Excavations in Liang Bua cave near Ruteng have unearthed fossilized bones of a human species the adults of which reached a height of only 105 cm on average. The excavations took place in 2003 and subsequent years, the remains of at least 7 individuals have been discovered. The scientific name of the species is homo floresiensis, but the nickname “Flores hobbit” has become more popular.
The fossils were found under layers of about 6 m volcanic ash and mud, and were associated with stone tools and fossils of animals, a.o. komodo lizards and small-sized stegodon (kind of elephants). They were dated between 30,000 and 18,000 years ago.
We were told that the debate is still ongoing where to place these mini-humans on the evolutionary tree, but the prevalent explanation would be that they are homo sapiens whose size had gradually diminished. This is known as dwarfism and not uncommon among animal species living on an island. Later we found at the Smithsonian that homo floresiensis is there classified as a separate human species, mainly based on their brain size, about one third of that of modern man.
The wide cave is half open facing a river valley, and it is easy to see that it was an attractive dwelling place to prehistoric man. But to be honest, there is not much to see inside the cave, some marked holes and a locked crate with tools of the archaeologists who will return to continute ttheir research.
Yet there is a surprise! If you are willing to spend another Rp 50,000 apart from the voluntary donation in the guest book, a 'real' hobbit man will present himself. It is affirmed that there is a village in the mountains with many more people like him, who supposedly are descendants of homo florienses or perhaps genetically mixed with homo sapiens. The village can't be visited, because that necessitates elaborate ceremonies.
Well, only DNA comparison can prove or disprove the genetic link of these contemporary hobbits with the prehistoric ones, but we are inclined not to believe it. Look at the picture of Theo (who is 1,72 m) with the little man. His torso and arms are of normal homo sapiens size, only his legs are small and malformed. The skeleton of homo floresienses code-named FB1, which was found almost complete, shows that she was proportioned like a normal homo sapiens, only smaller. So it seems to us that this modern little man and his co-villagers must suffer from an inherited deformation.
You could come with a guide, but can also find the location on your own. From Jalan Komodo (the road to Labuan Bajo) follow the road north direction Reo for 2,5 km. There take the sealed road on your left, through Lalong village. After 14 km on this road you reach the entrance porch; the cave is 1 km beyond the porch.
The meaning of compang is a stone altar that functions as traditional ceremonial centre. The Compang Ruteng is located in a roughly circular field on an elevated site surrounded by a low parapet built of rock wide enough to walk on. In the centre stood a banyan tree (Ficus benjamina), but after its demise it was replaced by a much smaller dadap tree (Erythrina variegata). In the local language a banyan tree is called ruteng, pronounced with a voiceless “e” as contrasted to the name of the town Rutèng.
Outside the perimeter one can see two traditional Manggarai houses, of octagonal shape with a conical roof. One of them is a Mbaru Wunut or residential house, the other a Mbaru Gendrang or meeting house. The inhabitants of the former run a small shop. The latter stands empty unless there is a meeting of village elders or an ceremony going on. Here are stored the artifacts used for the ceremonies, including whips and shield for the caci, stylized whip fighting. An important ceremony is the penti, essentially a thanksgiving day for the harvest. A buffalo or cow will be sacrificed at the altar.
Of course when you visit Compang Ruteng, a local guide will show you around and expect a donation. He pointed us to stepping stones to facilitate mounting or dismounting a horse, and erect stones on which to tie one's riding horse. He also showed us the dais built of rock outside the perimeter and overlooking the cemetery, where priests and elders used to sit in judgment of criminal offenders.
Address: Golo Dukal village, Langke Rembong district, Manggarai regency.
Directions: From Ruteng cathedral go west, then at the T-crossing left; this is Monginsidi street. Follow this road, which changes name into Anggrek street. At junctions, when in doubt, choose the widest road. At 2.3 km from the cathedral, just across a narrow bridge, on your right is the gate to Combang Ruteng: two pillars with effigies of buffalo horns on top.
There are few landmark buildings in Ruteng. Apart from the old and the new cathedrals there is the traditional house that used to be the residence of king Baroeng of Manggarai.
This adat house located in Ruteng town is just an example of many Mbaru Wunut, this being the local term for a traditional Manggarai house. The octagonal design with conical roof nowadays is an icon for Manggarai, although not many people live in one any more.
We spent only a few minutes inspecting the house from the outside, as on a Saturday we found it closed. The royal residence was built as a double octagon with an outhouse attached for kitchen. The interior had not yet been made into a tourist attraction, the house serving as the office of the government agency for the Empowerment of Women and Children (Pemberdayaan Perempuan dan Anak). Yet the Manggarai regent has declared he wants it to be converted into a centre where tourists can learn about Manggarai culture. Until that time you may prefer to visit the ceremonial centre known as Compang Ruteng.
Address: Kelurahan Watu, Langke Rembong district.
Directions: Relative to the mosque and the sports field in the centre of town, the Rumah Raja is located just half a km due south.
Rana Mese is the name of a lake in the crater of a dormant volcano. The lake lies at 1300 m altitude and is visible from the road; just stop and look behind the wall. Why the wall? Were people so intent on seeing the lake while driving by that they ran off the road?
The entrance to the visitors centre is just 1 km downhill from the wall. The centre has seen better days. When we first came here going east it was deserted, and we could not even find the path to the lake - got lost in the undergrowth.
But when we came back from Bajawa there was someone at the office, we duly paid Rp 5000 admittance and were shown to the right path - in a corner of the parking area and recently cleaned up. It was just 200m to the lake, at the end 45 steps go down to it. To the right of the stairs a rivulet runs off, the lake is the source of Wai Dingin (Cold River).
Just 10 steps before the end of the stairs a path leads left along the lake's border to a concrete jetty. That's where we had our lunch, because two picnic pavilions were broken and dirty. No one around to disturb the stillness of the lake, just a couple of silent local anglers. They at least are not afraid of evil spirits and whirlpools said to drag down unwary swimmers. Of course, if you are no swimmer you should not venture into the water, because the borders are steep.
A pity that there seem to be not enough guests. The location could be an alternative for accommodation in Ruteng town. Ideal for a quiet retreat, for bird spotting or for just a night over on the way to Ende. A guest bungalow was available, but has fallen in disrepair. Ornithologists may expect to see waterbirds such as Sunda Teal, Pacific Black Duck and Little Pied Cormorant, as well as Ruddy Cuckoo-dove, Sumba Cicadabird, Russet-capped Tesia and Russet-backed Rhinomyias in the surrounding forest.
Directions: It's just 22 km from Ruteng on the left of the road to Bajawa. Look out for the wall, there is stall here selling drinks. Then go the other km to the gate.
With public transport take a bus to Mborong from the terminal in Ruteng and get off at the gate at km 22. Or take a bemo to Mano and walk the 6 km to Rana Mese. For returning you have to flag down a bus.