Alor (east of Flores, 30 kilometers north of Timor) is an island that lies east of Bali and Flores in East Nusa Tengarra. Home to the Alorse, it is 2,884.5 square miles in area and is very mountainous, with limited coastal lowlands. It was a Portuguese holding until 1854 when it was handed over to the Dutch.
Alor is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse places. On the island there are 140,000 people divided among 50 tribes, each of which speaks a distinct languages or dialects that fall into seven distinct language groups. Some groups practiced head headhunting up until the 1950s. They used arrows tipped with chicken bones that splintered inside the body, producing a very nasty wound. Occasionally, it tribal warfare still breaks out between different groups.
Despite its short name, the Alor islands hide a long list of splendors, from fascinating underwater wonders up to the unique culture of the highland people. Here, one will be indulged with spectacles ranging from spellbinding marine life, the unique Moko kettledrums, the oldest Al Qur’an in Southeast Asia, and the traditional villages of the highlands. The island of Alor itself is inhabited by a number of Flores sub- ethnic groups who still preserve their traditional ways of life. One of these still produces clothing from tree bark known as the Ka Clothing.
Kalabahi is the principal town on Aor. It is a sleepy tropical town. From here one can visit some traditional villages and set up treks to remote areas. Alor is becoming a popular diving spot, but the diving industry is still in the process of becoming developed . The rainy season last from October to April. The best time for diving is during the dry season. The Alor Regency includes the islands of Alor, Pantar and Pura.
Extending at the easternmost tip of Flores Island, still in the province of East Nusa Tenggara, Alor is a name pinned to the regency, the archipelago, as well as the main island of the archipelago. The Alor Archipelago comprises 20 islands and 17 sub-districts. Among these, only 9 islands are inhabited: Alor, Pantar, Pura, Terewang, Ternate (not to be confused with Ternate in Maluku), Kepa, Buaya, Kangge, and Kura. The other 11 uninhabited islands are: Sikka, Kapas, Batang, Lapang, Rusa, Kambing, Watu Manu, Batu Bawa, Batu Ille, Ikan Ruing, and Nubu.
The Alor Archipelago, including areas near the Pantar Strait, is an endemic area for the malaria mosquito. Make sure you bring along your anti-mosquito, anti-insect, or anti-malaria medicines. In Kalabahi at night, many drunken teenagers sit by the street sides and sometimes create problems so please be careful when walking at night. Alor is famous for its woven fabrics. You can buy the best quality fabrics at Alor Kecil village, some 12 kilometers from Kalabahi, or from officials of the Alor Museum on Dipenegoro Street, or at the Kalabahi market.
The Alorese live on the island of Alor, which lies in East Nusa Tengarra, north of Timor and east of Bali and Flores. Also known as the Aloreezen, they embrace a wide range of groups that speak different languages—a number of them mutually unintelligible—and have different defining characteristics that at least are partly attributable to Alor’s rugged mountainous terrain. Most Alorese are Christians. Many of the those that live the mountains are Papuan. Most of the Muslims live on the coast and many of these are immigrants from elsewhere in Indonesia. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
Alor (east of Flores, 30 kilometers north of Timor) is an island that lies east of Bali and Flores in East Nusa Tengarra. Home to the Alorse, it is 2,884.5 square miles in area and is very mountainous, with limited coastal lowlands. It was a Portuguese holding until 1854 when it was handed over to the Dutch. Alor is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse places. On the island there are 140,000 people divided among 50 tribes, each of which speaks a distinct languages or dialects that fall into seven distinct language groups. Some groups practiced head headhunting up until the 1950s. They used arrows tipped with chicken bones that splintered inside the body, producing a very nasty wound. Occasionally, it tribal warfare still breaks out between different groups.
The mountain Alorese have traditionally lived in mutually hostile highland villages that remained largely untouched by the outside world until Indonesia became independent in 1949. The coastal Alorese have had more contact with the outside world. The Alorese languages resemble those spoken elsewhere in Indonesia, particularly on Timor, although some have a strong Papuan influence. Traditionally there has been little organization beyond the village level. ~
Traditional beliefs endure. One group believes that every individual has two souls and after death one goes to the “village above” if a death is natural and the other goes to the “village below” if the death is violent. Unappeased souls, it is believed, can cause trouble. Funerals often incorporate rituals that are intended to send souls away peacefully. Beliefs in lineages and village guardian spirits remain strong and are often represented with crocodile-like carvings. Many believe that disease is caused when a malevolent spirits urinates on them or enters their body and eats their liver. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
Import ceremonies include death feasts, rites associated with good harvests and sacrifices for guardian spirits. There are not many religious practitioners. They are involved more with healing than with religious ceremonies. Funerals feasts are often expensive, elaborate affairs wrapped up in settling debts and fulfilling financial obligations and often involve the transfer of mokos (bronze drums), gongs and pigs. Sometimes there are several feasts with the last one held at the time soul is expected to leave the earth for good. ~
Alorese Life, Marriage and Family
Men have traditionally done the heavy work while women have worked in the fields. The ownership of fields is handed over to children when they are 10 to 13. Young children often fend for themselves or are in the care of older siblings as women are often working in the fields. Family life often revolves around male houses, which are linked to patrilineage lines and associated with a number or rituals and mutual obligations pertaining to marriage, death and finances. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
Although polygamy was practiced in the past, monogamy is the rule. Marriages have traditionally been love matches rather that arranged unions. Marriage are often sealed by an exchange of gifts, often involving mokos (bronze drums) but also includes gongs, pigs and grain. Couples tend live with the farther’s parents and divorce is common. It is not unusual to find Alorese that have been divorced several times. ~
The mountain Alorese have traditionally lived in mountain-top villages with no more than 150 residents. The houses, with thatch conical roofs and a wood and bamboo construction, are organized around central dance places, with fields planted behind the houses. Feasts have traditionally been held in large carefully-built lineage houses. Many villages have a church and an elementary school. Some traditional houses have been replaced by cement ones with metal roofs. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
Most Alorese are subsistence farmers who raise maize, rice, beats, millet and cassava, often in slash-and-burn fields, and raises pigs, goats and chickens. Crafts include wood carving, basket making, pottery and ikat weaving. In the past, mokos, gongs and pigs were important trade items. Although most Alorese today live in the cash economy, wealth is still measured by some by how many gongs one possesses and they often obtained through clever manipulation of the Alorese credit system and are used as payments for marriages, funerals and construction of lineage houses. ~
Mokos are about 50 centimeters high and 33 centimeters in diameter. They have four ear-shaped handles and a sightly hourglass shape. They have a bronze rather than leather skin but sound like bongos when struck. Some of the designs resemble those found in Java in the 15th century. Other are like cymbals found in Southeast Asia before 500 B.C.. Mokos today are among the most valued objects owned by Alorese. ~
Disputes have traditionally been settled by “fines through challenge,” in which a victim of an offense publically challenges the perpetrator of the offense by an inflated price for a pig or gong. Being unable to pay the price is a “shameful admission of financial defeat.” Headhunting raids used to be used to settle conflicts. They were suppressed in the 1920s and appear to have not been very common anyway. ~
Traditional Culture Sites in Alor
The unique culture of the Alorese are best observed among the Takpala indigenous group who dwell in the village of Lembur Barat, North-Central Alor. The Takpala still preserve the traditional housing construction that resembles a pyramid, covered with coconut leaves, bamboo plaited walls, and four main wooden pillars.
The island of Alor is also known as the island of a Thousand Moko’s. Moko is a small bronze kettledrum which is believed to have originated from the Dong Son culture of Vietnam. However, it remains a mystery as to how these prehistoric Dong Son drums arrived in Alor. Local legend says that the moko’s were discovered buried in the ground, and indeed until today it is still common for these mokos to be similarly uncovered.To observe these unique artifacts, one can visit the Museum of A Thousand Mokos located in the main town of Kalabahi, on Alor Island. The Museum also showcases a collection of distinct Alor hand-woven clothing called Kawate.
The island also holds the oldest Al Qur’an (Islamic holy book) ever to be discovered in Indonesia and in South East Asia. The Al Qur’an which is estimated to be over 800 years old is made of tree bark and uses natural substances for ink. The special Al Qur’an was once shown to the public in April 2011, during the Legu Gam Festival of the Ternate Sultanate.
Diving in Alor
Although not yet as popular as Raja Ampat or neighboring Komodo Island, the waters around the archipelago offer equally fascinating spectacles — — if not better. There are at least 50 dive spots stretching from Alor Island to Pantar Island, and several islets around them. Among these, 20 are considered in prime condition and among the world’s best. Some of the best sites are found along the Pantar Strait.
Those who are fortunate enough to have experienced diving in these waters have said that the underwater splendors of Alor outclass those in the Caribbean. In his book “East of Bali”, Photographer Kal Muller described the waters around Alor as pristine, filled with a variety of fascinating creatures, and highlighted with night-dive spots. He considered Alor as a world class underwater paradise.
As an extension from the seas of Flores and Komodo Island, the Alor Archipelago is blessed with equally fascinating marine spectacles. Diving here is bliss, for you will encounter pristine coral reefs and fascinating creatures of the deep. Here divers will be indulged with the appearance of whales, sharks, mola-mola or sunfish, manta rays, and various other underwater creatures.
Dive spots in Alor include: Baruna’s Point, Never-Never wall, Cave Point, Barrel Sponge Wall, Mola-Mola Point, Night Snacks, Alor Expree, Rocky Point, Three Coconuts, Moving Pictures, Eagle Ray Point, Rahim’s Point, Tuna Channel, Anemone Country, Sharks Reeway, Octopus Garden, Captain’s Choice, The Refrigerator, Half Moon Bay, Peter’s Prize, Crocodile Rook, The Edge, Coral Clitts, Baeylon, The Arch, Fallt Line, The Pacth, Nite Delht, Kal’s Dream, The Ball, Trip Top, The Mlai Hall, No Man’s Land, The Chatedral, School’s Ut, dan Shark Close. (for more information please click : diving-indonesia.net)
Pantar Strait, Alor Archipelago
Pantar Strait (between Alor and Pantar islands in the Alor Archipelago) is a narrow strait has a number of small and beautiful islands such as Kepa, Pura, Ternate, Buaya and Tereweng islands. The waters have a strong current that sometimes produce a sound as loud as a waterfall. At unpredictable times, a cold current rushes in, killing small and medium size fish near the beach. For professional divers, Pantar Strait Marine Park is one of the most beautiful dive sites in the world. There are at least 26 diving sites around Kepa, Pura, Ternate, and Tanjung Matap islands, and Papa Jahe beach (Alor)- including the famous Shark Close. At this site, divers can play with groups of friendly sharks. In the waters around Papa Jahe, you can also go diving at night.
Experienced diving service agencies such as Dive Alor (www.divealor.com) and Alor Dive (www.alordive.com) are available. In addition to diving, snorkeling is also fun. You can walk around and enjoy the quiet and clean beaches on Kepa Island and Alor Kecil while waiting for groups of dolphins to pass through, or enjoy the underwater current to hear the sound of waterfall.
Accommodation: Pantar Strait, Alor ArchipelagoLa Petite Kepa Homestay on Kepa Island belongs to a French national and is a favorite place for foreign tourists. Bungalows are available here. In Kalabahi City, comfortable hotels are available such as Hotel Pelangi Indah, Hotel Adi Dharma, and Hotel Nusa Kenari Indah. Hotels and inns usually have their own restaurants. At Kepa Homestay, the room rate includes three meals, usually fresh fish. In Kalabahi, there are a number of restaurants such as Rumah Makan Kediri and a restaurant belonging to Hotel Pelangi Indah. At night, many food stalls sell grilled fish, Soto soup and chicken satay near the port. Twice a week, there is a motorboat between Kalabashi City and Kupang and once a week between Kalabashi and Atapupu on Timor Island.
Accommodation and Getting to Alor
Kalabahi is the main city, and the capital of the Alor Regency. This is where all the facilities and accommodation are centered. Here are some of the accommodations in Kalabahi: 1) Hotel Pelangi Indah, Jalan Diponegoro No. 24, Kalabahi, Alor, Tel. +6 2386 21251; 2) Hotel Nusa Kenari Indah, Jalan Diponegoro No. 11, Kalabahi, Alor, Tel. +62 386 21074: 3) Homestay Cantik, Jalan Dahlia No.12, Kalabahi, Alor, Tel. +62 0386 21030; 4) Hotel Marlina, Jalan Dipenogoro No.11, Kalabahi, Alor, Tel. +62 386 21208; 21205; 5) Hotel Adi Dharma, Jalan R.E. Martadinata No. 12, KalabahiN Alor, Tel. +62 0386 21280; 6) Hotel Mawar, Jalan Dipenogoro No.34, Kalabahi, Alor, Tel. +62 386 21251; 21281; 7) Hotel Melati, Jalan Dr. Soetomo No. 1, Kalabahi, Alor, Tel. +62 0386 21073; 8) Hotel Nur Fitra, Jalan Pasar Paledang, Kalabahi, Alor, Tel. +62 0386 2222124.
There are also other accommodation available on other islands that particularly cater to divers. These are: 1) Homestay and Diving La P’tite, Kepa Island, Kecamatan Alor Barat laut, Alor, NTT, Tel. +62 386 21141; 21146, Mobile. +62 81 353 709 719, Website. la-petite-kepa.com; 2) Javatoda, Alor Divers, Jalan Tengiri No. 1 Kalabahi, Alor, Mobile: +62 81317804133, Website: alor-divers.com.
Travel Agents: 1) ) Flobamora Travel, Jalan Hati Suci No.50, Kupang, Tel. +62 380 831798; 2) Nusatin Travel, Jalan Jenderal Sumdirman No.25, Kupang, Tel. +62 380 21086; 3) Ellyandu Travel, Jalan Sumatera No. 13, Kupang, Tel. +62 380 821473; 4) Stindo Travel, Jalan Perintis Kemerdekaan No. 17, Kupang, Tel. +62 380 821473; 5) Montana Travel, Jalan Herewila No. 11, Kupang, Tel. +62 380 826814; 822272; 6) Pitoby Travel, Jalan Jenderal Sudirman, Kupang Tel. +62 380 832700; 7) SKTM, Jalan RW Monginsidi, Komplek Ruko Lontar permai Blok B/17, Kupang, Tel. +62 380 8333990
Getting There: To get to Alor, you can take a flight from Kupang, capital of East Nusa Tenggara. From Kupang there are several airlines that serve flights to Mali Airport in Kalabahi, the main town of Alor. Trans-Nusa serves daily flights between Kupang-Alor which takes about an hour. From Kupang, the official flight schedule is in the morning from 6.00-07.00am. When the weather is bad, the flight is usually postponed to the afternoon or even canceled. Reservations can be made at: Trans Nusa: Jl. Jenderal Sudirman,No.68, Kupang, Tel: +62 380 822555
The other option is by ferry which will take approximately 12 hours from Kupang to Larantuka, and followed by wooden boats to Kalabahi Seaport, which take about one hour. Twice a month, the Pelni ship (Pelni Alor: 0386-21195) comes from Kupang, Ende, Lombok, Makasar and Bali and arrives at Kalabahi Port in Alor.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020