“There is a solution to every problem. Discussion is necessary in order to find the best solution. However, one would not hesitate to resort to confrontation should his reputation and dignity were to be tarnished.”
An exotic island with long beautiful beach just 1 hour and 50 minutes away from Denpasar, Bali, could be seen from our plane window. Once we arrived at the Umbu Mehang Kunda Airport, we felt cool air. Five minutes later, the scenery of Waingapu along with a row of rumah panggung (stage houses) and modern houses decorated the streets.
The majority of the locals in the capital of East Sumba, Waingapu, were Christians. It was not unusual to find churches with architectures similar to those in Java. However, the presence of the grand mosque Al Jihad in the center of the city was a proof of tolerance. The Marapu religion, one of its earliest religion, still resided harmoniously.
“Everyone can pray in peace here. We uphold tolerance,” said Umbu Kudu, our dear friend from Kampung Rende (Rende Traditional Village), shortly after we met at the airport.
Drying savannas expanded on our left and right, as well as for travelers going out of Waingapu. The smooth and asphalt paved road stretched in front of us. Straight and remote were the right words to describe the roadways in this island. Running horses and clouds escorted us on our journey.
With its strong cultural values, Kampung Adat Rende, located around two hours from Waingapu in the Melolo district, was a mandatory destination.
“Welcome to Rende. You must stay in this village for two or three nights,” insisted Umbu Kundu. “Everyone in our village is friendly, even the tour guides. No one would dare to create problems in this village,” he said.
Sure enough, we were greeted with joy when we arrived in Rende. Tea and coffee were served. Casual conversations and jokes in mixed Indonesian made us feel as if we were visiting our own relative’s house.
“We are experts in parleys. For us, there is always a solution to every problem. Mutual respect, which is called hori patembi in Sumba language, is exalted,” said Charles Tanda, one of the locals in Kampung Adat Rende. Other locals nodded in agreement.
The friendliness of the locals, who worked as farmers and breeders, enchanted us. Even without invitation, one by one, the locals came to Umah Boukul (large traditional house) to chat with us. They asked funny and interesting subjects about politics, the economy, transportations, and even celebrities in Jakarta.
“In addition to being able to see more closely the stone cemetery and the architectures of our traditional houses, you can also see how we make kain tenun ikat (dyed woven cloth) with natural dyes. Our patterns are different from those of other villages,” said Umbu Kudu.
The sun retreated and the night air was coming but Rende was still cheerful. While enjoying some coffee, tea, and cookies that we had brought, Umbu Kudu invited us to visit a house that was still preserving a corpse. The deceased, who had departed a month prior, was wrapped in woven cloths of the best quality. There was no need to worry about rotting stench or other frightening matters because there was no foul odor whatsoever, thanks to the woven cloths.
“Try a little bit of this pinang sirih (a combination of betel leaf and areca nut) or they will be offended,” said Umbu Kudu while offering us a box of pinang sirih. The gaze of the women at the funeral house, who were sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor covered by hay mats, implied that we should try it.
“Just try a little bit. The taste is bitter and pungent. You can get drunk if you are not used to it. But, if you do not want to try, just put the box in front of your legs. This is enough to show your respect,” said Umbu Kudu.
In Rende, the deceased were to be treated like a newborn baby. Descendants of kings and nobles would get special treatments. Cut livestock and various ceremonies usually accompany the corpse to the funeral house.
Discovering interesting things in Rende did not stop there. The locals lived modestly and they took us to dive into their daily life filled with philosophy. They are taught to not speak carelessly and to behave politely to guests. Feudalism had been eroding from generation to generation towards acts of goodness. Those of noble blood did not necessarily have to be overly respected and exalted.
“We must respect our elders even though they belong to a lower caste. We must not speak harshly or behave irresponsibly. Every human being was born with dignity,” said Umbu Kudu. Light topics flowed that night. We drank a few sips of peci (Sumbese fermented drink made from roots) as a sign of introduction.
We could interpret without exaggeration that the locals of Rende still held firm the life principles taught by their ancestors. Once they sat on top of a mat with a cup of coffee or tea, especially when accompanied by cold air, they would be happy to tell the history of their ancestors and cultures. With gallant hills and stunning beaches, the people of Rende might as well had been brought down to Earth when God was overjoyed.
Translated by Shofa Fathyamala