The Indonesian islanders forced to seek a lifeline in fishing and weaving

As the cattle die and the crops wither away, residents of East Sumba must adapt their way of life to survive

Willy Kurniawan
Saturday 13 June 2020 10:31
East Sumba, about 1,200 miles east of Jakarta, last year reportedly had 249 days in a row without rain
East Sumba, about 1,200 miles east of Jakarta, last year reportedly had 249 days in a row without rain

On Indonesia‘s Sumba island, the motifs displayed on traditional textiles produced by its weavers often depict animals, including the area’s famed Sandalwood breed of horses.

But in the village of Hamba Praing in East Sumba, scores of horses and cattle have died in recent years as extreme drought withered the grass, leaving behind bones and carcasses scattered over the scrubby landscape.

East Sumba, about 1,200 miles east of Jakarta, last year reportedly had 249 days in a row without rain, with some experts blaming climate change for more frequent drought-inducing weather patterns, forcing people to adapt to survive.

“Nowadays, we no longer plant things,” says local farmer Thomas Tay Ranjawali, referring to the peanut and corn crops typically grown by villagers. As well as trying to keep his animals alive, the father of six is now learning how to weave, a practice normally reserved for woman, to get extra funds for food.

A cow runs past graves in Hamba Praing village
A horse’s skull lies forgotten in the grass 
Dimas and his cousin Simon bathe Buru-Buru 

Sumba is in Indonesia’s third poorest province of East Nusa Tenggara, which is also the driest region of the archipelago.

Indonesia’s meteorology agency says conditions are being made more extreme by the strongest Indian Ocean dipole – the difference in sea temperatures across the ocean – in a century that can cause drier weather in southeast Asia and Australia.

“The increase of temperatures in Indonesia is proof of global warming,” says agency official Supari, who uses one name, noting Sumba is one of the most vulnerable areas.

Maria Babang Noti and her husband Thomas Tay Ranjawali prepare to hand weave a traditional Sumba Ikat textile
Andreas Windi Mbaku Rawa rests with his children at his parent’s weaving house

As the drought ravages the village, Ranjawali and his wife, Maria Babang Noti, are forgoing seeds to buy more yarn for the lengthy process of weaving intricate Sumba Ikat textile.

Dembe Laka spreads betel nuts over graves in a traditional act of offering

Another farmer Ndelu Ndaha is now spending more time trying to catch fish.

Ndelu Ndaha carries his net through the sea as he fishes on Puru Kambera beach
Julkarnaen Mansyur, a fisherman from Waingapu, carries his net back to the shore

Eighteen of his horses and seven cows recently died, and to keep the remaining animals alive grass has to be brought in from other villages.

“The horses easily get ill. They don’t have anything in their stomach. Every year, there are always deaths,” says Ndaha.

Writing by Stanley Widianto, Reuters

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