Rato, Leader of your (Soul) Community, in Sumba Indonesia

When we were staying in this Wajewan ethnic group village, I then realized of the system that has been running hundred or even thousand years up till now in this village. Each house in the village is led by one Leader, Rato, the name is.

As I was sitting in the porch enjoying hot tea with lot of sugar on it, then I saw this old man with red cloth cover his head, wandering around from next door house, checked us out. He looked at me, and he remembered me from a year ago when I met him. He said  to me “I remember you , the one who will bring me Keris (Javanese traditional arm) someday.” Yes I promised him to bring Keris in my next visit, bad luck I forgot, but truly to say I hadn’t got money yet.

Rato and His roles

Usually there will be a Rato for each house, but in Waikabubak the different ethnic group which called Loli they have one Rato for one kampung (consist of many houses). A Rato conducts many different things in household in particular and community in greater extend. In the past he will assemble an army, and mobilize the community to go to war against their enemies or robbers who threaten the community, at least that was what my friend Mr.John,when tried to explain to me about what he did when he used to be a Rato.

Rato also the one who will stay back in the house while the rest of the family member will go to the field look after their crops. In the ceremony like wedding, birth and funeral they will usually take a liver from the killed animal (Swine or Chicken) and reading it to forecast the fortune or what the future will bring. On some events like that the success of the event, they believe, relates greatly with the Rato’s  reading.

When you are building the house Rato will also determine the most accurate time to go to the forest to bring the best logs. They believe in full moon months, the logs will be at their best. They said, that full moon months are the best time to take the logs because it will be less decayed by animal or insects,  if they took it in another time it will be most likely to get the decaying logs, fragile and wobbly.  This is making sense if we want to look in Science view, we know that in specific given months the plant will have the molecule process on their own, and steady as described as Glucose molecule pure chain (http://www.medbio.info/Horn/Sugars4Kids/flour_and_wood) This is fascinating because the Glucose or Polysaccharides substance rate in certain time will be really low which prevent them attracting the insects like caterpillar,ants or termites. The Sumbanese must have been knowing this for dozen hundred  years now.

Rato’s “Gadgets”

Wherever Rato goes, he will usually bring few things in his pocket, and all those are pretty common between the ratos. Those stuff are basically for protections, status and ceremonies. Here they are :

Betel Nuts and Lime

Sumbanese believe that chewing battle nuts mix with lime will strengthen and refresh your gum and teeth. In their tradition providing betelnuts and lime when you arrive is sign of showing hospitality and welcome to everyone. I tried it once and in matter of seconds I couldn’t barely feel my mouth, it is kind of natural anesthetic perhaps. If you don’t want to chew it when somebody offer it to you, just receive it keep it on your pocket, don’t refuse or throw it out in the front of their face, you don’t want to know what might happen to you 🙂 The Rato will usually have mini bag with small grinder and small knife to grind and dice the betelnut, and of course within the bag some amount of betelnut and Lime. Frankly to say I’ve never seen the trees or plants while I am there, but seeing they carry it everywhere, everyday it must be around and many.



Almost everywhere especially in West Sumba or Central Sumba, you will see people carry parang or Sword. It’s made from scrap metal, or most people use scrap car shock breaker to make one. Rato that I met have one parang, and small knife to grind Betel Nuts. In the past Rato used parang to go to far away place to find a person and decapitated his/ her head with parang. He will then return and flaying the head, dried it and collected it as trophy. Sign of social status and dread he cause upon to people and enemies.



Every Rato has their own tatoo, it is like an anagram represent set of fonts or words of meaning. But most Rato that I met this time explained that the tatoo actually functions as identity.Like this one in the picture it represents the name of the Rato himself something like Umbu Lele. The other guy, the eldest son of the rato, said that his tatoo represents his great great grandfather.

Now If I say that the Rato I met is able to read what’s hidden in your heart, what you did, and what is your deepest secret even before he meet y0u, do you believe it? Well it is matter of choices in life and perspective I think.


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