Bena, a community that is situated about 16km from Bajawa at the foot of Mount Inerie, is the most famous and also most visited village in the Ngada district. With its impressive stone formations and ancestral shrines, as well as traditional houses, Bena has turned into a signpost for Ngada culture.
The village consists of two parallel rows of traditional, high thatch-roofed houses. Highly visible in the center of the village are ngadhu and bhaga, pairs of shrines – one for each clan of the village – representing the clan’s ancestors. The ngadhu is an anthropomorphic umbrella-like pole embodying the male ancestor of a clan. The trunk is decorated with carvings and is topped with a warrior-like figure. The ngadhu symbolizes fierceness and virility. After a new ngadhu has been carved out of a special tree, the men of the village carry the pole in a ceremonial way into the village.
The bhaga, a female ancestral clan shrine, is a small hut with a thatched roof that resembles a miniature of a traditional house. It symbolizes the sanctuary of the house and the female body. The bhaga offers enough space for one to two persons to hold rituals for female ancestors.
Another distinct feature of Ngada culture, of which Bena offers an awesome sight, are the megalithic formations in the village center. Megaliths are a means to connect with the supernatural realm and to communicate with the ancestors, often by animal sacrifice. As with the ngadhu and bhaga shrines, there is also a stone altar to every village clan. Additionally, a massive pile of flat stones, called lenggi, represents a court where the different clans of the village settle their legal disputes. If you look closer at the houses in Bena, you often find them decorated with skulls and horns of water buffaloes and pig jaws which were sacrificed at different ceremonies.
Visitors can buy locally crafted ikat, or tie-dyed woven cloth, in Bena. The sarong, which is a large tube of woven cloth, is often worn wrapped around the waist, both by men and women. The ikat weaving motifs range from animal patterns like horses, chickens, elephants, and the sacred ngadhu and bagha symbols.
At the end of the village, elevated on a small hill, a viewpoint with a Virgin Mary shrine gives you the opportunity to have a bird eye’s view over Bena and a wider view of the beautiful surrounding landscape, including Mount Inerie and the Savu Sea. The visit to Bena can also be combined with a hike that passes the villages of Tololela and Gurusina before ending at the Malanage Hot Springs.
Resource: Flores Tourism