The rituals are generally performed to ask the Marapu's permission, or blessing, for all manner of ceremonies that are needed to maintain harmony in ones everyday life.
There are a large number of rituals in the Marapu religion. The rituals are generally performed to ask the Marapu's permission, or blessing, for all manner of ceremonies that are needed to maintain harmony in ones everyday life. The Sumbanese believe that bitterness and heat, which cause people to fall ill and prevent animals and plants from thriving, are caused by human transgressions, such as incest and violent behavior, or the killing of sacred animals. As a balance, a series of Podu rituals take place throughout the year to cleanse and revitalize the land.
Some of the rituals are very violent. In one, groups of men and young boys of two opposing parties fight each other in boxing matches. Specific rules are followed that stipulate the type of fighting and the kind of fighting equipment allowed, usually stones tightly wrapped with cloth or head scarves that are wrapped into cone like spears on the fist. The boxers take these fights seriously and go all out to draw blood from their opponents.
The ritual hunting of wild pig is also part of the Podu festival. The hunt refers to the myth of the origin of the Sumbanese, in which the wild pig represents evil. Killing wild boar and the ritual consumption of its meat are very important for social purification at the beginning of the Sumbanese New Year. Pig hunts usually take place at night during the full moons and often the hunters are dressed only in white or black loincloths. Some travel on horseback and others on foot with their dogs. Long spears are used for the kills.
The most spectacular of all rituals is the Pasola. The Pasola is ritual warfare, a contest during which men riding full speed on horseback throw wooden spears at one another. The participants in the Pasola prepare themselves for the battle by making offerings to placate the angry spirits; they also dress in their best Ikat cloths and decorate their horses with colorful ribbons and feathers. In the Pasola men from mountainous regions often pit themselves against men from communities located near the sea. For the foreign observer the Pasola appears to be real warfare, however there are rules of engagement and the violence is usually controlled, to a point. Violence occurs among the riders only and does not involve the onlookers, who are there to urge their clan representatives on. The fighting is intense but supervised by the Ratu who occasionally jump in to cool things down; they even verify the weight of the wooden spears and call the start and the end of the contest. Since the late 1980’s the government has banned the use of real spears and now the metal tips must be removed before entering the battle. The police, and sometimes the army as well, have taken on some of the traditional supervisory responsibilities from the Ratu. They often stop the games when they feel it could be close to getting out of their control. This has led to many complaints from the participants who feel frustrated that not enough blood has been let during the ceremonial battle. In Sumba it is blood on the ground that is all-important, blood equates to fertility. One of the primary purposes of the Pasola is to ask the sprits for a bountiful harvest in the coming months; the belief is that the more blood spilled during the Pasola the better the harvest will be.
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