Sumba lies in the midst of Nusa Tenggara Timur, also known as the Eastern Lesser Sunda Islands.

 
 

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

Once known as 'Sandalwood Island’, Sumba was historically regarded as a source for the prized, aromatic wood, and subsequently, for the sturdy, miniature horses that are bred there.

 The island is often portrayed as composed of two distinct zones, the dry, rocky and relatively barren Eastern half of the island, and the verdant West that is more amenable to agriculture. Sumba is home to a people who formerly followed the way of headhunters and until recently adhered closely to the ancestral religion (marapu) of their forefathers.

Sumba is renowned for its communally-quarried megalithic stone monuments and large stone slab tables, which were ceremonially dragged and raised to honor departed members of the nobility and offer homage to ancestral lines.

 
 
 

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

In bygone days, the funerary rites of Sumbanese rajas were epic events, which included human sacrifice, ritual slaughter of large herds of livestock, and the interment of resplendent treasure hoards intended to accompany the dead. In West Sumba, annual ritual combat, involving opposing clans of spear-wielding horsemen, is held to offer blood sacrifice in the tournament known as the pasola.

Aristocratic weavers in Sumba produced exquisite ikat including the iconic men's hip cloth and matching mantles, known as hinggi kombu. They additionally fashioned some of the archipelagos most extraordinary sarongs, known generically as lau pahudu. Royal sarongs were woven using both supplementary weft and ikat techniques, which were often further decorated with beaded bands and carefully dyed tufts.

Another variety of ceremonial skirt is known as Lao hada. This is the appellation of a sarong featuring  applique designs composed of nasa shells and trade beads on a black or red solid ground. These skirts are also called pakiri mbola, "lying at the bottom of the basket," a term that refers to the way they are carried and presented during an elite exchange of marriage gifts. Of special note are the ceremonial beaded minaudières used for betel nut, its chewing components, and assorted paraphernalia. These accessories are matched in grandeur by  female chest pectorals fashioned from trade beads and elegant combs, delicately excised from tortoiseshell.

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

 
 
 

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

© Archives of the Reformed Protestant Church

Itinerant goldsmiths forged wondrous and dignified gold and silver ornaments. The most iconic is a substantial, often decorated omega form, known as the mamuli. A family's heirlooms were traditionally stored on a designated platform in the rafters of an imposing traditional Sumbanese house.  These treasures were brought out for wear and display to celebrate various ritual functions including rites of passage, funerals, and marapu traditions.

 
 
 

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

Rare and enchanting artwork from Sumba can be found in international museum collections including Museum Nasional Indonesia, Asian Civilisations Museum, The Dallas Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, de Young Museum, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, Musée du Quai-Branly, and Museum der Kulturen Basel.

Sumba’s aesthetic and cultural heritage is detailed in the research of scholars including Marie Jeanne Adams, Janet Hoskins, Joel Kuipers, Jill Forshee, Robyn Maxwell, Robert Holmgren, Anita Spertus, and Steven G. Alpert.

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

 
 

Gold Ornament | Mendaka
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Gold Crown Ornament | Lamba
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Woman's Gold Earring from West Sumba | Mamuli
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Stone Memorial Figure
© Musée du Quai-Branly | France

Man’s Ceremonial Ikat Mantle | Hinggi
© The Dallas Museum of Art | USA

Funerary Statue
© Museum der Kulturen Basel | Switzerland

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Pahudu
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Pahudu
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Chin Ornament of Gold and Trade Beads
© Musée du Quai-Branly | France

Spinning Wheel
© Asian Civilisations Museum | Singapore

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Pahudu
© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Pahudu
© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Pahudu
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Pahudu
© Yale University Art Gallery | Connecticut, USA

Gold Ornament | Mendaka
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Stone Memorial | Penji
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Hada
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York, USA

Beaded Frontlet
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Pahudu
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Hada (Detail)
© The Indianapolis Museum of Art | Indiana, USA

Man’s Ceremonial Ikat Mantle | Hinggi
© National Gallery of Australia

Man’s Ceremonial Ikat Mantle | Hinggi
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Spinning Wheel Element
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art | New York, USA

Man’s Ceremonial Ikat Mantle | Hinggi
© Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen | The Netherlands

Man’s Ceremonial Ikat Mantle | Hinggi
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston | Massachusetts, USA

Tortoise Shell Comb
© The Dallas Museum of Art | USA

Woman's Ceremonial Sarong | Lau Pahudu
© National Gallery of Australia

Stone Memorial | Penji
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Women's Ceramonial Skirt | Lau Hada
© Museum Nasional Indonesia

Beaded Frontlet
© de Young Museum FAMSF | California, USA

Beaded Bag
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA