Humorous and humane: Stories from Traditional Markets in Papua

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Muhamad Rosyid Jazuli — October 2020

There has been arguably little info in the international media about how ordinary life goes on in Papua. You may wonder if Papua is all about political and arm conflicts. No. This region, which spans two provinces, is indeed an ordinary landscape in the sense that all people there strive for a multicultural society as much as other regions in Indonesia and other parts of the world.

In Papua’s multicultural strive trajectory, there is not only peace but also frictions as they are part of life. The dynamic, though, also means that the Papuan life is also full of humor and bonhomie.

The multicultural interactions in public areas can be observed as they produce fun and humane stories. These stories may bring about some giggles, though. So, brace yourself.

Across different Indonesian regions, one must and will experience different experiences as they travel around the country. If you go to some traditional markets in Papua, as reported by detikTravel (2019), such experiences will never stop amusing yourself.

Many have written that there is a lot to tell about Papua. The landscape and scenery are breathtaking. Moreover, the life of the people there and their interactions are fascinating to observe and experience. That includes if you visit some traditional markets in Papua. There, you would be getting surprising stories.

As reported by detikTravel, Hari Suroto, a researcher from the Papua Archaeological Center, there are always many whimsical stories from Papua’s traditional markets. Hari is originally from Yogyakarta, which is 5-hour far by flight from Papua. He has lived in Papua since 2008, which means that for years he has been living and interacting with local Papuans.

From the activities of the people in the market, Hari arguably understands the Papuan people’s personality. To him, at least two matters always leave him chucklesome as well as respectful towards native Papuans.

Firstly, it is about bargaining in the market. In Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, it is expected that people would bargain when they buy something, like veggies, at a traditional market. But that is not the case in Papua. Hari said, “Usually, when shopping at traditional markets, it is relatively difficult to bargain.”

For example, as Hari explained, a pile of 4 mangoes is sold at 20 thousand Rupiahs. Mama-mama (what adult women in Papua go by) will not want you to ask for a lower price than that. However, don’t think that these mama-mama are stingy. It is just the way how Papuans trade.

So, although the price is not negotiable, they could add bonuses. What a deal! “For example, okay, I buy a pile of mangoes, but ‘Could you just add one small mango?’ Sure, they will give it,” he said.

Secondly, what is more appreciated and valued in selling things is the hard work these Papuan traders have done. Hari, again, provides a funny example.

He once asked about the price of a cuscus, an endemic marsupial animal of Papua. The man trading with him once answered, “…the small one is 300 thousand Rupiahs, and the large one is 250 thousand.” That moment indeed made Hari wonder, why is the small one more expensive? That did not make any sense!

“The man answered,” Hari humbly continued with a chuckle. “I did nothing to catch the big one. [But] for the small cuscus, [when I almost caught it], it fled, and [yet] finally chased up on a this tree, but I almost fell out of it.”

Another whimsical story comes from the Papuan fishermen. When their fish and other goods are selling well, they will use their money to buy chicken. It must be a bit perplexing because fish could be more of our liking, considering that it is usually healthier than chicken.

It is even said that Papuans usually catch good seafood such as mackerel, lobster, and others. When they are sold and the traders get the money, they go home to buy, other than chicken, fresh vegetables. They say eating fish is boring. (What! Fish is way better! Haha I guess)

Travelers who visit traditional markets in Papua will experience such social fervor of the Papuan people. The above multicultural trading experience will indeed be a valuable experience and a memorable one for any travelers.

In another instance, Hari said that if the Papuan traders cannot sell their goods, such as fish, veggies, or crops, they would finally give them away to the people for free. They would not take those goods back home because it means another episode of hard work for the day. So, giving them away is considered better.

Fundamentally, Papuans are hospitable, pleasing, caring individuals. And, they are a lot of fun. They embrace multiculturalism very well that some have said they do it the best compared to other ethnicities in Indonesia. A lot of people have confirmed that! When we are close friends with them, soon we are considered one family. (*)

This piece fully represents the writer’s idea. It does not express any ideas or stances of specific institutions or organizations she/he works at or is affiliated with.

Enriching discourse and understanding. A protest to Indonesian govt that unsuccessfully serves the world fair info about West Papua.

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