Sun, 05 Sep 1999

Irianese tribe learns farming, cattle breeding methods

By Neles Tebay

MOANEMANI, Irian Jaya (JP): Since the 1963 integration of Irian Jaya until now, the local government has said it has been difficult to help develop a better way of life for the Irianese who live in isolated places, especially those living in the central highlands of Irian Jaya.

The Irianese have been categorized as reluctant to adopt to new knowledge offered by the government.

The government has always pointed out geographical constraint, transportation difficulty and the culture as reasons for the challenges.

However, this is not true for the Mee tribe, who are also living in the central highlands of Irian Jaya. They have successfully learned new methods of farming and cattle breeding.

Paulus Goo, 43, is a simple farmer and member of the Mee tribe in Mogotogo village, Ikrar district, which is about 230 kilometers northeast of Nabire. He has a fourth grade education from a Catholic-run elementary school. He has a plot of land with vegetables such as peanuts and corn. He also owns an area where he grows 250 coffee plants, and has 100 rabbits, 50 chicken and 10 cows in the village.

He can be categorized as a tonowi (rich person) in his village.

At a recent lunch, he offered The Jakarta Post some sweet potatoes, a staple food of the Mee tribe, green vegetables, peanuts and an egg.

Paulus said before the Catholic Church became established in the Paniai region, the area was occupied by the Mee tribe. In 1937, the tribespeople did not know anything about growing peanuts, soy beans, onions, carrots or raising chickens, ducks, cows and rabbits. "We did not even know their names or what they looked like," he said.

They came to know about all these things after the local Catholic Church of Moanemani Parish established the Foundation for Farming, Husbandry, Plantations, Fishery and Carpentry (Y-P5) in Moanemani in 1970.

"I learned all these new things when I attended two years training at the foundation in 1986 and 1987," Paulus said.

"When I returned to my village, I implemented what I learned in the course. The result is what you see here," Paulus, a father of seven children, said.

His first child is a nurse and the rest are still in school.

Paulus is one of more than 1,000 Mee farmers who have completed a two-year training course at the Y-P5 foundation. The graduated farmers have been scattered in every village in Paniai and Nabire regencies.

They plant vegetables and raise animals in the area surrounding their houses and teach their skills to fellow villagers.

Didimus Tebay, the executive director of the foundation, said the graduates were the cadres of the foundation.

"Other farmers in the village could learn from them about vegetables, coffee planting and cattle breeding," Didimus said.

In Manwa village, Kamu district, the Post saw that almost all the families had rabbits.

"I raise some rabbits, even though I am not attending the two- year course run by the Y-P5 foundation in Moanemani," Yulius Koga said. He added that he learned how to raise rabbits from an alumnus of the course.

Didimus said the Mee tribespeople learn more by watching than by listening. "They have to see what a rabbit looks like and how to breed it from other people. When they return home, they may try to do what they have seen earlier," Didimus said.

He also said that the people are quick to respond to the methods because they basically are farmers and cattle breeders in their culture. Therefore, in order to improve their well-being, the foundation trained them to be effective farmers and cattle breeders.