The Ngada Regency in central Flores might be one of Indonesia’s poorest regions, but culturally it is certainly one of its richest. The green valleys of Ngada are dotted with traditional villages with unique megalithic stone structures, against the backdrop of the towering Inerie volcano. The most visited village in the Ngada region is Bena, although nearby Gurusina and Tololela are absolutely also worth a visit. To Ngada society, the traditional houses occupy an important role as organizational units, as villagers must each belong to a house, and thereby a clan.
Villages consist of two parallel rows of traditional, high thatch-roofed houses. In the center of the village are the ngadhu and bhaga shrines – one for each clan of the village – representing the clan’s ancestors.
The ngadhu is a carved pole with thatched umbrella topped with a warrior-like figure (a male phallic totem), embodying the male ancestor of a clan. The ngadhu symbolizes fierceness and virility.
The bhaga, a female ancestral clan shrine, is a small hut on stilts with a thatched roof that resembles a miniature traditional house. It symbolizes the sanctuary of the house and the female womb. The bhaga offers enough space for one to two persons to hold rituals for female ancestors.
Another distinct feature of Ngada culture are the megalithic formations in the village center. Megaliths are a means to connect with the supernatural realm and to communicate with the ancestors, often through animal sacrifice. There is a stone altar for every village and a massive pile of flat stones, called lenggi, represents a court where the different clans of the village settle their legal disputes.
Traditional houses are often decorated with skulls and horns of water buffaloes and pig jaws, which were sacrificed at different ceremonies.
The traditional village of Belaraghi has only recently been “discovered” by tourists and is an absolute jewel. Until very recent the village could only be reached on foot or by motorbike and solar energy powered lights have only been installed since early 2016.
First-generation clan houses, sao pu’u (original or ‘trunk’ house) feature a miniature house on top of the roof, while next-generation houses, sa’o lobo (youngest or ‘tip’ house) feature a warrior-like figure on the roof.
In most traditional villages you will find the women busy weaving traditional warp ikat cloths. Traditionally the textiles of the Ngadha people consist of simple white motifs on an indigo ground, but ceremonial ikat are often more complex.
Hike from Bena to Gurusina, leading through beautiful natural surroundings – including a neat bamboo forest – and pass through the traditional village of Tololela. The start of the trail is just behind Bena, where a small trail leads up into the hills, right of the road behind Bena. You can find a local guide or kid to show you the way, if necessary.
Spend a night in Belaraghi!
For my favorite photo selection from the Ngada district click here.