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OPINION: Local wisdom for the three pillars of resilience


Didik Fitrianto, Wetlands International Indonesia Programme, reflects on new pathways for building resilience in Indonesia as part of a CDKN supported series of voices from the field.

The integration of the three pillars of resilience in the PfR program—disaster risk reduction (DRR), climate change adaptation (CCA) and ecosystem management restoration (EMR)—requires a clear and simple approach that can be easily understood and applied at the community level. To create a sense of community ownership, the community must be involved from the initial phase, through the implementation phase, to the program monitoring phase. Each community has its own ways and wisdom in managing their nature and environment.

One of the strategies used by Wetlands International in implementing the PfR program at the community level is to use traditional knowledge. In Sikka and Ende districts on the Indonesian island of Flores, local wisdom related to perception, culture, tradition and daily practices is still very strong. With the various conditions described above, it is wise to use traditional knowledge in implementing various programs related to the three pillars. The approach is effective in getting people actively involved in various community activities. Using it will simplify understanding and implementing the programs that have been agreed upon.

Mosalaki: key to successful rehabilitation

Rehabilitation activities in the PfR program conducted by Wetlands International take place in various kinds of environments, including coastal areas, hilly areas and water springs. One of the requirements in any successful ecosystem restoration program is that the planting site should have clear land ownership status because it will become a reference for every activity and avoid conflict in the future. In several villages, land ownership is still controlled by tradition and custom, whether in the mountains, the coast or the lakes. Land ownership is usually under the power of traditional or customary authorities represented by the landlord, which in Lio, the local tribe and language, is known as mosalaki. Mosalaki is derived from mosa (adult) and laki (man). Mosalaki is at the root of social stratification in Lio society in both Sikka and Ende districts. Mosalaki refers to the leaders of a social community (tribe), or the leaders in a specific tribal region or communal land. Mosalaki is therefore a formal leader with great influence on people’s lives, who has rights of communal land ownership as well as rights to lead traditional rituals.

In Reroroja village, Done (in Sikka District) and Tou Timur and Kota Baru (in Ende district), Mosalaki rule is still very dominant. Almost all land proposed for rehabilitation activity is under their control. Reroroja is a mangrove planting site, Done village is the location of springs rehabilitation, Tou Timur is the rehabilitation site of Bowu Lake, and Kota Baru is another mangrove planting site.

Approach to traditional institutions, in this case Mosalaki, is therefore necessary before rehabilitation can be implemented. Without attaining blessing of the land under Mosalaki, planting cannot be undertaken. But experience shows that if sincerity and good will are exhibited to help the community and the environment, the blessing of Mosalaki will be forthcoming.

Neither government nor local authorities can intervene on land ownership issues because absolute power is in the hands of the indigenous group. Wetlands International therefore had to approach the Mosalaki to include them or their representatives in all PfR activities as board members and group leaders. Mosalaki represents local wisdom, and any efforts toward rehabilitation and restoration of the environment must take cognizance of this in shaping community resilience. Without Mosalaki, implementation of the PfR program will face many obstacles.

Mbama ritual

In Done village, local wisdom related to agriculture informs land management and climate change adaptation. Indigenous land management is environmentally friendly because it does not use inorganic fertiliser made from chemicals. Unfortunately, eco-friendly practices began to decline in the community. To remind the community about adaptive agricultural traditions and the eco-friendly environment inherited by their ancestors, Wetlands International, together with traditional leaders, the community leader and village officials worked together to revitalize local traditions in communities by recognizing a traditional harvest ritual. The purpose was to liven up and remind the younger generations about local wisdom related to agriculture.

The Mbama tradition, which pertains to the harvest season, is performed between June and July. During this period, the Done village community began harvesting their first fields all together. A post-harvesting ritual is an expression of gratitude to the rice goddess for the success of the harvest. It is done at each farmer’s house. Harvested rice is put into a basket and carried by a man. The man is not allowed to speak while carrying the basket.

Afterward the Mi Are ritual is conducted to justify the use of rice. The ritual is a performed as a dance as an expression of gratitude and praise to the Almighty. Mbama tradition teaches proper treatment of the land and avoid chemical fertilizers, slash-and-burn practices, or excessive use of water for irrigation. Saving crops in a traditional house in Mbama shows that people know how to use food wisely.

Ipung fish – A sign of season change and end of planting season

In addition to meteorological forecasting information, Ipung (in Maumere language) or Ipu (in Lio language) is a unique local wisdom used in the villages of Reroroja and Done to help determine seasonal change from dry season to rainy season or hot season. People believe that

the seasonal change will be marked by emergence of thousands, even millions, of small fish (rebon) where the small streams meet the sea. The streams are connected to the mountain springs, forming a link between the mountains and the sea. The emergence of this small fish is usually marked by the sound of the boom and vibrations can be heard and felt by local communities. The ritual usually takes place in the evening and early morning.

The Ipung phenomenon is used to mark the planting season. The presence or absence of Ipung fish is used to calculate the change of seasons from rainy to dry and to determine when to start or stop planting activities. This process of determining seasonal changes is marked by presence of millions of these small fishes that swim frantically upstream against the current, from the sea to the mountains. After the fish reach the spring, they settle into the water, and their color changes to black. The belief is that after the fish have lived in the spring for about one week, extreme and heavy rain, even floods, will come. The fish in the spring then return to sea. When the fish reach the sea, the rains will stop instantly. When the rains stop, it is said, the rainy season is over, and dry season has arrived.

We know that rainfall patterns are uncertain, and follow scientific probabilities. The same is true for the presence of Ipung, which cannot be predicted every year. Ipung can appear anywhere from the end of February to May. Ipung is a local wisdom in which the truth has been proven for a long time.

The three pillars of resilience strengthened by traditional knowledge and local wisdom

These local practices described above help shape community resilience associated with the three pillars of DRR, CCA and EMR. Local wisdom has the power to bridge communities by actively engaging them in the activities. While recognizing the added value of scientific information, we advise those intent on reaching the communities of these areas to use the community’s local wisdom. In implementing the PfR program at the community level, Wetlands International found that respecting and honoring local wisdom was very effective to support the success of the program.

CDKN has supported this publication under a three – year partnership with the PfR members. The aim is to inform and shape policies for scaling up climate-smart community resilience building, using evidence-based lessons learnt from PfR experiences in Indonesia and the Philippines.

For more information contact elizabeth.gogoi@cdkn.org

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

Photos courtesy of Pandu Adnyana @flickrcreativecommons 

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