Like their neighbours, the Alor islanders are of Papuan origin which is reflected in their appearance and traditional culture which remains a part of their everyday life to this day. A visit to Takpala village about 45min from Kalabahi offers a rare glimpse into the fascinating culture of the Alorese indigenous group.
In times past, the Alorese resided in small villages in the mountainous interior of Alor Island where they remained relatively isolated right up until Indonesian independence in 1945. Ritual dancing called lego-lego, was the heart and soul of Alorese culture. Dancing was used to mark important events like first harvest, marriages, death and war. Traditionally, Alorese villages were arranged so that the houses encircled a dance place called a masang, with each lineage having its own masang. Stilted, pyramid roofed family homes, called fala were constructed of wood, bamboo and thatching. The same design was applied to the kadang’s, much larger, decorated lineage houses where feasts were held.
Standing within the traditional Alorese society was determined primarily by an individual’s wealth. In a similar way to how we use money today, the Alorese employed a payment system involving small bronze drums called mokos, pigs and gongs. These assets, particularly mokos, were used to make payments for marriages, funerals, and the construction of new lineage houses and even for the payment of interest on loans. The more mokos, gongs and pigs a man amassed, the more prestigious his standing.
No one quite knows where the moko drums came from. Some scholars believe they originated from the Dong Son region of Vietnam but how they came to Alor Island is another mystery. Local legend has it that the moko’s were found buried in the ground. Given that moko’s have been dug up even in recent times, it may not be all that far-fetched.
In Takpala, many villagers continue to live in traditional huts. Moko’s and gongs are no longer used as payment although pigs are widely traded. Village women still produce clothing from tree bark using a centuries old process. Important events are still hailed with lego-lego dancing, although as a sign of the times, it is now more often performed for the trickle of tourists passing through.
Thousands of these mysterious drums were found buried all over the island of Alor. The designs indicate they are either from the13th century in Java or from Viet Nam or China in 700BC. Today these Moko Drums are highly prized by the Alorese and are an essential part of a bride’s belis (dowry). Today a person’s status in the community is assessed by the number of drums they posses.
Arriving in the village of Traditional Takpala you, you will be greeted with Legos-Lego Dance by local residents. Takpala typical dance is done in bulk by holding hands in a circle. Facing inward and clasping each other around the waist a human chain marches round and round chanting and following the beat of the Moko drums. Lego-Lego Dancers wearing traditional clothing, while women’s hair is left loose. A unique rhythm is created by the synchronized movement from the clanging of the brass ankle bracelets.
How to get there
Administratively, Takpala Traditional Village is situated in the hamlet III Kamengtaha, Overtime Village West, North West District of Alor, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. Access to Alor is now much easier. From Kupang, the available aircraft to fly to Alor which operates five times a week. In fact, there is also a carrier aircraft serving the route from Surabaya and Jakarta to Mali Airport in Alor.
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