The Last of the Mentawai

Bajak Sorumut is the rimata, the patriarch, the spirit of the clanBajak Sorumut is the rimata, the patriarch, the spirit of the clan | S00803 | buy

 

Location: Siberut, Sumatra
Date: July 2013
Photographer: Etienne Desclides

It starts after a 10-hour trip through the night in an old, over-crowded and stinky ferry boat…

Pulau Siberut, the “jungle island” appears on the horizon. This is where the Mentawai people live, off the Sumatra coast in Indonesia.

After a canoe-boat paddle along the Rereiket River and a walk through muddy jungle we come at last to uma, or community longhouse, of Bajak Sorumut and his clan.

Despite the campaigns of evangelisation and settlement during the past century, some groups were able to maintain their traditional way of life far from the modern world. Here, deep in the jungle they built their umas, eating sago tree and hunting monkeys with poisoned arrows.

The clan of Bajak Sorumut is one of them.

The old man is the Rimata, the patriarch or soul of the clan. He is the spiritual leader, the keeper of the tradition. He ensures the subsistence of his family and preserves the harmony in the Uma.

He is also a Kerei, a Mentawai shaman and healer. He knows the ancient science of the jungle. He is able to communicate with spirits, heal wounds and soothe the sick. He knows the ancient way to make Omai, the dangerous poison the natives have used for their survival in the rainforest for millennia…

 

Muddy jungleMuddy jungle | S00804 | buy

 

Hard hands of an old kereiHard hands of an old kerei | S00806 | buy

 

At the heart of the uma is the "ossuary beam" where the hunting trophies are displayedAt the heart of the uma is the “ossuary beam” where the hunting trophies are displayed | S00809 | buy

 

The young participate as soon as they can to all collective activities like hunting, gathering, etc.The young participate as soon as they can to all collective activities like hunting, gathering, etc. | S00812 | buy

 

Cupin wields his grandfather's sharp parang with impressive dexterityCupin wields his grandfather’s sharp parang with impressive dexterity | S00815 | buy

 

Bajak Sorumut guts the rotten trunk of a sagou in search for dessertBajak Sorumut guts the rotten trunk of a sagou in search for dessert | S00816 | buy

 

Redi pops them avidly, "Ale Moile Moile!" ("Take it easy!")Redi pops them avidly, “Ale Moile Moile!” (“Take it easy!”) | S00817 | buy

 

These meaty and juicy larvae are highly prized treats for adults and children alikeThese meaty and juicy larvae are highly prized treats for adults and children alike | S00818 | buy

 

The white flesh of the trunk is grated, reduced to powder and then filtered into a fine flourThe white flesh of the trunk is grated, reduced to powder and then filtered into a fine flour | S00819 | buy

 

The Mentawai rely on a formidable weapon: the omaiThe Mentawai rely on a formidable weapon: the omai | S00820 | buy

 

The kerei uses a small brush to apply the dangerous liquid to the arrowheadsThe kerei uses a small brush to apply the dangerous liquid to the arrowheads | S00821 | buy

 

The siloguis are made of a reed of rotang and a long piece of wood or metalThe siloguis are made of a reed of rotang and a long piece of wood or metal | S00822 | buy

 
[click to view the complete set of images]
 

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