Using our ability to tell right from wrong

By Marlon Tohatta, community facilitator from Alatep village, Okaba, July 2022

One thing I have learnt from friends in Numfor is that we are all born with our own talents. Of those talents, one of them is the ability to reflect. Another is the ability to tell right from wrong. We can use that ability to tell what is right in order to manage our land well, in order to meet our needs and without having to depend on others.

I want to tell you about our experience in the village. My community and I were involved in a training given by TFT Papua in two villages, Wambi and Alatep, in Okaba district, Merauke.

Through that training we found out how we have been conditioned to depend on money, and how we have allowed ourselves to depend on money in order to meet our basic needs in the village, especially food. We now wait for aid, such as cash transfers (BLT), to buy rice, instant noodles and to meet other needs, especially food. We forget to plant our own food, such as planting sweet potatoes, bananas and sago – even though, as Papuans, as Marind people, sago is part of our identity.

Because of this, we have become accustomed to eating kiosk food. Because the cash transfers we receive are very small, we also sell the fish we catch to buy rice and instant noodles. But even if we sell our catch to buy kiosk food, it’s still not enough to eat. And so we end up in debt, we buy food on credit (bon) at the kiosks. This happens over and over again, especially in my village Alatep.

With the training with TFT Papua, we have become so aware of these shortcomings in our lives. After going through this training, our minds were opened and we have begun to understand. So far, we have been living in the dark or, as we say in our village, “ndinno hiyan”

The day after we finished the training with TFT Papua, with the awareness we had gained, we held a customary meeting. In that meeting, many decisions were made. We decided that customary fines can no longer be paid in money but in traditional goods. We also decided to go back to our land, and to plant sweet potatoes, bananas, yams and especially sago, because sago is our Marind food.

This training has opened our minds, we have reconnected with our identity as Marind people, and, above all, we have reconnected with our land. We are planting sago and sweet potatoes so that we can live without depending on others.