the people of lombok island


“Sah” (Go) - “Shaka” (Ancestors)
Return to the Ancestral Land

The heritage of the Sasak Tribe goes back as early as the 15th Century and they are now the native tribe of Lombok. There is a strong debate surrounding the origin of the Sasak tribe. Some historians believe that there is strong relevance to immigrants and some believe that the tribe originated from ancient Java. The tribe has also been documented to have resided in Lombok for hundreds of years. Nevertheless the Sasak Tribe has strong cultural ties to Lombok and are the heart of the locals that reside there.



85% Sasak from the first millennium BC

With a population of 3.4 million people, Lombok is estimated to have over 850,000 households with an average of 4 people per home. Lombok is primarily Muslim unlike other areas of Indonesia which is Hindu. It is also estimated that up to 85% of the residents of Lombok belong to the Sasak Tribe. Following this, the final percentage of the population is made up of Javanese, Chinese descendants, Sumbawa, and Arab Indonesians. Due to the large Muslim population on the island, local traditions and holidays generally follow Islamic influences.

story of lombok

4 characteristics of the local culture

NYONGKOLAN  | A Traditional Sasak Wedding

Nyongkolan is one of the many cultural treasures that can be witnessed in Lombok. Essential in the Sasak Tribe tradition, Nyongkolan is a marriage procession which follows a series of events in celebration. Prior to the Nyongkolan celebration, there are other vital steps that take place in this tradition. The first tradition is the Selarian. The man would take a woman to his house for marriage. Following this, the Selabar. This is where the next day the man will send a representative, either family or friends, to the bride's house in order to inform them that the couple intend to marry. One unique factor of this is that if the bride's family do not agree with the wedding, they will still proceed regardless of the families views.  

This inidginous cultural celebration follows a set routine before the couple are set to wed. The procession begins with the groom at his local home in the village. It is worth noting that this tradition is not just for the family, it involves the whole community and many members of the Sasak Tribe. The groom begins on a journey from his house to his brides house with the distance being around 1.5km to walk.  This walk is not done alone though, members of the family, friends, and the local community follow closely dressed in their best traditional attire. In addition to the hundreds of people following the groom, also taking part in the group is Gendang Beleq (traditional dance and music). It is also beneficial to the groom to have an elderly Sasak member (Pembayun)  with him who is an expert at  Adu Pantun Sasak (sasak poem battle).  

Once the groom and his followers arrive at the house, there must be a dedicated speaker to engage with the bride's family in order to succeed with the marriage process. This is where the Pembayun is very useful. The Pembayun will usually lead the way and begin talking with the bride and her family. The conversation is very respectful and traditional, following the Sasak language and engaging in Adu Pantun Sasak. If successful, there is then considered a “winner” and a “loser” the loser must pay money or items of clothing as a consequence. Following the success of this, the families will then combine and get to know each other. The ceremony then proceeds to a location where the festivities can begin. The families will combine, enjoy a large feast, and engage in traditional dancing/music. The parade is an interesting cultural event to witness and generally takes place on a weekend due to less traffic on the roads.

MALEAN SAMPI | A Traditional Cattle Race

The Malean Sampi tradition is a festival that is not to be missed. Creating fun and togetherness for the local communities, the festival follows the completed harvest of the season.Malean Sampi is translated from Sasak language to literally mean “to chase a cow/cattle”. Dating back as early as the 18th Century, this tradition is well-respected and is a vital event held in the Sasak tribe. The race takes place in April once the farmers have finished collecting their harvest and have a rest period following a tough season. It is a great leisure activity for all those involved and is well-known across the whole of Indonesia.

This race is not taken lightly by the local farmers though. Every cow that is racing has been carefully selected based on its predicted performance to win the race. When it comes to festivals, there must be some form of costume or decoration, and the cows play a huge part in this. Generally the cows will wear a fabricated giant bell which provides great humor to the large crowds of locals watching. In addition to the decoration of the cows, the festival is also accompanied by local music to add intensity to the race. There are various genres of music that are played throughout which include Tawak-Tawak, Gamelan Kampul and Batek Baris Lingsar.

The race takes place on a 100 meter track that is heavily waterlogged to make it more interesting and also in consideration of the cows’ welfare. After intense preparation, looking the part, and getting a healthy meal down them, the cow’s take off. The local crows jaunt and cheer while traditional music fills the atmosphere throughout the race. The winners and best performers of the race are given star ratings and put their cows up for sale at a better price than usual.

Presean PRESEAN | The Making of a Sasak Man

Presean is a true demonstration of masculinity for the males of the Sasak Tribe. Two men battle it out in warrior style with sticks and shields to establish male dominance of the region. Presean means to stick fight and this is something taken very seriously for the men of the Sasak tribe. Each “battle” involves two men that are armed with rattan sticks which are made from buffalo skin and can no-doubt pack a punch. The fighters also have shields to protect themselves from the oncoming strikes of each opponant. People that are selected to fight in these events are called Pepadu in Sasak language. These men are selected due to their bravery and kindness within the local tribe communities. The battles must be officiated by a referee, known as Pakembar, to ensure that rules are followed and the fighters stay safe.

This cultural event has been running in the Sasak Tribe for generations with it’s origins being a part of the Lombok Kingdom and its soldiers. Soldiers would often do this as a ritual ceremony following the victory of war in order to encourage the rain to come. It is ancient belief that that the more blood spilled, the more rain will fall during planting season. Therefore the locals often carry-out this tradition to ask God for generous rainfall for their communities and farms. Each event that takes place is surely a spectacle to witness. Full of traditional music (Beleganjur) and a local fight commentator for all to enjoy. Whilst most fighters in any circumstance have received training, those in Presean, have never received any training in combat.

Held over 5 rounds the fighters must engage in combat where the winner is determined through the results of strikes. The referee will put an end to the bout if one of the fighters draws blood, regardless of their eagerness to continue. If the audience has enjoyed the fight, they also get the opportunity to fight another person in the audience or a fighter.. All the same rules still apply and first aid is on the scene for visitors and fighters. Once one of the fighters has been awarded with victory, they receive a small bundle of rewards. These rewards include cigarettes, personal care items, or money. Although the rewards are not of high value or importance, the biggest reward a fighter gets is Pride amongst the local community.

Lombok Bau Nyale Festival | Celebrate Lombok

As one of the most popular and culturally important festivals of Lombok, the Bau Nyale festival is not one to be missed. Translated from Sasak language, Bau Nyale mens “to catch the sea worms” as people from the festival capture sea worms during the event. The worm catching is carried out due to the belief that sea worms incarcerated Princess Mandalika who jumped into the sea in order to escape the capture of princes. Taking place once a year, the festival always falls on the tenth money of the Sasak calendar when there is estimated to be a full moon. The beaches of southern Lombok are generally the preferred location for the celebrations.

Not only is this a huge cultural event, but it is also vital for the tourism of the local areas as thousands make their way over to witness this exciting celebration. The festival features many cultural attractions including Peresean (stick fighting), traditional music, biking competitions, local food, photo contests, and fashion displays. The celebration is strongly centered on the legend of Princess Mandlaika and is close to the heart for all locals of Lombok.

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