Isn’t there a shortcut?

“Isn’t there a shortcut? ” asks Ranga as me, her and Marlou visit the beautiful Moluccan Islands in East-Indonesia.


While more and more people in rich countries tend to connect with nature, with people and with self,  in poorer countries people lose those connections as they imagine more financial and material wealth will bring them a better future. In Maluku, traditional law – the adat – which considers human beings as part of nature in the web of life,  is under threat. The predominant paradigm is looming, where  people accept to view themselves as resources for the production of  goods and services, which marketing then relentlessly tells them to use.  Would that predominant paradigm prevail, then individual and collective agency in harmony with nature would cede ground for passive consumption, never to be satisfied. As we visit these beautiful people immersed in stunning nature, we wonder: Will people need to experience traffic jams, pollution, poor health, stress and loneliness to appreciate what they will have lost?

“We don’t want to return to the old days. But  we need to keep  the old ways!” The statement by our  host Kees  Lafeber found a lot of resonance  in Ambon and in Saparua. Still, why would people drift away from the old ways if they aspire to maintain them?

Maybe the general cause is the capacity of external influencers to project as superior their own way of living. They dismiss the spiritual dimension of humans-in-nature as irrational, and see humankind as separate from nature. They therefore feel entitled to exploit it endlessly.  They consider their own religious doctrine (the set of rules imposed by humans in name of religion as opposed to its true spirit) as superior, as  it  replaces faith in spirits with faith in God. Transgression triggers God’s wrath rather than that of the ancestors and of the spirits. In that context, customary law- the adat- has less “teeth”. Are the gates now open for the destruction of the beautiful Maluku Islands, and for their irreversible loss? Or is there a shortcut that would enable to nurture the beauty of the Islands and of thei inhabitants?

Throughout our visit, we met wonderful people doing wonderful things towards their dream of a Green and Happy Maluku. Beaches and streets cleaned.


Plastic shredded and recycled. Organic waste recycled. Preschool children educated towards the dream. Families practicing organic farming….But will these activities reach the scale required to reverse the trend towards progressive destruction? Where is the shortcut? Our visit to Oom Ely on our last day gave us a clue.

Oom Ely is a powerful man as customary law entrusts him with the responsibility of four “sassi”: the care for community, for sea, for trees and for fish. That care ensures harmony between those four elements. For instance he tells when to start and stop fishing, which trees to cut and which ones to keep. When we entered Oom Ely’s compound on Haruku island, we felt like we  are setting a foot in paradise on earth. Simple but beautiful buildings in luxurious nature surrounded by sea inspired peace and harmony.

Oom Ely welcomed us with his ukulele and traditional songs.

Close your eyes and you would think he is twenty years old. He is actually seventy. He was irradiating happiness and we let it invade our hearts. We had in front of us the embodiment of the Green and Happy Islands.

Oom Ely spoke in pantums, four sentences poems. Nuances got lost in translation, but we did get their essence. Everything boils down to practice. Care – as in I care for you -links the four sassi. They are interrelated. Oom Ely showed us a nursery of mangrove trees. He then took us to a new plantation and explained how the mangrove will host more fish which will be available for feeding humans. He explained how maintaining harmony with nature prevents war. When he teaches children (many kids visit him) he does not force feed knowledge, but responds to children’s questions as they naturally come up.

We left Oom Ely with the start of an answer to our question. Oom Ely is the living proof that a shortcut exists. It all starts with our individual behaviour. Each of us can choose to live a life of abundance, where sharing and harmony with nature takes priority over money and the accumulation of wealth.

Later that day, near the beautiful Molana beach, on the stem of a coconut tree, loaded with coconuts waiting for the harvest, stands a board with two words : sassi and gereja (church). Indeed, when based on care and not on fear, sassi and religious teaching do not compete but reinforce each other.

One day earlier, Kees and his team developed the practices that will lead to the fulfilment of their dream of a Green and Happy Saparua. Ranga and I were surprised that these practices did not mention waste management, biofarming, and other manifestations of an ecological transition. Rather they touched the root of any of those as the team’s practices focus on education, culture, ethics. After our visit to Oom Ely we understood the reasons better.

A vision, where people of Maluku revive the old ways based on hope not on fear, emerges. Mind serves heart, altruism keeps self-interest in check. Naturally, they use their strengths to act towards their dream of a Green and Happy Maluku. And the visitor practicing SALT sheds any sense of superiority to learn and share.

Jean-Louis Lamboray



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