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Wooden Carvings of Women and Life

Carved

My Lonely Planet for Indonesia is well-thumbed through and full of creases, circles with “must go here” and “what was the writer thinking? Jakarta and Bandung are great” comments. For better and most definitely for worse, the Lonely Planet guide from 2009 is one of the few, and the by far the biggest, guidebook to Indonesia that is easily found at bookstores abroad. Only one of the contributing authors for the Indonesian edition was a woman, which is one of my major complaints. I have heard many complaints from local guides that the Lonely Planet has created plenty of issues for them, especially the prices that are almost five years old and with inflation in Indonesia, completely outdated. So they have to deal with tourists demanding the price printed in the book. When Pak Ardi saw my Lonely Planet sticking out of my bag, he took it as a challenge. “I will take you places not in the book,” and thus began our day.

Center

We drove to the village of Wologai and the first thing I saw was a woman in a bright red sweater who had bright red teeth from chewing betel nut. The village does get some foreign visitors, but as soon as people heard Pak Ardi speaking in Indonesian with me, they were very curious and wanted to chat. A village elder, Martinus Wuta, became our de facto guide.

Breasts

I was immediately attracted to the wooden carvings on the traditional homes. In the photo above you’ll notice round carvings. They are meant to look like breasts. The breast carvings symbolize where life comes from: women. Villagers explained to me that you are born to a house and life comes from that house and from the mother you are born to. The carvings are prominently featured on the homes. In the local dialect, bahasa Lio, wolo means mountain. An intentional symbolism and connection or not, I thought it was beautiful.

Carved

At the same time, photos of men hang on the walls of some homes. I wish I could have spent a few days here to really learn about the carvings and traditions, so I hope some anthropologist somewhere gets inspired.

Portraits

The one area I was not allowed to visit was the elevated platform in the middle of the village. It is used for ceremonies. Pak Ardi told me September is the month for rituals and ceremonies that unite the community and other neighboring villages are also invited.

Shaded

If a family owns seven houses or more, it means they come from a large family and must also own land. The roofs of the traditional homes are made from palm, elephant grass and moss.

Homes

Traditions Kept Alive

Martinus and Pak Ardi asked that I take a photo of them. So here it is, my two tour guides:

Making Friends

From Wologai we continued driving across ruggedly beautiful Flores. And for the third time, Pak Ardi picked an incredible little wooden shack, perched high up on a mountain above the sea for our coffee stop of the day.

Blue Me Away

Coffee Break

Oh the View

We passed the Abu Lobo volcano, it means grandparents on top, during our drive. A reminder that Indonesia is located on the volcanic ring of fire.

Volcano

Up Close

We made one stop before the incredible coffee break and I was so taken with the place, that about 100 photos later Pak Ardi had to drag me away. It deserves its own post…coming soon.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful shots Lydia! I really enjoy your anecdotes as well, and not just because I love that part of the world. The carvings are fascinating – on the window/door in the third photo, were the handles meant to represent male and female?

    As an aside, how does kopi from Flores compare to the ones in California? Have you found good sambal and tempe back home?

    February 20, 2013
    • Thanks for the nice comment, James. I am not sure about the handles, but I did read online that some homes are supposed to represent males. I would love to find out more.

      As far as coffee, I’m still drinking Indonesian coffee in the US! It’s my favorite. Luckily sambal has become popular in the US, so you can usually find some bottled in the Asian section of grocery stores, just not as good as homemade. I am lucky because there is an Indonesian restaurant in my hometown in California. And whenever I travel to NYC, I love to go to Upi Jaya, SBY gets his food from there when he is at the UN: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/nyregion/upi-jaya-restaurant-in-queens-anchors-an-indonesian-community.html?_r=0

      February 20, 2013
  2. Love this post Lydia! I have a Lonely Planet Indonesia, and as Pak Ardi said there are a lot of “hidden gems” which are not covered in the guidebook. I remember perusing a region and thought “hmmm, I wonder why this place is not in the guidebook”. So it’s really nice that you had Pak Ardi as your guide. As with the comments above, I’m really impressed that you still drink Indonesian coffee! I never realized it was that good until I tried coffee in other places. In fact the best coffee that I’ve ever tasted is a traditional Javanese coffee that my cousin-in-law made. I don’t know where the coffee came from though.

    February 20, 2013
    • Thanks, Bama. Just curious, what were some places you enjoyed traveling to that were left out of the Lonely Planet? Also, Sumatran coffee is very popular at Starbucks in America, but at $18 a bag, mahal sekali!

      February 20, 2013
      • Oh in fact I haven’t been to the places that I meant. I remember one day looking up Belitung in the guidebook, to no avail. There is also another place in Jogja called Gua/Goa Jomblang, which is also not mentioned in the guidebook. Yeah, $18 for a bag of coffee is memang mahal sekali. The next time you come to Indonesia, you need to bring bags of coffee to the States! :)

        February 21, 2013
  3. Lydia, You’ve got to love a guide who will take you to places that aren’t in the book! I love this post because in all my travels I’ve never encountered the concept of being “born to a house.” So fascinating. Having moved a million times (seems like) it’s such interesting food for thought. Thanks for an excellent post. All the best, Terri

    February 24, 2013
    • Thanks for reading, Terri. I was fascinated by the concept too. I’ll be posting soon about some other villages I visited on Flores too.

      February 24, 2013

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