Houses with cone shaped rooftops unveil among the coffee trees after trekking as far as 9 km. The exhausted faces are lit up again with smiles and overwhelming spirit. As we hit the foot hill, the beauty of Wae Rebo village completely unfolds. Seven cone houses are arranged in half circle, leaving the grass yard in the middle as the epicenter of the society’s daily activity.
The people seem busy – the women are weaving, the men drying coffee and the kids playing with their dogs. But as they see visitors come, the head of the village will immediately welcome them with a short ritual. At the end, they will be treated to traditional music and dance while enjoying Wae Rebo coffee.
One of Indonesia’s UNESCO World Heritage site, Wae Rebo is the most beautiful traditional village in Flores. Its houses named Mbaru Niang look so simple outside, but hiding behind its thatched roof is a masterpiece of complex architecture rich with local wisdom.
They are 15 meter tall and consist of five floors. A strong wooden pole stuck in the center of the building is the only one which supports the entire structure. The wood used for the houses are also special, worok for the basic structure and bamboo for the roof. Tied only with rattan, the building stands strong up to 9 generations.
The circle shape of the house with pole as the center symbolizes the hope of the community to continuously maintain their brotherhood and remember the ancestors. The value is clearly seen from their daily life. Total number of Mbaru Niang is kept to no more than seven. Every house is only for 9 families and those who don’t get one must migrate to neighboring kampoong. This seems violating the value, but they’re already aware that the rule is made to keep Wae Rebo and Mbaru Niang authentic.
Located in an isolated peak at the altitude of 1200 meter with green mountains on the backdrop, Wae Rebo looks even more interesting. At dawn when the sun is about to ascend, Wae Rebo hides behind thin mist and kitchen smoke. There is no electricity or phone coverage, only a heartwarming sunrise that will welcome as we wake up inside one of the houses.
Well, visiting Wae Rebo without overnight stay is not a vacation at all. Just stay for one or two days to enjoy precious primitive experiences. We’ll sleep above a thin piece of woven Pandan leaves mats together with more than 10 people in one room. When the sun gets hotter, the mothers make cura, Wae Rebo weaving textile, and you can observe or even learn to make one. Chance to taste traditional cuisine is abundant, but it will be more unforgettable if we join the processes of cooking and hunting the ingredients (which are mainly taken from jungle).
All the secrets of Wae Rebo can be enjoyed with a simple “gift” in turn. Be noted that the amount of the donation is not specified and it is managed by Indonesia Ecotourism Network to be used as Mbaru Niang maintenance costs.
Location and Accommodation
Wae Rebo is set up on mountain in Manggarai, about 2 hours southwest of Ruteng town. The last transit place to get to the village is Denge located on Flores’ south coast. You can depart from both Ruteng and Labuan Bajo by a rented car which the driver also serves as the guide. You won’t get bored as the trip includes panoramic sight-see of rice fields, mountains and beaches.
Or you can rent motor bike. But this could be risky as the road is narrow and has many potholes. Furthermore, it gets very slippery in the rains. Another alternative is by public transport from Ruteng and transfer by bemo to Denge. This last option is cheaper but can be very slow.
You can stay overnight at Denge. There are a few small homestays but not hotels or hostels. Contacting the homestays is impossible as there is no phone and internet coverage there. Hence, booking a room can be done only on site. If you use rent car service, the food and accommodation are already included.
Discovering Wae Rebo
From Denge, the only way to get to Wae Rebo is by foot as the track is impassable for any vehicles. The trip takes 3-4 hours through intact forest and hills.
Bird songs will be accompanying as we walk on slippery trail spotted with huge stones. And as we reach narrow path on the cliff side, look around and enjoy the scenery of Sumba strait. Once we walk through coffee plantation and Bok, entrance with woven decoration, we finally arrive at Wae Rebo.
Journey to Wae Rebo is indeed challenging. But, the hard work is worth it for a kampong whose people hold on a slogan of “neka hemong kuni agu kalo” meaning “never forget your homeland.”