Carving Away on the Dark Ages

Desperate to leave their gloomy past, the people of Kamanggih village banded together to carve a hill. Men, women, noblemen and commoners alike used ordinary crowbars, shovels, and hoes to create a waterfall head that now drives their micro-hydro plant, generating 250 kWh of electricity 24-7 –enough power to run 350 households, a community health centre, and a police station. They even managed to sell unused wattages to the state electrical company. 

Kamanggih were still living in the dark ages, less than a decade ago. The King rulled over its realm while servants and slaves toiled the field. Old tradition forbade people profiting from their own labor. Come harvest time, corns, yams, cassava and rice were simply distributed for daily consumptions. People raised pigs and horses not to be sold for money but as sacrificial offerings in costly wedding ceremonies or funerals. No one went to school; the King would whip parents of children attempting to pursue education. There wasn’t much use for it, anyway: by nightfall, the whole village was covered in darkness.

The first spark of hope was ignited back in 1999, when JAICA of Japan and the IBEKA Foundation from Bandung built the first solar-powered water pump at the village, located at the Khaungu Eti district. “They asked the people in our village to help them find waterfalls that would drive the power plant,” remembers the Head of Village Cooperation, Umbu Hingu Panjanji. “We combed through 4 rivers until we found the Bakuhau with its 7 m waterfall.” Its currents flowed from the Hupuheing river, circling a hill. “IBEKA suggested we create a steeper stronger ‘head’ by cutting an incision onto the hill while they went on search for donors.”

By 2005, the State Electrical Company had come in with their diesel-powered plant, finally bringing light to the village –from 6 PM to 6 AM, to be exact. The 25 kW power it generated was sufficient to operate rice cookers, home water pumps and house lamps. “At first, we were happy enough not having to live in darkness anymore,” said Umbu Panjanji. However, there was one huge problem. The technology brought with it a new dependence on costly fossil-fuel. Even at the East Sumba capital of Waingapu, a mere two-hour car ride away, price of imported diesel was set at Rp. 10,000/L –almost twice the official price. Frequent shortages also meant that blackouts became part of everyone’s daily life.

It took 6 years for real change to happen. “With HIVOS’ support we went and ‘split’ the hill in January 2011. Everyone took part: men, women, nobles and village officials,” he continues. “Everyday, 20 of us took turns walking 4 km from the village to the site to carve a 20 m-wide by 11 m-high tunnel onto the hill from 8 AM to 4 PM. We used simple crowbars, shovels, and hoes to raise the water elevation to 27 m. We even transported cement, concrete and turbine on our backs with our bare hands as the steep terrain made it impossible for any vehicle to pass through.

“Sharing the burden made the work a lot more enjoyable. IBEKA Foundation provided rice while we brought chicken and goat meats for our meals,” said the royal descendant. When the local Forestry Office tried to stop their effort, the villagers banded together. Finally in November 2011, the Bakuhau micro-hydro power plant came to life, producing 250 kWh of electricity 24-7 –enough to power 350 households, a community health centre, and a police station. They even sold some unused power to the State Electrical Company through the village co-operatives at Rp. 475/kWh. Steady electricity meant that villagers can now make extra income from baking, weaving, and furniture-making, allowing its 1,320 inhabitants leave their dark past behind. (YS)

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