A recent GNS Science project involved a small team of Maori community leaders visiting the Agam Regency in West Sumatra, Indonesia.
The purpose of the journey was to exchange cultural knowledge and experience of natural disasters between representatives of Maori and the local Minangkabau people of Agam . Maori participants included Tui Warmenhoven and Jean Palmer of Ngāti Porou and Robyn Rauna, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri all from the Gisborne District, and Joe McLeod of Te Pringa O Te Awaikairangi in Lower Hutt. Accompanying the visitors were Phil Glassey and Julian Thomson from GNS Science, Dr Megan Collins, a musicologist who has extensive knowledge of the local Minangkabau culture indigenous to Agam, along with Drs Esti Anantsari and Arry Retnowanti from University of Gadja Mada (UGM).
After a traditional ceremonial greeting by the Regent, the first location of our visit was the Tiku community on the Agam coast. The people here depend largely on fishing for their livelihoods. They are also subject to a serious tsunami hazard as the coastline faces a major plate boundary fault.
We were introduced to a group of local women who had taken steps towards self-empowerment and community resilience through micro businesses related to fishing. This had different aspects, including economic, educational and disaster planning elements.
The women showed us how they had developed dried seafood products, which they sell under the label, ‘Beautiful Coral’, that can be stored long term which added value to the fish that were caught by the men in the community.
This local lady lived nearby. Although her husband died some years ago, as a couple, they had purchased land together, which she has now been able to develop with the assistance of Jemari Sakato, a local NGO supported by Oxfam. They gave her some chickens and a couple of goats. Over time she has expanded her livestock and, along with selling coconuts and caring for the neighbours cows, she has become financially independent. She is able to afford micro-insurance that protects her livelihood in case of a natural disaster.
There were many cultural treats for our group during our visit. Here is a performance of the Shi’a Islamic music called Tambuah Tasa (bass and snare drum ensemble), from Bukik Malintang, with dancers from the randai theatre group ‘Santan Batapih’. The drumming performance was incredibly powerful.
Next we headed inland and stopped at a village that had been designed and built in a Sumatran jungle clearing to house people who had been impacted by a large earthquake in 2009. There were roughly 120 identical houses, along with a mosque and community centre. The village is more or less ready, but yet to be occupied.
We then travelled on to Lake Maninjau. This is a dormant volcanic crater (caldera).
The people living on its shores rely on fishing also. The photo shows the nets used for intensive fish farming.
Because the sides of the crater are so steep, they are subject to many landslides that endanger the locals. This is one that we drove across and must have been very recent. The road had not yet been properly repaired.
These signs indicate evacuation routes down to the lake shore in case of an emergency.
From the lake we made our way to to Canduang and a traditional house called a Rumah Gadang, where we had been invited to stay the night. The traditional architecture of the roof is typical of the Padang area. The points represent buffalo horns from a legend in which a buffalo saved the local minangkabau people from invasion by the Javanese.
In Canduang we were again welcomed with by the Pasambahan dance, which this time included silek martial arts, demonstrated by senior masters. The two men were sparring with knives.
We shared a community meal inside the big house, which belongs to Mrs Zulharty and her extended family.
Afterwards, the team where treated to a performance of Saluang jo Dendang (flute and voices). Megan Collins also gave a performance on the rabab Pasisia Selatan (fiddle from the South Coast) singing the opening of a kaba narrative that was much appreciated by the local audience.
The Rumah Gadang is a meeting space with several bedrooms at the back. Communities in this area are based on small extended family units that live in each Rumah Gadang, and the family structure is matrilineal. Women have the main authority in the family and the oldest woman in the family owns the house. Her daughters each have a bedroom allocated and when they marry, their husband moves in to the house with them.
Here Jean and Robyn sit with the matriarch of the household , who is highly respected and is 92 years old.
Our next visit was up on to the slopes of Mount Marapi, a volcano that actively threatens surrounding settlements. In this photo it is seen from the town of Bukittinggi.
We were welcomed to Lassi village, on Mount Merapi, by the local disaster management group ‘Marapi Alert’ who demonstrated their katentong bamboo ‘clappers’. These make a very loud drumming noise when the handle is pushed back and forth, and are used as an alarm system to relay warnings of volcanic activity from village to village. Cellphones are also used.
Edi is the local co-ordinator for disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities in Lassi village. Here he explains the local volcanic hazards and about some of the projects that are used to develop local resilience and safety.
A powerful display of traditional martial arts from two teenage girls accompanied by boys playing the Tambuah Tasa drums at Sungai Pua, Mount Merapi.
Mr Datuak Mangkato Saripadois a master craftsman of the West Sumatran talempong gongs. His family has been making these classical instruments for nine generations. exports them all over Indonesia and Malaysia.
Mount Singgalang is the second large volcano that looms over Bukittinggi.
On our final day we visited Institute Seni Indonesia (ISI) Padang Panjang, a Tertiary Arts Institute. We learnt how performers of local music include stories of natural disasters that give information about the particular impacts they had on the lives of people. These stories are even woven into modern pop music and include recent events such as the damaging Padang earthquake of 2009 and flash floods in Kambang in 2011. Tui Warmenhoven and Jean Palmer give a talk on how knowledge of natural disasters in embedded in Maori traditional stories of the creation of Aotearoa.
Mrs Susasrita Loravianti, Mr Rafiloza from ISI and Megan Collins gave talks about West Sumatran music and dance, indigenous knowledge and disasters.
In this photo L to R: Tui Warmenhoven, Jean Palmer, Robyn Rauna and Joe McLeod