'Pasola' festival: Where Sumba island horsemen once fought to the death

  • Asia & Oceania
  • Friday, 11 Apr 2014

Two teams of tribesmen on horseback charge at each other hurling bamboo spears in pasola, a thousand-year-old ritual on the Indonesian island of Sumba aimed at producing a prosperous rice harvest.

Spectators, their mouths reddened from chewing betel nut, cheer them on from the sidelines of the show in Ratenggaro village, reaching for their machetes when a rider is struck at close range and the referee calls foul play.

The annual pasola – which comes from the word “spear” in a local tribal language – takes place over four weeks in February and March in western Sumba, an island in the centre of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

It's all action at pasola, an annual festival held on the island of Sumba, Indonesia. The festival used to be more violent, with the battles resulting in deaths disguised as a form of human sacrifice, but nowadays the spears the horsemen throw at each other have blunt tips.

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