The untold story of Prof. Dr. Eli Steve Seumahu

“Ora et Labora”, said Prof. Dr. Eli Steve Seumahu, when he was asked what advice he could give to young Moluccan people at the end of the Webinar. Pray and Work – words that definitely played an important part in the life of this remarkable and inspiring octogenarian.

In what was probably the first-ever interview with Prof. Seumahu, more than 300 people from all over the world, attended the first Bahasa Basudara live Bacarita dari Timur Webinar on Friday 31st July 2020 and followed the amazing journey of this Anak Lilibooi to Australia.

Organised by Dayalima and with Iwan Muskitta from Basudara Maluku Global as the mediator, the retired Telecommunications professor shared with us the extraordinary story of his life. From his humble childhood in Ambon where he had no shoes until he turned 18 (he remembered how the shoes gave him blisters), to attending UN conferences in New York and Geneva.

Even though the questions had been prepared and Om Eli as Iwan called him, read his answers from a paper in fluent English, he at times closed his eyes and told his story as if he had to refer to that immense memory bank where his life had been stored.

It was a tale of how a young boy followed his dream. As a young child, he loved mathematics and physics so much that he conducted scientific experiments at home and even invented a battery-operated  Christmas tree. But it was after reading a US Navy instruction manual for radio operators in English, which he found in the library, that he realised that he wanted to pursue a career in telecommunications. A dream that took him to Jakarta, where he eventually managed to get a scholarship to study in Australia.

To say that he faced an immensely difficult uphill struggle is an understatement. This was all about perseverance - unbelievably his Australian Bachelors and Masters qualifications were not recognised by the Indonesian authorities. So he went back again to Australia, defied prejudice - the then White Australian policy didn’t allow non-whites to study – but he gained more degrees and even did a year at one of the world’s most prestigious Universities MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the USA.

During his career in Telecommunications, Prof. Seumahu published 97 publications and is even mentioned in the Who’s Who. He retired 18 years ago and nowadays enjoys his retirement by playing the ukulele and singing in a choir. He would have loved the opportunity to visit the Moluccas again, but unfortunately the current climate (COVID-19) and his age, it’s highly unlikely that this will happen.

There’s enough material for a book and who knows even a film of the life of this extraordinary man. So if you want to watch it (again) go to YouTube and don’t forget to sign up for the next Bacarita Dari Timur Webinar on 14th August 2020 (16:00hrs WIT), when our next speaker is Henry Timisela, director of the Moluccan Museum in the Netherlands.