Photo: Checking for omens.

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Wunga village

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At the far dry north of East Sumba, Wunga village sits surrounded in myth and legend. According to Marapu belief, Wunga is the place from which all the people of Sumba descend, where the ancestors came via a ladder made of buffalo horns from the sky.

Marapu heaven is composed of eight levels, or as was explained to us via the people in Wunga, seven seas and eight islands, which had to be crossed to reach Wunga. When you die, it is believed you ascend this ladder to return. In traditional houses all over Sumba, the central poles are carved with a wave-like pattern at the top, which apparently is a symbol of this legend.

Simple digs at Wunga village. Photo taken in or around Wunga village, Waingapu, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Simple digs at Wunga village. Photo: Sally Arnold

Today, Wunga is remote, perched and hidden on the top of a hill at the end of a rocky staircase. In 2010, most of the village was burned to the ground, and the villagers are slowly rebuilding, with the help of “a Japanese man”. So don’t expect ancient buildings, however the newly built houses are done in traditional style with natural materials. They look old, and some of the original central poles were salvaged from the fire and have been reused.

When we visited, they were in the middle of a ceremony to request blessings from the gods to build a new house, and invited us to join the festivities. Our plan had been for a short visit here, but we ended up spending most of the afternoon in the village. If you get an opportunity to join in a ceremony, we recommend that you amend your schedule and go with the flow.

Friendly locals from Wunga village. Photo taken in or around Wunga village, Waingapu, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Friendly locals from Wunga village. Photo: Sally Arnold

Invited to sit with the men on the veranda, they passed around first chicken intestines, then a pig’s liver to inspect for omens. Examined and discussed in great detail for some time, it was finally concluded that the portents were good. We were then served the sacrificed animals and rice, and the atmosphere became less serious and more festive.

The villagers explained to us that the stories of their history are not written, but mostly passed via traditional songs. They explained that the songs also worked as maps, so they could follow directions based on them; they said the raja’s house was clearly described in one song. To our limited knowledge, this sounded very similar the songlines of Australian Indigenous people.

Checking for omens. Photo taken in or around Wunga village, Waingapu, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Checking for omens. Photo: Sally Arnold

As guests, we were then welcomed inside the house to meet the Marapu, sacred wooden effigies, which had been brought out for the ceremony. It was requested that we give a donation (50,000 rupiah for each of the male and female figures), then sit beside them and pray. We asked our guide if this was a common occurrence — he said he had only seen it once before, so it seems we were lucky.

We were then invited to wander around the village and take photos. We were shown the foundations of several of the houses that had been burnt. So far they have only rebuilt a handful of houses, but many stone graves remain to be seen here. The graves are not ornate as in some villages, but simply large slabs of rock. There are more visually interesting villages to visit than Wunga, but historically it’s an interesting place, and the people are very welcoming and friendly.

To get here, a daily bus departs at approximately 07:00 from Waingapu that passes the turnoff to Wunga, but it’s a seven kilometre walk from there. A private car from Waingapu is 900,000 rupiah, and an ojek 250,000 rupiah. Directly from Waingapu, Wunga is about two hours, but we recommend combining it with a trip to Prailiang village and Pantai Puru Kambera.

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