Tourist Spots in Manggarai Flores
Manggarai is home to Flores’s one-and-only spider web rice fields – the most impressive one being in Cancar. The Transflores ‘highway’ takes you to its capital city, Ruteng, known for its coffee. Other than Cancar, the must-see list includes Tengkulese Waterfall, Wae Rebo: a Manggaraian architectural and cultural icon, and Ruteng Pu’u. Be sure to also witness Liang Bua, particularly for travellers who have an interest in archaeology.
Ruteng, the capital of the Manggarai district, is located at the foot of a high mountain range and in the center of a complicated network of valleys, which flow into the largest rice-producing areas of Flores. Besides, the area around Ruteng is an important Indonesian coffee-producing area.
Due to its high altitude, Ruteng offers a pleasant, cool climate for relaxing. The mainly Catholic town is comparatively large, with supermarkets, various shops, and a soccer stadium. A lively market located towards the south of Ruteng is a central meeting point for people from the surrounding villages.
When driving into Ruteng you will certainly notice the red chapels of the Ruteng Cathedral, standing proudly in the town’s center. If you want to have an inside look, ask for the friendly pastor who is happy to show you the cathedral.
Long-standing traditions are still very much present in Ruteng, e.g. Caci: a whip fight which is an important element of traditional ceremonies. It is therefore often performed during the marriage of the wealthier and more influential Manggaraians. If you would like to experience such a ceremony, just visit the local market and ask the people there. Try to find someone who can translate your questions into the local language to avoid misunderstandings.
In Kampung Ruteng (or Ruteng Pu’u), which used to be an important ritual site, you can see a nice example of Manggaraian ‘compang’, a village center with the typical stone altar. The village is four kilometers north of Ruteng.
The traditional village of Ruteng Pu’u, located 4km from Ruteng, is one of the most popular places to see the traditional compang, a round, stone platform surrounded by a circle of stones and traditional houses.
The compang is the center of traditional ceremonies and rituals, e.g. for sacrificial offerings. An impressive waringin tree (Ficus Benjamina), locally known as a ‘ruteng’, once grew in the center of the compang. It is now replaced by a dadap tree. On the east side of the compang, there are two tall traditional houses with spiked roofs.
Ruteng, which is situated only 4km from Ruteng Pu’u, offers some low-budget accommodation and restaurants.
Ruteng Pu’u can be reached within 10 minutes from the center of Ruteng and is accessible by car, motorbike, or on foot.
Tengkulese Waterfall, which is also referred to as Cunca Lega (cunca means ‘waterfall’ in the Manggaraian language) is named after the nearby village. The water drops over two levels with a promising altitude. Surrounded by a lush forest and rice terraces, it can even be spotted from a distance..
The waterfall can be reached by way of a nice short hike. From Nanu Village, you will have to walk for about 2.5km through a beautiful panoramic landscape with soft green hills, terraced rice fields, and farmers plowing the land with their water buffalos to get to the waterfall. Arriving at the foot of the waterfall, let yourself be impressed by the breathtaking two-tiered waterfall tumbling down from 100m with a massive roaring sound, as well as rays of light creating small rainbows. Hopping over the big brown rocks that spread around the waterfall’s base is a fun thing to do – but watch your step, as it can be slippery. Though the waterfall is indeed very inviting to jump into, it is strongly recommended not to do so because the water is very rough. Further down the stream you can find smaller, calmer pools, which are safer and more relaxing to swim in..
This rewarding trip to Tengkulese can be easily done in combination with a one-day trip to the spider-web rice fields of Cancar or to the Liang Bua archaeological site. The trip to Liang Bua may also be combined with a visit to Liang Nggalang, a limestone cave next to Liang Bua Cave, as well as to Beokina Village, which is wellknown for its traditional houses. Countless beautiful scenic views of rice terraces and villages are spread along the road to Tengkulese. Tebo, which is the closest village to the waterfall, makes a perfect stop or coffee break (ask the local people if you can get a coffee by way of small donation) after the hike to the waterfall..
Wae Rebo is an old Manggaraian village, situated in pleasant, isolated mountain scenery. The village offers visitors a unique opportunity to see authentic Manggarai housing and to experience the everyday life of the local community. In the village of Wae Rebo, visitors can see mbaru niang – traditional, circular cone-shaped houses with very unique architecture. Nowadays, it is still a place to hold meetings, rituals and Sunday-morning prayers together.
The village can only be reached by way of a three-hour hike (depending on your physical condition) from the lowlands. The hike is definitely worth the effort: the dense rain forest along the narrow path to Wae Rebo is one of a stunning biological diversity. Not only does it host interesting vegetation, including orchids, palms, and different ferns, but also an impressive population of singing birds.
Wae Rebo has been supported to become the major culture tourism attraction in West Flores. Together with a team of Jakarta-based architects and the Indonesian government, the local community renovated four of their mbaru niang – or ‘drum houses’ in the Manggaraian language.
The circular, cone-shaped buildings were all rebuilt in a traditional way. In contrast today’s rectangular buildings, the hearth is situated in the center of the house. The massive roof, made out of palm fiber, is supported by a central wooden pole. The ceremonial house – differing in size from the other buildings – is the place where sacred heirloom drums and gongs are stored, and where different ceremonies and rituals are held. This house is a communal building, gathering eight families who are descended from a common ancestor under its huge roof. Its structure symbolizes the unity of the clan, with the sacred drums considered the clan’s medium to communicate with the ancestors.
When you visit Wae Rebo, you will not only see the authentic Manggaraian housing, but also get an opportunity to experience the daily life of the local people. Most of the people work in their gardens from early morning until dawn, busy with harvesting coffee and processing the beans. Even though weaving is not a major activity in Wae Rebo, you may encounter some women weaving traditional songket cloth. Visitors are welcome to spend the night in the mbaru niang, and to socialize and dine with the Wae Rebo community. You will sleep on a tikar, a woven mat made out of pandanus leaf, in the mbaru niang, and get a taste of how life used to be when the extended families still lived their lives under one roof.
With this finding, long-held scientific theories on the evolutionary past of human beings were contested: was there a land connection between mainland Asia or Australia and Flores? Was the isolated island situation responsible for the dwindling size? Did modern human beings cross with the hobbit, or did a volcano eruption end to the hobbit population before modern human beings settled on Flores? Is it really a new kind of human being, or did it suffer from a disease causing dwarfism?
Father Verhoeven, a Catholic missionary of the SVD order, was the first to undertake archaeological excavation in Liang Bua. After Verhoeven, further research by Indonesian archaeologists was undertaken, confirming the assumption of human occupation. Archaeological excavation is still going on, with further discoveries of the bony remains of stegodons, varans, rats, birds, and stone artefacts. Old Manggaraian myths and tales about small people living in caves are still doing the rounds.
The village of Todo in south-central Manggarai is not only one of the few opportunities to see the traditional ceremonial houses; in the past, Todo was also the center of the Manggaraian kingdom and the home of the royal clan.
The clan of Todo had been the dominant power in southern Manggarai long before the Dutch administration started to get involved in local politics. The clan leader was chosen to be King of Manggarai by the Dutch colonial government in 1930. The members of the clan claim that their ancestors came from Minangkabau in Sumatra hundreds of years ago, with a leader named Mashur.
There are many legends about the long journey of these travelers before they presumably entered Manggarai in Warloka. From there, Mashur and his people started a long myth-bound journey through Manggarai, before finally settling down in Todo. As Mashur took a wife from every village that he and his companions passed, the Todo clan now claims an extensive kinship network all over Manggarai. Expanding their influence and control over Manggarai, Mashur’s descendants had to face the animosity of the indigenous Manggaraian inhabitants. After years of strenuous warfare, many of the Manggaraian dalu – the territories under the local leaders before the Dutch administration – were subdued by the royal Todo clan.
In the past, there used to be nine mbaru niang (‘drum houses’) around the compang, the village’s ritual center. Unfortunately, the condition of the houses deteriorated, and by 1980 the houses were ruined forever. With the support of a resident priest who regretted the decay of the local cultural heritage, the reconstruction of one mbaru niang was taken up again in 1992. Today this icon can be enjoyed in its full original beauty.
You can begin village exploration from Watu Todo next to the big waringin tree. This ritual stone is the village’s guardian and symbolizes its power. From there, a stony path will lead you past a set of old British cannons, before you enter the compang, a circular construction made of stones and rocks. From there, you are only a footstep away from entering the ceremonial house. The mbaru niang is conical shaped and has a massive palm-fiber roof that almost reaches to the ground. The wood-piles along the entrance are nicely carved. Inside the house you find the ritual heirloom drums and gongs. The smallest and most valuable drum, also called gendang tutung, or ‘mother drum’, is stored in a separate place. The story is that this drum is partly made out of the skin of a young girl who was killed by her jealous suitors. Because it is so special, it will only be taken out its place for special adat ceremonies – or for desperately curious visitors who are willing to pay a high amount of money to see the sacred object.
In Manggarai you will certainly notice the impressive lingko fields. The most amazing view over a number of these fields is offered at Cara Village situated on a small hill 17km west of Ruteng in Cancar. With their round, spider-web structure, these pieces of land are unique eye-catchers in Manggarai.
Long before wet-rice cultivation, the ancestors of the Manggaraian people grew dry rice, corn, and tubers in the lingko fields. Every village used to own several fields. During planting and harvesting time, ceremonies and ritual offerings were held at the lodok, the ritual center of the lingko. The lodok features a wooden pole and a rock. These two objects symbolize the reunion of the male and female, the heaven and earth, and the creation of mankind. If a new lingko was developed, the sacrifice of a water buffalo was required. The division of a new lingko was guided by the tu’a teno, the Lord of the Land. This traditional leader had the authority over the land and the rituals and ceremonies related to the agricultural cycle. The distribution of the fields to different families was carried out at the lodok. Every family of a community had the right to work a certain piece of land. Depending on the family’s size, the head of the family held a certain number of fingers to the pole in the lodok. The distance between the fingers was marked on this pole. From these two points, lines were drawn to the outer circle of the lingko, defining the size of a family’s land. These pie segments were called moso, which means ‘hand’ in the Manggarai language. The moso were not conceived as the private property of a single person or household. Traditionally the lingko was farmed with a system of shifting cultivation, thus claims of constant land tenure were not yet common. After a two-year utilization period, the old fields were given up, and virgin forest – which in the past was abundant – or former fallow land, was cleared for new fields. Even though these fields still exist today, their agricultural and ritual context has changed drastically.
Nowadays the lingko fields are primarily used for wet-rice cultivation. With the dominance of this new form of farming, the significance of the traditional agricultural
calendar with its rituals and ceremonies, embedded in the planting and harvesting of dry rice and corn, has also faded.
This hill is the best spot to enjoy a 360° panoramic view of the city of Ruteng, the sawah (wet-rice fields), and the surrounding hills which are often covered by small clouds. It is a fantastic place to start a city tour at sunrise, as the first rays of morning sun light the city, hills, and mountains in a heavenly way. Bring your binoculars along to observe birds, and keep an eye out for market plants like coffee, cloves, corn, cocoa, vanilla, and candlenut.
For pilgrims and spiritualists, the Virgin Mary Cave that has been built on top of the hill will provide a place to pray or meditate.
The top of Golo Curu (‘welcome mountain’) can be reached easily on foot. Follow the road to Reo around a kilometer past Losmen Agung. Go straight after the bridge – instead of following the main road which bends to the left – until you come to a church, the Santo Fransiskus Assisi. Behind the church is an unpaved road which brings you to the top in about 20 minutes on foot. The best time for a trip to the top is in the early morning, because in the afternoon the mountains are often obscured by clouds. After climbing for a while you can see graveyards: one for Catholics, one for Chinese and one in between for war heroes.