Ancient Fire – Tribes in Flores

he Ngada people in Flores are still living in an ancient matriarchal society, where women are the head of the clans. When a couple marries, the man moves to live with the woman’s family and works for them. Houses are symbols of female power and the process of building a new house is followed by a ceremony, where men sacrifice animals (a treasure in archaic society), cooking and sharing all in a big feast.

Bena village is seated below volcano Inerie, close to the sea. Ngada people are traditionally animistic and worship their ancestors — today their old beliefs peacefully coexist with their Christianization by the Portuguese centuries ago.

I visited Bena village for a major event, the ritual renewal of a clan house, owned by the matriarch mother. The final part, setting up the roof, is celebrated with music, sacrifices and a feast for the entire community.

Proud mother of a clan in Ngada, watching her men rebuilding her house. Her teeth are black from chewing betel nut, as was common almost everywhere in Asia in the early days. Women in Bali used to do it, even Geishas in Japan.

While the celebration goes on, the black fibers of sugar palms are turned into strings and ropes in a few minutes, used to bind thatch for the roof. It is stunning to see how the old men quickly process natural materials into construction parts of the house, all in a playful manner.

Shaped like an umbrella and covered with thatch, shrines for male ancestors called ngadhu are placed in the center of a village (here behind Moses working on thatch for the roof). Their female counterparts are called bhaga and are shaped like a little house , symbolizing the sanctuary of the family home and the female body. Each clan has such a shrine.

In its matriarchal society, the chief mother of a clan is called Ine. There are also wise old men called Masolaki, who are respected for their experience and living memory of the culture, keeping the village and clan history alive through oral traditions.

The people believe that these megaliths connect them to the supernatural world and help them to communicate with their ancestors.