Savu & Rai Jua News - Sept '05

Severe drought grips the Savu Islands

Failed crop of corn in Lii Ae (Liae)

The crisis on Savu and Rai Jua has deepened further, as the islands' palm trees have failed to blossom, due to the extremely dry weather. Usually, during periods of extraordinary hunger, the Islanders turn to palm syrup for sustenance. The palm blossoms produce nectar, which is harvested to produce a highly nutritious syrup. Unable to harvest their palms, many people have now left the islands to work in Kupang, so they can send money home. Some parents have even sent their children to Kupang, in the hope they can find work, thereby abandoning their childen's educations. In such cases, the parents are themselves unable to work in Kupang, on account of not speaking Indonesian. Their desperation is highlighted by the fact that, in numerous cases, they have had to sell cattle to fund the trip.

Failed crop of corn in Rae Dewa

Astonishingly, the government has failed to address the situation on Savu, despite receiving large sums of money from numerous aid organisations. The Kupang based Alfa Omega Foundation (YAO) has donated over 500 trillion rupiah to the relief effort, while an additional 100 trillion rupiah has been donated by ten other humanitarian organisations, including World Vision Indonesia and the Womitra Foundation, also based in Kupang. All this aid has been distributed throughout the East Nusa Tenggara region, yet somehow Savu and Rai Jua were overlooked.

The secretary of the East Nusa Tenggara branch of the Indonesian Agriculture Union (Sekretaris Dewan Cabang Kerukunan Tani Indonesia, HKTI, Cabang Kupang) asked the government to respond immediately, to prevent the situation getting even worse. Mr. Nathaniel Kanahebi returned from Savu with stories of sheer desperation. He reported that the few springs that usually flow all year long have now dried up. He described the people as being confused and lost, not understanding why the government had not come to their aid. He entered many homes to check food reserves, only to discover that most had run out of supplies. Certainly, none had sufficient supplies for the coming months. The only people who could afford two meals a day were government officers, since they alone received a stable income.

A single delivery of aid arrived in June, care of Garuda Food Jakarta. Volunteers walked great distances to deliver the rations to remote homes, with priority given to those families suffering malnutrition or other diseases caused by the harsh living conditions. Altogether, 988 boxes of snacks, in the form of wafer creams and the like, were delivered to 12 villages in Lii Ae (Liae) and 17 villages in Heb'a (Seba). One of the volunteers described the living conditions as confronting. Even so, the people expressed gratitude for the little help they were given.

Parched landscape in Lii Ae

In the past, Savunese society has held together through periods of drought, because the people were primarily concerned with growing their own food. However, with social development comes a greater dependence on money. Nowadays, farmers occasionally leave the island to work in Timor for a few months, so they can afford to send their children to school. Of course, this is time that would normally be spent farming. So, when they return to Savu, they need to buy food that they would otherwise have grown.

Seaweed racks and pollution on B'año Beach

Of course, social and economic development is desirable. However, there are many indirect costs that only become clear during hard times. For example, farmers are now more inclined to sell their palm syrup rather than store it for their own consumption. Their subsequent reliance on money exposes them to market forces, which push food prices up whenever there is a shortage. This is compounded for remote islands, due to transport costs which have risen with the global price of oil. Some farmers have diversified into seaweed, which sells for about EU0.50 per kilogram (dried). However, the seaweed farms have disrupted the marine ecology, which in turn impacts on the fish stocks. Ultimately, the islands' reliance on money forces residents to move to Kupang and elsewhere in search of greater financial security.

Clearly, economic development challenges the very fabric of traditional societies. However, it has also been seen to undermine the family unit itself. An extreme example of this resulted in tragedy for a B'e B'ae (Bebae) family, who ostracized one member of the family for devoting all his time to seaweed farming. The family wanted the man to divide his time between seaweed farming and palm harvesting. However, he refused to give in to their wishes and continued to neglect the family's tradition of harvesting palm nectar. It would seem that seaweed farming was more appealing to the man, because seaweed is much easier to sell than palm syrup, which requires direct negotiation with customers. In retalliation, or perhaps only to make a point, the family denied him access to their palm syrup. This so devastated the man that he took his own life. He was found hanged in the tool shed beside the seaweed farm.

Time and again, teachers, academics and village heads have held meetings in Kupang to discuss the situation on Savu and Rai Jua and to beg for government assistance. However, the government continues to ignor the crisis. To add insult to injury, the head of the Kupang Region, Mr. I.A. Medah, recently authorised a 10 million rupiah subsidy to build a mosque in Heb'a, despite the Muslim community being only a tiny minority, of whom none are Savunese. However, the big question is surely how over 80 trillion rupiah could flow into the region from aid organisations (approx. 5 million Euros) without the Savu Islands receiving one cent of it.


Djingi tii Eu leader converts to Christianity

A ritual leader (Mone Ama) of Eastern Savu (Hawu Dimu) has recently converted to Christianity, leaving many people without a ritual leader. For some time, Grandpa Ma Dj'ari (Ba'i Ma Dj'ari Ga) had been thinking over the possibility. He consulted with a priest three times before finally taking the step. However, once the decision was made, his entire family followed suit and converted to Christianity as well.

Ba'i Ma Dj'ari Ga conducting a death ritual

Scenarios like this have been happening within Savunese society ever since Christian missionaries arrived during the early years of Dutch occupation. Today, more than 75% of the population consider themselves Protestant, while about 20% continue to live accordingly to the Savunese tradition of Djingi tii Eu.

Unfortunately, the motivation to convert to Christianity is not solely a question of faith. For many Savunese, poverty is the over-riding factor influencing their decision. By converting to Christianity, they free themselves of all the material demands of the ritual ceremonies, which are both costly and time consuming. For example, Christians do not have to slaughter cattle, as Djingi tii Eu do, to celebrate a birth or when a family member dies.

In the olden days, people never had to buy cattle to perform rituals, since they received donations from family members. But ever since the government insisted that children attend school, people have had to sell their cattle to fund their children's educations. This has forced many to abandon their traditional customs and to adopt Christianity instead. The schools even require students to present baptism certificates upon their enrollment, further alienating Djingi tii Eu (
Postcard of the Savu Islands:Vol.1).

Ba'i Ma Dj'ari Ga with relatives


Traffic accident claims life

A 25 years old Savunese resident of Onekore in Ende, Mr. Rafael Bire Wadu, died in Ende Public Hospital on the 7th of August, having been in a traffic accident the day before. Rafael was riding his motorcycle when a motor vehicle collided with him head on. He suffered a probable brain homorage and spent 8 hours in intensive care, before succumbing to his injuries. His pillion passenger, Desire, suffered a severe gash to her right foot, while another victim of the accident was reported to have a broken a leg.


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