Mentawai Tribe has been known for its tribe members who are tattooed with some distinctive tattoos, live in the jungle of Mentawai and very little touched by modern way of life. Their unique authentic culture has drawn attention for foreign visitors to experience, see, and witness the live of the tribe that lives from the nature, take a little from the nature and preserves their tradition and belief.
Many Mentawaian has embraced modern life, and only about 1000 Mentawai tribe still live in the Jungle, in Siberut Island. The ecotourism activity has been conducted to contribute to the sustainability of indigenous culture, belief, and life of Mentawai tribe. The experience involves staying overnight at traditional house, and seeing how the tribe use the resource in the forest for their life.
To access Siberut, it takes fast boat ride from Muaro Harbor of Padang to Siberut Island, which takes about 4 hours ride. And then arrival at Siberut Island take motorcycle ride to Muntei Village, the road is narrow that motorcyce is the best option to commute. There is only in few places signal of phone and internet can be found. Due to the high rate of rain in Mentawai, in case of rain, usually visitors must stay overnight at Muntei, at local house, as it is not possible to jungle trek and ride on long small motor boat which is called as pompong along Silaoinan River.
There are some different areas where the tribe settle, some located from 1.5 hours motorboat ride to 5 hours. And it takes about 1 hour to 1.5 hours trek from from the river to the tribe house. The trek is muddy especially after rains. The locals walk barefoot, but for visitors who are not used to walk barefoot in jungle with muddy track, boots are provided. In my experience, it is easier to walk barefoot only we must be careful as there are thorns on the track. Wearing good size booth is very important as perfect size will make the trek easier. To keep balance wooden sticks will be given to clients, and even Mentawai tribe they walk with stick as well. The access has been a little easy as the tribe has laid trees along the trek to help them walking without getting trapped in the mud. And it is very normal if visitors fall and trapped in the mud while trekking for the first time.
It is recommended to apply bugs repellent during the tour, not only mosquito but there are very small bugs will love to bite you in the jungle. I have red itchy big bumps on my legs because i did not apply repellent. And i met many millipede along the walk.
UMA THE HOUSE OF MENTAWAI TRIBE
The house is made on wood, and sago leaves which can be found in the jungle. The house is built on stilts and under the house is where they raise pigs. Normally they have dogs and chicken. Which they build small house at the back of the house. The house consists of one indoor room and one semi outdoor room ,which is similar to veranda. The veranda is where they do most activities, like making poison, weaving rattan and welcome with guests and chit chat.
The ceiling is where they place baskets and other tools which they use daily.
The indoor room is where they sleep, and cook and keep personal and valuable goods.
The house has no windows but it has two doors.
The roof is made of sago leaves folded over a slightly thin bamboo and then weaved with thin rattan to keep the leaves in place. Each one weaved roof is one meter and then the it will be tied by strong bigger rattan to the bamboo, as the roof frame. It is really amazing that there is no leak at all. And the leaf roof can last for 16 years, even though, there is almost raining everyday there.
A big party and ritual must be held to erect new uma, involves dancing and having pigs for party.
Mentawai tribe hunts for monkeys, and they hang the skull of monkeys or wild pigs above the door facing outside. While they hang the domesticated animals/cattle, usually pigs, above the veranda entrance facing inside the house. This is for the hope of Mentawaian, that the monkeys or hunted pigs skull soul will invite their friends when they hunt and while the cattle or domesticated animals facing the house means to keep them in the house.
In Muntei the closest village to the jungle still have few traditional houses, but many new modern house as well with metal roof, not sago leaves roof anymore.
MAKING VENOMOUS POISON
Mentawai Tribe does hunt.They hunt for pig, deer, and monkey. They must hunt when they have new born baby and when there is a bid event like building uma and wedding. They hunt with their weapon, arrow. Before hunting there will be ritual by sikerey, the shaman. They make poison and rub it on the arrow. The poison ingredients can be found in the forest such as Derris elliptica (tuba), root of Alpina galanga (galangal), very small wild red chilly, lapak tree bark and ragi stem.
First step is to grate the un-skinned ragi stem and galangal. Put the shaved lapak tree bark which is usually directly from the tree by shaving the bark. Grate the chilly and hammer the tuba root by wooden hammer that the milky white liquid can be seen. Mic the ingredient and then put it in a rattan ring and then squeeze it by wooden clamp that the fluid yielded.
The fluid then applied on arrows by brush and the arrow is dried about 50 cm high above fire for 1 minute.And then applied again another layer and dry again until all the poison is gone.
There are 2 types of arrows, the one with arrow sign end is aimed for pig and deer, while the one spiky and pointed is to hunt monkey. Once an arrow hit animals, usually they must follow the animals for 10 to 15 minutes until the poison got them.
There are some rules may not be broken by Mentawai Tribe if they are hunting : they must not have coitus, they must not eat sour and must not shower.
Sikerei or Mentawai tribe shaman wears kabid around the waist. The tree for kabid material can be found in the jungle of Mentawai. To make kabid, the tree must be cut. And then using machete, the bark can be taken. One tree can make 3-4 kabid pieces. The bark used for kabid is the inside skin only. The inside skin then beaten using somekind of wooden hammer, on a tree. The bark must be beaten strongly many times to soften the material and when it is all beaten the bark is washed and dried. It can dry within half day. Kabid can last for about 6 months if worn daily and can last for 1.5 years if not worn daily. The tree to make kabid is locally known as baiko. Once cut, Baiko new bud can grow again after 8 months.
Sago is the staple food of Mentawai tribe. It grows well in the island. Sago can be cooked by wrapped in sago leaves or in a bamboo. Sago just cooked above fire for about 15 minutes and ready to serve. It tastes better in bamboo. They eat sago with fish or pork or chicken. Mentawai Tribe does not recognize spices, they only use salt for cooking. They grow sago in their land and once the sago tree does not produce good sago, it will be cut and let it for 3 months until sago worm grow in the tree.
Sago worms are cooked like other foods, but in the sago leaves or bamboo and then heat it above fire. They take the larva, pupa and the adult. Once they take the larva, they press the head of the larva to die and put in a leaf that it will not move anywhere. Sago worm is rich of protein.
Pork usually slaughtered when they have ceremony. And for ritual it is males who cook. And cooking only by boiled with salt. Mentawai have pig under their house and sometimes they attract males pig who would like to mate them. The tribe does not want their pig to be impregnated by wild pigs, as usually after 5 months or so the young pigs will be wild and leave the house.