Mentawai Islands, Indonesia – As Worlds Divide

“Without this forest here we’d have no way of surviving. We’d be terrified.” – native of Mentawai

Mentawai is an archipelago off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia.

It consists of approximately 70 islands and islets.

The four main islands are North and South Pagai, Sipora, and Siberut; with Siberut – spanning 4,480 square kilometres and with a population of approximately 29,918 of which 90% are of indigenous Mentawai origin.

The other 10% are considered to consist of Minangkabau, Javanese, and Batak.

While on a surf expedition to these tropical islands, filmmaker Rob Henry found himself immersed between two starkly different local communities – an impoverished government-run settlement and a tribal people living traditionally and abundantly in the jungle.

The ancestors of the indigenous Mentawai people are believed to have first migrated to the region somewhere between 2000 – 500 BCE whereas the first colonialists are stated, in early documentation by John Crisp who landed on the islands in 1792, to have arrived in the mid 1700’s in the form of Englishmen who made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a pepper farming settlement on an island south of South Pagai.

For many years prior to this trading was existent between indigenous communities and mainland Sumatran Chinese and Malays.

Today, due to cultural assimilation and resettlement policies of the Indonesian state, starting in the 1950s through to devastating logging which was eventually halted in the 1980s due to an international outcry, the number of indigenous people still actively practicing the cultural customs, rituals and ceremonies have been limited to a very small population of clans primarily located around the Sarereiket and Sakuddei regions in the south of Siberut Island.

But hold onto their customs they do. And many others are also beginning to recognise the true value of their cultural heritage.

Rob Henry has documented much of his time in Mentawai and has created a documentary, of which the above video is a short version, a trailer. Filmed over the course of six years, As Worlds Divide takes us on an intimate journey inside these two contrasting ways of life, enabling a personal insight into the issue of indigenous displacement as well as demonstrating the importance this ancient cultural wisdom has in protecting the health and well-being of all Mentawai people.

More information here.

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