Take half a million years of isolation then drop some settlers on this 190,500-hectare island and leave to develop in its own special way. This is what exactly has happened on the Mentawai islands. This is not a step back in time, this is virtual jump back in time and a step to the left. No island typifies this more than Siberut Island.
This has turned into somewhat of a tourist destination of its own right, yet very cleverly has remained true to itself and still protects the area and lifestyle it seeks to promote. The largest of all the Mentawai islands, Siberut has an island of Doctor Monrue feel to it, species here have evolved to suit this dense virgin jungle and this is why today we find mammals such as the Mentawai Gibbons, the Mentawai Leaf Monkeys, the Mentawai Macaques and the beautifully named Snub Nose Monkey.
Over the centuries the native human population has expanded to over 20,000 yet it is how they live that attracts so much attention. The indigenous people shun modern life and prefer to live in touch with nature. Everything about the lives are in total harmony with their surroundings. They live a hunter-gatherer existence and use what natural resources that are presented to full effect. What makes this an amazing place to visit is you are able to join these people and immerse yourself in their lives. Hunting wild pig for dinner, gathered round the communal cooking fires, building traditional canoes, collecting wild flowers and roots to make herbal medicines. Simplicity, the simple basic needs of life in the reach of nature, a life that has become so much lost to us. Perhaps this holiday should be mandatory for us all.
External religious influences are evident yet the residing religion is a form of animist beliefs, which again connect all to nature and the spirits that surround the indigenous people’s lives. Dances and songs are commonplace in forms of prayers and rituals to protect the collective longhouses. As a guest in these people’s lives and homes we have to fully understand that this is not entertainment of a modern description yet an education that is being presented, a truly humbling experience.
The realities and charms of this island are strong and gripping, from one extreme of constant mud and rain and inadequate facilities to a sense if innocence and lost understanding. Packages are offered on mainland Sumatra such as Padang and Bukittinggi as they are the main local tourist locations. Most trips are around one week in duration and offer a variety of accommodation on different islands like Muara Siberut and Simabugai and finally with the tribe themselves. Take everything you think you might need with you, as there is no shop around the corner. Strong boots are a must; comfortable clothes that you are prepared to get dirty are essential; mosquito repellent is at the top of the list.
This spot is not every ones cup of tea, but if it is, drink deep.