Spiritual villages of Sumba

Sumba might still be a mysterious island with plenty of unexplained ancient traditions but there's one feature that does stand out amongst the landscape, and that's the unusual peaked buildings.

Sumba schoolhouse
The buildings are modelled on traditional Sumba buildings
Sumba schoolhouse

These stunning pieces of architecture are typical in Sumba and are called ‘rumah marapu’, meaning house for spirits/ ancestors. The unique design of the roof is even associated as a pathway for spirits to enter the building.

These distinctive roofs look like hats poking above the surrounding natural landscape and are used to represent a person of high status within a particular village - someone of noble class. The high roofs represent prestige, spiritual power and wealth and not only do they provide shelter for people but the spirits as well.

To see the culture of the Sumbanese is like looking into the past – there are many rituals that are still carried out today that was once performed by their ancestors thousands of years ago.

Sumba schoolhouse

The way in which these houses are built is closely related to the traditional Sumbanese religion that is still practiced by around a third of the population: the Marapu religion.

The Sumbanese religion is to maintain a peaceful relationship with the Marapu, the ancestral spirits by providing them with food and fortune and carrying out rituals. In exchange they expect increased fertility and a happy balance with nature. As the people of Sumba rely heavily on the natural resources for survival, keeping the ancestors happy is very important.

When exploring Sumba village for yourself you will be able to see an uma marapu.

The Sumba School, which has kindly been funded by The Wolfson Foundation, has been built using this unique design. It reflects how, just as in the remote villages of Indonesia, the school is the social and cultural hub of the community – a building that brings people together and can withstand the tropical weather such as typhoons and earthquakes.