The Sakkudei Of Siberut


Photo by Alex Lapuerta

On the small island of Siberut off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, live the Sakuddei. They are one of roughly 20 clans of Mentawaians that still struggle to retain their own culture along the river. Most of the c. 17,000 (1974) Mentawaian population have become integrated into the modern world.

The Sakuddei used to enjoy a leisurely and highly organised social life based on coconut farming and with no real leaders. This life-style has been eroded by the Indonesian government’s programme to ‘civilise’ them by resettling them in new villages with small houses, where education and health facilities can be provided. The plight of Sakuddei culture has been further intensified by the fact that their land lies inside the boundaries of a vast logging concession. This earns the government a great deal of money at the expense of the Sakaddei community.

The Sakuddei believe in a spirit world where everything has a soul. Numerous songs and dances are performed in rituals to appease and pay respects to the spirits in order that they will continue to give their protection.(Excerpts from some of these are heard here.) The government’s programme also sets out to destroy this belief and to force them to adopt one of Indonesia’s official religions—Christianity, Islam or Buddhism.

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