Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 1 June 2014 • Destination
I did my first overland trip to Flores in 2010. There wasn’t much helpful information about the island back then, so I winged it. Have you ever had one of those trips? Fun, huh?! Amongst the places on Flores, I visited Bena Village. I had found some vague information beforehand, but was blown away of the real deal. The village consisted of ancient looking thatched-roof houses and rock foundation. Intriguing! I hadn’t seen anything as old looking and as preserved as this before. Having to fall for the place, I had no problem coming back, while accompanying Vindhya that hadn’t seen it before.
I was fortunate to find one of the traditional houses being renovated. It’s not everyday you get to see this. I had stars in my eyes having the opportunity to see the inside of an unfinished house. Sometimes, I like seeing the making process of things better than the end result.
“It’s tradition that families help make the house,” says a man with silver hair and moustache.
“Wait! You mean, you’re not a professional getting paid to build this house? You’re extended families helping out?” I reconfirmed.
“Yes. That’s our tradition. You can’t have just anyone build these houses. Only family of the owner.” He answered with a relaxed humble voice. I was suddenly amazed. So, the men of the families gather from where ever they were in the event of restoring a house. They don’t get paid, just fed and taken care of by the women during the whole process. Wow! The house is truly a tradition passed down through bloodlines.
“It’s a lot better now. We have tools that help us build the houses. We can complete a house in two to three weeks. If it weren’t for these tools, it would take two of three months. But then, there’s the problem of finding good wood. It’s a lot more difficult now.” He explained while showing me the simple tools like hammers, chisels, and that thing that makes the wood smooth (I’m clearly not a carpenter).
Not all of the house-parts were replaced. The main foundation was kept as it was still in good condition. Can’t fake great ironwood! As for the new material, some of the new wood was still carved with the traditional symbols, as it will bring good fortune, have prayers within them, and marks their identity as a Bena house. There were bamboo and the thatched roof. Also, it was only in 2012 or so did they get electricity so they can work the nights and have a few electronic equipment. Although different to how their ancestors did it, they kept the principle design and process.
I chatted a bit more, being nosey and all about their lives, while I had the chance. I asked about who was related to whom. We joked about how this was cheap labor, suitable for the country and how a darker twisted version of this was called nepotism. I also got a 101 on carpentry. I was educated.
By the end of our chat, I bid farewell. I shook all of their hands and secretly admired the traditional carpentry knowledge that has been imprinted in each of its cells. It was an honor to shake their hands.
As a sucker for traditional fabrics, it was impossible for me to look away from all the goodies this village offered. Each house had their handmade fabric, which makes it harder to choose being different to each other. Weaving is something that the women do in their spare time and can bring a little extra cash.
All woven cloth, or known also as ‘ikat’, which translates to ‘to tie or tied’, has a distinctive pattern and colors. Bena Village is part of the greater East Manggarai area, which has the typical black sarong with yellow or gold decorations. However, the traditional Bena pattern is black with blue decorations and accents of red. I couldn’t help myself and ate up a lot of my savings to buy a woman’s dress that is usually used for traditional ceremonies. It was so comfortable. The quality of the weaving was really delicate and tight . It took me about 15 minutes just to haggle the lowest price I could get from the woman that made it. Don’t worry! I didn’t haggle too much. I still have respect for handmade things. A sarong in 2012 cost about IDR 600,000/piece. These sarongs aren’t a mere tourism ornaments either; the people really use them in their daily life.
Another item was a band, which we gave to a fellow blogger Fahmi. When he traveled to Flores with it, many had complimented the quality of the item. This can go as low as IDR 50,000/piece. Vindhya, a fan of traditional cloth herself, also found herself at the mercy of a cloth seller. She walked away happy with a traditional East Manggarai cloth.
For any fan of ‘ikat’, the work done at Bena Village is just too tempting to resist. I did a comparison to the cloth made in Bajawa, the main town of the area, and the quality of Bena ‘ikats’ were still far better. Cindy, travel mate from 2010, had to learn that the hard way, as she regretted not buying hers from the village. If you think I’m exaggerating, you can try your luck.
There’s really so much to be said about the Bena tradition, but you can read more about it on our page here, which I’m ashamed to admit it is still far from the complete version. I just had to write more about my findings during my last trip.
People that look for excitement shouldn’t travel to Bena Village. On the surface, this tiny settlement will show you nothing more than the daily life of the people. Most of the time, it’ll be half dead as the men are out in the fields, children would be off to school, and only the women and elderly are left to mend the house. However, this is exactly why I love the village. It’s when you get to sit down and understand the culture, you realize this village has its own way of life that could be insightful, educational to say the least. It could also remind me on how simple life can be by taking me back to the days where life was a lot more basic. With the elaboration of our lives especially from a city like Jakarta, Bena Village is an oasis from such complexity. It was just as it probably was back in ancient days and life had only slightly moved on.
The best way is by renting a car or a motorcycle. It’s about less than an hour to get there from Bajawa. There’s also the option of public transportation in the form of a truck, but you need to check with the Bajawa locals for schedule.
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