Sumba Island, between Bali and Australia, was once renowned for its vicious clan warfare, slave raids and headhunting. These days, that violent history has given way to pasola, a series of mock battles to welcome the harvest. The event is war turned into full-contact sport. On horses, two teams of riders fling spears at each other.
The word Pasola itself is derived from the word Sola or Hola which is the name of the blunt spears used to throw to the opposing groups of horsemen. Decades ago the spears were sharp, but government rules mean they are now blunt and lightweight. Even so, injuries are routine and deaths occasionally happen. Pasola is the climax as teams of men from two villages ride into ritual battle hurling wooden spears at each other in a dazzling and bloody melee. It is celebrated after the full moon, but only if a particular species of sea-worm, comes together to spawn in the shallows. Predicting the date of Pasola lies with the local shamans, the Ratos.
Early each year, villagers from the island’s western province take to their horses to stage a mock battle of more than 50 men that entails throwing wooden spears at their opponents while on horseback. It’s all part of a centuries-old harvest festival known as Pasola.
The night before the battle, the Sumbanese gather in the village at dusk and prepare offerings for their ancestors. The next morning, before dawn, the villagers go to the nearby shore, carrying buckets and nets to collect the multicolored sea worm, which appear only once each year. Local shamans read the sea worm to divine the harvest for the year ahead.
This is followed by feasting – on pigs, dogs and chickens – and preparations for battle. The rest of the villagers form a circle as the two groups on horseback issues taunts at each other.
The Pasola jousting festival takes place on a broad stretch of savannah, and is witnessed by all villagers, the Paraingu Kabisu (communities) of both competing groups and by the general public and tourists alike. During the ‘war games’, opposing teams run into each other on horseback, saddle-less, throwing blunt spears – called hola – to each other to unseat or hurt their opponents or horses. Fallen men or horses may not be attacked, but any blood flowing is believed to fertilize the soil and benefit the next harvest.
Then the attack begins, with the highly skilled horsemen riding bareback and flinging their spears at their opponents. A skilled rider can duck an incoming spear; the very best of them catch the spear in mid-flight. For the less agile, the spears, though blunted, can spill blood, which the Sumbanese believe will fertilize the land and produce a better harvest.
But in the end, Pasola is only a ritual and no one loses. Everyone gathers and has a great feast together to end the day. Although this tradition may seem to be full of violence, yet Pasola is about maintaining peace, not hostility. This war games are thought by some to have been invented as a sort of dispute settlement mechanism -a bellum pacificum or peaceful war through games.
Once better known as the Sandalwood Island, Sumba, in the province of East Nusatenggara, – adjoining the islands of Komodo and Flores, – Sumba Island is also known worldwide as a surfer’s paradise. The large rolling Sumba barrels usually appear between May through October when waves can be either very high and strong or very flat as breaks are directly exposed to wide open ocean swells.
When to go:
The Pasola 2019 ritual jousting battles will again take place on the following dates:
- Lamboya Field: 2 February 20119
- Wanaukaka Field: 24-25 February 2019
The island of Sumba lies 250 miles east of Bali in the remote Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara. The scheduled flight by regional jet from Denpasar to Tambolaka takes 55 minutes.
Witness the ancient war ritual performed by hundreds of warriors during bloody harvest festival in remote island of Sumba. Take a trip of a lifetime and talk to one of our specialists to experience your unique Sumba Adventure.
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