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Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival

 
 

Sumba is a remote island in the east of Indonesia. Early each year, in February or March, villagers from the island’s western province take to their horses to stage a mock battle of more than 50 men that entails throwing wooden spears at their opponents while on horseback. It’s all part of a centuries-old harvest festival known as Pasola.

The night before the battle, the Sumbanese gather in the village at dusk and prepare offerings for their ancestors. The next morning, before dawn, the villagers go to the nearby shore, carrying buckets and nets to collect the multicolored sea worm, which appear only once each year. Local shamans read the sea worm to divine the harvest for the year ahead.

This is followed by feasting – on pigs, dogs and chickens – and preparations for battle. The rest of the villagers form a circle as the two groups on horseback issues taunts at each other.

Then the attack begins, with the highly skilled horsemen riding bareback and flinging their spears at their opponents. A skilled rider can duck an incoming spear; the very best of them catch the spear in mid-flight. For the less agile, the spears, though blunted, can spill blood, which the Sumbanese believe will fertilize the land and produce a better harvest.

Finally, the joust ends, with a ritual reconciliation.

Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
A Sumbanese man takes part in the Pasola jousting war festival in the village of Ratenggaro, in Southwest Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, on Saturday, March 22, 2014.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
A Sumbanese boy leads his horses after washing them in a river near the village of Waingapu, Southwest Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, on Friday, March 21, 2014.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
A Sumbanese man washes his horse in a river near the village of Waingapu.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
Sumbanese chop pigs as they prepare for the Pasola harvest festival in Ratenggaro.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
Sumbanese prepare for the Pasola festival in Ratenggaro.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
Sumbanese people search for nyale, or ancient spirits that take the form of sea worms in Waingapu, on Sunday, March 23, 2014. If the sea worms are bountiful, it signifies prosperity and wealth in the year ahead.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
The ancient village of Waingapu
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
The Pasola festival is underway in Waiha village, Southwest Sumba, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia on Monday, March 24, 2014.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
Sumbanese prepare for the Pasola harvest festival in Waiha.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
Sumbanese hold a ritual honoring their ancestors with offerings in Waingapu.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
A shaman cuts the head of a chicken in an augur ritual before the Pasola festival in Waingapu.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
Sumbanese burn pigs, dogs and chickens to remove hair and feathers before cooking the meat for the Pasola festival in Waingapu.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
Sumbanese cheer during the Pasola festival in Waingapu village.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
An Indonesian police officer stands guard during the Pasola festival in Waingapu,
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
Indonesia’s Ancient Pasola Festival
Sumbanese gather to watch the Pasola festival in Waingapu.
Image Credit: Gembong Nusantara
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