Gren Mahe is a sacred ritual held by the Tana ‘Ai community in the Sikka district to show respect and gratitude to Mother Earth (Ina Nian Tana) and Father Sky (Ama Lero Wulan Reta).
In the village of Kringa, Gren Mahe is usually celebrated every five years. Tana ‘Ai communities in other villages may hold it once a year, once every seven years or even once every 20 years, depending on the urgency to hold a Gren Mahe and on the community’s economic situation.
The leaders of the Tana ‘Ai communities, called Litin Pitu Lera Walu, are granted permission by their ancestors (Du’a Mo’an Watu Pitu) to lead the villagers through important decisions regarding the organization and implementation of Gren Mahe. As the ceremony is of great importance, this council of elders sometimes starts with the preparations almost a year before the actual ceremony takes place.
In some Tana ‘Ai communities, the ritual activities may last up to seven days and nights. Other communities, such as Kringa, limit the duration of Gren Mahe to two nights and days, due to economic reasons.
The rituals held during Gren Mahe are focused around the mahe, a village’s ritual center which also features two temporary stilt houses, woga and lepo. woga hosts a set of traditional gongs and drums that are used during the ritual performances. Underneath the house, the animals for the offerings – goats and pigs – are kept, tied to the stilts. Only men who have already undergone gareng lamen (circumcision) are allowed to be in or around this house. The second house, lepo, functions as communal kitchen where food and drink are served and ritual offerings prepared.
According to local custom, it is mandatory that each participant of Gren Mahe, including guests, must pay respect to Tana ‘Ai ancestors by encircling the mahe three times.
As part of the event’s climax, the community members, or more precisely the circumcised, adult men, perform a traditional Tana ‘Ai martial art called labit. In the past, labit was performed by warriors before they went to war. The fights are accompanied by thundering gongs that indicate the start and the end of round. With a distinct kind of movement that includes seemingly unintentional hits, the two opponents start to challenge each other and trigger the fight.
Nowadays the fighters either use their fists or wooden sticks as weapons, whereas in the past, they would fight each other with a parang (machete), which caused major bloodshed and serious injury. A myth tells that the injured would go into the forests and return after a short while with all their wounds healed.
Labit is followed by a joyful singing and dancing event dedicated to peace. The performing women wear their most beautiful ikat costumes and do their hair in a traditionally decorated konde bun. Married women additionally wear bahar tibu, special golden earrings.
The ceremony closes with the ritual sacrifice of goats and pigs. Their meat is then distributed equally among the community members.
With Gren Mahe, the Tanah ‘Ai people lead us through their long-standing moral guidelines about human values, such as gratitude and respect to the universe and its superhuman leaders; about peace, justice, and courage – which are still highly valued there. Gren Mahe has been a means to pass on these unwritten life doctrines over generations.