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The mystifying Spiderweb Ricefields of Manggarai
If elsewhere concentric circles of ricefields may be thought as having been created by ultra-terriestrial beings, not so in Manggarai in the western part of Flores. Here spiderweb ricefields are very much man-made and have existed for centuries down generations.
These mystifying spiderweb ricefields can be clearly seen at Cancar from atop a hill some 12 km. from Ruteng, capital of the district of Manggarai.
The circle that spreads from the center outward is very central to the beliefs of the local people.
The Manggaraians started this tradition of spiderweb land division since they ceased their nomadic life. As a new tribe with a territory named beo, or simply a kampung, embracing their ancient religion whose sacred beings are named the mori kraeng, they started a simple government, an assembly of representatives, which, together with their decisions, are called the adat, led by a tu’a teno.
In the early days, corn and rice were introduced and became their staple food. The more the population grew, the more they needed these commodities. This gave rise to a traditional land division, and the adat – or the rulers over tradition - called it lengko or lingko.
The existence of territory became so important that it was integrated into the adat. When there was a piece of land, there should be an adat or a tu’a teno who governs the territory.
Here, Adat is symbolized by the ‘drum house’, locally named mbaru gendang. Mbaru gendang is the central focus of every adat’s activity. A good example of mbaru gendang can be seen at Compang Ruteng or at the megalithic village of Wae Rebo. Here the central post of the house is set right in the middle of the structure, and is encircled by eight posts that support the mbaru gendang.
The philosophical inter-connection between a lingko and an mbaru gendang (drum house) is its central point. In the drum house, the center is the most sacred. While, in a lingko, its central point is similarly held the most sacred, where all measurements and land division are set to the circumference. Just like in the drum house, in these rice fields the central point is a small post, which is named teno, where the sacred souls, the mori kraeng, reside.
To the people of Manggarai, the ‘gendang” or adat is its center while emanating outwards are the “lingko” or the spiderweb territories. Meaning that the gendang, - signifying the leadership of the adat and the community – is inseparable from the communal territory, or the lingko.
However, a lingko or tanah adat is not owned by the adat or even a tu’a teno, but it is owned by the entire community. According to them, ata ngara tana, the landlord of the tana, or the lingko are all community members, while the tu’a teno is only the person in charge, who is entrusted to judiciously decide on the division of land in accordance with the law of adat.
The measurement system of lingko is called lodok. The tu’a teno has the ability and authority to decide on the lodok. The size of a lingko depends on the ability of the community members of a beo to cultivate the land. As the central point is very essential, through the lodok system, the spider-web rice fields are formed.
To see the manifestation of lodok, travelers usually visit Cancar in Golo Cara, a village some 12 kilometers from Ruteng, capital of the district of Manggarai. There are several concentric spider-web rice fields visible from a small hill in Cancar. Although there is presently no apparent tourist facility here, Cancar presents one of the scenic cultural luxuries that still lives on until today.
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