Piece of Mind: Flores’s ‘Modern’ Food Crisis
Laine Berman | March 21, 2011
Flores is one of my favorite places on earth — a small tropical island in eastern Indonesia with cool weather, amazing mountains and scenery, fabulous beaches and abundant greenery, including things to pick up and eat everywhere. One never goes hungry in Flores — or so I thought.
On this particular trip, I was in Flores evaluating two area NGOs that have implemented a project to help rural people provide home-care for their children with disabilities. Keep in mind, this is a very poor, isolated region. The villages we visited do not yet have electricity or access roads (we had to drive for hours on rutted trails and get out and walk when the passable roads ended). Houses have no permanent walls or floors, no bathing or toilet facilities and no furniture beyond a woven mat for sleeping or sitting.
There are no health services, almost no literacy and, amazingly, no food, or so I was told.
The NGO I was working with said these people were malnourished and only ate cassava. So when we scheduled our visit to these mountain communities, I requested that our hosts not buy any food to serve us and cook only ingredients they had harvested from their own gardens. So they did.
And we ate very well indeed. Instead of white rice bought at great expense several hours away in town shops, they made a delicious black rice that turned a beautiful dark purple when cooked. It is grown in fields, not paddies, with seeds handed down from one generation to the next.
They also prepared some amazingly tasty vegetable and egg dishes with pumpkin, papaya leaves and flowers as well as a delicious sambal. They even made a dish out of a butchered pig, which I didn’t partake of. Even though I am vegetarian, I usually ask my hosts to prepare a meat dish anyway because it is rare that they get the chance to eat meat without a special occasion.
So with such fabulous food, why on earth are their children malnourished?
Turns out, most of the amazingly tasty and healthy food served to me is grown to feed their pigs — not themselves or their children.
Somehow, these supposedly isolated villages have been infected by “modern” ideas that they should serve white rice (which has no fiber and few vitamins, just lots of carbohydrates) at each meal, along with instant noodles — locally considered a vegetable.
Babies are fed instant porridge, a processed food very high in sugar. Just add water — that may or may not be potable. Thus their children grow up addicted to sugar, since exceptionally sweet foods are what they are accustomed to.
Moms tell me that their children demand — and get — packaged sweets daily, rather than substantial meals, which they often refuse to eat.
Evidence of the widespread consumption of these packaged foods is seen everywhere you look, with wrappers tossed on the ground, in the ditches and on the floors, wherever.
Cassava will grow anywhere with little effort, so that is what these people mostly rely on to fend off hunger pains. While everyone has chickens, they told me that eggs cause asthma and that pregnant women and children should not eat them. Everyone has chickens, and many raise pigs and cows, but they are only butchered for special occasions and ceremonies — never for more mundane nutritional purposes.
Since maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the region, women intentionally undereat when pregnant in order to have small babies, thereby increasing their own chances of survival. Fetal malnutrition results in a very high rate of mental and physical disabilities. Since life is so hard here, even for the healthiest babies, severely deformed children are usually allowed to die. Horrible as it is, I can actually understand why they would do that.
How can I, as a sporadic visitor, hope to help these people re-evaluate their destructive practices? When did “modern” start being defined as nothing more than consumerism ignorant of tradition and even basic knowledge of health and safety?
I am painfully aware of my own status in these villages as an honored guest and my ability to give alternative examples through my actions. Hence, I always sit and talk with village elders and youth alike to demonstrate my own intense respect for their wisdom, their knowledge of the foods found in the surrounding forests and their natural desire to protect the fields, rivers and forests, which they believe are home to holy spirits. It’s not likely to have much impact, but it is better than doing nothing and not raising any concerns about how and why these destructive changes are happening.
Laine Berman is a freelance writer based in Yogyakarta.
Ndundu Ndake is a traditional dance of Manggarai in west Flores, this dance usually will be performanced on thanks giving party or wedding party, and nowdays will be performance on special event ie: indonesian independence day.
“The Komodo dragon, as befits any creature evoking a mythological beast, has many names. It is also the Komodo monitor, being a member of the monitor lizard family, Varanidae, which today has one genus, Varanus. Residents of the island of Komodo call it the ora. Among some on Komodo and the islands of Rinca and Flores, it is buaya darat (land crocodile), a name that is descriptive but inaccurate; monitors are not crocodilians. Others call it biawak raksasa (giant monitor), which is quite correct; it ranks as the largest of the monitor lizards, a necessary logical consequence of its standing as the largest lizard of any kind now living on the earth…. Within the scientific community, the dragon is Varanus komodoensis. And most everyone calls it simply the Komodo.” Claudio Ciofi
The Komodo dragon is an ancient species whose ancestors date back over 100 million years. Komodo dragon in Rinca islandThe varanid genus originated between 25 and 40 million years ago in Asia. The Komodo descended from this species and evolved to its present form over four million years ago.
The Komodo is long lived (as are most of the larger reptilian species) with an estimated life expectancy of over 50 years in the wild. In keeping with its longevity, the Komodo matures late in life, becoming sexually viable at five to seven years, and achieving maximum body density in fifteen years. Komodos are sexually dimorphous, which means males are bigger than females. The largest recorded specimen was 3.13 meters in length and was undoubtedly a male. Females rarely exceed 2.5 meters in length. What is perhaps more important, is that the characteristic bulk is achieved by older dominant males in clearly delineated territorial areas. As an adult Komodo can consume up to 80% of its body weight in one gorging, weight is a highly variable factor, and is largely dependent on the most recent feeding. A typical weight for an adult Komodo in the wild is 70 kilograms.Komodo Dragon
Komodo dragons are first and foremost opportunistic carnivores, and predators second. Although the Komodo can sprint briefly at 20 kilometers an hour, it does not chase down game as do the larger mammalian predators. The Komodo is a stealth predator, which lies motionless and camoflouged alongside game trails for the unwary, which tend to be the very young, the old and the infirm. In an attack, the Komodo lunges at its victim with blinding speed and clasps it with the serrated teeth of the jaw. Prey are rarely downed in the initial attack unless the neck is broken or caratoid artery severed. The more likely outcome is escape, followed by death a few hours or days later from septicemia introduced by the virulent strains of bacteria found in the saliva of the Komodo dragon (the Komodo survive primarily on carrion and ingest the bacteria when feeding).
The Komodo has two highly developed sensory organs – the olefactory and the Jacobson’s - which allow the dragon to detect rotting carcasses from distances as great as 10 kilometers. The yellow forked tongue is
constantly being flicked in and out of the mouth, “tasting the air”, and inserted into the Jacobson’s organ located in the roof of the mouth. The individual tips are highly sensitive and are capable of discriminating odors in the magnitude of millionths of a part. Using the information garnered, the dragon wends in a seemingly random, winding path which becomes straighter the closer it approaches to the carrion. The Komodo is typically a communal feeder and any number of dragons might arrive at the site of the carcass.
Socialization occurs during feeding at carrion sites, as does mating. The abdomen is slashed first and the intestines and stomach contents scattered. Young juveniles roll in the fecal matter to mask their scent from aggressive adults, which attack and sometimes kill juveniles during feeding. The dominant male feeds until sated, followed by other dragons in order of size. While the dominant male is gulping down hindquarters and ribcages, the braver dragons chance foraging a few scraps. Virtually the entire carcass is consumed in the process– head, fur, hooves and bones. After feeding, the Komodos become quiescent and approachable while their digestive tracts are converting the food into fat energy stored in the tail.
Between the months of May and August, mating occurs at and around feeding sites. As males outnumber females in a ratio of nearly four to one, the dominant male must fend off other suitors before mating. Males will engage in slashing, biting and bipedular rearing onto the tail, until the dominant male is acknowledged by displays of subservience and the vanquished flees. The female is forced into a prone position while the male tongue flicks her body, and in particular, the fold between the torso and the rear leg close to the cloaca. With Komodos, the male hemipenes are located here as are the female genetalia. Once prone, the male mounts onto the back of the female and inserts one of the two hemipenes into her cloaca , depending on which side he is perched. The month of September is when a clutch of 15-30 eggs is buried in a nest dug with the powerful claws of the female dragon. A typical nesting site is in the composting vegetative mounds of the maleo birds which are indigenous to Komodo.
The gestation period for the eggs is eight to nine months. Hatchlings, which average 40 centimeters in length and weigh 100 grams, emerge from the nest in April and immediately scramble up the nearest tree to avoid being eaten by the adults. There are plenty of small lizards, insects and mammals in the canopy after the brief rainy season in January and February to sustain the juveniles until they descend to the forest floor roughly a year later. This period of change between an arboreal and a terrestial habitat, when the juveniles are a meter in length, is a time fraught with danger. The juvenile Komodo is just too bulky to safely ascend many trees, and not big enough to outrun a ravenous and determined adult. Cannibalism is a fact of life for this species, and perhaps is an evolutionary response to the harsh, arid climate of Komodo.
Prey species for the dragon on Komodo island include deer, boar, wild buffalo, the maleo bird, snakes, reptiles and small mammals. On Rinca, the monkeys and wild horses found there are also constitute prey, as do the goats raised by the local people. On the odd occasion people are also attacked by the Komodo dragon. There have been eight recorded instances of attacks on humans since Komodo has become a national park, almost all of which occurred on Rinca.