Living relatively undisturbed way of life, the Baduy tribes are the last remaining primitive rainforest people in Java. Although they refuse the use of modern technology contact with the outside world is inevitable, of course, and so the ethnic group today benefits from eco-tourism.

Strangers (in some cases only Indonesian visitors) are free to visit some of the villages in the Lebak Regency (Banten) to see how the indigenous people live in simple bamboo huts, with no electricity, mobile phones, soap or toothpaste, and their traditional handicraft can be purchased as souvenirs.

Baduy people do not like to be photographed, and it is essential to ask for their permission.

Baduy people live in simple jungle-huts with no electricity or telecommunication (Ciboleger)


Baliem Valley is famous for adventurous jungle expeditions that follow the footprints of the West Papuan tribes of Dani, Yali, and Lani. Already the arrival in Wamena will blow your mind away.

Dani Tribe, Baliem Valley

Wandering around, you will see real folklore; dazzling markets amongst traditional straw huts and half-naked locals shouting and chattering around is a just a ‘subtle’ introduction to the regional culture before setting out on the Baliem Valley adventure to find ancient mummies, tribesmen, and headhunters.

The outlying villages of Akima, Jiwika, and Pumo have opened to the foreign visitors who, during the festive time, can get a chance to witness a Dani battle and dreadful pig feast ritual.

A well-preserved mummy in Jiwika


One of the most rewarding destinations in Indonesia, the little known Sumba was once home to the headhunting groups, and even today, animism is a major belief. The villages of Ratenggaro is among the best preserved.

Traditional village in Kodi

Ratenggaro village in Kodi

Sumbanese villages are characteristic of large vernacular houses made out of a petrified tree, from which the heads of conquered enemies used to be proudly hung to celebrate the victory. Nowadays, only buffalo skulls adorn the houses, and even such totem can be a spectacle.

Death here on Sumba plays an important role, as that is the moment when the then mortal soul makes the journey into the spirit world. Therefore, one of the most impressive experiences on the island is funeral rituals and ceremonies, including megalithic burials and animal sacrifices. 

Funeral ceremonies play a significant role in the Sumbanese animist culture


Timor West is one of the last widely undiscovered islands in Indonesia, stuffed with ’frozen-in-time’ surprises.

The gateway to the rural regions is the small town of Soe where one needs to hire a private guide to be taken to the ‘Stone-Age’ communities. Tamkessi, Boti and None are villages where to get culturally shocked – the former headhunting tribes still have a village chief, their own shaman and performs magic and animist rituals.

The ’prehistoric’ village of Benteng None (West Timor)


The tribal mysteries of West Flores can be revealed, but one needs to get into the deep, stark forest, high on the slopes of volcanic hills of Ruteng. It is well worth of the effort – the archetypical Manggarai villages will surely blow your mind.

For instance, the mystic Wae Rebo and Pu`u are villages where the way of life which seems not to have changed for centuries. Traditional conical houses are positioned to a particular scheme, arranged in a circular sacrificial arena.

Wae Rebo is one of the most arresting tribal villages in Indonesia, West Flores


Another astonishing tribal journey starts in Bajawa. Ngada district is the spiritual heartland of Flores, and it is famous for ancient, megalithic stones and totemic structures and strange occult rituals.  Here, dog meat cooked in its own blood, moke liquor is drunk, strange rituals are performed, and this is a region where black magic and sorcery are, still today, household names.

Particularly fascinating is the hill-tribe village of Bena, built in 9 levels structured according to different clans. The best-preserved megaliths can be found in a clearing at the twin villages of Wogo Baru and Wogo Lama.

Bena is considered is one of the prettiest traditional villages in Flores (West Flores)


One of the most intriguing sacred sites in Bali is the Aga village in Trunyan on the eastern shore of the Batur Lake in Kintamani. You can get there with a local guide, using a basic rowing boat from Kedisan or Toyo Bungkah.

This is a very isolated part of Bali, ruled by tradition and strict religion. Ancient customs in Bali Aga include the open burial of dead bodies in a pit covered by just some light cloth. Skulls and bones are traditionally placed under the Teru Menyan Tree, and it is so for a good reason – the intense scent of the leaves helps neutralise the odour of the decomposing corpses.

The Trunyan Cemetery (Bali Aga)


Tana Toraja is a leading eco-tourism destination in Indonesia. The region is regarded as the most distinctive and anthropologically significant in the country.

Famed for controversial burial customs, gruesome funeral rituals, eerie graveyards carved into rocky cliffs and massive peaked-roof houses, the local culture has survived for centuries, and many of the native practices remain, including animal sacrifices, ostentatious funeral rites, and huge communal feasts.

The cliff graves in Tana Toraja (Central Sulawesi)

What is the cultural highlight, however, is Ma Nene Festival (the ceremony of cleaning corpses). The celebration is held in Tana Toraja each August, when the bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed, groomed and dressed in new clothes. 

The mummies are then walked around the village while their coffins are fixed and get ready for their residents to return after the grand ‘makeover’.

Ma Nene Festival is one of the spookiest celebrations in the world, Tana Toraja


The swampy heart of Kalimantan is one of the least accessible places on Earth and home to the indigenous Dayak people. The once notorious headhunters live now peacefully in their longhouses (betangs), many of which still in the traditional way of life.

Tumbang Gatu village is one of the most impressive; the 55 meters long longhouse was built in 1870, and it accommodates the whole village (up to 20 families). The Dayak communities traditionally live in one house altogether, and these can be up to 100 meters long. There are special funeral ceremonies and sacred burial places where the ashes of perished people are kept.

Although the foreign visitors are welcome to come there are not many who would set out on the long strenuous journey through the jungles of Borneo.

Tumbang Gagu village was built in 1870 (Central Kalimantan), Borneo


Lake Toba in North Sumatra is another eco-tourism hotspot. The native Batak tribes are well-known for their animistic beliefs, ancient rituals and odd customs, amongst which the local funeral and reburial ceremonies are the rarities that attract most of the visitors.

On the western shores of the lake, a bridge links the Samosir Island, also called ‘Island of the Death.’

The major points of interest are the tribal villages, and ancient sarcophagi only discovered in the 1930s. Simanindo is known for traditional Jabu houses and Ambarita for a curious collection of stone chairs, one of which is mysteriously occupied by a stone statue.

Ambarita village, Lake Toba (North Sumatra)

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Eva Bodova

Sunday 2 September 2018

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