Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Mentawai are native people of Mentawai Island in West Sumatra, Indonesia. It is one of the oldest tribe in this country. I had chance to go there a week ago and spent 3 days at their house to learn about their cultures.
It took 1.5 hours by plane from Jakarta to Padang, continued with 3 hours in fast boat to Siberut Island (the biggest island in Mentawai), and then we spent 4 hours with smaller boat ride down the river and 20 minutes trekking in muddy ground to get to Aman Gresi house (Aman Gresi means the father of Gresi, we didn’t meet Gresi, their kid, apparently he lives in another house in the island). He is the Sikerei (Shaman, the spiritual healer of the area where we were staying for 3 days).
Mentawai live a semi nomadic-hunter-gatherer lifestyle. So the first activity we did in the next morning was hunting in the rainforest. They hunt deers, wild boars, monkeys, birds, chickens, and sago caterpillars. They use poisonous arrows to kill the animals. We didn’t find any wild animals that morning, so we walked around to find old sago tree that has already rotten, then Aman Gresi chopped the bottom of the tree to get the caterpillars from there. Normally they grilled them first and eat them. Sago caterpillars are full of protein and apparently it has juicy taste (i didn't try it, that’s what my friend said).
The next activity was making fabric material from Baiko tree bark. They cut down the Baiko tree, take the bark, clean the sap then pound it until it goes very soft. I tried it. It’s harder than it looks. You have to be very patient to pound it since it wasn’t easy to make it soft.
Rain came, and we spent most of our afternoon in the house, making tattoo. Tattoo or titi is one of the oldest tattoo in the world. They use wood/bamboo, plant spines/thornes or sharpened piece of bark and charcoal. They drew/hand tapped the tattoo on the body, inspired by nature’s symbols. Sun on their shoulder, some leaves/plants on their hand/arm, and lots of lines on chest, shoulder, stomach, back, thighs, legs, and also face. Sikerei also put some pounded leaves on the new tattoo to relieve the pain.
After the dinner, we had ceremony. During the ceremony, Sikerei dance following the movement of the birds or chicken and sing along while dancing. In the end of ceremony, they kill the chickens (breaking their necks) and grill them then share it to everyone and eat together.
The women of Mentawai, dress topless and only use material as skirt or sarong and some banana leaves wrapped in the hips for fishing. Same like the men, they wear necklace and head accessories. On the head they put some flowers they picked from their own garden. Mentawai women usually go to river to find fish. Mostly they gather yam and hunt smaller animals.
Mentawai women sharpen their teeth because they believe sharp teeth make them beautiful.
Nowadays, the children of Mentawai people, living their modern life, they go to school or even move to Padang, the big city. Not many of them wants to be Sikerei, because to become Sikerei, they have to do so many tests and a lot of taboos they have to pass for years. Besides that, when i asked one of the kid, they said they don’t want to have tattoo in their body because they can’t stand the pain. Also, they think that become Sikerei, they can’t earn money. So they prefer go to school and pursue their dream to achieve their job they want to do.
According this fact, slowly Mentawai people could disappear from our culture if there was no young generations want to continue the traditions. Aman Gresi told us he really hopes that the government could make an easy access so tourists/media can easily get to them so they can earn money to live and still practising their tradition in the future.
Time to say goodbye. We had to go back to Padang. It was really short time but i’ve learned a lot about their unique culture and very happy that i could go here.