Islands are commonly characterized as small, bounded, and isolated in people’s perceptions because of their physical shapes and spirit. These opinions are continuously creating an error illusion of islands being merely vulnerable objects in confrontation with any Earth’s events in the economy, society, and environment. For instance, people are susceptible to the hypothesis that an island could be destroyed and desperately need substantial aids from external forces after catastrophe smashes or climate change issues. Such stereotyped thoughts come from the impression that islanders live in a small closed system with limited resources and have nowhere to flee when unexpected tragedies happen, and “when this one thing is told over and over again, then that is what they become” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). This impression could be reasonable in some instances, but definitely not an official framework that fits all islands. To argue, vulnerability and resilience could be a coupling string, mentioned in John Connell’s book Island at risk, published in 2013 :
If vulnerability and resilience are not two sides of the same coin, then it must also be true that place can be both vulnerable and resilient and that the experience of vulnerability can produce resilience.Connell
In island studies, we have thoroughly discussed this theme with the landmark example of the Pacific Islands in the pre-colonial golden ages of two thousand years ago when their great ancestors viewed the world as “a sea of islands” (Hau’Ofa 7). Imagining the ocean as a bodily part of their islands, the Pacific islanders conquered the boundless universe territories by rich culture in mutual exchanging systems, proud awareness of self-identity, and mythical seafaring skills in mobility (3-16). There was no existence of vulnerability notion until the Western imperialism’s confinement dispersed in nineteenth century (7-8). Dr. James Randall once questioned about islands’ incarceration status in the contemporary time in his book An Introduction to Island Studies :
This article could potentially answer by narrating the thought on how religious faiths become an inseparable part of urging island resilience in modern-day sustainability, particularly in global climate change context, as Stephen A. Royle perceived in his book Islands: Nature and Culture:
Islands are special places that can develop their own identity and customary practices which can be expressed in social, religious and even economic terms. In the modern, globalized world these insular traits are everywhere under threat, but there are examples where, through islanders’ own efforts, perhaps backed by effective outside support, elements of traditional cultures and heritage may still be observed.Royle 75-76
My findings in this article are inspired by the stories of sustainable actions from seven communities with diverse religious beliefs in the Indonesian archipelago filmed in the documentary Islands of Faith (Chairun Nissa), released in 2019 and funded by the European Union in collaboration with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
BALI, A DAY OF SILENCE
Bali is a renowned tourist island in Indonesia. It attracts global tourists, estimated more than six million in 2019 (Ross Wood 2). Thus, this beautiful island also faces serious environmental issues such as massive constructions, overwhelming plastic garbage, and a dense-growing population to host such a vast number of patronages every year. The island’s religion is Balinese Hindu, which instructs the islanders to practice the internal and external balance. For them, they can achieve this balance by controlling their excessive demanding instinct. Contrarily, the uncontrol mindset will lead to misfortune destructions (Chairun Nissa). This practice comes from spiritual belief, and it enlightens the islanders on their responsibility to mother nature. With this being said, it is aptly comparable with the severe alerts of the over-consumption mindset as Vaclav Smil indicated in his book Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities that growth must come to an end; our economist friends do not seem to realize that (Smil 1). The Balinese faith in companion with the sustainable concern from Smil warns us that humans are using more natural resources than what we deserve, so practicing balance is a necessary remedy to rejuvenate.
In their tradition, the Balinese commemorate a yearly ceremony called Nyepi, which means A Day of Silence, to balance their mind, and body and be united with nature’s rejuvenation. A day before, the community will gather for purification rituals, a process to clean the bodies on the beach or water spring, and then return to the offering ceremony at night. On Nyepi day, people are not allowed to have activities or lights turned on during the day. “The whole day is used to take rest and sleep because, during sleep, all elements revitalize, just like nature restores itself”, the ceremony leader Tjokorda Raka Kerthyasa said in the documentary (Chairun Nissa).
The leader also revealed they organized the ceremony to pray not only for Bali but also for the whole planet Earth, reminded me of a Hau’Ofa famous statement expressed the islanders’ wide view of the world:
Their calculations are based entirely on the extent of the land surfaces that they see… Their universe comprised not only land surfaces but the surrounding ocean as far as they could traverse and exploit it…Their world was anything but tiny… Smallness is a state of mind.Hauofa 7
The event contributed to reducing a great deal of carbon emissions. Eventually, it saved thirty thousand tons of carbon from the atmosphere, which reduced the island’s daily carbon emission to one third (Chairun Nissa).
SUNGAI UTIK, THE SPIRIT OF THE FOREST
The second story tells us about the forest-saving effort from a village in Sungai Utik preserved forestry area, located in the West Kalimantan in the Borneo island. They are the indigenous descendants of the Dayak Iban tribe who keep faiths in protecting the forests from deforestation, logging, and palm oil companies’ projects to cultivate their native land. George Perkins Marsh, in his book Man and the Nature, published in 1864, prolonged to alert that these exploitatively industrial footprints could destroy human beings due to their intentional interference with the Earth’s biosphere and global resources:
Man has too long forgotten that the Earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumptions, still less for profligate waste.Marsh, 34
Agustius, a successor in Sungai Utik Village, shared the message from his ancestors who owned this place: “whoever still lives here in Sungai Utik, they own the place, whatever in the forest we own it, that is why we protect it”. With only three hundred and four members in this village, they are the most potent devoted guardians to preserve and protect the land, the forest, the territory, and the culture. They committed that one person can only cut three trees per year and not from the protected zones, and there are animals they are not allowed to hunt, such as hornbills and others (Chairun Nissa). After the harvest each year, they prepared food, played musical instruments, and danced in Gawai ceremony to appreciate forest offerings and pray for better crops next year. The community‘s leader Apay Jangut believed: “the land is our mother, the water is our blood when the land is used up, the plant will not give us seed; thus, we have to protect it”. This set of beliefs derives from the community’s holy forest worship. It educates all tribe’s generations to live their lives in harmony and as a subservient part of nature.
In their faith, Augustus and his fellows acknowledged their own identity of the forest they live in and the responsibility to protect it as a vital attachment to their lives. This recalls a quote about the proud place connections: “You can take the boy out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the boy” (unknown). The connection mentioned above between their self-identity and culture is compatible with the expression of Islandness which Phillip Conkling once described :
Borneo has lost fifty percent of its forest to deforestation; globally, the process contributes fifteen percent of emissions that cause climate change (Chairun Nissa).
However, the small village in Sungai Utik is always ready to fight for their mission of perpetuation.
BEA MURING, THE POWER OF FAITH
Bea Muring community inspired us with their joined collaboration in protecting God’s creations in Christian belief. The story began with the coming of a Catholic Priest to the community when it had no electricity and limited transportation access. At that time, most people used power generators or oil lamps for lighting, emitting toxic substances that caused air and noise pollution in the village. The priest then implemented the idea to build a micro hydropower plant near the river, and that project successfully replaced all the power generators, thus significantly reduced the fuel burnings. Unfortunately, the plant was damaged by a big flood six years later. He held a meeting, and everyone wholeheartedly decided to contribute capital despite their limited economic conditions, and especially devote their own manpower to repair the plant, all together.
How this small step makes changes? The Island of Faith’s director asserted:
Utilizing the natural flow of water to generate power, micro hydro is an emission free energy resource. For 1.6 million households who still lack connection to Indonesia’s power grid, it is a cleaner, greener solution.Chairun Nissa
Being a rural community does not make this village become isolated from the world and global environmental challenges. With Christian faith, the priest educated the villagers about the damaging impact of the former electricity-generating method by burning fuels; thus, they committed to making the change for a better life. “We are relying on ourselves, so the community is not waiting for other people to change their lives; they are changing their own lives”, the priest said. Furthermore, the whole village’s unity created strength to rebuild the hydro plant after being damaged by the flood, indicating that they are fully aware of their roles and responsibilities in the environmental transformations. A villager shared his thought in the documentary: “It is not about the electricity but how we treat our environment; we choose to take care of the nature (anonymous)”
The story of Bea Muring is a good example of how the small island community expresses their resilience in the greater mission of global sustainability, once said by Dr. Baldacchino:
Embracing change makes island communities able to continue island life; that is, change makes them resilient.Baldacchino 354
KAPATCOL, THE RISE OF THE SASI
Kapatcol is a village belonging to Raja Ampat marine preserved zone in West Papua, the largest and easternmost provine of Indonesian archipelago. Raja Ampat is one of the earth’s most vital marine breeding grounds, but faced with overfishing and sea level rising (Chairun Nissa).
Sasi is a local conservation scheme that bans the harvest of sea fauna in a fixed area for a defined period (Chairun Nissa). The villagers in Kapatcol are Christian, and the church leaders taught them when a place is “Sasi”, it is protected. Thus, they could not take anything within the Sasi limit. The religious belief influenced the villagers to be responsible for protecting the marine where they are dwelling. However, obeying the rules affected their traditional fishing livelihood, which lowered monetary earnings. In this dilemma, Almina Kacili, the leader of the women congregation, made an effort to help women in the village have more savings and gain equal right with men by proposing to the church leaders to open the Sasi for a week, strictly following the local experience of observing the right time in a year so it would not affect the fauna.
This project helped the local women have some additional funds by selling their catches, such as sea cucumbers or Lola shellfishes. It also fostered women’s rights and confidence in the village by earning extra income for their families. The fund was also used to support medicine and education for whoever in need. Most importantly, the villagers extended self-understanding to their marine environment’s responsibility. For instance, they must return the small ones to the sea.
Once again, similar to Balinese Hindu, the practice of balance control is the key in the local belief to live in harmony with nature and the religious faith from Catholic church encourages their members to do so. In this story, when the Sasi limited their traditional livelihoods, and despite being a small community, the Kapatcol islanders decided to stay and make the change on their own terms by balancing their catch methods more sustainably instead of fleeing as “climate refugees” (McNamara and Gibson 480). From this point of view, similar to John Connell (Connell), Ilan Kelman also clarified the common idea of smallness and vulnerability of small islands in a more contextual nuance :
Through this story, an alert of our sea from the documentary’s director:
“Only around 7% of the Earth’s oceans are protected areas. As sea temperature continues to rise, more and more marine habitats will be threatened by bleaching. Conserving reefs give vital marine life the best chance to survive and replenish”. (Chairun Nissa)
PAMEU, THE HARMONY OF HABITATS
Human civilization only started ten thousand years ago, and Peter Horton said that “the emergence of homo sapiens changed everything” (Horton and Horton 86). The tremendous growth of our complex society was vastly built on the cost of other fauna and flora in the planet’s pooled habitats because people blindly believed they are grown up to control the nature’ forces. Dr. Nagarajan once critiqued the supremacist mental in dominating the whole world in his journal “Collapse of Easter Island”:
Homo sapiens has only been around for a short period, and human civilization for even less. Having dominated the planet Earth for a speck of time, we are deceiving ourselves by thinking we are the exclusive owners of the Earth.Nagarajan 290
The above critique was illustrated in the story of a small village named Pameu in Aceh, residing in Sumatra Island’s northern end. It was an accident that the elephants wandered and destroyed gardens and crops in Pameu. The villagers are Muslims, and their Islamic faith leads them to live in harmony with all habitats according to Allah’s words: “If we are good, so is the nature, if we are bad, so is the nature , as human beings, we have to take care of our environment”. Initially, the leaders congregated and proposed two solutions: poison or shoot it. Nobody agreed. In their belief, the Koran says human beings are responsible for nature’s destruction, both land, and sea. Thus, this accident could be a test from God to alert humans for overtaking the place of other coinhabited creatures in the world: “If we harm nature, we will pay the price: flood , avalanches, and disturbances from animals” (Chairun Nissa).
In a typical praying ceremony, the leader, M. Yusuf, restated the meaning of Allah’s words:
Humans and animals, elephants, chickens, ducks are all Allah’s creations. Why do we blame the elephants for wandering into the villages? We are the ones with control. Animals do not have that.M. Yusuf
Yusuf then gathered all villagers from children to elders to spread the message that everyone must leave the elephants alone, do not poison, and do not make trenches that can harm them. “The elephants wander here because of us, we destroyed their habitats, so they don’t know where to live”, Yusuf said.
The lesson of respecting all living creatures from the Koran led to the empathetic choice from Pameu dwellers. It is incredibly relevant to the modern sustainability direction and precisely aligned with the call for actions to conserve all other species and their ecosystems in the Our Common Future report, published in 1987:
Scrutinized from the severe concern of elephants and their habitats’ reduction in Sumatra, Chairun Nissa intended to share the message:
In a single generation, the Sumatran elephant has lost 50% of its population and 70% of its natural habitat. As result, elephants wander into the village, frighten local communities and trampling valuable crops. Since 1990, nearly half Sumatra’s forest has been lost , much of it make way for industrial plant. The Sumatran elephant is a key species for keeping the balance of Sumatra’s forest ecosystem. To save Sumatran elephants and halt climate change , more forests must be protected. (Chairun Nissa)
IMOGIRI, COMMITMENT FOR GREEN
The food industry contributes to one-third of the world’s greenhouse emission. Implementing a local and environmentally friendly agriculture system leads to less emission. (Chairun Nissa)
Bumi Langit is the name of a family-run eco-farm in Imogiri old town of Yogyakarta, in south-central Java Island. The family pursues the Islamic practice of eating and making food that comes from good intentions and values. In Islam’s practice, “Thayyib” is an Arabic word which means good and fair and is inseparable from the concept of halal: “We have to be aware of the origin of everything in life, most importantly what we eat”, Iskandar Waworuntu, the family head, said. They created a closed recycling system for their house and farms functioning similar to the natural ecosystem in their living area. It could recycle water and support the growth of organic products in the garden. “No water is wasted”, said Iskandar.
The family regularly runs “permaculture workshops” to teach other neighbors and farmers in the province about their sustainable agriculture model. The word “permaculture” itself is Islamic in context: “Perma” is from permanent, and “culture” is life. Iskandar’s son, Krisna Waworuntu, said: “We have to see how something lives in its natural condition. Permaculture is very simple: care for the earth and the people”. The workshop also emphasizes the meaning of mutual relation between man and nature to the participants. The family ecosystem and workshops are inspired by their Islamic faith on Koran lessons of waste. It is said in the Koran that Allah does not create waste. Everything has a benefit.
Iskandar sought the meaning of life since his young years and fell in love with the Island. He believed it was a beautiful faith, and it inspired his life until now. Meanwhile, the Iskandar family’s way of life showed unconditional love to their place and the surrounding habitats, seeing themselves as a united part of the island and nature, which David Weale defined: “Islandness becomes a part of your being—a part as deep as marrow, and as natural and unselfconscious as breathing” (Weale 81). Milton Acorn also wrote about this fateful love in his poem “I, MILTON ACORN”:
To be born on an island’s to be sure
You are native with a habitat.
Growing up on one’s good training
For living in a country, on a planet. (Milton Acorn)
JAKARTA, THE URBAN TRANSFORMATION
Urban are only occupied two percent of earth land surface but contribute seventy percent of harmful greenhouse gases. (Chairun Nissa)
The last story referred to a couple’s passion for finding the meaning of their roles in urban society. Soraya Cassandra, the wife, had a passion for education, and her husband, Dhira, loved nature. Thus, they combined the two ideas to build a learning garden, named Kebun Kumara, in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. The garden land was a former illegal waste disposal place, and the couple transformed it into a green garden. It produces organic vegetables and becomes the learning laboratory for nature lovers to practice growing green plants in the middle of the gigantic Jakarta metropolitan on the populous Java island of eleven million people. In my thought, this story, once again, illustrated the Islandness attribute: the invisible connection to the geography and the fateful love which cannot be denied, voiced by David Weale and Milton Acorn in the previous story of Bumi Langit.
Does the Jakarta metropolitan remain its Islandness comparing to the rest of the islands in the archipelago? Island Studies are critiqued to be lacking interest in the urban island cities and unintentionally consider these big cities as a distinctive subcategory (Baldacchino 321), which Adam Grydehøj also commented :
Ironically, island studies have failed precisely in presenting island communities as centres: Island cities are regarded as not truly insular, and peripherality becomes a defining feature of islands. The terms of the debate are skewed against understanding islands on their own terms.Grydehøj et al. 4
Hence, we will examine the expression of Islandness in the couple’s story to inspire a greener way of life for the island’s biggest city. Dr. Baldacchino once urged island studies to look at the urbanized island cities under the view of the fundamental, non-theorized definition of an island, simply “any area of land smaller than a continent and entirely surrounded by water” (Baldacchino 312). Similar examples to Jakarta, a few to be named, are Hong Kong Island (China), Manhattan Island (USA), Mombasa (Kenya), and Stockholm (Sweden) (312). Baldacchino argued that, despite the challenges in describing these places as peripheral and due to their urbanism display by all definitions, it does not deny such places’ island status: are not these islands that are cities; or, equally, cities that are islands (312)?
To define, Jakarta is classified as a major population center of the Indonesian archipelago. Other examples of this type are Honolulu (Hawaii, USA), Kirkwall (Orkney, Scotland, UK), or Hobart (Tasmania, Australia) (315). These giant centers are historically formed due to the advantages of Islandness: small and controlled spatiality in defensive territorial serving as well-protected political hubs (Grydehøj 431), and in functions such as beneficial water-access for trade and residents’ livelihoods (Philip and Christian 25-49). From the above references, it is necessary to remain conscious and emphasize the “own terms” in the connection between the island and urban cities, and vice versa. I heartily agree with this perspective that no matter how enormous and vivid an island city could become, its status and islandness remain:
It is generally felt within the field that the simple presence of a bridge or other kind of fixed link may alter the dynamics of an island community but does not in itself stop a place from being an island.Baldacchino 312
Turning back to the last story. The couple believed “if many city people are disconnected from nature, the solution should be in the city itself” (Chairun Nissa). Kebun Kumara, the city garden model, inspires sustainable habits to reduce carbon emission by building a close connection between urban citizens and nature. The idea is like-minded compared to the relationship between the islanders and their universe of the land, the sky, the ocean, and everything underneath (anonymous). In this connection, Dhira and his wife’s religious faith does not instate any difference from the above stories telling us about God’s love and faithfully listening to his words to extend the love and protection to his creations, the nature. As a promising model, Kebun Kumara is among many more projects that are continuously evolving on our planet nowadays with the only mission to encourage people to live in harmony with nature, not above it. Dhira and Soraya concluded:
Personally, when I’m in the nature, seeing flowers bloom, seeing what I planted grow, I can see God’s Glory, the concrete form of his love right in front of our eyes, so when we are with nature and learn about the process, it teaches us about patience, surrender, grace and sensitivity, and just because we live in the city, we do not have to be disconnected.
The seven stories told us how resilient the Indonesian archipelago’s small communities were when taking actions to protect our shared house, the planet Earth. Originally, these small island villages were embedded in their isolated and finite boundaries, as well as suffered from the excessive consumption pressure from the external society’s norms, depicted in the article “Tragedy of Commons”:
Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit-in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.Hardin 1244
However, being thankful for the congenital islandness features, they are deemed to be in a good position to retain the solid self-awareness of identities and naturally connect to the surrounding habitats. The above traits are sturdily enhanced by local religious faith’s direction of living harmony with nature, proving by the love of Jesus God from Bea Muring, Kapatcol, and Kebun Kumara; the faith in Islam’s submission to Allah from Bumi Langit and Pameu; the Hinduism practice of balance in Bali; and the customary forest worship of Sungai Utik. These island communities are small, isolated, and vulnerable, yet they stand up by taking small sustainable initiatives for nature and the future. I truly believed that those “small changes, multiplied by many actors, can have large-scale impacts” (McConnell and Loveless 185-237), and hope these examples could answer Dr. Randall’s question about the islanders’ resilience in the global climate change context mentioned at the beginning of this writing.
My final thought also comes up with the role of international governments, agencies, and every one of us in acknowledging these movements from local communities on their “own terms”. Not only must we understand and respect their spiritual belief, traditional cultures, and deep-rooted connection to landscapes, but it is essential to be hand in hand with them by offering thoughtful encouragement and locally relevant approaches so we, all together, can achieve the global mission, stated in Our Common Future 1987, “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development 383).
We are now just beginning to realize that we must find an alternative to our ingrained behavior of burdening future generations resulting from our misplaced belief that there is a choice between the economy and the environment. That choice, in the long term, turns out to be an illusion with awesome consequences for humanity.Charles, Caccia Member of Parliament, House of Commons WCED Public Hearing Ottawa, 26-27 May 1986
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