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Master Poets, Ritual Masters


Suti Sai ma Bina Liu from the Domain of Oenale

Thanks to the poet Ande Ruy, who joined the first recording session, invitations for subsequent sessions were initially extended to poets from eastern Rote, particularly Landu and Bilba. It proved relatively easy to find poets from these domains. Termanu was also represented from the beginning by Esau Pono and by other poets he brought to join the group. The goal from the outset, however, was to attract master poets from as many different dialect areas as possible. The third recording session was able to attract poets from Dengka and the fourth session had poets from Thie. It was harder, however, to find poets from other domains, particularly from the far west of Rote.

Fortunately for the seventh recording session, in 2011, we were able to attract a poet from the domain of Oenale. This poet, Hendrik Foeh, was remarkably capable. Unlike most other poets, however, he was quiet, almost self-effacing and hardly put himself forward as a notable Rotenese ‘man of knowledge’. Yet his recitations were clear, coherent and linguistically beautiful. None of them was particularly long, nor were they reiterative. Instead they were focused and succinct. Moreover, he was able to provide reasonable exegesis on his recitations. His recitation of Suti Sai(k) ma Bina Liu(k), recorded on 5 October 2011, is an excellent example of his style of composition.

Figure 26: Hendrik Foeh

Hendrik Foeh’s recitation places Suti Sai and Bina Liu in an origin chant that recounts the creation of Rotenese cloths. Although it is not made explicit, Suti Sai and Bina Liu are female creatures. The recitation is an origin chant, but the poet emphasises from the beginning that this is also a ‘widow and orphan’ chant.

The first half of the recitation describes the shells’ journey from the sea to the land and their quest for shelter and protection. Eventually they are taken to Delha. The arrival in Delha begins the second half of the recitation. The recitation does not name the chant characters who gather the shells and carry them to Delha nor does it identify the chant character who is responsible for the first weaving and patterning of the Rotenese cloth. It is a narrative of occurrence, not of named actors or agents.

In this first section, Suti Sai ma Bina Liu are carried by a storm from sea to land and, at ‘the river’s edge and the sea’s boundary’, they speak out with a plaintive cry, asking for shelter and protection.

Ina Falu Bina Liu Do Ana ma Suti Sai: Widow Bina Liu or Orphan Suti Sai


Ata ola-ola

We speak of


Ina falu fo Bina Liu

The widow Bina Liu


Ma ana ma fo Suti Sai.

And the orphan Suti Sai.


Ana suru sia Mbia Liun na

She takes cover in Mbia Liun


Do ana bambi sia Unu Sain

Or she shelters in Unu Sain


Dadi neme-hena ma ne’e-bani.

Offering hope and expectation.


Te hu sanggu sai na edo

But a storm erupts in the sea


Ma ruli liun na eno

And a typhoon makes its way in the ocean


De Bina ana edo nggi

Bina, she puts forth her pod


Boe ma Suti ana roko isin.

Then Suti lets loose her insides.


Ana lali hela sain

She shifts from the sea


Ma ana keko hela liun

And she moves from the ocean


Ana lalo no tere-tasi

She is carried with the ocean refuse


Boe ma ana nggongga no hanu-lé

And is moved with river debris


Ana losa ré pepisin

She comes to the river’s edge


Fo ndia ré retan

There where the river ceases


Ana ndu’u tasi tatain

She comes to the sea’s boundary


Fo ndia tasi sun.

There where the sea ends.


Ana na-lo

She calls out


Do ana na-meli:

Or she speaks:


‘Au keko hela au daeng

‘I have moved from my land


Ma au lali hela au nggorongga.

And I have shifted from my village.


Te touk sé tei telu

What man will take pity


Ma ta’ek sé rala rua.

And what boy will open his heart.


Au tuda u ana ma

I have become an orphan


Ma au dadi u falu ina.

And I have become a widow.


Sé ma tei telu

Who will take pity


Ma sé ma dale dua

And who will open his heart


Fo ana lai nala au

Someone to love me


Ma ana sue nala au.

And someone to care for me.


Ana dadi neu lane aon solo langga

Someone to surround me like a wide hat


Ma ana foi aon nggeli tua

And someone to cover me like a thatched roof


Fo ana na’a bambi nala au

Someone to shelter me


Ma ana na’a suru nala au.’

And someone to protect me.’

In this version, a young friarbird and a parrot are the ones to hear the shells’ cry and carry them to Delha in the west.


Koa mana mete nggoro-a

A friarbird who sees its village


Ma koa ma tei telu

That friarbird has pity


Nggia mana suri inggu-a

A parrot who spies its clan


Nggia ma dale dua,

That parrot opens its heart,


Sama ona koa-ore ta’e tena

Just like a still young friarbird


Ma deta leo nggia-mese tou landus.

And just like an immature parrot.


Ana ninia nala Suti halan

She hears Suti’s voice


Ma ana nenene nala Bina dasin

And she listens to Bina’s words


Ana eko feo nala Bina

She embraces Bina


De ana la’o losa Dela Muri

Then she goes to Dela Muri


Ana lutu eko nala Suti

She surrounds Suti


De nendin losa Ndana Ikon.

Then bears her to Ndana Ikon.

The ‘woman who spins and winds cotton’ lives in Delha at the western end of Rote. She is engaged in producing cloths. Traditional cloths rely on two basic dyes: a blue-black dye derived from indigo and a red dye that comes from the roots of the morinda (Morinda citrifolia) plant. The Rotenese pair these dyes as a dyadic set: tau//manukudu. The passage describes the creation of such cloths. It implies that the very patterning of these cloths is based on these shells: ‘the motif of the sea//the pattern of the ocean.’ And, as a consequence, whoever wears these cloths carries ‘Suti Sai’s voice and Bina Liu’s words’.


Te hu ina ia ina mana bindo inde,

This woman is a woman who spins,


Te’o ia te’o mana lola kaba

This aunt is an aunt who winds cotton


Ara losa Dela Murin

They arrive at Dela Muri


Do ara ndu’u Ndana Ikon.

Or they come to Ndana Iko.


Ana lolo kaba

She winds cotton


Ma ana bindo inde

And she spins


Ana sangga kaba sina

She seeks sina cotton


Ana ta hambu

She does not have any


Ana sangga fina koli

She seeks koli thread


Ana ta nita.

She does not see any.


Ana tao sa neu kaba sina

She makes sina cotton


Fo ana lolo

She lays out the loom


Ana tao sa neu fina koli

She makes koli thread


Fo ana tenu.

She weaves.


Ana seu kaba dae mbena

She picks cotton bolls from the land


Fo ana hai fina koli Rote boan.

She takes thread from the fruit of the koli tree.


Ana bindo inde

She spins


Ma ana lolo kaba.

And she lays out the cotton.


Ana lolo neu rambi

She lays out a woman’s cloth


Boe ma ana tenu neu lafe

Then she weaves a man’s cloth


Ana sangga nae tutu deta

She wants to pound dyes


Fo mbila nggeo

To make the red and black


Te hu ara ta hambu.

But there are none.


Ana ketu tau ana tete don

She cuts leaves of the small indigo


Boe ma ana kali manukudu lasi okan.

Then she strips old roots of the morinda bush.


De ana tutu deta neu mbila nggeo

She pounds to make the red and black


Fo ana adu dudula

She creates a pattern


Fo lafe dulan.

A pattern for a man’s cloth.


De ana tao neu buna

Then she makes a motif


Fo rambi bunan,

A motif of a woman’s cloth,


Fo rambi ra-buna

A woman’s cloth with a motif


Fo ra-buna saik

A motif of the sea


Te lafe na-dula

A man’s cloth with a pattern


Te na-dula liu.

A pattern of the ocean.


Hu Suti Sai nendi ma liu

Because Suti Sai has been carried from the ocean


Ma Bina Liu nendi ma sain.

And Bina Liu has been carried from the sea.


Ana na loa ma na naru.

It is wide and long.


Sia dae mbenan ia sia Rote Ndao

On the dry land here on Rote Ndao


Losa fai ia ma ndu’u fai ia.

To this day and until this day.


Rote Ndao ana nalusa

The people of Rote Ndao wrap it


Ma ana natai

And wear it


Lafe fo dula sai ia

A man’s cloth with this sea pattern


Rambi fo dula liu ia

A woman’s cloth with this ocean pattern


Hu la’o mia Suti Sai ia

Because it originates from Suti Sai


Ma la’o mia Bina Liu

And originates from Bina Liu


Ana ma ma ina falu.

The orphan and the widow.


No ia ana fe’a ndoe ndolu

Those who still do not understand


Ma ana fe’a la’a lela

And those who still do not comprehend


Te ta’e mana ma Rote Ndao ra

The young men on Rote


Rendi Suti Sai haran

They carry Suti Sai’s voice


Boe ma rendi Bina Liu dasin na.

And they carry Bina Liu’s words.

This would seem to be the appropriate ending to this version of Suti Sai ma Bina Liu. However, as a good oral poet, Hendrik Foeh continued his recitation to provide a postscript that gave the context of his recitation. He made clear that his recitation was for me and that it was made on Bali but he then explained that this recitation was intended to be heard to affect people’s hearts and convince them to provide for widows and orphans, especially on Rote Ndao.


Ne’e lolosan neu Pak Fox sa ia

To this point for Pak Fox here


Sia Nusa Bali ia

Here on the island of Bali


Fo ela leo bena

So let it be that


Ndi’i don nenene

The ear continually hears


Fo tao dalen leo be

To affect the heart


Fo na-tetu ina falu

To give order to widows


Ana tao tein leo be

It affects the inner person


Fo na-lole ana ma

To do good to orphans


Fo mana mia Rote Ndao nema.

To those from Rote Ndao.

Hendrik Foeh’s Recitation as a Distinct Example of a Suti Solo do Bina Bane Chant

Hendrik Foeh’s recitation locates his version of Suti Sai ma Bina Liu within the context of an origin chant—one that recounts the origin of weaving, dyeing and the production of Rotenese tie-dyed textiles. In this respect, it is similar to Old Meno’s recitation from Termanu and to Simon Lesik’s recitation from Dengka, both of whose recitations link the shells to the origins of weaving. However, Suti Sai ma Bina Liu is a narrative without genealogical grounding. One of the features of most other versions of this chant is the insistence on particular named agents. Not only are these chant characters named, they also are often genealogically linked to one another. This version names no one except the shells (and no genealogy is given for these shells). It thus is a narrative without its embedding and as such lacks one of the critical features of an ‘origin’ chant.

This recitation conforms to the pattern of an ‘orphan and widow’ chant—one that recounts the expulsion of the shells from the depths of the sea, their arrival at the edge of the land, their identification as ‘orphan and widow’ and their plea for shelter and assistance.

Not a woman but a friarbird and parrot (koa//nggia) take pity on the shells and deliver them to a woman in Delha, who relies on them to create her cloths. Precisely what the shells are used for in this process is not explicit: in some versions, the shells become a vat for indigo and a base for spinning, but this is certainly not the case in this narrative. The final lines of the recitation are particularly evocative. They insist that though Rotenese men do not realise it, all the traditional textiles they wear ‘carry Suti Sai’s voice and Bina Liu’s words’.

Language Use in Hendrik Foeh’s Suti Sai ma Bina Liu

This recitation of just 106 lines is composed of some 52 dyadic sets. A relatively small number of these sets (less than one-fourth) are familiar, recognisable sets. The dozen or so of these sets are the following: 1) liuk//saik (‘ocean’//‘sea’); 2) ana mak//ina falu (‘orphan’//‘widow’; 3) isi//nggi (‘insides’//‘pod’); 4) lali//keko (‘to move’//‘to shift’); 5) lai//sue (‘care for, to love’//‘to have sympathy’); 6) meti//tasi (‘tide’//‘sea’; 7) ta’e//tou (‘boy’//‘man’); 8) koa//nggia (‘friarbird’//‘parrot’); 9) deta//sama (‘like’//‘similar’); 10) ina//te’o (‘mother’//‘father’s sister’). The set buna//dula (‘flower, pattern’//‘design’) is of interest because the lexical terms that make up this set are familiar but in this recitation, as a pair, they take on a metaphorical significance in reference to the patterning of Rotenese cloth.

Sound changes in Oenale are different from those in Thie and Termanu. One of the ‘l’ sounds in Termanu becomes ‘r’. (This is not the same ‘r’ as in Thie—hence Oenale has ruli where Thie has luri and Termanu has luli for ‘storm’.) Oenale also has ‘r’ where Termanu uses ‘d’. Oenale uses ‘ngg’ where Termanu has ‘ng’ and ‘mb’ where Termanu has ‘p’. Oenale also drops medial ‘k’ in some words. On the basis of these changes, there are many dyadic sets in Oenale that can be seen to belong to the island-wide repertoire:

Table 18: Termanu–Oenale Dialect Comparisons









‘fruit’//‘boll’ (of cotton)












‘up to’//‘toward, until’



‘shelter, cover’//‘protect’

There are also dyadic sets that occur in this composition that are similar to sets in other dialects of Rote. For example, Hendrik Foeh uses the set hanu-le//tere-tasi for ‘ocean refuse’//‘river debris’; Alex Mada uses the expression hambau//tere-tasi; while Kornaluis Medah in his recitation uses the set hamu-le//tele-tasi. Another dyadic set that stands out in this composition is lafe//rambi as the terms for ‘a man’s cloth’ and ‘a woman’s cloth’. In his recitation, Hendrik Foeh refers to these cloths as follows:

Ana lolo neu rambi

She lays out a woman’s cloth

Boe ma ana tenu neu lafe

Then she weaves a man’s cloth

In all other dialects, this pair is lafa//pou. Thus, for example, in Jonas Mooy’s recitation, there occur the lines:

Ara pa’a pou su’u reu sara

They wrap a woman’s sarong around them

Ma ara mboti lafa una neu sara

And they fold a man’s cloth around them

Pe’u Malesi, in his recitation from Termanu, has these lines:

De ana tenu nan dadi pou

She weaves it to become a woman’s cloth

Fo lae pou dula selu-kolo

They call this woman’s cloth: the selu-kolo pattern

Ma ana tenu nan dadi lafa

And she weaves it to become a man’s cloth

Fo lae lafa dula tema-nggik

They call this man’s cloth: the tema-nggik pattern

There are also some puzzling usages in this recitation. For example, Henrik Foeh uses the pair tei telu//rala rua (literally: ‘three stomach’//‘two hearts’) in lines 23–24. Rala rua (literally: ‘heart two’) is in Oenale dialect. In this context, this formula is an expression for ‘taking pity’//‘opening one’s heart’.

Te touk sé tei telu

What man will take pity

Ma ta’ek sé rala rua.

And what boy will open his heart.

However, just a few lines later (lines 27–28) in the recitation, he shifts to the use of this same expression in what can only be interpreted as Termanu dialect:

Sé ma tei telu

Who will take pity

Ma sé ma dale dua

And who will open his heart

He then repeats this expression in lines 36 and 38:

Ma koa ma tei telu

That friarbird has pity

Nggia ma dale dua

That parrot opens its heart

Although this could be conceived of as some sort of exceptional dialect parallelism (the use of an expression in two dialects), it is more likely a lapse into the use of a Termanu literary standard of which the poet is well aware. The presence of other Termanu-speaking poets and the knowledge that I relied on the Termanu dialect as my comparative reference point may have influenced him.

Verbs in Oenale’s ritual language have a different structure to verbs in Termanu. Despite these differences, they continue to retain the same semantic pairings in different dialectic grammars. Thus Oenale uses the third-person singular form neme-hena//ne’e-bani where Termanu has nama-hena//naka-bani for this expression (‘to have hope’//‘to have expectations’). Similarly, for the paired verbs ‘to listen’//‘to hear’, Oenale uses the third-person singular form nenene//ninia, where Termanu has nama-nene//nama-nia.

There are also interesting differences. One example is the use of the verbs that describe the way the shells lose or expel their pods or insides.

Old Meno in his recitation has the following:

Boe ma besak ka Suti lama-edo nggi

Now Suti exudes his pods

Ma Bina lamatoko-isi

And Bina puts out his insides

Esau Pono uses a similar verb pair in a slightly different format, edo heni//toko heni:

Boe ma liun na e’edo

The sea continually casts out

De ana edo heni Suti nggi

It casts forth Suti’s pod

Ma ana toko heni Bina isin.

And it throws out Bina’s contents.

Ana edo heni Suti nggi

It casts out Suti’s pod

Ma ana toko heni Bina isin.

And throws out Bina’s contents.

By contrast, Simon Lesik uses a lexically different verb, -loko, but one with a similar meaning to -toko, to pair with -edo:

Bina ma-edo nggi

Bina, who exudes her pods

Suti mana-loko isi.

Suti, who issues forth her insides.

Jonas Mooy offers a different pairing of verbs, combining roko (Dengka: loko) with ketu (‘to cut’):

Ara rama roko isi

They exude their insides

Ma ara rama ketu nggi.

And they cut loose their pods.

Hendrik Foeh’s verb pairing (roko//edo) is similar to that of Dengka:

De Bina ana edo nggi

Bina, she puts forth her pod

Boe ma Sui ana roko isin.

Then Suti lets loose her insides.

This chain of semantic relationships between edo//toko (T), edo//loko (D), ketu//roko (Th) and edo//roko (O) is yet another example of what I refer to as ‘dialect concatenation’. Recognising the pervasiveness of dialect concatenation is a key to understanding how ritual language functions across the island of Rote.

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