In Sumba, there is always something to celebrate somewhere. Celebrating and inviting more people than necessary is part of their culture. You need not necessarily attend a big festival or ceremony. If you know a little Bahasa Indonesia, it is the little encounters that we as foreigners remember for a long time.
But you will also remember the negative aspects: the origin of the festivals and the way they are celebrated according to the Marapu religion. At most festivals water buffalos, cattle, pigs and chickens are ritually killed. For the animals this means a slow, painful end. Pigs are thrown half dead into the fire. While water buffalos die quietly, the squeals of the pigs are almost unbearable.
The religion of the participants is not important for a ceremony, everybody is welcome. People are very considerate with Muslims, some ritual killings are carried out according to Islamic rite or even a goat is added if only pigs are sacrificed.
Here is a selection of celebrations:
Each year, between the last full moon in October and the next full moon in November, some Sumbanese tribes celebrate the Wulla Poddu ceremony. Wulla Poddu means bitter months. Wulla Poddu is a kind of holy month comparable to Ramadan or Passion. During this month, there are certain prohibitions or taboos (no funerals, weddings, parties, topping-out ceremonies, eating dogs…). Wulla Poddu is associated with agriculture. It is the time for giving thanks to the Marapu before the next planting season begins. Land, crops, livestock, and good efforts are blessed by the Marapu.
For people the Wulla Poddu is the time of family reunion, reconciliation, forgiveness and pardon. At the beginning of Wulla Poddu there are performances of rhythmic chanting and ritual dances. They dance on the central squares of the villages, both Marapu priest, equipped with appropriate relics, warriors with swords and spears, and women in colourful costumes. The end of the Wulla Poddu is also celebrated. In contrast to the beginning, many animal sacrifices are then made.
The Wulla Poddu is celebrated in Tarung / Waikabubak, Bondo Maroto / north of Waikabubak, Gollu & Gella Koko / Loli, Ubu Koba / Wewawa, Kadoku / Wanokaka, Sodan / Lamboya.
Villagers with strong believes pay very close attention to the observance of taboos during Wulla Poddu month. Sometimes it might be forbidden to a stranger to enter villages or specific areas in the villages and take photos.
Weddings are celebrated in the bride's house. Days before the celebration the dowry of the bride is shown in front of the parents' house. This might be a marriage bed, TV and furniture. On the day of the celebration, the bride's family gather in front of their house and wait for the groom.
The groom starts from his family home and collects his relatives on the way to the bride. Nowadays they use mostly Bemos and trucks for the trip. They have room for the presents: horses, water buffaloes and pigs. A decorated horse symbolizes a motorcycle.
Upon arrival of the groom, the two families consult whether the presents are in balance. Only when they agree a religious service will be held in the relevant belief. Animal sacrifices are common at weddings.
According to the Marapu belief there is life after death. Therefore, the funeral ceremony is actually the most important of all. With some tribes in Sumba, the body is bent like a baby in the womb. This position is a symbol of rebirth in the world of spirits. The coffin of the dead person is covered with a shroud of Ikat. The funeral celebration symbolizes the transition of the deceased person into the Marapu heaven. (Praing Marapu). The funeral ceremonies and funerals are usually a few days after death.
The funeral ceremony requires a large financial outlay for the family. Many mourners will have to travel, be accommodated and fed. They need a number of water buffalos, cows ... Sometimes such ceremonies will, therefore, take place several years after death, until enough money is available. In the meantime, the body of the deceased is kept on the top floor of the houses of the living or buried temporarily.
Depending on the region and the importance of the dead person, the mortuary and the funeral ceremony take 3 to more than 6 days. Chemical additives such as formalin and others are taken for granted today in the funeral process of Sumba.
The dead person will be buried in a megalithic tomb. There are single graves and "family graves", where several people can be buried. So the following ceremony is not part of every funeral.
The megalithic culture in Sumba originated about 4,500 years ago. This tradition is still alive today, and not just for supporters of the Marapu faith. The megalithic tombs are rectangular and similar to altars or tables, closed or open, with 4 feet. The material is limestone or concrete. Even today many have a weight of many tons. The blocks are decorated with scenes from the life of the deceased and his life after death according to the Marapu faith. In order to carry these stones to the right place, you need the Tarik Batu = stone-pulling ceremony.
Before the stone-pulling ceremony, there are a number of rituals like "watu pogo", to grant planning permission to fetch the stone from a quarry or rock. Another ritual called "watu Tingi" serves to ensure success of the stone-pulling. Such a stone is then pulled with lianas over banana trunks over long distances until it has finally reached its final position and is then raised. Stone pulling is hard work for many people and sometimes takes many days.
The pulling of stones is accompanied with rhythmical, encouraging songs. The men are responsible for pulling, women for catering. A corresponding number of water buffaloes, cows and pigs is necessary for offering. In such ceremonies one can today use trucks for transport, if the distance to the grave site is too far, or a nylon rope, if the lianas are too weak. But the main thing is that all the participants have fun.
Following this ceremony, the grave stones are decorated, depending on the material, with carvings, sculptures or kitschy bathroom tiles.
The Pasola is probably the largest and best-known ceremony in Sumba. Those who do not have the opportunity to see it, or don't want to see it, will recognize at least the leftovers. Wherever the Pasola is performed, there are thousands of empty plastic cups...
The Pasola takes place at 7 locations in West Sumba.
In February in
- Hoba Kalla - Lamboya
- Homba Klayo, Lete Loko und Tosi – Kodi
- Bondo Kawango, Pero Batang – Kodi
- Rara Winyo, Ate Dalo – Kodi
In March in
- Pahiwi (beach / pantai) & Kamaradena (field / medan) - Wanokaka
- Weetana, Gaura – Lamboya- Wainyapu, Waiha – Kodi Bangedo
The timing of Pasola rituals is determined by the Nyale rituals. Nyale are iridescent annelids. On two days each year, in February or March, these critters crawl from the sea about 5 days after full moon, in order to spawn. According to Marapu belief this is a sign from heaven. The Rato priest checks the appearance of the Nyale worms and makes predictions for the coming harvest.
In advance of the actual Pasola a number of different ritual games take place. These include, depending on the region, brutal boxing matches – Pajura. The opponents wrap their fists with sharp grasses. But also general meetings, nights with ritual speech and various sacrifices with special offerings are held. The night before the fight, each participant rider of the Pasola has to sacrifice a chicken to the Rato. From that the Rato foretells the success in battle and it is also a plea to the Marapu to give power for the fight.
The Pasola itself begins 8 days after the Nyale phenomenon. The area of the game is consecrated by the Rato and released and he is also the referee of the games. The Pasola is a mock battle between two or more villages. Sola or Hola means the spear; Pa suggests that this is a game. The hand-carved spears are up to 5 cm thick and dull; in spite of this people (sometimes) get injured or killed.
In this war game ritual dozens of riders compete against each other. For hours they gallop bareback on Sumba horses and hurl their spears against their opponents with full force. It is not a show, as we know it from the Middle Ages markets in Europe - but is formally exactly like this. The participants are trying to demoralize their opponents with words and push them down with their spears.
Revenge of the defeated is not up to the participants but to the Marapu - perhaps it solves itself or he solves it in the following year. The symbolism of the games is that the more blood is spilled on the ground on the Pasola or in a boxing match, the more fertile the soil will be and increase the yield of the harvest. The Pasola ceremony has, therefore, a direct relation to agriculture. This is the true religious meaning of the Pasola ceremony - not the amusement of the crowd. Successful riders have a high status. Their goal is not only to win but to draw attention to themselves.
For Pasola you dress in your best clothes and travel in a suitable vehicle. Those who can afford it and come from abroad will book appropriate quotas with the airlines. Perhaps the Rato also makes an appointment with the airlines …
Although the Pasola is on its way to becoming an international national tourist attraction, it remains important for Sumbanese culture.
This violent ritual may remind you that less than 100 years ago headhunting still existed in Sumba.
A special ceremony or an integral part of many of the celebrations is ritual speech. This chanting contains rhyming pairs, so called parallel-linked verses. This means that different words express the same content.
Such a ritual speech or lecture can last the whole night. They are presented from memory by the Rato, the spiritual leader of the community. The village people sit around him and respond with an occasional loud feedback choir. The speaker is an intermediary between the ancestors and the living. On such evenings animals are sacrificed and there is something to eat, of course.
Bijalungu Hiupaana - is the name of a natural cave. It is located in the village of Taramanu in Wanokaka, 18 km south of Waikabubak. The ceremony takes place in January. It's to make the Marapu feel benevolent about the coming harvest. Also there are ceremonies to predict crops and personal happiness. In this ceremony food and beverages are served and people sing and dance.
Purunga Taliang Marapu - it takes place in the first week in October in the village of Umbu Pabal / Katikutana 38 km east of Waikabubak and lasts four days. It is a thanksgiving ritual with dances, prayers and offerings to the Marapu.
Topping-out ceremonies - will be celebrated after the completion of the wooden skeleton of a house. Again, there are animal sacrifices. From the excised liver of the sacrificed animal(s) the Rato predicts if the house will be safe from storms and lightning as well as about the health, and well-being of the future residents.
Celebrations for which I have no information
- Urata Patama Keto - sharpening machetes
- Pogo Urata guacu - cut down trees
- Urata Tenu – wooden stove
- Oma Wuke Urata – open garden
- Urata dengu Laura – ask for rain
- Urata Dengi Ina – harvest results
- Local dance festivals
Elements of the traditional festivals are often involved in non-traditional events. For example: campaign events, sports events, and inaugurations.
In all bigger villages in Sumba, there are equestrian games around the National Holiday August 17 - something like a Pasola light.
From the 17th of August to the 16th of September the Taman Hiburan Rakyat festival takes place in Waingapu. It is a mixture of Oktoberfest und representation of NGO and government projects.