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The Pasola is probably the largest and best-known ceremony in Sumba. Those who do not have the opportunity to see it, or don't want to see it, will recognize at least the leftovers. Wherever the Pasola is performed, there are thousands of empty plastic cups...

The Pasola takes place at 7 locations in West Sumba.

01 February 2014

  • Hoba Kalla - Lamboya
  • Homba Klayo, Lete Loko und Tosi – Kodi
  • Bondo Kawango, Pero Batang – Kodi
  • Rara Winyo, Ate Dalo – Kodi

21 February 2014

  • Pahiwi (beach / pantai) & Kamaradena (field / medan) - Wanukaka
  • Weetana, Gaura – Lamboya- Wainyapu, Waiha – Kodi Bangedo

The timing of Pasola rituals is determined by the Nyale rituals. Nyale are iridescent annelids. On two days each year, in February or March, these critters crawl from the sea about 5 days after full moon, in order to spawn. According to Marapu belief this is a sign from heaven. The Rato priest checks the appearance of the Nyale worms and makes predictions for the coming harvest.

In advance of the actual Pasola a number of different ritual games take place. These include, depending on the region, brutal boxing matches – Pajura. The opponents wrap their fists with sharp grasses. But also general meetings, nights with ritual speech and various sacrifices with special offerings are held. The night before the fight, each participant rider of the Pasola has to sacrifice a chicken to the Rato. From that the Rato foretells the success in battle and it is also a plea to the Marapu to give power for the fight.

The Pasola itself begins 8 days after the Nyale phenomenon. The area of the game is consecrated by the Rato and released and he is also the referee of the games. The Pasola is a mock battle between two or more villages. Sola or Hola means the spear; Pa suggests that this is a game. The hand-carved spears are up to 5 cm thick and dull; in spite of this people (sometimes) get injured or killed.

In this war game ritual dozens of riders compete against each other. For hours they gallop bareback on Sumba horses and hurl their spears against their opponents with full force. It is not a show, as we know it from the Middle Ages markets in Europe - but is formally exactly like this. The participants are trying to demoralize their opponents with words and push them down with their spears.

Revenge of the defeated is not up to the participants but to the Marapu - perhaps it solves itself or he solves it in the following year. The symbolism of the games is that the more blood is spilled on the ground on the Pasola or in a boxing match, the more fertile the soil will be and increase the yield of the harvest. The Pasola ceremony has, therefore, a direct relation to agriculture. This is the true religious meaning of the Pasola ceremony - not the amusement of the crowd. Successful riders have a high status. Their goal is not only to win but to draw attention to themselves.

For Pasola you dress in your best clothes and travel in a suitable vehicle. Those who can afford it and come from abroad will book appropriate quotas with the airlines. Perhaps the Rato also makes an appointment with the airlines …

Although the Pasola is on its way to becoming an international national tourist attraction, it remains important for Sumbanese culture.

This violent ritual may remind you that less than 100 years ago headhunting still existed in Sumba.