Lamaholot in Contact

Ng Sebastian


Arranging on shore program for cruise ship visiting Eastern Indonesia is part of my job. Last week, January 31, 2008 – MS. Columbus visited Larantuka on East Flores – Indonesia. It is common that on shore program is short yet needs accurate arrangement.

The vessel arrived at about six o’clock in the morning. After the custom and immigration clearance the participants of Larantuka half day program disembarked. It is about 8.00 AM. The vessel anchored about 1 km off the pier it is possibly the pier was not suit for MS Columbus to dock in. The visitors have to use tender which can load up to 90 passengers.

The visitors was welcomed by a group of Larantuka dancers accompanied by a small orchestra a consists of violin player, guitarists and drum player. The dancers wear “Kebaya” and Selendang together with the skirt which is actually sarongs woven locally. More details on Larantuka just click

The main program of the Larantuka on shore visit is not to see how the Portuguese influence the locals since 17 centuries but how the locals behind the Mount of Ile Mandiri can resist such influence and keep their centuries old tradition up to present time.

The participants board on 12 local buses each accompanied by our local guides plus translator from the ship. The village to be visited is Riang Pedang in the territory of Desa Ile Padung – Leworahang. It is only 20 km away but the drive is slow due to the bad road condition in half end of the distance. The drive took about 50 minutes.

The village was discovered about 10 years ago. It was when I persuaded Pak Kamilus Kedang and Pak Thomas Boro (both of them passed away in 2008) to find me villages which have to be interesting according to tourism point a view. With them I visited several villages but none was qualified. Then by late afternoon, they remembered of one village. OK go there “Pak” who knows the village is worth visited, I confirmed.

Yes, indeed the village is culturally worthy. There are monuments and syombols of Lamaholot civilization. There is a Korke – it is house like construction but with no walls. The roof is made of Lontar Palm leaves. The stillts representing the supporting clan of the village. In front of Korke there is Namang, Beleda and Menato. Namang is a flat small field where the supporting clans gather during festivals and ceremonies held in Korke. Whilst Beleda is a stone construction in about a basketball square size. The stones are stucked in such a way that it formed a half meter high stone fence with Menato stucked on it. There are about 12 menatos which represents the supporting cland of the village.

Inside the basketball square field there is a stone costruction where the anymist prayers normally give offering to the ancestors. The offerings is given in the form of animal blood and some parts of liver. Next to it stands a huge banyan tree and small stone arrangements laid next to the root of banyan tree, it is the place where locals give offering to the Gods.

The people in the village is part of Lamaholot ethnic who occupy the eastern end of Flores island and neighboring islands (Adonara, Solor and Lembata). All the people in the village are active Catholic devoters but yet they still hold the genuine Lamaholot “religion”. The Lamaholot believe there is a God who they named as “Ama Lera Wulan Ina Tana Ekan”. If we translate into English it means Father Sun Moon and Mother Earth of Land. It is the prime God who creates everything in this universe.

So, there are three important “beings” important in the life of Lamaholot. They are: (1) Ama Lera Wulan Ina Tana Ekan, (2) Ancestors (Kewoko) and (3) the Ghosts (Nitung). The Lamaholots have to keep these three important “beings” friendly to them through ceremonies and animal sacrifices. Thourgh blood and meat.

The ceremonies in rituals in Korke are held regularly. I once was invited by the people of Lewokluo – about 3o km away from Riang Pedang. I arrived in the village about an hour before midnight, I then lead by a man to the spring outside of the village. It was down in the rafine just walking distance from the village. About 20 men already gathered there. They sat in the ground whilst an old man holding his knife about to kill a small pig. The pig then killed, he then open tear off the pig and take the liver away. Soon he asked a person to get the torch closer. He looks reading something with his finger pointing to the structure of the liver. He then said something to fellow men who take attention to him seriously. He of course talked in Lamaholot language which I dont understand. I asked my friend about what the old man said. It was about his reading on the liver which tells the future of the village.

The liver and some parts of the pig, which included small cut of pig’s ear, the leg meat and some other parts of the sacrificed pig put on the flat stone next to the spring. Yes it is the offering to the gods who take care of the spring where the villagers collect drinking water from. The rest of the pig then cooked. While waiting the cooking ready, all the man chant songs and dance all the time until the meal time comes.

The old man (he is a priest in local religion) then took some cooked meats and give offering again to the gods of spring. He then lead a prayer which I thought was Catholic prayer – but then I noticed it was not. It looks like litany in Catholic church, the man says some prayer and the participants answered. It took quite a long time until then the same person say in Bahasa Indonesia (because of my presence of course): Let us pray in Catholic, then he lead the prayer of “Our Father….”

After the eating ceremony we returned to the village. The following morning a complete ritual of Lamaholot religion taken places in the village. Started by a ritual in a house where a rooster is sacrificed then it cooked to be distributed to all the ritual participants with rice. But first the candle – made of grinded candle nut mixed with cotton which is glued on a stick – lit by a man who belongs to the clan of sinajawa. The candle is as big as grown up boy’s arm. He then distribute the rice mixed with a bit of chicken meat. Only men attend this ritual. We sat inside of his house all by turn has to take the rice with the meat right from the hand of the ritual leader. Once you get the rice you have to stack it all in your mouth.

My turn comes, I noticed the man have a serious infection on one of his finger; I am sure his hand is not that clean uuugh take or not take the rice… but then I have to respect the villagers. So, I took the rice and with my eyes all closed I let the rice together with the meat enter my mouth.

The ritual then continued with a procession to the Korke lead by the man from Sinajawa clan with the torch on his hand. Upon arrival at the Korke the same old man from last night’s ritual greet us all. Then a small pig is sacrificed, soon after that the chest of the pig is opened to take the liver out. The man with his hand grabbed the liver and read it in front of hundreds of eyes. After sometime he shouts in words which I dont understand. And all the people shouted cheerfully. I then asked a man on what is all about. He said that this year will be good harvest, good health for all the clan member. The liver then put in a flat stone together some raw rice and old coins. It was the offering for the ancestor.

The man then take a candle nut put in a holder made of “Lontar” palm leaf and in one move he strike the candle nut onto that same flat stone. Once again a good sign as the candlenut shell is teared open without breaking the meat of the nut. He then chew the candle nut together with “sirih pinang” (arecca and betel nut). To my surprise, all the people – hundreds of them – stand in a queu in front of him to let the man mark their forehead with the juice produced from the chewing “sirih pinang” and that candle nut. Although I am native to Flores island but I never see such a ritual in my village which is about 300 km west of Larantuka.

The first people who get that mark was a couple of local business person who reported that their car got accident repeatedly in just two months. They hope by attending the ritual they will got blessings from the ancestors. Those who do not attend the ritual will get that “juice” from their relatives who collect it in bamboo tubes.

The ritual then concluded by sacrificing hundreds of goats and pigs in various size. Most of them are full grown up beasts. There was only one man act as an executor. People bring their pig or goat to him and with one move he cut the head of the animals off at once while the animal keep standing for a while. Blood spread all around and people cheered happily.

The sacrified animals will not be consumed right away. But all of them will be hunged in Korke. The cook of the meats will be done in the afternoon on following day. Of course the meats are not fresh anymore. But I think they prefer to feed their Gods, ghosts and Ancestors first before consuming it for themselves.

The passengers of MS Columbus of course will not see the sacrifice ritual. They visited Riang Pedang for a cultural show. The village elders greet them in the entrance of the village. Sirih pinang, tuak (distilled palm wine) and local cigar then offered to the group’s leader. The visitors walked to the Korke lead by Hedung dancers and then Soka dancers. In that short visit the participants of Larantuka on shore program entertained with dances and the complete wedding ceremony according to Lamaholot.

The visit in the village is just about 1 hour. With 164 participants (morning program + 89 in the afternoon) and crews plus lots of government officials, the total understanding on local cultural values will be very limited. It would be much better if the visitors stay longer in the village. Yes, all the participants are happy with the visit. They managed to inspect Korke, Langobelen – the communal house of the village and its ritual stuffs. Some of them got the chance to walk around in the village.

On return, Pascale – shore excursion manager mentioned that my organization of the visit was just perfect and the clients are all happy. I discussed with her and the lecturer together with other team member that next time the visitors must stay longer in the village. Not to rush and rush to visit market and so on. To stay longer in the village then the chance to mingle with locals to comprehend more on local values will be then maximized. At least the locals is not just cultural performers but a complete civilization with genuine local values.


Note Redaksi:

Welcome Ng Sebastian! Make yourself at home. Thank you for your first article and hope more articles are coming…


13 Comments to "Lamaholot in Contact"

  1. nevergiveupyo  1 July, 2011 at 08:25

    great job Seb…

    indeed there’s much more beautiful place to see… Indonesia’s definitely NOT ONLY jakarta…

    * the next program is how to educate local people to meet up the live standard of foreigners (e.g clean places, good waste management etc) so that they’re coming again and again… long and longer…

  2. Ng Sebastian  30 June, 2011 at 08:15

    @SU: You’re welcome… many beautiful places yet much more expensive to reach than visiting neighbor countries.

  3. Ng Sebastian  30 June, 2011 at 08:13

    @J C: Thank you for your appreciation!

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