Some factual theories

Sumba is an island in the SE of Indonesia with a population of c.500,000.  Geologically the island is a continental fragment which broke off from Africa or Australia and floated up to the ridge of line of Volcanic Islands where it has settled.  It lies south of Sumbawa and Flores and to the West of Timor (also a continental fragment). As a consequence its rock base is largely coral limestone with an average soil cover of between 0cm and 10cm in many regions. This makes agriculture in the more barren regions virtually impossible and enhances the value of the few fertile basins in the East and the more fertile and wet west. 

The Island is divided into four administrative regions. East Sumba being the largest with its capital in Waingapu. The former West Sumba district has just been dived into three: Central Sumba, West Sumba and South West Sumba.

Sumba's Dry HillsClimatically however the island is divided almost perfectly in half. Each region lies at the extremes of tropical Savannah (a monsoon season of roughly three months in the East and up to five months in the West). The East receives its climate from the deserts of Northern Australia.  It is dry and hot, has nine month dry season and an average temperature of between 27°-36° throughout the year.  While it has a low level of rainfall it has a strong water basin and the Kambaniru river which rises from over 88 forest protected water sources in the south provides sufficient water for most of the region. Increased depletion of forest areas surrounding these water sources is a major threat to the life of the east of the Island.

Sumba, land of giant tombs and silent villages. Sumba,land of lively dances and colourful costumes.

Marie Jeanne Adams

The West is wet most of the year receiving its monsoon from the tropical north.  Its climate is considerably colder than the East and its land is more fertile. Temperatures range from 25°-34° and its wet season can extend for up to 5 months.  There is a wide range of agricultural production though the region is fragmented into a number of cultural groups and has difficulty maintaining its water table given its porous rock base.   

MataYangu, AnakalangForest cover over the past 80 years has reduced from 60% of the total land area to only 8% today. Sumba used to be famous for its sandalwood but no sandalwood trees remain on the island due to over exploitation through trade. There are indigenous species of owl, hornbill, cockatoo, lorikeet and dove which are under threat due to significant deforestation.

Given the social structure of Sumbanese society both east and west there are as yet no clear indicators as to poverty levels with results ranging considerably depending on the indicators used.  The most recent socio-economic study rates the percentage of population living on or below the poverty line at over Sumbanese Man85%.  Other studies have set this figure to be as low as 28%.  The community interaction between villages however ensures that while people have few choices as to their mode of existence there is an availability of food, housing and community support in daily life.  Further due to community dependence on natural resources through subsistence living they are often unaffected by global or national economic changes.

Sumbanese ChildrenWomen and children are expected to contribute to the day-to-day work in the fields and children will often be obliged to prioritise this work over their schooling.  While women play a significant role in the household both raising the family and working for much of its food their social status still remains low and they have few choices in their life.  Marriages can take place from aged 14 upwards in rural areas, are often arranged by social contract. They are perhaps more an interchange between of two clans/villages than bonds of life between two people.

While a number of opportunities for economic development exist for the majority of the population there is a significant lack of business, management, motivational and entrepreneurial skills which leads to these opportunities being untapped by those most in need of their benefits.