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In the heart of the expanding city of Waikabubak on the island of Sumba, clumps of straw can be seen peeking out of fences on the top of a hill. There, people in the village still hold steadfast to their old religion and traditions that have been taught them through the centuries by their ancestors.
The town of Waikabubak, capital city of the district of West Sumba, nestles in a valley counting a population of around 26,423 persons only. But among its more modern brick buildings there still remain many traditional villages where its communities continue to faithfully follow the old ways that were brought down through the generations. Most of these villages are built on the hills around the outskirts of town but there are also those that are right within the city of Waikabubak.
Among these, the villages of Tarung and Waitabar should be on your list to visit. Although they have different names, they are in fact connected in one compound and are located in the heart of Waikabubak. Just within minutes from the city center you will be suddenly carried back to ancient times and come face to face with the original Sumba faith from long ago.
Both villages donot only function as places of residence but are moreover social institutions that are called Marapu, which is also the name of their religion and religious practices that have changed little through the ages.
The traditional Sumba house called uma follows the old Sumba architectural style known colloquially as skyscrapers. It is square in shape built on a platform that is supported by wooden piles around 4 strong main pillars called kambaniru ludungu.
Additionally there are 36 pillars to support the portal structure (or kambaniru) that are connected by wooden pins made of mosa, delomera or masela wood.
The traditional Sumba house consists of three storeys. The first or top floor (toko uma) is cone-shaped like most towers, and is used to store the sacred heirlooms or at times also the harvest. Below this are the living quarters (bei uma) that donot touch the ground. Access for men is differentiated from the access for women. Then there is a large open area (bangga) with bamboo flooring that is used for communal meetings and family deliberations. The lowest level is the area below the house (kali kabunga). This area is used as pens for pigs, cows, goats, horses, water buffaloes and other animals.
Apart from these houses are others meant for specific purposes. There are tall structures to keep horses with the lower level used as pig sties (uma jangga). Another is used as a sacred temple for marapu rituals and to pray to the ancestors (uma ndewa) which may not be used for living quarters. While another is built specially for communal village meetings (uma bokulu).
You will also notice that the roof is made of thatch. These simple structures are made with simple tools such as machetes and hatchets as metal was only introdued by the Portuguese when they arrived here around the 16th century.
It should be known that there are many villages on Sumba that follow the Marapu faith which worship ancestors as intermediaries to the Almighty Creator. Similar to the ancient beliefs on. Java, the Marapu hold religious values that are believed to hold powers over human safety, punishments ,failures, dooms, protection, assistance and natural disasters. In the Marapu language they say : “Ina papa nuku, ama papa sara”, meaning that all human beings and all earth's resources are created from the same source, hence all men are born equal.
Because their houses have been preserved since the megalithic age it is important to respect their beliefs that continue to trust in the old traditions, among which is that no tree in the forest may be randomly cut down. No tree may be hacked down before fulfilling the required rituals to ask for the permission of the ancestors.
The town of Waikabubak is indeed your best starting poimt to see the wonders of West Sumba. For, besides the villages of Tarung and Waitabar there are two other equally interesting villages to visit, which are: Bodo Ede and Bodomaroto.
When you visit the village during the day you will meet few people since most will be working the fields nearby. In the village most will be children, women and girls busy weaving in front of their homes. The afternoon is a better time to visit when you will meet more people enjoying the evening hours chatting and joking.
The traditional villages of Tarung and Waitabar are located on a hill surrounded by large boulders. They are easy to reach from the city center of Waikabubak, capital of the District of West Sumba. The town is about one hour ride from the Tambolaka Airport. Garuda Indonesia operates regular flights to Tambolaka from Bali and Jakarta.