1991-08-07 00:00:00

"We the Bunaq men need emancipation. We must fight for our rights as husbands who should be responsible for our wives and children," said a Bunaq tribal man.

"Men and women are created equal, so husbands and wives are of equal status and have equal rights and responsibility to build their families," said Divine Word Bishop Anton Pain Ratu of Atambua.

"It depends on you, the Bunaq men to change your fate," the bishop said. "If you remain powerless, you will be continuously dominated by your women."

Family life among the Bunaq tribals on Timor Island presents a host of new problems for sociologists to contend with in the emerging nation of Indonesia.

It seems that traditional roles of husband and father take on a different perspective when a man becomes the head of a family among the Bunaqs.

With about 100,000 Bunaq living in the central part of Timor -- 40,000 in Lamaknen subdistrict of Belu district in western Timor, and 60,000 in East Timor´s territory, which borders western Timor subdistrict -- the Bunaq tribal community follows the matrilineal tradition.

In this system, the wife remains in her family clan and the children are raised with her family. The husband is accepted as "mane pou" (new man), but not as a member of her family. He is in most instances treated as a servant who has to work to support his wife and children.

The husband has no authority and rights over his wife and children, although to marry the girl of his choice, he has to pay a very expensive "bride price" to his wife´s parents and relatives. The going price for a bride these days is about 10 million rupiah (US$5,100).

The husband may not take his wife and children to his village. Instead, he must stay at his wife´s village, and in the same house with other families of his wife´s clan.

Should she pass away before he does, he must leave the house, the village, even his own children, and return to his own village, family and clan, without taking anything with him.

He has to start life all over. As a poor widower, he relies upon the mercy of others, especially brothers and sisters. His own children feel no obligation to support him, since he is a member of another clan.

This custom, which is still faithfully observed by the tribal people, has become a factor inhibiting the enhancement of the tribal people´s welfare.

The government, in its haste to develop the island for tourism and industry, is promoting land terracing, regreening and the cultivation of commodity products. But government enthusiasm is greeted by the powerless men, the laborers, with reluctance.

"The land I am working on is not mine; it belongs to my wife´s family. So why should I cultivate it so seriously?" a farmer told UCA News.

Bishop Ratu, parish priests and catechists working in the subdistrict, are striving to change the tribal people´s custom through the bishop´s pastoral approach called: "Retret 3-Ber" (Berpendidikan, Berkedudukan, Berpengaruh -- a retreat for people who have a good education, a good position and influence in society).

The bishop is calling on Catholic figures of Bunaq origin to change the tribal custom, which runs contrary to the government´s socio-economic development program and the spirit of the Christian family.

He urged the Bunaq men to be aware of their status as husband and father and their role and responsibility as head of the family.

"Cultivate the land as if it is your own property without thinking about when you or your wife will die," the bishop advised.

Yohanes Bere Loi, 43, a member of parish council of Nualain parish in Lamaknen, 40 kilometers east of Atambua, Belu capital, told UCA News that parish councils in Lamaknen were concentrating on the "Christianizaton" of the Bunaq custom.

"We are determined to fight for the emancipation of Bunaq men through the family pastoral," said Bere Loi.

Nearly all the Bunaqs of Timor Island are Catholic.


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