What makes Wae Rebo unique? 6 interesting reasons you need to know why Wae Rebo is unique

Written by Yulianus Irwan

1. Cone Shaped Traditional Houses

Wae Rebo is one of the three old villages in Manggarai that maintains its traditional houses called Mbaru Niang” (Cone Shaped Traditional house). According to the chief of Wae Rebo village, Bapa. Alex, Cone shaped traditional is the first and oldest Manggaraian structure of traditional house. Mbaru Niang is a symbol of protection and the unity the people. He also said that the symbol circular shaped floor is a symbol of harmony and justice among communities and families inside Mbaru Niang.

Bapa Alex (79), a chief of Wae Rebo traditional village

According to the story, Manggarai or Wae Rebo originally came from Minangkabau, West Sumatra, Indonesia that travelled to other islands in East part of Indonesia in thousand years ago.  The elders of Wae Rebo said that the age of the village Wae Rebo is about 1200 years old as it is counted from its generation that 20th generation times 60 years old as the average age of people dying. “Empo Maro” is known as the man who firstly found the village and had inherited seven Mbaru Niang which is one of them is used for ceremonial house called “Mbaru Gendang”. All these houses are for communal houses where the families are gathering and living.

In 2008, Mbaru Niang have all reconstructed by the revitalization program supported by Tirto Utomo Foundation and Rumah Asuh Foundation. This reconstruction implicitly is to transfer knowledge to young generation of Manggarai in general and Wae Rebo especially to maintain the sustainability of Wae Rebo ancestral culture. By the concept of building the house by maintaining its culture, Wae Rebo was rewarded by UNESCO in 2012 with an Award of Excellence from UNESCO Asia Pasific Award which is the highest award cultural heritage conservation.

 2. Wae Rebo is Located in the Hidden Mountain

Wae Rebo is one of the oldest traditional villages in Flores. It is the only traditional village in Flores that is reached by foot. The nearest village to Wae Rebo is Denge which is 9 km. In the beginning of the year 2017, the government has built a road for car and motorbike to pass to the jungle for 4 km as it aimed to help travelers to reach the village not too tough and it also aimed to help local people who mainly work as farmers to get an easy access to their farms and also help to carry their stuffs easily on truck. From the starting point to Wae Rebo, it takes 2 and half hours on foot by trekking through the rain forest in which you will find on one side a cliff and another side mountains that sometimes can fall and cover your track when it rains heavily. You will step on the root of big trees and rocks with 1 meter width track that challenging your entire journey. This is also a track for locals to go to Denge or Dintor for shopping, farming, hospitalizing, and going to church as. The steep of the track is about 30 % but don’t worry it is only for 2 and half km uphill, the rests of track are relatively flat and downhill.

3. Wae Rebo has only one clan

Clan “Manggarai” is the main clan in west Flores with some neighbor clans of Ngada, Ende, Lio Sikka, and East Flores. There are some sub-clans or small clans existing in Manggarai as well, each of them functions to show their identity, language, dialects, traditional house, and land for living and farming. It is also common in Manggarai that one village always has more than 3 to 4 sub-clans even in writer’s village there are 9 sub-clans existing. As the impact, if there is a cultural event, each clan has their own ceremony to worship to the spirits in their families. E.g in Penti harvest ceremony of East Manggarai Regency, they celebrate their thanksgiving in each clan after an opening ceremony made by the chief of the village. The difference between one to another clan in this case is the dialect used, chronological event, and some of the clan cannot eat new harvested rice if it is not officially finished worshiped by the chief of the village but some can eat after the chief of the clan already permitted in the ceremony. Moreover, each clan has different sacred animal that cannot be eaten. This must be checked carefully by the people in the village, once you eat the sacred animal, you will have a problem.

What makes Wae Rebo interesting is they only have one clan named Wae Rebo. There are 600 people including in this clan. According to Bapa Alex; the ancestor Empo Maro had 8 children and all of them have their representatives to be living in the Drum House and their generations are spread to other 6 cone shaped traditional houses. Having only a clan makes the chief easier to control his people with all the farms his people have, Bapa Alex added.

 4. New Year Every October 16th   

We all know that New Year is on January 1st. Since Wae Reboan people did not recognize days, months, and year they only relied much on the period of planting and harvesting as the beginning and the end of a year.  In other places in Manggarai they have uncertain date about celebrating Penti ceremony but they keep celebrating it.

Penti a Manggaraian traditional ceremony aimed to express grateful. This ceremony is held as a New Year celebration to thank for a successful harvest in a year and to start the new life by the new year. In Wae Rebo, Penti is held in Beko month or in November 16th as they believe that it is a New Year day. As it is known, Wae Rebo communities are living from farming, the people always start with the ceremony before planting and after harvesting. The ceremony after planting aims to ask the Spirits and God to protect the plantations and give huge harvest, meanwhile the ceremony after harvesting aims to thanks to Spirits and God for the harvest. All the ceremonies are done with medium of chicken and pig as to sacrifice.

Penti is usually held a full day with several ceremonial phases. They are “Barong Wae” and “Barong Lodok”, gathering in Drum house and Caci whip fight dance.

Wae Reboan people wearing traditional outfits to worship the Spirits during Penti ceremony.


In Manggarai, each clan has their sacred animal that cannot be eaten from generation to generation. The common animal in Manggarai that is sacred is porcupine. People believe that this animal helped the ancestors to show the way to survive in the jungle where the ancestors finally found the place to build village. In Wae Rebo, people do not eat civet as they have their own history behind.

Before reaching to Wae Rebo, Empo Maro lived with his relatives in Popo village. This story began when woman had difficulties in giving birth whereas it already passed the time of normal give birth. Empo Maro decided to help a mother by sectioning the stomach so that he could save the baby. Finally the baby was born safely and unfortunately he could not help the mother that died. Several years later, the woman’s families heard about what Empo Maro had done to the woman which had made the woman died. They planned to attack Empo Maro and his family. A civet came to warm Empo Maro about the attack, so they immediately left the village and hid in the jungle. He decided to build a new village to survive and the village named Wae Rebo. This story is inherited until so that the new generations know why civet is a sacred animal in Wae Rebo.

What happen when suddenly the people in Wae Rebo or Manggarai eat the sacred animal? It can cause a huge diseases that can only be cured in a ceremony by scarifying a chicken so that the Spirits will cure, the ceremony is called as “Sungke” which is done for healing people’s diseases that is in danger.

 6. Unique Circle Village

By looking at its picture, it shows us precisely that the village is a half circle form with 7 “Mbaru Niang”, cone shaped traditional houses. According to Bapa Alex These 7 houses cannot be added anymore because the houses are the symbols of 7 protectors that surrounding the village. Furthermore, He explained that the village is not really a half circle form but it is actually a hundred percent circle, one side is for alive people and another side for death people who believed to be the Spirits.

In Wae Rebo, the cemetery is located exactly in front of the village. They believed that the Spirits are activating in the night, that is the reason people stop working in the afternoon for the Spirits and then every big event of the ceremony, it is always done in the night as it is believed that the Spirits are also gathering in the ceremony.


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