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LOCATION: Indonesia (island of Flores)
POPULATION: 575,000 (2000)
LANGUAGE: Manggarai; Bahasa Indonesia
RELIGION: Roman Catholic majority; traditional animism
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Indonesians


The Manggarai are the largest ethnic group on Flores, an island whose Catholic majority sets it apart from the rest of Indonesia. Chinese documents record trade for the sandalwood of neighboring Timor as early as the 12th century. Flores itself is mentioned in a 14th century Javanese poem, the "Nagarakrtagama." The Portuguese founded a fort at Solor in 1566 and a mission school at Larantuka in 1570, both far to the west of the Manggarai lands. Minangkabau immigrants had probably already made some Muslim converts along the coast. In 1666, the Makassarese attempted unsuccessfully to conquer the southern Manggarai coast. From the 17th century on, the sultanate of Bima in eastern Sumbawa dominated the northwest coast of the Manggarai region, organizing villages into dalu (regions) and glarang (lineages) and establishing the head of the Tolo dalu as raja (king) of the Manggarai. Early accounts reported that the native kingdom of Cibal existed in the interior.

After the Tambora eruption of 1815 weakened Bima, the Manggarai with Dutch aid, were able to drive out the Bimanese, who gave up their last claims only in 1929. In 1859, the Dutch bought the last of the Portuguese claims to the island on the condition that Catholicism would not be threatened. Dutch Jesuits followed in 1862, converting thousands, particularly from the leading families. In 1913, the Society of the Holy Word (SVD) succeeded the Jesuits in this territory and focused on education. Meanwhile, formal colonization by the Dutch commenced in 1907. In 1917, Catholic missionary activity among the Manggarai began in earnest; the strategy stressed similarities between traditional beliefs and the new religion, as well as tolerating indigenous dance and other customs. In 1930, under the advice of the Catholic hierarchy, a Dutch-educated Catholic Manggarai, Alexander Baruk, was appointed as the "first king" of the Manggarai.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dutch and German Catholic organizations sponsored a "Flores-Timor" development plan. The Roman Catholic Church cooperated with the New Order government's development plans. Nusa Tenggara Timur province, of which Flores is a part, remains one of the poorest regions in the country, largely due to the limitations the dry climate imposes on agriculture.


The mountainous island of Flores is part of the Lesser Sunda chain that stretches from Bali in the west to Timor in the east. Inhabiting the western third of the island, the Manggarai are the largest single ethnic group, numbering 575,000 (8% of the population of East Nusa Tenggara province in 2000—Flores as a whole was estimated to have 1.6 million people in 2003). Among them, Malay-Mongoloid physical features appear with fewer Melanesian/Papuan traits than among peoples farther east on the island. The Ngada people to the immediate east show many similarities to the Manggarai, while the more distant Endenese, Sikkanese, and Solorese show much less resemblance. On the west coast of the Manggarai region, longstanding Bajau and Bugis fishing communities exist; Bimanese farmers also pass through to sell produce.

The volcanic origin of the soil and relatively abundant rainfall favor agriculture in the Manggarai region over other parts of Flores. However, recent deforestation has led to erosion and the drying up of streams.


The languages of Flores, like most of Indonesia's, belong to the Austronesian family, specifically to the Central Malayo-Polynesian sub-branch that includes most of the languages of the archipelago east of Sulawesi and western Sumbawa. The Manggarai language is mutually unintelligible with that of the peoples farther east on the island; in fact, it has more in common with the languages of Bima and Sumba. There are three major dialects, the Western, Central, and Eastern, as well as a number of minor ones. Most Manggarai cannot understand the type of language employed in ritual. Bahasa Indonesia is the language of education, administration, and the Catholic church, but village people prefer to speak Manggarai among themselves. In some coastal regions, the Bugis lontara' script was known.


Ghost stories are numerous. Many folktales focus on Mori Karaeng, the supreme being. Some describe how he created the earth, humanity, the spirit world, animals, and plants like maize and rice. Others tell how he caused wind and earthquakes, punished the moon with an eclipse and the jin (evil spirits) with thunder. Yet, others recount how he handled those who transgressed against custom, murdered, committed incest, defied parents, and neglected rituals. Still more show him teaching humans how to weave or make palm wine.


The island of Flores as a whole is 85% Catholic, an anomaly in the world's largest Muslim country. Earlier in this century, however, Catholicism, most firmly based in Larantuka and Ende far to the east, dominated only the eastern part of the Manggarai region. Islam was strong in the west due to the influence of the Bima sultanate and the presence of Bugis and Bajau communities. The central Manggarai lands adhered to the traditional animist religion. In recent years, this pattern has changed, with Catholics now the majority throughout the region. The Catholic religion has even become an identity marker in relation to Muslim outsiders, which now include Javanese bureaucrats and merchants in the towns.

In churches, schools, and shrines, Catholicism has transformed the landscape. On Sunday mornings, families on their way to and from Mass fill the streets, church bells ringing overhead. Rosaries, crucifixes, and other religious objects are displayed in homes, shops, and vehicles and are sold in stores alongside consumer goods. On Flores, the Catholic Church works closely with the government and supports its development plans. Townspeople have a lifestyle informed by a Catholic outlook, while rural people tend to incorporate the new religion into their traditional life.

In addition to Mori Karaeng, the traditional religion recognizes several classes of spirits. Empo or andung are ancestral spirits who inhabit the environs of the village and who are invoked in life-cycle ceremonies. The darat or ata pelesina ("people of the other world") are spirits of nature (forests, rivers, springs). Among these, the naga tana guard the soil while the ngara tana watch gardens, fields, and the crops themselves. Evil spirits are known by the originally Islamic terms jin or setan. Wooden altars in the shape of traditional houses are erected in gardens.

Leading rituals is a priest, the ata mbeko (male or female). One acquires this role not through heredity but through learning by assisting an experienced ata mbeko. He or she performs or guides life-cycle rites in the home, as well as public ceremonies, such as the inauguration of a village hall or those for the fertility of the soil. The ata mbeko also provide dukun services, such as healing, predicting a person's future, or giving amulets or holy water for people to use against their enemies. Clan members return to their ancestral villages to participate in major ceremonies, which may include ritualized whip fights.


In addition to national holidays [seeIndonesians ], Catholic feasts are an important part of the cycle of the year.


A jambat ceremony, involving the offering of young betel nuts and a chicken with no black feathers, is held in the sixth month of pregnancy. A tenda rite is held if a mother and her daughter-in-law are pregnant at the same time.

Most marriages today result from courtship or dating. The man's family applies (cangkang) for the hand of the woman. The girl's family asks for a high bride-price (paca), which includes water buffalo and horses, but they will also give a large gift to the boy's family.

Frequently, parents seek their child's ideal partner in the mother's brother's daughter, a type of marriage called tungku, which does not require a large bride-price because of the already existing informal relationship between the families. In the past, one family would by custom take wives from a particular family, while that family in turn would take wives from a third family; relations between "wife-taking" families (anak rona) and "wife-giving" (anak wina) families would be formal, expressing status distinctions.

Elopement (roko) is a common alternative if a young man cannot or will not pay the bride-price, or if the young woman's family does not consent to the match. Both sides can also agree to the elopement beforehand in order to save the face of the man's family if the bride-price is too high. The man's family makes a marriage application after the "abduction," waiting until the girl's family's anger has subsided to ask forgiveness. The woman's family goes through the formality of stating a high bride-price even though their daughter is already living with her new husband and his family.

After finalizing the amount of the bride-price, the woman's family hosts a feast where they charge the man's family twice the value of what the latter has consumed. An elder inspects the liver of a sacrificed pig to learn the ancestor's opinion of the match.

In lieu of a bride-price, the groom may do service for the bride's family for a specified time. After living with the bride's family for five days (ending with the wega mio ceremony), the new couple moves in with the groom's family. A man may marry the widow of a deceased brother without paying a bride-price. Aristocrats used to practice polygyny, but this is now banned under Catholicism.

Burial and mourning rituals are complex. Tradition required that bodies be buried with their limbs drawn close to the body. However, a coffin now replaces the former mat. A wake is held for three nights and includes gambling. The person is buried in his or her home village. The burial is held at night because in the other world everything is opposite; thus, night here is day there, and dishes and glasses for the use of the dead are broken because they will be whole in the other world.

At first, the deceased's spirit (ase-kae de weki) roams around the house, especially by where it slept when alive, and then it occupies the well, big trees, house posts, or nearby crossroads (during this period, it can help its kin if they are in danger). Five days after the death, the family holds the kelas ritual, sacrificing animals. With this, the spirit becomes a poti', who is released from this world and leaves for the other world; there it lives with Mori Karaeng and intercedes for the descendants with him.


Manggarai society still preserves traces of the traditional political order. The Manggarai people used to be divided among 39 dalu, small regions, most of which were subordinate to either Reo or Patta, the two halves of the Cibal kingdom. Each dalu was dominated by a single wa'u, whose members considered themselves aristocrats. The head of the dalu was a kraeng (from the Makassarese word for "king"), and other prominent leaders were sangaji. The dalu encompassed several often unrelated glarang, lineages that were autonomous from the dalu in matters of land rights (including rights to hunting and fishing grounds). The glarang had a tu'a tenu, a hereditary specialist on the customary laws on land tenure, who distributed lands to lineage members to use; he was usually from a different family from the lineage head. Each glarang was in turn composed of beo (villages).

Members of the dominant lineages within dalu and gla-rang territories formed the kraeng (aristocratic class). The ata leke were the ordinary people: artisans, peasants, and laborers; these commoners controlled small tracts between the lands of aristocrats. Before the Dutch abolished the practice, war captives, debtors, and exiles could become slaves, which were also bought from foreign traders. The stigma of slave descent is still felt today. However, the sharpest distinction today is between townspeople and villagers.

In the past, warfare was endemic; warriors in rattan war helmets and feathered war cloaks fought with spears, knives, and shields. Through marriage, aristocratic clans formed alliances, regarding all other dalu as enemies. Before battle, warriors splattered their swords with the blood of a sacrificed pig, goat, or chicken and marched around the village center.

Among the Manggarai, adolescents of the opposite sex can associate freely, chatting at wells or dancing at feasts.


Raised on 1-m (3-ft) stilts, the traditional house has a circular floor plan. Made of bundles of rice straw, the conical roof rises from the edge of the floor (i.e., there are no walls as such) to a center post that may be as high as 6 m (20 ft). Inside, a corridor separates the rooms, four to five on either side. The space immediately under the roof is the place for spirits, and heirlooms and food are stored there. The middle space is for human living. The space under the house is for storing tools and keeping animals (pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens). Before Dutch regulations early in the 20th century placed the maximum occupancy to three families, these houses could contain as many as 200 people.

Traditional houses are rare, as Manggarai now prefer houses with walls, modeled on those of other regions of Indonesia; a zinc roof has become a status symbol.

Until the Dutch began pushing for settlement in the plains, villages used to be built on hilltops for defense. In a pattern that can still be seen in modern settlements, a village had three parts: a front (pa'ang), a middle (beo), and a back (ngaung). Formerly, each section of a house had a sacred spot, a pile of big stones where guardian spirits could descend. Still today, the center of each village has a kota, a pile of large stones arranged in a step-pyramid with a table of flat stones on the top. A great banyan tree shades the kota. In front of the kota stands a sacred village hall called mbaru gendang (after the large sacred drum inside). Bamboo stockades 2 to 3 m (6.5-10 ft) high once encircled hilltop villages, now replaced by a dense barrier of thorny bushes (but modern villages at the foot of hills lack stockades altogether).

For occupation during the cultivation of swidden (shifting cultivation) fields, small houses called sekang are built. A cluster of these may become a new village if it acquires a kota, a banyan, and an mbaru gendang.

Townspeople with office jobs can afford consumer goods and dinners in restaurants, particularly at the beginning of the month right after salaries are paid. Rural people are generally well-fed but low on cash. When they take their produce to the town market, they may treat themselves to a meal from a food stall, indulge in small-time gambling, and buy cigarettes and bread or candies to take home to relatives.

The Manggarai regency has a Human Development Index (combining measures of income, health, and education) of 65.2 (2005 score), somewhat higher than that of East Nusa Tenggara province as a whole (63.6) but well below that of Indonesia as a whole (69.6). The regency's GDP per capita is us$2,174, the second lowest in East Nusa Tenggara, which in turn has the second lowest in Indonesia (cf. us$9,784 for West Sumatra, us$8,360 for North Sulawesi, and us$6,293 for Central Java, and us$3,427 for East Nusa Tenggara as a whole. GDP figures do not include income from petroleum and natural gas production, negligible in any case for these provinces). In 2000, the rate of infant mortality stood at 55.65 deaths per 1,000 live birth, only slightly lower than the rate for the province as a whole (56.65), comparable to much more developed provinces such as South Sulawesi and West Java.


The cak kilo is the nuclear family. The most important unit, however, is the extended family, the kilo, including the parents' sons, their wives, and children. A group of kilo with a common patrilineal ancestor five to six generations back is a panga; often panga that shrink due to death will enter into other larger panga. In the past, the panga was responsible for mourning rites, the cremation of ancestral remains, and the raising of stone pillars to honor ancestral spirits, but now it serves only to give its members a surname. The wa'u, a unit larger still than the panga, has lost its functions by now but used to have animal totems and hold rituals that were taboo for outsiders' participation.

Kinship terminology exhibits some peculiarities. Empo refers to both grandparents and grandchildren. A father, his brother, and the mother's sister's husband are all ema. The mother, her sister, and the father's brother's wife are all ende. Inang is for the father's sister and the mother's brother's wife while amang is for the mother's brother and the father's sister's husband. Weta applies to a sister, a father's brother's daughter, and a mother's sister's daughter. Kae applies to an elder brother, a father's brother's son, and a mother's sister's son. Kesah refers to a father's sister's son and a mother's brother's son. The same word, wina, applies to a mother's brother's daughter and to a wife, while rona refers both to a father's sister's son and to a husband.

The terminology expresses the patrilineal bias of the kinship system, as when the term for father applies to the father's brother but not to the mother's brother. Moreover, a man who marries a sister of the father, thus taking a wife from the same family as the father, is also called father (ema).


Traditional women's upper-body clothing resembles the Bugis-Makassar baju bodo, a blouse with wide, short sleeves. A rural woman now wears a sarong and a blouse or tee-shirt. A rural man wears a headcloth, short pants under a sarong, and a machete tied to his waist. Both sexes wear rubber thongs or go barefoot. Going into town, male villagers may carry a peci (the national brimless cap of black velvet) with a colorful piece of Manggarai cloth added, a cloth bag for tobacco or betel nut, and occasionally a carved cane. Female villagers wear skirts rather than sarongs into town and carry a handkerchief.

Teenagers wear jeans and tee-shirts, boys adding baseball caps and running shoes. Because of the cost and perhaps out of greater conservatism, rural teenage girls are less likely to wear jeans. Village teenagers dress traditionally at home but adopt modern clothes for visits to town. Townspeople dress like other urban Indonesians.


Roasted whole or made into cakes or porridge, maize is the staple food, eaten with vegetable side dishes. Rice and chicken or pig meat is reserved for special occasions. Ceremonies also require the consumption of great quantities of palm wine. Several decades ago, betel chewing was very popular (though it is much less so now).


In 2005, the level of literacy stood at 85.95% in Manggarai regency, slightly higher than that for East Nusa Tenggara as a whole but somewhat low for Indonesia, though comparable to more developed provinces with higher population densities and high numbers of poor, such as South Sulawesi, Bali, and East Java (see also the article entitled Indonesians .


Oral literature consists of poetry (renge and tudak), requests to the gods for prosperity. This poetry forms part of nighttime rituals. An ata molor tudak, a storyteller, or the tu'a tenu of the glarang recite folktales.


Slash-and-burn agriculture is the major occupation. Fire is used to clear land, and the partially burned trunks are piled up to form borders between fields. Farmers cooperate in clearing land and divide the cleared land according to an agreement. Traditionally, fields were arranged radiating from a center (creating a spider-web-like pattern); these lingko randang fields are rare now. The main crops are maize and rice.

In 1918, the Dutch brought Balinese prisoners to establish wet-rice fields; years later, they sent Manggarai to study wet-rice techniques in Bima. The valleys around Ruteng constitute Flores' largest wet-rice area (swidden, or shifting-cultivation, is still the dominant form of farming on the island as a whole).

The Manggarai region is also one of the country's largest coffee areas (grown on permanent hillside farms and in house gardens). The export of oranges, jackfruit, salak, cacao, and cashews is just beginning to grow.

Water buffalo are status symbols, slaughtered for consumption at customary ceremonies. Horses are kept for transport and traction and constitute part of the bride-price. Water buffalo and horses are pastured on village common land and kept in a village pen. Alternately, horses are left to roam free in the surrounding grasslands to be caught when needed and later released. Pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens roam about the house yard by day and are kept under the house at night. Livestock export is another young industry.

Many young Manggarai men work in the towns for cash to be sent back to their families in the village.


Caci are whip fights that accompany ceremonies, but are now also performed to entertain tourists. The whip is of water buffalo hide, as is the shield (the latter can also be of bamboo rods). The whip leaves large scars that are attractive to women. Every young man has a fighting name, e.g., "Wild Boar," "Rearing Horse," "Naughty Rooster," or "Gone Around the World and Have Yet to be Bested."

Cockfighting with intense gambling accompanies many rituals. Despite an official ban, local police do not interfere.

Soccer is the most popular modern sport. The Catholic diocese divides Manggarai into four parts, each of which fields a team for a diocesan tournament.


See the article entitled Indonesians .


Ikat (tie-dyed) cloth is produced for family use. Basketry is highly developed: typical pieces are hats and betel- and tobacco-chew holders. For these, young palm leaves are split into fine fibers, dried, and dyed with store-bought colors, often green, red, and yellow.


See the article entitled Indonesians .


The Gender-Related Development Index (combining measures of women's health, education, and income relative to men's) for Manggarai regency (2002 score) is 59.9, slightly above Indonesia's national GDI of 59.2 and significantly above that of East Nusa Tenggara as a whole (56.3). The residency's average Gender Empowerment Measure (reflecting women's participation and power in political and economic life relative to men's), however, is 33.33, far lower than the national GEM of 54.6 and the provincial GEM of 46.2).


Badan Pusat Statistik: Data Statistik Indonesia. (November 9, 2008).

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Harsrinuksmo, Bambang. "Adat Perkawinan" [Wedding Customs]. In Ensiklopedi Nasional Indonesia (ENI), vol. 1. Jakarta: Cipta Adi Pustaka, 1988.

Harsrinuksmo, Bambang, and Prijanti Pakan. "Adat dan Tata Cara Penguburan" [Customs and Protocols for Burials]. In ENI, Vol. 1, (1988).

Koentjaraningrat. "Kebudayaan Flores." In Manusia dan Kebudayaan di Indonesia [Man and Culture in Indonesia], edited by Koentjaraningrat. Jakarta: Djambatan, 1975.

LeBar, Frank M., ed. Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia. Vol. 1, Indonesia, Andaman Islands, and Madagascar. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files Press, 1972.

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Muller, Kal. East of Bali: From Lombok to Timor. Berkeley: Periplus, 1991.

—revised by A. J. Abalahin