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Identification. The Kédang speak "the language of the mountain" (tutuq-nanang wéla ), as opposed to the Lamaholot of their neighbors on the small eastern Indonesian island of Lembata. Most are Roman Catholic, many are Muslim, and a few retain the traditional religion.

Location. Kédang lies between 8° 10 and 8°20 S and between 123°35 and 124° E, at the east end of the island of Lembata (known on most maps as Lomblen) in the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language belongs to the Central Malayo-Polynesian Subgrouping of Austronesian.

Demography. According to the 1980 census there were 28,677 persons living in Kédang. The average population density was 108 persons per square kilometer. There were 81 males per 100 females, compared with 99.6 for the province as a whole. This low figure results in part from out-migration of men seeking employment elsewhere. The ratio among the age group 15 to 24 years, for example, is 53 males per 100 females.

History and Cultural Relations

Little is known of the history of Kédang prior to the closing decades of the nineteenth century. In the 1870s, with Dutch military assistance, the raja of the neighboring island of Adonara secured political control over Kédang. The Dutch did not themselves enter the area in force until 1910, when they disarmed and registered the population of the entire island. From that time on Kédang history was submerged in that of the Dutch East Indies and the Republic of Indonesia. Catholic missionaries began working there in the 1920s, but Islamic conversions kept pace with those of the Catholics.

Culturally, as well as linguistically, the people of Kédang are closely allied with their neighbors to the west, the Lamaholot, with whom they share features of social structure and religious ideas. There are also similarities with speakers of Bahasa Alor on the islands of Pantar and Alor to the east. Bahasa Alor may be regarded as a dialect of Lamaholot. They are not culturally or linguistically related to the more numerous populations of Alor and Pantar who speak non-Austronesian languages.


Villages of a few hundred persons, made up of named hamlets, have been reorganized by the Indonesian government into "administrative" villages of 1,000 to 2,000 inhabitants, sometimes consolidating two or more older villages. Village government consists of an elected head, treasurer, and secretary. During the wet monsoon, when there is much continuous work on the fields, many people spend extended periods living in field huts several miles away from their villages. The traditional house is a simple bamboo structure, with a grass- or palm-leaf-covered roof supported on house posts. These buildings are carefully oriented according to traditional religious ideas and the Kédang conception of space. Increasingly, with encouragement from the government and the Catholic mission, brick houses with corrugated iron roofs are being erected.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Most of the population depends on subsistence swidden agriculture, although in recent years mining has provided some local employment. The staple crop is maize, supplemented by dry rice, tubers, vegetables, and spices. Cotton is grown for local use. Palms are exploited for innumerable purposes, including the provision of food and building materials. Copra, tamarind, and candlenuts are sold to dealers to raise cash for various purposes, including payment of taxes. A small amount of coastal fishing takes place. Among domestic animals are pigs, chickens, goats, and dogs. Schoolteachers earn wages.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally Kédang women were prohibited from weaving, although today many do weave cloth for everyday wear. They must never, however, weave in the ritually important ancient village centers. The Kédang proper lack the skills of pot making, smithing, weaving, and dyeing of fine ikat cloths, although local residents deriving from neighboring groups do provide these goods and services to a limited extent.

Trade. Some coastal peoples engage in petty trading. There are weekly local markets where inexpensive commodities and produce may be purchased for cash. Young men increasingly travel from Kédang seeking employment as far away as Malaysia. Small stores, mostly in Chinese hands, are found in a few of the larger villages.

Division of Labor. Men fish, hunt, and carry out the extended negotiations attendant on marriage and the giving of marriage gifts. A very few women also hunt. Cooking, except at feasts, is primarily a task for girls and women. Both sexes clear, plant, weed, and harvest fields.

Land Tenure. Originally, rights in land were vested collectively in the village, represented by the descent group that was regarded as "lords of the land," usually thought to be the first or oldest existing inhabitants. Permission to use the land was obtained from them successively by other descent groups. Individual rights of usage were established by clearing and maintaining fields. Since World War II, the government has overseen the opening of fields in areas previously made uninhabitable by warfare and piracy and has encouraged a shift toward private, individual conceptions of property.


Kin Groups and Descent. Each village or hamlet includes a number of named patrilineal clans, linked to one another by a series of asymmetric marriage alliances.

Kinship Terminology. The relationship system is ordered by the rule of patrilineal descent and the prescription to marry a man or woman in the category of mahan, which includes the mother's brother's daughter and the father's sister's son, both cross cousins.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Most marriages now involve at least one person who is Catholic or Muslim, and the formal ceremony of that religion is followed. Formerly there was no wedding ceremony, although marriage entailed and still entails an elaborate series of exchanges over a period that may exceed the lifetimes of the husband and wife. These exchanges correspond in pattern to prescribed asymmetric marriage alliance. This rule gets its clearest expression in social classification, ritual, and behavior of the linked families rather than in the overall configuration of actual marriages. The Kédang distinguish wife-giving allies from wife-taking allies. The former are superior to the latter. The mother's close male relatives exercise control over the health and well-being of her children and are regarded by them as divine. Alliance gifts are typically gongs and elephant tusks for the wife givers and fine ikat (tie-dyed) cloths returned to the wife takers. Polygyny is permitted to non-Catholics and has a small but regular incidence. Divorce occurs with some regularity among non-Catholics. It is expected that a newly married couple will reside with the wife's parents for a few months to a year. Thereafter the couple establishes an independent household. When the man and woman come from different villages, they usually settle near the husband's patrilineal kin, but there are many exceptions.

Domestic Unit. Households generally consist of husband, wife and children, plus, at various stages, elderly parents, daughters' husbands, and occasionally grandchildren. Naturally, demographic happenstance varies the pattern.

Inheritance. Wealth objects, buildings, and alliance obligations pass down through the male line.

Socialization. Children are cared for both by parents and by other relatives, and are rarely subjected to physical punishment. Parents observe restrictions regarding their movements, use of water, and cutting of hair following a child's birth. There are no rites of passage (except those of Islam and Catholicism) associated with maturation and aging from the ending of this period of restriction until youth and early adulthood, when the teeth sometimes are filed and blackened. Teeth blackening is now disappearing. Age is characteristically associated with authority. An elder must be shown respect. Elders within the clan supervise its affairs. Those in the mother's clan have an authority colored by their life-giving attributes and spiritual influence.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Class lines are blurred in Kédang. In the past, Kédang may well have been a source of slaves, but little information is available on the subject. Until recently, certain families of the village Kalikur could have been described as a nobility of sorts.

Political Organization. The present government of the Republic of Indonesia has virtually eliminated grass-roots political activity in rural villages outside the confines of its political organization, GOLKAR. Historically, clans of the village of Kalikur had political and military ascendancy at certain periods over the rest of Kédang, and this was given formal recognition under the Dutch in the appointment of the rian-barat ("great and heavy"), a sort of subraja. Today Kédang is divided into the two districts (kecamatan ) Omesuri and Bujasuri, and is included in the Regency of Flores Timur.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The 1980 census indicates that 52 percent of the population was Muslim and 48 percent Roman Catholic, but these numbers deliberately disguised the portion who have converted to neither religion. In 1970, according to local records, 45 percent of the population was Muslim, 28 percent Catholic, and 27 percent retained the traditional religion. These numbers do not, of course, give any idea as to the nature and degree of individual religious commitment. The increase between 1970 and 1980 of avowed Catholics is, however, in keeping with the direction of change in the regency as a whole. Even Muslims and Catholics sometimes participate in traditional rituals, and some villages have revived communal rituals that had once lapsed because of noncooperation by adherents of Islam and Christianity. As in other eastern Indonesian communities, the traditional name for God is made up of the words for moon and sun (UlaLoyo). In Kédang there is no equivalent of the neighboring Lamaholot inclusion of the earth in a unitary Godhead.

In addition to "Moon-Sun," other indigenous names for God include "Great Sun" (Loyo Rian), "White Sun" (Loyo Buyaq), "Morning Star-Sun" (Lia-Loyo), and "Great Morning Star" (Lia Rian). To a degree, the moon and sun can be seen as contrasted aspects of divinity. The sun is male, primarily controls eternally constant changes, and is creative. The sex of the moon is indeterminate. Mythically it is unproductive, but it is otherwise closely associated with the calendar, biological processes, and physiological changes. Pleiades and the morning star are also aspects of divinity. There are also guardian spirits of individuals, villages, fields, houses, and springs. Various kinds of free spirits are recognized, and there are witches.

Religious Practitioners. Increasing numbers have become Muslim religious leaders (hajjis ) and Catholic priests or nuns. In traditional culture, priests who were expert at divination and who performed community and individual rituals (molan-maran poan-kémir ) can be distinguished from those adept at healing and traditional medicine (molan-maran potaq-puiq ).

Ceremonies. In addition to Muslim and Catholic services and prayer, there are ritual observances at birth and death. Some villages once again hold an annual ceremony for purifying the village at the beginning of the rainy season in December. In the dry season there were formerly village-wide ceremonies for the harvest, principally associated with beans. Today there are still such ceremonies held by descent groups. Individual guardian-spirit ceremonies are held in response to misfortune. Very occasionally a rain-making ceremony might be held. Feasts are often associated with the exchange of marriage prestations and funerals.

Arts. Although skilled in the use of bamboo and wood for producing buildings, tools, and musical instruments, the Kédang are notable for their lack of such arts as painting, decorative carving, sculpture, and weaving.

Medicine. Some modern medicine is now available from government-established clinics. Otherwise care is in the hands of traditional healers.

Death and the Afterlife. Unusual, particularly violent, or sudden forms of death are distinguished from ordinary deaths. The only "good" death occurs at a great age. The universe is constructed of levels, and the inhabitants of this world have already gone through seven levels, being reborn and then dying on each in succession before reaching this one. People who die normal deaths are eventually reborn and cycle through the remaining five levels before, on their final death, their bodies become fish in the sea and their souls return to God. The souls of those who have died a "bad" death cease to cycle, but take their abode at the horizon and return periodically on the wind to cause misfortune to the living.

See also Lamaholot


Barnes, Robert H. (1974). Kédang: A Study of the Collective Thought of an Eastern Indonesian People. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Barnes, Robert H. (1980). "Concordance, Structure, and Variation: Considerations of Alliance in Kédang." In The Flow of Life: Essays on Eastern Indonesia, edited by James J. Fox, 68-97. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Barnes, Robert H. (1982). "Number and Number Use in Kédang, Indonesia." Man 17:1 -22.