Far from Lombok’s capital of Mataram, in the island’s dry north, are two villages. Both are facing the same difficult agricultural conditions and both are populated by Lombok’s indigenous Sasak people — but there the similarity ends.
Posted 13 July 2011, by Trisha Sertori, The Jakarta Post (PT Bina Media Tenggara), thejkartapost.com
In one village, Segenter, people’s spirits appear broken, but just a few kilometers away in Bayan, people have held fast to their traditions and their future looks strong.
Both villages have received government support to maintain Sasak traditions and create tourism-related opportunities that could add an additional revenue stream to their primary income, which comes from agriculture.
In Bayan village, there is no trace of the melancholy that washes over Segenter, only 15 kilometers away. People lean out of small shops to wave hello with great grins of welcome.
Adherence to traditions – life blood of the community
With much higher rainfall than Segenter, Bayan in the cool northern hills is lush with tropical forests, rice fields and mixed farming. But, it is not its agricultural output that is the life blood of this community — it is instead their adherence to traditions and the passing down of ancient knowledge and laws.
Banyan weavers collective
The women of Bayan are weavers, making cloth not targeted for tourists but for religious ceremonies held every month. During these ceremonies, every family in the Sasak village needs new sarongs, scarves and the tapestry-like women’s headdress called a jong.
“In the past we women would work in the fields as contract laborers. We were earning US$1.50 a day and only getting three days work a week,” says 32-year-old Suriasi, who in 2006 felt there had to be a better way to make an income and so established a weavers collective.
“Back in 2006 I was a contract laborer. It’s really hard, hot work in the sun all day in the fields. One day I was thinking how can I change this and I thought of all the women going home after field work to weave the sarongs we need in our ceremonies. There were then tourists coming to the village to see our traditions — our adat — and I thought maybe they would buy our cloth,” says Suriasi.
After doing the math, Suriasi says she realized women could weave a sarong in two weeks and sell it for $20, working in the fields for the same two weeks would net just $9.
“By weaving we were ahead by $11 that we could put back into buying the thread to make more weavings,” says Suriasi, who drew up her business plan to work with her community and create a new life while working under the scorching sun as a laborer.
Her weavers group, Jajak Nganter, now produces more than 120 sarongs, scarves and jong each month, with most being sold within their local community.
To get started, Suriasi took a microcredit loan of $500 from the Lombok government with interest of just one per cent. The loan had to be repaid within ten months.
“I loaned each of the women enough money to buy thread to weave and they paid me back. We were able to pay back the loan and we have now also been given a large loom from the government,” says Suriasi.
The weavers group has responded to the community’s needs, says 38-year-old fellow weaver Junita, who has been weaving since she was 15 years old.
Following the traditions of the ancestors
“We are following the traditions of our ancestors — our nenek moyang. Much of our trade is local and sometimes we sell to tourists. When we weave our cloth it makes us happy. Weaving is my hobby and it makes money on the side,” says Junita.
With good farmlands and the weaving groups, Junita says there is a lot of work available in Bayan so young people do not need to leave town to find work.
“Sometimes the kids leave for the city, but most stay here and work in the village because there is still a lot of work. Also, their skill levels in other areas are not high, so it is difficult for them to leave and there are few choices,” says Junita, whose 11-year-old daughter, Siska, is already weaving.
“I started weaving when I was nine years old. I can already make weavings with the motifs. I am happy when I weave because this is my hobby and I have already sold five sarongs at school,” says Bayan’s next textile entrepreneur.
Struggle for survival: A woman cleans beans in Segenter, seemingly trapped in poverty.
Segenter: Steeped in melancholy
On Lombok’s main north road there is a sign for Segenter noting that it is an adat village, a village steeped in Sasak tradition with its people still dwelling in bamboo homes. On the surface, Segenter, several kilometers off the main road via a winding track through farmlands, is charming.
The village is entered through a pair of giant rock pillars that meet a path that traverses Segenter’s woven bamboo homes; but here the romance of Segenter life ends.
Resting on outdoor verandahs called brugak, ancient women sleep, their lips stained red with betel juice. In other brugak, families thin with privation watch visitors with hungry eyes.
These people seem like shadows of the past, breathing but barely existing. One well-dressed young man, 30-year-old Misayang, has taken over the role of guide in the village.
He is quick to meet with visitors to the village, inviting them into his home and explaining how Sasak houses function. Surrounding the walls of his house are woven baskets and other trinkets, all dust laden and cobwebbed, testament to how rarely the village makes a sale.
“The government wanted us to maintain our village and our farming traditions so tourists could come here and learn of our ways,” says Misayang, offering for sale a woven basket for US$60.
“It’s old — an antique. The woman who made this is already dead,” says Misayang of the exorbitant price, 25 times more expensive than the same item in Bali.
Misayang explains that no one in his village can make baskets like the one he holds — “and why would we when they take a week to make and we only get US$15?” he asks.
Textile weaving skills have also been lost in this adat village. Sitting near Misayang is 36-year-old Erni. She looks embarrassed and saddened that the ancient skills of her grandmother and mother have not continued.
“That would have been work on the side — to make baskets and our weavings. It was not meant to be our whole income — having these skills would have helped us, but my grandmother never taught me and most of the old ladies are now dead. The ones still living have also forgotten these skills,” says Erni as she feeds her baby green beans grown in her fields.
Even dance has been lost to this vilage
Even dance has been lost to this village, this dusty, broken down museum. “We have no dance teacher,” says Misayang simply.
The farmlands surrounding Segenter, with its population of 399, though arid, are surprisingly productive, according to 53-year-old local farmer Amak Remaja.
Their lands support cotton trees, cashews, cattle, goats, pigeons, chickens and ducks; the whole village farms, says Remaja. But, they depend on middlemen to ferry their produce to market, the middlemen also setting harvest prices.
“We have a boss from the outside — a tengkulak [middle man]. He sets the prices and its better for us to sell on contract than travel to the markets because the people there say we need money and so they try to force down the prices,” says Remaja of the difficulties these people face with “outsiders”.
It may be this village’s isolation that has caused its melancholic atmosphere — its lack of spirit; this malaise may also be the harvest of unrealistic broken dreams of tourist dollars falling like manna from heaven if these people are willing to freeze themselves in time.
“We are depressed here. We always worry about our children’s education and their future — there is never enough food. But it’s the future that worries me the most. What is life without a future? There is nothing here for our kids,” says Erni, her eyes scanning her village that time has forgotten.
With no hope for a future in their village, some young people head to Malaysia to work, says 70-year-old Nengsanom.
“Some of our kids go to Malaysia to work the palm oil plantations. They come back after two years.
Two kids did go to university, but they are the only ones who made it.
We have less education and the high school is 15 kilometers away — and we have no money for education,” says Nengsanom of the invisible but impenetrable barrier to a better future for the people of Segenter.