Indonesia: Heritage, Handicrafts, and Hope
Isolated and tucked away between towering mountains in Flores Island is Waerebo, an old Manggaraian village. From a bird’s eye view, you would be able to recognise the community by its unique shaped house – a cone-shaped, circular house. The architecture of the homes are unique, but it’s the people that are at heart of Waerebo.
A common thread I felt in the village was a sincere desire to preserve the culture. It seemed that genuine happiness arose from the opportunities to teach, share, and live their culture through dance, music, and traditions. Older people felt like their culture was the essence of their identity.
I felt a warmth from the people immediately when I arrived in the village. I can only think of the word ‘genuine’ in these encounters. While almost no one spoke English and I relied on translation and hand gestures, their smiles grew big as guests entered their village. My first impressions of the villages were a sense of respect for the people’s efforts to keep their heritage. Seeing the home standing and intact as they once were long ago, made me feel grateful for the chance to see their culture.
And as a bonus, as if you didn’t feel warm enough from a full-hearted smile, the people usually offered a fresh cup of coffee right away. As the coffee beans are harvested in abundance in Flores Island, it was widespread to see coffee served more often than tea.
Sadly, almost a decade ago, the village was in grave danger of “collapsing”. The homes could not be restored due to a lack of financial resources, so time slowly broke them apart. Many people felt happy to find opportunities to work and use their skills and knowledge. Many of the people the project supported were women. These women had an understanding of local agricultural products and handicrafts but didn’t realise that their efforts could create economic opportunities through tourism.
The money generated from tourism activities helped to support the restoration and preservation of the unique architecture and living heritage. It was evident that tourism helped create new opportunities for employment, this man was able to save enough money for school. When I asked this man, “What makes you happy?” he told me, “the chance to keep my culture alive – it will always live inside of us, but now we can share this with the world.”