The Pasola season in Sumba

June 28, 2021
Men on horses during Pasola festival

Pasola is a mounted spear-fighting competition from western Sumba. It sees competitors throw wooden spears at their opponents while riding a horse in celebration of the rice-planting season, thanking the ancestors for a successful harvest and asking for another prosperous rice harvest for the coming year.

According to local legend, pasola originated in the village of Waiwuang as part of a young woman’s love triangle. When her husband – a local leader – left home for an extended period of time, she believed him to be dead and eloped with a new lover from another village. However, when her husband later returned alive the woman chose to stay with her new lover, and the two were married. To forget their leader’s sadness, the people of Waiwuang held the festival of pasola.

Originally, participants rode horses and threw spears at one another in an attempt to spill blood to the ground. But over time, the ritual has changed into more of a show battle. The spears are now blunt with their metal tips removed. Where it was once considered an honour to die during pasola, only accidental deaths occur occasionally today. And the human and horse blood which used to drench the field has been replaced by the blood of sacrificial pigs, dogs, and chickens.

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