While it’s true that I haven’t seen all of Raja Ampat, I’ve seen a glimpse of it in our village and what its people do for a living. In this article I would like to write about what they usually eat, how they get it, its potential, and its dilemma.
First, you have to know what they usually eat, how they eat it, and how they feel about it. To be honest, their usual diet is something we should be concerned about, besides the literacy and education. Some of them only want to eat rice without any side dish. Some of them only eat rice/sago with fish. Some are not used to eating vegetables. They usually eat with a big amount of rice and a small portion of side dish. The disturbing facts are: most people here don’t understand the importance of nutrition, so their parents do not have a problem with their children eating an unbalanced diet. Some of them are not doing it because they can’t afford to buy anything else, but because they like it that way or perhaps they’re unwilling to make the effort to go fishing in our rich food resource - the sea.
The other problem in the children’s diet is their average intake of sugar: it is too high, and sometimes they prefer to eat only sugary snacks instead of a proper meal. Actually, it’s a very common problem around the globe, and it lies in the understanding and the direction from the parents. Most of them do not understand and therefore do not really care about what their children are having for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Undoubtedly, more than half the people have nutrition issues and perhaps, this is affecting their ability to study. In the long term, perhaps hundreds of years from now, this could lead to a lower brain ability compared to other regions that have a healthier nutrition. But in the near future, it’s affecting the ability of children to comprehend the material of the education given to them, thus the effectiveness schooling in our village. My suspicion is, that it happens in almost every area in Raja Ampat.
To summarize the conditions, the potential for having a more balanced and healthy diet is actually there, but mostl people have a poor understanding of the need to eat healthy and therefore lack the initiative to make an effort. The impact of this issue either in the short term or long term could be worrisome.
How they eat is something I found entirely different than what I usually had in the capital. Almost every house I visited has neither table nor chair, they eat without using any of them, and they don’t have the exact time to eat either. But when the time is right and everyone is present, they eat together on the floor and talk with each other.
Now let’s shift the focus from their diet and their potential to have a balanced nutrition to their food industry and its dilemma.
For fishing, I am confident that they have a big potential to build a large industry and give employment to many unemployed people over here, as well as develop this area with the money earned. But if they do that, we know how much the fish industry will destroy the environment. Another option to benefit from the environment economically is to use the beauty of the diverse marine life in tourism, but it is still unclear when the pandemic will end, thus it’s also unclear when the people of Raja Ampat will get their income from tourism again.
As for animal husbandry, interestingly, I don’t find any animal farming. This is a very interesting thing for me personally. I remember some anthropologists as well as historians believed our ancestors shifted their habit from hunter-gatherer to agriculture and started animal husbandry because they realized they would produce much more food than as hunter-gatherer, be that for meat, eggs or milk, etc. But here, probably because of the abundant sea food resources, they don’t see the need to keep livestock as one of their food sources.
While their ancestors were probably able to provide enough food for their family because the number of family members was lower than now, nowadays, they are unable to provide enough calories needed to fill all the stomachs in their family, considering their family consists of 7-9 people on average. I feel like the society here is growing massively, similar to those who evolved to an agriculture society, even though they are still hunter-gatherer or more precisely, collectors.
Fun fact: Their lifestyle too is similar to those of hunter-gatherer with regard to personal belongings. They see their neighbor’s stuff as also free to use for themseves, and this applies to their food supplies between neighbors and distant relatives as well.
Sadly, I still see some of them struggling to get enough food for themselves, and my suspicion is, although it may not be true, that this is probably because there is no animal husbandry whatsoever. I’m afraid that if many people experience the same problem, they will try to find the fastest way to get more fish, which will likely not be a sustainable way.
And because the non-sustainable way would produce a big profit, they would use this money to buy more sophisticated tools for fishing which would lead to the exploitation of marine life.
In agriculture, they usually plant sago, cassava, banana, coconut, pineapple, and water spinach. Though it’s true those vegetables indicate a character of agrarian people, not all of them plant vegetables and they still largely rely on the sea as their food source.
The potential of agriculture itself is not as big as in the sea industry. Although the quality of the soil is not bad at all, for various reasons, only a small amount of them plant edible vegetables. On an industrial level, where the prerequisites are quite high, planting cacao or coffee does not interest them at all. Probably because they still follow their ancestors’ way of living and are unable to accept new things. But even if they do and start an agricultural industry, would it be a good thing for the environment? While some of the locals have their traditional system to conserve nature, not all of them have the consciousness to conserve and make it sustainable. Therefore I believe it would be risky for the environment to start an agricultural business in Raja Ampat. And if some of them are able to produce a successful agricultural business, others will follow.
As an overall conclusion, they do have plenty of food resources but due to the destruction of marine life combined with the growing number of people here and their way of living, the food resources are not enough to fill their needs and pockets. They have the untapped potential in sea food and agricultural industry, but it would lead to the destruction of their environment. While many people rely on tourism, the dependency creates a problem, especially in times like this.
They collect and produce their food like hunter-gatherer, while their lifestyle and reproduction has evolved to an agricultural society, which creates an imbalance between the big amount of food their family needs and the nutrition they gather and produce.