9 Water Buffalo and 100 Pigs

Our first day in Bajawa, we walked to the bus station in search of a ride to Wogo—a nearby megalithic village. I was particularly interested in this village, as I was intrigued by it’s split nature—new Wogo contained the current inhabitants, who had left old Wogo a hundred years ago, where their megalithic stone alters still remained. I did my best to put a puzzled expression on my face as I stared at the bus schedule, hoping someone would come up to me and offer transportation. I didn’t have to try very hard to look puzzled, as I didn’t understand a single thing scrawled upon the wall. My strategy finally worked and a man walked up to us, and lacking a mutual language, we secured a ride to the village by bartering via calculator.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from our visit. I felt a bit awkward-I had no idea if we were welcome guests or purely a nuisance. We walked gingerly through the gate and took in our surroundings. Fourteen or so bamboo houses surrounded an open square, which contained a number of other smaller bamboo and straw structures. Within a couple minutes, a woman with a baby swaddled against her walked out of one of the houses and introduced herself, asking if we’d like to see the village. Bless up.

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Over coffee fresh from their fields, she shared a wealth of information with us and answered all of my questions. She shed light on how the villages in the area differ politically and I was fascinated that villages so close to one another could operate so differently. She explained the split of new Wogo and old Wogo as a result of events that had occurred close to a hundred years ago. Two families had gotten into a fight and someone had died, and as a result they could no longer live on their original land–bad energy she explained. A chief from a nearby village had offered for them to move to their land–generously offering to share it between the two villages. That chief was the current chiefs grandfather, who viewed the agreement quite differently, resulting in the current status quo. After finishing our coffee, we thanked her and parted to hike through a bamboo forest to visit old Wogo and its ancient stone alters. There were no houses left-not even their remnants remained. Only the giant megalithic stone structures stood in the grassy field. I wondered how many animals had been sacrificed on their smooth surfaces.

The next day we found two guides by the names of Iggy and Fred who took us on an unforgettable day to a number of other traditional villages as well as some hot springs. We first visited Luba village, which was pretty small, like Wogo. I walked around studying the intricately woven fabric hanging outside the houses and the many water buffalo horns and pig skulls on display–remnants of those animals sacrificed to bless the house at the time it was built.

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We next visited Bena village, which has become the main tourism attraction of the area. There is even an information center to greet visitors. Bena is huge compared to the other villages, and had a lovely look out point that jutted out over the scenic valley below. People there were very friendly, and I exchanged morning pleasantries with a smile on my face, finally feeling comfortable with the bit on Indonesian I had picked up. The number of tourists at Bena made me grateful we had visited the smaller villages, where we had been the only guests.

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Our last stop was Nage village, where we were lucky enough to catch a house blessing ceremony in full swing. Fortunately the animals wouldn’t be sacrificed until the next day, so we were able to enjoy the dancing, costumes, and festivities sans the blood from nine water buffalo and a hundred pigs, whose lives would soon be taken. It was a mesmerizing experience—we sat on the porch of the new house for hours, taking in the drums, the dancing, and the incompressible blessings spoken into a microphone by person after person. We were fed rice, offered pork (I declined), and palm wine—which reminded me of kombucha and thus I obviously enjoyed it immensely. While some regarded us skeptically (as they had every right to) others who knew English chatted with us and narrated to me the different stages of the celebration.

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As the afternoon wore on, I heard the squeals of a pig, and realized it was about to be sacrificed. My stomach clenched up and I braced myself for the horrendous sounds that followed. I looked down at the ground in front of me and tried not to be obvious about my disgust. The proper way to sacrifice a pig is to strike it repeatedly with a machete between the eyes, until it is dead. I swear they were holding the microphone up to it so that the village could hear the sounds in full. I wave of nausea hit me—I wanted to leave but I didn’t want to appear ungrateful for their hospitality. Thankfully, a few minutes later Iggy caught sight of my face and asked if I wanted to leave. Usually I loathe my inability to disguise my feelings but this time I didn’t mind. I think many people in the developed world live in denial about the things they eat, never having to kill themselves. Here, live chickens are dragged by the feet from the backs of motorcycles and live goats are strapped to the tops of cars. I want to be clear that I despise sacrificing an animal on an alter no more than I despise how animals are killed in the United States. If anything, the pig in Flores most likely lived a far better life before it was killed than it would have in my own country. But it doesn’t make it any easier to listen to it being murdered.

To end the day, we visited some hotsprings, where a hot river and cold river join to create a marvelous phenomenon of choose-your-own temperature spa. The river babbled peacefully and jungle overhang created a relaxing green ambiance. We passed three lazy hours there, until my fingers and toes were prunier than I’d ever seen them. It was a great way to decompress after all of the day’s events.

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Flores continues to amaze me—the generosity and friendliness of the people here overshadow anything I’ve ever experienced in the states, or most other countries for that matter. I’m almost always greeted with a smile and a hello, even as a complete stranger who doesn’t speak their language. It’s a pretty incredible place that is a collision of all things I love—history & culture, ocean & jungle, remote mountaintops and intimate towns. It’s still so untouched by tourists’ corrosive fingers. I spend a lot of time wondering how long it will remain that way.

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