Thursday, December 08, 2016

Visiting Pulau Rote Ti'i people

The week before I went to Melbourne I was very fortunate to be able to accompany a delegation from the UCA Northern Synod visiting Rote Island for the dedication of the Ti'i translation of the bible.

Once again I won't be able to tell all the amazing experiences from this trip, hopefully my photos will convey some of the beauty I experienced.

Since there are no longer direct flights from Darwin to Kupang our group had to travel via Bali. I certainly didn't mind spending a day in Bali. While there we took a drive out to the temple at Uluwatu. A beautiful place to begin our journey. If visiting the temple keep your stuff stowed away, the monkeys are getting cheekier every year.

Rest area beside Uluwatu Temple

Reluctantly I had to accompany my colleagues to a shopping warehouse!

Bored shop staff in Bali. I think they send these kids up the ladder for their whole shift! Those are T-Shirts.... 1,000s

The next day we flew to Kupang, my first time in Timor Barat, very different to Bali but quite a nice place to visit. Our first night there was spent with the family of one of my travel companions, great people, I wished we had more time to travel to their town in the hills but it takes some time to get there and the next day we had to be on the ferry to Rote.

Kupang fish stalls. 100s of locally caught, very fresh fish

Kapal cepat (fast ferry)
There are two main ferry services operating between Kupang and Rote... We caught the fast one! Kapal cepat, it was airconditioned and takes about 2 hours. Climbing aboard this vessel was more like entering an aircraft it hardly felt like we were traveling on the sea at all. The other ferry, which I didn't happen to see is a regular passenger and freight ferry which can take 7 hours! 

 When we arrived on Rote we were met by a convoy of Government vehicles which collected every one (about 70 guests) and brought us to the main church for the region who were hosting this celebration. Rote is a small island but there are quite a few churches.

The Host Church preparing for festivities
Men at the church wearing traditional dress including the legendary Ti'i langga (a beautifully woven hat)

Main street is bitumen. Every street is very clean.

After receiving a very warm welcome and a delicious lunch from our hosts, in groups of three and four we were taken and introduced to the families who had volunteered to billet us. I cannot begin to express the humility I felt. Being invited to stay in someone's house is not something I've experienced very often. The family who took my two new friends and I into their home were extremely gracious and generous! They prepared their house for guests and gave up the best rooms for us! They prepared all our meals and made sure we were comfortable for the two days we were to be with them. I regret and am a little ashamed that I had allowed my Bahasa Indonesia to deteriorated so badly. Unfortunately our verbal communication was limited to absolute basics, but somehow between us, and with the help of our fellow guest from Kupang we were able to get by and had a very pleasant time meeting the whole family and sharing time together in their home. 

Special guests in full regalia preparing for the grand event (I'm the white boy in the back row)

On the day of the dedication drivers came and collected those of us who were 'special guests' and brought us to a special place by the sea where apparently the first Christians arrived. It was quite a hot day but the event was well catered for with shade tents and water for most of us. 

AuSIL and translator Choir

Main guests in the shade (there were many more people! A couple of thousand!)

The boys

Ladies dancing

Respect was paid to all the clan leaders of the region and they were each presented with a bible in their mother tongue. My secular or atheist friends might wonder what is so special about this, why get so excited about spreading the bible around? Well if you had been there on the day you might understand the importance of faith in these people's lives. But in pragmatic terms, think about how important to the people's identity their language is. A lot of indigenous languages have never been written and so people are forced to only read in the language of the dominant culture. 
By committing to the translation of the Bible (the basic text of the people's own faith) the work done will help these people to maintain their unique culture. It means that they will have material from which they can teach their children to read in their own language and hopefully using this translation as a tool, will people will continue to speak and use their own language! In an age when a lot of young people are only being taught in the language of the dominant culture (be it English or in this case Bahasa Indonesia) this is a huge gift to the people of this region. I was told that the elders of this region feel a great deal of pride and relief that there is interest in keeping their cultural heritage alive.

After the event I had a chat with a local man, who offered to take me for a drive around 'His' island. We invited one of the other guests from the house where I stayed and headed off in a cloud of dust. Off the main road there were quite a few potholes, I think the theory of our driver was to go as fast as possible and hope the wheels would skip across the gaps in the road. Not always successful.

Many goats on the road... go slow

Looking toward Pulau Dana

Boa beach break

I'm gonna have to wrap this up now but there's so much more I'd like to share about my time on Rote. I was only there for two days and had very little free time but it was enough to make a big impression on me.

Life on the Island is tough! The people are not tall but have big hearts! They manage to make the most of what appears to be quite a difficult landscape. It's a very dry Island, in the Wet Dry tropics, they experience several months without rain each year. While we were there they had not had any rain in a long time and the landscape was dry as a bone. 
As far as agriculture was concerned, there were a lot of coconut palms and another palm which produces a sugary liquid (you can drink it, it's super sweet), which they bottle and sell to be dried out as palm sugar. People grow some fruit and vegetables in their garden which must be kept alive with water they draw from a community or family well. There were dried out rice paddi across a lot of the flat land but the growing season is short. Not sure if they get much rice.
The island is full of animals. Goats and pigs roam throughout the villages and across the island generally. I believe they are marked so that people know who they belong to. There are small cows, occasional horses, water buffalo, and dogs. Pretty sure there were chooks around but they tend to blend into the scenery.

The beaches are amazing, I don't want to go on too much about that because there's already tourist developments which threaten to disrupt local life and will surely stuff up water supplies. Where I stayed nobody had running water. All water came from the well, which appeared to be shared between several households. People had to carry water in buckets to fill the mandi or use for washing or put on the garden. Water is used very sparingly, were were advised not to use too much for our showering or toilet. I imagine there must be some very careful negotiation between families about how much is a reasonable amount of water to take from a shared well. 

I'd love to thank the family who allowed me to stay with them, the staff and Moderator of Kupang Synod office and the AuSIL team from Kupang who do amazing work across Indonesia and in the Northern Territory aboriginal communities. Thanks also to Rev. Thresi for suggesting that I accompany the group on this trip, it has been a wonderful learning experience and has inspired me to continue my interest in learning and building relationships with orang tetangaku.

No comments: