Aloita? In Mentawai, it means, “How do you do?” Yes, I learned some Mentawai language while I was traveling in West Sumatra and the Mentawai archipelago last year. That day, October 6th 2010, I visited a primitive colony to see the daily life of Sikerei in Mentawai.
Sikerei refers to people who have become shaman (they don’t like to be called “witch” or “people with black magic”) in every family that lives in each territory in Mentawai. Every family has a different sikerei. Sikerei or Mentawai Shaman do not do black magic to harm others, but are gifted to heal and lead traditional ceremonies.
To reach the closest colony (from Muara Siberut as the main harbour in The Mentawai archipelago) we had to take a motor boat on the Gereget river for 60 minutes or so. The trees and a few ‘Lalep’ or ‘Sapo’ (home residents) indulged our eyes along the way to our destination. Some Mentawai people would stop and watch us on their pompong (traditional boat), when we passed.
When we arrived, the Totulu family was there to greet us right away. The eldest member of this family is a Sikerei.
Not everyone can be a sikerei. To become a sikerei, edification in deep forest have to be taken in about a month. Sikerei postulants have to find a master willing to teach them and prepare themselves by raising 100 chickens and pigs. In other words, it also takes lots of courage and means to be sikerei. After all, being gifted is not enough.
We met with the entire family and not every member could speak Minang or Bahasa. But most of them understood the language we used. We explained why we came; getting to know about the Mentawai tribe and to see their traditional dances and songs that can’t be found in other places.
To do the dances, there needs to be at least 2 sikereis. The dances are performed in pairs. In Totulu family, there is only one man who is sikerei. So we had to wait for quite a long time for them to pick the other. Each house was separated from the others by the river and swamp, and it was raining.
While we were waiting, I looked around the house. The modern touch has been applied in this house. They cook with an iron skillet and sleep with valances. Both are the same as the things we use in the city. In fact, some of them already dress in “full clothes” (they’re usually topless and use something like ‘koteka’). The bottom of the house functioned as a pigsty, while chickens are usually kept on the trees (that was a bit weird for me; chickens have wings but can’t fly, yes? How can they be on the trees?). This is what I call unique.
Finally, the second sikerei arrived. While he smoked the cigarette that we brought, he prepared himself to dance (be silent and maybe praying, I don’t know for sure). Sikerei can’t sing and dance as they want. The ceremony must be carried out by slaughtering a pig or chicken before, then having supper togather.
The first dance began. They danced and sang at the same time. The song was very harmonious with nature. That dance was about bird called Egu who can’t eat because the rain was falling. The dance and song really fit with the weather that day, since it was drizzling the whole time. A perfect combination. The dance looked very simple and earthy but had a deep meaning. One of characteristics of the dance was drumming the feet on the floor, like tap dancing, but with a different beat.
Once completed, they did not directly go to the second dance. They chit-chatted for a moment, while finishing their cigarettes. In Mentawai, almost everyone smokes. Mothers, Teenagers, even the children.
Soon, the Sikerei began to do the second dance; about bird called Cad – Cad who drank water from flower pods alternately. Then followed by the third dance about a bird called Kemud who eats snakes and divides and shares it with their children.
They dance based on what they see in everyday situations. And they live their lives learning from nature. Morals drawn from the dances can be seen when we all ate our dinner. When one eats, the others also have to eat. The food should have the same size and taste for each. Even in a party, celebration and ceremony, they eat in the same plate or container no matter who they are, the head of the tribe or just a kid.
These values are exemplary and should be applied in our lives. Like them, we must always live in balance with nature. Guard it, and learn from it, because there are many values we can learn from nature. Just look at the Sikerei, who learn from what they see in nature and teach it to others through dance and song.