A legendary English explorer, author, anthropologist and filmmaker; whose writings and documentary on the creatures and peoples of the Indonesian archipelago delve into the mysteries of what it means to be human.
The following documentary/book is a love letter to exploration. Following in the footsteps of naturalist Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, who was a key mind in developing the theory of evolution alongside Dr. Charles Darwin.
Dr. Lawrence Blair, along with his brother Lorne Blair, set out in 1972 with little money, film cameras, and Dr. Wallace’s book; “The Malay Archipelago” as their guide. This would lead them to thoroughly explore what anthropologic riches the islands of Indonesia and New Guinea had to offer the de-sensitised westerner searching for the mystical. As Dr. Blair so enigmatically puts it; “New Guinea; the last wild garden at the bottom of the world… The tangled warmth of all our beginnings”
The eerily produced track “New Guinea” by BLACK MERLIN features a spoken word poem/musing/insight from the enigmatic Dr. Lawrence Blair, a man whose life is to be revered and studied for his constant expression of empathy and compassion throughout his life, and specifically to a place on our beloved planet that still holds many mysteries upon its shores.
~ Check out the track below and keep on reading ~
From his humble childhood beginnings in the UK, emigrating to Mexico for his formative years, subsequently moving back to Lancaster University, UK to further study and gain his doctorate in the field, and thus define, of psycho-anthropology with his book “Rhythms of Vision; The Changing Patterns of Belief” published in 1976. The book explores sacred geometry, planes of existence and subtle energies to name a few. Alongside being an author, Dr. Blair went on to appear in documentary films such as; “Myths, Magic and Monsters” in 2005/6 for SKY TV.
This series that delved into the origins of some of humanity’s most pervasive myths, as well as “Oh My God” in 2009, a film that asks people from all walks of like to ask the question “What is God?”. His documentary "Bali: Island of the Dogs” in 2010, explores the history of thousands of semi-feral dogs that roam the island of Bali. At present, Dr. Blair has resided in Bali for over thirty years where he continues to live and work to this day.
The film series, “Ring of Fire; An Indonesian Odyssey” is divided into 5 chapters charting the adventures of both Dr. Lawrence Blair and his older brother Lorne Blair, both together and solo, through the years 1972 - 1995.
This epic landmark documentary series is what Dr. Blair is most famous for.
Unfortunately the TV series has been taken off Youtube, but you can still watch it online (click to watch) via a free 7 day trial with the platform GAIA.
The Book, on the other hand, is a self-reflective piece, primarily told through Lawrence Blair’s prose and later on delves into his brother, Lorne Blair’s, diaries on solo journeys. The 10 chapter saga goes into far more detail than the film does, as tales that were not captured in the moment are brought to life by both the Blair brothers writing. But it should be mentioned that the film is still truly magical and a spectacle in its own rite. With beautiful imagery coupled with insightful and poetic voiceover from them both.
The first chapter of the film, “Spice Island Saga” is where the journey begins for the two brothers. Having just secured financial backing from none other than Ringo Starr, the two set out in 1972 to explore the mesmerising Indonesian archipelago, initially entering the mysterious region via the far less mysterious and highly westernised point of Singapore.
As expressed by the pair, it wasn’t what they were after or what they had come to expect. But sticking to their plan, they follow, quite religiously to Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace’s journey in 1854, through his writings in the book “The Malay Archipelago”. Once stepping away from mainland Malaysia and onto the island of Celebes, specifically the town of Makassar, they find crew who can help them reach their desired destinations. An Indonesian Buginese pirates sailboat, entitled the SINAR SURYA, their starting vessel for their journey ahead.
The Bugis sailors terrified foreign sailors and previous travellers alike that the word Bugis, pronounced Boogey, came to be in the English language to describe the formidable pirates. They would be described as "Boogeymen".
The second chapter “Dance of the Warriors” sees the brothers sailing to the distant island of Komodo, which is home to the feared, true to life, dragon walking amongst men, the Komodo Dragon. Here they would capture the terrifying nature of the beast in its natural habitat. Learning that these great animals should be both feared and respected in equal measure.
They also encounter a tribe of head-hunters and cannibals on the island of Sumba, the Asmat tribe. Who they would become dear friends with upon several journeys. Lorne Blair would even be adopted into the tribe by their most battle hardened warrior.
Third chapter “East of Krakatoa” takes the brothers to the summit of Anak Krakatoa an infamous volcano still active today, erupting most recently on the 17th of April 2020 and was to be heard for 100s of miles around. They would also encounter the renowned Toraja people located on the island of Sulawesi, who keep their dead with them long after they have been deceased. Finally holding mass funerals once their deceased are ready to return to the afterlife.
In chapter four “Dream Wanderers of Borneo” the two are in search for the Punan Dayaks, a “lost” tribe who are said to be located deep within the uncharted jungles on the large island of Borneo. A tribe associated, in the past, with head-hunting. The expedition to find the tribe takes over a month. Both brothers would receive a ceremonial tattoo, left up to the artists' discretion as to what design they produced. An honour not bestowed so lightly to an outsider.
The final chapter of this epic travel documentary is a reflective piece entitled “Beyond the Ring of Fire”. This chapter sees Dr. Lawrence Blair retracing the steps he took alongside his Brother, retelling their past endeavours and also demonstrating the changing landscape of Bali, once still connected very closely to nature and the spiritual. Now fraught with tourist shops and man-made roads for easier access to harsher terrain spots on the island.
He also re-tells the tragic death of his dear brother Lorne Blair. Their original home in Bali had since collapsed upon Lawrence Blair’s visit back to that part of the island. However only a mile down the road Lorne had been building a new residence that was much larger and had been a passion project of his that took 5 years to build.
Poignantly, it does seem, he died due to a man-hole cover being left open on a road nearby, he fell into it and broke his leg, was rushed to hospital where he had a stroke or heart attack which had taken his life two days later. The ambiguity still troubles his Brother in the final episode of the saga. Dr. Lawrence Blair further adds that; “It’s ironic to think that walking all the way around Borneo… to then fall in an open man-hole cover in Bali”.
The Blair brother back in the early 1970s were in the search of knowledge or documentation of tribes which could teach, those who are open, many valuable lessons a kin to each part of our short lives here of Earth. The men are the embodiment of true authenticity and their brilliant film is something to watch and feel a sense of childlike wonder throughout the runtime.
Voiceover taken from the series;
“Their fortresses are just haunted playgrounds now
Her history flows and the past echoes behind her
How easy in this sea of dreams
To believe in the supernatural
And one’s childhood…”
DR. LAWRENCE BLAIR’S WEBSITE;
- PSYCHIC GARDEN