San Francisco, CA

Etienne Desclides

☄ The Last of the Mentawai

It starts after a ten-​hour long trip through the night in an old, over-​crowded and stinky ferry boat… Pulau Siberut, the “jungle island” appears on the horizon. This is where the Mentawai people live, off the Sumatra coast, Indonesia. After some more canoe-​boat along the Rereiket river and a walk through a muddy jungle, here comes, at last, the uma of Bajak Sorumut and his clan.

Despite the campaigns of evangelization and settlement during the past century, some groups were able to maintain their traditional way of life, far from the modern world, building their umas, the community long-​houses, deep in the rainforest, eating sago tree and hunting monkeys with poisoned arrows. The clan of Bajak Sorumut is one of them.

The old man is the rimata, the patriarch, the soul of the clan. He is the spiritual leader, the keeper of the tradition. He ensures the subsistence of his family and preserves the harmony in the uma. He is also a kerei, a mentawai shaman, a healer. He is able to communicate with spirits. He can heal wounds, soothe the sick. He knows the ancient gestures to make the omai, the dangerous poison the natives use for their survival in the rainforest for millennia.

He knows the ancient science of the jungle.