Semana Santa: Solemn Easter Holy Week Rites in Larantuka, East Flores

24 Feb 2017

Each year on the week before Easter Sunday, the quiet little town of Larantuka in East Flores, in the East Nusa Tenggara Province comes alive with unique traditions and solemn rites celebrating the Holy Week, popularly known here as “Semana Santa”. This year the series of prayers and processions will take place from 12th to 16th April 2017.


During this special week, the small town of Larantuka will be thronged with thousands of Catholic pilgrims, coming not only from surrounding islands in Flores but also from Java, Bali, and around Indonesia, joined by many international tourists. This is because of Larantuka’s unique heritage commemorating the Holy Week by blending Old Portuguese devotion with local tradition that originate from the 16th century, when In their search for spices, Portuguese merchants then occupied this island.

Semana Santa commences with Rabu Trewa or Shackled Wednesday on 12th April, of the mid-Easter week. On this day, congregations gather in chapels and pray, remembering the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot which led to the arrest of Jesus, his shackling and crucifixion. This is when the town of Larantuka turns into the Town of Mourning; a time when it drowns into solemnity and reflection for the purification of the soul.

In the afternoon of Maundy Thursday, congregations hold the tikamturo ritual, preparing the route for the following day’s seven kilometer procession, by planting candles along the route. At the Chapel of Tuan Ma (the Mourning Mother Mary) the casket that has been sealed for one year is carefully opened by the Conferia, and the statue of Tuan Ma or Virgin Mary is bathed and then dressed in mourning clothes (a piece of black or purple, or blue velvet coat).


Image via topindonesiaholidays

The pinnacle of the rituals falls on Good Friday or the Sesta Vera, the day of Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which this year falls on 14th April 2017. The door of the chapel of Tuan Ma and Tuan Ana (Jesus and the Virgin Mary) opens at ten o’clock in the morning. The Good Friday procession is highlighted by the ritual carrying the statue of the body of Jesus Christ, placing Jesus at the center of the ritual and placing Mother Mary at the center of attention, as the mourning mother (Mater Dolorosa). The procession is taken to the beach and carried around the bay followed by hundreds of fishing boats.


Image via topindonesiaholidays

The following days are the Sabtu Santo (Holy Saturday) and the Minggu Paskah (Easter Sunday), the day of the glorious Resurrection. These mark the end of the entire Easter week procession.

The statue of Tuan Ma is said to have been found on the beach of Larantuka by a boy in 1510. According to legend the boy saw a beautiful lady who smiled at him, pointing to three words on the shore, which later Portuguese priests deciphered as: “Reinha Rosario Maria” or the Mourning Mother Mary.

Having strong Portuguese colonial influences, Larantuka is commonly known as one where Catholicism flourishes in Indonesia. For more than four centuries, this region inherited Catholicism through the role of the common people rather than through the clergy. The King of Larantuka, missionaries, the brotherhood of apostles of the common people (Confreria), the Semana Tribe, and the Kakang (Kakang Lewo Pulo Tribe) as well as the Pou (Lema Tribe) have played pivotal roles in the growth of Catholicism in this Larantuka region.

To get to Larantuka, take a flight from Jakarta or Bali to the Wai Oti Airport of Maumere on Flores island. You then travel overland in a 3 hours’ journey to reach Larantuka.

Since there are only limited accommodation available in this town, if you wish to attend this rare event, do book your airline ticket and accommodation well in advance. Best book through a dependable travel agent who knows the area best. There are also homestays available.


Image Sources: florestourism.com

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