11 December 2010
Last trip to Flores, one cultural aspect that I didn’t have the opportunity to experience was the traditional dance – ‘caci‘ so this time…I was determined to see it and went to great lengths to organise it! It was well worth it – even if it was organised especially just for me!
‘Caci’ is derived from ‘ca’ meaning ‘one’ and ‘ci’ meaning ‘test’. The ‘caci’ or ‘warrior dance’ consists of whips, shields, and a long woven cane, which are all symbolic of the traditional beliefs. The locals believe that the whips of the cane symbolize God’s judgements, the protective shield symbolizes the motherland, and the long woven cane or stick means the sky as a protector.
In ancient times the ‘caci’ dance was used for religious rites, weddings and the opening of new fields, however now a days the dance is being used to entertain visitors and tourists.
I travelled by car to ‘Kampung Melo’…to see the ‘Sanggar Budaya Compang To’e Melo’ – this cultural group’s belief is:
‘Pariwisata merupakan jembatan antar bangsa-bangsa dari seluruh dunia, sehingga kita saling mengunjungi dan mengenal juga menyaksikan secara langsung obyek wisata dan seni budaya disetiap Negara dan setiap daerah’.
Which basically translates as:
Tourism forms the bridge between nationalities from all over the world, so that we can both visit and know directly the tourist attractions and the cultural arts in every country and every region.
It was drizzling rain and foggy up in the mountains…after walking up a steep muddy hill…we waited in a ‘bale’ (a wooden or bamboo type gazebo) while one by one the local villagers slowly arrived up the hill…and then started to potter around and do different things. Some were changing into traditional clothes for the ‘caci’…some were busy laying out the straw mats to put on the floor…and some were busy preparing the ‘jungle juice’!
When all of the group members were there…we were ushered upstairs into the wooden house…where I met the village chief and elders – we chatted for quite a long time as we watched the low clouds hanging in the air, as the other group members were still busy preparing things. Then the ‘betel nut’ was bought out…I have never tried it before…and decided this was the time to do it! One of the older women prepared the nut, by wrapping it in the leaf and passing it out to everyone…I chewed the nut slowly and before very long at all, I already had the sensation to spit…it’s a rushing feeling of saliva in your mouth…and the bright red spit is not very attractive at all! I’m afraid to say that I could not finish that ‘betel nut’…
When a core group of members had finished their preparations, they joined us…sitting on the floor…and the ‘jungle juice’ was bought out! It was about 10am! But after the ‘betel nut’…I needed a drink!
The traditional welcome ceremony was about to begin. First, the chief of the village said a mantra whilst holding the wooden jug full of ‘jungle juice’ – (a type of palm wine; arak)… and I also had to hold onto the wooden jug…as if to symbolise the fact that the chief of the village had accepted my visit in the village by the offering of the ‘jungle juice’ and my holding on to the jug represented my thanks in his acceptance. It literally means that the chief of the village has welcomed me into his house, his village as part of the family. Very humbling.
We then went through the process of offering each other money…the chief of the village gave me three 1,000 Rupiah notes…each one represented something different…and I offered, lets just say; quite a lot of money in return…to say thank you for the unique experience of participating in and observing many traditional beliefs and art forms from this tiny village up in the mountains. Pretty cool…
Then we were offered the ‘jungle juice’ in cute little cocount shells!…And we drank! And our cocounut shell’s were continuously topped up! Hehehehe…After a few drinks…it was finally time for the ‘caci’ to begin! We all moved outside…the group taking their various positions depending on their part in the group…the singers were standing in a line on the outskirts of the grassed area and they began to sing. A group of ladies were sitting in a hut playing the traditional instruments.
The men doing the ‘caci’ were starting to move around doing the funniest kind of jumping movement…it was cute! 🙂 The ‘caci’ began by one man trying to strike another man with his whip, and the other man using his shield as defence against the whip. And this continued with different men taking turns to have a go at striking the skin of the competitor.
Although the ‘caci’ looks like a competition to determine winners and losers amongst the men…it is in fact NOT like that at all. The local people believe that the ‘caci’ is a thanks giving ceremony to God and their ancestors for every successful event in their life. The ‘caci’ is performed only to show some one’s ability in the warrior dance and all dancers are said to come away from the dance feeling a deep sense of happiness and peace.
One man was struck by the whip and had a long bleeding gash on his shoulder…I wondered whether he was feeling happiness and peace at the end of it?! He was laughing about it!
After the ‘caci’ finished, then the group of women who had been playing the percussion instruments…began their dance to end the ceremony…
The whole experience was really interesting…I couldn’t take my eyes off the ‘caci’ dance and ended up with loads of photos and video footage of this traditional Manggarai dance. And the ‘jungle juice’ continued to flow long after the ‘caci’ had finished!
Have you seen the ‘caci’ dance? Do you have any cultural information that you can add to my observations and experience?