Sumba stories

It’s a long way from Waikabubak, the main town in western Sumba, Indonesia, to the Kodi region in the northwest. Well, if you look at a map it doesn’t seem very far, but then you have to take into account the state of the roads. The advantage was that the guide had plenty of time to talk about Sumba and its culture.

I hadn’t seen horses at all in Indonesia, but in Sumba it is a common sight. The Indonesian president had very recently paid a visit to the island, and he had received a horse as a gift. Every year in spring there are hugely popular games, or perhaps I should say competitions, called pasola, where horses are in the foreground: villagers on horseback fight one another with spears. Boys train for pasola all year. In olden times it was not uncommon for people to die during the pasola, something which was considered a great honour. These days the games are somewhat calmer, but deaths still occur, according to my guide, who talked about pasola with dreamy eyes. “You must come for pasola next year, mama”.

There is a shortage of water in many villages, so water gets delivered by trucks. Here is one being filled up from a river:

The Kodi region is among the poorest in Sumba, and families there get 30 kg of rice delivered every month to help them avoid hunger and malnutrition. Kodi is a stronghold of the traditional marapu religion. Marapu is omnipresent, as for instance here in the river:

I was particularly fond of this Marapu representation:

In Sumba the dead are buried in megalithic tombs in the centre of villages. Can you spot the Marapu, under the tree?

People who don’t live in traditional villages also have the tombs of their family members next to their houses. They can have glossy colourful tiles all over them, with pictures of Jesus and other biblical motifs, or they can just be painted in bright colour or maybe not be decorated at all.

Many young here still get married early, at 14 is not that uncommon. The result is families with many children, problems to make ends meet and to afford education. However these days things are changing and more young people tend to marry a little later.

The farthest we got during this outing was a beach in Kodi, and what I saw was breathtakingly beautiful.

On the long way back to the hotel I noticed that the guide and the driver started looking at the dashboard and mumbling something. It appeared that we were running out of petrol, and this being a Monday, no petrol would be available at petrol stations in western Sumba. This is apparently the situation every Monday. Petrol is delivered to the rather distant port of Waingapu once a week, and it takes time to transport it all the way west. Well, I got a little worried since I was going to the airport with the same car the following morning, a two-hour ride, and it was quite clear that without more petrol this wouldn’t be feasible. The guide explained:

“Don’t worry, mama, I will buy some petrol by the roadside. See there? It’s sold in those plastic bottles by people who stock up while it is available in the petrol stations and then they just wait for it to be Monday again. Good business!”

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