Sumba is known as the Cowboy Island of the South Seas. With its unspoiled beaches and rolling hills dotted with horses, it would probably have been Indonesian Ibiza by now had it not been for its headhunting warrior clans and ancient blood sacrifice traditions. The highlight of the blood sacrifice calendar is the Pasola, a clan battle where men on horseback throw spears at each other in order to fertilize the soil with human blood.
VICE wanted to see the Pasola, so they traveled to Bali for 18 hours and then took a propeller plane to Sumba. There are Pasola battles in four villages in February and March every year. They arrived a few days before the largest Pasola, which is in Wanokaka, where they were staying with descendants of the royal Mamodo family from the island's Praibakul clan.
Animal jaws and skulls are signs of wealth, as it shows the family can afford to eat meat. To gain the village's trust, they first had to walk up a small mountain to meet with an important priest of the island's animist Marapu religion called Ratu Dangu Duka, who's famous because half of his face was mysteriously turned black. When the Ratu showed up, he seemed unfazed by their presence until Milene stepped on a stone that was supposedly a spirit's house.
It is common courtesy to chew a psychoactive drug called betel nut before engaging in conversation with the Ratu. According to Ratu, the drug puts him in the right state of mind, helps him connect to his culture, and prevents him from having sudden strange thoughts.
Sumbanese believe that when blood is spilled during the Pasola, it fertilizes the soil for the harvest, so the warriors fight when the community is hungry. But now Sumbanese have to use blunt spears. Before the Dutch colonies arrived the spears used to be sharpened, but the Dutch officials put an end to it. Human sacrifice isn't punishable during the Pajura or the Pasola because the Indonesian law system steps aside and gives way to a local clan law called Adat. If someone dies during the Pasola, there is no penalty.