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Gifts of Unknown Things: A True Story of Nature, Healing, and Initiation from Indonesia's Dancing Island

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Discover the extraordinary island of Nus Tarian, in Indonesia, where everyday reality contains terrifying, inexplicable, and miraculous phenomena. Magical feats, extrasensory perception, and psychic healing are commonplace in this land where the natural and the supernatural coexist and challenge our beliefs about reality. At once a scientific exploration and an imaginative Discover the extraordinary island of Nus Tarian, in Indonesia, where everyday reality contains terrifying, inexplicable, and miraculous phenomena. Magical feats, extrasensory perception, and psychic healing are commonplace in this land where the natural and the supernatural coexist and challenge our beliefs about reality. At once a scientific exploration and an imaginative adventure, Dr. Watson's astonishing and life-transforming journey becomes our own, challenging many of our fixed beliefs about the "real world."


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Discover the extraordinary island of Nus Tarian, in Indonesia, where everyday reality contains terrifying, inexplicable, and miraculous phenomena. Magical feats, extrasensory perception, and psychic healing are commonplace in this land where the natural and the supernatural coexist and challenge our beliefs about reality. At once a scientific exploration and an imaginative Discover the extraordinary island of Nus Tarian, in Indonesia, where everyday reality contains terrifying, inexplicable, and miraculous phenomena. Magical feats, extrasensory perception, and psychic healing are commonplace in this land where the natural and the supernatural coexist and challenge our beliefs about reality. At once a scientific exploration and an imaginative adventure, Dr. Watson's astonishing and life-transforming journey becomes our own, challenging many of our fixed beliefs about the "real world."

30 review for Gifts of Unknown Things: A True Story of Nature, Healing, and Initiation from Indonesia's Dancing Island

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dylan

    It is hard to believe that this story is true, but even harder to believe that Watson made it up. It is a haunting, beautiful, captivating book that opens up the vistas of human experience shut off to us by religion and modernity.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Loly

    It took me months to finish it. Not because it’s a hard to read book, but because I feel the urge to understand every single words on it and jumped to a dictionary once I met new vocabulary. Since English is not my first language, I normally just skipped the word I don’t recognize in a book, as long as I understand what the sentence meant. But this book is too engaging to have the same treatment. My first reaction when I reached the last page was burst into tears. God knows what brings me to tha It took me months to finish it. Not because it’s a hard to read book, but because I feel the urge to understand every single words on it and jumped to a dictionary once I met new vocabulary. Since English is not my first language, I normally just skipped the word I don’t recognize in a book, as long as I understand what the sentence meant. But this book is too engaging to have the same treatment. My first reaction when I reached the last page was burst into tears. God knows what brings me to that. After all, the ending was not so much unpredictable. Yet knowing that it is not a fictitious story, the reader constantly push into questioning would it be possible, can it be oh please just one more miracle attitude to the very last page. It all started from a little voyage that went to an adventurous spiritual journey of Dr. Watson. His scholarly thinking history as biologist grounded him to have a logical explanation on every natural phenomenon he experienced before. But stranding him self, far away in a remote little Island nowhere to be found in a map scratch a completely new man, he never thought existed deep inside of him. His days on the island, hardship interaction with its people, tradition, mystical being, were the frame of what he brought to the readers. This is a story about belief. Dr Watson fascination of one peculiar young dancer of the island, named Tia –btw, I love her name - captivated him to see the beauty of inner-relationship between human and nature. I know something is magic with Tia when I read how this 11 years old explained about names and color. By the time I reached the part of her pampering a dying whale, I knew I had fall for this little girl. She brings me a feeling I imagined also felt by Dr. Watson more than 40 years a go, when the moment actually happened. A feeling, that no matter what, we are all particles of one universe. Thus, we are all connected. ***** The whale was abandoned again by the tide and by all the people except Tia, who knelt on the sand beside the massive head and gently stroked his skin. She was singing to him. Singing one of the soft, sad songs in the old language. A song of friend’s long dead and times now past, of children grown and gone. A sound like a mother’s sigh. I couldn’t understand the words any more than the whale could, but there was no mistaking the meaning. She was keeping him company in the dark hours of his long and lonely death. Sitting in for the other whales who, if he had been dying in the deeps, would have borne him to the surface on their fins, helping him to breathe and see, easing his passage with their sympathy and song. This child, in her innocence, was doing the proper thing. I in my rage and futility, and Marduk in his righteous propriety, had missed the point altogether. So bound up in the petty intricacies of our politics and technology, we couldn’t see that all the situation required was compassion. Not how to move the whale, or how to move the people; but how to be kind and to keep in touch. A way of reaching out in empathy to the biggest brain on the planet. I hung back in the shadows and watched them for a while, a child and a whale in communion. [pg. 83] ***** It is a story that you wish you could share with your kids and grand children. Great Spirit, I always knew you’ve been guiding in every step of our way. It’s time for me to really listen.

  3. 5 out of 5

    zogador

    It's hard to forget some of the spiritual messages conveyed in this story of one man's time spent among the isolated island natives of Indonesia. The fascinating thing is that these truths are the same facts which are known to all quickly disappearing native cultures around the world. People which live in a traditional spirit based way, at one with nature, seem to have the ability to gain valuable insights about life from their dreams and even precognitions. Something which modern man can no lon It's hard to forget some of the spiritual messages conveyed in this story of one man's time spent among the isolated island natives of Indonesia. The fascinating thing is that these truths are the same facts which are known to all quickly disappearing native cultures around the world. People which live in a traditional spirit based way, at one with nature, seem to have the ability to gain valuable insights about life from their dreams and even precognitions. Something which modern man can no longer do. This book discusses a number of unusual phenomena which evade the proof of scientific method. There may be a number of occurrences in the world which don't fit into the scientific model of logic an yet at the same time are not untrue. The only weak point of the book is when the author tries to examine these phenomena from a scientific stand-point and then digresses into discussions of things like dousing and spoon-bending. If you like this kind of reading about the wisdom of older cultures, there are several other books which are just as captivating. See also Mutant Message from Forever by Marlo Morgan, Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing by Robert Wolff, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by John G. Neihardt, and perhaps The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant. The last book listed is fictional.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gill

    This was my favourite book of all time when I read it in 1976. I reread it over the last few days to use some quotations in a journal I was making an entry in, and it is still my favourite book of all time. I didn't get on with most of Lyall Watson's books, but this one and Lightning Bird ahd enough story running through to hold my attention, and the story it weaves is magical. I liked the ants that track across the pages too. I don't want to give any of the story away, so I'll just say, if you This was my favourite book of all time when I read it in 1976. I reread it over the last few days to use some quotations in a journal I was making an entry in, and it is still my favourite book of all time. I didn't get on with most of Lyall Watson's books, but this one and Lightning Bird ahd enough story running through to hold my attention, and the story it weaves is magical. I liked the ants that track across the pages too. I don't want to give any of the story away, so I'll just say, if you ge the opportunity - READ IT!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    One of the most interesting books I have ever read. Tia is an unforgettable character. Watson is a brilliant and talented writer. This book is the kind of blending of science and mysticism that I LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! I especially loved it because it took place in Indonesia. If anyone can recommend similar books, please leave comments!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fred Mindlin

    Extraordinary tale of transcending preconceptions

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    Ground-breaking.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Missy J

    I have wanted to read this book for quite some time already. The title sounds mesmerizing. The fact that it's a non-fiction book set in a remote Indonesian island was enough to convince me to read this as soon as possible. Finally, it's also about dance, which I love, so it seemed like the perfect book to read. But first I had to make a trip to the library and find the book. Lyall Watson is a South African biologist, who was also very fascinated by and tried to make sense of the supernatural. In I have wanted to read this book for quite some time already. The title sounds mesmerizing. The fact that it's a non-fiction book set in a remote Indonesian island was enough to convince me to read this as soon as possible. Finally, it's also about dance, which I love, so it seemed like the perfect book to read. But first I had to make a trip to the library and find the book. Lyall Watson is a South African biologist, who was also very fascinated by and tried to make sense of the supernatural. In the early seventies, he was travelling around Indonesia. He was on a boat with 2 Javanese crewmen when a storm suddenly raged and swept them off course. They ended up in an island which he calls Nus Tarian, but which subtly hints at a place in Maluku. He makes references to Gunung Api (volcano), which is the name of the volcano in the Bandas. Moreover, much of the premise of this book revolves around the local creation myth of Hainuwele. I have never heard of Hainuwele before but it was fascinating to learn about this creation myth (view spoiler)[The first people lived in a land to the west. The world was the same in those times as it is today; it has always been the same. There were nine families of mankind, just as there are nine clans now in our village. Amongst the clan of kerbau, the buffalo, was a man named Ameta, which in the old language means 'dark as night'. He was neither married, nor had he any children. He went off hunting one day and chased a deer into a pond where it drowned. When he pulled the body out, he found a coconut impaled on its antler, though at that time there were no cocopalms anywhere in the world. Returning to his hut, Ameta planted the nut in the earth and next morning a palm began to grow. In three days it was tall and bearing blossoms. He climbed the tree to collect palm juice, but slashed his finger and blood fell on to a leaf where it mingled with the sap from the stem. When he returned three days later, the leaf had changed into a little girl. He wrapped her carefully in a cloth, took her home and named her Hainuwele, which means 'frond of the cocopalm'. Hainuwele grew quickly and in three more days she was tall and beautiful. But she was lonely and restless too. Fortunately at about that time there was to be a great maro dance in the place of the Nine Dance Grounds. Then, as always when the people start to dance the maro, the women sit in the centre and pass betel nut to the men who stamp out a large ninefold spiral around them. Hainuwele was chosen to be amongst those in the middle on the first night of this festival. On the second night, on the second dance ground, she was chosen again; but this time instead of passing out betel, she gave each dancer a gift of a beautiful porcelain dish. And on each new ground her gifts became more and more precious. On the third, it was copper boxes; on the fourth, gold ear-rings; and on the fifth, glorious bronze gongs. By the time the festival reached the ninth and last night, the other dancers were so jealous of Hainuwele that they conspired together and trampled her to death beneath their whirling feet. When Hainuwele failed to return home at dawn the next day, her father cast an oracle of cocopalm leaves, discovered the death, recovered her body and cut it into many pieces which he buried again all over the island. By the time of the next full moon, each and every portion had turned into an unknown thing that up to that time had never existed anywhere else on earth. One of these gifts was a crop of rice, so that ever since then, all dancer have been reminded of their crime three times every day. "But," Ibu Suri ended, staring sadly down at her own brown and dusty feet, "it seems that people never learn." (hide spoiler)] , which according to Wikipedia is from Seram Island. A parallel is drawn between Hainuwele and Tia (full name Tiamat Kutam), the young village dancer, whom Watson meets and is inspired by. I loved reading the stories of Tia and what Watson experiences on this remote island, where the inhabitants are nominally Muslim, but still closely tied to their animist beliefs. They live very close to nature and what the West calls supernatural, is just part of their reality and accepted as it is. The scene with the whale was heart breaking. The scene with the tsunami incredible. The scene with the illuminated squids is something I hope to see with my own eyes someday! The children of the village can hear colors and Tia develops extraordinary skills as a dancer and a healer to the dismay of the island's imam. The reason why I won't give this book five full stars is because in between the retelling of what he experienced in Nus Tarian, he talks about different scientists and scientific theories, which were so hard for me to comprehend. I know the author is a scientist by training and he wants to make sense of the things that he cannot explain for himself, but for me the pace of the story always slowed down when we reached such a part. However, I loved the story of Tia and I will always remember her in my heart. "Oh, Tia has it. You can see it every time she moves, but it is not yet complete. When all is ready, the connection will be made and then you will see! There will be dancing such as this island, this world has never seen. Dancing of the kind that even I can only dream about. It will be life on another level. Then perhaps we shall have a dance of power, the maro as it was meant to be." Ibu Suri's eyes gleamed with pride and magic, but behind it there was something else, an old and secret sadness. I believe it is only though earth-awareness that we can reach higher levels of consciousness. Without a deep and full appreciation and understanding of your environment, there is no possibility of extending yourself beyond it to a place with meaning and relevance. [...] You have to be grounded before you can fly. Both poet and scientist deal in human truths, but we have relinquished control of our destiny to science alone - and that is a mistake because scientists are missing something.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pilar

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I think part of the power of this book was that the supernatural elements, the parts that are a harder to reconcile with, grew in scope as the story unfolded. When you start reading something as non-fiction, and approach something that might be outside the realm of widely acceptable truth, it is easier for the reader to accept those occupancies as happenings of nonfiction when they are small at first. I had no trouble accepting Tia's sight or healing powers. Nor did I really question the startin I think part of the power of this book was that the supernatural elements, the parts that are a harder to reconcile with, grew in scope as the story unfolded. When you start reading something as non-fiction, and approach something that might be outside the realm of widely acceptable truth, it is easier for the reader to accept those occupancies as happenings of nonfiction when they are small at first. I had no trouble accepting Tia's sight or healing powers. Nor did I really question the starting of fire or other small out of the ordinary occupancies. However, raising a man from the dead? Pulling one's own eyeball from its socket? These were elements I had a much harder time with. Much of the science was completely over my head. The way he applied it to situations and explained the logic of connections was very much understandable and made sense to me. However, those statements and the connections he drew relied a great deal on the assumptions that such theories are indeed viable and are able to be applied in such situations. And that, unfortunately, is not something I have the background to determine. The key and power of the book, in my opinion, is that it is written by a scientist. Even without the inclusion of biological, archaeological, and physics connections threaded throughout the narrative, it is empowering and liberating to read what a scientist has put their name on as a true story.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Frazer

    While exploring the uncharted islands of the Javanese Atoll, Dr. Watson's boat is unexpectedly caught in a typhoon of incredible ferocity. When the storm abated, Dr.Watson and his crew discovered they had been carried nearly four hundred miles off their original course. With their boat badly damaged they headed for the first land they saw and discovered not only a refuge from the sea, but an island whose inhabitants possess an exceptional connection to the environment that surrounds them. Here w While exploring the uncharted islands of the Javanese Atoll, Dr. Watson's boat is unexpectedly caught in a typhoon of incredible ferocity. When the storm abated, Dr.Watson and his crew discovered they had been carried nearly four hundred miles off their original course. With their boat badly damaged they headed for the first land they saw and discovered not only a refuge from the sea, but an island whose inhabitants possess an exceptional connection to the environment that surrounds them. Here were a people whose primary language is dance, who interpret sound as color, and who displayed a profound understanding of the power within everything that surrounded them; whether it be rock or tree, wind or sea. This is a journal of a personal odessey that changed the life of the author and will influence the life of everyone who reads it. The power of this book is not in its words but in the understandings that will resonate within the reader as the story of this incredible experience unfolds.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Tansey

    Kind of strange and beautiful. Alleges to be a true story; comes off as fantasy and naturalism.

  12. 5 out of 5

    H.M.

    Reading the book raised many profound questions, chief of which, for me, might be: "Is what we call, and deem to be 'reality', constrained by our adherence or attachment to predominantly modern, materialistic or scientific, Western consensus? Can we become liberated by alternative consensus?" Or, as a friend suggested, "Is not any overall consensus reality just another prison we've chosen to live inside?" And yet, without some consensus, how could we communicate and interact? And is some level of Reading the book raised many profound questions, chief of which, for me, might be: "Is what we call, and deem to be 'reality', constrained by our adherence or attachment to predominantly modern, materialistic or scientific, Western consensus? Can we become liberated by alternative consensus?" Or, as a friend suggested, "Is not any overall consensus reality just another prison we've chosen to live inside?" And yet, without some consensus, how could we communicate and interact? And is some level of consensus required to sustain a viable version of reality? Regarding this, I'm reminded of a tale featuring the wise fool, Mulla Nasrudin, in Idries Shah's The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin: Takes After His Father ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Some of the Mulla’s toddlers were playing around the house, and someone asked his small son: ‘What is an aubergine?’ The son-and-heir immediately replied: ‘A mauve calf which has not yet opened its eyes.’ Delirious with delight the Mulla gathered him up in his arms and kissed his head and feet. ‘Did you hear that? Just like his father! AND I never told him – he made it up by himself!’ Overall, I found the book an enjoyable adventure, which took me out of everyday life, though the author lost me occasionally, for example where he is discussing the likes of infamous spoon bender, Uri Geller.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marcia

    I loved this book. In it, Watson travels to an unnamed Indonesian island and lives with the people for several months. Because they live close to the land and sea, they are in touch with nature's rhythms and mysteries. One old sailor/fisherman can listen to the fishes and messages of the sea. (He receives an astounding communication that saves their lives just in time.) One old woman teaches the little ones to dance, and they dance mysteries into being. A young orphan, in particular, develops as I loved this book. In it, Watson travels to an unnamed Indonesian island and lives with the people for several months. Because they live close to the land and sea, they are in touch with nature's rhythms and mysteries. One old sailor/fisherman can listen to the fishes and messages of the sea. (He receives an astounding communication that saves their lives just in time.) One old woman teaches the little ones to dance, and they dance mysteries into being. A young orphan, in particular, develops astounding abilities and changes the course of life on the island. Lyall Watson's writing style is beautiful and poetic. Don't be in a hurry to read through it or you'll miss the magic along the way.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Not as good as Elephatom in my mind. He talks of truly magical things and how he no longer feels the need to explain all of it with science; to justify it with science, to be the scientist that he is. But then he goes on and on and on explaining (or trying to) the phenomena in scientific terms. He's a good writer and I love the biology of most of it. It just got tedious to me. Not as good as Elephatom in my mind. He talks of truly magical things and how he no longer feels the need to explain all of it with science; to justify it with science, to be the scientist that he is. But then he goes on and on and on explaining (or trying to) the phenomena in scientific terms. He's a good writer and I love the biology of most of it. It just got tedious to me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex Kelly

    My favorite book of all time. Thought provoking and somehow selfishly gratifying. While reading your mind is filled with vivid imagery of a place exotic and spiritual. Need to go there, if only in my mind.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Penney Peirce

    What a lovely book! An early inspiration in my own work.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kamila Dk

    Beautifully written, with lots of interesting facts and raising many questions to ponder about, but towards the end I struggled with the veracity of the story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Doug Wolf

    I was absolutely captivated from page one. I read this book in one sitting, and by that I mean I didin't even take a bathroom break, I read it cover to cover non-stop. I was absolutely captivated from page one. I read this book in one sitting, and by that I mean I didin't even take a bathroom break, I read it cover to cover non-stop.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    This book was so interesting and engaging, I had a hard time putting it down. I'd never heard of Lyall Watson before, but I happened to receive this in a BookCrossing trade. Now I'd like to learn some more about him... I know he's written several other books, so I might have to hunt them down. (Hehe... I just got an odd mental image of myself dressed in Amazon Warrior attire, bow and arrow at the ready, on the trail of wild books) Apparently Watson is a biologist who writes about science as well This book was so interesting and engaging, I had a hard time putting it down. I'd never heard of Lyall Watson before, but I happened to receive this in a BookCrossing trade. Now I'd like to learn some more about him... I know he's written several other books, so I might have to hunt them down. (Hehe... I just got an odd mental image of myself dressed in Amazon Warrior attire, bow and arrow at the ready, on the trail of wild books) Apparently Watson is a biologist who writes about science as well as metaphysics. This book is a chronicle of his time spent on an Indonesian island in the mid-70s, where he supposedly experienced a lot of things that seem crazy to our Western way of thinking. For example, the children on the island all seem to be able to "hear" color. As in, they associate colors with sounds, like a form of synesthesia. An old man is able to "hear" fish underwater, and directs the islanders to fishing spots when supplies are scarce. But the real main character of the book is a young girl raised in the traditional animist beliefs of the island who is an extraordinary dancer, is able to perform psychic healing, and plays with the idea of reality as we know it. It's hard to know whether the events Watson relates are true, or if they've been creatively embellished. Nevertheless, he's a wonderful writer who has related a fantastic tale. If you take nothing else from the book, at least you'll have that. That, and a mind opened to all the possibilities of the world; the possibilities of the things we've yet to discover. And oddly enough, it seems like Watson isn't trying to make you believe him. His views are a refreshing mix of science and mystery, and he states early on that he finds "instant believers" hard to deal with because "they are so totally committed to their particular brand of mysticism that they devour anything remotely resembling supportive evidence and assimilate it without question into the structure of their beliefs." He'd rather that you don't believe him right away. He goes on to say that he has "equally great misgivings about any persuasion that hardens into dogma," which can be interpreted to mean the pedestal of science and cold hard fact that so many of us look up to. So basically, he's telling the reader to question the world and keep an open mind... and I certainly can't argue with that.

  20. 4 out of 5

    nightbird

    I really enjoyed reading this book. There were a couple of slowish parts but it is mostly a nice combination of anthropological, biological, and paranormal observations and experiences. From the two books I've read by Watson so far, he wrote from a balanced and grounded perspective, about some really fascinating and spectacular things (some more widely accepted than others). I really enjoyed reading this book. There were a couple of slowish parts but it is mostly a nice combination of anthropological, biological, and paranormal observations and experiences. From the two books I've read by Watson so far, he wrote from a balanced and grounded perspective, about some really fascinating and spectacular things (some more widely accepted than others).

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Cartwright

    Had me in the first view pages, with the collective squid confrontation. Who else could turn this into a near mystical digression beyond what we think we know about these inhabitants of the deep?... what I love about such rare writers, who push through their disciplines into the outer reaches of human experience.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    this is hands down, for all time, my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE book. it's a beautiful story set on a tiny indonesian island. it predates whale rider, but has that sort of story line and feel - only it's a true story. this is hands down, for all time, my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE book. it's a beautiful story set on a tiny indonesian island. it predates whale rider, but has that sort of story line and feel - only it's a true story.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    My daughter told me to read this book. I have not finished. I want to savor every page. Makes me look at rocks totally different.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Squid eye.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    I wonder if this stuff could be true...good book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    one of my favorite books. visually tantalizing descriptions and thoughts, vivid, gorgeous, exotic, and relevant.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Trudie

    Jennifer's favorite book Jennifer's favorite book

  28. 5 out of 5

    Ashen

    This is the phenomenal sequel to Supernature, and yet another inspiring collection of odd tales and modern research.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Derek James Baldwin

    More Supernature, this time with a stronger anthropological/cultural perspective.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Harry Owen

    A life changer. 'Brilliant' is not too strong a word for this marvellous book. A life changer. 'Brilliant' is not too strong a word for this marvellous book.

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