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.
So one sunny summer morning, Hendy (my travel partner at the time) got on our scooters and embarked on our journey, heading inland up the hills of Labuan Bajo. Our intentions were actually fully on finding the Cunca Rami Waterfall, because we had been told that actually catching the Caci Dance was difficult, as it’s hidden. Lets just agreed it sure was, but our intuition guided us up to the right path!
Once we parked our scooters and walked up the path, we found a small opening which overlooked Labuan Bajo. The views of the island were spectacular. Caci performance though? not to be found. We had discussed our failures, googled a little more and with zero progress.
We decided to leave.
No, we’re not quitters, but after a 15km drive in the beating sun, running on zero coffee or breakfast, it certainly assisted in a little shove out the door.
As we’re slowly strolling down the path, admiring the views, a little old man came walking up with what looks to be an outfit in his hand! Had we really found it? Was the Caci Dance in fact real?! He smiled at us, as all Indonesian’s do, and waved us back up. He didn’t seem to speak any English at all so all we could hold onto how 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, babies and even one dog on a lead (which is rare to see in Indonesia), had formed a big circle and made chairs from anything they found.
I strolled around taking photos with Hendy as the men prepared to get dressed, while the women seemed to be setting up drums. This was all getting exciting
So, what is the Caci Dance all about?
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 rhythum 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 their supporting.
During the battle, the fighters give eachother 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. Theres the songke, which is the Indonesian sarong, the belt and the nggorong bell, which is an attatchment on the figghts belts which makes a jingling sound, similar to the bell on cattle.
There is alot of symbolism behind the equipment of the Caci fighters. The whip symbolises 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.
Does it Cost ?
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. Hendy and I didn’t actually have that money with us at the time to donate, but we gave what we could. 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!
From the ceremonial location in Melo Village, you’ll be able take in the stunning views of Flores Island as well as the Komodo Islands in the distance. Great opportunity to take photographs of the surrounding vistas.
Getting to Melo Village
To find the Melo Village, you will need to drive for 45 minutes from Labuan Bajo town, up the Jl Trans Flores motorway. The journey is approximately 25 kms. 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.
If you need a guide, I have one for you. His name is John and he works with Toursbylocals.com
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!
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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: