pesole festival sumba

The fascinating tradition of the Pasola festival in Sumba

Located only an hour’s flight from east of Bali, the Indonesian island Sumba amazes and mesmerises its visitors. Not only with its beautiful beaches and landscape but also its unique, well-preserved culture and traditions. The common saying “time stands still” is rarely more appropriate than it is here in mysterious Sumba. People still practice their ancestors’ religion and rituals that first emerged over 4,500 years ago. Due to the island’s remote location, its flourish obscurity has allowed it to omit the passage of time, holding steadfast to old traditions ever since. The Pasola festival is one of the traditions that Sumba people have been taught through centuries by their ancestors. An ancient war ritual ceremony.

Pasola fesitval sumba horse

Pasola festival Sumba

Although Sumba was identified for centuries as a source of sandalwoods, slaves, cannibal tribes and horses. The Pasola festival has helped to shift people’s perception and given the island popularity. The term Pasola is derived from the word “sula“, what basically describes a long wooden spear in the local language. Played by the western Sumbanese in Lamboya and Kodi, two opponent groups consisting of around 50 men from different villages, clans and tribes fling wooden spears at their opponents while riding a horse. The participants are highly skilled and brave Sumbanese men wearing traditional uniforms.

According to legend, “Pasola” originated in a Sumbanese village called Waiwuang. When the leader of the village had to leave his home and family for an unforeseeable period of time, his wife found herself in love with a man from another village after a while – in the belief her husband was dead. However, even after the mistakenly believed to be dead husband returned to Waiwuang, his wife decided to stay with her new love and the two got married eventually. The returned leader was broken-hearted, which why the villagers of Waiwuang held a festival to help their leader forget his sadness: The Pasola ceremony was born.

pasola festival sumba horse

Originally the participants rode horses charging towards each other, whilst trying to hit their rivals with pasol javelins and avoiding being hit themselves. The goal of the ceremony was to spill blood to the ground as a way of thanking the ancestors for a successful harvest and ensuring another prosperous rice harvest. However, the ritual changed over time: The spear tips are now blunt and their metal tips removed.

When does it happen?

The peak of the festival starts a few days after the full moon. It coincides with the yearly arrival of the Nyale, a multi-coloured and seldom sea worm – they mark the start of the festival. However, the Rato determine the exact date of the ceremony. A traditional priest leader, who announces the day two weeks prior to the start.

Traditions such as the Pasola festival are not only a unique and fascinating event. It also preserve the bond between modern families and their ancestral roots.

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Who wants to take part in the war ritual? Did you ever get a chance to witness this event in Sumba?

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