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The Forgotten Love Story of Cangke Island

By: Reyhard Matheos

Do you still remember the Hollywood movie Blue lagoon? The film tells the story of two young children marooned on a tropical island paradise in the South Pacific. With neither the guidance nor the restrictions of society, emotional feelings and physical changes arise as they reach puberty and fall in love. The tale of love on a  deserted island, was an instant box office hit .


Cangke Island

Young people camping on Cangke island

Flash back to reality, not that far from the  South Pacific, there’s a small remote island, inhabited by a single couple; the husband’s name is Daeng Abu, he is blind and suffers from lepra, and his wife who goes by the name of ‘Cantik’ (meaning beautiful) is deaf. This is the story of the island, a beautiful paradise in which genuine love prevails outside of modern society, a love story that might never make it on the Big Screen, but is real and heartfelt nonetheless.

Cangke Island, Daeng Abu and Cantik’s Blue Lagoon?

Cangke island is located near Makassar, South Sulawesi. This small paradise is inhabited by a couple of runaway lovers who retired from the cacophony of a civilization that they don’t really understand and doesn’t really understand them. Cangke’s landscape certainly serves their purpose, the white sandy beaches, radiant blue sea, and colorful coral reefs would do well on any travel brochure. Youngsters used to come here to camp, trying to survive with the limited resources the island has to offer. It is like a magnet that drags adventure seekers there, a forsaken island “outside” of civilization: there are no commercial cottages or other luxurious services, no restaurants, shops or cafes. Those who come here have to set up camp and provide for themselves.

The Love Story of the Castaways

Turning their backs on civilization, Daeng Abu and his wife are prime examples of people who refused modernity. Around 1972, Daeng Abu, then still in his twenties, suffered not only from lepra, but also from society’s prejudice against the disease. During that era, lepra was considered a ‘curse’ and the bearers of this curse were often discriminated, avoided and/or ignored. Sitti Maidah, who later became known as ‘Cantik’, tried to have hope and continued to stand by her beloved husband. Eventually they both decided to leave their villages due to the negative backlash from their own community. They settled on the no man’s island of Cangke, where they live until now.

Daeng Abu and His Wife 'Cantik'

After leaving their community with bitterness, they managed to survive in a relatively subsistent way of life. Love and sharing are their natural principles. They would surely agree with a quote from author and free-spirit Henry Miller: “I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive.” Except that Daeng Abu and Cantik, do have hopes. They hope that the natural habitat of the sea and the ecosystem that surrounds them will not be destroyed. They hope that civilization stays far-away from them. They take from nature what’s necessary, without making excessive use of resources out of greed.

When I visited the couple, I was struck when Daeng Abu reminded me that we humans are only dust that will become dust once again. He added that the never-ending venture for material wealth is a mere illusion and a waste of time. After hearing that, my mind wandered as I looked at his wife ‘Cantik’, and realized that really, what they are doing here are is as beautiful as the name given to her.

Sadly, as years have gone by, Daeng Abu lost his eye-sight, he cannot see his life time faithful companion anymore. His wife on the other hand cannot hear her beloved husband. But  despite these handicaps they both still enjoys their life together in understanding and acceptance.

On Cangke Island, Daeng Abu and his wife, are an example of a balanced relationship between humans and nature. A couple who lives their dream and feels content with the life that they choose and lead it without regrets. They may not be as smooth skinned and wide eyed as Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins in The Blue Lagoon, but then again, Cangke Island is not a film set but their source of life.

How to Get There

Daeng Abu and Cantik do appreciate your visit, if you are respectful of them and the island (and not in huge groups). The only way to get to Cangke island is by small fisherman’s boat. Starting point is a fishing port called Paotere from where you can reach the island in approximately 2.5 hours. Alternatively you can contact guides in Makassar on more convenient information on how to get to the island —or just try to be more adventurous.

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