Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Bena Sunday Church Choir

[Aural Archipelago has moved to a new site - why not read this article there? Lots more material at www.AuralArchipelago.com]

Location: Bena, Central Flores

Sound: The Bena Sunday Church Choir (see below)


With most music I record and encounter in Indonesia, I have a sketchy knowledge at best about the music at hand, but in this encounter I'm left with presenting the reader a near total blank.

I recorded this track in the village of Bena, one of the most traditional Ngada villages in Flores. It's a fairly popular spot on the backpacking trail, and thus sees a fair amount of visitors, most visiting to see the ancient complex of megaliths at the heart of the village. While nearly all Ngada have been converted to Catholicism, the megaliths betray their animistic past and syncretic present - while the villagers sing "Hallelujah" on Sundays, they also occasionally sacrifice animals to the ancestral spirits and leave them at the megalithic stone altars.

I happened to stop by on a Sunday morning, just in time to catch a Sunday church service in one of the rugged thatched-roof houses for which Bena is famous. The villagers sat on the ground and in plastic picnic chairs and sang sweet hymns about which I know nothing: do they have a special Ngada character to them or are they stock Indonesian hymns? Especially in the second hymn on this recording (which sadly was cut off due to low disc memory on my recorder), I hear harmonies that seem to have a special something: Flores is famous for its polyphonic singing - could there be a connection?

As always, anybody who actually knows what they're talking about, please chime in with a comment! Everyone else, just enjoy the lovely sounds...


  1. Wow. Pure delight! Thanks for sharing.

  2. here from reddit. having gone to the indonesian catholic church for most of my childhood, to me it seems like a stock Indonesian hymn from Puji Syukur.

    take it with a grain of salt though, i'm not an expert or whatever.

    but am thoroughly enjoying your site! keep it up!

  3. You recording starts with a sung version of the katholic "Our Father" prayer in bahasa Indonesia.
    Our father who art in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come,
    your will be done,
    on earth, as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

    The second hyme I don't recognize directly but will probably be easily found back in the catholic songbook.