“We don’t want to forget our culture,” commented Corban University student Korwa Wanimbo, “even though we live abroad.” Wanimbo, who is an Indonesian student from Papua, joined 80 others in a Salem, Oregon backyard to celebrate an Indonesian tradition called Bakar Batu.
To recognize the achievements of three Indonesian students who graduated from Corban University, the Indonesian student community at Corban devised an ambitious plan – an outdoor Bakar Batu (barbecue) with a menu of traditional Papuan fare – pit oven and all.
Bakar Batu is an expression of collectivist cultural values. “Feeding many people is one of the important things in our culture,” confirmed student leader Arso Gombo.
Preparing for Bakar Batu requires teamwork and a broad range of specialized tasks – emphasizing the value of community participation and collective organization in highland Papuan society. In the days before the event, Indonesian students from Papua scoured local grocery stores for corn, potatoes and pork. Others harvested ferns, firewood, grass reeds, rocks and sticks on Corban University’s forested acreage. “We did [it] by working together as a family,” reflected Corban University student Korwa Wanimbo.
Feeding many people is one of the important things in our culture
Still others networked with Indonesian diaspora in the U.S. to publicize the event. To visit friends and observe this important tradition, visitors came from Texas, California, Corvallis and Portland, Oregon. “We do Bakar Batu everywhere,” said Wanimbo, “because we don’t want to forget our culture.”
The morning of the event began early. Students meticulously sliced vegetables and meat, strained to dig a three-foot pit and stacked logs to build a huge pyre. Stacking rocks on the pyre, they kindled a fire to heat the rocks and transferred all the hot rocks to the deep pit on top of the grass.
Into the pit went corn, kale, cabbage, lettuce, a whole pig chopped into slabs, 15 chickens, three turkeys and several pork roasts, all seasoned. Students carefully wrapped the meat in the grass and ferns, then scattered it among the hot rocks in the pit.
At last, It was time to eat! Carefully they laid grass and ferns on the lawn to make circle-shaped serving mats. The grass circles “represent the family table even though people come from . . . different villages, backgrounds, and religions” said student planner Arso Gombo. Students rushed the still warm food onto the grass mats. Participants crouched on their heels and ate with both hands.
We do Bakar Batu everywhere because we don’t want to forget our culture.
“As soon as I walked into the backyard my first thought was ‘I’m not in the US anymore,'” remarked Corban University student Jamie Barta. Carol Kruse, who hosted the event, said, “I have a strong feeling this will become an annual event at my home, but I don’t mind one bit!”
Corban University Mailroom Supervisor Carol Kruse contributed to this article