Sumba Island became a part of our Indonesia itinerary once we heard about the Pasola Festival. Experiencing the festival is neither straightforward nor easy as information about it is scarce. We did know that Pasola is held annually around February or March (the exact date is only published several days after the full moon cycle once the nyale multicolored sea worms start to appear) and we had to be flexible in our schedule in order to see it. Held in several villages around Sumba Island, there are approximately 6 Pasola events in total each year. It was a bit frustrating not knowing until a few weeks in advance what the exact dates of the festival would be but we figured since we had a total of 3 months in Asia, we could make it work. Other than the nyale worms appearing, the more exciting portion of the Pasola festival revolved around the horseback riding warriors. Two opposing teams of riders dressed in their traditional best (hand woven ikat clothing handed down from generation to generation) geared up for battle with each other in a ritual fight involving wooden spears being hurled across the field of play. Their goal? To injure or knock their opponents off their horses using flying wooden projectiles! Needless to say, hundreds of flying spears hurled in opposite directions is a recipe for mayhem and every year participants and spectators get injured, maimed or even killed. A death or injury as a result of the Pasola festival is not something to be mourned however, as locals believe those who die will become sacrifices so that the harvest will be bountiful. This celebration of the rice-planting season sounded like something from the medieval ages and we were keen to experience this fascinating cultural event first hand. Other than the festival, we really didn’t know too much about Sumba Island so we contacted a local guide, Daniel Bonat, to organize a week itinerary for us. This ended up working well as we were able to maximize our time on Sumba to see the “best of” what the island had to offer. We ended up visiting five traditional villages (Manola, Wee Leo, Waru Wora, Praijing and Praiyawang), four beaches (Kita, Marosi, Watu Bella and Kerewei), three waterfalls (Waikelo Suwah, Tanggedu and Wai Marang), , two lookout points (Tanau Hills and Danau Wairinding) and one spectacular lagoon (Waikuri). Sumba was an unexpected highlight and we will never forget our time here!
Flying to Sumba Island on Nam Air
Rice paddies near Tambolaka
Children playing on Kita Beach
Daniel, Robby and Dahmie at Kita Beach. We saw and did so much in Sumba because of these two!
Daniel buying betel nuts for a village visit
Visiting Kampung Manola (Manola Traditional Village)
Interior view of a traditional house in Kampung Manola
Village elders chewing on betel nut; Kampung Manola
Wood carving in the stone tomb section of Kampung Manola
We greeted these village elders and gifted them with betel nut during our visit to Kampung Manola
Kampung Manola is off the beaten path and few tourists visit here. 4WD is absolutely necessary to visit this remote gem
A friendly girl smiles for a photo; Kampung Manola
Village scene in Kampung Manola
This girl was so grateful that Kirn promised to send her a photo
Buffaloes walking by the road side; Kampung Manola
Grilled fish for dinner at Enjoy Aja; Tambolaka
6 am and a Pasola festival participant rides towards Wanokaka Beach
This is a practice match in anticipation of the larger Pasola festival to be held later in the day
The Pasola Festival is a celebration of the harvest season. It is believed to be a way to appease the spirits and ensure a good harvest for the coming year. It is a battle between two teams of horse riders riding at full speed in a spear-fighting competition. Every year, someone gets seriously injured or killed and spectators are warned to keep their distance!
This impromptu pasola match is held on the beach at Wanokaka. Every year (sometime between February and March), the village elders look for the presence of the coveted nyale sea worms. This indicates the harvest will be successful and the Pasola festival is held shortly afterwards to celebrate another good season
Be careful of flying spears at the Pasola Festival!
It is pure mayhem as the riders go wild with abandon and rage when one of them gets hit with a spear; Pasola Festival
A tired rider leads his horse away from the practice Pasola match at Wanokaka Beach
Pasola festival warriors get ready for battle
A barefoot rider carries his three wooden spears to attend the main Pasola event
The Pasola participants have been practicing for a year in anticipation of this very important festival. Unfortunately, most of the events end up in violence as many of the participants show up drunk or high!
Robby poses next to a lanky Sumba man. He is one of the horse riders' helpers and his job is to gather spears from the battlefield
A long parade of Pasola festival riders make their way to the main fairground at Wanokaka
Grace and Kirn take a selfie next to a Pasola festival spectator
The police and anti-riot squad keep a presence on the field of play in anticipation of the inevitable fight that will occur between the Pasola warriors and an overamped crowd
The opening ceremony of the Pasola Festival at Wanokaka
Village elders attend the opening ceremony of the 2023 Wanokaka Pasola Festival
Each team has about 30 riders on horses and wooden spears are let loose all morning long at their opponents on the opposite side of the field. Spectators must keep their wits about them as the spears sometimes miss their intended target
Being on the field entails a certain amount of risk. Each year someone is blinded, maimed or killed on the battlefield. The running joke is that a Pasola Festival isn't considered successful until some blood has been spilled
Close up of a Pasola horseback rider
All of the riders are barefoot riding their horses bareback!
Pasola warrior getting more wooden spears
Our guide urges us to leave the festival after a few hours as he notices the crowd getting more and more restless. It is a good call because we later heard that a full on fight with machetes kicked off and the police had to fire water cannons to subdue the angry crowd!
Our last view of the massive crowd at the Pasola Festival in Wanokaka
A view looking back towards Wanokaka as we make our way up into the mountains
Our guide (Daniel) had heard of a funeral ceremony that we were invited to attend. The deceased had been stabbed to death by a rival family on his way to tend his rice fields in a land dispute. Here is his family dancing and welcoming us to the traditional funeral ceremony
A unique Sumba Island tradition is "kissing the nose" or “pudduk” (in East Sumba language). This symbolic gesture is between family and friends and indicates peace. We were all greeted with a nose kiss as we entered the village
Visitors arrive to the funeral ceremony with pigs in tow. We were shocked to realize that we were about to witness a Kede Death Ceremony where the family and relatives of the deceased person will deliver livestock to the deceased’s residence. In this ceremony, there is no limit to the number of livestock that must be given although the higher the number, the more beloved the deceased was. After the livestock is accepted, the grieving family immediately slaughters the animals which is then cooked and served to all the mourners
Meeting one of the deceased's sons. He was so happy that we attended his father's traditional funeral ceremony and explained what we were about to witness
A water buffalo is presented to the grieving family as part of the Kede ceremony. For the family to receive a water buffalo is of the highest honor as this will cost 3 years' wages for the average local!
A village elder with betel nut stained lips
Family members sit on a porch decorated with buffalo horns. These animals were sacrificed to ensure eternal afterlife for the deceased, honor the ancestors, and safeguard descendants’ futures. This display shows how many rituals the family has been a part of
The pigs somehow knew what was going to happen as they squealed loudly and attempted to escape. Thankfully, the men didn't prolong their terror as they used their machetes to slice the pigs' jugular veins which caused them to bleed out in seconds
Shortly after they were slaughtered en masse, the pigs were set alight to burn off their hair!
It was shocking to watch this part of the Kede Ceremony!
The children attending the funeral were really excited to get their share of the meat!
After all the hair had been singed off, the pigs were carried to palm leaves in the center of the village
It took several dozen men to hold down the water buffalo which put up a colossal fight
The aftermath as the buffalo took its last gasps of air
This scene has replayed in countless villages throughout Sumba Island. Featuring prominently in Sumbanese culture, buffalo are the island’s major status symbol. Locals work throughout their lives to own these sacred creatures and care for them fervently. One buffalo is worth several thousand dollars which is an obscene amount of money for locals as this can take years of their lives to earn. Buffaloes are a form of currency in their own right as the animals are traded back and forth cementing ties within villages
All the pigs have been gathered onto the leaves as the mourners anticipate the next step of the Kede Death Ceremony
The men expertly butcher the pigs and carve out a section for every single person in attendance. We were told we could not reject our portion of meat as it would greatly anger and embarrass the deceased's family!
The last part of the ceremony was laying the deceased within a stone tomb. We felt privileged to have witnessed a Kede Death Ceremony from start to finish as it was culturally fascinating
Natural cave at Waikelo Suwah waterfall
Robby carrying a baby at Waikelo Suwah waterfall
Water buffalo at Wee Leo Village
Wee Leo Traditional Village
Dozens of buffalo horns line the porch of this house in Wee Leo Village
Robby stands on a buffalo horn threshold at this simple hut in Wee Leo Village
Traditional dwelling in Wee Leo Village
The tribal village of Wee Leo
A young water buffalo is treated with care at Wee Leo Village
Sunset at Wee Leo Traditional Village
Robby about to eat a cute but tiny Pisang Susus banana!
A local chopping a sprouted coconut for us to try; Waikuri Lagoon
Local boys happy that we visited their swimming hole at Waikuri Lagoon
Becky with a newfound friend at Waikuri Lagoon
The hidden paradise of Waikuri Lagoon
So happy that Grace and Kirn could join us on our Sumba Island adventure!
One last meal together before Kirn and Grace fly back to Bali
A restaurant in the shape of a boat!
Traditional huts used for massages at the boat restaurant
A Pasola warrior roundabout
View from Panorama Hobba Kalla in Lamboya
Water buffalo escaping the heat in a muddy pond; Lamboya
Goats at Pantai Marosi (Marosi Beach)
Another view of the pretty Marosi Beach
The path leading to Pantai Watu Bella, a stunning secret beach
Rock formations at the gorgeous Watu Bella Beach
Looking at Sumba Surf Camp at Pantai Kerewei
Traditional village of Waru Wora - the most touristy of the traditional villages due to its proximity to upscale resorts
A weaver making a traditional textile called "ikat" which is made entirely from plants (to include the color). This is an intensive process and takes anywhere from 2 to 5 months for one piece!
Waru Wora Traditional Village
Water buffalo at Waru Wora Village
View from Waru Wora Village towards the coast
Buffalo skulls line the porch of this house in Waru Wora Village
Asperitas bimaensis land snail with a yellow green shell
Praijing Megalithic Village
Another view of the pretty Megalithic Village of Prai Jing
Entrance to a home in Praijing Megalithic Village
Buffalo horns mounted on the exterior of this home in Praijing Megalithic Village
A lady selling beautiful ikat fabrics at Praijing Megalithic Village
Becky with some friendly girls at Praijing Megalithic Village
Bath time for two unhappy boys; Praijing Megalithic Village
Taro leaves on top of a minibus
Daniel, Robby and Dahmie at the Galubakul megalith. Built entirely from one stone, this gravestone was built for a King and his wife over 100 years ago. It took the local villagers over 3 months to pull the stone and erect it in its current place!
The spectacular scenery on our drive towards Tanggedu Waterfall
The rolling hills near Tanggedu Waterfall
Catching a scooter ride to Tanggedu Waterfall
The lower section of Tanggedu Waterfall
Another angle of the lower Tanggedu Waterfall
Robby in a swimming pool at the top of Tanggedu Waterfall
Becky drinking a coconut in a private plunge pool at Tanggedu Waterfall
It is quite a herculean effort to get to the very remote Tanggedu Waterfall but well worth it!
The view as we drove from Tanggedu Waterfall back to Waingapu
Unfortunately it was high tide when we wanted to see the iconic dancing trees of Walakiri Beach so that will have to be a trip for another time!
Stone statues at Elvin Hotel in Waingapu
Turquoise water flowing out from Wai Marang waterfall
Our first glimpse of Wai Marang waterfall, a gorgeous private plunge pool hugged by rugged rock walls
Another view of the beautiful Wai Marang waterfall. Arrive here early if you want to enjoy this slice of paradise all to yourselves!
Becky taking a dip in the refreshing pool at Wai Marang waterfall
Artwork on a home in the village next to Wai Marang waterfall
School girls walking home for their lunch break
Stone figurines at Praiyawang Village in Rende
Sumba traditional grave stone at Praiyawang Village
Detailed carved megalithic burial stones at Praiyawang Village
View of Praiyawang Traditional Village, one of the oldest villages on the island of Sumba
Crocodile carving on a tomb stone in Praiyawang Village
Buffalo skulls mounted on a tree in Praiyawang Village
Interesting tombstone carving near a buffalo at Praiyawang Village
A house with walls made from buffalo skin at Praiyawang Village
The King's son was very friendly and invited us for a chat at Praiyawang Village. Here, he sits in front of a massive buffalo horn
An epic sunset at Tanau Hills
Daniel and Robby at Patung Kuda Waingapu, a monument of warriors on horseback located 8 km outside of Waingapu
Danau Wairinding is a beautiful landscape spot with rolling green hills
School girls waving at us on their walk home from school
Colorful mural painted at Gollu Potto prayer park
View of the surrounding countryside at Gollu Potto
Selfie with Dahmie and Daniel at the Jesus statue in Gollu Potto Prayer Park
Taro roots for sale by the roadside
Bananas and taro for sale
Fish for sale in the mountainous interior of Sumba Island
Carved stone statue on display at Rumah Budaya Sumba (Sumba Cultural Conservation and Learning Institute) in Tambolaka
The Sumba Cultural Center is worth a visit. Photos are not allowed inside the museum but not a problem on the grounds themselves
Carving of hunters armed with spears accompanied by their dogs; Rumah Budaya Culture House
Scene of a buffalo about to be sacrificed in a ceremony
Two men carrying a pig; Rumah Budaya Culture House
Interesting carved figurine on display at the Rumah Budaya Culture House
A busy street scene in Tambolaka
Daniel Bonat, (WhatsApp: +62 813 39722170): He can coordinate transportation, hotels (ranging from traditional village overnight stays to five star), food and an itinerary for Sumba Island. He was very responsive and had some great recommendations. Other reviewers mentioned he was very pushy but we found that if we just told him exactly what we wanted, he would bend over backwards to make it happen. He used to work for the tourism office at the Tambolaka Airport but has since decided to lead tours himself. He put together a week long tour for significantly less than other operators were quoting us.