Manipa island lies between the islands of Ceram and Buru in the Indonesian spice islands. These are the islands just before you reach New Guinea. Ceram island is the home to former headhunters and Buru was for many years a prison island. It was famous for being host to very long pythons. Indeed in 1998 I visited there and saw several snakes in excess of 20 feet long. Manipa island, however, is even more mysterious. The local people call it the 'ghost island'. They claim that invaders cannot see it and always pass it by. True, it is a small island, about the size of England's Isle of White but surely it cannot be invisible. There are odd mists that blow through the spice islands, perhaps that accounts for it. Neither the Portugese, the Dutch or the Japanese ever set foot on Manipa, despite occupying all the surrounding islands. Buru itself was bombed by the Japanese in WW2 and when I was there I saw inside a remote jungle hut an old mural painted on a wall of birdlike planes spitting streams of bullets and fire down onto the people below.
Manipa slept on. But did it? The place is known for its black magic. The son of the King of Manipa told me everyone is afraid of everyone else there because curses are so freely applied. People rarely eat in each others houses in case of poison. On the summit of Manipa's only mountain is a chair carved from the rock. To spend the night in that chair you will emerge either a warrior or be struck dead or be stark raving mad.
A Chinese trader set up business on Manipa dealing in groceries and imported supplies. His business failed. Another came, and his burnt down. On the journey there the boat I was in developed engine trouble and we had to turn back.
In the port of Buru I spoke with a lone yachtsman, miles off the usual routes. he told me a strange thing- that as he sailed between Buru and Ceram his Chartplotter had packed up. He'd searched for his spare GPS but the battery was inexplicably flat. He sailed on by dead reckoning and the compass and had just bought new batteries for his second GPS.
"Did you see the island of Manipa as you passed?" I asked.
"What island?" he replied.