Sun, 05 Sep 1999

Farming skills a tool against malnutrition

MOANEMANI, Irian Jaya (JP): The Mee people inhabit 10 districts in the central highlands of Irian Jaya. They can be found in six districts (Bogobaida, Aradide, Paniai Timur, Paniai Barat, Damabagata, Tigi) of Paniai regency, and in four districts (Akrar, Kamu, Mapia and Sukikai) of Nabire regency.

Traditional dress for the men is the koteka (penis sheath) and the moge (grass skirt) for women. After Christianity and the Indonesian government entered the region, however, the majority of the people started wearing conventional clothes.

Most of their territory, composed of rugged mountain chains and deep valleys, lies 1,500 meters above sea level. Some mountain peaks reach an altitude of 4,000 meters. In their environment of high mountains, deep valleys, virgin-rain forest, swampy grasslands and mild climate, the Mee led their traditional lives undisturbed by Western civilization until 1937, when the Catholic Church moved into the region.

In 1970, a Franciscan father, Jules Cjel Coenen, established the Foundation for Farming, Husbandry, Plantation, Fishery and Carpentry (Y-P5). Coenen, who was a parish priest in Moanemani, found the people suffered from protein deficiency and that the infant mortality rate reached 60 percent.

"As a parish priest, almost every day I had to bury a child. When the first child was buried, l was able to console people by saying that their child had entered heaven and enjoyed happiness there. However, I was not able to tell the same story to them when I buried the second, or the third or the fourth child," Coenen said.

"A man must enjoy happiness in the world, not only in heaven after life. Therefore, the problem of a lack of protein must be overcome," he continued. Then he formed the P-5 foundation.

The foundation also aims at improving the welfare of the Mee tribe. To obtain its goal, the foundation imported new types of vegetables, fruits and animals which were suitable for the area's climate.

Among the introductions were peanuts, beans and carrots, pineapples, papaya, jackfruit, and grape fruits. Also introduced were ducks, chickens, rabbits and cows.

All of the new types of vegetables, fruits and animals were dropped by a Cessna, which made the two-and-a-half-hour flight from Sentani in Jayapura to Moanemani because region was only accessible by the small single-engined plane. small plane.

Coenen said the Mee tribespeople were fascinated by the strange sight of a cow because the only animal they knew was the pig. "For several months, they came from villages, walking by foot for hours, just to watch the cow."

The foundation set up a two-year training course in Moanemani to help in the transition. Young people from villages in 10 districts came to learn about agriculture and cattle breeding.

They subsequently returned to their villages to put into practice what they learned.

Former students were obligated to have a plot of land to plant vegetables and another one to grow coffee.

All the former student of the course were obligated to have a plot of land to plant vegetables and another plot to grow coffee. They also must raise rabbits, chickens and ducks.

"By doing so, we hope that they can improve the nutrition of the families' food," Didimus said.

Many of the returning farming students have done well, with some earning the title of tonowi, a rich man.

Didimus said in the first years, the cattle and the seeds of plants were provided at a special nursery run by the foundation. The foundation then began to distribute all of these to the graduates of the course in the village. They were then distributed to other farmers in their respective villages.

"Through this way, a new kind of vegetables or animal could be scattered among the people quickly and effectively," he said. (Neles Tebay)