|Tiop village, Indonesia|
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(projects i'm following)
I have been living in my wifes native village on the remote island of Siberut in the Mentawai Island chain off the coast of West Sumatra for the last 5 years and I have just made it back to civilization. The Mentawai islands are home to the native people who have been isolated on the island for millenia and have coevolved with the flora and fauna of the island. It just so happens that the islands coastline is also home to the best waves in the world.
Ever since I was about 10 years old and growing up in New Orleans, LA I had dreamed of visiting the Mentawai islands after reading about the perfect uncrowded waves in a newly discovered and unexplored location. I figured out somewhere along the way that if I became a chef I could travel all around the world and visit all the exotic places I wanted to see because it just so happens that everyone on this planet eats food, just about everyday. After years of culinary school and gaining experience in the restaurant industry in Santa Barbara, Ca I landed a job as head chef at a land based luxury surf resort that was preparing to open. I travelled straight from California to the Island with a one way ticket. Not long after arriving I met a beautiful local girl who was working at the resort and is now my wife. We moved back to her village on the main island of Siberut and built a house. And this is where my real adventure begins.
Daily life in the village presents several survival challenges that the local people have mastered over thousands of years. To them the tough environment and hard work of daily life is just like going through the motions. For myself, getting to this point took a great deal of personal motivation. Once I began to learn their techniques for finding food, building shelter, and other necessary chores I came to see that their environment is the most wealthy on the planet earth. This particular village is located on a shallow bay edged endlessly with mangrove forest, behind the mangroves opens up to springs and freshwater and just beyond and above this the healthiest jungle on the planet. Food is abundant if you are willing to put in the work. The most important starchy staple food is a flour made from the sago palm that grows at the foot of the jungle hills. The mangroves are littered with all kinds of bivalves including oysters and clams, 5 different kinds of edible and delicious crabs, different kinds of birds, abundant fish and prawns, and even two different kinds of fruit. The jungle is full of wild pigs, deer, and other mammals the locals hunt for protein. But the most interesting part of the jungle is that which has been planted with food forests that are now nearly ancient. The most important fruit to the local people is durian. Some of these trees may be nearly 1000 years old and have ecologies all to themselves. When durian is in season, it is truly abundance.
Unfortunately this highly remote location is not far enough away to be unaffected by modernity. Ever since outsiders made contact with the local mentawaiian people they have been influencing changes. Most common are people from the mainland moving to the trading town, which is where the ferry from the mainland comes in. They have been buying forest products from the local people for a few decades now and selling imported junkfood, sugar, and cigarettes back to the local people. The forest products of those times included rattan vine, sandalwood, and a few others. But now those products are too far into the jungle to be worth the effort to extract them. Which is saying a great distance because these hardy people will go days and days deep into the jungle to find what they are looking for. Towards the nineties agricultural crops like cacao, cloves, and betel nut were introduced to the island in an attempt to kick-start the economy. Cacao turns out to be affected by disease and doesn't offer enough yield to produce a profit. On the other hand, betel nut and cloves are now the two favorite crops the locals grow to produce an income; and in particular cloves because the market price is high and the maintenance relatively low. That being said most peoples accessible land is being slashed and planted with clove trees. The only issue here is that the money produced from the clove harvest is spent entirely on goods that are imported via ferry from the mainland. And in addition, the cloves are inedible; therefore the youngest generation is beginning to rely heavily on monetary goods and in turn not practicing or learning their traditional ways of survival. The money being earned due to clove harvests, which happens once a year, is being spent on imported goods. So no money circulates with in the local economy, and in fact the economy doesn't even exist due to this fact. When really they could and should be producing all of their necessary and desired foods, like rice and fruits, locally. This would prevent the money earned from trading cloves from leaving the island and would hence install an economy because the money spent would only change hands with other people living on the island. The potential for an economy doesn't end there because there are numerous resorts being introduced every year, and all of their consumable goods are purchased and imported from the mainland city of Padang. But if the locals had local produce available to sell the resorts they would be happy to buy the produce (many of the resort owners are personal friends) and it would redirect some of the resort expenses into the local economy. And because the local money doesn't go to the mainland to buy imported goods anymore, the economy just gets stronger due to the resorts influence bringing money in with tourism.
I have been watching these changes for years, and more and more jungle being slashed to make way for clove trees. Sometimes even massive 100 year old durian trees that produce food are cut down to make way for clove trees that don't produce any food. I have preached and preached my heart out to the locals (even in their native language) and they will never understand until they see and feel a real example of what I have been preaching about. So I took the survival skills I had been learning with them for years and applied it to orchestrating a permaculture farm. I have planted hundreds of trees on my 2 hectare property that sits just outside the village (5 minute walk) with creative pathways linking all of the zones. There is my own home on the property, and my wife's family as well. My wife's father is one of the few acting shamans for the village and very knowledgeable about every plant that exists on the island, medicinal uses, building, fiber, etc. The farm is named Mentawai Permakultur and will be the first real example for how the native people can continue their traditions of sustainability. I would like to extend an invitation for any permaculturist to visit and stay in my home. I am now back in the states for the first time in all those years, and only now have access to the internet to create this profile and share with the world the potential to maintain paradise before it is lost.