The small village of Cecer in West Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara, preserving the local Caci Dance, which seems to be more like a fighting ritual.
Located on top of a hill, 800 kilometers above sea level, the village has become the center of West Manggarai’s culture preservation — especially for the Caci Dance, Ndundu Ndake Dance, and Kerangkuk Alu Dance.
One of the institutions preserving these cultural performances is the Riang Tana Tiwa Studio, established in 2009. Studio leader Kristoforus Nison said that the Caci Dance was originally performed by warriors to celebrate victory.
Nowadays, the dance is performed to celebrate events such as a successful harvest, marriage and even to welcome an important guest. In the Manggarai culture it serves as the symbol of human atonement.
The name of the dance is composed of two Manggarai words: Ca, which means one, and Ci, which means test. Thus, the Caci is a one-on-one test between men to prove who is right.
Participants of the dance must be agile, good fighters, able to sing local songs and physically fit.
Kristoforus said that the dancers only wear white pants adorned with the black traditional fabric Songke and colorful fabric strands. Their heads are protected by a Panggal, a leather head covering and their torsos are left bare.
“The aggressor uses a weapon in the form of whip made from buffalo skin and the defending dancer uses a round-shaped shield made from dried buffalo skin and an Agang [a piece of curved bamboo],” he said
The Caci performance is begun with a danding dance, performed by men and women in a circle to fire up the dancers.
After warming up with horse-like movements, the assaulter will taunt their opponent with a song and a dance. The groups, composed of eight men, will take it turns to be the assaulter while the defender tries to avoid the attacks.
“With agile movements the assaulting parties will swing their whip toward their opponents [...] if one gets hit, a long, red mark will be left. This mark is evidence to show that the assaulter succeeded,” Kristoforus said.
Beke, or lost, is when the eyes of the defender are hit, signaling that the two dancers — the assaulter and the defender should stop the dance and be replaced by another pair.
Read also: The ancient ritual of Paki Kaba