The Mentawai are a tribe of people living in the rainforest of Siberut, Indonesia. Siberut is a remote island off the coast of Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia. With the exception of owning pigs and cultivating sago, the Mentawai are hunter/gatherers looked after with devotion by their medicine men- the Sikeri, or Shamans. These are the healers of the tribe, who practice a form of animism called Jarayak. The Mentawai also practice one of the oldest forms of tattooing, which represent the important elements in their lives.
The current state of the Mentawai people collectively is much different than it was 100 years ago. There are a few government-established villages where the majority of the population live. The children are going to school, the adults are working, infastructure is weak but is starting to resemble that of the rest of Indonesia- “developed” and prodiminately muslim. However, outside the villages in the rainforest, there are still a handful of scattered clans of the traditional Mentawai. Those in the rainforest choose to live away by choice, and isolate themselves away from the assimilation of the government villages. These small, and rapidly declining number of people still live the legend of their ancestors.
The Indonesian government set up the villages in order to bring the tribes away from their “primitive” and “savage” practices and to “civilize” the culture. Missionaries are plenty on the island and convert Mentawai. In my own experience, it’s important to note that the missionaries themselves are usually peace loving people seeking what they believe to be righteous, so it is very difficult to judge either party. Progress is a double-edged sword, my only concern is that progress does not always have to inspire change by force. I believe that technology and education are tools that can actually be used to preserve a culture, while providing the necessary guidance into the modern world. The clans that remain are enduring and have survived on their own for a long time, but are now threatened and fragile. Although change is inevitable, there cannot be only one way to live, one way to perceive the world- humanity needs diversity to sustain itself.