‘The Iron Ladies’ in the Border

Mama Sinta and her son

On the border of Indonesia-Timor Leste, there are many heart-touching stories about women who promote the peace. They try to cure the trauma from their past, then they rise and spread the peace. Through farming, trading and weaving activities, they are spreading the seeds of peace for a brighter future.


Chrispina Taena crossed the border. The woman who trades daily in Pasar (local market) Tono, in the Oecuse District, Timor Leste came to Napan Village in Indonesia territory to attend a wedding invitation.

This woman, who is about 50 years old, never felt as a stranger in Napan Village. She was born and raised in this village. She left this village since she married a man from Oecuse. She immigrated with her husband. At that time, Oecuse was still part of East Timor, the 27th province in Indonesia.

However, since East Timor separated from Indonesia and became the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, the woman called Mama (a term of woman who have married) Krista has become a citizen. She occasionally crosses the border.

Napan Village is located in North Bikomi District, North Central Timor Regency (TTU), East Nusa Tenggara Province (NTT). This village can be reached by car from Kupang, the capital of NTT province, as far as 200 kilometers.

The trip to this village can take five hours, after previously passing Kefamenanu, the capital of North Central Timor Regency. The total of village population is 1016 people. The total population of women is 526 people, more than the male population which is 490 people.

Mama Krista stated that the line separating the two countries is only a political line. "We can be different countries, but we are still brothers and sisters," she said.

Like other citizens, Mama Krista has a trauma about conflicts in the past. She was once a refugee who came to Napan to seek protection. She once lost many things, including her child during the conflict. But, Mama Krista also has a story about the resurrection

On August, 30th 1999, the people of Timor Leste voted for independence referendum from Indonesia which sponsored by United Nations (UN). After the referendum, the chaos was created and conflict tension began rise.

As a refugee, she did not want to sink into grief. She moves. "If I am still sad, how can I live? I am still alive. I have to take care of my life, "she said.

She started selling. The villagers of Napan Village lend many hands to her. Every villager realize that this is not a conflict between of their people. This conflict was designed by several people who were unwilling to see the political situation change.

When the situation is safe, Mama Krista returned to Oecuse and started everything from scratch. Mama Krista is a tough warrior. She started farming from the seeds relief of an international institution.

She knew that the seed her sow is the seed she reap. She organized and empowered the women to plant and harvest, then sell them to the nearest market.

Beside of farming, she also weaves. She formed a group of five women to weave in her home. She weaves a variety of beautiful Timorese fabrics, called tais. She uses the natural dyes to make Tais colorful. In fact, the yarn was from bark.

She was never ashamed and never felt too old to learn. When UNDP held a training to improve farming skills, she was very happy. She was full of enthusiasm when she got the chance to learn with farmers in Napan Village, Indonesia.

Mama Krista buried all the hatred. She did not intend to avenge and defuse hostility towards person or community. She was defused the anger by the activities of farming and weaving. She burned every resentment with love for other human beings.

Mama Krista turns the embers of revenge into dew of affection. She sees the past with a bright mind. She frames the present with kindness and love. She looked to the future with optimism, cheerful, and peaceful.

The Rising Phoenix

Mama Krista is not alone. Her colleague Yasinta Colo also experiences the same grief. In 1999, Mama Sinta ran into the wood in the midst of bullets. When the bullets hit her uncle, she kept running.

"I cried seeing my ‘little father’ or uncle got hit by a bullet. At that time, men and women run apart. Men get shot a lot. He joined women because he thought it would be safer. It turns out he was hit by a bullet,” she said with a sob.

The impact of the 1999 conflict affected all levels of society. Many men have died. Many women also have to face grief in refugee camps. For months, they lived in refugee camps and received assistance from international agencies.

However, Mama Sinta also did not want to dissolve in grief. She is indeed in grief remembering the traumatic event. "I think I should get up. I have to move. If not, what should I eat? "she said.

Head of Napan Village supported Mama Sinta with daily necessities to be sell, such as rice, cooking oil, gasoline, to vegetables. She was encouraging to cross the border to trade. She knew that Timorese people were in need of many things.

The people in border have a great ability to rise from their grief. They can quickly forget about tragedy and look for a better future. They are tougher than men even though they are the ones who suffer the most. Conflict and dark past do not make them lose their spirit for life.

They remind us to a phoenix when burned and turned to dust can be reborn as a new and stronger phoenix. They make tragedy to be a something that gives them the strength to stay alive and survive for the family.

Alongside the men, they come to work and make sure all family needs sufficient. They are not the type of women who only stay at home, because they enter the public spaces. They work hard and do various jobs beside men.

They trade, weave, farm, and provide for the family. They also become pillars at home that heal trauma and provide motivation to all family members to keep up and try.

They also become the agents of peace at the border and always remind people that national borders are not something to separate. National borders must be seen as opportunities to maintain brotherhood and friendship, and the economic networking.

However, peace is impossible, when only one party wants it. The seeds of peace can grow if all parties have the same commitment to keep humanizing and respecting each other.

A phoenix will not be a great bird by itself. Its is supported by an environment that develop its potential. Mama Krista and Mama Sinta could become agents of peace because of strongly supporting from the people, communities, cultures, religion, as well as traditional ceremonies.

Cultural Support

That man came in his traditional clothes. He wears a woven sarong and headband. He stopped by several villagers who were preparing to hold a traditional ceremony. He will lead a traditional ceremony and pray to the ancestors. That man is Petrus Pot.

As a traditional leader, he is not only served in Napan and the surrounding villages in Indonesian territory. He also led traditional ceremonies in Oesilo and other villages in the Oecuse district of East Timor. Petrus Pot is like an umbrella that covers everyone.

He also is a Catholic priest. He works in the Catholic church to serve the people. But when there is a traditional ceremony, he leads the ritual to make offerings to the ancestors. "I play both roles," said Petrus.

The population of Napan and Oesilo is relatively homogeneous. They have the same culture and rituals. They have related last names or clans. There are six sub-tribes or large clans, namely: (1) Kefi, (2) Siki, (3) Nule, (4) Eko, (5) Kolo, (6) Oki. This bond is still strong and maintained by the community.

Petrus said, traditional ceremonies are still important for the community. If villager is not present in the ceremony, someday people will also not come to his house if he has a ceremony. The traditional ceremony becomes a rigging which keeps the solidarity of the villagers to remain strong.

Petrus shared his experience during the conflict in 1999. He was very sad when he saw many refugees from Oecuse District coming to Napan Village. As a traditional leader, he treated everyone as relatives.

He helped accommodate all the refugees in the church. He tried to calm of refugees, especially women, who were traumatized. He also prepared a traditional party that could become a reconciliation for all.

The traditional party is called Tfua Ton which is held every year. During the traditional party, Petrus invited all parties to bring food and drinks. Petrus reads the prayer in the local language which contains messages for all parties to maintain peace.

He called the philosophy "Aifa Ben Neke, Sus Pet Bijae" which in Dawan language means "We are ready to assume and ‘breastfeed’ anyone who comes in and needs help." This philosophy is applied in both regions.

Petrus became a cultural agent that promoted peace. In the cultural field, he brought together all parties as fellow citizens who wanted peace. He held a ritual that aims to make everyone realize that they are from the same womb, as of the disaster experienced by one party is a common calamity.

Besides culture, there are two other arenas that can facilitate dialogue between citizens.

First, the economic arena. Those who are victims of conflict both lose their jobs, even though in daily life, they are connected in one economic chain.

Another Napan villagers, Brigitta Siki, told me about her business in se'i or Oecuse cuisine. He built a work chain therefore her products could be sold at Oecuse and got many consumers.

Brigitta and her sister are engaged in the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sector now. Their products are always in demand and eagerly awaited by the villagers. "I provided a supply of meat, then it was marketed at the stalls there," she said.

The border indeed holds great economic potential. Since long time ago, the villagers of Napan and Oesilo had bounded in a trade chain. Collaboration between villagers has developed since the conflict. They need each other because they both want a better life. They build a symbiosis of mutualism.

Second, the agricultural arena. The majority of villagers on the border are farmers. Dialogue and relations between villagers also occur in the agricultural field. The farmers in the two countries formed farmer groups which both of them can be learned and increased capacity from one another.

Jose Benu is a farmer in Napan Village. He said that he forgot all the trauma when he was farming. Farming is like a meditation to him which helps him to escape from all the problems that occurred in the past. He found productive activities that are useful for 'family kitchen', can also be sold to improve the welfare.

In the past year, UNDP has come and helped border communities to develop commodities in order to be in demand in the market, thus raising the economy of citizens. Brigitta is one of the UKM (Small and Medium Enterprise) who was flown to Malang in order learn culinary management. He went with some of his fellow UKM in so they absorb new things for the development of their products.

UNDP also helps farmers to develop horticultural products, which are healthy vegetables. Farmers at the border are taught how to grow vegetables, so they can meet their needs and sell them to markets. Per Capita income is still low, about Rp. 500,000 per month for each head of household.

The data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2018 shows that agriculture and plantations are the sectors that absorb the most employment in Napan. The number of farmer households (RTP) is 257. According that number, 136 RTP have more than one hectare of land, 97 RT have land with an area of between 0.5 to 1 hectare.

Lesson Learned 

Those who have traveled to the borders of Indonesia and Timor Leste must have witnessed the blooming of Gamal Flowers (gliricidia sepium). In the middle of a barren and dry land, Gamal Flowers still bloom which bring the freshness and presents a magnificent views.

This gamal flower represents the reality that happening there. In the midst of doughtiness, there will be a hope that blooms, which gives freshness to everyone. There will be something that make the days more colorful.

Gamal Flower

Subsequent to the conflict, 'bud of love' grew and began to bear. 'The Iron Ladies' who can recover from trauma, then immediately recover and now begin to bring hope for improving family welfare.

In crisis situations, a number of individuals often act as peace-builders who reconcile situations. They strengthen society so that become a solid foundation for reconciliation and peace.

Mama Krista, Mama Sinta, Petrus Pot, and Brigita Siki become the peace-builders through productive economic activities. They are peace actors who use methods of communication, persuasion, and mediation in order to heal the community trauma through productive activities namely weaving, planting, and trading.

An important lesson at the borders of Indonesia and Timor Leste is the need for cooperation and the participation of many stakeholders to jointly develop a safe and calm situation. Peace is not something that drove from above, even though must grow from the bottom and strongly supported by all communities.

Peace is a situation that was born from the cooperation of many actors in the grass root who had experienced in conflict, thus there would be no more similar conflicts in the future. All stakeholders are expected to carry out cross-country, cross-political, cross-cultural cooperation to build economic transformation and post-conflict reconciliation.

Since 1992, the term peace-building has spread throughout the world when UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali introduced peace-building as a peace agenda. Initially, this definition was only limited to efforts in ending the conflict, peacemaking, and peacekeeping.

Furthermore, the term peace-building is becoming more developed as an effort of various actors, both government and civil society, to overcome the effects and causes of conflict, then building a peaceful situation after the conflict.

The concrete approach of peace-building is the act of rebuilding areas that were destroyed by the conflict. In order to accelerate peace-building, social capital can be identified which can be used to strengthen and consolidate peace to avoid a conflict.

At the borders of Indonesia and Timor Leste, social capital which is strengthen the activities of all citizens are: cultural capital, economic capital, solidarity among conflict victims, and mutual trust. This social capital gives power to the community to prevent violence from happening in the future, as well as the emergence of solidarity to help the others.

This social capital must be recognized, in order to achieve the development direct. International institutions and local governments can strengthen this social capital thus that development can be more effective and touch the target of people who need a model of development.

Peace-building is an important phase for post-conflict recovery. The actions taken during the peace-building phase include economic recovery, rebuilding education facilities, health facilities, roads and other facilities damaged by the war.

"We want peace, not war. Because we are all here in the brotherhood. We both believe that the blessings of our ancestors will be always present if we take care of each other, " said Petrus Pot.

Napan Village is a witness of great women and men who are weaving peace to be pinned to the world. The village holds many stories about peace-builders who heal trauma and look for better future with a happiness

0 komentar:

Posting Komentar