Spears, steeds & a riot of colour

Spears, steeds & a riot of colour
(Left) Horsemen from Rotenggaro (purple) and Wainyapu (stripes) exchanging shots with their spears in the penultimate event. There were six matches in this year's Pasola.

Reporting from Sumba, Indonesia


INDONESIA - It's called Pasola - an ancient war game that happens once a year on the remote Indonesian island of Sumba.

Groups of men from rival villages ride bareback on nimble steeds, clad in ceremonial clothes. They ride at breakneck speed, turn on a dime and throw blunted wooden spears at each other.

Besides being a celebration of bravery, athleticism and ultimately, superb horsemanship, it is also a ritual to ask the blessings of the gods for a good harvest for the year.

This spectacle only appeared on the tourist map recently. Little wonder as Sumba - accessible via an hour's flight in a small propeller plane from Bali or by ferry - is only just now opening up.

Tourism facilities are still in their infancy. Save for one luxurious resort on the southern part of the island, there are no hotel chains and everything closes at sunset.

Most toilets are manual-flush affairs - fill your bucket with water.

As we travel to the fight villages of Wainyapu and Ratenggaro, our driver and guide Andra Warakaka, 29, warns us that every Pasola contest ends with a riot.

We laugh a little uneasily. As recently as 40 years ago, the spears used were sharpened to a deadly point. Even blunted, the projectiles carry amazing force.

We arrive at a field slightly larger than a football pitch. Men on horseback start riding out in a circular formation. A rider from one side breaks from the formation and thunders towards his opponents.

An answering charge from the other side. The opponent, streamers of colourful cloth flapping, glides forward on a muscled horse.

They throw their spears at each other before swinging back to their sides.

Often, blood is shed during these contests. But the people of Sumba believe that the blood will make for a bountiful harvest.

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