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Contributed by Karin Rutgers - who worked for four years as a VSO in West Sumba

Sumbanese History

When talking about the Sumbanese history as least 2 ver-sions are available: one is the version of the official history book which has been written by out-siders (not Sumbanese), the other version is about how Sumbanese themselves see the history of Sumba which is an important aspect in their native religion : the Marapu-religion. I want to start with the first version, the official history book : The first evidence on paper of the existence of Sumba is provided by maps of Portuguese sailors. The map from the year 1522 shows a small island called Chendan, which means sandlewood. Sumba was only known by the traders for its forests, a reservoir of valuable sandlewood, ebony and kayu kuning. Before the 16th century there was already trade between people from Sumba and traders from other islands. Beside wood, other important trade-articles from the Sumbanese were : leather, dried meat and dried fish. In return, the Sumbanese received clothes, cups and platelets, bracelets, knives and choppers etc., from other islands. In the 16th century, also slave-trade emerged, starting with traders from Flores. Slaves became very important in inter-island trade but also the consequences of this trade in the inner land of the island were very important. Unsafety increased because every Sumbanese who dared to leave the area of protection from his fellow clan members could be captured and sold as a slave. Slave trade also encouraged warfare between clans, for now war-captives could not only be used as slaves but also be sold. In this time there were lots of wars between different kabihu's. Shortage of food or other scarse resources has been mentioned in the literature as a possible reason for clans to start a war because these wars always resulted in capturing people and selling them or keeping them as salves, and robbery of food and cattle. Another possible reason is that kabihu leaders used the war as a mean to strengthen their position. (to have a common enemy unites the members of the kabihu) Also head-hunting existed as a sign of revenge. Especially the end of the dry season had been the traditional season for headhunting. Nowadays people in West-Sumba are still afraid in the month July of "orang touris" who come to take their children and take their skull. This fear proba-bly finds its roots in this "head-hunting" time. 1 The Dutch United East India Company (VOC) didn't pay much attention to Sumba, probably because lack of profitable trade-articles and the unsafety on the island. The coloni-al government (after 1799) also never had much attention for the island. Their main interest was to keep the island out of the hands of other colonial powers. But after 1838 the involvement of the colonial government in the inter-nal affairs gradually increased because the colonial powers wanted to make Sumba safer. (for which reasons has not been mentioned in the literature) In the beginning the Dutch Indian government used a politic of non-intervention, they would only advice to local leaders and not directly interfere. But it seemed that no authority was given to advisors as such. The strongest local leaders were the ones who acted as real despots. In the literature it is argued that only after the Dutch Government had clearly shown its physical power by using violence in order to pacify the island (after the War of Lambanapu in (1901) its authority became respected. Al-though this article has been written in the beginning of this century and there have been many changes in adminis-trative structures and rules on Sumba, tension between the style of negotiating-advising- deciding together on the one hand and direct suppressive rule on the other hand still exists. From 1906 till 1912 Dutch military action took place all over Sumba in order to pacify the island and this led to 4 measures : 1. slaves had to be released and slave trade was prohibit-ed, 2. all warfare was prohibited, all guns and arms were to be handed over to the government, 3. the government started to levy taxes, and 4. people had to obey others order of the government such as to assist in road construction. This last measure brought, according to some Sumbanese, a new "activity" to the island : the road-workers were taught gambling by the Dutch in order to pass the boring nights. Gambling still exists on Sumba and in some areas of West-Sumba it became a big problem. After the Second Word War feeling of nationalism and anti-colonialism occurred, although the feelings on Sumba were not so strong as on the other islands. The role of the church changed because care for all kinds of public works by the colonial government had ceased to exist and was not yet taken over by the new Indonesian government. Since the missions had and have a true commit-ment with the people of Sumba, they decided to focus more on socio-economic development work. It started with the agricultural school in Lewa. In the period of the New Order (after the coup in 1965) the missions gradually withdrew from the areas : medical care, formal education, road construction, which in ac-cordance with the conviction of the Dutch churches, should be taken over by the local people. However, in reality it turned out that the government took over a lot of these activities. Another important development in the recent Sumbanese history is the increase in converts. Now in most areas it is considered backward and old-fashioned to be an adherent of the Marapu-religion, also because the government propa-gates that every Indonesian citizen should be adherent to one of the five recognized religions (Islam, Hindu, Buddhism, Catholic, and Protestant). But in daily life there is a high incidence of syncretism, which means that officially people are Christians, but in daily life they still believe in Marapu. This has still a big influence of the life of the Sumba-nese. A few examples will be given in other parts of this article. The second version of history of Sumba is how Sumbanese themselves see their history. There are lots of myths on Sumba about "God", the creation of the earth, Sumba, and the history of clans, which have been told in long poems of ritual speech and conveyed from generation to genera-tion. Every Kabishu (clan) on Sumba has its own stories and these stories are very important for the different clans because they tell for example, which families are the most important in a village, the rights which certain clans have on land, who are their ancestors etc. Because these stories have never been written down there are often different versions available from one story. The stories about for example how the forbears of certain clans arrived in Kodi, a district in the South-West of Sumba, differ according to which clan the person who tells the story belongs. Every person who is interested in these old stories I can recommendate to read some anthropological books or studies about Sumba.