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Saras marries

Thressia ‘Ovi’ Octaviani - Very Sumba: Friendship Groups in Eastern Indonesia

My research follows two friendship-based groups in Waingapu city, East Sumba, Indonesia. The groups are Humba Ailulu (means “very Sumba”) and Kayaka Humba (“Kayaka ya!” is the shout that Sumbanese yell to support each other, usually in public events, such as weddings and funerals). I investigate how the groups’ members (between twenty to early forty-year-olds) re-contextualize East Sumba cultural elements into current time. The emerging method is to package cultural arts into attractive consumptions. From the point of view of tourism and creative economy, the method has attracted people/consumers from local, national, and international levels. I am analysing intersections in the re-contextualization, what are negotiated in between, and further what values and feelings that may emerge from this process.


Saras marries Anarara—the man of her choice—at a mass Marapu wedding


Saras’ noble family had arranged Saras’ marriage since she was still in elementary school, late 1980s. Saras had had to marry her parents’ choice once she turned into an adult. Saras escaped this decision. She travelled overseas, worked as a migrant worker in Singapore and Malaysia. She was in a relationship with a Chinese-Malaysian man, gave birth to their daughter, and returned to Sumba island with her now-teen-age daughter.

Saras met and started a relationship with Anarara upon her return to Sumba. Meanwhile, her parents still insisted she had to marry the man her parents chose. The man is decades older than Saras and already has wives. Saras swiftly registered her and Anarara to be wedded in a mass Marapu wedding and civil registration in September 2020 and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Khristofel Praing, who was then a district head candidate in East Sumba district election, opened the mass wedding. Using an event that rather looked like a political campaign for many, Saras once again defied her family’s wish, and further, legitimated her own story.


Photo caption: Saras marries Anarara—the man of her choice—at a mass Marapu wedding. At Lewa sub-district, East Sumba, September 2020.

Marapu is one of many indigenous beliefs in Indonesia. Indonesia’s Constitutional Court just acknowledged Indonesia’s indigenous beliefs in 2017 after decades of illegibility.


A Rato (Marapu priest) reading a pig’s liver by the river of Kananggar village, East Sumba


This photo was taken at the 8th Wai Humba festival in October 2019 (Wai means water, Humba means Sumba). The festival was initiated by networks of youths on Sumba island as a form of community pedagogy, accompanying their then protest against a gold mine exploration on the island. The first festival was held in 2012. The mining exploration stopped afterwards. In the 8th festival, attendees made a vow by a river in Kananggar village to protect the island’s environment. A chicken and a pig were offered to seal the vow. The rato in the picture, then read the dead pig’s liver to see whether the ancestors accepted the offerings.

The rato later concluded that the offerings were accepted with a note; a sermon to bless the river was in order since a soul resided in the river and noises from festival’s environmental pact had bothered the soul, as early as eight a.m. on a Sunday morning. The head of Kananggar village later confirmed that a person had drowned in the river the year before, yet he failed to remind the ratos of this fact.

Photo caption:

 A Rato (Marapu priest)   reading a pig’s liver by the   river of Kananggar village,   East Sumba, witnessed by   other ratos and the 8th Wai Humba festival attendees


Frans Wora Hebi, a writer, journalist, and teacher, in his study

Frans Wora Hebi is a writer, journalist, and Indonesian language teacher. He also has a weekly show in Waingapu-based MaxFM radio where he talks about recent events and Sumba’s cultures together with the show’s host, Eddie. He has steady listenership over the years. Many listeners have called to ask culture-related questions. The questions vary from vocabularies to ancestral beliefs. Pak Frans and Eddie recalled one episode that attracted too many questions, which is the Belis episode. Pak Frans and Eddie had to finish the radio show after midnight to answer questions about belis (dowry), and had to postpone their dinner to 2 a.m.  

Pak Frans Wora Hebi is a prolific writer. One of his sons is an ASEAN-level boxing athlete, one of his daughters is a feminist and the head of a woman and children NGO in East Sumba.