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#SaveSeko Chapter Two: A Concealed Beauty

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Written By: Een Irawan Putra

Why is this beautiful village concealed? It is a logical question arisen when one visits Seko. Our trip from Masamba started with a cruise along the Rongkong River with its crystal clear water yet, which cuts through the mountain. Besides the Rongkong, we also saw the Salulengko and the Kakea’. From above, we had a spectacular view of villages in a valley down there, with their yellow carpets of ripened rice paddies. Also seen was intact tropical forests standing strong on the highlands. Approacing Seko, we were amazed by vast green savannah, so unbelievably beautiful that we thought it was not real. However, it was not a dream. It is Seko – a land situated 1,200 meters above sea level endowed with exceptional natural wealth and beauty.

Not only is Seko rich in beautiful landscapes with steep topography, it is also home to  various vegetation, and is the source of a number of streams flowing as far as West Sulawesi, South Sulawesi and Central Sulawesi, making it a highly important river basin ecosystem. That rice, cocoa and coffee grow well in the area is a proof that Seko highland has distinct uniqueness. Even coconut trees can grow well and bear a lot of fruit. A large number of coconut trees can be found there.

However, a trip to Seko from Masamba is quite a laborious task. The road is muddy, steep, and winds through a hill. The road has not been much improved since the first time I visited Seko eleven years ago. Even since a new district – North Luwu – was established in 1999, no improvement has been done to the road.

It is the bad road that often causes damage to Hairudin’s motorcycle, and he is not the only instance, thousands of the Seko have to endure a similar experience. The 126-km trip from Masamba to Seko can take about 1-2 days to complete. When the road condition gets much worse during the wet season, travelers often have to spend up to two nights in the uninhabited wilderness. There are about 14,000 people living in various kampongs (hamlets) in the Seko Mountains. Traditionally, Seko is made up of 9 customary territories: (1), Hono’ (2) Lodang, (3) Turong, (4) Singkalong, (5) Ambalong, (6) Hoyane, (7) Pohoneang, (8) Kariango, and (9) Beroppa’. Seko itself comprises three distinct cultures and traditions: Seko Lemo, Seko Tengah and Seko Padang.

Along the trip to Seko, we saw several Seko farmers transporting their agricultural products – coffee, cocoa, and rice – to Masamba. The products are packed inside large sacks tied with rubber stripes cut from unused tires, and are placed in the front and back of their motorcycles. We even saw a sack tied onto the front fender! One motorcycle may carry 250 to 300 kgs of a load. Farmers cannot travel alone to Masamba; they must go in groups of three or four as if the motorcycle slips, it takes more than one person to pick it up. Also, if the motorcycle gets stuck in the mud, it needs another to help push it out. Vehicles cannot go fast too. In addition to the bad and muddy road, it is a trip with steep cliffs on one side and a number of spots prone to landslides. Farmers have a very exhausting and time-consuming trip to sell their crops, not to mention the huge difference in price in Seko and Masamba, reaching IDR5,000 per kilogram, which is heart-breaking and extremely unfair for the farmers.

“Please save the money for cheap rice the government provides for the Seko. Save it for several years and use it to improve our roads, although only a few kilometers. We do not need rice – we have plenty, so plenty that we can even help those in need of rice,” said Tobara Ambalong R. Kondo Lada’. Tobara is a position as the customary chief of the indigenous Ambalong, passed down on a bloodline basis.  R. Kondo Lada’ himself is the seventh generation and has been faithfully accompanying his community to grow rice, cocoa, and coffee.

Muhyuddin Ta’deka told us that the road was formerly the responsibility of the district government, but is now the responsibility of Provincial Government of South Sulawesi as from Masamba the road goes to Mamuju in West Sulawesi as well. Unfortunately, the provincial government turns a blind eye to the suffering of the Seko.

“I guess the development in Seko is dictated by political and vested interests. The government intentionally delays the road construction so when companies come, they can say that roads are built thanks to their investments; their investments will help the communities and they should be accepted in Seko,” he said with annoyance after traveling all day through the rain and the muddy road. In particular, it is said that tens of mining companies cannot wait to dig out the minerals in Seko. A number of geological surveys indicate that Seko contains large deposits of gold, iron ores and uranium.

Seko is currently like a pretty lady confined in the house by her parents, waiting for a prince to come and marry her.

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