Pasola festival in Sumba

Posted on Posted in Nomad Life

I’ve heard of Pasola festival in Sumba being a pretty awesome and authentic experience for spectators and since all I am looking for in Indonesia is authenticity I wanted to go there. I planned to be in Sumba for a field trip to renewable energy sites with Hivos and luckily, the dates coincide with one of the Pasola festivals in Kodi. The exact dates for Pasola are usually hard to find beforehand and are only known a month before the festival, when the chief (rato) decide upon them.  Dates of the festival depend on the arrival of a special sea worm called nyale, which represent the arrival of the harvest season in Sumba. With key words jadwal pasola 2016, I stumbled upon an article in Bahasa Indonesia and knew that my timing was good and I will be witnessing what not so many Westerners get to see in the village called Rara Winyo.

Pasola fighter
Pasola fighter
Horse riding men in the clash
Horse riding men from both groups keep on provoking
Happy when they hit the opponent, although no one was keeping the score
Happy when they hit the opponent, although no one was keeping the score
Cheering after the successful attack
Cheering after the successful attack
Everyone is ready to attack anytime
Everyone is ready to attack anytime

What’s going on in Pasola?

Pasola is a traditional ritual between 2 groups of young men dressed up in traditional clothing – one coming from the sea and one coming from the land. Each of the group keeps on challenging and provoking the other to attack. Men armed with wooden spears try to hit their opponent and when they succeed, the audience is thrilled, no matter which side hit. If blood is spilled, it fertilises the ground and is believed to benefit for the harvests. The speed and accuracy matter the most and after watching the battle for few minutes, you quickly realise who are the most talented warriors. Obviously, the biggest embarrassment is to fall off the horse and those who did had earned a big BOOO from the audience.

Men wear traditional clothing for this occasion
Men wear traditional clothing for this occasion
Young horse riders
Young horse riders
It was clear that the guys have enjoyed this battle a lot
It was clear that the guys have enjoyed the battle a lot
A referee or order keeper
A referee to keep the order
Spectators come watch Pasola from the whole Kodi district
Spectators come watch Pasola from the whole Kodi district and beyond

Pasola can get out of control as the spears fly chaotically in the battle field and the observers keep getting closer to see better. Rough policemen regularly dispersed people to increase the safe distance from the horse riders. There were moments of turmoil when a spear shot into the audience or when the policemen shot blinds into the air to warn people who had come to close to the scene.

The police tried to keep the order
The police tried to keep the audience in a safe distance
Even with the guns
Even with guns
But some spears ended in the audience nevertheless
But some spears ended in the audience nevertheless

Although this Pasola was interrupted by a heavy rain it allowed me to see the very real part of the peoples’ life in Sumba, who can now get on with harvesting their crop with the faith that it will be a good one.

Rata Winyo village
Rata Winyo village
The Pasola fighters go home
The Pasola fighters go home

Some practical advice when you want to come for the Pasola. My source of information about Sumba was this webpage. Because it is not possible to rent a motorbike and travel on your own, you should have a pre-booked taxi or even a guide. In some case, your home stay might be able to arrange that. I’ve contacted Yuliana and John, who are mentioned on the website, both were willing to help, but they were expensive for me, John charged 1 000 000 IDR for picking me up in Sumba Tengah and taking me to Pasola. Luckily, people at the convent I had stayed in at Sumba Tengah invited me to join them for Pasola. 

If you need an accommodation in Sumba Tengah, call Pater Simon (speaks some English): 0813 3024 2944 or sister Regi (Bahasa Indonesia only): 0813 3915 6648 to arrange your stay.  

If you need a taxi from Tambolaka airport to Waikabubak (85 000 IDR), you can call Peter (some English, but not much): 0821 4592 3692. It’s way cheaper than what the taxi drivers at the airport would charge you. 

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