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Since 2005, Yuni Utami Asih has taught the English Education Study Program (FKIP) at her alma mater, Mulawarman University. During her childhood, her father borrowed books for her from the mobile library. In high school, she fell in love with Ermah’s Indonesian translation of The Count of Monte Cristo (Dunia Pustaka Jaya, 1992). She continued her master’s and doctoral studies at the State University of Surabaya. In 2011, she was funded by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture to visit Leiden University in The Netherlands. She stayed for two months to deepen her research for her final doctoral project, the phonology of the Kenyah language.
In addition to teaching, Asih has also been a guest speaker in several English language courses.

Yuni Utami Asih:



An excerpt from Pasola, an upcoming novel


The night was pitch dark. An elder who had calculated the moon journey declared that the nyale, sea worms, were to appear at the Ratenggaro Beach on the seventh night of March 1934. Earlier that afternoon, every family in the Ratenggaro village on Sumba Island, cleaned the ancestral graves and their surroundings. Through the evening, women and men danced and chanted on the village square while waiting for the arrival of the nyale.

After Waleka followed Limbu Koni and Biri home, many people continued to party. Around four in the morning, most of the villagers headed to the dark beach. Bau Nyale was the traditional annual ritual of catching sea worms.

On their way to the beach, Waleka was followed by his sister, Inya Peke. Limbu Koni held Banu, Inya Peke’s son, by the arm as they walked behind them. They were followed by Limbu Koni’s best friend Biri, Waleka’s parents, and other family members.

“Why do nyale come when the moon is dark?” asked Banu.

“The nyale are afraid of the moon and sun!” Limbu Koni replied. “Hopefully there will be a lot of fat, colorful nyale.”

“Nale or nyale, Inya?” Banu asked.

“Nale and nyale mean the same,” Biri replied. “The word refers to a sea worm. I believe that there will be an abundance of sea worms this time.”

The wind gently caressed their hopeful faces as they walked to the Ratenggaro Beach, close to their uma parona, family home. “You should be living here, near a beach,” said Limbu Koni to Biri. “During the three days you’ve been here visiting, you’ve not complained of being short of breath.”

Biri replied by chanting the mantra call for the nyale, then whispered, “The man who pulled your hand — is his name Ndalo? Such a shameless man!”

“Don’t worry about him,” Limbu Koni replied. “Just leave it alone.”

“We’re going to have a party today!” shouted Inya Peke. “We’ll celebrate the nyale catch and the sacred Sumbanese pasola. Waleka will be dashingly handsome at the annual equestrian spear-fighting competition!

“I want to be a to paholong like Bapa Waleka,” Banu said, pulling his mother’s hand.

“That’s good!” Inya Peke replied. “You can be like your Uncle Waleka, a spear fighter who sits high in his saddle. He’s as handsome as …”

“Banu!” Banu replied laughing.

They walked happily through the binya bakolo, the main gate between gravestones, and entered the footpath to the beach. The sound of rolling waves indicated that they were almost there. Starlight, hope, and need led the eager villagers to the Ratenggaro Beach in search of nyale.

Waleka chanted a kawoking, the mantra to call the nyale.

Nyale ayam wo wo wu

The mother of nyale, Mother Nyale

Spawn abundantly

Lay as many eggs as a snail

As many as a grasshopper

Cut up the many egg clusters

Nyale ayam wo wo wu, chicken nyale wo wo wu

The mother of nyale, Mother Nyale

Lay as many eggs as a snail.

The people took turns chanting the mantra as they walked. They hoped the sea worms had been as prolific as grasshoppers and snails. Everyone waded into the receding sea. The chilly water stung their bare legs. Their feet moved across the slippery pebbles while they groped for sea worms. Voices called out in turns: “I caught some!” “They are slippery!” “Wow! There are a lot!” “It tickles!” “Wo wo wu, wo wo wuuu!”

The smell of the sea worm catch filled the air.

Waleka jumped around. Fingering rocks and bed gravel for the sea worms, he held on tightly to the worms he caught.

Inya Peke and Banu followed him, carrying baskets. Limbu Koni, and Biri were nearby. Biri, experiencing her first Bau Nyale, kept dipping her hands in the water, trying to catch the evasive, slippery worms.

Limbu Koni steeled herself when the worms touched her feet. She looked down while fingering a rock. So did Waleka. Both laughed when their hands touched as they caught the worms around the rocks. They proudly added their catch to the growing number of nyale in the baskets Banu and Inya Peke carried.

“A nyale ball!” Waleka shouted as he yanked up a nyale nest. The clump of worms formed a large squirming ball, slightly larger than a soccer ball. He immediately returned to the beach with everyone on his heels.

“Let’s find some more!” Banu shouted excitedly. He wanted to catch more worms because he only had a few in the small basket hanging from his neck.

“We have enough,” Waleka whispered to his nephew. “This is already a lot. We must share with other people.”

The Bau Nyale came to an end as the sun reached the hollow of the small headland below the cliffs of Ratenggaro. Everyone left the shore with their catch and walked cheerfully to the village. Waleka was the only one who had caught a nyale nest.

Though Limbu Koni had not said anything to him, Waleka knew she was proud of him and admired him.

“That is the sign that you are here for Waleka,” Inya Peke teased Limbu Koni. “You are meant for each other. Everything is going smoothly.”

“We will soon have a celebration!” Biri added.

“Just like you. Your fiancé, Wuri Wona, can’t wait.” Limbu Koni and Biri burst out laughing.

Back in the village, the nyale nest was unraveled beside the wood stove, in the center of the stilt house used as a kitchen. The ball was divided into thirds. Limbu Koni, Inya Peke and Biri each took a third. The slippery masses fell several times. The worms, loosened from the ball, writhed and crawled, searching for sea water. Banu always picked them up and put them back into the basket. There were so many fat, bright, colorful, and tantalizing worms!

“Red, green, yellow, white, black — wow, we have every color!” Banu shouted happily. Waleka’s parents and all the other villagers were happy too. “The worms are fat!” Banu shouted again. “They are bright! What does it mean, Mother?”

“It’s a sign of fertile land, abundant harvests, and a better life,” Inya Peke replied. Biri and Limbu Koni agreed, as they skillfully helped Inya Peke and Waleka’s extended family prepare a variety of nyale dishes.

Together with Inya Peke and Biri, Limbu Koni started to prepare nyale palowor, a stew of nyale and thick coconut milk, complemented with various spices. It smelled fragrant and tasted delicious.

They also made a peppery sauce with green chilies and fat, bright, colorful worms. “Are we going to make bodho, too, Inya?” Biri asked.

“Yes, store the nyale jerky here,” Waleka’s mother answered, handing over an earthen pot.

“Wow, we have plenty!” she exclaimed proudly. “This will be enough for several months!”

Waleka was pleased to see Limbu Koni and Biri help with all the kitchen activities. He was especially taken with Limbu Koni. Waleka and Limbu Koni stole furtive glances at each other and immediately looked away after being caught by the other. But Waleka knew that later, on the pasola field, everything would change. Everything would become more beautiful, more intimate.

Finally, breakfast was served. Before everyone started to eat, Waleka’s father, Bapa Tua, gave a speech in the Sumbanese dialect.

In front of the villagers and relatives who had come from afar, the old man underlined several things to the gathering in their stilt house.

“Waleka, you caught a nyale nest during the Bau Nyale on the beach,” he said. “Take care of that fortune throughout life. To find a big nyale nest with colorful, fat, and luminous worms is special, very special indeed! Not all nyale seekers find one. This is a sign of a lifetime fortune. You’re the only one who caught a nyale nest. That is incredible. You’ve been given a lot. Take good care of the gift. If you ever fail to appreciate how much you’ve been given in the form of a nyale nest, you will lose everything.”

“Yes, Father,” Waleka answered confidently.

“Live a life that’s faithful and honest,” his father continued. “Be grateful for everything you have. Don’t take more than you need. Whatever the challenge might be, never take more — let alone things that don’t belong to you.” Bapa Tua continued his speech with life’s wisdoms that had been passed down for generations.

“You will be the best to paholong throughout your life,” Bapa Tua said, and Waleka listened carefully to his father. “Faithfulness and honesty are the keys,” Bapa Tua emphasized. “Not only in the jumping style and your ability to merge with your horse, Lenggu Lamura, when the javelin is thrown, but you also need to be faithful and honest to the horse you are riding. On the pasola field, you and Lamura are one.” Bapa Tua threw Waleka a sharp look before repeating, “You and Lamura are one. Remember that.”

“Yes, Bapa!” Waleka agreed wholeheartedly.

“Keep faithfulness and honesty not only in the victory and satisfaction of defeating an opponent, but also in your humanity in embracing and helping your defeated opponent.” Bapa Tua spoke each word carefully. Everyone present listened attentively, including Limbu Koni.

Waleka’s bride-to-be studied the face of her future father-in-law: calm eyes beneath thick eyebrows, high cheekbones, and a strong jaw. Waleka looked very much like his father.

“You must believe that every drop of sweat and every drop of blood that falls on the field falls honestly and faithfully and will not dry up there. Not just for the harvest, but more than that, for real life. Loyalty and honesty are the keys!”

Limbu Koni was moved by Bapa Tua’s words. He was a true kabani pa ate, a very clever and wise man. In his youth, Bapa Tua had traveled to Flores, Timor, Alor, even as far as Maluku dan Sulawesi to trade livestock. His children, grandchildren, and extended family believed that Bapa Tua’s experience made him wise in his old age. Especially for Waleka, the only son in the family.

“Bapa Tua is an extraordinary kabani pa ate,” Biri whispered to Limbu Koni. “Hopefully, Waleka can live up to Bapa Tua’s words for as long as he lives. Hopefully.”

“Yes,” Limbu Koni replied. She felt that Bapa Tua’s words were not only directed at Waleka as a to paholong, but also at her for being accepted as a part of Waleka’s extended family.

Waleka felt the same. He realized, as a Ratenggaro man, that he must be a faithful and honest man. His heart fluttered when he saw Bapa Tua looking at him intently.

“If you are faithful and honest, you will be able to take care of family pride, uma parona, Ratenggaro, kabisu, tribe, and yourself for sure.” Bapa Tua smiled. The look in his eyes gave Waleka light and hope.

Silently, Limbu Koni recorded all Bapa Tua’s words in her mind and heart. She lifted her head for a moment to watch the old man’s face again. Then Limbu Koni shifted her gaze to Mama Tua. Waleka’s mother threw her a warm smile.

“Do you understand, Waleka?” Bapa Tua asked.

“Yes, Bapa.” Waleka answered confidently.








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