Tiele! Turis!. The social and ethnic impact of tourism in Siberut (Mentawai). (Laurens Bakker)


home lijst scripties inhoud vorige volgende  






Long ago, Pageta Sabbou had two sons[216]. One was called Malapapui and the other Betuogbuk. Malapapui worked in the jungle all day using rattan, bananas, durian and sago. Betuogbuk worked in the house, he made things out of iron; knives, axes, chain saws, nails and the like.

One day Malapapui returned home from the jungle exhausted. He wanted to sleep, but that was impossible because Betuogbuk was chopping iron, making a lot of noise. Malapapui became very angry, he took the iron and threw it away, out of the house where it could not be found again. Betuogbok became angry as well and they started to fight. Pageta Sabbou heard the noise and separated his sons. From that time on they lived in three houses. Pageta Sabbou and his wife continued to live in the old house, but each of his sons had to build himself a house of his own. Before they left they both had to make a promise. Malapapui had to sell jungle products to Betuogbuk and Betuogbuk had to sell iron products to Malapapui.

They lived on in this way, father and mother died. What happened to Betuogbuk is unknown, but he became the ancestor of the Western people, probably some of them know what happened him.

Malapapui had two sons. One was the ancestor of all the Indonesian peoples, the other was the ancestor of the Mentawaians. The ancestor of the Mentawaians was called Butekleleu and the ancestor of the Indonesian peoples Tuan Allah.

One day Butekleleu was eating pork, his brother was not home and so Butekleleu set a dish of meat apart for his brother in a cupboard. When Tuan Allah arrived home he saw that Butekleleu had been eating pork and he asked if there was any left for him. Butekleleu told him that his share was in the cupboard. But the pork had gone bad. Tuan Allah became very angry and while he cut in two a piece of rattan he spoke a magical formula, saying: "If ever I eat pork again, I will die from it!" Pork became a taboo for him and he became Muslim.

Butekleleu was enraged over all this and he heated the pointed end of an axe blade in the fire and trusted it in Tuan Allah’s arse when he was praying. They fought ferociously and decided to split up. Their parents had been dead for a long time already. At the time they were living on Sumatra, and they decided that Tuan Allah would stay there while Butekleleu left for Siberut.

Meanwhile the children of Betuogbuk had become rich. They had industry, planes, and lots of knowledge. The children of Tuan Allah maintained contact with them because they liked to buy things from the children of Betuogbuk. One day they quarrelled about the ownership of a mountain. In the following fight the children of Betuogbuk were victorious. The children of Tuan allah wanted to become just as strong and powerful and rich as the children of Betuogbuk were and wanted to go and study at their schools, but the children of Betuogbuk did not allow them to. One child of Tuan Allah continued his pleas so long that he was admitted. At the schools he learned everything about industry, about bombs, doctors and operations. He also became a kerei while staying in that rich country. When he had learned everything there was to learn he wanted to return to his own country, but he was forbidden to leave because he had all the knowledge of the children of Betuogbuk and they did not want his country to become as rich and powerful as their own.

The child of Tuan Allah made a plan and said: "If I die before I have returned to my own country, your country will be destroyed". Then he ate all of his study books and he died. He was returned to his country very quickly and there he returned to life again. He could do so because he was a kerei and had magical powers. He learned his people how to operate and they operated on him and obtained the study books. He became a teacher at the new schools and soon his country was as rich and developed as the country of the children of Betuogbuk. When they were that far developed a war between the two countries broke out. The children of Tuan Allah wanted the people of the Mentawai islands to aid them in the fight but the Mentawaians refused, they did not want to get involved in the war. Since that time there frequently have been wars between the children of Tuan allah and those of Betuogbuk and both groups have forgotten sabulungan. One group became muslim and the other became christians. Only the Mentawaians still know what sabulungan is. Perhaps that is the reason why so many Western tourists visit Siberut; they want to learn again about sabulungan.


Told by Tarazon Sakaliou on the 9th of november 1996







1 Nights' lodging

RP 10,000 per group

porter work

RP 5,000 a person per day or part of a day


RP 5,000 per participant per demonstration

supplements for a ceremony demonstration

RP 10,000 per chicken

RP 50,000 per pig

various goods are divided among the participants and spectators[218]

tobacco box

RP 10,000


RP 20,000

bow and arrows

RP 100,000[219]


RP 150,000

making a tattoo

RP 15,000





Findings not mentioned by Asmawi (1996) are printed in italics. Other findings are shared, except those marked with *, found by Asmawi only.

ethnic group



 positive aspects

 negative aspects



-active and successful in their enterprises


-different religion

-different way of life

-very ethnocentric

-not so trustworthy

-no respect for Mentawaians

-unfair in trade


-good entrepreneurs

-boost economic development



-unfair in trade

Batak & Nias

-same religion

-same way of life











-different religion

-potentially arriving in too large numbers.

 Western people[220]

-'deputies of God'*

-not economically involved*

-render social, economical, and healthcare assistance*

-appreciate Mentawaian culture

-boost economy










price per piece




 RP 10,000

 RP 40,000



 RP 5,000

 RP 15,000


 medium sized pig

 RP 50,000

 RP 50,000



 RP 10,000

 RP 30,000


 slabs of tobacco

 RP 2,000

 RP 8,000


 kilos of sugar

 RP 1,900

 RP 5,700


 small bags of coffee

 RP 800

 RP 8,000

Additional articles that may be asked for are cigarettes, tea and sometimes rice. Amakerei does not ask for those.


 RP 157,700







Pigs and chicken are necessary.

Pigs and chicken are optional.

Communal meal is necessary.

Communal meal is optional.

All present must wear flowers of some kind.

Those present may wear flowers.

The spirits of the ancestors of those present are summoned.

The ancestor spirits are left alone.

Pageta Sabbou is summoned and visits the ceremony.

Pageta Sabbou is not summoned and does not come.

Various highly ritualized dances are carried out by kerei.

Visual entertaining dances are carried out, all may join in.

The dancers must stay serious and concentrated during their dance.

The dancers can laugh and joke during their dance.





This table is based on a similar one published by the Indonesian ministry of forestry (1195:92) in which I consider some changes necessary. These changes are printed in the column on the right.


definition of expenses

ministry of forestry

proposed changes

average duration of tour

7 days

7 days

tour price

$100 per person

$100 per person

group size

10 people

8 people

summary costs to operator off-Siberut:

 -travel to Siberut

22% of gross

18% of gross


12% of gross

4.5% of gross

 -commissions paid on Sumatra

5% of gross

10% of gross

 -overhead and hidden costs

10% of gross

10% of gross


59% of gross

42.5% of gross

summary costs to operator on Siberut:

 -commissions paid on Siberut

not mentioned

1.5% of gross

 -travel on island

7% of gross

8.5% of gross


5% of gross

4.5% of gross


4% of gross

4% of gross


16% of gross

17% of gross

benefits to the island's population[222]:


7% of gross

10% of gross


9% of gross

8.5% of gross

estimated tour operator profit

25% of gross

40.5% of gross

total amount of tourism leakages

84% of gross

83.5% of gross



An explanation of my numbers follows below:


Total sum: I took the price of $100.- because larger groups allow the price per head to drop. A group of eight is a common number. The sum of $800.- at the time equalled RP 1,760,000 ($1=RP 2,200).


Travel to Siberut: A hired minibus from Bukittinggi to Padang costs around RP 50,000. Nine returns by ferry cost (18 x RP 15,000=) RP 270,000. Together that makes RP 320,000: 18% of the total sum.


Food: Food (rice, noodles, coffee, tea) and other supplies (cigarettes, salt) are bought in Padang or Muara Siberut. The amount needed for a week is limited and a sum of RP 80,000 suffices.


Commissions paid on Sumatra: These are different for every guide, depending on the situation and his personal role. However, the harbour gang, ferry company, colleagues all expect a share. RP 176,000 is around the average of these expenses.


Overhead and hidden costs: cover all kinds of eventualities that may occur such as medical treatment, theft and incidental expensive gifts to Mentawaian uma.


Commissions paid on Siberut: These mainly consider the local police department. An average of RP 25,000 is reasonable.


Travel on the island: This means the hiring of speedboats which is necessary to arrive in the heartland and depart again. Two trips will cost around RP 150,000 in total.


Cook and porters: An estimated four days are spend on the move. Porters are hired to carry the supplies. Usually two suffice in addition to the cook who accompanies the group all the way. Wages of RP 5,000 per person per day account for (15 x 5,000) RP 75,000 in total.


Accommodation: Seven days mean between four and five days in the jungle, the other days are spend travelling to and fro the island. The rest of the money goes to arranged demonstrations. So: (4.5 x RP 10,000 for lodging) + (5 x RP 5,000 for demonstrations) is RP 70,000.


Benefits to the island's population: Commission and transport go to Minangkabau who live on Siberut, the cook and porters are Mentawaians in these calculations. Lodging and demonstrations are Mentawaian occasions as well.


Estimated operator profit: Quite a big difference between the two calculations: the difference is explained mostly by the smaller group size/higher price per person and some lower expenses in my calculation.


Total amount of tourism leakages: Interestingly enough this number has hardly changed. It follows that the Minangkabau guides are the ones who profit from the changes in group size and individual price.


home lijst scripties inhoud vorige volgende  


[216] Pageta Sabbou is a mythical kerei, the first that ever was. All the present day kerei partake of his power as he also is the most powerful kerei that ever has been.

[217] This appendix was put together with the information of many informants from different areas of the island. Some areas (and some people) are more expensive then others, prices given here are those I encountered most frequently.

[218] For a complete overview of the necessities and prices needed for the demonstration of a ceremony see appendix 4.

[219] The difference in price between a bow and a bow with arrows is explained by the time it takes to make a full set of arrows.

[220] The positive perceptions one to three concern missionaries. In researching perceptions of Western people I almost exclusively encountered perceptions relating to tourists.

[221] These dancers are most of the time kerei. The reason why they get payed more is, according to Amakerei, because their job is very tiring and because they do all the singing.

[222] The ministerial table does not distinguish between the Mentawaian and Minangkabau population on Siberut. I took the liberty to interpret their figures according to the situation on the island.