The Other Side of Raja Ampat  

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Children gathered under the coconut tree in front of The Nature Conservancy (TNC)  in Deer Village, Raja Ampat, West Papua. The children were waiting to take part in the drawing competition held by TNC to celebrate Coral Triangle Day on June 13.

    I came to Raja Ampat together with three other journalists to photograph the marine ecosystem conservation in the area, especially Kofiau Island, which was three hours away on a speed boat from Sorong.

    The Kofiau Island is a heap of paradise located in the ocean nearby West Papua. It’s clear water, complete species of fishes (1,000 species) and the diversity of its coral reef, which is 75 percent of the worlds’ coral reef, has made Raja Ampat underwater tourism a popular destination in the past five years. The coral reef covers in Kofiau is the best in Raja Ampat which is around 90 percent. This fact has become the reason why TNC focuses on conserving the area since early time.

    Although many visitors came to enjoy the underwater wonder of Kofiau, not many of them stayed overnight.

    “Most of them only came by speedboat and did not stayed over in the village,” one of custom leaders in Kofiau, Costan Mambrasar. There were no guesthouses available in the 170-hectare island. Therefore, visitors who intend to stay had to stay over in resident’s houses.

    In the past, Raja Ampat was under the rule of Ternate and Jailolo sultanate based in Maluku, Therefore, many of Raja Ampat residents are muslims and look more like Ambonese than Papuan. Some of the hamlets in Kofiau are named in Arabic: Balal, Talabi, Mikiran, and Awat.

    The hamlet where I stayed, Deer, has a different story. Costan said that the hamlet was named by his ancestors which were migrants from Waigeo Island, which is also located in Raja Ampat area. The ancestors’ boats were stranded on the coast.

    “So they named the hamlet ‘Deer’, which means ‘stranded’,” said Costan, who comes from Betew tribe, the only indigenous tribe living in the area.

    When I took a walk around the Deer Hamlet, in one noon, there were only few people seen. Most of them were mothers with their children. According to one of Deer residents, Naftali, the adults were busy working on their farmlands in the other island.

    Farming has become one of primary source of living for the people who live in the not-too-fertile area. They plant chocolate, sago, and copra. They sell the copra for Rp7,500 per kilogram. They also open farmlands in surrounding islands.

    The income they get from the farmlands was quite amazing.

    “If they are lucky, they can get up to Rp10,000 per month from selling the corps,” said Naftali.

    People were relying more to the farm yields than the ocean. It happened because the weather sometimes brings fierce wind and high tide that it would endanger those who want to go fishing. Despite of that, all families own a small boat to be used as transportation means and sometime to catch fish.

    The residents work six days in a week and go to church on Sundays. Most of the people in Kaifau are religious.

    “We don’t want to mess around if it is concerning the religion. That is why we don’t damage the environment,” said Naftali.

    Protecting environment was taught in religious events. So it is understandable that many of the residents are patrolling in turns to keep their environment unharmed.

    “We will remind the fishermen if they catch fish using bomb or other means that can harm the marine ecosystem,” said Valen Ambrauw, one of the people’s sea patrol officer.

    They have a traditional system of conserving the ocean, which is called sasi or kjabus. Sasi is done by stopping the hunting that decreases marine biota for a certain period, in which is agreed by the people there.

    “Most of sasi zones are located in south of Kofiau Islands. People are rarely fishing in those zones,” said Naftali who is trained by TNC to help monitoring the conservation.

    In Kofiau, there is an island called Pamali Island. According to Constan, the island is considered as sacred by the residents. They believe that magical events happen on the island. There is a sacred lake on the island where one-eyed and one-tailed fish live.

    Constan and people of Kofiau believe that whoever takes the fish from the lake, will suffer from leprosy. The "curse" also happens to people who cut down trees, which destroys the nature. It is said that they will get some kind of nasty allergy.