The Graves of the King of Four Kingdoms and the King of Loleh in Bebalain Village

Research by Camila Okdriana, Caroline Spencer, Deraya Sandika, Esther Jesika, Heri, Jolanda Sumual Beeby and Michael Christian.

On a recent anthropology field school to Indonesia, students from the ANU worked in conjunction with students from Universitas Kristen Duca Wacana (UKDW). Living for a month in the remote community of Bebalain Two hamlet, on the island of Rote, students were taken to the site of the graves of the Royal Family. The graves received no previous public recognition, despite their local significance. They look out over the Timor Sea (Olidale in the local language), and in pride of place lie two past Kings; the King of Four Kingdoms, Kilo Pelo (baptised as Daniel Petrus Zacharias) and his second son the King of Loleh, Pau Ki’a (baptised as Paulus Semuel Zacharias).

Official records on the graves are scarce, with some colonial Dutch records in existence, as well as a book on the history of the graves, copies of which are elusive in the extreme to find, with the nearest apparently to be found in Kupang. Instead their history is remembered by the community orally. The existing members of the Royal Family know of the graves’ broader history, however they lack specific dates and locations; details that are highly valued in historical research.

Those buried in the Royal Family Graves include more than just the Royal Family, they also include the family’s servants and soldiers. Additionally there are people from Timor Island who lived with the King (it is uncertain which generation), and were buried in unmarked graves. There is a separation between the Royal Family’s graves and their servants’, however the boundary is now mostly broken as the graves are in a state of disrepair.

The majority of graves are made from stone and have been weathered by the full force of ocean breezes. They all point west, according to local tradition, and have been arranged according to rank. There are seven graves that have well perceivable structures, with visible ornamentation. Some have approximately 20cm of cut stone around the edge of the graves, while others only have the outline of the grave at ground level, with few remaining stones around the edge. There is a line of stones that border some of the graves (not the largest Kings’ graves), however it is quite unclear and close to the ground.

In an interview with Pak Paulus Zacharias, an elder of the Zacharias Royal family, he estimated that there were around 100 graves in the site. In a survey of the graves conducted by university students they found what they thought to be signs of 49 graves; of these, three looked like children’s graves, while two stone graves were touching (possibly indicating a connection of marriage, close family or time of death), as were the graves of two couples with blue ceramic tiles.

Prior to 2013 the graves were annually cleaned in preparation for Christmas. As part of a local tradition, after cleaning the graves the family would make an offering of betel nut, areca nut, chalk and tobacco and spread flowers on the Kings’ graves, and two recent graves. The family has discontinued this tradition, as it does not show sufficient respect for their Christian faith.

Pak Alfa Zacharias, a member of the Royal Family, stated that the reason for the neglect of the graves revolved around financial limitations, however much of the family was unwilling to talk about their reasons for not maintaining the graves. It is possible that the family is time poor as well as financially poor, and cannot be away from the work they must pursue for financial support to spare time for the graves.

Within the community many have been unimpressed with the state of the graves. Most have preferred not to say anything to the Zacharias family about their disapproval of the limited maintenance by the family, and have preferred to remain quiet and keep their social interactions comfortable.

Most of this information is derived from interviews with Pak Paulus Zacharias, his wife Mama Damaris Zacharias, their son Pak Alfa Zacharias and two elders of the hamlet, Nene Naomi Balukh and Nene Julina Ndi’i Petrus.