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28 agustus 2009 04:48

The Marapu Belief: Divine Concept and the Sumbanese`s View on Ancestors

The Marapu Belief: Divine Concept and the Sumbanese`s View on Ancestors
The Sumbanese in an adat ceremony

By Lukman Solihin

Translation by Irfan Nugroho

A. Introduction

Marapu is a local system of belief that is embraced by those settling in West Sumba and East Sumba districts, East Nusa Tenggara Province, Indonesia. The indigenous Sumbanese‘s belief is still present nowadays, and lives side by side with other Indonesia‘s official religions that begin to immerse and unite with the Sumbanese people. One of the most dominant official religions here is Christianity. It was first brought to the Land of Sumba by a Dutch missionary name J.J. van Alphen in 1881 A.D. Such an interaction between the Marapu local belief and Christianity then results in unique divine concepts amongst the Sumbanese (Th. Van den End, 2001:262). 

The Island of Sumba was formerly called the “Small Sunda Peninsula,” a group of islands consisting of Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, and Timor. It turned to “Nusa Tenggara” upon initiatives of Prof. Muhammad Yamin referring to the geographic location of Sumba Island, in the south easternmost of Indonesia (Oe. H. Kapita, 1976:11). The island spans about 11,587.5 square kilometres land. It borders directly to Sumba Strait that separates Sumba and Flores islands in the north. It also borders to Sawu Sea, in the east, separating Sumba from Sawu, Rote, and Timor islands. South of the island, Sumba borders to the Indian Ocean (M. Junus Melalatoa, 1995: 789).

By the European wanderers, the Island of Sumba is called either Chendan Island or Sandelwood Island (or Sandelhout Eiland in the Dutch language). According to Kapita (1976:12), Sumba Island became popular in the Europe after an expedition of Fernando de Magelhaens in 1519 to 1521 A.D. Most of the European wanderers acknowledged “Chendan Island” from the map drawn by Pigafetta – Magelhaens‘s partner during the wandering to Sumba. Indeed, Pigafetta wrote “chendan” as he noticed that the island produced the high number of cendana wood (sandalwood), even though the number continue to decrease because of exploitation conducted by the European colonials. The British wanderers called “Sandalwood Island” as they loved having the sandel horse, another name for the Sumba horse.

Melalatoa (1995:789) calls the island of Sumba with “Tana Humba” or “Tau Humba” (the people of Sumba), of which he believed that it means the Land of Sumba. Kapita (1976:12) stands against the above opinion. Kapita states that the word “humba” does not mean “sumba” but “indigenous,” referring to the use of “uma humba” for “the indigenous adat house of Sumba” and “uma jawa” that means “unoriginal adat house of Sumba.” The interpretation of “sumba” as indigenous is based on its antonym, “jawa” that means unoriginal. Therefore, “Tana Humba” is properly translated into “the indigenous land,” while “Tau Humba” for “indigenous people.”

Frederiek Djara Wellem (2001:15-16) suggested another insight on the word “humba.” He sees the word “humba” was first used by Umbu Walu Mandoku – based on a folk story presenting amongst the Sumbanese. The Sumbanese believe that Umbu Walu Mandoku was their ancestor. He wandered from Malacca, sailing across Singapore, Riau, Java, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Rote, Sawu, and arrived at Tanjung Sasar (Sumba). He was happy to arrive at the island, and therefore named the island with the name of his wife. A bit different notes about the route of Umbu Walu Mandoku came out from Sri Murni (2007:3) and Kapita (1976:13-14). Those two historians states that Umbu Walu Mandoku passed by the route from Malacca, Tana Bara (Singapore), Hapa RiuNdua Riu (Riau), Hapa JawaNdua Jawa (Java Island), Ruhuku – Mbali (Bali), Ndima (Bima), Ndau (Dao), Haba (Seba/Sawu), Rai Njua (Raejua), and ported at Tana Humba (the indigenous land Sumba Island).

Umbu Walu Mandoku then established a new social system, where he made two clans that are locally known as kabihu and kabisu. Referring to the lineage of his society members, Umbu Walu Mandoku placed those clans on their own settlements called paraingu. Kapita (1976:14) noted that paraingu was used to be at the highland of Sumba. It is aimed at preventing themselves from fierce attack from enemies. Then, at their own settlements, those clans owned privilege to manage and maintain the villages without any interference from Umbu Walu Mandoku anymore. Consequently, Sri Murni (2007:3) said, the Sumbanese tend to have various cultural civilizations, such as on marriage ceremony, burial ceremony, and local practice of belief called Marapu.

Sumbanese‘s settlements called paraingu

Marapu is a local belief of the Sumbanese who highly respect their ancestor. From such an over respect to the ancestors, the Sumbanese then tend to over glorify their ancestors, and therefore regard their ancestor as the Omni-creator and the highest deity (Kapita, 1976:14; Wellem, 2004:41-42; and Murni, 2007:5).

The word “marapu” alone can be meant “religion/belief” and “ancestor.” This is a logic consequence from the origin of Marapu belief, in which the Sumbanese over glorify their ancestors. Consequently, this will be hard to distinguish clearly the use of “marapu” as a belief, and “marapu” as ancestor. To cope with this, it should be noted that the “marapu” as ancestor does only refer to one element within the concept and practice of Marapu belief. In this article, marapu as ancestor occupies major places in term of describing the local belief of Sumbanese called Marapu. The letter “M” in Marapu as a belief was written in capital, while marapu as ancestor in small “m.”

This article is aimed at investigating (1) the divine concept within the Marapu belief and (2) its manifestation in the forms of the Sumbanese‘s settlements, sacrifice ceremony, and funeral ceremony. The theoretical framework employed here is Clifford Geertz‘s view on religion as a system of symbol. To him, religion is 1) a system of symbols which acts to 2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by 3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and 4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that 5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic” (Geertz 1992:5).

Geertz views religion as a “model of reality” and “model for reality” (Geertz,1992:5). As a model “of” reality, religion represents the structure of reality, in which the life that most people imagines and wants to be. Religious teachings and its divine concept, moreover, should be a guidance/cognitive map for the people to live. And at this point, religion is viewed as a model “for” reality.

Marapu belief is the Sumbanese representation of imagined harmonious relations between human and ancestral spirits. Through Marapu belief, the Sumbanese run their lives based on the guidance and the Marapu system of belief. The relations between “model of reality” and “model for reality” then result in the Sumabanese‘s material cultures, which basically consist of three elements – as defined by Koentjaraningrat. The three elements of material cultures are ideas, behaviors, and artifacts (Koentjaraningrat, 1994:11).   

It is hopefully that this article could provide a description about the divine concept and the manifestation of Marapu in the daily lives of the Sumbanese.

B. Divine Concept in the Marapu Belief

Etymologically, the word “marapu” is constructed from two words combined altogether thus results in various meanings. L. Ovlee (in Wellem, 2004: 41) argues that the word “marapu” consists of “ma,” which constitutes a nominalizing particle like “who” or “which,” and “rappu” that means respected, glorified, and worshipped. Hence, the word “marapu” means “the one who is respected/glorified/worshipped.” A. A. Yewangoe (1980:52) suggested different opinion about the etymology of marapu. He states that “marapu” can be translated to either “something hidden” or “something referring to ancestor.” The last insight seems to be more familiar with the Sumbanese, who indeed, usually call their ancestor “marapu.” The combination of the above two opinions thus results in the manifestation of the Sumbanese‘s highly respect to their ancestor.

Marapu belief is categorized into an archaic belief. Marapu is natured to glorify ancestral spirit, to believe in the existence of the dead spirit, and to embrace fetishism – a belief in the magical power of inanimate object. Yewangoe (1980:52) argues that Marapu is categorized properly into the nature belief. The power and authority of nature is highly respected in the Marapu belief. Likewise, the existence of surrounding nature plays significant roles in the practices of Marapu belief.

Employing Mariasusai Dhavamony‘s view on types of primitive belief, Marapu is categorized a belief that is established from the principle of animism. It tends to glorifies ancestral spirit. Animism is a ‘belief in supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe‘ (Oxford Concise Dictionary 11th Edition). Such a system of belief comes out from efforts to explain the human‘s vision (when they are in trance), and to explicate the human‘s life circle, starting from birth to death. The Marapu devotees believe that if one dies, his/her spirit takes off from his/her body. Then, it leads to understanding that spirit is separable element from body, and therefore the Marapu devotees glorify their ancestor because they do believe that the dead spirit is able to guard and destroy the human life (Dhavamony, 1995:66-67, and 79-80).

After the death, one‘s deceased spirit is considered living in the daily life of the Sumbanese. The dead spirit is invisible, and its existence can only be felt when there is calamity in the Sumba society. The Marapu devotees alone believe that the onset of any calamity is of their ignorance to worship and glorify their ancestor.

Categorized primitive belief does not mean that there is no the highest deity in the Marapu‘s divine concept. Indeed, the practice of glorifying the ancestor‘s spirit and inanimate objects considered to have supernatural power is the media to worship the highest deity.

B.1. The Highest Deity Concept in the Marapu

The highest deity concept in the Marapu belief is locally called Pande Peku TamuPande Yura Ngara (He the unknown name). Though the local inhabitants call it “he the unknown name,” only few local people call it Anatala. Referring to Kapita‘s research (2004:42), the name “anatala‘ is apparently derived from the Islamic teachings, in which the Muslims call their God Allah Ta‘ala. Those who had embraced Islam then brought the “Allah Ta‘ala” to the islands of Ende and Flores.

The few number of people calling their highest deity Anatala, is the logic consequence of their self-consideration that over glory the Anatala. Anatala is considered very sacred thus might only be recited by certain people, such as rato (king/ruler) at certain rites like Pamangu Ndewa (God‘s Supper) that is held annually. For such an assumption, the local inhabitants call the Anatala with other nicknames like Malulu TauMaji Tau (He who creates the human), Ina Mbulu – Ama Ndaba (He is the mother and father of everything), and Ina Nuku – Ama Hara (Source of all rules) (Wellem, 2004:42-43).

The Anatala is believed to reside in the heaven, along with the Sumbanese‘s ancestors or marapu. Hence, there is another name for the Anatala, Hupu Ima – Hupu Ana (mother and father of everything that reside in the sky). Indeed, the local cosmology of Sumbanese believes that the universe consists of three layers, that of sky, earth, and under-earth (Wellem, 2004:44; Kapita, 1976:229).

The sky layer, in the divine concept of Sumbanese, is constructed from eight sub-layers. If described, those eight sub-layers form a cone where its peak (Awangu Walu Ndani) is only settled by Hupu Ina – Hupu Ana and the marapu. Uniquely, the peak then was felt to tight and dark thus Hu Ima – Hupu Ana went down one lower sub-layer. He moved down repeatedly until he finally resided in the third-lowest sub-layer. At the second-lowest sub-layer, the marapu Tara Hau – Lulu Weu moulded gold to form the moon and sun. Therefore, the space where the sun and the moon orbit was considered the third-lowest sub-layer by the Sumbanese devoted to the marapu (Kapita, 1976:229-231).

No longer after creating the sky with the sun and the moon on it, the marapu flew down to the second-lowest sub-layer then the lowest sub-layer. At the lowest sub-layer, the marapu found a wide sphere (the earth) where it is covered with water. The marapu begged to Hupu Ima – Hupu Ana so that the marapu was allowed to settle on earth. The marapu was allowed. He began spreading soil and stones to the earth thus resulted in islands and mountains. The marapu walked down to the earth, settling in the new “home.” He took Panongu Bahi – Panongu Atu (metal ladder and wooden terrace) to walk and finally he lives in a land called Tana Bara (now called Malacca) (Kapita, 1976:231-232). The marapu then was regarded as the ancestor of Sumbanese. They were considered to originate from Malacca.

Layers in the local cosmology of Sumbanese
Source: Oe. H. Kapita (1976), Sumba di Dalam Jangkauan Jaman, page 229

Further Wellem (2004;45) concluded that formerly, there was no gap between the highest deity and human (marapu). As marapu decided to settle on earth, the gap between the highest deity and human became more visible. This does also mean that there is a clear distinction between God (the highest deity) and the human (marapu). Consequently, the communication between the present human and God can only be established by being mediated by the marapu. In the other words, human begs from God through marapu, and through Marapu belief, God gives the answer of the human‘s will.

B.2. Marapu Concept

The Sumbanese view their marapu to possess distinctive powers than human in normal. At this point, there are dualism within the marapu; that of marapu as deity and marapu as human. The marapu is considered Hupu Ima – Hupu Ana‘s servants, and believed to have distinguishing powers, compared to human in normal. On the other hand, the marapu is also considered “human” in normal because the marapu had decided to reside on earth.

Such a dualistic divine concept does also persist in the Bugis society. A religious cleric, in the Bugis society, is viewed to inherit some natures of deity thus is considered to have magical powers. However, the Bugis people also regard a religious cleric as human in normal because he/she could fall in sick and die. No matter what, a religious cleric is always considered to have ability to bless the human as well as to connect the human and God (Sharyn Graham, 2002).

The marapu is basically of the one. There is only one marapu considered the highest marapu or locally called the marapu rato. The marapu rato is the marapu who have once lived along with the highest deity of Hupu Ima – Hupu Ana in the sky. The marapu rato resided on earth and gave birth to some other ordinary marapus. The ordinary marapus were grouped into two, marapu bokulu (big marapu) and marapu pakahopi (ordinary marapu). In the Sumba society, each clan, or locally known kabihu, has its own marapu. They chose their marapu based on the folk stories telling about the founders of their villages (Wellem, 2004:45-46).

The Sumbanese then created some properties considered sacred like spears, golden things, gongs, and swords as the way to show their respect to marapu. Consequently, only certain people might touch them. Only those who hold the authority allowed using and holding those properties, indeed. The Sumbanese keep those things usually under their roofs, as they do believe that those things bring safety to them (Kapita, 1976:15; Melalatoa, 1995:794; and Wellem, 2004:46).

The existence of marapu (Hupu Ima – Hupu Ana) in the Marapu belief replaces the existence of God in other religions. The marapu is believed to reside in a high place thus makes his/her position superior to human. Marapu is also considered the medium that connects human and God, hence the Sumbanese worship to marapu. Consequently, marapu is likewise considered to replace God‘s duties. If worshiped well, the marapu will bestow His favour, safety, and prosperity. If neglected, He gets angry thus bring calamity over the Sumba society.

B.3. Belief in the Spirit of the Dead

The Sumbanese, as explained above, do believe in the existence of marapu, or the ancestral spirit. Likewise, the Sumbanese also believe in the spirit of the dead settling in certain locations. Dhavamony (1995:67) states that the belief in the spirit of the dead is the Sumbanese‘s need in evil and calamity preventions as well as the source of prosperity.

As the Sumbanese believe in ancestral spirit, marapu, their belief in the spirit of the dead is also natured ambivalent and dualistic. The spirit of the dead is sometimes considered wise – for its ability to present safety and prosperity – but in very often time, the spirit of the dead is considered the onset of any calamity. For that reason, the Sumbanese thought that it is necessary to offer worship to the spirit of the dead.

The concept of belief in the spirit of the dead, amongst the Sumbanese, bears kinds of the spirits of the dead that need to be worshipped. There are spirit settling in the land, thus is called the maramba tana (such God of earth). He is capable of causing fertility and giving overwhelming harvest. In case the Sumbanese forgot to worship the maramba tana, calamity is inexorable. Another kind, Yora Pangga, is the “God of travelling,” as it is natured to accompany human who is under travelling for hunting, trading, or angling (Wellem, 2004:24).

The Sumbanese also acknowledge some evil spirits of the dead. For instance, there is the ruanggi spirit, a spirit of the dead of an enchanter. The Sumbanese believe that the ruanggi is the onset of all diseases, especially diseases caused by the black magic. The nature of the ruanggi spirit is “rentable.” If one takes revenge to someone else, the ruanggi‘s service often takes into usage. No matter what, the punishment towards those who use the ruanggi is that of alienation, or even sentence to death. Other kinds of evil spirit of the dead are “evil spirit,” which leads the Sumbanese to crime, “belly spirit,” driving the Sumbanese to greed, and “cheating spirit,” leading to conduct cheating behaviour (Wellem, 2004:46-48).

D. Manifestation of Marapu Belief

The Marapu belief has existed amongst the Sumbanese since very long time ago. In this article, the Marapu belief will be explicated based on its materializations, based on the theoretical framework of “Religion as model for reality.” During that length of time, the Marapu belief has resulted in some practices for the consequence of living side by side with the Sumbanese‘s adat and custom. At least there are three manifestation of the Marapu belief in the Sumba society: (1) settlement pattern, or locally called paraingu, and the Sumbanese architecture; (2) the worshiping place; and (3) sacrifice and burial ceremonies.

C.1. Settlement Pattern and Sumbanese Traditional Architecture

The Sumbanese build their settlements mostly in the highlands of Sumba Island. Such a location choice is a logic consequence of the Sumbanese‘s belief that marapu reside in the high places. They build home fenced with stones and thistles. This is aimed at preventing any threat from enemies.

On each parangu (settlement), there is worshipping house, katoda (worship monument), and uma bokulu (public hall for mass prayer). The katoda is customarily built near to the entrance gate, functioned as the guardian of the settlement. The Sumbanese usually build their homes in rows, and graveyard in the middle of the rows (Kapita, 1976:351-353).

Beyond physical influence, the Marapu belief is also manifested into the Sumbanese traditional architecture. Principally, there are classes in the Sumba society; they are marimba (noblemen), kabihu (ordinary people), and ata (slaves) (Melalatoa, 1995:793). As the time goes by, such a cast system has gradually shifted, even though the first and second classes do still exist (Atmosudiro, 1982:58). The noblemen class occupies the highest level in the Sumba society; thus, they play important roles in economic, politic, social, and cultural sectors. The king of a settlement is usually from the noblemen class. The noblemen‘s houses are then of course different from the ordinary people‘s. Murni (2007:6) noted that the noblemen‘s houses are usually characterized to have roofs resembling minarets, or locally called uma mbatangu; while the ordinary people‘s houses tend to imply pyramidal roofs, locally called uma kamadungu.

The uma mbatangu house is constructed to imply minaret-like roof because the Sumbanese believe that the marapu also reside in house loft. Consequently, at certain points of the roof, the sacred properties are kept within. Compared to the uma mbatangu, uma kamadungu implies almost the same patterns. There is the first layer (the loft), the second layer (the living room), and the lowest layer (space underneath a stage house that are usually functioned the livestock‘s cage) (Murni, 2007:6; Melalatoa, 1995:794).

Traditional house of typically Sumba Island

Generally, referring to Kapita (1976:344-345), such an architecture of Sumbanese traditional house bear some functions. They are:

  1. Uma dana, the first layer, or loft, is the place to keep the sacred properties.
  2. Bei uma, living room.
  3. Kali kambung, space underneath the house functioned to cage livestock.

C.2. Worship Places

The Sumbanese‘ local system of belief in marapu is basically categorized animism. Worship places, worship monuments, and other sacred properties were created as such by the Marapu devotees with aim of glorifying the ancestral spirits, the marapu itself. Evans Pritchard (1984:26) views this as symptom of fetishism. The existence of those sacred properties is actually aimed at realizing the Marapu devotees that they are not alone. They are actually under lifetime scrutiny from the marapu.

The Sumbanese acknowledge two systems of worship; it can be either indoor or outdoor. The indoor one then are divided into two categories, that of uma ndapataungu (at an unoccupied house) and uma bokulu (public house). Worship held at uma ndapataungu is only addressed to the marapu rato (the marapu of a settlement). This is only held at certain times, such as the harvest time. The uma ndapataungu is customarily built smaller than normal house, and located alienated from the crowd. Its roof is made of plaited palm leaves. This place might only be settled by the marapu rato alone, hence is also called the uma ratu, which means the house of queen marapu.” Differ from worship at “unoccupied house,” worship held at “public house” is addressed to ordinary marapu. This is customarily held at the house of a settlement‘s ancestor (marapu) (Wellem, 2004:48-49).

The Sumbanese outdoor worship is held in certain locations. They are chosen based on the Sumbanese assumption about the settlements of their marapu (ancestral spirit). Hence, there is worship monument built at those places. The monument is usually made of two sticks – representing male and female – stuck to the earth with a plain stone put amidst those two sticks. The Sumbanese then conduct the worship at the location. The most frequent will they offer is asking safety over all people at a village.

Yewangoe (1980:57-58) and Wellem (2004:51-53) had once observed the types of katoda, or the worship monument. There are kinds of katoda as mentioned below:

  1. Katoda paraingu (village worship monument). This is a kind of katoda that is customarily built in front of the public house. Kind of worship held at this monument is usually addressed to the safety of all the village‘s settlers.
  2. Katoda kawindu (yard worship monument). This one is usually built in the yard of the local inhabitants‘ houses. Worship held at this monument is mostly about asking for healing and blessing for abundant harvest.
  3. Katoda pindu (door worship monument). Mostly built at the entrance gate of a settlement, this monument is the location for those worshiping for preventing from disease and enemies.
  4. Katoda padangu (savannah worship monument). The Marapu devotees usually erect the monument at savannah. Any worship held here is mostly addressed to better fertility and prevention from diseases that may come to their livestock.
  5. Katoda woka, latangu (land worship monument). Mostly found in the Sumbanese‘ farming lands, aimed at asking for fertility and abundant harvest.
  6. Katoda parungu mihi (coastal worship monument). Usually erected at the coastal areas, this monument is functioned as the place to invoke abundant seafood and be disassociated from the catastrophe when sailing.
  7. Katado mananga (estuary worship monument). The monument is built at an estuary with hope that the water remains abundant thus meets the surrounding people‘s needs.
  8. Katoda adungunu (war worship monument). Placed in front of the public house with hope that the victory will come to them, in case a war blows up. As the victory has been successfully grabbed, the head of the enemy‘s war commander is hang off while the others dancing the victorious dance.
  9. Katoda padira tana (border worship monument). Erected at village borders, the monument is a medium to beg for prevention from evil spirit haunting the villagers‘ farming lands.

Outdoor worship might also be conducted at a forest, beneath a banyan tree. In the local language, this kind of outdoor worship is called pahomban. This is addressed to the marapu ratu, ordinary marapu, and the spirit of the dead. The worship begins with ritual offerings, or called Pamangu Ndewa (Deity Supper) (Wellem, 2004:53).

C.3. Sacrifice and Burial Ceremonies

Sacrifice Ceremony

For its status as a belief system that relies on the belief in ancestral spirit, the Marapu belief is characterized with the sacrifice and burial ceremonies. According to the note of Yewangoe (1980), the sacrifice ceremony of the Sumbanese is conducted based on two aims; to establish harmonious relations with the ancestors, and to fix broken relations with ancestral spirits. There is a need to balance the human world and the evil world. Consequently, there is a need to establish communication between the human and the ancestral spirit, and therefore sacrifice ceremony of the Sumbanese plays the first role. Sacrifice ceremony to fix the broken relations between the human and the ancestors is mainly because of human‘s ignorance to the local adat and custom.

Kinds of animal that are allowed in the Marapu sacrifice ceremony are roosters, pigs, buffaloes, and horses. While the word sacrifice linguistically refers to animal, but the Marapu devotees also put betel vines as another kind of sacrifice. Indeed, betel vine is the symbol of friendship between the Sumbanese and their ancestors. The Marapu devotees do not only use betel vines as the sacrifice but they also take their harvest into usage. They are not allowed to consume their harvests before being blessed by the marapu through a sacrifice ceremony. The sacrifice ceremony alone is customarily headed by a ratu (religious leader), who is considered to have capability of communicating with the ancestral spirits (Yewangoe, 1980:59-61).

A pig is being sacrificed

Broadening from the mere religious motifs, the sacrifice ceremony of Marapu also bears socio-economic functions. Atmosudiro (1982:58) noted that there are three socio-economic functions from the Marapu sacrifice ceremony; stocking the needs of the local inhabitants, boosting up the trade and sell activities amongst the people, and providing the needs for meat in any cultural event. With such a thought on the Marapu sacrifice slaughtering, the local inhabitants tend to be very wise when they are going to conduct the sacrifice ceremony. It is because there is a concept called teba mayela, in which any sacrifice is considered useless if it is not intended to meet the three functions above (Yewangoe, 1980:59).

Burial Ceremony

The Sumbanese view the death as the beginning of the afterlife. They soon will enter the new life after death and reside side by side with their marapu, when they pass away. That is why; Atmosudiro (1982:58) noted that there is a need to conduct a burial ceremony as the ways of praying and respecting the deceased person. As the route passed by their ancestor – from the sky, went down to Malacca and sailed across the sea due arrived on Sumba Island – the Sumbanese believe that if one dies, his/her spirit will pass by the same route to reach the sky, and live side by side with other marapu. Consequently, a deceased person must be stocked with enough provision as well as provision for someone who is going to have a travelling. The higher the deceased person‘s social level, the more provision needs to be provided by the left family. Moreover, if the one was from the low social level, the burial might only be held in small-scale (Melalatoa, 1995:794).

There is something unique in the burial ceremony amongst the Marapu devotees, especially amongst the noblemen. If a nobleman passes away, he/she will not be buried on the same day. There will be the waiting time. The burial might be conducted after all the deceased person‘s relatives, especially those who live at afar, have gathered. During the waiting time, likewise, there will be sacrifice ceremony. The deceased person‘s family sacrifice some roosters, pigs, or buffaloes that are intended to stock the deceased person with sufficient provision in the way “back home,” back to the sky along with the other marapus. When all the deceased person‘s relatives have gathered, the deceased body is then buried at uma hutar (interment) (Atmosudiro, 1982:58; Melalatoa, 1995:794).

Melalatoa had once undertaken a field research on the burial ceremony in the Sumba society in 1978. He witnessed by himself that the cost for holding a burial ceremony was too much expensive. He witnessed about 20,000 people attended the ceremony, with the sacrifice ceremony engaging 650 animals, such as cows, buffaloes, and horses. The deceased body was covered with 111 Sumba weavings, which is famous to be very expensive. Even more, the deceased body was adorned with bullions (Melalatoa, 1995:794).

When the above requirements have been completed, the deceased body then is put inside a hole at the uma hutar. Then, a piece of plain stone is put above and a stone table above the plain stone. The stone table alone, amongst the Sumbanese, is called kubur meja (cemetery table). Such a stone coffin tradition is assumed to have persisted in the Sumba society since the Megalithic age (atmosudiro, 1982:61).

Stone coffin of Sumbanese

Further, Atmosudiro (1982:61) explains more detail about the types of Sumbanese stone coffin. He mentioned there are four types of Sumbanse stone coffin that he had observed:

  1. Reti berkaki (stone coffin with legs). Basically, this is a stone coffin made of a plain stone underpinned with four other stones
  2. Reti berdinding (stone coffin with wall). This is just like the Reti berkaki. What makes it different from the Reti Berkaki is that the legs are functioned as frame to install other plain stones, thus it looks like a cubic
  3. Reti bertingkat (multilevel stone coffin), and
  4. Reti tanpa kaki (stone coffin without legs).

One social status can be observed from his/her stone coffin. The bigger and more intricate a stone coffin means the one buried beneath possessed higher social status. Indeed, some of the noblemen‘s stone coffins are even beautifully carved with intricate motifs.

Stone statue to commemorate the ancestor

D. Conclusion

From the above explanation, it can be concluded that the Marapu is a local system of belief wherein the follower devoted to their ancestors (marapus). Marapu as ancestor is not considered as God, even though the marapu is over-glorified and worshiped by the Marapu devotees. God is the highest entity for His occupation that is located in a place that is very high where human cannot reach it directly. Consequently, there must be medium that may help connecting the human and God, and at this point, the marapu plays its role.

While still the Marapu devotees glorify the marapu, they do also worship to the spirit of the dead. Once they neglect to worship to neither marapu nor the spirit of the dead, there will be calamity over the village. Consequently, the Marapu devotees rely themselves very much on the marapu and the spirit of the dead. They tend to relate all the things happening on them as the marapu‘s authority over the invisible world (Yewangoe, 1980:56-57).

The Marapu belief then becomes a ‘model for reality‘ in the Sumba society. This is seen on the settlement pattern in the Sumba society, where each settlement must have at least one uma bokulu (public house), katoda (worshiping monument), and reti (stone coffin). The Marapu belief‘s influence can also be found on the architecture of traditional Sumba house.

Other manifestations of Marapu belief are on the sacrifice and burial ceremonies. The Marapu devotees conduct sacrifice either to establish harmonious relations with the marapu or to fix the broken relations with the marapu. The over-treatment towards a deceased person amongst the Marapu devotees is another manifestation of the Sumbanese‘s subservience to the marapu and the spirit of the dead. The deceased person‘s spirit is believed to be “back home,” back to the sky and passes by the route where their ancestors arrived from the sky to Malacca and finally to the island of Sumba.


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