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August 24th, 2011 | Asia

Watuneso Village Visit…

Cornelius, the guy I had met on the ferry from Sumbawa to Flores, was just about the only Indonesian on board who spoke any English, and we had spent a good deal of our time together discussing both my journey, and his life in Indonesia.

He lived in the village of Watuneso, about 90 km north of Ende, where he also had a house that allowed him to experience the best of both worlds… He was curious and inquisitive by nature and spent his time in Ende making use of the internet to quell his curiosity about a host of different topics, including politics and the marketing of his region to tourists…

Traditional homes built on a slope near the town of Moni...

He had given freely of his time and advice whilst we ploughed our way across the Flores Sea, and also took time to chat to Audrey and Nicolas, the French couple I met on the boat…

More roadworks...!! It seemed that the entire network of roads on the island was under construction...!!

In Labuanbajo, he had hopped on a bus to Ende, the same day I had visited Rinca Island, and then sent me a text to advise that he had arrived safely, had spoken to his family, and they would be proud to meet me upon my arrival in Ende…!!

When I finally reached Ende, after an incident packed ride, I called him from near the entrance to the main street that runs the length of it, and a short while later, astride his scooter with his girlfriend tucked up behind me, he led me to his modest home…

He introduced me to his elderly mother and a few other relatives and friends who were gathered there, and then we sat drinking coffee on his wide patio, while the ladies bustled about in the kitchen, preparing something for us to eat…

It was at this point he began describing life in his home village and told me about the new roof which was being put on the most important and sacred building in the region, the chief’s house…

He then invited me to visit the village to see the construction for myself, and suggested I do so on my way to Larantuka, which I would be setting out for after my visit to Kelimutu Volcano…

The Watuneso village senior council, with Chief Jonni in ornage jacket holding his daughter...

“I will meet you in the main market which lies on both sides of the main road to Maumere…!!” he had offered, and considering the kindnesses he had shown to me since we first met, it was an offer I could hardly refuse…

On the day in question, I had loaded up the Big Fella, and under cloudy skies made my way back to Moni, passing the turnoff to Kelimutu, and then heading east towards Wolowaru and Cornelius’s village which lay a short distance beyond that…

It took two and a half hours to get there, and as promised, Cornelius was waiting on the main road for me… I followed him on his scooter, bumping our way down a badly surfaced road for about a kilometre before stopping next to a large pile of bamboo cuttings that lay on the road side…

A large tarpaulin had been erected in the village square, and standing on the edge of this was the tall skeletal frame of a roofless building, which I took to be the chief’s house…

A large crowd of men were gathered under the canvas, apparently awaiting my arrival… I was introduced to the chief of the village, a short, elderly man who at the time was wearing a yellow hardhat… If I had been asked to guess who the chief of this village was from the crowd of men that were assembled there, he would probably have been my last guess…!!

Only a few of the men spoke a smattering of English, so it was left to Cornelius to translate their questions to me and mine to them… I asked permission to video the villagers and the work they were doing, and conducted an impromptu interview with the chief and his council…

They led me to an open area a short distance away to show me their sacred stone and the graves of previous chiefs buried there… This was where the villagers gathered for their ceremonies it was explained, and held meeting to discuss any laws that Chief Jonni and his council passed down to the six villages that fell under his rule…

I was shown the components that make up a thatch roof...

The sacred Stone of the Watuneso village...

I was shown how the chiefs house would be thatched, using the materials that had been brought form far off Maumere, and the lining of dark grasses that acted as waterproofing, and was packed between the two layers of thatch…

Cornelius joined a small group of musicians up on a small stage and demonstrated how the various instruments were played…

I was invited to take a seat next to the chief under the tarpaulin, and then a young woman came from a home nearby, carrying a tray filled with glasses of black coffee… A special, larger glass of Nescafe was brought to me on a separate tray, and then after a short speech wherein they thanked me for taking the time to visit their village, we settled down to drink our coffee…

Presenting the Watuneso Trio... Playing tunes that will set your eardrums buzzing...!!

Chief Jonni's daughter and niece... My mind and heart flew unbidden to a time long ago in a far off place, where two little girls had once posed for many similar photographs...

This elderly villager joined us for coffee...

A tray bearing numerous cups of black coffee was brought forward...

Questions were being fired at me left, right and centre, and it took Cornelius some time to translate everything…

I was asked if I had any children, to which I replied that I had two daughters…

The chief called for his wife to bring his own daughter and niece forward to meet me, and they stood shyly by while I took a few photographs of them…

I looked around me then and wondered what the future held for these two little girls… Would they escape the constraints of this poor village and make it to a place where they would be properly educated, or were they destined to follow in the footsteps of the other women of the village, carrying firewood and water to their homes and tilling rice paddies and small vegetable gardens to feed their families…??

Then the chief’s wife reappeared with a sarong and a wide brown sash for me, and I was encouraged to put them on while the men clapped and laughed…

The sarong was a “tube-like” affair, which I had to step into and then pull up like a skirt… Chief Jonni placed the sah over my shoulder and then holding my hand, led me towards his house…

We paused on the steps while a short prayer was muttered, asking for the spirits permission to allow me to enter… Apparently receiving the nod from on high and all around, we climbed a short flight of steps and then crossed a porch, removed our shoes and boots, and stepped through a large carved double door, and into the house…

Dressed for the occasion, Gb poses with Cornelius and Chief Jonni...

Standing near the small altar where offerings are made...

With its old thatch removed, the roof was open to the sky, and the cross beams of the high and narrow pitched roof soared above us…

The walls were made of woven matting using the leaves of palm trees, and these were then nailed to the timber frame that the house was made up of…

It smelled of mildew and I wondered how much rain had fallen since they had removed the original thatch…!!

In the corner stood a small circle of rocks and in their centre a pile of ashes…

“This is where Jonni gives thanks and makes offerings to our gods on behalf of the village…” Cornelius explained, with much nodding of the head from Jonni…

He went on to point out where the chief cooked, where he slept and a small alcove where items that had belonged to former chiefs and held a significant place in their folklore of the village, were stored… The pile included dried gourds, a few oddly shaped stones and what looked like a metal frame with wire cross-ties…

I was not allowed to touch anything in the house and was guided by Cornelius as we walked from one wall over to the another…

The house was basically a room within a larger room… The chief slept in the outer room with his wife and children, while the inner room serves as a kitchen and meeting place…

Skulls of various animals that had been hunted in the surrounding forests, hung from the ceiling, one of them, a small deer, at the height of my own face…

The vast majority of the villagers were all much shorter than I was, so I guess to them, the skull was hanging out of harm’s way…!!

It was explained to me that this building was the tallest of its type in the entire region of Ende, and perhaps even all of Flores… I watched a trio of villagers high above me nailing new cross-members to the main frame, moving about without any safety ropes attached to their lean muscular bodies…

“Clearly no building inspector within miles of here…!!” I thought wryly…

Cornelius explains all about the Sacred Pole...

Back outside, I led to the sacred post… This turned out to be a thick piece of bamboo driven into the ground near the corner of the house… It was usually connected to the house, and formed a conduit between heaven and earth…

“Heaven comes down through the top of the roof, and travels down this pole to reach the ground, and in this way, the two are joined…” Cornelius said…

I wanted to ask if heaven had been disconnected from the earth due to the pole no longer being attached to the house, and what effect that was having on the psyche of the village, but thought better of it…!!

I had been in the village for almost two hours when I whispered to my host that I needed to get going soon if I was to reach Larantuka before nightfall…

“Yes, yes…!! You still have a long way to go…!! It is about seven hours by bus from here, but on your machine…” he said pointing towards the Big Fella with his chin, “Maybe only five hours…!! But be careful my friend, the next section of road is not very good…!!”

“Which part of the roads in Flores are good, Cornelius…??” I asked with a grin…

He laughed loudly at this and translated our conversation to the villagers closest to us… They smiled and broke into laughter of their own, pointing at me and slapping each other on the back…

I stood then and made a short speech of my own to the assembled crowd, who had watched me enter and exit the chief’s house in complete silence…

I thanked them for inviting me here and for the hospitality they had shown me. I promised to write about my visit and hopefully encourage more people to visit villages such as this one that were off the beaten track traveled by most tourists…

I wished them good fortune for the future and reminded them to invest and look after their children who would be the ones that carried their traditions forward…

At this they burst into loud applause and surged forward to shake my hand and thank me again…

They gathered around as I shed the clothing they had lent me, folded it neatly and gave it back to Jonni’s wife, then shrugged into my jacket…

This is where Cornelius lives when he is not in Ende...

Goodbye to a good friend... Cornelius of Watuneso village, Flores...

They stood waving goodbye as I followed Cornelius back down the rutted and potholed road that led back to the main road to Maumere…

We stopped there and I shook hands with Cornelius, promising to send him further details on my journey via email, and finally, after a quick hug, he got back on his scooter and led me a short distance down the main road before pulling over and waving me past…

I had been humbled by what I had seen in the village of Watuneso… A people living in what were very basic conditions, but were apparently happy with their lot in life, asking and expecting little from the outside world, living a life of subsistence, somehow in touch with their mixture of Christian and Animist beliefs…

They had explained how everything on earth and in the sky was connected to everything else, and that the Spirit lived and breathed in all we saw and did…

I thought about this all the way to Paga, where I stopped an hour later to refuel…

Despite the intense humidity, I leapt off the bike with a large smile and greeted the small crowd waiting for fuel… My friendly demeanor must have been infectious, because within minutes we were all laughing and smiling at nothing in particular…

I gave silent thanks again for the privilege I had been granted to travel as far and wide as I was, and the chance meetings, like the one with Cornelius, that had led to another experience that would remain with me forever…

 ©GBWT 2011

4 comments to Watuneso Village Visit…

  • Mark Behr

    Nice experience. You look okay in a dress Mr B!

  • Jean,,

    Wow, it’s such an amazing experience..i also come from watuneso village…

  • Jean,,

    it’s amazing…

  • Kornelis Wiriyawan Gatu

    My friend Ronnie, here me your friend Cornelius from Watuneso, it’s amazing story and beautifull picture. I be proud of this story and our experience. On 20 October 2012, I just finished my Postgraduate Master Of Law Program in Merdeka University in Malang East Java Indonesian. Now, I am here in Malang and few weeks more I will back to Watuneso Our Village not my village only. Local people here be proud of your time to visit there and for them, you are one of the Brother of Watuneso villager.The roof of tradisional house in Watuneso is finished and you can see the new picture in my Blogger. Kornelis Wiriyawan Gatu and my email: anakwanes@yahoo.com or contact me by mobile phone; 082132388704. Tell your friends and brothers to visit Watuneso and find the friendly people here. Thank you,,I hope your succsesfully. Cornelius Watuneso.

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