Mamas and papas

The short luggage conveyor belt at Tambolaka airport in the island of Sumba, Indonesia, didn’t run in a loop as in other airports I have been in – it just ended. All bags that hadn’t been picked up during their 10 meter ride ended up in a huge pile. There are very few flights landing here, only a couple per day, but unfortunately just after my plane had arrived, another one landed too. The pressure around the conveyor belt grew to an intense level.

While I was anxiously waiting for my bag to appear, and while being pushed further and further away, I was approached by a boy aged perhaps 12 or so who asked me, in very good English, where I was from. When he heard that I was Swedish his response was a huge smile and one word: Ibrahimovic!

Once outside the terminal building I spotted a goat peacefully grazing in the not very full car park. I had just met the guide, who greeted me with the words Welcome to Sumba, mama. He continued to address me in this way: Did you sleep well, mama?, for instance. ‘Mama’ and ‘papa’, or ‘umbu’ (meaning ‘king’) and ‘rambu’ (meaning ‘queen’), are very commonly used in conversation and a sign of respect.

Sumba traditional houses have thatched roofs that look a little like witch hats. Modern houses may have metal roofs, but with the same shape. There is of course a reason for this: traditional religion, marapu, is very much alive here, in spite of the majority being Christian at least in theory. In fact, the marapu, God, resides in the top segment of the roofs.

Decorations on the outside include buffalo horns and pig jaws from sacrificed animals.

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