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    Posted August 1, 2012 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Photo essays: Your stories in pictures

    Life on the Caldera: The Minang People of Lake Maninjau


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     While traveling in Sumatra as a freelance photographer and writer, NWMeyer says he was tipped off to Lake Maninjau by locals at Lake Toba, a volcanic lake in northern Sumatra. After a 24-hour bus ride, he says he arrived at the breathtaking beauty of the Maninjau caldera. "These photos represent the lives and challenging environment of the Minang people who have made Lake Maninjau their home. I was humbled by their genuine friendliness and hospitality," he says. "Their lives are not easy and filled with both steep challenges and constant uncertainties, but their openness to outsiders and their curiosity of the wider world is inspiring." His third photo was selected as CNN's Travel Photo of the Day for November 14, 2012.
    - Anika3, CNN iReport producer

    In the highlands of western Sumatra, a place where rutted roads disappear in clouds and dark forest, lies Lake Maninjau reflecting the sky from within the jagged ruins of an old volcano. Fifty-two thousand years ago a massive eruption hurled ash and debris as far as the Pacific Ocean and created the 20km long caldera lake; today its soil and water sustain the Minang people who have for centuries made their home on the volcano’s watery roof.

    Though devout Muslims, the Minang people eschew many patriarchal traditions and are the world’s largest matrilineal society with their lands, houses, and properties passed down mother to daughter. As for boys, traditionally they leave home as young as age 7 to live in a commuity prayer house, a surau, where they are taught Minang cultural and religious beliefs. As teenagers, Minang males frequently work and study away from their hometowns, returning as adults with skills and learning to benefit their communities. While Islam has been an integral part of Minang culture since the 1500s, more ancient animist beliefs persist to this day and have been incorporated into religious observations.

    The Minang people of Lake Maninjau work the caldera’s terraced rice paddies as they have always done, but it is a life which promises hard work for meager rewards. This traditional economy was challenged in 1992 when karamba floating net cages were introduced to Lake Maninjau and now, three decades later, these shore-ringing fish farms supply 30 tons of fish every day to markets in the surrounding provinces of Jambi, Riau, and South Sumatra.

    While aquaculture has brought prosperity to the people of Lake Maninjau, the overproduction of fish for distant markets threatens the lake’s fragile ecology and the future economy of the communities who earn their living from the caldera’s waters. Massive amounts of minerals found in fish pellets can produce a toxic environment for aquatic life and now significant fish die-offs occur as frequently as twice a year. In 2010 the Jakarta Globe reported 100 tons of fish dead during that March with losses estimated at US$8.6 million, a staggering amount in a country with an IMF rated GDP of US$3,500.

    For centuries the Minang people of Lake Maninjau have shared the green slopes and rocky shores, their rice grown in the lake-fed swamps and fish drawn from its waters, but as in the past their future is tied to the lake. With the dangling promise of prosperity comes increased aquaculture and the lake’s ecosystem will be further degraded so that if this trend continues Lake Maninjau will lose its ability to support local communities. Fewer economic opportunities at home mean fewer men will return from their time in the cities of lowland Sumatra and leave unanswered the question if the caldera’s people will, like the roads, disappear into the mountain clouds.
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