One thousand kilometres east of the tourist resort of Bali is the large island of Sumba, part of the chain of islands in Indonesia known as the Lesser Sundas. It is nothing like Bali. There are no beach bars nor five-star resorts to speak of as few tourists venture as far as the island. Rush hour traffic is non-existent and broad smiles of village folks plentiful.
Even without the glitz, Sumba has unique charms that appeal to those who seek the road less travelled. Remnants of an ancient megalithic culture dot the island in the form of giant stone tombstones built to honour noblemen and rajas (kings). And a horse culture is played out spectacularly every year in a festival known as the Pasola. This is a re-enactment of an ancient war ritual in whichtwo groups of selected Sumbanese men ride colourfully decorated horses and fling wooden spears at each other at full throttle, much like warriors of the past would do for real. Even though the Pasola is but a “game”, Sumbanese take it seriously,injuries are not uncommon, and death sometimes occur. True to their tribal traditions, it is believed that any bloodshed, be it of horse or men participating in the Pasola, rejuvenates the entire community.
Below are rare photographs of this enigmatic culture taken by the Bali-based photographer, Rio Helmi between 1981 and 1985.
Find out more about the traditional art and culture of Sumba at https://www.artoftheancestors.com/sumba