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Sumba island - Hotel Alamayah ln Sumba SBD

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Traditional culture of Sumba island - Pasola spear fighters on horseback

Sumba island has an area of 11,153 km², and the population was officially at 611,422 in 2005. There is a dry season from May to November and a rainy season from December to April. Historically, this island exported sandalwood and was known as Sandalwood Island.

To the northwest of Sumba is the island of Sumbawa, to the northeast, across the Sumba Strait (Selat Sumba), is Flores , to the east, across the Savu Sea, is Timor and to the south, across the Indian Ocean, is Australia.

Sumba is part the province of East Nusa Tenggara. The largest town on the island is Waingapu with a population of about 10,700.

The island is roughly of oval shape, and the greatest concentration of those who worship spirit (of Merapu) is found in the West of Sumba, where two-third of the population hold on to their traditional religion.

Sumba Singer Marion Jola Indonesian Idol


Sumba island can be reached within an hour by plane via Bali, Kupang or Flores and by ferry (Asdp) & Pelni, Every fourt night

Map of Sumba

(click to enlarge)
Map of Sumba Island - click to enlarge

The traditional Pasola Tournament


Before colonization, Sumba island was inhabited by several small ethnolinguistic groups, some of which may have had tributary relations to the Majapahit Empire. In 1522 the first ships from Europe arrived, and by 1866 Sumba belonged to the Dutch East Indies, although the island did not come under real Dutch administration until the twentieth century.

The Sumbanese people speak a variety of closely related Austronesian languages and have a mixture of Malay and Melanesian ancestry. Twenty-five to thirty percent of the population practises the animist Marapu religion. The remainder are Christian, a majority being Dutch Calvinist, but a substantial minority b'topeing Roman Catholic. A small number of Sunni Muslims can be found along the coastal areas.

 West Sumba lllSumba Island Song by Marapu Bandllllllllllll          

Sumba (2018 – 2019)
I lived and worked in Sumba for a year and half and so had the privilege of immersing myself within the unique culture of the Sumbanese. Still relatively untouched, things are changing but hopefully in a way that sustains the culture and landscape of Sumba.
Pristine beaches (with good surf), waterfalls, green hills (in the rainy reason) and many traditional villages await you there. My highlight was the people, their warm hearts and warrior-like rawness. In February and March you have the well-known pasola, but at anytime you go you might get lucky and be invited to a wedding or funeral in the merapu tradition.
I worked at the Sumba Hospitality Foundation and recommend staying at Oro beach if it is beyond your budget. You can organize a tour with our students of the Foundation. There are two airports, Tambolaka and Waingapu, and seven to ten days is good amount of time to see the island from West to East or East to West.
Highlights include the dancing trees and hills in the East, surf in the South, waterfalls in the centre and Kodi in the West. Transportation can be a little difficult and so hiring a moped can be a good option.

Despite the influx of western religions, Sumba is one of the few places in the world in which megalithic burials are used as a 'living tradition' to inter prominent individuals when they die. Burial in megaliths is a practice that was used in many parts of the world during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, but has survived to this day in Sumba (mainly at West Sumba).

The Marupu religion of Sumba

               Memuli, omega shaped jewels of gold

Gold ornaments play a central role in marapu, the indigenous religion of the island of Sumba, which continues today. In the ritual exchanges of gifts that accompany marriages, alliances, and other rites, gold jewelry and other metal objects, considered symbolically male, are exchanged for textiles, which are identified as female.

Perhaps the most important Sumbanese gold objects are the Omega-shaped jewels known as mamuli. In earlier times, when the Sumbanese practiced artificial elongation of the earlobes, mamuli were worn as ear ornaments, but today they are hung around the neck as pendants or attached to garments.

In Sumbanese culture, precious metals are believed to be of celestial origin. The sun is made of gold and the moon and stars of silver. Gold and silver are deposited on earth when the sun and moon set or shooting stars fall from the sky. Golden objects signify wealth and divine favor. Kept among the sacred relics housed in the treasuries of Sumbanese clans, mamuli are employed, in some cases, by religious specialists to aid in contacting ancestors and spirits. The most precious and powerful examples are rarely removed from their hiding places as their dangerous supernatural potency is believed to be able to kill unsuspecting onlookers or cause natural disasters.

The overall forms of mamuli represent stylized female genitalia; however, each is considered either male or female depending on its secondary characteristics. Male mamuli , such as the present work, have flaring bases, which, in the finest examples, are embellished with minute figures of humans, animals, or other subjects. This exquisitely detailed mamuli depicts warriors clad in turbans and loincloths brandishing swords and shields as they stride boldly forward accompanied by smaller figures, who appear in attitudes of supplication.

source: 10/sse/ho_1990.335.4.htm

Places of interest

Waikabubak is a small village in West part of Sumba island, full of old graves carved in motifs of buffalo horns, man heads, horses, nude men or women symbolizing social status or wealth of the people. West Sumba is the regency whose capital is Waikabubak. It can be reached by plane from Kupang via Waingapu and Denpasar via Bima. In Waikabubak, you can see find the megalithic tombs of Kadung Tana, Watu Karagata, and Bulu Peka Mila. Tarung Village is an important ceremonial center, located on hill top west of Waikabubak.

Anakalang is a village that has the largest megalithic tombs in Sumba. The tombs show most unusual carvings. Anakalang is the site of the Purung Takadonga Ratu, an important mass marriage festival which is held every two years, on a date that coincidences with a full moon.

Waingapu is the capital city of the East Sumba regency and is known for its traditionaliIkat weaving. Some megalithic tombs can also be found in the area.

Rende is a village with traditional Sumba houses adorned with buffalo horn and has a number of massive carved stone graves.

Kaliuda is one of the Ikat weaving centers of the area.

Surfing at Sumba -
The island's southern coast has great surfing with sometimes 12-foot swells

             Ratenggaro Beach at Sumba island                      

Traditions of Sumba

Many traditional activities, all with a part of paying homage to the spirit, take place in the months of July to October. These include the building of adat houses and burrials where sometimes hundreds of pigs, water buffaloes, horses and dogs are sacrificed. Other ceremonies include the pajura or traditional boxing contest, in which the fists of the boxer are wrapped in wild grass leaves with barbed edges, and the traditional pasola spear fighting tournament on horseback.

In Sumbanese tradition the rooster is a connection between this life and the afterlife. When a king dies a ceremony takes place where the rooster is used as a medium to connect with the ancestors. Many animals belonging to the deceased king, for example his horses, are sacrificed to accompany him to the afterlife. A symbol of power of the kings of Sumba is the dragon.

The traditional Pasola Tournament

 Drum made by Human Skin (Enemy Skin)

Pasola is the name of a unique, traditional spear fighting tournament, whch is a ceremonial part of the Marapu religion. The Pasola tournament is performed by two groups of selected Sumbanese men who wear traditional costumes.

Pasola is derived from the world Sola or Hola and means 'long wooden stick.' The ritual game is allowed by the government on the condition that blunt spears are used.

The Pasola ceremony is held yearly in the months of February and March. In February it is held in the villages of Lamboya and Kodi and during March in Gaura and Wanokaka. The main activity starts several days after the full-moon and coincidences with the yearly arrival at the island's shores of strange and multihued sea worms - the nyale.

The precise starting date of the event is determined by the Rato (the religious leaders) and it always falls in wula podu (a fasting month).

The people of Sumba believe that the Pasola ritual is closely related to habits and behaviour of men since it arranges these in such a way that a balanced condition between physical and material needs and mental and spiritual needs can be reached. In addition, Pasola is also closely related to the agriculture. Any bloodshed of men who participate in the tournament as well of cattle that is sacrificed, is considered as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Without the element of blood, therefore, Pasola would have less meaning to the Sumbanese. It is also believed that contestants who die in the Pasola arena must have broken the law of tradition during the fasting month.

Sumbanese ikat

Within the realm of textiles, weaving from Sumba is one of the world's best-known arts, and has already become a major attraction to visitor worldwide to the remote barren island. The recognition is a justified one. The craft is intricate, demanding great dexterity and patience, which results in breathtaking pieces of cloth.

Among many preserved Sumba traditions, like weddings and funerals, weaving is likely to continue for a very long time because, besides being sought after by tourists and collectors, Sumba people themselves still produce it for their own everyday use.

The Sumbanese have two main groups of cloth: one is called ikat, the other hikung. Ikat, meaning to tie, is made by tying palm leaves onto white threads and dyeing them repeatedly until it shows the desired motifs. Hikung is made by weaving different colored-cotton yarns into interesting motifs, for example a depiction of a snake with a fish's tail. At several villages in eastern Sumba -- even those that are rarely visited -- women can be seen weaving in their porches. Moreover, the skill has been passed on continuously from one generation to another. A lot of beautiful and valuable ikat and hikung cloth are priced from Rp 200,000 (US$22.2) to Rp 5 million. Most families in Praiyawang and Pau, Rende, the most famous ikat area, also rely on the ikat trade, on top of agriculture.

Ikat from Sumba island       

Sumba ikat has different sets of motifs for every occasion and caste. The Sumbanese used to weave a special motif that belonged to royal families in the dark, secretly, because they risked their lives weaving it. Royal guards could barge into the house and punish them if they found out what was going on. Nowadays, weavers could make such motifs without fearing for their lives.

Most weaving families usually greet local tourists with sincere warmth; they will happily display all their cloth and offer it to visitors. But they never insist you buy it because they know most Indonesians cannot afford the more expensive pieces.


There is an expensive, community-minded resort called Nihiwatu. The hotel has day trips to nearby villages, where you can chew betel nut with the locals, buy colorful ikat cloth, and volunteer at a clinic funded by the resort. see:

The more affordable Sumba Nautil Resort (from $116) is located down the coast: .


The best Guide to contact in Sumba:

Philip Renggi Renggi
Pt.Sumba Adventure Tours
Mobile: 081 337 107 845





















































Megalithic Tombs Kampung Pasunga in Anakalang,
East of Waikabubak.

The architecture of Kampung "Raja Prailiu"
Is very traditional and it still has many ancient rites and customs that are remnants of the megalithic era.

Sumba Anyam Tikar

Lavalon Sumba Pasola
Pasola Kodi West Sumba

west sumba ratenggaro
The architecture of Ratenggaro Sumba Island is very traditional and it still has many ancient rites and customs that are remnants of the megalithic era.

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