Based on census from Indonesia’s Statistic Agency in 2010 there are 1,340 ethnic groups and tribes in the country. These made Indonesia is well known for its rich culture, tradition and uniqueness.
Mentawai is one of the tribe in Indonesia and they are one of the oldest tribe in the world that is still exist. The ancestors of the Mentawai Tribe are known and believed by researchers to have inhabited the location of the Mentawai islands in western Sumatra of West Sumatra province since 500 BC. The Mentawai archipelago consists of many islands, but has 3 main islands that are inhabited, namely North Island, South Pagai Island, and Siberut Island.
The Mentawai people have their own religion and belief called Sabulungan. They believe that all objects have spirit and soul. When a spirit cannot be cared properly, it will wander and cause bad luck and illness. Therefore, the Mentawai Tribe has a strong belief in objects that they consider sacred. The Mentawai tribe has 3 types of traditional houses that are commonly used namely:
- Uma: This type of house is the largest type among the 3 traditional houses of the Mentawai tribe and is intended as a shared lodging, usually for 3 until 5 families. This Uma is also used as a building where heritage and heirlooms are stored. Besides that, Uma is also often used as a place for offering and storing hunted skulls. Another function of Uma is as a large hall where relatives meet and conduct traditional ceremonies. Each village in Mentawai District has its own Uma. The head of Uma is known as Rimata. This Uma is made from solid wood and shaped like a stilt home. Part of the pit is usually used to raise livestock.
- Lalep: This type of house is intended for married couples who have been considered valid marriage by custom. This lalep is usually located inside of Uma.
- Rusuk: this type of house is made specifically as a place for young people, widows and people who are driven out of the village.
Mentawai people consume roasted sago as their main food. In addition to sago, they also consume wild pigs, chickens, and also deer which they get through hunting around their village.
The Mentawai are known for their tattoo, which is considered as one of the oldest tattoo in the world. For Sikerei or Mentawai tribal shamans, tattoos are mandatory. For the Mentawai people, tattoos are an identity, not just as accessories or decorations on the body. Tattoos on the Mentawai Tribe illustrate the balance between forest dwellers and nature. Mentawai people use charcoal to made their tatoos. At the time of going tattooed, the tribal elders will pray for the charcoal and then given to those who will be tattooed. in Mentawai Tribe, tattooing is one of the traditional rituals that is highly sacred and becomes a thing that is held in high esteem within the Mentawai Tribe.
Unfortunately, the minimum infrastructure, transportation and heavy terrain makes it difficult for many people to reach the Mentawai Tribe. To access Mentawai from Jakarta, travelers can use flight to Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province. From Padang travelers would need to take a fast boat to Siberut Island in Mentawai archipelago.