© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Wae Rebo, the last traditional Manggarai village in Flores

3 minutes to read

Those of you who have been to Flores or any similar remote tribal island, may argue: what does it even mean the last traditional Manggarai village? In a region where most settlements consist of 20 bamboo huts, 100 people and 50 buffaloes, where the population mixes simplified Christianity with animism, where the most famous dance form is actually a martial art using a whip as a weapon, how can it get more authentic? Well, it can. The bamboo huts, for example, have replaced the traditional Manggarai conical houses, mbaru niang. Animist rituals and caci, the whip dance, can still be seen, but you would have to be lucky to find them. Caci is sometimes staged for tourists, but it is not the same one. In Wae Rebo, on the other hand, mbaru niang dominates the central square, and Penti ceremony, a full-scale spirit worship festival, is held annually in November. A caci tournament is part of the festival. After all, there must be a reason this village in Flores received the Top Award of Excellence from UNESCO in 2012.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Up in the clouds

Wae Rebo occupies a strategic position near the summit of a tall hill, at 1100 m asl. After slogging all the way up there on a stony path, you will probably call it a mountain. Up until now, there is no way to reach the village other than hiking. The reason for such placement may have been defensive, but nowadays it means great views and morning mists, which are actually low clouds stuck at this natural obstacle before evaporating. Most common houses and agricultural plots spread on the slopes above the cluster of mbaru niang, and the panoramic vistas at sunrise or sunset will keep a photographer busy for quite a while. It is, of course, a good idea to add extra cultural experience by arriving in time for Penti.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Penti in Wae Rebo

Essentially a typical animist ceremony, unlike those easily seen in other tribal settlements around the globe, Penti feels special due to two factors: the unique setting and the fully authentic procedure. Christianity, and the last few centuries in general, are temporarily forgotten. It starts in the morning with a large procession led by the head shaman to a sacred stone just outside the village. Rice and eggs are sacrificed in a rather elaborate ritual. Then the people return to the main square, and the rest of the day is dedicated to festivities, mainly caci. Fighters put on traditional costumes, wrap sarungs around their heads to protect the face, pick up whips and leather shields, and commence the duels. Traditionally, two types of whips are used: one of the warriors brandishes the offensive variety, similar to the usual horse-riding implement, while the other – the defensive, with a longer, curved shaft and a short lash, designed to block and entangle the attacker. The tournament comes to an end in the late afternoon, when the village elders and shamans climb to the cemetery to sacrifice the chicken to the ancestors. Finally, they descend to the village square, where more chicken is slaughtered, and the divination is performed.

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin

Practicalities

To reach Wae Rebo, you will have to get to Ruteng first. It is a small town in West Flores, accessible by bus from Labuan Bajo, and the last place where you can get any necessary supplies. From there, things get more interesting. Once a day, if you are lucky, and with no schedule – ask around – an oto kayu (passenger truck) departs for the village of Denge. Sometimes the truck stops a few km short of it – you will have to hike the rest. More hiking awaits as you begin to climb up the mountain – count on 3-4 hours and expect a pretty bad trail, especially if it had been raining recently. Upon entering the village, tourists are supposed to undergo a ritual introduction to the guardian spirits and to pay for it. You can negotiate to minimize the ceremony and reduce the fee slightly, but not to zero. Wae Rebo is becoming quite famous, and the Manggarai community wants to profit from it. Otherwise, they are as friendly as you would expect Indonesians to be. Accommodation is in a homestay, which may be an ordinary hut or a traditional mbaru niang. There is no cellular signal and limited electricity. For the best views, climb to the upper houses or above them at sunrise

© Mark Levitin
© Mark Levitin
Wae Rebo, Flores
Wae Rebo, Flores
Satar Lenda, West Satar Mese, Manggarai Regency, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

The author

Mark Levitin

Mark Levitin

I am Mark, a professional travel photographer, a digital nomad. For the last four years, I am based in Indonesia, spending here roughly half a year and travelling around Asia for the other half. Previously, I spent four years in Thailand, exploring it from all perspectives.

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