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Reflections on the past

We often wonder how our ancestors live their lived, how they behaved, how they saw nature. Otherwise, we wouldn’t do any research in archeology and anthropology to study old civilizations. Even different civilizations are always captivating for us humans. We are always eager to study differences, analyze and break them down into details.

Most often, the combination of a remote area and tribal life is the answer to what people are looking for. At least it was for me when I found some reflection of the past in Papua. How they manage their village, how they hunt, or how they live as a society.

In this article, I would like to reflect a bit further on the past and how it’s still ingrained in our mind and behavior without us being aware of it.

One day, there were tensions between two guys in the village, and suddenly, one of the relatives was shouting proudly “Don’t you know what my family name is?” He said it like that because his family has a lot of influence in the village. Hence, the other guy felt ashamed and later on, he apologized to this person.

What I learned from this incident is that there is a certain power behind a family name. It can even be used in situation where they are wrong. However, it triggers another question: why does a family name hold so much power?

As I began to think, I positioned myself in their shoes and imagined how a tribe was formed. A tribe is originally divided into the ruling family and those who are ruled. The rulers are composed by elders and a chief. They have absolute power and others have the obligation to obey whatever they tell them to do. Then the ruling side starts building a family and therefore, the community is polarized by the ruling families and the civilians’ families. At first, I thought this would only apply to remote areas. But, once I thought about it again, I realized it also happened in the Middle Ages when kingdoms flourished abundantly, even until now in some countries that still are a monarchy.

Back to the topic, in order for the ruling family to gain control in the society, they have to exercise their power by showing who’s in charge of the area. I say this like that but it doesn’t entirely answer the questions and perhaps isn’t entirely true either. The power in a tribe could also lie with the one that has more people. Because this system has been lived by for thousands of years, it is still ingrained in their way of thinking and defines how they see the power behind a family name. For people like me who lived their entire life in a city where most people get their power through education and a proper job and not by their family name, this is a bit confusing. Then again, this is not entirely true either, because once I think about it again, in the 2ndPresidential regime in Indonesia, the system of ruling families and civilians is still in place. So I wonder why they even bother to call it a democracy when what it actually is an oligarchy.

Let’s jump to another topic while reflecting on the past. One day, I found myself in an awkward situation where someone asked me a favor because he had also given me something before. The problem was, I had forgotten what that was and from my perspective, I didn’t even ask for it, but he was still mad at me anyway because I was not willing to help him. In another incident, there was a woman who complained to me that she helped someone but now these people were not repaying her enough. What I learned from this is that there is no such thing as free gift for most people in Raja Ampat. Everything has a price, but the form of payment is different from money.

Most often, they give or help us with something because they want us to give them something back later. People call it family system, a system where those who are able to help others have an obligation to help and those who are helped have to repay them later when the position is reverse. It is normal for them to ask a favor for anything, but they get upset when someone refuses to give them help.

I remember some of the children would feel upset when I refused to help them take their picture. But when I did help them, they would sometimes bring me fruits and other things. In other words, this behavior is rooted deeply in their culture regardless of age. I suspect this culture to be derived from the trading culture before money existed and people traded goods to fulfill their needs. Yes, it is another reflection on the past. Although we can still see this in modern society where skills are valued with money and people who are good at something always want to get paid for that. For me personally, and maybe many people feel the same, we would help our friends when they need our help or give them something and in return, we hope that they would do the same, for example a birthday gift. This is the basic principle of trading behavior from our ancestors.

There are lots of other behaviors I would like to share, but I think it would be better for people to see them for themselves. Mind you, by writing these stories and by reflecting on the past, my intention is to show you the behavior of local people here and how the past is still influencing us in many ways. It feels totally different at first, but the more I think about it, it’s only changing its form. People are basically kind and lovely once we understand them, but it takes times and willingness to get to know something new. I hope you get to know something new about them in this article.


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