The Mentawais are a chain of about seventy islands and islets off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. Siberut (4,030 km²) is the largest of the islands. The other major islands are Sipura, North Pagai (Pagai Utara) and South Pagai (Pagai Selatan).
The Mentawais – The People
The Mentawais are relatively sparsely populated and feature indigenous inhabitants who follow a bronze age cultural tradition. Siberut island in particular contains heavy jungle and local village are built on the banks of rivers. Transport is limited to dug-out canoes and trekking through jungle mud.
The native population in the island’s interior do not speak Bahasa Indonesia and do not follow the culture associated with mainland Indonesia. Diet consists of fish caught in rivers and monkeys which are hunted with bows and arrows tipped with a natural paste designed to stun the creature rather than kill it. Wild pigs are also captured and eaten. Coconut and sago, a common jungle tree are ground together and roasted over a fire to yield a pleasant bread-like item.
Men live in long houses with each other while the women share their own long house. The Mentawai are shy by nature but the increasing contact with tourists has brought them awareness of the outside world and the benefits to be had.