Despite its short name, the Alor islands hide a long list of splendors, from fascinating underwater wonders up to the unique culture of the highland people. Here, one will be indulged with spectacles ranging from spellbinding marine life, the unique Moko kettledrums, the oldest Al Qur’an in Southeast Asia, and the traditional villages of the highlands.
The Alor Archipelago comprises 20 islands and 17 sub-districts. Among these, only 9 islands are inhabited: Alor, Pantar, Pura, Terewang, Ternate (not to be confused with Ternate in Maluku), Kepa, Buaya, Kangge, and Kura. The other 11 uninhabited islands are: Sikka, Kapas, Batang, Lapang, Rusa, Kambing, Watu Manu, Batu Bawa, Batu Ille, Ikan Ruing, and Nubu.
Although not yet as popular as Raja Ampat or neighboring Komodo Island, the waters around the archipelago offer equally fascinating spectacles –if not better. There are at least 50 dive spots stretching from Alor Island to Pantar Island, and several islets around them. Among these, 20 are considered in prime condition and among the world’s best. Some of the best sites are found along the Pantar Strait.
Those who are fortunate enough to have experienced diving in these waters have said that the underwater splendors of Alor outclass those in the Caribbean. In his book “East of Bali”, Photographer Kal Muller described the waters around Alor as pristine, filled with a variety of fascinating creatures, and highlighted with night-dive spots. He considered Alor as a world class underwater paradise.
The island of Alor itself is inhabited by a number of Flores sub- ethnic groups who still preserve their traditional ways of life. One of these still produces clothing from tree bark known as the Ka Clothing. The unique cultureof the Alorese are best observed among the Takpala indigenous group who dwell in the village of Lembur Barat, North-Central Alor. The Takpala still preserve the traditional housing construction that resembles a pyramid, covered with coconut leaves, bamboo plaited walls, and four main wooden pillars.
The island of Alor is also known as the island of a Thousand Moko’s. Moko is a small bronze kettledrum which is believed to have originated from the Dong Son culture of Vietnam. However, it remains a mystery as to how these prehistoric Dong Son drums arrived in Alor. Local legend says that the moko’s were discovered buried in the ground, and indeed until today it is still common for these mokos to be similarly uncovered.To observe these unique artifacts, one can visit the Museum of A Thousand Mokos located in the main town of Kalabahi, on Alor Island. The Museum also showcases a collection of distinct Alor hand-woven clothing called Kawate.
The island also holds the oldest Al Qur’an (Islamic holy book) ever to be discovered in Indonesia and in South East Asia. The Al Qur’an which is estimated to be over 800 years old is made of tree bark and uses natural substances for ink. The special Al Qur’an was once shown to the public in April 2011, during the Legu Gam Festival of the Ternate Sultanate.