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Mentawai > Siberut

 

Siberut

Siberut Island is the largest island of the Mentawai chain of islands off the west coast of Sumatra. Muarasiberut is the port town on Siberut and the only town of significance on the island. The main reason for going to Siberut is for jungle trekking and meeting with the Mentawais people.

You will need to catch a ferry from Padang across to the Pulau Siberut, a 15 hour trip. Depending on weather conditions, sometimes of the year the ferry does not run.

Two thirds of the island is covered in rainforest which offers difficult but rewarding trekking. The island is also surrounded by spectacular coral reefs.

You will need to bring Indonesian Rupiah with you as there are no banks or ATM facilities on the island.

Siberut is home to the 30,000 Mentawais people who still live throughout the chain of islands. The Mentawais people been living in the forests of the islands in similar style for thousands of years, using stone tools and hunting for their food in the forest.

It is believed that the Mentawais people migrated down to these islands from Nias but remained isolated for centuries until discovered by the Dutch in around 1621. In the late 19th century the Dutch permitted Protestant missionaries to visit the island to try to convert them to Christianity.  Sir Stamford Raffles described the Mentawais as the most content people in the world, far less spoiled than his own society.

The Mentawais men generally wear loin clothes and the women need to be covered from their waist down covering their legs with sarongs but wearing nothing to cover their breasts. The men decorate their bodies and faces with tattoos.

The Mentawais hunt for monkeys as a food source and then use the skulls of the monkeys to decorate the outside of their houses. Once the skulls are placed on the houses it is forbidden to touch them. Touching these skulls brings disrespect and misfortune to the families that live within that house.

They have a strong culture of song and dance, their particular favorite is the monkey dance which impersonates the actions of the forest monkeys.

Although many of the Mentawais have converted to Christianity or Islam many still practice the original religion which was a form of animism which worships nature spirits as well as believing in ghosts and a soul. The main nature spirits that are worshipped are the sky, sea, jungle, earth and river spirits. Of the river spirits there are 2, the Ina Oinan (mother of rivers) which is benevolent and Kameinan (father's sister) which is evil.

Siberut National Park

Siberut National Park takes up most of the western part of Siberut Island. Home to various types of monkeys and gibbon species as well as some small tribes of Mentawai people.


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