Sumba Life Cycle Rites: an intriguing story

Sumba Life Cycle Rites: an intriguing story

We know….everyone knows Sumba is known for its quietness, spectacular surfing spots, traditional villages, hand-woven ikat, or its megalithic tombs. Is that all? Nope…Sumba is also very famous for its spears fly war Pasola and even for their ancestral belief MarapuWould that be enough to name Sumba as culture-rich tourism destination?

Some might agree if they never learned a fact that in Sumba, each stage of Sumbanese life is marked by a series of ceremonies and rituals just like its neighbor island – Bali. They also perform some life cycle rites as part of their belief. In Sumba, there is always something to celebrate somewhere. The traditions, ceremonies and rituals are permanently among them and will always be part of their (people of Sumba) life.

Besides marriage, there are several life cycle rites performed by the people of Sumba;

Pre-Birth ceremony (pregnancy)

The first ceremony of Sumbanese life takes place even before birth. A simple worship ritual which is performed for pregnant woman called Gollu Uma or Haba Ngillu. On this occasion two chickens are sacrificed to the Marapu spirits. One is for the safety of the mother and another one is for the baby so that she/he can be born perfectly healthy. This ritual is aimed to ask blessings for an easy birth.

Birth ceremony

Birth ritual for Sumbanese new-born baby is called Eta Tana Mewa. In this ceremony prayers are dedicated to Marapu so that the process of cutting placenta and umbilical cord can run smoothly. The placenta is usually put into a small basket and then stored in a timber hole. The new-born baby is bathed in a traditional herb to cleanse his/her skin.

Baby’s Naming ceremony

The formal naming ceremony for Sumbanese newborn is called Pangara ana. The names are usually taken from the names of their ancestors who have died. Those names are mentioned one by one while looking at the baby’s reaction. If the baby is giving a certain reaction when a named is called then that name is chosen for him. Naming ritual is always accompanied by worship and slaughtering two chickens. The sacrificed chickens are intended to avoid catastrophe.

In some places this ritual is often followed by a coconuts cleavage ceremony performed by Rato Adat (shaman). In this case, the people believe if coconuts split into many parts meaning the mother will give birth to many children and the other way around she will only has one child if the coconut doesn’t split into parts.

First Hair Cut ceremony

The ritual which is called Kawutti usually performed in conjunction with the naming ceremony. The mom’s brother (called Loka) should be invited to this ritual and he should not come empty-handed. He has to come up carrying pigs, woven cloth and razor as gift to the newborn. On the other hand, the baby’s father must also pay him back by giving a horse. The pigs are usually butchered as offering to the Marapu and then distributed to those who helped the baby’s mother during pregnancy and childbirth process.

In old days there was also a haircut ritual performed to all kids in the beginning of their puberty in which the hair was shaved half of their head, marking them as teenagers.

Circumcision ceremony

In some religious beliefs, circumcision is a part of male’s life phase. Usually, males get the circumcision in a very young age. People say, the younger they are, the easier it gets done. People celebrate the circumcision of their children in a unique way. 

In Sumba the circumcision ceremony  is called Burru Mareda. Literally, burru mareda means rush down to the battlefield but in fact it is circumcision ritual performed for the teenage boys as a sign of their adulthood. The term “Burru mareda” is used since this ritual is commonly held in a secluded place like cave or field. After the circumcision ritual, the teenage boys will be exiled in that secluded place for a week, should not be in touch with family and live independently. After that they shall return home wearing full traditional costume with a cleaver tucked in their waist which symbolizes their maturity.

Circumcision ceremony is commonly performed during Wulla Poddu (bitter months) between October and November.

Tattooing ceremony

Besides in Sumba, tattooing ritual can be found in many other parts of the world. For instance, in India, permanent tattoos is very common and have been used as cultural symbols among many tribal populations, as well as the caste-based Hindu population of India. The tattoos (Henna or Mehndi) was used as a body art dye. While in Egypt, the majority of tattoos were found on females. It would tell you the status of that individual. They had tattoos for healing, religion, and as a form of punishment.

Tattooing has various meaning such as Symbolic meaning in which tattoo is used for religious purposes, as a symbol and identity. Social meaning in which tattoo becomes a sign of unity and solidarity. Furthermore tattoo is also considered as someone’s outpouring hearts and minds. Aesthetically, tattoo is an expression of beauty. The tattoos shape are also vary, generally influenced by the local culture.

In West Sumba tattoos are commonly used by married women who have given birth to a child. Sumbanese women tattoos symbolize the success of their reproduction and indicating their contributions to the clan of their husband. The tattoos also affirm their seniority from other women. Tattoo motif is basically described as a replica from woven cloth decorative patterns which epitomizes buffalo, horse, Mamoli (Sumba traditional gold earrings) etc. The process of tattooing is done with traditional techniques, using very simple materials and tools. The tattoo materials made of daun maroto walu (a kind of lime leaves) mixed with charcoal and a bit of water. All are mixed and stirred until completely thickened and the skin is painted with the desired motif.

The next process is tattooing the skin by using thorn of maroto kalada tree (grapefruit) till it gets bleed. Then the charcoal colored ink is applied on the skin. Last step is spitting out the chewed daun umakara which serves as an antiseptic. Due to its painful process, this ritual no longer exists.

So true! Sumba has great cultural rich rituals as well as exciting stories about the rituals. Would you be interested to witness one of the above rituals?


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