Lombok is known as Bali’s little sister; a slightly smaller island filled with quiet beaches, traditional villages, and a burgeoning hospitality scene. Just a short plane or boat ride away from Denpasar in Bali, Lombok is starting to make a name for itself as the less explored option for those seeking a beachside holiday with luxury experiences and wildlife immersion.
While you might be familiar with the kecak (monkey dance) or tiered temples of Bali, the cultural gems of Lombok are lesser known. The island’s colourful heritage is an enchanting mixture of vibrant rituals, jagged history and a unique religious perspective. Keep reading to learn more about the beautiful culture of Lombok.
History of Lombok
The Earliest Records
In 1257, there was a continent-shaking eruption from Mount Salamas that changed the history of Lombok, and Indonesia, forever. While the eruption destroyed most evidence of the culture and people in Lombok, two important documents remain. The Babad Lombok and the Babad Suwung are two manuscripts printed onto palm leaf, which tell part of the story of Lombok before the eruption.
According to these texts, the first Kingdom of Lombok was called Pamatan, and was situated in the North of the island. After the eruption, this Kingdom dispersed across the island in 4 main groups with distinct dialects, religious beliefs and customs.
These are the Selaparang Kingdom of East Lombok, the Pe- janggik of Central Lombok, the Pujut Kingdom of South Lom- bok and the Petung Bayan Kingdom of Northern Lombok. These 4 groups remain today, influenced by the subsequent waves of colonisation from Bali and Holland.
Lombok has a long history of invasion. The first recorded conquest of Lombok was by the Kingdom of Karangasem. The Mataram Lombok kingdom was defeated in 1894 by the Dutch. Initially the Dutch acted as allies to the people of Lombok in a war against the mainland Balinese, but quickly flipped on this alliance and took control of the island them- selves. The Dutch influence ended in 1942 during the Second World War, when Japan occupied all of Indonesia. This lasted until the end of the war in 1945.
The indigenous people of Lombok are the Sasak. While there have been waves of migration to the island, the Sasak people have managed to maintain a distinct identity, retaining their language, religion and local customs.
The 4 Kingdoms which emerged after the eruption on Mount Salamas each developed their own, unique dialect. These are so different that members of different Kingdoms wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other without Bahasa Indo- nesia, the lingua franca solidified during the Dutch colonial era. Indonesia is unique in this: it is the only colonised coun- try that hasn’t adopted the coloniser’s language as its official national language. This is testament to the strength and will of the Indonesian Independence movement.
The seamless integration of different religions is rare in other parts of the world, but can be seen all over the Lombok. The island is known as the ‘Island of a thousand mosques’, but it’s common to see a Hindu temple next to a Mosque, evidence of the mutual acceptance and co-operation of the diverse religions on Lombok.
The island’s earliest records indicate that its people were Buddhist, and that the Kingdom of Karangasem introduced Hinduism to the region. From these two religions, a third reli- gion emerged, known as Shiva-Buddha.
In the 16th Century Islam was introduced to Lombok by the Javanese, and quickly spread throughout the island, lead- ing to the development of another hybrid religion called Wetu-Telu, with elements of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Today, most of the island is Muslim, but there are still pockets of Wetu Telu. The Sasak culture has also been remarkably resilient and adaptable in the face of so many influences, making room for local beliefs and customs to walk hand-in- hand with religion.
Lombok Traditions and Customs
Beredang & Nyongkolang
Beredang and Nyongkolang are two parts of a traditional Sasak wedding, a beautiful and involved process that occurs over many days.
Weddings in Sasak culture aren’t just about celebrating the wedded couple’s love, they’re about sparking new love too! Beredang is one of the small rituals at the beginning of the wedding, in which the communities gather to cook, dance, and flirt. During the ritual cleansing of the rice, or Bisok Menik, women wait near the river banks with a basket full of rice. A man can approach them, and if a lady likes him, she will invite him to help her carry her rice to the river.
How do you get this intimate invite? You have to impress her with poetry, dancing, or good old fashioned flirting. Carrying the rice to the river together is a rare occasion for physical closeness with someone you’ve had your eye on. Similarly, men may approach women as they cook over a fire, holding a ciga- rette. If a woman takes your cigarette and lights it for you, you are invited to sit opposite her while she cooks.
Nyongkolang is the finale of the wedding. It’s a street parade celebrating the wedded couple, weaving from the town of the groom to the town of the bride, and introducing these com- munities to each other as family. Singing, dancing, colourful clothing and general celebratory joy abound.
The Nyale Festival is one of the biggest events on the Lombok cultural calendar. It celebrates Putri Mandalika, the mythical princess who sacrificed her life to spare the island from con- flict. She was so beautiful, and so many foreign suitors wanted to marry her, that no matter who she chose it would incite a war.
So instead, she threw herself of the highest mountain into the sea. Her body erupted into millions of tiny, colourful sea worms. Today the festival consists of music events, and the traditional practice of wailing on the beach to attract the sea worms, telling them of your appreciation of Putri Mandalika’s sacrifice.
You can read about other cultural events and traditions in our Local Guide to Shopping in Lombok.
After a day spent soaking up the genteel and intricate culture of Lombok, you’ll want to return somewhere to enjoy the great weather, beautiful produce and local scenery. KU Villas offers rooms and villas for everyone, from singles to families, with regular events, an on-site restaurant, pool and spa.