Recommended by Stephanie Brookes  
Written by David Metcalf
Photos by David Metcalf 

Sumba - Pasola and Ancient RitualsSumba – Pasola and Ancient Rituals
Adi steadied his horse as he prepared for battle. A chorus of feisty yelping surrounded me, as Adi’s fellow clan members urged him on. The frenzy was exciting and frightening at the same time and with lightening speed Adi charged at the opposing horsemen across the Pasola battlefield, balancing his weight perfectly as he threw his sola (spear) with precision and accuracy in the direction of the oncoming charging warrior.

For the next five hours, with the intense heat of the sun beating down on him, Adi kept up his assaults on the opposition, determined to score as many hits as possible which would raise his esteem in the village and hopefully draw blood, which the soil was eager to receive. The more blood spilt, the better the harvest, according to the beliefs of this ancient culture of West Sumba. If insufficient blood is spilt during the Pasola event, it is often finished off with hand-to-hand fighting by the opposing clans.

These days steel-tipped spears are banned however, deaths do occur as evidenced in recent Pasolas. I spoke to a fellow ex-pat in fact, who has been following the pasola for a number of years, and he has witnessed two deaths including a rider getting a spear in his eye. The Pasola is performed in four different areas of West Sumba in February and March each year. In February the event is held in the Lamboya and Kodi area, and in March it takes place in Wanokaka and Gaura district. The actual date and time of the event is only revealed a few days before depending when the nale (worms) decide to emerge from the depths of the ocean.

High priests called Rato’s, position themselves at strategic locations along the coastline during the full moon until the worms are washed up on shore on an auspicious incoming tide. The nale determines the success of the ensuing rice harvest. The other important factor for a bountiful harvest is the blood flow from the Pasola battlefield. The more blood that drenches the soil, the better. The Rato play a critical part in this process as they make offerings to the spirits of the ocean and Marapu, who represent their ancestral spirits and is the bridge between mankind and the Gods.

Sumba - Pasola and Ancient RitualsFebruary and March is the transition time between the wet and dry seasons and this is when the new rice seedlings are planted. It is an important time for the people of Sumba and in fact malnutrition does occur in some of the poorer areas, so a bountiful harvest is crucial to their livelihood, wellbeing, prosperity and in some cases, their survival.
This February, the Pasola was in Lamboya, however it did not bode well for this years harvest as the worms did not appear from the sea, mostly due to a drier than usual wet season as climate change impacts even age old rituals such as this.There is hope that the major Pasola event due in March 2013, will bring better luck or it is believed it could be a very difficult year for the people of this magical island.

Medicine Man – Waigalli Village
Sumba - Pasola and Ancient RitualsIt is always a privilege and honor to explore some of the lesser-known islands of Indonesia and meeting Danga Dukka was indeed a pleasure. After the horse ritual and bloodletting, I journeyed to a remote village and met Dukka, aged in his late eighties, a respected elder of Waigalli Village. Dukka drew back on his cigarette and took his time, between cigarette puffs, telling tales of early times and expounding on the finer point of medicine rituals. He told me how his village was built on a hilltop for strategic defense against the slave traders who would come searching for human slaves to export to Bali and the Middle East.This practice only came to an end in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Sitting on the verandah outside his simple dwelling, Dukka and the other elders from the village recalled the days when slaves were sacrificed and buried with their masters so they could accompany them to the spirit world. My guide carefully translated these tales and I was told (on the quiet) this practice still continues today but is not widely known, for obvious reasons.

While I was there an old woman from the village, who had been ill for some time, visited Dukka. Despite many attempts to try and cure her with modern and traditional medicine she was very sick and not responding to the medicine. The next attempt at treatment came via a pig, which had to be slaughtered for its liver. This pig’s liver was brought to Dukka for observation and by carefully reading the pig’s liver, Dukka was able to determine the reason for the woman’s ailment. He explained to me there are five signals to look for in the pig’s liver, which will determine what will happen with that person’s future and in fact, the future of the entire village. It is believed that even the pig’s lobes can indicate if there will be floods or natural disasters, or if serious sins can be seen occurring into the future. The indications were not looking good for this lady and she left with a look of deep concern on her face.

Sumba - Pasola and Ancient RitualsTo sit with a medicine man and observe daily life in a village, high in the hills of Sumba, is to spy a glimpse into a rich culture, which is still very much alive today. From the blood of the warriors on the Pasola battlefield to the blood of a pig in an ancient village in the highlands of Sumba, age old rituals in the form of elaborate funeral ceremonies, hand crafted ikat (loom-woven textiles), unique religious practices and traditional houses found only on this island, make for an extraordinary culture very much alive today and well worth exploring.

Sumba covers an area of 11,000 square kms almost twice the size of Bali and is home to around 700,000 people. It is an island of contrast with beautiful beaches, some of the best surf locations in Indonesia, lush green rice fields, gently flowing rivers and very dry areas in the east. The people of Sumba are a self-confident and friendly race of people albeit a little shy.

Sumba - Pasola and Ancient RitualsThe Sumba Foundation
Sumba is a very dry island and access to water is a major challenge. The Sumba Foundation, which actively raises funds and sponsorship, as of February 2013 has built 48 wells and 191 water stations, supplying 15 schools with water and sanitation on the island, and has helped reduce malaria rates by 85%. The island has only one resort, Nihiwatu Resort, which is a strong supporter of The Sumba Foundation embracing responsible tourism. Nihiwatu Resort is one of the world’s five best-rated eco-friendly luxury hotels. http://www.

Text & Photos by David Metcalf
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