Keling is a pretty little village, neat wooden houses with spotless yards line either side of the main street, and it is dotted about with hedged plant rows draped with drying laundry. The main street consists of sharp, broken rocks, it's safer to walk along the side of it on the narrow, well worn, dirt footpaths. There are about 120 - 150 people living here at any given moment. Children can go to elementary school in a village a few kilometres away but to continue their secondary education they must go to live in Labuan Bajo or Ruteng. Some are fortunate to be taken in by extended family living in those main centres, others group together, find rented rooms to share and begin living independent lives in their early teens. To support the need to rent accommodation and to live they receive some help from their families but usually, they also need to work. Secondary education is a privilege and not an entitlement.
I have been told there are boarding houses especially set up to accommodate secondary school students but that living conditions in those establishments are far from ideal. I heard complaints the students are not fed properly there and still need to find employment to sustain themselves. From their early teens the children are leaving the villages to pursue a high school education far away from their very loving families and communities.
Once they have completed their secondary education, many leave Flores to find employment or attend university. This requires financial support from the families with the students themselves working, sometimes at several different jobs.
This situation creates an exodus of young people that currently cannot be reversed. In this very communal and caring society many loved ones are missed, every moment of every day and so many young people are isolated from their culturally rich, traditional village life. Since the young people staying in the major centres experience the ease of life with constant electricity supply, water on tap, good roads and easier access to health care they are becoming driven to improve infrastructure and services for the villages.
There is a growing interest in politics, to acquire political influence is seen as a way to improve life for their families and communities but they tell me the biggest barrier for them to succeed on this path is entrenched and unopposed corruption. I am heartened that good people, with strong desires for reform are considering entering the political system in Indonesia. Hopefully, inspired individuals will rise up and succeed within this framework to finally provide the essential and badly needed infrastructure these villages need.
One of the biggest highlights of my visit was participating in New Year's Eve ceremonies.
In Keling we all bathed at the communal tap in turns, generally smartened ourselves up and headed off in the late afternoon on the walk to Latung, roughly five kilometres away. On arriving we entered a large, smoke filled home and were welcomed with kopi and Serabi. As sunset approached, we all walked up the hill to the church and the peaceful graveyard. All along the way people came out from their homes to shake hands and exchange New Year’s greetings, Selamat Tahun Baru. At the cemetery any weeds were cleared away from the already tidy gravesites and lit candles were placed upon them. Then each of the different family groups assembled in reverence around their own family's graves, solemn Catholic prayers were offered, and the ancestors were formally invited to return to the house with them to celebrate the New Year. (photos) I will let these photos speak for themselves I don't believe I can provide a written description which will do this justice.
We returned to the house as nightfall arrived, just before the rain started and hopefully, alongside the ancestors. Other guests continued to arrive through the early evening, I think there may have been around 75 men, women and children gathered here in the end. Marsel's mother, Mar provided me with a beautiful songket to wear for this occasion and a group of friendly ladies helped to dress me in it. The evening meal was served, Manggarai music played and everyone enjoyed catching up with each other, talking and laughing.
Written by Donna Ellice