Nostalgic in Sumba

Sumbanese Traditional House

It has been 11 years since the last time I was in Sumba. As a Balinese mother, it is always hard to leave the house, the family and the obligations to my community, so Iluh and I were very happy to have chance to get away from the routine and visit Sumba during the first week in April.

Living in Ubud, Bali, our mornings are always busy with housework and the sounds of motorbikes and cars outside the house. But our mornings in Sumba are so much different. We wake up by hearing the sound of chickens, horses, cows, and the pigs calling for food. Also we see children playing on the ground. It reminds me what my childhood time was like.

Sumbanese Children

Sunny day on the way to a weaver’s house

The rainy season had almost ended in Sumba and we experienced beautiful sunny days during our trip. Since two years ago, the roads in Sumba are much better which made our trip very enjoyable.

Meeting the weavers motivated us and there are always new stories we hear from the weavers. So a trip is never boring.

Iluh (left) and Tutut (right) interviewing Tamu Rambu Hamu Eti

Betelnut in the mbola

Before we start talking, betel nut will be offered by the host as way to open the conversation. The betel nut is served in a Mbola basket made with very intricate designs from lontar palm leaves.

Tambakuku utu kambar is a new type of textile we found in the Umalulu cultural group. This textile is use to wrap a dead body from a royal family. This beautiful sarong is worn up until the head of the body as a veil and this is the last textile to wrap the dead body. The dead body in Sumba is usually wrapped in many textiles, sometime up to hundreds of them.

Tambakuku utu kambar: the last textile used to wrap the dead body for a royal family

Kurangu tattoos on a weaver’s hands

During the journey to this island across the ocean, the Sumbanese ancestors saw many sea creatures, like the karihu or sea shell, the kurangu or lobster, and the wita or octopus. As a way to remember the stories, weavers make these become motifs of their textiles. They are also found in women’s tattoos, like the kurangu design on the hand of master weaver, Nura Wahi.

A Penji is a carved stone that is usually put on the top of a grave. It has human and animal carving showing us the importance of the animals in the ceremonies.

Penji the carving stone

Ikat threads hanging in front of the house

The dyeing season for this year has just started after so much rain here in Sumba. In every house we see ikat threads hanging after dyeing.

This year is predicted to have more Indigo than last year as there was more rain. One of the dyers showed us their Indigo dye vats.

Indigo Dye vats

Preparing cotton yarn

There are many steps to complete to produce a piece of handspun textile. Starting with the harvesting of the cotton, the ginning, the carding, and then spinning the thread using a kindi or drop spindle.

We often find the wala ai motif in the pahikung supplementary warp patterning of a textile, but this time we found the motif on an unfinished textile in a combination of ikat and pahikung. The wala ai image is a flower. Just as the flower gives its fragrance freely a leader is also supposed to give good counsel and lead for the benefit of all.

Wala Ai motif on unfinished ikat textile

Crafts made from lontar palm leaves

Like the textiles, baskets also have an importance role in traditional communities across Indonesia. They used in many different ceremonies with many purposes. These baskets are made using palm leaves and show manu or chicken design that are only used by the royal families in Sumba.

We had five wonderful days in Sumba with the people, the nature and the culture. We are really looking forward to another trip to Sumba soon.

Woman sitting in the traditional house