“Maumere in Love”, a cultural event initiated by the Bishopric of Maumere in response to appeals from local youth, marks the beginning of a cultural and tourism revival for Flores.
One day on his way along the southern coast of the island, Romo Dominikus Dange thought to himself, “Flores is a rich region with beautiful beaches, and we’re ready to support tourism development without marginalizing local communities.”
Commonly called Romo Dom, the priest had feared promoting tourism would limit local residents’ “ownership” of the region they call their own. In Bali, for instance, the island has been separated into tourist areas that no longer fully belong to locals.
This unfortunate circumstance, in his view, is due to the lack of regional development oriented
toward the love local communities have for their homes. “So, we present Maumere in Love to the people of Flores,” he said. Maumere is the capital of Sikka regency in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT).
Maumere in Love, which ran from Feb. 17 to 21, was the first of what is a planned annual event, with various activities inspired by the creativity of youth in Sikka regency. Aiming to boost the region’s tourism and economy, the event displayed all aspects of Flores’ potential resources in the largest exhibition ever held on the island.
Dozens of pavilions were erected in the field of the Maumere Bishopric by the regional administration, local media, non-governmental organizations, art studios and educational institutes.
A cultural parade began the occasion, with participants from eight regencies, art studios and various elements of Flores culture, followed by art performances on open stages in the hub of Maumere.
The diverse traditional features of Flores, like its regional cuisine, earthenware, moke or local Flores liquor and woven fabrics also attracted visitors to the five-day event.
At various tourist destinations throughout the island like ancient villages, heritage churches and other places of interest, flags with the Maumere in Love logo were flown.
The church support for the youth of Sikka in initiating the event was meant to promote the development of tourism in Flores, as this year and next year the island is expected to become one of Indonesia’s major tourist destinations.
Maumere Bishop Mgr Kherubim Gerulfus Pareira described Flores’ tourism as inseparable from the culture of regional communities, in which the Catholic Church plays a major role. The many well-preserved Catholic sites left behind by the Portuguese also serve as sites for tourism in which the church is involved.
These heritage buildings can be attractive places for historical and religious tourism. “Sooner or later Flores will get itself prepared to face a tourism boom and the church has an important part to play,” said Mgr Pareira. This is particularly to maintain the moral values and local wisdom of Flores, as tourism can produce some excesses.
In some other tourist sites in Indonesia, the exploitation of nature is increasing. Environmental damage due to excessive development of tourist spots is causing the decline of natural resources, thus impacting locals.
“The other problem is the emergence of sex tourism and human trafficking,” he noted.
Organizing committee chairman Romo Dom said the support of the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry was integral. Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu visited Maumere for the event and toured historic and religious sites like the Blikon Bewut Museum, Wisung Fatima and the Ignatius Loyola Church, and spoke with local citizens.
Marie voiced her support for Maumere in Love and said she hoped it would become the impetus for further growth in Flores’ tourism sector without any decline in local beliefs and practices. “Never let negative things erode positive values,” she said.
On a broader scale, Maumere in Love is expected to promote 2013’s Visit NTT and Komodo Island.
In the dialogue with Marie, locals and representatives of eight regencies in Flores expressed their determination to jointly help foster NTT’s tourism. So far, the provincial tourism drive has been hampered by differing local strategies. Marie also said she wanted to accelerate the progress of Maumere in Love by forming a special team for Flores.
As a tourist destination, Flores itself has hitherto remained in the middle, with less than a million visitors to the 14,000-square-kilometer island, a small number given its many tourist attractions.
Yachobus Mbira, chair of the Destination Management Organization of Flores, sees two major problems.
First, the tourism promotion and accessibility is lacking. There are only two entry points: Kupang and Bali. “With the Tourism and Creative Economy Minister’s visit, hopefully attempts will be made to build an international airport,” he said. The other issue Yachobus mentioned was a plan for tourism there.
“There should be the determination not to ‘move’ other tourist areas to Flores,” Yachobus said.
According to Yachobus, Flores has its own characteristics that should be left to grow and develop without divorcing people from local society, which is closely tied to the church.
Maria Yunika Parera, a resident of East Alok, Maumere, was impressed by the unusual public response to Maumere in Love. But, this second-year student of Maumere State High School II admitted locals had little interest in being active participants. She cited the parade of Flores woven products at the opening of the event as an example.
Of the 100 models expected to join the procession, only 57 were eventually listed. “The preparations actually started in November of 2011,” she said. Maria was interested in getting involved because of her fashion show training at the Rogate radio station in Maumere.
Nonetheless, Maumere indeed offered a festive atmosphere when the event got underway, with people from various regencies crowding public roads and Maumere in Love radiating loving care for the entire community.
— Photos By ID Nugroho