Who are the Sumbawa?

The Sumbawa live on Sumbawa island in West Nusa Tenggara province. The name “Sumbawa” originally referred only to the western part of the island and the Sumbawa sultanate. The eastern part was called Bima. Today the whole island is called Sumbawa. The Sumbawa are spread throughout 2 regencies in the western half of Sumbawa. Some Sumbawa people have also moved to other parts of Indonesia.

The Sumbawa language has 4 main dialects. The Sumbawa Besar dialect is understood by everyone, while the others are only understood in their local areas. The Sumbawa language is related to the languages of Bali and Lombok, and is quite different from the Bima language used on the eastern half of Sumbawa. Although most Sumbawa people know Indonesian, most still prefer to speak Sumbawa among family and friends and for deeper conversations.                                

What are their lives like?

Farming is the primary means of support for the Sumbawa. Most are rice farmers. Many also raise water buffalo, cattle, goats and horses as an important means of income. The Sumbawa use a system of communal work called Basiru. In this system, everyone works together in the fields on a rotating basis as the field owners request workers.

The Sumbawa also use a system of Saleng Tulong, where individuals help one another with various needs such as with food for a wedding or other help needed in exchange for food that will be given at a future time.

The Sumbawa trace their ancestry through their fathers (patrilineal). A newly wedded couple lives with the wife’s family. A father is usually greeted using the name of his first son.

The Sumbawa community is called a kampung or karang. They live in groups spread throughout the village, which makes it hard to tell where the village boundaries are. Some villages are bordered by a wooden fence, with a gate called a jebak. Most homes are built above the ground. Homes of common people are called bale, and homes of the upper class are called bala. Each village has a mosque, a village meeting hall, and a rice barn.

The village leader is chosen by the people. He is then inaugurated by a higher leader called a demong. The village leader and his assistant watch over the life of the village, with help from a malar and a lebeh. The malar oversees village land issues and the lebeh is responsible for religious activities. The lebeh is assisted by an isimesigit, a group made up of several religious administrators who each have their own responsibilities.

What are their beliefs?

Most Sumbawa are devout Muslims, but many of them still carry out animistic practices. Many Sumbawa, although Muslim, are still dependent upon the healers in the area, especially during times of difficulty or crisis.

In 1995, over seventy-five percent of toddlers in the province received “help” from healers or people with special insights. The Sumbawa believe in many kinds of spirits and jinn including those called amar and bakek. They hold special ceremonies in order to find protection from disasters and evil spirits.

What are their needs?

The Sumbawa need help in improving and marketing their agricultural goods like honey, pearls and wood. Sumbawa has great tourism potential because of their cultural wealth and beautiful natural environment.

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