Pasola

Trip Start Oct 06, 2007
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Trip End Apr 06, 2007


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sumba, one of the lesser known islands in Indonesia, lies about 500 kilometers southeast of Bali. Unlike the island chain stretching from Sumatra to Timor, Sumba is not actively volcanic. Instead, undulating hills cover its full length, and as both of us can attest, they make driving its roads a nauseating experience.

Our main purpose for visiting Sumba was to attend Pasola, a ritual war festival in which men from competing villages hurl blunted spears at one another while on horseback. (Does it get any more phallic than that?) In years past, before the Indonesian government got involved, the spears had sharp points, and death by impalement was a yearly occurrence. In fact, the fighting at times got so out of hand that civil wars broke out between the participating villages.

Two days before Pasola, we landed near Waingapu in eastern Sumba. There, we met our guide Bonny and driver Umbu who shepherded us across the island while listening to the Best of Two Live Crew and Shania Twain (Umbu's music of choice). Bonny had more traditional ideas about the arts and took us to the home of an ikat weaver. To quote Lonely Planet, ikat is "an intricately patterned cloth of threads that are painstakingly tie-dyed before being woven together." A single two-meter-long work can take up to a year to create, and after watching the process, we understand why. Needless to say, we fell in love with a piece and bought it.

From there, we drove over the river and through the woods to visit some of Sumba's traditional villages, and by traditional, we mean no plumbing, no electricity (excepting solar power), and lots of betel nut. The houses feature steep peaked roofs that accommodate the four floors necessary for honoring marapu, Sumbanese spiritual forces. Some of the roofs are over fifteen meters high. Amongst the homes, raised stone tombs house occupants who may have waited up to ten years for burial (all the while "living" in the house).

On the day of Pasola, we awoke at 3:45 in the morning to join the throngs on their way to the seashore where local shamans opened the Pasola festival by caching the sea worms that come to shore only one day each year. A month before, the shamans had chosen the date of Pasola by determining when the sea worms would arrive - about seven days after February's full moon. Sleepily, we followed the locals into the receding tide where we lunged after green, red, black and white squirmy sea worms, a tasty morning treat. Then, it was on to the Pasola field to watch men prove their mettle and dodge errant spears.
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Comments

rgarvin
rgarvin on

Mmmmmm, gummi worms!
Wow, sounds like a once in a lifetime visit. I'd love to see a photo of your ikat.

Cheers, Rick

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