From the eastern tip of Flores there is a small chain of islands towards the east: the Solor archipelago, consisting of the islands of Solor, Adonara and Lembata (formerly Lomblen), and the Alor archipelago, formed by Pantar and Alor, These rough hilly islands are created by vulcanism, and form the continuation of the Lesser Sunda Islands. The inhabitants grow maniok, corn and do some farmery, fishing and weaving. At several opportunities they perform rituals with are related with their traditional religion. In a way it looks like the time has stood still on those islands, allthough you can still see the influences of the modern times.
When I visited Lembata for the first time, women and children ran away for that strange, red man with his strange apparatus. Taking pictures was almost impossible. As soon as I grabbed my camera, people started laughing and yelling; the victim hid because of shame or stared to the camera like a stone. ‘Have you ever been on the moon?’, was asked to me ‘Were there animals as well?’
The hard work of the missionaries and government servants didn’t leave the traditional culture as it was. The whale hunt used to start with a ritual cleansing of the skulls of the ancestors, while nowadays a mass is held on the beach by father Dupont. But many traditions and habits still live on, and that also goes for the lieetle meetings with a little tuak (palmwine).
On the irregular shaped, 1200 sq.km. island of Lembata live about 82,000 people. Most are catholic, and there are about 8,000 muslems and about 6,000 supporters of the traditional ancestral religion. Lewoleba, at the western coast is the location where one of the biggest markets of East-Indonesia is held. Big parts of the island are only inhabited by deer and wild pigs.
Little is known about the life on Lembata before the Europeans got there. The islanders do know different stories of origin; one of them tells that they came from a hole in the ground. Some residents believe that their ancestors came to this island from far and unknown places. Along the southern coast are several stone structures which represent the boats in which the ancestors arrived.
The first Europeans which set foot on the island were the Portuguese, on the look for spices. They arrived in the early 16th century, soon followed by Dominican fathers which spread catholicism.
The peninsula, dominated by the volcano Gunung Ile Ape, is the base of the Lembata people which support the traditional ancestral religion. In the koker, small temple huts on the slopes of the vulcanoes, the villagers maintain the contact with the ancestral spirits. Small sacrifices as food, cigarettes and sirih-fruits are left behind to pleasure the supernatural world. Sometimes an animal is sacrificed. The most important annual festivities in this area is Pesta Kacang, or ‘bean-festival’.
In 1990, Alor, the most remote island, was visited by 25 foreigners. Hotels with airconditioning are not to be found here, but lovers of the Indonesian culture can find their joy on Alor. The residents speak eight different dialects. You can see moko, drums especially used for the ancestors, and formed to an example of the bronze creations of the Dongson culture ( about 300 BC)
Gunung Ile Ape
The residents of the peninsula that is dominated by Gunung Ile Ape, belong to the most traditional part of Lembata. The adat houses on the slopes, in which traditionally spirits are honored, are still in use and festivities like the ‘bean-fest’ still takes place. The women make the nicest ikats of the island. The landscape is very beautifull. From Ile Ape, you cansee the big protected Teluk Waienga in the east, with deep blue water and surrounded by coconut and lontar-palmtrees.
The weavers of Ile Ape don’t use synthetic dye or prefabricated threat. They make the threat by hand or self-grown cotton and the dye is made from roots and leaves of flowers. In all villages along the coast women are working behind their weaving machines. The best fabrics are expensive, but can be very expensife if you have the best quality. They form an important part of the bridal treasure. During marriages the family of the bride gives the nice fabrics to the family of the groom.
Most villages have koker, small huts which are used as temples for the ancestors. The koker are outside the village, on the slopes of Gunung Ile Ape. Sacrifices are regularly brought, but the most important spiritual annual event is the ‘Bean Festival’, Pesta Kacang.
In the 1960’s the Pesta Kacang was hardly performed anymore. The ‘ban’ on regional religions is eased now and the government has become aware of the political and economical benefits of the cultural diversity. In an effort to bring back to life several local traditiona, the government stimulated the Pesta Kacang.
The ‘new’ Pesta Kacang lasts three days. In earlier times it took upto one week. In a small group the first day is spend on prayers and sacrificing the village spirites, the goodlike ancestors of the village as well as the spirits of the soil. The following two days are public. Several hundred people participate in the dances (hamang). For important guests, among foreigners, a stay for the night is arranged. The festivities take place in Lamagute (July), Mawa (August), Lawotolok (September), Jontana (October) and Lamariang (November). Under the influence of the modern time the old habits have been changed slightly. Stickfights, in which young men hit eachother on the legs, are abolished. And married women nowadays cover their breasts.
The road from Lewoleba to Mawa, along the western side of the vulcano, is reasonably good. The road from Mawa to Tokosaeng at the eastern coast is not that good and there is no public transport. Between Tokosaeng and Jontona, only motorcycles, jeeps and people walking can travel. From Jontona, the road is better; it merges with the better road just north of Lewoleba. Passenger trucks maintain connections with the villages on the peninsula. Especially on Mondays there is a lot of traffic because of the market in Lewoleba. But none of the - mostly overfull - trucks drives around the entire peninsula. During travelling you will look at a whole lot of dusty faces, unless you are in the lucky position to sit alongside the driver.
Who travels this area on foot and - where possible - by public transport, will have to get a nights stay offered by the residents of the villages. This shouldn’t be a problem; look for the kepala desa (village head) and ask permission to spend the night in the village. It’s not expensive. The dinner is local food (corn, maniok, vegetables and maybe some fish) and in the mornings there is coffee.
You can also travel on the island by rented motorbike with a driver. The easiest way to travel is by chartered jeep or bemo. These can transport more than five persons and comes along with a driver for a cheap price.
Visit to the peninsula
The road that runs towards the north from Lewoleba, passes a turn to the landing strip and leads to the ‘neck’ or Ile Ape and then follows the western shore of the island. Meanwhile, small cotton plantations can be seen, salt-panes and every once in a while a row of reo-trees, which were planted by the Dutch.
About 12 kilometers from Lewoleba is Wawala, dominated by the mosque. The road now runs over low coastal hilla; the landscape changes drastically here. All villages have small fields on the slopes, where maniok, corn, beans and nuts are grown. There are several coconut trees and the traveller can have a drink of air kelapa muda (coconut milk). On the slopes of Gunung Ile Ape, the men hunt with their dogs, and crossbows on wild pigs. In contrary to the eastern coast, the western side is no place for fishing.
In Lamagute, at the northern coast, you can see the production of ikat fabrics. Take a local guide to the koker of the village. In the most important is a bronze drum with looks like a timeglass. Most drums which were found in that region - on Lembata, Solor and mainly Alor - the copies of the old drums are of those of the Dongson culture, about 2000 years ago. They were used as merchandize and were made in the 17th and 19th century in China and mainland Jawa. The drum of Lamagute is probably an original dating from the Dongson period.
Who wants to climb the vulcano should realise that young, healthy climbers from the village take about two hours. Start before sunrise and take a hat, enough sunblick and water with you. Who wants to spend the night at the summit and doesn’t want to freeze should bring a sleeping bag as well.
East of the peninsula is Teluk Waienga. In Jontona - and also in Lamagute - you can order people to perform a traditional dance for you.
By truck, boat or on foot
The weekly market in Lewoleba is one of the biggest in Eastern Indonesia. It attracts visitors and merchands from Alor and Pantar in the west, places like Larantuka, Maumere and Ende on Flores in the west and the islands of Savu and Raija in the south. In the dry season (March through December) several thousand people flock to this market in the west of Lembata.
Most visitors come to sell and buy their food: fishermen, farmers and women from the highlands with their colorfull ikat-decorated fabrics.
They sell and buy food, clothing, spices, cattle and tools. Other visitors to there to gossip or to enjoy the atmosphere. And for the children the market place is one big playing field.
Around 4 A.M. trucks deliver the first - sleepy - passengers. Until 11 A.M. the trucks and bemo keep on driving. Throughout the day all kinds of boats with marketeers arrive and depart. Canoo’s with a diamont-shaped sail glide to their parking place. Noisy boats with engines move besides the pillared houses, pull out their engine and load their passengers on a shallow place in the water. With their merchandize on their heads, the women in colorfull sarongs walk to the shore.
Sweated farmers arrive on foot, some have a long trip behind them - on foot - of sometimes eight to ten hours. A trip with a truck is too expensife for them. They just bring a small bag of nuts, beans or tamarind with them.
A number of farmers uses the transport on Mondays to bring their harvest to Lewoleba. Kopra is the most important product, followed by green beans, nuts and tamarind. The government stimulated the cultivation of new crops, among them coffee, cashewnuts and palmsugar, so they can be bought at the market as well.
Rise of Lewoleba
In the Dutch time, Lembata was then named Lomblen, Hadakew - twenty kilometers east of Lewoleba - was the most important market place of the island. After the Second World War the small Lewoleba started to grow. In the early 1950’s the first Bajau - semi-nomadic fishermen from the island of Adonara - built pillar houses off the coast, on grounds that were flooded a part of the day. But at the end of the 1950’s there were stil wild pigs around Lewoleba and Hadakewa was still much more important.
The Indonesian government and the catholic church were at the base of the rise of Lewoleba by making the village of arts the center of their activites. Hadaweak now is a neglected provincial capital of a subdistrict.
The trade between the coastal residents and the population in the hinterlands dates back for many years. The gatherers on the beach needed corn, maniok, onions and vegetables, because the coastal area was dry and the soil was infertile. The people from the hinterlands needed proteine and fish.
Gossip between the ikat.
Most visitors of the market sell or buy small amounts: one kilo of corn, a few eggs, a handfull tobacco, one or two pineapples and a little bit of coffee. The women have spread their merchandize on a cloth. Chickens are hung by the legs, a snorring pig is tied to a rope, just in case. For the entire day, traders exchange the latest gossip, always chewing on a sirih-prune, which colors the teeth red. Some women sell homemade fabrics, which are as usual reasonably cheap. Every once in a while you can find a great ikat, often a heirloom, saved for a bridal treasury. These can be very expensive.
Traders from Savu also bring ikat; it looks like useless, but the designs from Savu are very well received among the women on the market. They trade their threads for these sarongs. Handmade cotton is popular because natural dyes maintain better than the manufactured fabrics.
The most serious trade is that in daily needs: dried fish, nuts, rice, corn, beans, maniok and kerosine. Everyone knows the price - trading level - of these goods. As soon as a sale is approved - and often before - the men drink a glass of palmwine.
Sellers of small snacks offer numerous snacks: roasted fish, sticky rice in banana-leaves, colored cookies and cake, lemonade, fresh bread, popcorn and fresh roasted peanuts.
For young men and women the foodstalls are the biggest attraction, but nog because of the food that is sold there.
However the market is also a place of flirting, it’s the little warungs where the young men, after a shy laugh and several flattering words, can act on more serious moves of love.
During these meetings the young men are too excited to think about the burden of a marriage: following the habits on Lembata the bridal treasure should at least contain a drum, an elephants tooth or family heirlooms. Most early romances are broken because the man, which earns his money for the wedding somewhere else, falls in love there too.
- ► 2014 (10)
- ► 2013 (15)
- ► 2012 (20)
- ▼ June 2011 (6)