Ata Sikka

views updated

Ata Sikka

ETHNONYMS: Ata Bi'ang, Ata Krowé, Sika, Sikka, Sikkanese


Identification. The Ata Sikka (ata, "people," "man"), or Sikkanese, are the people of east-central Flores, an Indonesian island, and are located between Lio and Larantuka. Specifically, the name "Sikka" refers to Sikka Natar, the "village of Sikka" on the south coast, the seat of a Portuguese-Christian native rule between the early seventeenth century and 1954. More generally, the term "Sikka" has been applied to the domain under the rule of the raja of Sikka; to the territories claimed by the tributary mountain domains of Nita and Kangae (which were amalgamated with the domain of Sikka in 1929); and, most generally, to all the lands claimed by these three domains, an area roughly equivalent to the former Dutch onderafdeling of Maumere and the present Indonesian administrative region of Kabupaten (regency of) Sikka. The majority of Ata Sikka are concentrated in the western part of their territory. The dialect and customs of the Ata Tana 'Ai of the eastern mountains of Kabupaten Sikka are sufficiently divergent to merit separate description. The terms "Krowé" and "Ata Krowé" have been used by Ata Sikka and commentators alike to refer (a) to the people in the vicinity of Maumere, the port town and administrative center on the north coast; (b) to pagans as opposed to Christians (ata serani ) ; and (c) generally to the once non-Christian mountain peoples (Ata 'Iwang) from Nele to Tana 'Ai, including all of those of the subaltern rajadom of Kangae. It is difficult to ascertain whether the term "Krowé" once referred to a separate ethnic group. The administrative adjustments in this century that made the Sikka territory coincident with the Maumere region provided official Sikkanese control over the western border area of Maumere with a large Lionese population.

Location. The Ata Sikka occupy both the mountains and the coastal stretches of the region of Sikka, a territory extending from the north to the south coast of east-central Flores and roughly from the village of Talibura on the eastern north coast to the river Nanga Bloh in the west (8°30 to 8°47 S; 122°02 to 122°37 E). A broken, eroded, and irregular terrain, a sharp contrast between coast and mountain, and erratic monsoons with a long dry season produce considerable climatic variation. Since the soil is porous and rivers are few, crops are dependent on irregular rainfall. A major problem for all of western Sikka is the lack of sufficient, well-located drinking water.

Demography. The national census of 1980 put the total population of the regency of Sikka at 219,650. This number includes approximately 175,000 people who speak Sara Sikka, the Sikkanese language. The remaining inhabitants are Lionese, who reside mainly in the western part of the district, and Ata Muhang, Lamaholot-speaking people who inhabit the far northeastern region of the district.

Linguistic Affiliation. Sara (way, language) Sikka is an Austronesian language that Wurm and Hattori (1983) include in the Flores-Lembata (Lomblen) Subgroup, Timor Area Group of the Austronesian languages of the Lesser Sunda Islands and Timor. At least three dialects of Sara Sikka can be identified: ( 1 ) that spoken by the people in the region of Sikka Natar, the village of Sikka on the south coast of Flores; (2) Sara Krowé, which is spoken in the central hills of the regency of Sikka; and (3) Sara Tana 'Ai, which is spoken by approximately 6,000 people.

History and Cultural Relations

Native tradition attributes the foundation of the rajadom of Sikka to Don (g) Alésu, an ancestor of the royal house of Sikka Natar, who is said to have journeyed to Malakka where he converted to Christianity. Don Alésu then returned to Flores to found the domain of Sikka and to recognize the rajas of Nita and Kangae as his "left" and "right" hands. Documents from 1613 list Sikka as one of the (Portuguese) Christian states of the area. Under the Dutch, the three native domains and their rulers were separately recognized until 1929, when Nita and Kangae were united with Sikka to form a single domain under the raja of Sikka. The Dutch gave the rajadom of Sikka the status of an autonomous region (daerah swapraja ) under the administrative supervision of the raja of Sikka, who shifted the seat of his government from Sikka Natar to the town of Maumere. The last raja of Sikka to serve as head of government, Ratu Mo'ang Bako Don Josephus Thomas Ximenes da Silva, died in 1952 and within a few years the territory and peoples of the rajadom became part of the modern Republic of Indonesia.


Villages of the central saddle of the district are located along peaks of ridges or on other high points; others stretch along roads or parallel the coast. Houses are arranged in rows, usually along either side of a road or major footpath, with traditional village centers marked by one or more large offering stones (mahé ). Paul Arndt (1933) reports elaborately carved village houses (woga ) containing ceremonial objects (gongs, drums, shields), which were reserved exclusively for men and used as the place of male circumcision in most non-Christian villages. Such ceremonial structures are no longer found in central Sikka. Arndt speculates that formerly villages were divided into clan quarters or neighborhoods. Each clan within a village designated one house as its clan house. Houses of traditional construction are rectangular and raised on posts a meter or more above the ground. In western Sikka, houses consist of two parts: a gallery (tédang ) and an inner room (uné ), with further subdivisions within each part. Such houses increasingly have been replaced by houses constructed directly on packed earth or concrete foundations. Many houses and their courtyards are encircled by low stone walls. During the agricultural season farmers erect makeshift garden huts in distant fields.


In the past, Sikkanese agriculturalists were almost wholly dependent on the shifting cultivation of dry fields. The techniques of shifting cultivation are still employed in the eastern and western regions of the district but the cultivation of a variety of species of the leguminous lamtoro (Leucaena sp.) has increasingly allowed intensive cultivation of permanent unirrigated fields, which has replaced shifting cultivation in much of densely populated central Sikka. The main subsistence crops are rice, maize, and cassava, supplemented by millet, sorghum, and sweet potato. Only the coastal villages have the opportunity for offshore fishing to supplement subsistence agriculture. Commercial fishing, which is a growing industry, is principally in the hands of Butonese, Makassarese, and Chinese entrepreneurs. The traditional economy of central Sikka was radically transformed by the Dutch-induced planting of the coconut palm and sale of copra in the first half of the twentieth century. Clear-cutting of native forests for coconut cultivation and poor management of the coconut plantations resulted in severe degradation of both soil and water resources. In recent years the government has fostered small-scale herding of cattle in some northern coastal areas. Domestic animals include dogs, cats, pigs, goats, ducks, chickens, and horses. Property rights are vested in land, trees, houses, horses, elephant tusks, gold, silver, cloth, and old armaments. The household is the main landowning unit, with residual rights over unclaimed land traditionally belonging to either the "lord of the earth" (tana pu'ang ) or the raja.


Kin Groups and Descent. In central Sikka, a child belongs to his or her father's descent group. The mother's descent group maintains certain ritual rights and obligations over the children of their women who have married men of other groups. A child's mother's brother must, however, receive a prestation of ceremonial goods from his sister's husband's people at the birth of each child, a payment that dissolves any claim to the child as a member of the mother's group, a claim that group might otherwise make. Communities are divided into large, nonlocalized, nonexogamous, named descent groups (ku'at or ku'at wungung ), each recognizing its own founding ancestor, possessing its own "history," and sharing a limited number of ritual prohibitions. In Sikka Natar (the village of Sikka) on the south coast, ku'at wungung are associated with wards within the village.

Kin Terminology. According to Calon and Arndt, there are two published lists of kin terms for western Sikka. Father and father's brother (ama ) are distinguished from mother's brother (pulamé or tiu ) ; mother and mother's sister (ina ) are distinguished from father's sister ('a'a ); cross cousins are distinguished from parallel cousins and according to the sex of the speaker; cross cousins who are potential marriage partners (classificatory as mother's brother's daughter and father's sister's son; however, they address each other as ipar or ipar tu'ang). There are minor variations of relationship terminologies and the classification of kin among the peoples of central Sikka.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. In central Sikka and Sikka Natar, marriage is effected by the payment of bride-wealth, reckoned in goods classified as "male" (horses, elephant tusks, gold and silver coins, and cash). Counterprestations from wife givers to wife takers must be paid in classificatorily "female" goods (cloth, pigs, rice, and household furnishings and utensils). Men representing the wife-giving and wife-taking parties in a marriage formally and ceremonially negotiate bride-wealth. When agreement is reached a pig is provoked until it squeals, thereby announcing the marriage of the couple. A Catholic marriage ceremony follows within a few years, in some cases only after the birth of the first child. Marriage is monogamous. Marriage is forbidden (1) between a parent and child, an uncle and niece, or an aunt and nephew; (2) between siblings; (3) between the children of two brothers or the children of two sisters; and (4) between a boy and his father's sister's daughter. According to Arndt, in the past, the desired marriage was between a boy and his mother's brother's daughter. Since the beginning of this century the marriage of first cousins has been discouraged by the church. The people of Sikka Natar follow a rule of empat lapis (Indonesian: "four layers")marriage between persons related no closer than as third cousins.

The relations of alliance groups in central Sikka, and most remarkably in Sikka Natar, are ordered by complex exchanges of ceremonial goods and ritual services. Particular exchange cycles are initiated by bride-wealth and its counterprestations. While ceremonial exchange and affinal alliance are generally asymmetric, instances of symmetrical exchange occur within the asymmetric pattern. The mutual obligations of affinally related groups last during the marriage of two of their members and are especially important on the occasion of the death of a spouse. Reduced obligations to exchange goods and ritual services continue to link alliance groups after the death of both a husband and wife. Goods received either as bride-wealth (ling wéling, "the clink of the coins"), classificatorily "male" goods, or as counterprestations ('utang labu wawi paré, "cloths, blouses, pigs, and rice"), classificatorily "female" goods, are distributed within the receiving group to persons standing in particular kin or affinal categories to the bride and groom. Of special significance are elephant tusks and ceremonial textiles ('utang ) made by the women of alliance groups. Elephant tusks are nonconsumable goods whose individual movements through exchange chart the histories of alliances in the community. Textiles of a kind and quality suitable for exchange for bride-wealth must be cut, sewn into sarongs, and worn by the women who receive them. They are thus consumable goods that must be constantly replaced by the labor of women. The ceremonial 'utang of Sikka Natar are especially notable in that motifs and the structure of motifs incorporated into the overall design of a cloth encode the maternal and paternal identity of the weaver. Once given in return for bride-wealth and worn by recipient women, these cloths exhibit publicly the identity of the wearer in terms of the alliance system of the community.

Throughout Sikka, marriage is by preference villageendogamous, except that royal and noble houses maneuver to increase their political influence by becoming wife givers to nobles of other villages. Arndt reports that a man may spend a year or more in the house of his wife or alternate residence between his own parents' and wife's parents' house before establishing a residence of his own, a practice still followed in Sikka Natar.

Domestic Unit. A household may include the elderly parents of either husband or wife and a recently married child with spouse. Ten Dam and Arndt report royal houses with up to fifty persons, although the average in Nita is ten per household.

Inheritance. Property is divided among male siblings, but, according to ten Dam, an elder brother may act on behalf of his other brothers to retain intact for another generation the household's dry fields. One child, with spouse, continues to reside with his or her parents and eventually inherits the house.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Documentary sources and contemporary social life indicate a class of nobles (ata mo'ang ) related to the raja of Sikka and the former rajas of Nita and Kangae; a class of freemen or commoners (ata riwung ); and, formerly, a class of slaves (ata maha ) made up of debtors and people captured in wars.

Political Organization. Under the rule of the raja of Sikka in the early 1950s the Maumere region consisted of sixteen parishes, each headed by an officer with the title of kapitan. Each parish was divided into villages, each under a village headman (kepala kampung ). According to Arndt and ten Dam, the traditional political system included titles such as tana pu'ang (lord of the earth) who had ritual rights over the land and authoritative knowledge in questions of adat (traditional) law. The tana pu'ang was regarded as a descendant of the founder of a village area, traditionally at enmity with the raja and his representatives.

Social Control and Conflict. In the period of the rajadom, justice was dealt with by the raja, his representatives, the village headman, and the village elders, including the tana pu'ang. Oaths and ordeals (jaji ) were once part of the judicial process. Most western Sikkanese villages waged limited warfare against the Lionese on their border. Arndt reports that enemy heads were generally hung at the village entrance on the return from a raid; a coconut was then substituted for the head in the performance of village rituals. Contemporary Sikkanese dispute Arndt's reports of headhunting and claim it was exclusively a Lionese practice.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Since the early seventeenth century, Catholicism has been associated with the rule of the rajas of Sikka. As a result, native ceremonial life has been virtually replaced by Catholic ritual. The traditional pantheon consisted of a number of coupled deities of which the classificatorily "female" Nian Tana and "male" Lero Wulang, the surface of the earth and the sun and moon respectively, were preeminent and formed a complementary pair. The Catholic deity is called amapu, a term invented by early missionaries meaning "source father" or "father of generations." The monadic and masculinely identified Catholic amapu stands in marked contrast to the dualistically male and female deity of the traditional religion. In contemporary religious practice, rosary organizations, which celebrate the Virgin Mary as the feminine complement of amapu, are especially prominent, and serve in Sikkanese thought to maintain the complementarity of the male and female elements of the traditional deity. Belief in generally beneficent spirits of the dead persists throughout contemporary Sikka culture, but the Sikkanese speak of a variety of female spirits or paired spirits whose female aspects are particularly dangerous to humans.

Ceremonies. Arndt reports that a major focus of the ancient ceremonial life was a male circumcision and initiation ritual, presided over by the tanah pu'ang; boys were thereafter confined to the village men's house. There were two categories of curer: ata rawing, who were benign curers of either sex, and ata busung, who were predominantly male curers who could diagnose the cause of an illness, extract objects from the body, locate witches, and recall the soul. In contemporary Sikka Natar a few women still serve as ata rawing. Most illnesses were believed caused by contact with objects of sorcery stuff (uru ), by witch's attack, or by confrontation of the soul by a spirit.

Death and Afterlife. At death the corpse was traditionally wrapped with cloth or mats and buried in the ground. Coastal dwellers sometimes used coffins in the shape of boats. A bush, coconut, or jar was placed on the grave. According to Arndt, the soul journeyed either to Lero Walung or to a seven-layered underworld, through which it progressed by dying and being reborn again and by undergoing various ordeals. Contemporary burials are in accord with Catholic practice but are the occasion for the settlement of outstanding debts of bride-wealth and counterprestations.

See also Ata Tana 'Ai


Arndt, Paul (1932). Mythologie, Religion und Magie im Sikagebiet (östl. Mittelflores). Ende, Flores: Arnoldus-druckerei.

Arndt, Paul (1933). Gesellschaftliche Verhältnisse im Sikagebiet (östl Mittelflores ). Ende, Flores: Arnoldus-druckerei.

Calon, L. F. (1893). "Eenige opmerkingen over het dialekt van Sikka." Tijdschrift voor Indische T aal-, Landen Volkenkunde 35:129-199.

Dam, H. ten (1950). Kampung Nita dan Sekitarnja.... Bogor (Java) : Balai Perguran Tinggi, Fakuktet Pertanian, Bahagian Ilmu Eknomi.

Fox, James J. (1972). "Sikanese." In Ethnic Groups of lnsuhr Southeast Asia, edited by Frank M. LeBar. Vol. 1, Indonesia, Andaman Islands, and Madagascar, 88-90. New Haven: HRAF Press.

Wurm, Stefan A., and Shiro Hattori, eds. (1983). Language Atlas of the Pacific Area. Part 2. Canberra: Australian Academy of the Humanities.