Rediscovering Sumba (and a working slideshow)

I was first invited to take tea with a corpse in Sumba, in southeastern Indonesia, some 23 years ago. It was also in 1991 that I first attended a pasola, a wonderful jousting match which aims to secure a good harvest by spilling human blood. During that visit to Sumba, my friend Enny and I both photographed a boy wearing primary school uniform shorts and the head-dress of a jouster. He was too young to go riding out, but his “don’t mess with me” look advertised his intention to become a warrior to be feared.

In 2011, I found that young warrior again. He’s called Pelipus, he’s now the elected head of his village, and he still has the “don’t mess with me” look. Here’s a slideshow of people I found and re-found on my travels, the photos taken 20 years apart. Much has been said of Indonesia’s headlong rush for modernity but in some places, it seems, not so much has changed over the last two decades years.

I’m hoping to include slideshows like this one in the electronic version of Indonesia Etc. There’s a bit of work still to do on the aesthetics, I think, but you get the idea. Once again, your comments on whether this is worth doing, and your suggestions for improvements if so, are very welcome.

13 Comments on "Rediscovering Sumba (and a working slideshow)"

  1. I saw a picture of a lovely young boy and a horse, but the slide-show didn’t work for me, alas!

    • Elizabeth Pisani | March 25, 2014 at 8:07 pm |

      Does it not work even if you click or press forward arrow? What browser are you using, please?

  2. Tobi Saidel | March 26, 2014 at 4:42 am |

    Hi E….the photos and story are great. You have to search hard for the little white arrows that allow forward and backward movement…but they’re there! Thanks. T

  3. Lovely pictures but it takes a while for the show to launch and then no white arrows at all (am in Safari) but then I just clicked on the pictures and they moved on to the next. Worth persevering – maybe even more by way of captions? There are great stories attached to some of them.

  4. Dave Morgan | July 11, 2014 at 2:47 pm |

    Great photos. I am reading this chapter now.

  5. Maarten van Hasselt | August 17, 2014 at 3:28 am |

    Greatly enjoyed your recent book. Glad you did all the hard traveling so we can sit airconditioned and somehow look over your shoulder when visiting the areas we normally don’t get to. Many memorable quotes and the whole book shows your enjoyment and respect for different cultures. Very well done thank you for your good work. Nice to see the pictures after reading. Looking forward to future adventures.

  6. This is great! I am reading the book, just finished the chapter on Sumba and did some googling hoping to find some pictures, good job!

    • Elizabeth Pisani | May 28, 2015 at 6:55 am |

      Thanks Helen. If you have an iPad or a tablet, you might enjoy the version with the embedded videos, slideshows, audio etc. In most places, it’s cheaper than the hard copy, too! More info at

  7. elizabeth audretch | June 30, 2015 at 6:11 pm |

    I could not put the book down..I was in Bali for a couple of months,,, long before the bombings.I found the hospitality amazing…you truly are treated as a GUEST

  8. Laura Kraft | June 13, 2016 at 11:59 pm |

    When I first started reading and came across the part about Pelipus and the photograph, I immediately flipped through the center of the book looking for that section in the middle where travel books and biographies keep about 10 pages of pictures. Is there any reason why you didn’t include that in the hard copy of the book? Maybe I am old fashioned, but I was very disappointed (until I found this page).

    • Elizabeth Pisani | June 14, 2016 at 12:10 am |

      Hi Laura,
      I’m so sorry you were disappointed. Me too. I’m afraid publishers these days do not like to spend money, and I made things worse by saying that I would like photos to appear where they were relevant, not in a chunk in the middle of the book. To make up for this (without any help or support from my publishers) I did spend a year making a multi-media version of the book which you can read on an iPad. The design is totally analogue, but behind the lovely hand-drawn icons are videos, slide-shows, photos, original copies of letters from generals and rebels, and even recordings of Sumba priests chanting in the moonlight. You can find it here:

  9. I just finished your book. I love every page of it. I am bi-cultural and bi-lingual, having lived half my life in Indonesia and half of it in the States. I lived in Indonesia during the Suharto era at which point it was difficult to obtain good literature on the country’s history and the political and cultural paths it has traversed. I have also only lved in the bubble that is Jakarta, so my viewpoints on other parts of Indonesia is greatly limited. I gained so much insight by reading your book. It’s one of the best non-fiction boks I’ve read on Indonesia sinceI read Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s “The Mute’s Soliloquy”. I’m buying the book for several family members and friends.

  10. Mostly You took the pictures around west Sumba, what about the East? Shift lifestyle has been there probably…due to such companies conquiered

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