Lavalon website online since 1998
Promoting NTT
       Tourist information on Nusa Tenggara Timur, East of Bali from Flores to West Timor   

Welcome | About Lavalon | NTT | Komodo | Rinca | Flores | Sumba | Savu | Rote | Alor | Lembata | Timor | Contact | Maps | Links

The Savu Islands (also spelled as Sabu or Sawu) measure 460,78 square km. and include Rai Hawu, Rai Jua and Rai Dana. The three islands are fringed by coral reef and sandy beaches. Rai Dana is a small, uninhabited island, situated thirty kilometres south-west of Rai Jua.

The land is for the larger part covered with grass and palms. The climate is dry for large parts of the year, due to hot winds blowing from the Australian continent.

Most rain falls during the months from November to March. Between 82% & 94% of all rain falls during the west monsoon, with little or no rain falling for the months of August to October. The mean annual rainfall for Savu Island is 1019 mm.

During the dry season, the islands' streams dry up, so the islanders depend on wells for their water supply. From April to October, deep ocean swells pound the south facing coastlines.


Savu island can be reached within 45 minutes by plane via Kupang or Flores and by slow boat or fast ferry (Pelni, twice a week on Monday and Wednesday).

Elsa Homestay Whatsapp:

Map of Savu

(click to enlarge)

Map of Lembata island - click to enlarge
Traditional House Of Savu Island

The Island
The form of Savu island resembles an animal lying with its head to the west and its tail to the east. The head is called Haba, the chest and belly LiaE, while Dimu in the East is its tail. The island can also be described as a boat, where the hilly and mountainous area of western part or Mehara is categorized as the raised platform at the front part of ship (duru rai) while Dimu, which is a bit flat and low, is categorized as the ship's stern (wui rai).

Early European contact
Initial contact was with the Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Companie in 1648. References to Savu from the period invariably concern Savunese soldiers, mercenaries or slaves. In 1674, the crew of a Dutch sloop were massacred in East Savu, after their vessel ran aground. The Dutch responded by forming an alliance with the raja of Seba, so troops could be sent in to retaliate. However, they failed to enter the fortress of Hurati, in B'olou Village of Eastern Savu, as it was ringed by three defensive walls. To save face, the Dutch force accepted payment in the form of slaves, gold and beads.

In 1770, Captain James Cook visited Savu, staying three days before continuing on to Batavia. It was the first European voyage to have scientists on board. During the three year expedition, botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander collected over three thousand five hundred plant species along with specimens of animals, minerals and ethnographic materials that on their return fascinated Europeans. Cook's visit to Savu was brief and, though he and Joseph Banks produced detailed records of the island and its people, their accounts were based for the most part on information provided by Mr Lange, the German representative of the Dutch East India Company, who was stationed on Savu at the time.

The Savunese people consider themselves of Indian-Aryan origin and have historical ties with Hindu Java. Modern lifestyle however has hardly influenced the way of life

      Religious leader

The Savu islands have a population of about 30,000 people. More than 75% of the people of Sava consider themselves Protestant, first introduced by Dutch missionaries, while about 20% of the society still performs traditional animistic beliefs, known as Djingi Tii Eu. The picture shows B'ai Ma Dj'ari Ga, former leader of the Djingi Tii Eu. B'ai Ma Dj'ari Ga and his family recently converted to Christianty, leaving his followers without a religious leader.

The Savunese society is divided into clans called Udu' (Paternal group) who live in several areas of Savu, among others at Seba, Mania, LiaE, Mehara, Dimu and Rai Djua. Each Udu consists of a clan (or sub-Udu), called Kerogo.

on the Savu islands.
Places of interest at Rai Hawu (Savu)

The main village of the island is called Seba and is centrally located at Savu's west coast Seba has a gorgeous, white sandy beach (see picture), great for those who love swimming and snorkelling.

Located 15 km from Seba is a freshwater spring with pool called Loko Wadu Wae, which can be reached by public transport.

The Lie Madira Cave, a deep limestone cave, is located at the village of D'aieko, about 5 km from Seba. The cave has stalactites and stalagmites with fresh and clean spring water. The Lie Madira Cave can only be reached by means of private transport.


At the village of Rai Lolo one can find Jariwala, an art and craft workplace where also artefacts are on exhibition.

The village of Namata lies about 1,5 kilometres from Seba. It has a traditional ceremonial site, and also a market where several weaving products are sold.

The village of B'olou is located in East Savu, about 15 kilometres from Seba. Here one can find the old fort of Horati where ancient ceremonies are performed regularly. Also there are a number of good beaches along the East coast of Savu. A very long beach streches from the harbour of the village of Biu via Matiki and Banyo all the way to Niyu Wudu.

Kelaba Maja

Kelaba Maja in Sabu island, one of the natural wonder in the world: colourful in silent. Easily reachable by motorbike.

Rai Jua

At the island of Rai Jua near Lede Unu one can find Kolo Uju, a village where ritual ceremonies are performed on a regular basis. Also near Lede Unu is a well called Maja, which is a remnant of the Majapahit period on Rai Jua island.

The best beach of Rai Jua is a white sandy beach, located near B'ee Pt, 1 km from Lede Unu. A perfect beach for swimming and snorkelling.

Rai Dana

Rai Dana, also known as Nieuw Eiland and Hokki, is an unihabited island about 30 km southwest from Rai Jua. There are only sheep and goats on the island. The people of Savu never go there except for an annual cleansing ceremony. According to Savunese tradition no one is allowed to visit the island for any other purpose. The Savunese believe that when they die, their spirits reside on Dana island. They also believe that it is important to respect the space of others to maintain harmony in life, which includes the space in which the spirits of their ancestors reside, on the island of Dana. It is considered disrespectful for Westerners to visit Dana, without consulting the elder leaders of Savu first.



The Savu Islands are situated in a tectonic subduction zone, where the Indo-Australian Plate is moving northward, sliding under the Eurasian Plate. The islands lie on a ridge that was created by volcanic eruptions caused by the plate movement. Sediments carried into the Earth's crust heat up and rise in plumes of magma, which cool and solidify to form igneous rock. The Sumba Ridge is no longer volcanically active, however there are active volcanoes on the island of Flores , to the north.


The compression of the two tectonic plates is causing the Savu Islands to rise at a rate of about 1 mm per year. Occasionally, however, the tectonic plate suddenly slips a much greater distance, resulting in an earthquake.

In 1977, a major earthquake, registering 7.9 on the Richter Scale, struck 280 km W/SW of Rai Jua. This triggered an enormous tsunami, which swept across the coastal plain at Seba, reaching as high as the airport. No one was reported missing on Savu or Rai Jua. However, on the neighbouring islands of Sumba and Sumbawa, the death toll reached 180.


Savunese culture is ecologically fitting for such an arid environment. The traditional clan agreements on land control and water distribution ensure that the land is carefully managed and not over exploited. Their gardens form a well structured ecology, emulating a tropical forest with diverse species of trees and shade plants.

Agricultural production on Savu includes corn, rice, roots, beans, livestock (meat/milk) and seaweed, which was introduced by Japanese interests, in the early 1990s. Pigs, goats and chickens are commonplace in the villages. Those farmers who depend on mixed crop gardens or on mung bean fields are generally better able to manage during times of poor rain but are seemingly less successful when the rains are good. Corn, as a single crop, remains the predominant staple on Savu, though most farmers try to plant several different fields to increase their chances of at least one successful harvest. Cotton is the main crop on Rai Jua, where the standard of living is below that of Savu. It is used to make traditional textiles. Corn is planted in late November, December or early January and harvested from February through to March; rice and also mung beans are planted later, usually in January, after soils are well saturated with rain.


In El Niño years, farmers are frequently misled by initial rains, which offer promise but then cease. Most farmers keep some seed reserves if they are forced to plant a second time during the wet season. Rarely do farmers have sufficient seed reserves for a third attempt at planting and by the time such a third planting seems necessary, there is little likelihood of success. By mid-March the rains begin to diminish and it is no longer possible to plant corn with any expectation of a good harvest.

Prior to the corn harvest, the poorer segments of the population survive on reserve foods, primarily cassava, some sweet potato, forest yams and sugar supplies from tapping lontar palms. This period is known as the time of "ordinary hunger". However, during periods of drought, when the planting and subsequent harvest of the corn crop is delayed, the period of ordinary hunger is extended and "ordinary hunger" becomes "extraordinary hunger". Most families manage on one meager meal a day. Livestock, suffering from the same conditions as the human population, are consumed or sold to buy emergency foods. People turn to green papaya, eaten as a vegetable, and tamarind seeds. In the dry season, drinking water becomes difficult to obtain and is often polluted by animals seeking water. Women and younger girls spend more time than ever carrying water for their families. A strong indicator of the "extraordinary hunger" period is a sharp increase in gastro-intestinal diseases. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Tuak (Lontar Palm)

From the juice of the lontar palms the Savunese brew a thick, sweet and sticky liquor, called Gula Sabu (Makaditi) . An old Savunese saying goes that the Savunese women, who are renowned for their beauty and caring, are like this sticky drink - when you fall in love with them you will be stuck forever.

Sabu Ikat weaving
Most Savunese women are involved in a thriving ikat-weaving tradition. Their ikat cloth has typical stripes of black or dark blue andisinterspersed by stripes with floral motifs. The sarong motifs of Savu can be divided into two large categories - Dutch Influenced motifs (below at the right) and older, tribal motifs (left). The hand spun cotton is incredibly fine and soft from wear The left picture shows a tribal, ceremonial ikat from the village of Masara. It is hand spun indigenous cotton with natural dyes - Mordana and Indigo. The picture below at the right shows a Dutch influenced weaving made of of Dutch trade thread with incredibly fine, tight ikat inspired by motifs taken from Dutch artifacts traded with the Royal Family of Sabu in historical times
.ikat weavings from Savu island
Ikats from Savu island, traditional (left) and Dutch influenced (right)

Music and Dance of Savu - Savu Gong
The gongs are named according to the way the gongs are beaten. The following is an example of gong accompanying the Ledo Hawu dance of Savu: Leko' are the first two gongs, beaten one after another, Didala ae, Didala iki' and Gaha' are three medium sized gongs (bass gongs) beaten successively, Wopeibha' and Abho' are two gongs that are beaten accompanying the Leko' gong, Wo Pahelli' two gongs that are beaten accompanying Leko' and Paibho Abho.'

Stone Carving of Captain Cook's Ship, in Sabu Island

Kampung Namata Pulau Sabu


Kampung Namata Pulau Sabu Ntt
Kampung Namata Pulau Sabu

Jacques Raymond France Writer 2021


Kelaba Maja Sabu Island
Kelaba Maja Sabu Island by Like




The Savu-Raijua Islands

> to top of page

© Lavalon Bar & Hostel Kupang, all rights reserved