Prof. Makoto Koike: From Japan, Building

Prof. Makoto Koike with Uma Ratu (

Umbu Haharu is the name given to Professor Makoto Koike by the villagers of Wunga Village in East Sumba when he was doing his ethnographic research for his doctoral dissertation in December 1985–June 1988. The effort was done to delve into the culture (courtship, marriages, arts, dances and social manners) and beliefs (religious, myth and legends) of the village. “Wunga is the first Kampong in Sumba, mythical and interesting,” Makoto said.


In an interview with CRCS at Elvin Hotel in East Sumba, Makato disclosed that he chose Sumba because he had developed interest on Sumba while doing a library research on Eastern Indonesia for his Master Degree thesis at Tokyo Metropolitan University. This post-graduate work in the same university is a concretization of his desire of visiting Indonesia, especially Eastern Indonesia.


“I already visited Flores, Toraja, Timor, up to Habemanuk, but people there are almost Christianized. I found that East Sumba still preserve their ethnic culture,” the professor said in a lecture at St. Andrew University. He met his wife Naoko, a Japanese from Hiroshima during his first visit in the island while doing his research and Naoko was a tourist.


When the King was still alive, Makoto used to monitor his activities, especially those related to their traditions. “Wherever King Umbu Tobu went I followed him. When he went to Mamboro I followed him to ask for animals for sacrifice.” The King’s power in Sumba is known by the number of animals that people under his domain gave for ‘belis’ as their token during marriage ceremonies. The king is measured by the number of animals he has. Nevertheless, some historical books the King of Wunga is not regarded as king, but just recognized as the head of a Kampong.


In one ‘mangajingu bakulu’ (great prayer of Wunga people commemorated every 8 years) that Makoto participated (in 1986 the last prayer year), he observed about 50 pigs being sacrificed and some ritual materials. The ritual materials were collected from the people and their surroundings, but nowadays, these are difficult to find, that half of which are bought from marketplaces or in other distant places.


This situation happens because their environment has changed, and degraded, and some other factors like the death of the King. Money is more used now rather than barter of goods and belongings. Prayer is no longer performed well now because Uma Ratu (the house for prayer) is heavily damaged. People now do their prayer in their houses without the materials that mangajingu bakulu requires.


The condition of the houses like Uma Ratu above all else affects people’s social and religious activities. Houses, especially in the Praingu Wunga (Wunga Kampong), serve important roles. If one role does not go well, this influences and affects their whole activities. This situation motivates Makoto to help the Wunga people reconstruct some of the houses. He helps them because the resources are difficult to avail of and the Wunga people are economically marginalized. In year 2008, he already helped Wunga people reconstruct three important traditional houses, the Uma Makatembak, the Uma Bakulu, and the Uma Rua. Presently he is supporting to rebuild the most important house, the Uma Ratu.


In supporting the Wunga people rebuild those traditional houses, Makoto solicited donation from Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum (TCTM), the faculty at St Andrew University, and National Museum of Ethnology. Miniature houses will be exhibited at TCTM in 2010. His present visit to Sumba is to observe the Uma Ratu reconstruction process and to turn over the donations to them. Ironically, so far local government has not extended any support to the project. Instead, they leave the responsibility to Makoto’s Japanese donations.


When asked whether his reconstruction project can conserve people’s belief to Marapu, the professor is pessimistic. “Later on all Sumbanese people will be converted to Christianity, and educated people will become Christians.” For him, it’s because there is no effort from the local people or government to promote the existence of Marapu as an ethnic religion.


The situation is different in other places in Indonesia. In Kalimantan, people till strive to preserve their Kaharingan. “I hope they themselves will not marginalize their culture itself. When only the house (Uma Ratu) exist but no prayer. It means the house only exists materially, but that does not have any meaning,” said Makoto explicitly.


For a 53 years old man, the fact that the Sumbanese people are developing cannot be avoided. The young generations have already acquired higher education – that means they are already Christians. “But, for the future of the Sumbanese people, that is ok, for education is more important for global competitiveness. But the culture must be preserved too though how difficult it takes,” said Makoto with dilemmatic intonation.


In concluding the interview, the Japanese anthropologist said that he will translate his dissertation in Nippongo (Japanese language) to Bahasa Indonesia. He also advanced his plan to visit Wunga as often for the reconstruction project. He has been collecting data for the project. “The data on how to build the house will be prepared in multimedia presentation and copied in DVD for distribution. How to build the house materially, socially, religiously or ritually,” said Makoto. He already asked the services of a local person to help him document the process while he is not in Sumba, he closed. (JMI)

This post is also available in: Indonesian


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