I will never call someone an “Idiot” because his/her mental capabilities could be judge as shorter, or because a person have expression problems or any incapability physical or mental. In Karangpatihan, a small village in Ponorogo (Java, Indonesia), “Idiots” are the kids, the husband, or the father or mother who can not take care of their self by their own and the ones who have not full conditions to work. A word, “Idiots”, which it’s not disrespectful to these people, or it is not judging them, it is just a way to categorize; same as when I am in Indonesia I am a “bule”, or “le blanc” in Gabon, “el gringo” in Guatemala o “Mister” when the kids want to ask me something.
In November 2011 I watched in the local news from Java (Indonesia) a reportage about a village, the Idiot villages who had many mental retired; I decide to take a look in the area by myself, and see what was going on there.
Four hours by car from Yogyakarta, in the area of Ponorogo (Java), lost at the end of a really small road who ended in a mountain range, we found Karangpatihan; no electricity, few water and just enough signal to use portable phones in some areas. The main Idiot Village.
It took as two coffees of conversation to get the approval of the village’s Major to start a photo reportage in the area, we were introduce to the heads of the community and during the next 3 days we did a full time photoshooting in Karangpatihan.
Desa Karangpatihan is a 450 people village, South East from Ponorogo in Java Timur. During 1963 to 1973 a rat pest due to a dry season left the village with out food; the rats were eating all the fields. During those 10 years the village-dwellers poison the lands until they kill the pest, but they also poison their people. After 1973 many of the new births had mental problems, it was so dramatic that in the year 2000 from 520 village-dwellers 112 were mentally handicapped (almost 22% of the population). Now a days, from 450 people there are 69 “Idiots” (15% of the habitants), 15 are under 19 years old, and 54 people are between 20 to 40 years old. Usually the “idiots” die before the age of 40.
I was talking with Karangpatihan’s Major, taking notes, but after some minutes I had it to stop and ask him why he call the mentally retired people “Idiots”; he just said: “they are idiots, that’s the way we call them”, I asked him if they did not want to use another word who was less offensive and a way to do not discriminate them by the language, he answered: “we call them “Idiots”, because they are “Idiots”, but we do not discriminate them, they are our sons and daughters, all the village respect them and treat them as a normal village-dwellers, but we know they can not do all the things as a normal person can; it is just the way we call them, that’s it”. Sometimes we (occidentals) try to be polite by the way we talked, trying to do not discriminate anybody by the languages, but then we act in real life stepping in and discriminating who is different (that’s call hypocrisy), Karangpatihan habitants use the word “Idiots” as a name, understanding that it is not an insult or a disrespectful way to the mentally handicapped, because their acts in the real life are polite and gender, respecting them as a another village-dwellers.
The economy from Karangpatihan are the rice fields, potatoes, some pulse and the ships and chickens; they also use cows as a way to buy lands or save money. The village have a middle school, a muslim mosque and two almost dry rivers ( two big river’s bed, coming from high mountains, but really few water on it…I asked a bout the issue, but I did not get any answer, they just told me there is no more water coming).
The Major told me that all human being must be accept by the Muslim believes, that’s why when many “Idiots” were given birth during the 70’s all the families accept them as a part of them. Thanks to it, “Idiots” walk freely in the village, they feel happy and if they are capable they help their family in the fields.
Most of the families who have a first son or daughter who is mentally handicap, they know that more will come. As Karangpatihan Major said, all the families who have an “Idiot” they will have at least one or two more, in the other hand, there are families who do not have any mentally handicap daughter or son.
In Karangpatihan there is no doctor, there is no one to tell the families their chances, the activities or the way to help their handicap children; actually when a one year old kid can not talk or listen, they will do an early diagnose of mental problems, but until the age of 14 they will not know it for sure. This lack of doctors and social employers make the “Idiots” to be unable to develop to increase their knowledge and to live a better life. Some years ago the village-dwellers took their mental handicap kids to school, but the kids couldn’t follow the lessons and also couldn’t follow year by year the grade loosing his class mades, so they did not want to keep in school, since then, no “Idiots” going to school.
To conclude, Karangpatihan it is a pretty village, with really poor families who try to work in the dry lands, earning sometimes just 5.000 Rp (0,04 euros) per a full day work at the fields; thanks to a great community who work together and solve the problems together the life style it sane, but it is absolutely unacceptable to leave this community alone when the problems they are suffering are out of their comprehension and due to an exceptional reason, like it is poisoning their own land and their own community.
Sadiman (73 years old), husband of Mesinem (66 years old) have a daughte called Tuni (35 years old) who is mentally handicapped. They live all together in this house and have a small profit by the incoming from a small land they have in front of the house. Tuni is widow and have one kid who was shy to appear in the photos.
Boiran is 35 years old, the youngest of two brothers; son of Lamin (65 years old) who got blind in 2009 because of cataract. Danem is the mother and wife, who is 55 years old, but was working in the moment we took the photos, she is the only one who bring money to the house.
Jaminem it is a 49 years old woman who can not work, her parents are death; two of her brothers died in 2011, they were also mentally handicap. Now she lives alone with her last brother who also have mental problems and work in a small fields in front of their house.
Jedeng it is a 40 years old man who lives with his parents, he can help working in the fields.
Jamun (37 years old) and Bodong (40 years old) are two brother, the only kids of a widow mother who is 60 years old and who was working in the moment we took the photos, she is the only one who brings home money.
Lestari is 23 years old, she lives in her grandparents home (Ginem, 75 years old and Miskam, 81 years old). Her mother it is a widow worker who works on the fields bringing all the money for the entire family.
Toiran (42 years old) and Pairah ( 38 years old) are a married couple, both of them are mentally handicaps and are raising a 8 years old kid called Nyomo who goes to school and so far it is going perfectly.
Nemplek it is a 65 years old widow mother, she lives with Cikrak (33 years old) her only daughter who can help very few in the small piece of field they can work in front of their house; they also have 5 goats.
When Gareng (38 years old) was a kid, her father died, three years ago she become blind. Now a days her mother, Toimah (64 years old), takes care of them, working in some one lands for 15.000 Rp (1,2 Euro), but she is to old to work everyday, so many times they just have plants from the mountain to eat.
Gondar (60 years old) is another widow mother, her son is Gimun (40 years old). They work together in a little land they have behind the house. Gondar’s husband died when the son was a baby. I asked Karangpatihan’s Major why all the widows who lost their husband when they were still young did not married again, and he answered: “If the woman married again, no one from the village will buy her products from the land”
Dila is a 13 years old girl, she is the daughter of Katina, the only mother of the village who is divorce from another husband. Katina has two daughters (from her other marriage couple) working in Singapore, thank’s to that they are one of the most wealthy family from Karangpatihan.
Wandi (35 years old) and Mentil (30 years old) are an “Idiot” couple, they married 2 years ago with the agreement of the village-dwellers because both of them are able to work and raise a kid. Their son is Agung, unfortuantley it looks he also have mentally problems.
For this essay I had the help of Kiki Putra as an assistant and Febrina Aritonang, thank you!
Some behind the scene:
Behind the scene photos by Febrina Aritonang