The Sikkanese people live in the Sikka district in East-central Flores. They are famed for their fine ikat weaving, a handicraft deeply rooted in Sikkanese society, which is still of high economic and social importance. Producing probably the finest ikat in Flores, it is a pleasure to see so many people wearing the beautiful traditional sarongs in their daily lives. Besides the art of ikat weaving, the district boasts a fascinating history of their ancient kingdom and the integration of early outside influences into their local culture.
The Tana ‘Ai and the Sikka-Krowe
The two major societies of this district are the Tana ‘Ai people in the mountainous eastern part of the district and the Sikka-Krowe people in the central areas, as well as on the north and south coasts. Sikka is the name of the ethnic group as well as the domain formerly ruled by the King of Sikka. Apart from speaking different languages, the Sikka-Krowe and the Tana ‘Ai societies also have some cultural differences.
Due to their isolated settlements, the Tana ‘Ai were not exposed a lot to outside influence until recently. They used to live in several loosely organized domains called tana. These domains were less territorial entities, but more defined by religious and ceremonial borders. Each tana was led by the head of the domain’s founding clan, and also had its own mahé, a central ceremonial site which was found either in the village center or at a place in the surrounding forests. Unlike many (other) Florinese societies, the Tana ‘Ai never had their own kingdom, nor did they have a prominent bride-wealth system. Another distinctive feature of the Tana ‘Ai is their complex and elaborate ritual language.
In contrast, the Sikka-Krowe were frequently exposed to foreign encounters, including the Portuguese at the beginning of the 17th century, who left cultural footprints that are still noticeable. The Sikka-Krowe turned into a small kingdom, with the village of Sikka Natar on the south coast as its center of power.
The first king to rule Sikka in the beginning of the 17th century was Mo’ang (or Don) Alésu Ximenes da Silva. During the Portuguese era in Eastern Flores, the people of Sikka Natar took on Portuguese names, with the name ‘da Silva’ referring to the members of the ruling house. A myth dates the origin of this ruling house to a time way before the arrival of the Portuguese. The story tells about people from South Asia who were shipwrecked on the southern coast of Flores near today’s Sikka Natar. As they could not repair their ship, they decided to settle there. Soon they started to arrange marriage alliances with the indigenous people who lived in the hilly interior. Don Alésu is believed to be a descendant of these shipwrecked wayfarers. The myth also tells that the young Don Alesu travelled to Malaka where he studied political science and got acquainted with Christian religion. When he returned to Sikka, he brought with him Catholicism and founded the Kingdom of Sikka.
After Don Alésu, Sikka was under the subsequent rule of seventeen of his descendants. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Dutch transformed it into a semi-autonomous state, based on a policy of self-rule. The small kingdom had its heyday right after the Dutch withdrawal post World War II. With the passing of the last king, Don Josephus Thomas Ximenes da Silva in 1952, the rule of the royal house of Sikka came to an end. Even though the kingdom had to give way to the young Indonesian nation state, it lived on in the memory of the Sikkanese people as a prominent element of their cultural history.