Day 18: Bajawa and the traditional Ngada villages

After the spectacular crater lakes of Mt Kelimutu, we got back in the car and more than 3 1/2 hours later, arrived at Bajawa, the area where the Ngada traditional villages are located. The Ngada culture has been preserved because the area is hard to reach. The people traditionally worship their ancestors and practice animism, but now combine this with Catholicism.

To get to these villages was a feat in itself, the very narrow and potholed road was expertly maneuvered by our driver. It was slow going on a sometimes winding road and wet because of the rainy season.

The Ngada villages all live in the shadow of Mt Inerie.

According to the World Monuments Fund: “The Ngada villages … are nestled between two volcanos in the remote inlands of the island of Flores. These communities are characterized by a distinctive form of vernacular architecture that has survived despite the globalizing forces of the twenty-first century. The number of houses (sa’o) and shrines for male and female ancestors (ngadhu and bhaga) in a given village is determined by the number of clans or families (suku) in the village, and must remain constant over time. The buildings reflect traditional beliefs and are decorated with images of buffalo, chickens, horses, humans, weaponry, and other forms, each with the purpose of protecting the inhabitants of the villages and ensuring their sustainable harmony with ancestral spirits and the environment.”

We visited the villages of Luba and Bena. The first village we went to was Luba. Here’s what we saw.


Bhaga (female) shrines symbolize the sanctuary of the house and the female body.
Ngadhu (male) shrines symbolize fierceness and virility.
A video of Luba village.
This woman greeted us to the village, asked us to sign the visitor book and make a donation to the village collective.

The Ngada are a matriarchal society and the women are the head of the clan. It’s also the women, and not men, who inherit the land from their parents. When a man marries, he moves in with the woman and her family.

Many houses had water buffalo horns and also wild boar jaws (below) adorning their houses. The more horns, the more powerful and wealthier the family. The animals are sacrificed during traditional ceremonies.

I spoke to these children in Bahasa and could ask them their names and ages. They were ages 4 and 5 and weren’t old enough to go to school yet. Photo by Paul
This boy was amusing himself with his toy made of bamboo, wood and a stone wheel.
A Catholic school is located in Luba village and children from the surrounding Ngada villages attend the school. Paul, being a teacher, looked in on a couple of the classrooms and spoke to the principal.


Bena is a larger Ngada village close to Luba and consists of 45 houses. Instead of a donation, we paid an entrance fee of about $2.50 AUD each. There was an information centre explaining Ngada culture in English and Bahasa. It was low season when we visited so there weren’t many tourists when we came. We had the whole village to ourselves for most of the time we were there.

So many water buffalo horns and wild boar jaws!

According to the information centre, “People living in Bena are generally Catholic but their traditional faith to their ancestors whom is believed always presenting among them in every situation and its custom ceremonies and rituals are still well preserved until now.”

The poor dog was tied up, but the rooster wasn’t.
Paul and Elina choosing hand-woven bracelets.
Elina chose mine.
The carvings on the houses have a particular meaning, for example, the horse means that a person “must strive with all his strength like a horse to get abundant harvests.”
Candlenuts drying on a sheet. The information centre says that the Bena people depend on farming for their livelihood, harvesting candlenuts, cocoa and cloves.
This woman was working on a weaving. The loom is made of bamboo and wood. She had betel nut-stained teeth and she made one up to chew on while we were there — watch the video below.
We bought this weaving, made with natural dyes, from Christina. She was very happy because we paid her the asking price. It takes about a week to complete a weaving this size. She was so happy she gave us a bunch of finger bananas, which was perfect because we were hungry and ate the whole bunch!
A video of Bena village.
We loved visiting Bena!

Heading back to Bajawa

We stopped at this fruit and vegetable stand as Elina was craving avocado on toast.

All the trucks on the road had a ridiculous amount of decals and stuffed animals and what-have-you obscuring their view. How they drive on these windy roads with these obstructions is a mystery.

Malanage Hot Spring, Bajawa

We finished off the day with a visit to some natural hot springs, which runs into a river, so the closer to the river you are, the cooler the water.

The guy with the dreads is our driver, Orfan.
Just chillin’, er, warmin’ in the hot springs.

Thanks so much to our wonderful driver Orfan. He’s the nephew of Robert at Palm Bungalows in Moni.