Boti Village

Written by on May 18, 2012 in NTT Timor Traditional Villages with 0 Comments

West Timor Boti Village





Four elders of the Kingdom of Boti pose for a portrait. Following tradition, no one in the tiny kingdom wears shoes, everyone wears handmade ikat skirts and everyone must work every day…The 400 subjects of the Kingdom of Boti in remote West Timor, Indonesia, lead traditional lives based on the stories and memories of their elders. governed by a benevolent, yet demanding and hard-working king, the people who live in the village have agreed to forego the trappings and machinery of modernity to better preserve their increasingly unique history and society. Copyright:©2002/Jerry Redfern.

Hidden out of sight on an isolated mountain ridge 12km from Oinlasi, and accessible only by a degrading mountain road that’s often impassable without a 4WD, is the traditional, almost orthodox, village of Boti, where the charismatic kepala suku (chief), often referred to as the last king in West Timor, has vowed to maintain the strict laws of adat. He’s also the only king we’ve ever heard of who works the fields side by side with his people.

The Boti people have maintained their own language, lived off their own land (they grow bananas, corn, papaya, rice, pumpkin, coconuts and a cash crop of peanuts) their own way (they live by a nine-day week and always rest on that 9th day), and have steadfastly refused government assistance of any kind. Their autonomy was given an early assist when the Dutch colonial powers never found Boti. Neither did the head hunters before them, which allowed them to live peacefully in an isolated corner of Timor, unmolested, for centuries.

Villagers wear shirts, ikat sarongs and shawls made only from locally grown and hand-spun cotton thread coloured with natural dyes. Men are encouraged to marry outside the village and bring their new wife back into the fold. After marriage the men must let their hair grow long. Similiar to Rastas, their hair is viewed as their connection to nature. Their head is like the mountain, they say, and their hair, like the trees. Cutting their hair-trees is considered a bad omen and carries a fine, payable to the… well, to the king.

Women, on the other hand, are forever shunned if they marry outside the village, and children are only allowed to attend primary school. High school is forbidden, as it is considered by elders to be the key to unhappiness, which may sound familiar. The Boti people also use their own brand of plant-based medicine to treat illness, infection and disease. Boti’s 316 villagers (70 families) still follow ancient animist rituals, though another 700 neighbouring families who live in Boti’s geographical sphere of influence have adopted Protestantism and attend public schools.

They have been hosting guests since 1981, but see less than 300 visitors per year. Make sure you’re one of them. This place is magical. On arrival you will be led to the raja’s house, where, in keeping with tradition, you will offer betel nut to the chief as a gift. It’s possible to stay in the leafy, cool, charming village, in your own lovely lontar guesthouse, and sleep on soft beds swathed with local ikat. All meals are provided for 100,000Rp per person, and for another 100,000Rp the wives and mothers will play their early days gamelan and sing a haunting tune. The king will strum his indigenous ukelele and young women will twirl in the village courtyard before the young men demonstrate their war dance. Day-trippers are expected to contribute a donation, as well (25,000Rp should work).

The Boti king requests that you do not visit independently; bring a guide from Soe conversant with local adat. But you won’t need mosquito repellent. Somehow there are no mosquitoes here.

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