Kampung Bena, Where Ancient Megalithic Traditions Continue To Thrive

When travelling to the island of Flores, do not omit to put Kampung Bena, – or the traditional village of Bena –  on your must-visit itinerary. Located  some 18 km from the town of Bajawa, here time seems to have passed over Kampung Bena, where until today villagers still faithfully follow megalithic traditions, where sincere friendliness to strangers comes from the heart, where all around the village you will see vestiges of an age long gone when large stone monuments to ancestors were an inseparable part of daily life. The megalithic village of Bena is one of Indonesia’s rich living cultural heritage that can still be enjoyed to this very day, but should also be carefully preserved.

Safely protected in the shadows of looming Mt. Inerie, the Village of Bena in the district of Bajawa, is one of a number of traditional villages on the island of Flores that still embrace the awe-inspiring megalithic culture until today. The town of Bajawa itself is completely surrounded by mountains and a tourist attraction in its own right because of its cool mountain air.

Life in the village of Bena seems not to have changed since the megalithic age some 1,200 years ago. Here are 9 clans living in 45 houses. These are the Dizi, the Dizi Azi, the Wahtu, the Deru Lalulewa, the Deru Solamae, the Ngada, the Khopa and the Ago. Each clan lives on a different level of the terraced village, with the Bena clan in its center. This is because the Bena are deemed the oldest clan and founder of the village, for which reason the village is named Kampung Bena.

The megalithic village of Bena
The megalithic village of Bena (Source : petra.ac.id)

In general, the inhabitants of Bena live from agriculture tending to the many green gardens planted on the slopes of deep valleys surrounding the village. They communicate with each other in the Nga’dha language. Most villagers are Catholic. Nevertheless, they still follow the ancient believe in ancestor worship, its rituals and traditions.

The Bena follow kinship following the mother’s line, where a man who marries outside his clan will belong to his wife’s clan. While Bena women must be adept in weaving the traditional Bena cloth that have typically elephant and horse motifs unique to this village.

Today Kampung Bena counts 326 inhabitants in 120 families. However, those related to the tradition (or adat) and to the village are thousands of village descendents now living outside the core village.

Bena villagers believe that the god Zeta resides on the peak of Mt. Inerie. This mountain, which reaches 2,245 meters above sea level is overgrown with thick forests on its west side only, while its south side is planted with various orchards or gardens. To the Bena people, Mt. Inerie is the right of the mother (hak mama), while Mt. Surulaki is the right of the father (hak bapa).

Kampung Bena, the ancient village
Kampung Bena, the ancient village (Source : iqbalkautsar.com)

Today, Mt. Inerie has become an attractive destination for mountain climbers and adventure seekers especially during the dry season that lasts from June through August. From its peak one has a spectacular 360 degree panorama on the surrounding landscape, including on the town of Bajawa to its north west. To the south lies the blue Sawu sea that breaks its waves right on the shores at the foot of this mountain. Mt. Inerie exploded in 1882 and 1970 leaving behind rich fertile soil on this already fantastically beautiful scenery. Notice the unusually large bamboo shrubs that grow around this mountain!

ACTIVITIES

Once you set foot in Bajawa, you definitely must try some of the local cuisine which features its own distinct taste. Some of the restaurants here serve distinct Bajawan dishes including the famous Sambel Bajawa or Bajawa Hot Sauce which is made from Flores Chili Pepper, which is small in size but notoriously hot, hot, hot.

Here are some of the restaurants in Bajawa:

  • Restaurant Camelia, the Restaurant combines amazing scenery and ambience as well as live music entertainment to accompany the delicious food and refreshing drinks. Address: Jalan Ahmad Yani no.74.
  • Dito’s, this cozy place features dashing interior design and decorations and serves a wide range of menus from European, Indonesian, and Chinese. Address: Jalan Ahmad Yani.
  • Kasih Bahagia Restaurant, a popular Chinese restaurant famous for its spring rolls, Chicken Soup, and pork noodle.
  • Lucas Restaurant, the restaurant features traditional ambience which is both unique and classy. Its owner, Lucas will entertain you with the history of Bajawa and also the culture of Ngada. Address: Jalan Ahmad Yani.

There are a number of simple hotels and inns available in Bajawa. Although you may not find any star-rated hotel facilities, the sheer refreshing climate and the pure hospitality of the people are truly a special feature of the town.

Here are among some of the accommodations available in Bajawa:

  • Hotel Edelweis, built in 1988, the hotel features a family house ambience and charges from IDR 175,000 to IDR 250,000 per night. Address: Jalan Ahmad Yani No. 76.
  • Hotel Jhony, the hotel has been around for over 35 years with rates ranging from IDR 100,000 to IDR 200,000. Address: Jalan Gajahmada.
  • Hotel Nusantara, this simple hotel has 18 rooms and is dedicated for non smoker only. Address: Jalan El Tari No.10.
  • Hotel Korina, a relatively simple hotel but features excellent service. The rates varies between IDR 100,000 to IDR 200,000 per night. Address: Jalan Ahmad Yani.
  • Happy Happy, an old residential house converted to a hotel featuring classic architecture. You will definitely feel a different comforting ambience with all the classical features of the hotel. Address: Jalan Ahmad Yani.
  • Villa Silverin, a little bit far from the heart of Bajawa, this means less noise and more peacefulness. The rates range from IDR 200,000 to IDR 350,000.

When entering this village you will see a large number of large stones that are laid out in special formations. The Bena community believes that mountains, stones and animals must be respected as part of the environment and even of existence itself.

You will also notice the neatly laid out houses with their sharp thatched roofs standing on different levels of this terraced village. Kampung Bena stretches lengthwise from north to south where there is only one entrance to its north. This is because to its south, which forms the the highest point of the village, the land plunges immediately into a deep valey.

Kampung Bena measures 375 meters long and 80 meters wide. There are at least 45 traditional houses interspersed with large megalithic stones. Notice the 9 levels of terraces where each clan inhabits a specified level.

The central house for men is called sakalobo, that is recognizable by the male statue holding a machete and a lance placed above the house. Where as the house for women is called sakapu’u.

You will also see many houses decorated with buffalo horns, and jaws and tusks of wild boars, denoting the social status of its owner. The jaws and  tusks of boars are offerings given by each clan through a traditional ceremony.

A Ngadhu structure stands in front of each cluster of houses, which symbolizes the male ancestor. A ngadhu is a miniature house shaded by an umbrella that stands on a carved pillar. Its roots must have two branches which has been planted at a ceremony involving the blood of a boar or a chicken. The ngadhu must stand on a strong pole made of special hard wood that must be strong enough to bear the weight of the heads of animals that are to be offered at ceremonies.

Just as a Ngadhu stands in front of each traditional house, the bagha is the symbol of the female ancestor. The bhaga is a small traditional house that is prepared to receive bridegrooms of the girls from the village who are given in marriage to an outsider. Each bhaga has carvings (bhaga) while on its roof are weapons meant to protect the house from evil spirits. The bhaga also serves as life’s motivator for children and as reminder that wherever they may roam they must always keep in mind that this is their village of origin. Because there are 9 clans in Bena, the village has nine pairs of ngadhu and bagha.

Reaching the highest and most southern point of Kampung Bena you will be amazed by the scenic panorama that meets you. From this vantage point you can see deep valleys stretching out to the mountains and to its right the Sawu Sea. Be sure to take a photograph of this most extraordinary view.

The structure of Bena Village
The structure of Bena Village (Source : ocean916.wordpress.com)

A special feature of daily life here is chewing betel leaves with limestone which tradition has been handed down from generation to generation. Chewing betel leaves is believed to be invigorating and gives an added bonus as it leaves red coloring to the teeth. This snack may be taken any time of the day, in the morning, noon or even at night.

This blend of betel leaves, areca nut, lime, gambier, and some tobacco leaves produce a red color residue and fibre of the areca nut. The whole concoction does not taste sweet but trying this may be one of the sweet memories of your visit to Bena.

When you are in the village of Bena you will most likely notice candlenuts (Aleuritis molucana) spread and dried in the sun. Villagers here roast the nuts without oil or boil these to take away the toxic elements. While natural drying in the sun is of course a better way. Candlenut is used to extract oil that can also be used to mix dyes.

GET THERE

Ngada Regency is situated between Nageko Regency and East Manggarai Regency. Ngada stretches from Riung district with all its islands and underwater splendors to the  north, to Aimere to the south.

As the capital city of Ngada Regency, Bajawa can be reached from Ende, Nagekeo, and Manggarai. If you want to use public transportation, there is an inter-city Bus Station just outside of Bajawa which connects the town with other parts of the province.

The road connecting Soa and Bajawa is relatively smooth and is in good condition. You will also be indulged with spectacular natural sceneries along the way.

Bena Village is situated some 18 km from the heart of Bajawa. For your convenience, you can rent car or motorcycle so you can explore more of what Bena and Bajawa have got to offer.

Tips

There is an unwritten rule that Bena inhabitants should not disturb tourists. But tourists are encouraged to greet them. Then witness their broad welcoming smiles shining from their sincere faces.

An annual feast is held in this village around December or early January called Reba. In the past, these feasts lasts for over one week involving the slaughter of cattle, boars and chickens. Nowadays however, these festivities will last no longer than three days to limit the animals being slaughtered.

Make sure that you do not leave garbage behind, but do carry home some wonderful, stories and photographs of this village and villagers who until today still retain their rare ancient living culture.

Do admire their extraodinary woven creations that are hung outside their house. You can buy these materials and you are also allowed to bargain for the best price.

 

 

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