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Introduction to Lembata & Alor
Introduction to Lembata & Alor

From the eastern tip of Flores there is a small chain of islands towards the east: the Solor archipelago, consisting of the islands of Solor, Adonara and Lembata (formerly Lomblen), and the Alor archipelago, formed by Pantar and Alor, These rough hilly islands are created by vulcanism, and form the continuation of the Lesser Sunda Islands. The inhabitants grow maniok, corn and do some farmery, fishing and weaving. At several opportunities they perform rituals with are related with their traditional religion. In a way it looks like the time has stood still on those islands, allthough you can still see the influences of the modern times.
When I visited Lembata for the first time, women and children ran away for that strange, red man with his strange apparatus. Taking pictures was almost impossible. As soon as I grabbed my camera, people started laughing and yelling; the victim hid because of shame or stared to the camera like a stone. 'Have you ever been on the moon?', was asked to me 'Were there animals as well?'
The hard work of the missionaries and government servants didn't leave the traditional culture as it was. The whale hunt used to start with a ritual cleansing of the skulls of the ancestors, while nowadays a mass is held on the beach by father Dupont. But many traditions and habits still live on, and that also goes for the lieetle meetings with a little tuak (palmwine).
On the irregular shaped, 1200 sq.km. island of Lembata live about 82,000 people. Most are catholic, and there are about 8,000 muslems and about 6,000 supporters of the traditional ancestral religion. Lewoleba, at the western coast is the location where one of the biggest markets of East-Indonesia is held. Big parts of the island are only inhabited by deer and wild pigs.
Little is known about the life on Lembata before the Europeans got there. The islanders do know different stories of origin; one of them tells that they came from a hole in the ground. Some residents believe that their ancestors came to this island from far and unknown places. Along the southern coast are several stone structures which represent the boats in which the ancestors arrived.
The first Europeans which set foot on the island were the Portuguese, on the look for spices. They arrived in the early 16th century, soon followed by Dominican fathers which spread catholicism.
The peninsula, dominated by the volcano Gunung Ile Ape, is the base of the Lembata people which support the traditional ancestral religion. In the koker, small temple huts on the slopes of the vulcanoes, the villagers maintain the contact with the ancestral spirits. Small sacrifices as food, cigarettes and sirih-fruits are left behind to pleasure the supernatural world. Sometimes an animal is sacrificed. The most important annual festivities in this area is Pesta Kacang, or 'bean-festival'.
In 1990, Alor, the most remote island, was visited by 25 foreigners. Hotels with airconditioning are not to be found here, but lovers of the Indonesian culture can find their joy on Alor. The residents speak eight different dialects. You can see moko, drums especially used for the ancestors, and formed to an example of the bronze creations of the Dongson culture ( about 300 BC)


    
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