The Struggles

The Mamas at Tulakadi Village

The Indigenous Tribes

The villages on Timor Island, especially in Belu Regency, are inhabited by various local ethnic groups that belong to several indigenous tribes, such as Tetun, Marae, Kemak and Dawan. Meanwhile, the urban areas are more ethnically diverse due to intermarriage between the locals and immigrants.

In rural areas, each tribe has its own domain where most of the tribal members live. For instance, Kemak inhabits Sadi village, Marae inhabits Kewar village and Dawan inhabits the villages on the borders between Belu Regency and South Timor Tengah Regency, while Tetun is the dominant tribe in Belu Regency, Malaka Regency, and East Timor where Tetum became its national language.

Tulakadi village is one of the villages where most Tetun people live. It is located in the East Tasifeto sub-district, Belu Regency, near the borders between Indonesia and East Timor. This led to a large number of immigrants from East Timor who eventually settled in this village.

Water Scarcity

There are 7 sources of water available in Tulakadi village, consisting of natural sources of water and artesian wells. However, during the dry season which occurs in October, the water cannot reach the village and fulfill the needs of the villagers, hence the water scarcity happens. Moreover, the absence of equipment and supporting facilities aggravates the situation. As a result, the villagers have to walk 5-10 km while carrying jerry cans to reach the nearest springs or wells to store water. The children also help their parents to carry the jerry cans filled with water that are considered heavy for them.

Even in the rainy season, they have to save water since there is inadequate water supply. They have to use water from the springs and wells for consumption and bathing. Additionally, they have to walk to the river to wash their clothes every afternoon. Aside from exhaustion, it also leads to negative impact on the environment where the detergent will contaminate the river. 

Tulakadi and Sadi are the villages located in East Tasifeto sub-district, one of the sub-districts that is very vulnerable to water crises in the dry season. The watershed that passes through this region has low water stability, hence during this season the river will appear dry. The springs around the village are only available during the rainy season and will not be able to reach the village during the dry season. This results in crop failure and it leads to lack of income and malnutrition. These eventually create a bigger problem, such as low quality of life.

Quality of Life

Belu Regency is considered to have relatively low quality of life. This can be seen from its low life expectancy of 62 years, which is significantly lower than the life expectancy in East Nusa Tenggara, which is 66 years. These numbers are gradually decreasing every year, in contrast with most regions in East Nusa Tenggara and Indonesia where the numbers are increasing.

Various diseases, poor nutrition, and economic issues contribute to the declining life expectancy. Diseases, such as ARI (Acute Respiratory Infection), hypertension, and diarrhea are the most common diseases in Belu Regency. The lack of clean water and poor sanitation lead to diarrheal disease, which occurs most often in Belu.

Apart from diseases, the economic issue also plays a significant role in this matter. East Tasifeto is one of the districts that has a high poverty rate in Belu Regency. There were a total of 11.694 poor villagers in 2019 from this sub-district alone. The struggle to find jobs and maintain the crops become the main issues of poverty. These problems trigger the young men to leave the villages to seek job opportunities in urban areas and even abroad. Meanwhile, the women in the villages can only depend on the income from their families who work outside. Sometimes to cover the expenses, the handicrafts become their lifeline.

The economic struggle leads to the lack of education in Belu. In 2014, there were 26.5% of the population who had no formal education, 15% had only graduated from high schools and around 3.4% had pursued bachelor's degrees. The low educational level resulted in poor quality of human resources. Hence, the locals who have jobs outside the village are not able to provide sufficient income to fulfill the needs of their families in the villages.

The Mamas commonly would take out a loan with a great interest rate for farm capital. Unfortunately, even the crops were insufficient for sale due to water scarcity and it caused them struggle to pay their debts. They racked their brains by learning to weave, hoping that they can cover their expenses. The handicrafts, such as wicker products and Tenun fabrics are crafted mostly by adult women to earn extra income. Nevertheless, they are still facing the difficulty of finding buyers.

Consequently, the occurring social issue where the weaving tradition is threatened with extinction has also become a huge problem in Belu Regency. The young generations feel that there is no longer any reason to continue a tradition that they consider to have no economic value.

The Never-ending Cycle of Problems

Economic, social and health issues, malnutrition, and water scarcity are interrelated problems where the locals are stuck in this cycle. Although there are Poverty Reduction Programs under the supervision of the villages or sub-districts, the programs merely provide food and healthcare, which do not guarantee the long-term economic sustainability and the independence of the people. On the other hand, the government also faces the struggle to nurture their people as it requires a lot of money.