Life

By Taniya Dutta


These incredible pictures give an insight into the daily lives of the heavily tattooed, semi naked indigenous people from Mentawai tribe of Indonesia that still survives on hunting and fishing.

Photographer Danan Wahyu Sumirat travelled deep into Mentawai island-the homeland of the tribe in West Sumatra to document the lifestyle of the 64,000 inhabitants who have incredibly managed to live away from the hustle-bustle of a modern day society.

PIC BY YULI SEPERI/ CATERS NEWS

The semi-nomadic people still hunt fish and animals with poisoned arrows for food and live in bamboo houses called Umas that they decorate with skulls of their hunted prey.

The tribe believes that every living object has spirit and worship nature, particularly river, and damaging or polluting the water source is a sin.

Their days are spent hunting and fishing which is divided by the gender. While hunting is for men, fishing is predominately a woman’s chore.

Danan said: “I had always wanted to document this tribe. They are very fascinating people. I always wondered how they live happily and peacefully, away from the busy cities and towns.

“Watching the life of the Mentawai people up and close has made me realise that life is actually very simple if we are in love with nature.”

The Mentawaian’s social life revolves around their clans, and at the centre is the communal long house. The clans vary in size between 30 to 80 members and every person has a job to do.

PIC BY YULI SEPERI/ CATERS NEWS

Danan said: “I realised Mentawai people are very organised. Their work is divided according to the gender.  There are some jobs only done by men, one of them is hunting. Since the age of five years, the boys are given bamboo poles to shoot. After reaching the age of 10 years, they are introduced to poisoned arrows to hunt in the forest.”

The tribe has a custom of throwing a feast for everyone before the first hunting by a boy to avoid any bad omen.

The women use Panu-a rod made of two, three cm long blades to catch fish. This fishing is known as Manino.

Since the people are not familiar with weaving techniques, they still wear barks and leaves to cover genitals while the upper body remains uncovered.

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Danan said: “Whether men or women, they remain bare-chest. The women wear a skirt made of leaves while men cover their modesty with a flattened bark.

“They select branches and leaves as per the size of the person and without breaking the tip, they slash them wit a machete.

After getting the bark, the outer and inner skin of the bark is separated and smoothly-edged to create a Kabit.”

After a hard day at hunting and fishing and throwing feats for the clans, the Mentawai people indulge in recreation at night.

Danan said whether it is men, women or children, they all love to dance and depict their love for nature and animals in their movements in the dance form called Laggai Turuk.

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They would wear colourful headdresses, pearls and feathers and leaves tucked behind the tail-like body of poultry.

The photographer said: “Nature cannot be separated from the life of the Mentawai people. In addition to the source of life, nature gives them the inspiration of art.

“The tattoos that adorn their skin are in the pattern of plants or animals. While dancing they imitate the behaviour  of animals.

“It is more like a meditation ritual for these people. They are lost when in trance when they dance.”

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“This kind of turuk show was not part of the treatment process but we were acquainted with their ancestors so we were spared the disease and the calamities.

The only specialist in the community is the medicine man that is responsible for communication with the spirits and the souls – in case of misfortune or illness, he is called in to restore harmony within the group.