Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by indohoyindohoy on 1 June 2011 • Itinerary
May 2011 It felt really odd to travel and be in the spot I was. It was Easter and I was in the middle of the lit candles of Semana Santa, the Portuguese style of Good Friday. I wasn’t watching it like some devotee from the neighboring town, I was in all black and participating in the ceremony. I am a Moslem and yet there I was, standing amongst the Catholics on their holy day. In a way, I felt a bit like a wolf in sheep skin, especially considering there’s a lot of Moslem terrorist Issues that’s been going on in the country. However, I presented my good will to understand this old ritual, which was welcomed with open hands, and a few stares. Guys, I present my spiritual journey, in Larantuka on the island of Flores, Indonesia.
Activities Semana Santa is a sequence of rituals held for Good Friday. It is a ceremony held to remember Jesus crucifixion and his sacrifice for human kind. This ritual is held by the Catholics as it is the major religion in the area. But the Semana Santa also incorporates the local tradition of Portuguese colonialism back in the 1600s. Sleep House family from a work colleague, but should you visit the area you can stay at Rulies Hotel. How to get there Air You can fly in from Kupang for IDR 700,00 with Susi Air. Flights are only on certain days of the week. Land Drive in from Maumere for IDR 500,000 or take the public bus with entertainment not of your choice for IDR 40,000 also from Maumere. Sea Pelni boats usually make a stop here before venturing of to Solor or Adonara. But as you probably have guessed, the schedule is rarely spot on. Larantuka is also the gate to Lembata, the island of the whale hunters. Getting around Bemos circle the town regularly. Fare is a mere IDR 2,000 / pax. How nice is that? Ojegs also buzz around. Some you can find hanging out together at some corner. Other times, it’s random people passing by on motorcycles. Not sure about the scamming around here, but seems like they’re good people.
This journey from Larantuka, to witness Semana Santa, to Ruteng initially was planned for myself. I couldn’t find company who could fit the interest, schedule, nor budget (*cough* Flores is a bit pricey) for this trip. So, push comes to shove, I planned to travel alone. But apparently, I didn’t have to. Cindy coincidently was on a crazy travel frenzy and she could fit almost all 3 criteria. So everyone, meet Cindy, the subtle wacky hippie. She also will be helping out our timeline through this wonder island. Host Family – I wanna be the common I always think, to experience a city you have to become one of the people. Besides my 3 day rule , living with a local family is another way to immerse yourself in the local sitting. We were so fortunate to have both ways muahahaha… *greedy happy. We stayed at Pak Rio’s house. Pak Rio is a buddy from work. He’s an old funny man and deeply kind at heart. He’s offered his house for the Semana Santa ceremony since he felt responsible after highly promoting it to me. Squeezed that one right out of him! Unfortunately, his roster didn’t work out this Easter, thus we had to warm up to his family ourselves.
It wasn’t hard to do. Auntie Tuka, his wife, was so friendly, resourceful, kind and had a great sense of humor. She was a Lembata royalty of some sort so she had so many stories to tell about her life prior being married to the Larantuka local till present date, the mystical days living in the area, childhood, treasures of Loweleba, and tonnes more. She is also a woman of principle which lead me to learn a few lessons in life myself (Kids, wear a condom, don’t bring diseases home! Khihihihi… wouldn’t you like to know what she told me?). Oh man, because of her, I really wanna travel to Loweleba at Lembata now. I totally blame her for that!!! Three of their children and a grandson live here. Words can not express how kind and fun loving this family was. I felt like a local amongst them.
The Town To be honest, we didn’t really venture far from home. All the major religious places were a walk away from Auntie Tuka’s house so all we did was walk ourselves around town. Yet, the view was spectacular and calming at the same time. Larantuka is located besides a sea facing the island of Adonara and Solor. You can’t help but have a widescreen view. It just stretches! Facing hills all around you gives that protected feeling compared to an open ocean of freedom. So, it was a different ambience for me, and it suited such a religious event.
The town itself isn’t that special to many Indonesian towns. Small, with smaller paved roads, friendly people, and laid back. Eventually, we did peak in a little further east in to the city. After seeing this part of town, I concluded that we were living in the older part of town. I won’t waste your time to explain on what the ritual is about, what the sequence of the ritual was and who is who and where and what. I could finish up 10 entries just to explain it. Anyways, you can google it. I have! And I can tell you, all that has been said is true. But let me share what I ‘saw’ instead. Little did I know, Pak Rio is a Diaz descendent, one of the major families of Larantuka. This means, we had more access and info about the whole ceremony. Woohoo! This also means that I’m not really sure what we got ourselves in to. Woohoo! Pak Rio, we love you! Semana Santa Since we came in on a Thursday, we missed the Shackled Wednesday ceremony. On this day, they take out the statue of Tuan Ma (Virgin Marie) and Tuan Ana (Jesus) from their holy storage. Tuan Ma and Tuan Ana are the names in Nagi, the local language which I’m guessing sounds familiar with Portuguese. These statues are only taken out once a year. Tuan Ma (let’s get used to this) and Tuan Ana has their own chapel not far from each other. Tuan Ma would be standing all, reaching almost 2 meters, in its church. Interestingly, Tuan Ana is just a box. Actually the real statue is in the box. I’ve been told that only a handful of chosen people are allowed to see the actual statue for reasons that I can not say here (yeah, it really is necessary for me not to say why, but I know, muhaha!). They are also responsible to clean the statue during this once a year event. White Thursday We arrived on Thursday and started warming up to Letti who was at home with Nno, our 1 year old sweetheart. During fun and games with the baby, we caught up with Letti on what would be going on. Let it be noted this was our first attempt, out of the many, to understand the schedule. Good thing we did. First thing we got was, since we were submitted by Auntie Tuka to participate in the ceremony, we had to wear all black. Wha??? A dress code??? No body told us that!! Oh, the horror of being in the wrong dress code suddenly flashed before me.
We failed to work a wardrobe from our own stash. Cindy is naturally a colorful being, while I pack light and try to be colorful for the sake of photos. So black was not listed in our packs. We did work out something for our top, but failed for our bottoms. So we ran to the market and get some cheap black cloth to cover us up from head to toe, and cold drinks (Man, was it hot!). We even bought material to make a small veil to cover our heads. We took the cloths to a tailor and had minor adjustments to it. Having that said, I have to admit, I enjoyed solving this out. It was like ‘Project Runway’ without the cameras. That night, after finally meeting with Auntie Tuka, we join her as a Denga Deo. A Deo-dorant what?? Yeah, Denga Deo, which are descendants or married to the 8 major families that holds on to this tradition. Women had to sit besides the altar isle that headed to Tuan Ana’s box. They sung gospels. While the men secured the area and participated in other ways. Devotees walked on their knees, for a good 10 m I guess, without shoes, all the way to Tuan Ana just to kiss the foot of the box. Families and people with special prayers kept candles lit near the altar.
We came in at 9 pm. Cindy and I took place sitting amongst the singing ladies. The air was full of smoke which made my eyes hurt a bit. The Jesus statue covered up on the walls spooked me out. Sitting there, I started realizing how old this tradition is. I had no clue what was going on and what will happen. I’m not familiar with any of the rituals and I’ve never seen anything like it through my baby steps traveling Indonesia. I realized that as modern as Christianity is in Indonesia, this smells really old. The ladies, young and old, sang gospels yet weren’t really lost in prayer, they were more gathered in the spirit of tradition, meaning they had a few smiles and chuckles when meeting each other. It was as though they were glad they can do it another year. Thank God it was a one year thing because apparently everyone had an 8 hour roster to pray and sing, which meant Auntie Tuka had to do it till 3 o’clock in the morning! Cindy and I politely crawled out by 11 pm to snooze ourselves out! Good Friday This is action day! Everything happens on Good Friday, and it started as a good one indeed. It was sunny and hot! By noon, Vian was ready in his costume along with 2 other mates. Chosen children about 11-12 years old participate to bring the sacred items of Jesus. Nails, thorn crown just to name a few. We weren’t really sure what was going on. The thing about me is, I like seeing things behind the scene. Seeing Vian getting ready with his buddies was enough for me to understand how this is a tradition that will be passed on for generations.
Walking in to the main market area, we found the crowd gathering at the port and also walking towards the chapel areas. Not knowing what was going on, we followed the massive massive (did I say massive already?) crowd to eventually find out that Tuan Meninu was sailing. Yes! It was sailing. Tuan Meninu is the third holy item at this procession. Tuan Meninu is a baby Jesus statue placed in a box. As the Tuan Ana, it is only witnessed, taken out, and cleaned by certain people for reasons that I will not spill ;P This statue is brought from the other island in a small thatched roof boat, accompanied by an appointed child and rowers. It leads the army of children and adult devotees, all in black to meet its ‘elders’. This was the spectacle indeed. The thing is, these boats of all sorts of shape, size and type, were packed, tilted due to overload, and I’m sure it wasn’t equipped with enough life jackets. After enjoying the crowd of dark skin, curly hair (which some are straightened already), and perfect white teeth, we headed home to get ready.
The night rolled in and we headed out to the streets to see the peak event of Semana Santa. Because we lost track of Auntie Tuka, we secured a random place besides the streets which was already lit with candles. Of course, we were also in costume :p. We wanted to see the Lakademu, 4 men covered from top to bottom in white carrying the Tuan Ana box, and also finally to see the Tuan Ma. The Lakademu finally came and it was such a spooky thing to see. They seriously looked like the KKK but with an accent of red. I really had no idea how to digest the sight besides having chills down my back. The Lakademus are chosen people whose identity is kept secret even amongst the closest friends and family. Sometime it leaks but as I heard, it’s not often. It is also said, if the Lakademus were appointed and yet have been sinful for the past year, carrying Tuan Ana would be an exhausting experience both mentally and physically. On the contrary, if not, you’ll do it with a breeze.
Sitting beside the road, after watching the Lakademus pass, lightning struck our fate as we meet Auntie Tuka in the line, on our side of the road. She immediately forced us to join her and thus began the 5 km walk and stopping at 8 stops or armida, each representing the one of the 8 main tribes of Larantuka and 8 steps of the story of Jesus crucifixion. It was a gruesome 4 hour of walking, waiting and praying. At each stop, there would be a greeting, a prayer, a women singing a sad Portuguese song as if she was crying, Portuguese Gregorian song (which I really like and gives me the chill) and then another prayer. I can’t imagine what the Lakademu must have felt to carry such a heavy box all the way.
Each armida was decorated and prepared to greet the Tuan Ana and Tuan Ma party. Each were completed with a mini altar, a light shining on it, and candles surrounding it. It felt like a pilgrimage in a way. People bare the walk to feel some suffering of what Jesus felt. If he could for them, at least they should for themselves. That’s probably the principle. What was weird for me was, I’ve never done the Moslem pilgrimage and yet, eventually I learned the cost of the Flores journey in total was about half of the Moslem one to Saudi Arabia. I should have my priorities checked. It’s never too late. After that 4 hours, Cindy and I decided that we’d skip the last stop when the statues went back in to the main church. We duck out of the line to then wait on the side to finally see Tuan Ma pass by. Auntie Tuka said that she was a lot beautiful in the past. For me, honeslty, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. She had this ‘acceptance’ look on her face. Not really sure how to interpret it any other way. Ending at the Pohon Sirih chapel, we called it a night and snoozed of easily because it really was a tiring experience.
The next morning, we packed our gear, prepared breakfast with the family in the kitchen, while having our last gossip and photos of course. We then had our small breakfast, and set for more of Flores. We bid farewell to Auntie Tuka and her generous family, half of them still asleep because of their late duties, and teased No endlessly. There is no fulfilling experience than to live with the locals. Would you let me crash your house?
Crime committed: Did not try any local foods. Guilty, your honor! But in my defense, we did do the search. Whatever it was, it was not commonly sold. However, we did sample the snack department. Flores is known for its ‘Jagung titi’ or squashed corn. It’s basically crushed corn seeds and then fried. It tastes like popcorn. I’ve had it a few times in Wetar but didn’t know its origin was Flores. There are a few ladies jumbled up, all selling these local popcorn. I don’t know about you, but I’m confused about the competition here. Is ‘who gets the customer’ merely about fate?
And speaking of fate, I was destined to regret. I bought a bag of jagung titi without trying them first. Bleh! It tasted awful. I’m sure the other ladies had better tasting ones :D. But it was an ice breaker for me to take pictures of the ladies selling this snack. Moral of the story: If you can try it first (as I could have in this case), then please don’t hesitate!
Air Susi air does flights from Kupang to Larantuka a few times a week. Tickets are sold for a solid IDR 700,000 / pax in any season be it high or low. Land Larantuka can be accessed by land from Maumere. Cindy and I happen to fly in to Maumere to which we continued to Larantuka with a private taxi. Fortunately, the taxi belonged to our host family, thus we could get one under short notice. Pak Yohan had been driving his ‘taxi’ for a few years and says it’s a great job since he is his own boss. But we did pay according to the market standard, 500,000 for the 2 hour trip. We considered it worth it, especially since we were crashing at his mothers place. The ride was awesome, going uphill to then come back down to the coast. The view was eye candy since it was basically untouched. Tropical forest were the gateways to Larantuka.
Aaaannnddd… Pak Yohan let me drive the car for a few k’s, between the great landscape of Flores. It was breath taking. I didn’t continue driving far because the roads were pretty narrow and it was hard for me to overtake since motorcycles seem to pop up like popcorn. Pak Yohan did it better anyways, and we could get in town faster. But really, I had to catch up and gossip with Cindy on the way 😛 Not sure if he speaks English but might as well give it a shot. Yohan… Another option, which we took on our way back to Waiterang-Maumere, was the bus. A mere 40,000/pax will take you to Waiterang for about 3-4 hours. The busses are nice and clean to start with. Some busses run all the way to Labuan Bajo. Just lurk around the bus station not far from Larantuka.
Angkots, colorful and loud, are scattered all over the town. Direction wise? Better ask the driver where he’s heading and if he passes your destination. Then pay up a mere 2,000 / pax. Ojegs are also all over the place. You can find them in bunches at some corner, or they can be another person stopping by near you and offering services. You can’t really be sure. Price is about haggling. Don’t like it? Tough!