Pasola in Sumba

Pasola : Ancient War Ritual of Sumba

Omri Ben-Canaan Culture and Traditions in Sumba

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Sumba: Pasola, an ancient War Ritual

The term pasola is derived from the words pa, which means ‘game’, and sola or hola, meaning spear or stick. It actually refers to the equastrian competition that is the climax of the entire harvest Pasola celebration. For thrill-seekers and sport spectators, it is indeed the leading highlight of the festivities.

In keeping with tradition, Pasola is only men. Drama and suspense run high as the participants, once assembled, are divided into teams of two usually determined by clan and region. The games then take place on a Pasola field surrounded by hordes of cheering and chiding onlookers. To begin with, two pairs of horsemen are positioned on opposite sides of the field. On cue, they charge toward each other at full speed, as if at a joust, exercising extreme riding skill on bareback horses and wielding blunt spears. Once the riders are near enough to each other, they propel their bladeless weapons at each other.

The crowd watches, breathless. Some might say “I felt like i was watching Robin Hood battle…but without the arrows” 🙂

Sometimes, the face-offs end in bloodshed. Riders fall from their horses and even a blunt sola may leave a wound. The spilt blood, however, is a powerful part of the tradition of this harvest festival. According to legend, drawing blood on Pasola is a necessary step in the cleansing and purification of the fields, thus ensuring a successful harvest for the year to come.

Sumba Pasola festival - Ancient War Game

Sumba Pasola festival – Ancient War Game

Ironically, though, Pasola is about peacekeeping, not violence. The game is thought by some to have been invented as a sort of dispute settlement mechanism, a bellum pacificum or peaceful war through games. For example, it is prohibited to attack or aim a sola at a fallen rider.

The historical facts surrounding the first celebrations of Pasola are foggy, but the narrative legend of its beginnings lives on in full colour. It is a tale full of variations on the themes of lost death, forbidden love, fraught reunions and a happy ending of settlement and celebration.

One version of the story tells of three brothers from the small village of Waiwuang. The oldest, named Umbu Dula, decides that the three of them must sail east in search of rice; however, they tell the village they will just be away for a few days on a fishing trip. Time passes and the villagers assume the brothers have died.

After the funerals and the passing of time, Rabu Kaba, Umbu Dula’s beautiful wife, falls in love with Teda Gaiparona, a man from nearby Kodi. Their love is prohibited by local Waiwuang custom, so the two elope in Kodi.

Meanwhile, to the amazement of everyone back in the village of Waiwuang, Umba Dula and his two brothers return from their voyage. When Umba Dula asks for his wife, the villagers report that she has been kidnapped by a man from Kodi. An angry mob heads out to rescue the beautiful Rabu Kaba.

Umba Dula and his mob find the lovers at the foot of Mount Bodu Hula. Teda Gaiparona and Rabu Kaba cling to each other, unwilling to part. Umba Dula, who is a fair man and a keen negotiator, offers to accept their love, but he insists that Teda pay him the bride price that he paid to Rabu Kaba’s family.

All agree to this arrangement and a big wedding is celebrated in Kodi. The people of Waiwuang are saddened because they have lost the lovely Rabu Kaba, so to liven up their own harvest festival that year, the game of Pasola is invented, symbolising the rivalry between the two regions and the negotiation that kept things friendly between them.

Pasola - Blood Sacrifice in Sumba for sucessfull harvest

Pasola – Blood Sacrifice in Sumba for sucessfull harvest

Pasola festival is celebrated in Sumba every year during February or March. The main activity starts several days after the full moon and coincides with the yearly arrival to the shore of strange and and multihued sea worms called Nyale.

Hmmm…interesting yet thrilling! This is just one of thousands hidden legend in Indonesia I guess !

Who wants to take part in the war ritual? Did you ever get a chance to witness this event in Sumba?

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