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In 2008, before this journey began, I had lost track of where I was headed. I wanted to feel as though I belonged to a purpose but wasn’t sure where to turn. By the end of 2009 I had been living with the native Mentawai people for almost a year. Here I had found inspiration to make a documentary film, but exactly how I would interpret what had moved me to do so remained unclear.
Over the years this film has been chopped and changed in all sorts of ways. A number of times I’ve even thought (and written) that it really is close to completion. Throughout this creative battle though, the one thing the film has never actually been is good enough. All the same I could never walk away and so the journey just continued to evolve. Back and forth I’d go.
My hope was to share with the world what I had seen in these people – the confidence, generosity, purpose and freedom of those belonging to a culture that is both self-sustaining and their own – and to make it relevant and interesting. May sound fairly straightforward but has been quite the challenge, I must say.
I had also begun researching the impacts of loss of culture, as I’d become aware that this was quite a serious issue here too. This wasn’t to be part of the film though because it wasn’t what had inspired me. Instead I wanted to focus my story on the more sustainable aspects of their native lifestyle. If I could make a good film I’d be able to then rally enough support to help address these issues, is what I thought.
As the years went by I had teamed up with local members of the community to conduct survey activities and document the comparative behaviours between those still connected to native culture and those not. The findings were so significant that we’d also begun working on a preventative program (based on the wants and needs of the community) to address these problems. I was overwhelmed by how severe the impacts caused by loss of culture were and how important it was that I finish the film, yet I still hadn’t found the story!
I then realised that my attention – for some time – had not actually been on the development of the film. I had become immersed in this issue and in the research and development of the community’s cultural-based education program. It suddenly occurred to me that, for the first time since the arrival of this project, the film was no longer the number one priority. I felt quite relieved. Whereas for you this may have been the beginning of a year or two wondering why the hell the film-talk had essentially disappeared.
Throughout this period though we’ve been able to develop the Suku Mentawai education program; setup a Yayasan in Indonesia through which the program will run; and establish a public benevolent institution in Australia to help raise awareness and financial support, called the Indigenous Education Foundation. All of which I’d only thought possible pending a successful release of the film. Hmm, thankfully not.
So in response to the opening question, yes, there is still a film and – having realised what actually matters – also a story. Moving forward, you can expect to hear a lot more about the film’s progress as my main purpose for returning to Australia is to finalise its production. Plus also to develop partnerships and, hopefully, raise enough funding to give the native community a fair and reasonable opportunity to implement their Suku Mentawai program. All good things.
If you think you can be of any assistance in helping us achieve these goals, please contact. Thank you for your patience.
I’d like to introduce you to my friends, Aman Lappet, and his wife, Bai Lappet. They have played an integral role in my journey here over these past years. Both are profoundly wise, insightful, patient, and often childishly humorous, too.
Through being in their presence I’ve learnt an entirely new perspective on what it means to be ‘relaxed’, and the immense benefit this can provide to one’s health. They have helped me to see that, beneath the thick smog of evolution, the most fundamentally important aspects of human life still remain the same – irrespective of where you’re from.
I regard these elders, much like others around the world, as role models. People to look up to. To ask for direction. Advice. To listen to. And whilst their answers may at times seem too simple to be correct, it mustn’t be overlooked that to actually appreciate why may also be to understand the very wisdom they provide.
Basically, I wanted to share these photographs with you but also to give a little context alongside. As, for me, their portraits encapsulate and portray a sense of knowledge that has been passed through Mentawai generations for thousands of years. Also, if you hadn’t already gathered, I am quite fond of this couple.
We’re back to Siberut next month to continue work on the Suku Mentawai program, which you can follow here or through the Suku website. Thanks to those who have purchased a t-shirt or donated their support. You allow us to achieve. More to come.
I’m rather excited to share with you a new trailer for the As Worlds Divide documentary film. The previous (teaser) was created in 2012 and of course the project, film and story have evolved quite substantially since then.
Big thanks to the wonderfully talented and creative team who’ve helped with the production of this trailer. In particular Amy Browne, Sara Edwards, David Kahne, and Sonia Heideman. It has been really enjoyable to make and we’d absolutely love to hear what you think. Watch here:
In addition we’ve also been working on a Press-Kit document to help with our endeavours of securing completion funding and outreach support for the film. This doc can be downloaded from the Film (synopsis) page here.
I dearly hope this project will help raise awareness and influence positive change for the prevention of a very serious issue impacting, not only the indigenous people of Mentawai, but the future of us all. Please be involved and help grow this voice. Plenty more to come.
The prospect of functioning without a telephone would be considered near impossible by a large and growing portion of today’s modern society who now depends upon this device to sustain a means of living.
For better or worse, this change in behavior and perception over the past century does heighten the intrigue as to how people actually got about sharing their important information immediately with others (without telephones) for the thousands of years prior.
For the indigenous Mentawai, a hunter-gatherer people whose homes were scattered throughout vast and dense rainforest (most have now been resettled into zoned areas), they used a percussion-based instrument called the Tuddukat.
The Tuddukat is made up of three hollowed-out logs with guitar-like openings at the top. Each log also increases in size and tone from small, medium to large. Using a wooden stick to drum variations of rhythm and tempo, the Mentawai created a language with the Tuddukat enabling them to communicate over expansive distance.
For a more detailed explanation and also an example of these sounds, I’ve uploaded a video featuring Sikerei, Aman Bibit, illustrating to me the purpose of this communicative device.
More updates to come. Including a brand new trailer for the film. Thanks for reading.
The trip to Mentawai went really well. For all the details, photos and video documentation about this please check out the article posted on the Suku Mentawai program website by clicking here. Thanks again to everyone involved who’ve helped us reach this stage in the process. Really happy.
We received a great response from our star audience during an opportunistic preview-screening whilst visiting too. Very entertaining and enlightening for all.
In other news, it may please you to know that the As Worlds Divide film is now back in focus; with plans to finalise and premier – initially through a festival to help drum up interest and develop deeper connections and partnerships for a subsequent release – in the not too distant. I’ll elaborate on this, along with a few exciting announcements, very soon.
For now, here’s a photo of my friend Aman Masit Dere looking a great deal healthier and more energetic than he did on our last encounter. Best wishes for the new year!
Tomorrow I leave for Indonesia to meet up with Esmat and August, Director and Manager of Suku Mentawai. We’re all very excited. For those interested in following the activities of this Mentawai indigenous education program, do visit sukumentawai.org and its facebook page; where we endeavour to post photo, video and story updates detailing the highs, lows, dos and don’ts of the many challenges expected.
Thanks to all who have given their support to helping get the program to this stage. We’re extremely enthusiastic about the future… tapoi moile-moile, of course.
Storytelling is a fundamental component of all indigenous cultures and heavily intertwined within their native educational systems. For Mentawai, according to Sikerei, “Our stories teach us about our history and how to survive here. They carry the wealth of Mentawai through the generations. This is our fortune.”
Over the years I’ve documented a variety of these cultural tales and edifying conversations – some of which you will see in the film. Given the immense historical value of these – for both present and future generations – I’d like to begin sharing a selection here too.
In this video Aman Masit Dere is explaining to his grandson, Jumer, the cultural guidelines to follow for protection when building an Uma (home) for his own family. Which, traditionally, is a significant milestone and rite of passage reached during a Mentawai lifetime – particularly for those seeking to become Sikerei.
This post/video is also available in bahasa Indonesian language here. Enjoy.
If you’d like to win this certified limited edition (artist proof #1) photo of native Mentawai – framed, be in the running by purchasing a raffle ticket for $2 each or $5 for three.
Tickets can be bought direct from an IEF representative or otherwise online by donating the desired amount via the foundation’s donation form here (which is paypal secure). Include the word ‘raffle’ in the comments box.
Also, if anybody is interested in volunteering some time to help sell a few tickets – perhaps within their own workplace – we’d be most grateful, as IEF is extremely limited in human resources at the moment. Contact us here.
Thanks again for your support.
What might you wonder if you found a species of plant now struggling to survive in the exact same location it had flourished in for thousands of years – even after being provided a variety of enhancements to help it grow? …‘What is it that has suddenly caused this change?’ perhaps.
Over the past six years I’ve been researching and documenting the comparative behaviours and attitudes between resettled and non-resettled indigenous Mentawai peoples. This arising after identifying a profound and disturbing contrast between those who’ve maintained cultural belief and practice and those now detached from it – citing a notable shift from wealth to poverty.
Teaming up with local members of the community whom I found active in their ideas or initiatives to help prevent this demise, we gathered and analyzed research, established findings, and over the years designed and developed steps for implementing a preventative solution: the Suku Mentawai ‘Cultural and Environmental Education Program’ (CEEP).
In need then of a means to facilitate the CEEP’s implementation evolved the Indigenous Education Foundation (IEF). Which, beginning with Suku Mentawai, is aimed at supporting the development of a series of programs tailored to suit the specific wants and needs of indigenous communities around the world who are suffering the ruinous impacts of displacement.
Committed to keeping each solution local we also established a Foundation in Indonesia to implement and operate the Suku Mentawai program through. The native Mentawai engaged during the research period, who initiated and will subsequently manage the CEEP at a community level, are head of this Yayasan.
So here, now, finally, after many years, it is with a great deal of excitement that I present all of this to you. For IEF visit www.iefprograms.org. For Suku Mentawai, which is available in either English or Bahasa Indonesian language, visit www.sukumentawai.org (or just click through from one of various links on the IEF site).
The plight of indigenous people and their displacement from native lands, customs and education is perhaps the most controversial issue of the past century and the repercussions continue to haunt the world today. Yet despite all the attention, an effective solution has not been found.
This is not to say that what I present here is the almighty savior and immediate answer to all these problems. Not at all. In fact if the road thus far is anything to go by I’m quite certain a great many more years of challenges, revelations and developments are in store before ever even entertaining the mere possibility of such a thought.
What I do believe though is that this unique opportunity we have to build upon, founded through the incredible access and insight given by the indigenous Mentawai community, is real. This is their voice. Their solutions. If it’s not wanted then it doesn’t go ahead. If it doesn’t work then we learn and move to the next. This is their responsibility and they must take ownership – the opposition to displacement. And this, in my view, is the basis for a solution worth supporting.
Please read, comment, support, share and explore the many ways you too can become involved in helping turn these community goals into reality. Thanks again to all those who’ve given their support throughout and continue to do so. None of this is possible without you. Masurak bagatta.
Ps. I haven’t forgotten about the film. I hope to have more time now to work on securing a team and pursuing funding and distribution options to complete and release. Appreciate your patience.
Continuing on from recent articles discussing how the indigenous Mentawai community deals with illness and loss of life, I’d like to delve a little deeper into the practices of traditional Mentawai medicine; those who are trained to administer it; and the impacts caused by an increased lack of community access to it.
Firstly, it‘s worth mentioning that traditional medicine has been developed and depended upon by the Mentawai for thousands of years. It wasn’t until as recent as 1901 that the first missionary (August Lett) arrived; and 1954 before introduction of the nationalized programs designed to ‘integrate the tribal groups into the social and cultural mainstream of the country’ – shortly after Mentawai became a part of the Indonesian State (1950).
The origins of Mentawai medicine in fact date back to the arrival of the very first Sikerei. Which, perhaps reflective of the wisdom and foresight of their forefathers, is said to have come in the way of a young child named Simaliggai. As ancient mythology goes, Simaliggai possessed an intimate connection to the forest – the child knew how to hunt, gather, grow, heal, preserve and maintain peace within. Naturally, everyone wanted to know how to did this.
Simaliggai, taking advantage of this fortune, decided to teach this knowledge to others and, in doing so, formulated a way of being called ‘Kerei’. Whereby, following in Simaliggai’s footsteps, everybody who learnt these Kerei skills would also become educators – devoting their life to teaching, healing and protecting others. Which, given this quickly became the most aspired role in traditional Mentawai society, does offer some insight into the origins of cultural values and success in sustaining their existence.
In essence Sikerei are the backbone of Mentawai culture and sustainability – the societal figure the entire community turned to for healing, guidance, comfort, reassurance, protection and safety. Providing medical services is certainly one element but it’s fair to say that it goes a lot deeper. To give context, I thought I’d share with you an interesting excerpt on Community Health from the indigenous Mentawai Community Research Report document:
Access to health care on Siberut Island has not altered since 1998 when Cheeseman and Kramer conducted the health research study ‘Incidence of Illness Among the Mentawai People of Siberut Island’, as their description of the island’s modern health care facilities remains valid: ‘Currently there’s only one (operational) government-run community health clinic (puskesmas) in each of the two district towns, Muara Siberut and Muara Sikabaluan. A Puskesmas has been built in each of the PKMT villages (over 60 settlements) throughout the island but, with medical staff concentrated solely to the two district towns, none of these have really ever been operational’.
Meaning that, for all residents of communities located in the interior or on the west coast of Siberut – whom due to financial restrictions are seldom able to afford the cost of transportation to these district towns – they are effectively unable to access these modern health care services.
In spite of this, findings show that the general level of health within the Matotonan community remains high, as not one person canvassed during the baseline survey cited health or access to medical assistance as being an issue or barrier to their existence here.
A possible reason for this finding could be attributed to the presence of Sikerei. Whose role, as confirmed through qualitative data by 80.6% of all other demographics, is ‘to treat, heal, and protect the people’. This meaning that, if Sikerei are fulfilling the role as a community doctor, then the Matotonan settlement – where there’s found to be around 1 Sikerei per 35 residents – actually possesses Siberut’s highest ratio of doctors per capita.
Adding weight to this is the data gathered by Cheeseman and Kramer during their aforementioned health report, which sought statistics on the proliferation of six major illnesses found on Siberut Island – malaria, cholera, measles, tuberculosis, pneumonia and typhoid.
As seen in figure 1.3 below, when focusing on the region where almost all the last remaining Sikerei actively practicing traditional Arat Sabulungan culture are located, of the 165 people canvassed by the pair in Matotonan there were no apparent cases of illness. Whilst in Madobak, the only other village surveyed for the report within this particular region, a mere 19.2% (of 510 people) reported having been affected.
When comparing this against all other settlements throughout Siberut these figures are considerably low. Which, coupled with findings showing 98.6% of the community would prefer to use traditional medicine administered by Kerei if they were to become ill; and that 77.1% believe that the community would not survive without medical attention provided by Sikerei, strongly suggests that the presence of an adequate number of trained Sikerei continues to have a significant impact on disease control and overall community health and wellbeing.
This is not meaning to take away from the benefits of modern health services here. Not at all. We know, with reference to the previous article, that these do save lives. I’m sure Aman Masit Dere and his extended family’s eyes are far more open to it as a secondary solution now too. But the reality is that this option – for many – is just not feasible. So my view, based on these findings, is that supporting the preservation and practice of indigenous healing as an alternative does deserve serious consideration here, as oppose to suppression.
Interestingly, listed in the Government’s ‘Plans for Improved Health Care on Siberut’ (1995-2000)(PHPA 1995 p.200) was an objective to ‘Establish a local connection through dialogue and training with Kerei’. Which, in detail, stated plans for the ‘establishment of dialogue between modern health care workers and traditional medicine men (shaman/kerei) with regard to frequent diseases, their treatment and prevention, and upgrading effectiveness of Kerei in basic first aid; particularly in areas not frequented by mobile policlinics’. Unfortunately this objective was never pursued.
It’s not much (compared to tradition) but, with Sikerei permission, I’ve begun documenting certain aspects of their traditional medicine on account that one day future generations of Mentawai may once again reestablish connection to its significance and relevance to their long-term health and wellbeing.
During the forage for medicine shown in the photographs throughout the article, which was required for severe stomach pains, Aman Alangi gathered the following plants (Mentawai dialect): Sipeupeu, Palugarejat, Simuinek, Laipet, Sarasarak, Sipukole, Pelekak, Simakkainauk, Gozo, Sipukairabik, Alutuet, Pasisikuk, Tarasilalu, Pasisingin, Simamait, Muttei, Pugetta, and Pukatutup.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for an exciting announcement over the coming weeks. Cheers.
© Copyright Roebeeh Productions 2015