Tribe Life. Sumba

To imagine a place, a tiny island with real tribes, that live in ancient traditional houses made from bamboo and grass in tiny villages where they live off of the land, harvest their own crops, sell their crafts of intricately and unhurried hand-woven items textiles. Additionally they have annual deeply rooted traditions such as funerals and Pasola in the months of Feb and March which I witnessed with my own eyes and heart. Here is the experience of such a place that I not only visited but lived, as one of them, a member of the Waikabubak Tribe.

There are times throughout my travels where in the moment I have small monologues in my head where I’m giggling at the situations I am in and how on earth I’m even going to begin to describe this in written words to others, where I can really captivate the audience to feel and visualise how it was through my eyes, so initially writing this I felt like perhaps I would explain a little bit more through imagery and immerse the readers through my photography. So I’ll try my best to do a little bit of both as this 4 day stint was one of my rawest and soul shocking experiences I have entered into for a while.

I like to think after four years of being on the road, I’ve grown as a person and see the world with a diverse eye within cultures, humans and lifestyles throughout countries. Well this path of Sumba was a whole new disparate one, a plane ride, where I didn’t really have a clear idea or sense of what I was entering into, which sent my stomach into swirling nervous, spiralling knots. The plan began at the end of a humbling, heart melting week in Ubud and already having travelled a couple of times in Indonesia, I wanted the next point of call to be somewhere that was off the beaten track. So doing a little research, and by little I mean a few solid hours, we came to the conclusion that being in the perfect months to visit with the Pasola Festival and the famous funerals to attend, we packed up our bags and headed for the island of Sumba.

There a two main airports that you can fly into on the island; Tambolak and Waingapu. We wanted to start with the west side of the island as we found a reasonably reliable source on a couple of previous blog posts,  to stay with a woman who lives within a village that consists of 7 tribes. Yuli was her name. She lived in Waikabubak and her tribe was the Merapu tribe. We had no idea what to even think when we were on the hour’s long ride in the Jeep that picked us up; a couple glances at each other back and forth as we were passing some of the poorest shanty towns I have ever seen. Dogs and cats roaming the streets aimlessly, just skin and bones, and generally just a lot of chaos, people trying to survive from the littlest means possible from an island far from thriving in economy or tourism. My first sightings and thoughts was an overwhelming amount of empathy, wanting to be able to be a part of understanding a way I could help. 

Yuli spoke very good English, which was very comforting and put me a little more at ease, as very few people on the island cannot say anything more than a hello. We arrived in her village and walked up the hill to these beautifully peaked bamboo, grass thatched, traditional houses. With families and children who flocked to us. These radiant, unique looking beings, with enticing bold, brown eyes, held onto us with strong, deep curious stares. I think that’s the first time I can say I felt like a celebrity. We settled into the evening pretty quickly and Yuli walked us round her village and she explained a lot about the array of different tribes and their way of life.
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