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Museum of Nusa Tenggara Timur

After deciding against bike hire due to my enduring fatigue, it subsequently proved to have been a good move since Kupang's roads were a crazy and confusing sprawl. A Bemo crew wasted an hour of my life in the promise of Oebobo bus terminal, my true destination lying nearby but I eventually ended up back where I had started and made my sentiments clear before walking way in disgust. That therefore provoked me plumping for the lesser ambiguity of an Ojek then at a palatable INR5,000 which the boy tried to double on arrival, but I wasnt in the mood for anymore messing around. The museum thankfully proved to be open with good initial impressions, it was under renovation though, they were never as you hoped to find them. At least I could see this time though!


First off, an ethnicity map revealed the diversity of NTT, with Flores for example being split between 10 distinct groups. The major one sited in the western third were the Manggarai people who I had encountered in Labuanbajo and Ruteng, with a local lingo unintelligible to the other islanders. West Timor was revealed to be the stronghold of the Dawan people, though there are small pockets of Helong south of Kupang and Tetun, Marae and Kemak people in the north east. There were photos of varying indiginous architecture with houses adopting variously wedge shaped, pyramidal, conical or beehive roofs of thatch. An early painting of Kupang contrasted in portraying Fort Concordia flying the Dutch flag. Disappointingly the fine presentation was poorly only labelled in Bahasa in the main, with the habitual initial gallery of geological and fossil samples cutting a thrust above most others. What really qualified it however was a dedicated section on Homo Floresiensis, the "Hobbit", with photos of the Liang Bua discovery site. What I had not previously encountered were actual photos of the excavation and a skull on display looked so genuine as to betray the example in Jakarta as a reproduction. Though its evidence is still being debated, my impression was that it might just be the amazing discovery purported, a skull little larger than a grapefruit yet with discernibly strong jaw and fully developed teeth. Other fossil finds had betrayed the existence of the Stegadon, a dwarf elephant. Stone headed axes looked contemporary and perhaps were, and suitably exotic ghoulish looking statues in wood and stone continued the vibe of lands where time had stood still. More photos told of the culture of traditional boxing and the raising of horses for an annual hunting ceremony in Ngada Regency, West Flores. Ikat weaving merited a strong display of cloth samples, looms and spinning wheels, and old currency included notes issued by the Javasche Bank scripted entirely in Dutch, also of blurry printed examples which seemed to have been destined only for Sumatra, the other end of the country. They read "Republik Indonesia, Propinsi Sumatera, Keresidenan Lampung".

Though I normally yawned at traditional costumary by and large, a very archaic looking warrior outfit strung with ribs of wild boar tusks was excellent, and the many fine mannequins demonstrating the beauty and adaptability of Ikat left me suitably impressed, the regional diversity was considerable. Most notable perhaps was the contrastingly understated but by no means unappealing habit of the Ngado to dress all in black, and the dress of the smaller sadly unexplored islands east of Flores held a special lure. Amongst many everyday implements from spears to basketry, another first was the use of buffalo horns and seashells as communications aids, and then a full scale diorama of a traditional roundhouse did me a favour lest I not find time to hunt out any for real. Known locally as Ume Suba, their simple design is merely a crown of thatch reaching to the ground with an entrance portal of barely a metre high cut to one side, symbolically split into male and female halves. Outside to the east are always placed a 3 branch post known as the Hau Monef (Male Post), representing a supreme being, lesser supernatural spirirts and their ancestry. The ancestors are regarded as mediators to the gods and the Hau Monef consequently guards against ill fortune. Moving onto a large section dedicated to Sumba, bundles of black thatch which I had only just earlier seen a man carrying either end of a pole in the street were revealed to be destined for rope making. Photos and a diorama showed their remarkable habits of the Pasola horseback fighting ritual, with horses colourfully clad in rosettes and their mounts sporting hats akin to birthday cakes with 4 giant candles. They dressed buffalos' horns with red cloth and palm leaves in readiness for ritual slaughter, an accompaniment to the dragging of massive stone slabs to their chosen tomb spots.

Though it would probably serve little purpose considering my imminent departure, I elected out of curiosity to now pursue a nearby and otherwise thoroughly inconvenient tourist office, what transpired to be just one more lavish public building all spit and no substance. For once however I was amazed to find that rarest of things in Indonesia, a bona fide tourist office which actually possessed tourist information. It was a reality check to then find not just the glass cabinets littered with maps and brochures locked, but the whole building apparently unattended and deserted. In what must be a terrible drain on the Indo economy, for once I scoured the innards of one of these habitually lifeless palaces, finding not so much as a security guard to help me. Piles of folders sat neatly atop a plethora of desks in the pretence that work actually got done, but one meaningless office after another revealed not a soul. Finally electing to shout for attention, I dont know who got the biggest shcok when an unseen boy asleep stirred from an adjacent couch, and though he was helpful in predictably scratching around for a random forgotten copy of a map, he could not avail himself of the key for the cabinet full of rare offerings. Though I was unimpressed it was polite to make do with that, reflecting that with tourism clearly dead in East Nusa Tenggara and struggling in general outwith Bali, they had failed to satisfy their sole customer of the day, perhaps that week. I could only guess the other purported penpushers had found couches upstairs out of sight! Certainly if they had disappeared to pray, another obscenity, they were taking their time about it.

Approaching 2 O'Clock it was sadly too late to consider a foray out of town from the perversely conveniently neighhbouring bus terminal, and though there was the promise of more traditional villages, colourful markets and an Australian war memorial to entice me, the truth was that it was also just too damn hot. I couldnt tell if it was in particular because of the build up to the wet season, certainly Australia's most uncomfortable time, but the energy sapping climes which now deemed living unbearable even by 8am and had me constantly mopping my face, had notably crescendoed in recent weeks. It was a forewarning and an anticipation of Darwin now seemingly suddenly only 10 days distant, so I for once opted to be kind to myself and accept the day for what it was. The museum despite renovatory work had been one of the finest encountered in all Indonesia after all, perhaps a reflection of this most alluring of the world's dark distant corners, and so I was happy to settle for that. A return Bemo was mercifully more direct in conveying me back to the centre, where I opted to hop off early upon sighting my first decent bookshop in weeks. Even the Gramedia national chain store couldnt bless me with a copy of the Jakarta Post, Indo's prime English daily however, so I settled for an aircraft magazine and sweat sustaining beer. An internet session was then the order of the day under pressure to establish some important onward considerations, but even in big city Kupang the connection was excruciatingly slow. AT less than 10p a pop, corn on the cob at a seafront concentration of stalls was a nice change, also serving to remind me of how humble some others lived. Though it had been noted recently by a gang of Cherrypickers that people here did not adhere to the same work ethic, here they were manning smoky stands at late o'clock for money I wouldnt even fight an Ojek driver over, it was a perversity to be asked for a pittance and wished they'd asked for double to ease my conscience. What really made it though was that these were not the recognised face of poverty, they were respectably dressed people of mobile intellect and a sense of manners which made it worse. During habitual enquiries as to my lot from locals which pushed my Bahasa to the limit, I noticed that a rare seafront bar little distant had a live band playing and so that was good enough excuse for another beer or 2, qualified by me writing this. In actuality I had stumbled upon a humble concert dedicated to "Hari AIDS Sedunia" (World Aids Day) 2007, and was promptly invited to append a suitable scrawl to a large banner being created in that ilk. "Dont Die of Ignorance" was an obvious addition, but upon establishing my origins a camcorder wielding boy with a bit of English requested an additional edict in "Bahasa Skotlandia". Amused that he would even surmise Scotland to boast a language of its own, my imagination struggled to meet the occasion, and upon explaining that a literal translation would be little different to the first, the best alternative I could come up with was "Dinnae be daft, hink afore ye dunk". The irony was not lost on me then upon reaching the bar to be confronted with a gaggle of unlovely aging western stereotypes attended by their diminutive local live entertainment, they could have been their granddaughters if it wasnt for the ridiculously juxtaposed ethnicity. Though it might have been useful to query them for local knowledge I instinctively elected not to get involved, and their intransigence was a welcome telltale relief. They didnt give a stuff about anything it seemed, not even another rare white man.

Posted by andyhay2 13:03 Archived in Indonesia

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