Visitors to Flores who are eager to encounter an extraordinarily vivid traditional material and ideal culture should take some time to meet the Ngada (or Ngadha) and the Nagekeo people. These fascinating communities live in Kabupaten Ngada and Kabupaten Nagekeo, the same-named districts in Central Flores. The Ngada people prominently settled around the legendary Mount Inerie and the district’s capital town, Bajawa. The Nagekeo people settled around the district’s capital town, Mbay. Apart from the Ngada and the Nagekeo communities, who represent the major socio-cultural units, the districts are home to several minor ethno-linguistic groups.
Even though the icons of Ngada culture – eye-catching ancestral shrines, impressive megalithic formations, a distinct architecture and a vivid ceremonial live are testimonies to a distant past; they are not just relics, but an integral part of the Ngada people’s present, which is a syncretistic co-existence of ancient belief systems and Catholicism.
In contrast to other Florenese societies and the Nagekeo people whose social organization is based on patri-linearity, the Ngada people determine their clan belonging through their maternal line. Genealogical continuity is transmitted only through women, and the children are regarded as members of their mother’s clan. Land rights, material inheritance and residence are passed on matrilineally as well. However, Ngada matrilineal structure does not mean that women have all the decisive power in a community’s daily life. It is the men who usually dominate the public sphere, gatherings, and political or legal debates. In the private realm, though, it is the women who take prominent decisive roles.
In their local language, the Ngada people refer to their village as nua. A nua consists of several houses which are owned by different clans. The houses are usually set up along two parallel lines. Each clan owns a pair of ancestral shrines, ngadhu and bhaga, which are situated in the center of the nua. Next to the shrines, arrangements of megaliths are another famous element of Ngada material culture.
The most popular villages in the Ngada district are Bena and Wogo. Both have become signposts of Ngada culture and display the richness of Ngada traditions. However, there are many other villages off the beaten track which are worth a visit.