Marselina Walu, also known as Mama Lina, pushes back against the stereotypical images of farming that, in Indonesia, are usually dominated by men. Mama Lina is not only a woman who farms, but also a leader, now chairing a coffee cooperative in Bajawa, Ngada District, Flores, in the province of East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia.
Becoming a farmer is not a usual or typical dream of most Indonesians. Many Indonesian farmers would tell you that they farm not because they chose to but because they had to. It is even more unusual for a woman to farm, let alone manage her own farm. Farming in Indonesia is a men’s world and although women are traditionally involved, they are given specific and limited roles of being mostly helpers of their husbands. Mama Lina didn’t plan to be a farmer, either. But once she got into it, she found not only her true passion but also her natural talent for leadership.
Mama Lina left her village some years ago to go to school in Labuan Bajo on the west coast of Flores Island. After graduating, she worked as an insurance agent for Jiwasraya Insurance in Sumbawa Besar for a year and in Larantuka, East Flores, for another year. Then she returned to Labuan Bajo and worked at a Japanese company, PT. NTT Kuri Pearl, a company that cultivates pearls. After two years working there, from 1999 to 2001, Mama Lina finally decided to return to her village, and that’s when she discovered farming.
Bajawa is known as one of only six matriarchal societies in the world, which means that custom and kinship system is regulated through a female line. Based on that custom, Mama Lina inherited a land and a plantation from her parents in the area of Wajamala. So together with her friends who also owned lands in the area, Mama Lina began farming coffee.