In the district of Ngada the traditional habits have been kept better than in any other place in Flores. The residents are almost all Catholic, but they keep adding meaning to the megalith stones. They also maintain the ngadhu, a pawl which is seen as masculine which forms a couple with the bhaga, an ancestral little house which is considered female.
Only a few travelers seem to know about the rich culture of the capital of the district, Bajawa and surrounding villages. Most drive through it on their way to Ende, or only spend a night there. Whoever is interested in religion and culture should certainly spend a few days here.
Langa: ritual shrines
Near to Bajawa are two traditional villages: Langa and Bena. You can walk to them in one day. Try to get up early, because the summit of the impressive, but not active volcano Inerie is often obscured by clouds after 10 in the morning. Take the road to the south in Bajawa and turn left towards Ende on the main road. After a few kilometers there is a paved road on your right hand, which brings you to Langa in 2.5 kilometers.
In Langa, you can find a row of five ngadhu and four bhaga on the central square. The ngadhu, which symbolizes the male ancestors of a clan, looks like a beach sunscreen with a diameter of about three meters. With a roof of alang-alang (grass) and ijuk (fibers of a palm tree); the forked, thick stem of a tree, decorated with woodcarvings, is the supporting pillar. The shrine is crowned by a human figure, which holds a parang (harvesting knife) in one hand and a javelin in the other. Every shrine is surrounded by a stone circle. The Bhaga, a small hit with a roof of grass, is sometimes decorated with woodcarvings: under the entrance of the door, around the lower boarding and inside.
At different occasions the members of the clan - as a proof of honor to important persons - hold rituals to the right ngadhu and bhaga temples. They demand the sacrifice of a water buffalo, tied up to a stone pillar (peo). In the past dozens of water buffalo's were slaughtered, nowadays just one. The background of this limitation is a governmental decree which wants the population to be protected from bad economics.
At other occasions which demand ancestral help demand the slaughter of a pig and a sacrifice to the ancestors of the clan in the form of food and pinang nuts. In Langa, the yearly, six-day ritual reba, starts on 15th January with a Misa Kudus ('Holy Mass'), followed by dances and rituals in traditional clothing.
An unpaved road of about 10 kilometers runs from Langa around the foot of Gunung Inerie. It descends towards Bena and offers a panoramic view over the cult-structures ngadhu, bhaga and peo. Bena is the center of the traditional religion of the area. There are no metal roofs here. Visitors still have to report in the visitor log.
The yearly reba-cycle starts in Bena on 26 December and then continues to other villages. Other rituals in connection to the agricultural cycle are held as well: the zoa-planting ritual in September or October, and the keti kua ritual in April or May. Another event, the uma moni or ana koka, is an honor to the ancestors which planted here first. At this event, a water buffalo is sacrificed.
The traditional houses of the Bena have steep, high roofs of grass. Some are crowned with the image of a warrior with a javelin and a parang, which looks like the one on the ngadhu; others with miniature houses which look like the bhaga. There are also several megalithic stones, sacrificing-or meeting places where the village elderly make their decisions which have anything to do with the relations with the supernatural.
At the end of the village you can find a shrine to Maria on a small hill, under a huge tree. There you can overview the Savu Sea. Near the entrance to the village a pension was built not too long ago. It should be a cheap place to sleep and eat.
Old Wogo: megaliths
From Bena, there is an unpaved road, a little better than the road between Langa and Bena, to the village of Mangulewa along the main road from Ende to Ruteng, about ten kilometers from Bena. A little to the east lies Mataloko, directly along the road. Here, an unpaved road takes you to the south towards Wogo, where you can find one of the best collections of ngadhu and bhaga of the district.
About one kilometer down the road you can follow the 200 meter long path towards Wogo Tua, 'Old Wogo', the original location of the village. The residents of Wogo have left here in the 1970's. You can find big megalithic stones, some hidden in the high grass, hard to find. The stones look mysterious and sad in the fog which is common here.
Soa: traditional boxing
Northeast of Bajawa, a road runs to Soa (22 kilometers) and Natarandong, 18 kilometers ahead. This road runs along Poma and becomes very bad beyond Wangka, about 40 kilometers ahead. From Wangka, it's still about 20 kilometers to the village of Mobras, which is located along the road which follows the northern shore of Flores. Mobras is located about seven kilometers east of Riung. During the dry season you can rent a jeep for the entire trip.
Soa, a group of villages in the environment of the district airport, has hot sources where you can bathe. There is regular traffic between Bajawa and Soa, especially trucks on Sunday evenings and Monday mornings, market day. A restaurant behind the market serves dog, locally named 'R-W'. This euphemism is bases on the Indonesian first characters of 'thin haired'. Not bad.
The area around Soa is reasonably traditional, but the ritual schedule is totally different than that of the villages around Gunung Inerie. The rori witu, the ritual hunt, lasts for a month, from about mid-October until mid-November. This deer hunt is an important event in the annual cycle; men on horse hunt down the animals with their javelins, women wash their hands in deer blood to raise their fertility.
The annual sagi-cycle, the traditional boxing, takes place in the first half of the year in several different villages. Human blood is always shed here. This form of fighting is also practiced in Boawae, 41 kilometers from Bajawa, along the main road to Ende. The boxing is held mid-June every year and is called etu.