Arrival in the Bird’s Head: A walk through migrant coastal communities

July 31, 2017
We’re back in Indonesia doing another set of trainings. Some of us met in Jakarta, which is one of the most crowded and complex urban agglomerations on the planet. Looking out at the city reminds us of the massive complexities of beginning to address vulnerabilities. We are also looking forward to visiting a new place this time. This week we will be conducting another set of trainings with Universitas Papua (UNIPA) in Manokwari.
In Indonesia, as you go East, the flights tend towards red-eye schedules. We were in a daze traveling through the night from Jakarta to Makassar, to Sorong, and finally touching down in Manokwari. The total travel time was about 11 hours, which serves as a reminder of how vast the Indonesian archipelago spans.
The Bird’s Head of Papua
Manokwari is the provincial capital of West Papua. West Papua covers what is popularly called the the Bird’s Head.” This refers to the overall shape of the island (Papua is the largest island in the world and is split down the middle into two sovereign entities — PNG to the East, and the Papuan part of Indonesia in the west). It also perhaps connect to the unique Birds of Paradise that are endemic to the region.
The population here is about 140,000 people, and almost double that for the metro area. In Manokwari there are two dozen tribes represented, each with a distinct language. That’s just for this area. There are over 800 Papuan languages however, and it is the most linguistically diverse region in the world. When we visit a new place we always try to pick up some new phrases, but here when we ask a local, they respond back asking, “which local language?”
Although it is perceived as a remote location, development and migration in recent years has led to some significant growth and change.
Site visit to migrant villages
We spent the afternoon walking around the nearby fishing village at the center of Cendrawasih Bay. In 1996 a large tsunami wiped out many of the homes here. We heard from Marcus, a man in his fifties recount the story. He described the mayhem and the evacuation, how homes were swept away and how far inland the water reached.
Here is a sign from the Local KKN (university community service programs) created as a reminder in the event of tremors or tsunami warning.
This was a vibrant community and was clearly undergoing a lot of change. The children were gathered on the recently built spillway piers playing a popular game called “karet” (or rubber bands) in which a stack of rubber bands are tossed toward a set of nails. Here is one boy lurching forward to gain extra distance. If the rubber bands catch, they yield a reward.
Fishermen’s boats were lofted up waiting for the tides, and others worked on household chores. Several stands sold the popular areca nut and betel leaf chew, mixed with a slaked lime and often tobacco and acts as a stimulant. Redding on people’s teeth and around the lips is a common sight around here, and there also signs around of the afterchew.
Here are some women with a basket of bean sprout seeds.
These communities we visited were migrants who had moved to Manokwari. They were separated by region, ethnicity, and also religion. The mosques sounded as the call to prayer began at sundown, which indicated migrants from Buton, Sulawesi. We happened to be walking through the Biak settlement. Here several evening church activities were going on.
We talked to people about their lives, livelihoods, and basic services. We wanted to where they worked, how people got together, and also where they found their water in this tidal zones. We talked about past hazards and other key vulnerabilities.
We will be sharing many more stories in the days to come. We hope you stick with us!
And to end our post, we love this sign. It says: “Protect the ocean, protect the future. Love the ocean, love your future…” Aloha!