Day 4 – Pasola in Wanukaka
Woke up early at 4am today, made our way down to the beach. Along the way, many many ojeks passed by us, wanted to flag one down but all were carrying passengers. It was good morning exercise and kept me warm. We reached Wanukaka beach where there’s a big crowd camped overnight. As the sun started to come up, people started going down to the water and began nyale hunting. I was more entranced by the postcard quality views i’m getting and preferred taking shots of the sunrise to hunting sea worms which I’ve never seen and probably won’t recognise even if I do see them.
The package tourists started popping up as well, but compared to elsewhere, there were much less tourist types for such a big festival. Rather, we had the Sumbanese and lots of city people, some well dressed Jakarta types, those from Bali etc. Throughout the day I had many conversations the rest of the spectators. It’s a really grand event, and Rudy later mentioned the official count was 30,000 people.
Someone mentioned that if the nyale doesn’t turn up, there won’t be Pasola. Another guy said he was here before and tried eating the nyale. Things got exciting though when someone finally found nyale and showed me a mineral water bottle with nyale inside. There was going to be Pasola after all! Later I found out that the rituals had taken place further up the beach, we missed it completely while engrossed in photo taking.
Next was the Pasola itself, this was held on a sandy patch by the beach Trains of horses and riders started arriving, village by village, each making a grand entrance riding across the sand. They split themselves on two sides, and the event started with both sides charging on horses at full speed till near the haflway mark where they threw their spears at the other side. The spears now are blunt, after the government banned the use of sharp pointed end. The entire significance of the Pasola can be read online or in good books, it is a ritual to draw blood and give it back to the earth, dying during Pasola used to be a real possibility. After the wooden bamboo spears have been thrown, they retreat to their half and prepared for the next throw. It is very exciting, with the crowd pushing forward to get a closer look, with exclamations of oohs and ahhs each time a spear narrowly misses. If a spear DOES hit however, there will be cheers from the crowd, the successful rider makes a high pitched victory cry and raises his hands high in the way, waving his fingers. One time, the spear hits a horse’s flank, and the beast rose on his two hind legs, nearly throwing the rider over.
Everyone then proceeds to the main location, a grassy field about 2km away. The place was packed, West Sumba isn’t normally a place where you would find so many people in one location. There were people from all over Indo, tourists, police, a grandstand for VIPs. It was a very carnival atmosphere, with makeshift shops set up everywhere, selling Fruitamins, doughnuts, drinks. The homemade frozen ice lollies are fabulous in the hot weather. Another ritual took place with elders from both camps involved, facing each other, dressed in full colourful gear. The crier traded insults at each other in their own tongue, and each insult was met with the equivalent of jeers and catcalls from the opposing team. This carried on for a bit, and I think they showed negotiations breaking down, as both side abruptly stopped and the entire horse-riding, spear throwing began. This time, they were even more fierce. The Sumbanese riders were swathed with red cloth strips over their faces, and their horses wore headgear which made them look menacing, plus danging small bells which ringed as the horses moved. They started going at is again, this time with more gusto and non-stop waves of riders. It was quite a side to see spears flying all over. I didn’t see this, but one guy got cut quite badly when a spear struck his forearm. Spectators pushed forward to get a better view, and this was met with police shouting at us. The Sumba men just in front of us, placed at the perimeter to pick up and replenish spears, actually said sorry then used the bamboo spears held horizontally to push everyone back. Didn’t work very well cos 5 seconds later, everyone’s pushing forward again, laughing it away. Haha. It started raining for a short bit, but this didn’t dampen spirits. People were there for a show, and they got one.
I spent the rest of the afternoon napping. My neck is sunburnt, my feet are sore, but yeah, it was a good two days. Tomorrow morning, i’m going back to Waikabubak where i’ll catch a bemo to Waingapu.
Useful piece of equipment: My sunblock lotion, without with I probably will a very uncomfortable next few days.
For those wanting to see the Pasola, the activities leading up to Pasola in Wanukaka took place over a 3 day period (15th to 17th Mar’09 for me). On the first day, there is traditional boxing ritual that takes place at night (11pm-ish). On the second day, at 4pm, there is a training session for the Sumba men to practise with their horses in preparation for the event. At night, people start gathering at the beach and stay overnight there. On the third day, you can come in to the beach before dawn where they start auguring the nyale, the priests are on the extreme right side of the beach. Then the Pasola begins at around 8am, first by the beach and then the entire procession will move to the field at 9am. The locations for the activities are different, though within walking distance of each. You might want to rent an ojek for an entire day (around 75,000Rp for an ojek and same for a guide) to drive you around if you’re not the adventurous type.