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Photo: Fathul Rakhman/Mongabay-Indonesia
The traditional homes on the island of Lombok have survived several earthquakes over the years. Concrete homes crumble.

Often there is wisdom in the old ways. That’s what residents of an Indonesian island in the Ring of Fire learned after a series of earthquakes created havoc with modern concrete structures.

Fathul Rakhman has a report at Mongabay.

“Jumayar’s house fell early on Aug. 5, as the second of four large earthquakes in the span of three weeks ripped through the Indonesian island of Lombok, clobbering his village of Beleq in the process. …

“Although Lombok, which is next to Bali, sits squarely on the quake-prone Ring of Fire, heavy, concrete homebuilding is the norm. These rigid structures became death traps during the earthquakes. Only the handful of wooden traditional houses in Beleq, with their lightweight, flexible designs, emerged unscathed. …

“Though elements like floor height or wall width may vary in different parts of the island, all traditional Sasak homes employ the same basic design: Thatched bamboo walls enclose dirt floors, connecting them to roofs of woven reeds. … Wooden homes can sway, or ‘breathe’ when earthquakes strike, concrete houses cannot; they have no flex and topple easily.

“In North Lombok, the epicenter of the damage, 70 percent of the houses collapsed or were severely damaged. Rebuilding will require hundreds of millions of dollars, according to government estimates.

“In Beleq, families in traditional houses ran outside like everyone else, fearing for their lives. Not a single one of their traditional structures fell, even as the concrete homes around them crumbled.

‘If the government offers to rebuild here, we will reject the [construction of] concrete homes,’ said Sahirman, the Beleq village head. ‘We want to go back to our ancestral homes.’ …

“ ‘The ancestors bequeathed to us an architecture that is in harmony with nature,’ said Lalu Satriawangsa, chairperson of the provincial AMAN [the country’s largest indigenous rights nongovernmental organization] chapter. …

“The Indonesian government has typically looked upon the traditional houses as ‘slum dwellings,’ an indicator of poverty. But Lalu says the government should support the construction of traditional houses. Not only are they cheaper, but as the recent disasters proved, they are infinitely safer.

“For too long traditional homes have been seen to mark the persistence of poverty rather than the preservation of culture, ignoring their instrumental value, Lalu said.

“ ‘Now is the time for us to campaign for [the rebuilding of] homes that are more in tune with nature,’ he said. …

“As rebuilding plans take form, Sahir, the Beteq village head, believes the community should look to the past for inspiration.

“ ‘I don’t want to sleep in a concrete house ever again,’ he said.”

More at Mongabay, here.

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Photo: Adron Gardner/Gallup Independent via AP
Fry bread is available at the Navajo Nation Fairgrounds in Window Rock, Ariz., but is no longer part of the Miss Navajo Pageant competition.

It’s interesting how customs that evolve out of oppression can sometimes be so warmly appropriated that they will be missed if discontinued. As tribes like the Navajo start to promote healthier ancestral foods, some feel wistful about the fry bread that families got used to over the years.

Felicia Fonseca writes at the Sante Fe New Mexican, “The Miss Navajo Nation pageant is parting ways with fry bread, the fluffy, golden brown delicacy that’s become a symbol of Native American culture but is rooted in oppression.

“Women vying for the crown [in September] in Window Rock [prepared] traditional Navajo foods instead, like blue corn mush or a cake made at puberty ceremonies.

“Outgoing Miss Navajo Ronda Joe said the tribe’s new ambassador must know the history of those foods and speak about them in Navajo.

“ ‘We need to educate our people to utilize plants as food that are tied to our land, culture and beliefs,’ she wrote in an email. The change aligns with a movement in Indian Country to refocus on traditional foods and reinforce native languages.

“Fry bread was born out of government rations given to Navajos on a forced relocation to Eastern New Mexico in the 1860s. Traditional Navajo breads or cakes would be made of corn and cooked on hot stones or in the ground, not in a cast-iron pan filled with oil.

“Fry bread can be found across the Southwest in Indian tacos, slathered in honey or powdered sugar, or broken off in pieces and used as a spoon for stews. The exact ingredients vary and everyone claims ‘mom’ makes it best.

“Despite being removed from the tribal pageant, fry bread offers lessons in survival, being a contributor and creating something out of nothing, said Jocelyn Billy-Upshaw, Miss Navajo 2006-07. She remembers her mom saying she’d never get married unless she knew how to make bread. …

Brian Yazzie, a Navajo chef who focuses on precolonial foods in Minneapolis, Minnesota … praised the switch from fry bread to a traditional food presentation.

“ ‘It encourages and inspires youth to step up and take a challenge of ancestral knowledge and ancestral roots,’ he said. ‘It makes my heart happy to see that.’ ”

More.

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