GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Easter in the Lesser Sunda Islands – (12)

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

In the village of Adonara proper, situated between the sea and the marshy lake of Kayo Dayo, rough and old canyons flank a kind of fountain where two Portuguese words were written: Lopes and Amor. No one is able to explain to me the meaning they assume in this context.

 In conversation with a nice old man, I know that near a place called Carmo, a Portuguese church was built in Adonara at the very same time when in Lamakera, on the neighboring island of Solor, there were erected the mud walls of the church of São João Baptista.

Bapa Laba – that’s the name of the old man – tells me three words from the local dialect that have Portuguese origin: strade (road), bangku (bank) and kandera (chair).

Curiously, all the places that before were under Portuguese power are now under Islamic rule. Cannons and other objects still function as talismans, protective symbols, which makes them untouchable. On the other hand, among Catholics there is a terrible habit of painting them in silver or with bright colors and cementing them at the entrance of the churches. Thus, it can be said that this heritage is better protected from the Muslim communities.

I return to Vure in time for a fish dinner with rice and pork. The local folks find it strange that I do not eat meat.

“I’m glad you like our fish,” they say. For dessert there is the usual sponge cake and a crunchy cake, called “kemba goyang”, both consumed in the paschal and holiday seasons.

At one o’clock in the morning, well ahead of schedule, the song ends, probably because someone thinks that the party is enough.

And now we have to make the “ronda” (patrol), as they say in Vure, where this medieval European tradition dates back to the arrival of the refugees from Macassar.

Maskador, corruption of the word “mercador”(merchant), is the name of the van that makes the race between Larantuca and Sica, another village with a significant Catholic community of Portuguese descent. The tortuous route is made among palm trees and tarpaulin stretches with chillies and coconut halves open to dry under a scorching sun on the edges of the macadam.

Bola. Lena. Paga. The map of Flores is full of toponymics of Portuguese origin. And it is not by accident. Paga, 40 kilometers from Maumere, for example, served as a place of refuge for Catholic missionaries persecuted by the Dutch. There a priest nicknamed Álvares was beheaded and buried, whose remains were later transferred to the terrain of the seminary. In his memory there is today in Paga the school “SMP Alvares”.

In Bola, next to the beach, a cross was erected on a rock called Batu Cruz. In the immediate vicinity there is a well – the “wair baluk” – made by a Portuguese priest, “Simon Pacheco of his name.” Throughout this region stories of wells exist in places where missionaries were buried.

It is in the direction of Paga that we must follow now, turning left at the beginning of the descent – one can already see the south coast of the island – towards Lela, and then Sica. There the trail ends, where the mountain enters the sea; a sea touched by waves that break over the short, gray sand. I cannot but think of tsunamis and the like, but any self-respecting surfer would soon dream of facing the waves at the end of the coral separating the village from the ocean.

Sica is essentially made up of houses made of bamboo, others are made of cement. There are few boats on the beach, even though the inhabitants live on fishing. The coast line extends south, with successive layers of mountains that overlap through the accumulated clouds.

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