Abu Bakar, the grave keeper, recited the legend of Princess Lala Jinis to me as we sat in the 1,000-year- old cemetery that Abu conscientiously protects, near the small village of Seran, in a remote part of West Sumbawa.
“My quest for more tales and legends took me to the traditional village of Mantar, high up in the mountains, above the Southern coastline. ”
Princess Lala Jinis, the only daughter of the King of Seran, was a beautiful princess who, at the age of 16, fell in love with Prince Lalu Dia’, a boy from another kingdom. Her parents did not approve of the relationship and her father forbade the Princess to see the Prince, despite the very intense feelings they had for each other. Hopelessly in love, the couple eloped and ran away to the mountains and the beautiful princess was never to be seen again. It is said that the waterfall, twenty-five minutes walk from the cemetery holds a clue to the mystery. Princess Lala Jinis used to bathe in the crystal clear waters of the waterfall, and it is said by local people, this is where she escaped with her lover and died. The grave of the King of Seran is contained in a small covered house, kept under lock and key in the middle of the tiny cemetery. To this day the special Lala Jinis dance is performed in this part of West Sumbawa in honour of the tragic legend of the Princess.
Not only does West Sumbawa have magical legends of Princesses and Kings, but it also has a pristine, stunning coastline, dotted with famous surf spots like Scar Reef, Super Suck and Yoyos Beach. A treasure of Indonesia, Sumbawa is like two islands, divided by geography and language: Sumbawa in the West (Samawa ethnic group) and Bima(Mbojo ethnic group) to the East.
The island has historical links with the the Maskassarese people of South Sulawesi and the Chinese who traded in these waters for hundreds of years. Around 85% of Sumbawa’s terrain is mountainous, making the rich volcanic river valleys the only areas for agriculture and farming. The plains yield prosperous crops and excellent returns to farmers who have enjoyed the benefits of the fertile volcanic soil, enriched from the dramatic explosion of Mt Tambora in 1815, which is recorded by The Guiness Book of Word Records as the greatest single eruption ever recorded. The top third of the mountain was blown off in the eruption and over 150 cubic kilometres of rock and ash was showered across the valley.
My quest for more tales and legends took me to the traditional village of Mantar, high up in the mountains, above the Southern coastline. It was a hot, dusty, bone-shaking 4-wheel drive journey, however the effort was well rewarded with stunning views over Lombok and the mighty Mount Rinjani, the second highest mountain in Indonesia, which rises to height of 3,726 metres.
I had been told that this village had an interesting history but what I was about to discover was an extraordinary tale about albinos and a sacred ancient chinese pottery vessel.
The curious farmers and residents of Mantar, whose last visit from a foreigner (according to the official village visitors book) was 18 months ago, greeted me warmly. Abdul Salam, the Kepala Desa (village head) spoke of the history of the strange albino phenomena of the village.
“Since a long time ago,” Abdul said, “there has been seven albinos in this village. There will only ever be seven, no more and no less. It has been this way since time began in this village. No one knows why. When one dies, another will be born, but there will never be more than seven.”
The youngest Albino in Mantar is 12 years old and the oldest is 50 years old. There are 300 families living in the village and a total of 1,481 people and the albino connection stems from 1570, when the village was first settled when visitors came by ship from China. The ship was wrecked on the coast and amongst the Chinese and German passengers were seven albinos. Abdul explained to me the original seven albinos continued on to the next generation, but not necessarily born into the same family. The mystery remains to this day that when one albino dies, another will be born, with the magic number of seven staying consistent.
Adnan, a village elder and historian told the next story of intrigue to me. It is a magical and mystical tale about a very old Chinese ceramic pot, which dates back to 1570. The Chinese pot holds mystical powers and is said to have healed many people. People come for miles to drink the water from the pot and make a wish. The power of the pot cannot be explained.
Adnan told me a while back there was a house fire and the villagers rushed to the pot and took the special water, which is spring fed and flows over the pot, to put the house fire out. Using a few buckets only, and much to everyone’s amazement, the fire was extinguished very quickly. “No one can explain it,” Aden told me. “The water from the pot is magical. Many people come to Mantar for healing. They come to make a wish, often twice, and some people, with unexplained illnesses, have been cured. Everyone believes in the power of the pot,” he explained to me.
The original pot sits in front of the mosque and is kept under lock and key in a little wooden house. The caretaker of the mosque is also the key master and he is very happy to open the little house any time.
The pot is housed under two ancient gongs. One represents the male, the other, female. I opened one of the gongs and peered in, but could only see water which sits on top of the pot and is fed by an underground spring. The old man bent down and released the little plug releasing some water from the pot for me. He then became very emotional when he discovered I had journeyed from far to pay my respects to this pot that he had spent a lifetime guarding. He then started crying. He couldn’t stop crying, so I left, however I got the feeling he was not crying out of sadness, but joy and pride that I had come from another land, so far away, to see the special pot.
Last year, on Independence Day as a testament to the power of the pot, poison was added to the water and some fish were thrown in. In normal circumstances the fish should have died, almost instantly, however they survived and kept swimming around.
Abdul went on to tell me that some time ago, Chinese people came to Mantar and tried to buy the sacred pot, “ They offered 1 billion rupiah,” he told me “but it is not for sale and it will never be for sale. It belongs here, in Mantar.”
From monolithic ancient gravestones to Princess tales and powerful healing pots, the culture of West Sumbawa is very much alive today. Traditional village life continues on through dance and legends, as it has done for centuries, high in the rugged mountains. Along the scenic coastline Bugis and Bajo fishermen share the wealth of the sea with the dry farmers sharing the riches of the volcanic soil in the magical island of Sumbawa.
West Sumbawa, Indonesia
– The port for ferries to and from Lombok. Seran Village
– Located 10km from Poto Tano Mantar Village
– accessible by 4Wd
– 1 hour from Poto Tano Local Guide
– Takwa +62 819 169 11741 email@example.com
I met this brave little girl in Poto Tano, West Sumbawa. Here is her story:
When Pira was two, the bus she was on blew a tyre and rolled over. 19 people were badly injured in the accident, one person died and Pira had her legs severed.
Pira’s knees have had to substitute for her feet and with her bone protruding, surgery will be required. Pira’s also endured a huge stomach intestinal injury which has since healed. She walks on her knees but this is starting to cause terrible problems and it is now very apparent that Pira needs new legs. She is the top student in her school and is determined to be a Doctor when she grows up.
If you wish to help Pira’s surgery costs for her new limbs visit the website below. http://www.gofundme.com/42wxu0 Please visit this website on Pira for more information and photos: http://nposumbawa.weebly.com/
Story by Stephanie Brookes Photos by David Metcalf. David runs photography and cultural tours to Bali and other places in Indonesia. Please visit his website www.davidmetcalfphotography.com
Meeting Pak Hadi
I met a local, Pak Hadi Zamzuri Al Mahsyat, from The Engineering Division, Tourism and Creativity Economy Department of West Sumbawa Regency, in a local café in Taliwang, the main city of West Sumbawa Regency. This town is the centre of Government with many ethnic groups living together including Samawanese, Sasaknese, Balinese, Javanese, Sundanese, Bugis and Madurese. Getting a local’s opinion on great places to eat, Pak Hadi was happy to share his favourite eating spots with me, “Oh, I love Totang Rasa Restaurant. An excellent choice for lunch or dinner,” he said, “Another favourite is Tanamira Restaurant and if you like sweets and snacks call into Amat Loka in the afternoon. That’s where you will find me. I love the traditional snack, called Palopo.”
Pak Hadi explained there is no museum or gallery, and what draws most people to Taliwang is
the buffalo races and the local horse races. “The buffalo races are held once every two weeks and are well attended. They run the whole year, except for Ramadan. We even have a chicken race! People love to gather in a community spirit and enjoy these races. They are very exciting. The head of The Buffalo Race Organization of West Sumbawa Regency, Mr Ir. W. Musyafirin proudly keeps this culture alive. He always imparts a lively and enthusiastic spirit for the jockeys and is intent on preserving the Samawa Spirit.” he explained. The races are held in different districts, and this organization looks after the scheduling of races. “Just check with me at the Tourism office and I can find out for you, or your local guide can advise.”
“If we look at Sumbawa, we have a lot of tourism potential, however, what sets us apart is our authenticity. We have low impact tourism here, and our island is largely undiscovered by tourists.” Hadi explained the most famous place in Sumbawa is the island of Moyo.
I asked Pak Hadi what he would recommend if a visitor had a one week holiday, “Oh, the charm of Gili Balu (Eight Islands) for sure. There are eight islands to explore; Belang Island, Kambing, Paserang, Snake, Mandiki, Kenawa, Namo and Kalong. Also, the Village of Mantar in Poto Tano, West Sumbawa would be a nice combination. “What is special about these places, apart from having outstanding natural beauty, is the unique culture. What you get to experience is something very different. Gili Balu is a stretch of islands with white sandy beaches that are so beautiful, and the underwater panorama is just as spectacular as that found in any other region of Indonesia and even the world. You simply must explore these islands,” he continued, “I would recommend two days in Gili Balu and a three-day visit to Mantar, and then the rest of the time on the beaches around Jelenga and Sekongkang Beach. I would suggest Moyo Island as a separate trip.”
Story by Stephanie Brookes
West Sumbawa, Indonesia
Sumbawa Tour Guide and Driver – Mr Takwa
+62 812 384 39828
West Sumbawa Regency Tourism
Contact: Mr Hadi
How to Get There:
By Boat: Lombok to West Sumbawa
Public Ferry from Lombok to Sumbawa. Daily departure from Labuan Kayangan (East Lombok) to Poto Tano (West Sumbawa). Travel time is 2 hours.
Places of Interest
Poto Tano – The harbour port town for ferries to and from Lombok.
Seran Village – Located 10 kms from Poto Tano. The location of the historical 1,000-year-old cemetery.
Mantar Village – Accessible by 4Wd – 1 hour from Poto Tano
Mantar Paragliding Activity –paragliding club -Mr. Effendy Haris
email : firstname.lastname@example.org
contact : 081331728311
Mantar Village Homestay: There are no official homestays but travellers can stay with the Head of the Village, and he assists to place visitors in local people’s houses. Arrangements can be made through the local guide, Takwa or by Hadi (West Sumbawa Regency Tourism)
Jelenga Beach – Scar Reef Hotel – (formerly Scar Reef Villa) – Snorkeling facilities, fishing, hiking and surfing
Contact Takwa to co-ordinate all arrangements including an experience trekking guide.