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Travelling to Sumba in Indonesia in January

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I would like to travel to Sumba in Indonesia in January. How is the weather there? I have seen that it is rainy season in Sumba. Does it rain all day?

Marcia Sztajn, 23 August 2011
Tarung Village, Western Sumba

Answer

Dear Marcia,

It is fantastic that you are considering travelling to Sumba early next year! As one of lesser known islands in the vast archipelago which make up Indonesia, Sumba receives few visitors and is a great spot to travel to for a unique insight into the animist culture prevalent on the island.

It is true that it is rainy season in January. During this time you can expect temperatures to be around 30c, high levels of humidity and a good chance of rain. This may fall as intense tropical downpours that last only a couple of hours and are met on the other side by clear blue skies and bright sunshine, or it can rain non-stop for days. It doesn't prevent travel at this time but you need to be aware that you are more likely to experience delays to flights and road travel.

The advantage of low season travel is less visitors (though in Sumba this is only really a problem when huge cruise ships stop here for a few hours a couple of times a year) and stunning greenery around the island rather than brown fields which dominate the landscape during the late summer droughts.

The Pasola festival

Depending on your level of flexibility and interest in festivals, you may like to delay your trip by a month and time it to see the remarkable Pasola in February.

The Pasola is ritual warfare, a two day contest during which men riding full speed on horseback throw wooden spears at one another. The participants in the Pasola prepare themselves for the battle by making offerings to placate the angry spirits; they also dress in their best ikat cloths and decorate their horses with colourful ribbons and feathers. In the Pasola, men from mountainous regions often pit themselves against men from communities located near the sea.

For the foreign observer the Pasola appears to be real warfare, however there are rules of engagement and the violence is usually controlled, to a point. Violence occurs among the riders only and does not involve the onlookers, who are there to urge their clan representatives on. The fighting is intense but supervised by the Ratu (village head) who occasionally jumps in to cool things down; they even verify the weight of the wooden spears and call the start and the end of the contest.

Since the late 1980s the government has banned the use of real spears and now the metal tips must be removed before entering the battle. The police, and sometimes the army as well, have taken on some of the traditional supervisory responsibilities from the Ratu. They often stop the games when they feel it could be close to getting out of their control. This has led to many complaints from the participants who feel frustrated that not enough blood has been let during the ceremonial battle. In Sumba it is blood on the ground that is all-important, blood equates to fertility.

One of the primary purposes of the Pasola is to ask the sprits for a bountiful harvest in the coming months; the belief is that the more blood spilled during the Pasola the better the harvest will be.

Unfortunately the dates of the Pasola are only confirmed a month or so before the actual date it takes place and so you really do need a lot of flexibility with your travel arrangements.

Aside from the Pasola, traditional boxing ceremonies take place starting in August through to January, in July there is a one week horseracing event that draws horses and riders from all over Indonesia. While throughout the year there are funeral and wedding ceremonies taking place that our clients are often invited to attend.

Accommodation options

In terms of accommodation you can stay in functional hotels in Sumba's small towns which are very cheap and quite basic but mean a chance to experience the local way of life close up.

You could intersperse this with staying at the delightful Sumba Nautil, which has excellent ties to local villages and is our choice option for the best chance to experience ceremonies and other cultural activities.

The most luxurious property on the island is Nihiwatu. A stunning beachfront hotel offering barefoot luxury, it is popular with culture lovers and surfers who come for the famous left hander that breaks right outside (Note, Nihiwatu is closed from mid January to end February every year).

- Answered by Jack

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