Sumba has a unique culture and social life.
Sumbanese are traditionally divided into three level of social life: Raja/King=Maramba, Customary Official=Kabihu,and Slaves = Ata. Sumbanese live from farming, cattle breeding, rice-field farming and trading. Owning cattle contributes to their social status such that if they have more cattle this gives them a higher social status. A few muslim and hindu are found here, most Sumbanese are officially Christian (Catholic and Protestant), however a large part of them still strongly keep their native and animist religion called Marapu. Most cultural objects are related to the Marapu religion such as traditional houses, megalithic carved tombs, ritual handicraft, patterns of textiles.
The spectacular and very famous ikat of Sumba is made of cotton hand spun, traditionally dyed with local plants (Kombu – Indigo) and minerals. Thread is spun from July to October, then bound for patterns until December. After the rainy season, they collect indigo plants and kombu tree leaves for dying. In Summer, after harvest, women began to weave and it can take one year for one piece of textile. On some kind of ikat, cowrie shells and colourful beads are intricately apply in keeping with old artistic tradition. Patterns of ikat combine animals, plants, geometric motifs and ethnographic symbolism. Ikat textiles are used for exchange at important ceremonies and show one’s social status. At funerals, the most exquisite textiles are placed in the grave for use in the afterworld.
Aside from ikat you can get others artifacts of primitive art in Sumba: Wood carvings, sculptured stones, lime containers, traditional jewellery (Mamuli,Marengo,Tabelo), basket work, long knifes( Parang), traditional bag (Kalieku), primitive musical instrument, household items and artefact for fishing or hunting. There are 45 different clans (Suku) in Sumba and each one has their own Marapu and their own invisible spirits. In a traditional Sumbanese house (Uma), you can find wood or stone carvings which are images of Marapu even human or animal representation.
In such house the are four pillars: one for men, one for Marapu (ancestor ) one for women and the last one for articles of value (spears, long knives, weawings, jewelry) and special plates, special earthen waterjar for Marapu. In some villages, you can still see skull trees dating from the time they were headhunters.
MARAPU: Animist belief still very vivid near Hotel Sumba Nautil Resort and Lamboya region.
The essence of Marapu religion is the belief in spirituals forces including God, spirits and ancestors. Dead people can influence the world of the living and the living perform rituals in order to satisfy ancestors and sometimes ask to them for help or agreement .Humans cannot appeal to God the creator so Ancestors are placed on earth mediated through people who get special powers (concentrated in certain places or objects) . Those people are “Rato” (priests) , Dodo and Tahuli who are able to speak the spiritual language (Bahasa adat) of Ancestors. Wula Podu, Topeng, Magowo, Pajura, Pasola, Yawu are some of main Marapu ceremonies (details in Events).
WULA PODU – Holy month for Marapu.
From full moon of October to full moon of November there are many prohibitions; if infringed ancestor spirits will strongly punish the infringer. At the end of Wula podu month, many ceremonies take place:
In several villages of Lamboya, Patiala, Loli drums are beating all night long and the day after occurs the ceremony. Marapu rituals are performed by a rato, women dance and a kind of sorcerer wearing a mask amuse or frighten the audience.
A big crowd gather at the delta of a river (Lamboya) for Marapu rituals and collective traditional fishing.
Ritual boxing for men. It seems like they get up to all that was forbidden during the holy period! During this period, rato of Sodan village decide of the date for Pasola Lamboya.
PASOLA: The extensive one is 20 minute walk from Hotel Sumba Nautil Resort.
Pasola is the name of a war game tournament played by two groups of Sumbanese men (ones performing for coastal villages, others for inland villages). Entrants must be brave and skilled enough to provoke opponents flinging wooden spears.
Pasola is a traditional ceremony of the Sumbanese held in the way of uniquely and sympethically traditional norms, every year in February and March and has become the focus of attention of the people since it is a part of the sacred homage to the Marapu.
The ceremony occurs during February in Lamboya and Kodi and during March in WanuKaKa and Gaura. The main activity starts several days after the full-moon and rituals take place before Pasola, mostly the night before Pasola coinciding with the yearly arrival to the shore of strange and multicolored sea worms-nyale. The precise date of the event decided by the Rato during the Wula Podu.
So the event celebrate the arrival of nyale, a goddess believed to be the symbol of divinity and fertility blessing on plants and cattle. Colorful horsemen riding decorated horses give rise to this unique tournament: the dashing horsemen gallop around the area challenging their opponents to spearthrowing contests. Government regulation now require the use of blunt spears but injury and death are accepted as possible consequences of playing the game and there is not any prosecution. The athmosphere in this arena grows increasily excited and cries and screams of the public heighten the feeling of keen competition.
Yawu is ritual ceremony that take place at night to get help from the ancestors. Women dance around a fire in the middle of graveyard, drums beat, and the mysterious dialogue with ancestors begin :” Tahuli” speaks as advocate for humans, ancestors speak through the voice of “Dodo”, all the dialogue is in a spiritual language(Bahasa adat) . When somebody is ill, they think ancestors are angry with this person. So they want to know why and they ask to ancestors what to do to calm down the wrath of Marapu – sometimes it works! Also when they want to built a new traditional house, Humans have to ask for agreement to Marapu.
First the men have to “knock at the door”: go to the girl’s village and bring animals to her father. He must comes two times again, giving much buffalos and horses at each time. Finally, he is obliged to offer a huge number of cattle and horses to be allowed to take away the girl. If it is not enough, the girl stay in her family; that’s a great deal and a lot of money (or debts) to get a wife in Sumba!
Men have to bring horses, buffalos, gold and metalwork; bride have to bring pigs, dogs, ivory and textiles. Weddings are absolutely impossible between some clan which are in bad terms, even in modern times.
Death is the more important event for Sumbanese and the dead men must enter in the afterworld with all he needs. The body is dressed with several textiles and the wake last some days. During this time relatives have gathered and brought gifts (mostly animals). The last day relatives have an endless talk to determinate the value of gifts: they are bound to a system of swaps and debts all their life. Then they slaughter some of animals one of which is a horse that the dead man’s spirit will ride in the afterworld. The body is buried with things needed and symbols of wealth. At 19th century, slaves were still sacrificed to follow and serve the king in the afterworld.
Horse races began in July and final take place in August. Those races are important for personal prestige and a good way to get money (bets are high).
A jamboree of traditional dances, costumes, music and songs occurs every year . You will see Kataga dance (a war dance that men perform with long knives and shields) and Negu dance performed by women.