Tanimbar Archipelago

Tanimbar archipelago is part of the West South East Maluku district, a new district of Maluku Province, established on October 4,1999. Before, it was part of South East Maluku district. The Tanimbar Islands, also called Timor Laut, are a group of about 65 islands in the Maluku province of Indonesia, including Fordata, Larat, Maru, Molu, Nuswotar, Selaru, Selu, Seira, Wotap, Wuliaru and Yamdena.

The Aru Islands and Kai Islands lie to the northeast, and Babar Island and Timor lie to the west. The islands separate the Banda Sea and the Arafura Sea. The total land area of the Islands is 5440 km².

The largest of the group is Yamdena. Yamdena Island has a range of thickly forested hills along its eastern coast, while its western coast is lower. Saumlaki is the chief town, located on the south end of Yamdena. Other islands include Larat, Selaru, and Wuliaru.

The population is approximately 61,000, of whom 44,000 are Christian, and 17,000 Muslim and unknown. The tiny island of Tanimbarkei is part not part of Tanimbar, but of the Kai Islands and inhabited by less than 1000 very traditional people. The Tanimbar Islands are part of the Banda Sea Islands moist deciduous forests ecoregion. Tanimbar warriors. Important products are copra, tortoiseshell, and trepang (an edible sea cucumber).

The wet tropical climate of Tanimbar archipelago is from May to September, while the dry season is from October to January. The temperature ranges from 25° – 30° C, and the average annual rainfall is 220 mm. The sea on the eastern part is very rough from February to September, while on the western part is from October to January.

Most of the people live as farmers and fishermen. The archipelago is rich of flora and fauna varieties. One of its natural orchid is well-known as” Bunga Larat” (Orchidae), or” Lelemuku” in the Tanimbarese dialect, is the pride of Maluku. This specific flora (dendrobium phalaenopsis) is grown naturally and could be found around the villages of Watmasa, Nurkat, Niswotar on Yamdena Island, Triangle islets MAN (Matakus, Angwarmas and Nuswotar), Bointubun Islet and Awear Lama on Fordata Island. It grows wildly sticking to the trees and corals, and when it is in bloom, its beauty could be seen from a distance of 10 meters. Various species of bananas are found on Fordata island, while various species of roots are spreaded on the Yamdena island. The specific fauna species of Yamdena island are the “Nuri” and the cockatoo birds, and also a kind of wild buffalo.

The sea of the Tanimbar islands is a rich fishing ground of various fishes, snails (lola ortrochas), green snails and various moluscca. The standing stock potency of maritime products especially along the coastal area are protected by the “sasi” system, a tradisional system to protect the environment to have a sustainable maritime products. If the stock reaches a certain volume or size which is feasible to be taken or harvested according to the related regulation, then the people is allowed to harvest. Tradisional fines are levied when someone trespasses the “sasi”. Hand woven cloth are well-known as a unique community handicrafts and as a Tanimbarese souvenir. The motives of each cloth have its different cultural meanings. These tie-dye textiles signify fertility and are closely related to feminine live. Tanimbarese wood and stone carvings and plaiting which have also symbolic meanings of the tradisional culture are also a specific souvenir.


lnfluence in Tanimbar islands culture such as the agriculture shifting cultivation system and the skill of making “perahu semang” (outrigger canoes). The Tanimbarese community regards the boat (perahu), the symbol of the sea, as a human being. The household family and the villagers are then symbolized as the crew and the passengers of a perahu (boat). In tradisional houses, the sides facing the sea usually have a beautiful ornamented prow. The keel, sails and the ties of the boat are like the body and soul. If these “body and soul” are united, the boat can sail. Efforts to preserve the symbolized boat ever sailing, bears the meanings of continuity of the society’s life.

These symbols of the sea are also used to express one’s feelings and living. The determination of the high and the low classes of someone in the society, and the phenomenon of the various boat symbols are Austronesians cultures origin. Beside the boat, the ornaments, various hand woven, earthenware, and plaiting have also symbolic meanings in Tanimbar. Carvings in Tanimbar also express the existing living symbols.

Ornamental carvings from metal and copper depict the art skill of the people once existed here. Gold carvings are only found as relics of the past.

Music instruments called “juk” made by the local people have a diatonic keynote. The youth used to play while singing their tone poem. Traditional folkdances such as the Tnabar llaa, Angkosi, Lilike, Badendang, Dodobol, Fakaval, etc are usually performed during traditional ceremonies.

“Manetat”, a traditional inter-village alliance system to support each other living in peace and harmony is also found in Tanimbar. Duan-Lolat or the Urayana are also traditional acts understanding with fines if a marriage occurred between the villagers.

“Kida Bela” is a relationship among individual or among villages and the word is now used to greet someone , and the response word will be “Kalwedo”, or on the contrary, “Kalwedo – Kida Bela”. These greetings are also used to welcome the participants in the meeting.

The Tanimbarese tradisional way to cook their staple food is the “bakar batu” which is the way of preparing the food through a system functioning as dry oven. The food is covered with banana leaves, cooked on heated stones in a hole heaped up with soil in the ground.

The art and culture of Tanimbar is unique and very attractive to be studied by scientists.