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SUMBA ISLAND

Sumba island has a great and unique position respect to the Sunda Banda archipelagoe, it is one of the biggest island on the East Nusa Tenggara region beside Flores and Timor. It represents an isolated sliver of probable continental crust to the south of active volcanic islands (Sumbawa, Flores ) within the forearc basin. It is situated to the north of passage from the Java Trench to the Timor Through. It does not show the effects of strong compression in contrast to islands of the outer arc system (Savu, Roti, Timor), while the magmatic units make up a substantial part of the ate Cretaceous to Paleogene stratigraphy.

Sumba island covers an area of 11,150 square km which is now populated by about 350,000 people. Generally the climate similar to other part of Indonesia where a dry season (May to November), and a rainy season (December to April). The island of Sumba is well known of its sandlewood, horses, impressive megalithic tombs, typical hand woven textile ("ikat"), and the still untouched beautiful beaches.

As our world develops, the traditions of the past are often discarded and forgotten. Unfortunately there are now only a few places left on earth where primitive tribal cultures are still intact and the traditional ways of living are still practiced.

Sumba is one of those special places where stone graves, traditional houses and the rituals of the animist religion have been well preserved. The funeral ceremonies still continue and huge blocks of stone are still cut and dragged by hundreds of men to the mortuary grounds.

Various numbers of livestock are still the only acceptable bride wealth of these villages and many still do not allow missionaries or native preachers to enter.

Brief History of Sumba Island
Not much is known about the history of the island other than it being one of war and hardship. In the sixteenth century Pigafetta, the traveling companion of the famed Portuguese explorer Magellan, was the first foreigner to mention Sumba. He recorded proud natives that were clad in fine woven ikats and bodies adorned with beautiful ornaments. He wrote of the breathtaking landscapes of Sumba, an island of untouched white sandy beaches, villages perched on green hills and fertile valleys swarming with sculptured stone tombs. At that time the air was filled with the sweet aroma of the sandalwood forests that covered the island, in fact there was so much sandalwood growing in the forests that the island was first known as the Sandalwood Island. The sweet smelling wood was in great demand throughout Asia and Arabia, and for centuries it was the main trade item flowing out of the island. The Sumbanese also bartered their sturdy horses for gold, silver and Chinese ceramics that were, and still are, highly regarded as precious items by the islanders. Today, in most parts of the island, Pigafetta’s view of the island has changed little. And, except for the destruction of the sandalwood forests in East Sumba, one can still experience the same sense of wonder that those first Europeans experienced over 400 years ago.


Map of Sumba Island

Sumba was known amongst foreign traders as being an island of fierce warriors were headhunting expeditions where common. It was due to these incessant raids the villages were built on hilltops and heavily fortified by stone walls. The dry season was the period of the headhunting expeditions as well as the wars between rival clans and villages. In East Sumba, heads were used as tokens of territorial conquest in battles between nobles. In West Sumba, headhunting rites were often acts of revenge between equals. In both parts of the island the heads were considered trophies that would be displayed on “skull trees” in the villages. It was believed that the trophies brought home would stimulate prosperity and fertility of the village and the fields.

Slave raids were also common on the island. Rival Kingdoms and clans would periodically attack each other in order to bring home slaves to work their fields, or for sale to the foreign traders that were based on the northern part of the island. Sumbanese slaves were sold in Flores and Bali, and even as far west as the Arabian Peninsula and southward from there to the island of Madagascar off the African coast.

Today, in some villages in West Sumba there are stories passed down about slave raids that the Portuguese made hundreds of years ago, and some elders are still in possession of ancient shields that they believe are adorned with human hair taken from the fallen invaders. Even well into the twentieth century it was common for Sumbanese headhunting parties to capture enemies to be brought back to the village. It is told that some would be treated as honored guests who would live in the village for years, all the while being overfed and becoming obese. Eventually the auspicious sacrificial day would come, only then would the head of the slave be taken and his skin used for sacred ceremonial drumheads.

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Given its fierce reputation it is not surprising that most foreign traders stayed well clear of the island, and that it wasn’t until the latter part of the nineteenth century that the first Europeans attempted to settle on the island. It was then that the Dutch colonial administration based in Batavia, now known as Jakarta, claimed control of the island. In reality they could only manage to establish a small garrison on a beachhead at Waingapu and its soldiers rarely ventured out from there. Control could not be established on the island until near the end of its centuries of rule in Indonesia. It was not until late in the 1920’s that the colonial rulers deemed Sumba safe enough to replace its only garrison in Waingapu with police.

Since Indonesian Independence in 1945, Sumba has been part of Nusa Tenggara Timor, the “Southeastern Islands,” with its administrative capital in Kupang on the Island of Timor. Although the government has recently improved the cross-island road as well as ferry and airport access to the island, outside of the local administrative capitals of Waingapu and Waikabubak life has changed little.

Sumba has a unique culture and their social life. Sumbanese are traditionally divided into three level of social life : (Raja/King) - Maramba, Customary Official - Kabihu, and Slaves - Ata. Sumbanese are living from farming, cattle breeding, rice-field farming and trading. Ones owns cattle will contribute to their social status such as if they had more cattle giving them a higher social status.

Most Sumbanese are Christian (Catholic and Protestant), however, and part of them are still strongly keep their native and original religion called Marapu. Most cultural objects are related to the Marapu religion such as the shape of traditional houses, ceremonies, or kings' graves and tombs.

The Customary houses designed in high-peaked roof to store the heirlooms and store. It is divided into male and female section, and generally surrounded by impressive megalithic tombs. Their famous ceremony are the wedding and funerals. where they usually sacrificed animals pigs, buffaloes, cattle, and horses.

The Megalithic tombs are made from the hard stone forming the megalithic shape. This covered by rectangle flat stone supported by four pillars about 1,5 meters high. The Megalithic tombs are actually located in the front of their houses

A primitive Sumbanese art objects strongly related with a social functions of Merapu belief. The carved stones and wood statues are representing the death, Merapu, and as medium for their contact. Metal ornaments and jewelry are usually for wedding ceremonies, and are related to the social status

Geography
Sumba Island has a unique position with respect to the Sunda-Banda arc as it represents an isolated sliver of probable continental crust to the south of active volcanic islands (Sumbawa, Flores ) within the forearc basin (Fig.1). It is situated to the north of passage from the Java Trench (subduction front) to the Timor Through (collision front). It does not show still the effects of strong compression in contrast to islands of the outer arc system (Savu, Roti, Timor), while the magmatic units make up a substantial part of the Late Cretaceous to Paleogene stratigraphy.

Bathymetrically, Sumba stands out as a ridge that separates the Savu forearc basin (> 3000 m depth) in the east and the Lombok forearc basin (> 4000 m depth) in the west. Seismic refraction studies show (Barber et al., 1981) that it is made up of 24 km thick continental crust (Chamalaun et al., 1981). Based on the results of tectonic studies helped by paleomagnetism and geochemistry, several workers considered Sumba as a microcontinent or a continental fragment (Hamilton, 1979 ; Chamalaun and Sunata, 1982 ; Wensink, 1994, 1997 ; Vroon et al., 1996 ; Soeria-Atmadja et al., 1998 ).

Three main geodynamic models for Sumba have been reviewed by Chamalaun et al. (1982) and Wensink (1994) as follows : (i) Sumba was originally a part of the Australian Continent which was detached afterwards when the Wharton basin was formed, drifted northwards and subsequently trapped behind the eastern Java Trench (Audley-Charles, 1975 ; Otofuji et al., 1981), (ii) Sumba was once part of Sundaland which was drifted southwards during the opening of the Flores Basin (Hamilton,1979, Von der Borch et al., 1983 ; Rangin et al., 1990) and (iii) Sumba was either a microcontinent or part of a larger continent within the Tethys, which later was fragmented (Chamalaun and Sunata, 1982).

Three distinct calc-alkaline magmatic episodes have been recorded during Cretaceous - Paleogene, all of them characterized by nearly similar rock assemblages (i.e pyroclastic rocks, basaltic - andesitic lava flows and granodioritic intrusions). They are respectively (i) the Santonian - Campanian episode (86-77 Ma) represented by volcanic and plutonic rock exposures in the Masu Complex from Eastern Sumba, (ii) the Maastrichtian-Thanetian episode (71-56 Ma) represented by the volcanic and plutonic units of Sendikari Bay, Tengairi Bay and the Tanadaro Complex in Central Sumba and finally (iii) the Lutetian - Rupelian episode (42-31 Ma) of which the products are exposed at Lamboya and Jawila in western part of Sumba. No evidence of Neogene magmatic activity has been recorded so far.

Sumba - Living in the Past
Sumba is one of the few islands in Indonesia where a majority of the population still follow the ways of their ancestors. One gets the sense that time has passed this island by and that only now is it slowly being drawn into the present. On Sumba faith in the old traditions are very strong. Throughout the year the island is the site of many fascinating rituals, the most spectacular of them all are the Pasola ceremonies that take place during the months of February and March at select locations along the west coast of the island.

The Pasola’s are wild and martial events involving hundreds of charging horseman battling with spears on a large playing field. Serious injuries are common and there are occasional deaths of horses and even riders. In fact a Pasola is not considered successful without a proper amount of bloodletting. In Sumba blood on the ground is necessary to make it fertile, and one of the aims of the Pasola is to make the conditions right for the rice harvests that take place in the months of April and May.

The main aim of the traditional Sumbanese religion is to maintain a peaceful and fruitful relationship with the Marapu, the ancestral spirits. To do so there are many Animist rules that must be adhered to in the form of ritual celebrations that are meant to provide the ancestor spirits with food and wealth in the afterlife. In exchange it is expected that the ancestors will bestow increased fertility and prosperity on the living.

The funerary rituals of Sumba continue to this day. Huge blocks of stone are cut and dragged great distances to the mortuary ground to construct mausoleums for the rich and the nobility. An average sized stone can weigh in the range of six tons, and larger stones weigh more than twenty. Until recently, particularly at the funerals of noblemen, literally hundreds of water buffalo, horses, pigs and dogs were slaughtered to accompany the departed soul to the afterlife. The number of animals dispatched was, and still is, prestige enhancing. In Sumba, where the remains of a highly stratified society of nobles, commoners and indentured slavery still exist, it was not uncommon for a family to bankrupt itself to put on a good funeral show. With occasional success, the government is trying to discourage this practice by limiting the amount of slaughtered animals to five.

The social structure of Sumba is organized around the traditional ancestral house and the patrilineal group that claims decent from it. Ancestral houses are the bridge between the visible and invisible worlds and must be perpetuated over time as ritual centers. The ancestral villages are usually built on a defensive height and surrounded by a perimeter wall of stone or a thick cactus hedge. Traditional houses with high peaked roofs are aligned in rows around an open space that contains rectangular stone graves. Some villages, those that fielded war expeditions, kept a “skull tree” on which the human heads of the enemy victims were hung. The Sumbanese were feared headhunters and “officially” abandoned the practice in the 1950’s. However as recently as the late nineties heads were still being taken during major inter clan battles.

The Sumbanese are proud of their culture. They value their traditional way of life and their tribal unity. For foreigners to witness this culture is like looking through a window to the past. In this fast modernizing world it is unfortunate that few places like Sumba remain.

Rituals
Pasola is the name of a war game tournament played by two groups of selected Sumbanese men. They riding their decorated selected horses fling wooden spears at each other. (The government allows the ritual game to take place, but the spears much the blunt). Pasola is a traditional ceremony of the Sumbanese held in the way of uniquely and sympathetically 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.

Pasola is, above all, the most exciting rituals of Sumba-where else in the world can you see colorful horsemen trying to kill each other? Where else in the world can you see the shedding of blood, the lost of and eye, and occasional death coloring the event and being the part of the game?. The ceremony occurs during February in Lamboya and Kodi and during March in Gaura and Wanukaka. The main activity starts several days after the full-moon and coincide with the yearly arrival to the shore of strange, and multihued sea worms - nyale. The precise date of the event decided by Rato during the wula podu (the month of pasola is the fasting month).

Origin and Legend
It is said that thousand of years ago there were three brothers-one of them named Umbu Dula coming from a village called Waiwuang (now Wanukaka) intended to collect rice in the Village of Masu Karera, in the south coast of East Sumba. They, however, lied to the villagers that they wanted to go fishing. After a long time they had not returned, the villagers become so worried that they might have been stranded, lost, or even dead, so the villagers went to search for them, but in vain. Being lonely for a long time, Umbu Dula's wife, Rambu Kaba, fell in love with Tedo Gai Parana, a man from Kodi, and decided to marry him. When finally the three brothers came back to Waiwuang, all the villagers greeted them with mixed feelings. Despite tje joy caused by the arrival of the three brothers, Umbu Dula began to feel sad to hear that his wife had escaped to Kodi with Tedo Gai Parana and that they had decided to get married and lived a happy life. The three brothers and the villagers then began to run after Rambu Kaba and her partner and found them on the foot of a hill. Seeing Umbu Dula among the people of Waiwuang, Rambu Kaba burst out crying but she being too ashamed refused to return to Waiwuang.

The relatives of Tedo Gai Parana, therefore, had to pay the bride price (dowries) to Umbu Dula in the form of buffaloes, horses, a set of ornaments, some spears, and swords, and a unique giff of sea - worms, called Nyale. Nyale usually, appears in February and March (several days after the full-moon). After the bride price ceremony the people of Kodi invited the Waiwuang to have a game of Pasola as remembrance of the event, so that the sorrow caused by the escaped of Rambu Kaba could be forgotten.

Since then the celebration of the time of nyale has been held with the pasola games, and people connect the appearance of nyale with the harvest. The greater number of nyale appear, the more abundant harvest it will be. The pasola ceremony is usually preceded by several other rituals, done in fasting month Wula Nyale or Wula Podu such as self purification, Pajura (traditional boxing), the welcoming of nyale, which is done on the beach at dawn. These rituals are headed by ratos.

During the purification period there are a lot of prohibitions such as weeping for the dead, striking gongs, wearing jingles ankles-bracelets, putting on bright dresses, killing animals, passing the pasola area, and crossing the river estuary. Affer the purification period the Pajura is held. Before the games starts the rato who leads the ritual makes an announcement of the game rules. After the announcement, to ratos throw their spears to start the game. This is immediately followed by hundreds of horse - riders racing their horses and while shouting throw their spears towards their opponents. Customarily, when someone is hurt the game will become more enthusiastic. After the games the participants return to their villages and are welcome as herois returning from the war. Then the thanksgiving ceremony is held by sacrificing castles no Marapu toask for fertile soil and bountiful harvest. This is pasola, a part of Sumbanese life; a life full of laughter and joy and hope for the bright future.

Sumba has a unique culture and their social life. Sumbanese are traditionally divided into three level of social life : (Raja/King) - Maramba, Customary Official - Kabihu, and Slaves - Ata. Sumbanese are living from farming, cattle breeding, rice-field farming and trading. Ones owns cattle will contribute to their social status such as if they had more cattle giving them a higher social status.

Most Sumbanese are Christian (Catholic and Protestant), however, and part of them are still strongly keep their native and original religion called Marapu. Most cultural objects are related to the Marapu religion such as the shape of traditional houses, ceremonies, or kings' graves and tombs

Sumba Ikat Blankets
Textiles in Sumba have always functioned both as an indication of status and a means of ritual exchange. An individual's position in the island's complex social hierarchy is still displayed by the motifs and colors of their weavings. Personal wealth is measured not only by the number of animals one owns, but also by the number of weavings. Textiles form an integral part of the ceremonial exchange of gifts between the families of a bride and groom. They are required for funerals where dozens of cloths are interred with the corpse, and many more given by the guests that attend the ceremony.

In Sumba weaving is the preserve of the female members of the villages. A full sized, hand spun, Sumba cloth can take up to two years to complete and can command the same value as a buffalo. It is a time consuming process starting with the spinning of the yarn, made from local home grown cotton, using simple spindles or wheels. Now that it is available, some women prefer to buy pre-spun yarn and chemical dyes from the shops in town, in this way months of preparation and weaving are saved. However the thick hand-spun cotton blankets, with the rich earth toned natural dyes, have a higher value and are preferred over the new faster to dye, and weave, modern versions. Although it is quite common to see women weaving blankets using store bought yarn and dyes, they readily admit that they are cheating by using them.

Before weaving, the yarn is boiled in water that is mixed with black sorghum seeds, burned coconut sheathes and candle nuts. This strengthens the yarn and makes it stiffer and easier to tie the pattern of the blanket. Using threadlike shavings made of young smoked coconut leaves, the often intricate patterns are tied on to the bundles of yarn that have been set up on the loom. This is why the blankets are called Ikat, the Indonesian word meaning to tie.

Once the pattern of the first color is completed, the bundles of yarn are taken off of the loom and prepared for the dying process. The yarn is dyed in boiling water and natural dyes prepared from indigo leaves and the roots of trees. The bundle of dyed yarn is dried and thereafter re-dyed many times until the desired rich color is achieved. During each coloring process the bundles of yarn are reassembled on to the loom and once again tied off to form the next pattern; the section of previously dyed yarn must also be tightly bound so that it is not affected by the next color. This is a very laborious and time-consuming process that is repeated over and over until the colors are perfect.

The motifs in a cloth vary throughout the island and most Sumbanese can identify the wearers’ clan by the motif of their cloth. Even though many Sumbanese are now Christian, the way of the Marapu ancestral spirits continues to be vividly expressed in the symbols of birth, on-going life, death, and reincarnation woven into the island's textiles.
 

 

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