Magical Mentawai (1): Rorogot Village

“Are you a government official?”; “You are a researcher aren’t you?”; “I think you’re probably an NGO guy”; “You’re definitely some non-profit organization guy, am I right?”

Those were typical questions when I was in Siberut, my six other friends got it too. Probably it was hard to imagine there were some uptown folks from the capital who didn’t have any agenda other than just being curious of Mentawai culture and its indigenous tribes.

Morning had long passed when we finally approached Muara Siberut, the administrative center of South Siberut district. The wooden boat stopped at Maileppet harbor after sailing 12 hours from Muaro harbor, Padang. People were unloading goods from the boat to motorbikes or rickshaws, some just carried it on their shoulders, it was a busy morning. But Muara Siberut was just a transit place for the seven of us, we had to continue to Rorogot village, our final stop in Siberut island.

After collecting some provisions and having a late breakfast, we headed to the village with our contacts: Pak Mas, his assistant, and a cook, Rika, a native of Siberut. The trip to Rorogot took 1.5 hours by motorboat. Pak Mas tied the boat on the river side when we arrived, then walked for 5 minutes to an uma, a traditional mentawai house. It was a longhouse built on piles, under the house was a place for cattle, usually pigs. Here at Rorogot village, although it was one the outermost villages in Siberut, there was no electricity, no cellphone signals, no bathroom, no toilet, and no wi-fi (of course). We were back to stone age.

Sikerei (shaman) Amanggaresik, our host, welcomed us as we climbed the stairs to the uma. It’s suggested to give sikerei a welcoming gift like a pack of cigarettes, especially kretek. Most Mentawai people appreciate kretek rather than filtered cigarettes or “rokok putih”. I gave him two of my best kreteks, then his eyes were filled with joy and didn’t wait long to smoke them.

We placed our belongings on the designated spot inside the uma and had a small chit-chat with sikerei and his wife. As night began to creep up, he served sago as snack to fill our empty stomach while waiting for dinner to be served.

The animal skulls hanging inside the uma gave an eerie atmosphere, especially when the dim light of several candles highlighted those skulls. After having a dinner, we slept among the skulls and below the uma, the pigs made annoying sound. Sometimes their unpleasant smells crept out above, passed through the wooden floor. Nevertheless, we slept like babies. It was a silent night. So quiet.

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