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A Brief History of Lombok

The indigenous Sasak people of Lombok are descendents of a Malay race who have inhabited Lombok for at least 2,000 years. As part of the Indonesian archipelago, Java has influenced Lombok to varying degrees, conquering and incorporating the island into the Majapahit Empire in the 14th century. Today's Sasak aristocracy still claims Javanese ancestry.

The Balinese colonized Lombok in the 18th century, ruling the island for 150 years until 1894. Balinese influence has always centered in the west, where Balinese still constitute at least 10% of the population. The last king of Lombok reigned over western Lombok during the mid-1800s and oversaw the construction of an impressive number of temples. He also restricted the land rights of the Sasak aristocracy, introduced an inflexible taxation system, and demanded forced labor of Sasak peasantry. The Sasak revolted several times in the 19th century, with Islam the unifying factor among the armies scattered and isolated across the island.

Sasak leaders approached the Dutch for help in overthrowing the Balinese in the early 1890s. The Dutch, mistakenly believing Lombok was rich in tin, obliged and the Sasak War broke out in 1894. The Balinese were soundly defeated and a number of temples and palaces were destroyed.

Over the centuries, Lombok has been populated by migrants from Java and other Indonesian islands, particularly Bugis shipbuilders and seafarers from Sulawesi. As part of the historical Spice Islands, Arab traders, Chinese, and Dutch all made their homes in Lombok and thus the island has become a melting pot of religions, cultures, beliefs, and ceremonies. The majority of the population today practices a moderate form of Islam, which is still changing and evolving with the impact of modernization and education. Most Sasak Muslims observe Islamic religious practices, such as prayer five times a day and fasting during the month of Ramadan. There are two main groups among the Sasak: Waktu Lima, meaning "five times" (the number of times worshipers pray per day), or Sunni Muslims, and Wetu Telu, "three times," nominal Muslims who combine Islamic observances with a mosaic of Hinduism, animism, and ancestor worship. Other religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, peacefully coexist alongside the Muslim population.

Art, Architecture & Music

Lombok is famous for its highly collectible and distinctive hand-thrown pottery. Huge pots, cooking and dining implements, and ornamental pottery is crafted in the villages of Banyumeluk, Penujak, and Masbagik. Other interesting crafts include hand-carved wooden furniture, ornaments, sculpture, and finely woven cloth called ikat. Osap, a more rustic form of songket textile, is spun with cotton and is still common in many villages and available throughout the Sasak areas of the island. Old pieces can command thousands of dollars although most are yours for the price of lunch.

Examples of Dutch colonial architecture are still evident around the old port in Ampenan and in the administrative buildings that line the main road through Mataram. You can still see quite a few examples of old Sasak architecture, the traditional houses of the time before the advent of the Dutch, in the north around Bayan; in the south particularly in the villages of Rambitan and Sade; and in the small villages on the northeast coast. Traditionally, houses were very small and not very high, with a sweeping thatched roof of alang alang grass. The floors are made from dried cow dung, compressed and polished over the years. New layers of cow dung are added when the flooring wears down and the smell disappears fairly quickly. Two-story lumbung huts on pillars usually have woven bamboo walls and thatched alang alang roofs. Lumbung huts have a distinctive shape to the roof, which curves down from the apex and then flattens out at the eaves, like a bonnet.

Gendang Beleq ("big drums") is the distinctive music of Lombok and forms an important part of island culture. Join in almost any major event or cultural performance in Lombok and you will see a band of colorfully dressed dancers carrying huge drums across their bodies, filling the air with an irresistible beat. These drums are actually a variant of the kendang drum that traditionally accompanies gamelan orchestras throughout Indonesia. The barrel-shaped drum produces a deep bass tone and a characteristic high-pitched slap. The gendang beleq used in Lombok are distinctive because of their huge size -- usually around 1.5m (5 ft.) in length and 50cm (20 in.) in diameter. Drummers train for years to master the drumming and maneuvering of the size and weight of the drums in skilful and graceful performance.

Kecimol music, also found on Lombok, is similar and often accompanies marriage processions through the streets of the villages. A vibrant combination of performers includes drums, gamelan, keyboard, and flutes dancing along with someone on a megaphone mounted on a small carriage. This raucous fusion moves to an almost military marching beat. The keys are played in an Arabic style, with wailing flutes lending Eastern tones to the mix. The whole ensemble is accompanied by a vocalist singing love songs. It is an unmistakable sound, played at high volume, announcing the parade to all the villages and homes it passes along the way.

The Rudat -- Try to catch a rudat performance while you are on Lombok. Rudat combines theater and military skill, with performers dressed in uniforms, wielding guns, and re-enacting their Dutch colonial military training, often with humorous, tongue-in-cheek overtones. There are no regular scheduled performances unless you arrive during the Senggigi Festival in July. Otherwise, inquire at your hotel or tour office for current cultural festivals and performances.

Eating & Drinking in Lombok

Lombok means "chili" in Sasak, so it's no surprise that traditional Sasak food is often fiery hot. Lombok is a melting pot of cultures and this is reflected in the styles of food available, ranging from Dutch-influenced breads and martabak to authentic Chinese cuisine, spicy Padang food from Sumatra, and traditional Indonesian fare.

Sate pusut is a delicious local satay, with meats, spices, and coconut pressed onto flat skewers and grilled. Satay tanjung is a tasty specialty from the Tanjung in north Lombok, but also found in the cities, featuring fresh fish and spices wrapped on skewers and grilled. Lemper are small parcels of sticky rice filled with shredded chicken or beef and spices, wrapped in coconut leaves. Lontong are small conical shaped cakes of rice that have been wrapped in leaves and steamed.

Lombok is famed for its specialty chicken dish ayam taliwang (small, free-range village chicken), which actually originates from the neighboring island of Sumbawa. A whole ayam kampung is grilled over coconut husks and served with sambal. Pelecing ayam is grilled chicken broken into pieces, added to the spicy and piquant sauce, and slowly simmered, turning the marinade into a delicious red coating.

Being a Muslim island, pork is not readily available except in the tourist areas and at Chinese restaurants and lamb is rare. Goat (kambing) however, is very popular. A whole young goat cooked on a spit is the meat of choice for celebrations, parties, and festive occasions, especially the Islamic festivals of Idul Adha and Eid-ul-Fitri. Beef is also freely available on Lombok and a staple in Lombok diets (unlike their Hindu cousins in Bali). Beef rendang is simmered for hours in coconut milk and spices.

Large tuna, snapper, Spanish mackerel, barracuda, and a huge variety of shellfish are found in the seas off Lombok. Ikan (fish) are generally served whole and baked, fried, or more often, grilled on outdoor barbecues over a fire of charcoal and coconut husks. Local cumi cumi (squid) and udang (prawns) are cooked in fiery sambal, braised in oyster sauce, or deep fried.

Particularly popular in Lombok are pelecing kangkung and pecel, sold from kaki lima and warungs everywhere. Pelecing kangkung is locally grown kangkung (a type of leafy water spinach) boiled and served with fresh bean sprouts and topped with a fiery red chili and tomato sauce. Pecel is a variant that combines kangkung, cabbage, and other vegetables, fresh bean sprouts, and sometimes tomato with spicy peanut sauce and prawn crackers. Lalapan is a plate of fresh cabbage, snake beans, and cucumber served with spicy sambal. Beberuk (or Beberuq) is a typical Sasak side dish of finely diced snake beans and small, round eggplant, with tomato, chili, shallots, lime, and spices. Ares is a unique dish made from the inner stem of the banana tree and mixed with coconut milk and spices. Olah-olah is made from the heart of banana tree flower mixed with coconut cream, mild spices, and finely chopped snake beans. Rujak is unripe fruit such as mango or papaya, mixed with ripe apple, guava, or pineapple, coated in a hot and sweet and sour sauce of sweet soy, palm sugar, and chilies.

Despite being a Muslim island, alcohol is readily available in all the tourism areas.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.