West Sumba’s Spear-War Tradition

Scattering spears and blood stains are two most noticeable leftover signing that Pasola has just been held. For common people, this war tradition looks so violent and frightening. All participants get on horseback and charge each other with dull but dangerous wooden javelins. The battle won’t stop without any blood spilled on the ground.


At full moon, Rato, shamans in Sumba’s traditional Merapu belief, catch the first Nyale (seaworm) by which they decide the best time for Pasola festival. A list of opening rituals has been held days prior to the main event. After Rato announce the date, people crowd the beach nearby to harvest Nyale for snack. Sumbanese say that your stomach must be full first before joining in Pasola. That’s the main reason why without Nyale ritual, Pasola can’t be proceeded.



People Hunting Seaworms on the Beach at Nyale Ritual by Ulet Ifansasti


Pasola sparks a delightful tension for its spectators. In the battlefield which is savannah, the horsemen coming from two areas – mountain and beach – show their fighting dexterity. One hand control the horse while the other is busy throwing spears toward the opposite camp. Your adrenaline will be surely pumped up seeing dozens of spears fly in every direction at full speed. After the ritual, the participants head for their houses, leaving personal feud behind though friends or relative get injured during the game.


Pasola is actually a manifestation of Sumba’s ancient local wisdom that stays unchanged amidst modernization. In theory, the ritual is a symbol of gratitude for the successful harvest. But in other side, Pasola requires human sacrifice in the form of drops of blood that is believed to be able to fertilize the soil. Sumbanese say they need not to feel pity on the injured participants as it means they have done something against the norm before.


Pasola in Sumbanese’s view, is not only a prayer but also an effective way to maintain peace and harmony of the society. It may sound weird as during the ritual people seem trying to attack each other. But, in fact, they indirectly showcase their solidarity and unity in the effort of preserving Merapu heritage.



Pasola Horsemen Charging Each Other with Blunt Spears by Ulet Ifansasti


In the light of its history, Pasola also doesn’t aim at creating hatred but rather to express sincerity. The ritual was born after an elder of Merapu named Umbu Dulla lost his wife. Rabu Kaba, the wife, got married to another man named Teda Gaiparona as Umbu Dulla was believed to die in a voyage. Umbu Dulla was actually alive but he finally agreed about the married. He then asked Sumbanese to hold Pasola to put his heartbreak at ease.


Pasola is generally held in February or May, but the exact time can,t be predicted. Local government will announce the date of Pasola only if Rato have decided it. In the future, Pasola will be set as West Sumba’s main cultural highlight. However, to these days, it is still a pure ritual, not an entertainment. So, it’s understandable that there are no tourist facility during the event.

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