Sumba is one of the Lesser Sunda Islands, in the southern part of the province of East Nusa Tenggara. It is located 40 nautical miles south of Komodo and Flores and 165 nautical miles West of Timor.
Sumba has an area of 11,153 km², and is only sparsely populated with 665,000 inhabitants. The largest town on the island is the main port of Waingapu which has a population of about fifty thousand. Sumba is decidedly off the beaten track but perhaps the most mysterious and least understood of all Indonesia's major islands. While certainly not an easy destination for independent travelers the island offers several unusual rewards.
Christianity is the dominant religion but about a third of the indigenous population still follows animist beliefs. Sumba is one of the few places in the world where the Bronze Age practice of burial underneath megaliths remains intact. Large tomb stones are widespread on the island. Another ancient custom is the ‘pasola’ contest, in which huge teams of warriors on horseback engage in ceremonial battles by hurling spears at each other. Casualties are not uncommon during these events.
Historically, the island was known as Sandalwood Island but most of the original forest cover has been cleared for the planting of maize, cassava and other crops so only small isolated patches remain. Still the island is particularly rich in birdlife with nearly 200 bird species, of which seven are endemic and found nowhere else.
Sumba is one of the poorer islands of Indonesia yet deservedly famous for very detailed hand-woven ikat textiles. The process of dying and weaving ikat is very labor-intensive and one piece can take months to prepare.
Generally speaking Sumba is much more barren than the islands to the West and one of the major challenges is access to water. While from December to April Sumba does experience a relatively rainy season, the winds that blow from the Australian mainland from May to November during the SE monsoon bring little rain so many streams dry up.
Still there is a culture of golden rice fields in the West and Nihiwatu Resort, a small and exclusive hideaway consistently makes it onto the lists of the world's best eco-hotels.
Sumba : Sandalwood enigma of ancient times
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