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Notes from a paradise (West Papua and Papua New Guinea) by a Mumbay artist



The Mumbai-based artist Garima Gupta – Supplied

Jayapura, Jubi/The Asian Age – The Birds of Paradise of Papua New Guinea, a highly sought-after bird species, have amused the humans worldwide with their mating dances. After reading Alfred Russel Wallace’s The Malay Archipelago, illustrator and self-taught birder Garima Gupta was compelled to visit West Papua in 2014.

The Mumbai-based artist says, “Wallace, who is credited for the theory of sexual selection through female choice, along with Charles Darwin, spent a considerable amount of time studying these birds.” She adds, “Unique to the island of New Guinea, the birds’ dimorphic form (condition where the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics) is dictated by the evolutionary changes. As a result, the males are the more pompous creatures with highly complicated plumes and a wide-ranging vocal repository. I was keen on seeing them in their natural habitat,” says Garima.

In 2015, the rainforests in Indonesia had caught a devastating fire. To gauge the tragedy, Garima returned to Papua New Guinea in 2016, and over a period of five months, did extensive research. “I returned from Papua New Guinea and West Papua with files filled with recordings, of meetings. Two years ago, I met Zeth Wonggor in the rainforests of the Arfak Mountains of West Papua. A former hunter, Zeth has been guiding people like me who wish to see the Birds of Paradise in the remote corners of the rainforest for the past 20 years.”

Garima also stayed in remote rainforest villages with no electricity and living on diet chiefly consisting of boiled vegetables. “I had never lived in such a remote place and that in itself was quite an experience. There was no electricity; only solar panels were chiefly used to communicate with the outside world,” she adds.

Her ongoing exhibition consisting of sketches and animations (Minutes of the Meeting), at Clark House Initiative, places the birds as the centrepiece of a conversation on historical narrative of ecological damage in South-east Asian and Western Pacific. “I borrowed the term (minutes of a meeting) from my grandmother’s lexicon. It was a sizeable part of her job — she travelled home after long hours of multiple meetings. I grew up watching her conduct these jargon-filled meetings. The words were so dense, they resembled a suffocating noise. And strangely enough, everything apart from these words was filled with nuance,” she explains as the reason behind the title of her exhibiton.

“All across Europe,” she explains, “Since the 1550’s, the colourful Birds of Paradise from the Far East mesmerised the European elite and came to symbolise the age of knowledge and scientific inquiry. Trading of these birds as specimens and feathers for fashionable hats was a common sight till early 1900s. As the West grew ecologically conscious, societies like RSPB in England and the Audubon in USA became instrumental in banning hunting of Birds of Paradise for plumes. However, illegal trade still flourishes behind closed doors and specimens continue to travel to European countries till today.”

However, Garima says that her intention was less of an anthropologist or an ornithologist. “I wanted to have a more human-to-human approach, understanding the people’s stories that are often missed by he mainstream media,” she says. Which brought her to the hunters. “We keep talking about the problem of hunting and poaching, but who are these people and why do they do what they do? These are things that I wanted to know,” she explains. She will be continuing her research for two more years and won’t restrict herself to any one medium — sketches or animations — and plans to eventually put up her work on some social media platform. “The idea is to make these stories accessible to everyone who is interested,” she concludes. (*)

This article wrote by Somudra Banerjee


Arts & Culture

Papuan Voices promotes indigenous Papuans in film festival




Papuan Film Festival II Committee when holding a press conference at Jerat Papua office, Jayapura City. – Jubi / Abeth You

Jayapura, Jubi – Papuan Voices will promote indigenous Papuans through Papua Film Festival II (FFP II) which is running in Jayapura City on 7 – 9 August 2018.

Papuan Voices established in 2011 and now stations in six regions of Papua, namely Biak, Jayapura, Keerom, Wamena, Merauke, Sorong and Raja Ampat.

“The theme of FFP II is indigenous Papuans struggling facing modernization. We chose this theme to response the current situation occurred in Papua,  said Chairman of the Committee of FFP II Harun Rumbarar in Jayapura on Thursday (7/5/2018).

In this festival, Papuan Voices wants to increase public awareness on the critical issues faced by indigenous Papuans.

“Also, it acts as a forum to strengthen filmmakers networking in Papua. Our works further explain the position of indigenous peoples in facing the waves of development and investment,” he said.

Meanwhile, FFP II Secretary Bernard Koten said his organisation recently focus on producing a short documentary film about human and the land of Papua, which assign to all levels of community in Papua, Indonesia and abroad.

“To see Papua through the eyes of Papuans, in the form of a documentary film,” Koten said. (*)


Reporter: Abeth You

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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Arts & Culture

Momuna tribe: Faith and the way of living




Momuna people in Yahukimo District. -Jubi/Piter Lokon

Momuna tribe, who live in the lowland of Dekai City, has in common with Korowai tribe, a tribe who spreads in the three administrative areas of Boven Digoel, Mappi and Asmat. The most common between these two tribes is the shape of their traditional house, which is built on a tree. Momuna people call their tree house buku subu.

However, it has changed as the time flies. Currently, Momuna people are rarely living in the tree house. They live in regular houses that were provided by the government of Yahukimo District as part of their social development program. Yet, people still build the buku subu in order to attract some local and domestic tourists to visit their village in Dekai.

Regarding to faith, Momuna tribe always own their belief about creation since long time ago. “We don’t believe in trees or rivers. We believe that there is the One who creates us,” the Momuna tribe chief Ismail Keikera recently told Jubi in his house.

Momuna people believe in the existence of the Creator, and it must have its own place. Therefore, there are some places that regarded as the sacred ones. “In the past, there are some sacred places or prohibitions from our ancestors. These are still believed until now by this generation,” said Keikera.

He made an example. There is a prohibition from the elders for not cutting down or even touching the redwood or in Momuna language is called koweni. Once it is touched, people who have done it could lose their mind. “Many patients that we’ve seen in the hospital were thrashing like crazy, a madman. It is because they touched the koweni tree. If it happened to us (Momuna tribe), there is no need to be taken to the hospital, just give it a blow for a while. They must be cured,” he said.

Given to this fact, however, Momuna tribe has never worshipped trees, stones or rivers. “We only worship the Potmadito (God the Creator) who rules the heaven and the earth. It’s almost similar to the story in the Bible. So, we believe in the existence of God the Creator.”

Gathering and hunting for food

Momuna people do fishing or in their language it calls ci, ploughing sago or mbi, and collecting wild yams or mate for survival. In addition, they also hunt for a living that usually for wild boar, cassowary, crocodile, turtle and so on.

Ismail said sago and yams have always become their staple food. “Not eating sago makes people weak. Rice is just coming recently.”

According to him, only certain people are allowed to cutting down the sago trees. As it is Momuna’s staple food, cutting down the sago trees is clearly to killing Momuna people. “Anyone who’ve caught out cutting down the sago tree could be fined up to Rp 50 million. So, don’t dare to mess with our sago trees because it’s our staple food. Cutting down the sago trees is equal to killing one life,” he said.

However, he did not deny that the government has distributed rice under the rice for poor or rice for prosperous programs, which was a direct assistance of Yahukimo District Government, through PD Irian Bakti to village apparatus.

Since long time ago, Ismail said, their ancestors were always moving around. When the source of food was run out, they had to move to other location for opening a new planting field.

Anthropologists say there are three kinds of nomadic lifestyle, namely hunter-gatherers, pastoral nomads, and peripatetic nomads.  Hunter-gatherer, according to experts, is the longest survival method in human history. They move to other places to follow the season of the wild plantation and hunting animals. The rotation of swidden cultivation will last for 20 years, and people will always return to their original location for gardening because the land is already fertile.

Shifting cultivation actually fit with real conditions in the field. If soil fertility begins to diminish, people will leave the land in order to improve the cycle of fertility. It is much different to what has been applied in permanent cultivation because the tropical lands are not always fertile if not fertilized.

Indonesian anthropologist Prof. Dr. Subur Budi Santoso stated in his research that the work ethic of the hunter-gatherer people is very strong in a way to achieve the best possible results without destroying the environment. It is an example of the patterns of human adaptation.  (*)


Reporter: Piter Lokon

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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Arts & Culture

Katile and katilol: the traditional conservation of Fafanlap community





Fafanlaf village, Misool Island, Raja Ampat District, Papua Barat Province. -Jubi/Doc.

Many prohibitions for some people in Papua are actually to protect their natural resources from any threats.

These bans can have various names, such as Samson for Matbat ethnic of Misool Island, or sasisen for Biak people, or rajaha for Maya people of Salawati Island, and Tepera people of Tablanusu village call it tiaitiki. Even though they have many different names, it contains the same meaning and purpose that is not to let people utilizing the natural resources within a certain time. This is to provide opportunities for certain flora and fauna to renew and duplicate as well as to maintain and multiply the population of their surrounding natural resources.

Fafanlap Village, which is located in Misool Island, Raja Ampat, recognizes a prohibition law or katilol in their local language. Katilol is closely related to the prohibitions applied in the sea and the land. Further, the application of this rule cannot be separated from the role of the customary leaders of kings who have authority in Misool Island, especially Fafanlap Village.

Katilol, according to customary leaders –as quoted by Jubi from Sasi Katilol Masyarakat Kampung Fafanlap Distrik Misool Selatan by Windy Hapsari, Papua Cultural Value Preservation Office, the Education and Cultural Ministry—told firstly, is regarded as people tradition. Secondly, it is regarded as customary law, and the third, it is regarded as an order or a prohibition from a leader or a king.

Especially for Matbal tribe, who are the majority of Fafanlap villagers, this law has been descended from their ancestors and present generation continues to defend it to preserve the environment. The prohibition is applied to both areas of sea and land. To separate it, they call it katilol and katile for the rules who apply in these areas respectively.

These prohibitions are usually determined on an arrangement, but interestingly, it can also be done unintentionally. The first is usually done based on necessity, for instance by considering the decrease of sea or plant harvesting. While the latter is done because of external factors such as climate or seasonal calendar applied by villagers.

If sawi or east wind season comes, there are usually big waves and windy. As a result, fishermen are fear to going fishing. They have to wait until the weather turns friendly, then they go to the sea. This season occurs for almost six months before altering with moropat or west wind season that also endures for the same period. However, the climate and season could be different in some villages. It depends on the geographical location of each area.

Katilol and katile are included in the seasonal calendar of Fafanlap villagers by considering the presence of natural phenomena, especially for katilol, which related to the prohibition in the sea. Sea phenomenon can be seen through low tide or in local language meti and tidal or mos.

There are several types of prohibition laws, including religious and customary laws. Religious prohibition law is usually applied to religious need. For example, people are prohibited to harvest coconut trees. It will be ended for religious event or construction of worship building. Meanwhile, customary law has been rarely to apply since 2001. However, each clan still applies it according to their customary areas.

Currently, the implementation of sea law has been decreased for several reasons. The first reason is the role of the customary government is decline. Another is a conflict between these leaders. However, the sea law prohibition is still applied in Fafanlap Village that led by a kapitlaKapitla is actually the abbreviation from kapitan laut or sea commander.

kapitla of Fafanlap village comes from Soltif clan. As a traditional leader, he is assisted by sgajimarin, and sawoMarin is a messenger who is responsible to deliver an order from kapitla. marin in Fafanlap village comes from Wainsaf clan. (*)


Reporter: Dominggus Mampioper

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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