Meeting the Mentawai

While there are quite a few primitive tribes that still exist all over the world, Indonesia has several ethinic groups still living close to the environment. One of them is the Mentawai. The tribe lives in the rainforest of Siberut, close to Sumatra island of Indonesia.

We were able to experience their lifestyle for the first time back in 2017. They asked us to join in the hunt for lizards and monkeys, fishing for shrimp in the river, taking a bath in the river, cooking on the fire “sagu” (a local traditional meal made from the sagu palm tree), and eating a protein-packed snack of fresh beetle larvae.

The tribe’s traditional living place is far from what we generally think of as civilization. Getting there was not an easy or quick trek.

Our trip started with a 6-hour speedboat ride from Padang – the main city of Western Sumatra. The boat took us to the main port of Siberut Island (the biggest island of the Mentawai chain). From there we took a small canoe-like boat which brought us through tropical showers to our destination deep in the rainforest. A final hour of trekking deeper into the rainforest was an easy price to pay for a visit to an authentic tribal homestead.

Finally, we arrived at the main house where a head of the tribe – a shaman living with his family – greeted us. We were surrounded by offers of food (boiled bananas and coconuts) and the curious but shy eye of the tribal children. It was a cheerful welcome after our long journey.

After the people, the first remarkable thing we noticed was a house without windows and doors. Every inch of the outside of the building was covered with skeletons of various animals. Inside were three rooms without any furniture. The older male members wore no clothing, only red colored coverings made from trees. Their bodies were covered with tattoos that echoed their lifestyle- designs of sun, water, nature and the balance of life. Their heads were covered in different accessories. The men of the tribe hunt while the women are busy taking care of the children and homes, cooking and sometimes fishing. The tribe does not speak the Indonesian language. The nearest school for the children is several kilometers away (they barely go). Despite the lack of formal education, they have a unique sense of nature. The children already know every bog and the best places for fishing.

The outer world is coming slowly to the Mentawai people through people like us. Every year fewer youngsters want to become a shaman and to preserve their unique lifestyle. The call of adventure is strong. However, even the members who refuse to stay in the jungle and choose to live in villages and cities instead, carry the traditions and faith in mother nature throughout their lives.

Visiting the Mentawai is a unique and unforgettable experience.

Want to join us on our next trip?

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