Mentawai, The Last Shamans

I remember during my last year of high school, I did a 3-month research about tribes around the world. I was always fascinated with the fact that there are still people out there who live the same way (or almost) as they did hundreds of years ago.

The Mentawai people live across the island of Siberut, Mentawai Islands, located in West Sumatra. They live spread around the island in different clans and tribes. Some of them, spread around the coast, live a more modern lifestyle, with phones, internet, scooters and other things that other ordinary people use on a daily basis. But if you go deep in the jungle, you still find the original Mentawai people, those that live in a much more prehistoric way, and that was the main reason why I went on this trip, to photograph the Mentawai People. Photographing them almost feels like an obligation for people like me, since globalization is really kicking in and no one is going to scape it. Traditions will be lost once the older generations die out, and the younger generations, more used to the outside world, adopt a more modern way of life. So the only thing we will have to remember them by will be photographs.

To get to this tribe, I first had to go to the city of Padang, then take a ferry to the island, and once there I met a local that took me to them. We took a small river boat for 90 minutes and ventured in the deep jungle. After that, we had to treck for quite a long time through very muddy ground, until we finally got there.

I spent 3 days in two different clans. They live simple lives, from and for the jungle. They don´t have internet, they don´t know about things like email, facebook, Instagram or Tinder. They don´t have to worry about paying electricity bills because they simply don´t have it. They farm their fields and breed their own animals, which they kill and eat. They are very connected to a kind of palm tree (I think it´s called Saku) which they use to build their houses, boats, feed their animals and also to make a kind of bread that they eat together with other food they prepare.

Tourism still hasn´t taken over these islands, except for surfers, since it is the second best surfing destination in the world, but it is still very unexplored. The reason why I came here was to photograph the last remaining shamans that the Mentawai tribe still counts on, since the new generations are not willing to take this role. The Indonesian government pushes families and makes sure all children go to school and learn Indonesian (the national language), so they are used to having contact with the outside world, that is also why you don´t see them wearing traditional clothes. That is why photographing these shamans was so important for me, because once they die, there is no return, there is no one that can replace them.

I remember my three days with them were very special. They live very simple lives. They all smoke tobacco like mother f***ers, but they still look super young and fit, and surprisingly, cancer isn´t a thing there. They say it´s because they live in the jungle, so everything they breath, eat or drink is pure. Once the night falls, there is nothing to do but chat and smoke tobacco. That was the hardest part for me, and not smoking, not even a single hit, required a lot of will power, but I could manage! What I liked the most about this was that it felt very real, it was not a show, they just did their thing and they just had me around. The second clan I spent time with had a sick child that went blind after falling sick at the age of 3, also causing severe irreparable brain damage, and I could witness how the shaman did a small ritual to treat him.

Anyways, those three days were amazing, I experienced a lot of new things. I hope you like the pictures!


2 Comments Mentawai, The Last Shamans

  1. foloren torium 14 January, 2019 at 8:22 am

    Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog site in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, wonderful blog!

    1. Gonzalo Navarro 28 January, 2019 at 5:07 pm

      Hello Foloren! Thank you for your advice! I’ll definitely take a look at that! Cheers

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