Saturday, November 12, 2005

40. ORPHANS



A week had passed and I was back again in Bogor, this time visiting Kebun Raya, the Great Garden, 87 hectares of flora and fauna.

I passed through the gloomy main gates, with their statues of the Hindu god Ganesh, and strolled along the dark tree lined avenues. There were Javanese almond trees, huge strangling figs, mighty flame trees and fifty-meter-high king trees with buttress roots almost as big as the arches that hold up cathedrals.

Eventually I came to lovely English-style lawns, where adults were practising tai-chi, and lotus ponds, where children were looking for fish. Sitting down in the tea house, I decided to consult my guide book.

The Bogor Botanic Garden was the idea of Sir Stamford Raffles, who temporarily ran Java for the British between 1811 and 1816.

The Dutch used the garden to develop various crops such as quinine and cassava. Quinine, from the cinchona tree, came originally from Peru and was used to treat malaria. Cassava, originally found in Batam off Sumatra, became an important source of food.

The Botanic Garden contains a monument in memory of Raffle's wife, Olivia, who died of a tropical disease in 1814. The beautiful Olivia was rumoured to have had an affair, prior to the marriage, with one of Raffles' superiors, a man called Ramsay.

Four of Raffles' five children died in Sumatra of tropical diseases. What must Raffles have felt about the survival of only one of his children?

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