“I feel a sense of responsibility to bring these traditions back to life. As a writer and an activist, I need to take a stand. I need to be accountable to those I stand with.”
Writer & Founder – Lakoat Kujawas
On the importance of standing for what you believe in, backing words with action, and facing challenges with positivity.
It was around the 6th Century B.C when a man named Siddhartha Gautama treaded across regions of Nepal and India, carrying his sacred teachings of the “Middle Way” – a simple guide for living rooted in perfect balance between extremities in thought, speech and action. It was a philosophy practiced endearingly throughout generations of men and women who, since then, have celebrated this gift from the man more commonly recognized as the Buddha.
Today, amidst a time of entrancing technological advances in the face of rapid modernization, and the ensuing restless excitement to be a part of it, we can often overlook the need to reflect and wonder, what have we left behind? What has been forgotten along the way?
The unsettling demise of cultures and traditions are a prevalent issue faced by many nations today; a somber yet real consequence of the change and disruption brought with such advancement.
As a developing country rich in ancient tradition and cultural diversity, Indonesia finds itself on the frontlines. The youth from rural provinces across the archipelago are leaving their ancestral homes for the promise of opportunity in overcrowded cities, leaving fewer custodians to cultivate their farmlands, and inherit their stories and timeless wisdom to pass down for future generations.
The same principles of the middle way, however, can be applied to give simple and practical solutions for the issue; ways in which we can re-integrate the wisdom and beauty of our old traditions into the magic of our modern time.
One brave Timorese writer and activist is doing just that.
For the past two years, Dicky Senda has been nurturing Lakoat Kujawas – a social enterprise empowering the local communities in his home village of Taeftob, tucked deep in the valleys of Mollo in central Timor.
What started as a project to encourage the youth to stay by providing a positive economic and social impact to local communities, has now grown into a movement that simultaneously revives the lost collective memory of his people through the reconnecting of their artistic heritage.
Children of the community are involved in acting and writing classes. Musicians, artists and writers from Indonesia and abroad are also invited for residencies, creating projects centered around different aspects of Timorese culture. All of this while promoting eco-conscious tourism – as homes are made open for visitors looking for an authentic village experience.
With Lakoat Kujawas, Taeftob is a place of potential by any stretch of the imagination, having already captured the attention of some of Indonesia’s biggest national news outlets.
As its founder, Dicky is a pioneering role model for the youth in rural Indonesian provinces and a man guided by a strong moral compass, choosing to serve the larger whole by making an uplifting contribution to something beyond himself.
Manusia was invited to interview some of the speakers of Southeast Asia’s leading culinary event, the Ubud Food Festival where we had a short interview with Dicky. Here, he reveals the unique challenges he’s had along the way, the responsibility he feels towards his people, and his own relationship to writing.
Dicky, you’ve only started Lakoat Kujawas two years ago, yet it has grown so quickly. Looking back, what were the biggest challenges that you had along the way?
To give you some context, my dream was to build a movement that involved the youth in Timor and helped them as well. We’re in a time where a lot of the young generation in Timor are starting to leave their traditions and feel less confident or proud with their local ways. I feel like I’m witnessing a slow separation and distancing from our past and Lakoat Kujawas was born, partly, as a response to that.
The youth are all migrating away from the gardens of their villages and heading to the cities, despite having a lot of potential in our villages in terms of our agriculture and traditions. There are many aspects that can be developed, but they left to get jobs and seldom do they return and contribute something back from the experience they’ve gained.
From that stemmed social problems as well. There are issues of human trafficking, where kids were literally bought to go and work. Many were scammed.
This moved me to act, but not from a place that was grounded in negative thoughts from the situation – more rather, from a place of positivity. I thought, “What do we have here around us now? Let’s see the potential!”
“This moved me to act, but not from a place that was grounded in negative thoughts from the situation – more rather, from a place of positivity.”
The initial problem I found out was that our collective memory had begun to fade. I thought, “How can I remind the youth of this? How can I convince them of my vision?”
I was living in Jogja and I had to expand my network. I met with local social workers, people working for TV, artists – all who have some sort of influence around their circles. I brought them together to brainstorm, and it turns out we all had dreams of returning to our homes and doing something there with the experience we have gained away from home.
But even after Lakoat Kujawas was born, I found out that the young villagers were still very much in their comfort zone. They felt happy and content with the status quo of moving away and becoming government workers or teachers.
“Our collective memory had begun to fade.”
It was a challenge to convince them that there was a problem in that. Though I presented a solution, I realized that people are hard to convince using just words. They need to see action take place. Words are not enough to get them to act.
So I initially began Lakoat Kujawas from an artistic angle, which was something I knew would get people excited. The people of Timor already have strong artistic tradition, and our collective memory with art is still there. Art was the bridge, it was the doorway to their hearts. It was the doorway helping them realize that we are from Timor, and that we have all these amazing things.
“Art was the bridge, it was the doorway to their hearts.”
So the songs and dances that the kids participate in within our artistic community, are, without them realizing, replanting the seeds of our culture within the next generation.
The initial idea of Lakoat Kujawas was to be a social entreprise. How can we manifest local potential to benefit the local economy but also have a social impact? That would involve preserving local traditions and providing education for example, while also documenting and archiving local recipes to produce and sell, and therefore having an economic impact.
“How can we manifest local potential to benefit the local economy but also have a social impact?”
Another challenge was that the fact that our village also had eco-touristic potential that wasn’t cultivated. So over the past two years, I invited the villagers to open their houses to becoming homestays for visitors! They didn’t have to change their houses to fit a standard; instead, they left them as they were because travelers want to look for an authentic experience. They’ve already stayed at fancy hotels, why not in a traditional house with local food? That’s an authentic experience for them.
Another challenge was that the locals felt somewhat inferior when travelers came. They felt embarrassed with what they had. They started feeding them biscuits and instant noodles instead of their own delicacies because they felt they weren’t “sophisticated” enough for city folk.
“The locals felt somewhat inferior when travelers came. They felt embarrassed with what they had.”
What were some important ways that your childhood has influenced you to become the person you are today?
There were so many, especially because I only stepped outside of Timor for the first time when I went to study for University in Jogja! It was my first experience with the outside world. But growing up, I was shaped by such amazing local traditions that have enrichened my life, a lot of which, has influenced my writing.
In fact, all I’ve accomplished throughout my whole journey has been a byproduct of my roots.
Even the words “Lakoat” and “Kujawas” are two local fruits that every child in Mollo enjoyed when they were growing up. These fruits were a part of our adventures in childhood and are a part of our identity.
“All I’ve accomplished throughout my whole journey has been a byproduct of my roots.”
I invite artists and musicians for residencies at Lakoat Kujawas, and make programs centered around aspects of local living. This not only makes the locals proud of what they have, but it adds life to that collective memory that we have all lost. It’s time that we bring that to life again.
Because of my strong roots, I feel a sense of responsibility to bring these traditions back to life. As a writer and an activist, I need to take a stand. I need to be accountable to those I stand with.
“I need to take a stand. I need to be accountable to those I stand with.”
How was Lakoat Kujawas changed you as a person? What were some of the things you realized and probably didn’t expect?
A lot happened in the two years that we’ve existed, and we’ve met many amazing people as a result of having a strong vision. I realized that having a strong vision attracts those who believe in the same thing. Even to be here at the Ubud Food Festival was outside of my expectations!
So I know that there are, in fact, a lot of people who believe in the same values as us! As long as we continue to carry and stand for these values, it won’t be hard to find people who think the same.
Personally, I’ve learned so much more about my own traditions. Not only are we rich in it, but we are overflowing with it. That was something completely beyond my expectations.
“As long as we continue to carry and stand for these values, it won’t be hard to find people who think the same.”
Describe your relationship with writing and the process you go through.
I’m aware that my process of writing is not too different from the process of building Lakoat Kujawas. When I’m in my research phase, I do a lot of interacting with the people around me, and that’s the same as my process for writing as well – a lot of inspiration comes from my interactions with people.
I can be researching about food for Lakoat for example, and that will inspire me to write more about food.
The universe always tends to puts me in positions where I’m not too far away from all my professions. Everything seems to be interrelated, so I have no trouble whatsoever in finding inspiration for my writing.
If you would like to contact Dicky you can email him at :
If you would like to know more about Lakoat Kujawas, visit:
Facebook: Lakoat Kujawas