Wednesday, April 27, 2011

LOMBOK: Charming island, seductive men..

FOLLOWING a period of political unrest in Indonesia between 1998 and 2008, Lombok appears to be on the verge of a tourism revival, competing with its more glamourous island neighbour, Bali.

But, with the increasing commercialisation of Bali over the past decades, and with it the accompanying traffic and gradual depletion of open, natural spaces, many tourists are being lured to the charm of 'undiscovered' Lombok.

However, it is not the boutique resorts on the island or its rural, unspoiled countryside that have made Lombok  a familiar  - if not notorious - name among Malaysians.
Every time there is a report of a young Malaysian girl running off with a boyfriend to Indonesia, it is almost always a lad from Lombok she had run away with.

A teenager's dashed dream

Take the recent case of 15-year-old Stefanie anak Langka from Mukah, Sarawak. She left home after a 22-year-old Lombok youth sweet-talked her into running away with him to his distant island home.

Her family alleged she had been carried off against her will.

Stefanie told Malaysian rescuers later that she had thought life in idyllic Lombok would be so much more pleasant than at her longhouse in Sarawak.

But, she found out,  it was much harder as the place she lived in did not have clean water supply and she had to walk miles for it. Kampung Lendang, where she had stayed, is a three-day journey by car from the Lombok capital city, Mataram.

She was rescued three months after her alleged abduction , with the intervention of the Umno Youth complaints bureau as well as Malaysian and Indonesian law enforcers, after her mother first brought up the matter with Parti Rakyat Sarawak.

Stefanie reportedly told the Umno Youth officers that she regretted following her boyfriend, who made all kinds of promises to her, only to find out that life was so much harder there than at her longhouse .

As many as 600 Malaysian girls

Bureau chairman Muhammad Khairun Aseh said the teenager was traced with the help of Malaysian and Indonesian police and was detained for immigration offences, entering Indonesia without valid travel documents.

The bureau claimed to have helped three other underaged girls from such a predicament.

Puteri Umno had estimated that about 500 women had been abducted off to the Indonesian island in recent years and the movement has made an urgent call to the government, in a statement on March 20, to freeze the intake of foreign workers from Lombok

Statistics by Indonesia NGO Migrant Care showed that as many as 600 girls and woman from Malaysia had eloped with their Indonesian lovers and ended up in Lombok.

The question arise, why Lombok?

A custom of male supremacy

According to 40-year-old Novian Ariff, the abductions are related to an age-old custom among the men of Lombok as a testament of their manliness.

“Some people may look at it as an evil custom but it had had been with us for generations and it has its virtues,” added Novian, from the Sasak community, the majority of the more than 29 million inhabitants of the island in West Nusa Tenggara province.

He said: “The custom is not intended to abduct young or underaged girls, or from another country.

“It is our island custom and confined to only local girls aged 18 and above.”

Novian said in the old days if there is a breach of this custom (abduction involving  an underaged girl or a foreigner), the penalty is death!

He said, however, the death sentence had not been practiced since the 1970s after the intervention of the republic’s authorities.

“Yes, we do ‘steal’ away girls from their families to make them our life partner – whether they give their consent or not.

“Sometimes, we start off by offering to take the girl home but, instead, she will be taken to the house of the man’s family or relatives and kept there for a certain period of time, like a week or two weeks.

“Then, the girl’s family will come looking for her and negoitiations will start for her release. The men’s side wll have the final say.”

Novian, from Desa Taman in Mataram,  said the custom reflects the supremacy of the males in the Sasak community
Let's get married...let's elope

Young couples in Lombok have a choice of three marriage rituals; an arranged marriage, a union between cousins and elopement.

The first two are uncomplicated: parents of the prospective bridal couple meet to discuss the bride's dowry and sort out any religious differences. Having handled the business arrangements, they go ahead with the marriage ceremony.

“If the girl’s family does not agree, then the man’s side will make their move to abduct the girl - or the couple elopes," said Novian.

Asked about the frequent cases involving Malaysian girls, Novian said such cases are largely related to Lombok men fron the interior areas of the island.

“Many of the men from Lombok who go to work in Malaysia are from the remote areas, where the customs is strictly and steadfastly adhered to.

“Many of these youths had never even been to Mataram city to know what it’s like in such urban setting.

"From their villages, they go straight  to Malaysia after being recruited by the employment agents.

"They get a cultural shock in their new surroundings and overwhelmed by the different lifestryles of their home villages and the places in Malaysia where they work. “

Novian said before they come to Malaysia, their recruiting agent will get the youths to go through a rather 'simple' selection procedure.

“The young able-bodied man is asked to carry a sack weighing 100kg up a hill within a stipulated time.

“If he stumbles or falls along the way, he will be disqualified and not selected for the job in Malaysia
“On the other hand, if they don’t stumble right to the end, they are qualified to work.

"Other qualifications don’t matter.”

The marriage controversies aside,  the folks here are friendly and, if you are looking for an off-the beaten-track holiday, the island rewards you with crystal clear blue waters untouched by the pollution of man.

The ruggedness of the mountainous north rewards lovers of the jungle with rapids, waterfalls and natural splendour.
Since the Sasak population typically practices Islam, the landscape is punctuated with mosques and minarets.
Islamic traditions and holidays influence the Island's daily activities

Besides tourism, the island’s economy depends on its crops of corn, rice, coffee, tobacco and cotton

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