The Mentawai

The last indigenous people of Indonesia

The Mentawai, an indigenous population, inhabit the Mentawai Islands off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, numbering around 64,000 people. Their lifestyle is characterized by a close connection with nature and traditional practices such as hunting, fishing, and gathering. Among the Mentawai, about 1,000 people live semi-nomadically amidst the tropical forests. Within their community, there are clear divisions of roles between women and men, but no hierarchies or class distinctions. The Mentawai have always defended their habitat and traditional way of life against attempts at missionary activities, Indonesian settlement policies, environmental destruction, and Islamist influences.

The tattoos of the Mentawai are much more than just adornments; they are expressions of their connection with nature and their pride. Starting from the age of eleven, the achievements and tests of women and men are gradually recorded on their bodies. These tattoos serve as codes that reveal information about the social status, hunting skills, and other talents of the wearers. In the past, the Mentawai also filed their teeth to a point. The tattoos are performed as part of small rituals, using a color-soaked thorn from a lemon tree branch as well as bone splinters or sharpened pieces of bark to hammer the natural ink made from sugarcane and soot into the skin with quick rhythmic movements.

Despite past challenges and discrimination, the Mentawai preserve their culture and way of life. Their future depends on how well they can preserve their traditions and how they adapt to changing societal and ecological conditions.

Aman Bauna, Siberut, 2019
The Hunter, Siberut, 2019
Aman Bauna on the hunt, Siberut, 2019
loincloth, Siberut, 2019
Family Bauna, Siberut, 2019
Mother of Aman Bauna, Siberut, 2022
Tattooed hands, Siberut, 2019
Children in the jungle, Siberut, 2019
Boy in traditional clothing, Siberut, 2019
Tattooed symbols on the leg, Siberut, 2019
Siberut, 2019
Aman Bauna in the jungle, Siberut, 2019
Bay Bauna and Aman Bauma, Siberut, 2019
Collecting shells, Siberut, 2019
Traditional clothing, Siberut, 2019
Elderly Mentawai man, Siberut, 2019
Jung Mentawai man, Siberut, 2019
Roots, Siberut, 2019
Mentawai dwelling, Siberut, 2019
Old Mentawai man, Siberut, 2019
Hunting with bow and arrow, Siberut, 2019
Mentawai headdress, Siberut, 2019