Up in the hills of Sano Nggoang, 17km journey from Labuan Bajo, Flores, a fascinating performance occurs. The locals call it the Caci Dance.
A major element of Manggaraian cultural identity – the Caci is more than just a traditional dance act to this small village; it attracts intrigued visitors from all corners of the world and is the main source of income for their people.
On the day we witnessed Our intentions were actually fully on finding the Cunca Rami Waterfall because we had been told that actually finding where the Caci Dance was performed is difficult, as it’s not advertised as much as the Wae Rebo Village. Let’s just say it sure was, but our intuition guided us up to the right path!
Once we parked our scooters and walked up to the path, we found a small opening which overlooked Labuan Bajo. The views of the island were spectacular, but anything in regards to a Caci dance performance though was not to be found. We had discussed our failures, googled a little more and with zero progress, decided to try somewhere else.
From the ceremonial location in Melo Village, you’ll be able to soak in the stunning views of Flores Island as well as the Komodo Islands in the distance. It’s a great spot if you’re into taking photographs of landscapes.
Luck found us in the end. As we’re slowly strolling down the path, admiring the views, an old man came walking up with what looks to be an outfit in his hand! He smiled at us, as all Indonesian’s do, mentioned something in his native tongue and waved us back up. As he didn’t seem to speak any English, all we could do was hope.
After a few minutes, more locals were arriving and walking up the path, looking at us with bemused faces. It all unraveled so quickly; shortly after we walked back up it seemed like the whole village had gathered in the small opening. Women and men, old and young, had formed a big circle and made chairs from anything they found.
I strolled around taking photos as the men were the preparing the costumes and dance tools, while the women had starting playing on the metal drums I had earlier helped set up.
What is the Caci Dance?
The Caci Dance is a traditional performance of the Manggarai community. It consists of two tribes from nearby villages, putting forward their best fighter to battle one another with whips and shields while dancing to the rhythm of traditional acoustic instruments.
It all begins with the elder members of the village getting together and chanting (what exactly, who knows), while the fighters circle them, mentally preparing for whats to come. While this is happening, crowds are building up, cheering for who they’re supporting.
During the battle, the fighters give each other turns on striking one another.
A hit to the head or the face means losing the game, but a hit on the back is seen as a good sign. This means that the tribe will have a promising harvest next time around.
The costumes vary, but usually, are made up of the same items. For the battle, they use a larik (the whip made of rattan) for striking & a nggiling (the shield which is covered in buffalo hide) for defending. There’s the songke, which is the Indonesian sarong, the belt and the nggorong bell, which is an attachment on the fights belts which makes a jingling sound, similar to the bell on cattle.
There is a lot of symbolism behind the equipment of the Caci fighters. The whip symbolizes the male, the father, and the sky. The shield represents the female, the female womb and the earth. The collision of the whip and the shield represent a sexual unity and the giving of life.
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Is watching the Caci Dance free?
It is not mandatory, but guests are asked for a donation of 1,000,000 RP, where you’ll be served a glass of sopi, the local palmed wine. It does sound steep for what it is, but they appreciate anything that you have to give. Remember that there are around 30-40 people taking part in the performance, so make sure you do donate!
How to get to Melo Village
To find the Melo Village, you will need to drive for 45 minutes from Labuan Bajo town, up to the Jl Trans Flores motorway. The journey is approximately 25 km. It’s not that difficult as it’s following mainly one road, but make sure you search the directions. Melo Village is listed on Google Maps & Maps.Me.
As you reach the village, on the left side of the road there is a grass pathway that leads you up to the opening where the Caci Dance is performed. It isn’t that obvious, and it is not signposted, so be on the lookout. Above, I have a photo of what the opening gate looks like.
Getting a Tour Guide to watch the Caci Dance
ToursByLocals are a fantastic group which pair you up with someone from the town, who can provide you an authentic tour with real local knowledge. What is great by using them is that, your money is going directly into the pockets of the locals who are welcoming you into their hometown.
Tours by Locals are a great company who bring you people with local knowledge. It’s important to give back to the places we go to, and using a local is doing just that!
Where to stay in Labuan Bajo
Luxury – Plantaran Komodo Beach
Middle Class – Le Pirate Island
Budget Accom- Homestay Sahu– This is where I stayed during my 3 nights in Labuan Bajo. The lady looking after the place was really friendly & welcoming, as well she went out do her way to show us how to get to places like Cunca Rami Waterfall
Want to know more on what there is in West Nusa Tenggara?
Lonely Planet has a PDFguide to help you explore this beautiful island
Click the photo below to have a look
Melo Village location:
Below you can find the location of Melo village on google Maps. You will need to keep a lookout of the entrance on your drive up.