Pasola: Inside Indonesia's Festivals

Sumba, one of the poorest islands in Indonesia, is home to villagers that still make bloody sacrifices each to keep the spirits happy and bring a good harvest.

Photo © iStock/christophe_cerisier


Sumba, Indonesia


During February and March; the timing is determined by the arrival of a type of sea worm called nyale.


A riotous tournament between two teams of spear-wielding, ikat-clad horsemen, the Pasola has to be one of Asia’s most extravagant, and bloodiest, harvest festivals. Taking the form of a ritual battle, it represents not so much a quarrel between opposing forces as a need for human blood to be spilt to keep the spirits happy and bring a good harvest. Despite the blunt spears used by combatants, and the efforts of Indonesian authorities to supervise events, few holds are barred. Blood is spilt and sometimes deaths occur.

Before the Pasola can begin, priests in full ceremonial dress must first wade into the ocean to examine the nyale worms at dawn; they’re usually found on the eighth or ninth day after a full moon. From the numbers and appearance of the nyale, a prediction is made as to how good the year’s harvest will be. Fighting then begins on the beach and continues inland.

Level of Participation

1 – this is a blood sport - so sit back and let others do the hurting.


Pasola takes place in four areas: Kodi and Lamboya (February) and Wanokaka and Gaura (March). Call hotels in Waingapu or Waikabubak to find out the approximate dates before travelling to Sumba, or contact a travel agent in Bali, Flores or Timor.

Other Local Attractions

Sumba has one of Indonesia’s richest tribal traditions, from its wonderful ikat to timeless traditional villages only now opening up to tourism.

More Info: Tourism Indonesia

Want to know more about Indonesia? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. With around 17,000 islands to choose from, where are the must visits, and if you have your surfboard, best surf breaks? Hear the tale of a man chased by headhunters, and tips for traveling the world solo.

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