In the village of Wae Rebo, visitors can see mbaru niang – traditional, circular cone-shaped houses with very unique architecture. Nowadays, it is still a place to hold meetings, rituals and Sunday-morning prayers together.
The village can only be reached by way of a three-hour hike (depending on your physical condition) from the lowlands. The hike is definitely worth the effort: the dense rain forest along the narrow path to Wae Rebo is one of a stunning biological diversity. Not only does it host interesting vegetation, including orchids, palms, and different ferns, but also an impressive population of singing birds.
Wae Rebo has been supported to become the major culture tourism attraction in West Flores. Together with a team of Jakarta-based architects and the Indonesian government, the local community renovated four of their mbaru niang – or ‘drum houses’ in the Manggaraian language.
The circular, cone-shaped buildings were all rebuilt in a traditional way. In contrast today’s rectangular buildings, the hearth is situated in the center of the house. The massive roof, made out of palm fiber, is supported by a central wooden pole. The ceremonial house – differing in size from the other buildings – is the place where sacred heirloom drums and gongs are stored, and where different ceremonies and rituals are held. This house is a communal building, gathering eight families who are descended from a common ancestor under its huge roof. Its structure symbolizes the unity of the clan, with the sacred drums considered the clan’s medium to communicate with the ancestors.
When you visit Wae Rebo, you will not only see the authentic Manggaraian housing, but also get an opportunity to experience the daily life of the local people. Most of the people work in their gardens from early morning until dawn, busy with harvesting coffee and processing the beans. Even though weaving is not a major activity in Wae Rebo, you may encounter some women weaving traditional songket cloth. Visitors are welcome to spend the night in the mbaru niang, and to socialize and dine with the Wae Rebo community. You will sleep on a tikar, a woven mat made out of pandanus leaf, in the mbaru niang, and get a taste of how life used to be when the extended families still lived their lives under one roof.
The trek to Wae Rebo is about seven kilometres long and is very decidedly uphill, meaning that this is an endeavour best left to the physically fit. Think twice about bringing kids along, as the trail is steep and a bit hard to follow, and often quite slippery when rain falls. And try not to be discouraged as friendly Wae Rebo natives in their late 70s sprint past you on the trail, barefoot, and carrying huge loads on their heads.
You'll be rewarded with amazing views of the sea below as well as diverse jungle foliage and frequent sightings of tropical butterflies, birds and monkeys. Nearer to Wae Rebo, you can see forest plantings of cassava, taro, coffee, and cacao beans in the misty cloud forest surrounding the village.
Be sure to use sunscreen, and bring plenty of water and rain gear -- it's often damp here. Remember not to take photos of Wae Rebo before you approach. All visitors need to undergo a welcoming ceremony at the main drumhouse to placate the spirits before they can start snapping away. It's a basic politeness.