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Hard hits on a marriage

Two men in a naked upper body dance in a circle on dry, hard soil while spectators gather around the spectacle. Bells around the waist and ankles of the dancers rinkle while the attacker, armed with a big whip, and his rival, with a shield for protection, 'attack' each other. The rhythm of the drums and the gongs echoes faster and faster. A sudden, dumb hit of a bamboo stick marks the beginning of the fight.

Ritual dances

Most of the many ethnical groups of Nusa Tenggara perform ritual dances at traditional ceremonies: births, marriages, funerals and nowadays even at national and local events. Some dances are related to local agricultural habits.

Whip fights are still performed by men, in which the power, the durability and the virility of both rivals is tested thoroughly. Traditionally, the fights are held until blood is seen, as an sacrifice to the ancestral spirits. The Indonesian government has tried several times - without result - to stop these 'barbaric' deeds. This failed because modern relaxation like TV's, cinemas and others are still not very common here. So the fights are still performed by young and old, spectators and rivals are still encouraged enthusiastic. Less blood is flown however.

In East-Flores, the women perform the most ritual dances, in which the ladies are dressed in tye-and-dye sarongs, with goldthread. Often, ivory bracelets from the bridal treasury are worn. In some dances and separate from the women, the men participate as well. A certain dance in which women and men participate was also seen in other parts of Asia. Four dancers hold the end of a bamboo stick, parallel to the soil. The sticks are hit against the ground, interchanging, then raised and hit to each other. The dance starts slowly, but soon speeds up while the dancers continue their dance. With another dance a man climbs, helped by the other dancers, into a big bamboo stick. When he has reached the top he stretched horizontally, and waves to the spectators with his hands while his helpers turn him around on top of the stick.


Unique among the Manggarai population on West-Flores is the caci-dance, a whip fight between two rivals. The gear of the duelists symbolizes the water buffalo, the strongest and most cruel animal among all animals in the area. The whip of the attacker is made of very sharp rattan; the handle is decorated with the skin of the knees of the buffalo. At the end of the whip there is a brush made of skin as well. the whip symbolizes the power of the father, the male, the penis, and also heaven. The shield of the rival is round, decorated with buffalo leather and symbolizes the mother, the female, the uterus and earth. When the whip hits the shield, both symbols are unified.

The round shape of the shield can be found in many occasions among the Manggarai. Lingko randang, the traditional gardens made through the entire village are round as well. The village head plants a round piece in the middle of the garden and every family of the village has it's own part while the outside ring functions as protection. From the Colo Curu in the valley near Ruteng, you can see a linkgo randang.

The circle can be seen again in the center of adat or villages. A nice example can be seen in Kampung Ruteng, north of Ruteng where a megalith altar surrounds piled up soil. During certain ceremonies the villagers take place on the soil which is covered with stones and wait for the sun to go down. When dances and rituals are performed you can't enter the center of the circle.

Hitting of the whip

As in western boxing games the spectators of the whip fights also have their favorite players. Supporters of the attacker support him in striking quickly. The team of the rival shouts when he seems very strong. Distracted by several fake attacks the defender drops his shield for a moment, and is hit immediately on his shoulders. The spectators support the attack en masse, especially when a piece of human flesh is hit.

Nowadays the wooden mask, worn by every warrior, is placed high on the head, a sarong around the face protects the face. Between the two 'horns' of the mask is a third horn with a red top. The red color symbolizes the power of the gods. At the ends the goat hairs wave, seemingly telling the attacker "Get me if you can, I will beat you. I'm not scared. I'm still smiling!".

Picture: Whip fight

The red brush between the horns of the mask also decorates the buffalo heads on the roofs of the houses of the Manggarai. These heads, made from alang-alang wood, represent power while the red brush symbolizes the upper power - the power of the gods. The ears of the man-made buffalo head point at democracy and cooperation and tell this message: "What people say is not just lost; it gets stuck in the spirit and is thought about". The rings around the neck brand the union and the 'fabric' describes the family.

All naked skin of the fighters can be hit, except the kidney area. The partially covered chest, back and arms are the biggest targets. A 'tail' hangs out of the belt and indicates that this zone is not to be hit as well. Sarongs - in this case long pieces of fabric typical handmade Manggarai textile - cover the nowadays jeans or trousers which cover the legs.

A direct hit leaves a red mark on the back of the opponent. He jumps high in the sky, kicking with his feet, while the little bells around the ankles like he doesn't feel the pain and wants to play with his opponent. Later, the wounds, together with the scars of earlier fights, will be shown as a sign of masculinity to the women and young boys in the village.

After a short stop for songs and several drinks of tuak the fighters change weapons and shields to take the others role, after which the fights continue.

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