especially among the kids. The children will often gather on the shore as our dinghy approaches, and we’ll wave at them to let them know that we’re friendly. The Kepala Desa’s house is usually the biggest and best house in the village and if he’s at home, he’ll always make us feel very welcome, pulling up chairs and providing cold drinks. If he’s not at home, he may well have a male secretary who will receive us on his behalf.  Very occasionally, the head of the village is a woman.       

If we need the services of a guide, we let the Kepala Desa know that we’ll be employing those services from people within the village. In fact, there will be times when we don’t actually need a guide but we’ll still employ someone for the occasion in a show of goodwill. Afterwards, if there’s time, we’ll invite the guides aboard the boat to hang out with the crew. 

This polite etiquette will continue on every subsequent visit to each village, with our tour leaders going ashore first to ask permission to return with a group of guests for an insight into the everyday life of the community.  If we become regular visitors, our aim is to develop an ongoing relationship. Families love to have their photos taken, so sometimes our tour leaders will take photos and later print them to bring back and deliver on the next visit, other times we might bring a football – something that can be enjoyed by many. More importantly, we will look to see if there is anything that we can do to help these often impoverished communities.

For example, in collaboration with Kopernik (https://kopernik.info/), a Bali-based NGO, our boats and our teams are carrying, delivering and distributing portable drinking water filters and solar lanterns to some of the most isolated communities, instantly changing the lives of families without electricity or access to clean and safe drinking water. We also look at ways of raising environmental awareness, especially among the children, by supplying books to the village schools; a recent initiative being a children’s story with a strong message about a sea turtle and the effects of plastic in our oceans. The books are written in both English and Indonesian, and colourfully illustrated.

If you are a guest on a Seatrek cruise, you will have the opportunity to visit several villages, sometimes with the bonus of a traditional dance performance, usually incorporating a welcome dance and always accompanied by music. The residents may also offer their handicrafts for sale, and these might be anything from wood-carved Komodo dragons to handwoven textiles or strings of pearls. A school visit is nearly always a part of the experience and the children are often keen to entertain us with an impromptu song or two. If you want to bring any pencils, colouring books or educational tools, please feel free to do so; we only ask that you don’t hand them out directly to the kids unless you want to witness a fight! 

On a final note, respect for the culture and the devout religious beliefs of these hospitable people is paramount. For some village visits, whether the residents are Christians or Muslims, we ask that you dress appropriately by covering your shoulders.  


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