Early July I received a text message from one of the traditional leaders in Nggela, Flores, inviting me to attend the traditional harvest ceremony, Joka Ju. I was eager to make this trip to learn more about the ceremonies of this very traditional community in central Flores. Joka Ju is a ritual that takes place every year according to the traditional calendar of Nggela. The purpose of the ceremony is to purify the village and its population having just completed an agricultural season.
When I entered the village I could already feel the energy of the ritual. People everywhere were busy: cleaning the compound, gathering firewood, caging the animals. In four days time the members of this community would not be able to engage in any activity, including tending their fields, until the Joka Ju ceremony was completed.[separator][/separator]
As I approached the Soa Ria traditional house I noticed that the Mosalaki (traditional leader) had instructed the Pare Ba’i (traditional leader’s wife) to soak rice with several different kinds of bitter plants. This was prepared in coconut shells and was divided up among the seven traditional leaders who would be participating in the ceremony. This rice mixture is believed to have strong healing powers and may be used by the Mosalaki to cure people of various illnesses.[separator][/separator]
By late afternoon the ceremony began at the Soa Ria with a procession to the beach led by Mosalaki Nata Ae. As he walked he scattered rice freshly removed from the traditional house’s granary to clear the path of any disturbing spirits. The other tradtional leaders from the Puu, Nata Ae, Tau Tuu, Sao Meko, Sao Tua, Sao Wtu Gan, and Sao Puse Mbono tradtional houses all followed him.[separator][/separator]
At the beach the traditional leaders visited three points where they prayed. They then cooked rice, shrimp and egg in bamboo containers over a fire. This was the preparation for the offerings that would be made to appease the negative forces so that these would not disturb the community over the next year.[separator][/separator]
After shouting several times to frighten off negative forces, they sent the offerings off into the sea in small boats made of bamboo as part of the purification process. This is very similar to what we do in Bali when we have a macaru or purification ceremony. I was amazed at the similarities between our two spiritual ways.[separator][/separator]
The remaining food that had been cooked was then shared between the Mosalaki as evidence to the ancestors that they had performed their responsibilities to cleanse the village of any sickness or disease for the following year.[separator][/separator]
As the Mosalaki returned to the village it was nearly dark. The women of the village burned Wunu Langga leaves(Vitex trifolia) which has a sweet aroma and is believed to ward off any unwelcomed spirts. As they returned to the Sao Ria traditional house, one of the Mosalaki from the Puu house was prepared for the next part of the ceremony by having a protective thread wrapped around his right wrist.[separator][/separator]
The Mosalaki was to move through the compound carrying an offering of kitchen ash, egg and black chicken feathers. This offering would ground all the negative energy of the community which had gathered over the last year.[separator][/separator]
The Balinese Nyepi rituals were brought to mind: we build great monster effigies that carry the negative elements and then we burn these figures to ground the energy. As the Mosalaki Puu moved through the village, the villagers threw kitchen ash at him and yelled at him, venting their pent up anger and frustrations. His role was to ground these energies in the offering he carried and then dispose of them outside of the village.[separator][/separator]
As the Mosalaki Puu reached the northern end of the village he placed the offering containing all of the negative energy in a small shrine that represents a minature traditional house. He touched his foot to the minature stairs of this shrine as though he had entered the house. He repeated this whole ritual again as he walked south through the village receiving all the negative gestures and words from the community.[separator][/separator]
With this being complete, one of the Mosalaki climbs a rock that is the highest point in the compound and announces to the community that from this point it is forbidden for outsiders to enter the village, for anyone to work in the fields or cut down trees until the completion of the ritual in four days time.[separator][/separator]
Yet again I was reminded of Nyepi on Bali and how on this day we have total silence and no one may work in the fields, be on the streets, play music, or use a vehicle. For Nggela, the Joka Ju ceremony continues for another four days with traditional dances and song. After the ceremonies are complete, the community continues their work in the fields and around their homes, free from disturbance.