Tuesday, April 5, 2011

East Flores, East Nusa Tenggara Province

Flores Timur – East Flores

Due to its remoteness and limited accessibility, Flores Timur is probably the area of Flores, which is least explored by tourists. The culture of the people of Flores Timur has also been less in the focus of anthropological research than its western counterpart. However, this does not mean that there is nothing to see in the easternmost part of the island. Apart from traditional villages, unique ikat weaving, volcanoes and beaches, Flores Timur’sdistrict capital has a long history of trade and missionary activities. If you take time to explore this district, you will certainly be rewarded with an experience of extraordinary hospitability from the local people.
When traveling around Flores Timur, you may notice that there are hardly any ‘sawah’ – or rice paddies. With its hot and dry climate, Flores Timur only gets a little rainfall. Wet rice cultivation is rather difficult, and the people mostly rely on dry land farming, with corn being the major crop, followed by tubers and dry rice. The yields are rather small. As living here is definitely harder than elsewhere on Flores, the migration rate is quite high. Many people from Flores Timur look for better livelihood opportunities in other parts of Indonesia.

The majority of the people in Flores Timur are Lamaholot, followed by the Solorese and the Larantukanese. Lamaholot is more a language than an ethnic group, and the linguistic boundaries do not exactly correspond to the political borders. The Lamaholot people do not only live in East Flores, but also on the islands of Solor, Adonara and Lembata. Even though they share many common cultural elements – e.g. the widespread practice of the use of elephant tusks as a part of the marriage presentation - Lamaholot people do not consider themselves to be a cultural unity.

Places to go
Larantuka is the capital of Flores Timur. This coastal town used to be a naval base for trade and a centrepoint of colonialisation and clerical activities in Eastern Indonesia. Nowadays, Larantuka is still an important connecting port to the neighboring islands and the centre of economic activities in the Flores Timur district, attracting many people from the neighbouring villages to make a living in the town. Having a long Catholic history, Larantuka hosts the famous KatedralReinhaRosari, or Teinha Rosary Cathedral. This cathedral, together with the two well-known chapels CapelaTua Ana and Capela Tuan Ma, are the centre of activity during the famous Larantukan Easter procession. During Easter, this laid-back city turns into a busy and lively place bursting with pilgrims from all over the world.

If you are in Larantuka or on the Trans Flores Highway between Maumere and Larantuka, don’t miss stopping at KampungLeworahang (kampung meaning village in Indonesian). This subvillage of Ilepadung is situated near a nice stretch of beach in a luminous spot of land, where beautiful trees surrounding the village centre invite you to take respite from the burning midday heat. The friendly Lamaholot people of Lewoharang, who mainly work as farmers or fishermen, are the proud owners of three traditional well-maintained houses.
As you enter the village, you will find the korke, Leworahang’sadat house, standing on wooden piles behind the big stone-pile village centre. Being the centre of many traditional ceremonies, the korke is furnished with ornamental carvings. Prominent carvings are the bird and the fish, which stand symbolically for the newcomers who arrived from land and sea to become the Lords of the land of Leworahang . Inside the korke, ritual objects such as drums and gongs are stored. Nuba, a flat erected stone close to the Korke, is the place for the villagers to make prayers and offerings to their ancestors.

LangoBele, which means ‘big house’ in the Lamaholot language, is the house of the first man who lived in Leworahang – so people say. The entrance of this charming alang-alang (or thatched) roofed bamboo house is furnished as a cozy resting pace. Inside the house, there is a sleeping area as well as two small rooms elevated from the ground. Ornate baskets in different sizes hang on the wall, as well as bejowong, which is a traditional place to store food.
A little bit further inside the village you will find kebang. Built on massive wooden piles, the kebang used to be storing places for corn and rice, rather like raised open barns. The flat round pieces of wood above the piles keep mice and rats from eating the valuable yields. In front of the kebang, is anuba. The pig jaws attached to the corners of the kebang (you will also find them at the korke)symbolize the strength of the villagers and their devotion to maintain their ancestors’ customs.
Even though the traditional houses are Leworahang’s main attraction, the village has a lot more to offer. Ikat is the vital element toceremonial life of theLeworahang people, and you will most likely see some women working on these beautiful cloths. The production of moke, a local alcoholic beverage made out of the sap of the lontar palm, is another interesting activity. Besides being a source of income, the moke is also used at ceremonial occasions. Last but not least, Ilepadung is also a centre of cashew nut processing. This work requires skillful hands and caution: the sap of the nut’s peel is a skin-irritant, and the nut itself is a very delicate product. The returns on cashew nuts, which are sold to fair trade organizations, adds another additional income source to subsistence farming.
Traditional ceremonies still play an important role for the people of Leworahang, above all ahikkokor, which is the annual ceremony for the renovation of the korke. Ahikkokor is usually held around the end of March. It involves dancing and music, praying, communal meals, as well as the ritual sacrifice of many pigs, whose jaws will be disposed at the korke and the kebang, as previously mentioned.
Lewoharang has not received many foreign visitors yet, and it is a little bit difficult to find someone there who can guide in English. You can ask for ArnoldusHurit, a young enthusiastic local who published a little booklet about the culture of Ilepadung. He is eager to show you around, though he is not always available. If you travel to Lewoharang on your own, please ask the local people for permission to see the traditional houses upon your arrival.
Lewoharang can only be reached by private transportation - motorbike or car, since there is no public transportation that passes through the village. The distance from Larantuka to Lewoharang is ±30 km, from Maumere±122 km; the road from the small junction that leads off from the Trans Flores Highway to Ilepadung is about 12 km. Turn onto this road and go straight ahead to the next small junction. There, turn left again onto an unpaved road,which leads you along a beautiful stretch of the sea, passing a market building, to Ilepadung. If you want to see the traditional houses, take a left turn just before the entrance, and after some hundred meters you have reached your destination.

If you get infected with ikat-passion during your Flores trip, Lewokluo is a place that will fill your collector’s heart with awe. This small Lamaholot village is well famed for its ikat, or kwatekkingein the local language. What makes their ikatunique and therefore a sought-after handicraft,are the small sewn-in seashells, which are collected by the villagers on a shore nearby the village. The kwatekkinge is not an ordinary cloth that is worn every day. Used as part of the marriage presentation, it has a ceremonial function and is of special meaning and value to the Lewokluo people. The kwatekkinge is made out of natural local ingredients, including the cotton and the dye. Even though there exists a local association of weavers named sanggarUtoWata, there are not many women left who own the extensive skills and knowledge that it takes to manufacture a kwatekkinge. All these facts considered, the price to pay for such an object of desire is accordingly high.
There is no public transportation passing Lewokluo. By car or motorbike it takes about 26 km from Larantuka and 114 km from Maumere. The road off the Trans Flores Highway that leads you to Lewokluo takes another 2 km.

Cultural highlights
Easter in Larantuka
Easter activities are initiated one week before Easter with the semana sancta, or, the Holy week – a time of self-reflection and confession. The central characters of the Easter ceremony in Larantuka are two statues that were brought to Larantuka in the 16th century by Portuguese missionaries. These statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are kept away in the CapelaTua Ana and the Capela Tuan Ma throughout the year. Only during Good Friday, the peak event of the Easter ceremony, are they taken out of their closet. Good Friday starts with the opening of the Capela Tuan Ma for the people to come and pray at the Virgin Mary statue. Also in the morning, the statue of Jesus is carried out from the Capela Tuan Ana and brought to its counterpart, the Virgin Mary, in a procession of about 7km. During the procession, the litigants stop at eight small chapels to pray and to remember the suffering of Jesus. When the two statues are finally united, they continue their journey together to the KatedralReinhaRosari, where a crowded nightlong Good Friday mass will be held.
If you want to experience the Easter procession, it is highly recommended to book your accommodation well in advance, as you will find no vacant rooms during Easter.

The Larantuqueiros
From the early 16th century on, Portuguese sailors and traders used Larantuka as a hub in the flourishing sandalwood trade on Timor Island. They were followed by Dominican missionaries, who had fled from the Island of Solor, after its takeover by the Dutch. As some of the Portuguese settled down in this area, they started to marry local people, herewith building up a new community. By the end of the 16th century, these Larantuqueiros or Topasses – or ‘black Portuguese’, as they were called by the Dutch – had developed their own distinct culture in Larantuka and later also in some parts of Timor Island. They used Portuguese as their formal language and adapted the Malay language for trade. Formally, the Larantuqueiros were subjects of the crown of Portugal and close to the Dominican mission, but as they were successfully resistant to Portuguese control, they mostly lived under their own rules, controlling the sandalwood trade and also setting up trade networks and war alliances with the indigenous people of the interior areas. In the middle of the 19th century, the Portuguese crown sold its ruling rights in Flores – among other places in Eastern Indonesia – to the Dutch, who kept themselves in the background and did not interfere much with the daily life of the Larantuqueiro community. With the decline of the sandalwood boom, the Larantuqueiros drew back from their extensive trade activities and made a living mostly out of subsistence agriculture.
Even though the golden years of the Larantuqueiros are now history, some elements of their culture linger on. During their peak period of trade, the Larantuqueiros founded many brotherhoods, one of which, the Confraria do Rainha Rosario, has kept its presence until now and actively participates in Catholic ceremonies, above all, the famous Easter procession. Furthermore, parts of the Catholic mass are still held in Portuguese, and some Portuguese words have found their way into the Lamaholot ritual adat language as well.

Ms.Christine Moser (swiss contact)
Arnoldus Hurit Welan, Lewoharang; and Swisscontact WISATA on behalf of the Flores DMO

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