Ritual bloodshed and a forgotten hat
By Tom Mustill: Producer
Pasola is the climax as teams of men from two villages ride into ritual battle hurling wooden spears at each other in a dazzling and bloody melee
The Rituals team had heard of a ceremony called Pasola which takes place every year on the Indonesian island of Sumba. Here Christian and Muslim beliefs exist alongside the ancient Marapu spirit worship.
Each year, to guarantee a good harvest, they honour the ancestors with rituals of sacrifice and bloodshed. Pasola is the climax as teams of men from two villages ride into ritual battle hurling wooden spears at each other in a dazzling and bloody melee.
Our first task is to work out when it will all happen. Pasola is celebrated after the full moon in March or April, but only if a particular species of sea-worm, comes together to spawn in the shallows. Predicting the date of Pasola lies with the local shamans, the Ratos.
On arrival in Sumba we meet DengeWatu. This blood-sacrificing chief shaman has inherited his role after his father was killed during the Japanese occupation in World War Two. Once a year he sacrifices a buffalo and communes with his father's spirit. In person DengeWatu is a gentle and avuncular asthmatic with a penchant for Love Hearts sweets. He cares a great deal for his people and for making us feel welcome and looked after.
I'm informed that my action is almost like a curse
The final date for the Pasola is set with a series of midnight chants to the ancestors and calling in the sea worms from his sacred rock high above the plain. Afterwards in his home, we film the assembled Ratos’ meal, then leave them chatting.
Unfortunately I am informed the next day that I left my hat behind. This is not good. Hats are important items and leaving anything unexpectedly in someone else’s house is bad. Especially if it is the house of the head Rato during the holy time before Pasola. I'm informed that my action is almost like a curse and I had potentially not only blocked my path into the future but DengeWatu’s too. I feel awful, and slightly baffled and I'm told I have to take action to clear this obstacle from both of our lives.
So it is that I find myself climbing the hill to DengeWatus house the following night with an ‘unmarried’ chicken. In grave silence the chicken is swiftly (and very humanely) killed and the blood examined. All faces remain grim. I am not a religious person, but I'm still concerned about how I will explain that I am cursed to my girlfriend. In the flickering light of DengeWatu’s bamboo porch I find myself more and more alarmed as they cook and open the chicken to examine its organs to see what news of our fate is inside. There is a pause which seems to last a long time and then with a great grin DengeWatu gives me an almost universal sign; two thumbs up.
Pasola day arrives. The Pasola in Wanukaka district is one of the biggest on the island, but the dangers aren’t just to the participants. A year or so back a spectator had been killed when a stray spear went through his eye. As the horse-battle commences our filming team are happy for their riot protective gear. In the action, spears fly into the crowd and Sumba ponies gallop around us, sometimes crashing into each other and spilling their riders.
The sequence is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever shot and before we return to Bristol we seal the successful shoot with the most common ritual of Indonesia - a Karaoke night!