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, 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.