The Last of the Mentawai

The Last of the Mentawai

The Last of the Mentawai

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Location: Siberut, Sumatra
Date: July 2012
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…