Our new collection of Indonesian accessories includes traditional Sumba statues, and as many of you have asked to know more about their origins, we thought it would be a great subject for a blog post.
Our Sumba statues, along with our Toraja and Penji stone carvings, are simple stone statues, hand carved from sandstone by local artisans. Traditionally, the statues would have been placed in and around the entrance of a home to provide health and protection to the occupants.
Sumba is an island in Indonesia, and is one of the last places in the world where the Marapu religion is still practised. Both Christians and Muslims on the island tend to combine their faiths with Marapu. This is because all Indonesian citizens are required to identify as a member of a sanctioned religion by law, and Marapu is not an official religion of Indonesia.
Followers of the religion believe in temporary life in the world and eternal life in the world of spirits, or heaven. Marapu teachings concern the balance of universal life through which happiness can be gained. This balance is symbolized by the Great Mother (Ina Kalada) and the Great Father (Ama Kalada) who live in the universe and take the forms of the moon and the sun. In mythology, they are husband and wife who gave birth to the ancestors of the Sumbanese.
Devotion to their religion and ancestors is reflected in the continuing construction of impressive stone burial monuments, vestiges of one of the last surviving megalithic cultures on the planet. In many cases, individuals will put their families into generations-worth of debt to fund the building of these traditional tombs.
Funeral ceremonies and burials can be delayed for decades, during which the bodies of the deceased are kept in the homes of the living. This is similar to Torajan custom (see our Torajan statues) and coincidentally, there was a fascinating BBC Radio 4 programme a few weeks ago on this (listen again here.) Once sufficient funds have been raised, it is not unusual for several generations of Sumbans to be buried or reburied together in individual compartments of the tomb.
To construct the tombs, although winches and cattle trucks are sometimes now used to lift and transport stones, in many cases slabs of rock weighing up to 70 tons are still hauled by hand with the help of log rollers. The funeral event is preceded by months of negotiations between clans and villages, culminating in hundreds of men participating in the tarik batu stone-pulling ceremony. Failure to perform the necessary rites, including the butchering of large numbers of buffalo, cows and pigs, and nightly protection rituals at the quarries where the stones are cut, risks a violent reaction from malevolent ancestral forces.
While the influence of evangelical churches is growing in Sumba, many islanders still practice their beliefs. More and more however, young people are abandoning their traditional religion for more pragmatic reasons. Indonesia formally recognises five state religions and sought-after positions in the civil service, police and military are closed to Marapu practitioners.