A Flores Folklore: The Grandmother Who Ate Everything

In central and west Flores, elders today still tell the tale of hobbit-like creatures that once lived in the dense jungles at the foot of Flores’s smoking volcanoes. Nicknamed the Ebu Gogo, these creatures were said to be feral and stocky. They stood at just 1.5 metres tall, were covered in hair, had large eyes and spoke a strange language which sounded like murmurs.

The Ebu Gogo had a nasty reputation. In the Nage language of Central Flores, Ebu means grandmother and Gogo means ‘he who eats anything’.  Elderly villagers convey tales of greedy little creatures that would rage steal and eat everything it chanced upon including crops, meat, fruits and moonshine. Legend has it that the Ebu Gogo would even eat human meat. Villagers tempting to keep them at bay would leave out food in the night, which will be devoured by the Ebu Gogo, plates and all. They raided crops, stole flocks and pets and even kidnapped human babies.

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Legend has it that the Ebu Gogo were alive when the Portuguese first arrived in Flores in the 17th century and that the last remaining Ebu Gogo were last sighted in the 20th century. Today, the Ebu Gogo is dismissed as a myth, even though there have been speculations of the connection of the Ebu Gogo to the discovery of the Homo Floresiensis in Liang Bua in 2003 by a team of Australian and Indonesian archaeologists, geologists and paleoanthropologists.

The Hobbit of Liang Bua was the size of a 3-year old child, 106 cm in height, with a brain volume less than a third of a modern person’s. The tiny adult female skeleton, which resembled fossils dating more than 3 million years ago, turned out to have lived only 18,000 years ago when modern humans already existed.

Photo Credit: Flores Tourism

Old Manggaraian myths and tales about small people living in caves are still doing the rounds. Further research may bring to light whether the ancestors of the Manggaraian people really have met the hobbit in a not so long past gone. Till today, Manggaraian locals still warn their kids of “tiny people” reportedly sneaking into farms and orchards to steal fruits, local arak and sometimes, small children.

Liang Bua is easily reachable by car or motorbike. It is 13 km from Ruteng city and the drive takes less than 40 minutes. There is public transportation available to Liang Bua that are heading in the direction of Ruteng-Ranggi/Akel. If you’re not familiar with the area, it is best to engage the services of a tour guide and a private car with a driver. From Labuan Bajo, Ruteng is a 4-hour drive on the Trans Flores Highway.

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