One of our key Indonesian partners, Deddy Herianto of Inori, has been off on his travels recently.Wearing his other hat as a consultant in livelihoods for various NGOs working in the South East Asia region, he travelled for over 24hrs to the remote area of Wamena in Papua.
This was a journey of 3,179 km (more than twice the distance from London to Rome) from Jogyakarta in Java via Denpasar (Bali), Makasar (Sulawesi) and Timika (Papua), with an overnight stopover in Jayapura (Papua).
Deddy was providing technical assistance for local partners of Oxfam who were implementing an empowerment plan for sweet potato farmers. He has sent us a report of his trip, together with some striking photographs.
Native Papuan sweet potato farmers have a staple diet of sweet potatoes and pork; each family in Wamena has 1-4 hectares of sweet potato fields and keeps at least 2 pigs.
Deddy was taken to Azologaima, a village 1½ hours from Wamena by motorcycle, where he was welcomed by the tribal chief and elders, who showed him about 30 villagers, men and women, working together to clear some new land for planting. They worked all day, cutting bushes down with their knives, and accompanying their work with what he calls ‘a particular shouting voice that they exchanged one another’.
He was then shown how the villagers prepare food for communal meals and celebrations in a bakar batu or stone grill: a large hole is dug, 50cm deep and 2m across. Stones are then heated in a fire and put into the pit in alternate layers with sweet potatoes and pork. The whole pile is then covered with leaves, and tied up with grass or roots. After 2-3 hours the food is uncovered and served. Deddy was invited to join the meal, which he describes as ‘ a priceless tradition and togetherness’.
Deddy remarks on one or two details which particularly struck him about the local situation: although road links to Wamena are poor, the area is connected to the outside world by regular airlinks. This means however that all goods in and out have to travel by plane, which adds significantly to costs.
The people in Wamena do not use units of weight in their trading activities: they sell their goods in piles. Nor do they use fractions: all goods are sold for round numbers: ‘for example a pile of tomatoes were sold at Rp 5,000. A pile of chillies at Rp 10,000, a pile of sweet potatoes at Rp 20,000 and so on’.
Deddy concludes ‘ I was more than delighted to be able to assist Oxfam’s partners to enhance the empowerment of sweet potato farmers, moreover my interaction with the sweet potato farmers … was exceptionally priceless to me’.