A tribe at the crossroad
Veronica, 42, a mother of seven, chewed the pinang (areca nut) to make it juicy. She kept chewing, spitting out red juice once in awhile. The redder your teeth, the stronger they are, she explained with a grin, showing off her red teeth.
One of her children, Joseph, one and half years, played with some toddlers. Running around without shoes or clothes, he was a typical Kamoro child.
Veronica, a resident of Kokonau village, said it was a bit of a trip to reach Pigapu, where the Kamoro Kakuru, or Kamoro Festival was held.
"In took us four days in Johnson to reach the village," she said, referring to the boat she and her family rode in.
"At the festival were are able to dance and sing and spend the night talking with other families."
Her children came to the festival with her, meaning they were able to skip school.
"Only two of my children go to school now. The others already dropped out. They got bored and returned to our village to help us with our farm," she said, adding that her children studied in Timika at a boarding school.
Kaspar Ipapitu, in his 70s, showed off a life-sized mbiikao mask and several smaller masks. It takes him months to make one mask because of all the different materials required.
He taught his children how to make masks but they have never been able to produce the kind of refined work done by their father.
To attend the Kakuru, the resident of Omawita village and his children spent a whole day in a boat to reach Pigapu village.
"I think every Kamoro will try their best to make it to this event. It is a good chance to meet brothers and sisters from other villages," he said, adding that he also expected to make some money selling his masks.
Kaspar and Veronica were just two of 4,000 people who attended the festival this year. There are about 18,000 Kamoro people in total living along the coast of the Arafura Sea.
The Kamoro rely on fishing and the generosity of nature for their livelihoods, meaning education is not as important as for other people. Kaspar just needed to teach his children how to make mbiikao and cultivate coffee or keladi (a kind of taro).
Veronica said her children needed to learn how to deal with nature and make use of what they had been given by God.
No wonder that in his sermons, Timika Bishop Mgr John Philip Saklil said he frequently reminded the Kamoro of the importance of school.
"If schools are not attended by our children, we are losing a generation. This means devastation for the Kamoro, remember this," said John, who is originally from Tual in Ambon.
John is mostly saddened by the fact that schools -- a number of them built by the church -- are not well managed. There are not enough teachers and the curriculum is lacking.
"When the government dissolved the school for teachers, we run out of teachers for elementary schools. People have to attend university to become teachers. But if they are university graduates, I don't think they want to be teachers. They can get other jobs with better salaries," he said.
John also expressed his concern over the alarming number of people with HIV/AIDS in Timika and the scant attention given to this issue by the local government. He cited a figure of 600 people infected with HIV/AIDS, believing that it is just the tip of the iceberg.
"With poor education how will people realize they have HIV/AIDS? I often tell people to be careful in their relations between man and woman, and ask the women to watch out for their men."
"The Kamoro people are open to change and they are ready to strive for change, I believe."
"Basically, education is the key to improve the welfare of the people, to show people they have the choice to lead better lives."
"Yes, our church has plans to set up schools and run them ourselves. So far money is not the issue, but rather we have stumbled on the issue of permits from the government in Jakarta," he said.
No political will
The chief of the Kamoro tribe, Yohanis Kapiyau, said the government had not done enough for his people. "The government in Jakarta is too far from here, and local government officials can see us but they do little for us," he said.
His main task as a tribal chief is to advise people to stay on the right track and play by the rules, so peace will prevail.
"If we think we are not being given enough assistance by the government, we must speak to them. But I know there are rules so we have to wait. That's the rule."
"I believe there are procedures for pursuing our aspirations. If we want independence, all we have to do is talk to the government and they will give it to us if they think independence is good for us," the former teacher said.
What about the local government?
Mimika Regent Klemen Tinal was a no-show at the four-day festival which was opened by Papua Governor JP Salossa and attended by staff from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Salossa, in his speech, told the Kamoro people "to be proud of the arts and culture they have. The local government will do its best to assist you in making your arts and culture interesting attractions to draw tourists to the area".
It was his first visit to the area of his five-year term, which end this November. "If I can no longer serve you then I will tell my successor to make tourism their priority."
Salossa stayed a few hours at the festival, bought several wood carvings and left Rp 300 million as a gift for the festival committee.
The Kamoro people who packed the festival venue applauded when an elderly man said: "We are proud to see the face of our leader for the first time in person."
With so many parties throwing around so much blame for why the Kamoro have been largely untouched by progress, PT Freeport Indonesia inevitably also comes under criticism. But, at least, the mining company sent "a father" for the Kamoro, Kal Muller.
But Muller is not enough. He is fighting against all odds and a lack of political will by the local government -- both at the regency and provincial levels -- to assist the Kamoro.
Muller too dreams of seeing "educated young Kamoro who type on computers but still appreciate their culture".
The Kamoro, indeed, don't have to trade in their heritage for modern living, but they could learn to better combine the two.
Time seems to have stopped at Pigapu village, with its lush vegetation, clean air and thick forests of mangrove along the quiet Wania River. But for how long will this be enough for the Kamoro.
Sumber : http://www.thejakartapost.com/detailfeatures.asp?fileid=20051012.Q02&irec=1